Friday, June 18, 2010

Mired Waste-Deep in Political Muck

Yuck… the political muck and mire plopping out of politicians’ mouths regarding the BP oil spill appears to be giving the disastrous oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico a run for its money.

This week has been particularly bad.

"I'm In Charge"

First, on Tuesday night, President Obama takes the national television spotlight to announce, like Alexander Haig did years ago immediately after Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, that he is in control. But of course, Obama is as wrong now as Haig was back then.

You may recall Haig triumphantly claiming to reporters that he was in charge as a wounded Reagan underwent emergency surgery. Except he wasn't, and everybody seemed to know that but him. Haig's position as Secretary of State made him third in the line of succession, behind the Vice President, George H. W. Bush. Haig's haste and ego never were forgotten. Fast forward to this past Tuesday night, when Obama ignored the recent history we've all witnessed and claimed that since this oil crisis began, he has been in charge. Which, of course, we all know is false.

From the outset, White House input on the growing disaster placed the blame and the responsibility for clean-up squarely on BP’s shoulders. So now, is Obama re-writing history by claiming to have been in control all along? After he met with BP executives Wednesday, and trumpeted a $20 billion escrow account for lawsuits, he insinuated that he had full authority to force BP to comply with its stated intentions of seeing this disaster through to the end.

Except that nobody has full command of the situation, do they? It's far too big for any one person or office. And by virtue of our separation of powers here in the US, only judges will have any right to force BP to pay out the now-famous $20 billion in escrow.

"I Apologize"

And then there's my own representative from Texas, the Honorable Joe Barton. Did President Obama extort $20 billion from BP during their White House meeting this past Wednesday? Barton says yes.

In fact, Barton made his blunt assessment – and apologized to BP on behalf of the president – at the beginning of a Congressional hearing Thursday, saying he was “ashamed” of Obama’s “shakedown” of the oil giant.

Of course, as the recipient of more oil industry money than any other member of the House of Representatives (according to the Dallas Morning News), Barton probably felt obligated to make some grand gesture of support for his patrons. Texas is oil country, not to mention pro-business, and as a red-blooded Republican with deep empathy for the money all three represent, he probably figured he had little choice but to utter such a controversial statement. After all, who knows how much of his investment portfolio has shrunk as BP’s value on the Big Board has tanked nearly 50%? Investor groups have already started suing BP because of the losses they’re suffering. Barton probably figured somebody had to stand up and make a public show of support for the beleaguered company.

And despite it’s still-healthy balance sheet, the media and public opinion have certainly been hammering England’s star oil conglomerate. We're almost two months into the spill, and to hear the press tell it, we’re no closer to capping this sucker than when the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers. Politicians of all stripes – from mayors of po-dunk Gulf Coast towns to Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal – have been castigating BP for what appear to be colossal errors, mismanagement, and abysmal planning. The press has been running up and down the coastline, from Louisiana to Florida, breathlessly interviewing everyone from fishermen to tourists, painting a bleak picture of the human toll from this tragedy. Websites abound with BP jokes, parodies of company executives, amateurish suggestions for capping the well, and blogging blowhards venting about the ecological and economic aspects of America’s largest oil spill.

From the sidelines, Barton has probably been watching all of this unfold with a growing fury in his gut and sinking despair in his wallet. Don’t you figure he’d been itching for this chance to have his say and take to the Congressional microphone with a triumphant castigation of the person he most loathes in Washington today? It’s no secret that Barton and the President share little affinity and even less ideology. Couple that with Barton’s history of ignoring obvious conflicts of interest when making statements supporting his political patrons, and you have all the ingredients necessary for Capitol Hill fireworks.

But as quickly as the fireworks lit up the Beltway sky, they fizzled to the ground as fellow Republicans - shocked at Barton's egregious groveling and stinging callousness towards all affected by the disaster - swiftly rebuked Barton. By yesterday afternoon, he had issued an apology for the apology, but the damage had already been done.

It's Gettin' Deep 'Round Here

Not that the $1-million-plus the oil industry has spent on Barton over the years wasn't wasted. None other than the New York Times actually came out in his defense today with an article describing how corporate types around the world have grown weary - and wary - of the Obama administration's blatant spite for big business.

Sure, BP would probably have had to set aside something in the neighborhood of $20 billion to help pay down the claims it will have to settle, so did the President have to make such a grand spectacle of the announcement? Yes, the BP PR machine has made some absurd gaffes in recent weeks, but looking for somebody's posterior to kick is a little rogue for the White House, isn' it? Barton may have left his wallet sitting wide open on the table when he made his contentious apology on behalf of Obama, but he wasn't just speaking for himself.

The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is indeed a disaster of epic proportions. It will require ingenuity, tenacity, many years, and lots of money to make everything right.

It's way too early in the game to have this much political muck clogging things up. We've got plenty of spilt oil doing that without Washington's help.

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