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    • Groups and Coalitions: Politics Chapter V
      Previous: Identity (Introduction and Table of Contents) Politically active groups form because of ideology and identity: they have beliefs about how the world should be; those beliefs are emotional and create both identification with other people who have the beliefs and shared desire to change the world or keep the world in line with how the ideologies pres […]
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Indulge me here: Hillary is to “corporatist” as Obama is to …

Obama at NH debate finds corporatist Hillary "likeable enough"

… what?

The reason we couldn’t have Hillary, according to the *it* bloggers, was that she was a corporatist, whatever that means. Now, I’m not stupid enough to assert that corporations are persons, as the USSC seems wont to do, but I do believe that we can coexist peacefully and that a savvy politician can help both corporations and real, live persons work together for a more prosperous America.

That’s not what we have here in the good old U. S. of A. anymore. The gulf oil spill has intensified our focus on the relationship between corporations and the Obama administration. What we have here is a failure to hold accountable. The lack of accountability has been a staple feature of the past 10 years. In fact, I think that’s what the whole deregulatory movement is all about: the ability to act with impunity. No one is accountable anymore for anything.

Now, we can blame this on the Republicans or the fact that the Big Dawg’s outgoing administration cut the deregulators some slack, perhaps assuming that Al Gore would win the presidency in 2000 and sew things back up. But how do we account for Obama’s failure to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds well into the second year of his first term? Wasn’t that what the voters hired him to do? I think when voters heard him say “Change!”, they thought he meant setting things right and making the government work for them, putting the brakes on “irrational exuberance”, making the rich pay their fair share.

That’s not what we got. So, what *did* we get? If Hillary was the ultimate DLC loving “corporatist”, what is Obama?

Paul Rosenberg has an interesting post this morning that touches on this subject tangentially. It seems to me that Paul is finally coming around to what we have always thought about Obama. Obama is first and foremost pro-Obama. That is the driving principle by which he operates. In this respect, he is no different than any other power seeking executive. His eye is always on the next position above him. Getting there is his mission in life. Now, he’s there.

What did he plan to do once he got to be president of the United States? I suppose that like many people who wanted that spot, he had dreams of making a difference. The problem is that he had very little in the way of experience upon which to draw once he got there. Maybe he bought into the management culture where perceptions and expectations can be shaped. Maybe he really did think it was possible to relate to Republicans. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. Any speculation at this point would be a continuation of the projection of goodness that got him into office in the first place.

But we can look at what he has done while he has been in office. And we can look at who he has used to forward whatever agenda he purports to have. (I don’t know what that agenda is because it isn’t very well articulated). From his deeds and his appointees, we can draw an early conclusion about Obama. And here it is:

He’s over his head.

It’s a complex nation. We are in an economic crisis. One of the major parties is determined to shred what little remains of the social safety net. Obama is either a willing participant or completely overwhelmed where this is concerned. I’m not sure the Republicans even know why they have to be so cruel as to remove all security from the working class. It’s like blood sport to them. There doesn’t have to be a reason. It’s simply who they are and what they believe. If their mindless enthusiasm were to affect one of their own family members, perhaps they would reconsider. But the rich and well-connected may only now be coming face to face with what they have wrought on their poorer cousins. Like rapacious grasshoppers, they’ve eaten their way through their storehouses and are now are thoughtlessly eating their seed corn in a frenzy of short term thinking and Obama is enabling them.

I think he’s weak. I think he hired Rahm Emannuel because he didn’t have enough time in Congress to know what levers to push to get things done. And if he didn’t have Rahm, he’d have to hire someone like him.

I don’t resent Obama taking his wife out on the taxpayer’s dime. I don’t begrudge him any perk of his office. Being president is hard, even for the guy who is over his head. Even in these tough economic times, it’s a good thing to show that you are committed to your wife and that you aren’t going to forego a little joy. Life goes on. I don’t think race has anything to do with his failure. Character is not fixed by a genetic mutation for melanin production. I think the birther issue is ridiculous and is racist in its formation. But in Obama, we have a man who jumped ahead in the queue not because he was African American but because he was unprepared. Ruthless ambition by the first viable African American politician for president was no excuse for abrogating the responsibility to do what was right for the country.

Would waiting until 2016 to run have made a difference for Obama? We’ll never know. But what is clear is that we ditched a politician with 16 years of executive knowledge and a thorough understanding of the mechanisms of government and how to work them. We turned our backs on a politician who came to every debate over-prepared. We humiliated a politician who was associated with the last successful presidency of our lifetime when our country needed a calm, level-headed leader. And we did it when the country could least afford to have an amateur in the Oval Office.

So, I just have to ask, now that the office has forced him to solidify out of the vapor that he was during the campaign of 2008, what is Obama? If Hillary was a “corporatist”, what is Obama?

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.

Monday: Just How Bad is the Gulf Coast Disaster?

Good Morning Conflucians. I realize everyone else is talking about Elena Kagan’s nomination, but we’ve discussed that pretty extensively here. Today I want to focus on the oil spill down in the Gulf instead. I did quite a bit of reading on it yesterday, and I’m convinced that the mess down there is a lot worse than we are being told.

A number of experts are saying that the Coast Guard estimate that 5,000 barrels of oil a day are being released into the Gulf is wrong. On May 1, the Christian Science Monitor in reported estimates of “independent scientists” who said

that the renegade wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf could be spewing up to 25,000 barrels a day. If chokeholds on the riser pipe break down further, up to 50,000 barrels a day could be released, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration memo obtained by the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register.

As estimates of the spill increase, questions about the government’s honesty in assessing the spill are emerging. At the same time, pressure is building for the US to release worst-case scenario estimates so residents of the Gulf Coast can adequately prepare.

Five thousand barrels translates to 210,000 gallons, and these anonymous scientists quoted by CSM are saying five times that much is really being released–more than a million gallons a day.

The story also quotes and NO environmental attorney who wants to know why no worse case scenario estimates have been released.

“In the environmental arena, risk modeling is done day-in and day-out for every type of pollutant, whether going in the water, earth or air,” says Stuart Smith, an environmentl attorney in New Orleans, in a statement. “Why are BP and the Environmental Protection Agency not releasing such information to the public?

The Coast Guard–getting their information from BP–originally said there was no oil leaking after the explosion, then they put the number at 1,000 barrels a day on April 21. On April 29, they changed their estimate to 5,000 barrels a day and have stuck to that figure ever since.

I’ve read some pretty frightening scenarios around the ‘net, although I’m not knowledgeable enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, so I hesitate to post them. There are suggestions that the oil could spread from the Gulf into the Atlantic and then up the east coast, destroying fishing areas. See this April 30 report of a leaked government report at al.com.

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.”

Asked Friday to comment on the document, NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen said that the additional leaks described were reported to the public late Wednesday night. Regarding the possibility of the spill becoming an order of magnitude larger, Smullen said, “I’m letting the document you have speak for itself.”

So according this this report, the leak could become 10 times as big as the current 5,000 barrels a day estimate.

The story also quotes an expert, Stephen Sears, who heads the petroleum engineering department at Louisiana State University.

“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,”

This alternative energy website consulted a U.S. army consultant in Alabama named Paul Noel. He gave them a lengthy description of the situation. Here’s just a bit of it (published on May 2).

By yesterday morning, the nature of the crude had changed, indicating that the spill was collapsing the rock structures. How much I cannot say. If it is collapsing the rock structures, the least that can be said is that the rock is fragmenting and blowing up the tube with the oil. With that going on you have a high pressure abrasive sand blaster working on the kinks in the pipe eroding it causing the very real risk of increasing the leaks.

More than that is the very real risk of causing the casing to become unstable and literally blowing it up the well bringing the hole to totally open condition. Another risk arises because according to reports the crew was cementing the exterior of the casing when this happens. As a result, the well, if this was not properly completed, could begin to blow outside the casing. Another possible scenario is a sea floor collapse. If that happens Katie bar the door.

Unfortunately, I’m not knowledgeable enough to know how reliable this information is.

This BBC story is very helpful, I think. The story lists the biggest oil spills around the world, and shows that the Exxon Valdez is not even in the top ten. However, the size of the spill per se isn’t a measure of how damaging it can be. The location is also extremely relevant.

…the potential for damage caused by Deepwater Horizon is apparent when looking at the events of June 1979 in the Bay of Campeche, also in the Gulf of Mexico.

In that spill, the exploratory oil well Ixtoc 1 suffered a blowout and wasn’t capped until more than nine months later, having released 461,000 tonnes of oil in total.

[….]

The biggest leaks are not necessarily the most environmentally destructive.

The tanker Exxon Valdez, which ran aground on Bligh Reef, Alaska, in 1989, caused serious damage to the environment, killing thousands of seabirds as well as seals, sea otters, whales and fish. The remote location in sheltered waters only accentuated the problems.

The overall impact of an oil spill cannot be measured solely on size; weather conditions, the type of oil and the time it takes to stem the flow are just some of the many factors that also need to be considered.

This story in The Economist from May 6 also emphasizes the uncertainty about how much oil is being released.

Ian MacDonald, a marine biologist at Florida State University who studies oil that comes out of natural seeps on the sea floor, estimates on the basis of pictures and maps from the coastguard that the rate may be as much as five times that. The largest accidental oil spill in history, which was also in the Gulf, was due to a 1979 blowout on a Mexican rig called Ixtoc-1 (see chart). Between June 1979 and March 1980 it released around 3.3m barrels. For comparison, the Exxon Valdez fiasco in Alaska in 1989, America’s most infamous oil spill, released just 260,000 barrels. At the coastguard rate the Deepwater Horizon leak would take years to match Ixtoc-1; at Mr MacDonald’s rate, months.

There’s that five times as much estimate again!

This Bloomberg story is pretty meaty. After pointing out that the oil is already threatening

some of the most productive and profitable shrimping and fishing grounds in the world, part of a Gulf industry that provides a quarter of the seafood in the U.S.

the authors, Peter Coy and Stanley Reed speculate on what could happen if BP’s efforts to stop the leaks are unsuccessful:

Should efforts to seal the well go awry, they could cause even larger volumes of oil to spill. In some scenarios, the Gulf of Mexico loop current could even carry the oil around Florida and up the East Coast. The unfolding environmental disaster might yet become the worst in U.S. history.

So, there is a possibility of the spill getting into the Atlantic and spreading up the coast, as I said above. What if the oil gets into the gulf stream? I wish I knew.

The Bloomberg story has a good description of what actually happened to the Deepwater Horizon rig:

The Deepwater Horizon accident occurred at the final stage of the job, as the rig crew was preparing to put a temporary seal on the well and move on to another site. The exact circumstances aren’t likely to be known for months, though it’s clear that pressurized natural gas was able to infiltrate upward, meaning the seal was imperfect. A 2007 MMS study found that cementing was a factor in 18 of 39 Gulf of Mexico blowouts over 14 years. The pressure surge from a gas bubble has a nickname: the kick.

Although there are procedures for recementing, those take time and money. Each extra day of leasing the drilling rig costs about $500,000. Halliburton Co. was in charge of cementing, under BP’s direction. Robert MacKenzie, a former cementing engineer who is now a securities analyst for FBR Capital Markets Corp., said he wants to know whether BP ordered a so-called cement bond-log test to evaluate the cementing. Such a test would have determined whether a remedial cement job was necessary. BP declined to comment.

There was a “blowout preventer” that was supposed to keep an accident like this from happening.

“We have found that there are some leaks on the hydraulic controls” of the blowout preventer, Bob Fryar, senior vice-president of BP’s exploration and production operations in Angola, in southwestern Africa, told the Houston Chronicle.

Hayward said he was mystified that the blowout preventer failed. The last-ditch shear ram is rarely tested under real conditions because of the destruction it causes. In a 2002 laboratory test for the MMS, researchers found that three of six shear rams failed. Seven other makers declined to be tested.

Isn’t that nice?

What do you guys think about all this? Maybe someone here has more knowledge than I do. But to me it sounds like BP and the U.S. government really don’t know how to stop this thing. It also sounds like if they don’t get it under control soon, it could blow again.

I’ll have another post later today about BP’s long history of accidents and the Obama administration’s role in allowing them to drill down into the the ocean floor at a a depth greater than the high of Mt. Everest.

For ongoing updates and information, here is the official Deepwater Horizon web page, and here is an information page set up by the Center for Biological Diversity. Reuters has a timeline of the spill here.

Treat this as a regular new post, and please tell us what you are reading today. Have a great Monday.