Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gusher In The Gulf & Impotent Rage

Impotent rage is the flavor of the moment: Rage that so many of America's problems seem beyond solution and rage that the fat cats who triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression are still on top with nary a scratch while Main Street continues to suffer high unemployment and an endless epidemic of foreclosures.

Then there is the rage directed at BP for the monumental and as yet unstoppable disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and at President Obama and a federal bureaucracy that is paying the reaper for its historic aversion to petroleum industry oversight, including levying hefty fines on BP for previous disasters at its U.S. refineries but then repeatedly failing to follow up on the stuff that mattered.

Indeed, Washington knows that it is powerless, that only the petrochemical giant and not even an act of God can cap a wellhead that has been gushing tens of millions of gallons crude oil for an extraordinary 36 days.

But will one less gallon of oil spew from the graveyard of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig if Obama steps up the rhetoric and pounds the East Room podium just a little harder? Will one less oyster bed be contaminated? Will one less brown pelican be covered with gunk? Will BP suddenly become more responsive?

The answer to all of the above is "Of Course Not." And if you're a Rand Paul-style Tea Partier, then government needs to get out of the way, anyway, eh? because the rights of corporations trump those of individuals, be they Gulf state residents or coastal wildlife.

Beyond the rage is a willful ignorance over the fact that while the spill is another Katrina, it is Dick Cheney's Katrina, not Obama's. There also is a suffocating apathy. While BP will be paying out billions and billions of dollars for the clean-up and to settle lawsuits, its share price will rebound as it sets about rebranding itself.

Besides which, there is no grassroots campaign to boycott the company and there were just as many cars and trucks lined up at a BP station near my place last night as there were at the ExxonMobil, Sunoco and Shell.

Lest it seem like I'm letting Obama off the hook, I'm not.

While only BP can cap the well, the president has reacted more than led over the past month. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to force through the kind of reforms, as well as a moratorium on new offshore permits, that Americans who value snow egrets as well as cheap gas would get behind. And while he's at it, declare a state of emergency in the Gulf and threaten to seize BP's assets.

Photograph by Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press

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