Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Fireside chat for June 19, 2010 (VIDEO)

The President calls on Republicans in Congress to put scoring political points aside, and instead to focus on solving the problems facing the nation. At the time of this address, the Republican leadership is blocking progress on a bill to boost the economy, retain jobs for teachers and cops, and help people buy their first home; another bill which would hold oil companies accountable for any disasters they cause by removing the current $75 million liability cap; and 136 highly qualified men and women who have been nominated to government positions.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Not necessarily a campaign preview (VIDEO)

One of the things Democrats are doing very well in the run-up to the mid-terms is running local races. "All politics is local" after all. And while Democrats are doing that, Republicans are running a national campaign against the President, against the Speaker and against Harry Reid.

So, despite the fact that I think this is a good commercial, I don't know how much we're going to be seeing it in the future with other Democratic candidates.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Unserious People III

I was so busy writing Unserious People II, that I nearly missed Andrew Sullivan:

What are the odds that Obama's huge success yesterday in getting BP to pledge a cool $20 billion to recompense the "small people" in the Gulf will get the same attention as his allegedly dismal speech on Tuesday night? If you take Memeorandum as an indicator, it really is no contest. The speech is still being dissected by language experts, but the $20 billion that is the front page news in the NYT today? Barely anywhere on the blogs.

This is just a glimpse into the distortion inherent in our current political and media culture. It's way easier to comment on a speech - his hands were moving too much! - than to note the truly substantive victory, apparently personally nailed down by Obama, in the White House yesterday. If leftwing populism in America were anything like as potent as right-wing populism - Matt Bai has a superb analysis of this in the NYT today - there would be cheering in the streets. But there's nada, but more leftist utopianism and outrage on MSNBC. And since there's no end to this spill without relief wells, this is about as much as Obama can do, short of monitoring clean-up efforts, or rather ongoing management of the ecological nightmare of an unstopped and unstoppable wound in the ocean floor.

I sure understand why people feel powerless and angry about the vast forces that control our lives and over which we seem to have only fitful control - big government and big business. But it seems to me vital to keep our heads and remain focused on what substantively can be done to address real problems, and judge Obama on those terms. When you do, you realize that the left's "disgruntleist" faction needs to take a chill pill.

Unserious people II. (Liberal Edition)

Usually, this ire is saved for that other party across the aisle (I'm starting to loathe saying "our friends" at this point). But now, since I'm seeing some of the same bul@#$% come from my fellow Liberals, I think it bears mentioning.

I'm starting to think that the biggest problem with America may be the American People.

I don't think the American People are serious about solving our problems.

First off, Rachel's speech was a joke, and I don't mean "ha-ha" joke. I mean "I-wonder-why-she's-allowed-a-TeeVee-show" joke.

Spoken like someone who's never had to pass a single bit of legislation in her life.

But alas, when Jonathan Chait ripped her, he said it much better than I:

In reality, you can't pass any of the climate bill by reconciliation. Democrats didn't write reconciliation instructions permitting them to do so, and very little of its could be passed through reconciliation, which only allows budgetary decisions. Maddow's response is to pass the rest by executive order. But you can't change those laws through executive order, either. That's not how our system of government works, nor is it how our system should work.

If Maddow's speech had to hew to the reality of Senate rules and the Constitution, she'd be left where Obama is: ineffectually pleading to get whatever she can get out of a Senate that has nowhere near enough votes to pass even a stripped-down cap and trade bill. It may be nice to imagine that all political difficulties could be swept away by a president who just spoke with enough force and determination. It's a recurrent liberal fantasy —Michael Moore imagined such a speech a few months ago, Michael Douglas delivers such a speech in "The American President." I would love to eliminate the filibuster and create more accountable parties. But even if that happens, there will be a legislative branch that has a strong say in what passes or doesn't pass. And that's good! We wouldn't want to live in a world where a president can remake vast swaths of policy merely be decreeing it.

Jon Stewart ran along the same lines last night, when he blasted the last eight President's for promising to get us off Oil, and then not getting us off oil.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Jon, I love ya. It was a great bit. But do you know what those last eight Presidents had in common?


We've been electing them.

We've been electing these Congress-critters.

We've asked them to make tough choices...

...and when they've had to make tough choices, we've punished them for it. (Health Care Reform, anybody?)

We may be the one's we've been waiting for, but we're the one's who've been falling for this crap again and again and again.

No amount of money can sell a truly terrible idea, but a truly terrible idea can sell to a public that's only half paying attention. And that's where we are today.

It took a hundred years to get a Health Care Bill through both Houses of Congress and onto the President's desk for signature. Every time it was attempted (again, this is a bill to benefit the American People) those same American People (helped along by the AMA, Pharma and AHIP) rose up and cried "SOCIALIST!"

So how long is it gonna take for Energy? We know we have a problem. We know we want to get off oil, but we also want someone else to take the pain.

Not me. Not in my backyard. No.

We don't even have a population that understands that there's a problem yet, so how do we expect our elected representatives (Note: they represent their people, remember?) to generate any political will to do anything about it?

If you want to attack a problem seriously, you first have to accept the idea that not everyone is going to accept your ideas. Period. That's the thing about a Representative Democracy, everyone's got a say...and they're not always going to align with what's on your mind. It's as difficult for me to accept as it is for you. But you know what? That's okay. You muddle through the best you can. You do what you can. You do not, Keith and-or Rachel, let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The ship of state turns slowly...but it does turn. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice...but it does bend.

Translation: You think your job is done just because you pulled a lever in 2008? Are you high?

The Civil Rights Era, the New Deal...the two proudest accomplishments (up till now) on the Liberal Resume were not overnight success stories. They were long, hard slogs, full of blood (spilled), sweat and more than a few shares of tears. They were not popular when they were done. Too many Liberals thought they didn't go far enough. And on top of all that, somehow my fellow Liberals have jedi-mind tricked themselves into believing that the respective Presidents who got these bills passed magically snapped their fingers to make them happen.

Again, I ask...are you high?

Don't answer that.
I'm afraid I already know the answer.

Look, fellow Liberals. We're on the right path. We're doing what we said we wanted to do when Obama got elected. Either we're going to follow through, or we're not. Right now, to me, it looks like you're punking out.

Rachel certainly did.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Post BP-Meeting (VIDEO)

This has been a damn busy today. Of course, that's what's going to happen when this story lands in one of the two tracks.

Here is the President announcing the $20 Billion dollar Escrow fund.

Key graphs:

This $20 billion will provide substantial assurance that the claims people and businesses have will be honored. It’s also important to emphasize this is not a cap. The people of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations to them. BP has publicly pledged to make good on the claims that it owes to the people in the Gulf, and so the agreement we reached sets up a financial and legal framework to do it.

Another important element is that this $20 billion fund will not be controlled by either BP or by the government. It will be put in a escrow account, administered by an impartial, independent third party. So if you or your business has suffered an economic loss as a result of this spill, you’ll be eligible to file a claim for part of this $20 billion. This fund does not supersede either individuals’ rights or states’ rights to present claims in court. BP will also continue to be liable for the environmental disaster it has caused, and we’re going to continue to work to make sure that they address it.

Additionally, BP voluntarily agreed to establish a $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of the deepwater rigs.

TPM: How the Escrow Fund Will Work...

Good piece by TPM's Ben Frumin, summarizing a Times story how this Escrow fund is going to work with BP:

BP likely won't be in any rush to deposit $20 billion in the escrow account anytime soon: The deal's "preliminary terms would give BP several years to deposit the full amount into the fund so it could better manage cash flow, maintain its financial viability and not scare off investors."

The White House also released details this afternoon on how the claims will work. Feinberg will serve as "independent claims administrator," and a panel of three judges will hear any appeals of his decisions on claims of individuals and businesses harmed by the spill. Government agencies will still make claims directly to BP.

BP will put $5 billion a year into the account in each of the next four years, beginning in 2010. In the meantime, it will set aside $20 billion in U.S. assets to assure its commitments.

And the damages may not stop at $20 billion: "This account is neither a floor nor a ceiling on liability," the White House announced.

And it sounds like claimants will still be able to sue BP, even if they do get payouts from this account: "Dissatisfied claimants maintain all current rights under law, including the right to go to court or to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund."

BP will also contribute $100 million to a foundation supporting unemployed oil right workers.

The fact that dissatisfied claimants get to maintain all their current rights under law is huge.

But remember what happened to the University of Southern California recently. When the NCAA dropped its hammer on the school, the Basketball program wasn't punished nearly as hard as the Football program because that program had imposed a post-season moratorium on itself, even though they were guilty as the same infraction as the football program.

Likewise, BP, in setting up this Escrow Account may not immunize itself against the tidal wave of lawsuits coming its way, but it may well blunt their impact.

Even Joe Scarborough is on board? (VIDEO)

Actually, I'm shocked. But he's been...supportive?

Now I'm nervous.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


From MSNBC: BP suspending dividends.

There have been better, but... (VIDEO)

No. It wasn’t his best speech, but it sure as hell it wasn’t a disaster either.

If I was disappointed about anything, it is that Douglas Brinkley’s Gulf Recovery Act didn’t make a full-throated appearance, but it was hinted at.

Beyond compensating the people of the Gulf in the short term, it’s also clear we need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that’s already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats. And the region still hasn’t recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That’s why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment.

I make that commitment tonight. Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, who is also a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region.

Let me reiterate, the Gulf Oil Volcano breaks down into two tracks. One is environmental, the other is Investigatory. The environmental track is about the cutoff of the Oil Volcano rapidly poisoning the Gulf, and the eventual clean-up of its effects. The Investigatory track is about finding out what happened, who did it, and administering justice to those involved.

To paraphrase Lewis Black, if a news story about the Gulf Oil Spill doesn’t fall onto one of those two tracks, no one’s catching it, it ain't news.

The Gulf Fishermen, and the "lost way of life" mentioned in the speech, fall into both categories. The Fishermen and rescue workers suffer at the hands of the environmental track, they get justice in the Investigatory track.

To be even more direct, if it doesn't fall into one of those two tracks, it's just bleating about BP. Granted, BP deserves to get beaten about the head, but all the Firebagger bleating in the world isn't going to stop that volcano from spewing.

But for the first time in a long while, we did get some news (and not just the fact that this was the President's first Oval Office Address).

One, we got ourselves a new Director for MMS. How he’ll work out, I don’t know, but I like the fact he’s a former Inspector General for the Justice Department under Bubba.

When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problem there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency -- Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General. And his charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog -- not its partner.

Two, and I don’t know how this got underreported in the aftermath of the speech, but Obama said the Government was going to compel BP to pay the freight for the cleanup, and apparently that’s official as of this morning.

Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party.

Three, he said there was going to be a way to capture 90% of the oil coming out of the volcano until the relief wells are dug in.

Because there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge -- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

As a result of these efforts, we’ve directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. And in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that’s expected to stop the leak completely.

Commentary about the speech skewed pretty negative, but there were a few comments from favorites (and one surprise) that caught my attention:

Ezra Klein:

His language was a close echo of the language he used in the health-care fight. "There are costs associated with this transition," he said, using a formulation many will remember from health care. "And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy." Similarly familiar was his reminder that "I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party – as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels," and his promise that "the one approach I will not accept is inaction."

The optimistic take, at least for environmentalists, is that this is the language and approach Obama uses when he really means to legislate. The pessimistic take is that Obama shied away from clearly describing the problem, did not endorse specific legislation, did not set benchmarks, and chose poll-tested language rather than a sharper case that might persuade skeptics.

Andrew Sullivan:

So far: two steps backward for every one forward. But it's worth remembering that almost every step backward on innovating post-carbon energy comes from the GOP. Obama and the Dems would have passed a serious climate bill by now if it weren't for total Republican obstructionism (with the fitful exception of Butters). Obama is not the real obstacle here: the American people are, however manipulated by short-term political maneuvering by Republicans. And he does not have the political capital at this point in time to twist their arms. He has already pushed so many as far as they can go - on the issues of the economy and health insurance.

I'm hoping one day he will be able to push again. Maybe with a more Republican Congress from next year on, he has more of a chance. Because they will be forced to say what they're for, rather than always pivoting from day to day based on what they're against.

...and super surprise guest-star Paul Begala:

As one who has been critical of the president's response to the disaster so far, I was enormously impressed with this speech. Obama communicated his personal commitment, and the commitment of the entire country, to the people of the Gulf region. He called for a new energy economy - one that creates more jobs and costs fewer lives. Perhaps most important, he made accountability a presidential priority. BP must be punished; the people of the Gulf must be made whole; the American coastline must be reclaimed.

He closed on an emotionally resonant note for all of us who grew up fishing in the Gulf: the blessing of the fleet. In so doing he told us that he gets it. He understands this is not about barrels of oil and billions of dollars. This is about a way of life. This is about a life-giving region. And this is about the eleven lives that were lost.

There is a villain in this story, and it's not Barack Obama. It is BP and its corporate cohorts. This is why the Katrina analogy is so unfair. The guy who was president when New Orleans drowned -- I can't recall his name offhand -- froze our government in icy indifference. His own people did not know that American citizens were stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food or water. They did nothing as Americans were drowning and families were clinging to life on their rooftops. Can any fair-minded person realistically compare that to President Obama's earnest, engaged--and until tonight somewhat emotionally aloof--response to BP? No way.