Iz R Gummit Learning? Obama Meets Alan Greenspan, And Nobody Notices

11:01 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

The New York Times front page editors waste our time with an above the fold piece in which Peter Baker ponders how unusual it was for President Obama to say "I was wrong," since none of his predecessors could manage much more than "mistakes were made." But wrong about what?

I suppose getting a President to use the active rather than passive voice represents progress for those with minimal expectations about accountability. But it’s disappointing Baker and his editors made no effort to examine the nature of Mr. Obama’s mistake or what that tells us about how the Administration views its governing responsibilities. Instead we’re seeing articles about whether the executive branch’s response actions were diligent or displayed managerial competence — okay — but little on whether the prevailing, bipartisan governing philosophy under which this all came down has fundamentally, catastrophically, but predictably failed again.

At yesterday’s presser, this is the exchange that mattered [my bold]:

Calmes: Thank you Mr. President. I want to follow up on an exchange you had with [CBS's Chip Reid]. Leaving aside the existing permits for drilling in the Gulf, before, weeks before BP, you had called for expanded drilling. Do you now regret that decision, and why did you do so knowing what you have described today about this sort of dysfunction in the MMS?

Obama: I continue to believe what I said at that time, which was that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall energy mix. It has to be part of an overall energy strategy. I also believe it is insufficient to meet the needs of our future, which is why I’ve made huge investments in clean energy, why we continue to promote solar and wind and biodiesel, and a whole range of other approaches . . . why we’re putting so much emphasis on energy efficiency.

But we’re not going to transition to these clean energy strategies right away. I mean, we’re still years off and some technological breakthroughs away from being able to operate on purely a clean energy grid. During that time, we’re going to be using oil. And to the extent that we’re using oil, it makes sense for us to develop our oil and natural gas resources here in the United States, and not simply rely on imports. That’s important for our economy, that’s important for economic growth.

So, the overall framework, which is to say domestic oil production should be part of our overall energy mix, I think continues to be the right one.

Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst case scenarios. . . .

So the key point here is not the President taking responsibility; it’s the admission that he was wrong in what he believed, and that belief goes to the core of what’s wrong with the dominant Washington view about the relationship between government and the corporate world.

To be sure, it’s not clear how any intelligent government official could assume that "the oil companies had their act together," that industry and government would be functioning with honest oversight and adequate regard for the public interest or that the "cozy relationship" would ever give sufficient attention to risks and catastrophic consequences. Since the President says he already understood MMS and Interior needed to be cleaned up and had appointed Secretary Salazar to do just that, it’s not credible for the President to tell us now, millions of spilled gallons and thousands of acres of destroyed wetlands later, that he’s just now learning a misregulated industry "didn’t have it’s act together."

In recent years, we’ve seen hundreds of stories of industry-government collusion and corruption, denial or downplaying of risks, failure to mitigate or plan followed by inevitable "accidents" that take lives and destroy communities. How many times must our governing elite make the same startled but too-late confession that "I didn’t realize" and still claim to be surprised?

Henry Waxman got Alan Greenspan to make exactly the same confession about his stewardship of the economy. Under questioning from Waxman, Greenspan conceded that his core belief, that the financial markets were ultimately self correcting, turned out to be fundamentally wrong. But it took a massive collapse of the financial sector, trillion dollar bailouts, trillion dollar deficits, tanking of the American economy, the loss of trillions in GDP and 15 million unemployed to wring that belated confession . . . which Greenspan later hedged.

From the Presidency to Congress to federal regulatory agencies and the courts that review their actions, Washington remains enthralled by a pernicious, disaster-prone ideology that pretends "hurricanes hardly happen." When "accidents" occur, it’s only because either "mistakes were made" or "I was mistaken" in assuming industry functions in the public interest or that a hate-the-government, anti-regulatory ideology is good for us.

The President’s Commission to examine what went wrong at the Horizon rig may be pointless. None of its members is likely to get outside the same deadly belief system, and until we start purging our heads of this dangerous illusion and acknowledge the devastation it has caused, we’re only shoveling oiled sand between catastrophes.

Robert Reich has a similar take.

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