Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Robert Kuttner on Obama

From The Huffington Post.
What do the oil catastrophe and the Wall Street collapse have in common?

Three big things, I'd say.

In both cases, a powerful, politically protected industry invented something that could not easily be repaired when it broke. We seem to be entering an age when complex technologies, whether financial or physical, sometimes literally have no solutions when they go haywire in unanticipated ways. We thought this might happen with nuclear power (and it still could); but for now deepwater drilling is the bigger menace.

Secondly, in both cases the proverbial ounce of prevention was not applied. Had existing laws been enforced, and had the political process not corrupted the regulatory process, these man-made calamities didn't need to happen.

In the case of the oil disaster, which is fast becoming the worst single environmental catastrophe ever, America's long-term failure to move away from dependence on carbon fuels combined with pure short-run political capture. By now, we should have been at the point of energy conversion where high risk, mile-deep undersea wells were not used at all. But even so, this blowout would have been averted had existing laws been enforced.

It's the same story with the financial collapse. We didn't need these exotic, doomsday financial instruments. And had the regulators not been in bed with the industry, the crisis would have been headed off at any of several earlier stages.

But the worst common element is this: both crises are teachable moments that our president could be using to transform public opinion. Yet despite these gifts from the progressive gods, President Obama seems congenitally unable to rise to the occasion.

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