Friday, May 28, 2010

President Steps Up In Louisiana PLUS a Truman Moment

Today, President Obama visited Louisiana and got an earful from local officials. The President also dropped the “in situ” (whaat? Sounds like something on a Suchi restaurant menu) Admiral Allen jargon in favor of the people’s plain talking “on site.” He gets it:
“As I said yesterday, and as I repeated in the meeting that we just left, I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I’m the President and the buck stops with me. So I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we’re going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, to defend our natural resources, to repair the damage, and to keep this region on its feet. Justice will be done for those whose lives have been upended by this disaster, for the families of those whose lives have been lost -- that is a solemn pledge that I am making.”
Thank you, Mr. President. Forgive us if we keep holding your feet to the fire. Yay for Zeitgeist! (You read it here first, with the correct historical Truman references to boot.):)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-LA) Expresses With Great Eloquence What We Feel

President Steps Up Minus a Harry Truman Moment

In his presser today President Obama sought to allay the growing criticism that the Administration’s response to the disaster unfolding in the Gulf is inadequate, insisting he, not BP, is in charge. We’re not entirely convinced. The measures announced by the President are necessary but prospective and do not address the immediate crisis. The best thing that could happen at this point is for the “Top Kill” maneuver that is underway to force drilling mud into that hole is successful in plugging it.

If not, all bets are off, and the Administration will have to take complete ownership of this catastrophe and move BP aside. Fingers crossed, for the sake of economically devastated residents and our ravaged ecology. Then we can move on to phase II –- the cleanup of this mess –- which should have been concurrent and with resources equal to the enormity of the task. Clearly, this has not been happening.

BP must be held accountable for the deaths of its workers, to “make things right, if they have a heart,” as a grieving father implored. Instead they are feverishly moving on the legal front to limit their losses and liability. This will not do, Mr. President. The Justice Department must start investigating this as a criminal matter. When you visit the region blighted by BP tomorrow, Mr. President, you need to look Louisiana native James Carville in the eye and the thousands of Gulf state residents who are as angry and frustrated as he is, and assure them you’re taking charge of this catastrophe on their behalf:

President Obama, these are the questions and issues that need immediate redress:

1. Where are those supertankers that were so effective in cleaning up an oil spill in the Gulf of Arabia in 1993? The question was asked at the presser, and not answered. Experts, including the former CEO of Exxon, have affirmed the effectiveness of this response.

From the moment this disaster was no longer a search and recovery operation, the federal government should have deployed supertankers to patrol the entire width and breadth of the spill -- as those NOAA maps showed in slow-mo GLOB growth moving inexorably toward our precious wetlands -- sucking up the surface muck, treating and disposing of it, and returning to the fray. At this point in time, the area covering the spill should look like the English Channel on D-Day: ships as far as the eye could see; only this time, they’d not be warships but supertankers dredging the surface of oil. This should be an operation led by the U.S. Navy.

It hasn’t happened. Why? WHY?

2. BP must be made to cease using Corexit immediately. It is a known toxin, banned in the UK, and to subordinate its use to commercial and proprietary reasons is entirely inappropriate and unacceptable when people’s health is at stake. This is not an abstract legal issue, Sir -- as we speak, cleanup workers hired by BP are getting sick with headaches, breathing difficulties, nervous system disorders, and a number of them have been hospitalized. Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York worried that we might have another 9/11 air quality issue at hand, when the EPA made false assurances that the air quality was non-toxic for recovery workers. Today, this repeats itself, aggravated by the fact that BP has sent these contract cleanup workers out without protective gear or respirators. And they are getting sick. As James Carville said, BP “does not wish us well.”

With all due respect, Mr. President, the EPA has been MIA. Director Jackson’s failing leadership is unacceptable. We need someone in charge of the agency who reflects the passion, commitment, and toughness in defense of our environment of Robert Kennedy Jr. My suggestion, Mr. President, is that you ask Mr. Kennedy to step in either as EPA Director or as Special Adviser to the President on the BP oil disaster. I’m certain he’d accept a call to duty. Environmentalists would rest much easier knowing Mr. Kennedy is advising you. And the polluters, including BP and Massey, would be quacking in their boots.

3. Mr. President, you should outright wrest control of the coastal and beach head response from BP. The numbers of personnel cited are clearly inadequate to the task, and BP’s effort here reflects its history of negligence and disdain for the environment. This is directly linked to issue #2, but the resources to hold the despoiling of our beaches and coastal environment have been woefully inadequate.

We need a military response to this crisis and an all-hands-on-deck commitment. People are ready to go to work to clean up their environment. The only thing lacking is leadership.

When Harry Truman nationalized the steel industry on national security grounds to end a strike that was crippling the Korean War effort, he said “these are not normal times.” The union had accepted his administration’s wage increase proposal, a compromise which the steel barons rejected out of hand. So Truman acted, announcing to the nation he was seizing the steel mills. “The President has the power to keep the country from going to hell,” he told his staff.

The steel industry sued and the case moved swiftly to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the President. Given this setback, Truman did not sit pat. He summoned the steelmakers and union to the White House. To the industry leader he said: “You can settle this thing, and you've got to settle it. I want it settled by tomorrow morning, or I will have some things to say that you won't like to hear, and I will have to do some things you won't like.”

The strike was settled. When the national interest was imperiled, Truman acted decisively without regard for legalisms or political fallout, so long as he believed he had the Constitutional authority. There is a lesson in this for President Obama. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander recognized Obama’s authority to “take over” BP if that became necessary.

Truman wouldn’t have hesitated on this question; and perhaps a government takeover of BP won’t become necessary after all. But it sure would be refreshing if President Obama summoned BP CEO Tony Hayward to the White House and gave him a Trumanesque presidential dressing-down. He’s got the script from the president who never trusted the corporations and never betrayed the people’s trust: Either this thing is “settled … [or] I will have to do some things you won't like.”

Take a page from “give ‘em Hell, Harry,” Mr. President. America needs a Truman moment.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Trip Back in Time to the Streets of San Francisco, Circa 1906

Saw this amazing historic video in a friend’s site. The footage is taken from the front of a streetcar traveling down Market Street in San Francisco at 10 miles an hour, only four days before the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. The clocktower at the end, near Embarcadero Wharf, is a local landmark that survived the devastation and still stands today. “It is believed to be the earliest 35mm film in existence and was lost for many years; it is one of the few films depicting San Francisco as it looked before the devastating earthquake and fire … and escaped destruction by virtue of the fact that it had been sent to New York by train for processing.” The music is like you’d imagine music of the spheres to be, guiding you through a time travel portal for a glimpse back in time …

Fascinating film that shows the earliest automobiles when there were no rules of the road, and it was shared with pedestrians, the horse-and-buggy, and cyclists. The people depicted seemed to have a more acute obstacle avoidance radar than we do today. Sit back and enjoy the ride. (For best results, watch it in full screen mode.)


Let Mary Landrieu and Jim Inhofe defend/spin this one. An internal BP memo obtained by the Daily Beast argues against building blast resistant shelters for workers because they’d cost more than the workers are worth. (In another memo BP calculates the value of a worker’s life at $10 million.) BP uses the “Three Little Pigs” metaphor to present a cost benefit analysis and asks, “Which type house should the piggy build?”

The answer is a hand-written “optimal” next to the option that offers solid protection (brick house), but not the “blast resistant” trailer, welded steel structures that cost 10 times as much. BP rated the need for a blast-proof house as small and its cost too high, evidently: “Cost + Expectation Value” at $1,010 (“Expectation value of loss” $10 + “Cost of House” $1,000). The “optimal” profit vs. “loss” (of life) is the brick house: (“Expectation value of loss” $100 + “Cost of House” $100 = “Cost + Expectation Value” $200).

From a profit margin perspective, it was cheaper for BP to build the less safe brick house instead of the most costly blast resistant shelters. So much for valuing the lives of so many “piggy” workers with blast resistant structures.

The only inaccuracy in the memo is who or what constitutes “the big bad wolf” -- BP or TH?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where Are Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman When We Need Them

Dear President Obama:
Where is “the fierce urgency of now” when it comes to saving our environment? As President, Sir, you have a solemn duty and responsibility to protect and preserve our natural resources and national patrimony from criminal exploitation and attack. What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is a crime, not only against Nature but against the American people, our health and economic well-being, our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s hard to imagine Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Nature’s most fierce presidential advocate, and Harry Truman, who bucked prima donna generals, corporate scofflaws and epitomized the can-do progressive Democratic creed of “the buck stops here,” ever tolerating BP’s actions. If they sat where you sit now, they’d come out swinging, demand swifter action, twist arms at BP, and take concrete steps to seize control of BP’s operations, federalizing them on behalf of the American people. It’s inconceivable, given their action-oriented presidential character, that they would behave otherwise.

The Republican corporate shills and Big Oil agents are complicit in this crime, having pushed deregulation to the very limits of negligent ineffectiveness. Only days before the BP oil spill, Republicans still railed against a “government takeover” of financial institutions as Democrats passed financial regulatory reform; they howled against a “government takeover” of the healthcare industry as Democrats passed healthcare reform; they wailed against a “government takeover” of the auto industry as Democrats saved our nation’s manufacturing base, enabling Ford to thrive and GM to profit for the first time in more than a year. Now, amid the disaster and devastation wrought by Republican-sanctioned deregulation, Senator Lamar Alexander, who had only recently howled that “increasingly, the majority seems to be doing what they did on health care now to Main Street. It looks like another Washington takeover,” had this to say on Face the Nation:
Alexander: “There’s one thing [the administration] could do. Under the law, they could fire BP and take it over. But the truth is the federal government probably doesn’t have the capacity to do that. [...]”

Q: “But would you favor taking over BP if that became necessary?”

Alexander: “Sure. That’s up to the President to decide…Under the law the federal government can take it over if they choose. And I understand why they might not choose, but that option exists.”

“Sure,” says Lamar without a hint of shame at his 180-degree turn, two-faced Republican to the last. Staring into the black abyss of an ecological tragedy suddenly he says, “the government can take it over if they choose.” I wonder if message guru Frank Luntz gets paid by the frequency with which his buzzphrase “government takeover” is uttered by his clients. But the truth of the matter is, as in 1932 and 1992, Democrats are once more given the responsibility to clean up the damage done to this nation by Republicans. David Axelrod may have apologized for “doing this to [you]” (getting you elected), but the truth is, Mr. President, the ball is now in your court and the American people expect you to act decisively in this crisis.

Long after you’ve left office, for how many more decades will our coastal economy and our fisheries be ruined, for how many generations will our fragile natural habitat and coral reefs, a thriving source of life to so many species of marine animals be irreparably damaged, before you emerge from your Carterite hand-wringing malaise and take decisive executive action? The American people are waiting for presidential action, with all the powers attendant as leader of the world’s vanishing superpower to end the rampant crime against Nature and the United States of America now raging in the Gulf of Mexico.

The spectacle of public enemy No. 1, BP CEO Tony Hayward, shedding crocodile tears while bearing witness to his crime on a beach stained with BP’s oil greed and criminal negligence was surreal. The time is fast approaching that a seizure of BP’s assets and criminal prosecution of its top executives becomes more than an option. Absent federal government action, Mr. Hayward should think twice about setting foot on American soil and walking about like a colonial Maharajah, lest a citizen who is being economically decimated by BP decides to make a citizen’s arrest.

The spectacle of BP agent Senator Mary Landrieu making specific assertions, unconfirmed by either BP or the feds, that if affected persons earned $50,000 or a company $1 million pre-spill BP would cut them a check for that amount, is the height of insensitivity from a politician who will say anything to protect her oil patrons. BP has repeatedly made the legalistic qualification that it will repay only “legitimate” claims. Care to share with us BP’s (and your) definition of what constitutes a “legitimate” claim, Senator?

The likelihood is that many of the claims will end up in court, and be tied up for years by BP’s attorneys and deep pockets. From the very beginning, BP has lied about its responsibility and the size of the spill; now we’re supposed to take their word that the people of the Gulf states will be made whole in a timely fashion? The last claims derived from the Exxon Valdez were settled only last year. That’s 21 years for recovery. That’s the average small claimants’ livelihood and a good portion of their peak earning years.

Mr. President, it has become abundantly clear to the American people and to friendly media observers (Fox and the Republicans might be your best friends now, given their ties to Big Oil) that, in your insular White House surrounded by aides giving upbeat technocratic daily briefings of their efforts to supervise BP’s inept and unacceptable actions to stem its enormous crime, you have lost sight of the bigger picture. As one astute political observer said, you “just don’t get it.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s repeated assertion that the feds will keep “the boot on the throat of BP” until it fulfills its responsibility to the American people for this oil spill has become a bitter laughingstock in light of BP’s refusal even to heed EPA directives and switch to a less toxic dispersant than Corexit. And then we hear of regulators issuing drilling permits after Salazar’s directive that they stop, giving rise to speculation that the left boot of the feds doesn't know what the right boot is doing.

EPA Director Lisa Jackson’s fawning Senate testimony before key environmental foe James Inhofe, as he coached her on the biodegradability of the dispersants to state “for the record” that dispersants had “improved” since the Exxon Valdez spill -- a dubious claim once BP disclosed it was using Corexit, the same dispersant used on the Exxon Valdez spill rather than newer, less toxic chemicals -- was disgusting. Inhofe’s intent was to mislead the American people as to the toxicity of the chemical dispersant being used by BP, and Jackson was a collaborator.

Days later, after repeated alarms sounded by the media (ignored by the EPA) and then by Louisiana state environmental officials, Jackson finally, and belatedly ordered BP to cease using Corexit and switch to a less toxic dispersant. To date, BP has ignored EPA’s directive and has kept on using Corexit. This, weeks after the public interest media site ProPublica (linked by this blog) reported on Corexit’s long term toxicity to humans, including liver, nervous system, and reproductive disorders. Lisa Jackson is no Robert Kennedy Jr., that much is plain.

It is unbelievable that our government cannot bring the might of the military to bear on this disaster, commandeer every available technological resource, vessel, and aircraft worldwide, cooperatively whenever possible, by force if necessary, to resolve this crisis that is an assault not only on American sovereign territory but the entire planet. A state of war exists between the United States and British transnational corporation, BP, and it is incumbent on our government to take wartime measures to end this disaster. How can the nation that assembled the greatest invasion armada in history, on D-Day, be reduced to Nixon’s “pitiful, helpless giant” in the face of this catastrophe?

There is a cleanup solution that was reported in Esquire Magazine and broached by activist attorney Mike Papantonio:
There's a potential solution to the Gulf oil spill that neither BP, nor the federal government, nor anyone — save a couple intuitive engineers — seems willing to try. As The Politics Blog reported on Tuesday in an interview with former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, the untapped solution involves using empty supertankers to suck the spill off the surface, treat and discharge the contaminated water, and either salvage or destroy the slick.

Hofmeister had been briefed on the strategy by a Houston-based environmental disaster expert named Nick Pozzi, who has used the same solution on several large spills during almost two decades of experience in the Middle East — who says that it could be deployed easily and should be, immediately, to protect the Gulf Coast. That it hasn't even been considered yet is, Pozzi thinks, owing to cost considerations, or because there's no clear chain of authority by which to get valuable ideas in the right hands. But with BP's latest four-pronged plan remaining unproven, and estimates of company liability already reaching the tens of billions of dollars (and counting), supertankers start to look like a bargain.
Only now, two weeks after the supertanker solution was reported is it being seriously considered by BP. This is where the federal government should have been proactive, doing what BP cannot do, mobilizing the supertankers and prepositioning them for rapid utilization:
The Politics Blog has learned that, over the weekend, BP's technical staff began to give serious attention to the supertanker strategy to attempt to recover some of the oil already in the Gulf of Mexico. … We also have learned that since the blowout in April, BP has received some 17,000 ideas for how to stop the flow or protect the coasts, and that it has taken the company considerable time to process the ideas, separating the good from the bad, the feasible from the impossible.
In addition to feasibility when it comes to implementing any of these ideas, BP is “bumping up against EPA concerns, NOAA concerns,” according to one BP official, who added that “BP can't put a boat in the water without Coast Guard approval.”
Between EPA, NOAA and the Coast Guard, it seems there isn’t a single decisionmaker in the federal response, who can cut through the red tape and say, “this is what we’re going to do.” The same can be said for allowing BP to use toxic dispersants banned in the UK -- reported here and elsewhere early into the spill -- for so long, inflicting incalculable damage on the fragile Gulf ecosystem before EPA Director Jackson reluctantly stepped in, only after complaints from Louisiana state officials and Democratic Congressmen and Senators sounding the alarm on Corexit, despite Senator Inhofe’s best efforts to keep it quiet.

Significantly, this information was available to the federal government in the media weeks –- WEEKS -– before the government finally considered the repeated, constant warnings on toxicity and proposed supertanker solutions with any degree of dispatch. It has not escaped notice that the Administration has come out against retroactive unlimited liability that would apply to BP, and that BP is a major fuel supplier for the U.S. military.

Who is calling the shots in this crisis, BP or the feds, is the question people are beginning to ask.

President Obama, your legacy is in the balance. Like it or not, history will judge the ultimate failure or success of your presidency by how you responded to this unfathomable disaster. It is your solemn responsibility to protect our nation and to put an end to this crime against Nature and the American people, and bring those responsible to justice. You’ve said before that you studied your predecessors, and sometimes hang out in the White House library reading their words for guidance and inspiration. In this environmental crisis, the most destructive man-made ecological disaster in our nation’s history, it’s perhaps fitting to read and commit to memory the words of America’s pre-eminent environmental president, Teddy Roosevelt:
The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life. … As a nation we not only enjoy a wonderful measure of present prosperity but if this prosperity is used aright it is an earnest of future success such as no other nation will have. The reward of foresight for this nation is great and easily foretold. But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. The government has been endeavoring to get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit.

Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas, and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately; and wastefulness in dealing with it today means that our descendants will feel the exhaustion a generation or two before they otherwise would.

Theodore Roosevelt's Seventh Annual Message to Congress Dec. 3, 1907.

“The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.”

Jamestown, Virginia June 10, 1907

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful means, the generations that come after us.”

Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910

“It is entirely our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of playground for rich and poor alike, and to preserve the game...But this end can only be achieved by wise laws and by a resolute enforcement of the laws. Lack of such legislation and administration will result in harm to all of us, but most of all harm to the Nature lover who does not possess vast wealth.

Theodore Roosevelt excerpt from essay on Yellowstone National Park