-- Richard Harris, NPR
1. Free Beach.
As in past years, gay and lesbian visitors have begun arriving at Pensacola Beach for the Memorial Day weekend. This morning a couple of dozen tents were going up mainly along the undeveloped stretch of county beach about a mile east of Portofino.
Farther east at "Opal Beach" -- so christened by Gulf Islands National Seashore officials after the 1995 hurricane -- only a couple of tents and perhaps a dozen beach-goers were in evidence. A park official told us he suspects prospective visitors are being scared off by the official NPS sign at the roadway entrance that announces an $8 daily visitor fee.
"Actually, we're not charging this weekend," he said. "It's free. But a lot of the gay people don't know it. They just see the sign and turn around to leave."
2. Top Kill Reports Mixed and Contradictory.
We are in the midst of a "crucial stage" in the BP oil spill catastrophe, the UK Guardian reported overnight. Even into the early morning hours, what little BP was saying about the "Top Kill" attempt to give BP's oil well a heart attack was that they were seeing mostly drilling mud. Some suggested that wasn't good; it meant the mud wasn't sinking as deeply as hoped.
At mid-morning, however, the Wall Street Journal was reporting "U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the disaster response in the Gulf of Mexico, said the company's "top kill" maneuver had successfully prevented oil and gas leaking from the well." The Los Angeles Times is reporting the same news, adding "Engineers plan to begin pumping in cement and then will seal the well."
The reports are sketchy and incomplete, and at least when it comes to the Wall Street Journal, focused on the minute-by-minute stock price of BP. That, alone, is reason enough to withhold faith in the reports.
NPR at noon Eastern Time still was reporting that U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen is saying it's "too early" to determine if the leak has been stopped or even ameliorated.
3. Sick People.
WWL-TV in Orleans reports seven contamination clean-up volunteers were hospitalized last night. They reportedly are suffering from severe headaches, owing to direct contact with the oil or breathing its fumes.
London's Daily Mail claims the U.S. Coast Guard also has ordered all commercial ships to leave the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so crew members can be checked "as a precaution." The newspaper says, "Four crew members from three vessels were hospitalised after reporting nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains."
4. Dead Sea Life.
From Reuters News Service:
More than 300 sea birds, nearly 200 turtles and 19 dolphins have been found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast during the first five weeks of BP's huge oil spill off Louisiana, wildlife officials reported on Monday.5. Animal Life Missing from the Gulf.
Kate Sheppard, who has been doing a tremendous job reporting from Louisiana for Mother Jones Magazine, had a great catch yesterday:
There's mounting evidence that federal regulators at the Minerals Management Service were paying zero attention to the oil industry, particularly when it came to authorizing oil spill response plans. Case in point: BP's Oil Spill Response Plan for the Gulf of Mexico lists sea lions, seals, sea otters, walruses in its evaluation of how a spill might affect local wildlife. The problem? None of these critters live in the Gulf.That's true, of course. We haven't seen a sea lion or walrus since we last visited the Oregon coast. But there is a sea otter trapped inside a glass cage at the Gulfarium in Ft. Walton Beach. They have some performing seals, too.
Here's hoping that's not where we'll have to go to see the only dolphins left along the Gulf Coast.
6. Another Oil Well Leaking.
BBC reports an on-going oil drilling emergency in the North Atlantic, almost 200 miles miles west of Bergen, Norway. Heavy drilling mud is being used there, as well, to stop the leakage.
Under the Norwegian platform, the BOP, or blow-out preventer, is acting as a barrier if the pressure continues to build. But the other barrier, drilling 'mud', has not proved effective in containing the Gullfaks well.7. Obama's Katrina?
That may have changed on Wednesday morning. Statoil, Norways' state-owned oil company, has been pumping drilling mud into the well since the incident began, in an attempt to reach a point where it caps the pressure.
A spokesman for Statoil, Gisle Johansen, said today that the point has been reached where "loss of mud into the formation has stopped and we do not have to pump additional mud into the well. This is positive information and tells us that the pressure situation in the well is more stable".
However, he said: "We still don't have the necessary safety barriers in place".
The next stage is to cement a plug into the well, said the spokesman. That work has yet to start, and will take several days.
The usual assortment of partisan hacks has been trying for over a month to tag BP's oil spill as "Obama's Katrina." While the Obama administration surely could have done some things better, it's as plain as the oil glop on the wings of Louisiana's coastal birds that if there are any politicians to be blamed, they are the greed- and power-driven nasties like former vice-president Dick Cheney and the pathetic "drill, baby, drill" sycophants like our own congressman, Jeff "Oil Spill" Miller.
Today's New York Times, however, is running a thought-provoking series of short opinion pieces from respectable thinkers about the blame question. ["Is It Obama's Oil Spill, Now?"]
Definitely worth a read.
Blaming politicians may be fun, but Glenn Greenwald expresses a view that the question posed should be seen in a broader context, raising the more fundamental question of 'What do we Americans expect of any president, and what do those expectations say about us?'
[T]here is little the White House can actually do to stop a massive underwater oil spill, and expectations that he do more are largely unreasonable.8. Obama's MMS Director Out.
But that does not mean that the president will be immune from political damage from this incident, nor does it mean that he should be immune.
Our political culture is shaped by what the Cato Institute’s Gene Healy has called “The Cult of the Presidency.” White House aides perpetuate the mythology that presidents are paternal, virtually omnipotent figures who will protect us from harm and, in the broadest sense, ensure that justice is done.
* * *
As more and more Americans come to understand the true magnitude of the oil spill disaster, it will matter little that President Obama was not at fault.
Far more significant will be the perception that he failed to “protect” us from this threat, a potentially devastating belief in a society where “protecting us from harm” has come to be seen as the president’s overarching responsibility (far higher than what the Constitution actually describes as the prime presidential duty: “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”).
Put simply, unless the oil spill is brought under control quickly, Obama as the holder of centralized political power is likely to be blamed for these failures whether or not that blame is fair.
Reliable new reports late this morning from NPR and ProPublica say Elizabeth Birnbaum has been fired as MMS director. [Update: Interior Secretary Salazar predictably claims Birnbaum "resigned today on her own terms and on her own volition."]
Birnbaum has only been head of the agency since July 2009 — less time than her boss, Ken Salazar, has been secretary of the Interior Department, which oversees MMS. We’ve put in a call to MMS to confirm these reports.Unlike the execrable associate director of MMS, Chris Oynes -- who suddenly "retired" under a cloud after a decade mismanaging oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico -- Birnbaum wasn't suspected of being too close to the oil industry. Instead, as it seems to us, she simply knew too little and was not a strong enough manager to handle the snake pit that MMS has become.
One thing is certain: Birnbaum won't be the only Interior Department official to be canned.