Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Reading

This is Reality — Carl Hiaasen on the harsh realities of the oil spill.

Far from Pensacola Beach, where tears were shed last week, a certifiable idiot named Joe Barton was apologizing to BP because President Obama had pressured the company into creating a $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Barton is a Republican congressman whose district in Texas includes Arlington and parts of Fort Worth, a long way from the Gulf of Mexico. Although he later was forced to apologize for his apology to BP, Barton was cheered by some Tea Party bloggers and others who accuse Obama of shaking down the oil giant.

Talk about misplaced sympathy.

Being clueless is one thing. To showcase such an obscene insensitivity to suffering is something else.

With the encroaching oil slick comes a mugging for all whose livelihood depends on the robust health of the Gulf. Hotels stand nearly empty, shop and restaurant workers are being laid off, and fishing boats sit idle at the docks.

The folks staring out at a befouled horizon have mortgages, car payments, medical bills and kids who need clothes for school. Their lives are upended, and might never be the same.

Marine experts say it will take many years for the gulf waters to heal, long after the tar balls and glop are cleaned off the beaches. A spill so deep and so torrential has no precedent, so no model exists to tell us what happens next.

For the millions of Americans who live on or near the ocean, from Kennebunkport to Seattle, the consequences of the accident don’t need to be elucidated. The environment is the economy.

Interestingly, those who denounce Obama’s ”shakedown” of BP use no such criminal terms for what the oil company has done to the coastal communities of Louisiana, Alabama and northwest Florida.

Assault would be the word for it. Negligence would be the cause.

Once the oil arrives and the nightmare becomes reality, those who must deal with the stink and the slop are moving past the questions that preoccupy cable news and radio talk shows.

No deep, dark mystery remains.

The rig blew up because somebody made a terrible mistake, period. The well is still gushing and will keep gushing until August, at the earliest.

Exactly how many barrels a day is now an academic debate; the volume remains so immense that it’s virtually impossible to comprehend, a number that fluctuates from one press release to another.

Just get the damn leak plugged. That’s what matters.

More below the fold.

Congress at War — The Philadelphia Inquirer says the way to get Congress to work is by fixing the redistricting process.

One key way to ease partisanship is for more states to adopt nonpartisan redistricting. Every 10 years, after the census, states redraw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts. Too often in states such as Pennsylvania, the process is controlled by partisans. Their goal is to protect incumbents by creating “safe” districts that are contorted to include more Democratic or Republican voters.

The advent of computer technology using voter registration patterns to redraw district boundaries has turned protecting incumbents into a science. The trend makes elections less competitive, and incumbents concern themselves more with satisfying their base of partisan voters.

“That polarizes the two parties,” said former Rep. Martin Frost, a Democrat from Texas.

The Iowa system, which uses a nonpartisan commission and requires geographically compact districts, helps to produce competitive elections. Pennsylvania, one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, would need to approve a constitutional amendment to change its reapportionment system. Not surprisingly, the legislature has resisted this important reform. (New Jersey uses a bipartisan commission with a nonpartisan “tiebreaker” member.)

Voters, too, have the ability to bring about changes in attitudes among lawmakers. It can be as simple as asking a candidate to name one major piece of bipartisan legislation that he or she intends to support if elected.

In the end, it requires voters who truly want their representatives to find common ground.

A noble sentiment indeed. Chances are it will never happen.

Frank Rich — May we have some more, please? Mr. Rich says the firing of General McChrystal should be the first of many bold moves by the president.

The moment he pulled the trigger, there was near-universal agreement that President Obama had done the inevitable thing, the right thing and, best of all, the bold thing. But before we get carried away with relief and elation, let’s not forget what we saw in the tense 36 hours that fell between late Monday night, when word spread of Rolling Stone’s blockbuster article, and high noon Wednesday, when Obama MacArthured his general. That frenzied interlude revealed much about the state of Washington, the Afghanistan war and the Obama presidency — little of it cheering and none of it resolved by the ingenious replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, the only militarily and politically bullet-proof alternative.

What we saw was this: 1) Much of the Beltway establishment was blindsided by Michael Hastings’s scoop, an impressive feat of journalism by a Washington outsider who seemed to know more about what was going on in Washington than most insiders did; 2) Obama’s failure to fire McChrystal months ago for both his arrogance and incompetence was a grievous mistake that illuminates a wider management shortfall at the White House; 3) The present strategy has produced no progress in this nearly nine-year-old war, even as the monthly coalition body count has just reached a new high.

If we and the president don’t absorb these revelations and learn from them, the salutary effects of the drama’s denouement, however triumphant for Obama in the short run, will be for naught.

Doonesbury — Recruiting blues.