Failure-in-Chief

Failure-in-Chief

Posted 05/05/2010 ET

 

The controversies over the Arizona immigration plan and the Obama Administration’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf may not seem related, but they have a key common characteristic: both originate in the failure of Washington.

In both cases, President Obama faces a real danger of a political backlash from which he will be unable to recover.

More importantly, they are both part of a rapidly evolving pattern of big government failure that will be a fundamental challenge to our country over the next quarter century.

Federal Failure on Immigration and Border Control

Before anyone criticizes the citizens of Arizona who are worried about their lives and their safety, they should focus on the abject failure of the federal government to control the border and enforce our immigration laws. 

Consider the facts on the ground:

• 15% of Arizona’s state prisoners are illegal immigrants;
• The number of kidnappings in Phoenix, Ariz., has exploded as the Mexican drug cartels have brought their violence North of the border;
• Two Phoenix police officers have been killed in recent years by illegal immigrants;
• A cattle rancher near the Mexican border was recently killed by a drug smuggler;
• Just last week a deputy sheriff was wounded in a gun battle with men suspected of being drug smugglers from Mexico.

In response to the dangers they perceived from Washington’s failure, 64% of Arizonans overwhelmingly support their new immigration law.

Nationally, 51% of Americans who have heard of the law support it, with 39% opposed

This is despite the frequent distortions and flat-out lies about the facts of the bill being reiterated in the mainstream media (Byron York and Andy McCarthy have been especially good at setting the record straight.)

The Obama Administration will alienate the vast majority of Americans if it insists on attacking the Arizona law instead of solving the problems of an uncontrolled border and a failed immigration system.

The right answer for Washington is to meet its responsibilities: 1) Control the border; 2) Pass common sense immigration reform, including a guest worker program and intense enforcement aimed at illegal employers (without whom there would be no magnet to draw in people outside the law); and 3) Ensure that all Americans can live in safety in a law abiding country.

At that point the Arizona law would become moot and unneeded.  Let’s solve the problem, not the symptom.

Federal Failure in Louisiana…Round 2

President Obama faces another challenge in the controversy surrounding the federal government’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf.

Of course, this controversy has echoes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which was enabled by government, both in the failure to maintain the levee and pumping system and in taking too long to respond. 

The Bush Administration’s inability to recognize these failures and fix them was a major factor in its loss of public support (which never recovered to pre-Katrina levels).

Today, it is not yet clear what degree of responsibility the federal government has for the oil spill disaster.  But every day we get new pieces of information that suggest this spill could have been contained if the federal government had acted swiftly and competently.

We know that Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said the Deepwater Horizon was inspected less than two weeks before the explosion.  However, without knowing the cause of the accident, it is impossible to know if something was missed that would have prevented the explosion or failure of the “blowout preventer” that should have shut off the oil flow.

We also know that it took over eight days for federal government to deem the spill a disaster of “national significance” and fully devote federal resources to the problem.  In fact, on April 23, the Coast Guard was still claiming there was no leak.

Last week, Louisiana lawmakers including Gov. Bobby Jindal pointedly criticized the federal government’s slowness in committing quantifiable resources to containing the spill. 

Furthermore, Ron Gouget, who formerly managed the oil spill recovery department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has made the point that there has been an oil spill clean-up plan on the books since 1994, but federal officials took a full week before attempting to execute that plan.  This is partly because, despite this standing plan, the federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand to execute it.

Even the liberal New York Times has called the timetable of the government’s response “damning”.  

The Obama Administration now faces dual challenges in the Gulf and in Arizona. If it misunderstands and fails to respond effectively to these challenges, it could suffer an equally serious loss of public support.
 
The Future of Offshore Development

This analysis does not in any way exclude British Petroleum (BP) from responsibility.

Even though the rig was owned and operated by a private contractor and the cause of the explosion and equipment failure is not yet known, BP has rightly pledged to pay for the Gulf spill’s cleanup. 

The spill will cause enormous environmental and economic damage to the Gulf region.  Worst case estimates suggest that the spill could reach the East Coast.  Millions of Americans who make their living from the ocean will be affected. 

However, despite this disaster, it is clear that offshore development must continue. 

In fact, it must expand.

The spill, while tragic, does not change any of the underlying facts about America’s current or future energy and national security needs:

• Offshore drilling is still a viable source of new jobs for a struggling economy.  One study shows that expanded offshore drilling could create as much as a million new jobs a year over the next three decades
• Offshore drilling is still a key source of potential revenue for states struggling to balance their budgets.  In 2009, offshore drilling generated more than $2.7 million for Gulf states, as well as nearly $1 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund;
• Offshore drilling is still an essential component of a strategy to supplant the 11 million barrels of oil per day ($935 million) we import from other countries, including dangerous dictatorships that fund terrorism.

This is why the cynical attempts from the left to use this disaster as an excuse to stop all development in the Gulf and elsewhere are so misguided.

There are over 3,500 oil platforms in the gulf producing 1.2 million barrels a day.  They support tens of thousands of jobs, with about 35,000 workers engaged in Gulf offshore activities at any one time.  At the current price of $85 a barrel, shutting down all offshore drilling in the Gulf would force us to send an additional $102 million every day to foreign countries.  That number will only increase as the summer approaches.

Those analysts who note this was the first American offshore well disaster since 1969 indirectly make the case for continued development. A once in 41-year event is something to be prepared for, not something that should be allowed to increase our dependence on foreign dictatorships for energy.

Similarly, those who point to the Exxon Valdez spill often fail to note that shipping oil is more likely to lead to a spill than drilling.

Investigate. Fix.  Move Forward.

Ultimately, this is a question about the character of America.

Will our response to this disaster be to stop, litigate, and lose our nerve?

Or will it be the historic American response to challenges such as these: investigate, fix, and move forward with a safer system than before? 

When two airliners collided over the Grand Canyon in 1956 with disastrous fatalities, followed by two similar accidents in 1958, the answer was not shutting down the commercial airline industry.  The answer was developing the air traffic control system which has made commercial air travel much, much safer than driving a car.

After the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant, an independent commission was appointed to investigate exhaustively the cause of that event.  The response was not to abandon nuclear power, which produces 20% of electricity in the United States.
After the levees failed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an independent investigation determined that new levees should have specific engineering upgrades, more erosion protection, and that there should be better communication between the federal and local governments. The response was not to force residents to abandon New Orleans forever.

Similarly, we should take the BP disaster very seriously.  Yesterday, American Solutions called for an independent commission to investigate the spill, paralleling the commissions that investigated Three Mile Island and the Challenger explosion.

Those who favor offshore development must respond with greater intensity than those who oppose development and have the luxury of unthinking opposition with no thought to the economic and national security consequences.

We should support a vigorous investigation that determines what investments could have avoided it and what the most effective cleanup system would have been.  And then we should support a lean, effective government to implement those findings.

Effective Government, not Big Government

The Founding Fathers were for limited but effective government.

Peter Drucker, the great information age management expert, warned again and again that big government was inevitably bureaucratic and ineffective.

Alvin and Heidi Toffler have repeatedly warned that government is getting slower while the modern world is getting faster.

I have written and spoken before about how government has become the fourth recent bubble (after IT, housing, and the derivatives market — it is overleveraged, underperforming, and fundamentally dishonest about its underlying stability. The collapse of the government bubble will be even more disruptive than the previous three.

More and more, we are seeing that ever growing government is no longer just a threat to our wallet; it is a threat to our personal safety. Both in Arizona and the Gulf, we are being reminded that a massive federal government has been massively ineffective.

A limited federal government can better focus attention and resources on its core responsibilities, which absolutely include controlling the border and large scale disaster recovery.

It is time to reform Washington by returning power and responsibility back to the state and local governments. 

Your friend,

Newt

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