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Gulf War Syndrome

Posted on Jun 14, 2010

It’s great that President Barack Obama and his advisers finally seem to understand the atmospherics of responding to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Now if they’d only get the policy right.

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Whether Obama has been demonstrative enough in his public handling of the catastrophe is a legitimate question, but it’s somewhat beside the point. Yes, there is an aspect of theatrical performance inherent in the presidency, and no, Obama doesn’t seem to relish that part of his job. But the man is who he is—he doesn’t shoot from the hip, doesn’t thump tables or pound podiums, and would strike a glissando of false notes if he suddenly tried to pretend otherwise. How well Obama learns to communicate empathy and passion while staying true to himself is relevant to his long-term effectiveness as president, and ultimately to his legacy. No amount of scenery-chewing, however, can begin to ameliorate what the White House calls the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The issue isn’t what Obama is feeling, it’s what he’s doing. Why haven’t skimmers been brought in from around the world to scoop up more of the oil? Why isn’t the defense of the coastline being run like a military campaign, with failure not an option? Why is the answer to every question essentially the same—“We’ve repeatedly asked BP to get that done”—when we’re dealing with a crisis that has to be seen as an urgent matter of national security and the public welfare?

Enough of asking BP. The company is responsible for the spill and must be made to pay dearly. But BP management answers to the company’s shareholders, not to the American people. And even if BP’s gaffe-prone chief executive, Tony Hayward, and his lieutenants had only the purest and noblest of intentions, the problem they have created in the Gulf is far beyond their capacity to solve.

This is, essentially, a war that is partly being fought one mile beneath the surface of the Gulf, where crude oil continues to gush out of the highly pressurized “Macondo” deposit—which carries the name of the fictional town in Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical-realist masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”—at a calamitous rate.


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The administration had no choice but to leave the initial response on the seafloor to BP. The government simply doesn’t have the equipment or the expertise to stanch the flow. This unfortunate situation may reflect bad policy choices in the past, but that’s the reality. One smart decision was to order BP to begin drilling a second relief well, in case the first one misses its target—but neither will be completed until August, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

A second battle is the effort to contain the tens of millions of gallons of oil that have already polluted the Gulf and its coastline. Here, too, the administration has gone by the book and pressured BP to honor its responsibilities. It should be clear by now that this has been a mistake.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the administration has received offers of assistance from 17 nations. Sweden has volunteered to send three ships that can each collect about 15,000 gallons of oil an hour. Norway has offered to send nearly a third of its oil-spill response equipment. Japan has offered to send some boom, which authorities on the scene complain is in short supply.

The Swedes, the Norwegians, the Japanese and most of the other would-be Samaritans are still waiting to hear from the U.S. government or BP. Last week, according to the Post, the administration did ask the European Union to help with any specialized equipment it might have. But meanwhile, oil has penetrated the marshes of southern Louisiana and is lapping onto the beaches of Alabama and Florida. The main spill is spreading, and hurricane season is upon us.

Every available piece of equipment in the world that can vacuum, skim, scoop or sop up oil ought to be in the Gulf by now, deployed under a central—probably military—command structure. The beaches should be defended as if from a threatened enemy invasion. This is a time for overkill, for the Powell Doctrine, for “decisive force.”

There’s no silver bullet that can defeat this blob-like enemy, but each drop of oil that gets removed from the Gulf and its shores is a victory—and each drop that doesn’t is a defeat. It’s that simple. This is war.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, June 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment

There is more to this destruction than just blaming the President, BP says this is the first time this has ever happened, but it is NOT,  and in the same spot, just not a mile under water:

It appears to me criminal charges are firmly warranted.

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By Litl Bludot, June 16, 2010 at 1:46 am Link to this comment

Once the Gulf of Mexico is lifeless there won’t be any objection to further deep
drilling, as with the rest of the our planet. Disaster capitalism for all to see, but
only a small few who are trying to stop it.

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By Morpheus, June 15, 2010 at 11:50 pm Link to this comment

Wake up People! We can talk about it until hell freezes over and nothing will change.

Talk is cheap - “we need action” - Join the Revolution

Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( )

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By cyrena, June 15, 2010 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment

Good thing I kept reading, since I was having a
problem figuring out how this military operation
could be a reasonable option.


By Samson, June 15 at 9:49 am #
“Wow, Mr. Robinson is actually critical of Obama. 
That’s a first in the last couple of years.”
Well, Samson, it’s probably because it’s a legitimate
criticism in terms of what we expect as Americans,
under the circumstances, which is everything he CAN
DO; So until I came to this part of the piece, I was
still wondering exactly what else he could be doing
that he isn’t.

•  “The Washington Post reported Monday that the
administration has received offers of assistance from
17 nations. Sweden has volunteered to send three
ships that can each collect about 15,000 gallons of
oil an hour. Norway has offered to send nearly a
third of its oil-spill response equipment. Japan has
offered to send some boom, which authorities on the
scene complain is in short supply.”

Now this is the first I’m hearing of these particular
offers of assistance. I knew that there had been a
few private offers, and there were some experts from
Qatar I believe, that have been here for a couple or
so weeks. However, if these other nations have
offered to help, and we have not taken advantage of
that, then it’s certainly unacceptable and
inexcusable.  Reminds me of when Cuba and Venezuela
offered help for Katrina. I know for a fact that Cuba
has the hurricane evacuation thing down to a science.
But George refused it.

Obama really cannot allow himself to turn down any of
this help. It’s one thing to allow BP to fix their
own unprecedented mistake – at least initially,
because nobody knows how to do this, since they never
bothered to set up any fail-safes.

Anyway, this part of it is certainly a legitimate
criticism, which is far more valid than the
suggestions that he should just have the US military
take over. The Coast Guard has been on it since day
one, but if we’re talking about a genuine military
operation, where the hell are the troops supposed to
come from? There probably aren’t enough US troops
here at home, (trained and not injured from combat)
to even set up such an operation. Where are the LA,
FL, MS, AL national guards? Same place they were
during the time we watched all of those people
drowning in New Orleans. NOT HERE! They’re scattered
all over the rest of the globe.

So I don’t know how they would accomplish a military
operation here. It’s never happened in my lifetime. I
mean we needed the National Guard back in the 60’s,
and it worked. (which is sad, but that’s what our
military is supposed to be for…to protect us against
enemies both foreign and domestic.) But seriously…
aside from the Coast Guard, what other PUBLIC entity
do we have to combat something like this? We don’t.
That’s the problem with 4 decades of creeping
privatizations and the glove/hand relationship
between government and the private sector…aka Wall

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By reverento., June 15, 2010 at 3:43 pm Link to this comment

typical Eugene Robinson: begging Obama to be Obama

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, June 15, 2010 at 9:43 am Link to this comment

I’ve been mildly amused at how many “experts” have suddenly been created during this Gulf tragedy:

Everyone knows what the President should or should not do, or should or should have done.
Everyone knows how to stop the oil flow. Yep. Everyone!
Everyone knows that it’s a lack of proper regulation and oversight that helped cause this. Everyone not only knows it but KNEW it.

BUT, reality is quite different:

The Media with all their resources and “journalistic” skills can’t seem to get access to this situation (I think they’re lying). Heck, how was it so easy for the Media to be “embedded” with troops our recent wars????

The American people, each and every one of them have an “opinion” about what Obama should do, but frankly, as a whole the opinions of the American people are like a heard of assholes and they all stink.

In the end, THE lesson is that our dependence on fossil fuels and the greed inherent in tapping those resources has now driven us off a cliff. The second lesson is that, as a nation and as a people, we are incapable of solving our big problems due, in large part, because we feel there is a “market” solution to everything. “If only Obama could ‘market’ a better response to this crisis” everything would be better, right?

Well, go ahead and criticize the President. Go ahead and pretend that we all have the answers and, for heaven sakes, let’s not blame ourselves for “our freedoms.” After all “no commies are going to tell us how to live by taking public transportation…...............”

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, June 15, 2010 at 8:23 am Link to this comment

balkas, June 15 at 11:26 am,

Socialism for the wealthy capitalists and capitalism for the rest of us, and tell us from cradle to grave that we live in the best civilized country in the world, which is sophism and propaganda gone to seed.

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By balkas, June 15, 2010 at 7:26 am Link to this comment

As long US governance is much or even totally in the hands of some individuals; i.e., is totally or near-totally privatised, private people will decide whom to blame for the oil gush and who’s gonna pay for it.

No houseperson, fisher, miner, tiller, digger, builder need apply for the job of managing the country.

And private rulers-managers of the country have decided they must have power.
So expect more drilling and with assurance by the self-appointed managers that everything is going to be OK!

It cost money and energy to support cia, army, wars-occupations; private people solely decide who’s gonna pay for all that.

No; cia, fbi, army echelons, judges, congress, plutos, media owners will not pay for it! tnx

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, June 15, 2010 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

The secret to understanding the last election is to realize that America was getting “DRILL, BABY, DRILL” whether they elected McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden.

Follow the money.  And the money made that clear before the last election.

If you didn’t want DRILL, BABY, DRILL, then you needed to vote for a candidate from the left that didn’t take corporate millions.  Either Nader or McKinney would have fitted that bill, although of course it would have made much more sense for there to have been only one such choice on a winner-take-all ballot.

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, June 15, 2010 at 5:49 am Link to this comment

Wow, Mr. Robinson is actually critical of Obama.  That’s a first in the last couple of years.

But he still fails to understand the relationship between Obama and corporate America.  Obama took their millions to be elected, and now he does their bidding.  Period.  At least I guess you can say that Obama is an honest politician, in that once he’s bought, he stays bought.

Of course Obama is doing what BP wants.  No surprise there.  And obviously this administration has been doing what BP wants since it took power. 

Don’t know if this administration started this project.  Probably not.  But 15 months is plenty of time to review.  Plenty of time to see BP’s horrible record of violating regulations.  Plenty of time to ask questions about BP’s proceedures on this project and to check that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and are properly prepared to deal with an emergency.

Instead, Obama’s only interest in the issue appears to have been to push to EXPAND offshore drilling.

Obama is as much a servant to corporate power as either Clinton or Bush was.  He might have enough sense not to openly sell the Lincoln Bedroom, but there was never any doubt that his first response to this would be to call BP and ask them what he (and his administration) should do about this.

You can bet he didn’t call Greenpeace or any other environmental group.  Just watch.  They don’t have access to this White House.  You don’t see constant meetings in the white house with environmental groups.  But you know dang well that BP had paid enough money that they get to talk to any top officials in this administration whenever they want to.

And, all of this was obvious before the last election to anyone who bother to look to behind the ‘rock-star’ image to see where the money to create that image was coming from.  Democrats are now getting exactly what they voted for.

Whether they’ve had enough yet and have learned not to vote for every candidate with a (D) after their name and millions of corporate dollars in the accounts.

America has the opportunity to send a whole new congress back to DC.  Even in the ‘uncontested’ districts, there are usually other choices on the ballot besides the candidate with the corporate millions in their account.  If America wants something different, then it has to elect different people.

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By ardee, June 15, 2010 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

This tragedy is a revealing glimpse into the way this nation actually works, and for whom it works. I fail utterly to understand why we havent taken up the generous offers of the three mentioned nations, but I fail also to understand many things; why we the people remain so passive in the face of such blatant incompetence on the part of our government, why we accept leaders such as Reagan, Clinton,Bush 43 and Bush 44, err Obama, with nary a murmur of protest.

Why we remain so passive when confronted with unimpeachable evidence that torture and murder is done in our name or the way corporate rule of our government is no longer well hidden. If the impending destruction of the Gulf of Mexico doesnt awaken the sleeping giant that is our electorate I cannot help but wonder what will?

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UreKismet's avatar

By UreKismet, June 15, 2010 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

It seems to me over the other side of the world that this oil spill really brings the difference between us and them into sharp focus.  we are the ordinary shit kickers of the world, many of whom because they are living in proximity to the gulf will have to suffer the toxic effects of the oil spill, the economic effects of food scarcity when fishing and agricultural endeavours are curtailed because of damage from the spill.
They are the ruling elite who have wormed their way into power by taking one of the two positions they have deemed available for debate through their media.  Then representing themselves as being committed to meaningless for most people stuff like whether the state should have the power to terminate pregnancies, whether it is OK to favour one superstition above all the others and a handful of other examples of life’s side issues.

Some of us lap it up and forget that these types are living it up by patronising us.

Oblamblam may be criticising Hayward through the media but Hayward and Obama empathise with each other much closer and more profoundly than they will ever empathise with any of us.

As far as they are concerned when it comes to us ‘the great unwashed’ perception is reality, so they will indulge is this shadow play this Kabuki Theatre, designed to both distract us and fill us with hope while they prepare themselves and their families for life in the more polluted world both have conspired to allow.

They haven’tn called in the skimmers for exactly the same reason Oblam goes along with the charade of BP hiring a couple of hundred locals to look busy in the staged set pieces Oblam walks through on his visits to the gulf.  As soon as Oblamblam departs the workers are paid off and Hayward murmurs concilatory deceits about top killing the universal smoke grinder or somesuch.

They like all the other ‘players’ from the elites with roles in this disaster have acknowledged that it would be costly and ineffective to do anything other than pplay charades until that day in August when the ‘relief wells’ are completed.

Every cent spent on any other fix before then is considered in the same light as every cent given out to fishermen and farmers and others whose livelihoods have been damaged by this, a big waste of money lost to the people with their hands on the levers.
These types don’t have a countyry or a conscience to anything other than themselves and the dollar.
Incidentally if the August wells are as ineffective as 10th grade physics suggests they are likely to be, no one will know.

They will pretend other wise.  This is because while we talk of skimmers the vast bulk of this crude is suspended at various levels in the ocean according to the crude fractionate’s specific gravity.

I spent a few years juggling treasury forecasts for a government of a developed, western country back in another lifetime and the thing that really got to me about it, that forced me to quit in the hope that I could salvage some honour was the way that everyone from the budget meisters in Treasury to the profligate ‘program managers’ in the departments, moved seamlessly from one years budget forecasts to the next.

At no time did anyone ever sit down with the forecasts compare them with what ahd actually occurred and then make adjustments to reflect what was actually happening.

This spill management will pull the same stunt.
Payouts, compensation, sanctions against BP etc will be based on ‘projections’ so that reality can be managed in a way that suits the a55holes.

Mom and pop shareholders in BP will have the rough end of a pineapple jammed up them, but everyone else has been handballing their BP stock to the sovereign funds managed by corrupt governments and ‘managed’ funds of bent wall st and city of london banksters .
Those funds sold to the naive because they were created to be vehicles to soak up bad trades as they occur.

Watch them, you will see it happening.

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