16 June 2010

A Joke Without A Punch Line

UPDATE: OK, this is substantial and frankly, historic. It was still a terrible speech, but the White House scored a major victory for those affected by this spill. I'll take crappy speeches if they're accompanied by real action any day.

The President's Speech as a Text Cloud
That's what I think of the President's speech last night.

Yes, this situation merits a strong communications response, and a speech from the Oval Office is one way to convey the sense of urgency the White House has finally embraced from a communications perspective.  But last night's speech convinced me the government doesn't have the ability to solve a fairly basic physics problem - prevent floating oil from reaching shore - let alone solve the ridiculously complex engineering problem of closing a gusher a mile below the surface.

We were told (again) that the government has thrown a lot of people out there, set a bunch of fires, laid out a ton of boom, and put a bunch of boats in the water.  We were told (again) that this is BP's fault, and they're going to pay for this mess. We were told (again) that bureaucrats are feverishly looking busy, with a brand new National Commission, a new person to run a federal agency, a separate panel of brainiacs, and some kind of idea storm thing led by the Secretary of the Navy.   And then we got the half-hearted "we need to stop being so dependent on oil" rhetoric that is SO twenty years ago, the "we'll do whatever it takes" thing and the pep-talky, schmaltzy appeal to people of faith wrap-up. Oh, and we learned that the President will actually be meeting the Chairman of BP on Wednesday - nearly two months after this thing happened.

Of course this is BP's mess and of course they'll (eventually, probably) be made to pay.  But what astonishes me is the underlying assumption that the company would ever do anything that wasn't in its immediate best interest.  BP is a company.  Companies exist for one reason - make profits for shareholders. 

There's money in deep water drilling, so they do as much as possible.  Disaster planning costs money, so they do as little as possible.  Taking the time to develop and publish real, site-specific reports for the govement costs money, so they do as little as possible.  Acknowledging the existence of subsurface oil plumes costs money, so they do as little as possible.  Pictures of dead, oil-soaked animals washing up on shore cost money, so they prevent as much of it as possible.   Respirators for cleanup crews cost money, so they buy as few as possible.  Demanding all sorts of paperwork from people who have been wiped out and filed claims saves money, so they do as much of it as possible. Meaningful climate change legislation costs money, so they fight it as much as possible.

None of this is excusable. All of this is predictable.

So rather than another speech that warms over last decade's talking points, rather than sending "we really mean it this time" letters -- LETTERS! -- to BP, rather than more commissions and blue-ribbon panels and asking the Secretary of the Navy to do something other than run the Navy, let's just take some baby steps here.
  1. Until further notice, the world revolves around Thad Allen, the guy running the response efforts. He doesn't have to send letters to get a response.  He gets a cattle prod and he gets to shove it up the ass of anyone who stalls on him.
  2. Rather than re-designing the Department of the Interior or writing some other massive bureaucratic opus, let's just agree it's a good idea to actually read the applications for drilling that are already submitted to it.  If the application mentions animals that don't live within thousands of miles of the area or it has dead people on its "who to call" list, deny the application.
  3. Anyone who prevents journalists from doing their job is immediately sent to Thad Allen for cattle prodding. If the government really is "in charge," that means this is America's cleanup and Americans have a right to know what's really happening.

I'd have more ideas, but frankly I think that's about all the government can handle right now.


Anonymous said...

F-ing BRILLIANT piece!

Corina said...

THANK YOU! But I want a cattle prod too.

Thea said...

You're right - cattle prodding is what's been missing from this response.

Anonymous said...

David, once again you have articulated exactly what needs to be said. Great article.