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Slow-motion crisis in the gulf

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BP started pumping heavy mud into the leaking Gulf of Mexico well Wednesday and said everything was going as planned in the company's boldest attempt yet to plug the gusher that has spewed millions of gallons of oil over the last five weeks.

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 11:27 AM

Most disasters unfold quickly.

The hurricane, the earthquake, the plane crash, the mine collapse, they do their deadly damage and it's over -- leaving the rest of us to deal with the dead and wounded and figure out what went wrong.

The BP oil spill, now in its 38th day, is different. It oozes, it spreads, it mushrooms, it winds its way toward our coastline while doing untold damage beneath the Gulf of Mexico. It is seemingly immune to containment domes, pipe intrusions, junk shots and other weird-sounding measures that most of us had never heard of. And it has begun to stain the Obama administration, perhaps in an indelible way.

It's increasingly apparent that the president has mishandled the politics of the situation, which is why you've got the presser Thursday and the gulf trip Friday. But I'm not convinced that Obama could have ridden to the rescue on the leak itself.

British Petroleum is a flawed and, critics would say, reckless oil company. But could a government that has presided over the Madoff mess, the Wall Street meltdown, the S&L bailout, the Toyota debacle, the Massey mine collapse and two exploding space shuttles have done any better?

Still, as a barometer of Obama's political position, it'd be hard to top the rant that James Carville unleashed yesterday on "Good Morning America." The Cajun rage was on display as the Louisiana native, normally a reliably Democratic voice, let loose:

"The president of the United States could have come down here, he could have been involved with the families of these 11 people. . . . He could be commandeering tankers and making BP bring tankers in and clean this up. They could be deploying people to the coast right now. He could be with the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard . . . doing something about these regulations. These people are crying, they're begging for something down here, and it just looks like he's not involved in this. Man, you've got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here."

I've seen interviews with Louisiana shrimpers and others who are watching their livelihood be destroyed and it's heart-rending. The government deserves a large slice of the blame for rubber-stamping industry permits in the first place. And the lack of aggressive reporting on these agencies has become the signal failure of Washington journalism.

The incumbent takes the hit when things go wrong, even if the bumbling response is primarily BP's fault. That's how politics works. USA Today goes with the day's cliche -- "Is oil spill becoming Obama's Katrina?" -- in reporting that 53 percent in its poll disapprove of his handling of the crisis.

But I wonder whether some of the demands now being made of Obama are realistic. What should he do now?

Atlantic's Marc Ambinder looks at the public's frustration:

"Washington likes its scalps, and Paul Krugman is salivating for one. He blogged that the Department of the Interior had woefully mishandled the response to the BP oil disaster:


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