Like I said, sometimes it just takes a little while to wrangle the bureaucracy if you’re the president. You’re a long way from the dark warrens of the Interior Department when you’re in the Oval Office:
The news conference came hours after the head of the Minerals Management Service, the agency that regulates offshore drilling, stepped down under pressure… On Thursday, Mr. Obama ordered the suspension of work on 33 exploratory wells currently being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico; a further six-month moratorium on new permits for deepwater oil and gas wells; a temporary halt to planned exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the coast of Alaska; the cancellation of a planned August lease sale in the western Gulf of Mexico; and the cancellation of a proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia.
The CBO issued its latest estimate of the effects of last year’s $893 Billion stimulus package:
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, as the stimulus package is formally known, lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage point and 1.5 percentage points in the first quarter of 2010, CBO estimated. That translates to somewhere between 1.2 million and 2.8 million jobs, CBO said. The Recovery Act boosted GDP by between 1.7 percent and 4.2 percent, CBO said. Its impact will peak later this year before tailing off in 2011 and 2012, CBO said.
As Yogi Berra might have said, a depression ain’t over ’til it’s over, and this one ain’t over. Imagine if the package had been even bigger, as many economists advocated. It’s time to do as the Beach Boys suggested and do it again!
In 1969, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire, not for the first time. Randy Newman wrote a song about it, “Burn On,” which some of you might remember from the beginning of the film “Major League.” Randy wrote:
Now the Lord can make you tumble
And the Lord can make you turn
And the Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can’t make you burn
No, the Lord can’t make a river burn, but man can. This came to mind as I was reading Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker:
While the point of “peak oil” may or may not have been reached, what Michael Klare, a professor at Hampshire College, has dubbed the Age of Tough Oil has clearly begun. This year, the United States’ largest single source of imported oil is expected to be the Canadian tar sands. Oil from the tar sands comes in what is essentially a solid form: it has to be either strip-mined, a process that leaves behind a devastated landscape, or melted out of the earth using vast quantities of natural gas.
Will the Gulf spill, like the Santa Barbara spill, prove to be the kind of disaster that jolts the nation into action? So far, the signs are not encouraging. Members of the Drill, Baby, Drill Party have blocked efforts to raise the liability limits for oil spills, and have yet to muster a single sponsor for climate legislation. At the same time, they have sought to portray the spill as President Obama’s Katrina.
The President does, in fact, share in the blame. Obama inherited an Interior Department that he knew to be plagued by corruption, but he allowed the department’s particularly disreputable Minerals Management Service to party on.
The spill won’t change a damn thing because it can’t. Oil is part of nearly everything we do, and there is no quitting it without massive disruption. It would be nice to think that science will shortly gift us all with pollution-free, hydrogen fuel cell hover-cars, that day is not anywhere near, nor even a dream of semi-plausible science fiction. There is a day coming, I’m not sure when, maybe not in my lifetime but soon, when there will be a major rearrangement of American life because our petrol-based manner of living just won’t be sustainable. All of our sprawling suburbs (I live in one) will have to contract into dense hamlets or die… Which probably wouldn’t be so bad–who says that waiting through traffic just to buy a bottle of milk has to be a part of life? Doesn’t the milkman make sense, one car going to 100 houses instead of 100 cars going to one supermarket?
The “Drill Baby” crowd is for postponing the inevitable by pursuing ever-more difficult, dangerous, and damaging sources of oil. In their favor, there ain’t a whole lot of alternatives right now. The solution, if there is one, will have to come through government for the simple reason that private investment is not all that interested in blue-sky research, nor even in energy research that has a pretty likely near-horizon payoff for the simple reason that the turnaround on the money is too slow: there is no short-term profit in energy research. If you had a patent for one of those hover-cars I mentioned above, you would only have won a tiny, infinitesimal part of the battle. Before you could become the next Thomas Edison, you would need billions of dollars of investment in hover-car infrastructure–fueling and repair stations, hydrogen creation, mass fuel cell production… It’s not a one- or even five-year process, but the work of 10 or 20 years at minimum. What investor is going to rent out his money for that long? Few or none, and not in the quantities needed.
That’s why it has to be the government. The “Manhattan Project for X” construction is overused, but it is what is needed to avoid more accidents like the one in the Gulf, accidents that will do 100 years of damage for a few years of oil… Even them, I’m pessimistic. It takes energy to make energy, be it coal or oil or nuclear or Kryptonite-powered repulsor pumps, and I’m just not sure that there really is a comprehensive solution to the problems of consumption, pollution, scarcity–but someone has to try.
Here’s how repeal would happen under the plan: The House and Senate would vote this week to include repeal as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. But repeal would not go into effect until (1) a Pentagon study on the impact of repeal is finished on December 1st, and (2) President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen approve moving forward based on its findings.
…But doesn’t that give Gates and Joint Chiefs a veto on the president? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
It would be so easy to use the fact that despite the President’s moratorium on new offshore drilling, new drilling projects are being greenlit as another example of the Obama administration standing for so very, very little–and let me be clear and consistent about this: inasmuch as I disagreed with just about everything they did and think some of it rose to the level of criminality, the Bush administration had a consistent set of principles to which they were single-mindedly devoted, whereas Obama takes a bit from Clinton column A (health care reform), and bit from Bush column B (asserting broad executive power, keeping Guantanamo open, and staying the course in Afghanistan) and great heaping gobs from appease Wall Street column C. In that sense, the idea that the President might say “no more drilling ’til we get the risks under control” and then do precisely the opposite should stand as yet another example that he/they don’t really give a damn.
And yet, I sense that in this case what we’re seeing here is just the nature of a massive bureaucratic machine that keeps grinding on for awhile after the guy in the control room hits the brakes:
In testifying before Congress on May 18, [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar and officials from his agency said they recognized the problems with the waivers and they intended to try to rein them in. But Mr. Salazar also said that he was limited by a statutory requirement that he said obligated his agency to process drilling requests within 30 days after they have been submitted.
“That is what has driven a number of the categorical exclusions that have been given over time in the gulf,” he said.
The moratorium has created inconsistencies and confusion.
While Interior Department officials have said certain new drilling procedures on existing wells can proceed, Mr. Salazar, when pressed to explain why new drilling was being allowed, testified on May 18 that “there is no deep-water well in the O.C.S. that has been spudded — that means started — after April 20,” referring to the gulf’s outer continental shelf.
However, Newfield Exploration Company has confirmed that it began drilling a deep-water well in 2,095 feet of water after April 20.
Mr. Obama can’t be expected to manage the day-to-day operations of the Interior Department, and it appears that Mr. Salazar can’t either. Until such point as someone steps in and instructs the various drones and naked mole rats in their cubicle Habitrails that it ain’t business as usual anymore, they’ll just roll on with their rubber stamps for industry–which is exactly how we Americans are supposed to like it anyway. Historically, we’ve seen that sometimes when a president decrees that the government will do one thing or another that sometimes the people who do the actual work listen and obey, and other times it takes some repetition before the message sinks in.
Or hell, what do I know–maybe the administration just doesn’t give a damn after all.
Before leaving the White House in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower had warned Kennedy of the crisis posed by the insurrection occurring in Laos, the key to the entire area of Southeast Asia. Clark Clifford attended the meeting as Kennedy’s private counsel and reported that “the outgoing President considered the fate of that tiny, landlocked Southeast Asian kingdom the most important problem facing the US.” The former president said American troop intervention might even be required—a statement in contrast with the position his administration had taken at the time of Dien Bien Phu. When Paris in 1954 had asked for American intervention, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, according to French sources, had offered the French two nuclear bombs to use as they saw fit (they refused), but the position of President Eisenhower at the time was that he would not consider an American troop intervention unless he first had congressional approval and an indication of British support.
He told his staff that “without allies and associates,” military intervention would be the act of “just an adventurer, like Genghis Kahn.” He also recalled that he had been elected to end one war in Asia, in Korea, which could have become a total war with China, at a time when the United States had allies and a UN mandate, and that he “was in no mood to provoke another one in Indochina….”
President Kennedy had repeatedly asserted privately that a guerrilla war could not be won by foreign troops, even in large numbers. Eventually foreign troops go home, he said; the guerrillas stay. No lasting “victory” is possible for the foreigners.
With respect to Vietnam, the new President sought the advice of another eminent American soldier. He invited Douglas MacArthur to Washington. According to Robert Kennedy’s account, MacArthur said that it would “be foolish to fight on the Asiatic continent,” and that “the future…should be determined at the diplomatic table.” Kennedy’s aide Kenneth O’Donnell has added that MacArthur said to Kennedy that “there was no end to Asia and even if we poured a million American infantry soldiers into that continent, we would still find ourselves outnumbered on every side.”
General Maxwell Taylor, Kennedy’s military adviser (who favored sending combat troops to Vietnam), said that MacArthur “made a hell of an impression on the President,” adding that when presented with further proposals from the Pentagon for military intervention, Kennedy would say, “Well, now, you gentlemen, you go back and convince General MacArthur, then I’ll be convinced.” Taylor said, “None of us undertook the task.”
Y’know… When even the bellicose Douglas MacArthur is saying “Don’t go there,” you probably shouldn’t go there. Oh well. Welcome to Vietnam, welcome to Afghanistan.
What is the libertarian/Paul-ian/anti-regulation counterargument to the BP catastrophe in the Gulf? As the subject line says, that’s a rhetorical question. I think I know the answer. It involves putting your hands over your ears and saying “La la la la la I can’t hear you!”
There’s an argument about the existence of religion that goes something like this: without a big policeman in the sky acting as the enforcer of moral behavior, people would act however the hell they wanted to. Thus, while there are objectionable things about religion, it’s an overall good. Benjamin Franklin was getting at this when he said (I paraphrase) that if you think people are bad on religion, imagine them off of it, imagine what they would do without a threat hanging over their eternal soul.
It seems to me that those that do not believe in government regulation of private industry miss the appropriateness of the comparison between the government as a regulator and the guarantor of human morality (name your deity) in religion. Most businesses without regulation are the same thing as most people without religion: they just do whatever the hell they want to do, because the consequences just aren’t there.
Great Scott, just two minutes of listening to this fellow talk about the Civil Rights Act is enough to make you realize what an intellectually dishonest man he is. He would have, he says, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. had he been of age to do so, because he agreed with him on most things he was protesting, most things… except for the little matter of that Woolworth’s lunch counter up there. In Ron Paul’s tea-stained America, the federal government can’t or shouldn’t tell private businesses that they can’t be WHITES ONLY or STRAIGHTS ONLY or put up a sign that says NO HISPANICS ALLOWED or NO JEWS. That, he says, is an abridgment of free speech. Yes, yes it is, and it’s something we have to live with, because the consequences of being free to exercise your bigotry in this way are too destructive for us to live with. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater (or, as Steve Martin suggested, shout “theater” in a crowded firehouse) or tell your co-Americans that they’re not worthy of setting foot in your store. Either all Americans have the same basic rights to go everywhere and do everything that all other Americans can do or the very idea of equality vanishes in a puff of illogic and contradictions. But hey… You’re free to TALK about it, as I’m sure Paul will continue to do for the next six months.
As primary voting results come in and the Yankee game takes various breaks for rain and trying to get Josh Beckett out of the game gracefully, I keep hearing various pundits debating the meaning of the results. Is it anger at incumbents, is it disgust with the debt, or both? The consensus seems to be that The People object to “business as usual” and are worried about government debt.
I have no idea if this is right or wrong, but if it is correct, what I find kind of quizzical about the whole thing is that pro economists can’t agree about the meaning of the debt, how much is a good amount, how much is too much, to what degree is it really dangerous, and if it is dangerous, when it will become dangerous. And yet, The People seem to have come to their own conclusions about this.
This is our right, of course, to think for ourselves, but we also have an obligation to think in a nuanced way. You can do a lot of damage chasing solutions to problems you don’t fully understand.
Parenthetically, some talking head on CNN just said that Barack Obama won in 2008 because all of the energy was on the left, but tonight it’s all coming from the right. Dude, Sestak just upset Spector in Pennsy. Why is Kentucky’s embrace of a Tea Person signify more than Pennsylvania’s rejection of a faux-Democrat?