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.
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