Obama's Katrina: Resign Now, Mr. President

Maui Time | May 27, 2010
British Petroleum isn't dithering. Yes, it's been five weeks since the most devastating oil spill in U.S. history. But it's probably impossible to fix.

The company's execs just look calm. Deep inside, they're roiling with anguish. Keeping it low-key is how Brits roll. Especially when they've got something to hide.

Talk about something to hide. Talk about tacky: a new BP document has come to light. It is a smoking gun: to save a few bucks BP executives decided to go with a cheaper, riskier well casing at its doomed Deepwater Horizon platform—one without a redundant safety system that might have prevented the explosion and subsequent spill. Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas at Austin told The New York Times that BP's choice was "without a doubt a riskier way to go."

So here we are. And millions of fish and dolphins and pelicans aren't.

Why hasn't President Obama acted like one—a president, that is? Why hasn't he seized BP's assets? Obama's torturers at Gitmo and Bagram are winding up 15-year-old Taliban teenagers and taxi drivers. Why aren't BP's execs learning the finer points of electrodes and nipple clamps?

The damage caused by BP's negligence is incalculable. Experts who talked to National Geographic magazine say the pressure at 5,000 feet below sea level is so high that the well under BP's doomed Deepwater Horizon platform will gush oil until it bleeds out. That could take years.

"You're talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it," said David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

"We don't have any idea how to stop this," said Matthew Simmons, retired chair of the energy-industry investment banking firm Simmons & Company International. Ideas like jamming the leaking pipe with golf balls and other debris are a "joke," he added.

By the way, a Purdue engineering professor called before Congress now estimates the flow rate at 95,000 barrels, or 4 million gallons, of crude oil a day—20 times the company's official claim. If oil continues to contaminate the Gulf at that rate, by the end of July this BP spill will become the worst oil disaster ever. The previous record was set by Iraq in 1991, which deliberately dumped 336 million gallons into the Persian Gulf to slow down U.S. invasion forces during the Gulf War. Twelve years later, almost all of the Saudi coastline, including its marshes and mudflats, was devoid of life.

"It was amazing to stand there and look across what used to be a [Saudi] salt marsh and it was all dead—not even a live crab," Miles Hayes, co-founder of the consulting firm Research Planning, Inc. and one of those who studied the spill's aftermath, recalled.


So this is Obama's Katrina. Or his second: he still hasn't done much to help those who lost their jobs or to create new ones. Technically, he also inherited Bush's Katrina—he hasn't helped the 2005 flood victims on the Gulf Coast either.

What's different this time is that people are pissed. Not fake pissed, like the Tea Partiers who think he's a socialist (now wouldn't that be nice!) because of his lame healthcare package. They're actually, seriously, this-time-we-mean-it pissed. Because, get-the-guvmint-outta-my-life rhetoric aside, Americans expect their government to do something when something this big and this stupid happens. They have that right. Taxes ought to accomplish something other than killing Iraqis and Afghans.

So where is Obama?

Stuck changing planes on his way to Clueistan, evidently.

"We will not rest until this well is shut, the environment is repaired and this job is complete," Obama told workers at Solyndra Inc., a solar panel manufacturer near San Francisco. If the experts are right that 12 years won't make a dent in a spill this size, Barack's going to be a busy guy after he retires.

"The spill in the Gulf, which is heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources," he argued.

Voilà! That's the extent of Obama's response to Deepsix Horizon: talking about alternative energy.

Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and transitioning to solar, wind and other clean sources of energy is long overdue. But that would/will take decades. We don't have years. To update Keynes in an age of global warming and mass species extinctions: In the short run, we are all dead. We need radical cuts in energy consumption to slow down the rate of acceleration of global warming: at least 75 percent, according to most climatologists. Although 100 percent may not be enough.

Not that Obama is even trying. His new 2012 budget calls for a mere $6 billion increase—the same amount we spend to kill Iraqis and Afghans for three weeks—for subsidies to companies trying to develop greener fuels. From 2002 to 2008, while gas prices and profits were skyrocketing, Big Oil received $72 billion in your taxdollars. A preemptive bailout, I assume.

Obama's efforts on automobile fuel efficiency have been equally lackluster. He has signed a law requiring cars and light trucks to get at least 34 miles per gallon by the year 2016. By 2016, industry analysts say, cars would have been getting 40 mpg anyway.

If Obama were half as hopey changey as he claimed during the campaign, BP's North American operations would now be U.S. government property, nationalized in order to compensate the fishermen and other injured parties in the Gulf. If he had an ounce of toughness he would require that every car sold in the U.S. beginning in 2011 be a hybrid. Sales of SUVs and light trucks would be banned; existing models would have to be retired from U.S. roadways within two years. All offshore drilling would be prohibited. (Yes, gas prices would rise: about three to four cents a gallon over the next ten to fifteen years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Whatever.)

He could do other things. The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq caused a huge leap in oil prices. Bring them home. Solar panels should be mass produced by government-owned and operated factories and distributed at federally subsidized prices to homeowners and developers. The wind power and geothermal industries could be radically expanded with the two billion dollars a week we'd save by ending the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Obama can't lead. He's in the pocket of Big Oil. In fact, he's making things worse: even after the spill began in the Gulf, his Department of Energy was still issuing new offshore drilling permits!

Resign, Mr. President. You won't be missed.

(Ted Rall is the author of the upcoming "The Anti-American Manifesto," to be published in September by Seven Stories Press. His website is tedrall.com.)


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Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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