Two crises: Where's Obama?
If the White House doesn't step up soon on both the gulf oil spill and Arizona's anti-immigrant law, it risks economic woes in the gulf and loss of control of the immigration issue.
May 26, 2010|Tim Rutten LA Times
President Obama and his administration currently face two pollution problems — a physical one in the Gulf of Mexico, where oil continues to spew unchecked from a damaged well, and a political one involving immigration policy and originating in Arizona.
In both instances an exaggerated deference to process bordering on passivity risks creating an impression that the White House is running behind critical domestic events and, worse, detached — even indifferent — to the human toll of inaction.
With regard to the gulf oil well blowout, it's true that Obama inherited from previous administrations a vestigial regulatory system and an utter lack of contingency planning for such an emergency. It's also true that the federal government has to rely on the oil industry for technical expertise in these cases. At the same time, the White House has been exceptionally slow about demonstrating that it's using its legal authority to effectively monitor the pace and intensity of that technology's application. Occasional outbursts of tough talk in the Cabinet have been contradicted by Coast Guard officials, who insist British Petroleum is doing all it can.
Maybe, but there's a kind of slow-motion Hurricane Katrina washing up on the gulf shoreline, and the White House needs to show that it's actively assisting state officials on the ground and that it's already preparing to ameliorate the terrible environmental and economic losses that are about to pile up. Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who directed the most effective post-Katrina relief efforts, has suggested declaring a national disaster in the area and using the authority that comes with such a declaration to start hitting BP with daily fines. The money, he suggests, should go into a trust fund to pay compensation to those injured. Inaction on this front risks further public disenchantment; two weeks ago, polls showed that only a third disapproved of the administration's approach to the gulf spill; this week, more than half did. If Wednesday's effort by BP to cap the well fails and the company has to fall back on drilling relief wells, we could be looking at something worse than the 1979 explosion and blowout in Mexico's Bay of Campeche, which took nine months to halt with that technique.