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The Mouse that Roared: Obama’s Unhappy Redux

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Justly or unjustly, the Gulf Coast disaster is Mr. Obama’s Katrina. From the get-go, the administration’s involvement was lukewarm if not lackadaisical. It took BP’s estimates of the spill-flow for granted, along with their plans of damage control. It wasn’t until week three or four that Unified Command was formed under the supervision of the Coast Guard Admiral, Thad Allen, retired, but promptly recalled for the express purpose. And even then, BP was allowed to have the run of the day. Apart from the efforts at stopping the leakage, efforts at containment were equally anemic and uncoordinated. State and local agencies were kept out of the loop rather than being conscripted to join in an all-out effort. The SOS to other oil-producing nations and operators in the immediate area of the spill was equally feeble and lackadaisical. Likewise with the media, whose access to the disaster site, the story goes, was severely restricted.

It would seem the only object of both BP and the governmental agencies in charge was PR, keeping a tight lid on daily developments rather than dealing with the problem at hand. Indeed, the administration played the role of a patsy, a patsy to self-serving and stonewalling BP. Until . . .

Until it became evident the existing state of affairs was no longer sustainable. It was only then that the outrage began. BP was evil, was the administration's outcry. It put profit above safety. Human life and ecology were secondary. It was petroleum that everybody wanted, whatever the human cost. An abrupt about-face, if you ask me, for a president who only a while ago thought nothing of corporatism and bailing out the companies which were deemed "too big to fail." Are you surprised?

This week’s grilling of the oil company's executives by the congressional committee was a sight to behold. Unanimously, they have all distanced themselves from the shoddy practices of the BP barracuda, swearing to a tee the spill wouldn’t have happened under their watch. No doubt, each and everyone were prompted by Henry Waxman's correspondence and the retrieved emails, nearly proving BP’s culpability and the policy of cutting corners. The distinct impression one got, they were all for the kill, a corporate buyout, so much better at corporate piracy than operation-rescue. It's corporate loyalty for you in case you wonder.

And now we come to Mr. Obama’s meeting with Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chairman of the Board, and the usual suspects. Desperate to save his tarnished image, the president managed to secure a twenty-billion dollar escrow account for the purpose of settling all BP claims, but that’s anticlimactic considering the aftermath. If you think Tony Hayward's gaffe ("I'd like my life back") is for the books, think again. Not once, not twice, but three times, in fact, that gentleman kept on referring to helping out the "small people," the sentiment, he was proud to say, both he and the president share in common. Obviously, English isn’t Mr. Svanberg’s strong suit; finance is. And so, the saga continues.

Mr. Hayward's is history now, and so is Mr. Svanberg, I'm willing to bet. But this article isn’t about greed or corporate culture. Nor is it about how the “big” view the “small.” That's old news. What it’s really about is a state of fissure, a fissure concerning the allies, the Brits and the Yanks in particular. To wit, since the War of Independence, we’ve been in a virtual disagreement with respect to the allegiance to the Crown. But economically, we’ve always been on the same page.

Well, this may well change. What I’m suggesting is that present developments, coupled with Mr. Obama’s obvious insecurity about his political future, may well put this happy relationship to an end. In any case, we’re beginning to see the cracks within the capitalist camp.

What of course underpins the fissure is the quickly-eroding public confidence in giant, multinational corporations. Even the Republicans can’t defend the actions of the obviously negligent BP, not with a straight face. For all the political posturing from the conservative Right – Rep. Joe Barton from Texas representing a failed effort – there is a formal agreement. Given the present climate of political gridlock, the opposing parties being virtually at each other’s throats, that’s refreshing.

Yesterday it was Goldman Sachs and General Motors, bailed out with taxpayers’ money; today it’s Toyota and BP, both held to full accountability. One should hope for more. As far as I am concerned, it’s a welcome trend.

These are the unintended consequences of Rahm Emanuel’s motto, "Never allow a crisis go to waste." I doubt whether our lusterless leaders have foresight enough, let alone the fortitude, to see the light at the end of a tunnel; I’m willing to bet if they had their druthers, they’d keep on accepting campaign contributions from the petroleum industry. But that option is no longer available, not for a stretch.

It’s a good thing that events move men, not men events!

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About Roger Nowosielski

  • Al Dente

    Just when you thought the nutjobs were gone, a “metamorphosed” ACORN is back and managing the $20 billion oil fund.

    Have a safe weekend! 🙂

  • You must be kidding – surely not ACORN.

  • Do look at the link; it’s a spoof.


  • John Wilson

    A clumsy humorless parody. Don’t waste your time.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    How much y’all wanna bet that a significant portion of the conservatives will see that page and get all enraged, absolutely convinced that ACORN – though absolved by Congress (and the victim of fraud by O’Keefe) – is back.

    Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

  • Come on, Roger. At least you can get the cad’s name right. Not once, but twice you referred to Tony Hayward as “Tony Taylor.”

  • Shoot, Alan, I do apologize. I was full of booze trying to finish it up; even so, it’s no excuse.

    The buck stops here.

  • Victor, could you please correct?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    I should have pointed out in my first reply that yours was a good, thoughtful article. I don’t agree with everything you said in it…but if I did, you’d probably want to go commit seppuku or watch “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” or, worse, watch the latest installment of “Sex and the City”.

  • Good enough, Glenn. In the little pop writing I do these days, I try to be provocative. Let others do their daily grind.

  • Good points, Roger. Check out Rolling Stones (who endorsed Obama in 08) article. It is rather long so I printed it out, and it is very revealing and takes aim ALL of em’. The Spill, The Scandal and the President
    The inside story of how Obama failed to crack down on the corruption of the Bush years – and let the world’s most dangerous oil company get away with murder

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And Roger – careful with the water-of-endless-peeing. As bad as my arguments are, they become much worse when I chase Coors Light with Chivas Regal and Grey Goose while saving an airline-bottle of Jack for dessert.

    What’s really bad is that I’m not making this up….

  • We had good discussion, BTW, on the culture/religion site. Kind of surprised you haven’t chimed in.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Sorry – I was busy writing an article for the culture section, ironically enough.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Rog – which article on the culture site?

  • Sorry, Glenn, the Books section.

    Anyway, here’s the link.

  • I do share your concerns, Christine. And I’m surely glad it comes from a conservative.

  • Ah, the Grey Goose, Glenn. But I was thinking of The Famous Grouse, quite decent I must say.

    BTW, Johnny Walker Black runs over $40.00 per bottle, so I’m reduced to a cheap brand of Courvoisier.

  • You guys like expensive oil. I could only afford Everclear with a Hamms chaser.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Rog –

    I read the article…and I had to write another article that I think might address the author’s concerns.

  • Good job, Roger. What a mess this world is becoming.

  • Roger, you’re correct that the Administration’s performance since April 20 has been abysmal, but you’re not giving credit in the one instance where it’s due. “Desperate to save his tarnished image,” you write, “the president managed to secure a twenty-billion dollar escrow account for the purpose of settling all BP claims, but that’s anticlimactic considering the aftermath.”

    By aftermath, I can’t tell whether you mean Carl-Henric Svanberg’s clumsy but trivial “small people” remark, for which he soon apologized, or what you call the economic “state of fissure” between Brits and Yanks. Either way, you’re exaggerating. Svanberg’s remark is little more than a footnote in the ongoing saga of BP PR gaffes, the latest being Tony Hayward’s yachting off the Isle of Wight yesterday while oil-encased pelicans sank into his firm’s muck in the Gulf.

    Nor does the crack in BP’s pipe a mile below sea level represent a larger crack “within the capitalist camp.” Awful as it is, this incident doesn’t threaten Anglo-American relations. The U.S. populace is quite capable of distinguishing, thank you very much, between a country and a company; in this case, we don’t blame the UK, we blame BP. We can also distinguish between capitalism and unbridled greed. In this drama (or is it a farce?), BP and Tony Hayward stand for the latter, not the former.

    If the oil spill has caused a schism, it’s not at the high altitude of international relations or macroeconomics, but rather at the prosaic level of partisan politics. Both Democrats and Republicans are fracturing before our eyes. Democratic loyalists such as James Carville have roundly deplored the President’s miserable crisis management. Across the aisle, the big-business beholden Republican leadership forced Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) to rescind his heartfelt apology to BP for the “shakedown” they suffered at the White House. Not only is nobody on the same page, they’re no longer even reading from the same playbook.

    Indeed, I was amazed to see Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly take issue on Friday with his guest Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) over her characterization of the $20 billion escrow deposit as “extortion.” O’Reilly, who championed a similar account to compensate survivors of 9/11, likened this to the earlier one (also administered by Kenneth Feinberg) and said it was the only good thing Obama had done during the entire debacle. God help me, for once I agree with O’Reilly.

    Roger, this fund isn’t the President’s desperate, anticlimactic attempt to save his tarnished image, as you write. It’s a decent and necessary first step to compensate real victims of an avoidable manmade tragedy. There’s no shame in giving credit where it’s due.

  • (1(Indeed, Alan, securing the fund was the right thing to do – whether by legal means or otherwise (even if it was a shake-down).

    I was merely drawing attention to the fact most of our politics is reactive rather than pro-active – my message.

    In short, we “lucked-out” (if you can say that). If it weren’t for BP’s stonewalling, not to mention the climate of ineptness which characterized the administration’s initial efforts, it might not have come to that: it might have winded-up in the courts, as in the Exxon-Valdez case.

    (2) Of course I was exaggerating – reference was to Svanberg’s Freudian slip. (Tony Hayward’s “getting his life back” wasn’t in the picture at the time of writing).

    (3) As to “state of fissure,” yes, also exaggeration on my part. Mind you, though, a precedent has been set whereby a multinational has been made liable other than by recourse to court of law. This one is for keeps.

    Furthermore, don’t ignore the friction within the EU. If Greece’s bail-out is followed by Spain, there would be voices to break up the union.

  • Roger, Tony Taylor is history. Hayward is too it would seem.

  • Roger, now that you’ve got his name right, you’re still not doing justice to Tony Hayward. In comment #23 you say your “reference was to Svanberg’s Freudian slip. (Tony Hayward’s ‘getting his life back’ wasn’t in the picture at the time of writing).” To the contrary, Hayward’s May 30 faux pas antedated Svanberg’s June 16 slip by 2½ weeks. Again, you ought to give credit where it’s due. Tony’s hoof was in his mouth well before Svanberg’s appeal to Dr. Freud.

  • I’m referring to his yachting excursion, Alan. This should be clear from the context, not only of the comment thread but the article as well.

  • Roger, for a real-life Mouse That Roared, check out my latest BC article in Sci/Tech, Web Site Review: I Write Like. I mention you among several other BC writers, but you’re the best. Enjoy the cheesecake!