The Mouse that Roared: Obama’s Unhappy Redux

The Mouse that Roared: Obama’s Unhappy Redux

(A version of this article was published in Blogcritics on June, 2010)

I

Justly or not, the Gulf Coast disaster is Mr. Obama’s Katrina. From the get-go, the administration’s involvement was lukewarm, if not lackadaisical. It took BP’s estimates of the spill-flow for granted, along with their plans of damage control. It wasn’t until week three or four that the Unified Command was formed under the supervision of the Coast Guard Admiral, Thad Allen, retired but promptly recalled for the express purpose of “taking charge.” But even then, BP was allowed to have the run of the place.I

II

Apart from the efforts at stopping the leakage, efforts at containment were equally anemic and uncoordinated. Instead of getting involved in an all-out effort, state and local agencies were kept out of the loop. SOS calls to other oil-producing nations and operators in the immediate area of the spill were ineffective as well. And it was no different with media coverage: its access to the disaster site was severely restricted.

III

It would seem the only object of both BP and the governmental agencies in charge was PR — keeping a tight lid on daily developments rather than dealing with the problem at hand. Indeed, the administration played the role of a patsy, a patsy to a self-serving and stonewalling BP. Until . . .

IV

Until it became apparent the existing state of affairs was no longer sustainable. It was only then that the outrage began. 

BP was evil — was the administration’s outcry. It had put profit above safety. Human life and ecology were secondary. It was petroleum above all else they wanted, whatever the human or environmental cost. 

Certainly an abrupt about-face for a president who only a while ago thought nothing of corporatism or bailing out companies that were “too big to fail,” but are you surprised?

V

This week’s grilling of the oil company’s executives by the congressional committee was a sight to behold. Unanimously, they’ve all distanced themselves from the shoddy practices of the BP barracuda, swearing to high heavens the spill wouldn’t have happened under their watch. 

No doubt, each and everyone was prompted by Rep. Henry Waxman’s correspondence and the retrieved emails, nearly proving BP’s culpability and the policy of cutting corners. The distinct impression one got, they were all for the kill, a corporate buyout, so much better at corporate piracy than ‘operation rescue.”  

That’s corporate loyalty for you, in case you wonder.

VI

And now we come to Mr. Obama’s meeting with Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s Chairman of the Board, and the usual suspects. Desperate to save his tarnished image, the president managed to secure a twenty-billion dollar escrow account to settle all BP-related claims, but that’s anticlimactic considering the aftermath. 

VII

If you think the BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward’s gaffe —“I’d Like My Life Back” — is for the books, consider Mr. Svanberg. Not once, not twice, but three times, in fact, that gentleman kept on referring to helping out the “small people” — a sentiment he was proud to say, both he and the president shared in common. 1

Apparently, English isn’t Mr. Svanberg’s strong suit. Finance is. And so, the saga continues.

VIII

Mr. Hayward is history now, and Mr. Svanberg will soon join him.1 But this article isn’t about greed or corporate culture. Nor is it about how “the big” view the “small.” 2 

That’s old news! What’s really at stake is a state of fissure — a fissure concerning the allies, the Brits and the Yanks in particular. Since the War of Independence, we’ve been in a virtual disagreement concerning allegiance to the Crown. Still, economically, we’ve always been on the same page.

IX

Well, this could well change. What I’m suggesting is that current developments, coupled with Mr. Obama’s obvious insecurity about his political future, may well put this happy relationship to an end. 

In any event, we’re beginning to see the cracks within the capitalist camp.

X

What, of course, underpins the fissure is the quickly eroding public confidence in the giant multinationals. Even the Republicans can’t defend the actions of the undeniably negligent BP — not with a straight face, anyway. For all the political posturing from the conservative Right – Rep. Joe Barton from Texas representing a failed effort – there appears to be a tacit agreement. Given the present climate of political gridlock, the opposing parties being virtually at each other’s throats, that’s refreshing.

XI

Only yesterday, Goldman Sachs and General Motors were the beneficiaries of massive bailouts at the taxpayers’ expense. Today, Toyota and BP are fully accountable.

One should hope for more of the same, but it’s a welcome trend.

XII

These are the unintended consequences of Rahm Emanuel’s motto — “Never allow a crisis go to waste.” 3

I doubt whether our lusterless leaders have foresight enough, let alone the fortitude, to see the light at the end of a tunnel; I’m willing to bet if they had their druthers, they’d keep on accepting campaign contributions from the petroleum industry. But that option is no longer available, not in the immediate future.

It’s a good thing that events move men, not men events!.

Notes

  1. According to Mr. Svangerg, he was drawing upon a Swedish phrase, den lilla människan. The correct translation of the Swedish phrase would have been “the common person.” Svanberg subsequently apologized for the term and attributed his unfortunate choice of words to a “slip in translation.”
  2. These predictions didn’t exactly bear out. Within three years of the Deepwater Horizon, Mr. Hayward was honored as a “distinguished leader” by the University of Birmingham. At present, he’s a chairman of Genel Energy, an oil company with production facilities in Iraqi Kurdistan. As to Mr. Svanberg, he’s the current chairman of Volvo and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award to bootIt’d seem as though just like bad cops always fall through the cracks to turn up elsewhere, the same is true of failed executives. One would hope that things might be different in Sweden, especially since it bills itself as a social democracy, but apparently, the “revolving door” policy is in full swing in that country as well.   
  3. Naomi Klein might well second that sentiment, though with tongue-in-cheek. See, for instance, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. For a snippet, see the following video.  

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