Monday, June 28, 2010

Sarah Palin's biggest lie and most shocking ethics violation

Today, Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic posted the above photograph, taken on March 26, 2008, of then-Governor Sarah Palin, just three weeks before she supposedly gave birth to a six-pound infant. I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of people demanding that the reporters who work for our various national media commit some actual journalism with regard to Palin's countless lies and fabrications, most saliently, the unbelievable story from which she subsequently derived her power as a pro-life politician and likely candidate for the Republican nomination for president next year: the story of Trig Palin.

Because, like Andrew Sullivan, that's exactly what I think it was: a story. A tall tale. And it is unbelievable because the facts simply do not support it.

Sullivan writes:

I have never claimed I know the truth. I don't. I only know that none of us does. We all have to rely on the word of Sarah Palin - something about as reliable as a credit default swap. I want to know the truth. Because if I am loony, I deserve the pushback and criticism for suspecting a story that turned out to be true. And because if Palin has lied about this, it's the most staggering, appalling deception in the history of American politics. Not knowing which is true for real - and allowing this person to continue to dominate one half of the political divide - is something I think is intolerable. In the end, this story is not about Palin. It's about the collapse of the press and the corrupt cynicism of a political system that foisted this farce upon us without performing any minimal due diligence.

When Senator John McCain chose Mrs. Palin as his VP running mate, within minutes, everyone with a television had heard the heartwarming tale of this forty-something mother so stalwart in her pro-life beliefs, she carried to term a Down Syndrome baby despite being barely a year into her governorship. (And so discreet was she, we were told, no-one in her office knew until the final weeks of the pregnancy, either. There was no giveaway signs: no bouts of morning sickness; no backaches or food cravings; no maternity outfits; no apparent weight gain or baby bump, despite this being baby number five for the then-43-year-old. And her staff, according to the Alaska media, were completely surprised, nay, dumbfounded when she told them.)

The selection of Palin as McCain's VP candidate, and the unique and, at the time, admittedly compelling narrative associated therewith, knocked then-candidate Obama's historic nomination of the previous night completely off the t.v. screen. Shortly thereafter, we heard the details of said fifth child's birth, told by Palin herself, in her own voice, even.

As readers know, I am a mother of three. Upon hearing those details, I recall shaking my head in amazement, knowing right then that what Palin was saying was an enormous fabrication. A lie.

Yet no media would go near it--no reporter would entertain the possibility that the Governor of Alaska--the VP nominee who, if elected, would be a 73-year-old cancer-survivor's heartbeat away from the presidency of the United States--would tell the world such an enormous, shocking, and appallingly self-serving lie. No-one, with the exception of fellow Brit, Andrew Sullivan.

Why was this so? The particulars of the story of the pregnancy which resulted in the child that Palin herself has made central to her pro-life politics--that Palin herself has used as both political prop and sales tool--do not add up. Where were, where are the investigative reporters, and why do they continue to give this dishonest and dangerous woman a pass even as they report on the tiniest details of the foibles and personal failures of other, far less significant politicians? Why, when the evidence all points to a political hoax of staggering dimensions?

As any woman who’s had any number of babies will tell you, when you’re 43 and in labor—having broken your water, no less!—there is no way in hell you could or would skip going to a hospital (or at least a doctors’ office) and instead, stand at a podium, deliver a speech (complete with jokes!), not have anyone notice, then fly across the continent on two separate flights (with no flight attendants noticing that you’re that far along, either, much less in labor), then drive through the state—still in labor, mind you, and about to give birth to a premature, special-needs infant who will undoubtedly need emergency care upon birth—bypass not one but two large hospitals with specially-equipped Neonatal Intensive Care Units, go to a small regional hospital in a small town, and have a general practitioner (not a high-risk OB/gyn, as would be required) deliver your premature, special-needs baby with jaundice and a heart defect. There is no way.

Still not convinced? Consider this: being in labor is painful. Not hangover-headache painful, such that one could still stagger onto a plane and make it home. Seriously painful.

At first, in the early stages, you simply cringe a little and double over. For intervals, you are not able to speak, much less give a speech. People would definitely notice something was wrong.

Then, the pain gets unbearable—drawn-and-quartered unbearable. You beg for drugs; you might even ask to be killed (with my third child, I had no anaesthesia, and I requested exactly that. Other mothers who’ve delivered sans drugs, please weigh in.) You scream like a banshee. People would definitely notice that something was wrong.

Instinct takes over, and as the labor progresses to delivery, and your screams reach the wild-assed, paint-peeling, scare-your-partner-out-the-door point, you assume whatever physical position you need to and begin pushing the baby out. It is unspeakably, shockingly messy and primal, to use delicate terms. (Mothers reading this are all nodding, aren’t you?)

Now imagine the sitting governor of Alaska, a woman who places high value on her appearance, risking such a thing taking place on an airline—twice in one day—in full view of passengers.

So. Here we are. For nearly two years, the media has been inexplicably squeamish and hands-off about reporting the truth of this lying woman’s fifth child—which would not be anyone’s business if (a) she were a private citizen and/or (b) she had not made said child’s existence the center—indeed, the be-all and end-all—of her pro-life cred, thus “energizing the base”, as they say.

Bravo to Mr. Sullivan, I say. And bravo to all and sundry who, like him, like me, are capable of looking at the evidence already in front of us--who well understand why it matters so much and will thus continue to call for someone in the press to please say something. Do something.


(Big H/T to Sully and to Palingates)

After last week's bloggo-journalistic dustups, I couldn't help but think of this Python sketch

Happy Monday, everyone! Here's to a relatively quarrel-free week.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

On the "firing" of Dave Weigel and the Washington Post's disingenuousness

This weekend I am saddened, though not terribly surprised, to learn the newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal--but which is now best-known for providing an internationally-read platform for Neocons, torture apologists, and outright liars (or the ghostwriters thereof) shilling for Big Oil--has thrown Dave Weigel, one of its only sane, non-religious, non-Neocon conservative writers, under the bus.

Weigel's apparently unforgivable sin? He used hyperbolic language while criticizing another conservative in private e-mails that were unethically stolen from a listserv (e-mail group) and subsequently--and reprehensibly--made public. This, quoth the Post's ombudsman, undermines the Post's standing among conservatives because it calls into question whether Weigel was a "real" conservative or not.

Let me get this straight: if a liberal writer were to privately express his or her disdain toward, or contempt for, certain liberals--for example, if I were fortunate to have a paying job writing about liberal concerns at a large newspaper, and they got hold of my private e-mails saying what sorts of large, unwieldy objects Ralph Nader ought to shove up his nether regions--this would create wholesale, irreparable damage to the newspaper's standing among liberals?


Furthermore, does the Washington Post not realize that Weigel was merely expressing--in private, for crying out loud--the same contempt for certain conservatives that many conservatives I know personally, and am even related to or married to, express all the time, and in public? Conservatives are not a monolithic group any more than liberals are.

The Washington Post, by firing Dave Weigel (or "accepting his resignation", whatever, same thing), has now firmly established, in plain view of all and sundry, that it is a bought-and-paid-for organ of the extreme right wing of the Republican party, and as such, will neither recognize nor permit any dissent or deviations of opinion within the Corpus Conservative.

Nay, their writers, unless they're one of the tiny handful of liberals on the payroll and clearly labeled with the L-word, must all toe the Neocon line. And since Neocon goals can only be met when enough religious rubes are on board, they must also worship at the altar of Sister Sarah of the Naughty Monkey Fuck-me Pumps, Birther of Several and Mother to None.

Dave, I haven't always agreed with what you wrote, but I've always respected your ethics and your work. You deserve better.

To quote Rachel Maddow: Dear God, please save journalism--please, please, please.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday cat blogging: An English cat named Oscar gets new feet

Via the BBC, a happy story that certainly brightened my morning:
A cat that had its back feet severed by a combine harvester has been given two prosthetic limbs in a pioneering operation by a UK vet.

The new feet are custom-made implants that "peg" the ankle to the foot. They are bioengineered to mimic the way deer antler bone grows through the skin.

The operation - a world first - was carried out by Noel Fitzpatrick, a veterinary surgeon based in Surrey.

His work is explored in a BBC documentary called The Bionic Vet.

The cat, named Oscar, was referred to Mr Fitzpatrick by his local vet in Jersey, following the accident last October. Oscar was struck by the combine harvester whilst dozing in the sun.

The prosthetic pegs, called intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (Itaps) were developed by a team from University College London led by Professor Gordon Blunn, who is head of UCL's Centre for Biomedical Engineering.

Professor Blunn and his team have worked in partnership with Mr Fitzpatrick to develop these weight-bearing implants, combining engineering mechanics with biology.

Mr Fitzpatrick explained: "The real revolution with Oscar is [that] we have put a piece of metal and a flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone."
Ahem. You might want to have your Kleenex ready when you watch the video. Oscar looks so much like my Marley. What a lovely, brave boy!

(H/T commenter EyeOnYou at Palingates)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Frank: Outrage at Valdez; with Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt, 1992

Posted for obvious reasons--*sigh*--with sadness, anger, and no small sense of When will we ever learn?, this melancholy piece features a multitude of different instruments, the classical and unusual alike. Zappa originally wrote Outrage for the Cousteau Society's documentary Alaska: Outrage at Valdez, which appeared on TBS in 1990 (currently only available on VHS tape). It was later included in Zappa's last recorded album, The Yellow Shark, a collection of his neoclassical compositions with Ensemble Modern.

I've been trying decide which Zappa piece would serve as a theme for the tragic and epic disaster at the Deepwater Horizon oil well, which, as I write, still vomits its dark bile, untold thousands of gallons of it, into the Gulf of Mexico every day, and in so doing, continues to kill vast numbers of sea creatures and birds. Which, as I write, is unrelenting in its delivery of Earth's vengeance, across the once-vibrant waves and onto our increasingly devastated shores.

FZ is no longer here to provide us with searing musical commentary, so I search through the archives of Internet and memory for another Outrage. And the one composition that keeps playing in my head is this--entitled, appropriately, Sleep Dirt:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Turns out there are many good reasons to watch World Cup Football

USA's football playing--i.e. Landon Donovan's amazing goal--is a thing of beauty this time around. Woo-hoo! Hooray, hooray, etcetera. But we shouldn't let the brilliant athleticism distract us from the brilliant athletes. Herewith, a few personal favorites from around the globe, swiped from the comprehensive collection I stumbled upon here. (You can thank me in comments.)

Yoann Gourcuff of France
(A sexy new Bond, perhaps?
Also, sweaty hair is the new six-pack.)

Eric Abidal of France
(Six-packs--ce sont magnifique--are the new soulful eyes.)

Glen Johnson of England
(Who says Brits don't have gorgeous smiles?!)

Diego Benaglio of Switzerland
(That stubble just slays me.)

Ján Ďurica of Slovakia
(A lovely blend of Daniel Craig and Vladimir Putin.)

Oguchi Onyewu of the United States
(Oh my...words simply fail me.)

Benny Feilhaber of the United States
(A young Brad Pitt, minus the beard and minus Angelina.)

Fernando Torres of Spain
(Many will rush to help him to his feet.)

Kaká of Brazil
(So adorable, but why so serious?)

Fabio Cannavaro of Italy
(Carved out of some heavenly substance by God himself.)

Michael Ballack of Germany
(Tragically, he's out with an injury this season;
also--Matt Damon!)

Atsuto Uchida of Japan
(The cutest, punkiest haircut of them all.)

Georgios Samaras of Greece
(Soulful eyes are the new...*sigh* never mind.)

Didier Drogba of Côte d'Ivoire
(Cheekbones! And that elegant French insouciance.)

Alessandro Nesta of Italy, 2006
(This pic is a delicious souvenir from the last World Cup,
saved forever on my hard drive. Hey, why not?)

(Big H/T to Sarkastic's Livejournal, via Mark Morford at the SFGate.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

GOOOOOOOAAAL! Cristiano Ronaldo's excellent World Cup adventure

In an amazing display of ball control, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo calls on his inner rhythmic gymnast and scores against North Korea.

We've played and replayed this clip at least a dozen times. Way to go, Ronaldo!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stop the bribes. Demand clean energy. Imprison the criminals.

Via Power Without Petroleum (visit their Facebook page.)

Vile, baby, vile:

Tony Hayward will walk away from BP with a £10.8m (USD $16.03m) pension pot if he steps down from his position in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The chief executive of the oil giant is likely to receive an annual pension north of £500,000 (USD $742,322), according to experts from Hargreaves Landsdowne. US politicians suggested the BP boss should step down during an eight-hour cross-examination on the causes of the oil spill on Thursday.

"It's time for heads to roll at BP," Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, added over the weekend.

BP's stricken well is still leaking up to 60,000 barrels a day into the ocean, and the company is only managing to capture a third of it. The company's clean-up bill has now hit $2bn and it has paid out $105m in damages to those affected by the disaster.

At last week's hearing, Mr Hayward declined to say whether he would leave the company, simply repeating that his "highest priority" was to stop the flow of oil.

The BP boss, who lives in a manor house in Sevenoaks, took home £1m (USD $1.48m) in pay and a £2m (USD $2.96m) bonus last year, after success in cutting costs during the recession.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Alan Grayson is in the House

And his whip-smart (and ever-witty) thoughts and exhortations are often appearing in my In box, too. I'm publishing his latest e-mail in its entirety:
Dear Deborah,

In the New York Times for June 13th, the Pentagon proclaimed that Afghanistan holds almost one trillion lira - no, sorry, that's one trillion dollars - in hitherto-unknown mineral wealth.

Allow me to offer these revelations:

(1) Paris Hilton actually is Albert Einstein, with a wig. Think about it - you've never seen them together, have you?

(2) The Moon is made of green cheese. Specifically, a lovely Camembert, slightly fruity, that goes very well with cabernet.

(3) While you were at work today, someone broke into your house, stole everything, and replaced it with an exact duplicate (apologies to Steven Wright).

$1 trillion dollars in mineral wealth in Afghanistan. What a lame excuse for a lame excuse.

But the interesting thing is that the Pentagon felt it necessary to serve up this fevered imagining. Why? Because they say that they need another $33 billion for the war by July 4th, or, or, or, I don't know - they just say that they need it. And for once, Congress isn't falling all over itself to give the generals whatever they want. So get ready to hear about lithium in Afghanistan, oil in Iraq, and diamonds in your bathtub.

With 14 million Americans out of work, support for endless war is crumbling. People want an America that is #1 in health, #1 in education, #1 in quality of life, not #1 in number of foreign countries occupied.

Send an e-mail to your Member of Congress. Ask him or her to oppose the "emergency supplemental" for more and more war.

Hope. Change. How about some peace, for a change?


Alan Grayson

P.S. I am the first Democrat to represent my district in 34 years. I depend on ordinary people like you to support my campaign. If you'd like to make a contribution, please do so here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My take on President Obama's Oval Office address of June 15, 2010

[UPDATE: BREAKING: BP agrees to place $20B in an escrow account to handle claims of Gulf coast families and businesspeople.]

My sense was that President Obama delivered a very general overview in his speech last night. But there are good reasons for this.

We still don't know enough specifics about a) what took place and who bears what level of responsibility--in other words, I think some serious criminal investigations are likely being drawn up as we speak, but the pressure to "say something, do something!" does not afford the President the luxury of a Scotland Yard or an FBI in taking the necessary time to do all the investigations before coming to the public; he did have to at least say something. And b) what, exactly, the extent of the damage to the environment and economy will be, because the damned oil geyser is still spewing, full-force, in the Gulf, making it impossible to state the kind of firm numbers lay people are calling for--and let's face it, most of the country (including you and I, Dear Reader, to a fair extent) are lay people when it comes to calculating projected damage figures. Hell, the damned oceanographers, economists, and environmental engineers, even, are scratching their heads, as this disaster truly is unprecedented in a number of ways.

So, no, President Obama did not--could not--go big last night.

Sure, he could've spouted a bunch of platitudes to make everyone feel better--to make us feel as though vengeance would surely be ours, and soon. To a certain degree, he did attempt to inject some positivity into the speech in terms of our country meeting the challenge of developing alternative energy sources like wind and solar. But the politics of that process are extremely complex, and I promise you, had he gotten more detailed about them, people's eyes would have glazed over. That much I am getting a sense of, as Mr. Litbrit is, right now, busy writing up a grant proposal for some state funding for his alternative energy (wind and solar) program that he's installing at his farm, a state program that is part of the President's immense push, at the federal level, to get the country off fossil fuel dependency.

Trust me, it is happening, just not on the front pages of the newspapers and blogs. Yet. It is happening, but the mechanics are complicated in the extreme; it's deeply un-sexy copy, and sadly, it would fly high over the heads of the very people who most need to be convinced that oil=bad, wind and solar = good.

Once there are more flagship projects, like Mr. Litbrit's, to which our government can point and say, See, here's how it works..., you'll hear and see more in the media, and more from the President.

Let's not forget the fact that as much as we hate BP right now--and no-one hates them more than I--President Obama could not and would not have come out with the cowboy swagger, threatening to "smoke 'em out". Nor would he invoke empty, meaningless rhetoric, lumping this dreadful, criminal company into a general category of evildoers and calling it the Axis of Oil. His chief responsibility is to us, the people of this country, and I believe he sees the best way to serve our interests is to make sure the environment along the Gulf states' shores gets thoroughly restored, and that the people and towns whose jobs and economies were destroyed are, as he says, "made whole".

Toward that end, empty, warmongering rhetoric that demonizes a company everyone already loathes and resents will not make it any easier to force them to cooperate and pay in full.

Atheists and agnostics as some of us are, we ought to be a lot more comfortable than we would seem to be with the notion that sometimes, there are no readily available explanations or solutions, certainly not immediately, and certainly not while the data is still coming in (or, as it were, gushing out).

Bear this in mind, too: the media are always interested in the bleeding lead, because in the news, as in the summer box office lineup, *boom-boom* and flying glass stuff sells--how many headlines did the President's "ass-kicking" comment make, again? Whereas thoughtful, complex solutions laced through with a we-still-need-to-wait-and-see attitude piss them off. They all wanted fireworks last night, and they were denied that explosive denouement. Poor babies.

I want criminal charges brought, and I've made my case for same. As for the cleanup and payment of damages, I, too, need to wait and see exactly how much worse the oil mess and the money mess will get. And when that information is in, I want the President to go after every last penny.

My take, for what it's worth.

D.N.T. 6/16/2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

*Cake or Death? II: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon-scented Cream Cheese Frosting

When social girls come to America,
they bake their own cupcakes and sit on their flag**

Last weekend, the boys wanted me to bake for them. (Again.) And I was in the mood to try a new recipe. Something different--a spice cake, perhaps. But most of my dessert cookbooks and scribbled-on notecards were over at the apartment in St. Pete--what to do? Then I remembered something: I had brought my Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts over with me when school finished up a couple of weeks ago; it was probably still in my duffel bag.

Fast-forward a couple of hours, and we were mmm-ing our way through yet another plateful of sweet success, courtesy of the brilliant Moosewood cooks (and a little creative fiddling around by Mama):

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon-scented Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cakes:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup of unsulphured molasses
2 large eggs
3 rounded teaspoons ground ginger
1 scant cup crystallized ginger pieces, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water

For the frosting:
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup cream cheese, softened (I used whipped cream cheese)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons pure lemon extract
tinted sugar for decorating (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º F (remembering to adjust according to your oven's idiosyncrasies). Line two muffin tins (the 12-cakes size) with paper cupcake liners.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. Then add the molasses and eggs and beat until smooth. Switch to a wooden spoon, add the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and flour, and stir gently until blended. In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water, then add this to the batter and mix until smooth. Stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Pour the batter into the cupcake liners--I use a small ladle for this--and bake for about 20 minutes; the cakes are done when they're slightly springy to the touch (don't over-bake them). Once you've removed them from the oven, let them cool for a couple of minutes, then gently lift them from the tins and let them finish cooling on wire racks.

To make the frosting, just cream the butter and cream cheese together with your electric mixer, sift the confectioners' sugar over it and beat until fluffy, then add the lemon extract and beat again until smooth.

Once the cakes are cool, frost them--I like the quick-and-dirty method of holding them upside-down and swirling them directly in the frosting bowl--and, if you like, sprinkle a tiny bit of tinted sugar on each one, for color.

Now brew yourself a nice pot of tea, sit in your own favorite chair, and savor the gingery-lemony sweetness of at least one of these treats before everyone gets home and "disappears" the lot.

* Cake or Death? I

** That's one of various dining room chairs I've painted with acrylics--mine is covered with three weathered-looking Union Jacks, inspired by David Bowie's Alexander McQueen frock coat, and Robert's features green bamboo against a crimson and white background, alla bandiera Italiana. Son Three is currently designing one in Early American Sharks.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The other recent BP oil spill you may have missed

With all the devastation going on in the Gulf of Mexico and the 24-hour coverage of it by seemingly every cable news channel, you and I may be forgiven for not paying too much attention to matters oil-related that were transpiring elsewhere in the US. But what of our national media? Apparently they did not see fit to report on it too intensively, if at all. "It" being the Alaska incident, in which no-one was killed and which obviously did not rise to the level of urgency and shock value of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in terms of catastrophic environmental and economic damage, but which nonetheless corroborates the larger narrative herein: that BP's negligence and malfeasance is part of a pattern that rises beyond coincidence. Indeed, I'd argue that such a pattern of willful negligence and criminal malfeasance is intrinsic to BP's business model: this is the very definition of racketeering.

On May 25th 2010, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was shut down after a power failure led to a spill of "several thousands" of barrels of oil. A containment area consisting of gravel and impermeable tarp was reportedly successful in heading off any environmental damage, though there are ongoing concerns--amid watchdog groups and reporters who've covered the pipeline in general and the activities of BP specifically--about the pipeline's serious corrosion problems, the system's insufficient staffing and the lax maintenance of equipment, and the integrity of the pipeline itself.

Subsequent to this incident, the pipeline was re-opened, first at a reduced flow, then an even more reduced flow, for days; normal oil flow has since been restored.

BP (British Petroleum) is the majority owner of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline's operators, Aleyska. According to the wildflower-bedecked Aleyska corporate website, here's the breakdown of Aleyska's ownership (ironically, though not at all surprisingly, Aleyska is an Aleut word that means mainland, yet the consortium described below would not appear to include any Native Alaskan people or groups whatsoever):

BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. 46.93%
ConocoPhillips Transportation Alaska, Inc. 28.29%
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, 20.34%
Unocal Pipeline Company, 1.36%
Koch Alaska Pipeline Company, L.L.C., 3.08%

(You may recognize the name Koch: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has reported on Koch Industries' significant and secret funding--to the tune of $24.9 million between 2005 and 2008--of global-warming denial campaigns via organizations such as the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. These campaigns disseminate lies and disinformation and, among other nefarious, self-serving goals, seek to affect public policy. They do this by undermining support for developing alternative energy sources like wind and solar as well as by downplaying and even denying the benefits of reducing, and ultimately doing away with, the nation's dependence on fossil fuel, aka oil.)

BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast has been covering the TAPS concerns for years. Here's his latest:
With the Gulf Coast dying of oil poisoning, there's no space in the press for British Petroleum's latest spill, just this week: over 100,000 gallons, at its Alaska pipeline operation. A hundred thousand used to be a lot. Still is.

On Tuesday, Pump Station 9, at Delta Junction on the 800-mile pipeline, busted. Thousands of barrels began spewing an explosive cocktail of hydrocarbons after "procedures weren't properly implemented" by BP operators, say state inspectors. "Procedures weren't properly implemented" is, it seems, BP's company motto.

Few Americans know that BP owns the controlling stake in the trans-Alaska pipeline; but, unlike with the Deepwater Horizon, BP keeps its Limey name off the Big Pipe.

There's another reason to keep their name off the Pipe: their management of the pipe stinks. It's corroded, it's undermanned and "basic maintenance" is a term BP never heard of.

How does BP get away with it? The same way the Godfather got away with it: bad things happen to folks who blow the whistle. BP has a habit of hunting down and destroying the careers of those who warn of pipeline problems.

In one case, BP's CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of a whistleblower, Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe's tanker facility. BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP's acts were "reminiscent of Nazi Germany."
I encourage readers to click over and read the entire article.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Why Attorney General Holder should pursue RICO charges against BP

As photographs of the Deepwater Horizon disaster's innocent victims--the dead and dying birds and turtles, the soon-to-be-bankrupt fishing familes and hoteliers of the Gulf states--float across our screens, a number of Americans are calling for the President to show some emotion, to get mad.
I submit that right now, we, the people, would be far better served by reason than by rage.
And reason and logic dictate that the best way to guarantee the most effective, efficient, and expeditious remedies to the widespread damage this disaster has wrought, and the havoc the spilled oil will continue to wreak, is to first guarantee that we, the people, have the funds necessary to bring to bear every conceivable course of action toward making this right, as the nice English man in the advertisement says. Every conceivable course of action: from thorough cleanup efforts of our marshlands, shores, and beaches; to relocation of the threatened wildlife; to fair, adequate, and proper financial support for all citizens whose livelihoods have borne, and will continue to bear, the brunt of this economic catastrophe at a time when all but the wealthiest Americans were already struggling with their bills (or living in drastically reduced circumstances or, indeed, not living in their homes at all.)
Recent history shows us that despite continuing to rake in unimaginably large profits, massive multinational oil companies do not voluntarily--or even grudgingly, upon feeling the gentle pressure of the implied threat of having a stockinged foot brush against their cervical spines--man up, pony up, and "make it right".
I would refer anyone questioning this to the sordid, outrageous story of Exxon Mobil Corp., whose infamous tanker accident in 1989 wrought environmental and economic damages both immediate and immeasurably long-term; who despite, to this day, posting record-breaking quarterly profits in the multiple billions of dollars, engaged in despicable legal tactics over a nineteen-year period, the results of which left the injured parties receiving a paltry $507 million in sum. This insulting amount was only one-tenth of the original jury award, and it was finalized so staggeringly late in the game, some of the plaintiffs had died. (Bear in mind that these damages did not take into account the devastation to body and mind wrought by losing one's livelihood, or, in the case of one Alaska mayor, watching in despair as his constituents lost their livelihoods and deciding to end his own life.)
In light of all the aforementioned, I believe there is a strong case to be made for pursuing charges, against British Petroleum (BP), under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
RICO's requirements are relatively easily-met, focusing as they do on an established pattern of behavior that under US law qualifies as racketeering: namely, a member, or members, of any enterprise found to have committed two of 35 crimes--which list entails 27 federal and 8 state crimes--within a 10-year period, is guilty of racketeering. (Even disregarding the implications of the recent SCOTUS ruling in Citizens, BP does fit the definition of "person"--see paragraph 3 of Title 18, Part I, Chapter 96, § 1961 of the United States Code, which states: “person” includes any individual or entity capable of holding a legal or beneficial interest in property.)
In addition to its criminal provisions, RICO embraces a broad (and in the case of BP, well-deserved and much needed) application of civil charges which may be brought against the defendant. The language--and, I'd add, precedent set by the application--of RICO provide for the recovery of punitive damages that are three times the amount of compensatory damages so awarded.
Viewed solely in terms of their quantity and the timeline over which they were committed, I believe BP's criminal acts to date, including two felonies for which the company is still on probation, provide more than enough to establish a pattern of behavior determinable under RICO as racketeering. To wit:
1999: BP pleaded guilty to the felony crime of illegal disposal of hazardous waste on Alaska’s North Slope and paid $22 million to resolve criminal fines and civil claims.
2005: following the tragic Texas City Refinery Explosion that killed fifteen people and injured many dozens more, BP pleaded guilty to felony violation of the Clean Air Act. The company was fined $50 million and sentenced to three years probation. Thereafter, having found at the refinery some 270 cited but still-unaddressed safety violations--plus 439 new ones--OSHA (the Occupational Health and Safety Administration) levied against BP an additional fine of $87 million, the largest such penalty in the history of the agency.
2007: BP energy traders in Houston, TX, were charged with illegal manipulation of propane prices, which led to the company narrowly avoiding criminal charges and paying, yet again, a record-breaking fine: $303 million total, which included a $125 million civil fine to the CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission), $100 million to the Justice Department, $53.3 million to a restitution fund for consumers, and $25 million to a US Postal Service consumer fraud education fund.
2010: On April 20th, an exploratory Gulf of Mexico oil-drilling platform owned by Transocean Ltd. and operating on behalf of its majority owner BP, exploded and collapsed, killing eleven people and unleashing a torrential and ongoing oil spill into the ocean which continues, unabated, to this day. Geologists, engineers, and oceanographers now describe the Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest oil spill in human history. Yet in its 2009 exploration plan filed with the MMS (Mineral Management Service), BP repeatedly and confidently downplayed the risk of any such catastrophe; indeed, they told the MMS that it was "virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals."
That's at least two criminal convictions, possibly three, and counting. And those are just the main crimes BP committed within America's territories. Time and space constrain this writer from going into the details of BP's history of crimes against man and nature in other countries, but Google assures us there are many.
What other benefits are there to invoking RICO? In addition to the treble-damages specification, the act provides broad framework for initiating criminal forfeiture of BP's real and tangible assets. It even provides for doing so peremptorily, if the government feels reasonably certain it will prevail on the issue of forfeiture.
A nationwide movement toward doing just this is organizing and expanding at this very moment: Seize BP. And it is not, contrary to the blatherings of morning news pundits, fueled by people's irrational anger; rather, the movement exists because citizens know all too well that lies, legal delays, obfuscations, and, ultimately, the very likely re-organization and/or bankruptcy of BP--and the concomitant transfer and hiding of its monetary assets--will undeniably translate to a miscarriage of justice the magnitude of which, like the oil spill itself, will be unprecedented.
Attorney General Holder: pursue RICO charges against BP and seize its assets. Now.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

All the rights and privileges of personhood with none of the responsibilities and ethics pertaining thereto

Good grief, could the case be more clearly stated for enacting dramatic campaign finance reforms--indeed, for completely publicly-financing our elections--and curtailing, if not outright reversing, the ill-considered, inexplicable, and nefarious accordance of First Amendment free-speech protections to voiceless, inanimate entities like corporations?
As Congress investigated its role in the doomed Deep Horizon oil rig, Halliburton donated $17,000 to candidates running for federal office, giving money to several lawmakers on committees that have launched inquiries into the massive spill.

The Texas-based oil giant’s political action committee made 14 contributions during the month of May, according to a federal campaign report filed Wednesday — 13 to Republicans and one to a Democrat. It was the busiest donation month for Halliburton’s PAC since September 2008.

Of the 10 current members of Congress who got money from Halliburton in May, seven are on committees with oversight of the oil spill and its aftermath.

Halliburton’s political contributions in May are the highest they’ve been since September 2009, when the PAC also gave $17,000 in donations. In fact, the last time the company gave more than $17,000 in one month was when it donated $25,000 during the heat of the presidential campaign in September 2008.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Introducing The Fifth Column: Pearl; Athens, GA; 2010

I know him as David Ferguson, dear friend and confidante.

You probably know him as TRex, the wickedly funny blogger whose words were sharper than a theropod's claws--the writer who, for many moons, entertained the late-night crowd at Firedoglake before starting his own blog.

Now meet David the talented singer-songwriter: in this hastily-put-together but totally charming debut video--recorded in a single take on David's Mac for less than the cost of three lattes--he's performing his own Pearl, along with his brand-new band, The Fifth Column.

(You sound awesome and look mahvelous, David. Stop worrying. And keep writing and recording!)