2010 - %3, July

Sharron Angle's BP Gaffe...And Apology

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 2:41 PM EDT

When Sharron Angle, the tea party-loved candidate gunning for Harry Reid's Senate seat in Nevada, branded BP's $20 billion escrow fund a "slush fund" this week, the comment raised more than a few eyebrows. Angle reportedly agreed with a caller to a local Nevada radio station who said the fund equated to "extortion," with Angle adding, "Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company. And I think you named it clearly: It's a slush fund." The Washington Post's Greg Sargent dubbed it her "Rand Paul moment." Of course, Angle's remark wasn't all that surprising, given that the "slush fund" label has been thrown around by other Republicans like Rep. Joe "We're sorry, BP" Barton (R-Tex.). And also given that Angle herself is prone to gaffes, including calling a reporter an idiot for quoting her website and suggesting armed revolt if "this Congress keeps going the way it is."

What is surprising is Angle's response and retraction, offered today in a statement from her campaign. The former Nevada assemblywoman now says the slush fund quip was "incorrect" and insensitive on her part. The statement also says, "My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it." Here, in full, is Angle's statement:

Setting the record straight about BP and the Obama Administration

There's been some confusion this morning regarding my position on BP and the oil spill.

Having had some time to think about it, the caller and I shouldn't have used the term "slush fund"; that was incorrect.

My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it. But there are multiple parties at fault here and there should be a thorough investigation. We need to look into the actions, (or inactions) of the Administration and why the regulatory agency in charge of oversight was asleep at the wheel while BP was cutting corners. Every party involved should be held fully accountable.

All in all, a pretty thorough correction by Angle, and a necessary one. Now, if she would only retract her armed insurrection idea, and her lemons-into-lemonade reference when talking about pregnancies resulting from incest and rape, and her idea to abolish the Department of Education, and her claim that the unemployed are "spoiled"...well, then we might be able to take her a bit more seriously.

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Moratorium Case Goes to Another Oily Court

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 2:19 PM EDT

The Obama administration is back in court today, appealing last month's decision by a Louisiana court to throw out its temporary moratorium on new offshore drilling. But just like the judge who first struck down the moratorium, the judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel that will hear the case have financial holdings or other ties to the oil and gas industry.

Only three judges from the panel in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear the appeal of the case, Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC v. Salazar. The Alliance for Justice (AFJ) looked at the financial records of the three-member panel that will hear the Obama administration's appeal and found that two of the judges, Jerry Edwin Smith and William Eugene Davis, "frequently represented the oil and gas industries while in private practice." Smith represented Exxon, Conoco, and Amoco, as well as others. Davis represented Diamond Drilling Company in private practice, and has also held stock in Edge Petroleum and Progress Energy.

Both Davis and Smith have also attended all-expense paid "seminars" sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), a free-market organization whose seminars focus claim to be "pro-environment," but focus on explaining "why ecological values are not the only important ones."

The third judge on the panel, James L. Dennis, has had financial holdings in at least 18 companies in the energy industry. He used to own stock in Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean, but sold it in 2006. His 2008 financial disclosure listed a range of investments in oil and natural gas producers, suppliers, distributors, and service companies.

Davks, Smith, and Dennis aren't the only 5th circuit judges with ties to the industry. AFJ surveyed all the judges, both active and senior (which means they are essentially retired but can still volunteer to hear a case) members, and found that many of them have ties to the oil and gas sector, whether through stock holdings or a history of representing the industry in private practice.

Based on 2008 financial disclosure forms and responses to Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaires, AFJ also reports that Edith Jones, the chief judge on the panel, has invested in Exxon Mobil, Pennzoil, BP, and Amoco, among other energy firms. Carolyn King has invested in Exxon and BP. Jacques Wiener has invested in Exxon and Chevron, among others. Harold DeMoss has invested in several energy companies, including Anadarko Petroleum, which owns a 25 percent share of the well currently spewing oil into the Gulf. Edith Clement has held stock in Exxon, Texaco, BP, Chevron, and Conoco. The list goes on and on—basically, there are very few 5th circuit Justices who don't have some sort of financial connection to the oil and gas industry.

AFJ President Nan Aron argues that the Fifth Circuit is "marinating in a pervasive oil culture," which should present "legitimate questions about potential bias." While she said they’re not accusing the court of any wrongdoing, she suggested that most on the circuit should recuse themselves from the case.

"The justice system's legitimacy depends on the confidence that individuals have in its ability to be fair and impartial," Aron says. "Given the significance of this case and the national attention it is receiving, it is important for judges to appear as fair and impartial as possible."

But as has been noted many times now, it's hard to find a judge in the Gulf without ties to the industry. In the region, 37 of 64 federal judges have some oil sector connection.

Oral arguments begin this afternoon in New Orleans. The court is expected to move quickly on a decision, as the administration wants the six-month moratorium back in place and drillers in the area are itching to get back in the waters. Meanwhile, environmental groups are pushing to get the US District Court to revoke Judge Martin Feldman's decision in the case revoked, arguing that of his holdings in the energy industry constitute a conflict of interest. "The Court's financial holdings in various companies involved in oil and gas drilling raise in an objective mind a reasonable question concerning the Court's impartiality in these proceedings," the motion from the environmental groups said in the filing.

How Long Will the Economy Suck?

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 12:55 PM EDT

You can make a pretty good case that the U.S. economy won't truly recover until we finish deleveraging from the credit bubble of the aughts. Stuart Staniford takes a quick look at several methods of estimating how long that's going to take, and comes up with the following: 15-25 years, 13 years, 10+ years, and 10-15 years. "All of these methods have problems," he acknowledges, "and you can pick your poison. What they all have in common though is this: deleveraging will take at least a decade, and it could easily take 15-20 years. In the meantime, the economy is likely to be pretty choppy at best."

Anybody got a problem with this? No? Then back to work you slackers.

Political Incorrectness in the Media

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 11:50 AM EDT

I didn't get to this yesterday, but better late than never. After 20 years as a CNN producer, Octavia Nasr was let go on Wednesday for sending out this tweet:

Andrew Sullivan writes: "Froomkin was fired for opposing torture a little too passionately; Weigel was forced out because his private emails revealed he was not acceptable to the partisan right; Frum is cut off from conservative blogads funding; Moulitsas is barred from MSNBC for criticizing Joe Scarborough; and Octavia Nasr is fired for offending the pro-Israel lobby over a tweet expressing sadness at the death of a Hezbollah leader." Glenn Greenwald reels off a list of his own and asks: "What each of these firing offenses have in common is that they angered and offended the neocon Right....Have there ever been any viewpoint-based firings of establishment journalists by The Liberal Media because of comments which offended liberals? None that I can recall." And David Carr worries: "as a journo who tweets, gotta say this trend toward career-ending posts is a might disturbing."

Nasr herself calls her tweet an "error of judgment" and acknowledges that "It is no secret that Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah hated with a vengeance the United States government and Israel." But then she explains why she said what she did:

I used the words "respect" and "sad" because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of "honor killing." He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam.

....Through his outspoken Friday sermons and his regularly updated website, Fadlallah had a platform to spread what many considered a more moderate voice of Shia Islam than what was coming out of Iran. Immensely popular in Lebanon among the various religious groups, he also had followers across the region including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and even as far as Morocco in northern Africa.

Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It's something I deeply regret.

It's easy to understand why Nasr was let go, but the end result is a mainstream media ever more curled up in a fetal crouch, afraid of its reporters and producers ever saying an unguarded word that might offend someone. The age of unedited blogs and real-time tweets is going to put an end to that one way or another, though, and the sooner the better. In the meantime, as with any culture in transition, there are going to be some ugly casualties. Nasr is one of them.

Does Kagan Support Stoning?

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 11:34 AM EDT

The National Review Online seems to be the designated dumping ground for any and all opposition research related to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. On the second day of her confirmation hearings last week, NRO created a big stir when it published a critical piece from a former Justice Department official who claimed Kagan encouraged the American College of OB/Gyns to alter its medical opinion of the partial-birth abortion procedure to help President Clinton's political position on the issue. Several Republican senators asked Kagan questions during the hearing that came almost straight from the story. Today the NRO is capitalizing on recent news about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian mother about to be stoned to death after being convicted of adultery, to revive charges that Kagan is a Muslim-loving "champion of sharia." 

Andrew McCarthy writes:

Had the solicitor general heard about Ms. Ashtiani’s plight, one imagines, she’d have told her to get herself to the nearest courthouse and seek the protection of the law. Alas, it is pursuant to the law that this barbarity will take place. The stoning of this 43-year-old mother of two has been ordered by a court in her native Iran, where the only legal code is Allah’s law, sharia. ...

Sharia is the cause of indescribable suffering in the world: for homosexuals, women, non-Muslims, and Muslims who wish to embrace the West. Yet for Kagan, sharia’s repugnance is irrelevant. Like opposition to DADT and support for abortion, the engagement of Islamists, the embrace of their case against American capitalism, is a progressive cause célèbre. So count Ms. Kagan in. She’ll worry about logic and sharia victims like Sakineh Ashtiani later — if ever.

Linking Kagan to sharia-sanctioned stoning is a huge stretch, but McCarthy gives it a whirl. His argument goes something like this: While Kagan was at Harvard law school, Harvard University president Larry Summers accepted a $20 million gift from Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who once blamed American foreign policy for the 9/11 attacks. Summers not only took his cash but named an Islamic studies program after the prince. (Incidentally, bin Talal owns a big chunk of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the owner of Fox News, but McCarthy doesn't slam Murdoch for it.)

Kagan did not offer up a peep of protest, probably because she was too busy banning military recruiters from the campus, according to McCarthy, who notes that sharia law is far harsher to gays than the US military is. Not only did Kagan fail to protest the Saudi gift, but according to McCarthy, she "forged" an "Islamic finance project" at Harvard to promote "sharia compliance" in the U.S. finance industry. Ergo, Kagan must support stoning, since that's part of Islamic law. (For the record, Harvard University created the IFP in 1995. In late 2003, it was brought into the law school, which Kagan wasn't named to run until April that same year. And the program's study of sharia compliance is often related to poverty-reduction efforts through micro-lending.)

Conservatives tried this line of attack on Kagan shortly after she was nominated, but it didn't gain much traction. None of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her about her feelings about sharia (or stoning, for that matter) during her confirmation hearings. But now that the NRO has taken up the cause, it's likely to be part of the anti-Kagan drumbeat as the committee gets ready to vote on her confirmation, which could happen as early as Tuesday. It's hard to know whom these attacks are designed to persuade. Most of the Republicans are already set to vote against Kagan. There are the moderate Maine senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who voted to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year. Perhaps the sharia link might give them adequate cover with their feminist base to join with their party (and the cranky tea party) in opposing Kagan's nomination.  Even so, Kagan doesn't need their votes to get confirmed. Could there be some wavering conservative Democrats out there?

Obama and the Bankers

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 11:21 AM EDT

Mike Konczal captures perfectly some of the concrete ways in progressives are right to be pretty dissatisfied with the Obama administration over financial reform:

I do think Treasury could have moved this bill in a lot of ways. They set the terms under which the debate would unfold. And whenever they got involved with Congress, they pushed for less structural reforms. They pushed for the solution that embraced the status quo with arms wide open.

Examples? Off the top of my head, ones with a paper trail: They fought the Collins amendment for quality of bank capital, fought leverage requirements like a 15-to-1 cap, fought prefunding the resolution mechanism, fought Section 716 spinning out swap desks, removed foreign exchange swaps and introduced end user exemption from derivative language between the Obama white paper and the House Bill, believed they could have gotten the SAFE Banking Amendment to break up the banks but didn’t try, pushed against the full Audit the Fed and encouraged the Scott Brown deal.

That's it in a nutshell. The final shape of the financial reform bill, even after it got watered down in conference, is decent enough to be well worth passing. But it's decent almost entirely because of amendments that were tacked on during the final two months of debate, not because the White House tried to introduce a decent bill in the first place. And to make it worse, as Mike notes, the White House actually opposed most of the amendments that improved financial reform from a D to a B-.

In one sense, it doesn't matter who was responsible for what. The final bill is the result of a complex dance between the White House, the Treasury, and Congress, and it's silly to give too much (or too little) credit to any one of them. But the fact remains that Obama's team has been pretty weak on financial reform from the start. Whether this was from political miscalculation or genuine conviction I don't know, but neither one reflects well on them.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that Obama is still a business-hating, job-killing, government-loving, socialist wannabe. But he would have been that no matter what. He should have just done the right thing and not worried too much about it.

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Quote of the Day: About Face in Alaska

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

From 20-year-old Levi Johnston, apologizing for remarks he made when he was 19:

To the Palin family in general and to Sarah Palin in particular, please accept my regrets and forgive my youthful indiscretion.

That's sort of funny, but the rest of his statement is just creepy, like one of those things the Soviets used to extort out of supposed dissidents. I wonder what the Palins have on him?

Can START Get to the Finish Line?

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 10:22 AM EDT

Dan Drezner, after pointing out that the START nuclear arms treaty is supported by virtually every foreign policy bigshot on both sides of the aisle, says this:

If the Obama administration can't get Senate ratification of START despite the bipartisan support of the foreign policy community, well, it suggests that the foreign policy community doesn't have the political capital it once did. I posited earlier this year that START would pass because it was pretty unobtrusive and wouldn't play a big role in political campaigns. If GOP senators think differently, however, then you can kiss any foreign policy initiative that requires congressional approval bye-bye.

Best to start puckering up, I'd say. I'd love to be wrong about this, but the Tea Party base of the Republican Party, like every outbreak of right-wing extremism for the past century, is dead set against any treaty that limits the U.S. in any way, dead set against cooperation with Russia of any kind, and dead set against anything that gives up American "sovereignty." So that's that. I don't think there are more than five or six Republican senators at this point who are willing to buck the tea partiers, and it will take more than that to pass this thing. If Obama submits it as an executive agreement, which only requires 60 votes, maybe it's got a chance, but it's hard to see how it gets to 67 in the current environment.

But maybe I'm wrong. As Dan says, START is a "modest treaty that yields modest gains," and maybe there are still a few more foreign policy pragmatists in the GOP ranks than I think. I'm not sure I'd want to bet money on it, though.

The View From My Windshield: "Honey, We're Hoarders!"

Thu Jul. 8, 2010 10:15 AM EDT

Truth in Advertising: Shenandoah, Virginia—“I was just watchin’ that movie the other day. You know, that movie, Hoarders,” says this sign's owner. “I turned to my wife and said, 'honey, we're hoarders!'" (Photo: Tim Murphy).Truth in Advertising: Shenandoah, Virginia—“I was just watchin’ that movie the other day. You know, that movie, Hoarders,” says this sign's owner. That's when his collection of glass coke bottles, coffee mugs, boxes of cereal, and bound volumes of Popular Science suddenly made sense: “I turned to my wife and said, 'honey, we're hoarders!'" (Photo: Tim Murphy).

Enviro Links: Lessons from Exxon Valdez, Turtles in Peril, and More

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 9:11 AM EDT

Here's the latest on the Gulf oil disaster, now in its 78th day:

Cleanup workers from the Exxon Valdez oil spill warn Gulf workers of the long-term health hazards of exposure.

Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the world's largest offshore drilling company, is known for "testing local laws and regulations" in its operations around the world, reports the New York Times. Their record includes charges of human rights abuses, tax fraud, and questionable legal maneuvering, just to name a few.

TPM reports that the National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act, underestimated the impact an oil spill might have on vulnerable species like sea turtles when it signed off on new Gulf drilling in 2007.

Michelle Obama plans to visit the Gulf sometime soon.

Some owners of BP stations are switching brands (or at least, trying to) as boycotts of the oil company threaten their businesses. "It's either change or go out of business," said Abdel Berry, who owns three BP stations near Detroit.

Religious leaders visit the Gulf, call for better protection of God's creation.

BP is pushing to cap the Gulf gusher by July 27, which happens to be the day the company is expected to report its second-quarter earnings to shareholders.

The Gulf spill site gets Obama-ized.

And in non-oil news:

The Discovery Channel loves sharks, and so does Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).