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Friday, April 30, 2010
Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took credit for parts of the health care law he opposes and today, during an interview with NPR, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) also highlighted the Republican ideas in the bill, while promising to repeal it:
INSKEEP: As you know, Democrats are already pointing to things that are changing in America because of this bill. They will point to the fact that college seniors, who would have been kicked off their families' insurance plans when they graduated, will get to stay on. Insurance companies are now saying they're going to end the practice of "rescission," where they take, or at least modify…
BOEHNER: Both of those ideas, by the way, came from Republicans, and are part of the common sense ideas that we ought to have in the law.
INSKEEP: Well, are you going to repeal those two specific things?
BOEHNER Uh, what I want to repeal are the other 158 mandates, commissions, boards that set up all the infrastructure for the government to take control of our health care system.
Boehner's refusal to call for a full repeal could cause a rift with the more conservative members of the Republican party. Last week, for instance, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) — who has proposed a bill calling for complete repeal — warned leadership that "if we leave any component of it in there, it has, it's just become a malignant tumor that's attacking our liberty and our freedom and it's diminishing our aspirations and it saps our overall productivity as a nation," King said. "If we can't come to that conclusion, then I want some new people to come help me." Currently, repeal legislation has has no more than 62 co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.
Dick Fuld said under oath that he was paid less than $310 million from 2000 through 2007, and that he held, rather than sold, the "vast majority" of his shares, if not all of them. But it's becoming increasingly clear that he was lying. The latest bombshells come from former Lehman lawyer Oliver Budde, who spent many years drafting the bank's compensation disclosures and hiding the restricted stock unit (RSU) component of Fuld's pay. Lehman had to change that after Budde left, but it didn't:
Budde calculated that while Lehman reported Fuld's RSUs as worth $146 million, the real figure, based on the Section 16 reports, was $409.5 million. Lehman had counted just 2 of 15 RSU awards…
Considering his options, Budde decided to go to the SEC as a whistleblower. He sent a detailed two-page e-mail on April 14, 2008, to the SEC's Enforcement Division, under the subject line "Possible Material Noncompliance with New Executive Compensation Disclosure Rules."…
He got a standardized form thanking him for his letter in return. He never heard anything else…
While Fuld said he earned less than $310 million from 2000 through 2007, he actually had received $529.4 million, according to Budde's calculations.
In direct contradiction to Fuld's claim to Waxman that he had not sold the majority of his shares, Budde estimates that Fuld earned $469 million from stock sales between 2000 and 2008.
Budde's numbers are almost identical to the numbers already published by Lucian Bebchuk, so they are credible on their face. And Budde clearly knows what he's talking about.
It comes down to this: Fuld claimed that he was paid less than $310 million over the years in question, and lost nearly all of it. In fact, according to Budde, he was paid $529 million, and kept $469 million — more than he said he was paid in total.
Fuld's in a lot of legal jeopardy already, of course. But we're still waiting for a villain from this crisis to end up in jail. Is there any chance, do you think, that an aggressive attorney general somewhere might launch a criminal prosecution for perjury?
REST AT http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2010/04/your-daily-dose-of-news-19.html
NYT (emphasis added):
The magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon disaster seems to be finally sinking in with investors. BP's stock plunged more than 8 percent Thursday in American trading in an otherwise strong day for stocks. Since the accident, the American depositary receipts of the company have fallen about 13 percent, closing Thursday at $52.56.
For Tony Hayward, who has led BP for the last three years, the accident threatens to overshadow all of the efforts he has made to burnish the tattered reputation of the company after a refinery explosion in Texas in 2005 and a pipeline leak in Alaska in 2006.
As Mr. Hayward said to fellow executives in his London office recently, "What the hell did we do to deserve this?"
I'll bet Mr. Hayward has never asked himself that question with respect to his annual salary, which Forbes puts at nearly $5 million.
On Tuesday, Bruce Watzman, spokesman for the National Mining Association, appeared on Capitol Hill to implore lawmakers not to overreact (i.e., legislate) following the fatal mining accidents which, to that point, had taken 30 lives in West Virginia this month. The current rules, Watzman argued on behalf of the industry, are plenty tough enough to ensure miners' safety underground.
One day later, two more miners were killed after a roof collapsed in an underground coal mine in Western Kentucky.Reacting to the string of tragedies, several House Democratic leaders called on the mining industry this week to rethink its opposition to tougher safety measures.
29 Apr 2010 // Five years after he was charged with conspiracy and money laundering in an alleged scheme to funnel corporate money into the 2002 Texas elections, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may soon stand trial after a ruling by a state appeals court cleared perhaps the final remaining obstacles in the case.
And his lawyer tells TPMmuckraker DeLay couldn't be happier with the state of the case.Read the entire story »
John Boehner wins today's Grassley award for taking credit for the bill he fought tooth and nail to stop. And says that, despite the fact that everybody but insurance company CEOs wanted the practice of rescissions to end, it was the GOP's idea. So, uh, repeal it, but not that part. Not that part that we like, too. Steve Benen catches him on NPR:
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep this morning, and twice said Republicans would repeal the Affordable Care Act if given congressional majorities next year. (thanks to reader A.D.)
It led to an interesting exchange:
INSKEEP: As you know, Democrats are already pointing to things that are changing in America because of this bill. They will point to the fact that college seniors, who would have been kicked off their families' insurance plans when they graduated, will get to stay on. Insurance companies are now saying they're going to end the practice of "rescission," where they take, or at least modify...
BOEHNER: Both of those ideas, by the way, came from Republicans, and are part of the common sense ideas that we ought to have in the law.
Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation to carry a national identification card with biometric information, such as a fingerprint, within the next six years, according to a draft of the measure.
The proposal is one of the biggest differences between the newest immigration reform proposal and legislation crafted by late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The national ID program would be titled the Believe System, an acronym for Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment.
It would require all workers across the nation to carry a card with a digital encryption key that would have to match work authorization databases.
"The cardholder's identity will be verified by matching the biometric identifier stored within the microprocessing chip on the card to the identifier provided by the cardholder that shall be read by the scanner used by the employer," states the Democratic legislative proposal.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a civil liberties defender often aligned with the Democratic Party, wasted no time in blasting the plan.
Oil from a leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico began washing ashore in the southern US state of Louisiana, threatening an ecological disaster, a local official told AFP.
Blown by strong southeast winds, a sheen of oil reached the fragile coastal wetlands of South Pass late Thursday near the mouth of the Mississippi river, said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, where the oil first hit the shoreline.
It marks the beginning of what environmentalists fear could be one of the worst US ecological disasters in years, with experts still unable to cap the ruptured underwater well which federal officials estimate is spewing about 200,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.
An officer with the US Coast Guard, which is helping coordinate the response to the widening disaster, late Thursday would not confirm that the oil had reached the Louisiana coastline.
"We have BP teams out in the field trying to confirm those reports." Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said.
Welcome back to GOP Hypocrite of the Week.
We knew this was coming. Way back in February, Republican strategist Frank Luntz penned a second memo (to go along with the nasty one on opposing healthcare by scaring the living daylights out of people) of how the GOP could oppose financial reform without looking like shills for the banksters. Luntz told the Republicans that "the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout." Which is exactly what they did.
(Yet, even with all that advance warning, somehow the media is taken aback at the GOP's lies of the permanent bank bailout that is most definitely not in the Senate proposal for financial reform. But this is GOP Hypocrite, not Media Putz.)
Not to be left out of the liars' fun, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) wrote up an op-ed as fake as his orange tan. He called the proposal to rein in Wall Street "President Obama's TARP Forever Act" even though the TARP program was initiated by the Bush Administration.
Like other Republicans who are unencumbered by the annoyance of having to tell the truth, Boehner said the portion of the legislation that will allow the government to wind down and sell off failing banks will instead give unlimited bailouts to only the biggest of banks. But the best part is when Boehner names the lucky recipients of such invented government largess:
Such perks will benefit the likes of Goldman Sachs, President Obama's top financial contributor during the 2008 campaign and a firm that just happens to be under investigation by the SEC for defrauding investors.
Goldman Sachs, those Obama-loving socialists! Will they never rest in their quest to subvert the Constitution and send Granny to the Death Panels?!
...Oops, wrong Luntz memo!
Well it turns out that Obama isn't the only government official who took campaign money from Goldman Sachs. In fact, as Democrats ramp up on financial reform, it seems Goldman Sachs is on the prowl for a new group of beneficiaries to do their will. As Joe Conason shows in a piece titled "John Boehner Slams Goldman's Clout... But Pockets its Cash," the GOP fits the bill quite well:
These days, Goldman is lavishing more campaign money on [the GOP] than on the Democrats, according to Politico. Among the most notable beneficiaries of Goldman generosity is Boehner himself, who received $5,000 for his own campaign fund and another $5,000 for his PAC in March alone. Which just happens to coincide with the Republican drive to kill banking reform.
You'd think that Goldman would object to all this blame being laid at their feet by the very people to whom they are feeding much-needed campaign dollars. "Why would our good friend John say such mean things about us?"
But with the banking sector being the only group more hated than Congress, Goldman Sachs must realize that in order for the GOP to fit the bill to benefit banks like them, they're going to have to tell a few lies.
Thank goodness for bankster shills like John Boehner, our GOP Hypocrite of the Week!
Remember our motto: So many Republican hypocrites, so little time.
Catch up with you soon.
This is John Boehner's seventh GOP Hypocrite of the Week Award. He also won on March 19, 2010, Oct. 16, 2009, Sept. 25, 2009, Aug. 14, 2009, May 22, 2009 and Sept. 22, 2006. You can see a list of all previous nominees here.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010
Republicans are blocking a Senate vote on the Dodd bill, seeking to build public support by misleading the public. They're claiming to want a stronger bill when in fact they're doing the Street's bidding by seeking a weaker one.
Evidence of their tactics comes in the form of a shady anti-financial reform group called "Stop Too Big To Fail" which today announced a new TV advertising push in three key states. The ad features an out-of-context quote from me to bolster its case to kill financial reform.
British Petroleum had a fail-safe system for it's Deepwater Horizon floating deep-water drilling rig. You know, the one that blew up and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a tangled spaghetti pile of 22-inch steel pipe one mile long, all balled up on the sea floor a mile below the surface, and that is leaking oil at 42,000 gallons per day ... so far.
The thing is, the fail-safe system, about the size of a McMansion sitting at the wellhead on the ocean floor, um, failed. It didn't collapse and shut off the flow of oil as intended, and it could take months now to shut the well down - during which time the leak rate is likely to increase to up to 300,000 gallons per day, or over two million gallons a week.
President Obama claimed last month that off-shore drilling technology had become so advanced that oil spills and blowouts were a thing of the past. Of course, as he said this, Australia and Indonesia were still assessing the damage from a similar offshore oil platform, the Montana, in the Timor Sea, which blew out and poured millions of gallons of oil into the ocean off Western Australia for over three months before it could be sealed off.
When President Obama condemned Arizona's draconian and potentially unconstitutional immigration law last Friday, he predicted that "if we continue to fail to act [on immigration] at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts to open up across the country." Indeed, it's already happening.
Last week, Wonk Room reported on the involvement of the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the legal arm of a designated nativist-extremist hate group — in drafting Arizona's controversial immigration law. IRLI lawyer Michael Hethmon boasting about being "approached by lawmakers from four other states who have asked for advice on how they can do the same thing." In the aftermath of the passage of Arizona's law, many states and localities across the country are in fact in the middle of or about to embark on copy cat pieces of legislation:
On Tuesday's Daily Show, Jon Stewart lamented the Senate's impotence when it comes to taking down Wall Street villains. Apparently, all we can do in the face of massive fraud is "drive the potty bus to sh**ty town."
Women are just slightly dumb animals who need to be drawn a picture and lectured to like a four year old before they can understand what they are doing. That goes without saying. But giving doctors immunity from liability for failing to tell their patients about fetal birth defects? That seems just a tad much to me. Sure the dumb bitches can't be allowed to make their own decisions about taking on a lifetime of care or consider implications for their own health and well being. What the silly little twits don't know won't hurt them, right? But you'd think that the important members of society like insurance companies and employers would have a stake in something like this.
The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.
Suppose our top generals described the growing threat from a hostile Middle East power. The country has tens of billions of oil dollars, a growing army, chemical and biological weapons, and is in the process of developing nuclear weapons. After carefully describing the risks posed by this country, our generals suggested an immediate attack on Canada. They explain that combating this Middle East country would be difficult, but defeating Canada is easy.
This is essentially the story of the latest attack on social security. Everyone who looks at the projections agrees; the scary budget stories being hyped in the media and by the Wall Street crew are driven almost entirely by projections of exploding healthcare costs. But instead of proposing ways to fix the healthcare system, these deficit hawks want to attack social security. They tell us that fixing healthcare is hard. By contrast they think that cutting money from social security will be relatively easy.
Our investigation in Arizona discovered the real intent of the show-me-your-papers law.
Phoenix - Don't be fooled. The way the media plays the story, it was a wave of racist, anti-immigrant hysteria that moved Arizona Republicans to pass a sick little law, signed last week, requiring every person in the state to carry papers proving they are US citizens.
I don't buy it. Anti-Hispanic hysteria has always been as much a part of Arizona as the saguaro cactus and excessive air-conditioning.
What's new here is not the politicians' fear of a xenophobic "Teabag" uprising.
What moved GOP Governor Jan Brewer to sign the Soviet-style show-me-your-papers law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote - and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one. Unless this demographic locomotive is halted, Arizona Republicans know their party will soon be electoral toast. Or, if you like, tortillas.
In 2008, working for "Rolling Stone" with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters . . . directed by one Jan Brewer.
Change. That's what Americans want. We the People--a.k.a. the body politic, the majority, the great unwashed, the hoi polloi, "us"--have made it clear that we want real, substantive change in the way Washington works, and for whom it works. We're sick of a "jobless recovery," rampant banksterism, collapsing bridges, corporate-owned elections, tinkle-down economics, oil dependency, made-in-China everything, mountaintop "removal," corporate welfare, falling wages, skyrocketing tuition, the demise of the middle class, and on and on. Enough! Ya basta! Stop it--change, dammit, CHANGE!
But where's the change? It's in subcommittees, in negotiations, in limbo, in transition, in purgatory, in trouble, in Never Never Land, in the trash can.
Why? Right-wing pundits and corporate-funded tea-party groups want you to blame Washington. Well, yes, Obama seems to lack convictions, much less courage; Senate Democrats tend to be five-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets; and congressional Republicans are...well, contemptible and pathetic. But these characters are the public face of the problem, not the source. Progressives need to focus on those shadowy players who're pulling the strings from behind the scenes to kill the will of the people and impose their special interest over America's public interest.
Oklahoma is not a hospitable place for a woman seeking to assert her reproductive rights. There are only three licensed abortion providers in the whole state, and local legislators appear fixated on narrowing residents' already-limited abortion options by passing one restrictive, demeaning, and almost certainly unconstitutional law after another.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma state legislature overrode the governor's vetoes on two such bills and made them law. One requires that a woman seeking an abortion must look at her ultrasound -- the screen must be in her line of sight (she has the option of covering her eyes) -- as the health care provider narrates the state of the fetus. The other law prevents a woman from suing her doctor for withholding information about potential birth defects.
By Sandy English
29 April 2010
On a rainy weekend, an estimated two thousand workers lined up, many of them overnight, for about 100 elevator mechanics' apprentice jobs at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 union hall in Astoria in the New York borough of Queens.
Many workers had pitched tents and spent the night in line to be sure to get one of the 750 applications the union was handing out. Some spent as many as four days in line, having their families bring them their meals. The IBEW set up several port-a-potties for sanitary needs. By the time applications were handed out on Monday morning the line stretched three blocks.
These jobs are some of the few available to workers that pay anything resembling a living wage. The apprenticeships can pay between $14 and $16 an hour, and experienced mechanics can earn over $40 an hour.
The apprenticeships required no prior experience. The only requirement was that applicants pass a 10th grade level math and reading exam.
Even after the line had dispersed and the tents had been disassembled, other workers who had heard about the jobs on television or read about the lineup in the morning newspapers continued to arrive.
The official unemployment rate in the city as of March was 10 percent, but real unemployment is much higher. According to a report issued by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) in mid-March, the broader unemployment figure, which includes workers who have part-time jobs but want to work full-time and workers who have given up looking for work, is over 14 percent. For African-American workers, the figure is approximately 21 percent. For Hispanic workers, it is 23 percent.
The official unemployment rate in the city has declined slightly over the last few months, but this is widely believed to be because more and more workers have left the labor force as they run out of unemployment benefits or simply stop looking or work.
According to the FPI report, the decline of 0.1 percent in the unemployment rate from 10.5 to 10.4 in January was accounted for by the fact that 6,000 people left the labor force.
The FPI report noted that in mid-January, nearly 11,000 people filed new unemployment claims each week in the city. Of the unemployed, 46 percent of city workers have been out of work for over sixth months, and 17 percent for a year.
As the Democratic Governor, David Paterson, implements massive cuts in the state budget, including in education, new rounds of layoffs threaten city employees, including teachers and other school workers. As many as 8,500 teachers may lose their jobs.
Millions more in the city subsist on poverty-level wages. In December 2009, the Center for an Urban Future's "New York by the Numbers" report determined that 31 percent of all jobs were categorized as "low-wage"—that is, less than $11.45.
The Center for Economic Opportunity noted in March that the poverty rate in New York City rose before the recession from 20.6 percent in 2005 to 22.0 percent in 2008.
Low wages and mass unemployment have created a sense of desperation for the relatively well-paying jobs like the ones offered on Monday. Radio news site 1010WINS.com quoted Alberto Cortes, whose last job was as a security guard two years ago, as saying, that the apprenticeships were "an opportunity of a lifetime."
Another worker who waited in line told the Daily News, "I don't care if I have to wait three days in snow, in rain. I'll do anything for my family".
The World Socialist Web Site spoke to Victor Nieves, a 49 year-old worker who has been unemployed for a year. "I've been living without public services," he said. "If my cousin didn't own the building I live in, I'd be out on the street."
When asked why there was an economic crisis to begin with, Victor told the WSWS: "You've basically got 100 families that run the economy. What do you expect? They've been driving down wages and working conditions for years. Now they've caused this depression. Unfortunately, our leaders, no matter what race, what nationality, what party, are working with them. It's not about black, white or yellow, it's about green. If you try to fight them, someone says, 'No, you can't do that.' Our unions are tied up with this, too. Whether you follow the socialist doctrine or not," Nieves said, "this is a fact. We need to control the money."
Statement by David O'Sullivan, Socialist Equality Party candidate for Oxford East
29 April 2010
The latest annual Sunday Times Rich List reveals a massive increase in the wealth of Britain's super-rich.
The list exposes the Brown government's claims that its multibillion-pound bail-out of Britain's banks was taken to ensure the economic well-being of working people. Under conditions in which all the official parties are insisting that working people must sacrifice jobs, wages and public provision to slash Britain's £167 billion deficit, the Sunday Times reveals that the super-rich have enjoyed the largest rise in their wealth since it first began publishing the list 21 years ago.
The 1,000 richest people in Britain increased their wealth by fully 30 percent last year, or £77 billion, bringing their total wealth to £333.5 billion.
In the past year, the number of billionaires residing within the UK has increased by 10, from 43 to 53, with 9 of the 10 enjoying a rise of more than £1 billion during the past year. Since the election of Labour in 1997, the richest 1,000 people have increased their wealth three times over. Back then, their combined wealth amounted to less than £100 billion.
As Philip Beresford, who compiled the list, notes, "The rich have come through the recession with flying colours".
"The rest of the country is going to have to face public spending cuts", he continues, "but it has little effect on the rich because they don't consume public services."
There is more to the financial oligarchy's staggering increase in personal fortunes, as Beresford is well aware. They are not simply protected from the savage spending cuts now being prepared by the next government—whatever its colouration. Rather, the increase in their wealth is the direct product of Labour's near £1 trillion "stimulus" programme.
The billions handed over to the banks were solely aimed at enabling the financial institutions and super-rich to continue their criminal speculative manipulations, and gorge themselves still further at public expense.
As the Socialist Equality Party states in its manifesto for the May 6 General Election, "What was presented as an emergency measure to prevent a global economic collapse is nothing more than a plundering of public funds to bail out the guilty and allow them to continue their parasitic activities."
Consider the figures involved. The total wealth of Britain's 1,000 richest people is almost double the size of the UK deficit. Simply levying a 50 percent wealth tax on these few people would clear the deficit. Expropriating their assets would eliminate a third of the entire national debt.
None of the official parties had anything to say on the Sunday Times Rich List. This is hardly surprising. All of them are the political representatives of the very financial oligarchy identified by it, which is enriching itself at the direct expense of the broad mass of the population.
In all their manifesto pronouncements and public pledges, no one proposes even the most minimal inroads into this staggering accumulation of ill-gotten wealth. The super-rich are untouchable. Instead of being held to account, not only are they rewarded for the economic breakdown that their often criminal actions facilitated; not one of those responsible has been held to account.
What are the implications of this? The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives are currently pledged to spending cuts of between £47 and £57 billion—austerity measures unparalleled since the Second World War. But even the monies to be 220;saved" by these current funding proposals have already been appropriated by the financial elite during the previous 12 months.
That is why sections of the media and big business are now demanding that the official parties must be "brutal" and "frank" as to the even more extreme measures that are required.
In an article headlined, "Demolition job that awakes the next government", the Financial Times warned, "The scale of the savings required is huge. £37bn is about 25 per cent of the entire NHS budget across the UK, or half the cost of the basic state pension. It is twice the total cost of the police, three-quarters of the defence budget, or 10 times the amount the NHS spends on dentistry."
It continued that "with health and overseas aid having been promised protection, the implications of cutting £37bn from the remaining departmental budgets—defence, transport, prisons, police, social care, the environment and energy, for example—are so extreme as to be more or less incredible."
On Tuesday, the Institute of Fiscal Studies was even more forthright. It accused the three party leaders of deceiving the public as to the need to impose the greatest cuts in public expenditure for decades. The next government would have to rely much more on "tax increases and welfare cuts" than any were currently prepared to admit, it complained, dismissing claims that these could be achieved through "efficiency" measures alone as "misleading".
The demand of the IFS, amongst others, is that the various parties must "come clean" as to their real intentions, and prepare the public for what is to come.
But the deceit of the political class is based on an objective social reality: It is impossible to win a democratic mandate based on a policy of destroying living standards and demolishing public services.
Even more so when, as the Sunday Times Rich List underscores, this plundering of social wealth to benefit a tiny elite surpasses even that associated with the ancien régime in pre-revolutionary France. It is this parasitic layer of the super-rich that poses the gravest threat to society.
Only a socialist programme can redress this situation. The SEP calls for:
• Social ownership of the banks and major corporations: The monopoly over society exercised by the financial and corporate elite is incompatible with a progressive, democratic resolution to the crisis. We say: Cancel all debts to the international finance institutions! Transform the banks and major corporations into publicly owned and democratically controlled utilities!
• Redistribution of wealth. The complex requirements of modern life cannot be met within the framework of an economic system based on the ever-greater enrichment of a parasitic elite. The ill-gotten wealth of the super-rich must be expropriated and used to provide for basic social needs.
• An emergency public works programme. The measures listed above will provide the necessary resources to implement a massive programme of public works that will end the scourge of unemployment and provide decent-paying jobs, free and high-quality health, housing, education and social provisions for all throughout their lives.
The implementing of such a programme can only be achieved through the development of an independent political movement of the working class against the parties of big business. Above all, it requires the construction of a genuinely socialist party based on uniting workers internationally in the struggle against global capital.
By Tom Eley
29 April 2010
An oil spill caused by last week's deadly explosion on a British Petroleum (BP) oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is spreading toward the coast of Louisiana, threatening fisheries, beaches and numerous species.
The April 20 explosion on the BP-contracted rig, Deepwater Horizon, took the lives of 11 workers and critically injured four more. It was caused by a blowback when a mud sealant applied to the drill hole on the seabed likely failed to seal. Oil then forced its way up the drill bore blowing apart machinery and igniting a fire that lasted two days, eventually collapsing the rig, which was operating in 5,000 feet of water.
Contrary to early speculation, piping at the drill hole on the seabed has not been resealed. When the rig sunk, the pipe buckled into a heap above the ocean floor, rupturing at more than one point. This means that a steady stream of crude oil, estimated at 1,000 barrels or 42,000 gallons per day, is rising to the surface.
Efforts to contain the oil's spread have been met with limited success. Airplanes have doused the spill with a chemical solvent designed to dissipate the slick, while ships have been dragging boon lines to hem the spill to a confined area. Nonetheless, oil has reportedly moved to within 20 miles of the Louisiana coastline and had expanded to cover an area of 80 by 42 miles. The slick's spread has so far been lessened by favorable winds, but it is expected to reach the shoreline by Saturday.
The US Coast Guard said it will also attempt to corral dense concentrations of the oil and ignite it in controlled burns, also an undertaking of uncertain outcome. "Right now, it's a test burn," said Coast Guard officer Steve Lehmann. "We're trying to see how it works."
Ultimately the oil spill must be stopped at its source nearly a mile below the water's surface. It is not clear when, or how, this can be achieved.
An attempt to cap the oil leaks through a built-in remote controlled blowout mechanism, begun on Sunday, has thus far failed and remote-controlled submarine vehicles have been unable to activate seal valves in the piping. BP might also attempt to lower a dome-shaped apparatus to the seabed around the hole. This method has been used in shallow water spills, but never at such a depth, and scientists and engineers have expressed doubts over its feasibility.
BP said it will proceed with plans to bore new holes in the vicinity of that emitting the oil in a bid to choke off its supply. This could take months, and there is no guarantee of success.
The spill threatens jobs and ecosystems over a broad area of the Gulf Coast encompassing Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas. If not contained, the oil slick will imperil Louisiana's $2.4 billion commercial fishing industry. Among the major species fished are shrimp, oysters and grouper. It also threatens the Florida panhandle's white sand beaches and with them the region's tourism industry.
"We've never seen anything like this magnitude," said George Crozier, an oceanographer and director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. "The problems are going to be on the beaches themselves. That's where it will be really visible."
Louisiana's coastal waters and its vast Mississippi Delta contain about 40 percent of US wetlands and are home to nesting and spawning areas for hundreds of species of birds and fish. The area of the spill is also the habitat for a pod of sperm whales.
"If some of the weather conditions continue, the Delta area is at risk," said Charlie Henry of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Obama administration has responded to the disaster—which claimed the lives of 11 workers and threatens the economy and ecology of the Gulf Coast—with indifference bordering on contempt. A search of the White House website reveals not a single comment by Obama on the explosion, no expressions of sympathy extended to the families of the missing and presumed dead, or even a declaration of concern over the threat to the Gulf.
Two days after the explosion, when the fate of the missing 11 men was still unknown, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs if Obama had yet "reached out to anyone in Louisiana over the oil rig explosion." Gibbs responded, "Let me check on that. I don't believe so." The next day, Gibbs took a more callous posture, telling reporters, "In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last."
It was not until April 26 that the White House articulated support for an investigation of the accident. According to the New York Times, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the investigation would be given power of subpoena "and will look into possible criminal or civil violations by the operators of the drilling rig, Transocean." Transocean is the world's largest operator of off-shore oil rigs.
The White House has not singled out BP for criticism, limiting itself to holding a Tuesday meeting with "top executives" of the oil giant, according to the Times, in spite of its well-documented environmental and safety abuses.
In 2005, an explosion took place at a BP oil refinery in Texas City, Texas, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. BP had been cited for numerous safety violations prior to the explosion. In 2009, it was fined $87 million for failing to address some of the same violations that caused the 2005 blast. BP has appealed the fine.
In August 2006, BP suspended operation in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, after it was revealed a corroded pipeline had discharged over 1 million liters of oil into the Alaskan tundra. Then in October 2007 it was revealed that BP had spilled about 2,000 gallons of methanol in the tundra, also at Prudhoe Bay. BP was named one of the "Ten Worst Polluters" by Mother Jones magazine in 2005.
BP has also been one of the main beneficiaries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader push of US and British imperialism into the Mideast and Central Asia. In 2009 it won a contract, together with the China National Petroleum Corp, to develop Iraq's largest oil deposits, the Rumaila field, boasting reserves of 17 billion barrels. BP is also the largest private stakeholder in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which runs from the Caspian Sea through the southern Caucasus and Turkey, avoiding US rivals Russia and Iran.
Some accounts indicate that BP, which as owner of the oil is legally liable for the spill, has not mobilized adequate resources for cleanup. "From the air Monday afternoon, the oil spill reached as far as the eye could see," according to the Associated Press. "There was little evidence of a major cleanup, with only a handful of vessels near the site of the leak."
A BP executive, Doug Suttles, boasted that BP was spending $6 million per day on cleanup. This is but a tiny fraction of the company's revenue, which totaled nearly $250 billion in 2008. BP on Wednesday announced its first quarter profits, which more than doubled from 2009 to nearly $5.6 billion, about 1,000 times what it is spending per day on cleanup in the Gulf.
BP is a major political donor to both parties. In 2007, it hired key Obama political adviser John Podesta and his lobbying firm to advance its interests on Capitol Hill.
Late last year BP publicly opposed new regulations under consideration for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. BP Vice President Richard Morrison wrote a letter to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) stating, "We are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule. We believe industry's current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs" have been successful. The Obama administration did not put the new rules into effect.
The Obama administration has worked closely with Big Oil. In March, Obama proposed lifting a longstanding moratorium on the expansion of deep sea oil drilling along the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida. It also called for the expansion of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and sensitive waters around Alaska. In doing so, the administration has echoed the oil industry in advancing the claim that deep sea drilling is perfectly safe. The Deepwater Horizon disaster exposes these claims.
The disaster was predictable. In spite of technological advances, blowouts still occur on shallow-water oil rigs. It was a virtual certainty that at some point a blowout would also take place on a deep water rig. But unlike a blowout in shallower waters, there is little or no experience with plugging a blown pipe one mile below the water's surface, as the futile efforts to stop the hemorrhaging of oil from Deepsea Horizon's drill hole have made clear.
Even in the wake of the disaster, Obama reiterated his plans for expanded offshore drilling. "We need the increased production," Gibbs declared on April 23. "The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely and without any harm to the environment."
That Obama plans to proceed with a vast expansion of deep sea oil drilling in spite of this disaster speaks volumes about the character of his administration—and those environmentalist groups that called for his election as a means of blocking the policies of the Republican Party.
Obama has similarly promoted the expansion of coal mining in previously unprofitable areas. This has led to the working of previously ignored coal veins in mines in spite of safety risks. This was apparently one of the causes of the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that claimed the lives of 29 workers. Obama's energy policy, like that of Bush, subordinates both the lives of workers and the environment to the mad profit drive of the energy giants.