Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 9, 2010

Nobody’s Perfect

Last week the sporting world and more than a few people who pay no mind to sports whatsoever witnessed something extraordinary. Pitching with two outs in the ninth inning, Armando Galarraga of the Detriot Tigers was facing Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Jason Donald when the hitter stroked a ground ball into the gap between first and second base.  First baseman Miguel Cabrera played it cleanly and tossed it back to Galarraga who covering first toed the bag for what seemed a clear put out.

As Galarraga squeezed the ball tightly in his glove and looked over smiling to umpire Jim Joyce he saw his dreams of a perfect game — only the 21st in major league history and the first for his storied franchise — evaporate as Donald was called safe. Shock and sadness turned to anger and dismay as nearly everyone watching in the stands and on television saw the sequence replayed over and over again. Each time with the same result: Donald was out by at least half a step. Nevertheless, the call stood. A token protest from Detriot Manager Jim Leyland and repeated pleas from Cabrera notwithstanding it was the perfect game that was but never would be.

After the game, Jim Joyce himself reviewed the videotape and concluded as everyone else had that he had erred in calling Donald safe. Rather than letting it end there, though, he did something extraordinary, for baseball at least, and all too sadly rare in life as well, he admitted his mistake. He not only apologized to Galarraga personally but also released a statement through Major League Baseball  indicating his regret and calling it the worst call of his career.

In the end, Galarraga was robbed of the statistical claim to completing a perfect game. Instead he got something even rarer: A chance to restore faith in baseball’s overpriced players and confidence in the human capacity for forgiveness. Still smiling, he accepted Joyce’s apology, and was said to have responded, “Nobody’s perfect.” Combined with his stellar performance, he assured himself a place in the Hall Baseball of Fame at Cooperstown, if not in the record books.

Something about Joyce’s admission, if not Galarraga’s grace in forgiving him, must have been contagious because only this week we saw another amazing mea culpa. Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, resigned with immediate effect Monday after hurtful remarks she made in a private conversation with a rabbi visiting the White House surfaced over the weekend and quickly reached a crescendo.

Thomas, a veritable Washington, DC institution in her own right, served as a White House correspondent since the Kennedy Administration. Her caustic demeanor is well known inside the Beltway if not so much beyond it.  But she was largely seen to have earned the right to her opinions because of her tenure and the tenacity it took to reach that point in what was long a male-dominated domain.

In the few minutes between the blown call and his apology, baseball commentators remarked on Jim Joyce’s standing as a veteran of 29 years umpiring the big leagues, including several coveted playoff and World Series assignments. They made it clear that his tenure and experience were all the more reason why he should have got his call right in the first place.

Less than a week later, the controversy surrounding Jim Joyce’s bad call has largely dissipated though. Sure, people are still trying to use it to promote their arguments for video replay reviews of umpiring decisions, but no one seems inclined to make Joyce a scapegoat anymore largely because of the way he and Galarraga handled themselves and the incident. But this outcome also seems to hinge on the fact that the result of their actions left us with something better than a perfect game.

Thomas accepted responsibility for her remarks, but nothing she said or did will change the fact that no good will come of this incident, least of all a resolution to end the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was the subject of her remarks. Unlike the baseball game, which was nationally televised, recorded and replayed by mainstream media, the video used to out Ms. Thomas was recorded privately and circulated virally on the Internet leaving people of the opinion that had she not been forced to account for her remarks, they might have remained unchallenged as well as unchanged.

Thomas’s defenders cite her age as well as her heritage as explanations for her behavior. But in contrast to Jim Joyce, who many observers admitted must have seen something that tipped his call the other way, nobody seemed all that inclined to defend her remarks beyond saying they understood where she was coming from and felt she might deserve some slack because of her age, which is just shy of 90.

All of this may or may not strike you as interesting, particularly in respect of homeland security. But I think otherwise. For starters, trust and accountability are as much a part of the Deepwater Horizon narrative as they are a part of these stories. What’s missing though is the sense that anybody has learned anything from the mistakes underlying that disaster. Likewise, they are starting to wonder whether the willingness of BP and the White House to accept responsibility is producing tangible much less beneficial results.

Like these affairs, the images of failure keep coming at us non-stop. The replay of the sickening results of the oil spill and repeated failures to stop it or to make much progress cleaning it up leave us wondering whether those responsible are incompetent or simply out-gunned.

This makes the failure to acknowledge the real mistakes underlying the catastrophe all the more obvious and unsettling. No one from BP or the federal government has stepped up to the plate to say that the decision to drill at such depths was a bad call. (And that may be true even if off-shore drilling itself remains the only viable way of meeting our short-term energy needs while weaning ourselves off foreign sources of supply.) Sacking the Minerals Management Service administrator and imposing a moratorium on off-shore drilling communicates immediacy but instills no sense or urgency to develop demand for better options. And no one who has been willing to step up has earned the right to claim any benefit of the doubt much less respect for their past performances.

This leaves us watching as those who want to help are left wondering why no one will let them. Which begs the question often asked by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (which I paraphrase here for the sake of clarity): ‘When we will stop treating those affected by disasters as victims instead of resources?’

Like the fans and policy wonks watching the other stories competing for air-time this past week, we all know what we saw (and that remains true even if we can’t see what’s really happening). When will someone acknowledge and act upon those reactions? Expressing anger may give voice to our frustrations, but it does not do much to make things better.

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12 Comments »

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 9, 2010 @ 4:07 am

Mark, I agree there are important analogies between these events and homeland security. You have drawn them.

I will take some exception to two of your claims, though we may end up in the same place:

First, I have heard several administration officials — including Ken Salazar (my least favorite character, so far, in this event) — offer their mea culpas. Going even further, in mid-May the administration tried to press for a sense of “collective responsibility” on a range of poor judgments.

Other than the embarrassing “the other guy’s fault” congressional hearing, I perceive that BP is accepting responsibility about as well as a large, impersonal enterprise ever does.

None of this acceptance of responsibility has been well-received, but that strikes me as different than not-offered. It’s a bit like Joyce had apologized, but Galarraga had walked away.

Second, you write there has been, “no sense or urgency to develop demand for better options.” Maybe I have become too much of a beltway insider, but with the Coast Guard, National Security Staff, Napolitano’s office, and half the cabinet I don’t know how they are maintaining their very high sense of urgency and intense pace.

I don’t have the same depth of contacts with BP, but I have had a couple of old friends in the Houston war room and they report out an amazing collection of specialists gathered from around the world and every major energy company burning lots and lots of midnight oil and attacking the issue from every which way.

Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes we make horrible mistakes. The outcome of the mistakes may be so profound as to be beyond “fixing.” Accepting responsibility and being held accountable is part of the answer.

But from the small-scale to the very large, there are plenty of times when we might well ask, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 9, 2010 @ 9:30 am

Phil, thanks on calling me on my imprecise usage. I fear my sense of style got in the way of the substance I was trying to convey, especially on the point of urgency. You are quite right to note that everyone involved (at least on as far as BP and the feds are concerned) has been working frantically to come up with a way to staunch the flow of both oil and credibility.

But this strikes me as a sense of intensity, if not desperation, rather than the sort of urgency of positive purpose I meant to imply. When our efforts to evaluate alternatives are negatively motivated — “How do I stop bad things from happening or make the hurt go away” — they rarely motivate empathy or encourage the engagement of others needed to resolve a crisis successfully. Rather, they tend to foster frustration on both sides as neither feels the need to (or even sees the value of) acknowledge the others’ efforts.

This lies at the heart of calls for collective responsibility just as finger-pointing often explains initial reactions to divert attention or buy time. As I have said in other posts and other places, when everyone’s responsible, no one is accountable. In the absence of consensus about a positive goal or outcome, I think people feel more compelled to find a fall guy. In cases like this, that usually proves fruitless even if it does not prove futile. (That was the case too with Helen Thomas in my view.)

The leadership challenge arising from Deepwater Horizon is not so much in finding a way to end the flow of oil or clean the coasts and waters of the Gulf as it is in charting a clear path toward energy independence. The positive goal here could be seeing this as a clarion call to get serious about making a better future for ourselves even if (or perhaps especially if) it means redefining success.

Sadly, I don’t see a Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga ending to this one.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 9, 2010 @ 10:27 am

Good morning;

To stay with the original theme; the ability of Armando Galarraga to accept the fact that the umpire made an error is as important as Jim Joyce admitting it. There are no winners in that scenario. Sincerity on both gentlemen’s part and perhaps knowing it cannot be changed or it will likely not be changed also aids in moving on. Hindsight (instant replay) further demonstrates contrast in present and past perspectives And, Galarraga will long be remembered for the perfect game he didn’t pitch.

That all being said, our current predicament I believe has a combination of self victimization, hubris, entitlement, and what amounts to politically convenient hindsight built in. Is this the unintended consequence of American Exceptionalism or Imperial Hubris? Is this the expected outcomes we can look forward to in the future as our needs and wants outpace our supply and reach? Questions and more questions.

We’ve become so accustomed to exorcising all the “bad” players and at the same time practicing hypocrisy it’s a wonder we have any respect in the world. Here are some British perspectives on the situation;
• “The Americans want their cake and to eat it too. Their gluttonous requirement for cheap oil meant that they sanctioned risky deep underwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – and now its all gone wrong they throw all their toys out of the pram.
• It was Americans who caused this disaster. American equipment, procedures, inadequate contingency plans and American equipment. YET THEY BLAME THE BRITISH
• They ruined our Banks and the economy. They are untrustworthy and xenophobic. Boycott their goods and holiday elsewhere.”
How much truth lies in the aforemntioned perspective?
Global economy, global reach, global needs; global responsibility.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Is it our insatiable need for convenience and consumption clouding both our temperament and judgment when it comes to laying this entire thing at BP’s feet? Is this more a question of when this was going to happen as opposed to if it was? What is our responsibility in this? Do we have any? Do the winners go the spoils?
Earlier this week Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner showed how little respect many on Capitol Hill have for BP. He inferred that BP was lying about the disaster:
“Whenever you hear someone with a British accent talking about this on behalf of British Petroleum they are not telling you the truth. That’s the bottom-line,” Weiner said. I wonder if Mr. Weiner has the same disposition when anyone from Congress speaks? I wonder if he realizes how little respect there is for he and his cohort? A British accent…. Is that a bit like a Jewish sounding name or something along those lines? That reckless hyperbole does not solve any problems but plays to constituencies. A dangerous and stupid statement. Stunning.
There is also evidence that the sheer amount of scrutiny might be overwhelming BP. Quite frankly, who would be able to stand up to that level of scrutiny? Where are Transocean and Haliburton in all of this? And I wonder when the next bright idea of boycotting BP will be announced….who will that really hurt? Small service stations all over the United States are reselling gasoline they’ve already purchased. Is it their fault? It seems like our need to punish knows no bounds… except of course when it comes to our own messes… anyone gone to jail yet for Bank Bail outs and Housing scandals?
Yes, there are certainly issues with BP( I do not think it’s been British Petroleum for some time)
BP has been cited for breaking US drilling and safety regulations over 600 times over the last decade at their various sites. This compares to under 10 violations for Exxon Mobile.

It’s also been fined 760 times under OSHA findings, Exxon Has Just 1. http://bit.ly/8YXvuF

Hee’s the bottom line; this is very, very bad. It has immediate National and in short order, International impact. It very well may permenantly alter our southeast/gulf eco and economic systems. It also may destroy food and wildlife. IN every sense this is a global catastrophe. But we should not be surprised. This was to a degree predictable and when any company or institution takes such high risks with virtually no margin of error and such tight coupling, you’re going to have issues. And, it puts our Nation at some degree of risk.

All this being said, what of our role, the American consumer and citizen? Where does our degree of culpability lie? Do we have any responsibility, albeit tertiary or beyond, in this catastrophe? What behavior will me immedietaly alter to mitigate the crisis? Will we park the car? Will we walk? What minor inconvenience are we willing to sustain to lessen our risk taking? Are we the victims or the perpetrators? Some rhetorical questions and some real ones, but this situation, under glaring scrutiny and reverse discovery is all for naught…it will not get the oil back in the ground, much like Jim Joyces’ changing his mind the next day…

“Alea iacta est”; the die has been cast. We have crossed the Rubicon; now what?

Thank you for your continued provocative and enlightened posts.

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 9, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

One of the interesting side effects of having lived overseas for a long stretch, especially as person of dual-nationality, you become aware that some people in neither country consider you truly one of their own. As a consequence, I have become a bit squeamish about making the “Ugly American” argument, even when it is strikes me as an apt assessment of how others see us. That said, I’m glad it’s on the table now. (Whew!)

Here in America, it is the credibility of those we see as principals that concerns us most. Just about everyone else I have contact with outside the country sees this as emblematic of something bigger. As you note, they also tend to see it as karmic payback for our bad behavior and even more self-serving decision-making style. At the same time, they worry about its impact on them and wonder what peril will confront them next as a result of our tendency to seek quick and easy answers to complex questions.

I suspect, indeed, I know, that my agreement with these observations colors (colours?) my take on current events. That’s why I see it as all the more important for our leaders to reframe this catastrophe as an opportunity to change the way we live and relate to others.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 9, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

Mark;

I agree this is something bigger. And all our experiences and points of view colour our perspective. Having spent most of my adult life in a uniform on behalf of my Nation, I feel obliged to entertain all points of views, not simply the convenient ones. And, as you captured towards the end. . . our leaders must reframe this catastrophe and their relationship with we, the people. Our response now and our expectations in the future requires broad introspection and trying to see a deeper perspective as our definition of and emergence of the relationship of Homeland Security to all other things.

Comment by Philip Palin

June 10, 2010 @ 6:27 am

The dialogue between Dan and Mark is helpful. They are edging toward making full meaning of what is unfolding in the Gulf.

Anyone who has read more than two or three of my posts/comments will agree I am more than willing to leap to portentous meaning from modest evidence.

I will also offer, “Sometimes Dr. Freud, a cigar is just a cigar.”

A big company took a big risk that it down-played to itself, regulators, and anyone else who was paying attention (not many).

The company did not prepare itself — and there was little incentive for others to prepare — for the discounted risk.

A cascade of unpredictable, but fully anticipated, failures transpired. Eleven lives were lost, tens-of-thousands of lives disrupted, untold environmental damage is still emerging, and the economic impacts are beyond precise measure. Political fall-out is being fought over.

We may well make more meaning from Deepwater Horizon. Like a drunk waking up — for the 100th time — in a strange place, we may, this time, have an epiphany and our life will be changed for the better. May it be so.

Along the way I hope we might also accept a more modest meaning regarding the behavior of complex systems. We can be sure that every so often, in an unpredictable way, complex systems fail, flip, fluctuate — other f words come to mind. We ought to anticipate this behavior by consciously cultivating resilience in advance.

I am not trying to disagree, but advocating another meaningful outcome.

Comment by Global Citizen Joe

June 10, 2010 @ 7:06 am

Whether it was and still remains for many – Katrina -or it is the Gulf oil spill and a gridlocked Congress and Washington awashed with special interest groups, BP who worries about its shareholders versus paying immediate damages for family sustenence as a result of utter arrogance, indifference to those whose livlihood, family have been taken from them, raped and day 53 comes and goes, you, Mr. President come and go as well and the “game” plays out – How disgrusting! BP talks of its $30-40 million per day in expenses for their unpreparedness, greed in risk and guess what, whether in two years or three years, BP will be back at the same well, pumping oil and making hugh profits sharing with stockholder…My proposal, every registered individual filing a legitimate claim in LA, FLA, MS, any person and place affected should be given $25,000 in shares to BP for these lives will be affected for Life and BP should adopt every one of these people for the oil will again flow and the profits to follow —

What we see is no surpise whether in the Gulf or on the beltway all portrayal of the greed and the need for criminal arrests whether government employees who took advantage of their entrusted government position and BP turning their cheek away from regulations, BP executives who have known far more than willing to share….

As far as Thomas at the White House, who whether 90 or 50, is privilieged to sit in the White House and makes some outlandish comments…she should have been gone long ago and again the Jews at the whip of the world…Thousands of missiles flying in from Arab held territory and state. A land which the Jew had to dsefend when Arabs surrounded, a hand in protection by the Creator in his covenant only made to Hebrew and no one else -

Caution to the Jew as Jerusalem in the east may come under siege, yet the world will see God’s hand held high again as his words and intent are clear -

….as well, Israeli must acknowledge that Palestinian have same rights and all can live and work together, not necessarily to embrace, but to resoect one another – yet none of this to happen as long as the Palestinian is used as a pawn by other Arabs -

Israel like any other nation of people has every right to protect itself from the narrow perspective of Thomas and all other Arabs who are filled with such hatred…Folks like Carter, the UN organization and so many others since Hitler have done their best to diminish the Jew, to kill the Hebrew, to subject them to attack and all turn the other way….The UN is certainly an example of the prejudice, the hatred of mankind which is quickly leading the world to economic failure and War, global warfare never seen before…

As I repeat that while the Israeli must also be fair and afford dignity to neighbor, all parties including the international community should be on hand making sure that much needed goods in Gaza for the good people of Palestine are in fact “humanitarian” and nothing else – Israel and the international community owe this to the Israeli people as so many are quick to criticize, however I would like to see what would happen if missiles landed on Brussels or the Vatican…yeah, right! I have walked the streets of Israel and Palestinian streets, yes, even in despair and the fact that there is sometimes no electricity, no water more often than not, no work, etc. and the Palestinian child, the Right to be educated not in jihad, but in how to become a contributing member of society, to have Hope, to be able to compete in society for good jobs to create achievement, to excel, however given what we see today – for both sides and so many other nations, prepare for War, real War for the “Brutes of Tehran” have other ideas, using religion to create strife and killings among its own, preparing to attack other Arabs, not only the Hebrew, a group of leaders even willing to spill fellow rich Persian blood on the streets of Tehran….How treacherous, cold-blooded murders who certainly live a good Life making sure they have food, water and even the luxuries of Life…

BP truly doesn’t care, Thomas doesn’t care, the UN doesn’t care and all are in jeopardy and fellow neighbor see the greed, the indifference to us all, however I guess it has to take Kevin Costner, the actor to make profits to as partner in a company bringing technology to the Gulf to rescue the Gulf because BP with its billions and billions, who cares if there is a spill when drilling for more riches…

Well Mr. Costner and BP, as you will all benefit, how about supporting my proposal as Global Citizen Joe that BP offer each legitimate claimant, $25,000 in BP shares now that the stock is down for let me assure you, BO wiull revisit this well and profits will gain flow as they have no intent to cap this oil find for ever -

$25,000 in BP shares for each legit claim and you Mr. President will make sure that each individual gets his rightful share as after all, you and your staff tell us that you are responsible, you’re running the show..from here on Main Street, BP continues to run the show and Congressional members running for the exit doors –

God Bless all! Pick up your Bibles and read them – the answers are clearly written in scripture -

(Chris)topher Tingus
aka
Global Citizen Joe
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 10, 2010 @ 9:34 am

Phil, I agree that multiple outcome options remain available, and include the acceptance of complexity and tragedy that you and I see in this situation. But that seems less than likely to me than other possibilities.

For starters, it is safer to say that people like having science on their side than it is to say that people want science to give them the best answers. To the extent we are willing to look to science for answers, we prefer if not expect them all to be happy or at least convenient ones.

When we resign ourselves to accepting tragedy, we have an innate tendency to see it as a reciprocal response to something we or others have done wrong. (We can but tend not to see it as the unintended side-effect of doing something good for ourselves but bad for others or neutral to ourselves and others but skewed by circumstances.) And we tend to accept personal responsibility only when we can’t find anyone else to blame or accepting responsibility has benefits that far outweigh its costs to us.

One of the things religion has going for it as an explanation for these things, is it gives its adherents a sense that their good deeds will payoff in the long run (at least in eternity if not later in this or a future life). But assuming this payoff represents a divine endowment or comes from the benevolence of the deity also assumes an equal and opposite source of evil exists in the world. When we accept that, it becomes altogether too easy to assign blame elsewhere without acknowledging or accepting our share of responsibility for change.

The leadership challenge here is to make the opportunity for good something that can payoff sooner rather than later without diminishing the possibility of achieving some future good if we act now. This is a hard sell if we expect people to also acknowledge, if not embrace, complexity and tragedy as you suggest. But, as we have seen before, people are not only capable of holding onto two conflicting if not contradictory notions at once with little or no sense of dissonance as a result, they often find it comforting. And this is about all the complexity most of us is willing to accept at any one time.

Comment by Philip Palin

June 10, 2010 @ 9:50 am

Mark, as much as I value the opportunity, transparency,and geographic reach of blogging, there are times when seeing each other and sharing a drink would be so much better. It is strange we have never met.

I read your last comments above as a summary of the world as you perceive it, not as you wish it to be. I don’t have a strong argument that — as generalizations go — the world is other than as you perceive it (at least our modern American corner of the world).

Culture and our religious and scientific sub-cultures have a wide array of traditions and possibilities. What you have described is not inevitable, it is not beyond changing.

But, I will admit that — at least this morning — I don’t have much practical insight into how better outcomes might be nourished. I could quote lots of insights, but to practically implement them across our culture?

Well… a bunch of meetings today, maybe an opportunity will arise.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 11, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

Many will not like this comment! Greed is not an umpire but in fact calls the play in order to favor the few. Baseball has chosen to continue the variety of complexity involved in the human condition and umpiring. We are not perfect ever.
Now the White House according to first TV MSM news I saw last night has announced that all persons damaged by the oil spill should seek recourse from BP and other private entities. So now we will see how that process plays out in the largest environmental disaster in world history.
I am hoping that the WH will see its mistake and apologize before the fall 2010 elections or the game for this WH will be called not because of rain but because of its own mistakes.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 13, 2010 @ 11:34 am

Presidential address to nation on Tuesday PM? What’s new to justify that now? Political polls? Perhaps knowledge that if spill continues until Labor Day huge political implications?

Or knowledge that largest environmental disaster in world history (perhaps drought in some cases larger?) is now about to fully engage and impact the American polity?

Comment by George

July 19, 2010 @ 10:56 am

En trevlig känsla blir rikligare än Viagra ™. De som använt Viagra förstår, känslan av trötthet efter ett samlag är stark, och det finns plötsligt svag och besvärande känsla. De könshormoner ingrediensen av kemikalier, inte ingår i och Satibo Kapsel justerar kön funktionen hos en människa som med metoden för att stärka utsöndringen förmåga egna hormon helt egen potentiell makt fullständigt klarlagts, och en rik känsla av samlag produceras . Dettaär en stor charm Satibo Capsule.

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