Monday, May 31, 2010


As an American Jew who visited Israel in my youth and has fond memories of when it wasn't run by the rightwing Likud Party and its coalition of further-righters, I'm appalled and saddened by the loss of life as well as the worldwide diplomatic disaster that has resulted from the bungled flotilla raid. While is appears clear that the flotilla delivering aid to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade was meant as a political trap and the bloody Israeli response was surely more than they'd ever dreamed possible to advance their cause, per George Friedman:

The bid to shape global perceptions by portraying the Palestinians as victims of Israel was the first prong of a longtime two-part campaign. The second part of this campaign involved armed resistance against the Israelis. The way this resistance was carried out, from airplane hijackings to stone-throwing children to suicide bombers, interfered with the first part of the campaign, however. The Israelis could point to suicide bombings or the use of children against soldiers as symbols of Palestinian inhumanity. This in turn was used to justify conditions in Gaza. While the Palestinians had made significant inroads in placing Israel on the defensive in global public opinion, they thus consistently gave the Israelis the opportunity to turn the tables. And this is where the flotilla comes in.

The Turkish flotilla aimed to replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to project. As with the Zionist portrayal of the situation in 1947, the Gaza situation is far more complicated than as portrayed by the Palestinians. The moral question is also far more ambiguous. But as in 1947, when the Zionist portrayal was not intended to be a scholarly analysis of the situation but a political weapon designed to define perceptions, the Turkish flotilla was not designed to carry out a moral inquest.

Instead, the flotilla was designed to achieve two ends. The first is to divide Israel and Western governments by shifting public opinion against Israel. The second is to create a political crisis inside Israel between those who feel that Israel’s increasing isolation over the Gaza issue is dangerous versus those who think any weakening of resolve is dangerous.

What I'd like to point out is that there is significant opposition to the current Gaza blockage within Israel, and protest against the violence of the past day. There's this letter signed by a group of progressive rabbis calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. There was a leftwing protest in Tel Aviv today, that -- unfortunately, again -- led to a teargas canister causing the loss of an eye from an American Jew protesting the Israeli actions. There's the progressive U.S. Jewish PAC, J Street, calling on President Obama and the U.S. to provide stronger leadership to end the overall conflict now. And there's this opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, linking the failure of the flotilla operation to that of "Operation Cast Lead," the three-week 2006 attack on Gaza which, no matter how well intentioned in response to Hamas bombs being lobbed in Israel, left over 1000 Palestinians (and 13 Israelis) dead, many of the Gaza casualties being civilians, with many homes destroyed by Israeli forces. Per Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

Again Israel will pay a heavy diplomatic price, once which had not been considered ahead of time. Again, the Israeli propaganda machine has managed to convince only brainwashed Israelis, and once more no one asked the question: What was it for? Why were our soldiers thrown into this trap of pipes and ball bearings? What did we get out of it?

If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series. Israel proved yesterday that it learned nothing from the first movie.

Yesterday's fiasco could and should have been prevented. This flotilla should have been allowed to pass and the blockade should be brought to an end.

This should have happened a long time ago. In four years Hamas has not weakened and Gilad Shalit was not released. There was not even a sign of a gain.

And what have we instead? A country that is quickly becoming completely isolated. This is a place that turns away intellectuals, shoots peace activists, cuts off Gaza and now finds itself in an international blockade. Once more yesterday it seemed, and not for the first time, that Israel is increasingly breaking away from the mother ship, and losing touch with the world - which does not accept its actions and does not understand its motives.

If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again without any improvement in result, isn't it time for Israel to try another tack? I remain both hopeful and skeptical that there will be peace; hopeful due to my belief that most people just want to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families, skeptical because of the lack of a contiguous Palestinian state boundary, lack of faith in the current Israeli government and rightward drift due to newer more fundamentalist Israelis, and trepidation that the brainwashing of Palestinian children, indeed Arab children throughout the Middle East, that Jews and Zionism are intrinsically evil -- teachings that will not go away quickly, no matter what benevolence Israel bestows.

That said, this is the kind of symbolic/real-life event that, like the ongoing ocean-killing in the Gulf of Mexico, that has the potential to turn public opinion in a positive way and lead to real statesmanship. Nothing one can bet on but, in the right hands, a teachable moment.

I'll pray for it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Daddy's Home

There are entertainment careers and then there's the career of Dennis Hopper, just passed at 74, who was an actor, director, photographer and headcase with the biggest ups and downs imaginable. Having hit Hollywood in the late 1950's he acted beside his idol, James Dean, in both the landmark Rebel Without a Cause and the blockbuster, Giant, then got himself banished due to Method acting on the set of a Henry Hathaway movie. Later reinstated by Hathaway himself, Hopper went on to ignite the Hollywood youth movement with his independent release, Easy Rider, which was not only Hopper's directorial debut but also made the long-struggling Jack Nicholson a star. No doubt directors like Scorsese and Spielberg have Hopper to thank for getting their breaks, but with his second film, the ill-fated The Last Movie, Hopper trashed it all in a drug-fueled orgy of endless principle photography and long-gestating over-editing that again made him a pariah.

After getting kicked out of the town of Taos for his psychotic behavior and pulling a gig on Apocalpyse Now -- like Giant, the over-budget scandal of its time, he went on to accidentally direct the low-budget Out of the Blue when the original director crapped out, doing a terrific job also acting as a ne'er-do-well dad just out of jail, mirroring his own struggles. He lobbied hard for and secured the indelible role of Frank Booth in David Lynch's 80's milestone, Blue Velvet, breaking some unknown gas and murmuring, "Daddy's home..." as he molested Isabella Rossellini. Colors was probably his biggest-budgeted directing effort, also in the 1980's, and he had the lead villain role in -- again the most expensive Hollywood picture to date -- Waterworld.

Along the way his accomplished photography and art world cred included a long friendship with Bruce Connor, in the very top tier of mid-20th century underground filmmaking pioneers.

A few months ago, Matt Zoller Seitz put together this terrific docu-video on Hopper. Enjoy:

I'd say, "Dennis, we hardly knew ye." But I think we did.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Still Leaking

Here's some latest news on the British Petroleum crime against our oceans: the Feds are looking at a criminal probe:
A team of top federal prosecutors and investigators has taken the first steps toward a formal criminal investigation into oil giant BP's actions before and after the drilling rig disaster off Louisiana.

The investigators, who have been quietly gathering evidence in Louisiana over the last three weeks, are focusing on whether BP skirted federal safety regulations and misled the U.S. government by saying it could quickly clean up an environmental accident.

The team has met with U.S. attorneys and state officials in the Gulf Coast region and has sent letters to executives of BP and Transocean Ltd., the drilling rig owner, warning them against destroying documents or other internal records.

Ideally Halliburton gets indicted as well, and maybe we finally learn what the hell kind of deal President Cheney cut the oil industry in the early days of that disastrous administration.

Finally, some protesting of BP and a call for a boycott:

The President visited the Gulf today and reiterated some of what he said yesterday. This guy is clearly smarter and more engaged than his predecessor but it still staggers me what he's got to know or learn very quickly in order to be the expert we've come to expect, as well as the father/fixer figure we expect all of our Presidents to be. I trust he has a better chance than most to gain some level of competence talking about the issue at hand, but holy cow, how in control can you ever feel in a situation like this? Nightmare disaster in extremely deep water, with monstrous machines being used for giant-sized remote makes assassinating a Taliban leader seem easy.

The result of this whole situation, besides the permanent damage to the Gulf and surrounding ecosystem, must be some sort of raised consciousness, both about the value of big government (regulation, enforcement, solutions in reserve) and, most importantly, alternative energy. Per Eugene Robinson:

Obama has rethought his enthusiasm for offshore drilling. Now he, and the rest of us, should rethink the larger issue -- the trade-off between economic development and environmental protection. In the long run, our natural resources are all we've got. Defending them must be a higher priority than our recent presidents, including Obama, have made it.

Energy policy is one of Obama's priorities. He talks about "clean coal," which I believe to be an oxymoron, and favors technologies -- such as carbon capture and sequestration -- that are new and untested. The environmental risks must be a central and paramount concern, not a mere afterthought. Let's preclude the next Deepwater Horizon right now.

It's a moral imperative -- borne of the threat to the survival of the species.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hugest Bummer

Thanks to enough blame to go around and go way back and, what's not hard to predict will be proven in court before this all ends, criminal negligence we're in the worst man-made ecological crisis since Chernobyl. The making of portions of the earth uninhabitable, more like our long ago poisoned and dried up neighbors in this solar system. More like entropy.

Nature organizes. Man attempts to impose will on nature, nature all too often disorganizes. It's ultimately all about our appetites for creature comforts and layers of security in an often hostile world.

I'm willing to give President Obama a chance to prove he's got a handle on this nightmare, or putting one into place. He's earned my trust thus far making strategic decision of value when being handed huge fountains of dute. He spoke today and is taking the type of responsibility Bush and his cronies couldn't muster. The responsibility we all have to start taking as well if we want to have a planetary future:

And he's got to be busy with this huge pile of dute suddenly flowing from succession-wracked North Korea, while relaunching out strategy for managing threats with Secretary of State Clinton.

Let's hope daddy can plug the hole:

That's Life

Rule #1: Life isn't fair.

Lee beat Crystal, making the Vote for the Worst website the winner of this year's American Idol. You could see the glum look in the judge's faces, but then again they may be blaming themselves for pimping the guy who clearly lost every single round last night, making the finalist showdown obsolete once and for all. And they faded out the show before Lee even finished demolishing the U2 tune.

With Lee winning after so many off-key notes last night, the show is clearly no longer a singing competition, but even if going for distinction, it will be all the poorer for having failed to make Crystal their face this year, as in retrospect they seem to have been particularly mistaken with failing to do the same with Adam last year.

Lee is a sweet good guy with moments of inspiration, has his power alley with his sandy voice, but clearly the show is all about young texting girls and cougars+above, so that no one with any really rough edges or iconoclasm can win anymore. Heck, even 3rd Place finisher Casey James, unleashed and blazing on guitar, sang better than the season winner tonight.

Smart Simon Cowell, leaving at just the right time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

B to the P

So is "top kill" a.k.a. Armageddon underwater going to work? Are there more holes down there than we're seeing? In some ways, the massive damage already inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico and surroundings by what appears to be criminal negligence on the part of British Petroleum is too much to deal with until the hole is plugged...if it ever can be.

Per Philippe Cousteau Jr., the grandson of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, after taking a dive through Gulf waters tainted by both oil and the lethal chemical dispersants, it's a "nightmare" down there. We may lose a species (of whale, no less) thanks to our unquenchable thirst for oil, Dick Cheney-led watering down of regulations, and BP's unmitigated quest for "big and important" profits. Take a look at the ABC News report with Cousteau -- if you have the stomach for it:

For those complaining that the Obama Administration hasn't gotten off the dime, check out this list of actions they've taken. Maybe there's more to do, but at some level they need to be riding BP rather than nationalizing BP's liability. I'd like to see some Tea Party Baggers show they're actually more than identity politics partisans by protesting every BP gas station, U.S. office and even fly over to their home headquarters to show them how America feels about being used as their toilet bowl. They can go protest Halliburton as well, and Dick Cheney at whatever undisclosed location he might be hiding. Then I can give them credit for coherence. More likely, they'll blame Obama.

BP has a terrible reputation within the oil industry. Whatever you may think of big oil, we're addicted to the stuff, and not just in our cars. This PC I'm typing on? There's oil in it. That iPod? iPhone? iPad? And the second iPad you bought for your spouse or kids? Oil. So if we're draining the earth of it's oil and turning it into pollution, at least the companies with the better safety records should be the ones doing it.

Because if you think this is the last time BP is going to have spillage problems...welcome to Alaska.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Banksy's Movie

Even though he doesn't take a directing credit on it, there's no doubt that Exit Through the Gift Shop is Banksy's movie. Banksy is the English street artist who has stenciled, painted, graffitied or, if you like, vandalized urban walls all over the world. He garnered his biggest lift of fame by smuggling his own works into fine art museums and putting them up on wall with official-looking title cards, his works usually appearing to comment on the other more traditional, i.e. official artwork in the room. The best part is that, aside from his crew and a small number of insiders, nobody knows Banksy's true identity.

In the documentary, we see a man in a hoodie being interviewed, his face in shadows and his voice slightly altered, although evidencing a Bristol accent. But in an odd way, this movie by Banksy's that he claims he didn't direct isn't really about Banksy. It's about a would-be filmmaker, French transplant to Los Angeles Thierry Guetta, who obsessively videotapes everyone around him, then every street artist of note that he can get next to (starting with his cousin, a.k.a. Space Invader), then Shepard Fairey (yes, before he became wildly famous with his red, white and blue image of Barack Obama) and ultimately Banksy himself, who becomes his friend. And when Banksy gives Thierry the mission of becoming a street artist himself (self-named Mr. Brainwash), while Banksy takes possession of Thierry's psychotically large and uncataloged collection of videotapes, things really start going crazy. Per the trailer:

Exit Through the Gift Shop is, hands-down, the most entertaining movie I've seen this year. (I'd put Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer up there as well, but this one is funnier.) The movie is partially a landmark documentary about street art, a wildly exciting movement with roots in the original punk rock/D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) movement, perhaps even deeper in the Situationist International movement, and essentially puts no-budget artists in the position of major international brands. These rogues create simple but discordant icons (like Fairey's widened Andre the Giant with the word "OBEY" beneath him) and plant them everywhere they can, inspiring viral pick-up and essentially functioning as (non-registered) trademarks. It's the little man battling against the system of signs and symbols that are mainly controlled by corporate entities, all the more pungent as conglomerates like Disney get copyright laws extended well past traditional limits, in order to preserve earning off of their brands.

But if the movie documents a subversive art, its genius is going further in first subverting audience expectations that this will be a movie focused more on Banksy than Thierry, then again as we see street art events generating more ink, visitors and sales than most galleries and ultimately, as the story climaxes, in the complete subversion of the value of street art as perceived and participated in by art collectors and speculators.

While some have speculated that the movie itself is a fraud, much like Orson Welles' notable F for Fake, it seems difficult to imagine how we could be watching the participants age, i.e. Fairey and Guetta, unless it truly was shot as the movie shows us. The search for some sort of meta-prank seems to me beside the point. Banksy and Guetta, together, have captured the smart yet unbridled energy of this pivotal generation of street artists by turning the true story into a romp with a bit of a punchline, and those high-minded critics who call the story too rich to be true are simply out of touch.

As someone who once lived in the East Village with prostitution and drug dealing up and down the street, where the broke made their art mainly for their friends and spent long late night hours complaining, conspiring and amusing each other into hilarity, this movie is basically a raucous celebration of life.

Enter at the ticket-taker.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Idolic Week

The most desired duo. Both cool. But, as Simon says, if I'm being perfectly honest, only one stays in tune:

Tuesday night championship, Wednesday night results.

And looking forward to see someone back:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Here Comes Mighty Casey

Casey James has been freed like an eagle from American Idol at the perfect #3, so he can now go out and be the musician he used to be but with the big deal experience now to put it all together. Since it's a singing competition and Casey is at least 50% a killer Texas-style rock & blues guitarist, the show couldn't fully showcase his talent except in glimpses.

Now, take a look at his performance of "I Don't Need No Doctor" on Ellen the day after he was released:

Don't say great things don't still come from the South.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Meltdown. Meow!

I thought the Rand Paul story would have subsided but he appeared on ABC's Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulos and had even more of a meltdown than with Rachel Maddow last night. As one of our readers has commented, when pure Libertarian ideas are brought to light and the proponents forced to explain them outside of their own self-supporting echo chamber, the carefully constructed ideological house of cards collapses -- and in this case with it, the candidate and the man:

Starting with the victimized whining about not getting a honeymoon -- because he actually had to explain his views the day after calling out President Obama like a hot young punk -- through his complaint that it is somehow un-American to blame BP (i.e. British Petroleum) for the largest environmental disaster in U.S.A. history, he comes off like a not ready for primetime l-o-s-e-r. Sure, Rand, "accidents happen." Especially when you skip all the safety procedures and testing put in place to keep them from happening.

The upshot is that someone has pulling Rand Paul back inside for re-grooving -- he's now become only the third guest in Meet the Press history to cancel on an appearance (sharing the honor with -- ah the irony -- Louis Farrakhan and Prince Bandar bin Khaled al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. I expect that the GOP establishment is sending in some of their top consultants to teach Rand how to be exactly the kind of politician he and his partiers abhor.

Media attention is already starting to turn to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway who's appeared of sound mind and body on Wolf Blitzer tonight, a clear responsible alternative to the loony loose cannon who can no longer be relied upon to know where he stands on any real world issue. He even accepted Wolf's on-the-spot debate request -- Conway said he'd be happy to come back on the show to debate Paul. Not shying away.

No meowwww-owie.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Welcome to the Big Time, Rand

So GOP Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul -- the Tea Party choice -- was allowed to hang himself by Rachel Maddow on the subject of the five decade old Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based Linkon race in our USA:

Yes, true libertarians (Libertarians?) don't believe the federal government has the right to regulate anything private. Really. So while this extremist point of view seems reasonable and divorced from racism, it's actually pointing out the relationship between the Tea Party and racism, per Bob Cesca:
However, he obviously supports allowing businesses to engage in racial discrimination with impunity. Evidently, if the government says it's against the law to run a whites-only business, this is a bridge too far for Rand Paul.

Rand Paul's extremist position on the Civil Right Act underscores a major flaw in libertarian ideology, and it further cements the connection between the tea party movement and race.

Libertarianism, which both Ron and Rand Paul famously embrace, suggests the free market is a significant and vital component of liberty. Private businesses are capable of accomplishing everything, and government can't interfere or regulate those businesses in any way. The free market will police itself. Just leave it be.

Private industry can pave roads, educate children, put out fires and protect our streets from drunk drivers. It can shuttle our kids to corporate schools and back, it can provide clean water to our homes and they can guarantee our meat and vegetables aren't contaminated with diseases. And by the way, in a nation that's 70 percent white, private businesses can choose to do all of these things for white people only. Private businesses can provide everything we need, but only offer those services to white people.

And these businesses, according to libertarian ideology, can form monopolies if they want to. As we're all painfully aware from the health care debate, monopolies occur even in our current government-regulated system. Imagine what would happen in a totally unregulated free market.

So, in Rand Paul's utopia, not only can Woolworth's prevent black people from sitting at its soda stand if it wants to, but a private, free market police corporation can set up shop in a community, buy up any competing police corporations and announce that it no longer serves black people or Jewish people or Hispanic people or gay people -- any minority segment of the population.

The Libertarians agree with Rand Paul, and accept that racism and segregation is an "unfortunate" evil in their fantasy for our society. While that does not inherently appear to make them racists, it points to their inability to accept a non-free market remedy. And again, Rand Paul may not be a racist himself, but his campaign manager, who was forced to quit for racist images on his MySpace page, and one assumes someone close to Paul, certainly appears to have been one. By his own evidence.

It turns out that Rand has a history of being against, for example, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as well. And Ezra Klein has a whole list of questions on what Rand and his fellow Libertarians/Tea Partiers would accept:
For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector's minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not "area politician believes kooky but harmless thing." It's "area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly."

Over the course of the day, Rand Paul began walking back his statements on the Civil Rights Act, then running it back, basically skirting the main question he brought up while finally crying uncle -- "I would have voted yes" for the law. "There was a need for federal intervention."

I expect his dogwhistle followers will discount this reversal and in their hearts know Rand is still one of them, but it sure sounds like a same 'ol same 'ol politician to me.

Massive GOP FAIL to climax in November?

Primary Results

There is no GOP wave. It's a myth. There's a huge civil war going on in the Republican Party, whether the establishment coheres to fight their insurgency or not. There is no false equivalency on the Democratic side as progressives are far from a radical insurgency, in large part they're members of the angry middle as much or more than teabaggers.

I'm interested to see if the establishment GOP can recapture the Wall Street campaign money thanks to their opposition or weakening of the bank reform legislation. I've only seen the Left picket and protest on Wall Street -- where are the t.partiers? Can they remain bought off by an unregulated Libertarian approach to capitalism? Even if it cost them their pension fund?

I'll also be looking how insurgent KY GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul's public image develops. His father seems like a gentleman. Rand just called out Obama like a punk. Offering to pay for his ticket.

Vestiges of condescension.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Senate Upsetz

So Rand Paul beats GOP establishment candidate who cares who in Kentucky, Dem Bill Halter slammed incumbent Blanche Lincoln into a run-off, and Joe Sestak clobbered long-time Senator and party-switcher Arlen Specter to win the nomination in Pennsylvania.

The excitement mounts
...and looking forward to the moment when those prophetic words from "We Won't Get Fooled Again" waft through the minds of all those idealistic voters..."Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss..."

Monday, May 17, 2010


This should rile some folks up. Miss USA 2010 is of Arab descent. And she's smarter than a Prejean:
During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it's costly.
"I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it's a controlled substance," Fakih said.
Woolard handled the night's toughest question, about Arizona's new immigration law. Woolard said she supports the law, which requires police enforcing another law to verify a person's immigration status if there's "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally.
She said she's against illegal immigration but is also against racial profiling.

She's also getting hit for some less-than-salacious pole dance pix, which seems so silly to me now that housewives all across America are installing these things and doing exercise classes on them.

Go, Donald:

After all, it's his pageant.

And go, America, land of the free.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Slick and Slicker

60 Minutes serves up actual broadcast journalism:
  1. This was the second attempt to drill a well in about the same spot. The first well had to be abandoned because the well had been drilled too fast (under pressure from BP to bring the well in quickly). Result: the rock fractured, causing loss of control of pressure in the well. Twenty-five million bucks down the drain, said BP to the crew. So they had to try again, in a rock formation known to be problematic.
  1. Early on while drilling the second well (the one that eventually blew up) an accident damaged part of the blowout preventer (BOP). According to Williams, they were conducting a routine test of the annular, a ring of rubber that closes around the well at the top of the BOP stack. While the annular was closed, thus closing off the well, a driller accidentally pushed a joystick, which pulled the pipe casing up through the rubber seal at very high pressure. A short time later, after drilling had resumed, pieces of rubber began coming up from the bottom of the well. A drilling supervisor told Williams that the rubber debris was "no big deal".
  1. The BOP has two redundant electronics boxes, called pods, which communicate with the surface. These are critical devices which trigger the BOP to close the well in emergency. One of the two pods was problematic and occasionally inoperable. The batteries on the BOP were also weak.
  1. The well was in the process of being closed with cement plugs when the blowout occurred. The day of the blowout, there was a disagreement between the Transocean supervisor and the BP supervisor over how that should be accomplished. The Transocean guy wanted to keep mud in the well (i.e., keep pressure in the well) during the cementing. The BP guy wanted the mud pulled from the well for cementing, because it was faster and they were already behind schedule. The BP guy won the argument. If pressure had been maintained in the well during the cementing operation, the blowout would not have occurred.

The bottom line: the blowout was caused by gross negligence on the part of BP. There is no other way to spin it.

The whole piece on Keith Pickering includes the damning clips from the show. More news includes lax regulatory inspections under the Bush/Cheney Administration that clearly continued after they left. And this is with BP having been called out along the way:

A summary of the inspection history said the Deepwater Horizon received six "incidents of noncompliance" – the agency's term for citations.

The most serious occurred July 16, 2002, when the rig was shut down because required pressure tests had not been conducted on parts of the blowout preventer – the device that was supposed to stop oil from gushing out if drilling operations went wrong.

That citation was "major," said Arnold, who characterized the overall safety record related by MMS as strong.

A citation on Sept. 19, 2002, also involved the blowout preventer. The inspector issued a warning because "problems or irregularities observed during the testing of BOP system and actions taken to remedy such problems or irregularities are not recorded in the driller's report or referenced documents."

During his Senate testimony last week, Transocean CEO Steven Newman said the blowout preventer was modified in 2005.

According to MMS officials, the four other citations were:

_ Two on May 16, 2002, for not conducting well control drills as required and not performing "all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner."

_ One on Aug. 6, 2003, for discharging pollutants into the Gulf.

_ One on March 20, 2007, which prompted inspectors to shut down some machinery because of improper electrical grounding.

Late last week, several days after providing the detailed accounting, Interior officials told AP that in fact there had been only five citations, that one had been rescinded. The officials said they could not immediately say which of the six had been rescinded.

And who will pay for the spills? Ask Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R):

In the wake of last month's catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski blocked a bill that would have raised the maximum liability for oil companies after a spill from a paltry $75 million to $10 billion. The Republican lawmaker said the bill, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would have unfairly hurt smaller oil companies by raising the costs of oil production. The legislation is "not where we need to be right now" she said.

Murkowski's move came just hours after Washington's top oil lobby, the American Petroleum Institute (API) expressed vociferous opposition to raising the cap. It argued that doing so would "threaten the viability of deep-water operations, significantly reduce U.S. domestic oil production and harm U.S. energy security." API's membership includes large oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP America, as well as smaller ones.

The big question that goes to the heart of our democracy is if the damage from BP's negligence destroys the grand natural resource that is the Gulf of Mexico and damages both land and water masses beyond, if it eliminates the livelihood of tens or hundreds of thousands, if it dries up a significant percentage of our food supply, all because they wanted to save some money, then what is the appropriate legal remedy? Is it for BP to go bankrupt and some government to seize its assets? Is it for our government to have to step in and spend billions in band-aids for these ills? Should the CEO on down be imprisoned for life?

I'm not sure there is precedent for an industrial environmental disaster of this magnitude, in large part because it is in the ocean, source of all life on earth. On dry land you can always erect fences; by it's very nature the ocean flows.

For a larger, starker analogy (that may not be so far off), if a large multi-national, billion dollar corporation were to accidentally irradiate the entire earth...would there even be a remedy? Sure, we wouldn't want them to get away with it, and we'd want them to pay everything possible in useful reparations, but at some point the damage to mama Earth is too great, when it irrevocably alters life as we know it, irrevocably degrades life as we know it.

So is the disaster in the Gulf a big enough warning, finally, that even the yahoos alter their drill baby way of thinking?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Truth of the Moment

I've been predicting this for months, ever since the healthcare reform bill passed, that any poll numbers pointing to outsized GOP gains in the November election would erode by that time. Once the lefties had time to get over their wounds on the reform not being as lefty as they'd have liked, once the actual candidates became better known, once it became clear that the President and Dems had delivered on most of their promises, once Obama started campaigning, once America began seeing the Tea Partiers irrevocably subverting the Republican Party.

Dana Milbank has the goods, and the best piece I've ever seen from him -- worth reading in full, but here's a taste:

Future historians tracing the crackup of the Republican Party may well look to May 8, 2010, as an inflection point.

That was the day, as is now well known, that Sen. Robert Bennett, who took the conservative position 84 percent of the time over his career, was deemed not conservative enough by fellow Utah Republicans and booted out of the primary.

Less well known, but equally ominous, is what happened that same day, 2,500 miles east in Maine. There, the state Republican Party chucked its platform -- a sensible New England mix of free-market economics and conservation -- and adopted a manifesto of insanity: abolishing the Federal Reserve, calling global warming a "myth," sealing the border, and, as a final plank, fighting "efforts to create a one world government.


In the Alabama gubernatorial race, a conservative attack ad charged that a Republican gubernatorial candidate "recently said the Bible is only partially true." The outraged candidate reaffirmed his "belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God."

In Utah, just a couple of days after Bennett's fall, conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz talked about trying to topple none other than Sen. Orrin Hatch (89 percent lifetime conservative rating) in 2012.

In Arizona, Sen. John McCain, who once said a fence is the "least effective" way to secure the border, continued his fight against a conservative primary challenge by releasing an ad demanding, "Complete the danged fence."

Democrats are having purity putsches, too, in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Colorado. But these are mild compared with the sort of uprising Republicans are experiencing in places such as Maine, tranquil land of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow...

This is the fruit of the Ronald Reagan deal with the Far Right religious bloc and the California Birchers. The conspiracy theorists on the Left are in abeyance, the Democratic Party led by the calmest President since Eisenhower (and his daughter endorsed Obama), but on the Right they are in the process of completely hijacking the Republican Party. There's no common-sensors from New England coming to save the day; they just lost their very own convention.

It's like Dick Armey, who's FreedomWorks is behind much of the teabaggin' organizing, has his own political party. But the grassroots side of it is the biggest incursion of terrified, angry and self-righteous reactionary force into contemporary politics since the reaction to the Civil Rights Movement, the Dick Nixon Southern Strategy. If this works, if these Beck-blinded psychos get control of the House, Senate or, God-forbid, White House, you can rewind America thirty-odd years.

With this in mind, I say it's time for the Dems to toss out some of their old and put some of our own worthy anti-incumbents in place. Joe Sestak should defeat Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Senate Primary. Arkansas Dem voters should replace Sen. Blanche Lincoln with candidate Bill Halter. In an anti-incumbency election, fresh blood Linkwhere weakest.

Then see which way America goes.

Bonus video: Sneak preview of the winning campaign theme:

Friday, May 14, 2010


Cancel that Order. That is, that Law & Order:
NBC confirmed on Friday that another cherished New York brand was moving to Los Angeles. The network canceled the original “Law & Order” series after keeping it on the air for 20 years. In its place, NBC is ordering a new drama, “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” moving the franchise to a place where there are presumably more murders to investigate.

One year shy of the Gunsmoke record, but does it really count as cancellation as long as other L&O franchise shows are on?

The big loss is for NYC production:

A total of 456 “Law & Order” episodes have been produced since the series had its premiere in 1990. Spotting the cast and crew filming on the city streets is almost a rite of passage for New Yorkers.

Fred Berner, an executive producer of the show, called the cancellation “a devastating blow to the New York City production community.”

Thousands of people are believed to be employed, albeit many indirectly, by the series and its two spinoffs. The series has been especially important to the many Broadway and Off Broadway actors who make appearances as guest stars.

Mr. Berner was standing outside a Broadway theater when he was reached on his cellphone on Thursday evening. “I guarantee you, every name in the playbill will have appeared on ‘Law & Order,’ one of the three shows,” he said.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Arizona Dreamin'

Cheap and easy post tonight, because it's actually funny:

Phoenix is heading into economic crisis thanks to the new law, and even worse is the one that Governor Jan Brewer (R) has signed clamping down on ethnic studies and teachers with accents.

Fast turning itself into the pariah state.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

White Lines

Not to go overboard, but there's something reassuring about Betty White, smart with her husband, Allen Password Ludden where she was a guest many times before and after marrying him; cute with just a little bit of apolitical edge as she joined The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It's reassuring that she's the survivor, and as Noah Cross once said, "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."

So it's nice to know that an 88-year old talent can dominate one of the top new media video platforms for days on end, and it gives hope to us all. You can watch the whole Saturday Night Live on Hulu if you want to, but this skit is particularly tasty, great chemistry with her co-stars:

A yeasty muffin can sometimes ruin your whole day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tallied Ho

The British election is settled with a coalition government that just put 43-year old Tory Party reformer David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, and debate star Nick Clegg of the Liberal-Democrats as his governing partner:

Following tradition, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Cameron at Buckingham Palace – a stately denouement to a behind-the-scenes dogfight between Cameron and Brown for the cooperation of Britain's third-place party, after an election that left no party with a majority.

Within minutes, the 43-year-old Cameron was installed at No. 10 Downing Street, becoming the youngest prime minister in almost 200 years, since Lord Liverpool took office at age 42.

An announcement followed that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg would become deputy prime minister – a rarely awarded and prestigious post – after days of hard bargaining with his former political rivals. Four other Liberal Democrats also received Cabinet posts.

While they will be making drastic spending cuts as their way to get Britain through its current economic crisis, they have to horse trade with their new partners, and I think it's a good thing, much better than the Lib-Dems joining with Gordon Brown's deadweight on his Labour Party. Both parties share the pain and any gain, and unlike with the new American Radical Right that's taking over the Republican Party, they haven't lined up the positions as absolutely, religiously or violently.

I say give Cameron a chance. He has some Obamaesque qualities, I'm assuming he listened to Clegg and must have that ability to hear other people and make sense of it to get things done. I'm betting he and Obama will get along famously and make some good stuff happen. His wife looks like she's ready for the Michelle Obama/Carla Bruni 1st Ladies Club.

The wags are sure that the coalition with crumble within a year and new elections will be held, but I'm not so sure about that. Brown was the old guy, Cameron-to-Clegg seems like the future, although some young charismatic mover may be poised to take leadership at Labour.

Here's to democracy, in all its inefficient forms. And in that spirit of idealism and optimism, here's to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in what may be his biggest career highlight to date, a 96-0 vote to approve his landmark "Audit the Fed" amendment.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Just Us Ladies

I couldn't care less arguing the merits or demerits of Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, because at this point I implicitly trust President Barack Obama to make good judicial appointments. He nailed it with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, great choice and got her through the vile opposition non-arguments, and he's two for two with female appointments. I say the next one who goes, nominate another woman. Imagine a Court that's 44% female, under actual U.S. representation but just about half. Keep it up, Barack, and slam down the stupid Tea Bagger Partier arguments already forming that she's some sort of lesbian Communist. The only good arguments against her are from the left, and in this environment they'll rather take a chance that she's become better on the bench, and they'll probably be right.

I like that Obama has also nominated his second New Yorker. Go team! Two tough New York women...only a moron would mess with them in Court or deliberations. And I'll bet the conversations will speed up. I like that she was the first woman to do a lot of things:

I like that she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on our Supreme Court. And that she's already being attacked by RNC Chair Michael Steele -- for coming out against slavery!:
In its first memo to reporters since Kagan's nomination to the high court became public, the Republican National Committee highlighted Kagan's tribute to Marshall in a 1993 law review article published shortly after his death.

Kagan quoted from a speech Marshall gave in 1987 in which he said the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted was "defective." She quoted him as saying the Supreme Court's mission was to "show a special solicitude for the despised and the disadvantaged."


"We the People" included, in the words of the Framers, "the whole Number of free Persons." United States Constitution, Art. 1, 52 (Sept. 17, 1787). On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes at threefifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over a hundred and thirty years. The 19th Amendment (ratified in 1920).

These omissions were intentional. The record of the Framers' debates on the slave question is especially clear: The Southern States acceded to the demands of the New England States for giving Congress broad power to regulate commerce, in exchange for the right to continue the slave trade. The economic interests of the regions coalesced: New Englanders engaged in the "carrying trade" would profit from transporting slaves from Africa as well as goods produced in America by slave labor. The perpetuation of slavery ensured the primary source of wealth in the Southern States.

By now it's pointless to ask whether Michael Steele has any sense of shame -- we all know the answer. What people don't know is what Kagan will ultimately bring to the court, but it's okay to ask.

Speaking of women and firsts, Lena Horne has passed away at the age of 92. Lots of grandkids and even great-grandkids, a grande dame also of -- surprise -- Manhattan.

A long, fascinating, no doubt difficult career, breaking barriers by organically changing perceptions of race, an extremely appealing actress and singer, who was also extremely cool politically. And what an arc of a life:
Looking back at the age of 80, Ms. Horne said: “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

Thanks to President Obama, the train's left the station on being able to imagine an American of any color or ethnic background eventually becoming President, nor will gender matter in a the Supreme Court nomination. America evolves, even with the yahoos barking at the door.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Blood in the Water

Nope, not oil, blood -- from regular conservative Republican lawmakers being drawn by Bircher-esque Tea Partiers who are turning the GOP into a crazyland where hard right isn't wingnutty enough. Witness Sen.Link Bob Bennett of Utah, an incumbent in office since 1992, just defeated at his party's state convention this weekend.

This, after Florida Governor Charlie Crist left the party to run for Senate as an independent a week earlier, is clear indication that the normal rules of politics no longer apply on the right. The idea of keeping your popular winners is now upside down, with ideology triumphing over pragmatism -- and over actually working with opponents to pass legislation, a.k.a "doing the peoples' business."

I'm of two minds about this, or maybe four. On the one hand, I'm hoping it leads to more self-destruction in the GOP, as the circular firing squad executes winners, not losers, folks that win elections by appealing to more than the wingnuts. On the other hand, there's always the chance that the Tea Party/birther/Bircher candidates win, and you get more Jesse Helms types in positions of power where they can do actual damage to the Republic.

On the third hand, isn't the role of political parties in our democracy to be where actual citizens get to express their collective will and nominate candidates that express their views? There's a bit of static in this case since Utah had a convention, not a primary, so the activists had the upper hand, but if they're driving the party and more traditionally conservative or moderate-conservative Republicans don't fight back, so be it.

And on the fourth hand, haven't I wanted turnover on the Democratic side when there's a public official I find too corporatist or Blue Doggie?

If Rubio beats Crist in Florida, all bets are off, but if Crist or Democratic Senate candidate Meeks wins, expect hell to pay in the GOP for those 'baggers.

Next Tea target: Kentucky.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Terror on the Gulf

Gripping story of the fateful accident:

Workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. A chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.

Deep beneath the seafloor, methane is in a slushy, crystalline form. Deep sea oil drillers often encounter pockets of methane crystals as they dig into the earth.

As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurized shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, the interviews said.

"A small bubble becomes a really big bubble," Bea said. "So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face."

Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240 feet in the air. Then, gas surfaced. Then oil.

"What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig laborer was swoosh, boom, run," Bea said. "The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing."

The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, he said.

"That's where the first explosion happened," said Bea...
Not the only explosion. Another version of it here, with this intriguing passage as well:
The day before the blast, workers from Halliburton, the oil services contractor, had finished one of the trickiest tasks in building a well: encasing it in cement, with a temporary plug of cement near the bottom of the pipe to seal the well.

The Halliburton workers used a less common technique for the cement, whipping nitrogen gas into it to create a kind of mousse. This type of cement, if used correctly, forms a tighter seal, but it is trickier to handle.

Now do you want to know what was actually discussed and decided in Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney's secret talks with oil executives? Chairman & CEO of Halliburton from 1995 up until he took office in 2000?

Oh, and good luck with that box.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

When Government Works

Thanks to the potentially global disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the flooding of Nashville has not gotten the media (or blogger) attention it deserves. What's interesting is that, contrary to how the GOP desperately want to spin the news about this Administration, Obama's team was completely quick and responsive, unlike the other team's guy for eight years prior:
Heavy flooding has devastated the state, but Gov. Phil Bredesen couldn’t stop gushing about the president’s help on Thursday.

“FEMA and the White House have been absolutely supportive,” he told reporters on a conference call.

FEMA was quickly on the ground, and on Monday, “the president was on the phone with me before the sun came up,” he said.

Bredesen, a Democrat, said he’s been in regular contact with White House staff. In fact, he had just ended a long conversation with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Bredesen, who has weathered his share of tornados and storms as a public official, said that he’s “never seen this kind of response.”

It seems that there's a bit of optimism creeping into the White House this week, thanks to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight:
First, there was the 162K new jobs in March, and we will soon enough know whether that was an aberration or part of a broader turnaround once the Bureau of Labor Statistics announces its April figures this Friday...

Second, objective improvements in the economic forecast matter electorally only insofar as people perceive the economy to be improving. So you can imagine the cautious optimism in the West Wing as the Administration circulated this New York Times piece and poll, out today, showing that 41 percent of Americans now say the economy is getting better—up 8 points from a month ago. (Only 15 percent say it is worsening.)...

Third: Health care. Now, keep in mind that many of the provisions of the new legislation do not take effect until years from now, after both the upcoming midterms and even President Obama's re-election bid have passed. Still, WH communications director Dan Pfeiffer--or, more likely, some staff surrogate writing under Pfeiffer's name--was blogging quite effusively today about another New York Times piece (this one an editorial) on the subject of how benefits from the healthcare reform bill are already being felt by some Americans.

And it seems that the "enthusiasm gap" that only a month ago drew a rosy picture for the GOP this fall is now cut in half.

Is it too early to say again, "Gobama?"

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Sports News

Who'da thought I'd ever in this lifetime become a Phoenix Suns fan:

There was almost no evidence in the loud arena of the storm stirred up on Tuesday when Suns owner Robert Sarver issued a statement saying the team would wear "Los Suns" on their jerseys, to celebrate diversity on Cinco de Mayo but also to protest the immigration bill passed by the Arizona legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

"I'm proud of our owner for making this stand but we're not out there to alienate," Nash said. "We want this to be all about love in our community. People, regardless of whether they agree with me or not, we have love for everybody."

The bill has drawn criticism from civil rights groups and others, including President Barack Obama, who called it "misguided."

Now a Steve Nash fan for life.

And the Suns won.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Smart vs. Showboat

I'm sick of the Republican rightwingers getting away with smearing our Democratic President over terrorism in ways that they would howl should it have been said by the left about George W. Bush right after, say 9/11. Excuse me, showboat Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Obama "got lucky" that the terrorist in the Times Square bomb attempt talked? How about, the asshole was apprehended within 54 hours of the attempt, albeit with a near loss of the suspect, and thanks to our non-torture policy, he's talking.

Is this fact supposed to somehow prove the counterargument -- that torture works, showboat Charles Krauthammer? This is simply smart -- i.e. the Obama approach, which is to say the traditional American approach pre-Cheney/Bush Administration -- vs. showboat. And by showboat I mean acting tough with the goal of spreading intimidation, even when tough is stupid.

Maybe the silliest showboat of all is weakie Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) who claims that Obama is "naive" about the Middle East, although he does stop short of calling our President a "domestic enemy." If anything, it's Cantor whose naivete led to his losing the health care reform debate.

If only he'd lose his upcoming re-election bid in November.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Underwater Oil Volcano

Worse than expected. Much, much worse:
The problem with the April 20 spill is that it isn't really a spill: It‘s a gush, like an underwater oil volcano. A hot column of oil and gas is spurting into freezing, black waters nearly a mile down, where the pressure nears a ton per inch, impossible for divers to endure. Experts call it a continuous, round-the-clock calamity, unlike a leaking tanker, which might empty in hours or days.

"Everything about it is unprecedented," said geochemist Christopher Reddy, an oil-spill expert and head of the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. "All our knowledge is based on a one-shot event…. With this, we don't know when it's going to stop."

Accidents have occurred before in which oil has gushed from damaged wells, he said. But he knew of none in water so deep.


To BP falls the daunting task of trying to stop the gush before it becomes the most damaging spill in American history. If the flow is not stopped, it will exhaust the natural reservoir of oil beneath the sea floor, experts say. Many months, at least, could pass.

Imagine months, even a year of oil bleeding into the Gulf of Mexico, poisoning the Gulf, the land around it, leaking into the Atlantic and poisoning the East Coast, creeping up while commercial fishing disappears and all the animals up the food chain start dying Linkas well.

We've ripped a hole in Mother Earth and now she's bleeding out.

Drill, baby, drill?


Sunday, May 02, 2010


Here's our Comedian-in-Chief and the new/old host of The Tonight Show at last night's White House Correspondent's Dinner:

How far we've come from when the funniest man in the room was also, by a few minutes into his routine, the most feared...