Friday, June 18, 2010

Say Your Prayers?

This comedy video, "BP Spills Coffee," manages to capture the essence of the crisis of BP/Halliburton's Deepwater Horizon's Gulf Coast oil catastrophe. Somehow it makes me want to cry more than laugh.

On Tuesday President Obama gave a short speech from the Oval Office on the crisis and his plans to...pray for a solution to the problem. While I appreciate the complicated middle-fold in the space-time continuum that the President is trying to occupy, I found his speech cursory and confounding. The best critique of the speech I read was on the shrill and sensationalist Huffington Post, where columnist Jason Linkins suggested it sounded like a "mad lib written by [speechwriter] John Favreau."

Obama is of course right that the spill is a wake-up call about "our" dependency on oil. But not so much a wake-up call that he's advocating any specific new energy policies. Since the speech it does seem he's pushing the Senate to pass energy legislation already passed in the House, and that's a good thing. I'm sure betting Obama is regretting his ill-timed concessions to the "Drill Baby Drill" crowd just a few short weeks before BP's negligence allowed millions of gallons of crude to foul the Gulf's waters. I was excited that Obama in campaign mode focused so clearly on new energy sources like solar and wind (discounting his bizarre pandering fantasy of the imaginary "clean coal" technology), so I am glad to see him return to that focus. It will be a silver lining if this spill causes some second thoughts about new drilling and some much-needed regulatory and safety improvement.

I was fascinated to hear an interview after the speech with a local Louisiana politician who condemned Obama's words, because, she said, he was using the crisis to enact his overall socialist vision. She condemned him for his moratorium on deep water drilling, bizarrely insisting that such drilling was proven safe. As with the media's reporting of health reform, once again opposition to Obama from the right is conflated with opposition from the left. This trend reinforces the need for the "the left" to choose its formulations of critique carefully.

Halliburton, BP, and the regulators who inspected and passed Deepwater Horizons are now known to be proven cheats and liars. And this is where I think Obama is failing: he must seize control of the attempt to shut off the spewing well and clean up the Gulf. The oil companies are interested only in protecting their existing and future investments and profits. They should definitely be paying the full price of this catastrophe--the escrow fund ordered by Obama is a definite must--but they should not be allowed to lead what is actually going on there. While of course expropriation of the oil companies and nationalization of oil resources is the real solution...that's just not gonna happen for the forseeable future. Let me modestly suggest that US troops be brought home from the Middle East and Central Asia to perform the work of the cleanup. I read in the New York Times one expert suggest that BP is failing to shut off the spewing well because it's trying to preserve the well as a potential source of future income and is therefore rejecting methods that might ruin the well for the future. There is the obvious strategy of using explosives to seal off the well: if this is indeed practicable it's an example of something the government needs to do despite BP's wishes.

I'm all for prayer. It calms the mind. It connects you to spirit, to the energy of the universe. But it does not stop industrial tragedies or manmade environmental nightmares. The President's speech concluded on a hollow note; it's crucial that the full force of government be brought to ending this crisis sooner rather than later. Don't wait for BP to do it.

The prayer that seems most relevant right about now is the serenity prayer:
"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."

Focus on that third line.


  1. You might enjoy this poem by my blog friend, Mr Beer N. Hockey. He's a Canadian sawmill worker. An ex punk rocker. Partial to barley and hops and a loyal if peevish Canucks fan. Pretty different from you, but also a fine fellow.

  2. Thanks for that link, Jon. Good stuff there...funny; and bitter!