Tuesday, May 25, 2010


President Obama: Leadership Please!

By Reginald Johnson

Remember back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina was leveling whole sections of New Orleans, and hundreds of people were being killed?

Remember the picture of former President George Bush, peering out the window of a plane, looking down at the devastation? We all criticized Bush for that, saying it was symbolic of Bush’s woeful and uncaring response to the tragedy that befell New Orleans.

The president should have headed straight down to where the flooding was and talked with the people of New Orleans face to face, showing his compassion. Don’t just sit in a plane and peer out the window, we said.

That lack of empathy and concern for what’s going on during a disaster is being repeated right now by President Barack Obama. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a catastrophic event, which in the long run may turn out more devastating and more costly than Katrina. Hundreds if not thousands of jobs are being wiped out, as Gulf-based industries such as fishing, boating and tourism are being ruined by the massive BP oil spill. Entire eco-systems along the Gulf coast, including shore birds, shellfish and plant life are being destroyed as the unending gusher of oil now seeps into tidal wetlands.

This environmental devastation will spread over to the Florida coast and then possibly up the Atlantic coast, as the oil is pushed by ocean currents.

It’s estimated more than 36 million gallons of oil have now spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

We’re talking hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars of shoreline and environmental damage that will eventually be caused by this disaster, by the time it is over (if the oil leak is ever stopped!). Countless numbers of people will have their lives ruined by the loss of jobs and property.

Yet while all this is going on, Barack Obama doesn’t seem particularly excited. He sits unruffled, as always, analyzing the situation ----- back at the White House. While he did fly to Louisiana earlier in the month to survey the situation, he didn’t stay long, and spent no time talking with residents along the coast. He should have spent a couple of days there, listening to people and showing understanding for their concerns.

Obama, an eloquent and at times passionate speaker, has shown little passion in condemning BP for this spill and demanding corrective action. Where’s the fire? Where’s the outrage?

Obama also hasn’t done a good job in getting his administration to develop a comprehensive response to the spill. He’s retained Ken Salazar has his Interior Secretary, despite Salazar’s chummy relationship with oil companies, and the secretary’s decision to give companies like BP a waiver on performing environmental reviews on drilling plans, as a precondition for obtaining drilling permits from the government. One of those waivers was for the Deep Horizon rig, which exploded April 20, triggering the massive spill.

Obama should have fired Salazar immediately and replaced him with a real environmentalist.

Also at this stage, the government should step in and take over the efforts to plug the leak and do the clean-up --- with BP performing much of the work and of course paying for it. BP has been in charge of the operation so far, and still the leak is going on. More experts need to be brought in, more countries need to be brought in, and only the government can facilitate this. Obama needs to show leadership and do this.

Apparently both Russia and China have expertise in deep water drilling operations and can help. Their assistance should be requested. Also, two Dutch companies have the know-how to “skim” the oil off the top of the sea and recover it. They need to be brought in. The EPA reportedly rejected the skimming idea, because of some possible pollution side effects. At this stage, given the enormity of the spill, EPA concerns have to be put aside. We’re talking about hundreds of miles of coastline that may be ruined if the oil slick isn’t contained.

Any legal constraints on preventing the government from stepping in and taking over after a corporate-generated oil spill also have to be lifted, pronto. Congress can do this. If the Patriot Act can be passed overnight, then this needed legislation can be passed quickly, too.

I hope, I certainly hope, that BP’s considerable financial help for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign isn’t a factor in Obama’s lack of outrage over this spill and his poor response.

For the sake of the people on the Gulf and for the sake of our precious national environment, we need more, a lot more, from this president.

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