Sunday, May 9, 2010

Krugman on the Gulf Spill

Here is the key bit of a NY Times op-ed by Paul Krugman that reviews why things have gone so badly in this oil spill:
... there is a common thread running through Katrina and the gulf spill — namely, the collapse in government competence and effectiveness that took place during the Bush years.

The full story of the Deepwater Horizon blowout is still emerging. But it’s already obvious both that BP failed to take adequate precautions, and that federal regulators made no effort to ensure that such precautions were taken.

For years, the Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Interior Department that oversees drilling in the gulf, minimized the environmental risks of drilling. It failed to require a backup shutdown system that is standard in much of the rest of the world, even though its own staff declared such a system necessary. It exempted many offshore drillers from the requirement that they file plans to deal with major oil spills. And it specifically allowed BP to drill Deepwater Horizon without a detailed environmental analysis.

Surely, however, none of this — except, possibly, that last exemption, granted early in the Obama administration — surprises anyone who followed the history of the Interior Department during the Bush years.

For the Bush administration was, to a large degree, run by and for the extractive industries — and I’m not just talking about Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Crucially, management of Interior was turned over to lobbyists, most notably J. Steven Griles, a coal-industry lobbyist who became deputy secretary and effectively ran the department. (In 2007 Mr. Griles pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his ties to Jack Abramoff.)
That's the real story, but I doubt whether 80% of the American population knows this. The reporting is of "oil leaking" and "birds coated" and "wetlands threatened" but no real reporting on why this catastrophe happened. But as George Santayana pointed out "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The media is meant to be the collective memory, but it does darn little analysis of what has happened to lead up to this. It is too busy showing pictures of oil slicks and interviewing worried people.

The newspaper industry is dying. The reporting on this oil spill is an excellent reason why. The media is all froth and no substance. Its real job is to inform but they don't put the effort into analysis and explication. Instead they are good on getting "reactions" and showing pain and worry. No facts. Just emotion.

Krugman does some digging and is willing to apportion blame fairly:
Now, President Obama isn’t completely innocent of blame in the current spill. As I said, BP received an environmental waiver for Deepwater Horizon after Mr. Obama took office. It’s true that he’d only been in the White House for two and half months, and the Senate wouldn’t confirm the new head of the Minerals Management Service until four months later. But the fact that the administration hadn’t yet had time to put its stamp on the agency should have led to extra caution about giving the go-ahead to projects with possible environmental risks.
But Krugman is willing to dig deeper and point to Bush's failings, and dig even deeper to find a root cause:
Yet anti-government ideology remains all too prevalent, despite the havoc it has wrought. In fact, it has been making a comeback with the rise of the Tea Party movement. If there’s any silver lining to the disaster in the gulf, it is that it may serve as a wake-up call, a reminder that we need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.
If Krugman, an academic and a part-time analyst, can do this analysis, then why the heck can't the full time staff on the newspaper and other media do something similar?

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