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June 18, 2010

Obama and the Oil Spill

Roy Meachum

The morning after the presidential speech from the Oval Office a black friend called, totally upset. He had been listening to TV commentators.


“What are they trying to do? Make a n….. out of Obama?” The word he said means an African American of the lowest degree. I will not inflict it on readers.


Conjuring a separate scapegoat, Comedy Central’s Steve Colbert suggested that Proctor & Gamble might be behind the Gulf Coast destruction to boost their Dawn. The soap giant made a commercial exalting their dish washing detergent showing how the product could clean up ducks covered with oil. Arching an eyebrow, he said: “They made that commercial last summer and now there is an oil spill, how convenient.”


Mr. Colbert almost certainly intended the reference to the TV spots to be taken humorously; some of the remarks my friend referred to are deadly serious. I wrote that some of the antipathy directed at the president could be attributed to racism. My friend reinforces my view.


Criticism of what Barack Obama has done after the spill was justified by testimony before a House committee; being pinned down were the top dogs of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips. Under oath, they insisted to the hearing they would not have made the mistakes that led to the well explosion.


The New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “By trying too hard to keep control (of himself), ends up losing control (of the calamity).” Self-discipline is the hallmark of Barack Obama, which lifted him to the White House. The Big Four – minus BP – could not state what they would do in the situation. How does anyone expect a lawyer, even from Harvard, to second guess their professional expertise?


The same paper’s Wednesday editorial page said: “Because of a mixture of philosophy, incompetence and negligence, federal regulators have failed to do their jobs.”


Before Obama partisan critics hone in on that, they should be reminded that the same year that brought the present president the nation’s top job, an inspector general’s investigation report found in the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.” Because of the collusion between bureaucrats and the oil lobby, corruption could have been added easily to the list.


The 1998 MMS director was Randall Lutfi, a former aide to Vice President Richard Cheney; the Bush veep’s “company,” Halliburton, poured the failed concrete and built the Deepwater Horizon rig and maintains it. Mr. Lutfi went on to join an oil company.


Less than a year after taking the job, successor Anne Birnbaum and her ranking associates either resigned or were fired because of the present tragedy. Former Justice Department prosecutor and inspector general Michael Bromwich was appointed this week to restructure the agency to make it reportedly “a tougher regulator.”


The president named Tuesday the former governor of Mississippi, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to develop a restoration plan in cooperation with Gulf Coast states, local communities, tribes, conservation leaders, residents, the seafood industry and individual fishermen. By the way, Mr. Mabus was a Democrat succeeded by a Republican. The completely GOP governors in the region have not rushed to fill the White House request for 17,000 National Guardsmen to help with the mess. They cannot be federalized until the states agree.


Finally, the day after his Oval Office address, Barack Obama met with British Petroleum’s top executives and came out of the conference with the expected promises, but in addition they promised $20 billion to rebuild destruction and refund money loss, under an independent director. Mediator Kenneth Feinberg already handled a similar chore with 9/11 victims.


Amidst the inchoate chorus repeating the mantra, “Obama sat on his hands,” I’ve heard the president is “too aggressive.” I don’t know anybody that has come up with a strategy or formula to instantly solve the disaster.


I have a personal interest, as readers know; the primary state hit by the Deepwater Horizon crisis is Louisiana where I was born and grew up.



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