2010 - %3, May

Who's Trying to Kill New Orleans?

| Tue May 4, 2010 2:33 PM EDT

Everyone does seem to be feeling a bit besieged around here. The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac thinks it might be because Houston's taken a hit out in a sexy jealous rage.

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NYT Ignores Source's Oil Industry Ties

| Tue May 4, 2010 2:22 PM EDT

The New York Times had a page one story today quoting a source downplaying the impacts of the Gulf spill. "The sky is not falling," Quenton R. Dokken told the paper. They list Dokken as "a marine biologist and the executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, a conservation group in Corpus Christi, Tex."

But the Times failed to mention that the source and his innocuous sounding foundation have numerous ties to the oil industry, including those at fault in the Gulf spill. Mother Jones alum Marian Wang, now at ProPublica, has the scoop:

At least half of the 19 members of the group’s board of directors have direct ties to the offshore drilling industry. One of them is currently an executive at Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded last month, causing millions of gallons of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.
Seven other board members are currently employed at oil companies, or at companies that provide products and services “primarily” to the offshore oil and gas industry. Those companies include Shell, Conoco Phillips, LLOG Exploration Company, Devon Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Company and Oceaneering International.

Read the whole post at ProPublica.

Why Was Cheney in Saudi Arabia?

| Tue May 4, 2010 1:59 PM EDT

[UPDATED] Foreign Policy's David Kenner pointed out Monday that former vice president and ex-Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney just went on a junket to meet with Saudi Arabian leaders, a quiet pow-wow that's been discussed in the Saudi media but not so much over here. Cheney—who's been busy defending torture and complaining that Barack Obama lets world leaders "think they're dealing with a weak president"—weakened the president by visiting a leading torture regime and its caliph, King Abdullah.

So, what was the ex-veep doing in Riyadh?

The obvious answer would be: something financially advantageous. Cheney, who oversaw the Saudi staging of Gulf War I, has always maintained good relations with the kingdom and its elites—relations that certainly came in handy after the war, when his oil-services and all-around shady operation, Halliburton, won lots of US and Saudi contracts to help extract the kingdom's petroleum wealth—and buttress its national defenses.

But those sorts of financial entanglements—and high-level contacts—can quickly deteriorate into policy interference. Which wouldn't be new territory for Cheney, who as CEO helped Halliburton skirt international and US terror sanctions on trade with Iran in order to make a quick buck.

If his Saudi expedition is intended in any way to undermine the US administration's foreign policy—and his track record here isn't great—then some politicians might argue he's skirting the law...the longstanding Logan Act, to be exact. Mind you, nobody's ever been prosecuted under that act, which prohibits private citizens from setting US foreign policy. But just a few years ago, Cheney's GOP colleagues in Congress constantly used the Logan Act to threaten Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, and even promulgated ethical guidelines on foreign post-employment activities for Republican politicians. (Cheney and fellow GOPers may not have read those guidelines, though, since the link to them seems to be dead.)

Look, it could be nothing. Richard Cheney, whether he's a nice guy or not, whether he's right or not, is entitled to his travels and meetings. And he's probably got a lot more friends in that desert-straddling medieval-style theocracy than he does in these United States. The least he could do is keep his countrymen in the loop. But hey, why start now?

The Plessy Next Door

| Tue May 4, 2010 12:50 PM EDT

The wireless networks that pop up when I open my computer in the Northwest Carrolton neighborhood (which I just found out has its own blog) I'm staying in are way more interesting than the names at home in San Francisco. Specifically: plessy. Turns out my temporary next-door neighbors are relatives of, yes, that Plessy, the plaintiff in Plessy vs. Ferguson. Turns out, also, that one day one of these Plessys ran into Phoebe Ferguson (yes! Great-great-granddaughter of that Ferguson!), and they decided to start a foundation and now they give talks about reconciliation together. Bonus Plessy trivia: One of the Plessy descendants was featured as Playmate of the Month in an issue of Playboy several years ago, and if you befriend my neighbors, they'll show you a copy. (For more [and way more important] details about Plessy vs. Ferguson, I recommend Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.)

Nelson Pledges to Filibuster Climate Bill With Drilling

| Tue May 4, 2010 12:49 PM EDT

Anti-drilling Democrats pledged on Tuesday to block any climate and energy bill that would pave the way for new oil and gas drilling off the coasts of the United States, stepping up the heat on what was already a contentious issue in the Senate debate.

"Any proposal for offshore drilling is dead on arrival," said Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and one of the most vocal opponents of plans to expand drilling. "If offshore drilling is a part of it, this legislation is not going anywhere."

"If I have to do a filibuster ... I will do so," said Nelson.

Nelson joined New Jersey Democrats Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg in a press conference on Tuesday calling for a halt to plans to expand drilling as proposed by the Obama administration, and also exploration of new regions for oil and gas development. They also called for the Senate climate and energy bill, which remains on hold amid political wrangling, to stop an expansion of drilling. What that bill may do to expand or incentivize more drilling is one of the more contentious issues among senators. Pro-drilling Democrats like Mary Landrieu have said that the incentives for drilling are crucial to getting their votes.

Menendez said Tuesday that the spill should be an impetus for the Senate to act on climate and energy, rather than an a barrier. "I would like to think that instead of hurting climate change, the spill has actually thrust into light why we in fact are demanding an end to dependence on fossil fuels, demanding an end to polluting our planet," said Menendez.

"If anything this spill should act as a rallying cry for comprehensive climate and energy legislation," he continued. "Instead of expanding drilling and doubling down on 19th century fuels, we should be investing in a new 21st century green economy."

Quote of the Day: Obama on McCain

| Tue May 4, 2010 12:40 PM EDT

From Barack Obama, after witnessing first hand John McCain's complete bewilderment over the financial implosion during a White House meeting shortly before the 2008 election:

Maybe I shouldn't be president. But he definitely shouldn't be.

Roger that.

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Is America Just an Oversized Ireland?

| Tue May 4, 2010 12:14 PM EDT

In a review of Fintan O'Toole's Ship of Fools, a book about the boom and bust of the Irish economy, Henry Farrell summarizes the pathologies of Irish political culture and then concludes:

Yet is American politics so very different? Irish politics is profoundly shaped by perceptions regarding the difference between those who have influence within the system and those who are relegated to the periphery....This is as plausible a description of the United States as of Ireland. In the U.S. system, too, the broad imperatives of globalization are marshaled by well-connected and "untouchable" business interests to defeat regulatory oversight, of the financial system and elsewhere. The American version of these interests is less roughly spoken than its Irish equivalents, and wears better suits, but otherwise it is not very different from the forces that brought Ireland to near collapse. If Ireland once seemed like a miniature America, America looks increasingly like an oversized Ireland. A comparison that was once all too self-congratulatory now has disturbing implications.

I had a hard time staying interested in Ship of Fools even though it's a short read. That's not because it's an especially bad book — though I would have preferred a little bit more analytical meat to go with the unrelenting outrage — but because if you covered up the names you could have fooled me into thinking it was just another book about America's financial collapse. If O'Toole is to be trusted, the only real difference is that American politicians will generally be prosecuted if they're caught in obvious and provable corruption while Irish politicians aren't. Beyond that, though, the political culture is pretty much the same, the financial culture is pretty much the same, the real estate boom was pretty much the same, and all the rhetoric that supported it was pretty much the same.

Obviously that's not O'Toole's fault, and certainly the details are often interesting in their own right. But basically, "Ireland was a mini-America" pretty much sums up the whole thing. Move along, nothing to see here.

Mirandizing the Times Square Bomber

| Tue May 4, 2010 11:17 AM EDT

Matt Steinglass on the arrest of Faisal Shahzad for the attempted Times Square bombing:

One unanswered question: will anyone bother trying to drum up a ridiculous controversy over whether or not the FBI read Mr Shahzad his Miranda rights when they arrested him? I predict not.

Matt wrote that around 7 am this morning. Within minutes, John McCain was on Imus.....drumming up a ridiculous controversy over whether or not the FBI read Mr Shahzad his Miranda rights: "Obviously that would be a serious mistake," he said. "Don't give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it's all about." Village idiot Peter King chimed in too. Others will undoubtedly follow.

But then, just to upset everyone's applecart, when Fox & Friends tried to get some mileage out of this pseudo-controversy this morning, Glenn Beck pushed back: "He's a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the constitution," he said. So now Glenn Beck is a voice of reason within the conservative movement? My world has been turned upside down.

Tallying Up the Cost of Gasoline

| Tue May 4, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

Jon Chait talks about the externalities associated with oil drilling and gasoline use:

Most public attention has focused on the cost of emitting carbon into the atmosphere, but the costs of cleaning up the inevitable spills, and the military foreign policy costs of enriching petro-states, which tend to be unfriendly, and having to secure foreign oil supplies are highly significant. If all these costs were paid at the point of sale, people would switch to other energy sources.

If you were to sum up the cost of IQ losses from leaded gasoline (now gone, of course, but the effects live on), the asthma epidemic among today's kids, military protection of the Middle East, global warming, garden variety smog, plus all the more prosaic things like traffic jams and so forth, I wouldn't be surprised if the real cost of a gallon of gasoline would have to go up by three or four dollars to pay for it all. Hell, if the BP blowout ends up costing, say, $5-10 billion, which isn't an unreasonable guess at this point, that's a nickel a gallon just for that.

On another note, William Galston has a piece here speculating that the real blame for the blowout ultimately rests with Dick Cheney. I sort of hope that turns out to be true. It would restore my faith in the proper workings of the universe.

Tuesday's Primary Elections

| Tue May 4, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

It's been a crazy news week. Between the BP oil spill in the Gulf and the attempted terrorist attack in New York City, it's been easy to forget about the crucial primary elections happening today in Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher are pushing through the final hours of a bruising Senate primary. Fisher is ahead in the polls, boosted by a big ad blitz and the support of Gov. Ted Strickland, but Brunner is the favorite of party liberals. The winner will take on Rob Portman, George W. Bush's budget director, who's sitting on a $7.6 million war chest.

In Indiana, former Senator and longtime Washington lobbyist Dan Coats is the favorite to win the GOP nomination to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Dem Evan Bayh. But Coats' DC ties make him damaged goods, and some Republicans worry that a narrow win in the primary could damage their candidate.

Elsewhere in the Hoosier state, Rep. Dan Burton faces a titanic struggle in the Republican primary for the seat he's held for nearly three decades. He won his 2008 primary by just seven points and faces four challengers this year. Most observers think Burton's only hope is if the other candidates split the vote against him, allowing him to squeak through with mere plurality support. Rep. Mark Souder, another Republican, also faces a tough primary. And former Rep. Mike Sodrel, who beat incumbent Dem Baron Hill on his second try in 2004 before Hill took the seat back in 2006 (and won again in '08), is trying to win the GOP nod for a very unusual fifth shot at Hill.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, three Dems are battling for the right to run against incumbent Sen. Richard Burr. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and state Sen. Cal Cunningham are the two candidates most likely to garner more than 40 percent of the vote. If one of them can pass that barrier, he or she won't have to deal with a contentious—and expensive—runoff in June. Marshall is the favorite of liberals, but Cunningham has the most support from the DC establishment. Whoever wins will have a decent shot at Burr. North Carolinians don't much like incumbent senators—no one has been re-elected to the seat currently held by Burr since Democrat Sam Ervin won his last race in 1968.

Can Marshall in North Carolina or Brunner in Ohio win one for liberals? Will Coats win easily in Indiana? The results tonight will help us get a better picture of what November's most hard-fought races are going to look like.