Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 18, 2010

Listening and doing: We reap what we sow

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 18, 2010

Late Wednesday night I posted a (too) long analysis of the White House meeting with BP (immediately below).   It was not well-received.  One friend wrote, “Phil, a President’s comments are not a Platonic dialogue.  Give up the close reading and inter-linear analysis.” 

Readership was considerably down.  No other blogs linked in.   Mainstream media coverage of the Wednesday White House session also seemed modest and matter-of-fact.  What struck me as important was dismissed as secondary, or procedural, or simply boring.

Certainly attention given the “gentlemen’s agreement” on Wednesday was light compared to the extraordinary coverage given the political hurricane attending the BP CEO’s Thursday appearance before the  House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

One of the weirder aspects of the hearing — and there were many — was Congressman Joe Barton’s accusation that the establishment of a $20 billion Independent Claims Facility is a “shakedown”. The Congressman also apologized to CEO Hayward for the President pressing BP so hard.   Today the Wall Street Journal editorial page has joined in criticizing the shakedown.  Meanwhile, The Financial Times — British equivalent of the WSJ — explains that the agreement is in BP’s self-interest.  A front page piece  in the Friday New York Times provides a good overview of the issue.

At the same time the President is evidently being pilloried by many in his political base for “doing a deal” with the evil oil company.

Elinor Ostrom has argued that resilience is the outcome of participation, collaboration, and deliberation.  Throughout my life I have seen this principle and process confirmed.   As we participate with one another we begin to understand each other. Through collaboration we recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each other. With this wealth of practical information we can begin to meaningfullly deliberate regarding tough problems and emerging opportunities.

Participation and collaboration make it very difficult to demonize and dismiss the “other.”  We still may not like them, but because of our deeper understanding we are able to work with them and even make compromises to achieve common goals.  (They usually feel the same way about us.)  This is true of almost every level of social interaction.

A key pre-condition to participation and collaboration is listening.   The big story this week — I will continue to argue — is that the White House listened, BP listened, and they began to put in place structures and systems for a more effective response and enhanced resilience going forward. 

There are those who seem to say that authentic, self-critical listening is somehow weak or unprincipled.  Many more seem to find the process of listening, deliberation and constructive problem-solving just too boring to give it much attention.

I am certain that resilience depends on rich systematic feedback and adaptation to the feedback.  In everyday life this is called listening.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 18, 2010 @ 9:14 am

Well sychophant that I am of this blog I like your close analysis and parsing of words and interlineation. That said. WE (US) really don’t know much about BP! What you say? HOw could the US know very little about BP? Hey trade secrets and confidential information and prohibition on sharing of tax information mean that even the SEC only has what BP has filed including their 10Ks and related documents. And by the way what have they disclosed to investors so far? My guess after reading today’s NY Times is that if the US can get BP to cough up $20 B now it should grab it because there may be no BP in a few months. We don’t know how the markets will treat them generally or when they try to raise capital since if the Times is correct they cannot cover their current outlays for long. And of course their is always that ultimate defense against public opinion and liability–letting yourself be bought out just so all current executives get golden handshakes.

My problem is not just money issues. I think this largest environmental disaster in world history is going to raise a whole new set of challenges of which the least may be money. But hey if BP doesn’t escrow fast and cut checks fast then the immediate economic impact will be enormous. When asked by friends on the Gulf Coast what to do I recommended they sell now and move elsewhere? Bad advice maybe but it did work for some in Katrina.

The Gulf States may be lucky the 2010 census count was largely completed before the 4th of July because it is about to dawn on some that getting out even at a loss is there only recourse hoping of course for some recompense later. Basically while no longer a practicing lawyer I firmly believe this one is way too big for the current legal system and only a political solution will prevail. And guess who is best equipped to influence that political solution? Not the watermen or citizens of the Gulf states whose leadership is the “other party” at state and also largely local level.

My basic question is probably way too simplistic but it boils down to “CAN WE as the oldest and richest democracy (Republic) govern ourselves?” This to me is a real test of the kind of future we want as Americans! Time will tell.

Comment by John Comiskey

June 18, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

Too quick to vilify BP.

The Exxon Valdez environmental disaster resulted in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). That act amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and Clean Water Acts, both of which were products of other marine casualties and public demand for clean waters.

Essentially the acts prescribe pollution prevention regulations and require vessels and certain marine facilities to maintain a spill response capability. OPA 90 requires the self-identification of the RP (responsible party). In this case the RP did self-identify and did and is responding to the spill.

Is BP the bad guy? Did they ignore early warning systems? Did they take unnecessary risks? Did they make too much money? The pundits say yes.

I’m not so sure and won’t be quick to jump on the bandwagon.

BP is a capitalist venture that provides a much needed resource –energy. Energy must be important –it is listed no less than sixty times in the 2010 National Security Strategy.

BP is part of the private sector. The private sector must also be important –it is listed twenty times in the same strategy.

I think we can agree that we need energy and the greener the better. So we promote all kinds of energy and put a bounty on it –but NIMBY so. One of the reasons Deepwater Horizon and most other off shore drilling rigs are so distanced from shore is to keep them out of eyesight of land and most recreational boaters. Typically the farther out you go the deeper the ocean and the more risky the venture.

On April 20 the rig blew up and eleven workers lost their lives.

Oil continues to spill and the earliest predictions for a sustainable “plugging” is mid August. Worst yet hurricane seasons is upon us and the forecast is bad –twenty three storms.

BP has been castigated by all quarters.
The President and Congress were criticized for not taking charge and fixing the mess. So they too castigated BP and continue to do so.

The oil is still spilling.

Meanwhile, the enemy is at the gate.
Bin Laden is reported to have said that he is “professionally jealous of BP.”
Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet in the history books.
Iran threatens to acquire a nuclear capability.
North Korea continues to bully South Korea.

Our economy is in the gutter.
Our energy needs continue to grow.

So …why are we persecuting the same partners that are praised for their innovativeness and contributions to society in the strategy? Is that how you treat a partner?

I agree that resilience is the outcome of participation, collaboration, and deliberation.
Not so for bullying! And that is what our government is doing. BP could invoke ceiling liabilities that are codified in OPA 90 or they could go bankrupt. Where does that leave us?

Bottom line up front.

BP had a catastrophic industrial accident and may be found to be negligent and perhaps grossly negligent.

BP is painstakingly trying to stop the leak and mitigate the spill.

The role of the US government in this spill is regulatory.

Beyond resiliency ….we need prayer.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

June 18, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

Exactly where was it reported that Bin Laden is “professionally jealous of BP?”

Iran threatens to acquire nuclear capability, but considering it’s current level of development in both nuclear and missile technology, it doesn’t quite see our gates yet never mind sitting outside.

And the situation on the Korean peninsula is a lot more complicated than simply one dimensional bullying by North Korea.

Al Qaeda, Iran, and N. Korea are all important situations that must be dealt with by the government, but are no excuse to not become deeply involved with the spill in the Gulf or hope that BP will take appropriate actions without outside pressure.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 19, 2010 @ 3:34 am

Well if economic disruption is an AQ goal perhaps oil drilling rigs over the water will be targeted in future.

The relief of Tony Hayward is interesting. Will other heads be posted on the gates or is this just the need to replace the face of BP before the American polity?

Several articles I understand now in preparation concerning the real safety record of BP over last 40 years and their overall record vis a vis the rest of the majors.

Turns out that even Russia that paragon of environmental enforcement [joke] has attacked BP over its safety and environmental record in Russia.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 19, 2010 @ 4:42 am

BP drilling and refining have a bad safety and environmental record. Hayward’s predecessor as CEO, Lord Browne, was entrepreneurial to the point of recurring recklessness. The case has been made that during Browne’s tenure as CEO (1998- May 2007) — coincident with the merger of BP and Amoco — a culture of cutting-corners was allowed to emerge… or was even cultivated by the style and example of Browne’s leadership.

Hayward’s selection as CEO was seen as the BP Board’s choice of an “anti-Browne.” Until late April, Hayward was generally seen as quietly effective in beginning to turn the big boat of a huge corporation in a different direction. Given the contents of BP emails and such that have been released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee it is clear that — even if there was a distinct change in direction from London — the BP team on the Deepwater Horizon was still willing to cut many corners.

Leadership matters. Leaders are accountable and should be held accountable. But a fixation on individual accountability can obscure deeper systems issues. I would argue that the consequences we have seen in the Gulf are an inevitable outcome of increasing — and increasingly risky — drilling. With each additional well drilled an additional 100 feet deeper our odds of failure increase. Even when we are doing our very best to design and maintain complex systems, they will sometimes fail… and at some point there will be a catastrophic failure.

But this complex-adaptive-systems plotline is not as compelling as the evil, greedy barons of business plotline. Putting chaos theory in a witness chair and berating it is unlikely to attract viewers.

Comment by "KGB Putinites" and BP

June 19, 2010 @ 6:17 am

The whispers in the pew (local/global networks) have been overheard suggesting that the “KGB Putinites” have an interest in driving the BP stock down and making subsequent acquisition?

As I engage this outragious environmental calamity with technology in application to clean up the oil spilled as a result of an unprepared and indifferent BP who should have, but did not have any plans for addressing an accident of this type, engaged in Haiti as well making evry effort to address prerequisite infrastructure – wastewater and water purification – project development as well as permanent,eco-friendly, earthquake resistant with rainwater retention and solar packages included, oh, the corruption, the bureaucracy….thwarting genuine efforts to address very unfortunate realities –


Comment by John Comiskey

June 19, 2010 @ 9:29 am

Source of quote for “professionally envious of BP” [not jealous …my error] from Andy Borowitz article and reference to Bin Laden Video:


I concede that the sourcing is not well vetted and is reoffered as unvetted and unqualified OSINT.

I still believe that Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea are at the gate. (gate being broadly defined).

OK, BP is in the hot seat and might end up being the bad guy.

I want to qualify one thing I am not an advocate of BP nor do I knowingly own any stock or have any direct financial connection to BP. I say that because my 40lk is diversified and may somehow be connected to BP.

Assuming that BP has a bad track record:

Where does that leave every other oil and energy provider?

Do they have squeaky clean records?
Is what they’re doing now too risky?

Why wasn’t something done before?

Where was Congress on April 19? (D-Day -1)

Where was the media? (D-Day-1)

Likely answer: Low-probability: high consequence event that was deemed by most everyone to not be worth the effort or even counterproductive. It cost too much. Prevention won’t make the news cycle. Adding cost to energy won’t help me get elected.

Like most other catastrophes we learn lessons and typically those lessons are hard: lives are lost or horrifically altered.

Since 9/11 we have self vilified ourselves for a lack of imagination, failing to connect the dots, failing to correctly analyze the information we do have, failing to coordinate federal, state, local, and tribal assets, and now for failing to properly legislate and regulate the oil industry.

So let’s learn our lessons and move on.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 19, 2010 @ 10:55 am

John, I don’t perceive that either of us are advocating — or trying to defend — BP. But we do seem to share a similar sense that vilification of BP is unlikely to lead us to better policy, strategy, or much learning. And I worry the vilification may actually push us to learn the wrong lessons.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

June 28, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

To be clear, I believe that Bin Laden remains a threat to national security and that he has spoken of inflicting economic damage upon the U.S. in the past.

However, just as a warning to those who may be tempted to reference the article pointed to by Mr. Comiskey, please note that it is supposed to be a joke. The author, Andy Borowitz, is a satirist who writes Onion-like pieces. For example, within the article in question Bin Laden refers to himself as an evildoer:
“There are times in an evildoer’s life when one has to stand back and admire a job well done,” Mr. bin Laden says in his latest video. “BP, you blow me away.”

And while in real life Bin Laden seems to keep up on current events, it is pretty unlikely he would make this statement (also from the article):
As for the envy he felt after seeing BP’s handiwork, the madman says, “I haven’t felt this way since the whole Toyota thing.”

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