Friday, June 18, 2010

Know Hope

Remember that unpopular health care bill? As parts of it start to go into effect, suddenly it's not so unpopular anymore. Now more Americans approve than disapprove. Think about that in connection with the next battle for clean energy, and don't miss Andrew Sullivan's eloquent appraisal of President Obama's achievements. It's called Getting Shit Done, and it ends: "And that's why Obama's incrementalism, his refusal to pose as a presidential magician, and his resistance to taking the bait of the fetid right (he's president - not a cable news host) seems to me to show not weakness, but a lethal and patient strength. And a resilient ambition. Know hope."

The self-destructive insanity from the Rabid Right GOP continues, with Rep. Joe Barton apologizing to BP for the President getting the $20 billion fund for Gulf gusher victims. But the left is suddenly not much better, from the virtual civil war being waged at Kos and more generally in the left blogosphere, and among the media pundits of whatever persuasion, whose self-fulfilling prophesies, which I've placed in this perspective here before, were exposed in a larger forum: Newsweek. For example, "In the postgame show, the pundits judged Obama’s success by how well or poorly he fulfilled the expectations that pundits like themselves had set earlier."

(Photos are from President Obama's appearance before the American Nurses Association yesterday--the Nurses were big supporters of healthcare reform. And thanks to blackwaterdog at Kos for links.)

Tough Repeat

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers who repeat as NBA champions in a tough seventh game over the Boston Celtics. There's more at American Dash.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pony Up

"Under pressure from President Barack Obama, BP agreed today to set aside $20 billion in a spill recovery escrow account to compensate Gulf Coast fishermen and others who have lost wages and work because of the massive spill from a BP deep-water well.

The company also said it will suspend its quarterly dividend payments to shareholders for the rest of this year and will divert some of that cash to the escrow account, which would be managed by an independent administrator and be funded over three and a half years.

BP also agreed to set aside $100 million to compensate oil industry workers whose jobs disappear because of the government's moratorium on deep-water drilling and a delay of exploration in shallower depths while regulators develop new safety regulations. "
---Houston Chronicle

Congress dithered and couldn't get this done. BP evaded, pouring its money into PR and planning bonuses and stock dividends. President Obama got what no one else got close to accomplishing. And as he promised in his Oval Office speech, the fund will not be administered by BP, or the government, but a special third party administrator. It could even be considered a "mind-boggling accomplishment." The President emphasized that the $20 billion is a floor, not a ceiling on what BP will pay to (as they're now saying in their TV ads) make this right. Oddly if predictably, Rabid Right GOPers are upset.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Only If We Seize the Moment

In his first Oval Office address to the nation, President Obama called the Gulf oil gusher "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced" but pledged "We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy."

He briefly described clean-up efforts and pledged full committment to restoration and recovery. He said that a way of life in the Gulf is threatened.
"I refuse to let that happen. Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party."

But he cautioned that nothing will solve all the problems associated with the gusher immediately. As a disaster it is less like an earthquake and more like an epidemic--something that lasts a long time, and has diffuse and unpredictable outcomes.

He talked about broader environmental restoration in the Gulf area, in a way that early reports and commentaries seemed to miss. He mentioned the history of environmental degradation in the area, even before this catastrophe. And he announced a comprehensive effort to change that, with the help and expertise of the people of the region: Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, who is also a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region."

He talked about how to prevent such disasters in the future. He zeroed in on the failed policy of deregulation, and vowed to make government oversight work again, specifically in the agency that allowed Big Oil a free pass: "And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency -- Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General. And his charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog -- not its partner."

But there will always be risks of such disasters as long as oil consumption in America requires dangerous deep-water drilling, as well as sending billions overseas for oil. So to prevent these catastrophes, the ultimate answer is an end to fossil fuel dependence, and a domestic clean energy economy: "We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny."

"As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs -– but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment."

The rest of his address outlined the coming fight for this new American clean energy economy, which involves everyone, but which will first of all be played out in the U.S. Congress. "When I was a candidate for this office, I laid out a set of principles that would move our country towards energy independence. Last year, the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill –- a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses."

He spoke about other ideas proposed in the Senate (where this legislation doesn't have the votes to overcome the promised GOPer fillibuster.) "All of these approaches have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet."

"It’s a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now."

In what will turn out to be his most prophetic words, President Obama said that: "The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -– what has always seen us through –- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it."

Here's a fairly objective account in the first hours after the speech. The first media and blogosphere comments on the address were either harshly critical (for several reasons, often contradictory ones) or with measured approval. In Peter Baker's mixed analysis for the NY Times, he wrote: "In his first use of the trappings of the office, Mr. Obama seemed at ease and filled the screen, as political professionals put it... Mr. Obama came across as confident and presidential..."

Baker noted a fact that surprised me a little--that at 18 minutes, President Obama's address was comparatively long for an Oval Office address. Much of the criticism of the speech concerned what he didn't say, that it wasn't specific and detailed enough, which would have made it a 30 minute speech at least. In terms of my expectations, President Obama hit the major points I believed were necessary, and he made strong, succinct statements in doing so. I also would have preferred him to be more descriptive, both of what the conditions now are and what's to be done. But some calculation about its length evidently was made in the White House.

We'll see over the next few days what the national reaction is, and of course, it will take a long time before its historical significance can be judged. Maybe it will take on political significance, but at least for now it does seem that realizing President Obama's fondest hope--for national unity in pursuit of a rational energy and climate policy to save the future--is not immediately apparent.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Week Ahead

President Obama returns to the Gulf Monday, for meetings and observations in several states, staying overnight in Florida and returning to Washington Tuesday evening, where he will give his first Oval Office address to the nation of his presidency at 8 pm. That gives instant pundits way too much time to advise him on what he must say. But since I'm on record here advising that he make such an address, let me state the obvious. He needs to talk about four things: (1)what the government is doing and will do to stop the oil gusher, (2) what the government is doing and will do to deal with the effects of the oil and chemicals (preventing further damage as much as possible to the Gulf, the wetlands and beaches, as well as compensation and restoration); (3) what the government is doing and will do to prevent such disasters in the future by real federal scrutiny and enforcement, and (4) how this catastrophe relates to the need for getting serious about transitioning to a clean energy economy and efforts to address the Climate Crisis, specifically in the climate and energy legislation now in Congress. That's a tall order for the rumored length of fifteen minutes, so I hope he speaks at greater length.

Meanwhile, next week may see the first storm of the hurricane season, now developing (and designated 92L.). Jeff Masters of Wunder Blog doesn't expect it to become a full hurricane nor get close to the Gulf, but it is unusually early, in waters that are unusually warm: "However, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) underneath 92L are an extremely high 28 - 30°C, which is warmer than the temperatures reached during the peak of hurricane season last year, in August - September. In fact, with summer not even here, and three more months of heating remaining until we reach peak SSTs in the Atlantic, ocean temperatures across the entire Caribbean and waters between Africa and the Lesser Antilles are about the same as they were during the peak week for water temperatures in 2009 (mid-September.)"

Another story that began last week and is likely to continue this week involves Alvin Greene, the complete unknown who won the Democratic primary for U. S. Senator in South Carolina, despite being an accused felon and without having done any noticeable campaigning. Questions of who sponsored his candidacy and whether he is a GOPer plant are likely to get more pointed, but the most interesting question so far is: why didn't anybody notice this guy before he won? One convincing answer is that nobody was being paid by a newspaper or a news network to watch that campaign. The major South Carolina newspaper has specifically cut back its on the ground political campaign reporting, and this (notes Walter Shapiro) is a general trend. The lack of actual reporting is also why there is so much opinion and punditry, because it's apparently only cost effective to guess, and otherwise bloviate. Bloggers don't seem to be picking up the slack either. It seems that there's no substitute for paid reporters and experienced editors who report, not because it makes them feel good, but because it's their job.