Thursday, June 24, 2010

Urgent message to all sentient beings

BP oil leak setback: 'Top hat' removed, oil flow unhindered

Oil continues to gush from the broken wellhead
By Mark Seibel

WASHINGTON — Workers removed the "top hat" device collecting crude oil from BP's gushing Deepwater Horizon well Wednesday morning in a major setback to efforts to contain the leak.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the BP oil leak, told reporters in his daily briefing that the long term impact of the decision was uncertain, but video from the leak showed crude gushing unhindered into the water for the first time since the "top hat" device, also referred to as the Lower Marine Riser Package, was set in place June 3.

It was unclear how soon the top hat might be put back in place, Allen said. He said he had only learned of the problem as he was headed to the Coast Guard headquarters briefing room in Washington. A BP press statement later said the incident had occured at 8:45 a.m. Central time.

BP called the measure temporary, but provided no information on when the device might be reinstalled.

From Great Man to Great Screwup: Behind the McChrystal Uproar

When the wheels are coming off, it doesn't do much good to change the driver.

Whatever the name of the commanding general in Afghanistan, the US war effort will continue its carnage and futility.

Between the lines, some news accounts are implying as much. Hours before Gen. Stanley McChrystal's meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, The New York Times reported, "the firestorm was fueled by increasing doubts - even in the military - that Afghanistan can be won and by crumbling public support for the nine-year war as American casualties rise."

It now does McChrystal little good that news media have trumpeted everything from his Spartan personal habits (scarcely eats or sleeps) to his physical stamina (runs a lot) to his steel-trap alloy of military smarts and scholarship (reads history). Any individual is expendable.

For months, the McChrystal star had been slipping. A few days before the Rolling Stone piece caused a sudden plunge from war-making grace, Time magazine's conventional-wisdom weathervane Joe Klein was notably down on McChrystal's results: "Six months after Barack Obama announced his new Afghan strategy in a speech at West Point, the policy seems stymied."

Now, words like "stymied" and "stalemate" are often applied to the Afghanistan war. But that hardly means the US military is anywhere near withdrawal.

Walter Cronkite used the word "stalemate" in his famous February 1968 declaration to CBS viewers that the Vietnam War couldn't be won. "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders both in Vietnam and Washington to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds," he said. And: "It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate."

Yet, the US war on Vietnam continued for another five years, inflicting more unspeakable horrors on a vast scale.

Like thousands of other US activists, I've been warning against escalation of the Afghanistan war for a long time. Opposition has grown, but today the situation isn't much different than what I described in an article on December 9, 2008: "Bedrock faith in the Pentagon's massive capacity for inflicting violence is implicit in the nostrums from anointed foreign-policy experts. The echo chamber is echoing: the Afghanistan war is worth the cost that others will pay."

The latest events reflect unwritten rules for top military commanders: Escalating a terrible war is fine. Just don't say anything mean about your boss.

Massey sues federal regulators over mine ventilation rules

The Richmond, Va.-based company filed the lawsuit yesterday in Washington, D.C., against MSHA, the Department of Labor and three administrators.

MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said today the agency is reviewing the lawsuit.

"While we find the timing and substance of some of the arguments curious, we generally do not comment on pending or ongoing litigation," she said.

Currently, Massey has to convince federal mine regulators that each mine's individually designed ventilation plan will dilute methane, reduce coal dust and otherwise mitigate or eliminate conditions that could kill or injure the people working there.

MSHA cited the company's Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, W.Va., six times in March for violating its ventilation plans. Four of the citations were because air was blowing the wrong way in a mine section. Another was because the volume of air moving through a mine section was less than half of the minimum required by the ventilation plan.

The sixth violation was for operating a continuous mining machine when half of its water sprays were inoperable. The water sprays both reduce the amount of coal dust in the air and reduce the likelihood of friction igniting the methane-dust mixture produced by cutting into the coal.

An April 5 explosion at the mine killed 29 miners and injured two others. Federal and company investigators are still inspecting the mine to determine what happened.

Since the explosion, Massey CEO Don Blankenship repeatedly raised the issue of MSHA ordering it to turn off the scrubbers on about half of its continuous mining machines.

The scrubbers are designed to remove coal dust from the air pulled from where the continuing mining machine is digging into the coal seam. Massey claims in the lawsuit that the scrubbers also help prevent methane buildups at the mine face.

Massey claims in the lawsuit that MSHA bases its approval of ventilation plans on a "generic view" of what should be in a plan rather than conditions at the specific mine, but it doesn't provide any examples of where a ventilation plan didn't factor in a mine's specific conditions. The lawsuit also claims MSHA has arbitrarily denied the use of scrubbers, but doesn't explain why the agency allows them in some areas but not others.

Texas GOP Wishes to Punish Straight People Who Support Gay Rights

By Ivan Garcia

The 2010 GOP platform in Texas supports laws that criminalize sodomy and suggests that straight people who support same-sex marriage should be penalized with jail time.The GOP platform was quoted as openly stating:

"We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy," the GOP platform reads. Meaning that even though the U.S. Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws last decade (ironically in a case that stemmed from Texas), Texas Republicans would like the state to have the power to criminalize LGBT folks for having sex.

"We support legislation that would make it a felony to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple and for any civil official to perform a marriage ceremony for such," reads the GOP platform.

Is it raining oil in Metro New Orleans?

River Ridge, LA
Just south of the airport

This video was posted to YouTube on June 22, 2010.

The town River Ridge is up river from New Orleans and near the city's airport.

It rains nearly everyday in New Orleans during the summer months.

What the Bush-Cheney administration failed to do with the levee failures and the non-relief and non-rebuilding efforts, they accomplished by permitting BP to commence an insanely reckless drilling project

This was NOT a normal well.

It's in 5,000 feet of water and is reputed to be close to 30,000 into the earth.

In Russia, where such super deep wells were pioneered, they are only drilled on land and far from human habitations.

At least one prominent oil industry safety specialist warned in writing against the drilling of this well.

This permit was made possible by Dick Cheney's gutting of the federal Minerals Management Service and the Obama administration's very cosy relationship with the oil industry.

Not an "Act of God," not an accident, not an unlucky break.

This catastrophe, which will prove to be bigger than Chernobyl, is the natural outcome of corruption completely out of control.

Comanche Nation: The Rise And Fall Of An 'Empire'


S.C. Gwynne by Michael Belk

Comanche Chief Quanah ParkerIn 1836, a 9-year-old pioneer girl named Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped during a Comanche raid in North Texas. She was strapped onto the back of a horse and taken north, back into the Plains where the powerful American Indian tribe lived.

Parker became a ward of the chief and later, a full member of the Comanches. She eventually married a highly respected Comanche chief and gave birth to three children, including Quanah — who would grow up to become the last and greatest Comanche leader.

The story of Cynthia Ann and her son, Chief Quanah Parker, is told in S.C. Gwynne's book, Empire of the Summer Moon. Gwynne traces the rise and fall of the Comanche Nation against the backdrop of the fight for control of the American Midwest.

Gwynne tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he became interested in telling the Comanche story because of their integral role in preventing — and then opening up — the American West to white settlers.

"If you go back through Comanche history, you see that they were the ones who stopped the Spanish from coming North," he explains. "Why did the French stop coming west from Louisiana? Comanches. ... Here was why the West Coast and the East Coast settled before the middle of the country. Here was why there was basically a 40-year wait before you could develop the state of Texas or before other Plain states could be developed."

Interview Highlights

On telling the story of Quanta and his mother

"I grew up in the Northeast and I moved to Texas about 16 years ago and I started hearing stories about Comanches and I really didn't know what a Comanche was. I think I had heard about Comanches in a John Wayne movie or something but I really didn't know who they were. When I started to read a little bit about them, I realized that they were just this enormous force — this enormous force of nature sitting in the middle of the North American continent who determined how the West opened."

On what the raid on the Parker fort was like

"This is what Indians did to Indians and this just happened to be Indians meeting whites. But the automatic thing in battle is that all the adult males would be killed. That was automatic. That was one of the reasons that Indians fought to the death. The white men were astonished by it but they were assumed that they would be killed. Small children were killed. Very small children were killed. A lot of the children in say, the 3-10 range were often taken as captives. The women were often raped and often killed. And all of the people in those settlements back in those years knew what a Comanche raid was — knew what a Comanche raid meant. ... And it's an interesting kind of moral question as a historian about Plains Indians or American Indians in general. You have to come to terms with this — with torture, which they practiced all across the West — and these kind of grisly practices that scared white people to death."

On rewriting history to leave out Native American atrocities

"There was even an attempt at one point to deny that Indians were warlike. Comanches were incredibly warlike. They swept everyone off the Southern plains. They nearly exterminated the Apaches. And you know, if you look at the Comanches and you look back in history at Goths and Vikings or Mongols or Celts — old Celts are actually a very good parallel. In a lot of ways, I think we're looking back at earlier versions of ourselves. We — being white European — did all of those things. Not only that but torture was institutionalized during things like the Counter-Reformation and the Spanish Inquisition and the Russian Revolution."

More Companies Knew About Tainted Drywall but Stayed Quiet—and Kept Selling It

Foster's Run, a WCI Communities Inc. development in McLean, Va.  The homebuilder filed for bankruptcy protection. (Jay Premack/Bloomberg News)
Foster's Run, a WCI Communities Inc. development in McLean, Va. The homebuilder filed for bankruptcy protection. (Jay Premack/Bloomberg News)

At least a half-dozen homebuilders, installers and environmental consultants knew as early as 2006 that foul smells were coming from drywall imported from China – but they didn't share their early concerns with the public, even when homeowners began complaining about the drywall in 2008.

ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported last month that two U.S. companies – WCI Communities, a major Florida homebuilder, and Banner Supply, a Miami-based distributor – knew about the problem in 2006. But according to recently released sworn depositions by current and former executives at Banner, other companies also were aware of the problem.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has since linked the foul odor to sulfur gases that can corrode electrical wiring and household appliances, including air conditioners and refrigerators. The long-term health effects of the air are still being studied, although homeowners have complained of respiratory problems, bloody noses and severe headaches.

As WCI was ripping the smelly drywall out of homes on Florida's east coast, the company was selling houses built with the same material on the west coast. Several homeowners in the Sun City Center and the Venetian Golf and River Club in North Venice told ProPublica and the Herald-Tribune that they bought homes from WCI as late as March 2007 — eight months after the builder had found problems with Chinese drywall — but received no warning.

When WCI filed for bankruptcy protection [2] in 2008, it promised many homeowners it would fix the contaminated homes once it emerged from bankruptcy. The company exited [3] Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last September as a privately held company and recently announced plans to build new homes throughout Florida. Meanwhile, scores of its former customers are still living in WCI homes built with Chinese drywall.

Maywood to lay off all city employees, dismantle Police Department


The city of Maywood will lay off all city employees and begin contracting police services with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department effective July 1, officials said.

In addition to contracting with the Sheriff's Department, the Maywood City Council voted unanimously Monday night to lay off an estimated 100 employees and contract with neighboring Bell, which will handle other city services such as finance, records management, parks and recreation, street maintenance and others. Maywood will be billed about $50,833 monthly, which officials said will save $164,375 annually.

"We will become 100% a contracted city," said Angela Spaccia, Maywood's interim city manager.

U.S. scores dead last again in healthcare study

A patient waits in the hallway for a room to open up in the emergency room at a hospital in Houston, Texas, July 27, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi
A patient waits in the hallway for a room to open up in the emergency room at a hospital in Houston, Texas, July 27, 2009.

Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The United States ranked last when compared to six other countries -- Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Fund report found.

"As an American it just bothers me that with all of our know-how, all of our wealth, that we are not assuring that people who need healthcare can get it," Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Previous reports by the nonprofit fund, which conducts research into healthcare performance and promotes changes in the U.S. system, have been heavily used by policymakers and politicians pressing for healthcare reform.

Davis said she hoped health reform legislation passed in March would lead to improvements.

The current report uses data from nationally representative patient and physician surveys in seven countries in 2007, 2008, and 2009. It is available here

In 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, more than double that of any other country in the survey.

Nations fail to limit whaling, Japan still hunts

Japan blames whaling foes for collapse of talks


AGADIR, Morocco – An international effort to truly limit whale hunting collapsed Wednesday, leaving Japan, Norway and Iceland free to keep killing hundreds of mammals a year, even raiding a marine sanctuary in Antarctic waters unchecked.

The breakdown put diplomatic efforts on ice for at least a year, raised the possibility that South Korea might join the whaling nations and raised questions about the global drive to prevent the extinction of the most endangered whale species.

Deadlocked global whaling talks run aground

It also revived doubts about the effectiveness and future of the International Whaling Commission. The agency was created after World War II to oversee the hunting of tens of thousands of whales a year but gradually evolved into a body at least partly dedicated to keeping whales from vanishing from the Earth's oceans.

"I think ultimately if we don't make some changes to this organization in the next few years it may be very serious, possibly fatal for the organization — and the whales will be worse off," former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer told the hundreds of delegates.

"We need this organization to function," U.S. whaling commissioner Monica Medina told The Associated Press later. "It certainly is in need of repair."

Japanese officials and environmentalists traded charges of blame after two days of intense, closed-door talks failed to break a deadlock in which the three whaling nations offered to limit their catch but refused to phase it out completely.

About 1,500 animals are killed each year by the three countries. Japan, which kills the majority of whales, insists its hunt is for scientific research — but more whale meat and whale products end up in Japanese restaurants than in laboratories.

Deadlocked global whaling talks run aground

Several whale species have been hunted to near extinction, gradually recovering since the ban on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, while other species like the smaller minke whale are still abundant. But the whale arouses deep passions around the world, because it was one of the first icons of the animal conservation movement, starting with the popular Save The Whale campaign of the 1970s.

A key sticking point is the sanctity of an ocean region south of Australia that the agency declared a whaling sanctuary in 1994. Despite that declaration, Japanese whalers regularly hunt in Antarctic waters, a feeding ground for 80 percent of the world's whales, and the commission has no enforcement powers to stop them.

Australia has already launched a complaint against Japanese whaling at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the U.N.'s highest court.

Jesus will return by 2050, say 40pc of Americans

More than 40 per cent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth by 2050, according to a poll.
A statue of Jesus in Sydney, Australia. Jesus will return by 2050, say 40pc of Americans

Americans are largely optimistic about the future, according to the poll from the Pew Research Center For The People and The Press/Smithsonian Magazine.

By mid century, 71 per cent believe cancer will be cured, 66 per cent say artificial limbs will work better than real ones and 81 per cent believe computers will be able to converse like humans.

The poll also shows a sharp dip in overall optimism from 1999, when 81 per cent said they were optimistic about life for themselves and their families. The current poll found just 64 per cent were.

Sixty-one percent said they were optimistic about the future of the United States, compared to 70 percent in 1999. And 56 percent predicted the US economy would be stronger in 40 years, compared to 64 percent of those polled in 1999.

The results were compiled from telephone and online interviews with 1,546 adults in April. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points, according to Pew.