Why Obama should put BP under temporary receivership

Robert Reich

If the government can take over giant global insurer AIG and the auto giant General Motors and replace their CEOs, in order to keep them financially solvent, it should be able to put BP’s north American operations into temporary receivership in order to stop one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Five reasons for taking such action:

  1. We are not getting the truth from BP.
  2. We have no way to be sure BP is devoting enough resources to stopping the gusher.
  3. BP’s new strategy for stopping the gusher is highly risky.
  4. Right now, the U.S. government has no authority to force BP to adopt a different strategy.
  5. The President is not legally in charge

The President should temporarily take over BP’s Gulf operations. We have a national emergency on our hands. No president would allow a nuclear reactor owned by a private for-profit company to melt down in the United States while remaining under the direct control of that company. The meltdown in the Gulf is the environmental equivalent.

David Gergen agrees saying, Mr. President, take command

What can the White House do? For starters:

  • Set up a daily command center in Washington where a presidentially appointed leader runs the show, calls the shots, coordinates the overall effort, briefs the president and briefs the country
  • Have two deputies, one to direct the leak-stoppage and the other to direct the clean-up. Ex-CEOs and generals would be excellent candidates
  • Summon all the major oil and drilling companies to the White House for emergency efforts to get the hole plugged
  • Get BP out of the picture for clean-up; just send it the bill. If it is still needed for hole-plugging, okay, but ensure that it answers every day to directions from the government. If BP needs new internal leadership, figure out how to get that done
  • Employ the U.S. military for organizational coordination and where needed, for anything else such as clean-up
  • Make more aggressive efforts to tap the best minds in the world for help
  • Provide the country with the kind of daily briefings that the military has mastered for wartime — bring in people who are smart, straight and tough
  • Ensure that economic assistance is provided to families, small businesses and communities that need it with dispatch and generosity
  • Call off the finger pointing until we get out of this mess
  • And finally, very importantly, exercise the powers of leadership every day from the Oval Office

Obama’s inability to speak out against BP’s numerous lies, evasions, half-truths, and refusals to do as the government requests is curious indeed. Since the beginning, it’s been an open question as to who is in charge, BP or the US government. But then, Obama is always has been overly-agreeable to letting corporate interests do most anything they want, whether that be the banksters, Massey Coal, or BP. Faux outrage followed with little or no action seems to be his standard response. While this may play well in corporate boardrooms, populist anger and general rage at DC continues to gather strength.

One of Obama’s biggest problems is that the general corporate perception seems to be there is no downside to ignoring or attacking what Obama says. He never strikes back or makes them realize there will be political consequences to them trying to sandbag him. Instead he’s just infinitely “reasonable,” something which many will simply view as weakness. Or complicity.

But now he needs to do something. Decisive. This is a national emergency, after all.

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