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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

THE LEAK STORY

"At best, some Corps of Engineers experts say it could take two years to cement the chasm on the floor of the Gulf."

The Associated Press has released their "top ten news stories of the year" list, and at the top is the Gulf Oil Leak. They keep calling it a spill, but that means the oil was taken out, moved, and got out of a container. It was a leak, not a spill, but whatever.

The oil leak was the biggest story of the year for a while. The newspapers were full of it, they found a few beleaguered birds and showed those pictures all over. Stories of angry residents in the gulf area yelling at BP were run a lot, and the drama of slowly trying to cap the leak was constantly on the news.

Then it just went away. Not only the oil, but the story. There wasn't a disaster any longer, almost overnight. The disaster turned out to be significantly less disastery than we were told. Hysterics talking about decades of obliteration of wildlife and fisheries were proved not just wrong, but hilariously out of their minds. The warnings of oil spilling for years were shown to be excessive at best.

The part of the story that never went anywhere was how badly President Obama handled the whole thing. President Bush could have done better with New Orleans, but Obama made him look positively competent. Secretary Brown was pretty much a bozo when it came to Hurricane Katrina, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar went rafting instead of working on the leak when he heard about it. The response was slow, bumbling and sometimes even seemed deliberately obstructionary, as if the idea of a horrible oil leak was a useful crisis to the Obama administration, an administration openly hostile to oil drilling to begin with.

The press tried really hard to set up BP as the big bad guys, and they certainly were to blame for a lot (like the idiotic response by the company, the attempt to cover up how bad the leak was, and the shoddy conditions on the rig to begin with that led to this problem). The problem is, people in the gulf region seemed to be at least as angry at President Obama as they were BP. They almost uniformly considered his response to the disaster worse than President Bush's.

Some of the criticism was a bit unfair, its not like President Obama could put on the Green Lantern ring and fly down to plug the hole. Some of it was absolutely warranted, such as his brief, very belated photo op visits (bringing stunt clean up guys to work in the background, then shipping them away) and lack of getting ships into the area to clean up. The US Government in general looked horrible for not getting the oil absorption booms in place that were mandated by law almost a decade ago.

Worse, President Obama stated he "would not rest" until the leak was stopped, then went golfing and on vacation to various nice spots over and over during the leak. Its not that his staying at work would somehow would have made the leak go away or that he wasn't working while on vacation - presidents never get away from work, really. Its that he appeared to not care much about the problem and was not showing leadership. Meanwhile he made speech after speech blaming everyone but the government for what went wrong, and condemned BP continuously, driving its stock value down and down.

In the end, the public's love affair with President Obama really eneded with the oil leak. It was in bad shape before, but it was over after that display of nonchalance and incompetence. While the legacy media went out of its way, to the point of sometimes lying deliberately, to make President Bush look bad while ignoring the responsibilities of the state and local governments during Hurricane Katrina, they went out of their way to protect President Obama and highlight BP as the bad guy. Despite that, people saw through it and noticed an almost total lack of leadership ability and inability to deal with crisis in their president.

Those of us who warned that the Presidency is no place for on the job training are vindicated, but its a pretty hollow victory. I'd have much rather been wrong, been surprised at how great President Obama handled the responsibility. The Oil Leak was the place the house of cards fell apart, and I don't think President Obama can put it back together again.

And I think we can all be glad that the crisis wasn't worse than it was. There's always a chance, by the way, that it can start up again. The cap being used now is temporary and these are the same experts and engineers who gave us the previous cap that had emergency shut off shearing valves fail utterly. I don't want to give BP a pass here, they were bad actors in this as well. They just got kicked in the teeth thousands of times a day during the crisis so I don't see any point in throwing another boot.

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