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Memorial Day News

Good Morning, Conflucians. Today is Memorial Day. This holiday began informally as Decoration Day, a day to honor the Civil War dead by decorating their graves. The day was widely celebrated for the first time in 1868.

…after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, is celebrated each year on November 11.)

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.

As everyone has heard by now, President Obama will not attend the events at Arlington Cemetery, but will laying a wreath in Abraham Lincoln Cemetery in Ellwood, IL, taking a break from his vacation in Chicago.

There has been some criticism of Obama for skipping the ceremony in DC, but lots of progs are defending him too. The Week quoted Erik Erikson of Red State as the best example of critical opinions on this issue. Here’s a sample of what Erikson had to say:

By suggesting this President, in the midst of a war, should probably be going to Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day instead of taking his second vacation in a month, conservatives are somehow suggesting he use dead soldiers as political props.

After eight years of the left demanding publicity of flag draped coffins returning to Deleware [sic] from overseas to use as political props against George W. Bush, it is more than a little humorous to have the left now accuse the right of doing the same. It also ignores a fundamental point leftists too busy calling our soldiers “war criminals” and our dead soldiers “political props” miss — going to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns has nothing to do with using dead soldiers as political props and everything to do with a Commander in Chief who seems to not like the military showing some basic respect to the men and women, alive and dead, who have actually kept us free.

Even I find that a little over the top, but I don’t really see how soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have “kept us free” either.

On the defense-of-Obama side, David Corn writes about The Right Wing’s Memorial Day Attack on Obama:

There’s a hole in the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is still near 10 percent. There are two wars underway. And what are conservative pundits fretting about? That this year President Obama won’t be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

OK, but why did Obama have to go on vacation? I do find that a bit troubling with all the problems we have–particularly the oil spill, which he should really appoint someone to handle if he isn’t going to do it.

Fox News has a critique of Corn’s attitude: A Tale of Two Americas On Memorial Day 2010 and CBS News points out that Obama isn’t the first President to skip the ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.

Olivia Hampton at the Guardian UK points out that we have been in Afghanistan for nine years now, Obama has dramatically escalated that war, and yet and we aren’t even close to achieving our supposed goals.

The war’s intended objective was to rid the United States of extremist threats from far away lands, but domestic extremism of all hues is now on the rise, the Taliban has regrouped, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar have eluded capture and Afghanistan once again is ablaze.

For all the soldiers who now lie dead on this Memorial Day, America’s pride is again wounded and an arrogant war has failed to bear the promised fruits of democracy to that rugged, mountainous terrain called Afghanistan.

In other News, the BP oil spill continues apace, and Maureen Dowd is tentatively turning on The One. She’s even calling him Barry! She’s mostly worried about Obama’s inappropriate affect rather than the people who are suffering from his inaction, but that’s Modo. It’s always about appearances for her. Here’s a sample:

F.D.R. achieved greatness not by means of imposing his temperament and intellect on the world but by reacting to what the world threw at him.

For five weeks, it looked as though Obama considered the gushing that became the worst oil spill in U.S. history a distraction, like a fire alarm going off in the middle of a law seminar he was teaching. He’ll deal with it, but he’s annoyed because it’s not on his syllabus.

James Carville is much more worried about the reality on the ground: BP Gulf Oil Spill: ‘This is Literally a War We’re In’

Last week, Carville called President Obama’s response to what is poised to become the country’s biggest environmental disaster on record “lackadaisical.”

Today he said Obama was doing “better,” but said it’s clear BP has lost control of the situation.

“I do know, for too long, they were taking BP’s word for everything which turned out to be wrong at every junction,” Carville said. “It’s all turned out on the wrong side.”

He said Obama needs to tell Americans exactly what is happening with relief efforts and why the gulf region is so important to the country’s economy and environment.

“I think the president has to address the nation,” Carville said. “His legacy depends on what happens with the oil in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Personally, I think if Obama “addressed the nation,” he would still sound like a boring, pedantic, detached lecturer in a 101 class he has taught many times.

Meanwhile, MSNBC reports BP, government warn oil may leak until August and people in the Gulf are getting very discouraged, as we know from Dakinikat’s frequent updates.

“I was just sitting here thinking our way of life is over. It’s the end, the apocalypse,” said fisherman Tom Young of Plaquemines Parish on the coast. “And no one outside of these few parishes really cares. They say they do, but they don’t do nothing but talk. Where’s the action? Where’s the person who says these are real people, real people with families and they are hurting?”

“There are people who are getting desperate, and there are more getting anxious as we get further into the shrimping season and there is less chance they will recover,” said the Rev. Theodore Turner, 57, at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Boothville, near where oil first washed ashore. Fishermen make up about a third of his congregation.

The disaster, in its 42nd day Monday, is already the largest oil spill in U.S. history and officials are calling it the country’s biggest environmental catastrophe.

And yet our lackadasical, inert, vacationing President still hasn’t declared it a national emergency. Why not, for heaven’s sake?

But at least one administration representative claims that the government is “prepared for the worst.” Apparently the latest BP “solution” to the leak may cause an increase in the oil flooding out of the ocean floor.

“The worst is that we have oil leaking until August, until these relief wells are dug,” said Browner. “And we will be prepared for the worst.”

The worse I’ve heard is that the relief wells might not work and the oil could flow until all the oil comes out–maybe years. But the administration is prepared to deal with “the worst,” like when they predicted unemployment wouldn’t go above 8 percent.

From the MSNBC article:

As David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, told me several weeks ago, these wells are not often used and are especially difficult to drill at such a depth. Basically, BP hopes to drill down to intersect the leaking well in order to inject cement and plug it. But the leaking well is only 7 inches in diameter. Experts compare it to a nurse trying to locate your vein to to draw blood—except the vein is a mile below water and then another three and a half miles under the seabed, and the operation has to be carried out with remotely operated robotic devices.

There are also concerns that trying to tap the well could make the situation worse. In its application for the permit to drill the relief wells, BP warned that an additional blowout could cause 240,000 barrels of oil a day to spew into the Gulf.

If that fails? The Gulf well could continue spewing oil for years.

So I guess the administration isn’t really prepared for the worst. They’re just lying liars as usual.

From the NYT:

independent scientists and government officials say another disaster is playing out in slow motion — and out of public view — in the mysterious depths between the gusher and the coast, a world inhabited by sperm whales, gigantic jellyfish and diminutive plankton.

More than a month after the BP PLC spill began, the disaster’s dimensions have come into sharper focus with government estimates that more than 18 million gallons of oil — and possibly 40 million gallons — has already poured from the leaking well, eclipsing the 11 million gallons released during the Exxon Valdez spill.

”Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that,” said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist….[Unseen events below the ocean’s surface] can ripple across the food chain. Every night the denizens of the deep make forays to shallower depths to eat — and be eaten by — other fish, according to marine scientists who describe it as the largest migration on earth.

In turn, several species closest to the surface — including red snapper, shrimp and menhaden — help drive the Gulf Coast fishing industry. Others such as marlin, cobia and yellowfin tuna sit atop the food chain and are chased by the Gulf’s charter fishing fleet.

Many of those species are now in their annual spawning seasons. Eggs exposed to oil would quickly perish. Those that survived to hatch could starve if the plankton at the base of the food chain suffer. Larger fish are more resilient, but not immune to the toxic effects of oil.

And so the disaster continues as Dear Leader relaxes in the Chicago White House. Will he ever act?

Yes, I’m still focusing mainly on the oil spill news. But please post cheerful links in the comments if you have them. And have a nice Memorial Day everyone!

Out of Big Oil into Big Nuke

The oil gusher in the Gulf is bad. It’s turning people away from fossil fuel, which could be good. If it turned the powers-that-be to clean, sustainable energy, that would be very good.

But here’s what I bet will happen.

Once the weeping and gnashing of teeth has subsided to a numbed realization that we need to do something next, that’s when the real problems will start. That’s when the nuclear lobby will be back.

[Well, that didn’t take long. That was written around May 15th. This was on Marketwatch, May 21st.: “Nuclear Option Back on the Table.” ]

They’ll say we need energy, lots of energy, which we can get only from a large, serious energy source, like nuclear. So let’s go over just a few points related to getting energy from nuclear reactors. (I’m repeating myself. There’s a lot more information and links in those long posts.)

By 2050, North America is projected to need some 7.8 terawatts (pdf) of total primary energy under a business-as-usual scenario. The pro-nuclear argument is that it will provide for business as usual without the sacrifices required by trying to make do with renewable, sustainable, distributed energy which can only provide a fraction of what’s needed.

Take them at their word. Let’s say the weak sisters can’t provide more than about 25% of the projected amount. (I’m setting it higher than pro-nuke scenarios usually do out of kindness. Why it’s a kindness will be clear in a moment.)

Since nuclear plants don’t safely last longer than their operating life of 30 years, if that, all the ones needed in 2050 will have to be built between now and then.

We have forty years (or 2080 weeks) in which to build 75% of 7.8 TW, which is 5,850 gigawatts of capacity. The large reactors built now are on the order of 1GW, The number of fully operational 1GW reactors needed to provide 75% of energy in four decades is 5850.

So about one fully operational 1GW reactor has to be completed every day, except Sundays, starting five months ago. If there are technological breakthroughs so that, say, 5GW commercial reactors can be built, then only a bit more than one per week needs to be finished.

That doesn’t include permitting or siting. Just physical construction. With no delays, large reactors take about five years to build, so there would need to be hundreds of reactors under construction at any one time.

Keep firmly in mind that it is renewable, distributed energy that is unrealistic.

Think about it. You’d need about 21,000 square miles of photovoltaic panels to generate 7.8TWh of power per year at the insolation near Chicago or New England, where it’s 0.3kWh per square foot per day, using 12% efficient solar panels. That’s a square 145 miles on each side. The built-up area in the US is about 125,000 square miles (and some of that’s in Arizona and California, not Chicago). So, worst case, if 15% of built-up areas is roofs, parking lots, windows, and roadways which could have photovoltaics installed, then 100% of US energy needs would be met. That’s without using wind, geothermal, tidal, or any other clean energy. That could be added. Production of photovoltaic materials would have to be ramped up to where the stuff could just roll off the presses. There’s also the fact that you and I can install PV panels if we put our minds to it. You and I aren’t ever going to be installing nukes. That takes rare and highly trained experts, so it’s a much more serious option.

Moving right along, the next item is construction time and costs for nuclear reactors. Costs are in the billions and time to completion in years, so the business risks are immense.

Note: these aren’t the risks of operation. Liability for those is limited by the Price Andersen Act, which makes the taxpayer the insurer of last resort for the nuclear power industry. In current terms, if they lose too much money, you bail them out.

Companies normally carry insurance for projects with business risks too large for them to absorb, but the professional actuaries at insurance companies consider the business risks of reactors (not the radiation risks, just the business risks during construction) to be too large. So, once again, the taxpayers step in to provide guarantees so that construction can go ahead.

For instance, Obama recently tripled the Federal loan guarantees from $18 billion to $54 billion. The guarantees are intended to cover about 80% of costs, so suddenly instead of only being able to build three nukes, we can build thirteen or so. That’s about two weeks’ worth of the necessary number of reactors if nukes are the solution to the end of oil.

It’s a start. And this way that $54 billion can’t be wasted on funding efficiency retrofits of old buildings or a cash for clunkers program.

The third point about using nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels, is that nuclear fuel is a limited nonrenewable resource. If reactors operated on the scale I’m talking about, the practically recoverable uranium would be depleted in a matter of decades.

(New designs don’t change that equation. Commercial fusion energy, or mining seawater or asteroids are not practical solutions on the necessary timescales. Breeder reactors, sometimes called renewable nuclear energy, solve energy problems the same way decapitation solves brain cancer. So-called advanced designs that share the dubious features of breeders, like fast neutron fluxes and exotic coolants, are just more attempts to sell people on the same failed pig in a new poke.)

Insofar as nuclear energy is a real world option, it is not renewable and its fuel would be gone in decades if it was a major energy source.

So. Nukes can’t be built fast enough to replace oil. They’re uninsurable. Uranium is a depletable resource. None of that even considers the usual roster of health, environmental, and waste problems. So, why do nukes ever come up? How can it be that anyone wastes valuable brain cells on such a total loss of an option?

Well, there’s a lot of money to be made for a few people in any big construction project. Highway money pork is nothing compared nuke pork. Roads to nowhere have been built for the pork of it, and nukes will be, too, if the recipients have much to say about it. (One day after I wrote that, I came across this report from January 31st:

Rather than try to propose a similar project that, like Yucca, might take decade [sic] of grueling planning only to be shot down at the end, the administration’s solution is to commission a panel of experts that includes academics, politicians and businessmen like Exelon CEO John Rowe.

The panel will consider fixes like making some easy changes to waste handling laws, but will doubtless also look at some ideas that have gotten little play in the U.S., like breeder reactors that can reprocess old waste into new, usable fuel. [Emphasis added]

The other good thing is that reactors keep the energy monopoly right where it is now. Backyard mini-nukes get, ahem, glowing reviews full of that old time optimism, but it’s not an option many people would choose for their kids’ playground. So there aren’t any real worries about any of that distributed energy, profit-draining hokum. That makes this nonrenewable polluting energy source a real solution to the problems caused by the other nonrenewable polluting energy source.

Get ready for the serious, correctly dressed people telling you so.

[Update, May 31: propertius adds lots of useful numbers in comments. Go read.]

Oil Spill update: “Top Kill” has failed

Supposedly an email was sent from BP saying “Top Kill” has been killed:

Earlier today, BP COO Doug Suttles had no good news for local reporters following the company’s “top kill” effort to plug the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, telling them that it had not yet worked and he did not know whether it would be successful yet. And now a few moments ago, CNN International Desk Assignment Editor Nick Valencia is reporting on Twitter that Plaquemines President Billy Nungesser has received and email saying Top Kill has officially failed.

A Congressman also gets emotional over the situation.

There is nothing to say and no adequate words to describe how we all feel about this, so make it an open thread.

Field testing the iPad

Long time, no see, guys.  My work life has gotten interesting lately and I find myself back in the lab after 20 years.  And I just have to say that all in all, this has been a very good move for me.  I recommend it to any former lab rat who has found themselves behind a monitor for too long.  Technology has changed a great deal in two decades and learning and relearning new things makes work challenging and fun.  It’s the best of both worlds, really.  I still get to park my fat ass behind the computer for part of the day to play with models but my ass is getting smaller from running around the bench.  So, two thumbs up for the lab.

Now, I have a company lab notebook that’s all legal and stuff that I write things down in but when I was in the lab recently, I found that I wanted a notebook for jotting things down of a more general nature.  It’s mostly reminders, calculations and procedural stuff that could apply to any particular experiment, nothing proprietary.  I recently bought an iPad to semi replace my macbook that’s on it’s last legs so I thought I’d give it a try.  There have been other reviews of the iPad, most recently Anglachel’s.  But I think that the mistake that many people make about the iPad is that they concentrate too much on the hardware.  (If you find the device “too heavy”, you need to hit the gym)  To really understand how the iPad fits into the device spectrum, you have to think out of the box and focus on the apps.  And even though the apps developed for the iPad are still few in number compared to the iPhone, it’s in this area where motivated developers are going to make the iPad a truly revolutionary device.

For my purposes in the lab, the iPad is off to a good start but it could be amazing.  I prop it up using the apple cover in type mode (see pic above) and leave it on the bench, coming back to it now and then to make notations using the Notes app that comes with the iPad.   I can type through my nitrile gloves and my lab is mercifully free from most solvents so I’m not worried about corrosion.  The screen cleans up nicely with a kimwipe.  Nevertheless, a waterproof cover or thin film screen protectent is probably a good idea for people who want to take their iPad into the lab.   There’s an app for making stock solution dilutions and molarity calculations called LabCal.  It’s an iPhone app that runs on the iPad.  Although the iPad doesn’t come with a calculator, there are plenty of cheap calculator apps in the apps store.  I found a nice scientific calculator called Calc XT that has a nifty little scratch pad.  For reading general procedures, I mail the published documents to my email account and access the pdfs using GoodReader.  And for planning my work, I use Todo by Appigo.  These are the main tools I need everyday. I don’t have access to wifi or the 3G network in my area so my scribbles stay on the ipad.  Essentially, what I have is the equivalent of a little steno pad, folder and calculator but the notes are stored by date and everything I need is in one slim device.

But there are a couple of additional apps that I’ve found lurking in the apps store that point the way to the future.  For example, the American Chemical Society has an app that allows the user to select a number of journals to browse.  Highlights and abstracts are delivered to the app and the full journal article can be accessed directly, provided the user has a subscription.  This would be a great way to deliver literature electronically.  Ordinarily, I print papers out from the pdfs because I don’t like reading them on a computer screen.  But on an iPad, literature has the feel of reading a printed document with all of the digital benefits.

Another app, iKinasePro, is a bit pricier but at $9.99 is still a steal.  It gives the user access to a curated database of kinases, along with published inhibitors, links to literature and patents, and a multitouch kinome tree.  But what really drew me to this app is that it features a molecular editor from Chemene that is similar to a ChemDraw widget.  The user can quickly draw a structure and do a

The Chemene Molecular Editor

substructure search of the database to find hits.  The app does require access to a wifi or 3G network, as does the ACS app.  The kinome diagram also doesn’t allow for the finer resolution multitouch, the user can only select certain groups of kinases.  But motivated developers {{hint, hint}} should be paying close attention to that editor because that’s the way we need to go with the electronic notebook app that I’m sure someone is going to make a killing on.

The mobile electronic notebook could be a godsend for labrats.  Imagine one app that does it all: records your steps, has a built in calculator, can calculate dilutions from stock solutions, can calculate the MW from the structure you draw, can fetch the synthetic pathway from the literature, can register your compound, and allow you to search for similar structures and their related activity and ADME data in the database.  Well, that’s just off the top of my head.  And if the lab pages are uploaded to a cloud server, there’s no reason to store anything on the iPad, making loss of proprietary data less likely.

Companies interested in protecting their proprietary information can get an enterprise version of the SDK.  Security of the local wifi and cloud server are out of my scope but where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Ahhhh, there’s the rub.  In many of the companies that I’m familiar with, there is a ginormous bureacracy of Microsoft borgs who will tell you that resistance is useless and that you will be assimilated to the same stupid image that the accountants use.  Mobility, without a mouse or a keyboard?  In. Your. Dreams.  In Microsoft’s holey products, there is a lifetime of employment security for hives full of corporate drones hired to test and patch the version of IE that is already several years out of date and to stamp out proliferating viruses.  Apple products are verboten.  They’re too sleek and simple.  The macbooks run on linux (One helpdesk borg asked me how to spell linux when I needed help with my HP linux workstation.  Yep, it’s that bad.)  The iPad uses an iPhone OS but still, Apple make the borgs antsy.  Which is why we may never get iPads for the labs. I don’t think this is going to change unless the borgs are given ultimatums employment incentives to experiment with other platforms.

Too bad, because I think there is a lot of potential on both the development and the efficiency side of the mobility equation.  It would be a shame to see the modern lab, stripped down and uber frugal, hobbled by a Microsoft mentality.  But whatever the fate of iPad in the lab, it’s a handy device to have around.  Still, if you can’t use it in the lab,  you can go home and use it to rent a movie from Netflix and forget all about work.

Ahhhh….

Lazy Saturday Oil News: BP Atlantis and Other Dangerous Gulf Oil Rigs

BP's Atlantis Platform in Gulf of Mexico

Good morning Conflucians!! This morning I’ve been trying to educate myself a little bit about oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.


BP ATLANTIS

Did you know that BP has another oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that is drilling even deeper than the Deepwater Horizon–more than 7,000 feet under water? It’s called Atlantis.

Considered one of BP’s most technically challenging projects ever, the Atlantis platform is currently the deepest moored floating dual oil and gas production facility in the world and weighing in at 58,700t, it is also one of the largest. BP is operator of Atlantis with 56% ownership with its partner in the venture, BHP Billiton, having a 44% working interest.

The platform is located 190 miles south of New Orleans in 7,070ft (2,150m) of water, the field itself occupying five blocks – Green Canyon 699, 700, 742, 743 and 744 – with water depths ranging between 4,400ft and 7,100ft (1,338m and 2,158m)….

Atlantis has a production capacity of 200,000 barrels of oil and 180 million cubic feet of gas a day, with the expectation that it will have reached plateau production by the end of 2008.

The field has an estimated life of 15 years and oil reserves of 635,000 million barrels of oil equivalent.

Like Deepwater Horizon, Atlantis was approved to drill “without critical safety documents,” according to Food and Water Watch (via Democracy Now) If there were an oil spill from Atlantis, it could be far worse than the accident at Deepwater Horizon.

Food and Water Watch has started a new website devoted to convincing the Obama administration to stop BP’s Atlantis operations until the rig is shown to be safe and reliable. Here is a video from the site:

Via Food and Water Watch, on May 16, 60 Minutes ran an interview with a whistleblower, Kenneth Abbott.

Mr. Abbott tried to warn BP executives about missing engineering documents that are critical to the safe operation of Atlantis. It is because of Kenneth Abbott that we have an opportunity to prevent another disaster that could be several times more destructive than the Horizon explosion and bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in just two days. Atlantis poses an enormous safety risk, one that could seriously endanger its workers and the environment in and around the Gulf of Mexico, including the livelihoods and well being of residents in surrounding communities. BP management has noted that an accident resulting from “catastrophic Operator error” on Atlantis could occur.

You can watch the 60 Minutes segments here.


MORE UNSAFE OIL RIGS
IN THE GULF OF MEXICO

Via Democracy Now, the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit to close down 49 more drilling sites in the gulf that were approved by MMS without any environmental review. From the press release:

Just like BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling plan, all 49 plans in today’s suit state that no environmental review is necessary because there is essentially no chance of a large oil spill, and if a spill were to occur, it would be quickly cleaned up with no lasting damage.

“Secretary Salazar continues to exercise extremely poor judgment in approving these plans without meaningful environmental review,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “He seems to have learned nothing from the oil pouring out into the Gulf of Mexico. Since Salazar is unwilling to shut down the use of environmental waivers that even the president has denounced, we are asking the courts to do so.”

President Obama has “suspended” new drilling projects, but has done nothing yet to make sure that these dangerous oil rigs already operating in the Gulf are reviewed to see if they have sufficient back up plans in case of a blowout.

As you can see, I’m still obsessed with the oil spill, but feel free to post links to any kind of news in the comments. And have a great Saturday and a relaxing Memorial Day weekend.

I’m soothing myself with this after my morning of oil research:

Friday News and Views

Good morning Conflucians!!! TGIF!!!!!

BP Chief Tony Hayward has finally decided that the oil spill his corporation caused is an “environmental catastrophe,” CNN reports. And the “junk shot” has begun:

Also Friday, engineers in the Gulf tried the “junk shot” method in an attempt to stop a massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward said.

The procedure involved shooting debris such as shredded rubber tires, golf balls and similar objects into the blowout preventer in an attempt to clog it and stop the leak. The goal of the junk shot is to force-feed the preventer, the device that failed when the disaster unfolded, until it becomes so plugged that the oil stops flowing or slows to a relative trickle.

The company plans to resume its “top kill” method, pumping heavy mud into the leak, later Friday, he said.

President Obama flew to Chicago last night, as planned; and will drop in on New Orleans for awhile today.

where he will get a briefing on the BP oil spill that on Thursday officially became the worst ever in U.S. waters. Obama will deliver a statement on the spill, following up on Thursday’s press conference at the White House.

As the president listens and speaks, BP and other experts will be continuing their efforts to cap the well with a “top kill” procedure involving mud and, hopefully, cement. If they succeed, the gushing well could be dead, 38 days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

Mary Landrieau told Politico

“The president has not been as visible as he should have been on this, and he’s going to pay a political price for it, unfortunately,” Landrieu told POLITICO. “But he’s going down tomorrow, he’s made some good announcements today, and if he personally steps up his activity, I think that would be very helpful.”

Don’t hold your breath, Mary.

At an oil hearing in the House yesterday, Charlie Melancon (D-LA) broke down crying while talking about the damage to the coastal wetlands. Watch:

From Politics Daily:

Melancon began by citing the string of natural disasters — including Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike — that have beset his constituents and all Louisianans. With his voice quavering and eyes filling with tears, he said of this latest “slow-motion” catastrophe: “Our culture is threatened, our coastal economy is threatened, and everything that I know and love is at risk. . . .Even though this marsh lies along coastal Louisiana, these are America’s wetlands.”

The three-term congressman, who is running for the Senate seat held by Republican David Vitter, could not go on, and asked that the remainder of his written comments be submitted for the record.

Some veterans are angry with Obama for blowing off a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day–an event that is traditional for U.S. Presidents.

Instead of speaking at Arlington, as he did last year and as most presidents have done, Obama will appear at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago, the White House said. Vice President Biden will take his place at Arlington, the most prestigious military cemetery in the country and home to Section 60, a large burial ground for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, expressed disappointment at the White House move. “Arlington is hallowed ground, and the center of our nation’s attention on Memorial Day,” Rieckhoff said. “Unfortunately, President Obama and his family will not be there with us.”

Fox News is also critical, of course, asking whether Obama is “stressed out or tone deaf.”

Presidents are never really off the clock, even when they go on vacation. But President Obama’s decision to skip the traditional Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington while on his second vacation since the BP oil spill began has some wondering what the schedule says about his priorities.

On “vacation,” Obama still holds staff meetings, occasionally attends local events and often gets his “relaxation” time swallowed up by pressing national and international business — his vacation to Hawaii in December coincided with the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing. The retreat this weekend is marked by a side-trip to Louisiana to inspect the damages from the oil spill.

But some conservatives, still smarting over the criticism George W. Bush fielded for his frequent trips to Crawford, Texas, say Obama’s trip to Chicago over Memorial Day weekend is conspicuously poor in its timing.

Joe Sestak’s brother (and political adviser) has spoken to the WH about Sestak’s claims that he was offered a job if he would drop out of the PA Senate Democratic primary race against Arlen Specter. Sestak won the primary even though the Democratic party machinery and the WH supported long-time Republican Specter.

Richard Sestak, who has served as his brother’s top political adviser and campaign lawyer, spoke with administration officials Wednesday, Joe Sestak said.

“They got ahold of my brother on his cellphone, and he spoke to the White House . . . about what’s going to occur,” said Sestak, who said he expects the White House will release its information Friday. He declined to elaborate on his discussions with his brother.

Joe Sestak first alleged the White House offer in February, but the matter has caught fire since the upset victory over Specter, Pennsylvania’s senior senator, in last week’s primary. The White House has refused to explain its version of events; press secretary Robert Gibbs has said legal aides have reviewed the situation and have declared that nothing “inappropriate” occurred.

Congress is making some progress on the DADT “compromise.”

After a heated Thursday night floor debate, House members voted 234-to-194 to approve a repeal amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy. [….]

Earlier Thursday evening, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a companion amendment by a 16-12 vote in a closed-door session.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican on the committee joining 15 of her Democratic colleagues to approve the measure as an attachment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it.

If signed into law as part of the Defense funding bill, the measure would not immediately repeal the law. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” would continue as the official policy of the military until two events occur: the Pentagon completes an implementation study due in December; and the secretary of Defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and President Barack Obama certify that repeal will not weaken military readiness. Once those two requirements are met, a 60-day waiting period will begin before the policy is finally lifted.

That’s all I’ve got for now. What are you reading this morning? Please post your links in the comments. And have a fabulous friday!!!

What we had, and What we lost…

May 27: Hillary at the Brookings Institution telling it like it is

Our Hillary says it plain: The rich are not paying their fair share.

Ben Smith at Politico:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a rare foray into domestic politics today, offering her view that — given America’s high unemployment — wealthy Americans don’t pay enough taxes.

“The rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing the kind of employment issues [America currently does] — whether it’s individual, corporate or whatever [form of] taxation forms,” Clinton told an audience at the Brookings Institution, where she was discussing the Administration’s new National Security Strategy.

Now there’s someone who knows what she believes and doesn’t need to be, ahem, ‘prompted’ to say it.

You can see her make her remark, off-the-cuff, in the Q&A session at around the 57 minute-mark:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Hill makes a point to says she’s speaking only for herself and not as part of the Administration:

Clinton said the comment was her personal opinion alone. “I’m not speaking for the administration, so I’ll preface that with a very clear caveat,” she said.

But, Hillary isn’t just speaking for herself here. She’s speaking for me too, and I’m sure I’m not alone on that one.

She also cited Brazil as a model:

“Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what — they’re growing like crazy,” Clinton said. “And the rich are getting richer, but they’re pulling people out of poverty.”

When I see news like this, I hear the line from Fleetwood Mac in my head… “In the stillness of remembering… What you had, And what you lost…”

Oilpocalypse Update: Top Kill Setback

Marsh choked with oil

The New York Times reports:

BP had to halt its ambitious effort to plug its stricken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday afternoon when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid they were injecting into the well was escaping along with the leaking crude oil.

A technician at the BP command center said that pumping of the fluid had to be stopped temporarily while engineers were revising their plans, and that the company hoped to resume pumping by midnight, if federal officials approved.

The technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said the problem was not seen as serious. “We’re still quite optimistic,” he said, but cautioned: “It is not assured and its not a done deal yet. All of this will require some time.”

It’s so nice to know that BP is still optimistic.

Here is the comment thread at the Oil Drum, where they are discussing this and other developments. Dakinikat turned me on to the site.

One thing I’ve been wondering about is what will happen if a hurricane blows through the Gulf and stirs up all that oil, which the government now admits is probably way more than was released in the Exxon Valdez spill. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground wrote a lengthy piece that addresses this question. He says that

A hurricane has never passed over a sizable oil spill before, so there are a lot of unknowns about what might happen. The closest call came in 1979, after the greatest accidental oil spill in history, the massive Ixtoc I blowout. That disaster dumped 3 million barrels (126 million gallons) of oil into the Southern Gulf of Mexico between June 1979 and March 1980. Category 1 Hurricane Henri passed just north of the main portion of the oil spill on September 16 and 17, generating 15 foot seas and southwest winds of 15 – 25 knots over the spill region on the 16th….The main impact of the wind was to dilute the oil and weather it, converting it to a thick “mousse.”

Based on what happened back then, a hurricane can help clean up an oily beach, but the oil is then carried further away to foul other areas.

Consider the case of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. The ill-fated tanker split open in Prince William Sound on March 24, and oil spill response crews were initially able to contain the spill behind booms and make good progress removing it. However, two days later, a powerful Gulf of Alaska storm with 70 mph winds roared through, overwhelming the containment booms and distributing the oil along a 90-mile stretch of coast. The oil went on to foul over 400 miles of Alaska coast, a far larger disaster than would have occurred than if the storm had not passed by. Similarly, a hurricane moving through the Gulf of Mexico spill will very likely make the disaster much worse, spreading out the oil over a larger region, and bringing the oil to shores that otherwise might not have seen oil. It is true that the oil will be diluted some by being spread out over a larger area, so some shores will not see a substantial oiling. But overall, a hurricane passing through the oil spill is likely to result in much higher damage to the coast.

What will be the effect of a hurricane on the giant plumes of oil that are being discovered just beneath the surface of the water? Masters writes:

Hurricanes act like huge blenders that plow through the ocean, thoroughly mixing surface waters to depths as great as 200 meters (650 feet), and pulling waters from depth to the surface. Thus if sub-surface plumes of oil are located within 200 meters of the surface, a hurricane could potentially bring them to the surface. However, the huge sub-surface plumes of oil found by the research vessel Pelican were at depths of 2300 – 4200 feet, and a hurricane will not affect the ocean circulation at those depths.

According to the report in the Washington Post, the recently discovered oil plume extends from just under the surface of the water down to 3200 feet and it is more than 6 miles wide. It is also invisible.

“Here is a situation where, unless you’re looking at the chemical fingerprints, [the oil] is absolutely not visible,” Hollander said. “It’s not some Italian vinaigrette or anything like that. It’s absolutely, perfectly clear.”

But, Hollander said, even this clear-looking water could contain enough oil to be toxic to small animals at the base of the gulf food chain. He said he was also worried that the oil contains traces of “dispersants,” soap-like chemicals sprayed into the oil to break it up.

What happens if a hurricane passes over that? Would it carry “invisible” dissolved oil for miles and drop it in far-away places where it won’t even be detected until it makes people and animals sick? I have no idea; I’m just asking.

What are you hearing?

We are all but props in the Land of Oprecious

Politico:

President Barack Obama battled with Senate Republicans in a tense closed-door meeting Tuesday, facing tough criticism from his GOP adversaries — including John McCain — on issues ranging from health care to border security.

Senators and other sources inside the meeting described the gathering as “testy” and “direct” — and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) accused Obama of acting two-faced by asking for GOP support on regulatory reform only to push forward with a bill supported mainly by Democrats. Others felt that the meeting may have made already tense relations between the two parties even worse.

Talk about deja vu.

Remember McCain’s letter to the freshman senator from Illinois over lobbying reform? If you don’t, here’s a snippet:

As I noted, I initially believed you shared that goal. But I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party’s effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn’t always a priority for every one of us. Good luck to you, Senator.

In one of the most heated exchanges of the lunch, Corker accused Obama of acting “duplicitous” in his calls for bipartisanship, saying that he was trying to cut a deal on regulatory reform only to see the rug pulled out from underneath him. At one point, Corker said Obama was using lunch with Republicans as a “prop.”

Everybody Loves Oprecious

Poor witto GOP. They always carp so much about others playing the victim, it is hard to feel sorry for them. On the other hand, Oprecious is the titular star of his own comedy-drama, and we are all just his lowly props. I wouldn’t blame anyone for tearing up that script.

Of course O made sure to use us meanies on the left as props in Tuesday’s meeting, too. WaPo:

Brownback said Obama explained several times that he is “under pressure from his left” on major issues, including climate change. Obama asked Republicans to be willing to take some of the same kind of criticism from their right flank in working toward bipartisan accords, other senators said.

How persuasive of him. The “kind of criticism” he’s taking from the left is from the rank-and-file. And, he proves everyday that it is well-deserved. Once again he’s going behind our bitter clingy backs, this time essentially making the case that both major parties in our two-party system should once and for all just abandon the grassroots completely, drop any pretense of populism, and join in one big disgusting DINO-RINO orgy. And, clearly the GOP should be willing to fight with conservative-leaning independents and send them running back to Obama on election day. Gee, with sophisticated legislative arguments like that, how can anyone fail to appreciate the wonderfulness of Oprecious bipartisanshit.

More from WaPo:

“He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans,” Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) told reporters. “He’s pretty thin-skinned.”

Guess who made the same observation in his 2006 memo to Obama:

In the days leading up to Obama’s decision to run, Axelrod prepared a private strategy memo — dated Nov. 28, 2006 — that has never been published before.

[…]

Axelrod also warned that Obama’s confessions of youthful drug use, described in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” would be used against him. “This is more than an unpleasant inconvenience,” he wrote. “It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don’t relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched,” he said of Obama’s 2004 Senate opponent.

People refusing to worship at the altar of O seems to be the only circumstance that provokes any real sense of emotion from Obama. Every other emotional display he has to pencil into his schedule and telegraph well in advance so that his sheep know what to read into his empty rhetoric.

Jake Tapper:

“Now, some of you heard I went to the [Senate] Republican Caucus today,” President Obama told a receptive crowd at a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel last night.

“It was a warm and cuddly meeting,” he joked. “The last time I appeared, it was before the House Republican Caucus, and we agreed to let the press in on that one. This one not so much.”

The crowd laughed.

What a riot. C-Span must think it’s a real hoot that the president used their name as a prop to pitch his vaunted transparency in the ’08 campaign.

The meeting was cordial, attendees tell ABC News, though there were some tense moments.

One Republican Senator told ABC News that he thought this meeting did the president more harm than good, because the testy exchanges the president had with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, revealed someone who took these disagreements personally. I’ve never heard anyone use the word “I” so much, the senator said.

So much for Obama’s bottom-up movement and his being the candidate of “you” and “we.” The moment everybody stops orbiting around all that is Oprecious, he busts out with the first person singular.

Nero fiddles while Rome burns

Waves wash oil onto beach near south pass of Mississippi River

Is it me, or does this seem like just about the most amazing tone-deafness by President Obama so far? While fish, birds, animals, and people fight to survive the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama chose to fly to San Francisco to attend three political fund-raisers, one at the home of Gordon Getty, an oil heir.

President Obama, facing criticism that his administration has failed to respond aggressively to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, assured supporters in San Francisco on Tuesday that “the situation in the gulf is heartbreaking, and we’re doing everything we can.”

“Nobody is more upset than me, because ultimately,” he said, “when this happens on your watch, you are thinking, how does this get solved?”

Is this a joke? Am I still dreaming–trapped in a nightmare that won’t end?

Obama spoke to a VIP reception of about 200 people and later to a sold-out crowd of about 800 at a reception at the Fairmont Hotel, two of his three appearances Tuesday to bulk up the campaign coffers of Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who will face strong Republican competition this fall in her bid for a fourth term. [….]

After the Fairmont event, which was expected to raise at least $1.7 million from supporters who paid $250 to $2,000 for tickets, Obama was whisked to an exclusive VIP dinner at the Broadway mansion of wealthy oil heir Gordon Getty and his wife, Ann.

Inside the lavish home of the philanthropist son of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, some 80 donors wrote checks for $35,200 per couple to meet the president and have their photo taken with him. Boxer’s campaign raised $600,000 from the two events, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took in $1.1 million, organizers said.

And tomorrow, the emperor is off to Chicago for a relaxing weekend, while the rest of us agonize over a global ecological catastrophe that is destroying one of the most beautiful and productive parts of our country. Is he holding a fund-raiser in Louisiana on Friday too, I wonder?

But no one is more upset than he is.