Obama makes his case on oil disaster; I set my own record straight…

May 27, 2010

UPDATE:  It’s on again for the top kill technique of dumping mud and cement down the hole to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, it is now being reported (7:21 p.m. PST). It had been halted for some time due to technical reasons. I don’t plan to keep updating this blog post by the hour, but I was surfing the web and saw the news — if you have not read this post, please do. I have some thoughts on the subject:

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Just watching — still am listening to questions and answers — President Barack Obama’s address to the nation about what he is doing about the BP Gulf oil leak disaster. He presented a pretty good case that the federal government has been in charge and he has been on it from day one and that everything is being done that can be done. And he allowed as how his administration is not perfect and some mistakes were made.

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ADD 1:  I think commentator David Gergen described Obama’s address as a little flat and low keyed. And I have to say it seems that Obama as president tends to be deliberate in his actions and plays the role to some extent as a consensus builder — I’m not sure this works so well in a big time emergency. I’d rather have someone with the attitude (if not the way of thinking) of the late “I’m in charge” Gen. Alexander Haig. Obama the candidate was a little more forceful and single minded.

Obama’s cautiousness and pragmatism may be good for long-range policy making but no so good for immediate action. And despite his claims to the contrary today, it does not seem that the government took full charge from the beginning. But in the end, actions will speak louder than words.

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It’s pretty apparent from just following the news day to day — and what are we? a month and a week or more past the beginning of the disaster? that everyone was caught off guard.

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CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION:  And for anyone who reads this blog regularly, I want to note that I had in a previous blog questioned the legal jurisdiction in the incident and even suggested it was in international waters. More careful checking — which was only a click to Wikipedia away — tells me that it was some 40 miles off shore and in U.S. territorial waters, and clearly the news has indicated from the start that the U.S. assumes jurisdiction. Thank you.

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Obama admitted that there were deep flaws in government environmental and safety oversight, and of course that has been the case long before he took office.

He also said that although he is placing a moratorium on new offshore drilling he still believes the nation has to continue offshore drilling to meet its energy needs, but the disaster points to the fact it needs to work harder on developing alternative energy.

My personal feeling is that offshore drilling should be halted — it’s not worth the environmental risk. But polling shows that feeling is not shared by a majority of the electorate — and maybe they are more practical-minded that I.

It is strange that some on the right who complain about an overbearing government are now calling for bigger and bolder action by the government. It shows how disingenuous they are and what lengths they will go to oppose the middle and the left and Obama.

I’ll blog more on this and other things later today — I hope.

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Has Obama met his Katrina? And real political change has to come from outside the establishment…

May 26, 2010

Is Barack Obama offering real change? To some extent, maybe. But his change, especially his inability to handle the Gulf oil spill crisis, is making his change look  too much like the same old same old Bush W methodology — he’s doing a heck of a job.

The measure of a leader is what he can do in a crisis. And in this Gulf oil disaster Obama is not particularly having his finest hour. In some ways it seems like this is his Katrina. I’d have to go back and look at the actual time line, but as I recall, we first heard that there had been an explosion on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf. There were casualties, eleven dead, but the first reports quoting experts assured us all that there was no sign of oil escaping. But maybe there should have been contingency plans in the advent that it was (and it was). Apparently there were not. That of course is primarily the fault of BP, but the federal government certainly should have had plans and realized the potential and immediately took charge and made sure something was done post haste. The response was rather slow (despite Obama administration claims) and the government let BP control the information and action, puting itself and all of us at the giant oil corporation’s mercy.

Of course Obama can’t immediately fix everything wrong in government left over from previous administrations. One big problem is that the agency or agencies that oversee oil and mining and such on land and sea are rife with corruption. We now find out that many of the inspections done on offshore oil rigs were phony — the industry did them itself and the paid-off bureaucrats signed off on them. It’s even been reported that BP took a shortcut in drilling the mile-deep Deep Horizon well by throwing sea water into it instead of mud as it was supposed to (profits before safety) . And this is what we get. But maybe if Obama was not so busy apologizing to our enemies or at least people who don’t like us and trying to rebuild a nation (Afghanistan) that resists rebuilding, he would have more time to take care of things at home.

During the Katrina fiasco, Bush just did not seem to care. It was not worth his time to help a bunch of poor people down in New Orleans who probably did not and would not vote for him and his party. In Obama’s case, I am sure he cares, but there seems to be something missing. The fact is that no one really knows what to do to stop that leak (they were still dithering this morning, more than a month after the thing began), and that is not the president’s fault.

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UPDATE: a so-called top kill procedure began at 1 p.m. central time today (5-26-10) in which BP is essentially throwing mud and concrete down the hole in an attempt to plug it up but its CEO was only giving the gambit a 60 percent or so chance to work. Meanwhile I just heard  a report that the oil gushing out (millions of gallons so far) is becoming darker and presumably more toxic. It is said they might not know for days if this is working, and if not, efforts to dig relief wells would not be done until August. There is also talk of using a convoy of tankers to suck up the oil — seems like that would be hard to keep up.

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But Obama needs to be more visible in marshaling the forces that can put their heads together and figure out what to do. He does not need to be anti-business or anti oil but he needs to be pro-American.

This Gulf oil disaster, with the fishery of the Gulf in peril (maybe already ruined), and the coastline and wetlands of Louisiana being devastated and the potential for far wider environmental and economic damage, needs to take priority over things such as Afghanistan where we are currently wasting blood and treasure.

And again, Obama’s change seems like more of the same. While he came in sweet-talking the Islamic world of the Middle East, he’s got the nation mired deeper than ever in the war over there.

He did not do away with torture and he continued the bank bailouts and while health care is listed as his greatest success so far, it really remains to be seen. And the housing crisis continues along with high unemployment.

Real political change may have to come from something other than the establishment.

While I hate to break down all politics to left and right, or liberal (progressive has become the modern euphemism) and conservative, I have to think that while in 2008 we essentially got change (supposedly) from the left in the presidential election, next time around it may come from the right or even more likely from something that is neither.

(And by the way, even though “liberal” has been attached to the Democrats and while liberals nowadays like to call themselves “progressives“, didn’t the “progressive” term start with Republican Teddy Roosevelt? Or at least in that era? Back then the Republicans wanted clean government and instituted civil service to replace the spoils system, while Democrats seemed to prefer machine politics that got votes by handing out jobs).

If the economy does not improve substantially, in the presidential election of 2012 or even the congressional elections next fall we might get real change (though not necessarily change for the better).

There are a lot of other issues other than the economy — defense, war policy, illegal immigration, gay rights (I prefer really to say homosexual rights, but the word gay has been ruined for decades now — it used to just mean happy), the environment (BP spill, a good example), and so on, but the economy or the perception of the economy usually takes center stage in elections.

I thought it was strange Al Gore not only lost due to an electoral college technicality but did not win by a landslide, seeing as how he would have presumably continued the relative prosperity under Bill Clinton — but I guess people did not know the bottom was going to fall out and so they thought they could afford to express their disgust with Clinton’s outrageous lack of judgment and morals (and I can understand their disgust).

But unless my memory fails me, the economy helped George W. Bush, one of our most obviously dull witted presidents, win two terms, even while it had ruined his dad’s (a far brighter bulb) chance for a second term.

I still think the vast majority of the electorate remains essentially middle of the road — it just tends to swing a little left and a little right at times.

But things are so bad (even though there are some signs of economic improvement here and there) and the corruption and ineffectiveness of government so great, that the electorate is liable to swing back to the right or something that is not the traditional right, but is not left.

The tea party movement and its faction of libertarians and the stray bigots and nut cases add another element that does not exactly fit into the familiar liberal/conservative paradigms.

While I doubt the new element can gain much strength in government by itself, I do believe it can have, or has had successes with individual candidates and I really believe it can have a major impact on the actions of the establishment, whose professional politicians are fighting for their survival. Since the tea party still seems to be closer to the Republicans, that party, the GOP, is particularly vulnerable to its influence.

The libertarian element really offers a challenge to the establishment who can only think in left and right terms because it is left and right or right and left at the same time.

In addition, hard-core tea baggers threaten to oppose the entire establishment to include Republicans and Democrats.

Both the Republicans and Democrats, who have had a stranglehold on politics since the Civil War, are facing insurrections within their own parties as well as a challenge from what amounts to a quasi third party, the tea party. In some respects the tea party will remain stronger if it remains tea party lower case instead of becoming an official party with membership and bylaws and a written platform and its name on the ballot, as in Tea Party. It’s hard to fight a challenger you can’t quite identify.

While I think there are regressive and racial overtones and outright idiots within the ranks of the challengers, overall I still feel this new movement of change (different from the Obama change) is a healthy development for our democracy.

Presumably candidates on the national level will still have to appeal to the broader electorate, so that is a safety mechanism.

On the other hand, if the establishment keeps failing and desperation is too acute, extremists could get the upper hand.


As oil gushes underwater all the Energy Secretary knows is what he reads in the papers (he said that)

May 25, 2010

Asked why or whether new offshore drilling permits were being issued even as the Gulf oil spill (leak,underwater gusher) moves into its second month, and more importantly, even after President Obama placed a moratorium on offshore drilling, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu could only answer — “all I know is what I read in the papers”. Well that might have been amusing when Will Rogers said it. But when the Secretary of Energy says it and makes subsequent remarks that indicate he really means it, I think we might be in trouble. The bureaucracy is getting in the way of getting things done or maybe the moratorium was more an exercise in politics and its enforcement is made impossible by devious use of semantics.

I just heard the secretary on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

He said flat out that he was not aware if permits were still being issued, but that he personally thought they should not be. He admitted to his host that he only found out about the issue of the permits by “reading the same story you did in the New York Times”.

Now quite frankly I did not read that story when I first saw it on the web — I just read the headline. Then after reading the story after I heard them talking about it I found out that part of the problem may be different interpretations within the Interior Department as to what the moratorium includes. There was some indication that the permits were for existing, not new wells.

Also many environmental waivers on offshore drilling, to include in the Gulf, have been issued since the moratorium, according to the story. That does not seem smart to me since everyone admits, and it is obvious, that no one knows what to do in this current disaster.

While there is some pressure for the U.S. government to just take over the operation to plug the leak, the problem it has been brought out is that our own government does not know what to do and does not have the total resources anyway. It is dependent upon the cooperation and resources of BP.  As I blogged before, BP has the government over a barrel on this one — to some extent anyway.

I watch too much TV. But Chris Matthews says we are at the mercy of BP because we have allowed another corporation to get “too big to fail”.

And here’s something that’s bothered me and to which I have not found an answer. This BP rig is in international waters, as I understand it. How is the jurisdiction decided on this?  UPDATE:  (5-27-10)   And though the magic of the computer I can go back in time now and correct and/or clarify those last two sentences. Now as I understand it the leaking underwater well is 41 miles off the U.S. coast and is in U.S. territorial waters. I got a little too much in a hurry to post and a little lazy in my fact checking. 

P.s.

Energy Secretary Chu is highly intelligent, a Nobel Prize winner, and seems like a nice guy dedicated to his job — but gee, saying “all I know is what I read in the papers?” Couldn’t he have inspired a little more confidence?


Gulf Oil disaster a bigger threat than Afghanistan

May 22, 2010

A month after the disaster of the exploding of the BP Deep Horizon platform and subsequent uncontrolled underwater oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico I have now seen (on TV) the gooey think oil washing up on the Louisiana mainland and the oil-covered birds and turtles and realize there has to be one heck a of a lot of fish threatened and already killed as well as other sea life, not to mention the direct threat to human life. It’s shaping up to be an ecological disaster of gargantuan proportions — maybe the worst man-caused disaster of all times.

I can’t believe BP is now saying it could be August before it gets the underwater gusher, spewing out thousands to millions of barrels of oil, plugged. This disaster has thought to already have surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill (and that was a finite amount since it came out of a tanker — the current one is virtually unlimited).

Exact numbers or estimates of oil escaped (and to escape) into the ecosystem are hard to come by and estimates are all over the board, but millions of barrels by the time its all over (if it is to end) will suffice for now.

And I am incredulous that from what I am hearing and reading the Obama administration, although trying to be in charge, I guess, is at the mercy of BP. For nearly a month now we find BP has been withholding info — to include live video feeds, from which independent scientists can calculate the actual volume of the leak. We find that BP apparently skimped on and short circuited or ignored various safety requirements.

This is somewhat different from Katrina in that something could have clearly been done and done a lot sooner there. I mean when the news media could get in, why couldn’t the rescuers? And why were some brave people able to walk or swim out while thousands were left stranded, waving in desperation to TV cameras mounted on overhead helicopters? A group of old people in a rest home was left to drown — and all President Bush could do is fly over at high altitude — his wife to explain years later that he didn’t want to cause a fuss and distract from the emergency effort, such as it was in the first few days.

In the current disaster no one really knows for certain what to do to stop that oil — of course, as one scientist testified (on TV), it would help if BP had been more forthcoming with the necessary info.

But clearly this has to be top priority for the Obama administration — we’re actually talking a disaster that could poison the entire Gulf and work its way around Florida and up the East Coast and elsewhere in the oceans all over the globe.

Even if the leak were to be plugged shortly and the visible oil cleaned up, no doubt severe damage has already been done that will gradually become even more apparent and will continue for a generation. Even before this there were dead zones (no sea life) in the Gulf — now there are likely to be many more (who knows? The whole Gulf?).  And to add insult to injury BP is dumping thousands of gallons of toxic chemical into the Gulf to break up the oil.

But after a month and for the foreseeable future this massive oil leak appears likely to continue.

President Obama needs to really take charge on this and not let up.

This thing is a bigger threat than Afghanistan has ever been.

P.s.

While I realize the mood among many is government is the enemy and big government is particularly bad, I have to ask if people would be happier to simply leave humongous private corporations, such as BP, in charge. And does not the world’s only superpower require a rather large government?

Of course we could (well not really) go back to the days before 1787 and live under a much smaller government and abolish the Constitution that enabled a strong central government and live with a loose confederation of states connected by the Articles of Confederation. When that was the case our economy was hampered because pirates and despots in Northern Africa robbed our ships and demanded and received millions of dollars in tribute. We were impotent and could not fight back because the states could not agree to supply the money for an adequate navy.


What we do for oil — send soldiers to die and ruin our planet (1,000th Afghan war death reached this week, Gulf oil leak disaster continues)

May 20, 2010

The U.S. addiction to oil has resulted in a gloomy milestone this week — the 1,000th U.S. combat death in Afghanistan.

And it is resulting in the continuing threat (or reality) of major ecological disaster due to the accidental underwater oil leak by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico — black sludge has finally reached the sensitive marshlands of Louisiana and it is said to now be in the Loop Current that threatens to send the crude around Florida and up along the East Coast.

When I last blogged about the Gulf oil disaster I called it a slow moving disaster — but it is picking up pace or at least it is taking in much more area now and the dimensions of the disaster or its ultimate ecological effect can only be guessed at this point.

Some of the disbelievers or deniers insist that things are not so bad yet and there does seem to be some disagreement as to the detrimental effects of it all yet — but with millions of gallons of toxic crude spilling into the ocean and washing up onto shore, it can’t be good. It’s threatening sea turtles, I understand, and I’m sure it is threatening or has already killed much sea life, to include the fishery. Even the chemicals used to disperse the oil are toxic.

But anyway, I connect the one thousandth U.S. combat death in Afghanistan and the oil disaster in the Gulf because to me they are symptoms of the same problem.

The U.S. depends upon oil to such a degree that it sends soldiers to fight and die in a place where it has no business — last I heard Osama Bin Laden was in Pakistan and why do we have to send an Army to get one man in what more and more seems to be a hopeless cause?

(While Afghanistan is not a major oil exporter, its neighbors are and that is why we are there — make no mistake about that.)

The only way we could ruin the sanctuary for the Taliban and Al Qaeda there is to send in a huge force (thousands more than are there now) we don’t have, occupy the country and run it ourselves for a long time and that might not work either.

Meanwhile, we risk ruining our planet by drilling for oil in the ocean.

While I doubt our government could have predicted the calamity in the gulf (although stricter oversight and regulations could have helped), there seems to be some question now as to whether it has a handle on things and whether it is letting BP get away with withholding information.

The U.S. government needs to be in charge here (although the oil people have us over a barrel, so to speak, what with their lock on oil technical knowledge) and criminal action should be brought against BP what with evidence coming out that it skipped safety measures to save money (penny wise and pound foolish there).

And having BP drill oil off the U.S. coast is not making the U.S. energy independent — BP is British, not American.

The nation that sent men to the moon ought to be able solve its energy problems here on earth.

While I realize that the U.S. will be dependent upon oil for some time to come, it seems to be stuck in first gear on modernizing its energy system.

Strangely, though, even with this current disaster and all the millions of gallons and/or barrels of wasted oil, it is reported that due to a glut on the market, gasoline prices are expected to continue to decline somewhat.

So there is some good news here.

However, at last report, I have not heard of much progress on plugging the leak.


Gulf oil spill: the cost of being hooked on oil…

May 12, 2010

UPDATE: This post is outdated since the oil spill has continued and much damage has been done, but I think I still have some valid points here. For my latest posts just google Tony Walther’s Weblog.

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Fortunately, I guess, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, now some three weeks old, seems to be a fairly slow-moving disaster, even though it threatens or already is the worst man-made environmental catastrophe of all time.

At last check I saw no reports that the oil slick(s) had actually reached the mainland (of the U.S.), although the oil has reached various coastal islands.

An Audubon site I read only mentioned a few birds being treated for oil-caused injury, although being it is nesting time, the potential for harm to birds is great.

Fishing, commercial and otherwise, has been shut down in the Gulf, I understand. Commercial fishermen are being hired (bribed?) by BP to help clean up the spill. As I understand it, BP has tried to force them to sign agreements not to sue in return for clean-up jobs — don’t know the status of that but I understand there may have been a court decision nullifying that or at least there is some question as to the validity of such agreements — sure seems like blatant bribery or blackmail to me.

All that aside, it seems to me that we (the U.S.) are so hooked on oil that we are willing to take enormous environmental risks in both transporting oil and drilling in the ocean. The Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska which did irreparable environmental and economic damage did not deter us in our quest for oil at any price. And of course it always help if the folks who are directly affected are way up in Alaska. Even others in Alaska, such as Sarah Palin, couldn’t care less about environmental worries (I think her husband works, or used to work for BP).

This current and continuing spill or out-of-control underwater gusher may have much more far-reaching environmental and economic effects.

A couple of years ago when gasoline and diesel prices hit the roof folks were seriously talking about alternatives, everything from bicycling to work to running vehicles on discarded vegetable oil. Many shippers who were hooked on trucking were turning to or seriously thinking about exploring their options in rail transport (which is per mile much more energy efficient, although not practical for point to point shipments, or at least for pickup and final delivery except for customers along their tracks). Even though fuel is still costly, a drop in price from the all-time highs has quieted that fervor for alternatives somewhat.

I guess the point is that it takes extremes in price or accidents to get us to really seriously look to or go to alternatives.

Neither the private sector nor government seems able to come up with alternatives while we can still get by with the status quo.

But we all know in our hearts that sooner or later (and it may well be sooner) we will have to find alternatives for our energy. It would seem to me a good time for a moon shot program by our government, much like the space program (hence the term moon shot).

It would have to be handled differently. It would have to be carried out by various players in the private sector working off of incentives from the federal government. I realize that to some extent this is already being done in various so-called green energy projects. But it seems to me that we need a larger effort and a more central focus from the government based on real science and not special interests, such as the gas or coal lobby (not that those two forms of energy do not have their place).

And time will tell, but it seems to me this current disaster in the gulf should be dire enough to convince thinking people everywhere that ruining our planet is not worth preserving the status quo in energy. But of course I also hope it is not as bad as all that.

P.s.

If nothing else, the current BP spill proves that our government must step up its environmental oversight (President Obama is supposedly working on that now). Records show that BP successfully lobbied against environmental controls and failed to use all available technology to prevent disaster. And now BP and its subcontractors are blaming each other for the spill  — no one is willing to take responsibility, but it should be obvious that since its BP’s project it is BP’s responsibility 100 percent, and it is the government’s responsibility 100 percent to demand the highest standards in environmental protections.


Drill baby drill as long as it does not affect me, some may think…

April 30, 2010

So the first oil-soaked bird has been spotted in the on-going Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Already the pungent odor of oil permeates the air of New Orleans — as if the hapless city needs more problems after Katrina and the Great Recession.

The whole fishery of the Gulf Coast, plus the valuable wetlands that both contribute to the ecosystem upon which all living things, including man, depend, as well as serve as a backstop against hurricanes, as well as the beaches and perhaps the shipping of the Mississippi River and Gulf area may be in grave danger.

I know one should not exaggerate or jump to conclusions, but when do we as a society draw the line and realize that as much as we need energy in the form of oil, we don’t want to destroy our nest called Earth in the process? I also realize that over time a lot of these environmental mishaps, both man caused and nature caused, heal themselves. But is it all worth the cost and will we eventually reach the point of no return? Have we almost done that now?

I imagine this has silenced the drill baby drill folks for the time — but I’m sure they’ll come up with some excuse as to why we have to despoil the Earth and ruin other peoples’ livelihoods (Louisiana fisherman for example, and Alaskan fisherman some time ago from the Exxon Valdez).

Yes BP will certainly have to pay for this one, but really we are all paying the price, and I for one think the price is too high.

There are safer ways to get oil, and we need to move towards other sources of energy anyway, but will never do it until something forces us to, but by the time we get there, it could be too late.

And when you drive your gas guzzler as your God-given right and enjoy nature do you still think to yourself: drill baby drill — just somewhere else where it does not affect me?

But the economic effects and the environmental effects of such disasters have dire implications for us all whether we realize it or not.

And while my non record of church attendance may make me the wrong person to ask this question, I nonetheless ask: Does God want us to treat what he created this way?

P.s.

I know that accidents happen and I assume that BP went to great lengths to prevent this very thing, but the point may be that it is nearly impossible to prevent such disasters in offshore drilling. And again, is it really worth the price? I think not.