Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
The truth is, of course, much more nuanced. Deep Water Horizon is, in fact, proceeding according to plan, or as much of a plan as can be developed by a federal government with limited response capability and legal authority. In fact, hundreds of my colleagues from dozens of federal agencies are working really hard each and every day to collect as much information as possible, and to both predict the spill’s path and its effects when it comes ashore. Local university scientists are also hard at work right along side us.
For that reason, I share Anne Applebaum’s assessment that Deepwater Horizon isn’t, and shouldn’t be, comparable to the Katrina response (which I was also on the ground for in Mississippi). Where she and I part ways, however, is in both what the President should be doing about it, and what the citizenry should expect of him.
Here is the hard truth: The U.S. government does not possess a secret method for capping oil leaks. Even the combined wisdom of the Obama inner circle -- all of those Harvard economists, silver-tongued spin doctors and hardened politicos -- cannot prevent tens of thousands of tons of oil from pouring out of hole a mile beneath the ocean surface. Other than proximity to the Louisiana coast, this catastrophe has nothing in common with Hurricane Katrina: That was an unstoppable natural disaster that turned into a human tragedy because of an inadequate government response. This is just an unstoppable disaster, period. It will be a human tragedy precisely because no government response is possible.
Which leads me to a mystery: Given that he cannot stop the oil from flowing, why has President Obama decided to act as if he can? And given that he is totally reliant on BP to save the fish and the birds of the Gulf of Mexico, why has he started pretending otherwise -- why is he, in his own words, looking for someone's "ass to kick"? I suspect that there are many reasons for this recent change of rhetorical tone and that some of them are ideological. This is, of course, a president who believes that government can and should be able to solve all problems. Obama has never sounded particularly enthusiastic about the private sector either, ad some of his congressional colleagues -- the ones talking of retroactively raising the cap on BP's liability, for example, or forcing BP to pay for the lost wages of other oil companies' workers -- are downright hostile.
Three things to consider. First, given BP’s track record of oil spills in Alaska, and plant fires and explosions elsewhere, is it any wonder the President Obama, and many, many others, are skeptical that BP can indeed “fix” Deepwater Horizon? The evidence gathered by Congress prior to today’s hearings suggests not.
Second, the President s not “totally reliant on BP to save the fish and the birds of the Gulf of Mexico.” He has a U.S. fish and Wildlife Service, a NOAA Fisheries Service, the state fish and wildlife agencies of four Gulf States, and countless wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organizations to help with that phase of the attack. Plus an Army Corps of Engineers that has done monumental work on coastal habitat restoration in coastal Louisiana. The staff level experts in those agencies, if given orders to, could easily and quickly drum up plans and put them into action that would be at least as effective, if not more so, then anything BP has so far done. And they are already on the federal payroll, so there would be no contracting delays and no added expense for their salaries.
Third, the human tragedy is occurring in spite of the best government response our nation can mount. But part of that tragedy is because a private company, under current laws, made a really bad risk assessment that favored the company’s bottom line instead of the Nation’s ecological health. Federal Regulators helped them by looking the other way. The President has every right to want to “kick someone’s ass” over that, since he’s the person in charge (at least nominally) of maintaining that ecosystem health.
So, Ms. Applebaum, how about giving the federal government its due? We’re a lot more capable then you seem to think we are and we’re not going to rest Deepwater Horizon this gets made right. I’d much rather have a boss encouraging me to do that then preventing me from doing that, especially since Louisiana is my home, and those beaches are part of my personal history.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Polarized Politics in DC - finally the Washington Post admits the media are part of the problem (sort of)
I'd argue that the climate in Washington is being shaped by an artificial presentation of attitudes on cable TV and talk radio. To view and to listen is to become convinced that there are only two, diametrically opposed philosophical approaches to the issues. And yet, working daily in both mediums, I often think that the only people I meet who see the world entirely through liberal or conservative lenses are the hosts with whom I rub shoulders.
Buying gas or groceries or attending back-to-school nights, I speak to people for whom the issues are a mixed bag; they are liberal on some, conservative on others, middle of the road on the rest. But politicians don't take their cues from those people. No, politicians emulate the world of punditry.
Any sane person, possessing a modicum of analytical reasoning skill knows this. Several liberal and progressive bloggers like myself have been saying thins for a long time. But to see it in the conservative love fest that is the Op-Ed section of the Post is both refreshing, and disconcerting.
Refreshing in that the Obama bashing that the writers of opinion there (All supposedly liberals except Charles Krathammer) engage in daily has done nothing to move the country along to a better path. This has the potential to change that, in as much as admitting you have a problem is the first step to addressing it.
Disconcerting in that politics, and politicians, are most likely to now ignore the conclusions the author brings to the table, because these conclusions do not serve the politician as overlord-centric world view that many of them hold. If the media points out that politicians in DC are in an information bubble, fed a corrosive diet of distorted mis-information, then the politicians become nothing more then puppets for the interests that control those media (GE, anyone?). And no self-respecting national politician will ever admit to being a puppet.
All of which leaves more elected officials beholden to the fringe elements of their parties, which in turn means less gets done. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it is robbing our televisions and radios of the substantive dialogue the country desperately needs, while leaving our politics a petty and unproductive mess.
Sadly, though, Mr. Smerconish leaves off just as the "gettin' gets good." There's no witty rejoined to his media colleagues about ways to pull back. No forceful directive to we, the viewers as to how best to pull out of the death spiral. No politically savvy homecoming speech to the politicians that will invite them to break the trend and buck back to the political center where many Americans still vainly live.
And that's an equally troubling problem with political commentary today. Glenn Greenwald, one of the progressive bloggers I most respect, is guilty of the same thing. Yes, you have pointed out a serious flaw that exists in the way we as a nation conduct our business. Yes, you've made that flaw personal for each of us. But what the bloody hell do you think we should do about it?
In a day and age where sound bites rule our lives, and two or three generations of Americans keep people they know and love up to date in 140 characters, does Mr. Smerconish really believe that the reader of the Post will have the first clue how to deal with this media driven forced polarization? Couldn't he have thrown in a short, three sentence paragraph at least hinting at the answer?
Since he couldn't, I will. Turn off the TV. Put Rush in his place by switching to baseball. Write electronic letters to the editor (it doesn't take any longer then composing a good email). Email their ombudsman. Attend media sponsored public fora, and don't take No for an answer at the mike.
And for heaven's sake, WRITE EMAILS TO YOUR POLITICIANS! They are all looking for some political shield to hide behind in doing their work, and if they have 10,000 constituent emails to hide behind (since they all want to get re-elected), its easier for them to take on BP, GE and the like.
oh, and least I forget -
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
This is the money quote:
But Bob Kuttner, the editor of the liberal magazine American Prospect, had a different answer. "We criticize [Timothy] Geithner; we criticize [Lawrence] Summers; we criticize [Rahm] Emanuel; we criticize the oil companies; we criticize Wall Street; we criticize everybody but Obama," he said. "Because we feel a little bit goosey about criticizing Obama." Kuttner said progressives must hold Obama accountable. Piecemeal accomplishments are not enough, he said, to keep the movement going. "If he doesn't do more on jobs, and on mortgage relief, and on a handful of things that affect regular people where they live, it all goes down the drain in the midterm," he said. "And then the moment is lost and the crazies take over."
Now call me nuts, but I think I've said plenty that would count as criticism of the President. So does Glenn Greenwald (who has been a guest repeatedly on NPR). For that matter, so does Dan Froomkin. But finding that out must be tough. Unless you know how to Google . . .
You can read more about the taskforce's work HERE.
"If you think of information as a wave, the wave of truth in this calamity is not being driven by the government and government information sources. It's being driven by independent academics who are working under pressure and creatively to get information out," MacDonald said. "It's truly astonishing to see what's happening. The data cloud is so large and so complex, it's beyond the scope of one person to figure it out."
"This is so complicated and has so many dimensions. It will take a lot of science to figure out what is happening from a biological point of view, from an oceanographic point of view and from an economic point of view," said W. Ross Ellington, associate vice president for research at Florida State, where the task force is based.
Monday, June 7, 2010
The increasing allure for some Americans of destinations such as Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen has alarmed U.S. officials, though no evidence has surfaced that the two men planned any immediate attacks in the United States or overseas. Officials fear that radicalized Americans, even if they start off as naive as the two New Jersey aspirants appeared to be, could return home battle-hardened and determined to commit terrorist acts on American soil.
Now, a few things you need to know. First, both are U.S. citizens, and so the "usual" canard about holding foreigners shouldn't apply. Second, they have yet to actually be linked to any attack that is planned or known about, so the arrest appears to be preemptive in nature. Third, amongst their training regimen was the use of paint balls and first person shooter games.
Ok, you say, the authorities need a pat on the back for getting a couple of rotting apples before they broke open and stank up the place, so to speak. But root deeper, and one has to ask what's the difference between a Palestinian-American who uses paint balls to learn how to shoot, and a white American who does the same thing from within a white supremacist militia? How radical is it to go and fight, overseas on the side of people you believe your government is oppressing?
My second question there is an important one, historically, as Americans fought with the Zionists as they battled to set up what we now know as Israel. Ditto for Americans fighting with Franco in the Spanish Civil War. But because history deemed those "good, moral" causes (Franco's later dictatorship not withstanding), those Americans were not ever persecuted or demonized.
So now, we wait and see if the U.S. Justice system can live up to its reputation. One hopes that these two men will be afforded their full Constitutional rights, since they were arrested on American soil long before they could become enemy combatants. Sadly, the Holder Justice Department seems as blind on this issue as his predecessor.
While we wait, ponder this - these two Americans have been arrested by our government for the crime of deciding to take up arms against a regime that they see as evil and oppressive. All they did was talk a lot, and play games that many of us play each weekend (or night, or afternoon). They haven't actually done anything yet, but our "leaders" now call them terrorists. Imagine what would have happened if Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and the Concord Militia had all been rounded up while they were still talking, and practicing "terrorist training" by shooting their muskets to hunt. What, dear readers would the world look like then?
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Not all industry influence is inappropriate: after all, industries exist to make money and, if lawful, their prosperity benefits us all. They should be able to influence the development and application of sensible and appropriate regulations. And industries are entitled to proper regulatory expertise and intelligent, well-versed regulators. But backdoor influence that leads to the kind of capture to which I am referring undermines the whole point of regulation. To use the old metaphor, it leads to the fox guarding the henhouse.
To be sure, there are many public-minded Americans–perhaps even proportionately more than in most other countries–but public service is seldom a chosen career path, at least for very long. And for good reason. We don’t teach its virtues and we don’t reward public service adequately. Where are the professors of regulation in the US? We don’t give knighthoods to regulators. They don’t get paid much in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, either but at least they are considered important. But what do we do? We pull them up in front of Congress and beat up on them, so they go get highly paid jobs in the private sector.
H/t James @ The Baseline Scenario