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"It may already be too late"

"I'll tell you the truth. It may already be too late."

-- St. Bernard Parish sheriff Jack Stephens, on his faith in British Petroleum cleaning up the Gulf oil spill.

Bob Herbert has a devastating column this morning on the American tragedy that is unfolding on our southern shore:

President Obama should have taken charge of the response to the oil spill — which he called a "potentially unprecedented" environmental calamity — from jump street. He should have called in the very best minds and operatives from the corporate and scientific worlds and imposed an emergency plan of action — to be carried out by BP and all others who might be required. Instead, after all this time, after more than a month of BP's demonstrated incompetence, the administration continues to dither.

Incredibly, until The Times blew the whistle in an article on Monday, environmental waivers were still being offered for oil drilling in the gulf. What will it take for sanity to prevail? How many people have to die or face ruin, and how much of nature has to be despoiled before we rein in the cowboys of these runaway corporations?

Steadily increasing numbers of anxiety-ridden coastal residents are watching not just their livelihoods but an entire way of life slip away. Even as BP's lawyers are consumed with the task of limiting the company's liability, the administration continues to insist it has little choice but to follow the company's lead in fighting the spill. That is dangerous nonsense.

At this point, it's hard to know what to be more furious about -- the corruption, the incompetence, the system. President Obama is getting the lion's share of the blame right now, and he should, because the buck stops there (perhaps literally). But I do think that, like the collapsed oil rig itself, the problems run much deeper, a cancer on the American soul, with symptoms that include feckless politicians in both parties and corporations granted personhood who then treat their fellow "persons" like dirt.

The worst part is that the United States of America has no clue how to clean up an oil spill, but Saudi Arabia does:

According to Pozzi, that mishap, kept under wraps for close to two decades and first reported by Esquire, dumped nearly 800 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf, which would make it more than 70 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill.

But remarkably, by employing a fleet of empty supertankers to suck crude off the water's surface, Pozzi's team was not only able to clean up the spill, but also salvage 85 percent of the oil, he says.

American exceptionalism? Right now, we look exceptionally inept.

(Photo by Gerald Herbert, Associated Press)