Politics & Social Justice Archive

Gun Violence Is Not Normal. Or Patriotic.

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I’m sitting here in Denver, watching local coverage of yet another mass shooting by a gun nut, this time in a theatre during a midnight screening of the new Batman movie. At this time, 12 are reported dead, 50 wounded. The televised scenes at the theatre and the arrested shooter’s apartment show police who are all heavily armed, all dressed in storm trooper black military uniforms. Only a few miles from the scene of the Columbine shootings in 1999, where 12 students and one teacher were killed, and 21 others wounded, this massacre has rocked Denver.

Just like after the Columbine shootings, the Arizona shooting where Gabby Giffords was critically shot, 8 others killed, and 9 wounded, the Virginia Tech massacre, and the Trayvon Martin shooting, there will be lots of bloviating by pundits on all sides of the gun argument. Politicos will be looking for any reason to advance their personal cause based on the personal circumstances/ideology/politics/mental state of the shooter, all trying to gain some perceived advantage over their political opponents. The fund-raising has already commenced.

My thoughts are beyond those partisan, and mostly irrelevant arguments. I’m focused on what’s happened to the United States as a country. Gun massacres are becoming commonplace. We have jingoistic politicians who have idiotically accused a loyal American with a “funny name” of being some kind of sleeper agent for the Muslim Brotherhood. We stand helplessly by as these politicians, who have signed pledges to outside lobbying groups, hold the nation hostage over ideological hot-button issues on taxes, religious beliefs, and gun politics, all distorted into a weird tapestry of odd beliefs based on myths or outright falsehood. The NRA has been so effective at controlling politicians over gun rights that we, as a nation, cannot stop gun traffic across our own borders, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people. At the same time, those very politicians who have stripped law enforcement of the tools they need to stop the tragic violence, hold the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of Congress for purely political theatre, all centered around a twisted interpretation of the second amendment. And fund-raising.

What the hell has happened to us? Are we this ignorant/negligent that we’ve allowed our country to be dominated by radicals who fight for political power by trying to scare us into a state of constant panic, creating a Darwinian society where we actually believe that we must arm ourselves against other armed people who have scared themselves to the point that they actually believe they need to murder perfect strangers? Every politician who has buckled to the NRA’s checkbook should be ashamed of themselves. Better than that, they should all resign.

It’s time for sane adults to insist that we elect sane adults who will act like sane adults and implement sane policy. There is no reason for us to be the most violent nation on earth (except for maybe Somalia), where gun violence is the norm. There is no reason for us to spend more on guns and the military than all other industrialized countries combined.

This will only happen, though, like every other societal shift, when it comes from the people: you and me ejecting every politician who pledges loyalty to lobbyists over the good of our society as a whole. Until we do this, the violence and insanity will only get worse.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.

What’s Changed About Deepwater Drilling Since Macondo? Not a Lot.

Monday, May 7th, 2012

April 20th at 9:50 pm central time marked the exact time that BP’s deepwater well named Macondo blew out, killing eleven workers, destroying Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon, and putting 5 million barrels of oil into the water 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.  Most of the world has moved on since then, thinking that everything in the Gulf is okey-dokey, and anxious to hear the latest news on Janet Jackson and Dancing with the Stars.  In the meantime, the industry is back to drilling the deepwater, oil continues to come ashore, and deformed seafood has begun to occur in alarming numbers.  And what is our Congress doing about offshore safety?  Going backwards by passing legislation in the House that actually reduces environmental review of new offshore leases.

This blog spent most of 2010 talking about the blowout and subsequent spill, trying to make sense out of the nonsense coming out of BP and much of the media.  Hopefully we helped change the conversation by explaining the mechanics and politics about what was going on.  BP was successful, with the help of the US government, in getting the 24/7 news coverage shut down in July of 2010 when they undertook a dangerous shut-in procedure that exceeded the design capacity of several wellhead components.  Since then, the President’s Oil Spill Commission did a study of the accident, issuing their report, and the Joint Investigation between the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (the old MMS) completed an intensive investigation.

The fault for the blowout was clearly BP’s since they were the operator of record of the Macondo well.  Cultural issues, hubris, and complacency, combined with poor design and poor decision making all collided into the conflagration that was the blowout.  Inexperienced government officials, BP’s obfuscation, and politicians’ desire to get the blowing out off the television made matters worse.  Since then, the government has continued to ignore the extent of the damage, and Americans are either ignorant or uninterested about where their gasoline comes from.  The beat goes on.

Last week, former members of the Spill Commission issued a follow up report about government and industry actions since their initial report was issued.  Congress got the lowest grade, D, for obvious reasons.  Agencies and industry were also graded in various areas.  No one got an A.  The most infuriating fact that the report pointed out was something I’ve been watching in the industry: The Center for Offshore Safety, an independent source for research and work towards better operational safety in offshore drilling.  The model was the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in the nuclear power industry.  Of course, the industry did not support the Center’s formation, but finally complied with the recommendation.  What makes the whole thing silly, though, is that it was formed under the authority of the American Petroleum Institute or API.  The API, which used to be a standards setting organization, has morphed into the largest lobbying firm for the industry.  So.  The Center for Offshore Safety is being run by an organization that opposes improving regulation of offshore safety.

We have a long way to go in improving offshore safety.  Equipment, procedures, and people must all be upgraded to prevent another Macondo.  With a deadlocked Congress, dysfunctional regulators, and uncooperative industry, I fear it will take another Macondo before we actually do something.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.

Arrest of BP Engineer Exposes the Smoking Gun?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Today, the Justice Department arrested a former BP engineer on two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying hundreds of text messages that included details of flow rate calculations of their blown out Macondo well in the days immediately following the Gulf disaster on April 20, 2010, just over two years ago. The engineer, Kurt Mix, was a drilling and completions project engineer who worked on flow rate estimates of the well after it blew out, as well as on efforts to stop the well from flowing, including the Top Kill procedure that was attempted (and failed) during the Memorial Day weekend of that year.

The affidavit filed by the FBI supporting the arrest of Mix contained explosive details about BP’s early knowledge of the well’s flow rate, and that the rate was far more than it was admitting at the time, or ever has, for that matter. You’ll recall that in the early days of the blowout, BP downplayed the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf, even telling the Coast Guard at one point that the well wasn’t flowing at all. When it became obvious that this assertion simply wasn’t true, BP slowly raised the estimate to 5,000 barrels per day, even when industry experts estimated the flow to be far higher. BP’s liability and fines for polluting the water, of course, are based on how much oil was spilled.

The FBI affidavit alleged that the flow rate estimates transmitted in messages that Mix later destroyed were far above BP’s public assertions. For instance, on April 21, 2010, the day after the blowout, Mix estimated the flow rate to be from 64,000 to 138,000 barrels per day. The next day, BP told the Coast Guard the flow rate was zero. According to the document filed today, Mix had done a number of estimates that he communicated to his bosses and to an outside contractor, even estimating on April 29, 2010 a flow rate possibly as high as 146,000 barrels per day.

A key point to note was Mix’s work on the Top Kill. Even though BP publicly stated that they gave the procedure a success probability of 60 to 70 percent, internal discussions alleged in this affidavit were, that if the well flow was over 15,000 barrels per day, the procedure wouldn’t be successful. With Mix’s calculations showing as much as 146,000 barrels per day, it appears that BP attempted the procedure when they knew it would not work, sticking to the 5,000 barrel per day estimate and telling the public that all was “going according to plan”.

I believe that this revelation today could be the beginning of a cascade of disclosures about what BP executives really knew in the days immediately after the blowout. Did they really know the well was flowing far more than they were saying? Did they know the Top Kill wouldn’t work? If these allegations by Justice are true, this story is just beginning.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.

Are We The People Ready for Hurricane Irene?

Monday, August 29th, 2011

At this hour, rain bands are coming ashore at Nags Head, North Carolina. The main body of the storm is expected ashore between 2 and 6 am eastern time. This massive storm is then forecast to run north up the East Coast of the US, crossing Washington, DC, Delaware, New York and Philadelphia, then up into New England and back into the Atlantic over the Maritime Provinces of Canada. I’ve kept the television on all day with one eye on the the stock market and the other on hurricane coverage. The weather coverage, at least on NBC, has been very good (compared to past storms) without most of the silly hyperbole and running around trying to find some wind to stand in for a breathless on-scene report.

My big concern, though, is, are we prepared for a storm that could disrupt the lives of some 65 million Americans? Can we respond as a society to this kind of threat?

That’s a question many are asking, especially in the wake of the disastrous government response of past hurricanes and other natural disasters, and since the government became a target of political ideologues with the stated goal of dismantling essential government services such as was done to FEMA during the past administration. The US government response during the Katrina disaster was shameful, even as some politicians declared that disaster response was a responsibility of local and state governments, even though those governments were virtually destroyed in the aftermath and couldn’t cope with the scale of the destruction.

During the Obama administration, FEMA has been restored to functionality and even has a director who has actual disaster response experience unlike those who ran the agency during the Bush administration. William Fugate, the current director appointed by President Obama, ran Florida’s emergency response program and began his career as a firefighter and paramedic. The FEMA response to the tragic tornadoes and floods this last spring were a world away from anemic responses prior to him taking office in May 2009. Since Fugate took the helm at FEMA, he has been working diligently to repair and rebuild the tarnished agency.

Which brings us back to the main question: can FEMA along with state and local governments respond to a potential disaster the size of Hurricane Irene? I believe the answer is maybe, since a storm like this that is threatening such a huge area and millions of people is virtually unprecedented. It does appear though, that state agencies and FEMA are cooperating, and emergency teams and supplies have been pre-positioned to move in. Hopefully the damage won’t be as extensive as feared, and the response, run by competent administrators, will be timely and appropriate.

Some politicians, notably extreme conservatives, oppose any government intervention. Ron Paul today railed against FEMA and remarkably compared today’s response capability to that of Galveston’s after the 1900 storm that destroyed much of that city. During his diatribe before television cameras in New Hampshire today, Paul declared,

“We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960. I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.”There’s no magic about FEMA. They’re a great contribution to deficit financing and quite frankly they don’t have a penny in the bank. We should be coordinated but coordinated voluntarily with the states. A state can decide. We don’t need somebody in Washington.”

In making his statement, Paul conveniently left out the tiny detail that a documented 6,000 people died in the Galveston storm in 1900 and approximately another 2,000 disappeared off the face of the earth, probably swept out to sea. He also ignored the fact that during natural disasters, local governments are often crippled and state governments stretched beyond their capability to take control. The critical omission from his assertion was when he said that Galveston built the seawall (implying all by itself) when a good portion of the wall was actually built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Last time I checked, the Corps is a federal government agency.

Conservative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made similarly bewildering comments after the Virginia earthquake earlier this week, declaring that government response to that event would only occur if corresponding cuts were made in other spending. These guys don’t seem to comprehend that the time for ideological rhetoric and threats of spending cuts is not when our citizens are being threatened by disasters beyond their control.

The real tragedy here is that the ones who almost always suffer the most in natural disasters are those who can least afford it: the working poor and the middle class. As costs have skyrocketed the last 20 years, many of those in these socioeconomic classes have had to give up or cut property insurance and health insurance. Without out those essential safety nets, invariably all of the burden to rebuild their personal lives would fall totally to them.

These disasters are an opportunity to bring into clear focus the real issue that lays before us. That issue is about the role of government. Many anti-government forces have successfully staked out territory that asserts that the “free market” cures all ills, which it doesn’t. They declare that the government can’t do anything right (except for winning 2 World Wars and going to the Moon in less than 10 years), and that it should be shrunk down to the size that it can be “drowned in the bathtub“. These same ideologues take hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from those they help, while voting against their own constituents.

We need to decide who we are as a society. Unlike the ideologues, I don’t believe that the government is some “Other” run by enemies of freedom as they so often like to declare; I do believe that the government is us, and that’s its destruction is the real threat to freedom. Because I believe that, I also believe that, as a society, we have an obligation to work for the common good. We need to provide not only for those who need help, like storm victims and the sick, but also to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity for a decent standard of living and the safety net of healthcare and Social Security.

We are the richest nation in the world (if we don’t move all the wealth to China) and can certainly meet these basic goals. But, we can only do that if we hold our leaders responsible. We have allowed our system of government to devolve into a continuous cycle of election and re-election, where our representatives are focused only on the money it takes to get them re-elected, and doing the bidding of those who give the money. We can hold them accountable, though, and it’s high time that we do that.

Reposted from The Huffington Post, where you can comment on the original.

disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.

Tests on BP Well Blowout Preventer Confirm Redesign a Necessity

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Yesterday, the Department of Interior released Det Norske Veritas’ (DNV) report on the forensic testing that it conducted on the blowout preventer (BOP) that failed to shut in BP’s blown out Macondo well almost a year ago.  I’m still going through the 500-plus page report to find answers to my many questions about the failed BOP, but I do agree with the over riding recommendation to the industry from DNV:

“The finding of these studies should be considered and addressed in the design of future Blowout Preventers and the need for modifying current Blowout Preventers.”

DNV was addressing a recommendation to the industry that it study the causes and results of “elastic buckling” of the drill pipe within the Macondo BOP that pushed it to the side of the wellbore, preventing the blind shear ram, or the ram that is supposed to cut the pipe and seal the well, from doing so.  During the time of the blowout, the forces within the well were so strong that it lifted the drill pipe, causing it to buckle and push over to the side of the BOP bore, positioning it outside of the shearing faces of the rams.

The long-delayed DNV report is very thorough and highly technical.  I’ve been wading through it for several hours and will write about some of their more detailed conclusions in a later post, but I wanted to make this one key point right now:  The US Government is currently issuing permits to drill knowing full well that operators are using blowout preventers that are insufficiently designed to shut in blown out deepwater wells.  I have been talking about this fatal flaw for months now.  The industry and Gulf Coast politicians have been applying unrelenting political pressure on the government to let deepwater drillers go back to work, and it has rationalized its capitulation saying that the industry has demonstrated its ability to contain deepwater blowouts with new equipment designed to do that.  That’s not really true, of course, since this new equipment is untested in real life conditions.  Add this to the now well documented flawed BOP design, and we have another potential catastrophe on our hands.

I fully understand the many issues surrounding further delaying drilling the deepwater.  Thousands of jobs hang in the balance and our dependence on foreign oil is expanding above already dangerous levels.  Since our elected leaders have failed for over 40 years to establish a comprehensive energy policy, our need for deepwater development has become critical to allow us to maintain at least some control over our own energy destiny.  The elephant in the room, though, is the now documented unreliability of subsea BOPs.  It is an incontrovertible fact, and one that the industry will argue vociforously against, that we are going back to work in the deepwater with unsafe equipment.  Since the government is issuing drilling permits anyway, it is critical that they be issued only to operators who have virtually unblemished track records in the deepwater.  Thankfully, the first new drilling permit was issued last week to Shell, who represents the gold standard in deepwater operations.  You’ll recall that during the height of the crisis last summer, BP’s decisions and design were unfavorably compared to those of Shell’s.  Shell getting this first permit gives me some level of comfort, but it is just one of about a dozen deepwater operators.  I’m not as comfortable with others.

Until we face the fact that we have been driven into the deepwater because of our lack of a national energy policy, and learn from the failures in the previous catastrophe, we are only doomed to repeat that very same catastrophe.

Read the original post on The Daily Hurricane.

disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.

Breaking: Rove’s White House Operation Violated Federal Law

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Reported by Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, federal investigators have found widespread violations of the Hatch Act, which forbids political activities by government employees, in the Office for Political Affairs headed Karl Rove during the Bush II administration.  From the report:

“In 2006, the partisan political activity of OPA staff was not incidental to the functions of the office. Instead, the OPA Director and Deputy Director focused the time and energy of OPA staff to help advance the Republican Party’s electoral prospects, thereby transforming the office into a setting akin to a political boiler room. Because bolstering candidates’ campaign efforts and helping advance a political party’s electoral prospects is not something that the government would have paid for otherwise, U.S. Treasury funds should not have been used to pay for this political activity. Using U.S. Treasury funds to finance such activity, including employees’ salaries, violated the Hatch Act.”

Will Rove finally get his? Of course not.

Read the original post on The Daily Hurricane.

disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.