Tag Archives: President Barack Obama

Required Reading

22 Aug

There were two articles written in the past 14 days which should be required reading for anyone who wants to have an honest discussion about “financial reform” as proposed by President Obama and passed by Congress or about Park51, aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has provided some of the best analysis and coverage of the financial reform bill and the epic collapse of our financial system in 2008.  He writes in an accessible and biting way that simplifies the issue without dumbing it down.  For instance, his article from April titled, “The Great American Bubble Machine” is required reading for understanding the financial crisis.

The former Buffalo resident and the original editor of the once great Buffalo Beast, has written an article which should have every Obama supporter crying into their Hope T-shirts.

Over a long year of feverish lobbying and brutally intense backroom negotiations, a group of D.C. insiders fought over a single question: Just how much of the truth about the financial crisis should we share with the public? Do we admit that control over the economy in the past dec­ade was ceded to a small group of rapacious criminals who to this day are engaged in a mind-­numbing campaign of theft on a global scale? Or do we pretend that, minus a few bumps in the road that have mostly been smoothed out, the clean-hands capitalism of Adam Smith still rules the day in America? In other words, do people need to know the real version, in all its majestic whorebotchery, or can we get away with some bullshit cover story?

In passing Dodd-Frank, they went with the cover story.

The involvement of the Obama Administration in the construction of that cover story narrative is depressing.

As for the issue of the Park51 story that has become the central Republican created bullshit distraction issue of the election season, Frank Rich of the New York Times pretty much shuts down the dummies with this brilliant Op-Ed.

So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right — abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League, Harry Reid and other cowed Democrats — that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus’s last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?

Also, a couple of required viewing videos from the week that was…

Jon Stewart also destroys right wing talking points on Park51

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The following video is not political in any way, it’s just awesome.  Cee-Lo Green is back…if you’re at work or around kids, I suggest headphones.  The song is excellent, but profane.

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Diverse Coalitions

16 Aug

The continued general debate over the Islamic Community Center in Manhattan is a fascinating insight into the state of America’s capacity for respectful and meaningful public discourse. It is an intersection of civil rights and civility, and challenges your definitions of tolerance and acceptance. Who’s views and feelings should we be more tolerant of: the continued pain of some families of victims of the 9/11 attack, or the Muslim families who wish a place to worship near their homes in southern Manhattan? We don’t always rise to the challenge.

The predictable arguments on each side reveal deep seated preconceptions. From the Right, anyone for the mosque is inherently naive to the threat of Islamic and Islamist influence and terrorist activity. Oh, and you are un-American. My favorite charges are from Liberals, however, where Racist has been revealed as the reflexive Go To “-ism” epithet of the Left. I’ve never been called a racist so many times in so short a timeframe. That’s as moranic as the healthcare screamers who told the government to stay away from their Medicare. Repeat after me: I’m a racist if I oppose the mosque because it’ll be full of Arabs, not Muslims. If its about Muslims, its religious discrimination, not racial. I mean, goddamn, you’d think latte-sipping lefty intellectuals could get their slurs straight.

Lost in all this is the views of the Muslims in southern Manhattan, or the 9/11 victim’s families. How do they feel? Split, and uncertain, on both counts. This is America.

The frames have been roughly been set: your use of the term “Ground Zero Mosque,” “Park51”, or “Cordoba House” now puts you generally in the same camps as if you use the term “illegal immigrant”, “undocumented worker,” or “alien;” i.e. Conservative, Liberal and Behind The Times. But unlike the abortion and immigration debates, this discussion is relatively new, so the potential still exists for strange bedfellows as the ideologues sort themselves out.

Which is how I, the ADL, Charles Krauthammer and President Obama ended up on the same side.

To state again for the record, I believe there is every legal right for Imam Rauf to build a mosque/cultural center at 51 Park Place, but simply because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The ADL likewise does not dispute the legality, but believes that graveyards are not appropriate places for outreach and understanding, using the now oft-cited case of the Carmelite Nuns at Auschwitz as an example.

Charles Krauthammer, regular right-wing bogey-man of the Left, was perhaps a predictable opponent. But his argument bears some further examination and fleshing out. He correctly notes that most of the supporters of the mosque, speaking out of both sides of their mouth, say that First Amendment rights shown rule here, and freedom of religion should be preserved. . . but, in any case, don’t worry because these are good moderate Muslims who aren’t the bad guys anyway. Which begs the question:

If the proposed mosque were controlled by “insensitive” Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, he [Mayor Bloomberg] would not support its construction. But then, why not? By the mayor’s own expansive view of religious freedom, by what right do we dictate the message of any mosque?

One doesn’t have to buy into a conspiracy theory to ask what this Muslim group being moderate has to do with the mosque being constructed or not. Under the First Amendment defense, should not more radical Islamic views be protected as well? I don’t even mean Al Qaeda, or a front for Hamas providing materiel support (both illegal). I just mean the occasional fiery speech supporting strict Sharia law. Where is the line? If less than moderate Muslims preaching at this site gives you pause, then we are not so far apart.

Krauthammer’s second argument is less persuasive, in my opinion, but amusing because of the current Canalside debates in Buffalo:

America is a free country where you can build whatever you want — but not anywhere. That’s why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and, if your house doesn’t meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all. These restrictions are for reasons of aesthetics. Others are for more profound reasons of common decency and respect for the sacred. No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz — and no mosque at Ground Zero.

Anyone else find it ironic that we debate the historic character of a concrete hole on the waterfront, and want to ensure any construction there follows strict Green and stylistic standards, but its a free for all at the site of the biggest mass murder in our nation’s history?

Krauthammer emphasizes the sacred argument, as does Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Examiner. Both reference a failed American History-themed Disney park outside of Civil War battlefields as an example of trampling on the sacred. An underlying argument made by Park51 supporters is that this site is not really sacred, two blocks from Ground Zero, out of line of sight of the former towers, and not particularly special. On the other hand, the building that sits at the site now, and would be torn down for the mosque, was hit by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, and may contain human remains. Note that large amounts of human remains continue to be found all over southern Manhattan.

This definition of the sacred is important. Is there hallowed ground at Ground Zero? If so, how big is its footprint? The site of the old WTC only? Where human remains were found? If the building was hit by a piece of a plane, should it be included? Once that footprint is established, what should be allowed inside of it? I have been trying to research the history of how the “historic district” of the 9/11 site was chosen. The controversy, from 2002 on, seems to have focused on what should be built on the WTC site (Freedom Tower, Memorial, etc), and how slow construction has been, not what the outline of the district is. If that was assumed, it is obvious New Yorkers have very different ideas of how much of the site is sacred. It is, and was, a flourishing business district. Business should certainly happen there. But it seems to me that we are only now, 9 years later, talking about what is sacred and what isn’t, and it was the mosque that finally brokered the conversation, though it is not the end of it.

Which leaves us with the last unlikely member of the coalition, President Obama. “But,” you say, “he supported the mosque!” Well, yes and no. His position, as outlined in speeches Friday and Saturday night, quite clearly states that he supports their fundamental right to build the mosque in that location, but he offers no opinion on the wisdom of doing so. Which is as close as a sitting President can get to saying “Yeah, that’s a bad idea.” Or at least, “Please don’t make me say that’s a bad idea on an election year.” The President understands the difference between Can and Should.

Buying Central Asia

29 Jul

The Wikileaks document dump has caused consternation throughout the federal government for revealing previous “secrets.” What the documents prove as a collective, however, is not at all a secret: what a confusing place Afghanistan is, especially to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on the ground actually fighting the war.

Such confusion should cause rational observers to occasionally ask the most basic of questions: how did we get to this point, and why are we still there? All too often, such discussion uses as background and perspective only the last national election and the previous month’s worth of news article and Woodward-esque books. Even the exhaustive and exhausting policy review conducted by President Obama used as a starting point the campaign slogan that Bush took his “eye off the ball” of Afghanistan, without ever asking what the ball was.

Sometimes new ideas for looking at an old problem come from the strangest places. Enter former Secretary of States Madeleine Albright and George Schultz, who recently spoke at a forum at the Commonwealth Club in California. Reagan dinosaur Schultz had the freshest ideas on the Middle East, by reflecting on a very basic truth: our goals in the Middle East and Central Asia have been met with they have coincided with the goals of the local people we have partnered with. They fail when they don’t.

Allow me a quick rehash of the last ten years. We invade Afghanistan in October of 2001, and in the space of two months, have routed the Taliban and killed a large portion of the Al Qaeda leadership, though we missed the biggest fish. In the next two years, additional leadership in Pakistan is captured, Libya gives up its chemical, biological and nuke programs, Iran starts to make nice again, and the Phillipines begin an eradication of Abu Sayyaf. Over the next several years, as we get mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, Indonesia roots out Jemaah Islamiyah after the Bali bombings, and Saudi Arabia does such a good job cleaning up Al Qaeda on its own soil that the local franchised AQ outfit changes its name to the more inclusive “Al Qaeda of the Arabian Penninsula,” reflecting the fact that it has been reduced to a single enclave in Yemen. 

Those successes are obviously in contrast to our failures with Iraq, Iran and (since 2002) Afghanistan. Schultz believes the difference is the mirroring of our goals. The Northern Alliance wanted the Taliban gone, and we helped them. Pakistan did not want to be invaded by the United States, and helped us nab KSM, etc immediately. Libya likewise saw the writing on the wall, and thought it safer to cough up its secret programs on its own. Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and the Phillipines saw a genuine internal threat, and snuffed it out (and we didn’t ask them how). 

We have since failed because it is no longer in Pakistan’s interest to avoid our wrath (that they know is not coming), Iran sees it can act without significant consequence (see: War, Lebanon, 2006), and, most importantly, forming a secular democratic government was never a goal of the Iraqi or Afghan people. With all this in mind, allow me the following revisionist history for discussion:

The failure of the Bush Presidency since 2003 was not misinvading (to coin a Bushism) Iraq, lying to the American people about WMDs, poor reconstruction planning, or taking any eyes off any balls in Afghanistan. The failure of the Bush Administration was buying into the Friedman-coined and Secretary Colin Powell-implemented Pottery Barn Policy.

The “You Break It You Bought It” philosophy has poisoned policy debate by being an unexamined assumption, a starting condition, for every military action, planned or conducted, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is ironic that Secretary Powell would have espoused it when his greatest military success in uniform, the First Gulf War (when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs), was conducted in an opposite manner by the first President Bush.

The Pottery Barn policy indicates that when you defeat a country, you are responsible for its reconstruction, reform, remaking, and rebirth. The removal of a dictator necessitates the building of a pluralistic democratic government, not only where none has ever existed, but where one may not be wanted. The Pottery Barn policy has been espoused by nation builders on the Left and American Exceptionalist democracy spreaders on the Right. It is equal opportunity failure, and has not only mired us in Iraq, but confused the far more complicated Afghanistan and limited all talk on Iran to a false dichotomy of Economic Sanctions or Bush Nation Building War #3 choices. Former Secretary Schultz noted that in the 1980’s, when Iran was plugging up shipping in the Persian Gulf and attacking Kuwaiti boats, the US Navy captured an Iranian ship, sank it, detained its sailors, and told the Iranians to knock it off, with great success. The unspoken and unacknowledged infestation of the Pottery Barn rule into all our current policy debate ensures such options are never brought to the table for consideration, much less taken. Despite Powell’s well publicized complaints that he was not listened to within the administration at the time, he appears to have had the longer lasting policy impact. Exhibit #1: Obama’s current unimaginative Afghanistan policy.

All About Taxes and Spending. Srsly.

13 Jul

When I was a kid in the 70s, I’d come home from school and one of the shows that would come on channel 5 would be the “Little Rascals”. They don’t show those classic shorts anymore. Thanks to cable TV, there is a glut of contemporary shows geared to kids of all ages. But the Little Rascals may have been progressive for the 30s by letting white kids play with black kids, but I distinctly recall one episode where Stymie was sweating into a pile of flour, and his sweat came out black. In the clip referenced below, “Obama” is depicted by Allen “Farina” Hoskins from the 1930 short “Teacher’s Pet”. (You can see that episode here in its entirety). I think most people would agree that, as far as that show was concerned, what was progressive for the 30s may be considered neanderthal some 70+ years later.

So to bring us around to my point today, Allen Coniglio, a self-appointed “leader” of the Ostrowski wing of the local tea party, sent this around to his small group:

If you do nothing else in your life, you must see this. It may be the funniest thing you ever see. Hurry. They have taken this down half a dozen times but thankfully, someone keeps putting it back up. [link removed]
Allen

I won’t embed the video, because it depicts Farina as Obama, makes jokes about Joe Lieberman and the Holocaust, and likens Nancy Pelosi to a whore (she is a powerful woman, after all).

I’ve only been alive for a little more than 40 years, and I can categorically say that I’ve seen literally thousands of funnier things. There’s clearly a reason it gets taken down constantly, and preservation of an 80 year-old copyright isn’t the reason why. This is the same crowd that supports an angry horse-porn aficionado and sender of racist emails whose entire platform consists of being angry.

I think racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism are disgusting and reprehensible. I can’t fathom why or how anyone takes these people seriously. These people are petrified of change, terrified of other people’s ideas, and especially hostile to people who aren’t white males. There’s nothing new about the tea party or its leaders, and the Obama administration has emboldened them to bring their deepest fears and prejudices to the surface.

Obama’s Military Problem

23 Jun

General McChrystal, one of the country’s best military minds, has been fired for having a (at best) nonpolitical or (at worst) judgment-poor one. In his place enters demoted General Petraeus, who leaves his coveted Central Command post to pull another President’s ass out of the fire. The savior of the Bush Iraq legacy is now janitor to the Obama Afghanistan policy.

In his speech today, President Obama called for unity. But one major casualty of a long, drawn out, public airing of grievances when formulating war strategy is exactly that. At the end of the day, the military always must salute smartly to civilian leadership; it is a key strength of our country that our military always does so. McChrystal was way off base (though not a breaker of the Code of Conduct, as Obama mentioned), and needed to be sacked. But just because General McChrystal was wrong on tact and judgment does not make him wrong on facts. Obama has an Afghanistan problem, and a military problem, and today made neither better.

McChrystal’s key complaint, or revelation if you will, is that the Obama administration is fragmented, out of touch, and unsupportive. How could be anything but? Despite Obama’s complaint that the Bush administration took its eye off the ball on Afghanistan, he clearly is more consumed by Healthcare, the Economy, the BP Oil Spill, and even Immigration than the war. The meeting McChrystal was kicked out of was the monthly Afghanistan War meeting that the President attends. Obama has visited Afghanistan once since announcing his Surge. The administration is thinking about other priorities, and even on Afghanistan, does not speak with one voice. Despite a career as a lawyer and Senator, Vice President Biden fancies himself a strategic mastermind, and was publicly at odds with the military before, during, and after the Surge decision was made. His Stand-Back-and-Shoot-Missiles-At-Them approach didn’t work during the Clinton years, and makes as many terrorists as it kills now in Pakistan. Media savvy Ambassador Eikenberry publicly undermined and outmaneuvered McChrystal, who know where Holbrooke and Jim Jones are, and the Secretary of State is concentrating on other areas of the world. The War in Afghanistan is not even the number one foreign policy issue, much less a priority of the President’s. If McChrystal feels alone and abandoned, do you blame him? 

Chris Smith laid out this morning that McChrystal gave a giant middle finger to the country as a whole, and was a torturer to boot. This is as ludicrous as it is off base. As that Esquire article points out, and those in the “black” or “grey” worlds know, no one has any idea who works for which agency, once the operations begin. That McChrystal was any more involved in the spectrum from interrogations to torture is conjecture at best and libel at worst. But even if he was the Chief Water Dripper, was he not following the leadership of the civilian authority, as “Cheney’s man” (Chris’ mocking title), what we’re mad he didn’t do now? And don’t tell me that officers have to only follow “lawful orders;” the jury is still out on the legality of any of those actions (note the Obama administration’s continued use of Gitmo and rendition). And finally, if McChrystal is such a heinous Cheney torturista, why did Obama hire him in the first place? In the end, the buck stops with the Obama administration’s failed procedural and bureaucratic approach. I say it all the time, but at the end of the day. Americans do not want large or small government – they want competent government. The Bush administration screwed up the Iraq War from the start, and was killed for it. Should we not have learned something, and not make the same mistakes?

Which leads to Obama’s larger military problem. McChrystal was very popular with the troops, and while Petraeus is generally regarded as a rock star, most soldiers aren’t happy when their popular leader is let go for simply “speaking the truth” about a war they are frustrated with. If a President popular with the military were taking the action, it would go over better. Nuke dropping Truman could fire MacArthur. But the military, demographically, is not Obama’s base. As military bases closed throughout the Northeast and Midwest, Blue States lost their personal connection to the armed forces, and fewer sons and daughters joined. The military has consolidated its large posts in Texas, the Southwest, and Southeast: Red America. And while the South has always had a proud military service tradition, drafts and recruiting have previously kept the map balanced. No longer. The military will always follow orders, but when an unpopular Commander-in-Chief lowers already poor morale, it makes the administration’s already tough job only harder.

Did Obama have any choice but to fire McChrystal? Probably not. But now that we’re here, how does he get the unity of effort he desires? And will Eikenberry and Biden get private dressings down for setting up for failure the President’s general of choice?

McChrystal Unplugged

23 Jun

HT Marquil at EmpireWire.com

This Just In!

17 Jun

Wonkette on Obama’s Oval Office speech:

The reviews are in for the president’s big Oval Office speech last night, and the consensus is “Meh, this is stupid, why did I watch this stupid thing, this is stupid.” If the pundit class is bored of his speeches, can Obama really continue to be president? Probably not.

News – especially cable news – is just awful.

Humbled

17 Jun

President Obama gave a less than satisfying speech last night about the oil spill. It follows 50 odd days of less than satisfying response by all of the players involved. As of today, fingers are still pointing, people are still complaining, and most importantly, oil is still spilling. We have argued before about whether it makes sense to try to clean up the oil before you plug the hole. Obama said during the campaign a president must chew gum and walk at the same time. Not in this case.

Chris Smith did a great column on the impotent rage the average American feels, and the sense of loss and lack of control. Imagine if you were the President. You can arm twist BP into creating a $20B fund for damages. But you can’t stop the damages in the first place. For the first time in your life, you have encountered a problem you can’t solve.

Obama ran on a message of Hope. But has Hope failed? No, I don’t mean in a Palin-esque How’s-That-Hopey-Changing-Thing Going. My argument is only slightly more nuanced. //sarcasm// I have said before that Americans, in general, do not want a smaller government or larger government; they want a competent government. Bush began his downfall in the eyes of the general public during the mess of Katrina. He has been excoriated since for leading an incompetent government: FEMA can’t help the Gulf, the intel community was wrong about WMDs, the military can’t win in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the credit markets are unregulated and allowed to fail.

Obama implicitly promised competence when he simultaneously promoted Hope, Change, and an activist government that could fix people’s problems: healthcare, the economy, etc. But has this idealist philosophy met the solid wall of pragmatism so early? Most Presidents become pragmatists eventually, but it normally is an intractable Congress that defeats them. Here, it appears our modern unsustainable world has run afoul of Mr. Obama’s Hope.

Our modern house-of-cards economy and lifestyle is based upon corporations and systems taking risks beyond the ability of any organization, including the government, to insure against failure. BP did not create the system of world dependence on oil any more than Lehman Brothers created the housing bubble. But both got rich in that under-regulated, risk promoting system, and neither had the ability to remedy the situation when disaster struck. Our laissez-faire economic system is based upon the fundamental principle that if an individual takes risks, they bear the burden of losses or gains. That the individual is allowed to take risks beyond their ability to make their debtors whole in case of failure has been true for some time. Society in general has born risks in promotion of the overall good: when a factory has a major accident or fire, the government absorbs the risk the factory can not (i.e. fighting the fire, rescuing the wounded, etc). The individual took risks, they defaulted and were overwhelmed, but government, through policy or direct action, could always act as a safety valve.

This is no longer true. Our credit markets and BP wrote checks our government can’t cash. The financial markets traded hundreds of trillions worth of CDOs in a fantasy land that ultimately nearly caused another Great Depression. BP drilled for oil in a place where an accident would cause an unsolvable problem. Government is no longer the actor of last resort. The government acts, but the markets still crash, and the oil still spills.

What if our government can not solve our problems because the systems have grown beyond them? There are now forces larger and more powerful than The Greatest Country in the World. Where does that leave a Hopeful president? Where does that leave the message of Hopeful government?

Assigning Blame, Missing the Cause

16 Jun


Chris has a pair of BP-related posts up, one of which speaks to the roots of the problem itself – why we’re drilling where we are, and why the government is essentially impotent to do anything meaningful about it. The other post reacts to Obama’s speech last night.

To be frank, I couldn’t bear to watch Obama’s speech last night because I didn’t think he’d have the balls to really tell it like it is. Chris’ recap indicates that he ended with a prayer. Give me a fucking break. That’s just ridiculous – as ridiculous as a semi-talented Grammy winner thanking God for the wild success of a synthesized shit dance tune that happened to be voted “best song”.

God didn’t cause the spill, and He isn’t going to fix it. Any more than the government caused the spill or is equipped to fix it.

The Gulf disaster is so unfathomable to me because our system of “do whatever you want” short-term-vision laissez-faire deregulation is the root cause of this.

An acoustic valve could have been fitted, and may have very well prevented this sort of blowout. But it wasn’t there. It’s a $500,000 device that could have prevented an unprecedented, epic environmental disaster.

The impotence and corruption of federal regulators such as, in this case, the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service has also come to light, and our recent penchant to deregulate things that by their very nature ought to be regulated has come back to haunt us.

Government may have contributed to this blowout, but not in the way partisans suggest.

The Deepwater Horizon was permitted to be built in a place and in a way that would specifically contribute to this catastrophe.

Apparently, the technology to safely drill at that depth is either inadequate, or simple methods to prevent this sort of catastrophe were eschewed because (1) they weren’t mandated; and (2) they cost a few bucks.

So to assail Obama on hope and change is beyond being beside the point. I mean, if, as depicted in your last sentence, Obama can’t solve the problem, how exactly is he supposed to be effective and not suck?

There’s a corollary story that Chris doesn’t touch on because he doesn’t try to politicize his post beyond talking about corporate America’s control over our lives, as well as the power that oil consumption needs have on our economy. That has to do with the clamor from many who detest Obama and his supposed communism who all of a sudden have a burning need for the government to solve their problems.

I know that anti-Obama partisans are trying very hard to gain momentum for the “Obama’s Katrina” meme, but the problem there is that it is a man-made disaster. How many times has the right beat the drum that government is never the solution to our problems – it is the problem. It’s the entire foundation of modern Reaganist conservatism, such as it still exists (which I don’t think it has since Bush 1 left office, but that’s a different story). The corollary to that is that every one of our problems can be solved by private business, private entrepreneurship, free market initiative, so long as government would just get out of the way.

How fascinating to have the anti-Obama right clamor for a governmental response to an environmental disaster. It’s practically the bizarro world in that contemporary Palinist Republicans suddenly give a shit about the environment! About ecological disaster! They want – nay demand governmental action and swift response!

That rank hypocrisy is so very telling, and every time a Republican starts demanding that Obama – that the government – do more, that needs to be thrown directly back in their face because it fundamentally rebuts their entire contemporary ethos.
Well, for the same reasons we protected New Orleans from flooding with ancient levee technology, the US isn’t good on the whole long-run planning thing, and we never have been.

That’s why it’s beyond critical to start finding other sources of energy to power this country. Renewable sources, cleaner sources, sources that don’t make us dependent on foreign corporations or foreign states.

So to blame Obama is just idiotic.

We ourselves are to blame. And so, frankly, is Dick Cheney.

The Oil Disaster

16 Jun

I’ve spent a lot of time consuming information, updates and coverage of the BP oil disaster.  I haven’t written about it because I’ve had trouble synthesizing all of the information while trying to establish a perspective on what it all means.  It’s easy to politicize the disaster by blaming Cheney, Bush, or Obama.  It’s our natural reaction to demand that the President “show more emotion” or to advocate for the cockamamie solution of the day (like big vacuums or Russian nukes) or to just get angry.  After all, none of us know shit about how to stop the leak, comprehend the physics involved with capping a spewing wellhead 5,000 feet under the ocean, understand the implications of putting BP into temporary receivership, or know whether or not any of the solutions proffered by political pundits on panel shows merit serious consideration.

Instead, like many of you, I’m left feeling an impotent kind of rage, a constant horrible feeling of sad resignation that our country will never again be quite the same.

I keep thinking that this event should be a clarion call for us to realize the cost of our lifestyles, public policy, and the danger of our corporatist government.  It is troubling to watch a President and a nation humbled at the feet of British Petroleum.  We’ve ceded control of both the immediate fix to the continual stream of oil into our waters and the cleanup operation to a foreign corporation.  The failure of our response is predicated on the choices we’ve made as a people, the things we value, the way we live…not because the President is too deliberative or indecisive.  He’s struggling to respond because we’ve limited his set of choices.

Every component of the BP response is done with an eye on limiting their long term liability, protecting their shareholders, managing their public image and their ultimate corporate survival.  This isn’t news, BP is a corporation and the job of the CEO and Board of Directors is to do just that.  I’m sure if they had a fix, they would implement it as that would certainly help their efforts to protect shareholder value.  Unfortunately, they have created a disaster that may be remembered on the same level as Chernobyl or Bhopal and it will be incredibly difficult for them to ever return to their previous status.

The part I think we’re leaving out of the equation in our national discussion of this disaster is our ownership of it.  It’s also in the interest of our government to help BP limit their liability and protect their shareholders; maybe that’s the tough truth we’re all having so much trouble coming to terms with.

We need oil and we need a lot of it.  We need it cheap, we need it now and we need it to subsidize the past 50 years of sprawl and our demand for cheap products and convenience.  Oil companies know that they have the upper hand in this relationship, they know that we’re smack addicts who need their product in order to function. It’s why we deregulate their operations and only provide limited oversight of their operations, it’s why we’ve let them subsidize the risk of their drilling operations while maximizing their profit, why we let them increase the risk and drill further and further from shore without preparing tested contingency plans for disaster.

We’re not prepared for a future without cheap oil and our foreign policy agenda, national economic priorities, energy policy, and domestic policy choices are based on maintaining access to it.  BP is a global corporate powerhouse with drilling rigs, refineries and distribution points in nearly every nation of interest on the planet.  They provide gas and oil to our military and their fuel powers the ships which bring us the food and goods we buy everyday.  Their oil goes into the plastics we use and powers the machines in our own factories.  Every single step of our production and consumption cycle is influenced by the availability and price of oil.  BP (and the other major oil companies) hold significant power with our allies and enemies alike, they are essentially treated with the gravitas of an actual country.  Upsetting the global balance of oil can have long term ramifications on our ability to borrow, negotiate, or leverage relationships in our continual two front war and the maintenance of our empire.

Faced with that knowledge and an understanding that there is a limited number of oil companies which have the ability to deliver us this most basic societal and economic necessity, it’s in the best interest of the President to be measured in his response to the crisis.  As a nation we are limited in how we can respond, the greatest nation the world has ever known, humbled and subservient to our own need for oil and the companies which provide it.

This, this is what saddens me the most.

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