30 May 2010


OBAMA'S OIL CREDIBILITY. In his news conference on May 27, President Obama at last stepped up to the plate and assumed governmental and Presidential responsibility for a portion of the mismanagement of the Gulf oil spill. He made reference to the too-cozy relationship between oil companies and the regulatory agency which issued blank-check drilling permits and turned conveniently away from egregious safety violations during drilling. The head of that agency resigned on the same day as the news conference.

President Obama made several disquieting statements, the most glaring of which was having been proved wrong in his alleged belief "that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios." As Frank Herbert notes, the President knows, or should know, that "these are greedy merchant armies drilling blindly at depths of a mile and more beneath the seas while at the same time doing all that they can to stifle the government oversight that is necessary to protect human lives and preserve the integrity of the environment." The history of commerce has for centuries been a history of rapacious greed and self-entitlement, under the guise of misleading phrases like "natural resources" and "manifest destiny."

BP has lied from day one, and continues to do so. The original oil escape estimate of 1000 barrels a day, perpetuated for weeks, has been revised by reputable oceanographers to at least 12,000 to 20,000 barrels a day (itself a conservative estimate). With no end in sight. The most likely scenario is that oil will continue to spew into the Gulf until a second relief well is completed, sometime in late August. Four months. 120 days. 20,000 barrels of crude oil a day. You do the math. The Gulf coast and the waters offshore will take decades to recover -- the spillage from Alaska's Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 is still in evidence on the rocky shores of Prince William Sound. And that spill is dwarfed by the volume of oil in the Gulf.

So please, Mr. President. You're doing the right thing by holding BP accountable. But don't insult my intelligence by asking me to believe that you actually trusted these slimy bastards. Saying so makes you look either astronomically naive (which you are not), or complicit in not regarding this event as the environmental catastrophe it is. Neither is acceptable behavior in this nation's leader. As David Gurgen eloquently urges, it is time to take command.

Predator drones. It's been a busy week. On May 28, a UN representative called for an end to the use of unmanned aircraft (Predator drones) for targeted killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan by intelligence agencies. The UN report will cite a lack of accountability among agencies like the CIA, and will call for drones to be operated by the military instead.

Apparently the military can't get it right either. The very next day, May 29, a military report condemned military drone operators for their responsibility in the deaths of 23 Afghan civilians (men, women and children) during a drone and helicopter attack in February. Drone operators in the US, and ground commanders and Special Operations personnel in Afghanistan, were too quick to believe that the passengers in a three-vehicle convoy were military-age men, and acted without caution in ordering the strike. Air strikes account for fully a third of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

The value of unmanned surveillance is clear, provided that it is conducted competently. And competent it must be, if we are to avoid creating even more terrorists than our presence on the ground already does. And should there be any lingering doubt, our two wars in the Middle East have never been just about interdicting terrorism. They have been about the control of oil, in Iran and in Afghanistan's neighbor Uzbekistan. US addiction to oil will continue to drive wars, and destroy lives, and foment new terrorism against us, until we get serious about alternative energy sources. The clock is ticking.

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