Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Leaky earth

Use nukes to contain the oil spill

Underwater nuclear explosions have been used successfully to stop oil leaks


Use nukes to contain the oil spillThe April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig not only killed eleven people but also triggered a massive influx of oil into the ocean. President Obama has called the oil spill a "potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." The cause of the explosion is not known and equally obscure and hazy are the means to contain the oil gushing out from the sea floor. Already the south-easterly winds have enabled the oil to touch shore. And, oil prices continue to drop every day on the backdrop of this poisonous spill, possibly the only good news from a consumer point of view.

At present, efforts are on to prevent a re-run of the infamous oil spill caused by Exxon Valdez tanker, when 10.8 million gallons of oil was dumped into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989. Usually, a blowout preventer or BOP would shut off any oil leak from open wellheads. It is this valve that prevents blowout accidents due to heavy pressure. In the case of the gulf oil spill, the 450 ton, 48 foot tall BOP failed to stem the flow. BP, the oil company, did try to use robotic submarines to nudge the BOP but the effort was futile and a second BOP could, if it fails, trigger more oil spill.

Recently, the US president opened more than 500,000 square miles of coastal waters in his country for oil exploration. This accident has put that decision on hold. White House adviser David Axelrod said "No additional drilling has been authorised and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here," And, the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even in the midst of a budget crisis, ended his support for oil expansion, while Sarah Palin was still seen sticking to the slogan 'drill baby drill'.

BP in the hot seat

Right now BP is definitely 'Beyond Petroleum' as it tries to stem the oil vent. Without entering into a fault finding mission, suffice to say, BP is in a terribly hot soup. Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP said "We will absolutely be paying for the clean-up operation. There is no doubt about that. It's our responsibility, we accept it fully." Last week, BP was successful in stopping one of the three leaks from the MC252 oil well. However, in a private briefing with congress members, BP is said to have admitted that the spill could touch 40,000 barrels a day if the flow continues. At present, the spill is spewing about 5,000 barrels of oil a day. At stake are environmentally sensitive areas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, livelihood of many people in the area and the wildlife with many species of fish, birds and mammals.

For its part, BP finds itself in the same position as David Cameroon was for Avatar, the first to do something without a precedent to follow. But unlike Cameroon, BP has to contend with many more variables- public anger, finding new ways to seal the flow, massive influx of funds running to billions of dollars, and plummeting stock value are just some of them. It is uncertain how long it will take to control the leak with current means used. The technical challenges to stopping this leak with classical means are... namely a lack of classical means. Leaks at that depth rarely occurred before. Human divers can't go that deep. The technology used for leaks occurring in shallow water cannot be used here as the source of the leak lies more than a mile below the water.

High-tech, experimental dome... but will it work?

BP has installed floating booms in the sea and along the coastline to check the oil spill using local fishermen in a program called Vessels of Opportunity. These booms are also used to catch the spills which are then subjected to burning. The plan is to remove the residue of the burn using net and simmers. The company has deployed more than 700,000 feet of the boom with another million feet available for use. Still, boom or sandbags do not work, albeit as a temporary reassurance, as winds damage the booms rendering them useless. BP has also given $25 million block grants to the states affected by the oil spill- Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. The company says the funds were disbursed to implement the Contingency Plans (ACPs) to prevent the spill affecting 'sensitive areas'

In addition, chemical dispersants were also used to check the spill. Thus 160,000 gallons of chemical dispersant called Corexit 9500 were sprayed on the spill and another 6,000 gallons of Corexit EC9527A were pumped directly on the source of the spill below. The dispersants are expected to break the oil droplets into billions of smaller droplets to hasten the degradation process. But concerns remain on the effect of the chemicals on aquatic life, in the short term or long term, as the exact mix used in the chemical is still a well-kept secret.

Against all this, we had untested futuristic technology in the form of giant boxes, four stories high, weighing 100 tonnes, called cofferdams to be placed over the larger of the two leaking wellheads. The idea was to collect the gushing oil leaking from about a mile under the water's surface and channel it through a pipe to the surface to be collected by Transocean's Deepwater Enterprise drillship. The device had been used previously during hurricane Katrina, but then it was in shallow waters and different conditions altogether.

Sure enough, it would be weeks before we know the success of this and none is wiser about the working condition of the dome under high deep sea pressure. Though the dome was successfully placed over the leak, it hit the first problem immediately: Gas hydrates, ice like crystal formed when natural gas and water mix under pressure, sealed the opening of the dome. Thus, the hydrates have plugged the large opening and have prevented oil being funnelled to the ship. So, the dome has been moved to the side of the well for the time being. Now the challenge is to find a ways to overcome the hydrates-either heating the cofferdams or adding methanol. Still at that water pressure -we are talking about pressure at 1,500m below the surface- the funnel would be difficult to maintain. BP is drilling two more relief wells in the area to provide an escape route for the pressurised oil. But that will take months. So what's the solution?

Nukes, a simple proven method to stop oil leaks

A leading Russian daily has come up with another option-nuke the spill. Though it sounds more like fiction and somewhat outlandish, the fact is that Soviet Russia had used controlled nuclear explosions to contain oil spills, on at least five different occasions.

The science is to drill a hole near the leak, set off the explosion and then seal off the leak-used in the soviet for an oil spill in the desert. If it is rocky surface the explosion would shift the rock which then squeezes the funnel of the well. The first underground nuclear explosion was done in Urt-Bulak in 1966 to control burning gas wells. The success ratio is quite high with only one of them failing to prevent a spill in Kharkov region in 1972.

There is an analogy between using nukes to stop the oil leak and using Chemotherapy on a cancer patient. Chemo nearly kills the patient in order to kill all cancerous cells. Yet it is the best known way to stop cancer. The same goes with using nukes underwater. Like chemo it is drastic yet has a 80% success rate, better than anything else.

  • Some analysts are against the use of nuclear explosions on fear of the effects on the environment. But the world has already done underwater testing of nuclear devices and if there was a huge environmental disaster as a result of it, we'd have known by now. Indeed, Commandant Cousteau, renowned biologist led numerous dives following French underwater nuclear explosions in the Mururoa atoll and noted very little impact on sea life.
  • using nukes to stop the leak is the most ecological alternative. Stopping the leak before too much oil leak is the key, speed is of the essence. Nukes would allow this to be resolved in a matter of days. This would save thousands of miles of shoreline, millions of animals by not allowing this toxic sludge to contaminate the shore.
  • One of the main issues with using nukes is public opinion. Even though it's the most ecological alternative, nukes have a huge public stigma hard to overcome, mostly due to ignorance. Nuclear bombs are not intended to be used for peaceful, ecological purposes and educating the public on this possibility is an uphill battle.
  • This technology was used by the Russians, the USA's sworn enemy at the peak of the cold war. Never mind the relatively high success rate of 80%, no politician in his right mind would sell a Russian solution to the public.
  • Of course, BP does not have nukes. The US military does, of which the Army Corps of Engineers would probably have to design a plan to use them on the leak. The United States has about 5,113 nuclear war heads, as revealed by Pentagon according to the Strategic Arms Reduction purpose. So, why not use them for peaceful purpose for once?

    America's Ten Most Corrupt Capitalists

    The financial crisis has unveiled a new set of public villains—corrupt corporate capitalists who leveraged their connections in government for their own personal profit. During the Clinton and Bush administrations, many of these schemers were worshiped as geniuses, heroes or icons of American progress. But today we know these opportunists for what they are: Deregulatory hacks hellbent on making a profit at any cost. Without further ado, here are the 10 most corrupt capitalists in the U.S. economy.

    1. Robert Rubin

    Where to start with a man like Robert Rubin? A Goldman Sachs chairman who wormed his way into the Treasury Secretary post under President Bill Clinton, Rubin presided over one of the most radical deregulatory eras in the history of finance. Rubin's influence within the Democratic Party marked the final stage in the Democrats' transformation from the concerned citizens who fought Wall Street and won during the 1930s to a coalition of Republican-lite financial elites.

    Rubin's most stunning deregulatory accomplishment in office was also his greatest act of corruption. Rubin helped repeal Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that banned economically essential banks from gambling with taxpayer money in the securities markets. In 1998, Citibank inked a merger with the Travelers Insurance group. The deal was illegal under Glass-Steagall, but with Rubin's help, the law was repealed in 1999, and the Citi-Travelers merger approved, creating too-big-to-fail behemoth Citigroup.

    That same year, Rubin left the government to work for Citi, where he made $120 million as the company piled up risk after crazy risk. In 2008, the company collapsed spectacularly, necessitating a $45 billion direct government bailout, and hundreds of billions more in other government guarantees. Rubin is now attempting to rebuild his disgraced public image by warning about the dangers of government spending and Social Security. Bob, if you're worried about the deficit, the problem isn't old people trying to get by, it's corrupt bankers running amok.

    2. Alan Greenspan

    The officially apolitical, independent Federal Reserve chairman backed all of Rubin's favorite deregulatory plans, and helped crush an effort by Brooksley Born to regulate derivatives in 1998, after the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management went bust. By the time Greenspan left office in 2006, the derivatives market had ballooned into a multi-trillion dollar casino, and Greenspan wanted his cut. He took a job with bond kings PIMCO and then with the hedge fund Paulson & Co.—yeah, that Paulson and Co., the one that colluded with Goldman Sachs to sabotage the company's own clients with unregulated derivatives.

    Incidentally, this isn't the first time Greenspan has been a close associate of alleged fraudsters. Back in the 1980s, Greenspan went to bat for politically connected Savings & Loan titan Charles Keating, urging regulators to exempt his bank from a key rule. Keating later went to jail for fraud, after, among other things, putting out a hit on regulator William Black. ("Get Black – kill him dead.") Nice friends you've got, Alan.

    Investors Made Millions from People Facing Eviction

    By Fred Schulte

    Every year, local governments in Maryland sell investors the right to collect unpaid taxes and municipal fees, often for a few hundred dollars or less. Lien holders can sue to take the property of those who fail to pay them.

    A six-year conspiracy by veteran real estate investors to rig bids and stifle competition at tax sale auctions made two chief organizers at least $10 million, largely from fees homeowners paid to keep from losing their properties, according to federal prosecutors.

    Though many details remain under seal in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, prosecutors allege that from 2002 through 2007 the pair acted to corrupt nearly two dozen municipal tax sales in Baltimore and five other Maryland jurisdictions, including Montgomery and Prince George's counties in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

    Every year, local governments in Maryland sell investors the right to collect unpaid taxes and municipal fees, often for a few hundred dollars or less.  Lien holders can sue to take the property of those who fail to pay them.

    The tax sale conspiracy deprived local governments of revenue from higher bids even as it enriched Baltimore County lawyer Harvey M. Nusbaum and his longtime real estate investment partner Jack W. Stollof, court records show.

    "This was a crime of greed," prosecutors wrote in court papers.

    Both men have pleaded guilty to felony charges of bid rigging. On May 4, U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Nusbaum, 72, to a year and a day in federal prison as well as an $800,000 fine. Stollof is due to be sentenced Wednesday.

    Prosecutors won court approval earlier this year to seal records naming most of the co-conspirators and outlining their roles, citing an ongoing criminal investigation by the Justice Department's antitrust division in Washington.

    Yet court filings provide a glimpse inside the scheme that, prosecutors allege, evolved into a "gentleman's agreement" to split up the property liens for sale and refrain from bidding on liens assigned to other members of the conspiracy.

    According to the government, Stollof and Nusbaum bought thousands of municipal liens and then used the court system to threaten homeowners with seizure of their properties unless they paid legal fees, interest and other charges. These fees often totaled 10 times the original debt.

    Something Happened

         Everybody in the world is broke, except for maybe Lloyd Blankfein, and he may not end up broke so much as broken -- by a political meat-grinder that is revving up to turn the world's woes and swindles into a new kind of Long Emergency sausage, to be distributed among the roiling, angry masses as a synthetic substitute for nutriment. Call it a synthetic non-collateralized political obligation.
         Something snapped in the world last week and a lot of people around the world sensed it -- especially in the organs of news and opinion -- but this ominous twang was not very clearly identified.  It was, in fact, the sound of the financial becoming political. The macro-swindle of a worldwide Ponzi orgy now stands revealed and the vacuum left in its place is about to suck everything familiar into it -- standards-of-living, hopes, dreams, not to mention lives. The political action will be a desperate scramble to determine who and what is able to escape getting sucked into this black hole of annihilation. It's very suddenly shaping up to become an epic in human history.
         Meanwhile, a giant oil blob lies quivering in deep waters off the Gulf coast, like some awful amorphous Moby Dick full of malice waiting to sink Pequod America -- or at least the economies of five states. A few months from now, the BP corporation will wonder why it didn't go into something safe and predictable like the pants business instead of oil exploration. They will surely question the viability of conducting future business anywhere near the USA, and the USA will enter a wilderness of soul-searching about the drill-baby-drill strategy that only a few scant weeks ago seemed to be a settled matter. Tough to have your future hoped-for energy supplies evaporate at the same time that your hopes for future prosperity get sucked into a black hole.
         I've maintained for a long time that the folks down Dixie way are the the most dangerously crazy people in America and the Deepwater Horizon oil blob is not going to improve their outlook when it slops over their beaches and bayous. They'll blame Obama for it by syllogism. Anyway, they are only marginally more crazy than the rest of the folks in the USA. Those folks are warming up for an election season that is going to send a horde of exterminating angels into the halls of congress and the governor's mansions, and before too long those merchants of retribution are going to appoint their inquisitors. It's going to be a heckuva spectacle. In retrospect, Mary Shapiro's SEC will look like the Council of Trent. You can be sure that if ten gallons of gasoline remain to be found in America a few years from now, they will power the last GMC Sierra to drag the captains of Wall Street through the sawgrass prairies of Collier County, Florida.
         What has gone on in Europe the past few weeks is nothing more complicated than a waking-up to how broke they are. We're not quite there yet on this side of the Atlantic. They fired one last bazooka of wishfulness at the enveloping monster of debt and the monster laughed at them, and now they are standing in the windows of palatial edifice of the Euro Union waiting to see who will jump first. Here in the USA, we're still dazed and confused. What for a long time had looked like a game of musical chairs is morphing into something more like a national Chinese fire drill, a pointless running around in circles in the hope that sheer motion will be an adequate substitute for conscious action. In any case, both Europe and the USA are out of bazooka ammo now. Nobody can bail out so much as another lemonade stand. From here on governments really start to crumble.
         As in any time of severe turmoil, all political bets are off.

    Overflowing Prisons Spur Call for Reform Commission
    By William Fisher

    Despite the lacklustre performance of so-called "blue ribbon commissions" in the United States over the years, sponsors of the latest proposal - the National Criminal Justice Commission - are optimistic that it will become a reality and that its recommendations will be taken seriously by the president, Congress and the U.S. public.

    The reason, says its sponsor, Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, is that "America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace".

    He added, "We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives. We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration."

    Given the chequered history of blue ribbon commissions in the nation's capital, a spokesman for Sen. Webb told IPS that "with nearly 40 Democratic and Republican cosponsors, there is a strong likelihood of success".

    In the past, Congressionally-appointed commissions are typically set up, staffed, complete their investigative and analytical work, make recommendations that are received by a senior official, a press release is issued, and then the commission's report is consigned to a shelf where it gathers dust.

    Throughout U.S. history, there have been relatively few bodies that have gained the notoriety, media coverage, and attention from Congress and the president as the 9/11 Commission, established in the wake of the terrorist attacks if Sep. 11, 2001.

    Over time, most of its recommendations were implemented. One reason was the severity of the issue - almost 3,000 deaths. Another was ongoing, well-organised, effective support from the families of the 9/11 victims.

    A prison commission has none of those attributes - and prisoners can't vote. So the political incentive appears minimal.

    But the issue is not. Statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service begin to tell the story.

    The United States has the highest incarceration rate on the planet - five times the world's average. A total of 2,380,000 people are now in prison. The U.S. has five percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's prison population.

    Minorities make up a disproportionately large share of inmates. Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a six percent chance.

    African American men and boys are grossly over-represented at every stage of the judicial process. Although African Americans make up just over 12 percent of the national population, 42 percent of those currently on death row are African American.

    African American women have the highest rate of incarceration among women in the U.S. - four times higher than that of white women.

    Initial contacts with police officers are often driven by racial profiling and other racially tainted practices, and the disparities exist through the sentencing phase: African Americans routinely receive more jail time and harsher punishments.

    Cocaine laws in particular disproportionately affect African Americans, who account for 25 percent of total crack cocaine users, yet who comprised 81 percent of those convicted of federal crack cocaine offences in 2007.

    Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1200 percent since 1980. Nearly a half million persons are in federal or state prison or local jail for a drug offence, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980. A significant percentage of these offenders have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity.

    As a result, spending on corrections rose 127 percent at the state level while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent.

    Prisons and jails have also become holding facilities for the mentally ill. There are an estimated 350,000 men and women prisoners with serious mental disorders - four times the number in mental health hospitals.

    It is against this background that Sen. Webb introduced the National Criminal Justice Act, authorising the Commission. There has been no in-depth or comprehensive study of the entire criminal justice system since The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration and Justice, impaneled in 1965.

    Meet the Crusader Behind Texas' Textbook Whitewash

    by Jeff Neumann

    Meet the Crusader Behind Texas' Textbook WhitewashThe plan in Texas to rewrite history textbooks to fit a right-wing agenda could pass this week. The Guardian profiles the evangelical Christian lawyer behind the push, Cynthia Dunbar, who has plenty of interesting ways of looking at history.

    Dunbar was elected to the state board of education for her evangelical Christian credentials, but no real surprise there because we already know that Texas has a large number of crazies in positions of power. A proponent of home and Christian private schooling, Dunbar says that sending kids to public schools is like "throwing them in to the enemy's flames." But because of the sheer number of the state's textbook purchases, the changes suggested by Dunbar could eventually reach most of the states in America.

    The Guardian quotes Dunbar as saying:

    In Texas we have certain statutory obligations to promote patriotism and to promote the free enterprise system. There seems to have been a move away from a patriotic ideology. There seems to be a denial that this was a nation founded under God. We had to go back and make some corrections."

    What kind of corrections? Some pretty big ones!

    • Remember that thing called the slave trade? Well, it turns out what you learned was all wrong, because it wasn't some evil buying and selling of human beings, it was simply "Atlantic triangular trade."
    • The Civil Rights Movement created "unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes" for minorities in America. And Martin Luther King, Jr? Pretty much a Black Panther.
    • Thomas Jefferson? He was an insignificant, God-hating heathen who made sure that church and state remained separate.
    • Senator Joe McCarthy was right to go after the Godless commies in Hollywood and Washington. He will be vindicated.
    • The right to bear arms is essential to democracy and kids really need to learn this in school.
    • Sir Isaac Newton didn't know shit. We have military technology to thank for America's successes in science. So please, take the time to write Lockheed Martin and let them know that you appreciate everything they do for America.
    • Along with military technology, America can only flourish economically through "minimal government intrusion and taxation."
    • Capitalism was once a great word, but has been dragged through the mud by liberals. We now call it "free enterprise."
    • The Israel-Palestine conflict? Blame the whole thing on a bunch of dang fundamentalist Muslims.
    • Moses had a greater influence on the US Constitution than Thomas Jefferson did.

    Advising Dunbar and the school board is David Barton, founder of the revisionist group WallBuilders, whose stated goal is "to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena." Because if Christians aren't involved in the indoctrination of our youth, then the terrorist-loving liberals will continue to ruin our nation unchecked.

    Time's very bad Kagan headline

    by Eric Boehlert


    Was Supreme Court Nominee Kagan a Youthful Socialist? 

    The article by Time's David Von Drehle is about Elena Kagan's ancient, 1981 undergraduate thesis paper from her days at Princeton University, which, as most news consumers now know, was about socialism in America. Or, "was a detailed history of the rise and fall of New York's Socialist Party in the early 20th Century," as Von Drehle puts it. 

    That's all well and good, but why the absurd headline suggesting that Kagan herself may have been a socialist? I mean really, if Kagan had written a detailed history of the Ku Klux Klan in America, would Time suggest that maybe Kagan was somehow a secret member? It's crazy. 

    But that's the GOP-friendly angle the Time headline pushes, as well as the lede [emphasis added]: 

    It's an impressive work for a young person -- and it is sparking questions about the extent to which the young Kagan had embraced left-wing views.

    Oh really? Questions from whom? Which important, thoughtful commentators have suggested with a straight face that Kagan "embraced" socialism? Um, Erick Erickson at RedState. No joke. That's who Time points to as somebody who has raised the question of whether Kagan became a "youthful socialist" because she wrote an Ivy League paper on the topic. (Actually, right-winger Erickson claimed the paper "proved" Kagan was a communist.)

    Oceans’ fish could disappear in 40 years: UN

    By Agence France-Presse

    fish Oceans fish could disappear in 40 years: UN

    The world faces the nightmare possibility of fishless oceans by 2050 without fundamental restructuring of the fishing industry, UN experts said Monday.

    "If the various estimates we have received... come true, then we are in the situation where 40 years down the line we, effectively, are out of fish," Pavan Sukhdev, head of the UN Environment Program's green economy initiative, told journalists in New York.

    A Green Economy report due later this year by UNEP and outside experts argues this disaster can be avoided if subsidies to fishing fleets are slashed and fish are given protected zones -- ultimately resulting in a thriving industry.

    The report, which was opened to preview Monday, also assesses how surging global demand in other key areas including energy and fresh water can be met while preventing ecological destruction around the planet.

    UNEP director Achim Steiner said the world was "drawing down to the very capital" on which it relies.

    However, "our institutions, our governments are perfectly capable of changing course, as we have seen with the extraordinary uptake of interest. Around, I think it is almost 30 countries now have engaged with us directly, and there are many others revising the policies on the green economy," he said.

    Collapse of fish stocks is not only an environmental matter.

    One billion people, mostly from poorer countries, rely on fish as their main animal protein source, according to the UN.

    Jihad just got Jurassic