Mojo - June 2010

The One Thing BP Got Right (and Other Oil Blurbs)

Plus hubris, hurricanes, avatars, and other stuff you discover while drilling for oil spill insights.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 8:48 PM EDT

While, uh, drilling for angles on the BP spill, I stumbled across the following ad in PetroMin, an oil industry trade magazine.
 

An ad from PetroMin magazine
This seemed somehow fitting. Just yesterday the Obama administration—desperate to cap the pipe spewing oil into the Gulf at a rate of up to 798,000 gallons per day—met with Avatar director James Cameron, whose Titanic experience made him an expert on doing stuff underwater. Shadarian, an Iranian company that makes pipeline-repair products, apparently preferred a more Avatar-esque theme. The weirdest thing, though, is the slogan: "Challenging The Perfection."

Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?

BP, for its part, has challenged the perfection that was offshore drilling's near-term prospects. Said prospects are exactly what PetroMin associate editor Vishnu Pillai gushes about in the trade rag's April-June issue, which clearly hit the presses before "blowout preventer" became a household phrase. He writes:

The search for oil and gas has, over many decades, moved from great plains of land to coastal areas and now even into deepwater areas. Yet the industry still believes that there will be no crisis in the foreseeable future. The industry faces the challenges of environmentalists who claim that the planet is being pillaged to assuage the greed of oil companies on a constant basis, faces the challenge of finding new sources of hydrocarbons and faces the challenge of being economically and operationally viable at the same time. Despite such pressing challenges there is that undeflatable air of optimism that is proudly hung across the industry like badge of defiance.

Pillai then explains why the optimism is warranted:

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WikiLeaks' Sketchy Origins

Did WikiLeaks get its start with online snooping?

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 6:56 PM EDT

The New Yorker has a fascinating new profile of Julian Assange, the mastermind behind WikiLeaks. Raffi Khatchadourian's piece is full of revelations about the enigmatic hacker-turned-"open-government activist", from details of his peripatetic childhood to an exclusive glimpse of Assange at work on the "Collateral Murder" video of an American Army helicopter shooting journalists and civilians in Baghdad.

Check it out—but also check out MoJo's controversial profile of Assange by David Kushner, which has just been updated and expanded. Like Kushner, Khatchadourian concludes that Assange's attempts to shine light on evildoers while lurking in the shadows is deeply contradictory: "The thing that he seems to detest most—power with accountability—is encoded in the site's DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution."

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in the New Yorker story is its discussion of how WikiLeaks got its start. When WikiLeaks was in the planning stages in 2006, Assange said that he had more than 1 million documents; a claim that convinced Cryptome founder Jon Young that Assange was either exaggerating or up to no good. But now it seems that Assange did have his hands on a large, questionably obtained, cache of material. Khatchadourian reports that one WikiLeaks activist had access to a "tranche" of secret government documents obtained by Chinese hackers. The documents had been pulled off of Tor, the anonymizing network that WikiLeaks now encourages its leakers to use to stymie "internet spies." According to the New Yorker, WikiLeaks posted only a few of those swiped documents. If it's accurate, this anecdote raises some serious ethical and technical questions about how WikiLeaks operates. Does WikiLeaks condone this kind of online snooping? Has it relied upon it since its launch? Just how many of the senstive documents it's posted were genuinely leaked and how many were hacked?   

Anti-Choicers Target Blacks in Georgia

Anti-abortion activists still using race to get support from black Georgians.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 5:35 PM EDT

Emblazoned with slogans like "Black & Unwanted" and "Black Children Are An Endangered Species," a second wave of anti-abortion billboards aimed at black women hit the Georgia cities of Macon, Savannah, and Augusta on Friday.

The 60-ad campaign, which first launched in February but was removed by pro-choicers, is part of a growing rumor (pushed by activist groups) that abortion clinics target black communities with the sinister aim of eradicating black people. Members of this race-based branch of the anti-abortion movement cite Margaret Sanger’s eugenics ties, the seemingly large number of Planned Parenthood clinics in minority communities, and the fact that black women have more abortions than other racial groups as evidence that racist intent underlies the pro-abortion movement. Ryan Bomberger, a representative from the Radiance Foundation, one of the billboards' co-sponsors, told Mother Jones that "for the most part, most people make decisions about abortions based on false rhetoric. Part of that is that no one wants these [black] children."

If unwanted children are really the problem, adoption and parenting are mentioned on Planned Parenthood's site, but curiously not on the billboards. Plus, in 2008 there were 9% fewer black children awaiting adoption than white children. As for Planned Parenthood targeting black communities, according to spokesperson Diane Quest about six percent of the organization's health centers are located in zip codes that have a black population of more than fifty percent. Quest told me that race does not factor in to Planned Parenthood locations, but a lack of affordable reproductive, family planning, and health services in an area does.

"Mexicano Mask": Racist Gringos Fire Back

If you thought the "Gringo Mask" was offensive, you ain't seen nothing yet.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 5:30 PM EDT

Well, huh. It appears the culture war over immigration has spawned a new journalistic beat: The culture war over race-based masks.

Regular MoJo readers will recall the controversy that broke out last month over Florida-based Zubi Advertising's "Gringo Mask," which was intended as a playful, not-for-profit show of solidarity with brown people who are likely to be targeted for arrest under Arizona's "Papers, Please" law, SB 1070. Zubi backpedaled on the promotion when it was inundated with angry calls from gringos; apparently, anti-immigration forces feared the racial underclass was getting too, um, uppity.

But Zubi's comeuppance wasn't denouement enough for some self-styled conservatives, like the dudes who run a website called "I Hate the Media" (and if they think they're getting gratuitous link love, they're dreaming). They took time out from their busy schedule of breast-beating over "Sestakgate" just long enough to Photoshop themselves a "Mexicano Mask." And if you thought the Gringo Mask was offensive, you ain't seen nothing yet. Here, in their own words:

Last week a Florida advertising agency created Gringo Masks designed to help illegal aliens pass as legal American residents.

Now IHateTheMedia.com has created Mexicano Masks™ designed to help legal American residents leach off the welfare system, overwhelm our public schools, overrun emergency rooms, crowd our criminal justice system, swamp our jails, and work without paying taxes. After all, who wants to look like an oppressive, racist gringo when there are so many reasons not to?...

"The spirit in which we conceived Mexicano Masks™," the spokesperson continued, "is definitely to offend people. The time for dialogue is long gone."...

NOTE: Neither rubber band nor green card is included.

Well, they're clearly right about one thing: It's hard to start a dialogue with someone who thinks brown people sit at home thinking up new ways to "swamp our jails." That's more the M.O. of Arizona legislators.

Also, guys, it's "leech," not "leach." You must have been overwhelmed by immigrants during the English lessons in your public schools, eh?

Bobby Jindal: Oil Spill Hero or BP's BFF?

The media's green darling once proposed planting Deepwater Horizons coast to coast.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 4:27 PM EDT

In the ongoing fight against the Gulf's oil gush, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has emerged as the media's unlikely man of the moment. Politico notes that the Republican governor has "flung himself into the crisis, enduring dawn to dusk hearings on the fine points of the spill." According to The New Republic, Jindal has "quickly mastered the details of the issue" and "displayed the kind of smarts and ideological flexibility that we should applaud in our leaders, no matter the party."

Of course, Jindal hasn't limited himself to mopping things up; he's also doing more than anyone else in the GOP to tar the White House's disaster response. He claims that the federal government lacked a detailed response plan, still hasn't filled a request that he made in early May for more boom to contain the oil slick, and is pointlessly preventing him from building barrier islands that he says would protect the state's marshes (a line of attack echoed by none other than Sarah Palin). After meeting with Obama on Friday, Jindal told Fox News that "we don't understand why our federal government would be making excuses for BP."

Jindal's outrage is understandable and even admirable in the sense that he's not afraid to sound like an environmentalist. But the media's panegyrics have ignored Jindal's own weak response to the oil spill and his outsized role in promoting the kind of regulatory cutbacks and dangerous offshore drilling policies that are now wrecking Louisiana's economy.

In February, 2006, while serving as a member of the GOP-controlled US House of Representatives, Jindal introduced the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act. Passed by the House a few months later, the bill would have opened up the entire US coast to offshore oil drilling. States could override the law and ban rigs in their territorial waters, yet the law would let them share lease royalties with the federal government--a strong incentive to drill. Adjacent states would have little say in the matter (clearly a problem, given that BP's spill has marred several states' coastlines). On the risks of deepwater drilling, the text of Jindal's bill is comically pollyannaish:

(4) it is not reasonably foreseeable that . . . development and production of an oil discovery located more than 50 miles seaward of the coastline will adversely affect resources near the coastline;

(BP's Deepwater Horizon rig is located 50 miles from the coast, and of course would have devastated the Gulf even if it was further out to sea).

More Bad Climate News

The current reductions commitments won't do the trick.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 10:46 AM EDT

Tired of all the bad news from the Gulf of Mexico? Well, let's change the channel and look at what's happening in Bonn, where the UN is holding its latest climate change meeting. This is a follow-up session to last December's Copenhagen gathering, where the United States, China, and other major emitters of global warming gases banged out a last-minute accord separate from the UN proceedings. Under that deal, these nations (developed and developing) pledged to make voluntary emissions cuts in line with keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Throughout the Copenhagen negotiations, island nations and many countries in the developing world, particularly African states, had called for binding cuts with a 1.5-degrees Celsius target, contending that anything above that would mean catastrophe for them. But the major polluters ignored their demand, saying essentially, "we'll cut what we can to reach 2 degrees." And they came up with an international registry, where nations would state their reductions pledges.

No surprise, this may not work. Research released today by three climate groups—the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Ecofys, and Climate Analytics—suggest, as they put it, that "current pledges by countries around the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficient to keep global temperature rises below the 2°C agreed in the Copenhagen Accord." These research outfits note that

even if Nations go further than they did in Copenhagen and agree to halve emissions by 2050, there would still be about a 50% chance that warming exceeds 2°C and it would almost certainly exceed 1.5°C, which is the target set by the Small Island States and Least Developed countries. This is a stark finding given that it is probable that nations will only meet the lower ends of their emissions pledges.

In other words, oh boy. Such research only sets up a bigger fight to come in Cancun at the end of the year, when the nations of the world are supposed to complete the unfinished work of Copenhagen.

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The Rise of the Anti-Amnesty Hispanic Republican

America's first Hispanic female candidate for governor triumphs by running to the right on immigration.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 10:40 AM EDT

New Mexico District Attorney Susana Martinez has become the country’s first Hispanic woman to be nominated for governor by either Democrats or Republicans—and she triumphed in Tuesday’s GOP primary by taking a hard-right stance on immigration. During the contest, Martinez attacked her leading opponent, former state GOP chair Allen Weh, for being soft on the issue. Martinez seized upon Weh’s support for George W. Bush’s guest worker proposal for non-citizens as proof that he backed “amnesty.” Weh, who received Karl Rove’s backing in the race, dismissed the attack, saying that he opposed any pathway to legalization. But Martinez, who picked up Sarah Palin’s endorsement, continued to hammer away at Weh on immigration in television attack ads to bolster her hardline credentials.

Martinez’s right-wing views on immigration and other social issues mirror those of another ascendant Hispanic Republican and Tea Party favorite—Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who’s aired similar criticisms of “amnesty” and also supports Arizona’s harsh immigration law. Though most Latino voters strongly disagree with such views, the conservative base has rallied behind both candidates. Backers include a donor behind the “Swift Boat” campaign against Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential run, who made a hefty contribution to Martinez.

Kentucky Politicos Rip Rand Paul

The Senate aspirant's peers in the Kentucky Senate criticize Paul's civil rights gaffes.

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 6:30 AM EDT

Add this notable group to the growing list of Rand Paul critics and opponents: the Kentucky Senate. On Friday, the lawmakers in that state's Senate passed a resolution rebuking Rand Paul, the GOP candidate for Kentucky's open US Senate seat, for his questioning of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while expressing their full support for the landmark piece of legislation. The resolution said in part, "Suggestions have appeared recently that we retreat from the core values of the protection of equal rights of the citizens of the United States"; the resolution characterizes these suggestions as "outside the mainstream of American values" and believed by only an "extreme minority of persons in the United States."

The resolution attacks Paul for his remarks last month in which he blanched when asked whether he fully supported the Civil Rights Act, which banned segregation. Paul's wavering caused a firestorm in political circles and in the media, and likely led to a recent shake-up on Paul's campaign staff, with the replacement of his campaign manager. While a little behind the news cycle, the Kentucky Senate's resolution further compounds the fallout from Paul's gaffes, which appear to have taken a toll on Paul's support. Yesterday, a Rasumussen survey in Kentucky reported that Paul's lead over Democratic opponent Jack Conway had shrunk to 8 points, with Paul earning 49 percent and Conway 41 percent. That's a precipitous drop from a few weeks ago, before Paul's civil rights comment, when he led Conway by 25 percent.

Here's more from McClatchy on the Kentucky resolution:

In interviews with national media outlets, Paul has cited this part of the law as an example of the government overreaching, although he also has said that he would have voted for the law if he were in the U.S. Senate at the time.

“Here is an individual from Kentucky speaking nationally on a fundamental value, a fundamental right enshrined in our laws, and there had been no official response on behalf of Kentucky,” Neal said. “I felt it was important for our institution to say that not everybody here agrees with the ideological positions put forward by Mr. Rand Paul.”

Neal said he filed his resolution last Wednesday under a procedure that listed all senators present as co-sponsors unless they objected. Nobody objected over the next two days, he said.

“Senate leadership clearly knew what was going on, they were paying attention,” Neal said. “I talked to the majority floor leader. There was no opposition.”

Williams, the top Republican in Frankfort, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. Williams last week said Paul is not a racist, but he is too young to remember the history that made the Civil Rights Act necessary.

“When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Rand Paul was 2 years old,” Williams said. “Those of us who lived during that time period — I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to know that some things in the United States had to be changed.”

Feds' Criminal Probe of BP, and More Oil Spill News

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

We've been keeping close tabs on the environmental horror show unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. MoJo human rights reporter Mac McClelland and environment reporter Julia Whitty are on the scene at the oil spill, tweeting and blogging as run BP's corporate blockade, while Kate Sheppard reports on the politics of the spill. The big news yesterday was the Department of Justice's announcement that it's launching a criminal probe into the oil rig explosion, and that and that the federal government is weighing both criminal and civil penalties for the disaster. Read more here.

Sample tweets from our reporters in the Gulf:

@MacMcClelland: Even on the beach we're allowed on, there are tar piles big as a 5-yr-old. And this beach was already cleaned today. #BP

@JuliaWhitty: Remember the book On the Beach? Nuclear fallout wafting towards the last survivors? That's what today on the Mississippi coast felt like.

More coverage:

  • BP Hires Cheney's Press Flack: Anne Womack Kolton will serve as the new "head of U.S. media relations" as the company deals with the PR disaster of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf. Kolton was Cheney's press secretary during the 2004 campaign, and then moved to a job in public affairs at the Department of Energy.
  • As Hurricane Season Kicks Off, Gulf Oil Worries Grow: Tuesday was the first day of what's expected to be a bad hurricane season. Especially worrisome, since hurricanes imperil the thousands of miles of oil pipelines that snake across the Gulf. The storms also threaten to churn up the millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf, pushing the slick further on land and spreading it out over a larger area.
  • How BP, MMS Ignored Spill Warning Signs: New documents show that both BP and federal regulators at the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service had plenty of warning that the drilling operation at the Macondo well site was plauged with problems.
  • Hollywood to the Rescue: Believe it or not, Kevin Costner and James Cameron have some interesting ideas. But, um, why didn't BP think of them first?

For more up-to-the-minute updates on the spill, check out our BP coverage and the Blue Marble blog. You can also follow Mac McClelland, Julia Whitty, Kate Sheppard, and the Blue Marble on Twitter.  

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 2, 2010

Wed Jun. 2, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter flown by aviators from Task Force Falcon carry a sling-loaded I-beam from the World Trade Center and display an American flag above Parwan province, Afghanistan, on March 31. The beam, which is nine-feet long and two-feet wide and weighs more than 950 pounds, was donated to the U.S. military by the residents of Breezy Point, N.Y., through an organization called Sons and Daughters of America, Breezy Point. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Spencer Case.