At war with competence in the Gulf

Eben Carle Contributor
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If there is a recurring tale in this new century, it is that the Gulf Coast is where political fortunes go to die. The Gulf in the 21st century has become the delicate-yet-furious eco-nightmare in which central planners and corporate heads get bogged down, before having their heads placed upon the electronic guillotine of cable news.

Since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, unlocking the ocean floor, Washington has spent its energies asking for “public clarification” from BP for costs associated with the cleanup. Private lawyers have flocked to the Gulf coast under the auspices that there will be something worth suing when this oceanic apocalypse is ultimately stopped – by someone else. The Army Corps of Engineers spent no small amount of time weighing the various permits necessary for mitigating this disaster; a disaster that doesn’t seem to be waiting for a permit to worsen.

In response, the Incumbent Chorus in Washington has wheeled out their dusty organ, tuned to the key of outrage, and played their favorite, pew-shaking hit single – the funeral march.

We get it. BP’s oil-soaked goose is cooked. We get it further; this crisis will ultimately enable the nationalization of oil. Not overtly, but via the de facto nationalization that accompanies mega-regulation – the kind that prices everyone out of the market except those operators too big to be anything other than quasi-government entities. This will increase the likelihood, in the future, of more tragedies like the one presently consuming the Gulf. Government isn’t designed to be anything other than a representative body. Decades of maniacally adopting authorities, like an over-caffeinated foster-parent, have left the government accountable for tragedies beyond its ability. The government’s problem is not one of politics, but physics. During genuine crises like the one unfolding in the Gulf, all the causal studies, test cases, policy frameworks, emergency grants and deputized bureaucrats aren’t worth one contractor with an F-150, a front end loader and a big bag of bentonite.

Failure to recognize that is what routinely leaves Washington appearing to be at war with competence. This disaster is more than a month old and yet the oil continues to gush from the ocean floor, with recent videos indicating that the crude is now darker and yielding greater polluting effects upon the Gulf.

At the moment, while BP works to plug their leak, Washington should focus exclusively on coordinating containment and cleanup.

Rather than arguing over fault and providing monologues in this theater of outrage – there should be railcars loading out of Evansville, Wyo., night and day with bentonite. Eighteen-wheelers should be rolling south to Louisiana with hay and excess grains. These absorptive materials have the ability to soak up the oil, which can then be corralled, scooped, dredged, and loaded onto barges for delivery to a containment site – where they can be stored in the very railcars that are presently sitting idle due to the lackluster economy. Any contractor worth his salt will find a market for that sludge within days, and the Pelicans will simply look on with their beady little eyes, wondering what all the fuss is about.

Washington needs to turn to the American worker, not inspire his outrage while hunting for legal clarifications. Those who live beyond the static of the Beltway know the very people who have done this work for decades – they are people who remain invisible to D.C. power brokers, primarily because people who work for a living don’t spend much time on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The outrage is shared by all and visibly justified – but outrage only carries material value during election season. Outrage sits like gold upon the furies of November. The other 364 days, however, it is little more than a loud expression of powerless anger. Our leaders ought to recognize that, stop their auto-finger pointing, and begin making phone calls to the people west of Washington, D.C., those who know what to do in moments of consequence.

One politician actually seems to get it. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal decided, days ago, that he would not wait for federal permits to build the sand booms required to help protect the coastline. Good. He may have a direct line to Washington – but he also, clearly, possesses a mind of his own that responds to reality.

Yet the most curious example of leadership has come from none other than the actor, Kevin Costner. Costner has spent nearly three decades fueling our affection for politics, baseball and the Old West. Evidently, in his spare time he also funded the construction of “giant vacuum cleaners” that separate oil from water using centrifugal technology – just in case something like this happened. After you think about that, while thinking about what most of us do in our spare time, you get to wondering a bit about Kevin Costner. Crisis and disaster certainly provides strange offerings to the mind.

I’m not quite sure what warrants a national fist-pound to one man, but if this works, school children will no longer want to be police officers or firemen when they grow up: they will want to be Kevin Costner. All the better. His “embarrassing flops” have pivoted on such formerly “outlandish” notions as postal reform and surviving global warming. Alternately, his blockbusters left him befriending wolves and carving an image of heaven into the corn fields of Iowa – a heaven where baseball is most obviously the centerpiece. Perhaps, if he’s not too preoccupied with solving the global debt crisis in his free time, Mr. Costner would like to take a swing at the Oval Office.

Eben Carle served in the White House as an Associate Director on the Homeland Security Council from 2008-2009. He received a master’s degree in American studies from Columbia University and is currently writing his first novel.