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Day 59

Joyce Marcel

The other evening in Bellows Falls, Vermont, Beausoleil sang "The Problem," a song JJ Cale wrote and recorded in 2004, long before the BP oil spill: "Have you heard the news that's going 'round here/The man in charge has got to go/Cause he dances 'round the problem, boy/And the problem is the man in charge, you know."


I could go on, blah blah blah, about the despicable bottom-line rule over our lives by corporations.        

But James Surowiecki summed it up pretty well in the last issue of The New Yorker:

"It's hard to think of a recent disaster in the business world that wasn't abetted by inept regulation. Mining regulators allowed operators like Massey Energy to flout safety rules. Financial regulators let A.I.G. write more than half a trillion dollars of credit-default protection without making a noise. The S.E.C. failed to spot the frauds at Enron and WorldCom, gave Bernie Madoff a clean bill of health, and decided to let Wall Street investment banks take on obscene amounts of leverage while other regulators ignored myriad signs of fraud and recklessness in the sup prime-mortgage market. These failures weren't accidents."


Throw in the Pentagon budget and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and you've got the picture.        

So what is our government doing about it? Well, according to President Obama's speech on Tuesday night, it's going to form committees and pray.        

Yes, his speech was that disappointing. Given the stirring oratory that Obama has been capable of in the past, he looked wooden and detached in the Oval Office.        

He'd just come back from the Gulf, where he saw glop on the beaches and maybe an oil-covered pelican or two, but it was hard to imagine that he cared. There was no mourning in his eyes, no sadness. Maybe he's bored with being president.


The rest of us? The bird pictures alone break our hearts.        

Obama spoke about how much his administration has done. "(Deployed) nearly 30,000 personnel across four states to clean up and contain the oil ... 17,000 National Guard ... millions of gallons have already been collected."


Today is Day 59 of the well explosion that killed 11 people and is sending an estimated 2.5 million gallons of crude oil each day gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.        

In terms of the U.S. addiction to oil, it's a miniscule amount. According to ABC News, U.S. motorists burn roughly 400 million gallons of gasoline every day, and "the BP leak (if estimates of its size are right) would need to bleed on, unfettered, for three more years to equal America's daily consumption."


Obama used a lot of war language in his speech: "Make no mistake, we will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes." 

But aggressive talk doesn't inspire much confidence, given that the United States has not fared well when it abdicates intelligence and feeling and goes directly to bombing. Cases in point: the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the War on Drugs, etc.


Another part of Obama's plan is "to focus on the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast."        

That, my dear young president, will take decades and might never happen. The irreparable damage to birds, ocean life, marshes, wetlands and to the human beings whose way of life depends on the Gulf -- just to squeeze out a few more days of driving time -- may be permanent. The effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound are still ongoing; the herring have never returned.


So what's the president's plan here? Another committee, gosh darn it.        

Then BP will pay out lots of dollars, as if that will make everything cleaner and better. And then, in this fairy tale world, Americans will eat oysters again as they wean themselves from fossil fuels.        

When Obama started to rhapsodize over "clean energy,"  I waited for him to tout nuclear power, as he has often done in the past. But at least he left that part of the picture vague. Otherwise, we'd have to send him a scrapbook filled with pictures of nuclear waste stored above ground in almost every state with a plant -- including ours, which sits on the banks of the lovely Connecticut River -- and ask if that looks "clean" to him.


For his big finish, Obama brought in the God stuff: "Pray for the people of the Gulf."        

Speaking of God, to quote the Web site The Awl, "A bolt of lightning struck the ship capturing oil from the blown-out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, igniting a fire that halted containment efforts in another setback for the embattled company... BP expects to resume operations later this afternoon, unless it is confronted by boils, locusts, lice and darkness."


I don't know where or when or in which industry the next disaster will strike -- maybe on the banks of the lovely Connecticut River? -- but I know Cale got it right: "The problem is the man in charge of you."

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

  Joyce Marcel ( is a journalist and columnist who lives in Dummerston, Vermont. You can reach her at

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