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      A lot of mistakes come from assuming rationality means “thinks the same way I do” rather than “reasons from premises I might not share.” Left than 1/1000 economists predicted the financial collapse, because they reasoned from assumptions like “the market is self-correcting” or “housing prices never go down.” (Sometimes both at the same time, which is rarely […]
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Oil Spill Coverup: What the President Knew and When He Knew It

Clueless or Criminal?

Good Morning, Conflucians!! I shut down my computer early last night and watched the Dateline story on the Gulf, followed by Anderson Cooper. When I logged onto TC this morning, I read Dakinikat’s heartbreaking report from the Gulf and then started surfing around to find the latest news.

Right away I found an article that shook me to my core. I still feel as if someone punched me in the gut. I don’t know why it affected me so strongly–I kind of knew everything in it already. But to see it spelled out in plain English, and by this author just shocked me:

Obama Knew the Spill Was Hopeless, by Richard Wolffe.

The president was not only briefed on the real-time events of the spill, but also on just how bad it would be—and how hard it would be to plug the hole.

Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, told Obama at one of the earliest briefings in late April that the blowout would likely lead to an unprecedented environmental disaster, senior White House aides told The Daily Beast. Browner warned that capping a well at such depths had never been done before, and that they ought to expect an oil spill that would continue until a relief well was drilled in August, the aide said. [….]

The fact that Team Obama was warned of the extent of the disaster so early on suggests that White House officials were aware of the environmental challenge long before they decided to demonstrate concern via presidential visits to the Gulf.

So what did the White House decide to focus on?

Given the lack of technical capabilities on the sea floor, there’s not much the White House can do to plug the hole. And there are limited options for effectively preventing the oil from reaching large stretches of coastline. Instead, Obama’s team is focusing on the options at their immediate disposal—methods of news management and presidential communication.

Unbelievable! Did the administration somehow think they could conceal the extent of the catastrophe? In the first place effects of the disaster are visible to people who live near the Gulf. Did they imagine somehow they could prevent the press from covering it by getting BP and the Coast Guard to keep them out? Or did they think they could influence the press coverage to prevent most Americans from understanding the true national and even global effects of BP’s malfeasance? Did they think the oil might not spread to Alabama and Florida beaches where there would it would affect more tourists?

If the administration really did this, they have far outstripped Nixon and Watergate. Did they not understand that everything would eventually come out and the American people would see them as criminally negligent and in the pockets of BP just as much as they are in the pockets of Goldman Sachs? Did they not realize that the media would ultimately rebel against efforts to limit their access to a compelling national story?

Wouldn’t it have been better in the long run to be open with the American people and explain how bad a crisis we were facing? And then they could have mobilized every resource available–government experts, scientists, private businesspeople, as well as experts from other oil companies–to clean up the oil and prevent as much of it from coming ashore as possible. Instead, as Wolffe writes, the administration responded with passive fatalism.

Even more unbelievable to me is the fact that Richard Wolffe seems to have written his article in an effort to defend the administration’s response to the BP-created ecological catastrophe. Wolffe explains that the reason the administration is angry with James Carville is that Carville didn’t return a phone call from Thad Allen after his (Carville’s) first public outburst. Did they really think they could soothe Carville somehow? Or did they think they could buy him off?

Wolffe concludes by saying that for now the administration is watching the polls, and they think Americans are more worried about the economy than the oil spill. I guess either Obama and his handlers don’t understand how much the events in the Gulf will affect our economy, or they are just trying to postpone the explosion of public anger as long as possible. Either way, they are criminals.

What are you reading this morning? Post your links in the comments as always. And your weekend as best you can despite all the bad news.