Monday, May 31, 2010

Why California Government Is The Pits

Today's discussion is why governments are dysfunctional and I offer you Proposition 17 which is unquestionably the least sexiest item on the June 8 primary ballot in California.

Prop 17 is the Rodney Dangerfield of the June 8 primary.

All the attention is focused on Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner spending millions on television ad attacks for the Republican nomination for governor. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is fending off lesser opponents from her own party knowing full well that she will go to the big dance in November most likely against another Republican millionaire in Carly Fiorina.

Essentially, Prop. 17 would allow good drivers to change automobile insurance companies without losing their discounts. Sounds as good as motherhood and apple pie, right? The devil is in the details. Well, let's take a look at the Official California Voter Information Guide, which, as far as these things go, is a good read.

The insurance commissioner regulates automobile insurance companies doing business in the state. Because the elected commissioner and Legislature refused demands from consumer groups, voters in 1988 passed Proposition 103.

The essence of administering Prop. 103 is that its provisions cannot be changed by the commissioner, nor the Legislature, but by another voter state initiative, thus Prop. 17. Progressive democracy at its best, right?

Why, one might ask, did it take 22 years to correct what proponents maintain is a glitch in Prop. 103?

A groundswell of irate drivers, it wasn't.

It was Mercury Insurance Co. It bankrolled 99% of the cost to pay  for the signature drive qualifying Prop. 17 for the ballot and to fund the campaign for its approval June 8. That's according to some former powerhouses in state government, former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and former Atty. Gen. John Van De Kamp.

Mercury's face is not on this pig. Proponents are listed as Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, and Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.

They say the current law does not allow "drivers from taking this continuous coverage discount (under Prop. 103) with them if they switch insurance companies to get lower rates." Yet, they use Mercury's claim that families can save as much as $250 annually in premiums as well as "increased competition" and "more choices and options for consumers" under the cloak of Prop. 17.

The big losers in Prop. 17,  the antis argue, are good drivers who drop auto insurance for 91 days for any reason. The largest segment in that group would be our military who serve their country out of state for continued periods of time.

Using Mercury's own numbers, these good drivers would pay up to $1,000 annually in surcharges to renew coverage as required to drive a vehicle in the state.

Nor so fast, argue the proponents. In their rebuttal, they make the following claims:

Prop. 17 eliminates existing surcharges for changing insurance companies; exempts the military serving out of state, protects drivers whose insurance lapsed because of loss of jobs or illness, and preserves Prop. 103 protections in which insurance premium rates are based on driving safety record, miles driven and driving experience.

Whom is one to believe? Mercury Insurance Co., or an affiliation of watchdog groups forced into action?

The answer is in the fine print of exceptions, conditions and qualifications of each driver based on the whims of any given auto insurer whose claims of savings are guesses based on new market conditions that have not been tested.



Auto insurance is big business in California. It collected $19.7 billion amounting to 36% of all insurance premiums collected in 2008 in the state. If Prop. 17 passes, certainly Mercury will not be the only auto insurance company benefiting. The question is whether consumers will. It sill remains this entire process is a travesty. You cannot have good, efficient government when every time you want to make a rule change you must have a vote of an electorate which in California is part of 32 million residents. With Prop. 17, there was no burning drive from the electorate to change the law. For all you (lower case) democrat purists, once a state agency is created, the job of running it is, in this case, the elected insurance commissioner with the overseers being the governor and state lawmakers. Voters still hold the upper hand by outing the elected officials if they don't approve how they are running things. California voters are a piece of work. They approve bond issues for new prisons, rail transit, schools and state-or-the-art embryonic cell research -- all worthy causes -- and then bitch bloody murder when the bonds cost them a fortune because the state's bond rating has tanked from AAA to the bottom of the toilet. They blame it on their elected leaders and the cost of supporting illegal immigrants. Perhaps this outrage should shift to examine their inner selves for they are as much to blame for the dysfunction in Sacramento as anyone. It was California voters, mind you,  that changed the state constitution in an initiative passed by a simple majority that required a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to adopt a budget. In California, as is most areas of the country, even motherhood and apple pie would fail to reach a 67% majority threshold.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

BP Unmasked As Movie Version Of Freddie -- Act I

Failure of BP engineers to plug the massive oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico with a "top kill" snuffing procedure is another kick in the gut to frustrated and outraged residents along the Gulf shorelines.

Every promise to fix the nation's largest economic and environmental accidental disaster has failed and mitigating the damage will not begin until the hole 5,000 feet below the Gulf water surface is plugged.

BP has taken on the face of the movie monster Freddie who keeps coming back to kill.

Its latest tease in this continual murderous drama is promises that by the end of this week, the gusher might be throttled by undersea robots using a diamond-cut saw to slice through the 21-inch ruptured pipe and cap it with a funnel-like devise. Pipes attached to the cap would use the underground pressure to shoot the oil and gas mixture to a surface ship.

Explaining the engineering underwater Buck Rogers event, with a straight face at that, was Robert Dudley, BP's managing director and head of disaster management, on NBC’s "Meet The Press" show Sunday.

Company executives are now telling us the "top kill" effort was a longshot  from the get-go. Now they are saying the robot capping stands a better chance of success. And before that a four-story steel structure sitting on top of the gusher was their best hope.

And somewhere during these failures, BP CEO Tony Haywood said the company's assessment of the pending ecological damage would be minimal.

The latest approach slicing and capping the ruptured pipe is risky. A bend in the ruptured pipe is most likely restricting the flow into Gulf waters at the rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day.

“If they can’t get that valve on, things will get much worse,” said Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama. Johnson said he thought BP could succeed with the valve, but he added: “It’s a scary proposition.” If not, the rate of even more Louisiana crude will be spilled unabated.

Equally scary is that the "final solution" of two relief wells drilled to 8,000 feet into the ocean floor and intersecting with the ruptured pipe actually will work. That chapter in this movie drama is not scheduled to happen until August.

Looming in the minds of everyone from the White House to the shores from Texas to Florida is the BP oil leak lasting longer than the world's worst accidental oil spill, also in the Gulf of Mexico. That would be the Ixtoc I submersible platform leased by Mexico's Pemex that exploded and sank on June 3, 1979, spilling between 10,000 and 30,000 bpd until it was capped nine months later on March 30, 1980.

And, that, folks was in shallow water at a depth of only 162 feet, not 5,000 feet as is the case with the Deepwater Horizons explosion on April 20 and counting. The Deepwater Horizons explosion killed 11 platform workers whose families are outraged that BP and Transocean demonstrated extreme callousness for their loved ones' memorial services.

While President Obama expressed his outrage and heartbreak over the BP disaster, one of his underlings with ashen face and choking voice expressed her pain on David Gregory's "Meet The Press" Sunday.

“This is without doubt the worst environmental disaster in our history,” Carol Browner, director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. Here's the video.

That the latest BP failure as a kick in the gut is seen by surfing the cable networks and reading the assortment of on-line websites from the City of New Orleans to that city's major newspaper, the Times Picayune.

Michel Claudet, the president of Terrebonne Parish, 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, said that when he heard the news, he felt “sorrow, despair and like this ordeal will never finish. If you go around the parish, it is all our folks talk about.”
Claudet said that he was trying to remain hopeful, but that it was increasingly difficult. “As every item fails,” he said, “I am less and less optimistic.” 

Most of the time you can find on CNN James Carville, the Democratic strategist, eloquently screaming in the faces of the Obama administration and BP executives of the disaster that is killing his beloved roots in Louisiana. He also has turned pitchman, reminding folks that the City of New Orleans is still thriving and come visit.

“It’s like a bad movie that just won’t end,” said Billy Altman, 45, a mechanic in New Orleans. “You know, you think they finally killed the bad guy, and then he comes back to life. It’s crazy.” 


This concludes Act I of a three-act play on the BP oil spill.

BP's Path To Failure -- Act II

It is said the first news accounts are the rough drafts of history. It is also promoted that history is a guide to prevent making the same mistake over and over again.

If that's the case, we learned nothing, saw nothing and did nothing to prevent the largest oil spill in our nation's history that is fast approaching the world's greatest accidental man-made environmental and economic disaster.

We're talking, of course, about BP the oil giant whose negligence killed 15 factory workers at a Texas oil refinery, leaked millions of barrels of oil on the frozen tundra in Alaska from an un-inspected corrosive pipeline, and killed 11 crew on an exploratory drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico April 20. That resultant leak remains spewing 12,000 to 19,000 bpd with no end in sight.

With the New York Times remaining one of a few newspapers affording an investigative team of reporters, we look to them and those like them to bury their noses in the fine print of internal documents that public hearings by congressional oversight committees and U.S. Coast Guard inquiries don't have the time to bare all.

Those internal documents are 50,000 pages of company e-mail messages, inspection reports, engineering studies and other company records as well as records from the Interior Department's Mineral Management Services agency, the government regulator, obtained from congressional committees through the Freedom of Information Act.

The conclusion: (1) BP knew in advance of "well problems" leading up to the explosion, and (2) if not committing perjury were stepping close to falsehoods BP executives testified under oath at the public hearings held so far.

According to the Times:

As far back as June 22, 2009, BP was struggling with problems concerning the well casing and the blowout preventer. Tests showed the metal casing BP engineers wanted to use might collapse under the more than 10,000 of pounds-per-square-inch pressure and at the end only 6,000-pound pressure tests were applied.

“This would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Mark E. Hafle, a senior drilling engineer at BP, warned in an internal report. “However, I have seen it happen so know it can occur.” The company went ahead with the casing, but only after getting special permission from BP colleagues because it violated the company’s safety policies and design standards. The internal reports do not explain why the company allowed for an exception.

Yet, last Friday Hafle testified before a Coast Guard panel “Nobody believed there was going to be a safety issue... All the risks had been addressed, all the concerns had been addressed, and we had a model that suggested if executed properly we would have a successful job.”

The execution occurred, all right, but not what BP engineers had in mind.

Weeks before the explosion, BP concluded the casing plan for the well was “unlikely to be a successful cement job,” in reference to sealing the cement casing to prevent gases from escaping up the well and onto the platform. Tbe document also said the plan for casing the well is “unable to fulfill M.M.S. regulations.”

After further tests, a second document stated “It is possible to obtain a successful cement job” and “It is possible to fulfill M.M.S. regulations.”

The documents show that in March, after problems on the rig that included drilling mud falling into the formation, sudden gas releases known as “kicks” and a pipe falling into the well, BP officials informed federal regulators that they were struggling with a loss of “well control.” 

On at least three occasions, BP records indicate, the blowout preventer was leaking fluid, which the manufacturer of the device has said limits its ability to operate properly.
“The most important thing at a time like this is to stop everything and get the operation under control,” said Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas, Austin, offering his assessment about the documents.

The documents offer a glimpse of the role between BP and government regulators. Here's one example:

After informing regulators of their struggles, company officials asked for permission to delay their federally mandated test of the blowout preventer, which is supposed to occur every two weeks, until the problems were resolved, BP documents say.
At first, the minerals agency declined.
“Sorry, we cannot grant a departure on the B.O.P. test further than when you get the well under control,” wrote Frank Patton, a minerals agency official. But BP officials pressed harder, citing “major concerns” about doing the test the next day. And by 10:58 p.m., David Trocquet, another M.M.S. official, acquiesced.
“After further consideration,” Trocquet wrote, “an extension is approved to delay the B.O.P. test until the lower cement plug is set.” 


 Bob Sherrill, an expert on blowout preventers and the owner of Blackwater Subsea, an engineering consulting firm, said the conditions on the rig in February and March and the language used by the operator referring to a loss of well control “sounds like they were facing a blowout scenario.”
Sherrill said federal regulators made the right call in delaying the blowout test, because doing a test before the well is stable risks gas kicks. But once the well was stable, he added, it would have made more sense for regulators to investigate the problems further.

The other example:

One of the final indications of such problems was an April 15 request for a permit to revise its plan to deal with a blockage, according to federal documents obtained from Congress by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.
In the documents, company officials apologized to federal regulators for not having mentioned the type of casing they were using earlier, adding that they had “inadvertently” failed to include it. In the permit request, they did not disclose BP’s own internal concerns about the design of the casing.
Less than 10 minutes after the request was submitted, federal regulators approved the permit. 

Under the entire permit process, after all the scrutiny that was rendered, there was not a trace of evidence BP filed or the regulators asked, for a contingency plan in case the drilling pipe sprung a leak. It occurred to neither an explosion would ever occur and the engineering means to plug it have only been addressed in theory and not at a depth of 5,000 feet.



Act III in this drama is next.

The Final Act -- Those Most Hurt By The BP Oil Spill

The reporter quickly learned the request for tax records poses a serious challenge to some residents of close-knit fishing communities on the swampy edges of southeastern Louisiana, which for generations have harbored self-reliant nonconformists who don't pay much heed to everyday rules and regulations.

"We have our own little world, and the whole world is invading it right now," said Erwin Menesses, 43, who specializes in sewing and repairing fishing nets and talks on the record to news folks upon request. "You are not going to find our legacy in the paperwork they are asking us to produce. It's not there."

BP officials said that more than 25,000 claims had been submitted and that more than 12,000 payments totaling about $36 million had been sent to people facing financial ruin. As part of an effort to resolve disputes, BP on Wednesday said it would appoint an independent mediator to help review and process claims.

Wayne Landry, council chairman for St. Bernard Parish, worried that an undetermined number of people from fishing outposts would be overlooked because BP and "the bean counters in the Internal Revenue Service do not deal with culture or heritage; they deal with numbers." 



This concludes the three-act play. Versions of it, sequels and spin-offs will be replayed for years to come. Maybe I am overwhelmingly optimistic. Already we have forgotten Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and if it were not for a Mosque planned to be built two blocks away, the Ground Zero site of 9/11.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away -- A Toast to Steve Sircom

  Death plays no favorites. As our nation this Memorial Day weekend honors those who gave their lives and served their country, most of the memory will be focused on ... 

Two actors who did not serve a day in our military. Dennis Hopper and Gary Coleman.

 In life as well as in death, timing is everything. In no way do I begrudge the legacy of stardom in all its warts on the two actors.

Dennis Hopper, 74, gained fame for his directing and co-starring in the cult movie "Easy Riders" in the 1960s and made decent comebacks between intervals of tantrums, drug and alcohol abuse and five failed marriages.

 Gary Coleman, 42, never achieved acclaim after his hugely popular "Different Strokes" television series beginning in 1978 and despite earning the then-commanding $100,000 per episode, died broke.

All I'm saying is that the news of their deaths eclipses those who have fallen before them on this weekend set aside to honor our veterans.

Among our celebrities who always tend to hog the news space, I cherish the memory of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII with the Medal of Honor and 32 other citations of valor. He performed in 44 films before his death in 1971.

I cherish the memory of actor James Stewart, a bomber commander, who never was chased off a set as was the case by John Wayne with a loaded gun pointing at Dennis Hopper.

I cherish the stoic George McGovern, the politician who ran for president and not once mentioned he commanded 44 bombing missions over Germany in WWII.

Somewhere in America this Memorial Day weekend, the 1,000th casualty of the Afghanistan war will be honored. 

We do not know his name nor is he the unknown soldier. In my mind he is as much a celebrity to be mourned as any.

There will be parades and memorial services honoring our veterans but the Big Daddy of them all is the 100,000 paying their respects at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday where 330,000 are buried.

Kaitlin Horst, the cemetery's spokeswoman, said, "As Americans, I think we have a sense of pride, pride in our country, pride in what we stand for and we also have a sense of pride in our military -- what our military has done over the course of our nation's history, to defend the rights and freedoms that we hold dear."

Memorial Day is best observed when one remembers the memory of one who died or served who we knew or read about. One such person is Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

Peralta is a Mexican immigrant who, during the battle of Falluja in Iraq, fell on a grenade that exploded killing him but saving the lives of six of his Marine buddies.

My colleague Dorian deWind has written passionately about Sgt. Peralta and the inexplicable reluctance of the Department Of Defense to award the Medal of Honor to Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers -- six so far and all posthumously.

In comparison, there were 245 Medal of Honor recipients in Vietnam and 27 for the single battle of Iwo Jima in WWII, deWind points out.

Yes, there is controversy among our dead of whom some are deemed more worthy than others. Not one ounce of heroism and bravery is lost in my mind over Sgt. Peralta despite him being awarded a Navy Cross rather than the Medal of Honor.

Unlike Dorian deWind, I do not come from a military family but honor those who did just as much.

A long distant relative, Elmer Ellsworth, has the infamous distinction of being the first Union officer killed in the Civil War. The events, as I understand them, were his Massachusetts command protecting the capitol when he saw a Confederate flag being raised on the balcony above a bar. Young Ellsworth in a burst of patriotic fervor, ran up the stairs and replaced the rebel flag with the U.S. flag. Returning down the stairwell, the bartender, a rebel sympathizer, shot and killed him.

The only other relative to serve with distinction was my cousin Herb Eggleston who flew a Mustang fighter plane shelling German targets at the end of WWII. Others that served performed their service in peace time.

My father, at age 18, nearly died in the military when he contacted Spanish influenza while stationed at a training base in New Mexico, at the end of WWI.

Joe Brown, another colleague of mine in the newspaper business, on this Saturday wrote perhaps the most touching personalized veteran's story of this Memorial Day weekend.

I’m always reminded of this when I pass the home of a local neighbor in Rockport, Maine, Steve Sircom.

Steve, who lives in a small unpretentious trailer on Union Street, was a career Marine for more than 20 years, and each day lives that service over and over by flying both the American and Marine Corps flags over his doorway. 
I met Steve about 20 years ago and, in learning that we were in Vietnam at the same time in 1966 (Steve as a Marine, me as a civilian writer) struck up a friendship. We never met each other in that war, but we shared memories of people we knew there, and events.
Each day, I watched Steve pass by my house on his regular three-mile forced march from Rockport to Camden and back again, always wearing his military fatigues and with a Pacman headset draped over his ears. I’m convinced he was probably listening to either martial music or a recording of artillery fire as he walked.
Steve will never stop remembering he was a Marine. At the start of the Gulf War, for instance, he hung a sign on his trailer offering to re-enlist and serve actively again although we all knew the government would ignore this offer from a man then in his sixties
A true loner, Steve has no living relatives except for a distant cousin somewhere in Massachusetts. Because of his odd habits he is shunned by neighbors and shown affection only by a pet dachshund who shares his modest dwelling.
In what he later described to me as a “bad moment,” Steve years ago put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, instinct forced him to turn his head at the last moment, saving his life but blowing away much of his face.
About a week later, Steve phoned me from the hospital where he had been treated and confined in a psychiatric section, asking for a ride back to his trailer. I was aghast when I saw the mess the bullet had made to his face. The disfigurement remains to this day, since Steve had no funds for a reconstruction of the damage and, since the injury was self-inflicted and not accidental or from combat, the government would not pay for it at a Maine Veterans Administration hospital.
When plans were made for last year’s Memorial Day parade in Rockport, Steve offered to march with one of the participating groups but found no takers. He remained simply as ”that kooky ex-Marine who lives alone in a trailer,” someone to be politely ignored.
Undeterred, on that  Memorial Day Steve donned a Marine dress blue uniform he had kept for more than 40 years, complete with an array of service ribbons on its chest and, ramrod straight despite his years, marched the length of the parade route alongside one of the marching bands.
I  hope  that a uniformed Steve Sircom will march once again next Monday as Rockport honors those who have devoted a large part of their lives to serving their country. If he does, I for one will salute him as he passes by.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Reflections On T. Boone Pickens, Politics, Obama, Bureaucrats , Anarchy And The Rule Of Law

T. Boone Pickens, the oil, gas and wind baron, knows something about oil well leaks. On the Larry King Live show Thursday, Pickens said he doubts BP's efforts to "top kill" the oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico will be successful.

He said the only sure fire way of capping the leak is by drilling two parallel lines and hoping one intersects below the ruptured pipe 8,000 feet into the earth's crust.
I'm sitting in front of the television set congratulating King for finally asking pertinent questions and Pickens suspending his brief promoting his wind farm machines and appearing candid about the slow-motion disaster going on along the Gulf Coast.

Transcripts of King's Thursday show are not yet available, but going on memory I developed some vivid recollections.

Pickens seemed to be saying even if the "top kill" and "junk shot" efforts by BP were successful, there was no guarantees it would last because of the thousands of pounds of pressure blasting forever against the stopgap devise.

The old oil man smirked a Cheshire cat grin when asked why BP stopped pumping heavy mud into the broken 21-inch pipe at midnight Wednesday not to resume the pumping until late Thursday afternoon. BP executives said it was to conduct tests and evaluate the progress.

Pickens didn't deny that but placed a more satisfactory explanation that BP ran out of mud and it took 18 hours for another ship to arrive to replace it, when coincidentally, pumping suddenly resumed.

Once the oil platform rigs successfully reach and connect to the broken Deepwater Horizons pipe, Pickens seemed to indicate it was okay for BP to continue pumping full time as if nothing happened, or, as is said, business as usual.

He scoffed at the Obama administration's shutdown on the other 33 exploratory rigs and moratorium on hundreds of other deep-water wells in full operation. He compared the situation the same as a major airline crash where all airline traffic is not suspended while the cause of the crash site is investigated. His argument is you learn and improve from the crash, not by shutting down the entire industry.

The politics of the Gulf oil spill sometimes takes on the role of a pinata where blindfolded participants whack away their frustrations at an inanimate object that when hammered enough spills small pieces of candy.

That I suppose is what people expect from their president who represents the government which is selling itself as responsible which is to see BP clean up its mess. The fact is what's good for BP in a business sense is not always what's good for the people who see their beaches and marshes and estuaries filled with a sweet chocolate and cherry syrup that smells repugnant. And kills every living creature in the wildlife ecosystem.

Like hundreds of thousands, I watched President Obama sticking his hands in dried oil globs on Fourchon Beach, La., Friday and talk with the locals, oil executives, cleanup workers  and Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard Commandant in charge of the government's supervision.

“I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, you will not be abandoned, you will not be left behind,” he said. “The media may get tired of the story, but we will not. We will be on your side and we will see this through.”

Later during his brief trip on a Memorial Day weekend, Obama visited Grand Isle, La., where the beach has been closed for a week since the oil globs began washing ashore before the eyes of angry residents.

“It’s a dog and pony show. What can he really do?” said Billy Ward, 53, who goes to Grand Isle with his family every weekend to stay in their beach house. “If he wants to do something, let him get out there and pump some mud and cement into that hole. Just fix it. Help us.”

The truth is, no matter what Obama does, it isn't enough. Even from his staunchest supporters.

Howard Fineman, an MSNBC political analyst and usually an Obama ally, said on Chris Matthews' Hardball show on that cable network Thursday, that the president rather than three or four hours, should spend the weekend on the Gulf coast to show his concern.

Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania and close friend of both Obama and former President Bill Clinton, suggested with a smile that Clinton would show his love by donning Scuba diving gear and view the underwater oil plumes first hand.

I think Obama gave the nation a clue without saying it in words in his Thursday press conference. Many of his comments were bogged down in the legal aspects and challenges circumventing the Oil Pollution Act signed into law in August 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill in Alaska.

As the one-hour presser progressed, Obama was explaining the role of BP in charge of capping the leak and for the cleanup responsibility with the government monitoring each decision. At the end, Obama asserted "I take full responsibility" and the government's response to the cleanup will be proactive.

Here was a lawyer changing positions in midstream during the course of an hour. It was as if he suddenly remembered to put on his underwater diving equipment ala images of Bill Clinton.

The federal response to the April 20 Deepwater Horizons oil spill has been handcuffed by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act. It is hesitation and uncertainty seen in earlier decisions made by Coast Guard Adm. Mary Landry, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, the Corps of Army Engineers and Adm. Allen.

Allen told Chris Matthews Thursday that the chain of command between him and Obama is Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary. Yet, he admits all his decisions are in consultation with BP.

It was Allen who downplayed the magnitude of the oil spilled from the leak, a position taken by BP. until the gusher would be capped, eventually. It was Allen who knew but did nothing until 10 days ago that BP had submersible cameras on the gusher since the beginning.

These are bureaucrats following the rule of law. How the law is addressed is outlined on the EPA's website for emergency management. I will reprint the overview:

The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was signed into law in August 1990, largely in response to rising public concern following the Exxon Valdez incident. The OPA improved the nation's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills by establishing provisions that expand the federal government's ability, and provide the money and resources necessary, to respond to oil spills. The OPA also created the national Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is available to provide up to one billion dollars per spill incident.
In addition, the OPA provided new requirements for contingency planning both by government and industry. The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency has been expanded in a three-tiered approach: the Federal government is required to direct all public and private response efforts for certain types of spill events; Area Committees -- composed of federal, state, and local government officials -- must develop detailed, location-specific Area Contingency Plans; and owners or operators of vessels and certain facilities that pose a serious threat to the environment must prepare their own Facility Response Plans.
Finally, the OPA increased penalties for regulatory noncompliance, broadened the response and enforcement authorities of the Federal government, and preserved State authority to establish law governing oil spill prevention and response.

I read the key provisions of the Oil Pollution Act and will be damned if I can figure out what the problem is. Of course, I'm not a government employee nor a lawyer.

What the Gulf Coast residents are clamoring for is not excuses but action. If I were a shrimper, and my harvest grounds were coated in oil, following the law would be the last thing on my mind if I could have prevented it.

That's the argument Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is taking to save his beaches. Act and worry about the legal niceties later.
That's the best argument I've heard for anarchy in a long time.

My Bet Is Sestak Will Be Thrown Out In The White House Garbage On A Friday

If it's Friday, it's garbage day at the White House. Fans of the late, great television series "The West Wing" know that Fridays are the days when the White House press machine releases gems intended to be lost and buried in the weekend news cycle.

Now, I'm not saying that late this Friday afternoon the White House will release its official version it offered a deal to coax Congressman Joe Sestak out of running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. As President Obama said at his Thursday press conference, it will be "soon" and not weeks or months. My money is on a Friday and that might happen by the time you read this.

This fixation that some nefarious deal was cut between incumbent Republican-turned Democrat Arlen Specter and the White House to push Sestak into oblivion is nothing more than what former First Lady Hillary Clinton once said was the doings of a  right-wing conspiracy.

There, I said it. This is politics, fools. Get over it. Unlike those raising questions about the Sestak Sidetrack, I offer full disclosure. I'm a Democrat. I believed Sestak was the better candidate than Specter. And, Democrats in Pennsylvania agreed. The party's over.

Shifting gears to a neutral observer, the facts in this case, culled from news reports going back to the spring of 2009, are these:

Specter agreed to switch party affiliation making what he thought at the time much easier to win the Democratic primary, for certain "gentleman's agreements." Specter would receive the White House endorsement and campaign help in consideration for Specter's vote for health care reform legislation. When it became clear Sestak would enter the Democratic Senatorial race, the White House dispatched former President Bill Clinton to suggest other options to the up and coming Congressman. Conservatives led by their shrillest mouthpiece in Fox News fueled by right-wing conservative advocates such as Robert Livingston of Personal Liberty Digest and Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), smelled a rat.

The stink was first raised by Sestak himself in February that the White House offered him a job to get out of the race. He refused to elaborate on any details ever since.

The furor, simmering for months, reached near boiling Wednesday when Issa, the top ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he will file an ethics complaint against Sestak if he doesn’t provide details about an alleged illegal job offer from the White House.

"Either he’s lying, or covering up felonies for political purposes," Issa told 

 Says the always quotable Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee:

"It is unacceptable for an administration that touts itself as the ‘most transparent’ in history to continue to stonewall a significant and potentially devastating accusation of political corruption."

One right-winger went so far as demanding a special prosecutor.

Why I suspect the White House press will release the garbage statement this Friday is because White House Legal Counsel Robert F. Bauer released his memo earlier this Friday on his findings of the allegations against Sestak. The full memo can be read on this pdf. 

I'm not claiming Bauer is the final judge on this matter and certainly not the jury. But, first some summarizing of Bauer's findings.

On the charge Sestak was offered the job of Secretary of the Navy, false. Ray Mabus was nominated by Obama March 26, 2009, a month before Specter announced he was changing party registration. Neither was the job offered and neither did Sestak seek the SecNav job.

On the charge Sestak was offered a non-paying position on an executive branch advisory board, true. The White House staff convinced former President Clinton to offer a variety of posts in which the White House Counsel's staff believed was not a conflict of interest with a sitting elected official. Sestak declined.

On the charge the White House engaged in improper alternatives to Sestak's Senate campaign, no impropriety occurred.

This is where I think Bauer is on shaky grounds. His memo said the Democratic Party "leadership" had "a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a similarly legitimate concern about the Congressman vacating his seat in the House."

Using language Rahm Emmanuel can understand, I think he got his tit in the ringer on the Joe Sestak conflict.

As the guru in charge of the Democrats campaigning to win back a majority in the House in the 2006 elections, Rep. Emmanuel handpicked the retired vice admiral as a moderate to left winner, which he has proven.

Then, as Obama's chief of staff, the Machiavellian disciple, desperately seeking a health reform victory for his boss, helped broker the Specter switcheroo with Senate Democratic leaders. And, then came Sestak, at first a longshot, and then with embarrassing ease outran Specter in the last furlong.

All this fuss by the conservatives and Fox News, its echo chamber, over Sestak is red herring. Their goal is not an ethical mission. It is one of many means to embarrass Obama and if the road kill takes down Rambo aka Rahm Emmanuel, all the better.

May I remind them that Rambo lives for another sequel.



If only the Republicans could rule as a majority party as effectively as they pillage, plunder, pontificate, elevate "no" and obstruction to the highest level ever seen in political circles, spend money on issues to a degree that would pay off the national debt ... I might pull a Specter and switch parties.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Obama Press Conference: 'Daddy, Did You Plug The Leak?'

The only news of substance coming out of President Obama's news conference Thursday on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was the announcement the government is shutting down exploratory drilling -- as was the case with Deepwater Horizons -- for all 33 deep-water rigs in the Gulf.

The rest of the one-hour presser was an attempt by Obama to claim the government is doing the best it can, has been on the job since Day One, April 20, and that his daughter asked him this morning while he was shaving when he will plug the leak.

Of the questions asked, the one raising the most eyebrows was Obama's failure to realize because of his busy morning schedule that Elizabeth Birnbaum, director of the beleaguered Mineral Management Service, submitted her letter of resignation to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Included in the president's morning schedule was honoring the Duke basketball team which won the NCAA national championship.

Obama refused to say he "regretted" his decision earlier this year announcing new exploratory and drilling leases off the nation's coastline. Whatever he promised then was put on hold Thursday.

He began the press conference by announcing the shutdown of the 33 deep-water exploratory rigs but allowing those in operation to remain pumping oil. All other plans are on hold until at least December when his panel headed by former Florida Sen. Bob Graham completes its review and recommends fixes that resulted in the largest oil spill disaster in the nation's history, tripling the 11 million gallons spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska.

Included in that review are plans delaying Shell Oil Co.from exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska where they planned to begin this summer. Other new drilling plans already subject to moratoriums will be extended another six months. Lease sales off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia planned for August were canceled.

Obama tried to explain that despite the 1990 law granting oil companies the task of cleaning up its spills, the federal government has the authority to intercede and direct company contractors into unprotected areas where the spill may approach. He said the government does not have the capability of capping the leak at its source.

Hours before the press conference, Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard command, said a "top fill" operation by engineers seemed to be working and was confident by Friday the leak would be capped permanently.

The president conceded the government does not have all the answers, including the question posed by MSNBC's Chuck Todd why no tankers have been brought in to "suck up" the oil slick on the surface of Gulf waters.

He admitted responsibility for not pushing more urgently a purge of the Mineral Management Services agency which has been found negligent in Coast Guard, congressional and Inspector General investigations in regulating safety procedures of the drilling operations.

In stead, the agency gave blanket approvals, taking the word of BP tests in the Deepwater Horizons case, and lived for decades in a culture of "cozy relationships" with the industry. Obama at the press conference said the reason MMS waived environmental review for on-site drilling sites was a Congressional mandatory time period of 30 days which was impossible to perform

While Obama spoke in the East Room of the White House in Washington, BP executives in Louisiana finally adjusted their earlier estimates of the extent of the oil spill leak. They revised their earlier estimate from 5,000 bpd to at least 15,000 bpd which some environmental advocates had estimated as long as three weeks ago.

The amount is critical because it determines the actual impact of ecological and economic damage along the Gulf coastline. Already, 150,000 square miles of commercial fisheries have been closed by the Coast Guard. That includes sportsfishing and shrimp and oyster harvesting, according to CNN.

If the leak is capped, the next major threat will be hurricane season with 9 major category 3 or greater hurricanes forecast for the Gulf by the National Weather Service in Florida which monitors those events. The season starts next month.



For this report, I focused on the facts more than the obvious political fallout. I agree with Obama's answer to one such question at the presser. Asked if he thought it was fair to judge his response as "Obama's Katrina," the wily president said that's for the media to decide. Did he win back the heart of that ragin' Cajun Democratic strategist James Carville, telling CNN Wednesday that "the political stupidity of this is just unbelievable"? There's no escaping the fact that the disaster occurred on Obama's watch and he has to live with it the same as George W. Bush could never wiggle out of 9/11.

Gulf Leak Almost Capped, Adm. Allen Insists

 Hours before President Obama's scheduled press conference on government plans to more tightly regulate off-shore drilling, the government's top oil spill commander announced engineers have nearly stopped the gusher of Louisiana crude in the Gulf of Mexico.

When pressure at the site of the major leak reaches zero, cement will be poured to cap the leak which has been gushing thousands of barrels of gas and oil since April 20 causing an ecological and economical disaster on the Gulf Coast.

Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard said the "top kill" effort launched Wednesday afternoon appears to be successful in the tricky effort of submersible robots working on the Gulf floor 5,000 feet below the surface. He said engineers were also pumping the debris mixture of mud and rubber into the blowout preventer at the top of the well.

A glitch in the operation occurred during the night when one ship ran out of its supply of the plugging mixture. It was unclear how long the process was stalled for another ship to arrive and resume pumping.

Early results brought confidence to the BP and government engineers as they managed to reduce the pressure created 8,000 feet below the Gulf floor from thousands of pounds per square inch to almost zero.

"We'll get this under control," Allen said. At the hastily called press conference, the Coast Guard official said an interagency team would release a revised estimate of how much oil had flowed from the well into the Gulf waters.
Allen's confidence is based on similar successful efforts of using the "top kill" approach to stop the fires at oil wells in Kuwait set ablaze by the Iraqis during the first Persian Gulf war. The difference is those fires were at ground level. 
The Washington Post said Obama will announce a six-month ban on drilling new deepwater oil wells, quoting White House sources, and cancel plans for exploratory drilling and new lease sales off the coast of Alaska, as well as a proposed lease sale off the Virginia coast.

It will be the president's first press conference since February.

Diplomatic Nuts And Bolts Behind Latest Korean Crisis Makes Me Nervous

South Korea has found the smoking gun, a torpedo, that sank its warship Cheonan March 26, killing 46 sailors. 

Because its dear leader Kim John Il is considered mentally unstable and North Korean leaders for the umpteenth time are threatening war against South Korea should its neighbor to the south retaliate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told the leaders of both nations with an audience intended for China the U.S. stands resolutely behind South Korea.

And China, who holds the key to all the squabbles between the two Koreas, is asking the parties to calm down by playing the Rodney King card of "can't we all just get along?"

Well, no. This latest crisis, potentially the most serious since the armistice that ended the Korean war hostilities at the DMZ in July 1953, tells us much about the four nations, with a nervous Japan sitting on the sidelines biting its nails.

In my ever-searching quest to explain complex issues in simple terms, the best way to shout "Hey, I get it," is to examine the positions of each nation, one at a time.


The government issued a 400-page report that concluded the torpedo, dredged by salvage teams, that sank the warship was a perfect match of the CHT-02D torpedoes made in North Korea and sold abroad. Intelligence reports claimed all of North Korea's submarines were out of port the day of the explosion. “It was either the North Koreans, or it was the Martians,” one unnamed South Korean investigator told The Economist, a British publication.

The response by President Lee Myung-Bak announced Monday was the strongest yet by his government but otherwise measured in terms that most countries would consider an act of war. Calling North Korea "the most belligerent regime in the world," Lee said the incident will be referred to the UN Security Council, that South Korea at long last will join an international fleet (the Proliferation Security Initiative) patrolling Korean waters for shipment of nuclear materials, cutting off shipping lanes for North Korea cargo ships and resume a "psychological warfare" program stopped in 2004 that infuriates the north with propaganda leaflets and air horn messages to flee the Pyongyang dictatorship  Lee also said all economic ties with the north would be suspended except a joint venture industrial complex called Kaesong.

While the response may appear puny and falls short of a military strike proposed by hawkish South Koreans, the Lee government is pro-business and does not want liberal opponents to accuse his party of using this latest incident as a political ploy. Local elections are scheduled for June 2 followed by diplomatic meetings with the U.S., China and Japan in addition to a G20 summit in November. And, consider this: The senseless attack that killed 46 servicemen provoked few public demonstrations of anger. Again, The Economist quoting Brian Myers, who has spent a career writing about the Koreas, said there was more palpable outrage in 2002 when a U.S. army vehicle ran over two South Korean schoolgirls.


Guessing what North Korea will do at any given time is a fool's mission. Its only economic lifeline is the tunnel of aid pumped into the Pyongyang capital by China. Figure this one out: The regime called the Cheonan investigation a "fabrication" and threatened “all-out war” if new sanctions were imposed whenever the Security Council votes on the resolution proposed by South Korea, the U.S., Britain, Japan and Australia. At the same time, North Korea pulled out of six-party talks aimed to encourage the cash-strapped regime  to abandoned its nuclear weapons in exchange for cash it so desperately needs. Other international sanctions have hit other sources of hard currency.

To western observers, the only thing that makes sense are the two militaries which fought together against the U.S. and South Korea during the Korean war. Which brings us to ...


The Cheonan report is as if a dagger was thrown at the Chinese to make a decision between the two Koreas which it has scrupulously avoided over the years. A senior official in Beijing reportedly called the incident “very unfortunate.” Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa visits Seoul Friday with Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Kim, the North Korea leader, paid a visit to his comrades ahead of the Cheonan report and ostensibly reaffirmed the two countries' solidarity.

Western diplomatic observers quoted by The Economist and the New York Times suspect this latest crisis is exposing a riff between the ruling Chinese civilians in the Community Party and its military leaders. Even if China accepts most if not all of the findings in the report, the next hurdle will be what role it plays whether to veto or abstain the condemnation sanctions offered in the Security Council resolution. The crack between the ruling factions was first observed when North Korea tested a nuclear devise last year and followed in March by the sinking of the South Korean warship. While civilian leaders were puzzled, angered and frustrated, the military leaders see it as the North's natural reaction of threats it perceives from the U.S. and why it bullies the South. The military gets its way in some quarters. It dropped military-to-military contacts with the U.S. last year when the Obama administration sold weapons to Taiwan.


The Cheonan crisis is the best shot the Obama administration has had in any diplomatic measure to neutralize North Korea as well as a test case for how it handles China. It depends on whether China sides with the North with demands examining the report by its own people and avoid shifting the balance of power to the South in what many regard as the world's most alarming stand-off. “There is profound frustration with North Korean behavior and with the way in which it complicates China’s own security calculations,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Expectations on Secretary of State Clinton may be unrealistic as she spends hours wooing the Chinese to her position to undo more than a half century of allegiance between the Chinese and their ally North Korea. She reminded Beijing of South Korea’s economic heft and strategic importance.


Prime Minister Hatoyama has risked the future of his administration, citing the threat posed by North Korea as a justification when it came time for him to renege on his campaign pledge to remove an American helicopter marine base from Okinawa.



It boils down to this: Does Wen Jiaboa and Beijing believe Clinton's assertion that the U.S. is "resolute" in backing South Korea means the U.S. going to war if the situation escalates that far? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unlike Big Oil, The NFL Need Not Clean Up Its Mess

 I'm so disgusted with politics that I swear never to write another story on that derisive subject until Thursday morning when President Obama holds a press conference on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In the meantime, I will seek comfort in the confines of the wonderful world of sports.

Oh my gosh, the National Football League owners are being accused of a fix for naming New York the site of the 2014 Super Bowl game. For years the game's biggest event has been played in a warm weather city or in one with a roof on its stadium.

The new stadium for the Giants and Jets ain't got a roof for a game played in either the last week of January or first week of February. Have you been in northern New Jersey on any Feb. 1? Oh, the inhumanity of it all. Shucks, even all the ice sports are played indoors. Forget the fact that football and its distant cousin rugby were designed for foul weather.

"The fix was in for New York," South Florida host committee chairman Rodney Barreto told the Miami Herald. "We threw $1 million extra on the table last night for game-day expenses. We could have put $10 million and it wouldn't have made a difference. We put an incredible presentation that clearly was head-and-shoulders above everyone.''

This, of course, could be sour grapes, but unlike the U.S. Senate, there is no filibuster rules in the NFL on Super Bowl site selection. Those closer to the game than I say between nine and 15 of the 32 NFL owners preferred a South Florida site.
"I think each game will be decided on an individual bases," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Tuesday.  "I do believe that New York is a unique market.  I think the membership recognizes that.  It is the number-one market in our country and in many cases around the world.  From that standpoint it will be a great experience for our fans and for the NFL.  I am confident that the bid they put together will turn out to be a great event."

I checked it out. Since the first "Super Bowl" game played in 1967 between the Green Bay  Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in Los Angeles, no game has been played in an NFL city where the average climate is under 50 degrees for the week around Feb. 1 except for those city's with lids on their playing fields.

Even the 2015 Super Bowl tentatively awarded to Kansas City is contingent on two votes authorizing construction of a roof on its stadium.

So what's the big deal? After all, the most paying customers can squeeze into these stadia is about 100,000 and a good portion of them with a blood alcohol level illegal to drive. The rest of us 100 million or more watch the game from the cozy confines of our homes, bars or restaurants.

I have a pony in this race, being a loyal fan of the San Diego Chargers. Each year I scour the schedule to find Charger road games played in those cold climate cities in November, December and January. My guys aren't adept at being mudders, skaters or skiers, you know, just a bunch of Left Coast wusses.

Mike Florio, the occasionally erudite NFL observer, offers this assessment:

Basically, the New York/New Jersey decision opens a new frontier of leverage when it comes to bidding for the Super Bowl, both as to the financial packages presented to the league and the ongoing keeping-up-with-the-Jerry-Joneses pursuit of newer and better stadiums.  In the end, the NFL will continue to win, and win big.

The only surprise in this regard is that it took the league 48 Super Bowls to figure this out.
Let's see. If the fix was in for New York, is there a fix in for voters to authorize taxpayer dollars to build roofed stadiums in foul weather cities for privately-owned NFL teams?

That sounds familiar. Oh, yes. It is the same as the federal government granting tax breaks and suspension of royalty payments to oil companies for off-shore deepwater oil drilling where quarterly profits are measured in 12-digit figures. Don't worry. The NFL owners don't have to clean up the mess if the project turns sour.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just Asking

 Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I ask forgiveness for I have stooped to the lowest level of pop journalism, joining the ranks of Today Show host Matt Lauer and all the other bottom feeders.

In my world, granting ink to Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the renowned White House state dinner party crashers, is comparable to writing about the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., who picket funerals of our military war heroes.

All crave the publicity, good, bad or indifferent. The Salahis have been granted their 15 minutes of fame. Now, they are milking it for a bonus 10. The couple appeared on the Today Show Tuesday with host Lauer playing straight man.

The thrust of the interview can be boiled down to this.

Crashing the White House state dinner last November "was a huge misunderstanding" and being stopped by the Secret Service outside the second White House dinner in a limo with television cameras last week was "an unbelievable coincidence."

Right. Here's the video attached to the Washington Post story and you can check it out yourself.

Why, one may wonder, am I worked up over an event I have managed to avoid like the plague?

For one, my brother who lives in France and has a good nose for news, asked how a couple could break through Secret Service security without an invitation in hand and crash a state dinner. Good question. White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers resigned but the investigation continues. I doubt there's much priority placed on that probe.

Since then the Salahis have popped up all over the dumbing down television markets with appearances on reality shows and, gee whiz, a chance at NBC's new version of "Housewives of Washington D.C."

My interest has now shifted to that of a social psychologist. The question now becomes why do people fawn over people who thrive for publicity such as the Salahis?

Certainly, there is a market for that, a buck to be made. TV producers of the morning shows are not stupid. In that competitive market where ratings are the only numbers that mean anything, people like the Salahis feed the beast. And visa versa.

Are the Salahis that entertaining? I suppose, if you live in a world seeking escapism from the razor blade of life.

Television is a wonderful medium of which not all of it is a vast wasteland as the late FCC chairman Marshall McLuhan once observed.

But way too often it creates the news rather than report it. I recall my days as a reporter for the afternoon daily in San Diego covering the Vietnam war protesters. At one event, about 300 sat docile at a corner near the Interstate 5 freeway. The minute the CBS affiliate Channel 8 truck arrived, they all jumped into action, chanting and waving their protest signs. Suddenly, in a stroke of genius that got them on the Evening News With Walter Cronkite, they burst down the freeway off-ramp and dashed across the freeway.

We see that same scene repeated today with boycotters and the Tea Party sign wavers.

That I can understand even though I think we would be a more civil people without TV cameras and those hand-held things that have become popular for the citizen journalists who film anything that moves and wind their way onto U-Tube.

But, forgive me, Father, I don't understand people such as the Salahis. I'm led to believe Tareq has a job with the Virginia Visitors Bureau. Is he moonlighting, or what? And, Father, forgive those who follow their escapades.

Hail Mary ...

EPA Orders BP To Cutback Corexit Dispersant On Oil Slick

(EDITOR'S NOTE -- Please check out the sidebar and epilogue in this post to learn about the dispersant Corexit pushed by BP and the insecticide DDT the government pushed on farmers at the end of World War II).

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to cut back by 50 to 75% of the oil dispersant Corexit Monday because they don't believe the oil company's word that it does not effect sea life

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the feds will conduct their own independent tests of the chemical in which 800,000 gallons have been sprayed on the Gulf's oil slick. For reasons she did not explain, BP is allowed to continue releasing the dispersant on the source of the gusher 5,000 feet deep and 50 miles south of Louisiana.

BP last week failed to comply with an EPA request to find an alternative dispersant which an irate Jackson said was "insufficient."

As frustration mounts and the leak continues to gush gas and crude oil at the rate of at least 5,000 barrels per day since April 20, the feds are taking a more proactive role in monitoring the cleanup where this weekend it reached Port Fourchon, La., in the form of a chocolate and cherry syrup with a stomach-gagging smell.

Jackson said the government must know the long-term effects of the unprecedented amount of chemicals released on even a large body of water as the Gulf of Mexico..

"We are not satisfied that BP has done extensive analysis of other dispersant options," Jackson said. "They were more interested in defending their original decisions than studying other options." A federal lab in Florida will begin testing the dispersant's effectiveness and toxicity.

One thing the feds cannot do independently is cap the leak despite Interior Secretary Ken Salazar repeating his claim to put a "boot on the neck" of BP and "push  them out of the way appropriately" if their efforts continue to fail.

A cooler head prevailed Monday when Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant in charge of the government's response, said at a White House briefing the feds are in no position to take over the job of stopping the leak.

"I know that, to work down there right now, you need remotely operated vehicles," he said. "You need to do very technical work at 5,000 feet. You need equipment and expertise that's not generally within the … federal government, in terms of competency, capability or capacity.''

BP's credibility is once again at stake Wednesday when it attempts a "top kill" operation, which involves pumping heavy liquids into the wellhead to plug it and then drown it with cement. If the procedure works, the gush of oil from a broken pipe connected to the wellhead could end by Wednesday night.

If it fails, engineers fear the process will blow out the preventer system in the ruptured pipe and release the full force of hundreds of thosands pounds per square inch thrust from the earth's crust some 8,000 feet below the break.

The top-kill effort was successful in eventually capping all the oil fires the Iraqi's ignited during the first Gulf War in Kuwait. But those wells were at ground level and no where near the complexities seen in the Gulf of Mexico.



The 800,000 gallons of Corexit (EC9527A) BP said it has dumped on the Gulf oil slick is manufactured by  Nalco Co. of  Naperville, Illinois. On its website, Nalco reports it has tested its product on much smaller surfaces than the Gulf. Its findings based on EPA models is that the product is "not expected" to bioaccumulate and its environmental hazard and exposure characterization is "moderate."

It reports its hazardous properties of butoxyethanol, organic sulfonic acid salt and propylene glycol. On humans, excessive exposure may cause injury to red blood cells, kidney or the liver. It is harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed which would include some sea life although the anecdote is flushing with clean water.

Nalco's No. One customer is Big Oil.

Despite its diatribe against what it calls the "private, foreign International Monetary/Banking Cartel" that includes the U.S. Federal Reserve, the website Republican Broadcasting Network claims there are alternative dispersants shown to be far less toxic and in some cases twice as effective as Nalco's Corexit.

Even our own EPA data ranks Corexit as being 20 times more toxic, and far less effective in handling southern Louisiana crude than some other dispersants.
Historically, workers who have cleaned up after the use of Corexit have suffered with health problems, including blood in their urine.
Carys Mitchelmore, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Environmental Science asked, “Why wouldn’t you go for the lesser toxic formulation?”

The website identifies by name much smaller alternative dispersants handled by cleanup crews.

 “It’s a chemical [Corexit] that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically,” said Richard Charter, a senior policy advisor for Defenders of Wildlife.

It did refer to a non-toxic material called "Oil Sponge," it said was rated the "best performing" absorbent by the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers. It said Oil Sponge is built using a microbial and nutrient package, capable of transforming oil hydrocarbons into a safe bi-product of carbon dioxide and water.

The website also charges BP and the Obama administration for not using a paper towel developed by Mycelx of Georgia after the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska that soaks up 50 times its weight in oil.

I can't vouch for the veracity of that claim. But we all remember people laughing at actor Kevin Kostner for suggesting hairnets to collect oil. It was no laughing matter to one hair salon magnate. Reports RBN:

In fact, Lisa Gautier, president of Matter of Fact has collected 400,000 pounds of hair, and stuffed it all into nylons to be used as booms near Gulf shores.



My father, a vegetable farmer for 50 years, told me the biggest regret in his life was listening to U.S. Department of Agriculture botanists telling him at the end of World War II that all his insecticide problems would be solved forever by using the government's new wonder killer DDT. Unknown at the time because it was rushed into the war effort to control typhus, mosquito born malaria and universal agricultural insecticide, was the long-lasting residual effects on birds, animals and humans by killing the nerve system. Dicholrodiphenyltrichloroethane was discovered by Swiss scientist Paul Muller and is a mixture of isomers which are chemical molecules. Unlike Corexit, DDT had the ability to bioaccumulate, especially in higher animals where its devastating potential mimics hormones and disrupts endocrine systems in the animal body, including humans. Upon receiving this crash course in chemistry years after it was too late, my father's faith in the government diminished. "My reputation depended on those bastards," he said. I'm confident President Obama has the same feeling for BP.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Election, Another Affair

Americans are absolutely ga ga over someone else's sex life, especially if that someone is a celebrity, political incumbent or, as in today's news, a Republican candidate for South Carolina governor who also had a widely publicized tryst on the Appalacian Trail, uh, check that, with a woman in Argentina.

In the latest tell-all sexploitation, a Republican operative who has a blogsite (who doesn't?) confesses he had an affair with Rep. Nikki Haley who recently was endorsed by Sarah Palin in a push that could give her an edge in that conservative state over three other gubernatorial candidates in the June 8 primary.

The blogger and former press secretary to Gov. Mark Sanford is Will Folks who insisted he wanted to beat other folks to the punch releasing the "news" of which he admits to having an "inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley "several years ago."

Haley, of course, denies any such thing claiming "100% fidelity" to her husband of 13 years. The couple has two children.

At least Sanford's wife, who divorced  him, broke the old custom of appearing with her philandering spouse before the cameras so I suspect we will miss that extravaganza from Haley's husband and/or Folks' spouse or latest girl friend, whichever might be the case.

These sexual admissions are becoming so commonplace they have reached the theater of the absurd. Just the other day I read somewhere that still another girl friend of Tiger Woods ran with high heels over the trail of female bodies before her that she, too, went to bed with the golfer.

The frequency of these sexual dalliances are becoming so commonplace, so boorish, that America some day will reach the cultural pinnacle now held by French and Italian politicians who wear their infidelity as a badge of honor.

Folks is approaching that exalted rung on the ladder.

"It is what it is, and aside from the Haley family – Michael, Nikki, Rena and Nalin – I feel no need to apologize or explain myself to anyone. People are human. We make mistakes. And as I have learned from experience, the key to life isn’t the mistakes we make, it’s how we choose to handle them."

Don't you love people who say having an affair is a mistake only when they are caught or confess?

Haley faces state Atty. Gen. Henry McMaster, Rep. Gresham Barrett and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in the June 8 GOP primary.

By the way, Palin is not in the least troubled by her annointment of Haley. On her Facebook, MSNBC's First Read quotes her:

"South Carolina: don’t let some blogger make any accusation against your Nikki if the guy doesn’t even have the guts or the integrity to speak further on such a significant claim. And don’t believe anything a liberal rag claims or suggests unless the reporter involved has the integrity and the facts to report to you so you can make up your own mind."

Dad gummit Sarah, Folks is an avid Haley supporter.

As for that "liberal rag," let's see. The number of affairs I had before and after my marriage were ...
... None of your darn business.

Chelsea's Law: No Money Down, $54 Million In 20 Years To Imprison Sex Offenders For Life

The California Legislature is considering passing a new law against violent sex molesters of children that has the endorsement of victim families, advocacy groups, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger, U.S. Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and an endless list of who's who in the fight for human decency.

There are mousetraps in the law Legislators must weigh.

One is the realization there is no cure for deviant child predators or within the sexual molester population. Yet, the state pays $185,000 annually in rehabilitation costs for each molester in the state's mental hospital at Coalinga in the San Joaquin Valley.

The second is a political time bomb. Although the new law if enacted would cost nothing above current prison costs, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst puts the ultimate tab at $1 million in 2015, $9 million by 2020 and $54 million  by 2030. The state Legislature this year is facing a $19 billion budget deficit.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the costs will come about to build more prison cells to house nearly 400 more inmates with longer terms and increase the number of parolees by more than 7,300 by 2030.

By comparison, the state of Texas spends about $30,000 per prisoner in a system that eschews rehabilitation and not subject to federal court orders as is the situation in California. This is according to a lead investigator for the Riverside County, Calif., task force on paroled sexual offenders whose name is withheld for undercover confidentiality purposes.

He points out another shocking reminder. "Eighty five percent of the parolees we track were relatives or family friends of the victims molested," he said.

California's Assembly Bill 1844 is known as Chelsea's Law and will be open for debate Friday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It is named after Chelsea King, 17, brutally murdered by convicted child molester John Albert Gardner III who was sentenced to life in prison this month after pleading guilty to raping and murdering King and Amber Dubois, 14, in San Diego County.

The law would extend tough provisions in Jessica's Law, passed in 2006, that critics claim is rarely enforced because of its high costs and judges who accept plea bargains rather than mandatory sentences as proposed by the Riverside District Attorney investigator. In San Diego County, one Superior Court Judge has filed a law suit against her boss, the presiding judge, and others court judges who she claims is not enforcing all guidelines of Jessica's and other predatory laws.

Chelsea's Law would allow life sentences for a first offense of forcible sex crimes involving a child under 18, up from the current 15-year to 25-year sentence. The life term would be reserved for cases with aggravating factors that include kidnapping, using a weapon, torture, binding or drugging a victim or a previous sex crime conviction.

It would double sentences for some other sex crimes involving children and double parole to 10 years for felons released after serving sentences for forcible sex crimes.
The bill also would require the state to use GPS tracking for lifetime monitoring of those convicted of forcible sex crimes against children under 14. Currently, most tracking ends when offenders leave parole, despite an existing state lifetime monitoring law. It would ban sex offenders from parks, going beyond the state law that already limits how close offenders can live to schools and parks.

The extent that California's penal system goes to rehabilitate sex offenders is rather astonishing. The following is a recap and excerpts from The San Diego Union-Tribune reporter's visit to the mental hospital in Coalinga.

  • The 800 child molesters and rapists deemed too dangerous to release reside in dormitories named after cool places such as Fisherman's Wharf and Newport Beach and "a spacious central mall features a store, a cafeteria, a barbershop, a library and a gymnasium. Windows look out onto small gardens."
  • There’s certainly room for them. The $388 million facility has a capacity of 1,500 beds, and about 600 of them are unused.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the 800 inmates refuse treatment, saying it's a joke and spend their days watching television, lifting weights, conning the staff and resigning themselves to die. The staff addresses each inmate as "Mr." One reason they don't participate is anything they say could be held against them for additional prosecution.
  • Since 1996 at other hospitals and at Coalinga, only 19 have been released from the selected civil-commitment therapy program, six had their conditional releases revoked and four of the six were released later. An additional 175 were released unconditionally because of medical reasons, advanced age or legal rulings.
  • Tricia Busby, one of the hospital's clinicians dealing with the psychological aspects of predators, said the program helps but the ultimate goal is containment — no new offenses. Almost nobody thinks sex offenders can be cured, she said..They’ll need to be in treatment the rest of their lives, no matter where they’re living, she added,
 Because of the Chelsea King and Amber DuBois murders, the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune is pulling a full court press to get Chelsea's Law enacted. In a series of editorials, the newspaper interviewed Rebecca Jones, an appellate lawyer and former board chair for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

She cites laws already on the books -- the Sexually Violent Predator Act which allows the state to incarcerate one in a mental hospital for life, the Mentally Disordered Offender Act also imposing life sentences for predators unable to live outside of prison, and Penal Code Section 259 which demands 15 years to life depending on the torturous details of an offense.

The provisions in Chelsea’s Law that widen the scope of that actually only bring into it teenage offenders... The problem is that we still don’t have the resources in this state, and this is pointed out in the Sex Offender Management Board report, that we don’t have adequate parole supervision, we don’t have adequate treatment, either inside the prisons or once people are released. GPS tracking, this report says, is not an effective mechanism for tracking people and making sure that they don’t reoffend.

In that same editorial board interview, defense lawyer Michael L. Crowley said:

Here we have another act that just lengthens prison times without discussing in any way, shape or form the consequences of that, the costs of that. We have a jail system that is under court order right now to reform itself or release people. ... We have parole officers supervising enormous numbers of people and they can’t possibly do it. That, to me, is just common sense. ...

That pesky cost issue keeps cropping up.

"I think it's undeniable there are significant costs," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee. "It's clearly a very important issue, a highly emotional issue, and we need to be grounding ourselves in fact."

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, who introduced Chelsea's Law, said it is worth the money to protect children. "If you look at a budget that annually exceeds $100 billion a year, that's a small price to pay to protect our children.



The way I see it, California and 19 other states are jumping through legal hoops to incarcerate the most heinous sexual predators for life by committing them with the option to participate in a rehabilitation and treatment program in which most agree there is no cure. It makes me wonder about the people running the asylums in such a system that is as crazy as the inmates. May I offer a tongue-in-cheek solution? Have California send its $185,000 annual cost of its sexual predator prison population to Texas. It would be cheaper even if the Lone Star state makes a profit from the arrangement.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

U.S. Win Is Japan Leader and Okinawa's Loss Over Relocation Of Marine Base

Desperate in its quest for any semblance of political and diplomatic victory, the Obama administration has notched one but you won't hear the president crowing about it. Here's why.

The victory, if one might call it that, came far away on the island of Okinawa over the vociferous protests of local residents and a humiliating disgrace for Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Hatoyama visited the island Sunday after the Tokyo government announced its decision to relocate a U.S. Marine helicopter base from the populated downtown area of a large city, Ginowan, to a more remote, lightly populated town on the northern reach of the island. That is, if protesters at Camp Schwab in Nago, near the northern Okinawan fishing village of Henoko, don't indefinitely stand in the way of construction.

The Prime minister and his party were swept into office last year with a campaign promise to relocate the Marine base completely off the island. But Washington refused to back down from an agreement signed in 2006 to relocate the Futenma base somewhere else on the island. Camp Schwab was selected at the time the local mayor favored it. Since then a new mayor was elected, rallying the locals against construction.

Washington insists the base is a strategic military asset in its alliance with Japan's defense, a position Hatoyama conceded in making the final decision.

Relations between the Marines and Ginowan residents have been strained since 1995 when three servicemen raped a 12-year-old school girl and continually aggravated since then by fly-over helicopter accidents and noise. About 50,000 Marines and UN troops are stationed at the base.

On his Sunday visit in a futile attempt to mend fences, Hatoyama was greeted by jeers and chants and signs that read "Anger" and "Go Home." Members of his own party chastised the Prime Minister for making the Marine base an issue and then reneging on his campaign promise.

Hatoyama conceded that it was “heartbreaking,” and offered the islanders his “heartfelt apology for causing much confusion.” After his meeting with island officials, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima said only, “It is regrettable that he built up our expectations over the past half year.”

Nago’s new mayor, Susumu Inamine, told a grim-faced Hatoyama that he was not welcome. After the meeting, the mayor denounced  Hatoyama for “betraying” his city and Okinawa. He warned that local opposition meant that “there is zero chance” of the base being built. “I cannot hide my rage,”. Inamine said. “Nago needs no new base.”

Okinawa was a strategic fortress for the Japanese in World War II when after one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific campaign was taken over by U.S. forces in 1945.

That's Why They Play The Game

I'm a sports fan as well as a political junkie. It not only amazes me but also amuses me how those who write about such polarized universes share the same tools to exploit their positions.

I mean is a voter going to place a bet with those bookies in Ireland that candidate Joe Schmuck will win the 33rd Congressional seat in California because some political columnist of the New York Times predicts Schmuck will beat his opponent?

Will the zealot Phillie Phanatic place his week's paycheck on the Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series because a panel of sportscasters on ESPN says they will?

Or as the old sage Chris Berman of ESPN would say, "That's why they play the game."

It is not enough the game of sports is decided on the field and not in the press box. And should it be said the fate of a political candidate rests on the voter on election day and not what those gurus at forecast.

Being in the business of analyzing political races, I, too, sometimes get confused and guess wrong about the mood of the public. Take last Tuesday's primary results in several states and Saturday's Republican victory in Hawaii's 1st Congressional District. Please.

Listen carefully. The consensus among the pundits is the voters represented a rebellion against entrenched incumbents and the ruling establishment. Not so fast, my friends, as the old coach on ESPN often says.

I say all politics is local as espoused by the wise old House Speaker Tip O'Neill. Case in point: The Democratic victory for the late John Murtha's House seat in Pennsylvania's 12th district.

I say primary races are held hostage by rabid political advocates. Example: Three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett of Utah didn't make the cut, as they say in golf.

Sometimes these highly partisan primaries produce great drama. At the moment, the best dramatic movie on election day Nov. 2 will be the Democrat left-to-center but party loyalist Joe Sestak vs.Republican far right and Tea Party-adored Pat Toomey. In best supporting role should be the winner of California's Republican primary between conservatives Meg Whitman or Steve Poisner vs. Democrat Jerry Brown who remains keeping his powder dry and is anyone's guess what political stance he may or may not take for November.

I say voters, and in this case the polls are probably accurate, have made up their minds months before they cast ballots in November. How many? The polls indicate between 40 and 75% of them. Depends on how many show up on election day which means in off-presidential years, about 30% at best.

Statistics and history are the tools in which sports and political forecasters earn their money. I will go out on a limb here. I predict the Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate. By how many, you need to ask Charles Cook, Chuck Todd or, what the hell, the 2.7 million others you can find on a Google search.

One of the veteran political observers is

What went wrong was the right-wing agenda influenced by Fox News where the Republican candidate made the central issue in the race President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. What the Democrat promised was a continued flow of pork funneled into the district unashamedly tossed by the late Murtha, the Dem candidate's former boss.

Chalk one up for the politics-is-local argument. That's a home run in my ballpark. Yet again, as McManus points out, it is only one race.

Here's what confuses me. If the voters are as angry as we are led to believe, how come only 30% show up on a non-presidential election year?

Perhaps it is mostly hype as it is the three hours leading up to the Super Bowl game where the results fall short too often than the build-up.