Friday, May 28, 2010

Falsehoods Friday May 28 BP Oil Spill Update

"No one will ever go broke betting against BP's integrity."
-- see below

1. Pensacola Beach Forecast.

Wind and wave forecasts for the Memorial Day weekend on Pensacola Beach remain almost as good as it gets. The National Weather Service pegs the chances of rain as no worse than sixty percent a couple of days, which probably translates into isolated thunderstorms popping up here and there on the mainland in the mid-afternoon or evenings. Our experience is offshore winds usually keep the beach itself much sunnier and drier than the mainland, unless the rain forecast calls is at 65 percent or higher.

As for the oilcast, light, gentle breezes from the north and northwest are expected to predominate inland through the long weekend, with more southerly breezes possible in late afternoon. According to, southerly winds off the Gulf won't freshen much until Tuesday.

All of which means the chances of oily odors wafting our way are no worse than they've been for the last week. These days, that passes for really good news.

2. BP Oil Falsehoods.

For all of you who were glued to BP's live streaming of the underwater oil gusher yesterday, be warned that what you thought you were seeing wasn't what BP knew was happening. The oil corporation is playing fast and loose with the facts, again, as the New York Times makes clear on the front page today:
BP officials, who along with government officials created the impression early in the day that the strategy was working, disclosed later that they had stopped pumping the night before when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid was escaping along with the oil.
* * *
Robert Dudley, BP’s managing director, said on the “Today” program on NBC that the top kill “was moving the way we want it to.” It was not until late afternoon that BP acknowledged that the operation was not succeeding and that pumping had halted at 11 p.m. Wednesday.
If there is one, single lesson for life you can take away from this entire oil spill fiasco it is that oil companies have an amaranthine aversion to telling you the truth about anything. No one will go broke betting against BP's integrity.

3. Top Kill-Junk Shot.

Speaking of lies and the lying liars who tell them, CNN reports today that BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, has adjusted his assessment of the environmental damage being caused by the oil gusher:
Hayward, who had previously said the environmental impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would be modest, upgraded his assessment Friday to an "environmental catastrophe."
Hayward also said early today that the company won't know if the Top Kill maneuver can shut off the undersea oil gusher for another 48 hours, according to Reuters News. In addition, he disclosed for the first time that "late Thursday afternoon and into the night BP pumped a "junk shot" -- more solid materials like shredded rubber and golf balls -- into the blowout preventer to add heft."

4. Comic Relief.

Which brings us to what is, perhaps, the funniest on-going joke about the oil spill. We never imagined we'd ever say this, but thank the goodness for Twitter.

Soon after the oil leak began, some anonymous guy who goes by the name of "Terry" started a Twitter account called --
It's a fake, of course. It's also cynical, sardonic, derisive, juvenile, and hilarious. You can follow him by clicking here. (Mashable, "the social media guide," assures us Terry is a "him.")

Sometime yesterday, Terry had a tweet that struck our funny bone hard. When we read it over the phone to our sister-in-law in Boston -- who's rather a dour cynic -- she laughed out loud:

5. Candor We Can Believe In.

We've been as critical of the White House response to BP's oil gusher as anyone this side of Wasilla, Alaska. By no means, however, do we think this is "Obama's Katrina." That's a rock-stupid meme.

It ignores the criminal fingerprints left by the Bush-Cheney administration all over Minerals Management Service. We find fault with Obama principally because he didn't begin cleaning out that rat's nest until it was too late for the Gulf Coast.

Once the BP oil well blew up and the Obama administration started paying attention, a few more stupid mistakes were committed in the haste to catch up with events. For that, we blame Interior Secretary Salazar, NOAA director Lubchenko, and ex-MMS director Elizabeth Birnbaum.

Finally, someone has nailed those mistakes. His name is... well, Barack Obama. Peter Baker of the New York Times has the details.

In yesterday's press conference, Obama candidly criticized Obama:
He was wrong, he said, to assume that oil companies were prepared for the worst as he tried to expand offshore drilling. His team did not move with “sufficient urgency” to reform regulation of the industry. In dealing with BP, his administration “should have pushed them sooner” to provide images of the leak, and “it took too long for us” to measure the size of the spill.
That's about right. The biggie, as far as we are concerned, is No. 2: "too-slow reform of the industry." We read that to mean the MMS agency within the Interior Department, which is supposed to regulate the oil industry instead of acting like its butler.

6. Reforming Interior.

Indeed, if it's possible to look beyond the BP gusher, the president could have gone one step farther. With a few exceptions like the U.S. Park Service, under former President George W. Bush the Interior Department became one giant sump of corruption and incompetence. As Earl Devaney, the inspector general for the department, told Congress in 2006:
[S]hort of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.
* * *
Ethics failures on the part of senior department officials — taking the form of appearances of impropriety, favoritism and bias — have been routinely dismissed with a promise ‘not to do it again.
The "Department of Everything Else," as historian Robert Utley puts it in the Interior Department's "official history" --
for most of its life... has suffered or enjoyed (depending on one's perspective) relative anonymity among cabinet departments. Its very name, conveying only the vaguest impression of its functions, has contributed to its indistinct image.
It also has been the cauldron in which many of the nation's most egregious cases of corruption boiled over to permanently scar past presidents. Obama and whichever White House aides have responsibility for Interior should have known this.

As even the anodyne "official history" of the department admits, for most of its existence Interior has been headed by "not particularly successful executives." From U.S. Grant's ineffectual appointee Columbus Delano .... through Warren Harding's Albert Fall of "Teapot Dome" infamy.... to Bush's own former Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, who remains under criminal investigation... the Department of Interior has been a scandalously delinquent child of the federal bureaucracy.

Corruption in the largest agency inside Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), has a long and lurid history down to the present day. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the decades has cost the taxpayers at least as much as the BIA has rung up in graft and corruption. MMS, of course, is beyond hopeless; it well deserves the death sentence lately ordered for it.

Out of 50 people who have headed the department since its inception in 1849, fewer than a dozen have distinguished themselves as honest and effective department secretaries. Among these notables were James Harlan, who aggressively reformed the department (and whose only sin as we see it was firing Walt Whitman when he discovered a manuscript titled Leaves of Grass in his desk), Carl Shurz (who adopted civil service reforms), M. Hoke Smith (who took on the railroads in an effort to make them pay for land grants), James Garfield (s0n of the assassinated president), Franklin Lane (who established the National Park Service), Harold Ickes, Stewart Udall, Doug McKay, Cecil Andrus, and Bruce Babbitt.

7. The Booby Prize.

As the Times reported when the nomination was announced, Salazar was backed for Secretary only by the very industries the Department of Interior is supposed to regulate and those environmental organizations who are so smitten with Obama that they would not have objected had he nominated Albert Fall's ghost:
“[Salazar] is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues. “He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It’s a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change.”

Daniel R. Patterson, formerly an official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group, said that Mr. Salazar has justifiably become the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees.

“Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and who supports fellow Arizonan Mr. Grijalva for the Interior job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.”

Appointment as Interior Secretary has been called the "booby prize" of the cabinet. Perhaps so. Perhaps Obama, pleased as he should have been with his superb selection of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, treated it as such when he picked Ken Salazar to be Interior Secretary. Perhaps to be 'bipartisan.'

We on the Gulf Coast will be bearing the heaviest consequences for decades to come. Firing or forcing the resignation of the hapless Elizabeth Brinbaum is not going to change the culture of the Department of Interior. So, while Obama is in the mood to admit to his mistakes and try to repair them before more disasters befall us, let's hope -- and urge -- that he adds Ken Salazar's 'resignation' to his list.

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