Archive for May 1st, 2010
I just finished watching District 13: Ultimatum, the sequel to District B13, also a Luc Besson film and starring the same two actors. The two films are quite similar and the sequel plays some games with the similarities. That they are so similar is not a drawback in the least. When you’re in the mood for lasagna, you get a dish that is essentially the same as all the other lasagna you’ve eaten, and that is exactly the point. These are fine and satisfying lasagna movies and a lot of fun.
Since the offshore oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico, federal regulators at the Minerals Management Service (MMS) have been coming under increasing scrutiny for whether they were negligent in overseeing the rigs owned by BP and others. At a press conference yesterday morning, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) compared it to the SEC’s failure to enforce regulations leading up to the financial crisis. Ironically, MMS was all set to hold its annual “2010 Annual Industry SAFE Awards Luncheon” on May 3. Perhaps recognizing that now is not the time to applaud the oil industry for safety on the job, MMS postponed the event. From the agency’s website [click to enlarge - LG]:
The LA Times notes that last year, BP “was among the luncheon’s winners, cited for ‘outstanding dedication and leadership in promoting improved medical care and evacuation capabilities for offshore facilities.’” During the Bush administration, MMS was embroiled in scandal over its employees being in bed (sometimes literally) with the oil industry it was supposed to be regulating.
In the fierce closing debate over health care reform, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops charged that the legislation didn’t do enough to restrict insurance coverage of abortions. Many Catholic nuns and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals, looked at the same bill and concluded that it would have no effect on abortion financing. They signed a letter urging its passage, saying the reform was “life-affirming” and consistent with Catholic values.
Now one bishop is punishing the nuns who supported reform. Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of Greensburg, Pa., has decreed that “any religious community” that signed the letter would be forbidden to use the diocese’s offices, parishes or newspaper to promote programs that encourage young people to consider the religious life.
That was precisely what the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa., whose leadership team signed the letter, were asking Bishop Brandt’s parishes to help promote. Many of the sisters — who specialize in health care, social services and education — work in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes as administrators, nurses and therapists. In an age of declining vocations, they are trying to encourage young women to join their ranks.
Bishop Brandt accuses the nuns of taking “a public stance in opposition to the church’s teaching on human life.” The nuns did not challenge the church’s doctrine of life from conception to natural death. They saw the bill as a powerfully positive step, because it provided health insurance to millions of people without it, and hundreds of millions of dollars for the care of pregnant women.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden showed courage and compassion when they spoke out for reform. It makes no sense at all to try to punish them or thwart their efforts to find new sisters who would care for the sick and dying and lead exemplary Catholic lives.
Thanks to TYD for for pointing out this ABC News story by Matthew Mosk, Brian Ross, and Rhonda Schwartz:
BP, the company that owned the Louisiana oil rig that exploded last week, spent years battling federal regulators over how many layers of safeguards would be needed to prevent a deepwater well from this type of accident. [And I will bet you any amount of money that the GOP was right by their side, fighting regulations and oversight tooth and nail. – LG]
One area of immediate concern, industry experts said, was the lack of a remote system that would have allowed workers to clamp shut Deepwater Horizon’s wellhead so it would not continue to gush oil. The rig is now spilling 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
In a letter sent last year to the Department of the Interior, BP objected to what it called "extensive, prescriptive regulations" proposed in new rules to toughen safety standards. "We believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs…continue to be very successful."
That was one in a series of clashes between the industry and federal regulators that began during the Clinton administration. In 2000, the federal agency that oversaw oil rig safety issued a safety alert that called added layers of backup "an essential component of a deepwater drilling system." The agency said operators were expected to have multiple layers of protection to prevent a spill.
But according to aides to Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has followed offshore drilling issues for years, the industry aggressively lobbied against an additional layer of protection known as an "acoustic system," saying it was too costly. In a March 2003 report, the agency reversed course, and said that layer of protection was no longer needed.
"There was a big debate under the Bush administration whether or not to require additional oil drilling safeguards but [federal regulators] decided not to require any additional mandatory safeguards, believing the industry would be motivated to do it themselves," Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club told ABC News.
A second area of focus emerging Friday involved the cement casing that was supposed to seal the well and prevent gaps from opening between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole drilled into the sea floor. If cement is not poured properly, oil and natural gas can escape – a cause of more than a dozen previous well blowouts in the Gulf.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman Friday sent a letter to Halliburton, the company responsible for pouring the cement seal, asking company executives to brief committee investigators on conditions at the rig, and preserve all documents relating to their work on the sea floor.
Elmer Danenberger, an expert on offshore drilling who retired from the U.S. Department of the Interior in January, told ABC News he is worried that "lack of attention" during the pouring of the cement could be to blame.
"With these cementing operations it’s just a matter of not being attentive enough," he said. "What you want is a closed system. You want the cemented pipe totally sealing the well bore. If you don’t have that, you have problems."
Because the well is under more than a mile of water, it may be some time before investigators have more clarity on what exactly went wrong. But Brent Coon, a lawyer who sued BP over a previous deadly oil facility explosion, said he has obtained a restraining order to prevent the company from doing anything to cover up the cause of the accident.
"BP stands apart, heads and shoulders above all the rest of them, with respect to their conduct," said Coon, who represents a 24-year-old roustabout who was working on the rig at the time of the blast. "It’s like they just don’t care."
BP issued a release saying it had launched its own investigation into the cause of the blast, and would cooperate with federal efforts.
"Losing 11 of our industry colleagues is a tragedy for the offshore community," said BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward in the statement. "As an industry, we must participate fully in these investigations and not rest until the causes of this tragedy are known and measures are taken to see that it never happens again."
At ThinkProgress, posted by Rebecca Lefton, a researcher for Progressive Media:
BP’s profits rose an unexpected 135% in the first quarter of 2010 compared with the first quarter the prior year. Yet these were “overshadowed” by the tragic oil spill resulting from an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, located 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The rig is owned by a Switzerland-based company,Transocean Ltd, and leased to BP (formerly British Petroleum). These companies and Halliburton, whose cementing operations may have caused the explosion—are being sued for negligence.
BP has aggressively rebranded itself as a company focused on alternative, clean energy sources. The company has a series of commercials advertising their “Beyond Petroleum” campaign “promoting and marketing alternative energy solutions.” But “Beyond Petroleum” is an Orwellian slogan for what is still almost entirely an oil company focused on making billions every year from dirty fossil fuels. A new video from the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Victor Zapanta depicts BP’s greenwashing in contrast with the tragic results of its drilling operations:
Indeed, although BP ads depict green flowers and spinning windmills, BP only invested a tiny fraction of their profits into alternative energy last year. Their actual investments in alternative energies — $1.3 billion in 2009 — are dwarfed by their profits. In fact, the last two years their budgeted alternative energy investments were around seven percent compared to profits. According to Driessen of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, BP spent the same amount on this advertising over two years (the campaign was launched in 2000) as they did on hydrogen, wind, and solar energy over a six-year period:
Beyond ‘Beyond Petroleum’ Greenwashing Lies Tar Sands. On April 14, BP “easily beat off challenges to a Canadian oil sands project and to its executive pay policy.” BP rejected a shareholders resolution in opposition to Canadian tar sands production “because it emits more carbon dioxide than traditional oil production, uses more water and involves greater destruction to the landscape.” [Reuters, 4/15/2010]
BP Quit Climate Action Partnership. “ConocoPhillips, BP and Caterpillar have dropped out of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), the coalition of corporations and environmental groups that has been most prominent in pushing Congress to pass cap-and-trade legislation.” [Washington Post, 2/17/2010]
$16 Million In Lobbying. BP spent $16 million lobbying in 2009. [Open Secrets]
BP Profiting From Iran — Threatening our National Security. “BP, in a 2009 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it had interests in and was the operator of two fields and a pipeline located outside Iran in which the National Iranian Oil company had an interest.” [New York Times, 3/6/2010]
41% Raise For BP’s CEO. “Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s total remuneration and share awards rose 41% in 2009 on performance bonuses from improved operations which made the company one of the best performing oil majors in the fourth quarter, despite lower full-year profits due to the fall in the oil price.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/5/2010]
Americans are spending nearly $3 billion more on gasoline due to higher gasoline prices. And taxpayers are spending billions of dollars in tax subsidies to Big Oil. These subsidies will cost the U.S. government about $3 billion next year in lost revenue and nearly $20 billion over the next five years. The next dollars we spend should go to companies that provide genuinely clean and safe fuel. The costs are too high.
Five months and one day before its Deepwater Horizon rig exploded while exploring the Macondo Prospect off the coast of Louisiana, BP’s top Gulf of Mexico official testified its practices were “both safe and protective of the environment.” In June, the U.S. Minerals Management Service proposed stricter safety and environmental rules, opposed by BP and the rest of the offshore drilling industry as unnecessary. In a Senate hearing on offshore drilling “environmental stewardship policies” on November 19, 2009, BP America’s vice president of Gulf of Mexico exploration, David Rainey, opposed the proposed MMS rules and defended the existing regulatory system. Rainey claimed that drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has been shown to be “both safe and protective of the environment“:
I think we should remember that scientific knowledge is always moving forward. And actually using the best available and the most up-to-date scientific information is part of the current regulatory system. And it supports the OCS leasing, exploration, and development program. And I think we need to remember that OCS has been going on for the last 50 years, and it has been going on in a way that is both safe and protective of the environment.
Rainey’s testimony followed a September 14, 2009, letter from his predecessor Richard Morrison, which said “we are not supportive of the extensive and prescriptive regulations” in the proposed rule, because “[w]e believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs . . . have been and continue to be very successful.”
Upon signing Arizona’s new statute requiring police officers to demand citizenship papers from anyone they believe is in the country illegally, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last week claimed that the bill is not designed to "tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling" of Latinos.
Responding to critics who say the legislation does just that, she, like many other conservatives, insisted, "I don’t know what an illegal immigrant looks like" — the implication being that Republicans are colorblind.
It sounds reassuring, but methinks she doth protest too much, and I say that because one of the Republican Party’s leading law enforcement voices has already disclosed the true objective of precisely this kind of legislation.
That seminal admission came in November 2001, when the emotional aftermath of 9/11 momentarily removed politicians’ rhetorical filters. There on the floor of Congress, GOP Rep. Scott McInnis delivered an address about "the need for profiling for the national security of this country."
Brandishing his experience as a police officer, he implored lawmakers "to quit being politically correct" and let authorities make "ethnic background a legitimate component" of law enforcement investigations — just as Arizona’s new statute allows.
"Insurance companies profile for risk. That is what I am asking that we continue to do — we need to profile for risk," he thundered, adding that using ethnicity as a risk factor "is very legitimate — I think it is smart."
In other words, we should do to civil rights what insurance firms have done to, say, healthcare — namely, deny people rights and privileges based on their ascribed characteristics.
Had McInnis’ career been buried in the political graveyard, Republican apologists could easily pretend his kind of bigotry is irrelevant to today’s fears that the Arizona law will both encourage prejudice and appear in other states. But McInnis is now the Republican gubernatorial front-runner in Colorado, and this week he became the first major GOP candidate in America to pledge to replicate Arizona’s statute in his state if elected in 2010.
Considering the candidate’s pedigree as a former state House majority leader and six-term congressman, and considering his views on what a law like Arizona’s is really all about, McInnis’ promise is not an inconsequential outburst from some nobody, nor is it likely to be an isolated campaign plank in an unimportant backwater. On the contrary, this is a far-reaching signal from the national Republican Party establishment, for it comes from that establishment’s hand-picked poster boy in a state that GOP guru Karl Rove said will be "ground zero" in the upcoming elections.
For his part, Rove acknowledges that the Arizona law aims to let police use racial and ethnic cues to profile individuals — exactly the way McInnis envisions…
In December 2006, Goldman Sachs embarked on a frantic effort to shed billions of dollars in risky mortgage securities and purchase exotic insurance to protect itself against what it had concluded could be the collapse of America’s housing market.
Yet for nine months, until Sept. 20, 2007, the Wall Street giant didn’t disclose its actions in key filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in telephone conferences with analysts or in its press releases.
A McClatchy review of hundreds of pages of subpoenaed company records released by a Senate panel Tuesday, as well as Goldman’s SEC filings, has revealed how closely the company guarded its secret exit plan.
Goldman’s failure to tell the investors who bought its risky mortgage securities that it had made an array of wagers against housing is at the heart of the furor now enveloping the nation’s premier investment house, the only major Wall Street firm to exit the subprime mortgage market with minimal damage.
By the time Goldman finally began to divulge its strategies to the SEC, credit markets were freezing up and the investment bank was well on its way to making billions of dollars in revenue from its negative bets, known in the industry as "shorts."
Consider this contrast between the firm’s public face and its private maneuvering.
On March 7, 2007, Goldman’s chief financial officer, David Viniar, chaired an internal meeting of the company’s risk committee. Notes of the meeting report that the committee discussed the "accelerating meltdown" among subprime mortgage lenders, the progress of the company’s mortgage division in "closing down every subprime exposure possible" and signs that subprime woes were beginning to affect commercial real estate.
Sheara Fredman, a vice president in the company’s finance division, also sent Viniar "talking points" in advance of the firm’s quarterly earnings announcement stressing that that its short bets had enabled Goldman’s mortgage division to earn $266 million during the quarter despite the deteriorating subprime market.
During the March 13 conference call with analysts, however, Viniar made no mention of Goldman’s short bets or the $266 million gain. Instead, he said the market had seen "a little bit of nervousness" but the housing weakness had been "so far largely contained."
It’s still unclear whether the federal laws designed to protect consumers from deceptive marketing required Goldman to reveal more information earlier than it did.
Goldman spokesman Samuel Robinson said: …
Continue reading. And video at the link. And, while we’re at it:
Not only did we know that failure was possible, we also knew that the protection against failure was flakey. But we went ahead with the well. Les Blumenthal has a report for McClatchy:
A 1999 report commissioned by the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling suggests failures of underwater blowout preventers designed to stop oil spills like the massive one threatening the Gulf Coast were far from unknown, the chairwoman of a key Senate panel said Friday.
Citing a Minerals Management Service report, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said there were 117 failures of blowout preventers during a two-year period in the late 1990s on the outer continental shelf of the United States.
“To find out the ultimate failsafe weapon doesn’t work is surprising,” said Cantwell, who as chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee will play a roll in any congressional investigation of the Gulf oil spill and the drilling rig fire that caused it.
The unclassified version of the 1990 report said the failures involved 83 wells drilled by 26 rigs in depths from 1,300 feet to 6,560 feet.
A similar report released by the agency in 1997 found that between 1992 and 1996 there were 138 failures of blowout preventers on underwater wells being drilled off Brazil, Norway, Italy and Albania.
Both reports are highly technical. Classified versions of the reports included proprietary information that was redacted before the reports were released publicly.
Cantwell’s office said there were no newer studies, but a 2007 paper from the Minerals Management Service said between 1992 and 2006 there were 39 actual blowouts.
Blowout preventers, which can weigh up to 500,000 pounds and stand 50 feet tall, are bolted on the top of a wellhead on the seafloor and in an emergency can cut off the flow of oil to prevent a gusher. The blowout preventers can be activated by throwing a switch on the drilling rig. They are also supposed to activate automatically in the event of a major problem or, in some cases, can be activated by acoustic sound waves produced from a ship on the surface.
No one is sure what caused the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon off the coast of Louisiana to burst into flames on April 20 and sink two days later into the Gulf. The accident left 11 workers missing and presumed dead and 17 others injured. The blowout preventer apparently failed to cap the well, allowing an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil to escape daily.
The cause of the explosion and fire is under investigation, and efforts to activate the blowout preventer 5,000 feet below the surface have, so far, been unsuccessful…
Continue reading. We may run low on horses, but our barns are now bolted shut.
I’ll look forward to hearing conservatives who are defending Arizona’s new immigration law respond to these new revelations, published yesterday by Andrea Nill.
[Thursday], Arizona lawmakers made a handful of changes to the immigration bill Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) recently signed into effect that appear to be in response to many of the criticisms aimed at the bill. One of those changes replaces the phrase "lawful contact" with "lawful stop, detention or arrest" to "apparently clarify that officers don’t need to question a victim or witness about their legal status." However, the legislature also implemented a third change that some call "frightening." As part of the amended bill, a police officer responding to city ordinance violations would also be required to determine the immigration status of an individual they have reasonable suspicion of being an undocumented immigrant.
Wonk Room recently obtained an email written by Kris Kobach, a lawyer at the Immigration Reform Law Institute — the group which credits itself with writing the bill — to Arizona state Sen. Russell Pierce (R), urging him to include language that will allow police to use city ordinance violations such as "cars on blocks in the yard" as an excuse to "initiate queries" in light of the "lawful contact" deletion.
As Ezra Klein explained, "[Q]uite explicitly, Kobach is editing the bill to make it easier for police to dream up legal pretexts to hassle brown people about their citizenship."
In case Kris Kobach’s name sounds familiar, he used to serve as the chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, where he boasted about his aggressive — and successful — "voter caging" efforts. And if you’ve forgotten, vote caging is "an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren’t living at (because they are, say, at college or at war)."
Less than three years later, he’s crafting and manipulating Arizona’s immigration laws to make harassment of minorities easier. Quite a guy.
To Be or Not To Be – Jack Benny and Carole Lombard in a wonderful comedy, later reprised by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. The original is more adroit—and no wonder: produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who was also responsible for one of my favorite movies of all time, The Shop Around the Corner, with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.
Sex and the Single Girl – I would never have ordered this as a DVD, but since I could just take a look on Watch Instantly, I tried it. Big surprise: Music composed by Neal Hefti and played by Count Basie and his Orchestra. For that alone, it’s worth seeing. It’s also a big-budget movie with excellent production values and quite a cast: Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Mel Ferrer, Fran Jeffries, Leslie Parrish, Edward Everett Horton (!), Larry Storch, Stubby Kaye, Otto Kruger.
Terrorists – A totally wonderful independent comedy—completely straight-faced—about terrorist hysteria in the US. A “written and directed by” movie. (I always like those because the director totally understands what the writer is getting at.)
Born Rich – A documentary about those born to enormous wealth—young people who have grown up as heirs and heiresses. The movie was made by the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, so he was able to get his coevals to talk more than they would have to an “outsider.” Their lives and thoughts are fascinating. Most comment that they thought that everyone lived pretty much as they did (e.g., with their own museum or country estate or whatever), which shows how closed those communities are: they generally see and associate with only those in their same socio-economic class, so they group up quite isolated, in a way. It reminded me of the young Buddha (when he was still just plain Prince Siddhartha Gautama), who did not see a single sick or disabled person—indeed, no human suffering—until he was in his teens.
Ira & Abby – An independent romantic comedy that is completely wonderful. Do see this one.
Examined Life – A documentary of interviews with various modern philosophers, having them relate their studies to daily life. Quite interesting, and some seriously bright people.
Those are probably enough to get you through the weekend. Enjoy!
I got some advice on the Goodfella razor:
The Goodfella should be held like a fountain pen around the ringed part of the handle. The razor will then be nicely balanced so you don’t need to grip so much. Give it a tryand let me know what you feel.
I lathered with the “chilled” shaving soap from Gentlemen’s Best. It was a puck shaped for a mug, so I thought I’d try it in the mug above. No go: the mug was too deep, and as I loaded the brush the plated solid brass handle of the Plisson Chinese Grey banged into the sides of the mug: not good. I returned the puck to a wooden bowl and proceeded with the lathering. This is a nice soap that provides excellent lather.
The Goodfella did indeed feel better as I focused on holding it by the rings. I tried the “pen grip”, but that was awkward, so I shifted my grip a bit, but still grasped the rings.
A much better shave this time. In fact, quite a good shave. And the splash of Floïd continued the “chill” theme.