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The Obama Administration Is Failing the Gulf Coast

As I've mentioned before, I really have not wanted to reflexively blame the Obama administration for not doing more to contain and collect the oil spewing out of British Petroleum's disaster. But I keep hearing more and more stories of delays, red tape, and inefficiency. This column by Winston Groom in today's Mobile Register crystallizes my growing dismay (Groom is the author of Forrest Gump and lives in Point Clear, a few miles from me):

" wonder what the administration’s response would be if the oil were spilling up in Long Island Sound and threatening New York Harbor, or in San Francisco Bay — or, worse still, in Nantucket Sound, soiling the immaculate beaches of Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod."

You really don't have to wonder for very long, do you? No resources and no expense would have been spared. No excuses would have been accepted. I don't know, obviously, what's in the president's mind, but he and the people around him are from a class that tends to consider most of the south to be a repulsive place, a land of racist morons and a liability to the rest of the country. I don't say they would consciously choose to take a catastrophe here less seriously than one on the east coast, but that they would do so unconsciously I have no trouble at all believing. One needn't even postulate hostility, just a sense that this part of the country is really not that important.

One gets the sense that Obama himself is mostly annoyed by the whole thing, and that he is less interested in protecting the coast than in using the disaster to advance other agendas. This report of a meeting today bears that out. Granted, that's a hostile source, but the original source is not (I can't link to it because it requires a subscription), and the gist of the story fits with the big speech of a couple of weeks ago, with the continued slow pace of the response as indicated in stories like this one

Here is Winston Groom at greater length and with more specifics. He seems to be wrong, by the way, about the effect of the Jones Act, according to Admiral Allen. But whatever the reasons, there seems no doubt that the skimmers capable of keeping the oil away from our shores are in very short supply here, and sitting idle elsewhere. Probably there are explanations for that, having to do with regulations and logistical difficulties. That it would take a few weeks to get around those obstacles is understandable. But the spill has now been going on for over two months. People here are becoming deeply angry and embittered.

And I can't resist adding: if this had been President Bush, he would have been the object of non-stop vilification and ridicule by people who are mostly quiet now. I'm thinking of the conventional center-left press here; I think serious environmentalists have not been so docile.

Of course the administration is not responsible for the spill. BP gets the blame for that (there is some evidence that ultimately it was one BP employee who made the fatal decision that led to the blowout.) And the Bush administration can be blamed for lax standards at the Minerals Management Service, the agency that was supposed to regulate the oil industry. But Obama's Secretary of the Interior failed to follow through on promises of reform. By all accounts little had changed at MMS.

So the government failed at oversight, and is fumbling the response. Yet it complains that people don't trust it to run the health care system sensibly. 


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I can just barely stand to listen to anyone talk about this. I heard Bobby Jindal talking about it today and my stomach was in knots.


Yeah, that's why I haven't said too much about it. My friend Robert sent me a link to that W Groom piece in the Weekly Standard,, I'll just quote from my reply to him: "I really have not wanted to face this. I suspected the stuff Groom says might be going on, but part of me didn't really want to know, because I knew I would be full of despairing anger about something I can do nothing about. Which is now the case, having read Groom's piece--I was awake at 3am last night brooding about it."

But, you know, now that I've criticized the administration in a blog post, they'll probably try harder.

This is all BUSHitler's fault you know.

Well especially, Maclin, because you and the president are so close.

Last night after reading this, I realized for the first time that people in other parts of the US probably just aren't all that concerned about what is (or isn't) going on in the Gulf. It seems so ommipresent to me--so this-should-be-a-top-priortiy--because I have always loved Louisiana and because I know somebody that is being so directly impacted by it, but I guess people outside the south look on it the same way I looked on the Exxon Valdez spill--it's awful, but remote and I had other things to think about.


Someone at National Review's blog said something along those lines a few weeks ago--that the rest of the country is not actually losing much sleep about this. It really ticked me off but I guess it's true. I mean, I'm sure the average person thinks it's bad and is sorry that it's happening, but it's like any faraway disaster--not something you feel personally.

I do try to keep that in mind, Louise. In fact--I don't know why this hadn't occurred to me before--this may have been something Bush-Cheney-Rove arranged, to make Obama look bad.

Re the skimmers. I heard Mississippi governor Haley Barbour talking about the situation yesterday on the radio. He said that "our plans" for how many skimmers were needed were not made very well, and that they'd recently (like a week or so ago) ordered more skimmers to be *manufactured*, which I thought was surprising. He said they'd have them within a couple more weeks.

He was also saying that the actual beaches on the coast are fine, beautiful, clear, etc. Of course, he has an interest in keeping
tourism going.

Anyway, given what you've said here, I'm surprised that he, as a Republican from the South, didn't take the opportunity to blast Obama.

That's odd about the skimmers--he must be talking about something more specific. I don't think you can quickly manufacture the big vessels that do this, like the "A Whale", that is finally in the Gulf though I think still not cleared to go to work.

I really haven't heard too much from Republican politicians here that seemed like mere political point-scoring. I guess the situation is too serious for that.

All he said was "skimmers"...he didn't go into further detail.

I don't think it would be "mere political point scoring" to point out real failures. But perhaps he was worried that it would be portrayed as such. Or perhaps it was edited out.

Yeah, I didn't mean that any criticism would be point-scoring. There's been plenty of that (criticism). I was thinking of the kind of sweeping partisan denunciation that you hear so often: "This just proves once again how indifferent to the concerns of ordinary Americans the Democrats/Republicans are..." etc. etc.

It's a disaster of such world-wide environmental significance that I'm surprised any Americans themselves could even seem to be indifferent. But then they did turn down a dozen offers of international assistance.

I suppose that lack of response to the offers of help would turn out, upon examination, to have to do with Rules and Regulations. But I don't know. It certainly is weird. That's the sort of thing I mean when I say "If it were Nantucket..."

Well, according to this article (if you google "bp oil spill international assistance" you'll find more), they've recently accepted international assistance. And apparently, some international assistance has already been in use for some time:

Yes, it' already something like six weeks ago that I remember reports of international help being declined. I suppose back then things didn't look so desperate.

This morning:

The headline for this story on the paper paper, which for some reason they don't use on the web site, is something like "Entire Baldwin [county] coast hit with oil". Baldwin County is that bit of Alabama on the east side of Mobile Bay--mostly one long beach, about 30 mile/48km.

Well, I read as much as I could stand. I just don't get it. I just don't get it.


My blog post seems to have set off a wave of protest throughout the web:

That first one includes the Jones Act complaint which seems to be at least mostly inapplicable. Some of the other things are probably pertinent. There are some interesting things in the comments there, though you have to wade through some "Obama wants to destroy the country" stuff.

"I don't know, obviously, what's in the president's mind, but he and the people around him are from a class that tends to consider most of the south to be a repulsive place, a land of racist morons and a liability to the rest of the country."

This is undoubtedly one aspect of what's at play here. A couple years ago I read a piece by Paul Gottfried entitled something like "Why They Hate Us," (can't find it online unfortunately) about how and why Northern elites despise the South. There is no doubt that if this were a Northern shoreline being affected action would have been taken much earlier.

You can even see a difference in response to this crisis compared with that of Katrina. Part of it is undoubtedly because of the difference in attitude by the elites towards the respective occupants of the White House. But also remember that the key concern with Katrina was New Orleans -- a city. New England liberals and their Beltway cronies care far more what happens to American cities (wherever they may be located) because they own them politically and it is from them that they draw the vast majority of their support.

Almost all the major cities in the U.S. are controlled by liberal Democrats, and the election of Obama was largely an urban phenomenon (check out the demographic maps of the election county by county). Thus American cities like N'Awlins are basically seen as outposts of the "enlightened" centers of NYC, DC and LA, and far more attention is paid to them than to small towns and esp. to rural areas. Never mind that New Orleans is a city in the South -- to a certain extent all American cities are "Northern" to this crowd.

There's a lot to that, I fear. Besides the fact that it's a city, New Orleans has a lot of cachet. Its ethnic mix probably makes it even more appealing, in theory, to northern liberals. Though I don't think that would apply to, say, Birmingham, which probably has at least as high a percentage of black people.

When you think about it...the words "Alabama and Mississippi" are probably among the most odious in the language to white liberals outside the south. Georgia, the Carolinas, Louisiana--they have some of the southern racist stigma, but less, for various reasons, partly including the fact that some of the most notorious racial strife of the '60s occurred here. I don't know if we'll ever be able to erase it.

It was often hard to tell from the news coverage, but it was the Mississippi coast that took the real impact of Katrina as a storm. It was pretty much leveled. What happened to New Orleans was a sort of side effect, due to the levee breaches.

I know I am late to the conversation, but I really must dissent from most of what is being said here.
I think this post highly ironic, Maclin, as I recall you dismissing the notion that Bush's weak response to Katrina was in part because the victims were poor and black. I think that at least as likely as your "they hate us because we are Southerners" theory. Now, no doubt regional hostilities still exist to some degree, as do stereotypes. But I don't think Northern antipathy for the South is any worse than Southern antipathy for the North, and most likely not as bad. Ditto for the stereotypes. But in the Northerner, at least for many of us, there is also a romanticization of things Southern.
And I just don't see the indifference, either. People around the world are watching this in horror; the longterm environmental impact may not be just regional, after all.
And as for Northerners not caring much about the southern coasts, just who the heck do you think winters there? And retires there? Or simply vacations yearly for a welcome relief from the cold? I have family ties, it is true, but a lot of Northerners have great affection for their particular favorite Southern beach.
So why is the gummint so inept at responding? I don't know; why were they so inept at regulating the industry, at foreseeing the possibility of this kind of disaster? Maybe the government is just inept, period, no matter if it is the Stupid Evil Party or the Evil Stupid Party running things?

Whoa--I wasn't talking about people in general, I talking about the mostly white urban liberal class that populates the Obama administration, nor was I saying that they hate us--only that they would have taken an oil spill off Cape Cod more seriously than an oil spill off the Redneck Riviera. I can't prove that, obviously, but it sure is plausible. "I don't say they would consciously choose to take a catastrophe here less seriously than one on the east coast, but that they would do so unconsciously I have no trouble at all believing."

I didn't jump to this conclusion. I arrived reluctantly at it 60-plus days into the thing. Once Groom said it, I realized it made sense.

I think this is the exchange you're referring to:

It appears we were mostly talking about the local response to Katrina, not Bush's, at least at the point where I questioned the imputation of racism. Anyway, people can read it for themselves.

Regarding regionalism. Someone had mentioned a reaction to Exxon-Valdez as concerned but not urgent (sorry if my paraphrasing stinks). In the Pacific-Northwest, Exxon-Valdez is remembered as a real catastrophe, one that occupied the minds of people here to a large extent. Much more so the Mt St Helens explosion (which was incidentally an almost exclusively rural disaster). The disaster in your backyard is always the most important one.

To illustrate the point:

This isn't meant as an excuse for the BP response, nor is it meant as an attempt to deflate your criticisms. The original post was, after all, about the Gulf of Mexico & Obama's response to this particular spill. But in a discussion that has ranged from the Manhattan Project (from the "Man in the Moon Fallacy" post) to Hurricane Katrina, is it a stretch to assume that the Nigerian oil problems haven't been discussed here because they're so far away and they're not American?

No argument with that at all. That's perfectly natural. I readily admit that my reaction to the Exxon-Valdez spill was "Wow, that's a real shame, hope they get it cleaned up." But it's a very different matter if responding to a disaster with federal resources is part of your job description. If indeed there has been any lack of urgency about the Gulf spill that can be attributed to this syndrome, it ought to have been shaken off a long time ago.

I really had not seriously considered that possibility until I read that Winston Groom piece. I mean, it had crossed my mind, but until he posed the "if this were Nantucket" scenario, I had dismissed it. Suddenly it seemed plausible.

Of course if it was Nantucket there never would have been an oilwell. Just the nature of things, really.
My favorite theory: Alex Jones, a "9/11 Truth" talk show host, says that BP did this intentionally! But then he also said that Katrina was created by the federal government.
Those dirty rats...

A headline I saw somewhere today but didn't click on: "BP Says Oil in Gulf Should Be Changed Every Six Months."

OT - Maclin what sort of rate of income tax do Americans pay on average? Nick and I are sick of the waste our guvvermints exhibit with our money. just trying to get a feel for things elsewhere. Nick told me last night that income tax was only introduced for the war effort in WW2! 65 years later...

I can't give you much of an answer to that off the top of my head. I think it's rather complicated. It's a sliding scale--the more money you make, the greater the percentage of your income you pay. But there are all sorts of exemptions and exception.s It was reduced in the '80s under Reagan. I've been seeing it batted around on conservative web sites that some huge percentage of people--over 50%--no longer actually pay any net income tax at all, but I can't vouch for that. Of course liberals have a different version of the facts. :-) My *guess* is that unless you're in the top few percent of earners your rate is not more than 20%.

Ours was supposed to be a sort of emergency measure, too, though somewhat earlier. I've read that originally it affected only the wealthy, 1% or so of the population.

Probably a few minutes with Google would turn up a better answer. If I have time later I'll do that.

Thanks, maclin. Ours is a similar set up regarding the sliding scale although I think many people are paying more than 20% all up. We probably pay about that ourselves by the time we receive our family allowance, which is really a refund on the taxes which should never have been taken in the first place!

As a side note, Nick keeps threatening to move us all to Houston, Texas!

Is he in the oil business? Houston is not exactly on most people's wish-I-lived-there lists. There is a joke about its combination of heat and pollution which I think is very funny but unfortunately is not repeatable here.

I think U.S. taxes are fairly low compared to Europe.

All I remember about the history of English taxes is that around 1800 you had to pay duty to employ a manservant but not to employ a maid, and journalists had a field-day at the expense of Members of Parliament.

I'm actually doing my taxes now (not having managed to finish them before we went on holiday, and the deadline being tomorrow). It turns out my business expenses and social security payments for last year come to only about 1000 euros less than I made from translation (largely because I spent months on four big jobs that I could only bill for early this year). Hopefully that means I won't pay any taxes at all this year.

In "Treason's Harbour," by Patrick O'Brien, where Aubrey and Maturin are having a discussion about patriotism, Maturin asks how anyone could love England with taxes at 2 shillings to the pound (ie one sixth of income).

Yes, Maclin, Nick is a geologist so he has done a lot of work for oil companies. No, I don't really want to live in Houston!

It was a 10% sales tax that started the Dutch Revolt. Sales tax in Belgium is now 21% in most cases (but with lower rates for some goods and services).

21% sales tax?!? Unless that's the only tax you pay, that's pretty outrageous. Ours is 10% and that's too high--it's partly because our property taxes are too low, and Powerful Interests keep them that way, leaving the sales tax as an easier way for the govt to raise money.

I'd gladly have a 21% sales tax if we would abolish income tax. It would be more ethical to tax consumption (except essentials like food etc) than income (i.e. labour).

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