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Monday, May 31, 2010

Massive Underwater Plumes Spell Disaster, Scientists Say

Independent scientists and government officials say there's a disaster we can't see in the Gulf of Mexico's mysterious depths, the ruin of a world inhabited by enormous sperm whales and tiny, invisible plankton.

Researchers have said they have found at least two massive underwater plumes of what appears to be oil, each hundreds of feet deep and stretching for miles. Yet the chief executive of BP PLC – which has for weeks downplayed everything from the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf to the environmental impact – said there is "no evidence" that huge amounts of oil are suspended undersea.

"Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that," said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.

Recent discoveries of endangered sea turtles soaked in oil and 22 dolphins found dead in the spill zone only hint at the scope of a potential calamity that could last years and unravel the Gulf's food web.

"There's a school of thought that says we've made it worse because of the dispersants," said Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

BP - I am Tired Of BP - Tired of Hearing How Incompetent They Are - BUT WE HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO!

I for one am getting tired of hearing about BP.  Tired of day after day of failure.  Day after day of hearing Tony Hayward tell us how it is not so bad. 

BUT, it now appears at best oil will flow until August.  AND then the problem is not over - not by a long shot.  All that will happen is that new oil will stop flowing.  We will still have to deal with the oil that has now spilled for years perhaps decades.

I was not opposed to off-shore drilling.  Now unless there are assurances (not simply someone saying they will fix something) that this cannot happen again, no more drilling.  Why?

According to the Gulf Disaster Permit Plan for the BP well, BP Prepared for a spill 10 Times worse.

Someone should be going to jail!

I agree with Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of a House energy committee investigating the oil spill. 
Ed Markey: BP 'Lying Or Incompetent' About Scope Of Gulf Oil Spill.
He suggested that the oil company has misled the public about the magnitude of the spill, and warned the public not to trust what the company is saying.

"So you think they lied?" asked CBS News political analyst John Dickerson, sitting in this week for host Bob Schieffer. "I think they were either lying or incompetent," Markey replied. "But either way, the consequences for the Gulf of Mexico are catastrophic."


"I have no confidence whatsoever in BP," Markey went on. "I do not think they know what they are doing. .. I do not think people should really believe anything BP is saying in terms of the likelihood of anything that they are doing is going to turn out as they predicted."

"Is this criminal activity, do you think?" Dickerson asked.

"I think that without question, if the word 'criminal' should be used in terms of an environmental crime against our country, then what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico is going to qualify, yes," Markey concluded.

 This is what the Gulf Disaster Permit Plan for BP said in its filing with the U.S. Minerals Management Service in 2008:
“Proper execution of the procedures detailed in this manual will help to limit environmental and ecological damage to sensitive areas as well as minimizing loss or damage to BP facilities in the event of a petroleum release.”  
Either that is a lie or BP has committed gross negligence and is grossly incompetant.

Want another example?  BP’s plan says that those companies have enough oil- skimming vessels to remove about 492,000 barrels of oil a day from the water. The companies have the capacity to store 299,000 barrels a day, according to the plan.  SO, what do they actually have in place.  BP spokesman John Curry said yesterday that so far, the company, through its contractors, has deployed 91 skimming vessels that have picked up a total of 312,952 barrels of oily water mixture from the spill that has gushed for almost six weeks. “That’s not all oil, it’s oily water,” he said.

Read that again (I had to).  BP has only picked up in the last six weeks a fraction of what they said they could and would pick up in a day.

The spill has cost BP a total of $760 million, or about $22 million a day, the company said May 24. BP’s average daily profit last year was $45 million a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Easy to see why they lied.  "Greed is good."  Remember that slogan.

As I said, I am tired of this spill.  Unfortunately none of us have a choice.  We will have to deal with this problem for a long time to come.  It is time for people to go to jail!

I say we start with Tony Hayward.  His latest statements.  Disputing scientists' claims of large oil plumes suspended underwater in the Gulf of Mexico, BP PLC's chief executive on Sunday said the company has largely narrowed the focus of its cleanup to surface slicks rolling into Louisiana's coastal marshes.  During a tour of a BP PLC staging area for cleanup workers, CEO Tony Hayward said the company's sampling showed "no evidence" that oil was suspended in large masses beneath the surface. He didn't elaborate on how the testing was done. 

[Note: Scientists from several universities have reported plumes of what appears to be oil far from the site of BP's leaking wellhead, which is more than 5,000 beneath the surface.  Those findings – from the University of South Florida, the University of Georgia, Southern Mississippi University and other institutions – were based on video images and initial observations of water samples taken in the Gulf over the last several weeks. They continue to be analyzed.]


Let's make it easy.  If he is wrong he goes to jail for crimes against humanity and stays in jail until every drop of oil is cleaned up.

Ben Stein agrees.  STEIN: I don't know if it's trillions. I'm not sure there are any trillion-dollar companies but it's a very, very large company and it will be sued and it has insurance and it has reinsurance. And the risk will be spread all over the place.  But at the end of the day, if somebody knew something like this was likely to happen and just said, keep pumping like mad, I think there may be criminal liability.  I have always felt that if someone does something seriously bad a criminal sanction is better than a sanction on the stockholders.  Look, I'm a stockholder of BP through mutual funds. You are, I'm sure, too. I'm sure most of your viewers are in their retirement fund. Why should we be punished? Why shouldn't it be people who actually were there on the watch and made the mistake be put in prison if they did it criminally negligently?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Scientist Think About Religion - The Results May Surprise You.

I write often of religion and the short-comings of organized religion.  I have trouble believing in a "God" but at the same time realize I don't have all the answers and am awestruck by the complexity of our lives.

The Washington Post has a very interesting article (http://www.washingtonpost.com) about  "Science vs. Religion".  One quote particularly struck me.
Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves "spiritual." One describes this spiritual atheism as being rooted in "wonder about the complexity and the majesty of existence," a sentiment many nonscientists -- religious or not -- would recognize.
From the article:

Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund offers a fresh perspective on this debate in "Science vs. Religion." Rather than offering another polemic, she builds on a detailed survey of almost 1,700 scientists at elite American research universities -- the most comprehensive such study to date. These surveys and 275 lengthy follow-up interviews reveal that scientists often practice a closeted faith. They worry how their peers would react to learning about their religious views.

Fully half of these top scientists are religious. Only five of the 275 interviewees actively oppose religion. Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves "spiritual." One describes this spiritual atheism as being rooted in "wonder about the complexity and the majesty of existence," a sentiment many nonscientists -- religious or not -- would recognize.

The article points out that our misconception about scientist may be rooted with certain religious groups -- creationist movements in particular. Creationist attacks on evolution "have polarized the public opinion such that you're either religious or you're a scientist!" a devout physicist complains. Indeed, the National Science Board recently spiked a report on American knowledge about evolution, claiming that it was too difficult to tell the difference between religious objections to evolution and questions raised about the state of the science. 

I think Ecklund summed it up best.  The bottom line is recognizing and tolerating religious diversity, honestly discussing science's scope and limits, and openly exploring the disputed borders between scientific skepticism and religious faith.

Eating Our Way To Health

Now for some good and healthy news.  In an article by Dr. Mark Hyman, he discusses the benefits of more fiber in our diet.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/fiber-health-the-super-fi_b_594153.html)

According to Dr. Hyman:
... one recent study showed how butyrate made by gut bacteria from certain types of fiber acts as a switching molecule that turns on an anticancer gene -- and turns OFF colon cancer. In fact, fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as a third and breast cancer by almost 40 percent.

It also lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent. And if you have diabetes, adding fiber to your diet may even help you use less insulin. Plus, it's a great natural cure for constipation and irregularity.
Sounds almost too good to be true.  Before I highlight some of what he says in the article about why fiber is good, I wanted to post his nine relatively easy tips to increase fiber in your diet.

9 Tips for Increasing the Fiber in Your Diet


1. Get the flax. Get a coffee grinder just for flax seeds, grind 1/2 cup at a time, and keep it in a tightly sealed glass jar in the fridge or freezer. Eat 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day. Sprinkle it on salads, grains, or vegetable dishes or mix it in a little unsweetened applesauce.
2. Load up on legumes. Beans beat out everything else for fiber content!
3. Bulk up on vegetables. With low levels of calories and high levels of antioxidants and protective phytochemicals, these excellent fiber sources should be heaped on your plate daily.
4. Go with the grain. Whole grains like brown rice or quinoa are rich in fiber, too.
5. Eat more fruit. Include a few servings of low-sugar fruits to your diet daily (berries are the highest in fiber and other protective phytochemicals).
6. Go nuts. Include a few handfuls of almonds, walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts to your diet every day.
7. Start slowly. Switching abruptly to a high-fiber diet can cause gas and bloating. Increase your fiber intake slowly till you get up to 50 grams a day.
8. Consider a good fiber supplement. If you're have trouble getting your fill of fiber, choose a supplement that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber and no sweeteners or additives.
9. Choose GM. By now, you know that my favorite kind is glucomannan (GM), or konjac. Many companies sell it in capsule form. Although I don't normally recommend specific brands, I like the one produced by Natural Factors called WellBetX. You can take 2 to 4 capsules with a glass of water, 30 to 60 minutes before eating. Don't take any medications within 1 hour before or 2 hours after taking it because the fiber may absorb the medication.
Getting Enough Daily Fiber


You should shoot to get 30 to 50 grams of fiber into your diet every day. The type of fiber you choose is important, too.

Most people think that bran is the best type of fiber to eat. But bran (wheat fiber) is mostly insoluble and doesn't get digested. Think of it as more of a scouring pad for your intestines. That's good for getting you regular, but it just can't help your health the way that soluble fiber can.

You'll find soluble fiber in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and most whole grains. The bacteria in your gut metabolizes the soluble fiber in these foods, and that's when the benefits start.

Glucomannan: The Benefits of Super Fiber


Glucomannan (GM) is a soluble, fermentable, and highly viscous dietary fiber that comes from the root of the elephant yam, also known as konjac (Amorphophallus konjac or Amorphophallus rivieri), native to Asia. The konjac tuber has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy and to make traditional foods such as konjac jelly, tofu, and noodles. More recently, purified konjac flour, or GM, has been used as a food stabilizer, gelling agent, and supplement.

What makes this fiber so super is the fact that it can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water -- making it one of the most viscous dietary fibers known.

That means that GM can help you shed pounds. In many studies, doses of two to four grams of GM per day were well-tolerated. This amount also resulted in significant weight loss in overweight and obese individuals.

Great advice!

BP Turns to Next Attempt After 'Top Kill' Fails

With BP declaring failure in its latest attempt to stop the uncontrolled gusher feeding the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the company is turning to yet another mix of risky undersea robot maneuvers and longshot odds to plug the blown-out well.

Now, BP hopes to saw through a pipe leading out from the well and cap it with a funnel-like device using the same remotely guided undersea robots that have failed in other tries to stop the gusher.  The effort is expected to take between four and seven days.

Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.  "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.
Word that the top kill had failed hit hard in fishing communities along Louisiana's coast.

"Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost," said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quantities almost two weeks ago.

The top official in coastal Plaquemines Parish said news of the top kill failure brought tears to his eyes.


"They are going to destroy south Louisiana. We are dying a slow death here," said Billy Nungesser, the parish president. "We don't have time to wait while they try solutions. Hurricane season starts on Tuesday."

Top Kill Fails - Is This Worse For Obama Than Katrina For Bush?

The headlines from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ tell us all we need to know:

BP Says 4 Days Needed To Try Next Fix, This One Using Robot Submarines... Government 'Blindly Accepting' BP's Spin... Media Access 'Being Strangled'... Unanswered Questions... Frank Rich: Is Spill Obama's Katrina, Or Worse?

They also raise a question which I have touched upon as well.  Is the Gulf Oil Spill Obama's Katrina or worse?

As I have said, I am a supporter and admire President Obama.  I believe he has been a force for good in this Country and that he does really care about the direction we take as a nation.  To be fair, I believe President Bush truly believed as well- we just disagree as to the direction (as to Cheney - don't even get me started).

So if we look back to Katrina and the lessons learned I think it is instructive. 

The issue with Katrina was not the storm, the natural disaster.  It was what followed and why.  The storm had come and past and we all felt that we had averted a disaster in New Orleans.  Then, the levees failed due to poor maintenance and improper construction - issued created by man.

And as bad as those failures on our part to protect an American-city, it was what happened next that should have forever changed us.

We watched, hopelessly, as our government failed.  Failed on every level to have a plan to save lives and a great city.  We watched as people dies; as people were stranded without food or water.  We watched as our leaders, one after another, did nothing.

Then, we turned to the one person who, as our President, our Commander-In-Chief, is suppose to be the leader of our nation and what happened?  For many, it seemed as if he didn't care; that he didn't understand the magnitude of the problem.  And compounding those issues, he was seen congratulating people for doing a good job when they had failed to prevent the disaster and were failing at protecting lives.

It was like watching bush declare victory from the air-craft carrier too soon all over again.  We had a President who seemed out of touch and uncaring.

We wanted action.  We wanted to hear our President demand solutions.  We wanted an advocate - no we demanded that our President yell from the rafters that help was on the way.  If we look to our history, it is peppered with heroes who did just that.
  • Nathan Hale - I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.
  • George Washington - Government is not reason, it is not eloquence. It is force, and like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
  • Thomas Jefferson - I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
  • Thomas Paine - These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it Now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower - I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!"
  • Calvin Coolidge - Patriotism is easy to understand in America; it means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.
  • Patrick Henry - I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
  • John F. Kennedy - Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.
President Bush learned the hard way that by failing to rise above the issues presented by Katrina he lost the hope and faith of his nation.

We, the people, did not expect our president to have the answers, but we did demand that someone take charge - that someone cared - that our President was MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE.

I watched just Friday as President Obama went to the Gulf Coast, saw the oil first-hand and then addressed the nation.  Yet, as I watched it, I kept hoping for some defining moment, some instance where Obama took charge, demanded answers, but it never came.

Obama has been called the "Great Orator."  He didn't show it.  A pundit form CNN said that Obama is not an "emoter" as was Bill Clinton or George Bush.  I get that, I understand that.  But at a time like this, we need and demand that our President, stand up and speak for all Americans who are frustrated, concerned and a bit scared.  It didn't happen.

Instead we had a nice speech by President Obama and then he left (too quickly?).  He was later seen playing basketball in Chicago.  Yes, he is entitled to some down-time.  But, this nation is at crisis - and he seems detached. (Hint - don't take a vacation just after you tour a National disaster.  I know that doesn't seem fair but you were elected President and life is surely not fair.)

It is not too late for Obama.  But the crisis is escalating.  Top Kill didn't work.  More and more oil is washing ashore and is fowling our oceans.  No one can tell us how bad this disaster may be. 

It is like watching a train-wreck in slow motion. 

President Obama - we need you to stand up and say you are mad as hell.

Frank Rich in an article in the New York Times frames it this way (http://www.nytimes.com/):
FOR Barack Obama’s knee-jerk foes, of course it was his Katrina. But for the rest of us, there’s the nagging fear that the largest oil spill in our history could yet prove worse if it drags on much longer. It might not only wreck the ecology of a region but capsize the principal mission of the Obama presidency.
Whatever Obama’s failings, he is infinitely more competent at coping with catastrophe than his predecessor. President Bush’s top disaster managers — the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, as well as the notorious “Brownie” — professed ignorance of New Orleans’s humanitarian crisis a full day after the nation had started watching it live in real time on television. When Bush finally appeared, he shunned the city entirely and instead made a jocular show of vowing to rebuild the coastal home of his party’s former Senate leader, Trent Lott. He never did take charge.
For all the second-guessing, it’s still not clear what else the president might have done to make a definitive, as opposed to cosmetic, difference in plugging the hole: yell louder at BP, send in troops and tankers, or, as James Carville would have it, assume the role of Big Daddy? The spill is not a Tennessee Williams play, its setting notwithstanding, and it’s hard to see what more drama would add, particularly since No Drama Obama’s considerable talents do not include credible play-acting.

I think James Carville (a brilliant political-strategist) is right.  Yell Louder!  As Rich says "... life isn’t fair, and this president is in a far tougher spot in 2010 than his predecessor was in 2005."

Arianna Huffington seems to agree.  Today she says:
Now, I'm a huge Paul McCartney and Beatles fan. But when I saw that the president will be hosting a concert honoring Sir Paul next week, my first reaction wasn't, "I hope they play 'Hey, Jude.'" Given the White House's decidedly tame response to the BP disaster (perfectly summed up by James Carville as "hands-offy"), it was, "Are you kidding me?!" This is not the time for a White House sing-along. It's time to set up a temporary White House in New Orleans until the well is capped. And if there is a concert to be held, why not make it a fundraiser for all those whose lives are being destroyed by the oilpocalypse? We need less of the president's anger-with-no-follow-through and more hands-onny leadership. Without it, Obama risks turning into a real Nowhere Man.
I end with a quote by Thomas Paine.  These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Little Political Satire.

La. Scientist Locates Another Vast Oil Plume in the Gulf.

Not to be confused with the original mufti-layered oil plume, nor the one found Thursday running for miles east of the leak site, yet another vast plume of oil has been discovered 75 miles northwest of the leak. The new plume, in shallower water, covers the water column from the surface to the sea floor. The extent was not known yet, for unmanned submarines have traveled miles from side to side without finding the edges of the pollution.

I think this also confirms my worst suspicion - namely that the dispersants are only a ploy by BP and that the dispersants don't really help.  They just hide the oil.  "Out of sight - out of mind." 

From the http://www.washingtonpost.com/:

A day after scientists reported finding a huge "plume" of oil extending miles east of the leaking BP well, on Friday a Louisiana scientist said his crew had located another vast plume of oily globs, miles in the opposite direction.


James H. Cowan Jr., a professor at Louisiana State University, said his crew on Wednesday found a plume of oil in a section of the gulf 75 miles northwest of the source of the leak.

Cowan said that his crew sent a remotely controlled submarine into the water, and found it full of oily globules, from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a golf ball. Unlike the plume found east of the leak -- in which the oil was so dissolved that contaminated water appeared clear -- Cowan said the oil at this site was so thick that it covered the lights on the submarine.

Cowan's finding underscores concerns about oil moving under the surface, perhaps because of dispersant chemicals that have broken it up into smaller globules. BP officials have played down the possibility of undersea oil plumes.



This discovery seems to confirm the fears of some scientists that -- because of the depth of the leak and the heavy use of chemical "dispersants" -- this spill was behaving differently than others. Instead of floating on top of the water, it may be moving beneath it.

He said the oil's threat to undersea ecosystems "is really starting to scare us."

Priorities?

The House voted to give the Pentagon an extra $60 billion and force it to buy F-35 plane engines that it neither needs nor wants. The Senate, meanwhile, voted down $24 billion in health insurance subsidies for the unemployed, cut extended unemployment benefits, and dropped matching funds for state-run health programs. GE has better lobbyists than the disenfranchised.

Obama White House Defends Itself Against James Carville's Oil Spill Criticism

Another Question of Who Do You Believe.  I like the President and am a huge supporter of him.  I just worry he is getting bad advice.  I was texting with a friend yesterday (who is from the Gulf area) while the President spoke, and the people down there want more compassion.  I will post about that later.  I don't think attacking James Carville will help the situation at all.

The White House defended itself against James Carville's scathing criticism of the federal response to the BP oil spill Friday.


During an Air Force One flight after the President's visit to Louisiana, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Carville, a Democratic strategist, didn't have his facts straight.

On Thursday, Carville continued to criticize the federal response and told Campbell Brown that he believes President Obama's advisers aren't relaying to the President the gravity of the disaster.


"I know I'm not a Harvard law... guy, professor of law at the University of Chicago," Carville said. "People down here know what they're seeing. It seems the President is madder at his critics than he is at BP."

Carville wanted to know why the Minerals Management Service, the agency in charge of doling out offshore leases and regulating the industry, was not better managed before the spill.

Phillippe Cousteau To Bill Maher: Even Before Oil Spill, The Oceans Couldn't Take Any More

We all heard BP's head say the ocean is big and can handle the spill.  Phillippe Cousteau calls bull-shit on that.  Who do you believe?

From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/:

BP's oil spill is humanity's latest strike against against the World's oceans, according to Phillippe Cousteau Jr., an explorer and host for Animal Planet and Planet Green.

Cousteau, who is the grandson of French explorer and ecologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, appeared on "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Friday and explained what the country's worst oil spill in history will mean for oceans that are already suffering from pollution and overfishing.

"I could cut my leg off, I could cut my arm off, I could gouge my eye out, I'd still probably survive, but not very well," Cousteau said. "And that's what we're doing to our oceans."

Pointing to massive annual dead zones off the U.S. coast, Cousteau explained that our oceans are past their tipping point:
 Cousteau: 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?

Friday, May 28, 2010

BP Suspends "Top Kill" For Second Time After Trying Two Junk Shots. Less Than 10% of Injection Fluids are Staying Inside the Leaking Pipes

The "Top Kill" attempt to stop the oil flow using mud had failed, and BP would now try to use a "junk shot" to close the leaks in the pipe using various debris.

The New York Times is now reporting that the junk shot approach is not going well:

The company [again] suspended pumping operations at 2:30 a.m. Friday after two “junk shot” attempts, said the technician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the efforts.
"The suspension of the effort was not announced, and appeared to again contradict statements by company and government officials that suggested the top kill procedure was progressing Friday."
The technician working on the effort said that despite the injections at various pressure levels, engineers had been able to keep less than 10 percent of the injection fluids inside the stack of pipes above the well. He said that was barely an improvement on Wednesday’s results when the operation began....

“I won’t say progress was zero, but I don’t know if we can round up enough mud to make it work,” said the technician. “Everyone is disappointed at this time.”

Update: It appears that BP is starting preparations for its next fix-it scheme.

As BP explains today:


In parallel with the ongoing top kill operation, preparations have been made for the possible deployment of the lower marine riser package (LMRP) cap containment system.
Deployment would first involve removing the damaged riser from the top of the failed BOP to leave a cleanly-cut pipe at the top of the BOP's LMRP. The cap, a containment device with a sealing grommet, will be connected to a riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, 5,000 feet above on the surface, and placed over the LMRP with the intention of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.
The LMRP cap is already deployed alongside the BOP in readiness for potential deployment. If it is decided to deploy this option, this would be expected to take some three to four days.
In addition to these steps, planning is being advanced for deploying, if necessary, a second BOP on top of the original failed BOP.

Crystal Meth (Methamphetamine) - Enhances Abilities to Learn and Remember a Task?

As many of you know, I have been following the perils of the drug methamphetamine, better known as crystal meth.  I produced a movie about called The Devil's Drug

It is a vicious drug.  I watched two friends die who became so addicted they couldn't escape its grasp. 

I do not advocate drug use.   Meth is especially horrible.  It swallows people whole and they never escape.  It has perhaps the worst recidivism rate of any drug, so you can see its potential for destruction.

Check out The Devil's Drug here.  http://www.devilsdrugthemovie.com/

Irronically, now in an unusual experiment, scientists have used pond snails to study the effects of methamphetamine on the brain.  They discovered that the drug enhanced the creatures' abilities to learn and remember a task.

This gives insight into how some addictive drugs produce memories that are hard to forget, and that can even cause addicts to relapse.  The scientists described the discovery in the Journal of Experimental Biology (http://jeb.biologists.org/).  From the article:

The humble snail could help prevent and treat memory disorders.


Professor George Kemenes University of Sussex and Barbara Sorg from Washington State University in the US led the research team. She explained that the snails provided a "simple model" enabling scientsts to examine the effects of drugs on an individual brain cell.

"These drugs of abuse produce very persistent memories," explained Dr Sorg. "It's a learning process - drug addiction is learning unwittingly.  "All of these visual, environmental and odour cues are being paired with the drug.

So addicts might be able to kick their habit in a treatment centre, but when they return to their old haunts, all those cues trigger craving and relapse."  The ultimate question, said Dr Sorg, is why is it so hard to forget these memories?

To take the first step in answering that question, she and her team examined the effects of crystal meth on the snails, by comparing the performance of drugged and "un-drugged" snails in a simple breathing task.

Learning to breathe

"The snails normally live in stagnant water and they breathe through their skin," explained Dr Sorg. "But when the water gets low in oxygen, they surface and open up a breathing tube.  The scientists trained the snails not to surface by "poking" this breathing tube with a small stick.  "They don't like that, said Dr Sorg, "so they learn through trial and error not to come up to the surface - they form a memory."

The researchers found that if the snails were exposed to a low concentration of methamphetamine before the breathing task, this "primed them" to form a more persistent memory of it.

The un-drugged snails would generally forget the task 24 hours after training. But methamphetamine-treated snails would retain the memory for longer.   "The drug is not present in their system any longer, but something has happened in their cells that primes them for learning," said Dr Sorg.

Having seen this drug-enhanced or "pathological" memory-making in action, the scientists now want to know what is changing within an individual brain cell.
 
The findings lay foundations for memory-based treatment of drug addiction Dr Sorg's colleague, Professor Kenneth Lukowiak from the University of Calgary in Canada had previously identified the one critical cell, or neuron, in the brain of these snails that is crucial to learning and remembering how to regulate their breathing.


This cell releases a signalling chemical called dopamine; a chemical that, in mammals, is involved in the brain circuitry associated with addiction.

"That's why we decided [this snail] would be a good system to study," said Dr Sorg.

"Now we want to look in that brain cell and find what has changed. It's a big task but some recent studies in our lab point to changes at the level of the cell's DNA that are caused by the drug."

The researchers say that this work lays the foundations for ultimately targeting memory in the treatment of drug addiction and other disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder. The ultimate idea would be to target specific memories - these pathological memories - to be forgotten or diminished.

Dr Sorg concluded: "If we know something about how these memories are formed, and just as importantly, how they're forgotten, and if we can understand something about the process that promotes forgetting in a single cell, we might be able to translate that to higher animals, including humans."

Professor George Kemenes from the University of Sussex, studies memory in molluscs in work that is funded by the UK's Medical Research Council.  "Molecular level findings in snails can be highly instructive for learning and memory research in mammals, and can help us to understand how humans learn and remember," he said.

Rear-end collisions jump at red-light camera intersections.

Turns out that those cameras installed at intersections work; they do cut down on people running red lights. But the white-knuckled fear of getting a ticket leads to abrupt stops and thus an increase in rear-end collisions at these no-safer but revenue producing intersections.

Although this is a report from only one municipality, I suspect that it is very common.  From the Palm Beach Post (http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/rear-end-collisions-jump-at-red-light-camera-706186.html):
Rear-end collisions more than doubled and accidents increased overall in the first 70 days of red-light cameras in West Palm Beach compared to the same period of 2009, traffic records reviewed by The Palm Beach Post show.
In the name of boosting safety, not revenues, West Palm Beach issued 2,675 camera fines worth a third of a million dollars in March alone.
But at the three city intersections from Feb. 21, when fines began, through May 1, The Post found:
--Rear-end collisions increased to five from two. Rear-end accidents sometimes go up with cameras because anxious drivers are more likely to stop abruptly.
--Overall accidents increased to seven from six.
--The only injury in either period came under cameras, in a rear-end crash in March 2010. The injury was "non-incapacitating," according to records supplied by cities and compiled in Palm Beach County's accident database.
City officials did not dispute the data but said it was too soon to draw meaningful conclusions
If tea-baggers want to complain about government let them complain about this.  I am not necessarily opposed to the government using cameras, but I do oppose it when the motive is to make money and not for safety.

Lawmakers press J&J to explain "phantom recall".

This story (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100527/ap_on_bi_ge/us_j_j_recall_congress) serves to show just why we do need government intervention and highlights my earlier post about the appropriate role of government.
In 2008, Johnson & Johnson learned of problems with Motrin, but rather than issue a recall they hired an outside firm to go around and buy up the tainted product. Note that J&J was forced to recall more than 40 varieties of children's medicines after FDA inspectors found multiple violations at J&J plants.
As was discussed in the article, we simply cannot rust businesses to do what is "right" (I love using the word right at these times as it really calls out the right leaning tea-baggers for being of so wrong).
Congressional investigators said Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson hired a private company that bought up defective packets of pain relievers in 2008 before recalling the pills months later, after prodding from federal regulators.
The new questions about J&J's handling of quality issues came during a hearing about its latest recall involving over 100 million bottles of children's medicine, some of which contained tiny particles of metal.
"This is an issue of trust, when parents and grandparents give these medicines to their children they want to be confident that they are not harmful," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Poising children!  Do you trust big business to do what is "right"?

BP's Profits Far Outweigh The Cost Of Cleaning Up Gulf Oil Spill

While the Gulf oil spill has devastated the region, and will have long-term consequences, BP will be able to shake off the costs of the cleanup with little more than a shrug.

Read that again.  While the Gulf oil spill has devastated the region, and will have long-term consequences, BP will be able to shake off the costs of the cleanup with little more than a shrug.

It makes me sick.

The cost per day of the oil spill to BP so far has been $16 million. That number is dwarfed by the $66 million per day the firm made in profit in the first quarter of this year. Indeed, in 2009 BP's total profits were $14 billion. As CNN's Christine Romans notes, even if the cleanup costs were to rise to $14 billion, it would simply mean that BP went one year without make a profit, let alone losing money.

It's difficult to see what incentives there are for BP to operate in a safer and more environmentally conscious manner when the consequences for causing even such a catastrophic crisis as this one are so negligent.

If, as I suspect. there was criminal negligence on the part of BP, the company should be nationalized and the countless thousands of victims compensated.  It will never happen, but one can hope!

The Proper Role of Government.

It was suggested that I might be Socialist because I had advocated that there is a strong role for government in our society to protect those disadvantaged and disenfranchised.  This particular issue has become a hot-bed issue of late with the tea-party movement and the nomination of Rand Paul, with their express vows of less government.

Let me also note that this is not simply limited to the tea-party and libertarians but touches many within the right who have taken a limited-government stance.

There is an excellent article today by Jim Wallis on Huffington Post entitled "How Christian Is Tea Party Libertarianism?" (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/how-christian-is-tea-part_b_592170.html).  It is well worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to pull a portion of it out to highlight an issue I have previously discussed.

In the article, Mr. Wallis says:
The Libertarians' supreme confidence in the market is not consistent with a biblical view of human nature and sin. The exclusive focus on government as the central problem ignores the problems of other social sectors, and in particular, the market. When government regulation is the enemy, the market is set free to pursue its own self-interest without regard for public safety, the common good, and the protection of the environment -- which Christians regard as God's creation. Libertarians seem to believe in the myth of the sinless market and that the self-interest of business owners or corporations will serve the interests of society; and if they don't, it's not government's role to correct it.
But such theorizing ignores the practical issues that the public sector has to solve. Should big oil companies like BP simply be allowed to spew oil into the ocean? And is regulating them really un-American? Do we really want nobody to inspect our meat, make sure our kids' toys are safe, or police the polluters to keep our air clean? Do we really want owners of restaurants and hotels to be able to decide whom they will or won't serve, or should liquor store owners also be able to sell alcohol to our kids? Given the reality of sin in all human institutions, doesn't a political process that provides both accountability and checks and balances make both theological and practical sense? C.S. Lewis once said that we need democracy not because people are essentially good, but because they often are not. Democratic accountability is essential to preventing the market from becoming a beast of corporate totalitarianism - just as it is essential for the government. And God's priorities should determine ours, not the priorities of the Chamber of Commerce.
I echo his comments and believe that because human nature often promotes one's self interest over that of society (which is not always a bad thing - we must provide for our families and we want our families and to prosper and succeed) that it is essential  that a political process that provides both accountability and checks and balances make not only practical sense but is necessary to avoid the excess that results from unfettered self-interest.

Another aspect of the tea-party movement that I find troubling, and one which Rand Paul and his anti-Civil Rights Act and anti- American With Disabilities Act position most recently has been called out over, is this notion that even if there is discrimination the government should not intervene.  As I previously said, I think it is our moral duty to protect those less fortunate and disenfranchised.  In his article Jim Wallis also condemns this but based upon the ideals of Christianity.  From the article:
The Libertarian preference for the strong over the weak is decidedly un-Christian. "Leave me alone to make my own choices and spend my own money" is a political philosophy that puts those who need help at a real disadvantage. And those who need help are central to any Christian evaluation of political philosophy. "As you have done to the least of these," says Jesus, "You have done to me." And "Blessed are those who are just left alone" has still not made the list of Beatitudes. To anticipate the Libertarian response, let me just say that private charity is simply not enough to satisfy the demands of either fairness or justice, let alone compassion. When the system is designed to protect the privileges of the already strong and make the weak even more defenseless and vulnerable, something is wrong with the system.
Then lastly he raises another issue which I have also have wondered and find disturbing.
Finally, I am just going to say it. There is something wrong with a political movement like the Tea Party which is almost all white. Does that mean every member of the Tea Party is racist? Likely not. But is an undercurrent of white resentment part of the Tea Party ethos, and would there even be a Tea Party if the president of the United States weren't the first black man to occupy that office? It's time we had some honest answers to that question. And as far as I can tell, Libertarianism has never been much of a multi-cultural movement. Need I say that racism -- overt, implied, or even subtle -- is not a Christian virtue.
When I hear the phrase "we need to take back the Country" I cringe.  Take back from whom?  The black man who is President?  It seems Mr. Wallis agrees with me that there is something that is just not "right" with this.

Racism is unfortunately alive and well.  While I agree that all of the tea-baggers are not racist, xenophobia and racism are a prime under-current which drives these people.  They hate that a black man is President.
 
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at http://www.godspolitics.com/.

Top 10 Beaches!

With so much talk about the Gulf oil spill and how beaches may be effected, it is nice to have a story about beautiful beaches in America.

Dr. Stephen Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research, known by the moniker Dr. Beach, has been compiling a list of the country's top ten beaches for twenty years.  His annual survey released was released Friday to coincide with the start of the summer vacation season.



Heading this year's list is Coopers Beach, New York, with pristine white sand gently sloping toward a shoreline of lapping waves, convenient parking and amenities and nary a gum wrapper in sight.  "New York has world-class beaches, but I don't think a lot of people in the United States know about them," said Dr. Leatherman.

This year's list includes two beaches in Florida, and Leatherman said he was not worried about pollution from the oil spill affecting those locations. Siesta Beach in Sarasota took the No. 2 spot on the list, and Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne was No. 10.

He said Cape Florida, on the southeast coast, "doesn't get the wave activity" that can lead to tar balls washing up. As for Siesta Beach, he said he had looked at currents and believes "there's very low probability the oil will get to southwest Florida."

Leatherman's list also features another New York beach, Main Beach in East Hampton, Long Island, not far from Southampton. Main Beach takes the No. 5 spot on this year's survey.

"When most people think of a beach vacation destination, they go south," Leatherman said. "I kind of think the east end of Long Island is a well-kept secret for most Americans."

Rounding out the top 10 are Coronado Beach, Calif. (3), Cape Hatteras, N.C. (4), Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Honololu (No. 6), Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass. (7), Beachwalker Park in Kiawah Island, S.C. (8), and Hamoa Beach in Maui, Hawaii (9).

Coopers Beach has been a contender for the top spot in recent years, but this is the first time a New York beach has made it to No. 1, Leatherman said. He considers factors like water quality and temperature, cleanliness, weather, sand, safety and facilities in making his list.

Once a beach makes it to the top spot, it is retired from consideration in future years, he said. Leatherman added that designation as the country's No. 1 beach usually brings as much as a 20 percent bump in tourism.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Priorities - Are We War-Mongers?

Priorities: Congress is going to give the Pentagon an additional $32 billion to kill people in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bill will pass with rare but overwhelming bipartisan support. Meanwhile, on the home front, Kansas is going to follow Hawaii to a 4-day school week, Detroit is closing 40 schools, KC plans to close half its school buildings, other states are eliminating kindergarten, cutting summer school and increasing class sizes. Wonder how many kids we could keep in school for the cost of razing one hut in Kandahar? (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-l-borosage/what-is-an-emergency_b_590322.html)

Stock Market Going Which Direction?

Patterns: Only twice before have the stock markets zoomed parabolically to such heights in less than a year as it has this time (80% up from March 2009 to April 2010). There was a 112% run-up in 1932 – which was followed by a 40% drop. And in 1933 a 116% increase was followed by a 34% drop. If this pattern is followed the S&P could be in for a 20 to 30% drop.  (http://www.businessinsider.com/david-rosenberg-heres-ten-us-leading-indicators-that-are-rolling-over-2010-5)

Today's Must Read - The Hard Truth About Residential Real Estate

I have been involved in a number of lively debates about the housing market, if now is a "great" time to buy and where we are headed with housing.

Today's article in http://www.zerohedge.com/ takes on that issue with a sobering conclusion.  From Zero Hedge:

Anyone who believes that housing is on the rebound, and that now is the time to buy, should take a very hard look at the numbers I dredged up for my spring lecture and luncheon tour.


There are 140 million personal residences in the US. Today, there are 26 million homes either directly or indirectly for sale. According to a survey by Zillow.com, a real estate appraisal website, 20 million homeowners plan to sell on any improvement in prices. Add to that 4 million existing homes now on the market, 1 million new homes flogged by companies like Lennar (LEN) and Pulte Homes (PHM), and 1 million bank owned properties. Another 8 million mortgage owners are late on their payments and are on the verge of foreclosure, bringing the total overhang to 34 million homes.

Now, let’s look at the buy side. There are 35 million who are underwater on their mortgages and aren’t buying homes anytime soon, nor are the 35 million unemployed and underemployed. That knocks out 50% of the potential buyers.

Here is where it gets really interesting. There are 80 million baby boomers retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day. Assuming that they downsize over time from an average 2,500 sq ft. home to a 1,000 sq. ft. condo, and eventually to a 100 sq. ft. assisted living facility, the total shrinkage in demand is 4.3 billion sq.ft. per year, or 1.7 million average sized homes. That amounts to a shrinkage of aggregate demand for a city the size of San Francisco, every year. You can argue that the following Gen-Xer’s are going to take up the slack, but there are only 65 million of them with a much lower standard of living than their parents.

Throw in the disappearance of state and federal first time buyer tax credit. You can count on a jump in long term capital gains taxes and state and local property taxes, further diminishing property’s appeal. If you are looking for a final stick to break the camel’s back, how about eliminating, or substantially reducing the home mortgage interest deduction?

Add it all up, and there is a massive structural imbalance in residential real estate that will take at least a decade or more to unwind. We could be looking at a replay of the same 26 year period from 1929 to 1955 when prices remained flat, and we are only 3 years into it! A second down leg in the real estate market seems a no brainer to me, as is the secondary banking crisis that follows. Perhaps that’s why hedge funds have been big sellers of the homebuilder’s ETF (XHB).

What’s a poor homeowner to do? Don’t ask me. I sold everything in 2005 when my research threw up these numbers, and have been happily renting ever since. And if the toilet blocks up, I just call the landlord.

To see the data, charts, and graphs that support this research piece, as well as more iconoclastic and out-of-consensus analysis, please visit me at www.madhedgefundtrader.com . There, you will find the conventional wisdom mercilessly flailed and tortured daily, and my last two years of research reports available for free. You can also listen to me on Hedge Fund Radio by clicking on the “Today’s Radio Show” menu tab on the left on my home page.

I Am Against Big Government Except When I Am For It

I have written previously about various politicians who seem opposed to big government, except when it effects them or their state and suddenly it is okay.  See:

http://suspiciouspackaging.blogspot.com/2010/05/senator-james-inhofe-r-okl-is-against.html
http://suspiciouspackaging.blogspot.com/2010/05/hypocrite-of-day-jim-brunner-sarah.html
http://suspiciouspackaging.blogspot.com/2010/05/hypocrites-of-day-right-leaning.html

I don't like when people take inconsistent positions and I called out some of the anti-big government republicans over what I saw as inconsistent positions.  In a new article today, Bob Cesca takes on Republicans over their position on the Gulf Oil Spill in somewhat harsh tones. 

While I agree that the Republicans positions are somewhat hypocritical, I also agree that the oil spill is somewhat different in that it is a disaster in Federal waters and is effecting multiple states; therefore, a Federal response is an absolute necessity.  But I nevertheless agree that it is hard to reconcile the fervent anti-big government stance many Republicans take with the new position on demanding Federal help (and an erstwhile, back-door, bailout of Big Oil by capping their liability).

From Bob Cesca'a article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-cesca/republicans-demand-a-gove_b_590795.html:

The words "government takeover" were originally injected into the discourse by Frank Luntz in the early stages of the health care reform process and have been repeated in the pejorative sense by Republicans across the board.




Despite the fact that thousands of Americans die every month from a lack of affordable health insurance, the Republicans have argued that the government isn't allowed to "takeover" the industry. It goes without saying that the president wasn't proposing any such thing and, in fact, publicly denounced single-payer health insurance, but okay. The Republicans truly believe the health care reform bill is socialism and a total takeover of the industry. It's not.

Likewise, the Republicans and tea party people have been screeching about the bailouts. They insist that the banks and financial institutions (and GM) should have been allowed to fail, rather than receiving emergency loans from the government in order to, at the time, prevent the American economy from being dragged down along with these institutions had they not been hoisted with an infusion of cash.


The dominant centerpiece to all of this outrage has been the Republican idea that the states and the free market should be left alone to deal with problems and crises on its own without "socialist" -- or even "communist" depending on which AM radio station you listen to -- interference from big government and our America-hating president. No government takeovers. Freedom! Liberty! And no stupid volcano thingees also.


Americans dying from a lack of health insurance? Too bad. No government takeover. The economy about to sink into a second Great Depression? Too bad. No government takeover. The Earth growing warmer due to the burning of fossil fuels? Too bad. No government takeover.

That is until last month.

... suddenly all of these state's rights, anti-government takeover Republicans are demanding a government takeover of the capping and cleanup process. (If only someone had blasted uninsured Americans in the face with reddish-brown crude oil, the health care reform bill might have received a few Republican votes.)
 
Now that crude has begun to wash upon the shores and wetlands of Republican red states, any superficial bumper sticker griping about socialism has been temporarily forgotten.


That's the bitch about building a party platform around specious, shallow platitudes. They might be effective in terms of rallying the easily-led, low information base, but as soon as practicality steps in, all sloganeering is dropped in lieu of confronting and dealing with reality. Subsequently, these alleged free market state's rights small government anti-regulation southern conservative cardboard standee Republicans continue to demand federal help and socialized taxpayer money. The Republicans are demanding redistributed wealth from Pennsylvania and Vermont and Illinois and New York and Massachusetts with all of its socialist bleeding heart tree-hugging environmental wacko liberals.


However hypocritical the Republicans might be on this, they're ultimately correct. The federal government has a responsibility to protect our economy, our natural resources and our lives from the destruction that's often wrought by irresponsible corporations. Thanks, Republicans, for finally catching up.

O'Connor, Scalia Say Kagan Doesn't Need Judicial Experience

I find the process by which we pick our Supreme Court nominees somewhat strange.  In what is likely the most important decision which any President might make (Supreme Court judges serve for life and, more often than not, their term far outlives the term of the President which selected them) and one which should not be a politically based decision but based on merits, we now see a process turned on its head.

One point of contention for Elena Kagan has been whether judicial service is necessary.  Hopefully these latest remarks quell that issue.

Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says that lack of judicial experience should not derail Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.


O'Connor tells ABC's "Good Morning America" that historically more than a third of the justices came to the court without first serving as judges, adding "I think it's fine. Just fine."

The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court says that Kagan seems "very well qualified academically." She says that going through the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings, however, is a "difficult, unpleasant experience" for a nominee, no matter who that is.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court's most notorious conservative, likewise says he likes that Kagan hasn't served on the bench, ABC News reports.

"When I first came to the Supreme Court, three of my colleagues had never been a federal judge," said Scalia, who joined the Court in 1986 after being nominated by President Reagan. "William Rehnquist came to the Bench from the Office of Legal Counsel. Byron White was Deputy Attorney General. And Lewis Powell who was a private lawyer in Richmond and had been president of the American Bar Association."

"Currently, there is nobody on the Court who has not served as a judge --indeed, as a federal judge -- all nine of us," he continued. ". . . I am happy to see that this latest nominee is not a federal judge - and not a judge at all."

Scalia's remarks came during a lecture he gave at Catholic University's law school, held at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C.'s ceremonial courtroom.

Kagan returns to Capitol Hill Thursday to meet privately with a half dozen senators. Her nomination hearings could begin as early as late June.

Gay Soldier on DADT: "I Will Risk My Life; I Ask to Be Treated Simply Like Anyone Else in the Service."

The following is a story by Chris Mattews posted on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.  It speaks for itself.

Let me finish tonight with a letter from a soldier fighting in Afghanistan.


"I found out this soldier under my command was gay. I learned about it after he died, when his longtime partner wrote to me, not knowing my orientation, to tell me how much this staff sergeant had loved the army; how we were the only family he'd ever known.

In my own life, my partner has none of the privileges of a spouse. We have weathered three long deployments like any other couple might. My partner and I have happily accepted my various assignments because we're truly committed to the army, its soldiers and their families. But after our ten years together, my partner has earned the right to be told first about my death. He has earned the right to be recognized for his sacrifices just as any other spouse.

I deeply believe that America is fighting the right fight in Afghanistan. I believe in this battle against our enemies. And, I believe that the US Army is the single greatest force for good the world has ever known.

But I want to tell the guys I eat lunch with every day about my partner. After all, these are the guys I risk my life with -- the guys who think they know me. I can tell you every detail of how each of them met their wives; how one of them still feels guilty about an affair he never had, but thought about; how one of them cried so hard the day his son was born.

Yet they don't know much about my life. Over the years, I have become good at evading and changing subjects artfully. To slip up -- using the wrong pronoun when describing whom I was with during R&R, or mentioning who I talked to on Skype last night -- is no longer something I worry about. I have become so good at this lying game it eats at my soul.

A week ago, two of my friends were killed in a bombing. The days since then have bled into each other. It is usually not until the evening that I allow myself to think about these things. I will risk my life; I ask to be treated simply like anyone else in the service -- nothing more and nothing less."

That's from a serviceman fighting for his country.

I'd like to tell you his name so you could send him a note of support. You might want to call instead a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee which votes tomorrow on "Don't ask; don't tell." Here's the phone number for the US Senate: 202-224-3121.

This post originally appeared on Hardblogger.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kentucky Libertarians: Rand Paul Betrayed Our Values

It seems I am not alone in my questioning whether or not Rand Paul was expressing truly Libertarian ideas. 

In an article in Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/26/kentucky-libertarians-may_n_590387.html) they report:
The Libertarian Party is considering running a candidate in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, saying GOP nominee Rand Paul – the son of a former Libertarian presidential candidate – has betrayed the party's values.
Party Vice Chairman Joshua Koch said Wednesday that Paul has been a black eye for Libertarians because of stands he's taken on issues, including his criticism of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Koch said Paul is not a Libertarian. He called Paul and his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, "faces of the same bad coin."
And what are the issues which they believe cause Rand Paul to differ from a Libertarian?  According to the report:
Koch said Paul's views on a variety of subjects differ from the Libertarian Party, including his promised support for any measures to ban abortion and his opposition to same-sex marriage.

"Trying to impose a national standard for that would throw the whole system out of balance, and that's definitely not Libertarian," Koch said.
Koch also said Paul is out of step with Libertarians in his unwillingness to call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The reason why we would even consider running somebody in this race is because we're not going to let Rand determine what a Libertarian stands for," he said. "I'm here to say Rand does not have the Libertarian ideology."
Libertarians typically side with Democrats on social issues and Republicans on fiscal issues.

So it begs the question, what is Rand Paul?  Personally I don't care what he calls himself as long as he takes consistent viewpoints.  My issues with Rand Paul relate to his inconsistent stances regarding governmental involvement - eespecially as it relates to protection of minorities and the disenfranchised.

Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants

I am constantly amazed as we find out things that are suppose to help us may actually be doing more harm than good.   Much like the post yesterday regarding sun-screens, today we learn that nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants.

From the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/health/policy/26herbal.html?hp):

The levels of heavy metals — including mercury, cadmium and arsenic — did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous, the investigators found. However, 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits, the investigators found. In some cases, the government has not set allowable levels of these pesticides because of a paucity of scientific research.


Investigators found at least nine products that made apparently illegal health claims, including a product containing ginkgo biloba that was labeled as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and a product containing ginseng labeled as a treatment to prevent diabetes and cancer. They also described a salesperson at a supplement specialty store who claimed that a garlic supplement could be taken instead of blood pressure medication.

Any product that claims to treat, cure, prevent or mitigate a disease is considered a drug and must go through strict regulatory reviews.

Travis T. Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, wrote a letter to the committee saying that some athletes have been rendered ineligible for international competitions because they took supplements that contained steroids not listed on the products’ labels. There are thousands of supplements available for sale that contain steroids or other harmful ingredients, he wrote.

Frightening New Development - Oil Spill Clean-Up Workers Getting Sick

From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/:

Many of the fishermen who signed up to work for BP cleaning up the oil signed contracts that forbid them from talking to the press. Perhaps for that reason, reports of illnesses have been somewhat slow to emerge. Last week, the wives of some of the fishermen spoke out publicly about the symptoms their husbands were experiencing. This week, some fishermen are starting to come forward. In this WDSU TV interview, one of the fishermen reports feeling drugged, disoriented, tingling, fatigued, and also reporting shortness of breath and cough. These are symptoms that are consistent with what one might expect from exposure to hydrocarbons in oil.


There are also disturbing photos that have been posted on the internet and in the LA Times, showing clean-up workers on beaches in regular street clothes without even the benefit of gloves. These people are in contact with the weathered oil (as opposed to fresh oil bubbling up from the continuing leak). Weathered oil is considered less dangerous than fresh oil because the toxic vapors have dissipated, but it is not benign. Skin contact with even the weathered oil is very damaging, so gloves should be required. In addition, the oil can contaminate shoes and clothing, and could then be worn home where it could pose a risk to young children. The oil needs to be cleaned up, but it should be done right.

This coming week, fishermen from Alaska who were involved in the clean-up after the Exxon Valdez oil spill are coming down to the Gulf Coast to meet with local fishermen. The goal is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. I blogged previously about scientific studies of health effects in clean-up workers from prior oil spills. So it's encouraging to see that the workers are sharing stories. The only way to keep people safe is to learn from history, and to force BP to act responsibly (or is that an oxymoron at this point?) One of my NRDC colleagues will be at the meeting this week, and she will be gathering information on what's happening out there. Stay tuned for updates in the effort to protect the clean-up workers.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

James Carville To Obama On Oil Spill - 'Get Down Here And Take Control - We're About To Die'

In his most pointed criticism yet, Democratic strategist and New Orleans resident James Carville, cried out, "Man, you got to get down here and take control of this! Put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving! We're about to die down here!"

"The President of the United States could've come down here, he could've been involved with the families of these 11 people" who died on the rig after an explosion, Carville said on ABC's Good Morning America. "He could be commandeering tankers and making BP bring tankers in and clean this up. They could be deploying people to the coast right now. He could be with the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard...doing something about these regulations. These people are crying, they're begging for something down here, and it just looks like he's not involved in this."

Previously Carville, who was a chief political aide to Bill and Hillary Clinton, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that the administration's response to the spill has been "lackadaisical" and that Obama was "naive" to trust BP to manage the massive clean-up effort.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Libertarianism + Rand Paul = Corporate Welfare?

With Rand Paul taking center stage, I wanted to better understand Libertarianism (Notice I said "center" stage and avoided the use of the term left or right stage, because, as you will soon see, left is right and right is left. Confused? Me too.) 

So, I did a little research and found that defining libertarianism can be difficult and that the very principal of libertarianism as espoused by Rand Paul may not be so libertarian after all. 

In an article by Sheldon Richman http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0706b.asp he asks:


Is libertarianism of the Left or of the Right? We often avoid this question with a resounding “Neither!”
Ok so we are off to a good start - its not left or right. Got it?

Karl Hess, in his Dear America said:

My own notion of politics is that it follows a straight line rather than a circle. The straight line stretches from the far right where (historically) we find monarchy, absolute dictatorships, and other forms of absolutely authoritarian rule. On the far right, law and order means the law of the ruler and the order that serves the interest of that ruler, usually the orderliness of drone workers, submissive students, elders either totally cowed into loyalty or totally indoctrinated and trained into that loyalty. Both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler operated right-wing regimes, politically, despite the trappings of socialism with which both adorned their regimes....
The far left, as far as you can get away from the right, would logically represent the opposite tendency and, in fact, has done just that throughout history. The left has been the side of politics and economics that opposes the concentration of power and wealth and, instead, advocates and works toward the distribution of power into the maximum number of hands.
Interesting. So under that definition being on the right is great only if you are a monarchy or a dictator. But that doesn't seem entirely fair. Joe the Plumber (clearly not a Duke, Prince, Count or Dictator) has to fit in somehow. Right? (or left, it does get confusing)

So what the heck is Libertarianism?  From his article Sheldon Richman states:

The terms were apparently first used in the French Legislative Assembly after the revolution of 1789. In that context those who sat on the right side of the assembly were steadfast supporters of the dethroned monarchy and aristocracy — the ancien régime — (and hence were conservatives) while those who sat on the left opposed its reinstatement (and hence were radicals). It should follow from this that libertarians, or classical liberals, would sit on the left.
Thus the Left was identified with the liberation of workers (broadly defined). Today we don’t associate libertarians with such a notion, but it was at the heart of the libertarian vision.
Well what about capitalism?  And what of socialism (Obama gets called that all the time)?  Richam points out that:

... the word “socialism” also has undergone change from earlier days. Tucker, who proudly accepted the description “consistent Manchester man” (Manchesterism denoted the laissez-faire philosophy of the English free-traders Cobden and Bright), called himself a socialist. [laissez-faire, freeing competition and maximizing workers’ bargaining power]  “Capitalism” was identified with state privileges for owners of capital to the detriment of workers, and hence was despised as an exploitative system.
Capitalism doesn't sound so great there. Isn't America a capitalist society (exploitative)?  And socialism was laissez-faire.  Don't we often refer to the American system as laissez-faire capitalism?  So we have socialist capitalism? 

Richam attempts to clarify this by saying:

Libertarians of the present day are accustomed to think of socialism as the polar opposite of the libertarian creed. But this is a grave mistake, responsible for a severe ideological disorientation of libertarians in the present world. As we have seen, Conservatism was the polar opposite of liberty; and socialism, while to the “left” of conservatism, was essentially a confused, middle-of-the-road movement. It was, and still is, middle-of-the-road because it tries to achieve Liberal ends by the use of Conservative means.
Well it is good to know that I am not alone at being confused.

So how does our buddy Rand Paul fit in?  According to an article by Jonathan Weiler, Professor of International Studies at UNC Chapel Hill at Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-weiler):

Rand Paul's comments last week about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and his subsequent back-track) have prompted some discussion of his philosophy of government. But leaving aside a broader discussion of libertarianism or so-called small-government conservatism or however Paul chooses to label himself, one fundamental problem with that discussion is that it's built on a false premise - that Paul and people like him actually oppose an active government role in the economy.
... Paul's supposed fealty to the principles of limited government and personal responsibility are incoherent at best and blatantly hypocritical at worst. Like all too many who espouse his philosophy, what Paul believes most fervently is that those at the bottom should fend for themselves in a free society while those at the top are entitled to free-ride on everybody else.
That is a pretty scathing indictment.  But he is not alone in his criticism of so-called modern libertarians.  As Richam states:

To be sure, libertarians protest taxes, regulation, and even business subsidies, but they too often defend particular actions by particular businesses (oil companies, for example), forgetting that business today is the product of years of corporatism.
The impression is reinforced by the disproportionate amount of effort given to denouncing welfare for poor people and the relatively scant time devoted to opposing corporate welfare.
Corporate Welfare!  Now we see why these modern libertarians are an outgrowth (a fungal infection?, just kidding) of republican/conservative beliefs - Corporate Welfare.
In his must-read book, The Conservative Nanny State (http://www.conservativenannystate.org/), here's how Dean Baker frames the issue:

Political debates in the United States are routinely framed as a battle between conservatives who favor market outcomes, whatever they may be, against liberals who prefer government intervention to ensure that families have decent standards-of-living. This description of the two poles is inaccurate; both conservatives and liberals want government intervention. The difference between them is the goal of government intervention, and the fact that conservatives are smart enough to conceal their dependence on the government.
Conservatives want to use the government to distribute income upward to higher paid workers, business owners, and investors. They support the establishment of rules and structures that have this effect. First and foremost, conservatives support nanny state policies that have the effect of increasing the supply of less-skilled workers (thereby lowering their wages), while at the same time restricting the supply of more highly educated professional employees (thereby raising their wages).
Baker details a range of policy areas - from licensing requirements to rules of incorporation - that entail fundamental government intervention in the market in ways that massively benefit well-connected economic interests at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.

To give one example relevant to Rand Paul, since Paul is a doctor - in the mid-1990s, the AMA succeeded in pushing through significant limitations on the supply of doctors in the United States. As Baker points out, no one denies that doctors need to pass competency exams before they can be licensed to practice. But these Congressionally-imposed restrictions, especially on foreign-born and trained doctors doing residencies in the United States, have no relationship to their competency. They serve one purpose - to restrict the supply of doctors, thereby increasing the cost of purchasing medical services (and, therefore, doctors' salaries). The cost to the typical consumer of this clear restraint on trade and free movement of labor is enormous and a significant factor in our astronomical national health care bill (as are various other government interventions in the market, like our increasingly out-of-whack patent laws, a key reason why we pay higher drug prices than any other rich country).

Focusing only on government intervention in the supply of doctors, Baker argues:

If free trade in physicians brought doctors' salaries down to European levels, the savings would be close to $100,000 per doctor, approximately $80 billion a year. This is 10 times as large as standard estimates of the gains from NAFTA.
Wow, that is a very generous welfare handout to those poor, struggling doctors.  Notice also that Paul, unsurprisingly, does not oppose Medicare.  Opthamologists see lots of seniors.  And Medicare is a huge government program.

It is very much like my earlier post that Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) is Against Big Government Except When He is For It!  (http://suspiciouspackaging.blogspot.com/2010/05/senator-james-inhofe-r-okl-is-against.html).  Rand Paul wants government out of our business except when it helps his business.  But it is not just his business (he likes business).  Remember Rand's recent comments about poor BP?  Richman notes:

... BP isn't fully on the hook for the spill. Under current law, the company is obliged to pay direct cleanup costs, but its liability for indirect damages to wildlife or fisheries or beaches is limited to $75 million--and with the crude slick now lapping at the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and possibly spreading up through Florida, the total costs are surely going to be much higher than that. In essence, the government has socialized the risk BPiged to pay direct cleanup costs, but its liability for indirect damages to wildlife or fisheries or beaches is limited to $75 million--and with the crude slick now lapping at the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and possibly spreading up through Florida, the total costs are surely going to be much higher than that. In essence, the government has socialized the risk BP and other drilling companies face. Surely that would bother a staunch libertarian like Paul, right? And yet Senate Republicans have been blocking attempts to raise the liability cap to $10 billion, and Paul hasn't said a word on the subject. Odd, that.
As I said when I started out, left is right and right is left.  You oppose big government except when you are for it.  And you oppose government intervention in individuals lives except when you are for it helping businesses.

It is not wonder Rand Paul is so confused (or is just plain hypocritical).  I am not opposed to libertarian ideology.  I am opposed to hypocrisy.  As Richam pointed out, these modern day conservatives/libertarians/tea-partiers spend a disproportionate amount of effort denouncing welfare for poor people and relatively scant time devoted to opposing corporate welfare.

And don't get me started on religion.  How is it that they don't want government involvement in protecting minorities from discrimination yet they want religion (their particular religious beliefs) infused in all aspects of our government and crammed down our throats?
 
When Rand Paul announces that he is opposed to Medicare I will believe he is a true libertarian.  By the way, I am not holding my breath.
 

Arizona to Deport Arnold Swarchenegger

Wow. Just when you think Arizona can't get any more strange comes this. According to http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0524/arizona-cracks-teachers-accents/:


Arizona has been under fire for a controversial anti-illegal immigrant law and now its Department of Education is embarking on a course of action that many critics also believe is being enforced in a discriminatory fashion.

"The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as "biolet," think as "tink" and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.
These teachers "are very good educators who understand the culture" of their students," said Ms. Agneessens, Creighton's principal. "Teachers should speak grammatically correct English," she acknowledged, but added, "I object to the nuance of punishment for accent."
"It doesn't matter to me what the accent is; what matters is if my children are learning," said Luis Tavarez, the parent of sixth- and eighth-graders at Creighton.
State School Superintendent Tom Horne denies the crackdown is based on teachers' accents. "We are not going after any accents including Spanish accents. It has to be faulty English. If students are being taught English and they're going to refer to a comma as a 'coma' people are going to misunderstand them," said Horne.

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips disagrees with the new policy. "Would a guy like the Governor of California be allowed to teach kids how to learn English? Arnold's Austrian accent is as thick as his biceps but his English seems to be just fine," remarked Phillips.

"I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend. But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me," CBS News reported the Republican governor joked in his speech at Emory University.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) is Against Big Government Except When He is For It!

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced legislation on Tuesday afternoon that would fully eliminate any cap on the amount of economic damages that oil companies would have to pay for spills they've caused.


The New Jersey Democrat is revising an earlier version of legislation he introduced which would have raised the cap from $75 million dollars in liability to $10 billion. Now, the cap will be effectively unlimited, an aide said.

The revised legislation, which ups the ante a bit in the oil-spill debate, will get its first floor hearing on Tuesday afternoon as Senate Democratic leadership is expected to call for unanimous consent.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) blocked a unanimous consent agreement on Menendez's proposal Tuesday afternoon -- citing, among other things, the prohibitive effects it would have on smaller oil companies hoping to drill in the Gulf. Does anyone really believe that a mom and pop company is going to do off-shore drilling when the drilling rigs and other expenses run to a Billion Dollars? If you are going to make excuses, at least be creative and come up with a good one.

Twice already a Republican senator has objected forcing Democrats into another course of action. It should be noted, as well, that the Obama White House has refused so far to endorse an actual dollar figure for where they'd like a liability cap to be, though they have expressed support for raising it.

If BP (or whatever oil company causes a spill) doesn't cover the costs, guess who gets stuck with it. Yes, YOU AND ME. The GOVERNMENT.

So by pulling for business, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) and his like, have decided to push a big government clean-up on us.  Against Big Government Except When He is For It! 

GOPers like Inhofe want corporations to enjoy unlimited profit with limited risk. For all the bellyaching by teabaggers about the financial bailouts, why are they silent about this sort of bailout?