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Saturday Morning News and Views: May Day Edition

Beltane Fire Ritual, Edinburgh, Scotland

Happy May Day, Conflucians!! It’s the feast of Beltane. In Edinburgh, 12,000 people gathered for the Beltane Fire Festival spring rituals. Here is a little information on the pagan holiday:

By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These “need-fires” had healing properties, and skyclad Witches would jump through the flames to ensure protection.

Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bonfires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.

Other May Day customs include: processions of chimney-sweeps and milk maids, archery tournaments, morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, drinking, and maidens bathing their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.

In the words of Witchcraft writers Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Beltane celebration was principly a time of “…unashamed human sexuality and fertility.” Such associations include the obvious phallic symbolism of the Maypole and riding the hobby horse. Even a seemingly innocent children’s nursery rhyme, “Ride a cock horse to Banburry Cross…” retain such memories. And the next line “…to see a fine Lady on a white horse” is a reference to the annual ride of “Lady Godiva” though Coventry. Every year for nearly three centuries, a sky-clad village maiden (elected Queen of the May) enacted this Pagan rite, until the Puritans put an end to the custom.

May Day is also an important day for the labor movement.

At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike “at the root of the evil.” A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the anarchist newspaper, The Alarm, that “whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave.”

Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that “the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction.” With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours, but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.

Back here in the 21st Century, it’s been quite a week for news.


GULF COAST OIL SPILL

The Obama administration finally seems to be waking up to the fact that a major catastrophe has occurred down in the gulf, and there are going to be disastrous consequences for Americans in at least five states–with the effects spreading throughout the country. This looks like it could be worse than Katrina, and the federal response for the past 10 days has been zip, nada, less than zero.

Here’s one take from Louisiana: Louisiana Target Of Oil Spill Katrina: Obama, Doing A Heck of A Job

Another disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is heading for the shorelines of Louisiana. Once again, the federal government has bungled the response. In contrast to President Bush, who waited four days after Katrina to send federal help to New Orleans, President Obama has waited nine days to act after the horrific oil disaster in the Gulf.

A couple of days after Katrina, the media were asking why Bush wasn’t acting. They seem to have given Obama quite a bit more leeway, and Obama and the rest of the Chicago boys managed to be even more oblivious to this disaster than the Bush gang were to Katrina.

Yesterday, the President announced that the Department of Defense might be used. Yet, without concrete action, this type of empty promise means nothing. In reality, the White House should have immediately dispatched any and all assets of the Defense or Homeland Security Departments that may help mitigate the negative impact of this disaster.

Finally, today, ten days after the explosion, officials from the Department of Homeland Security officials are reaching the area. Why the delay? Yesterday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano commented that the spill is of “national significance” and will devote more resources to the crisis. Yet, where was this urgency a week ago?

According to the latest reports, this spill could turn out to be much worse than officials are saying even now. From AL.com: Leaked report: Government fears Deepwater Horizon well could become unchecked gusher

A confidential government report on the unfolding spill disaster in the Gulf makes clear the Coast Guard now fears the well could become an unchecked gusher shooting millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.

“The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

According to this article, the only thing that is keeping the oil from spewing out completely out of control is some “kinks” in the pipes–like a garden hose that is bent or twisted.

The worst-case scenario for the broken and leaking well pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico would be the loss of the wellhead and kinked piping currently restricting the flow to 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons — per day.

If the wellhead is lost, oil could leave the well at a much greater rate.

“Typically, a very good well in the Gulf can produce 30,000 barrels a day, but that’s under control. I have no idea what an uncontrolled release could be,” said Stephen Sears, chairman of the petroleum engineering department at Louisiana State University.

According to another leaked document, BP made no plans for how to handle a disaster like this: Document: BP didn’t plan for major oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

In its 52-page exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well, BP suggested it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish, mammals and fisheries.

BP’s plan filed with the federal Minerals Management Service for the Deepwater Horizon well, dated February 2009, says repeatedly that it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.”

And while the company conceded that a spill would impact beaches, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, it argued that “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.”

Even The New York Times editorial page chides the Obama administration for it’s lackadaisical attitude.

The timetable is damning. The blowout occurred on April 20. In short order, fire broke out on the rig, taking 11 lives, the rig collapsed and oil began leaking at a rate of 40,000 gallons a day. BP tried but failed to plug the well. Even so, BP appears to have remained confident that it could handle the situation with private resources (as did the administration) until Wednesday night, when, at a hastily called news conference, the Coast Guard quintupled its estimate of the leak to 5,000 barrels, or more than 200,000 gallons a day.

Only then did the administration move into high gear.

There are rumors now that Obama may have to drag himself down to the Gulf and pretend to care about the situation. Helen Cooper wrote in the NYT that as of last night, Obama still had no plans for a visit–plus he’s going ahead with his appearance at the WH correspondents’ dinner this weekend.

The fact that Mr. Obama has no plans to visit the Gulf Coast in the next few days has already raised the eyebrows of some administration critics, in particular as it relates to the president’s plans this weekend. He is scheduled to attend the high-wattage, celebrity-studded White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night, which CNN has been promising, in hourly promos, that it will broadcast live starting at 7 p.m. with dispatches from the red carpet.

For Mr. Obama, the potential political fallout “is going to be aggravated by the fact that the president traditionally gives a humorous speech,” said Martha Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University. “There you are in Washington with celebrities and the media while wildlife and fishermen are doused in oil? That’s not going to do much for the White House or for the press, for that matter.”

White House officials said the president’s weekend plans remained on track. He will fly to Michigan on Saturday morning to speak at the commencement of the University of Michigan, and will then return to Washington for the dinner. Aides add that Mr. Obama could use his remarks at the dinner to highlight the plight of gulf residents, fishermen and wildlife.

The LA Times reports that the oil being leaked into the Gulf may be a “heavier” type that will be harder to clean up than the oil from previous spills.

The analysis is based on only a single sample, “but it has caused my level of apprehension to go way up,” said environmental scientist Edward B. Overton of Louisiana State University, who is analyzing the oil for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. So far, he appears to be the only researcher who thinks there may be a bigger-than-expected problem with the oil.

“This could be a fluke sample,” he conceded, and researchers are “desperately” trying to get more samples — a project that is not as simple as it might sound. “We’re hoping and praying that it is Louisiana sweet crude, but if it is not…this is going to be a very unique spill. We have never seen a spill with this high an asphaltenic content.”

On Tuesday, the Guardian UK published accusations by a BP whistleblower suggesting that BP may have taken shortcuts in building another offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

A whistleblower employed by a contractor working for BP leaked internal emails from staffers dated August 2008 which appear to reveal concerns that BP may not have been keeping a complete accurate record of drawings of the components used to build the Atlantis platform.

Final “as-built” drawings show how generic parts are modified when they are assembled. They can be crucial to assess how such a complex structure operates in practice. It is federal law for rig operators to keep complete, up-to-date “as-built” drawings. If BP assumed the drawings were accurate and up-to-date, “this could lead to catastrophic operator errors”, a BP executive involved in the project warned colleagues, according to one email.

At the end of February, the powerful House committee on natural resources wrote to MMS demanding it investigate the claims. The agency, which declined to provide further details to the Guardian , promised to launch the inquiry soon afterwards.

And wouldn’t you know there’s a Halliburton connection to this horrible disaster? According to the LA Times:

Investigators delving into the possible cause of the massive gulf oil spill are focusing on the role of Houston-based Halliburton Co., the giant energy services company, which was responsible for cementing the drill into place below the water. The company acknowledged Friday that it had completed the final cementing of the oil well and pipe just 20 hours before the blowout last week.

Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Energy and Commerce has asked Halliburton to produce the relevant documents.

In a statement Friday, Halliburton said “it is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues.” The company had four employees stationed on the rig at the time of the accident, all of whom were rescued by the Coast Guard. “Halliburton had completed the cementing of the final production casing string in accordance with the well design,” it said. “The cement slurry design was consistent with that utilized in other similar applications. In accordance with accepted industry practice … tests demonstrating the integrity of the production casing string were completed.”

CNN is reporting that President Obama may break down and visit the disaster area tomorrow. It might be too late for him to make a good impression on the people who will be directly affected by the spill, but maybe he could fool the media into thinking he is actually doing something useful. You never know.


OBAMA AND THE SUPREME COURT

Another shocking story for me this week has been President Obama’s recent remarks about the Supreme Courts of the 1960s and 1970s. Obama parroted right-wing talking points about the important Court decisions about that era–claiming the Justices were “in error” and “overreached.” Following this controversial (at least for liberals) statement, the White House refused to specify which decisions Obama was referring to. Here’s the quote from the Charlie Savage and Sheryl Gay Stolberg article in the NYT:

“It used to be that the notion of an activist judge was somebody who ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes, and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically,” Mr. Obama said.

“And in the ’60s and ’70s, the feeling was — is that liberals were guilty of that kind of approach. What you’re now seeing, I think, is a conservative jurisprudence that oftentimes makes the same error.”

He added, “The concept of judicial restraint cuts both ways.”

WTF?! What decisions was he talking about? Do they include the landmark Gideon decision that required that poor defendants be provided with legal counsel? The Miranda decision? The busing decision? The striking down of anti-miscegenation laws? Who knows? The WH is staying mum. As Glenn Greenwald put it: “…the imperial decree has been issued and that’s apparently all you need to know.”

Greenwald also provided a list of some of the most important SCOTUS decisions of the Warren and Burger Courts:

The Supreme Court in the 60s and 70s produced many of the decisions most cherished by mainstream progressives. That was when the right to privacy was first recognized in Griswold, anti-miscegenation statutes were struck down in Loving, public school officials were barred from imposing sectarian prayer in Engel and mandatory Bible readings in Abington, defendants’ rights were safeguarded in Miranda, the right to counsel was mandated in Gideon, reproductive rights were protected in Roe, religious freedoms were enhanced in Sherbert, Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizure were strengthened with the exclusionary rule in Mapp and by application to telephone eavesdropping in Katz, critical First Amendment safeguards were enforced in Brandenburg and The Pentagon Papers case (NYT v. U.S.), the rule of law was aggressively applied to Richard Nixon when the Court unanimously ordered him to comply with Congressional subpoenas, and the promise of equal protection enshrined in Brown v. The Board of Education (a decision of the Warren Court) was carried through with a series of decisions applying those principles to states and localities.

These decisions form the bedrock of progressive legal thought regarding the Constitution and the Supreme Court, which is why it’s rather bizarre to hear Barack Obama condemn unspecified aspects of it as “judicial activism errors.”

Once again, I have to wonder how Obama ever got a job teaching Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago. I pity his former students and hope they got a different perspective from other professors.


OBAMA AND THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS

Another rather more humorous controversy that has been in the news this week is the rift that has been growing between President Obama and the previously adoring media who did so much to get him elected in 2008. From Politico: Why reporters are down on President Obama

“Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me,” Obama joked last year at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

But even then, only four months into his presidency, the joke fell flat. Now, a year later, with another correspondents’ dinner Saturday night likely to generate the familiar criticism of the press’s cozy relationship with power, the reality is even more at odds with the public perception.

Obama and the media actually have a surprisingly hostile relationship — as contentious on a day-to-day basis as any between press and president in the past decade, reporters who cover the White House say.

Hmmm….maybe the prez would be better off to go and face the music in New Orleans and skip the correspondents’ dinner this year.

According to Politico, the WH is “thin-skinned, controlling and eager to go over their heads.” The WH is “stingy” with in the most basic kinds of information, and President Obama refused to allow them to ask a few questions from time to time–as even George W. Bush permitted. In fact, Obama has given only a couple of press conferences, fewer than Bush did by this time in his presidency. The last one was in July 2009! And Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs is snotty, dismissive, and secretive–and he plays favorites. The WH slips stories to the NYT, and shuts out other outlets.

Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News and World Report responds to the Politico story:

No wonder reporters laughed out loud when Gibbs claimed this was the most transparent administration “in the history of our country.” They’re upset at the fact that there hasn’t been a press conference since last summer, that the administration won’t give most reporters the time of day (well, except the New York Times), and that the level of vitriol and profanity directed at reporters from press office assistants is unprecedented. It’s having a ripple effect throughout the media, adding to the anger and impatience on all sides.

It’s all part of a wider pattern of arrogance at the White House that began in those first few days in office, when the President reminded Republican leaders
: “I won.” He’s still saying it, in so many words, and this time it’s to the press. It’s all part of the permanent campaign that is fueling voter discontent and frustration with incumbents.

Glenn Greenwald notes that the press corps is too chicken to use their names when complaining about Obama’s treatment of them:

National political reporters are furious over various White House practices involving transparency and information control, but are unwilling to say so for attribution due to fear of “retaliation,” instead insisting on hiding behind a wall of anonymity (which Politico, needless to say, happily provides). Isn’t that a rather serious problem: that the White House press corps is afraid to criticize the President and the White House for fear of losing access and suffering other forms of retribution? What does that say about their “journalism”? It’s the flip side of those White House reporters who need the good graces of Obama aides for their behind-the-scenes books and thus desperately do their bidding: what kind of reporter covering the White House would possibly admit that they’re afraid to say anything with their names attached that might anger the President and his aides? How could you possibly be a minimally credible White House reporter if you have that fear? Doesn’t that unwillingness rather obviously render their reporting worthless?

Excellent point!

Gawker’s response to the story: White House Press Can’t Stop Complaining Long Enough to Win Any Sympathy

Maybe these reporters should have gotten a clue back when Obama complained about answering eight whole questions at a press availability during the primaries.

So what are you reading this morning? Please share your links in the comments and have a stupendous Saturday!!!!

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22 Responses

  1. Fantastic round-up! Obama is about as good Constitutional Law scholar as W was a businessman.
    And the NYT editorial is a pleasant surprise indeed. They earn their keep with their other columns though

    http://edgeoforever.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/the-conscience-of-a-liberal-sezleave-obama-alone/

    • Obama was NOT a Con Law scholar – he taught a course as an adjunct faculty.

      Law school isn’t about learning all about the law, it’s about learning to pass the Bar Exam. Instructors teach from standard “casebooks” that don’t discuss the political aspects of SCOTUS decisions, just the legal theories.

      • He got turned down as an adjunct. He was a lecturer or something the college made up to give him an office and a class.

        • A “guest lecturer.” One class, focusing on the legal history of civil rights and African American citizenship. That’s all.

  2. If I hear that Obama was a law professor one more time I’ll slit my wrists (well, maybe not).
    I just can’t wait to see all the jokesters brag about the wonderful. hilarious White House Correspondents Dinner red carpet razzle dazzle.
    As for our hard hitting reporters, I’ve been seeing alot of Luke Russert lately. So glad to know the long tradition of alcoholic reporters and their families carrying on the tradition of spewing talking points of the rich and powerful. Meanwhile, all of us on the southern coastlines are watching the impending disaster coming and listening to politicians twisting in the wind about whether they support offshore drilling. Believe me, nobody will after they see the devastation we’re about to witness. Watch the new jobs program coming -saving and cleaning birds with Dawn dishwashing liquid, scooping up and burying the dead fish and finally, money for those who live along the beaches to move to Cape Cod where the only threat to the beach is a view of windmills.

  3. BO and all the media are going to be yucking it up at the correspondent’s dinner tonight. That’s after he makes a trip to Michigan earlier in the day for a commencement speech. Day ten of this oil spill for the people, environment and wildlife in the gulf, and he hasn’t made a visit. BO is not big on empathy, and it shows with this crisis as it does with his handling of the economy. He’d rather not be bothered with people in need. Progressive my ass.

    • Kind of reminds me of the experiment where average people electrocuted volunteers because a scientist told them to. As long as BO doesn’t care about the coast, no one else needs to either.

  4. Obama is going to the scene of the crime after all. http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/01/louisiana.oil.spill/index.html?hpt=T1
    Sen. David (diaper man) Vitter has much concern in this quote:

    “BP is spread too thin in trying to both cap the well and remediate the damage along the coastline, producing an inefficient and ineffective response,” Vitter said in a statement Friday. “I urge all involved to allow BP to focus all of its efforts on building a dome and drilling a relief well at the source of the spill so that federal and state officials can focus their efforts on protecting and cleaning up the coast.”

    Oh, poor BP. My take on this is, it’s a crime to pollute the world with this filth. We cannot have real health care reform which will be greatly needed in that area once the oil mess creates more cancers, illness, etc. but we must get in there and once again and clean up some private corporations mess. Ohhh, did I say something we aren’t supposed to say or know. The truth is a lot of this corporate created chaos is the reason so many are sick….so give everybody health care, real health care without the strings attached! We deserve it for putting up with these lousy corporations that don’t give a hoot for the public and care only about their profits!

    • I don’t think BP needs to work on cleanup efforts because they’d be no damn good at it. Plus, they’d probably use pictures of it in their ads about how great they are.

      The US would be better off cleaning up the damage and then fining BP for the cost.

      • It’s obvious they suck at it. The point is that these accidents, waiting to happen are allowed to exist. The government then goes in and cleans it up with our tax payer money and we, the people, have to fight for any kind of real health care reform, which we will need because of companies like this one. BP will end up with a slap on the wrist and countless real people will be left with the damage to both their livelihood and their health.

      • I’m sure the Universities will be billing them. We’ve sent all our field biologists down there with their grad students to facilitate the cleanup. Also, the state’s Wildlife department which was also key in the Katrina aftermath. It might be Louisiana Petroleum by the time this ends.

  5. Obama’s fatal flinch on immigration reform

    The president could have made a major push for reform (always a difficult prospect in an election year), or he could have told immigration advocates they had to wait until 2011 (which would have antagonized a key voting bloc). But instead, he left a vacuum. This may sound familiar to those who watched Obama’s handling of another thorny issue — the “public option” in the health-care debate. He neither made an all-out push (which would have been politically perilous) nor ruled it out (which would have angered liberal groups) — a stance that resulted in months of disarray in Congress.

    The immigration vacillation led to Thursday night’s humiliation in the Capitol, where Reid and his colleagues unveiled their dead-on-arrival proposal. They played down the rollout as best they could — and happened to walk before the cameras at the exact moment that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was announcing his independent run for the Senate. In questioning, Reid admitted that, without Republican help, “we’re not going to have a bill on the floor.”

    The White House, trying to repair the damage, issued a statement calling the plan “a very important step.” For those thirsting for strong presidential leadership, it was too little, too late.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/30/AR2010043001389_pf.html

    • Reid’s bill calls for a national ID card for ALL American workers, including you.

      NOT EVER GONNA HAPPEN.

      • The point of the article was not about Reid, it was about Obama’s constant political hedging and lack of conviction. He equates his handling of immigration reform to the public option–vacillation so he doesn’t alienate any potential voting block, and it ends up being a mess. What amazes me is that people did not see this about him in the 2008 debates. He never staked a claim about anything; always rambling tangents symbolizing nothing.

  6. >> I have to wonder how Obama ever got a job teaching Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago

    The law school is very conservative, as is the school of economics, which was the academic home of Milton Friedman.

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  7. I can’t believe the EPA is letting BP put dispersant on the oil coming out of the well. That will end up harming/killing fish farther out in the gulf.

    I hope they gag on their fancy dinner tonight while ‘Rome burns.’

  8. I swear the world is coming to an end. Now a major aquaduct in Mass. burst and 8 million gallons of water per hour is being dumped into the Charles River.

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/05/catastrophic_le.html

    A major pipe bringing water to the Boston area has sprung a “catastrophic” leak and is dumping eight million gallons of water per hour into the Charles River. Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and issued a “boil-water” order for Boston and dozens of other communities.

    • we’ve let our infrastructure rot over the last 30 – 40 years. we’re more interested in updating our war machines.

      • Yep. Remember that bridge collapse during rush hour in Minneapolis?

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