Seize BP offers a compelling analysis of President Obama's Oval Office address tonight:
President Obama needed to be able to say with certainty to the people of the Gulf Coast, who today go to sleep fearing that they will not be able to put food on the table, pay their rent or their other obligations because of the spill, that tonight you can sleep safe knowing that the funds needed to make you whole would be secured, in trust, and available immediately.
He did not do it because he chose not to. Not because the funds are not available or because he lacks the authority. He did not because he could not get BP to agree and he refuses to treat BP as anything other than a partner.
BP possesses sufficient assets to place in trust for the victims of its malfeasance, the massive harm it has caused in its reckless pursuit of mega-profit.
Why "negotiate" with corporate criminals?
Rather than using the power vested in him as President and fulfilling the obligation vested in him to protect the people, he instead insists on “negotiations” with an entity that has engaged in criminal and reckless acts of deadly proportions.
President Obama has been given a choice: Serve the people or be subservient to corporate interests. The corporate interests of BP are in irreconcilable conflict with those of the people of the Gulf Coast and of the United States.
The workers and families in the Gulf Coast need action. Not rhetoric. Not sympathy and not the channeling, or mirroring, of their anger and frustration through the figure of the President. Their suffering is real. Their fears of life-altering catastrophe are well founded. The coastlines of five states are under attack.
The White House, responding to building national anger and the echoing cry for relief, brought out all of the symbolism of Presidential authority and leadership that have been so sorely lacking over the past two months of crisis. For the very first time in his presidency, which has seen the financial crisis—to which his administration responded with a massive banker bailout—Obama used the authority and the familiarity of a speech from the Oval Office to communicate directly with the nation as a whole.
Long on rhetoric—short on guarantees
This was to be the defining moment of the President’s response to this crisis, if not the defining moment of his presidency as a whole.
President Obama did not deliver. He did not deliver specifics about an escrow fund; specifics about the size of a proper trust account; specifics about how it would be administered; specifics about whether all wage-earners who have lost their income would be able to get immediate compensation. Again long on rhetoric, painfully short on details or the minimum guarantees that people require. President Obama reiterated his imposition of a six month moratorium on deepwater drilling but refused to pledge to use BP funds to compensate all oil workers who will lose their incomes as a result of the moratorium.
The U.S. government has the authority, under the Commerce Clause and other legal means, to secure the financial relief that is needed. President Obama has the authority of his office. His party commands majorities of both the House and the Senate. Collectively, the U.S. Constitution gives these institutions the fullest power of the state to act in ordinary times and in an emergency, to exercise its massive legal authority under the Commerce Clause.
The U.S. government will either allow BP to externalize the costs of its damage, shifting it onto the backs of the people whose lives and economies and ecologies will be damaged potentially for decades. Or it will hold BP responsible for the harm which it has caused.
We are not even referencing punishment for the completely reckless and avoidable oil spill. Just compensation. Immediate, ongoing, full compensation.
Tonight’s speech—particularly in what was missing—projected President Obama’s unwillingness to act in the face of this catastrophe.
His election benefitted from the repository of the people’s aspirations. He promised change. He promised hope. Tonight, for the people of the Gulf Coast, that promise remains unfulfilled.
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