Saturday, May 29, 2010

Phillipe Cousteau on oil spill

The Florida Keys, third longest barrier reef in the world, is a dead zone. Ninety percent of the big fish, the tuna, the sharks, and other things, are already gone in the oceans. There's a dead zone in the Gulf Of Mexico every summer the size of New Jersey, where there's not enough oxygen for things to live. So it's not a question of 'Can the oceans take any more?' The oceans can't take any more. They couldn't take any more fifty years ago. The question is, when are we going to stop?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The war on education

I sometimes become less aggravated by the Obama administration when I read articles like this one by Paul Krugman In his Sunday NY Times Op-Ed he reports that while many progressives are unhappy with how conservative (read: right-winged) and corporate the Obama administration is, the corporations are actively supporting any and all opposition to the Obama administration and are throwing money at Republicans who are willing to take them on. It's not surprising that the corporations are unhappy with this administration because the banks and oil industry are the spoiled children in this country. They believe they call the shots-- and they aren't far from the truth. That they have to lose anything (like conceding to any Healthcare bill or even 1 cent in higher taxes) is pissing them off and they are, frankly, tantrumming. And perhaps the worst thing about this is what it actually says about the United States today and it's leadership--  we are so far from any kind of governing that provides actual protections for the people that we don't even recognize conservative politics when they aren't radically far right (i.e. the Bushies). It should apparently, according to the right, be the norm for corporations to set their own standards of what they consider safe. 

But then I read an article like the series in the New York Times Magazine this weekend and I am ready to impeach the bastard. The front page reads: "Are Teachers' Unions the enemy to reform?" The magazine talks about Obama's new "Race to the Top" Program. The theme is clearly anti-teacher and aimed at holding teachers responsible for their students (poor) performance. One of the "reformers" is Jon Schnur, who " . . .runs a Manhattan-based school-reform group called New Leaders for New Schools, sits informally at the center of a network of self-styled reformers dedicated to overhauling public education in the United States. Schnur, who is 44, became interested in education when, as an editor of his high-school newspaper, he read a draft of an article from a student who had transferred from a Milwaukee public school to his school in the suburbs. “She was savvier than any of us on the editorial board, but the draft was just so terribly written,” he told me. Schnur added that “the more I got to know her, the more I became obsessed with why public education hadn’t reached people like her.” After graduating from Princeton, he worked in the Clinton campaign and then landed an education-policy job in the Clinton administration."

For more on the Race to the Top program:

I'll be writing more on this topic in my education pages linked at the top.


So here's the latest press release from Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center:
Secretary Chu and the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories are providing round-the-clock scientific support to help inform strategies to stop the BP oil spill.  Secretary Chu and his team of scientists are brainstorming ideas about the most effective scientific and engineering approaches to the problem, providing expert advice and technical support validation, testing assumptions and making engineering calculations to help BP think through their approach.  The Department of Energy is also offering its resources and technical assistance to the Flow Rate Technical Team led by MMS, NOAA and USCG.
  • At the request of President Obama, Secretary Chu has assembled a team of scientific experts from inside and outside of government to work on the problem, and is engaging with these experts and BP officials on a daily basis.
  • The Department’s laboratories are providing on-the-ground technical, engineering and scientific support at BP’s Houston Headquarters. At any given time, those labs have at least 6-8 experts on the ground supporting the response.  To date, more than 150 personnel from the National Laboratories have directly supported these response efforts. 
  • Experts from the National Laboratories provided diagnostics of the damaged blowout prevention equipment on the ocean floor through radiography (analysis, design and fabrication efforts) and with innovative, nonintrusive approaches for measuring pressure at various points in the system.  The Department has provided BP with high-quality 2D radiography that BP personnel are saying breaks all records for deep water radiography--breaking the previous record by more than 4,000 feet.
  • The Laboratories have also provided BP with structural analysis of the failed riser.  This allows various drill pipe, casing and riser scenarios to be evaluated. They also predicted the structural integrity of the riser kink under different flow scenarios and used sophisticated analysis of computer-estimated fluid flow inside the nonfunctioning apparatus.
  • The Department of Energy is supporting the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), which has been modeling the economic costs and societal impact of the oil spill on energy and other industries in the Gulf and along the coast to support the response efforts of the National Incident Commander and the Unified Area Command. NISAC is a modeling, simulation, and analysis center within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that leverages national expertise to address infrastructure protection.
  • Using the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center (IMAAC), the Department’s scientists provided smoke plume predictions for the original fire on the platform and surface-oil test burns. 
For information about the response effort, visit

Funny thing is: Watching Rachel Maddow when Secretary Chu was on for Geek week (video link below) one got the distinct impression that he wasn't really sure what was going on down in the gulf. Or if he did he was very limited in what he knew. The Huffpost article on the interview had this take on the awkward moment, "After Chu twice suggested that he only knew what he learned from media reports, Maddow mused, "Mr. Secretary, I would say I'm worried that you only know what you read in the papers about what's being approved.""

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thumb's down for the NBC anchor

A few weeks ago, while perusing the television dreck (i.e. channel surfing), I paused a moment to watch Rachel Maddow- one of the newsy type shows that I will watch and even then I watch it knowing she is subject to corporate censorship as she depends on sponsors to stay on the air. This particular day Rachel was in Louisiana doing the journalism gig on the oil volcano that was just making it into the public eye although it had been spewing with ferocity since the 20th of April. (note: since the first days of the spill the numbers went from 42,000 gallons of oil per day to 200,000 gallons per day to the most current lowballed estimate of 56,000  BARRELS of oil per day and that assumes that April 20th was indeed the day the leak began). In an attempt to fill in time Brian Williams News anchor and managing editor of one of the Big Three mainstream news shows- NBC Nightly News. As Rachel spoke with him about the disaster, he gave his cheerleady comment that the experts that were on the field leading the cleanup efforts knew the most about the problem- that's why they're doing the job they are doing- because they are the experts.

Just makes me want to weep! They know best! They are so good that we should be happy they are the ones in charge- even though they are the ones who caused this in the first place.

But that wasn't the end of his words of wisdom to the peons who were watching the destruction of the gulf, he went on to add in his rivaling a Buffalo Jill tone (paraphrased) "The men who are hired by the White House to advise the president on financial matters are often criticized for having come from the banks but these are the men that KNOW- these are the men that understand the financial institutions from the INSIDE."

OMG! So you, Brian Williams, are going to sit there in that seat of honor as a guest for Ms. Maddow  and advocate for the men who have aided and abetted the financial sting of the century- and made sure it was legal while at the same time praising the people who are destroying the gulf coast? Mind boggling. You, Mr. Williams, are either as dumb as the people you generally talk to (and you might recall you are on the Rachel Maddow show NOT on NBC nightly news when you speak to people like their television numbed robots who barely know how to use their remotes) or you think you are as smart as the crooks that committed these crimes --and I am inclined to think that is the case. 

But here is the Big Problem with Mr. Williams little hypothesis that the oil volcano and the financial meltdown can only be handled by those who understand "The Business"-- they, the bankers and the oil industry and big business..., have gamed the system. They have made the rules and they made them so that they will benefit from them. They are like the cheaters we all remember from when we were kids-- you know That Kid? The one who got all the kids in the neighborhood gathered round to play his new game and then he gave his lengthy specifications until the disgruntled parishioners finally jeered, "Ah come on, let's just play the game." So the game is afoot and the future Monopoly creator watches over the game like a Hawk after dinner. Sensing the possibility of losing the game a New Rule is suddenly shouted out. There is some disgruntlement but the game continues until yet another... and another... new Moment of Concern causes That Kid to call out a new rule to adjust the game back in his favor. It's not that the game is so complicated or requires only the smartest kids to understand them, it's simply that That Kid adjusts the "rules" so that he is always going to win.

When we were kids we all knew what this was: It was called CHEATING.

And cheaters are not going to do anything but continue cheating until they are shut down. The way to solve the problems on Wall Street and with the Oil industry is to clean up the rules and enforce them- we will never figure out how to play their game because they will keep changing the rules so they will win.

The interesting difference between the game That Kid, the neighborhood cheater, developed is that eventually the kids in the neighborhood figure out they can't win and quit playing. We just keep playing...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

From Lawrence Lessig. . .

Today, is launching an effort to build the biggest lobby in the history of American politics -- one that will beat out Exxon Mobile, SEIU, and the NRA for influence and remake Washington in its own image.

Who are these shadowy powerbrokers going to be, exactly?

You and me -- we the people.

In Washington, they say, money talks. Today, we're starting a movement of citizens prepared to speak Congress' language.

Join us by taking the Funders Pledge now:

By taking the pledge, you'll commit to stop contributing to the campaign of any member of Congress who opposes the Fair Elections Now Act.

When thousands of ordinary citizens join the lobbying game -- by committing as a bloc to withhold our donations until they cater to our interests -- we'll show Congress that the cost of opposing election reform is more than it can bear.

Here's how it works:
  • Visit to add your name to the pledge.
  • We'll automatically check the records to find the contributions you've made of more than $200. All you have to do is enter an estimate of your campaign contributions from the last two election cycles of less than $200 (the government doesn't keep records of contributions of that size).
  • Your total will be added to the amounts entered by everyone else, showing just how much campaign cash Congress members forfeit by opposing the Fair Elections Now Act.
Once the pledges start rolling in, you'll be able to view the amount of contributions lost by every member of Congress on our "Whip" page:

Last year, tens of thousands of people supported the beta run of this pledge effort. This year, we're looking to top that figure -- and we've already got the ball rolling, with a collection of major political donors on board and enthusiastically recruiting their friends and colleagues to join us. The more pledges we get now, the more powerful our citizen lobby will become.

Take the Funders Pledge now:

If all of us become lobbyists, we can make lobbying extinct -- and show Congress that corporate interests can't match the power of millions of Americans acting as one.

I hope you'll sign on to this campaign now -- and invite your friends to join us.

-- Lawrence Lessig

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hello, I'm the United States of America and I'm an addict

So this is what we're driven to by our addiction...

When a family is finally ready to admit their loved one has a problem, they stage an intervention. Unfortunately when the loved one is a bully and holds all the (financial) cards, honesty is often more dangerous than the consequences of the addiction. The family merely hopes he or she will drink themselves to death before killing anyone.

(Pictures from: Deep Water Horizon Response Joint Operations Center
For video of oil and gas stream from the riser of the Deepwater Horizon well May 11, 2010. This video is from the larger of two existing leaks on the riser. This leak is located approximately 460 feet from the top of the blowout preventer and rests on the sea floor at a depth of about 5,000 feet. (Courtesy video)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Greed is indeed god!

I think the verdict is in, Matt Taibbi-- greed is indeed god! And we don't need a symbolic slap on the hand to Goldman Sachs to prove it. In fact, it seems stupidly naive to even ask that question. As we read about the congressional questioning of Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar one cannot help but be struck by the sheer hubris of the business elite. With full knowledge of the anger of American public about the bank bailouts (I mean who could bury their heads that deep in the sand?) and the connection they had, not only to real people losing value on the homes they sank their lives into, but in setting up buyers knowing they had bad loans. But that was not enough! They then profited from these loses, Viniar replies when asked about the email which discusses the deceptive products they were selling "I think that is very unfortunate to have on e-mail." (  and it is only when the congressman pushes the issue that the businessman finally admits it was "unfortunate as well" that they knew they were selling a "piece of crap" and sold it anyway.

But the Goldman Sachs investigation is just the first layer of the multi-layered onion of greed and while there might be some meaningless gesture of consequences for our viewing pleasure (they'll want us to believe it's a public flogging with a cat o'nine tails but make no mistake about who is really in charge here...) the banks are likely to only cut loose those who have not played their game by their rules-- witness AIM. But make no mistake, this is not an isolated incident of businesses that have run amuck with the deregulation of the business industry that, I will add, began with the Reagan revolution. Lest we forget the failure of the Savings & Loans in the 80s and then the explosion and subsequent collapse in the 90s. But just in the past few months... MONTHS! we have seen 29 miners die as a result of carelessness on the part of the coal mining industry. In the weeks since the disaster it has been widely reported that the company of the mine, Massey Energy Co had been cited for safety violations which they ignored with impunity. (Businesses can do this when they know that the government will not do anything with any consequence to them.)

photo courtesy of: 
And now we have the oil industry having it's heydey and showing us all what the laissez faire free market can do for us. Although we are still at the beginning of understanding what this will cost all of us, make no mistake that it will cost. The fishing industry is already shut down and it won't be long before we see the prices rise for seafood at the market. The environment itself will simply be devastated. Birds, the species we see effected first (since they are land creatures), soak up the oil, however light colored it might be (one politician trying to marginalize the damage said it just looked like tea and wasn't nearly as bad as the media was trying to make it look) and prohibits their ability to fly- and feed themselves but just in case they don't starve to death or find themselves eaten by predators, they will probably die from poisoning as they attempt to clean themselves of their oily bath.
Many of the larger species in the ocean will manage to save themselves-- Dolphins are certainly a likely enough creature to sense the danger but even they will struggle with the oil laced waters. The bulk of sealife that will be lost will be the smaller inhabitants, the turtles, the squid, the plantlife etc. -anything that can't escape the suffocating layers of crude. And as the region is depleted of  food -larger sea life that may have initially escaped the actual spill, will feel the effects with the lack of food. 

Even if we didn't depend on fish as a source of food, the devastation of what has been done here will deeply effect the quality of the lives of the people in the areas along the coast. People will lose their livelihoods and their homes.
 In Key West, an island 2 miles wide and 4 miles long-- not a soul there does not depend on the ocean for their livelihood. Even the police are paid via the taxes of the tourist industry and snowbirds that come there because of it's magical ambiance. How will the owner of this little bar fare when the docks are greasy and oiled, empty of life because no one can paddle out into the shallow waters to view the sealife that live in nearby Mango groves? How do people who live on such a small piece of land keep from having their lives polluted from the gulf carried stream of tea colored fuel? The natives all along the coast may not even be able to stay in their homes if the fumes that emanate from the oil are too strong. There will be no tourism- this affects the hotel industry, restaurant businesses, souvenir shops, boating industries (fishing, snorkeling, sunset sailing trips, etc.)-- so many independently owned businesses on coastal properties that dependent on the vacationer from the north- even the airlines will be effected. Initially it will simply be the mess but even after the largest of the cleanup effort is done and the beaches are sort of inhabitable again (and I will add here that there are still reports of oil at Prince William Sound- over 20 years ago), the coral reefs which are already fragile ecosystems because of our incredible misuse of our planet, will be destroyed.  If- well, really it should be WHEN- we lose so much of our ocean's ecosystem just off the coast of our country, we cannot even begin to calculate how this will change the way we, all of us, live our lives.  

But here we face the schizophrenia that is the United States. In the 1970s there was a very clear message given to the American public that we were too dependent on oil and that we were damaging our environment with the lifestyle we were living (and at that time we were using far less oil than we are now). There was some acknowledgement of the seriousness of the matter and some environmental regulations were put in place. Yet there was no serious effort to change our dependence on oil and in fact a laissez faire attitude toward the very idea of curbing our need for fast burning fuels was encouraged. We elected officials who chipped away at the regulations that were set in place and when that wasn't enough, we allowed these same elected officials ("elected" means that we voted for them. We put them there!) to put regulators in place who were either in favor of ignoring the rules or were so inept that they didn't know rules were broken when they were waved under their noses. And when that didn't work, we the people via our government gave the companies a superficial fine that made us all feel better. We the people of the U.S. of America bully countries who might stand in the way of our right to the black gold in all parts of the world and we all gambled with our ecosystem to feed our addiction. We go to war for oil. We kill babies for oil. We are no better than the crackheads in the hood who rob and steal from their neighbors and their families to feed their addiction to cocaine. 
So here we are: 

cleaning up a mess that embodies the American spirit-a shiny poison that will quickly, then slowly, kill everything it touches. 

 We have to rethink the way we do business.  Americans do not want to pay more for gas and oil and if what I pay at the pump merely goes to pad the pocket of a wealthy oil baron then I will protest as loud as any teapartier about the price I'm paying to run my rusty little toyota. I will not pay higher taxes for gas if the government is not going to rigorously regulate these companies. 

But perhaps, I am still thinking too superficially about the problem we face. If the JOE (written about in "Death and Politics at the End of the World" April 23 on this blog) is any indication, and I believe it is, we are at Critical Mass. We cannot keep on with Business As Usual and we can't just tiptoe along making little changes here and little changes there (how is that hopey changey thing going?). Trying to tighten up regulation on an industry that is straining now to produce the oil we need will not do enough to protect us from More of the Same. We are either going to have to keep drilling for oil off our shores and risk this or we are going to have to start more wars to keep other countries from horning in on the energy we need (China now uses more fossil fuels than we do)

OR. . . 

WE make radical changes NOW. And it begins with realizing that there is no will among our politicians to really change things. So stop voting for the politician who makes the best commercials. We need substantive politicians who understand the consequences of BAU. Many of us support non-profit organization we assume are watch dogging for us. Many of these groups take money from the corporations they are supposedly opposing and are often ignoring the very practices they are taking on. So stop giving them money. And the businessmen-- well the businessmen will stand before congress and say, "I think that is very unfortunate to have on e-mail." but we must force the politicians we vote for who promise us change to view these criminals with the same eye to retribution they do muslim terrorists. Torture them if necessary for god's sake! (okay, okay, I don't really think we should torture them... I think...) And we're all going to have to be prepared to change our lifestyle-- we will have to pay more for food and fuel but we should insist that if we're going topay more that that money go toward clean energy (and REAL clean energy- not "clean" coal)

We must wake up. We must push aside our morning self-loathing and decide we have to do things differently. Today.

For another article on the severity of this crisis see:


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