Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Offal Office (Final)

"At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favours, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations."--Obama

Says the man who received sizeable campaign contributions from BP. In fact, of all the oil companies who helped place Obama in the circuitous office, BP was the largest supporter. Of course new regulations will be drawn up, and some token fines and wagging fingers will be dished out, but it's all for the assuaging of the public's mood.

"When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problems there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency – Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General.

His charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog – not its partner."--Obama

What Obama should do is hire an overseer (not a bureaucrat or bloated bureacracy) with up-to-date experience, and a long and sustained history, of oceanographic success, as well as one in similar standing with pertinent geological expertise. That way, BP (and other oil companies) can't hoodwink the "independent" watchdogs with bafflegab and cynical good intentions.

Michael Bromwich is a lawyer. He will have to appoint experts in the requisite areas to hold BP accountable. SinceBromwich isn't an expert in these areas, his decisions on who to target, hire, and trust on these issues will be hit-or-miss.

And, as stated earlier, if the expert is studied enough to challenge BP on any indiscretions based on an authoritative understanding of the complexities involved, does anyone actually think BP will allow Obama to put the arm on them?

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels."--Obama

And that's all this hypocrite is doing now. Talk is needed, obviously, though when people simply talk about the oil problem, solutions (and there needs to be many, various, and complex solutions) are all over the map in effectiveness. I was no fan of Jimmy Carter, but at least he dared to invoke the challenge of conservation and preservation to a national audience in the face of rampant consumerism.

What was Obama's campaign talk regarding the energy crisis? Oh, yeah. The worst of the options: ethanol. Terrible energy returned on what is invested, displacement of food crops resulting (already) in famine in India and Mexico, and unscaleable.

"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America."--Obama

Unbelieveable. He actually taps China as an example. China, whose record on regulatory malfeasance is alarming and systemic. Remember the lead-poisoned baby toys? The tainted milk? Yes, the officials responsible were murdered, something that U.S. banking CEOs need not fret about. But if it weren't for public outcry tied to desperately needed export markets, the silence would have been deafening.

China's billion-plus are now the world's leading car purchasers. Coal emissions are choking their urban centres. Environmental degradation is rife.

But of course the greater irony would be hilarious if it weren't so sobering. Obama's regulation-without-results bureaucratic expansion doesn't allow a climate in which small businesses can effectively set up those needed, cutting-edge businesses.

"We cannot consign our children to this future."--Obama

The rhetoric worsens. Obama's already consigned America's children to a future of penury and hopelessness. The foundation was scooped long ago, but the current U.S. president has accelerated the financial nosedive. (Oil scarcity and financial hardship are intimately intertwined. I've talked a bit about it in other posts, but it's beyond the scope of this piece to go into greater depth here.)

"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny."--Obama

Stump rhetoric doesn't quite transform to the oval office. But here comes the meat-n'-potatoes:

"we have already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry.

As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient."--Obama

Unprecedented? I suppose if one confuses niche busyness and self-promotion with knowledge, seriousness, and long-range planning.

Wind turbines. Ha. Wind is a non-starter except for individuals in plains states or just off the ocean in Southern California, or for very small communities. Even here, there are many issues which make it problematic if not impossible for the long-term. As Spain is finding out, maintenance of the turbines is expensive, and needs (wait for it) increasing inputs of oil to run at all. Wind is sporadic, even in areas most amenable to its benefits. Massive areas are needed to build wind farms. It's simply not scaleable as even a minor replacement for oil.

Energy efficient windows. Again, a few drops from a barrel of oil. Efficient windows are very well and fine. Verna and I just installed our house with them last year. Our heating bill fell slightly. More important than energy efficient windows is turning the damn heat off when not around, wearing extra clothing in winter, being naturally more fit so circulation isn't slowed (thereby reducing personal heat), and a number of other mundane but effective options. This falls under the category of common sense. That an acting president is seriously floating these bromides in the face of Peak Oil is inane, and it misses the context in which the speech is given: namely, that oil, while Obama speaks, continues to blacken the ocean.

Small businesses are apparently busy making solar panels. I remember one of Obama's other thousand-and-one speeches given to convince the world what a wonderful job he's doing. He boasted about a single business owner who sounded hopeful about a solar panel start-up. This is the worst sort of anecdotal revelation. First, the entrepreneur was just beginning. Every business owner is hopeful when beginning. It's a prerequisite to counter all the hard work needed to generate momentum. Most businesses fail within the first year of start-up. Secondly, it was one anecdote. For every Arizona solar panel start-up, there are a thousand small organic farming start-ups squashed by the agribusiness behemoths who funded Obama, and who call the shots on subsidies, allowances, district rights, tax relief, and access to markets. The food industry is slightly more important than the energy efficient windows industry, but Obama's deflections will convince a few naive Greenies, I suppose.

Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, according to Obama. That is a lie. National stats just in that SUV sales have increased the last quarter now that gas prices have fallen slightly. By the way, though gas prices will escalate to $4, $5, $9 and more, the more troubling event will be gas shortages. This can happen even when (as has been the case for decades) gas prices are being kept artificially low. And even to mention "energy efficient" cars and trucks is to see just how dangerous is the direction of federal bureaucrats, whether in the U.S. or Canada. Transportation technology is always supposed to be the saviour, but there are very real world and existing technological solutions to much of our travelling needs, namely trains and buses. Bikes, walking, car pooling, cutting out needless jaunts, arranging (if possible) one's environment so that it doesn't require numerous long trips per day. I could go on, but the dirty little secret -- and where Obama already contradicts himself in this speech -- is that energy efficient windows aka energy reduction is just a smokescreen for business as usual with no guilty conscience. What difference does it make if you trot out your garbage to be recycled if the oil-fed plastic in the waste is off the chart? What difference does it make if you buy a car with greater gas mileage if you're just going to be the sole occupant of the vehicle for long drives in the country gazing at the scenery? One looks in vein for a greater vision in Obama's speech, but after the rhetoric has subsided, all that remains are facile good intentions.

"Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that will someday lead to entire new industries."--Obama

More lies. Not "will" someday lead, but "may" someday lead. And we've been hearing that talk for decades, too. The important temporal reality here is that "someday", even were it a given, is still too late. The time to act is not "now", as Obama says, but yesterday. I'm a betting man, and I'll give 10 to 1, against my desires, that after the oil eruption is off the news rolls, sweet dick will be done in any meaningful way, to address the comprehensive, expensive, massively transformative overhaul of energy infrastructure needed to effect any change.

Scientists and researchers have always been working on new energy options, on a scale possible to replace fossil fuels. What the politicians don't want to tell anyone, for fear of getting pitched out on their ears next election, is that all their hard work, ingenuity, and desire, haven't resulted in any meaningful replacement for oil. Whatever discoveries and avenues that have been followed -- hydrogen cells, waste products, carbon sequestration -- have proven to be incompatible with one or all of the following benefits that oil provides by way of price, adaptablility, safety, abundance, reliability, transportation smoothness and quickness, efficiency, storage, and most importantly of all, scale.

I'd go with ridiculously expensive and numerous nuclear plants for the next half-century while continuing to support resources for scientific exploration. Even if the glacial federal powers agreed on implementing the nuclear option, it would take 15-20 years for it to be finalized. And current economic resources, of course, make that far from a guaranteed outcome. The only promising long-term option I see at this point is ocean/wave generation. Research is still in relative infancy; who knows how it'll pan out.

The remainder of Obama's oil slick concentrates on more fluff and bluff. He concludes by exhorting his audience to pray. I knew Baby Jesus was behind one of those oil platforms.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Offal Office (Cont'd)

"This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely."-- Obama

To elaborate on the above with a bit more detail than in my previous response, the jury is not only out on whether or not the relief well will cap the eruption, it is scratching its head over whether or not the spewage will ever be contained and stopped. New reports have delayed the possibility for "success" from late summer to Christmas. Then there is hurricane season to get through. This year's natural Gulf coast assault is projected to be a particularly nasty one, and if a few category fours are in play, not only will relief operations be shelved, but hurricane winds could transport benzene particulates inland and northward many states. In addition, the ongoing video flow of the eruption shows microfractures adjacent to and removed from the gouged origin. The Oil Drum site has a detailed, technical analytic report from a geologist on the possibility that the outburst may never be capped. Furthermore, there are currectly thousands of other Gulf Coast deepwater wells with the same faulty blowout preventers (and other compromised safety components) ready to offer up their dark secrets. Obama suspended all other such drilling (within a week of Okaying it -- so much for foresight), but the problem then becomes one milder in exigent decisiveness, but greater in philosophical direction. I mentioned the Deep Jack deepwater hullabaloo some time ago, and how the "200 year boon" of the "find" in the Gulf was supposed to be a slam dunk. (The story disappeared like hydrogen gas from a leaky valve when the amount, technical plausibility, and pinpointed location of Jack were found to be more hope and hype than fact.) Deep Jack was 13 miles under water; this particular eruption happened at 1 mile. Technical proficiency -- what James Howard Kunstler calls "techno-triumphalism" -- is blindly lauded by most. BP fucked up largely because of economic shortcuts. But at 13 miles, all the safety precautions from a revamped and rewritten regulatory code (not possible anyway under the long-standing system of bought-out politicians) are puny (pardon the bad pun) when drilling is needed in uncharted waters.

"Needed" because, of course, if this disaster has shown us anything besides the greed of multinationals, it's that the low-hanging oil fruit has disappeared, and that next spring won't usher in more petro-apples. Likely, as drilling is suspended, a polluted BP (and other cos.) will rise, phoenix-like, from the bituminous coke and set sail for West Africa where money is not only King but Judge, and the U.S., already looking at the disappearance of 30% of their imported oil from a tanking Mexico-Cantarell, will be forced to rethink motoring-for-fun-and-convenience. The same energy binds apply to Canada, as well, of course. We're always smugly pissing on the wasteful States, but, per capita, Canada is slightly worse in oil usage. The U.S. has 5 % of the world's population and uses 25 % of the oil; Canada's numbers only look mild by total amount since at 1/2 of 1 % of the world's population, we use approximately 3 % of the world's fossil fuels. So, 6 times as much as the norm, rather than 5 times for the U.S.

I'd planned on commenting on the rest of Obama's oval office damage control say-nothingism in this post, but I've only repeated one sound-byte, and still have the rest to go through. More in a day or so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Offal Office

I haven't heard horseshit like this since Baghdad Bob was rousing terrified and bewildered citizens with his witticisms. Unfortunately, the condescending, platitudinal insincerity from The Chosen One lacked the effervescent farce of that man, (who now has his own DVD on the market! -- "We blocked them inside the city. Their rear is blocked.")

"Good evening. As we speak, our nation faces a multitude of challenges."--Obama

No shit, Sherlock!

"At home, our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American."--Obama

What you mean, "our", boss? I thought your biggest priority was to bail out Goldman-Sachs by transferring the remaining wealth of the middle class to the bankers while simultaneously printing more debt to create the illusion of "recovery" which, of course, will simply accelerate inflation and (ergo) systemic poverty and economic collapse. Guess I'm not reading the right hymn book.

"Abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al-Qaeda wherever it exists. And tonight, I’ve returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens."--Obama

Gotta love that metaphor, what? But -- though Obama published two poems during his undergrad days -- he's not a poet, and neither are his speechwriters. An oil spill can't be compared to military combat. Tactics in the former case are often best employed in a drawn-out, infiltrating, subtle geographical coverage; waiting and watching (Obama thought the "important" video intrusion appropriate after 57 days) is not only the wrong course of (in)action, it's dangerous. Options, strategies, organizational wit and forceful mobilizations are imperative. But Obama, as usual, is content in simply appearing to do something. (More on that later.)

"we have directed BP to mobilise additional equipment and technology. In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 per cent of the oil leaking out of the well."--Obama

Each word is important, n'est pas, poets and curious readers, viewers, listeners? "Should" capture, and my favourite, "up to". Of course, "up to 90 per cent" is a correct estimate if dreadnoughts per cent is recovered. The noble-prize winning scientists, the university think-tankers, and the geologists on the federal payroll just may have problems in enforcing their harsh economic solutions onto the BP powers-that-be to implement any of their creative proposals. But politics and energy makes for strange poop deck bedfellows. (And more on that later.)

"This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely."--Obama


"But make no mistake - we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused."--Obama

It's Obama who's mistaken if he thinks the general public, American and world, believes this obnoxious assertion. Yeah, congress can slap a fine of a million or two on BP (equivalent to the rest of us to charging a one-time GST payment on a pack of chewing gum -- wait! can
that plug the hole, perhaps?), but Washington has been slobbering all over the oil leaders' asses pre- and post-spill. Election funding -- and the American-Canadian "way of life" (luv that phrase). Obama is just a middle manager caught in a tight bind, like any other uncreative, compromising, beleaguered business manager trying to satisfy the bosses and his "underlings".

"Because of our efforts, millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods."--Obama

And scientists have now upped the estimate on the leaking oil: between 6 and 9 million litres a day are now spewing free. But to mention that would have been .... churlish, I suppose, in this need for a meaningless sing-a-long.

"If there are problems in the operation, we will fix them."--Obama

Ah, to be sanguine. I had more respect for Cretien after 9/11. At least he was out in the open playing golf, not politics. Federal bureaucrats know dick about stopping oil spills, and about securing the technological procedures in making sure they don't happen in the first place. But they have to put the thumbscrews on oil companies with respect to regulation with teeth. Reagan gutted the regulatory system, Clinton (through repealing the Glass-Steagall Act) put the final nails through the financial coffin, and Obama can't stop playing a sentimental tune on Nero's fiddle.

"Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.

And this fund will not be controlled by BP."--Obama

No, it'll be controlled by federal appointees who, in turn, are comtrolled by BP. If the "independent" overseers make a "suggestion" that BP doesn't like, BP will tell Obama et al about it, and Obama, in turn, will tell the "get tough" boys to cool it. It's the same song and dance between the federal reserve, the U.S. Treasury dept., Congress, the five megabanks, and (not least) the regulatory "powers", all of whom recruit from each other, collude with each other, cover for each other, and share long histories with each other. When Obama retained Geithner and others from the Bush era, did anyone honestly still believe in "change"?

"In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."--Obama

As I say, same as the first party. Party, party, party! No independence day. And who sets the claims? And what is the process and rationale for those claims, in serious consideration and follow-up, firstly, and secondly in amount, duration, comprehensiveness?

"Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, a former governor of Mississippi, and a son of the Gulf, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible.

The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region."--Obama

Obama strategist: "Boss, the oil companies were as popular as firecracker enemas even before this spill. Now? Hey, just keep hammering that mantra home."

Obama: "BP will pay!"

British Petroleum is the fifth largest business in the world. The puny punitive damages possibly inflicted by Obama's administration is laughable contrasted to the natural hit BP (and other oil giants) have been taking during the long, slow decline in world oil production. When (not if) oil companies collapse like whoopee cushions assaulted by Sumo wrestlers' reclining bums, those same executives will simply move to a different area of energy interest, which they will then corner (with the help of massive government subsidies), and for the token (to them) and requisite kickbacks for governmental largesse. The history of Ford Motors, Firestone, the major airlines, and any other company that created and served the suburban build-out were not only encouraged, but inspired with cash, exclusive rights, tax write-offs, and overt destruction of alternative energy infrastructure. Even if BP were forced to liquidate and declare bankruptcy (ha ha), they'd simply resurface under a different name and be back in business, unscathed, with a minor procedural blip. Obama has to stop threatening to get tough. He has to get tough. But, then, as stated, it's obvious why that won't happen.

More on this anon. Time for a long nap.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Of Oil Spills and Left Wing Simplification

The author of this Guardian piece makes an important point as the base for his essay: we focus on the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but aren't even aware of greater environmental disasters of faulty oil infrastructure. Unfortunately, proportion gets thrown out the door, as do several facts in his otherwise speculative exposition, predictable in a topic where misinformation and ideological tunnel-driving are the norm.

Shell Oil aren't saints. They should be held accountable in many ways for the disgusting situation in Nigeria. But the lion's share of the blame goes to the Nigerian government. The country is no longer a colonial beggar but a sovereign state (if one can ignore the porous borders where volatile and enormous crosscrossing migration is necessary due to gangs -- some employed by the government, some by backroom oil company deals, some by the looting class -- and due to a search for the barest necessities caused by environmental devastation, oil and otherwise).

The Niger Delta, says John Vidal, "supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports". This is the Guardian's environmental writer? The correct figure is 12%. He also states that the quality of Nigerian light crude is the world's best. How so? It's no better or worse than any other highly saleable crude from the OPEC bloc, from Russia, from Canada, from Mexico.

But it's the speculative drive of the essay which is most innacurate. "Rebels" attack the pipelines of Nigeria, but the economic strong-arming behind these attacks, which have been ongoing for years, and which have been reported extensively in the media (contra Vidal's assertion), are skirted. In a country where wholesale government corruption forces poor families to tap and siphon oil for individual use and/or sale, and where government workers, already compromised by protecting the rulers' Swiss-bank accounts, also puncture the black goo treasury for personal profit, and where gangs -- both unaffiliated and government-controlled -- also line up at the trough, Shell Oil is just one component in a corruption of staggering complexity.

Despite some feints at objectivity by way of lumping the Nigerian government in with the evil oil conglomerate, the thrust of the essay follows the usual simplification I hear almost every day amongst friends, strangers, and on-line pundits: corporations are the cause of all the world's problems. People want a convenient bogeyman; life is easier that way. We can take a little pill (albeit a bitter one) and go back to sleep.

The fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico happened because of cheap, insensitive safety shortcuts on the oil tanker. I'd also love to see British Petroleum fined, flogged, and festooned with invective. But even in this international media excoriation, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Richard Sanger's CALLING HOME

Richard Sanger's second collection is more assured than Shadow Cabinet, the voice frequently declarative and reveling in its own irony or waywardness. The shaping and unfolding of the various narratives repeats the historical-personal juxtaposition and transposition of his opening volume, but Calling Home is scored with greater depth in a number of fine poems which (I'd wager) become impatient with using social anecdotes as personal parallel, instead creating a closer identification between character(s), speaker, and reader: "Fashion Notes From Paris", "Dispatch", "High Park". The backside contains a few negligible reminiscences, much slighter set pieces that were perhaps inserted as a filling coda or as a tentative desire to unmask multiple personae.