Wednesday, May 12, 2010
by David Hammer and Mark Schleifstein
Powerful puffs of natural gas, called kicks, are a normal occurrence in many deep-ocean drilling operations.
But one intense kick of natural gas caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to be shut down because of the fear of an explosion just weeks before a similar release succeeded in destroying and sinking the platform and sent millions of gallons of oil on a collision course with Louisiana and the rest of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Shortly before the accident, engineers argued about whether to remove heavy drilling mud that acted as a last defense against such catastrophic kicks, and the decision to replace the mud with much lighter seawater won out.
Those are some of the new details gathered by Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineering professor better known in New Orleans as co-leader of an independent team of scientists that conducted a forensic investigation of the causes for the failure of levees and floodwalls during Hurricane Katrina.
In an effort to piece together the cause of the region's most recent calamity, Bea has been gathering statements, transcripts and other communications from about 50 people since the accident, including workers on the rig, engineers who worked with the rig from onshore locations, and engineers and oilfield workers who have been active in drilling for decades.
"As the job unfolded, ... the workers did have intermittent trouble with pockets of natural gas," said one statement sent to Bea. "Highly flammable, the gas was forcing its way up the drill pipes. This was something BP had not foreseen as a serious problem, declaring a year earlier that gas was likely to pose only a 'negligible' risk. The government warned the company that gas buildup was a real concern and that BP should 'exercise caution'".
A second statement said, "At one point during the previous several weeks, so much of it came belching up to the surface that a loudspeaker announcement called for a halt to all 'hot work', meaning any smoking, welding, cooking or any other use of fire. Smaller belches, or 'kicks,' had stalled work as the job was winding down" in the days before the accident. Bea said he could not name the people who gave the statements or reveal their positions.
Telecoms’ Secret Plan To Attack Net Neutrality: Target Video Gamers And Stoke Fear Of Chinese Censorship
This morning, representatives from various front groups launched a new coordinated campaign to kill net neutrality. Speaking on Capitol Hill, these front groups took turns decrying the evils of the principle of a fair and unbiased Internet. LULAC, which is funded by AT&T, called Net Neutrality "Obamacare for the Internet." Americans for Prosperity — a corporate front group founded by oil billionaire David Koch but also funded by telecom interests — unveiled a new ad smearing net neutrality as a "government takeover" (the initial ad buy is $1.4 million dollars). And Grover Norquist, representing his "Americans for Tax Reform" corporate front group, said net neutrality is like what China does, "putting policemen on every corner, on the street or on the Internet." Watch it:
ThinkProgress has obtained a PowerPoint document which reveals how the telecom industry is orchestrating the latest campaign against Net Neutrality. Authored by representatives from the Atlas Network — a shell think tank used to coordinate corporate front group efforts worldwide — the document lays out the following strategy:
– Slides 7-8 calls for the campaign to target "libertarian minded internet users and video gamers" and "social conservative activists" with anti-government messages and a rebranding of net neutrality as "Net Brutality."
– Slide 9 calls for a strategy of creating a Chinese blog to compare net neutrality to Chinese government censorship, outreach via social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
– Slides 10-11 detail how representatives met at Grover Norquist's infamous "Wednesday morning meeting" to orchestrate the new campaign. Norquist is known to use his Wednesday meetings to plot strategy and conservative coalition building towards lobbying goals.
The PowerPoint was created on April 14th, shortly before the campaign website officially launched. The "Net Brutality" website relies heavily on Americans for Prosperity sources, as well as a website called NetCompetition.org — which is openly funded by the American Cable Association, At&T, Comcast, and the US Telecom Association.
By Eriq Gardner
EXCLUSIVE: In what may be a sign of things to come, more than 20,000 individual movie torrent downloaders have been sued in the past few weeks in Washington D.C. federal court for copyright infringement. A handful of cases have already settled, and those that haven't are creating some havoc for major ISPs.
The lawsuits were filed by an enterprising D.C.-based venture, the US Copyright Group, on behalf of an ad hoc coalition of independent film producers. So far, five lawsuits have been filed against tens of thousands of alleged infringers of the films "Steam Experiment," "Far Cry," "Uncross the Stars," "Gray Man" and "Call of the Wild 3D." Here's an example of one of the lawsuits -- over Uwe Boll's "Far Cry."
Another lawsuit targeting 30,000 more torrent downloaders on five more films is forthcoming, we're told, and all this could be a test run that opens up the floodgates to massive litigation against the millions of individuals who use BitTorrent to download movies.
The genesis of this legal campaign occurred in Germany when lawyers from the US Copyright Group were introduced to a new proprietary technology by German-based Guardaley IT that allows for real-time monitoring of movie downloads on torrents. According to Thomas Dunlap, a lawyer at the firm, the program captures IP addresses based on the time stamp that a download has occurred and then checks against a spreadsheet to make sure the downloading content is the copyright protected film and not a misnamed film or trailer.
For the past couple of years, using the technology, content producers have been taking to German and UK courts to identify and sue pirates using torrents. Jeffrey Weaver, another lawyer at the firm, claims those efforts have been successful. One example cited is a limited-release German film whose producers recovered $800,000 through litigation. Gurdalay and its German lawyers agreed to let the US Copyright Group try out the system in the United States, where BitTorrent users have gotten a pass up until now.
Before doing so, however, Dunlap talked with the IFTA, which wouldn't explicitly endorse the litigation. Dunlap also talked with the MPAA and other big studios, which expressed interest but wanted to see proof that ISPs would be cooperative. And so, in the past few weeks on behalf of some low-key indie films, the first lawsuits were filed.
"We're creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel," says Weaver.
Right now, there may be three big reasons why the movie industry hasn't been more aggressive against individual pirates.
First, there may still be lingering debates about the general wisdom of a strategy that targets individuals rather than the technology companies that make infringement possible. In December, 2008, after suing some 35,000 individuals, the RIAA announced it was abandoning mass litigation against individual song pirates. Many believed the campaign to be a PR disaster.
Second, there are tricky issues involving technology and liability. BitTorrent users only receive and host small packets of data at a single time. In addition, there are questions about IP addresses being an identifier of a pirate since users can steal or borrow another's IP address to commit file infringement.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, ISPs present a roadblock as they are less than enthusiastic about turning off customers by handing over sensitive information to copyright holders.
The Obama administration said Tuesday that it "firmly opposes" the legalization of any illicit drugs as California voters head to the polls to consider legalizing marijuana this fall.
The president and his drug czar re-emphasized their opposition to legalizing drugs in the first release of its National Drug Control Strategy this morning.
"Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them," the document, prepared by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, says. "That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug."
Is anyone surprised? You shouldn't be. After all, this is the same Gil Kerlikowske that has said repeatedly that legalization is not in his vocabulary, and publicly stated, "Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit." And this is the same administration that recently nominated Michele Leonhart to head the DEA — the same Michele Leonhart who overruled the DEA's own administrative law judge in order to continue to block medical marijuana research, and publicly claimed that the rising death toll civilians attributable to the U.S./Mexican drug war "a signpost of the success" of U.S. prohibitionist policies.
Yet, given that national polls now indicate that an estimated one out of two Americans nationwide support legalization, and that a solid majority of west coast voters and Californians back regulating the retail production and distribution of pot like alcohol, it seems politically counterproductive for the administration to maintain such a 'flat Earth' policy. So what could possibly be their reasoning?
It's actually spelled out here, in the White House's 2010 Drug Control Strategy:
We have many proven methods for reducing the demand for drugs. Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use. Diagnostic, laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological studies clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects, and legalization would only exacerbate these problems.
There it is in black and white — in less than 100 words: The federal government's entire justification for marijuana prohibition; their entire justification for a policy that has led to the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, that is responsible for allowing cops to terrorize families and kill their pets, that has stripped hundreds of thousands of young people of their ability to pursue higher education, and that is directly responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 civilians on the U.S./Mexico border. And that's just for starters.
More than 30 years after it was written, the Pentagon has released a memorandum detailing its involvement in the CIA's infamous Cold War mind-control experiments.
But a warning to conspiracy theorists on the lookout for new fodder: This isn't quite Men Who Stare at Goats II.
The 17-page document (.pdf), "Experimentation Programs conducted by the Department of Defense That Had CIA Sponsorship or Participation and That Involved the Administration to Human Subjects of Drugs Intended for Mind-Control or Behavior-Modification Purposes," was prepared in 1977 by the General Counsel of the Department of Defense and released on May 6 after a Freedom of Information Act request.
Most of the details have been revealed in earlier CIA papers. And if anything, the Pentagon's recap is a reminder of how little the Department of Defense cops to knowing about the CIA projects.
Still, there are some tantalizing new details. Take the origins of MK-ULTRA, the notorious CIA program that dosed thousands of unwitting participants with hallucinogenic drugs.
Initially funded by the Navy, the project set out to study the effects of brain concussion. Soon after, scientists noted that a blow to the head prompted amnesia, leading to the pursuit of a drug-based technique to "induce brain concussion without physical trauma." Shortly thereafter, the project was transferred entirely to the CIA, because it involved "human experiments not easily justifiable on medical-therapeutic grounds."
Other programs, described briefly focused on mind control. MK-NAOMI was after "severely incapacitating and lethal materials [and] gadgetry for their dissemination," and MK-CHICKWIT was designed to "identify new drug developments in Europe and Asia," and then "obtain samples."
Edgewood Laboratories, where many of the programs were carried out, is also identified as having tested an incapacitating chemical on prisoners and military personnel without the agency's approval. The drug, EA#3167, was "appl[ied] to the skin" of subjects using an adhesive tape.
Another program, MK-OFTEN, started as a study on dopamine. But the scope was soon expanded to evaluate ibogaine, a hallucinogen, and then several more drugs, in hopes of creating "new pharmacologically active drugs affecting the central nervous system [to] modify men's behavior."
And the Navy is reported to have "obtain[ed] heroin and marijuana" in an effort to develop speech-inducing drugs for use on defectors and prisoners of war. The drugs were eventually tested on 14 people: six volunteer research assistants, and eight unwitting Soviet defectors.
By Ron Brynaert
Groups hope to collect 50,000 signed post cards urging Obama and Holder to put end to industrial hemp ban
Jack Herer, "the self-described Emperor of Hemp", passed away nearly a month ago, but that doesn't mean his dream died with him.
Roll Call reports, "Hemp History Week might not earn anyone time off work, but Rep. Ron Paul still thinks it's worth celebrating."
The Texas Republican and erstwhile presidential candidate on Thursday submitted a statement to the Congressional Record recognizing next week, May 17-23, as Hemp History Week and urging his colleagues to pass legislation legalizing hemp farming. In the statement, which hemp advocates are touting as a big endorsement for their cause, Paul notes that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both grew the leafy crop.
Paul's arguments focused on the potential economic effect of legalizing hemp probably making for a stronger case than the beauty of those hemp necklaces found on the necks of half the attendees of any given Widespread Panic concert. "Unfortunately, because of a federal policy that does not distinguish between growing industrial hemp and growing marijuana, all hemp products and materials must be imported," Paul said. "The result is high prices, outsourced jobs, and lost opportunities for American manufacturing."
A post at VoteHemp.com details activists' plans for the week: "A joint project of Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association, Hemp History Week is looking for patriotic Americans to participate in and attend events in their state as part of a national grassroots, media and public education campaign."
Vote Hemp is a national, single-issue, non-profit advocacy group founded in 2000 by members of the hemp industry to remove barriers to industrial hemp farming in the U.S. through education, legislation and advocacy. We work to build grassroots support for hemp through voter education, registration and mobilization, as well as defend against any new laws, regulations or policies that would prohibit or restrict hemp trade.
Industrial hemp is the non-psychoactive, low-THC, oilseed and fiber varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp has absolutely no use as a recreational drug.
The groups "hope to collect at least 50,000 signed post cards urging President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to end the status quo and let farmers grow versatile and profitable industrial hemp."
"Madam Speaker, I rise to speak about Hemp History Week," Paul said last week on the floor. "To celebrate the American heritage of growing industrial hemp, the Hemp Industries Association, Vote Hemp, several American manufacturers, and allied companies and organizations have declared May 17 to May 23 to be Hemp History Week. Throughout the week, people will recognize America's legacy of industrial hemp farming and call for reinstating respect for farmers' basic right to grow industrial hemp."
by Martin Lewis
Meet Britain's new Prime Minister: The Right Honorable David William Donald Cameron.
At left: Britain's Brand-New "21st Century" Prime Minister -- David Cameron. Snapped in 1987 in his "Born To Rule" outfit -- worn by all members of The Bullingdon Club -- the UK equivalent of the elite Skull & Bones Society.
Born 1966. Raised in a fabulously wealthy family as heir to a massive family fortune. His Conservative Party is committed to passing a tax cut that will only benefit the 3,000 richest families in the UK -- including his own of course.
He was schooled at England's most expensive and most exclusive private school -- Eton -- and then attended Oxford University where he was a prominent member of the notorious Bullingdon Club.
The club -- a UK equivalent of Yale's exclusive Skull & Bones Society -- is an ultra-exclusive clique that admits only the nation's richest and brattiest trust-fund kids. Its openly declared primary activities are outlandish drinking, boisterous behavior and damaging property.
A well-documented typical evening while Cameron was a member in the late 1980s consisted of the members taking over one of Oxford's fanciest restaurants for the night, eating the priciest food on the menu, ordering and quaffing copious quantities of the most expensive wines and champagnes -- and then totally trashing and destroying the entire restaurant, furniture and fittings. The coup de grace at the end of each such excursion was to go up to the traumatized, distraught restaurant owner and, in a gesture that dates back to the aristocrat-peasant relationship of centuries passed, contemptuously throw wads of banknotes at the hapless owner as recompense for the massive damage caused.
That is the background of Britain's new Prime Minister -- whose only employment other than climbing the greasy pole of Conservative Party politics to become party leader was a stint as corporate flack and spin-master for a down-market TV network.
More War, Fewer Jobs, Poor Excuses
By David Swanson
Isn't it time to call what Congress will soon vote on by its right name: war escalation funding?
Early in 2009, President Barack Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan with 21,000 "combat" troops, 13,000 "support" troops, and at least 5,000 mercenaries, without any serious debate in Congress or the corporate media. The President sent the first 17,000 troops prior to developing any plan for Afghanistan, leaving the impression that escalation was, somehow, an end in itself. Certainly it didn't accomplish anything else, a conclusion evident in downbeat reports on the Afghan war situation issued this month by both the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon.
So it seemed like progress for our representative government when, last fall, the media began to engage in a debate over whether further escalation in Afghanistan made sense. Granted, this was largely a public debate between the commander-in-chief and his generals (who should probably have been punished with removal from office for insubordinate behavior), but members of Congress at least popped up in cameo roles.
In September, for instance, 57 members of Congress sent a letter to the president opposing an escalation of the war. In October, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced a bill to prohibit the funding of any further escalation. In December, various groups of Congress members sent letters to the president and to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing an escalation and asking for a chance to vote on it. Even as Congress voted overwhelmingly for a massive war and military budget in December, some representatives did speak out against further escalation and the funding needed for it.
While all sides in this debate agreed that such escalation funding would need to be voted on sometime in the first half of 2010, everyone knew something else as well: that the President would go ahead and escalate in Afghanistan even without funding in place -- the money all being borrowed anyway -- and that, once many or all of the new troops were there, he would get less resistance from Congress which would be voting on something that had already happened.
The corporate media went along with this bait-and-switch strategy, polling and reporting on the escalation debate in Washington until the president fell in line behind his generals (give or take 10,000 or so extra troops). The coming vote was then relabeled as a simple matter of "war funding." This was convenient, since Americans are far more likely to oppose escalating already unpopular wars than just keeping them going -- and would be likely to oppose such funding even more strongly if the financial tradeoffs involved were made clear. However, a new poll shows a majority of Americans do not believe that this war is worth fighting at all.
Nonetheless, as in a tale foretold, Congress is expected to vote later this month on $33 billion in further "war funding" to pay for sending 30,000 troops (plus "support" troops, etc.) to Afghanistan -- most of whom are already there or soon will be. In addition, an extra $2 billion is being requested for aid and "civilian" operations in Afghanistan (much of which may actually go to the Afghan military and police), $2.5 billion for the same in our almost forgotten war in Iraq, and another $2 billion for aid to (or is it a further military presence in?) Haiti.
This upcoming vote, of course, provides the opportunity that our representatives were asking for half a year ago. They can now vote the president's escalation up or down in the only way that could possibly be enforced, by voting its funding up or down. Blocking the funding in the House of Representatives would mean turning those troops around and bringing them back home -- and unlike the procedure for passing a bill, there would be no need for any action by the Senate or the president.
What Does $33 Billion Look Like?
So, how much money are we talking about exactly? Well not enough, evidently, for the teabagging enemies of reckless government spending to take notice. Clearly not enough for the labor movement or any other advocates of spending on jobs or healthcare or education or green energy to disturb their slumbers. God forbid! Yet it's still a sizeable number by a certain reckoning.
After all, 33 billion miles could take you to the sun 226 times. And $33 billion could radically alter any non-military program in existence. There's a bill in the Senate, for instance, that would prevent schools from laying off teachers in all 50 states for a mere $23 billion. Another $9.6 billion would quadruple the Department of Energy's budget for renewable energy. Now, what to do with that extra $0.4 billion?