Monday, May 31, 2010

From SolveClimate.Com

When Corporations Rule Federal Agencies

by Bill Becker - May 30th, 2010

The fatal disasters at the Upper Big Branch Mine and Deepwater Horizon are fresh evidence the Bush-Cheney corporate culture continues in some federal agencies charged with overseeing industry. President Obama needs to change that culture fast.

Formal investigations are underway, but it appears that lax federal oversight and enforcement, combined with corporate corner-cutting and greed, are implicated in both of the energy industry tragedies — the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years and the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Massey Energy's mine and BP's drilling ship in the Gulf were subject to federal oversight. In both cases, oversight failed.

Some barriers to federal oversight are systemic. Congressional hearings after the Massey disaster, for example, found that mining companies often abuse the appeals process when federal inspectors find safety violations. About 16,000 violations currently are being appealed, representing $195 million in unpaid fines. It takes more than a year to resolve an appeal these days.

Other barriers are cultural, the result of an administration's philosophy about overseeing powerful industries. During the eight years of the Bush administration, corporate lobbyists for the fossil energy industry were appointed to key government policy and regulatory jobs. The most infamous was Philip Cooney, the former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute who used his position in the White House to censor and water down the conclusions of research by federal climate scientists. After a whistleblower revealed Cooney's misdeeds to the New York Times, Cooney resigned and went to work for ExxonMobil.

To illustrate how much the Bush administration was in bed with oil companies, however, nothing topped the scandal in the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, the same agency accused now of insufficient oversight in the Gulf oil spill. As the New York Times reported in September 2008:
As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.

In three reports delivered to Congress on Wednesday, the department's inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government's largest sources of revenue other than taxes. "A culture of ethical failure" pervades the agency, Mr. Devaney wrote in a cover memo. The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration's watch.
After he was appointed, Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made clean-up of this scandal one of his first priorities. But the roots of the Bush legacy apparently reach deep – a legacy in which regulatory agencies serve the corporations they're supposed to regulate rather than the public interest.

Whatever the outcome of the Gulf oil release – and it's certain to be devastating – President Obama should take forceful action to put the federal government's oversight functions back on track. Some suggestions:
Obama should direct the Inspectors General of all agencies charged with overseeing environmental regulations and worker safety to investigate how those responsibilities are being performed. In cases where recent IG investigations already have found enforcement deficiencies, the White House should review whether the deficiencies have been corrected.

The president should use the power of the purse to enforce the principle that America’s natural resources – its oceans, public lands and fresh water, to name a few – are "trust assets." In other words, they are owned by present and future generations, and public officials have a fiduciary responsibility to protect them. Obama should order agencies whose functions directly or indirectly affect the nation's natural resources to codify that policy in job descriptions, performance standards and appraisals, and in decisions about bonuses and promotions.

The president should direct the attorney general to aggressively enforce this principle through the courts, seeking injunctive relief and penalties against companies who violate our environmental laws. Anything less is a failure to perform the responsibility Congress has delegated to the Executive Branch to protect America's natural assets and environmental quality.
This is not socialist tree-hugging. It's about restoring balance between corporate interests with the public interest, and balancing resource exploitation with resource protection. The Gulf disaster is a tragic reminder of how important natural systems are to our economy, not to mention our physical health. Many of those systems are under profound stress. Many of the public health and safety problems prevalent today – from devastating floods to childhood asthma – are a result of environmental degradation.

I don't mean here to impugn the integrity of federal employees generally. Most work hard every day to carry out their jobs. I was proud to be one of them for 17 years. Nor do I mean to imply that companies don't have a moral responsibility to govern their own behavior, with or without a regulatory whip. They do.

But it seems clear that remnants remain of the Bush administration's corporate culture, perhaps including some political appointees who "burrowed in" to the civil service before Bush left office. Whatever the reasons – and President Obama needs to dig deep within his Administration to find them out – the federal government appears to be complicit in the deaths of 40 energy industry workers lately and in ruining the economy and ecosystem of an entire region.

(Image: White House)

See also:

Investigator Warned MMS in 2009 About Deepwater Gas Blowouts in Gulf of Mexico

Did Deepwater Methane Hydrates Cause the BP Gulf Explosion?

Advocates Call On Salazar to Relinquish Interior Dept's Oversight of Drilling Safety

Research Shows Federal Oil Leasing and Royalty Income a Raw Deal for Taxpayers

Criticism of Secret Oil Dispersant in Gulf Grows Louder in U.S.

Senator Byrd: Massey A Rogue Mining Company, Disgraceful

Putting the President's Power Tools to Use Obama’s Rope-Line Debate on Coal

From Congressman Alan Grayson

The Direct Cost of Occupying Iraq and Afghanistan Hit $1 Trillion

Dear Dee,

On May 30, 2010, at 10:06 a.m, the direct cost of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan will hit $1 trillion. And in a few weeks, the House of Representatives will be asked to vote for $33 billion of additional "emergency" supplemental spending to continue the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be the pretense of debate - speeches on the floor of both chambers, stern requests for timetables or metrics or benchmarks - but this war money will get tossed in the wood chipper without difficulty, requested by a President who ran on an anti-war platform. Passing this legislation will mark the breaking of another promise to America, the promise that all war spending would be done through the regular budget process. Not through an off-budget swipe of our Chinese credit card.

The war money could be used for schools, bridges, or paying everyone's mortgage payments for a whole year. It could be used to end federal income taxes on every American's first $35,000 of income, as my bill, the War Is Making You Poor Act, does. It could be used to close the yawning deficit, supply health care to the unemployed, or for any other human and humane purpose.

Instead, it will be used for war. Because, as Orwell predicted in 1984, we've reached the point where everyone thinks that we've always been at war with Eastasia. Why?

Not because Al Qaeda was sheltered in Iraq. It wasn't. And not because Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. It isn't. Bush could never explain why we went to war in Iraq, and Obama can't explain why we are 'escalating' in Afghanistan.

So, why? Why spend $1 trillion on a long, bloody nine-year campaign with no justifiable purpose?

Remember 9/11, the day that changed everything? That was almost a decade ago. Bush's response was to mire us in two bloody wars, wars in which we are still stuck today. Why?

I can't answer that question. But I do have an alternative vision of how the last 10 years could have played out.

Imagine if we had decided after 9/11 to wean ourselves off oil and other carbon-based fuels. We'd be almost ten years into that project by now.

Imagine if George W. Bush had somehow been able to summon the moral strength of Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, or Martin Luther King Jr, and committed the American people to the pursuit of a common goal of a transformed society, a society which meets our own human needs rather than declaring "war" on an emotion, or, as John Quincy Adams put it, going "abroad, in search of monsters to destroy".


Imagine that we chose not to enslave ourselves to a massive military state whose stated goal is "stability" in countries that never have been "stable", and never will be.


"Imagine all the people, living life in peace."

Sign up to end these wars.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

From The White House

President Obama Tours Fourchon Beach, LA

May 28, 2010 | 3:41

President Obama, Admiral Thad Allen and LaFourche Parish President Charlotte Randolf speak to the media after touring Fourchon Beach, LA to see methods being used to protect the beach from the effects of the Deepwater BP Oil Spill.

From The Shambhala News Service

 News Service

28 May 2010 - Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: Request for Practice

We have received this message from Paul Kelway, a member of Shambhala who is a regional manager of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, which has teams in the Gulf of Mexico. Paul was a former Program Director at Shambhala Mountain Center.

He says the most valuable gift right now truly is our practice, for all those directly affected and for the world at large.

Kindly include this vast aspiration in your practice.

Dear friends in Shambhala,

I have been working as part of the response to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico for a month now.

I cannot pretend to comprehend this unprecedented environmental disaster. I cannot comprehend the amount of oil in the water, nor the multitude of opinions about who is to blame or what has or has not happened in the attempt to stop the flow of oil and protect the coastline. And I most certainly cannot comprehend the suffering that has been caused, first to the families and friends of the oil rig workers who lost their lives, then to the multitude of sentient beings caught in this gooey mess, and indeed to the communities who live and work in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

From all the emails and phone calls we have received, not just from across the United States but from around the world, I know that people beyond the Gulf are experiencing this violation to the marine environment as if it was an assault on their own body. It is an energy that seems almost impossible for people to hold and, more often than not, I see it manifest either as blame and anger or as utter hopelessness at the degradation that has occurred to our planet at the hands of human beings.

As a Shambhalian I have been trying to reconcile all of this with my relationship and allegiance to basic goodness. More than ever before I realize that this journey is not for the faint hearted. I also realize that it is what the world needs more than anything else. It needs people who can hold this incredible amount of pain but who know that the energy of this suffering and sadness must be held with fearlessness and gentleness so that it does not become the fuel for further wars on whomever we decide is 'the other' to be blamed for this event.

In this particular situation, as I think about my fellow Shambhala warriors, I would suggest that of all the help we as a community could provide, the most valuable gift right now truly is our practice, for all those directly affected and for the world at large.

I am reminded of the words of the Sakyong, Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche, in his Earth Day message in 2009, when he said: "In the Shambhala tradition it is said that it is precisely in dark times like these that the inherent wisdom of the universe makes itself felt. Now is the time to draw on the inspiration of humanity's wisdom traditions. All remind us of the sacred oneness of life, the interdependence of all beings, and the inexorable laws of cause and effect. These teachings could not be more relevant to our collective imperative: the creation of enlightened and sustainable societies."

Our aspiration to walk this path of basic goodness and to work tirelessly for enlightened society, no matter how great the obstacles may appear, is what the world needs. Only by holding true to these principles, beyond hope and hopelessness, can we have any chance of navigating these turbulent times.

So as I continue to work on this oil spill, I take heart in the positive difference my team is making, on some small level. I am also realizing, more powerfully than ever, that our response to this oil spill, as a community, should be less about outrage and more about outrageousness.

Yours in the indestructible vision of the Great Eastern Sun,


Friday, May 28, 2010

The President's Gulf Coast Speech (Full Text)

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I know it’s a little warm out here so want to get started. I’ve just had a meeting with these governors, members of Congress, local officials, as well as Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander in charge of response efforts to the BP oil spill. Admiral Allen gave us an update, the latest information on both the efforts to plug the well, as well as giving us an update on arrangements and coordination that's being made with respect to mitigating this damage that's been done.

He updated us on these latest efforts to stop the leak, mitigate the damage to the great beaches of the Gulf coast, and I had the chance to visit with -- Charlotte -- a beach like Port Fourchon that gives you a sense of what extraordinary efforts are being made at the local level, but also the damage that we're already starting to see as a consequence of this spill.

Now, our mission remains the same as it has since this disaster began, since the day I visited Louisiana nearly four weeks ago: We want to stop the leak; we want to contain and clean up the oil; and we want to help the people of this region return to their lives and their livelihoods as soon as possible.

And our response treats this event for what it is: It’s an assault on our shores, on our people, on the regional economy, and on communities like this one. This isn’t just a mess that we’ve got to mop up. People are watching their livelihoods wash up on the beach. Parents are worried about the implications for their children’s health. Every resident of this community has watched this nightmare threaten the dreams that they’ve worked so hard to build. And they want it made right, and they want to make it right now.

I just had a chance to listen to Mayor David Carmadelle of Grande Isle, our host here, telling us heartbreaking stories about fishermen who are trying to figure out where the next paycheck is going to come from, how are they going to pay a mortgage or a note on their boat. And he is having to dig into his pocket at this point to make sure that some of them are able to deal with the economic impact. So this is something that has to be dealt with immediately, not sometime later. And that’s everybody’s driving focus -- everybody who is standing behind me. This is our highest priority and it deserves a response that is equal to the task.

That’s why this has already been the largest cleanup effort in U.S. history. On the day this disaster began, even as we launched a search and rescue effort for workers on the drilling rig, we were already staging equipment in the event of a larger-scale spill. By the time we discovered the third breach, a week after the Deepwater Horizon platform sank, we had already stationed more than 70 vessels and hundreds of thousands of feet of protective boom on site.

Today, there are more than 20,000 people in the region working around the clock to contain and clean up this spill. We’ve activated about 1,400 members of the National Guard across four states. Nearly 1,400 vessels are aiding in the containment and cleanup effort. And we deployed more than 3 million feet of hard and sorbent boom, including an additional 100,000 just yesterday for these parishes in Louisiana that face the greatest threat.

Now, I’ve made clear to Admiral Allen and I did so again today that he should get whatever he needs to deal with this crisis. Whatever he needs, he will get.

Right now, we’re still within the window where we don’t yet know the outcome of the highly complex top kill procedure that the federal government authorized BP to use to try to stop the leak. If it is successful, it would obviously be welcome news. If it’s not, a team of some of the world’s top scientists, engineers and experts, led by our Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, has for some time being -- has for some time been exploring any and all reasonable contingency plans.

But our response will continue with its full force regardless of the outcome of the top kill approach -- because even if the leak was stopped today it wouldn’t change the fact that these waters still contain oil from what is now the largest spill in American history. And more of it will come ashore.

To ensure that we’re fully prepared for that, and in accordance with input from folks down here, I’ve directed Secretary Napolitano and Admiral Allen to triple the manpower in places where oil has hit the shore or is within 24 hours of impact. This increase will allow us to further intensify this already historic response, contain and remove oil more quickly, and help minimize the time that any oil comes into contact with our coastline. That means deploying more boom, cleaning more beaches, performing more monitoring of wildlife and impact to this ecosystem.

We’re also going to continue to do whatever it takes to help Americans whose livelihoods have been upended by this spill. Gulf Coast residents should know that we’ve gathered all pertinent information regarding available assistance and the federal response in one place at

We have ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and we will make sure they deliver. And the parish presidents and governors here in Louisiana were already giving us some sense of some of the bureaucratic problems that we’re going to have to cut through, but we are going to cut through them. And for those who are in economic distress, if you’ve already filed a claim and you’re not satisfied with the resolution, then will point you in the right direction.

As I said yesterday, the Small Business Administration has stepped in to help businesses by approving loans, but also as important, allowing many to defer existing loan payments. A lot of folks are still loaded up with loans that they had from Katrina and other natural disasters down here, so they may need some additional help.

If you’re a small business owner and you weren’t aware of some of the programs that have been put in place or haven’t participated, then, again, the White House website will connect you to the resources you need. And we are making sure that all the parish presidents know, and folks like the mayor, other local officials are going to be aware of how they can get immediate help from us.

What’s more, we’ve stationed doctors and scientists across the five Gulf States to look out for people’s health and then to monitor any ill effects felt by cleanup workers and local residents. And we’ve begun setting up a system to track these efforts -- excuse me, to track these effects -- and ensure folks get the care that they need. And we’ve told BP that we expect them to pay for that, too.

As I’ve said before, BP is the responsible party for this disaster. What that means is they’re legally responsible for stopping the leak and they’re financially responsible for the enormous damage that they’ve created. And we’re going to hold them accountable, along with any other party responsible for the initial explosion and loss of life on that platform.

But 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.

I think I can speak for anybody here, and for anybody who has been involved in the response and the cleanup effort, and for most Americans, when I say that I would gladly do whatever it takes to end this disaster today. But I want to also repeat something that I said to the group as a whole while we were meeting. This is a manmade catastrophe that’s still evolving and we face a long-term recovery and restoration effort.

America has never experienced an event like this before. And that means that as we respond to it, not every judgment we make is going to be right the first time out. Sometimes, there are going to be disagreements between experts, or between federal and state and local officials, or among state officials, or between states, about what the most effective measures will be.

Sometimes, there are going to be risks and unintended consequences associated with a particular mitigation strategy that we consider. In other words, there are going to be a lot of judgment calls involved here. There are not going to be silver bullets or a lot of perfect answers for some of the challenges that we face.

Understandably, the feelings of frustration and anger, the sense that any response is inadequate -- we expect that frustration and anger to continue until we actually solve this problem. But in the meantime, we’ve got to make sure that everybody is working in concert, that everybody is moving in the same direction. And I want everybody to know that everybody here -- at every level -- is working night and day to end this crisis. We’re considering every single idea out there, especially from folks who know these communities best.

Admiral Allen announced yesterday, for example, that, after a bunch of back-and-forth between state and federal experts, he is prepared to authorize moving forward with a portion of the idea for a barrier island that may stop some of the oil from coming ashore. We had an extensive conversation about this and -- to see whether additional steps can be taken on this barrier island idea.

And what I told the parish president, what I told the Governor, is that if there is an idea that can be shown to work, then we should move forward on it, and they deserve quick answers. But I also reminded everybody that we’ve got to make sure that whatever we do is actually going to work, particularly because we’re going to have not unlimited resources, at least not right now. For example, there’s a limited amount of boom. We’re going to try to get more boom manufactured. But that may take some time, and that means we’re going to have to make some decisions about how to deploy it effectively.

The bottom line is this: Every decision we make is based on a single criterion -– what’s going to best protect and make whole the people and the ecosystems of the Gulf.

And I want to thank everybody in this region who’s rolled up their sleeves and pitched in to help -– from the National Guard putting their experience to the task, to the local officials and every citizen who loves this area and calls it home, every American who’s traveled to the region to lend a hand. If any American is looking for ways to volunteer and help, then we’ve put links to that information on our website, as well -- that's

And, all these governors -- Bobby Jindal, as well as Charlie Crist and Bob Riley, they want -- and I know Haley Barbour is not here but I think he agrees with this, as well -- one of the powerful ways that you can help the Gulf right now is to visit the communities and the beaches off of the coast. Except for three beaches here in Louisiana, all of the Gulf’s beaches at this moment are open, they are safe and they are clean. And so that's always a good way to help, is to come down and provide support to the communities along the coasts.

To the people of the Gulf Coast: I know that you’ve weathered your fair share of trials and tragedy. I know there have been times where you’ve wondered if you were being asked to face them alone. I am here to tell you that you’re not alone. You will not be abandoned. You will not be left behind. The cameras at some point may leave; the media may get tired of the story; but we will not. We are on your side and we will see this through. We’re going to keep at this every day until the leak has stopped, until this coastline is clean, and your communities are made whole again. That’s my promise to you. And that is a promise on behalf of a nation. It is one that we will keep.

And I will make one last point -- and I said this to every leader who is here: If something is not going right down here, then they need to talk to Thad Allen. And if they’re not getting satisfaction from Thad Allen, then they can talk to me. There’s nobody here who can’t get in touch with me directly if there is an idea, a suggestion, or a logjam that needs to be dealt with.

So we’re in this together. And it’s going to be a difficult time, and obviously the folks down here are going to be feeling the brunt of it, but we’re going to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to get this solved as quickly as possible.

And I want to again think everybody here for the extraordinary work that they’re putting in. You shouldn’t underestimate how hard these folks are working, day in, day out, on behalf of their constituencies.

So thank you very much. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, how confident are you that it will be -- that the leak will be plugged soon?

THE PRESIDENT: All I can say is that we’ve got the best minds working on it and we’re going to keep on at it until we get it plugged.

FromThe White House

The President's Press Conference

Thursday, May 27, 2010

BP's Live Stream of Oil Flow

From YouTube and ABC News: What BP Does Not Want You To See

ABC News went underwater in the Gulf with Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of famous explorer Jacques Cousteau, and he described what he saw as "one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen underwater."

Check out what BP does not want you to see. And please share this widely – every American should see what's happening under the surface in the Gulf.

Who's Responsible?

by Dee Newman

We are now in the 38th day of the man-made environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Once again, we have watched politicians (both Democrats and Republicans), oil executives, the press, and private citizens display shock, dismay, and outraged that such a catastrophe could happen.

But, none of us should be surprised. It is not like it has never happened before. Why are we so stunned? Damaging our precious planet is just the cost of doing business . . . of privatizing the natural world and its resources, of deregulation, of allowing free-enterprise and capitalism to run a muck without regulatory oversight, of making federal authorities impotent.

The ultimate revelation and horror is not that it happened or that no one is able to stop it, it is that this man-made environmental tragedy will not compel us to reduce our gluttonous consumption of oil products, nor will it force us to admit the limits of technology and our ability to use it wisely.

We yell and scream “drill, baby, drill” and vote in politicians who follow through with our demands for more offshore drilling as we continue to consume without any regard for the so-called “hidden costs”.

When will the consequences of our own demand and consumption (the types of energy we use, the kinds of cars we drive, the products we buy and how they are packaged, and yes, the foods we eat) ever move us to live a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of life? When will we (all of us) take responsibility for this disaster?

From The Washington Post

Gulf oil spill offers a lesson in capitalism vs. socialism 

By E.J. Dionne Jr. Thursday, May 27, 2010 

So who is in charge of stopping the oil spill, BP or the federal government?

The fact that the answer to this question seems as murky as the water around the exploded oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that this is an excellent moment to recognize that our arguments pitting capitalism against socialism and the government against the private sector muddle far more than they clarify.

Many tragic ironies are bubbling to the surface along with the oil. Consider the situation of Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a Republican conservative who devoutly opposes the exertions of big government.

"The strength of America is not found in our government," Jindal declared in his response to President Obama's February 2009 address to Congress. "It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens."

But with his state facing an environmental disaster of unknown proportions, Jindal is looking for a little strength from Washington. His beef is that the federal government isn't doing enough to help. "It is clear we don't have the resources we need to protect our coast," he said this week, expressing his frustrations with "the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late."

You can't blame Jindal for being mad. But will he ever acknowledge that "compassionate hearts" were not sufficient for coping with this catastrophe? Did he ever ask BP how prepared it was for something like this? Or was he just counting on the company's "enterprising spirit"?

For its part, the Obama administration has not sent a consistent message. On Sunday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proclaimed outside of BP's headquarters in Houston: "If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately."

Not according to Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander. Speaking the next day at the White House, Allen observed: "To push BP out of the way, it would raise a question: Replace them with what?"

Exactly. While Allen may not be a political philosopher, he spoke with the sophistication of one during an interview with CNN.

"What makes this an unprecedented anomalous event," he said, "is access to the discharge site is controlled by the technology that was used for the drilling, which is owned by the private sector."

So there you have it: "Do something!" citizens shout to a government charged with protecting the environment in and around a Gulf of Mexico that is nobody's private property. Yet the government, it seems, can't do much of anything because the means of stopping the flow of oil are entirely in the hands of a private company. BP was trusted to know what it was doing with complicated equipment that, it would appear, it either didn't understand very well or was willing to use recklessly.

Belatedly, the Obama administration has realized that citizens can never accept the idea that their government is powerless. It is moving to show that it's in charge, even when it is not. The president plans to visit the gulf again, on Friday, and on Wednesday, the White House called in a group of journalists for a briefing with Allen, who is earning a reputation for bluff candor. He spoke as the order was given to try to plug the well through a process colorfully called "top kill."

Allen was direct in saying that the law clearly places the responsibility for ending this spill with BP. He added that it was "a legitimate line of inquiry" as to whether this is where the power should be lodged. "Are these public goods or private goods?" he asked. "Who should produce them? This is an absolutely legitimate question." It's too bad this legitimate question wasn't asked a long time ago.

Allen rightly urged that Congress's decision to place so much authority with private companies be reviewed by the commission investigating the spill. And there will surely be an inquest into how such a potentially dangerous technology got by with so little regulatory oversight. Before we drill offshore again, we should pause, baby, pause.

"Deregulation" is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren't issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its Tea Party critics claim it is.

But the truth is that we have disempowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions.


Thad Allen says effort to stop Gulf of Mexico oil spill going according to plan

By Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune

May 27, 2010, 8:14AM

BP PLC / The Associated PressThe equipment being used to try and plug a gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday during a maneuver known as a "top kill" that has never before been tried 5,000 feet underwater.An attempt to kill the runaway deepwater horizon well spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico is going according to plan so far, leaving the coast guard admiral in charge of managing the spill "cautiously optimistic" but unwilling to say the well is capped.

Admiral Thad Allen said gas and oil is no longer blowing out of the wrecked well on the sea floor as BP engineers and contractors pumped thousands of gallons of heavy mud down the well hole overnight Wednesday and early Thursday.

The aim is to plug the well with mud and cement it closed.

Reports from BP indicate pressures in the well are dropping -- a sign that the weight of the mud is pressing down on the upward thrust of gas and oil, Allen said.

"Right now, no news is good news," said Allen. "We're in a period of wait and see. We want to see how the well is stabilizing."

Allen, the former Cost Guard commandant, is now overseeing management of the spill for the Obama administration. He will spend the day in south Louisiana examining control efforts at sea and on the ground.

Allen will brief President Obama on Friday when he visits the area.

Allen said the government may release later today the first independent estimates of the amount of oil spewing from the well 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea. That estimate is being coordinated by the U.S. Geologic Survey, Allen said.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From About.Com: Environmental Issues

How to Stop Receiving Junk Mail

Reduce the Amount of Junk Mail You Receive by 90 Percent

By Larry West, Guide

If you’re interested in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, here’s something you can do that will help protect the environment and preserve your sanity: reduce the amount of junk mail you receive by 90 percent.

According to information from sources such as the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD)—a Maryland-based nonprofit organization that helps people consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice—reducing the amount of junk mail you receive will save energy, natural resources, landfill space, tax dollars, and a lot of your personal time. For example:
5.6 million tons of catalogs and other direct mail advertisements end up in U.S. landfills annually.

The average American household receives unsolicited junk mail equal to 1.5 trees every year—more than 100 million trees for all U.S. households combined.

44 percent of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail (22 percent) is recycled.

Americans pay $370 million annually to dispose of junk mail that doesn’t get recycled.

On average, Americans spend 8 months opening junk mail in the course of their lives.

Register Your Name
OK, now that you’ve decided to reduce the volume of junk mail you receive, how do you go about it? Start by registering with the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). It won’t guarantee you a life free of junk mail, but it can help. DMA will list you in its database in the “Do Not Mail” category. Direct marketers are not required to check the database, but most companies that send large volumes of bulk mail do use the DMA service. They realize there is no percentage in routinely sending mail to people who don’t want it and have taken action to prevent it.

Get Off the Lists
You can also go to, which can enable you to remove your name from lists that mortgage, credit card and insurance companies use to mail you offers and solicitations. It’s a centralized website run by the four major credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion.

Most businesses check with one or more of these companies before accepting your credit card or granting you credit for a long-term purchase. They are also a huge source of names and addresses for credit card, mortgage and insurance companies that routinely send junk mail to attract new customers and solicit new business. But there’s a way to fight back. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to delete your name from their rented lists if you make the request.

Contact Companies That Send You Mail

If you’re serious about ridding your life of as much junk mail as possible, then simply registering with these services may not leave enough space in your mailbox. In addition, you should ask all of the companies you patronize to place your name on their “do not promote” or “in-house suppress” lists.

If you do business with a company by mail, it should be on your contact list. That includes magazine publishers, any companies that send you catalogs, credit card companies, etc. It’s best to make this request the first time you do business with a company, because it will prevent them from selling your name to other organizations, but you can make the request at any time.

Keep Track of Your Name

As an extra precaution, some organizations recommend that you track where companies are getting your name by using a slightly different name whenever you subscribe to a magazine or begin a new mail relationship with a company. One strategy is to give yourself fictional middle initials that match the name of the company. If your name is Jennifer Jones and you subscribe to Vanity Fair, simply give your name as Jennifer V.F. Jones, and ask the magazine not to rent your name. If you ever receive a piece of junk mail from other companies addressed to Jennifer V.F. Jones, you’ll know where they got your name.

If this all still seems a bit daunting, there are resources to help you get through it. One option is to use the Stop the Junk Mail Kit developed by the Consumer Research Institute. The website provides further guidelines for reducing junk mail and other intrusions, from unwanted e-mail (Spam) to telemarketing.

So do yourself and the environment a favor. Keep the junk mail out of your mailbox and out of the landfill.

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The Audacity of the Hopeless

by Dee Newman

Yesterday, President Obama once again tried to reach out to Senate Republicans, seeking their support on energy and immigration reform and other urgently needed legislation. But, once again, received only criticism and resentment from the Grand Old Party.

In the closed-door meeting, it has been reported that the President told Senate Republicans he did not want legislative business to be delayed or impeded because of the up-coming congressional election, and asked for their cooperation on confirming Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, ratifying the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and passing comprehensive legislation to improve the nation's economy.

But, get this – the illustrious junior Senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, accused President Obama of treating members of the Republican party like “political props,” telling the President that his "bipartisan words" do not match his "partisan deeds".

Corker later told reporters, "I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him showing up today . . . I asked him how he was able to reconcile that duplicity."

Corker and his Republican colleagues in the Senate are beyond belief.

They refuse to cooperate in anyway whatsoever and then accuse the President of refusing to cooperate. Now, that’s what I call audacity!

The audacity of the hopeless!

From Economic Policy Institute

New jobs bill would save or create well over a million jobs

Ross Eisenbrey
May 25, 2010

EPI Policy Memo #167

The House and Senate are about to debate the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 4213), which would provide desperately needed help for a U.S. economy that is still recovering from the worst recession in 70 years and for millions of American families who will benefit from new jobs, unemployment compensation, and lower taxes. Failure to enact it could have serious consequences for an economy that is just now turning the corner from job loss to job creation. Without the added demand that the Act will generate, the economy risks sliding back into a weakened state and repeating the cycle of consumer retrenchment, lost business, layoffs, and further erosion of consumer confidence that has characterized most of the last two-and-a-half years.

This jobs bill has a host of provisions of varying importance, including:

A $7 billion package of loan guarantees for small business, and bonding authority for state and municipal infrastructure investment;
Renewal of the $6.6 billion research and development tax credit;
A $2.3 billion tax credit for capital investment in the United States in 2010; 
Funding relief to keep employers from having to cut operations and lay off workers to meet the stringent, poorly conceived rules of the Pension Protection Act of 2006;
$24 billion in additional funding to help states pay for Medicaid, without which there will be significant layoffs in state governments across the nation;
$5 billion to renew individual tax cuts;
$2.6 billion for a one-year extension of the TANF emergency jobs fund, which has created almost 200,000 jobs; and
$1 billion to create 300,000 jobs for young people this summer.
Together, these provisions in H.R. 4213 will help save or create well over a million critically needed jobs, and there are other worthwhile provisions in the bill, as well. But nothing is more urgently needed or more important to the ongoing recovery than the bill’s extension of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits and COBRA tax credits through the end of 2010, which together will cost $55 billion.

The extension of these programs is obviously a huge concern for the nearly ten million Americans who have lost their jobs and are receiving unemployment compensation while they look for work. Many families have no other source of income, and millions would fall into poverty without unemployment insurance. In normal times, jobless workers can expect no more than 26 weeks of unemployment compensation while they seek new jobs. But because of the severity of this recession, in recognition of the 9.9% unemployment rate and the fact that there are 5.6 job seekers for every available job, Congress has enacted additional, emergency benefits that permit a maximum of 99 weeks of compensation.

Those emergency benefits will expire next week if Congress does not act to renew them. By the end of the year, 5 million people will have their benefits cut off, at great cost to them and to the economy.

The COBRA tax credits, which allow jobless workers to continue their health insurance at only 35% of the normal cost, will also expire next week if the program is not renewed.

In addition to sustaining some of the neediest families, safety-net spending in the form of unemployment insurance and health insurance subsidies helps the economy as a whole by circulating cash into local communities and helping businesses avert further job cuts. Each $1 billion of unemployment compensation generates an estimated $1.63 billion to $2.15 billion of additional gross domestic product (GDP). If the unemployed did not receive insurance benefits, then their reduced consumption would be a serious drag on the economy, reducing demand for businesses’ goods and services, in turn leading businesses to reduce investments and lay off additional workers. Simply put, allowing unemployment benefits to expire would set off another round of disastrous payroll losses and imperil the entire recovery.

We estimate that these benefit extensions will increase nationwide employment by about 460,000 jobs. The $55 billion of additional income for jobless workers will be spent on goods and services in their local economies, generating an additional 0.65% of GDP.

While H.R. 4213 should be enacted just for the enormous good it will do in terms of economic growth and job creation, the bill also closes a host of tax loopholes that have allowed many of the wealthiest Americans to pay a lower income tax rate than the average steel worker, encouraged businesses to move their operations overseas to escape U.S. taxes, and allowed some professionals to forego paying their share of Medicare and Social Security taxes. These provisions will raise well over $40 billion, helping to pay for the bill’s job creation provisions and to make the tax code much fairer.

All in all, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act deserves swift passage. It is without question one of the most important bills Congress will consider this year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From Truthout

Two Stories, One Truth

Monday 24 May 2010

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

My morning routine has been a standardized thing for many years now. I roll out of bed, turn on "Sportscenter" in the living room, get the coffee going in the kitchen, and then bunker in at my desk for a couple of hours of reading news reports and email at my computer. Given everything that has been happening in this country and the world over the last several years, this has generally been a depressing process that has me yelling at nothing before noon. Some days, however, are so bad that I have to force myself not to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.

Monday was one of those days. Two stories jumped off the front page of The New York Times that almost caused me to put my fist through my computer monitor. The first began:

The financial reform legislation making its way through Congress has Wall Street executives privately relieved that the bill does not do more to fundamentally change how the industry does business.

Despite the outcry from lobbyists and warnings from conservative Republicans that the legislation will choke economic growth, bankers and many analysts think that the bill approved by the Senate last week will reduce Wall Street's profits but leave its size and power largely intact. Industry officials are also hopeful that several of the most punitive provisions can be softened before it is signed into law.

"If you talk to anyone privately, there's a sigh of relief," said one veteran investment banker who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. "It'll crimp the profit pool initially by 15 or 20 percent and increase oversight and compliance costs, but there's no breakup of any institution or onerous new taxes."

The reaction of the market to the legislation echoed that view. Stocks of financial institutions performed well on Friday, with shares of JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley each up 5 percent.

Sigh of relief, eh? Well, thank goodness. It makes me so happy to know the thieves and cretins who raped our futures are not only going to get away with it, but the institutions and slippery systems of theft and fraud are going to be largely kept intact. Specifically, the dark and dangerous derivatives trading process, which was at the core of the crisis, will not be regulated to any great degree. The "too big to fail" institutions that stole from us won't be broken up, despite the insane danger they represent to the health of this economy.

There is a vast, windy gap between the high-flown rhetoric from the White House and the final product that comes once the talking is done. The health care "reform" process was the first great example of this; the talk was about public options and true reform, but the actual legislation had only a few wobbly teeth and included a galactic giveaway to the insurance industry, the very industry at the heart of the problem. We were going to be out of Iraq soon, too, and, now, not so much. And here again, with financial reform, is a lot of big talk, but very little follow-through.

The second story I read on Monday was, impossible as it seems, even more maddening than the first:
In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon has been going on for a month now, with no end in sight. Fishing grounds are being savaged, the unimaginably delicate wetlands and ecosystems along the Gulf are about to be totally destroyed, the migratory patterns of millions of birds are doomed to an oily death, and the only thing standing between us and this disaster are desperate fishermen scrambling to erect meager defenses before this inexorable tide. British Petroleum has been helpless and useless in this fight, and the US government appears to have few answers, either.

That front page on Monday told me everything I needed to know about how it is in America today. I knew it already, but those two stories were like getting slapped in the face with an oil-murdered fish. We the people have no say, while the worst elements of this society hold total sway. The thieving bankers don't like reform, and so reform gets ravaged. The oil boys want to drill, and so the very exceptions that led to the Gulf disaster keep getting rolled out. We are not citizens, but merely subjects, and all we get for the pain and woe we are made to suffer is a lot of empty talk from a lot of empty suits.

I'm not going to change my morning routine because of the dung-bomb the Times dropped on me (again), but the circles under my eyes are certainly growing in breadth and depth. We have to stay informed, all of us, every day, and that's supposed to be "empowering." All I'm "empowered" with after those two stories is a sense of creeping doom. If those financial people quoted above are correct, and if the Obama administration is stupid enough to let the oil industry run wild even as an entire region sinks into the ooze, well, I may actually wind up punching through my monitor if I hear or read anything about "victories."

Happy Monday.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Big Banks: Pleased Beyond Words

by Dee Newman

Last week, after months of intense (million-dollar-a-day) lobbying by the financial industry and other corporate interests, the Senate finally passed a financial reform bill (if you can call it that with a straight face).

Wall Street executives must be extremely relieved and elated that the legislation thus far does little to fundamentally change how the industry does business.

Despite the false and disingenuous outcry from conservative Republicans and the industry’s lobbyists, warning that the legislation approved by the Senate last week will obstruct economic growth, most bankers and analysts think that the bill, though it may reduce Wall Street’s profits a bit, will leave the size and power of banks unfettered.

It’s true, both the House and the Senate versions of the legislation will create a much-needed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, however, the legislation does not eliminate the "too big to fail" banks, nor does it restore Glass-Steagall and its protections. Also, risky ambiguities and loopholes remain in the regulation of derivatives.

Without a doubt, further loopholes will surely be inserted during the House and Senate conference committee process. At this point, the financial industry seems quite confident that many of the most remedial requirements can be alleviated before the legislation is signed into law.

Though, in public, the big banks continue to grumble, privately, they are pleased beyond words, counting their record profits as their stocks continue to climb.

From The New York Times

Despite Obama’s Moratorium, Drilling Projects Move Ahead

WASHINGTON — In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about the permits and waivers, officials at the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, pointed to public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reiterating that the agency had no intention of stopping all new oil and gas production in the gulf.

Department of the Interior officials said in a statement that the moratorium was meant only to halt permits for the drilling of new wells. It was not meant to stop permits for new work on existing drilling projects like the Deepwater Horizon.

But critics say the moratorium has been violated or too narrowly defined to prevent another disaster.

With crude oil still pouring into the gulf and washing up on beaches and in wetlands, President Obama is sending Mr. Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano back to the region on Monday.

In a toughly worded warning to BP on Sunday, Mr. Salazar said at a news conference outside the company’s headquarters in Houston, “If we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.”

Mr. Salazar’s position conflicted with one laid out several hours earlier, by the commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Adm. Thad W. Allen, who said that the oil conglomerate’s access to the mile-deep well site meant that the government could not take over the lead in efforts to stop the leak.

“They have the eyes and ears that are down there,” the admiral said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved.”

Since the explosion, federal regulators have been harshly criticized for giving BP’s Deepwater Horizon and hundreds of other drilling projects waivers from full environmental review and for failing to provide rigorous oversight of these projects.

In voicing his frustration with these regulators and vowing to change how they operate, Mr. Obama announced on May 14 a moratorium on drilling new wells and the granting of environmental waivers.

“It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies,” Mr. Obama said. “That cannot and will not happen anymore.”

“We’re also closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews,” he added in reference to the environmental waivers.

But records indicated that regulators continued granting the environmental waivers and permits for types of work like that occurring on the Deepwater Horizon.

In testifying before Congress on May 18, Mr. Salazar and officials from his agency said they recognized the problems with the waivers and they intended to try to rein them in. But Mr. Salazar also said that he was limited by a statutory requirement that he said obligated his agency to process drilling requests within 30 days after they have been submitted.

“That is what has driven a number of the categorical exclusions that have been given over time in the gulf,” he said.

But critics remained unsatisfied.

Shown the data indicating that waivers and permits were still being granted, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said he was “deeply troubled.”

“We were given the clear impression that these waivers and permits were not being granted,” said Mr. Cardin, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Mr. Salazar testified last week. “I think the presumption should be that there should be stronger environmental reviews, not weaker.”

None of the projects that have recently been granted environmental waivers have started drilling.

However, these waivers have been especially troublesome to environmentalists because they were granted through a special legal provision that is supposed to be limited to projects that present minimal or no risk to the environment.

At least six of the drilling projects that have been given waivers in the past four weeks are for waters that are deeper — and therefore more difficult and dangerous — than where Deepwater Horizon was operating. While that rig, which was drilling at a depth just shy of 5,000 feet, was classified as a deep-water operation, many of the wells in the six projects are classified as “ultra” deep water, including four new wells at over 9,100 feet.

In explaining why they were still granting new permits for certain types of drilling on existing wells, Department of the Interior officials said some of the procedures being allowed are necessary for the safety of the existing wellbore.

To read page 2 click here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Memory of Dan Miller

Dan Miller died last year on April 8, 2009, after suffering a heart attack while walking in Augusta, Georgia, with longtime friend and WSMV sports director Rudy Kalis. He had returned to his hometown to attend The Masters golf tournament with Kalis and another friend and colleague, Terry Bulger.

I wrote at the time – I will never forget the moment I first met Dan Miller. It was over thirty years ago in the late 1970s. I was leaving the old H. G. Hill grocery store on West End Avenue across from the Bell Meade Theater. As I approached the door with my arms full of groceries suddenly a large figure rushed by me. A very tall, strikingly handsome man who I immediately recognized opened the door for me. It was Dan Miller. I thanked him. I don’t remember much of what we talked about as we walked to our cars, only the impression he left with me – that I had just met an authentically kind, southern gentleman.

According to those who knew him best, the man who for nearly forty years we nightly invited into our homes was truly what he appeared to be on air – a genuinely nice guy. There was no pretense about him.

For those who knew him and those of us who devotedly read his Blog we also knew him to be a lover of a good story and good laugh. He not only appreciated a good story, he knew how to tell one. Read his Blog.

I’m sure he would (more than most of us) appreciate the story of his death – that he would die in his hometown, walking the streets of his boyhood in April in Augusta during the week of the Masters with two of his best friends, Rudy Kalis and Terry Bulger, though sad, is satisfyingly sweet.

According to Dan the best recording of any song is "Nat King Cole's understated, dreamy rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's 1927 composition Stardust."

It was recorded at Capitol Records for inclusion in Nat King Cole's 1957 album "Love Is The Thing."

It was arranged and conducted by Gordon Jenkins.

If you're not familiar with this particular recording, or if you haven't heard it in a while, there are several offerings on YouTube. Here is one:

As Dan said, "If you know of any recording that's better, let me know, I'd like to hear it."

Dan, though we dream in vain, in our hearts you will remain, our stardust melody, the memory of loves refrain.

Hightower on Free Market Hypocrites

Here's today's provocative question: Why do so many giant corporations *hate* the marketplace? 

More at!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

From The Rachel Maddow Show

Rachel Maddow reviews the Rand Paul interview.

From The White House

Weekly Address: BP Spill Independent Commission

The President announces that the independent commission he created for the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will be chaired by former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly.   He promises accountability not just for BP, but for those in government who bore responsibility.

Friday, May 21, 2010

From Alan Grayson

I just received the following letter from Congressman Grayson. I have only one thing to add to what the congressman has written – Congress has never declared war against anyone in over 60 years. They have only authorized the President to use force. And yet, we have lost over 6,000 troops and spent over $700 billion on the so-called "War on Terror," thus far. In addition, it is estimated that another $700 billion will be spent on long term health care cost for the 60,000 troops who have been physically and emotionally maimed, thus far. So, let's also tell Congress that if they persist on justifying our "use of force" by saying "we are at war" then they must first declare it.

Update: My good friend, Dan, suggests that Congressman Grayson call the Act: 

The So-called War is Making You Poor Act

Dear Dee,

Next week, there is going to be a "debate" in Congress on yet another war funding bill. The bill is supposed to pass without debate, so no one will notice.

What George Orwell wrote about in "1984" has come true. What Eisenhower warned us about concerning the "military-industrial complex" has come true. War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape, so much so that no one notices it anymore.

But we're going to change this. Today, we're introducing a bill called 'The War Is Making You Poor Act'. The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars. We're working to get co-sponsors in Congress, but, we need citizen co-sponsors as well. Become a citizen cosponsor today at Act Now.

Next year's budget allocates $159,000,000,000 to perpetuate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. That's enough money to eliminate federal income taxes for the first $35,000 of every American's income. Beyond that, leaves over $15 billion to cut the deficit.

And that's what this bill does. It eliminates separate funding for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and eliminates federal income taxes for everyone's first $35,000 of income ($70,000 for couples). Plus it pays down the national debt. Does that sound good to you? Then please sign our petition in support of this bill, and help us build a movement to end our permanent state of war.

The costs of the war have been rendered invisible. There's no draft. Instead, we take the most vulnerable elements of our population, and give them a choice between unemployment and missile fodder. Government deficits conceal the need to pay in cash for the war.

We put the cost of both guns and butter on our Chinese credit card. In fact, we don't even put these wars on budget; they are still passed using 'emergency supplemental'. A nine-year 'emergency'.

Let's show Congress the cost of these wars is too much for us.

Tell Congress that you like 'The War Is Making You Poor Act'. No, tell Congress you love it.

All we are saying is "give peace a chance." We will end these wars.



Alan Grayson

April Wildflowers from The Narrows (Photos)

From The New York Times (Environment)

Conflict of Interest Worries Raised in Spill Tests

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Workers built a dam Thursday to keep oil from entering wetlands on Elmer’s Island, La.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP. But the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients.

Some people are questioning the independence of the Texas lab. Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Fla., rebuffed instructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send water samples to the lab, which is based at TDI-Brooks International in College Station, Tex. He opted instead to get a waiver so he could send his county’s samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests.

Mr. Kirschenfeld said he was also troubled by another rule. Local animal rescue workers have volunteered to help treat birds affected by the slick and to collect data that would also be used to help calculate penalties for the spill. But federal officials have told the volunteers that the work must be done by a company hired by BP.

“Everywhere you look, if you look, you start seeing these conflicts of interest in how this disaster is getting handled,” Mr. Kirschenfeld said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there is just too much overlap between these people.”

The deadly explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last month has drawn attention to the ties between regulators and the oil and gas industry. Last week, President Obama said he intended to end their “cozy relationship,” partly by separating the safety function of regulators from their role in permitting drilling and collecting royalties. “That way, there’s no conflict of interest, real or perceived,” he said.

Critics say a “revolving door” between industry and government is another area of concern. As one example, they point to the deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department, Sylvia V. Baca, who helps oversee the Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling

She came to that post after eight years at BP, in a variety of senior positions, ranging from a focus on environmental initiatives to developing health, safety and emergency response programs. She also served in the Interior Department in the Clinton administration.

Under Interior Department conflict-of-interest rules, she is prohibited from playing any role in decisions involving BP, including the response to the crisis in the gulf. But her position gives her some responsibility for overseeing oil and gas, mining and renewable energy operations on public and Indian lands.

Officials in part of what will remain of the Minerals Management Service, after a major reorganization spurred by the events in the gulf, will continue to report to her.

“When you see more examples of this revolving door between industry and these regulatory agencies, the problem is that it raises questions as to whose interests are being served,” said Mandy Smithberger, an investigator with the nonprofit watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

Interior officials declined to make Ms. Baca available for comment. A spokeswoman said Ms. Baca fully disclosed her BP ties, recused herself from all matters involving the company and was not currently involved in any offshore drilling policy decisions.

Patrick A. Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, said that concerns about conflicts of interest in the cleanup are cropping up for reasons beyond examples of coziness between the industry and regulators.

He noted that because of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed after the Exxon Valdez spill, polluters must take more of a role in cleanups.

“I do think the law brings the polluter into the process, and that creates complications,” Professor Parenteau said. “That doesn’t mean, however, that the government has to exit the process or relinquish control over decision-making, like it may be in this case.”

Dismissing concerns about conflicts of interest at his lab, James M. Brooks, the president and chief executive of TDI-Brooks International, said his company was chosen because of its prior work for the federal government.

“It is a nonbiased process,” he said. “We give them the results, and they can have their lawyers argue over what the results mean.” He added that federal officials and BP were working together and sharing the test results.

Federal officials say that they remain in control and that the concerns about any potential conflicts are overblown.

Douglas Zimmer, a spokesman for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency simply did not have the staff to handle all the animals affected by the oil spill. BP has more resources to hire workers quickly, he said, and letting local organizations handle the birds would have been impractical and costly.

“I also just don’t believe that BP or their contractor would have any incentive to skew the data,” he said. “Even if they did, there are too many federal, state and local eyes keeping watch on them.”

But Stuart Smith, a lawyer representing fishermen hurt by the spill, remained skeptical, saying that federal and state authorities had not fulfilled their watchdog role.

Last month, for example, various state and federal Web sites included links that directed out-of-work fishermen to a BP Web site, which offered contracts that limited their right to file future claims against the company.

This month, a federal judge in New Orleans, Helen G. Berrigan, struck down that binding language in the contracts.

Collaboration between industry and regulators extends to how information about the spill is disseminated by a public affairs operation called the Joint Information Center.

The center, in a Shell-owned training and conference center in Robert, La., includes roughly 65 employees, 10 of whom work for BP. Together, they develop and issue news releases and coordinate posts on Facebook and Twitter.

“They have input into it; however, it is a unified effort,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton, explaining BP’s role in the shared command structure.

He said such coordination in oil spill responses was mandated under federal law.

But even if collaboration were not required, Mr. Zimmer said, it would be prudent because federal and state authorities could only gain from BP’s expertise and equipment.

“Our priority has been to address the spill quickly and most effectively, and that requires working with BP — not in some needlessly adversarial way,” he said.

In deciding where to send their water, sediment and tissue samples, state environmental officials in Florida and Louisiana said NOAA instructed them to send them to BB Laboratories, which is run by TDI-Brooks.

Though Florida has its own state laboratory that is certified to analyze the same data, Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection there, said the state was sending samples to B & B “in an effort to ensure consistency and quality assurance.”

Scott Smullen, a spokesman for NOAA, said that two other labs, Alpha Analytics and Columbia Analytical Services, had also been contracted, but officials at those labs said B & B was taking the lead role and receiving virtually all of the samples.

The samples being collected are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which is the federal process for determining the extent of damage caused by a spill, the amount of money owed and how it should be spent to restore the environment.

The samples are also likely to be used in the civil suits — worth hundreds of millions of dollars — filed against the companies and possibly the federal government.

While TDI-Brooks and B & B have done extensive work for federal agencies like NOAA and the E.P.A., TDI-Brooks is also described by one industry partner on its Web site as being “widely acknowledged as the world leader in offshore oil and gas field exploration services.”

The Web site says that since 1996, it has “collected nearly 10,000 deep-water piston core sediment samples and heat flow stations for every major oil company.”

Hundreds of millions of dollars are also likely at stake in relation to the oil-slicked animals that are expected to wash ashore in coming weeks.

While Fish and Wildlife Service officials say that BP’s contractor will handle virtually all of the wildlife and compile data about how many — and how extensively — animals were affected by the spill, they add that they will oversee the process.

The data collected will likely form the basis for penalties against BP relating to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, Exxon was fined more than $100 million, partly for violations of that federal law.

John M. Broder, Andrew W. Lehren and Michael Luo contributed reporting.