2010 - %3, July

Turtle Eggs Get FedExed, BP Gets Sued

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 11:20 AM PDT

Yesterday, Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network* filed their 60-day intent to sue BP over the deaths of endangered sea turtles in during "controlled burns" BP uses to consume oil slicks. Thus far, there have been 275 burns consuming 10 million gallons of oil. The intent to sue got plenty of media attention, but there's another legal action that may change BP's interactions with sea turtles faster. Yesterday, Meyers, Glitzenstein, & Crystal (MG&C) filed for an immediate injunction of BP's controlled burns until wildlife safety can be assured. The injunction says BP is violating the Endangered Species Act with the burns, ("corralling and burning alive endangered and threatened sea turtles") and by doing so, is in also in violation of its lease with MMS and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

What's interesting is that when MG&C initially filed the complaint yesterday, they only named BP as the defendant. BP's legal team pushed back, noting that they weren't the only ones responsible for the burns: the Coast Guard was liable too. So this morning, MG&C filed an amended complaint (PDF) naming both parties. (See a list of legal documents related to BP here.) It's curious that BP named the Coast Guard as being partially responsible for the burns, when BP seems to be running the entire show down in the Gulf.

BP hasn't been conducting burns this week: rough waves from Hurricane Alex are a safety hazard for smaller boats. But it seems that burning sea turtles alive has been confirmed: the UK Guardian reports that "the Obama administration confirmed" that sea turtles like the endangered Kemp's Ridley are "burnt alive in operations intended to contain oil." There's also new information from Captain Mike Ellis, subject of the controversial video that surfaced earlier this month. He gave written testimony (PDF) in support of the previously mentioned injunction that: 

"On the trip...where approximately 10 endangered turtles were rescued, we were very near multiple burns, and, more importantly, those burns were on the same oil line as the turtles that we were able to rescue. As any marine scientist or professional sea fisherman knows, species of marine animals that are found on one part of an oil line... are very likely to be found going in either direction on that same line... Because BP has refused to let me and other boat captains get close enough to examine the burn boxes prior to igniting the fires, I expect that turtles will continue to be burned."

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We're Not in Boston Anymore

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 11:12 AM PDT

Athol, Massachusetts— Thirty minutes past Leominster ("home of Johnny Appleseed," or more accurately, "the place that Johnny Appleseed ran away from") on Route 2A in Athol, we've officially, definitively, started our trip. We passed the house three times before we finally pulled into the driveway. It was the sign that stood out, I guess: "Need Prayer? Stop Here." Because the point of the trip is to talk to people, and because, as prepared as we are, there's no way we'll make it three months without at least a little bit of heavenly help, we pulled over. A woman named Robyn came out to greet us. She'd lived in town for seven years, driven west by rising housing costs, but the weekly prayer groups are more recent occurence. A year ago, "He showed me the sign," she says, speaking of the Lord. In a good week, seven people will stop by to join her and her husband; some are regulars, some just pop in off the highway unannounced. "I'll meet people in town and they'll mention the sign and I'll say, 'that's me!'"

From here it's on to the Mohawk Trail, west to North Adams and up into Vermont.

 

Obama on Immigration: Send Me Your Brightest and Best

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 10:58 AM PDT

President Obama’s speech on immigration at American University on Thursday offered very little in terms of a path forward for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Though the president made a concerted effort to emphasize the aspects of immigration that might appeal to more moderate voices in the debate, stressing the economic contributions of highly skilled immigrant workers and the assimilation of earlier waves of non-Hispanic immigrants. But in terms of substance, Obama stuck to the basic outline that Democratic Senators have already hammered out, without giving any concrete goals or deadlines for moving the ball forward.

Obama did suggest, however, that the White House might push for some smaller reform measures, perhaps even ahead of a comprehensive overhaul—a move that could placate some reform advocates and that’s bound to infuriate others who are already frustrated with the administration’s foot-dragging on a big reform package.

From start to finish, Obama made reference to the European and Asian waves of immigration that had bolstered the nation’s economy. Calling the US “a magnet for the best and the brightest,” he reeled off a list of names of highly skilled immigrants who’d come to the US—Einstein, Tesla, Carnegie, and Google’s Sergey Brin—all white, European immigrants. “This steady stream of hard-working and talented people made America the engine of global economy,” he said. Asians also got a few nods, including a reference to a South Asian woman whose small business employed 100 people, as well as a group Chinese immigrants who’d been detained and interrogated in San Francisco a century ago. There was just one Hispanic immigrant singled out in the speech—a military servicewoman who’d been recently naturalized. Obama closed out the speech by describing how New York had absorbed “Jewish people driven out of Europe” in the last century—and how an American immigration advocate, Emma Lazarus, had helped fund the Statue of Liberty and wrote the famous words on its pedestal.

By framing his speech this way, Obama was clearly trying to expand the current debate’s almost singular focus on low-skilled, illegal Hispanic immigrants—the target of Arizona’s immigration law and other flashpoints that have fueled “demagoguery” around the issue, in the president’s words. The focus on highly skilled workers—who do more frequently come from Europe and Asia—is also at the heart of the business community's support for immigration reform within the high-tech sector, a constituency that's also one of the biggest Obama donors.

This argument, of course, is nothing new: it was also part of the Bush administration’s ultimately futile push for an immigration overhaul in 2006 and 2007. Obama even made reference to Bush’s “courageous leadership” on the issue today. And the nuts-and-bolts of Obama’s plan—as he and the Democrats have laid out before, and as he repeated in his speech today—are essentially the same as they were in the Bush days: ramping up border security, cracking down on illegal hires by employers, reforming the visa system, and providing a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants to “get right with the law.”

Chart of the Day: The Recession's Effect

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 10:40 AM PDT

We already know that unemployment, long-term unemployment, and underemployment have been sky high during this recession, but a new study from Pew has some additional startling news: even among the still employed, 74% have taken a pay cut of one kind or another,1 either directly or via forced time off — and it's probably even worse than this since Pew apparently didn't ask about cuts in benefits. I wonder: does this mean that wages among the currently employed aren't as sticky as we think? And is this new? My sense is that we haven't seen pay cuts of this breadth in previous recessions, even in 1981-82. But that's just a sense. I don't know if there's survey data to back that up.

Other bullet points from the Pew study:

  • More than six-in-ten Americans (62%) say they have cut back on their spending since the recession began in December 2007.
  • About half the public (48%) say they are in worse financial shape now than before the recession began....Government data show that average household wealth fell by about 20% from 2007 to 2009, principally because of declining house values and retirement accounts. This is the biggest meltdown in U.S. household wealth in the post-World War II era.
  • A third (32%) of adults now say they are not confident that they will have enough income and assets to finance their retirement, up from 25% who said that in February 2009.
  • Throughout most of the decade of the 2000s, Republicans were significantly more upbeat than Democrats about the state of the economy. That pattern is now reversed.

That last point, by the way, almost certainly explains the different levels of economic optimism among various demographic groups. In all cases, the more Democratic trending group is also the most optimistic.

In other related news, homes sales are down, GM is selling fewer cars, jobless claims spiked last week instead of falling, and thanks to Ben Nelson (D–LetEmRot) unemployment benefits still haven't been extended. Those benefits are only for losers in other states, after all. As long as Nebraska is doing OK, why should he be worried?

1A couple of commenters point out that the categories in the chart aren't mutually exclusive. A single person might fall into more than one of them, so you can't just add them up to get 74%. That's true. So the real number is lower than this. At a guess, though, it's still well over 50%.

Question of the Day: Journalistic Ethics

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 9:22 AM PDT

From Max Sawicky:

If it is forbidden for journalists to privately deride their subjects, why is it fine for them to publicly idolize them?

Well, um, because.....look! Halley's comet!

Get Your MMS Swag While Its Hot

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 9:16 AM PDT

Among the reforms the Obama administration has underaken at the Department of Interior since the Gulf disaster began was breaking up the problem-plagued Minerals Management Service (MMS) into separate divisions, one for regulation and the other for revenue collection.

MMS also got a shiny (if overly wordy) new name; it's now the "Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or the "BOE" for short (though there is apparently some infighting about the acronym). It's almost as if changing the name could magically solve the division's problems!

The new name now means MMS swag is about to become a collector's item. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has a reserve of MMS memorabilia, most of it with a "safety" theme, that it's auctioning off to say good riddance to a department that became legendary for sex, drugs, cozy ties with industry, and extremly lax oversight.

PEER has MMS whistles in both plastic and metal (for whistleblowers, get it?). There's also a "Never Take a Brake from Safety" lunch box (guess someone must have been out to lunch when it came to safety oversight on the Deepwater Horizon). There's also a "Safety Week" flashlight, lanyards, an official 2008 "Safety Week" gym bag, key chains, a pedometer, pens, a laptop bag, and a paper weight with an oil drop logo.

There's even a 1997 MMS Hammer Award, presented by then-Vice President Al Gore in recognition of the agency's Innovative Achievements Program for it's commitment to customer service. The message from Gore reads: “Thanks for building a government that works better and costs less!"

Ah, MMS: Safety endorsed via swag, if not actual agency policy. I'm glad PEER has preserved this kitsch for posterity.

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News Flash: John Bolton Still Clueless

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 9:05 AM PDT

Uber-hawk John Bolton takes to the pages of the LA Times today to trash the Obama/Petraeus strategy in Afghanistan. Neither counterterrorism nor counterinsurgency will work, he says, to meet the twin goals of crushing the Taliban and keeping Pakistani nuclear weapons safe:

Instead, we require a sustained military presence in Afghanistan devoted to the grim, relentless crushing of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, coupled with substantially enhanced Pakistani military pressure there. This means protracted military action, not social services, which Team Obama is thoroughly unwilling to endorse. It turns out, entirely predictably, that Afghanistan was not "the good war" after all.

This is no surprise coming from Bolton, but still: don't even his neocon buddies ever get embarrassed by him? Maybe he should ask the Soviets how their "grim, relentless" campaign in Afghanistan did in the 80s? That is, if he can find any Soviets to ask. The Soviet Union outlasted the failure of their all-out war in Afghanistan by only a few years.

Bolton is probably right to think that both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency are unlikely to work. But we aren't pursuing them because Obama is too much of a pussy to wage a real man's war. We're pursuing them because just about everyone in the U.S. military understands what Bolton doesn't: all-out conventional war against insurgent foes like the Taliban and al-Qaeda is even more unlikely to work. What's more, the theory of counterinsurgency isn't based on the idea that economic progress will defang the insurgents themselves (Bolton: "Religious fanatics, and their grievances, do not arise from poverty or deprivation. Accordingly, their fanaticism is not susceptible to remedies based on economic determinism, whether of the crude Marxist variety or its community-organizer cousin. Their motives and hatreds will not disappear with prosperity or free elections."). It's based on the idea that it will reduce their support among the indigenous population, support that any insurgency needs to operate effectively. This is counterinsurgency 101, something that the military community hashed out years ago, but Bolton still doesn't seem to get it. For him, it's always the killing fields or nothing.

Obama Immigration Speech: Live Coverage

| Thu Jul. 1, 2010 7:44 AM PDT

President Obama is giving a major speech on immigration this morning at American University. It's only his second time addressing the issue in a big public address. He's expected to address the administration's decision to file suit against Arizona's harsh immigration law and, per usual, urge Republicans to join him in pushing for a comprehensive overhaul—but without offering any kind of specific timeline. Follow my live coverage of the speech here:

Video: Should Offshore Drilling Be Banned?

Thu Jul. 1, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Should offshore drilling be banned? Need to Know’s Jon Meacham asked Lisa Margonelli, who writes about the global culture and economy of energy, at Monday’s TEDx Oil Spill conference.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 1, 2010

Thu Jul. 1, 2010 2:00 AM PDT

 

A US Soldier from Bravo Company, 5/20 Infantry, 2nd ID provides supporting fire during a squad live fire exercise in Kirkush Military Training Base, Diyala province, Iraq, on June 10, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ted Green.