Monday, May 31, 2010

Notes for the Crew

There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew. -- Marshall McLuhan
In this week's Sift:
  • Notes on the Oil Spill. First BP lied about how much oil was leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. Now it's lying about what's making the clean-up workers sick.
  • Notes on Race. You don't actually have to hate anybody to be a racist. Just systematically short-changing them is enough.
  • Other Short Notes. Safety problems in biotech. Closing in on DADT repeal. Palin has the First Amendment backward. Hotter than 98. Rand Paul vs. the 14th Amendment. The $100,000 infield. What if Juliet had a sassy gay friend? And more.

Notes on the Oil Spill
BP continues to try stuff that continues not to work. The only plan that seems guaranteed to work is to drill a relief well, which won't be ready until August.

Meanwhile, the disregard of safety that got BP into this mess is still operating. Now BP is trying to deny the risks to clean-up workers, with the result that many are getting sick. McClatchy reports:
Little-noticed data posted on BP's website and the Deepwater Horizon site show that 32 air samples taken near workers have indicated the presence of butoxyethanol, a component listed as present in an oil spill dispersant used by BP, known as Corexit. The Environmental Protection Agency considers it toxic.
BP is not supplying masks for its clean-up workers, in spite of Corexit's manufacturer's warning that people should "avoid breathing vapor". According to CNN, Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, charges that BP has been threatening workers who speak out about health concerns. "Some of our men asked, and they were told they'd be fired if they wore masks." (Wild speculation on my part: Public relations? Was BP afraid that TV images of guys wearing masks would scare the public?)

BP CEO Tony Hayward offers an alternative explanation: "Food poisoning is clearly a big issue." CNN quotes this scoffing response from a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health: "Headaches, shortness of breath, nosebleeds -- there's nothing there that suggests foodborne illness. I don't know what these people have, but it sounds more like a respiratory illness." In short: They didn't eat something bad, they breathed something bad.

I'm going to speculate here and connect some dots: If the problem is toxic fumes produced by the Corexit/oil combination, and if the oil keeps flowing until August, then it's not just going to affect clean-up workers. Ordinary people who live in coastal cities are going to start showing the same symptoms. That's even more lawsuit bait, and so BP is going to deny the issue as long as possible.

If you want to see the blueprint for this kind of denial, look back at my review of David Michaels' book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. Risking people's lives for profit is standard operating procedure. It's what corporations do.

I continue to be impressed by the foul-mouthed but right-to-the-point coverage from Daily Kos' Fishgrease, who claims to have spent 30 years in oil and gas exploration and production. In this post, he explains why the Top Kill failure was obvious after 3 hours, even though BP took days to admit it.
Newsweek describes the BP/government efforts to limit press access to damaged sites.

This sums up the state of journalism: All the best interviews are done by comedians. I link to Jon Stewart all the time, but here Bill Mahr talks to Phillippe Cousteau (grandson of Jacques) after his dive into the oil slick. Cousteau comments on the environmental costs that are regularly passed on to the government and the general public:
Socialism ... that word gets thrown around a lot. Well we as taxpayers in this country are subsidizing major businesses that are making billions and billions of dollars every quarter ... They never really pay the full cost of their product. We end up paying for that. And that's the problem.
Susan Shaw, director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, also dove into the slick, and described it for the New York Times
Only a few meters down, the nutrient-rich water became murky, but it was possible to make out tiny wisps of phytoplankton, zooplankton and shrimp enveloped in dark oily droplets. These are essential food sources for fish like the herring I could see feeding with gaping mouths on the oil and dispersant. Dispersants break up the oil into smaller pieces that then sink in the water, forming poisonous droplets — which fish can easily mistake for food.

... The timing for exposure to these chemicals could not be worse. Herring and other small fish hatch in the spring, and the larvae are especially vulnerable. As they die, disaster looms for the larger predator fish, as well as dolphins and whales. ... In a short time, the predator fish will either starve or sicken and die from eating highly contaminated forage fish.

It's hard to assess the political impact the oil spill will have. On the one hand, it is a disaster on Obama's watch and so far there has seemed to be little he could do about it. (Much of the political criticism has centered on imagery: He should look more involved. He should do more to show the people of the Gulf states how much he cares.) He looks weak and ineffective, which is never good for a president.

But the political opportunity is to run to President Obama's left, not his right. Deep Horizon is yet another example of the bankruptcy of the pro-corporate, the-market-will-take-care-of-everything philosophy that has dominated our government since Ronald Reagan.

The reason Obama is weak is because the government has let this aspect of disaster-response be privatized. The expertise to cap leaking wells is in the oil industry, not in government. So Americans are finding out what it's like to depend on a corporation -- a foreign corporation no less -- when catastrophe strikes. And they don't like it.

NYT columnist Bob Herbert brings that message home. He ridicules President Obama's admission that he was wrong "in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios." How could any intelligent person, Herbert wonders, have believed that?
Haven’t we just seen how the giant financial firms almost destroyed the American economy? Wasn’t it just a few weeks before this hideous Deepwater Horizon disaster that a devastating mine explosion in West Virginia — at a mine run by a company with its own hideous safety record — killed 29 coal miners and ripped the heart out of yet another hard-working local community?The idea of relying on the assurances of these corporate predators that they are looking out for the safety of their workers and the health of surrounding communities and the environment is beyond absurd.

... President Obama spoke critically a couple of weeks ago about the “cozy relationship” between the oil companies and the federal government. It’s not just a cozy relationship. It’s an unholy alliance. And that alliance includes not just the oil companies but the entire spectrum of giant corporations that have used vast wealth to turn democratically elected officials into handmaidens, thus undermining not just the day-to-day interests of the people but the very essence of democracy itself.

... The U.S. will never get its act together until we develop the courage and the will to crack down hard on these giant corporations. They need to be tamed, closely monitored and regulated, and constrained in ways that no longer allow them to trample the best interests of the American people.
The instant reaction of Republican politicians and conservative pundits was to minimize the spill and close ranks around BP. If the public decides it wants to "crack down hard" on "corporate predators", it's not going to trust Republicans to carry out that mission.

This week's find is The Bobblespeak Translations, which claims to translate TV-talking-head-speak into real English -- or at least humorous English. Its translation of Sunday's Meet the Press has David Brooks saying:
This disaster proves that conservatives are right - there are limits to what government can do to fix the disasters caused by conservatives.

Notes on Race
Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul has inspired some interesting discussion about race on the lefty blogs. Last week, if you remember, Paul touched off a firestorm by saying that he opposed the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that interfered with a private business' right to deny service to anyone they didn't want to serve. He denounced racial segregation and said he wouldn't patronize a business that practiced it, but he didn't think stopping private-market segregation was the government's job.

Looking back at the 60s, there's been an attempt on the Right to build a wall between the Dixiecrat segregationists (many of whom were Democrats like George Wallace or Democrats-turned-Republican like Strom Thurmond) and principled conservatives like Barry Goldwater, who had a position similar to Rand Paul's. Jamelle Boule blows this up by posting an actual race-baiting Goldwater poster.

The whole I'm-not-a-racist-but line of thought is misguided, because racism isn't just a personal issue, it's a systematic issue. Suppose I run a classy restaurant in the Jim Crow South, and I have nothing against blacks personally, but I don't let them in because they're poor and uneducated and don't know how to behave in a classy restaurant. Well, if my picture of the blacks in my town is accurate, that begs the question: Why are they poor and uneducated and uncouth? Isn't that the result of systematic racism, and aren't I supporting that system by keeping blacks out of my restaurant? OK, maybe I'm not doing it out of hate, but how much difference does that make?

The Tapped blog makes a similar point about a New York governor's task force studying police-on-police mistaken-identity shootings. The task force found that non-white officers were the victims in a vast majority of cases, but its vice-chair said "That's not the same as racism."

In other words, police are more likely to shoot off-duty black officers because of unconscious assumptions about blacks, rather than because of conscious racial hatred. But that's not "racism". It's a weird restriction of the usage of the term. Police officers are dead because they're not white. That's racism.

Jacob Weisberg draws a regional distinction between Republicans in various parts of the country, particularly the Goldwater-style Western Republicans (who are driven by anti-government economic theories) and the Wallace-style Southern Republicans (driven by race, religion, and social issues).

But Booman doesn't buy it. He sees little difference between Western Mormons and Southern Baptists on social issues. And white anxiety in the West may focus on Latinos rather than blacks, but it's still white anxiety.
So, what we're seeing now isn't a shift of influence in the GOP from the South to the West so much as Southification of the West. They're not only becoming the hub of a new racial politics, but they're growing more culturally conservative as well.

If you want to get publicity and make a name for yourself in a 3-way race, pander to bigots. That's what Tim Cahill has decided to do in the Massachusetts governor's race, where he's running as an independent and is far behind incumbent Governor Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker.

When he heard that Gov. Patrick had met amicably with a Muslim group and endorsed cultural sensitivity training for police, Cahill released a statement talking about terrorism and "political correctness run amok". The statement artfully invokes bigoted ideas without repeating them, juxtaposing phrases without actually connecting them.

So, for example, Cahill jumps easily from "Muslim" to "car bombing". (Imagine using Timothy McVeigh to justify suspicion of all Christians.) He mentions his support for Arizona's immigration law right after "families living legally in Massachusetts are hurting" -- as if it were obvious that illegal immigrants (and not, say, Goldman Sachs) were hurting those families. Cahill's statement says:
I fully support equal protection under the law for every American, regardless of race or creed, but ...

The overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are peaceable people who love this land, but ...
Does it matter what comes after but? I don't think it does. If you need a but, you don't "fully support" anything.
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King is also making the Hispanic/Muslim connection. Mexicans, Pakistanis -- maybe there's one big brown-people conspiracy or something.

Other Short Notes
OK, we've seen what happens when the government gets lax in regulating offshore oil wells. Now let's think about biotech labs. Don't we want to get government off the back of our biotech researchers, and let the market protect us?

The Israeli pirate attack seems to be getting remarkably little coverage so far. Ordinarily I'd leave this to next week because I don't understand it yet. But I'm amazed this isn't getting the 24/7 treatment.

Don't Ask Don't Tell might be in its last year. The House passed a repeal this week, and the Senate got a similar provision through the Armed Services Committee. The repeal wouldn't take effect until the Pentagon completes its report (due December 1), and President Obama, Secretary Gate, and Joint Chiefs Chair Mike McMullen would all have to certify that repeal would not harm military readiness or effectiveness. So it's not a done deal, and who knows what will happen if there are Republican gains in November? But it's progress.

Meanwhile, the usual rabble-rousers are wracking their brains to make up scary stories about gays serving openly in the military. As if nobody had ever tried this before. Israel and all NATO countries other than us and Turkey allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. None reports the imaginative problems anticipated by the Family Research Council.

If Sarah Palin ever has to face real questioning, I hope someone asks what she thinks "freedom of the press" means. A week ago in Idaho, she repeated a claim she made during the 2008 campaign, that media attacks on conservatives like her are "a violation of press freedom". She appears to believe that the First Amendment protects politicians (or at least Sarah Palin) from journalists, not journalists from politicians.

Journalism, by the way, is what her college degree is in. She should know this stuff.

One of the staples of global-warming denial is to say that warming stopped in 1998. This lie is spun around a nugget of truth: 1998 was a spike in the temperature graph, much warmer than either 1997 or 1999. The overall warming trend didn't catch up to it until (by some measures) 2005.

Well, so far 2010 is beating both 1998 and 2005. NOAA says:
January-April 2010 global average temperatures were the warmest on record.
So we may soon be free from the 1998 canard. Sort of. Random variation will probably cause 2011 to be cooler than 2010 (though warmer than, say, 2008 or 2009). And then we'll hear again that global warming has stopped.
Florida Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV (son of congressman Connie Mack III and great-grandson of legendary baseball manager Connie Mack) explained in the WaPo why conservatives should oppose Arizona's immigration law:
Our Constitution protects individual freedoms and liberties. Nowhere does this document speak of protecting the majority over the minority. Anger about the economy, increased crime and security concerns are fueling this law, not constitutional principles.

Speaking of Connie Mack, If you want to understand just how much baseball has changed in the last hundred years, recall that Mack's 1910 championship-winning Philadelphia Athletics team was famous for its $100,000 infield -- including third baseman Home Run Baker, who hit less than 100 home runs in his 15-year Hall-of-Fame career.

Speaking of Arizona, consider what might happen if police make mistakes. Here's a case in Illinois where a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico was nearly deported to Mexico.

And speaking of the Constitution, Rand Paul only supports it when it says stuff he likes. He told an interviewer for RT (a Russian TV network) that we should stop granting citizenship to babies whose parents are here illegally. This puts him on the same page as the 90 Republicans who have sponsored the Birthright Citizenship Act. (Like so many Republican bills -- the Healthy Forests Initiative to increase logging and Clear Skies Act to loosen pollution limits come to mind -- it does the opposite of what the title suggests: It takes away some babies' birthright citizenship.)

The bill contradicts the 14th amendment, which says:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

But that's just the Constitution. Who cares about that?

And while we're at it, who cares about facts? Paul said: "We're the only country I know that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby, and then that baby becomes a citizen." Deoliver47 points out that Paul is referring to the legal concept called jus soli, literally right of soil. Wikipedia lists 34 nations that practice jus soli. But other than the United States, they're all barbarous places like Canada. I'm not surprised Rand Paul hasn't heard of them.

Republicans want a special prosecutor to investigate a report that President Obama offered Joe Sestak a job in the administration if he wouldn't run against Senator Arlen Specter. (Sestak did run and beat Specter in last week's Democratic primary.) Even if everything claimed is true -- and it seems not to be -- it's hard to see what the legal or moral issue is. Offering a congressman a job in exchange for voting a particular way could be bribery, depending on how explicit the quid-pro-quo is. But Sestak was making a decision about a career move, not a bill in Congress; if Obama offered him a different career move, what's the problem?

What this does show, though, is that if the Republicans get control of Congress in 2010, it's going to be the Clinton administration all over again, with endless investigations and one attempt after another to trump up a scandal.

Republicans have often used the phrase "criminalizing politics" to describe any attempt to enforce the laws broken by the Bush administration. But unlike the Bush cases, this is a clear example of criminalizing politics. There is no broken law, only ordinary political deal-making.

Just for fun: Second City Theatre demonstrates how tragedy could have been averted if only Shakespeare's female characters -- Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona -- had had a sassy gay friend to tell them what's what.


IgorMarxo said...

I Igor family first victims Arizona law see at


Should Obama be afraid to be stopped?

Only papers they have were copies of Obama birth certificate. Police officer say this not good enough to even get his son on little league team much less get adult across border(much less be president of United States). See Birth Certificate

Israeli Jewish citizen said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and liked it. I watched news yesterday and as an Israeli wanted to comment about that ship. Israel has a right to check every ship in its' territorial waters, as every other country does. What message would letting those ships without checking send? Send them weapons, send them terrorists next time, we're the only country in the world, which lets everybody pass?

Here you can see video (after 15 seconds of ad) of what happened to the soldiers on this ship.,7340,L-3896991,00.html

On other ships everything went fine, but on this one they were attacked with iron rods & knives. One soldier was thrown from the height of 10 meters, another was stabbed with a knife, 1 or 2 weapons were snatched from them and the "peaceful" people on this ship opened fire! Interviewed soldiers said it was a lynch. Only when they saw a danger to their lives, they opened fire. There was an intelligence problem, the soldiers weren't mentally prepared for the attack - they talked on TV about expecting pushes, curses and people spitting on them, not this. After they were on the ship, there was no way to be softer. The people shot were the murderous attackers, endangering our soldiers' lives. Btw, our soldiers were very soft. Had they been softer, some of them would've been dead by now. I am VERY glad they protected themselves. A peaceful (even if intentionally provocative)protest does NOT include killing soldiers. The moment it does it becomes something else. If you really think iron rods and knives and 3-4 attackers getting hold of every soldier and attacking him with full force isn't bad enough for using a gun, I ... just have no words.

Israeli Jewish citizen said...

Here article talking about it from an Israeli (even left leaning from what I know!) newspaper:

Doug Muder said...

Initial reports were that the Gaza blockade incident happened in international waters, not Israel's territorial waters.

If that's true (and I'll be sure to check details before next week's Sift), then the Israelis were operating in a might-makes-right situation. You can't be shocked if people contest your might in such situations.

Israeli Jewish citizen said...

It did happen in the international waters, but the ship was clearly heading for Gaza, didn't hide it and didn't think of changing its' course despite numerous warnings. Israel's action isn't unlawful. I read about laws in Hebrew and then found the comment in English:

Any state, in a time of conflict, can impose an embargo, and while it cannot carry out embargo activities in the territorial waters of a third party, it can carry out embargo activities in international waters. This is international maritime law.

Within this framework it is legal to detain a civilian vessel trying to break an embargo and if in the course of detaining the vessel, force is used against the forces carrying out the detention then that force has every right to act in self defense
International laws allow to attack any ship trying to breach a blockade, even in international waters:

San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994:

67. Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:

(a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture;

Here Photos of the Mavi Marmara’s Equipment and Weapons, 1 June 2010

A quote from here:
According to Palestinian Media Watch, the flotilla had whipped itself into a pre-war-like frenzy in the days leading up to the confrontation. Men on the ships reportedly shouted a popular chant asking for the death and defeat of Jews in battle. These supposedly non-violent humanitarian ships reportedly attacked Israeli commandos with weapons as they boarded.

I am sure had Israel let the ship into our waters, this group of attackers wouldn't have become less violent. Would it then be OK from your pov? I am sincerely curious.

From here I saw this:

the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which is involved in the campaign.

According to the statement, this organization, founded in Istanbul in 1995, was outlawed in Israel in 2008 because it “had become a major component in the global fund-raising machine for Hamas.”

The foundation’s declared goal, according to the statement, is to provide assistance to Islamic groups in various places around the world, mainly in Asia.

“The IHH has a radical Islamic orientation and is closely related to the extremist Islamic brotherhood,” the statement read.

“As part of this outlook, the IHH supports the Hamas terrorist organization and does not bother to hide its affiliation with Hamas. In recent years, primarily since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, the IHH has organized public conferences in Turkey to demonstrate its support for Hamas, and senior Hamas officials have openly participated in these public displays.”

Ideally the ships would've been stopped without dead people, but if because of intelligence problems Israel played into Hamas's hands, it doesn't mean we're pirates, demons, etc. Some of those "peaceful" activists seem to be with known terrorist history.

Last (and best?) short article:

Hope you'll carefully read all sources (and by this I don't mean only mine, make no mistake).

ericartman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Israeli last comment said...

I am sorry, this is my last comment in this post on the matter, but I forgot this post by Erin Solaro (Writer on war, politics, culture), author of "Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know about Women in the Military".

Doug Muder said...

Thank you, IJC, for the references. I will do my background reading before I write something next week.

This week, I discovered the event during a headline scan just before I posted the Sift. I turned on the TV expecting the news channels to be all over it, and they just weren't. It wasn't even showing up in the bottom-of-the-screen headline crawl on some of the news channels. I felt like I should poke my readers to look at this, because the mainstream media might completely forget about it by next week.

In answer to your question, I used the word "pirate" because it happened in international waters. To me, that says there was still time to seek other solutions before storming the boat with soldiers. That's something else I'll try to get more information about.

Whether I would jump all the way from "pirate" to "OK" if it had happened in territorial waters is something else I'll have to think about.

kimc said...

If corporations are people, then they are legally insane people, because they have no conscience.

Doug Muder said...

A person can be committed to an asylum if he's a danger to himself or others. Lots of corporations fit that description.

Lance said...

Corporate "citizenship" as a legal concept needs to go away, but I don't see that happening any time soon. The incestuous unholy alliances between corporations, lobbyists, government agency staff, and elected politicians will prevent it.

Congress is supposed to serve the will of the people. Today, the 'people' is defined as the subset of corporate and private citizens who can line the pockets of the people in Washington.