Last year, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) — a rising star in the GOP and potential nominee for the presidency in 2012 — gave a widely mocked rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address, prompting many pundits to conclude that his national political career was over before it began. But, taking a cue from Rudy Giuliani’s exploitation of the 9/11 attacks while mayor of New York City, Jindal saw a chance rebuild his political capital by using the Gulf oil spill. He sprang into action with press conferences and helicopter rides to show he’s a take-charge leader. The governor quickly became Obama and the federal government’s chief critic, relentlessly attacking their allegedly slow response to the spill and lambasting the “red tape and bureaucracy” preventing him from getting the job done. Jindal’s theatrical deployment of these trappings of leadership has been largely rewarded by favorable press coverage, reigniting speculation of a 2012 run. But new revelations and a close inspection of the facts suggest that Jindal’s sound and fury is little more than political grandstanding for the Fox News set, and it serves to obscure Jindal’s own serious failings in the spill response effort. While Jindal has been relentless in attacking the federal government for dragging its feet, he has delayed the deployment of National Guard troops, led a crusade to build artificial sand berms that most experts say won’t work, and confused the planning of the spill response. Moreover, experts said his “antagonism could actually slow down that response.” “When that stuff happens, you actually take away the ability of the unified command to get their job done,” said former Coast Guard official Doug Lentsch, who was involved in the Exxon Valdez disaster and helped develop the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. But the true impact of Jindal’s blustery leadership may never be known, as Jindal vetoed a bill Friday that would have required him to make public all of his office’s documents relating to the spill. “His excuse is he is afraid that BP would find out something Louisiana did, and I always thought justice was about the truth and facts,” said Republican state Sen. Robert Adley.
NATIONAL GUARD: Nowhere has Jindal’s hypocritical grandstanding been more apparent than on the issue of National Guard troops. Jindal demanded 6,000 Guard troops in the early days of the spill — a request the Department of Defense quickly approved. “We are absolutely in a war to protect our way of life,” Jindal has said. Despite his constant attacks on the federal government for supposedly under-resourcing his efforts, almost two months after the troop request was approved, “only a fraction — 1,053 — have actually been deployed by Jindal to fight the spill,” a CBS News investigation found. This prompted Obama, in his Oval Office address, to specifically and publicly urge Jindal and other Gulf state governors “to activate these troops as soon as possible.” In response to the CBS investigation, Jindal predictably blamed the federal government for the delay, saying, “the Coast Guard and BP had to authorize individual tasks.” But Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, flatly denied this claim. “There is nothing standing in the governor’s way from utilizing more National Guard troops,” Allen said. “In fact, the Coast Guard says every request to use the National Guard has been approved, usually within a day,” CBS noted. Finally, Jindal’s office admitted that the governor “has not specifically asked for more Guard troops to be deployed,” but failed to explain why Jindal had not used the troops. As Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen noted, “Jindal is either deeply confused about something he should understand, or he was lying.” Jindal’s failure here underscores the need to bring in the military to take charge of the disaster response, as the Center for American Progress has urged.
SAND BERMS: In recent weeks, Jindal has launched a crusade to build artificial barrier islands off the Louisiana coast, on the theory that they would prevent the oil from washing ashore. Jindal has repeatedly blasted the federal government for being hesitant to approve this plan, an offensive which Fox News has dutifully supported. “We don’t have time for red tape and bureaucracy,” Jindal told reporters of the berms. “We’re literally in a war to save our coast.” But most experts have expressed serious doubts about the effectiveness of Jindal’s plan, noting the exorbitant costs are probably not worth it and warning that the berms could actually cause more harm than good. Rob Young, the director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, warned in the Yale Environment 360 blog that “there are many potential negative impacts of this structure on the coastal environment.” “I have yet to speak to a scientist who thinks the project will be effective,” he added. Young explained that the berms will be “extremely susceptible to erosion” and “could disappear within a few months” — much faster if struck by a hurricane. Meanwhile, the project will be “incredibly expensive,” and many experts argue that the resources used to construct berms could be better applied elsewhere. Before approving the project, the Army Corps of Engineers gave other federal agencies less than one day to submit comments, but even in the limited time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior expressed deep reservations. The EPA “directly questioned the proposed berm’s effectiveness,” while Interior said that it did not “think the risks inherent in proceeding without more environmental study and knowledge are acceptable.” Risks include actually worsening the spill’s impact on marshes by trapping oil behind the berms and increasing the speed of oil flowing through the remaining openings in the artificial shield of islands, effectively pumping oil into the delicate marshes. Above all, the barrier will take at at least nine months to complete, and the first berms will be complete “no sooner than August,” according to the contractor building them. Many — including the EPA — say this will be too late to have any impact. As Mother Jones noted, “griping about the berms has…become Jindal’s plan to keep the spotlight on him and his criticism of the federal government, long-term damage to the state’s ecosystem be damned.”
PLANNING: Another favorite line of attack of Jindal’s is to insist that the government did not properly plan for the disaster. “We kept being assured over and over that they had a plan, that there was a detailed plan, that it was coming; we never got that plan,” he said. But as the New York Times noted, “under the law, oil spill experts said, there are only two kinds of government plans pertaining to spills, and the state is partly responsible for both.” Response officials confirmed that Jindal’s own office approved plans that are currently in use, despite his feigned ignorance. More troubling, some of the plans prepared by the state “are rife with omissions, including pages of blank charts that are supposed to detail available supplies of equipment like oil-skimming vessels.” For example, “a draft action plan for a worst case is among many requirements in the southeast Louisiana proposal listed as ‘to be developed.'” When pressed at news conference as to why the state had not developed better plans, Jindal once again reverted to attacking the federal government. As the Baton Rouge Business Report observed after the exchange, “The impression left that afternoon on several members of the media was that the state hadn’t done any oil-spill planning before [the Deepwater Horizon explosion], instead choosing to rely on other entities for protection.” Moreover, Jindal keeps moving the goal posts of the plan, such as when he “requested three times as much boom as the state’s plan had called for — and 50% more boom than existed in the entire nation.” Soon thereafter, he switched gears to the sand berm approach, which is barely mentioned in the state’s plans. But it’s not surprising that Louisiana’s planning has been lacking, considering that Jindal undercut the state’s ability to prepare for an oil spill. He cut $750,000 from the budget of the oil spill research and development program and moved the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s office from the governor’s direct oversight into “a basement in Facility Planning” at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Under the Radar
JUSTICE — FINANCIAL REGULATION BILL CONTAINS MEASURE TO ADDRESS ‘CONFLICT MINERALS’: Congressional negotiators reached a deal on Friday to reconcile the House and Senate versions of financial regulatory reform. The bill contains an obscure provision “that requires any publicly traded company that uses certain minerals to file reports annually with the Securities and Exchange Commission certifying whether the minerals originated in Congo or neighboring countries.” Many of the minerals used in electronic devices like cell phones and computers are mined in the Congo, a country “plagued by regional conflict and a deadly scramble for its vast natural resources.” The mineral sales finance “multiple armed groups, many of whom use mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations.” The provision in the financial regulation bill is designed to, according to its sponsor, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), “brings accountability and transparency to the supply chain of minerals used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices.” The Center for American Progress’ Enough Project — an organization “helping to build a permanent constituency to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity” — advocated for the inclusion of this provision. Though industry lobbyists complained about the cost, Enough’s Jenny Russell pointed out that “tech companies have admitted it would cost one penny per product to ensure a conflict-free supply chain.” Reacting to the provision’s passage, Enough’s John Prendergast said, “A year ago most members of Congress hadn’t even heard of conflict minerals.” Now, “in the middle of a turbulent legislative calendar, activists all over the country were heard loudly and clearly.” Private institutions are also joining the effort. Stanford University’s trustees recently considered a resolution “to create a new proxy voting guideline” that would “support shareholders’ efforts to make companies trace the supply chain of the minerals used in their products.” If the guideline is adopted, “it would be the first university in the country to take such action on the issue.”
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Congress’ longest-serving member in history “best known for his ardent defense of both the U.S. Constitution his love of Senate history,” passed away this morning at age 92. He was a two-term majority leader, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, “author of an award-winning four-volume history of the Senate,” and president pro tem. Viewed as the “dean of the Senate,” Byrd “funneled dozens of projects and millions of federal dollars to his home state” and famously was one of the only voices in the chamber to speak out against the Iraq war. Read reactions to his death from fellow senators here.
West Virginia law gives Gov. Joe Manchin (D) the power to appoint Byrd’s replacement. But state law says an election must be called if a vacancy occurs more than 2.5 years before a term expires, a mark which would have been hit at the end of this week. The National Journal writes, however, that “a special election is unlikely.”
In his New York Times column, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman warns we are in the early stages of a “third depression.” “This third depression,” he writes, “will be primarily a failure of policy” as the world’s leading governments obsess “about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.”
A USA Today/Gallup poll finds a majority of Americans (53 percent) approve of President Obama’s decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus. A greater percentage — 58 percent — back the plan to start pulling out U.S. troops in July 2011.
“Top officials in President Hamid Karzai’s government have repeatedly derailed corruption investigations of politically connected Afghans,” according to American officials. “Above a certain level, people are being very well protected,” a senior U.S. official told the Washington Post. Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar denied that any investigations had been derailed.
Though he campaigned against “closed-door meetings” and “backroom deals,” some argue that they are exactly what Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) is engaging in during the final push on Wall Street reform. “After private talks” with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and top Democrats, “Brown scored a series of exemptions from the ‘Volcker rule'” that were sought by big Massachusetts banks and financial firms.
The Miami Herald profiles the “paradox” of GOP frontrunner Rick Scott’s campaign for Florida governor. The paper notes that “the novice candidate has touted his stature and experience as the get-things-done CEO of what was once the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare company, while also trying to distance himself from Columbia/HCA’s notorious legacy of fraud.”
CIA Director Leon Panetta said yesterday on ABC News’ This Week that “Iran has enough fissile material for two atomic bombs, and that it could develop nuclear weapons in two years if it wanted.” Though Iran “has continually said its nuclear program is for civilian, not military, use,” Panetta’s statements mark “the Obama administration’s starkest assessment to date of Tehran’s nuclear work.”
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren “denied Sunday that he had told Israeli diplomats a ‘tectonic rift’ was emerging between the United States and Israel.” His “incendiary words,” first reported in Haaretz, come just before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with President Obama on July 6.
The “headline achievement” of the G-20 summit was an agreement by developed nations to “halve their annual deficits within three years.” Although the U.S. signed on to the plan, President Obama urged continued spending to support growth, stating, “[W]e must recognize that our fiscal health tomorrow will rest in no small measure on our ability to create jobs and growth today.”
And finally: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) doesn’t consider herself a hipster, but says her staff keeps her “informed” about the site “dedicated to proving she is.”
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BP slick reached Mississippi while Gov. Haley Barbour (R) went fundraising in Washington.
G-8 leaders emphasize the need to address climate change, but the G-20 may backtrack.
Mike Huckabee refuses to say Sarah Palin is qualified to be president.
Drones bring war everywhere.
Elena Kagan: A nominee who knows LGBT issues.
Nine years in, the U.S. finally tries to get a grip on war zone contractors.
A real solution to polarization.
June brings the climate destruction predicted by scientists.
“This nominee does have serious problems. … She was a Clinton operative for quite a number of years.”
— Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, 6/28/10
“I did support her initially. She had 26 years of law practice and it worked in the White House a number of years.”
— Sessions on Bush-era Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, 6/28/10