Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Initially it seemed that arguing over how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico thanks to the BP disaster was mostly an academic exercise. BP said about 5,000 barrels a day; others put the figure at perhaps ten times that much. But the critical issue was how to stop the damn leak, whatever the amount.
Yet the size of the leak, it turns out, may matter a lot. Reuters reports:
Just how many barrels of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon spill is a billion dollar question with implications that go beyond the environment. It could also help determine how much BP and others end up paying for the disaster.
A clause buried deep in the U.S. Clean Water Act may expose BP and others to civil fines that aren't limited to any finite cap -- unlike a $75 million limit on compensation for economic damages. The Act allows the government to seek civil penalties in court for every drop of oil that spills into U.S. navigable waters, including the area of BP's leaking well.
As a result, the U.S. government could seek to fine BP or others up to $4,300 for every barrel leaked into the U.S. Gulf, according to legal experts and official documents.
Do the math. At $4,300 a barrel, the difference between 5,000 barrels a day and, say, 20,000 could be $64 million per day in civil fines. And such a fine would be on top of any liability payments. So BP does have a rather direct interest in how the spill is measured. Which also means it has an interest in what information—such as video feeds of the leak—is released.
After the Reuters report came out, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) emailed it to reporters with a succinct explanation: "here's one of the big reasons why Sen. Nelson and others push so hard to get the video of the leaking oil from BP." Indeed.
UPDATE: On Tuesday night, BP, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), agreed to keep the video flowing, when it tries to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. Markey noted, "BP made the right decision to allow the public to see this potentially historical event for themselves. The hopes of millions of Americans rest on this effort, and the world deserves a first-hand view of the top kill attempt.BP should now take the next step and make the full 12 possible video feeds available to the public, not just one single feed.”
It took several weeks for BP to make public the live feed of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. But now the oil company, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), plans to shut down the video during its next attempt to seal the well, which is scheduled to happen on Wednesday. Is this due to performance anxiety on the part of BP? What could be more gripping reality TV? Markey, understandably, is not happy. Here's a press release from his office:
Markey: BP to Kill Top Kill Video Feed; BP Says to American People ‘The Solution Will Not Be Televised’
After Releasing Public Video Feed, BP Blackout for Well Termination Attempt
WASHINGTON (May 25, 2010) – After pushing BP into providing a live feed of the spill at the bottom of the ocean, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today learned that BP will terminate the live feed during BP’s pivotal attempt to seal the well this week. BP informed Rep. Markey’s office that the live feed would be terminated some time early Wednesday morning, and would continue to be offline until after the attempt at the so-called “top kill” is completed.
“It is outrageous that BP would kill the video feed for the top kill. This BP blackout will obscure a vital moment in this disaster,” said Rep. Markey, who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. “After more than a month of spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is essentially saying to the American people the solution will not be televised.”
“No one wants to interfere with the operations during the top kill. With those preparations mostly done, now the world should see whether or not this strategy works, and we should see it in real time,” said Rep. Markey.
Rep. Markey yesterday had also asked BP to provide all 12 available feeds from the accident site, and yesterday released a YouTube video showing the differences between the one feed the public has been allowed to see and the 12 possible feeds available to BP. To view this video, click HERE.
When Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed the US Congress on Thursday, he called for the United States to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 under the Bush administration. Calderon noted that a ban on these weapons, which are flowing south across the border to violent drug cartels, could help Mexico reduce the horrific violence that has seized parts of that country.
Calderon might be forgiven for assuming that this would be a reasonable request to make to the Obama administration. While campaigning for the presidency, candidate Barack Obama backed permanently reinstating the ban. After he assumed office, his administration quickly announced it would proceed on this front. On February 25, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder declared,
As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.
Holder specifically noted that resurrecting the ban would reduce the number of guns pouring into Mexico and fueling the violence there.
Compare Holder's unequivocal statement to how the White House these days addresses the matter. Hours after Calderon's appearance on Capitol Hill, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about this issue. Here's the full exchange:
Q: Robert, speaking of President Calderón, this morning in his address to Congress, he asked lawmakers to reinstate the assault weapons ban, something the President has supported in the past. Does the President still support that and does he plan to lean on Congress to make progress?
GIBBS: I would — because the President largely got asked this question yesterday about both drugs and weapons moving across the border, I’d point you to the answer that he gave about increased inspections on cargo that’s moving from the north to the south.
You know the rest. At Obama's joint press conference with Calderon the previous day, this is what the president said,
Through increased law enforcement on our side of the border, we’re putting unprecedented pressure on those who traffic in drugs, guns, and people. We’re working to stem the southbound flow of American guns and money, which is why, for the first time, we are now screening 100 percent of southbound rail cargo.
Nothing about an assault weapons ban. A Mexican journalist followed up and asked Obama, "Shouldn’t there be an initiative that will regulate guns as they are sold? Is there going to be a ban?" Obama again talked about interdiction efforts and didn't address the assault weapons ban.
Not only will the White House not make good on candidate Obama's promise to revive the ban or Holder's announced decision to do so, it won't even talk about the assault weapons ban. Not a word. The reason is obvious: Obama and his aides don't want to spark a backlash from the NRA and voters who cling to their guns—especially as Democrats ride toward a difficult mid-term election. On this dicey topic, Obama cares most about ducking a political bullet.
Rand Paul, after winning the Kentucky Republican Senate primary on Tuesday, has run into reality—that is, the gap between his political and policy positions and mainstream notions. The Tea Party darling hit immediate trouble when he defended holding his victory celebration at a private country club by citing Tiger Woods. More serious, appearing on Rachel Maddow's show, Paul noted that he would not have fully endorsed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is because he doesn't support the government infringing upon property rights—such as the right of a business owner to discriminate on the basis of race.
Paul, like his father Ron (the libertarian Republican congressman), fancies himself a strict constitutionalist opposed to globalists and what he and others in the so-called "Patriot movement" call the New World Order. And this view of politics has led Paul to keep unusual company—such as his appearances on the radio show of Alex Jones, an anti-government conspiracy theorist and one of the more prominent proponents of the idea that the Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks.
Jones, who sees big government conspiracies elsewhere, as well, has been an enthusiastic supporter of both Ron and Rand Paul. Both men have appeared on his show, which, of course, doesn't mean they endorse his 9/11 views and other opinions. (Last December, Rand Paul's campaign communications director, Chris Hightower, resigned after a blogger exposed Hightower as an anti-Christian who believed that the US government was responsible for 9/11. The Paul campaign, asked by a local newspaper, if Paul agreed with Hightower on 9/11, said it was a "complicated situation" with "truth on both sides.") But Rand Paul has shown sympathy for Jones' overall view of a world of global conspiracies, and he has expressed support for some of Jones' unconventional ideas.
During a July 23, 2009 show, Jones, decrying the Wall Street bailout, asked Paul, "This isn't really socialism….Isn't this more akin to fascism?" Paul replied, "You're exactly right." Later on the show, while Jones was denouncing cap-and-trade legislation (which he says could lead to "toilet paper taxes") and calling for investigating Al Gore, Paul noted that should the climate bill become law, "we will have an army of armed EPA agents--thousands of them." These EPA troopers, according to Paul, would be free to burst into homes and apartments to determine if they were meeting energy-efficiency standards.
Paul also didn't say anything when Jones raised an odd charge about the Federal Reserve. During a rant about the Fed, Jones claimed "we know that the Federal Reserve was clearly implicated in the kidnapping of a congressman's baby" and commended Paul for his "courage" in taking on the Fed. Paul replied, "I appreciate that," and he told Jones that he could not mount his Senate run "without you."
Throughout this particular show, Paul graciously accepted Jones' support for his pending Senate candidacy. He gave the impression that he and Jones were like-minded foes of the globalists and international financiers plotting to undermine, if not destroy, the United States for their own gain. And Paul noted that career politicians are no match for this enemy force: "the ones that evolve to the top of the Republican and the Democratic Party end up being the people who don't believe in anything…and they get pushed around by the New World Order types."
A month later, Paul was again a guest on Jones' show. "I can't stress enough how important this race for the Kentucky senator is," Jones exclaimed. Paul replied, "You're right."
He came to us, we didn't go to him. That's how Obama White House aides started talking about the soon-to-be former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-to-D-Penn.) hours before he lost the Democratic Senate primary to Rep. Joe Sestak. In politics, this is called running away.
When Specter last year bolted the Republican Party and became a Democrat—when it looked as if he might not be able to win the GOP primary—the White House said that he would have its full support. And the Obama crew did signal it did not want any Democrat, including Sestak, to challenge Specter in the Democratic primary. But Sestak, a retired admiral, wouldn't retreat.
For months, Specter—a politician with much name recognition in the Keystone State—looked like a good bet for the White House. He maintained a double-digit lead over Sestak. But in the final weeks of the campaign, Sestak drew to a tie in the polls. And though Specter's prospects looked bad, experienced political handicappers in Washington still were saying that the party-switcher could pull it out, especially if Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a Specter supporter, could deploy his political machine on Specter's behalf.
But with the race close, the White House did nothing special for Specter. President Barack Obama recorded one robo-call. Neither he nor Vice President Joe Biden campaigned with Specter. It appeared that they had cut him loose. It wasn't pretty. But with 2010 looking ugly for incumbents, especially Democrats, the White House now seems to be hunkering down. Obama and his aides didn't want to take an early hit on this race and come across as politically impotent. (One bit of good news for the Ds: in a special election to fill the Pennsylvania seat of the late Rep. Jack Murtha, Democratic Mark Critz bested Republican Tim Burns. Of note: former President BIll Clinton campaigned for Critz. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party called this the "most significant election contest" of the day.)
Obama's pirouette in Pennsylvania made political sense. But did Obama send a signal: don't trust me? He had said he would put his muscle behind Specter, but in the end he didn't. This might have been best for the party, for Sestak could well be the better Democratic candidate in the general election. And if Sestak wins in November, what Obama did with (or to) Specter won't matter much. For now, though, this one race shows that Obama's endorsement doesn't have much juice (ask Martha Coakley and Jon Corzine about that) and that any promise of support from Obama is vulnerable to political calculation.