Scrambling to avoid political damage from the biggest oil spill ever, President Obama seeks in ever-more-strident announcements to convince himself and the rest of the world that he is in charge and that all will soon be well. The curtain is pulled back on Barack "The Wiz" Obama. The picture is not pretty.
The Wiz is finger-pointing, shape-shifting and spinning like a dervish. It isn't working. People noticed when the Wiz chose to go to a fundraiser for Barbara Boxer instead of attending the funeral of the 11 men who perished in the BP oil-rig explosion.
Worse, the basic inefficiency of Big Government coupled with the union and environmentalist political hammerlock on the Wiz has delayed common-sense solutions and blocked needed assistance. The latest atrocity is a union veto of offers of assistance from the Netherlands and Belgium – countries with cleanup technology and ships not available in the U.S.
More on the Jones Act fiasco in a moment. First, 57 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, burned and sank, the disaster gets worse and the need for effective action more acute every day.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen confirmed Friday that more oil was gushing from the BP well than had been previously admitted. Much more. Initial estimates of 5,000 to 25,000 barrels a day have been "revised" to 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day.
Published reports based on independent scientists and industry experts' calculations put the number between 50,000 and 100,000 barrels a day.
At 42 gallons per barrel, assuming the government figure of 40,000 barrels a day, the BP well gushes 1,680,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 250,000 barrels, or 10.5 million gallons, of oil in Alaska in 1989. By those numbers, the BP catastrophe is another Exxon Valdez every seven days.
Between June 3 (when BP put the containment cap over the well) and June 11, BP reports collecting 88,700 barrels of oil, or about one-quarter of the daily gusher. The rest is washing ashore and threatening the Gulf's marshes, wildlife sanctuaries and beaches and spreading in underwater oil plumes hundreds of miles long.
Only some 400 skimmer-equipped boats are working the spill. They are hardly making a dent.
According to the publication Foreign Policy, 13 countries offered the U.S. help right after the well blowout. At least two of those – the Netherlands and Belgium – offered the immediate use of ships and cleanup equipment and technology not available in the U.S., which would clean up the Gulf faster and cheaper than the U.S. estimates.
The Obama response was no thanks: "[W]hile there is no need right now that the U.S. cannot meet, the U.S. Coast Guard is assessing these offers of assistance to see if there will be something which we will need in the near future."
In last Friday's briefing, Adm. Allen was asked about the foreign offers of assistance. He said he would be happy to consider using the foreign ships if there were an "official request." So, the Coast Guard is not "assessing" the offers, without a "request" from Obama to do so.
Adm. Allen did reverse an earlier decision not to deploy U.S. cleanup "assets" from other U.S. locations. Such assets, said the admiral, would now be rushed to the Gulf – an admission that efforts to date to contain the environmental and economic effects of the gusher have not been effective. But still, the foreign "assets" are not being considered.
Fox News quoted a Coast Guard lieutenant commander that foreign "assets" were not being considered because they do not "meet the operational requirements of the Unified Area Command." Brian Wilson of Fox News followed up, asking the Coast Guard if complying with the Jones Act was one of those "operational requirements." The reply was "yes."
What is this "Jones Act" that keeps the president from using the best available worldwide "assets"?
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, among other things, requires shipping between U.S. ports to be done on U.S.-made ships by U.S. citizen seamen. Although the law provides for a waiver of these requirements by the president, unionized merchant sailors have historically resisted these waivers, and they are rarely granted.
Right after Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived the Jones Act for the period Sept. 1 through Sept. 19, 2005, to allow foreign ships to work in with U.S. ships to transport natural gas and oil. More recently, a U.S. Customs official ruled that the Jones Act does not apply to foreign-owned vessels installing wind turbines off the coast of Delaware.
On Friday, Obama environmental adviser Carol Browner said the Obama administration "had not received a request from the Coast Guard to waive the Jones Act. If we have one, obviously we'll respond to it."
On the same day, Coast Guard Adm. Allen told reporters, "We are more than willing to consider Jones Act waivers. Nobody has come to me for a Jones Act waiver yet, but I am prepared to consider that."
Don't tell that to Dallas businessman Fred McCallister. He has offered 25 skimmer boats to the Coast Guard, which are foreign-owned and -operated. The reply? McCallister says all he's getting is "radio silence."
Do union rules trump the need for the cleanup? Only Obama knows. What the public knows is that the Wiz met with union leaders at the White House Thursday, and on Friday Browner and Allen engaged in their little verbal dance to try and mask the fact that the Wiz will not use every available "asset" to stop this gusher and clean up the Gulf.