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
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
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
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