Sunday, June 20, 2010

Obama's leadership on the oil spill

CBS says that, just like Tony Hayward wanted his life back after the BP oil spill, Obama wants 'his presidency back" so he can focus on the things he's really interested in. When Obama's seeming lack of passion and empathy were criticized, he went all Captain Kickass on us and then met with families of the victims of the rig explosion. Then he did what he likes to do best, give a much touted speech and then turn the screws on a private corporation to turn money over to the government to allocate for them. Now he wants to go back to bragging about the purported success of his stimulus package in a so-called "Recovery Summer." And he's pushing for cap and trade. And he's playing more golf and going to the Nationals game.

But it all isn't turning out quite as the administration would like. After getting dumped on for his lack of passion and then mocked for saying he would kick ass, he gave his first Oval Office address. And it's been panned from the right and left. George Will does a masterful job of picking apart the banalities, non sequiturs, and trivialities woven into the speech. And Mark Steyn is his usual hilarious, yet pointed self in pointing out that Obama's speech have usually been duds. It's just that people now feel free to point out their vapidity.
In the Washington Post, the reaction of longtime Obammysoxer Eugene Robinson was headlined "Obama Disappoints From the Beginning of His Speech."

So what? He always "disappoints."

What would have been startling would have been if he hadn't "disappointed."

His eve-of-election rally for Martha Coakley "disappointed" the Massachusetts electorate so much, they gave Ted Kennedy's seat to a Republican.

His speech for Chicago's Olympic bid "disappointed" the Oslo committee so much, they gave the games to Pyongyang, or Ougadougou, or any city offering to build a stadium with electrical outlets incompatible with Obama's prompter.

Be honest, guys, his inaugural address "disappointed" too, didn't it? Oh, in those days you still did your best to make the case for it.

President Spock

"He carries us from meditative bead to meditative bead, and invites us to contemplate," wrote Stanley Fish in the New York Times.

"There is a technical term for this kind of writing — parataxis, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'the placing of propositions or clauses one after the other without indicating . . . the relation of co-ordination or subordination between them,'" Fish added.

Gotcha. To a fool, His Majesty's new clothes appear absolutely invisible.

But to a wise man, the placing of buttons and pockets without indicating the relation of co-ordination is a fascinating exercise in parataxical couture.

And so Obama bounded out to knock 'em dead with another chorus of "I'll be down to get you in a parataxis, honey," only to find himself pelted with dead fish rather than Stanley Fish.

The Times' Maureen Dowd deplored his "bloodless quality" and "emotional detachment." This is the same Maureen Dowd who in 2009 hailed the new presidency with a column titled "Spock at the Bridge" — and she meant it as a compliment.

Back then, this administration was supposed to be the new technocracy — cool, calm and credentialed chaps who would sit down, use their mighty intellects to provide a rigorous, post-partisan, forensic analysis of the problem, and then break for their Vanity Fair photo shoot.
But it is more than the poor rhetoric of his speech that is disappointing his formerly panting fans. They're starting to perceive his poor leadership on the oil spill. Granted that a president doesn't have the technical expertise to stop the leak, but he does have the administration of the federal government's response to the disaster. And despite telling us how this disaster resembled 9/11 and how he woke up thinking about it and went to bed thinking about it, there are still some serious questions about what is and isn't being done.

Gateway Pundit points out that the State Department is still, two months after the leak started, considering whether or not to accept help from 23 of the 28 foreign countries that have offered that help. Why can't they make up their minds? Why would they be turning down offers for more boom and skimmers, some of those offers that were made back in May right after the explosion? Can't the President pick up the phone and tell the State Department to stop considering and start accepting? Somehow, I can't imagine Bobby Jindal letting offers of help sit around for over a month before acting on them.

And there are still debates over the waiver of the Jones Act. Patrik Johnsson of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the confusion surrounding the role of the Jones Act in getting more skimmers to the coast.
The Coast Guard Friday "redoubled" efforts to keep the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from impacting Gulf states by calling in more skimming boats and equipment from the Netherlands, Norway, France, and Spain after previously telling one Dutch official "Thanks, but no thanks," to an offer of help. That revelation comes as Florida lawmakers beg for more skimmers to ward off Gulf spill oil approaching the state's white sand beaches and the Unified Command – led by Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen – struggles with chain-of-command issues as BP changes its on-scene leadership.The news of more foreign ships steaming toward the Gulf also comes amidst a heated political debate over the role of the 1920 Jones Act, a protectionist law that prohibits foreign-flagged boats and crews from doing port-to-port duty within 3 miles of the US coast. On Friday, Sen., Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R) of Texas filed legislation to waive the Jones Act to welcome more high-tech foreign clean-up boats, saying the Jones Act is standing in the way. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week "that we have not had [a] problem" with the Jones Act. At the same time, US marine interests complain that up to 1,500 US-flagged skimmers sit idle, and should be used first.

"We are still receiving reports of foreign-flagged vessels being turned away or their offers of assistance hanging in limbo. That should not be the case," Sen. George LeMieux (R) of Florida wrote to President Obama Friday. "There is a breakdown of communication and it is critically important the situation get fixed and we see an armada of skimmers at work."

Confusion has steadily built around the exact US skimmer strategy and the role of the 1920 Jones Act. President Bush waived the act temporarily to allow foreign ships to help with the hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Only a day after Fox News quoted Adm. Allen saying, "To date, nobody has come for a Jones Act waiver," Coast Guard Captain Roger Laferriere, the second-in-command, told ABC World News that both Allen and President Obama had, in fact, worked to waive the Jones Act to allow more foreign vessels to attack the spill.

"We have exhausted all our east coast supply of skimming vessels," Capt. Laferriere said. "We are now looking at Norway, France, Spain and other European vessels."
Look back at the lists from the State Department that Gateway Pundit posted. There are offers of skimmers, containment booms, and oil storage containers going back to April and early May that are still "under consideration." Yet only now is the Coast Guard admitting that they're run out of our supply of skimming vessels on the east coast with the rest on the west coast and Alaska. Why haven't those been moved into position to help the disaster we have rather than waiting around in case there is a leak for them to work on the west coast? That seems like the kind of decision that a president could be briefed on and use his power to break through the tangle. Whether or not the Jones Act is creating a stall, why not waive it for this particular crisis?

Keith Hennessey worked in the Bush administration during Katrina and was involved with the decision to issue a blanket waiver of the Jones Act to help with the transportation of oil during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when some of the oil pipelines in the Southeast had been knocked out of commission. He describes in detail what went in to granting those waivers and the pushback the Bush administration received from shippers, shipbuilders, and the unions who didn't want the waiver because they wanted to protect their businesses and employment.
Without a strong lean from President Bush on his Cabinet to “do everything we can,” the waivers would not have happened. Given the intense pushback from the narrow interest groups, Presidential leadership was required to make this happen. The benefits were small but, in my mind, easily worth it. When things are really bad in the Gulf, you do everything you possibly can, even if it’s small.

At the time the debate sounded like this:

* A: We have found N foreign-flagged ships that can help us get this done.
* B: We have American ships and crews you can use.
* A: Maybe, but the foreign-flagged ships are better/faster/more flexible/ready now.
* B: But we have American ships and crews you can use, and the marginal improvement in speed or flexibility is small.
* A: Sure it’s small, but every little bit helps.

The Deputy Administration of the Maritime Administration (MARAD) has confirmed that one foreign-flagged skimmer has made a Jones Act waiver request. Yesterday, Dallas businessman Fred McAllister announced that “he has immediate access to 12 foreign ships and could pull in another 13 vessels in the next month.”

Before these recent developments, I had frequently read and heard the Administration argue “We don’t have any requests.” This is reminiscent of the house on Halloween with no lights on and an angry pet bull tied to a tree in the front yard. When asked why they don’t hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, they reply that they haven’t had any requests.

In my experience government officials in crisis management sometimes focus too much on what the government will do, and not enough on the incentive effects of what the government says to the private sector. A blanket waiver combined with a strong encouraging signal from government officials could, I think, spur significant private help, including from friends around the world. We’ll never know unless the President tries.
Ah, but that would take, what's the word, leadership. And that is something Captain Kickass doesn't really have. He would have to be getting into the weeds to find out what is being done and not being done and figuring out ways that the presidency's executive powers can help him cut through the bureaucracy's inherent inefficiencies. So we get more speeches and more demonizing of private businesses. That is what he does. Executive leadership - not so much.