Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gulf Spill NOT Obama's Katrina, and Action We Can Take

The GOP and others on the right, ever seeking to find something to use to attack President Obama, have been calling the Gulf oil spill "Obama's Katrina." In The New Republic, Yuval Levin in The Corner wrote:
 "I think it’s actually right to say that the BP oil spill is something like Obama’s Katrina, but not in the sense in which most critics seem to mean it.

It’s like Katrina in that many people's attitudes regarding the response to it reveal completely unreasonable expectations of government. The fact is, accidents (not to mention storms) happen. We can work to prepare for them, we can have various preventive rules and measures in place. We can build the capacity for response and recovery in advance. But these things happen, and sometimes they happen on a scale that is just too great to be easily addressed. It is totally unreasonable to expect the government to be able to easily address them—and the kind of government that would be capable of that is not the kind of government that we should want.

Let’s say a major hurricane hits a large and densely populated American city with five hundred thousand inhabitants. Much of the city is below sea level, and the flood-waters that follow in the wake of the storm quickly overrun it, filling nearly every street with water, in many places fifteen feet in depth. The magnitude of human suffering and destruction of property is mind-boggling. But within six days, everyone is out of the city and in total approximately one thousand people—one in five hundred residents—lost their lives in the calamity. Hour by hour, the government response was messy and ugly—it could hardly be otherwise given the magnitude of the disaster. But looked at with a little perspective, is that really a story of a failure of government response, or is it an example of how to contend with an immense natural disaster in a densely populated urban center? Is it a model of incompetence, or the most effective mass evacuation in human history?"

It sounds almost reasonable, and if someone had no understanding of the actual role of the federal government, particularly in regard to hurricane preparedness and disaster relief, the above makes some sense. Kind of.

Kevin Drum in his column in Mother Jones, responds. What he says, in part: [emphasis added]
"This conflates two very different things. Katrina was an example of the type of disaster that the federal government is specifically tasked with handling. And for most of the 90s, it was very good at handling them. But when George Bush became president and Joe Allbaugh became director of FEMA, everything changed. Allbaugh neither knew nor cared about disaster preparedness. For ideological reasons, FEMA was downsized and much of its work outsourced. When Allbaugh left after less than two years on the job, he was replaced by the hapless Michael Brown and the agency was downgraded and broken up yet again. By the time Katrina hit, the upper levels of FEMA were populated largely with political appointees with no disaster preparedness experience and the agency was simply not up to the job of dealing with a huge storm anymore.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion is almost the exact opposite. There is no federal expertise in capping oil blowouts. There is no federal agency tasked specifically with repairing broken well pipes. There is no expectation that the federal government should be able to respond instantly to a disaster like this. There never has been. For better or worse, it's simply not something that's ever been considered the responsibility of the federal government."

I respect President Obama claiming that "the buck stops with me" and that he is ultimately responsible for the disaster in the Gulf. I know that he is remembering the response to President Bush after his mishandling of Katrina and, especially in an election year which historically should bring the loss of Democratic seats, is trying to show that he is the anti-Bush, but I'm not sure that he is making the right move.

Yes, the federal government must be involved and hold BP, Deepwater, and Haliburton responsible. I think the government should have taken control over BP sooner, however, it is not his responsibility. It is his responsibility to ensure that BP is held accountable in a way that Exxon was able to avoid, and it is his responsibility to ensure that the MMS is either dissolved, or restructured, but this is in no way the fault of his administration except in the sense that his Secretary of the Interior Salazar did not move fast enough to clean up the mess that he inherited.

It won't be much longer before the public gets tired of this story--we can only take so much disaster before we need to turn away--and the media directs its attention elsewhere. As citizens, it is up to us to continue to put pressure on our representatives to keep this on top of the news and to support the legislation that will remove the limits on BP's liability, and ensure that BP does not get to have all future court hearings before the judge of their choice. Ask your representatives to make sure that all hearings related to this disaster are heard in the Gulf states, not in Houston before BP's handpicked judge. Make sure that those most harmed can participate in the process and will not be limited in the damages that they can seek.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

1 comment:

  1. I dont think people will get tired of this. With summer here water is key.
    A friend from NY coast reports noticing the color of the waves breaking on shore has changed to dark hue. She has lived there her entire life.

    The legal process, yes, that will take eons, as BP well knows. It is hard to forget the letters...BP.
    No matter what they may conjure in their greed dead brains.