June 29, 2010

"...and I say,'Thank God.' "

The thing that most frustrates me about the theater that is Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices -- beyond the fact that choosing the newest judge-for-life member of perhaps the government's most influential branch has been reduced to theater in the first place -- is that, like a bad action movie or weepy drama, it doesn't reflect real life. 

For openers, the selection panel is all white -- a glaring fact that has caused murder trials to be overturned, yet no one mentions when it convenes to pick a judge.  

Then there's the setting: a boring, overstuffed hearing room packed with reporters, aides and TV cameras.  And hour upon hour of stultifying monologues from posturing senators.  In my opinion, the real mental feat is how a nominee can sit there in front of the cameras as the hours grind by, listening to inane blather and pointless questions, and look interested.  Or at least not nod off.  That, to me, is an Oscar-winning performance. 

My biggest beef, however, is the hypocrisy.  

Practically all senators, and Republicans in particular, decry "activist" judges, unless of course the judge is activist against the people or institutions you don't like.   One man's Thurgood Marshall -- a brilliant jurist who smashed more than one racial barrier in his lifetime -- is another man's John Roberts, a pro-business justice interested in smashing a different type of barrier: the one that stands between you and our corporate overlords

During Elena Kagan's nomination hearing yesterday, she wasn't the only one under scrutiny.  And that really pissed me off. 

Take it away, Dana Milbank.  Make it plain

June 14, 2010

My fellow Americans...

Good evening.  I'm here tonight in the Oval Office to speak to you about the oil disaster that is unfolding off the coast of Louisiana and along the coast of the Gulf Of Mexico.

As you know, just over two months ago a massive, deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, a technologically advanced offshore oil drilling rig and unleashed an unprecedented undersea oil leak that has yet to be fully contained.  That leak has caused the largest environmental catastrophe in our nation's history.

Since the explosion, I have continuously monitored the situation. Within 48 hours, my administration has mobilized the largest response to an environmental disaster of this kind in the history of our country.  Along with thousands of troops, oil cleanup specialists and environmental engineers, the best scientists in our government -- including NASA engineers government environmentalists and oceanographers -- have been working nonstop with the petroleum industry's top experts to stop the leak at its source. Thousands of sound, practical ideas to shut down the well and mitigate the environmental damage has been considered, regardless of its source.

Yet the extraordinary scope of an oil leak a mile below the ocean's surface has defied a quick, easy solution, and the oil has continued to flow for 49 days, threatening our coastline and damaging the region's economy.  While I'm confident the well will be sealed, it will take time. Exactly how long, however, is difficult to predict.

Nevertheless, if the deep-sea leak were somehow halted immediately, we would still face the challenge of cleaning up crude oil from sensitive wetlands and beaches, rescuing endangered wildlife and assessing the long-term damage to our ocean.  It's clear our nation will be dealing with this disaster for the foreseeable future, and will test our ability to rebuild the fragile natural environment that is the lynchpin for the region's survival.

As your president, I pledge to you tonight to hold British Petroleum accountable for this disaster.  Let me be clear: they caused it, they are liable for it and they owe nothing less than their best effort.  I will make sure they collect every drop of oil that is spilled, and I will work with Congress to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are made whole. No corners will be cut in cleaning up this mess.

I also have ordered BP to set up a billion-dollar escrow account for those whose livelihoods are affected by this disaster.  If BP balks, the government will do it for them.

I will also pledge to deploy every federal resource at my disposal to the areas of the disaster to set up protective barriers against the oil, clean up oil that has already reached the shore and monitor the health of residents exposed to the crude oil.  At this hour, teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Energy and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Agency -- are in the Gulf of Mexico working to guard our shores from the oil slick and protect the health and welfare of residents of those communities affected by the disaster.

I have also directed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to overhaul the Mineral Management Service, the government agency responsible for oversight of oil companies like BP.  Because lax oversight has contributed to this tragedy, Secretary Salazar has my authority to conduct a full-scale audit and clean house where necessary, permanently ending the decades-long cozy relationship between regulators and the oil and gas industry.

And I will work with leaders in Congress to make sure it never happens again.  I am calling for leaders on Capitol Hill for stronger regulatory laws of the oil and gas industries, and to increase funding for oversight agencies like the MMS, removing the temptation to enter the revolving door between the government and the private sector.

But I also come before you tonight to discuss another national challenge.

The Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded April 29 was just one of dozens of high-tech offshore drilling vessels that international oil conglomerates have stationed inside our territorial boundaries.  Some are operating at staggering depths, up to two miles below the ocean's surface, twice as deep as the Deepwater Horizon.  They are doing so for one reason: to profit from the insatiable global thirst for oil.

Last year, the top five most profitable companies in the world were oil and gas corporations: Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, and Chevron, as well as BP, are among them.  

Each day, our nation alone consumes nearly a quarter of the oil produced in the world.  Yet US drivers pay, on average, the lowest per-gallon cost for fuel among all developed nations.  Our adversaries have used our national oil addiction to their advantage, threatening our security and triggering economic instability.  I am old enough to remember both the Arab oil embargo as well as gas that sold for less than 50 cents a gallon, but I also know that every American president since Richard Nixon -- Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal -- has vowed to end our oil dependence. 

Yet despite our best efforts and honest intentions, US oil consumption is at a record level. To satisfy that demand, companies like BP develop technology to tap into increasingly remote, risky oil fields, on land as well as the sea floor.  They can continue to reap staggering profits by satisfying our unending demand for cheap fuels, with our increasingly fragile environment at stake.  

We do not have to look very far to see the tragic results when such risks go wrong. Beaches become scarred with oil.  Wildlife and wetlands suffocate, coated with raw crude oil.  Fisherman, idled by contaminated fishing grounds, are unable to earn a living and feed their families.  

Yet this national tragedy presents us with an extraordinary opportunity.

The irresponsible actions of an oil giant have led to a defining moment, one in which we can decisively kick an oil addition that keeps us beholden to others to meet our needs. The searing images we've seen in the last month -- a deadly oil rig explosion, crude oil billowing unchecked from a ruptured undersea pipeline, miles-wide oil slicks laying waste to our pristine coastal wetlands -- must be the catalysts for us to pivot from an archaic energy model rooted in the 19th century into one based on clean, sustainable energy that will give us true energy independence and ensure that another oil disaster can never happen again.

I call upon those of us who want to be true leaders to take bold steps toward a stronger future by doing three things:  Support a graduated gasoline tax, with the tax applying to oil and gas consumers based on need and ability to pay;  advance a widespread review of our nation's mass transit efficiency and draft plans for an overhaul, and support my plans to accelerate the widespread manufacture of hybrid and electric cars.

Decisively breaking our dependence on oil will be difficult.  Anyone who has had to break a destructive habit -- including me, a former smoker -- can tell you the desire to change by itself is not enough.

Moving away from petroleum toward our destiny as a clean-energy leader will demand political courage and individual self-sacrifice.  It will require national determination and discipline.  It will tax our patience and test our wisdom, knowing that dramatic change will not happen overnight.

But courage, self-sacrifice, determination, patience and wisdom are part of the very fabric of our nation.

The founding founders risked certain death to reject imperialist rule and create a democratic state that remains the envy of the world.  A generation of determined young men stormed the beaches of Normandy to defeat a brutal totalitarian regime bent on global domination.  The best minds of our nation pioneered space travel, pushing the boundaries of technology past the fear of the unknown.

Our time is now.  We can not afford hesitate.  As your president, I will do everything I can to lead this nation through uncertainty and difficult times to embrace our destiny as a clean-energy leader.

If we do this -- if we show the world how we used a large-scale challenge to transform ourselves yet again -- the rewards will resonate for generations to come.  Our economy will be secure, invulnerable to threats in the world oil supply.  Our nation will take a decisive step away from global warming -- caused by the consumption of fossil fuels -- towards a restoration that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can rely on.  We will start on a path that the rest of the world is sure to follow.

And history will define this time not as one in which a careless, deadly oil disaster ruined a portion of our country, but one in which our country rallied around an oil disaster and changed the world. Again.

May God bless you, and God bless America.  Goodnight.

June 8, 2010

America's Finest News Source

Massive Flow Of Bullshit Continues To Gush From BP Headquarters

JUNE 7, 2010 | ISSUE 46•23
LONDON—As the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico entered its eighth week Wednesday, fears continued to grow that the massive flow of bullshit still gushing from the headquarters of oil giant BP could prove catastrophic if nothing is done to contain it.
The toxic bullshit, which began to spew from the mouths of BP executives shortly after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April, has completely devastated the Gulf region, delaying cleanup efforts, affecting thousands of jobs, and endangering the lives of all nearby wildlife.
"Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest," said BP CEO Tony Hayward, letting loose a colossal stream of undiluted bullshit. "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean, and the volume of oil we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total volume of water."
Enlarge ImageHayward's comments fueled fears that the spouting of overwhelmingly thick and slimy bullshit may never subside.
According to sources, the sheer quantity of bullshit pouring out of Hayward is unprecedented, and it has thoroughly drenched the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, with no end in sight.
Though no one knows exactly how much of the dangerous bullshit is currently gushing from BP headquarters, estimates put the number at somewhere between 25,000 and 70,000 words a day.
"We're looking at a truly staggering load of shit here," said Rebecca Palmer, an environmental scientist at the University of Georgia, who claimed that only BP has the ability to stem the flow of bullshit and plug it at its source. "And this is just the beginning—we're only seeing the surface-level bullshit. It could be years before we sift through it all and figure out just how deep this bullshit goes."
Congressional hearings aimed at stopping the bullshit have thus far failed to do so, with officials from BP and its contractors Halliburton and Transocean only adding to the powerful torrents of bullshit by blaming one another for the accident.
Along with the region's wildlife and fragile ecosystem, countless livelihoods have been jeopardized by BP's unchecked flow of corporate shit. Those who depend on fishing or tourism for their income are already feeling the noxious effects of the bullshit firsthand, as out-of-control platitudes begin to reach land and seep ashore.
Enlarge ImageDense streams of shit are expected to continue spreading throughout the region and the entire United States.
"This bullshit, it's everywhere," said Louisiana fisherman Doug LaRoux, who lost his house to a tide of government bullshit following Hurricane Katrina. "It reeks. Big buckets of disgusting shit are oozing everywhere you look and I don't know if it's ever going to stop. I feel helpless"
Added LaRoux, "I never thought I'd be the victim of so much bullshit."
Observers have noted that after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, corporate bullshit gushed up like a geyser for two decades and didn't wane until the oil company had bullshit its way through an exhaustive process of court appeals that ultimately reduced payouts to victims by 90 percent.
Despite Hayward's denials that BP is at fault for the environmental disaster and his concern that it will result in "illegitimate" American lawsuits, the embattled CEO has still managed to trickle out a few last drips of bullshit sympathy for Gulf Coast residents.
"I'm as devastated as you are by this," Hayward said after a meeting with cleanup crews on Louisiana's Fourchon Beach. "We will clean every last drop up and we will remediate all of the environmental damage."
"There's no one that wants this thing over with more than I do," he added a week later, just absolutely defying belief with the thickest, most dangerous bullshit yet. "I'd like my life back."
Millions of Americans reported feeling ill and disoriented upon contact with that particularly vile plume of bullshit.
Many environmentalists, including Palmer, have called for a boycott of BP until the bullshit stops or is at least under control, but they emphasize that in the long term, Americans will have to change their habits if they wish to avoid future catastrophes.
"We must all work together if we're going to cure our nation of this addiction," Palmer said. "The sad fact is, the United States has been running on bullshit for decades."

June 7, 2010

"Shell has so much to be proud of."

Stumbled upon this video while idly surfing the Web looking for some explainer material on ultra-deepwater oil drilling technology.  Then I found and grabbed the above graphic of the aforementioned Royal Dutch Shell Oil Perdido Spar -- a mammoth rig that should scare the bejeezus out of anyone who thinks the Deepwater Horizon-Gulf of Mexico oil disaster is a one-and-done tragedy.

Not only is this bad boy set to become the deepest of the ultra-deepwater drilling platform, but it will spawn a jaw-dropping 22(!) remotely-operated oil wells, spread out like ants at a picnic (or potential cluster bombs) on the sea floor, at depths no human body - or most manned submarines - can withstand.

And it's not the only one out there.

At this point, I have to admit that, with three sisters who are scientists (and as a secret techno-freak), I'm awed by the engineering smarts and design capability it took to even create such a colossus, much less transport it and figure out exactly where to station it, how to drill wells remotely and pump the oil up from the crushing pressure at the bottom of the sea.

Nevertheless, watching the video -- certainly produced well before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe -- is like seeing the unleashing of a technological genie that will never be rebottled.  The mind reels: if Deepwater Horizon created such an unholy mess in "only" 5,000 feet of water, creating unseen, likely irreversible damage to the water column, fouling wetlands and scarring an entire region, what the hell are we supposed to do if something goes haywire more than two miles down?

Not to mention there are some big jaw-breaking nuggets of irony in the video.  See if you can identify them all; here's a hint for the first one.

First prize is this and a case of Dawn dishwashing liquid; runner-ups get 1,000 feet of used containment booms.  All entrants will receive a bag full of fresh tarballs plucked from a Florida beach.

June 4, 2010

Who's your daddy?

Republicans, libertarians and at least one has-been actor from "Northen Exposure" have long complained about the "nanny state," the notion that federal regulations and/or laws designed to prevent harm to the general public has made the nation dependent and restricted our freedoms, whatever that means.

Now comes the BP disaster and accompanying undersea oil volcano in the Gulf Coast.

Suddenly, conservatives -- and some Democrats -- are howling for a Daddy State.  Why, they cry, hasn't President No-Drama Obama, hasn't shown much passion or emotion since the Deepwater Horizon explosion triggered an undersea volcano more than a month ago.  He needs to be more angry, they shout.  How come he hasn't felt Louisiana's pain?  Where's his aggressive federal response?  And how come he hasn't fixed this already?? It's been more than a month!!

In other words, why hasn't Dad made everything right??

Well, here's why.

Joanie, take it on home.

Known unknowns

There have been a lot of hypocrasies, overblown claims and outright lies that have been thrown around ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig blew up, sending eleven men to their deaths and unleashing an undersea gusher that continues to set records as the worst oil disaster in US history -- and continues to contend for perhaps the worst environmental calamity the world has seen.

One thing that has been constantly gnawing at the back of my noggin, however, is the fact that the Deepwater Horizon rig that was drilling a mile down into the ocean -- and the corner-cutting by a gazillion-dollar oil behemoth looking for even greater profits from our insatiable thirst for oil -- isn't a unique situation, by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, there are even higher-risk drilling ventures occurring right now, at depths that boggle the mind.

Consider this snippet from an article published last month in Offshore, an oil trade publication:

As recently as 2007, ultra deepwater drilling rig availability was a constraint, with fleet utilization steady at 100%, and day rates soaring above $600,000 for high-specification drilling units. Even today, deepwater rigs are fully contracted before they leave the shipyard, many even before their keels are laid. A quick census as of January 2010 identifies 41 deepwater floaters with capabilities between 4,500 ft (1,372 m) and 7,500 ft (2,286 m) of water, 42 ultra deepwater units with capabilities between 7,500 ft and 12,000 ft (3,658 m) of water, and nine in the shipyard. Of the ultra deepwater bracket, four rigs are rated to 12,000 ft of water, as are two of the nine rigs still under construction.


* Oil companies are so eager to drill in unprecedented depths -- environmental risks be damned -- that every last one of the massive, super-sized deepwater drilling rigs that currently exist in the world are in use right now.
* Energy companies and drilling contractors will pay more than half a million dollars a day to use them
* Shipyards that make the ginormous rigs have buyers lined up in advance.
* As of January 2010, nearly four dozen rigs that can drill deeper than the Deepwater Horizon -- including four (with nine more under construction) that can go up to two and a half miles down, and a handful that can go twice as deep as that -- are out there in some ocean, grinding away for cheap fuel that helps us contribute to the destruction of the planet's atmosphere.

Given the, shall we say, slipshod federal oversight of BP, it's a safe bet that we collectively have no idea whether the corporations are operating them safely, not to mention whether their fail-safe technology is up to snuff -- or if they can handle a catastrophic accident any better than BP's back-of-the-envelope attempts so far.

Rachel Maddow, whose program has done the best job I've seen of putting this disaster into context, has consistently pointed out that the race to get to oil at previously unprecedented depths has all but ignored the ability to get the oil safely and responsibly.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: if there ever was a moment to shift gears, literally, from fossil fuels to green energy, now is that moment.  Eugene and I both hope President Obama doesn't let this crisis go to waste.
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