Saturday, April 23, 2011

Impact of Gulf Spill Persists

Impact of Gulf Spill Persists

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In New Film, Residents of the Gulf Say Impact of Spill Persists

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout last year, BP repeatedly misled the public about how much oil was spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. Now, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the blowout, company executives would like us to believe that the spill has been cleaned up and the Gulf of Mexico is back to normal.

The people who actually live along the Gulf Coast tell us something different.

In a powerful new documentary airing on Saturday on Planet Green called 'Stories From the Gulf,' residents make it clear they are still suffering the aftermath of the largest oil spill in American history.

The movie is based on interviews produced by NRDC and Bridge the Gulf and recorded by Story Corps. I had the opportunity to provide the opening narration for the film, but most of the voices come right out of the Gulf.

Finally, the people whose voices were so often drowned out by BP's multimillion dollar PR machine have a chance to speak for themselves.

They describe the struggle to feed their families after fishing grounds were closed and tourism dried up. Captain Darla Rooks talks about the persistent rashes, headaches, and other illnesses she's experienced after coming into contact with oil and dispersants.

Rosina Philippe laments the dead porpoises and star fish she still sees washing ashore. Eric Tiser says, "I've been in the bayou my whole life, and ain't never seen so much dead stuff in the last six months."

These Gulf Coast residents also worry what the spill will do to the future health of marine life. "My community is a fishing community," says Wendy Billiot. "And we're concerned about the long-reaching effects that the dispersants are going to have on the seafood. Are the fish going to continue to follow their life cycles? Are they going to grow past the larval stage? How much of all of these natural resources are going to be affected long-term? I think it's a lot of question marks."

Uncertainty weighs heavily on most of the people in the film. "I never thought at the time that it would impact us the way it has," says Ryan Lambert. "After 30 years of building the largest guide business on the Gulf Coast, here we are down 90-something percent, we're going to have to rebrand and put the perception that everything is fine. But how do you do that if you don't know that it's fine?"

Listening to people describe how much the bayou means to them, you realize how painful it must be not to know if their way of life can survive. But to know that the damage was wrought not by the caprice of a hurricane but by the greed and negligence of oil companies is just plain infuriating.

Numerous investigations, including President Obama's National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, found that while BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made many reckless decisions before the blowout, the entire oil and gas industry lacks a culture of safety and risk assessment. The federal government, in turn, lacks the power and capacity to oversee offshore drilling.

The oil industry, the government, and Congress must take steps to strengthen the safeguards that protect workers and the Gulf environment. America, meanwhile, must reduce the addiction to oil that drives companies into ever riskier conditions, like the deepwater.

But even as we put these changes in place, we must not disregard the people on the frontlines of this spill. We must not minimize their struggle or the sense of loss and sorrow that persists to this day.

Instead, we should listen to what they have to say.

Jobless rate for young workers in US highest since 1948

Jobless rate for young workers in US highest since 1948

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This year’s graduates, from both high school and college, face a “dire labor market” with no safety net, a briefing paper released Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) warned. The report by the think tank notes that the unemployment rate in 2010 for young workers age 16-24 is the worst since this data has been tracked in 1948.

The report is a devastating refutation of the Obama administration’s talk of an “economic recovery.” Since 2007, unemployment rates for young people ages 16-24 not attending school roughly doubled. Compared to the official overall unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in 2010, the rate for that age group is roughly double, at 18.4 percent.

While high school graduates have been hardest hit, the unemployment rate for young college graduates is more than double the rate of college graduates 25 and older.

The paper, entitled “The class of 2011: Young workers face a dire labor market without a safety net”, presents a bleak picture for young jobseekers. Not only is unemployment highest among youth, there are no social programs to address their needs.

Additionally, over half of all college graduates from both public and private schools are burdened with at least $20,000 of debt. These are from 2009 figures. In the summer of 2010 the total debt from student loans overtook that of credit card debt for the first time in the US. Tuition has been rising drastically over the last two years, so the average student debt today is significantly higher.

The report details the lack of any social safety net for youth:

“Unemployment insurance (UI), the traditional assistance program that offers cash benefits to partially replace lost wages when a worker is laid off through no fault of their own, has strict eligibility requirements. A new entrant to the labor market is simply not eligible, no matter how scarce jobs are. Even those who have been laid off from a job must meet state requirements for wages earned and/or time worked during an established reference period. Young workers often fail these eligibility requirements due to their more intermittent attachment to the labor market.

“Furthermore, programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), also known as welfare, have work requirements and are only applicable to parents with children. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, does allow for able-bodied adults without dependents to collect benefits, but only for three months in a 36-month time period. Also, programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are one of the many ‘work support’ systems in which eligibility requires employment.”

The rate that unemployment has risen among high school graduates is record-setting. The increase since 2007 “dwarfs the two prior recessions. In neither the 1990 nor 2001 recession did the 12-month moving-average unemployment rate for this group ever exceed 14.0%.”

The paper says that indicators show that youth are not “sheltering” in school to weather out the economic crisis. “While it is appealing to think that school can provide safe haven from a desperate labor market,” it is not evidenced by enrollment statistics.

The rate of “disconnected youth,” that is youth who are neither employed nor enrolled in school, increased to 17.6 percent in 2010. These conditions, where young people are both unable to find work or afford to attend school “or worse saddled with student loan debt,” have forced them to find support from parents and other family. The percentage of young people living at home has been spiking since 2007 and in 2010 is as high as it was in the late 1990s. “Needing family support makes young workers a burden” on the economy, the study says, requiring resources that would otherwise be spent elsewhere.

As bad as the unemployment rates for the 16-24 age group are, those for minority young workers are worse. While the overall jobless rate for high school graduates in that age group is 22.5 percent, it is 20.3 percent for white, 22.8 percent for Hispanic and 31.8 percent for black youth. The report notes that in times of economic downturn, the disparity of unemployment rates for minorities increases.

These figures understate the reality of the situation facing young people. Official unemployment rates are based on the number of workers actively seeking work through the channels that the states provide. Since social programs are virtually non-existent for young people, the figures are necessarily conservative.

The report correctly points out the lack of opportunities for young workers is not a matter of a lack of education or skills, a theme that is repeatedly peddled by the Obama administration and the news media. High unemployment among youth, it says, “did not arise because workers don’t have the right skills,” but “the class of 2011 is one of the many casualties of a lack of demand for workers in the overall economy.... The fact that the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has been well over 16% for two years straight underscores how premature is a deficit debate that fixates on deep cuts in federal spending.”

EPI is a liberal think tank, associated with the AFL-CIO. On this basis its report concludes, “to give a fighting chance” to young people, “we should focus the discussion on substantial additional stimulus spending to create jobs.”

Not only has the Obama administration rejected out of hand a second stimulus package, let alone any government-funded jobs program, it is now embarking on a brutal austerity campaign that will slash whatever meager benefits young workers retain.

Mass unemployment is not an accident but a deliberate policy. The government and corporations are deliberately creating a “new normal” of mass unemployment in order to force young workers to accept poverty-level wages. These are the conditions that are driving the young generation into social struggle.

Budget austerity and democracy

Budget austerity and democracy

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A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Wednesday documents the vast gulf between the sentiments of the great majority of working people in the United States and the policies of the financial aristocracy who control the Democratic and Republican parties. (See “As Obama reassures financial markets, public opposition grows to budget cuts”).

The poll found huge majorities opposing any cuts in Medicare (78 percent) and Medicaid (69 percent) and supporting increased taxation on the wealthy (72 percent). Meanwhile, in elite circles, such policies are completely ruled out. There is not a single major political figure in either of the two parties controlled by big business who advocates the views held by better than two-thirds of the American people.

This divergence is all the more remarkable given that there is zero support in the corporate-controlled mass media for such flat-out opposition to the budget cuts. The parameters of the official debate are set by President Obama, ostensibly representing the “left,” who proposed $2 trillion in social spending cuts last week, and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan on the right, whose budget plan called for $6.2 trillion in cuts, including the dismantling of Medicare and Medicaid. The “center” is supposedly represented by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission appointed by Obama, which proposed $4 trillion in cuts.

The views voiced by the huge majority of those interviewed in the Washington Post/ABC News poll make clear the deep class differences which even the most strenuous media manipulation cannot cover up. American working people understand that without Medicare and Medicaid the elderly and the poor will be thrown on their own resources when it comes to health care. The result will be widespread illness and premature deaths on a colossal scale.

Moreover, working people instinctively reject the claims that “there is no money” to sustain the provision of health care, Social Security, education and other vital public services. They see the evidence of the vast wealth accumulated by the American financial aristocracy, as well as the trillions made available from the federal treasury for the Wall Street bailout when it was a matter of the health of the banks and hedge funds, not the health of human beings.

Hence the support for tax increases on the wealthy across all political affiliations: 91 percent of self-identified Democrats, 68 percent of independents, even 54 percent of Republicans. The only social demographic that did not support an increase in taxes on those making $250,000 a year or more was that high-income bracket itself.

The official budget debate amounts to a conspiracy against the American people. The Democrats and Republicans, abetted by the major media outlets, depict major spending cuts as inevitable, and portray opposition to the gutting of vital social programs—local, state and federal—as an irrational longing for the impossible. As right-wing pundit George Will pontificated, defending the Ryan plan to abolish Medicare, “Medicare is threatened, not by Mr. Ryan, but by Mr. Arithmetic.”

It would be more correct to say, “Medicare is threatened by Mr. Wall Street.” Ryan, like Obama, is a political shill for the most powerful corporate and financial interests, who are demanding the destruction of federal social spending to place the burden of the 2008 Wall Street crash and the ensuing economic slump on the backs of the working class.

After running in 2008 as the supposed candidate of “hope” and “change,” Obama continued the bailout of the banks begun by Bush. Untold trillions of dollars were made available to the financial system, and Obama then launched a health care “reform” program that directly undermined Medicare, cutting $500 billion in projected spending for the medical needs of senior citizens.

When the Republicans attacked the Democrats during last year’s election campaign for cutting Medicare, the Democrats had no answer to the charge, because it was true. The result was a large swing among elderly voters towards the Republican Party. This, combined with the collapse of the Democratic Party vote among young people and minority workers, allowed the Republicans to take control of the House of Representatives.

Having gained office in many cases by posturing as defenders of Medicare, the House Republicans have now rallied around the bill offered by Ryan that abolishes the program entirely. Obama has countered the proposed privatization and effective abolition of Medicare by proposing an additional $1 trillion in cuts in the program. That is the “choice” now offered the American people by the two-party system.

Concerned over the rising opposition from the masses, Wall Street is demanding that the cuts go forward regardless of popular sentiment. That was the substance of the warning issued this week by the bond-rating firm Standard & Poor’s, which declared that unless there was a bipartisan agreement on massive spending cuts in place before the 2012 election, it might downgrade the value of US government bonds for the first time in history.

Wall Street is demanding that the Democrats and Republicans in Washington follow the example of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, enacting savage austerity measures over the opposition of the population. To ensure that the American people have no say whatsoever, the financial interests want deficit reduction as an accomplished fact before the 2012 campaigns begin.

The result of this process of continual betrayal of the interests of the working people is the discrediting of the entire two-party system. The Post/ABC poll found 58 percent disapproval of how Obama has handled the federal budget and 64 percent disapproval of the performance of the congressional Republicans. Obama’s overall approval rating is at 41 percent in the Gallup poll, the lowest of his presidency, while the overall approval of the Republicans barely tops 30 percent.

The resources needed to provide good-paying jobs, education, health care and retirement security exist in abundance, but they have been monopolized by a tiny layer of wealthy parasites at the top of American society.

Working people should reject the cuts and fight every attempt by the financial aristocracy to make them pay for the crisis of the profit system. The struggles of workers, however, will come into direct conflict with the corporate and financial aristocracy, which is determined to impose these cuts regardless of popular sentiment. This means that the interests of workers can be advanced only through the fight against this ruling class and the economic system it defends, capitalism.

Western-backed militaries use bullets and guile

Western-backed militaries use bullets and guile

While NATO and the Pentagon continue to wage war on the government of Libya in the name of protecting civilians and promoting democracy, elsewhere throughout North Africa and the Middle East the entrenched ruling classes that have long served these imperialists are continuing to attack protesters with impunity in the name of order and stability.

The bloodiest repression is taking place in Yemen, a country of close to 24 million people that borders Saudi Arabia and Oman. For three months massive protests in many parts of Yemen have demanded the ouster of the military-head-turned-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has ruled for 31 years, most of that time over North Yemen, before the north and south unified in 1990.

Saleh’s response to the protests has been bloody repression. In Sana’a, the capital, tens of thousands of protesters have been occupying the central square, now called the Square of Change, despite attacks from troops and out-of-uniform goons.

According to the Yemen Post, a total of 3 million women and men gathered in 16 provinces on Friday, April 15, demanding an end to the Saleh regime. The largest gatherings — more than 800,000 each — were reportedly in the cities of Sana’a and Taiz.

At the same time, Saleh rallied his supporters at a different square in the capital. Saleh has strengthened his repressive state by aligning himself with Washington’s “war on terror,” especially after a U.S. Navy ship, the Cole, was bombed in a Yemeni port in 2000. Saleh’s alliance with Washington and his support for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made him increasingly unpopular.

Evidently trying to curry favor with the Islamic population, he told the pro-government rally that it was immoral and against Islamic law for women and men to be “mixing” in the mass protests against him. Saleh’s speech was a huge miscalculation.

On Saturday, April 16, “Millions of Yemeni women and men took to the streets of the capital Sana’a and other cities to condemn the speech of President Saleh to his supporters on Friday, in which he harmed the honor of the Yemeni women,” wrote the Yemen Post.

The women chanted, “Shame on you, Saleh, we are here revolutionists” and “We are clean and our gatherings with our brothers, men and boys are just to oust you.”

A British reporter observed, “Yemen is in some ways as deeply conservative as its neighbor Saudi Arabia in its attitude to women, with the full face veil being normal wear. However, there is a tradition of women’s education, while women are also allowed to vote and drive, unlike in Saudi Arabia. Women students and academics have taken a leading role in protests.” (The Telegraph, April 18)

The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, a Marxist regime that held power in the south from 1967 until the downfall of the Soviet Union, at which time it agreed to merge with the north, had made great strides in women’s rights and in education for the masses.

On Sunday after the very large protests, troops opened fire on a march in Sana’a, wounding at least 15 people. (New York Times, April 17) Even before this latest clash, at least 116 people had reportedly been killed by government forces since January. (Al Jazeera, April 17)

In the kingdom of Bahrain, repression against the people’s movement has intensified since the intervention of more than 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia, invited in by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to keep power. After firing on crowds of protesters, killing and wounding many, the troops are now destroying mosques of the Shi’a majority in what is seen as an attempt to divide the movement along sectarian lines.

“The harshness of the government repression is provoking allegations of hypocrisy against Washington, London and Paris,” writes Patrick Cockburn from Cairo. “Their mild response to human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian armed intervention in Bahrain is in stark contrast to their vocal concern for civilians in Libya.” (The Independent, April 18)

In Egypt, where the military remains in power after promising elections, prosecutors announced that three former top government figures have been charged with corruption: Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali and Minister of the Interior Habib Al Adly.

Former President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled after weeks of massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square, is ensconced in a military hospital because he allegedly suffered a heart attack during interrogation. His hated intelligence czar, Omar Suleiman, who briefly succeeded Mubarak as vice president and then became head of the new Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has quietly dropped out of the spotlight.

The universal popular demands for prosecution of Mubarak and his cohorts for brutal crimes against the people have yet to be realized. And the state of emergency he used to justify his harsh measures remains in force. The struggle continues.

Depleted uranium weapons used while imperialists plot oil theft

Depleted uranium weapons used while imperialists plot oil theft

The U.S./NATO war against Libya’s people and government reveals every day that there is no such thing as a humanitarian war carried out by imperialist states against post-colonial countries.

Even United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate ceasefire in the North African state of Libya. Western-backed rebels and the combined military forces of the United States and NATO have engaged in a sabotage and bombing campaign designed to topple the government of Moammar Gadhafi.

In the western city of Misrata, an ongoing battle for control of the area resulted in the deaths of 17 people on April 17. In the eastern city of Ajdabiya, Libyan military forces routed rebel units, whom people saw fleeing back towards their stronghold in Bengazi.

Both U.N. and Libyan governmental officials said on April 18 that they had reached an agreement to allow aid workers to travel safely to Misrata. It was also announced that a U.N. humanitarian presence would be established in the capital city of Tripoli. (VOA, April 18)

Ironically, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 provided the political and legal rationale for U.S./NATO bombing operations over Libya since March 19. In that time thousands of civilians have been killed, and many more have been injured.

NATO countries and their client allies involved in the war against Libya have held meetings in London, Berlin, Doha, Qatar and Cairo, Egypt, all demanding that the Libyan government be overthrown. Some NATO countries — Germany, Turkey and Spain — have voiced skepticism about finding a military solution.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement April 16 charging that the Libyan armed forces had used cluster bombs in Misrata. The Libyan government immediately denied the charges and challenged HRW to prove them. (AFP, April 17) No casualties from cluster bombs have been confirmed in Misrata.

The U.S. produced and used cluster bombs during the war against Vietnam, and also in Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan from the 1990s through the early years of the 2000s. The Israeli Defense Forces used cluster bombs while bombing Lebanon in 2006. Neither the U.S. nor Libya has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, adopted in Dublin, Ireland, in 2008 and signed by 108 countries.

Getting less publicity in the corporate media or from human-rights organizations is the U.S. use of depleted uranium weapons in Libya. The Pentagon’s denial of reports of U.S. use of DU weapons has been met with skepticism, especially considering U.S. use of the A-10 Tankbuster aircraft there. Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “We continue to seek a cast-iron guarantee that depleted uranium has not been used and will not be used in Libya. The U.S. has a long history of only admitting to deploying this radioactive material months or years after it has been used.” (Herald Scotland, April 3)

Experts on the usage of DU weapons have insisted that based upon news video footage of U.S./NATO strikes on Libyan tank columns, one can see that these materials are being used in the war. The U.S. has launched shells, bombs and cruise missiles containing DU in the past. These easily penetrate and burn through heavy armor and fortifications. In addition, water and soil are contaminated with the use of DU weapons.

It has been well-documented that the health and environmental impact of DU weapons are devastating.

The use of DU weapons when the U.S. destroyed the city of Fallujah in Iraq reveals that there have been horrendous health conditions resulting from the U.S. military deployment of these materials. Fallujah represented a stronghold of resistance to the U.S. military invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003-2004. High rates of infections, birth defects and cancers have been reported that are the direct result of the use of DU weapons.

Economic basis of the war

Libya has the largest known oil reserves on the African continent and substantial reserves of natural gas and other strategic resources.

From the early days of the rebel attacks on the Libyan government, the Western imperialist states froze assets of tens of billions of dollars belonging to Tripoli. In addition, the imperialists have established mechanisms for the theft of Libyan oil from areas being contested by the rebels and governmental forces.

A rebel official, Wahid Bughaigis, has been appointed as the “oil minister” for the so-called Transitional National Council, which seeks to replace the Libyan government. As a result of battlefield damage, two major oilfields in the east of the country, at Messla and Sarir, have been largely out of operation for several weeks.

The rebels accused Libyan military forces of deliberately disabling the operations of the oil fields. However, the Libyan government has blamed U.S./NATO air strikes for the damage done to the oil fields, which have a production capacity of 400,000 barrels per day.

During early April the Gulf state of Qatar, which is participating in the U.S./NATO war against Libya, facilitated the sale of 1 million barrels of crude that reportedly brought in $120 million for the rebel forces. Consequently, the theft of Libyan oil is well underway, illustrating one of the real objectives behind the U.S./NATO war against the North African state.

As the war against Libya continues, the opposition within the region and inside the imperialist states is escalating. Since the national demonstrations in New York and San Francisco on April 9-10, which opposed the current war against Libya as well as all other U.S. military occupations and proxy wars around the world, demonstrations have continued throughout the country and the world.

On April 16 the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice in Detroit held a community speakout against the U.S./NATO war on Libya. Representatives from various organizations condemned the war and pointed to the failure of the U.S. and the U.N. to take any action to halt the atrocities being committed against civilian populations in Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, all of which are Western-backed states.

The wars of occupation and the support for the repression and exploitation of peoples throughout the world represent the desperation of the Western imperialist states, which are facing the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. These wars will only be ended by the mass, organized opposition of workers, youth and other oppressed peoples uniting across various nations and regions throughout the globe.

Privacy Protection and the Secret State's Surveillance Powers

Privacy Protection and the Secret State's Surveillance Powers

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Call it another virtual "defense" of privacy rights by U.S. lawmakers.

In the week of April 11, senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate, the "Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011," they claimed would "establish a framework to protect the personal information of all Americans."

During a D.C. press conference, McCain told reporters that the proposed law would protect a "fundamental right of American citizens, that is the right to privacy."

While Kerry and McCain correctly state that "The ease of gathering and compiling personal information on the Internet and off, both overtly and surreptitiously, is becoming increasingly efficient and effortless due to advances in technology which have provided information gatherers the ability to compile seamlessly highly detailed personal histories of individuals" (p. 4), there's one small catch.

CNET's Declan McCullagh reported that the bill "doesn't apply to data mining, surveillance, or any other forms of activities that governments use to collect and collate Americans' personal information."

While the measure would apply to "companies and some nonprofit groups," CNET disclosed that "federal, state, and local police agencies that have adopted high-tech surveillance technologies including cell phone tracking, GPS bugs, and requests to Internet companies for users' personal information--in many cases without obtaining a search warrant from a judge" would be exempt.

As we know, a gaggle of privacy-killing agencies inside the secret state, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as offices and subunits sprinkled throughout the Pentagon's sprawling bureaucracy, including U.S. Cyber Command, all claim authority to extract personal information on individuals from still-secret Office of Legal Counsel memoranda and National Security Presidential Directives.

As the American Civil Liberties Union reported in March, what little has been extracted from the Executive Branch through Freedom of Information Act litigation is heavily-redacted, rendering such disclosures meaningless exercises.

For example, the bulk of the November 2, 2001 21-page Memorandum for the Attorney General, penned by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Yoo, which provided the Bush administration with a legal fig-leaf for their warrantless wiretapping programs, is blank. That is, if one ignores exemptions to FOIA now claimed by the Obama administration. (B1, b3, b5, exemptions relate to "national security," "inter-departmental communications" and/or programs labelled "TS/SCI"--Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, the highest classification).

And, as of this writing, the American people still do not have have access to nor even knowledge of the snooping privileges granted securocrats by the Bush and Obama administrations under cover of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI).

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, CNCI derives authority from classified annexes of National Security Presidential Directive 54, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (NSPD 54/HSPD 23) first issued by our former "decider."

Those 2008 presidential orders are so contentious that both the Bush and Obama administrations have even refused to release details to Congress, prompting a 2010 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) demanding that the full text, and underlying legal authority governing federal cybersecurity programs be made public.

McCullagh points out that the bill "also doesn't apply to government agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, the Census Bureau, and the IRS, which collect vast amounts of data on American citizens."

Nor are there provisions in the bill that would force federal or state agencies to notify American citizens in the event of a data breach. No small matter considering the flawed data security practices within such agencies.

Just last week, InformationWeek revealed that the "Texas comptroller's office began notifying millions of people Monday that their personal data had been involved in a data breach. The private data was posted to a public server, where it was available--in some cases--for over a year."

"The posted records," we're told, "included people's names, mailing addresses, social security numbers, and in some cases also dates of birth and driver's license numbers."

None of the data was encrypted and was there for the taking by identity thieves or other shady actors. InformationWeek pointed out although "most organizations that experience a serious data breach" offer free credit monitoring services to victims, "to date, Texas has not said it will offer such services to people affected by the comptroller's breach."

CNET reminds us that the "Department of Veterans Affairs suffered a massive security breach in 2006 when an unencrypted laptop with data on millions of veterans was stolen."

McCullagh avers that "a government report last year listed IRS security and privacy vulnerabilities" and that "even the Census Bureau has, in the past, shared information with law enforcement from its supposedly confidential files."

The limited scope of the Kerry and McCain proposal is underscored by moves by the Obama Justice Department to actually increase the secret state's already formidable surveillance powers and short-circuit anemic privacy reforms that have been proposed.

In fact, as Antifascist Calling reported last week, during hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Associate Attorney General James A. Baker warned the panel that granting "cloud computing users more privacy protections and to require court approval before tracking Americans' cell phones would hinder police investigations."

But even when it comes to reining-in out-of-control online tracking by internet advertising firms, the Kerry-McCain bill comes up short.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, the Kerry-McCain bill won't stop online tracking by advert pimps who hustle consumers' private details to the highest bidder.

The civil liberties' watchdogs aver, "the privacy risk is not in consumers seeing targeted advertisements, but in the unchecked accumulation and storage of data about consumers' online activities."

"Collecting and retaining data on consumers can create a rich repository of information," EFF's legislative analyst Rainey Reitman writes, one that "leaves consumer data vulnerable to a data breach as well as creating an unnecessary enticement for government investigators, civil litigants and even malicious hackers."

Additionally, the proposal is silent on Do Not Track, "meaning there is no specific proposal for a meaningful, universal browser-based opt-out mechanism that could be respected by all large third-party tracking companies," and consumers "would still need to opt-out of each third party individually," a daunting process.

Worst of all, consumers "won't have a private right of action in the new Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights. That means consumers won't be granted the right to sue companies for damages if the provisions of the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights are violated." In other words, even when advertising firms and ISPs violate their users' privacy rights, the bill would specifically prohibit individuals from seeking relief in the courts.

Moving in for the Cybersecurity Kill

While the Kerry-McCain bill would exempt government agencies from privacy protections, the Defense Department is aggressively seeking more power to monitor civilian computer networks.

NextGov reported that General Keith Alexander, the dual-hatted commander of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency said that his agency "cannot monitor civilian networks" and that congressional authorization will be required so that CYBERCOM can "look at what's going on in other government sectors" and other "critical infrastructures," i.e., civilian networks.

Mendacity aside, considering that NSA already vacuums-up terabytes of America's electronic communications data on a daily basis, reporter Aliya Sternstein notes that Alexander "offered hints about what the Pentagon might be pushing the Obama administration to consider."

"Civil liberties and privacy are not [upheld] at the expense of cybersecurity," he said. "They will benefit from cybersecurity," available only, or so we've been led to believe, from the military, well-known for their commitment to civil liberties and the rule of law as the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning amply demonstrates.

Cyberspace, according to Alexander, is a domain that must be protected like the air, sea and land, "but it's also unique in that it's inside and outside military, civilian and government" domains.

Military forces "have to have the ability to move seamlessly when our nation is under attack to defend it ... the mechanisms for doing that have to be laid out and agreed to. The laws don't exist in this area."

While Cyber Command currently shares network security duties with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as I reported last year, a Memorandum of Agreement between DHS and NSA, claims that increased "interdepartmental collaboration in strategic planning for the Nation's cybersecurity, mutual support for cybersecurity capabilities development, and synchronization of current operational cybersecurity mission activities," will be beneficial.

We were informed that the Agreement "will focus national cybersecurity efforts, increasing the overall capacity and capability of both DHS's homeland security and DoD's national security missions, while providing integral protection for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties."

But as Rod Beckström, the former director of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC), pointed out in 2009 when he resigned his post, he viewed increased control by NSA over national cybersecurity programs a "power grab."

In a highly-critical letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Beckström said that NSA "effectively controls DHS cyber efforts through detailees [and] technology insertions."

Citing the agency's role as the secret state's eyes and ears that peer into America's electronic and telecommunications' networks, Beckström warned that handing more power to NSA could significantly threaten "our democratic processes...if all top level government network security and monitoring are handled by any one organization."

Those warnings have gone unheeded.

National Defense Magazine reported that retired Marine Corps General Peter Pace, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "would hand over the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity responsibilities to the head of the newly created U.S. Cyber Command."

Seconding Pace's call for cybersecurity consolidation, under Pentagon control, Roger Cressey, a senior vice president with the ultra-spooky Booz Allen Hamilton firm, a company that does billions of dollars of work for the Defense Department, "agreed that putting all the responsibility for the federal government's Internet security needs would help the talent shortage by consolidating the responsibilities under one roof."

"The real expertise in the government," Cressey told National Defense, "capable of protecting networks currently lies in the NSA."

Cressey's is hardly an objective opinion. The former member of the National Security Council and the elitist Council on Foreign Relations, joined Booz Allen after an extensive career inside the secret state.

A military-industrial complex powerhouse, Booz Allen clocks-in at No. 9 on Washington Technology's list of 2010 Top 100 Contractors with some $3.3 billion in revenue.

As Spies For Hire author Tim Shorrock pointed out for CorpWatch, "Among the many services Booz Allen provides to intelligence agencies ... are data-mining and data analysis, signals intelligence systems engineering (an NSA specialty), intelligence analysis and operations support, the design and analysis of cryptographic or code-breaking systems (another NSA specialty), and 'outsourcing/privatization strategy and planning'."

With "data mining, surveillance, or any other forms of activities that governments use to collect and collate Americans' personal information" off the Kerry-McCain "privacy" bill table, as CNET reported, enterprising security firms are undoubtedly salivating over potential income--and lack of accountability--which a cybersecurity consolidation, Pentagon-style, would all but guarantee.

BP oil spill: Forgotten but not gone

BP oil spill: Forgotten but not gone

A year after BP's gulf oil disaster, the national focus has long since moved on. Our fraying attention span matches the loss of our common will to act on shared problems.

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From April into midsummer last year, Americans watched BP's oil spew from the seafloor into the Gulf of Mexico with outrage and guilt that came to feel like a chronic stomachache.

Then, on July 15, it stopped. And within a couple of weeks the bad feelings for a lot of us stopped too. There were reports that the surface oil was quickly disappearing. There was a government study that hopeful journalists misinterpreted to mean that most of the oil was gone.

But the oil wasn't gone, and it still isn't. Tar balls are washing around the gulf. Marshes are dying. Scientists say it's still too early to know the greatest share of the spill's environmental damage.

"The media left, so everyone assumed that meant the oil was gone too," said Aaron Viles of the Gulf Restoration Network in New Orleans.

The nation flits from one spectacle to the next with ever-accelerating speed, but the processes of nature unfold at their same, deliberate pace. Quick, superficial information alienates us from the ecosystems that sustain life, and that's made it more difficult to solve environmental problems.

The rate at which environmental disasters recede in our collective rearview mirror marks how fast the culture is moving. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 stuck in our consciousness much longer than BP's spill. Alaska's disaster happened in March; in August it was still major national news when Exxon tried to back off on needed cleanup efforts — the spotlight forced the company to promise more work. Public attention on the Alaska mess kept Congress focused until historic oil spill legislation passed, a year and a half after the accident.

Going back to an even slower time, historians credit the Santa Barbara blowout and oil spill of 1969 as starting the modern environmental movement. Images of oiled animals stuck around long enough to mobilize the public and power legislation and policy for years. Results included the Clean Water Act (1972), a beefed-up Clean Air Act (1970), the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) and the first Earth Day (1970).

Now, the anniversary of the BP spill comes with a feeling of "Whatever happened to…?" Legislative efforts have stalled, and they're not particularly ambitious anyway. The BP spill spawned a commission, but its recommendations to Congress have been ignored.

Viles calls the situation "this national ADD about environmental issues." The attention deficit has many causes. Scholars have documented reduced interest in environmental issues when the economy is down. Storytelling biases also play a role. The story "Oil is still there" doesn't thrill like a starlet's fresh scandal or the predicament of the Chilean miners, which in August 2010 pulled the spotlight away from underwater oil plumes and potential gulf dead zones.

Compared with 1969 and 1989, the news cycle is on fast-forward, and our information sources are fractured. "Now it is so much easier to turn the page or click the channel and not have to deal with this stuff," said Anthony Leiserowitz of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, "because we're creating these self-reflective mirrored halls where we don't have to see anything we don't want to think about."

Our disintegrating attention span matches our disintegrating common will to act on shared problems, at least at the national level. The country has needed federal policy on energy and climate change for decades, but that seems further away than ever. And even the largest oil spill in history, shown live on TV, couldn't spawn a national discussion about our energy sources.

But we do still act at the local level, where people still share knowledge and sustained interest. The newspapers of the Gulf Coast have stayed with the oil spill story, in all its complexity. Viles' Restoration Network has brought together 46 concerned groups to guide response and prevention efforts.

On climate change, as well, action has happened locally, in communities, cities, states and public-spirited businesses. University of Colorado policy scientist Ronald D. Brunner maintains that that's how it has to work: Social change must always precede dramatic political change.

Brunner has studied how communities that are empowered to deal with environmental threats tend to make the right decisions. Examples are diverse, including preparing for floods in the Midwest and dealing with melting permafrost in the Arctic. The key is giving those who live in an ecosystem the power to care for it.

That's an idea that has worked in Alaska, where post-spill legislation set up a well-funded local advisory council that has monitored oil handling in Prince William Sound and fought for improvements — like powerful tugboats to escort tankers all the way to open ocean — that have demonstrably prevented another accident.

We can't count on the federal government to stop disasters, because we can't count on the media or ourselves to pay attention to all the risks that face us as a nation. But community by community, we can watch over our own land and water. And we can demand that the nation respect our decisions.

10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Disaster

10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Disaster

1. BP is gunning to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. When the Department of Interior issued its first deepwater permit since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it was for a well that BP owns half of. Earlier this month, company officials also announced that they are seeking an agreement with the US government to resume drilling at their 10 deepwater wells in the Gulf this July, arguing that they will follow tougher safety rules, the New York Times reported earlier this month. This comes even as the government is said to be considering manslaughter charges against the oil giant for the deaths of 11 workers last year.

2. People are sick. Nearly three-quarters of Gulf coast residents that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental justice group, polled this year reported health concerns that they believe are related to the spill. Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.

3. Fish and other sea life in the Gulf are still struggling after the disaster. The death toll for dolphins and whales in the Gulf may have been 50 times higher than the number of bodies found, according to a recent paper in Conservation Letters. Earlier this year, a large number of dead dolphin calves were found on the coast, and scientists have linked many of those deaths to the oil disaster. Anglers are also reporting dark lesions, rotting fins, and discoloration in the fish they're catching in the Gulf, as the St. Petersburg Times reported last week.

4. While those most affected by the spill are still waiting for payments, some state and local officials have been making bank off the disaster. As the Associated Press reported recently, some local governments have been using the $754 million from BP to buy iPads, SUVs, and laptops. Meanwhile, BP just gave another $30 million to Florida to help entice tourists onto its beaches this summer.

5. Congress hasn't changed a single law on oil and gas drilling in the past year. A year later, the liability cap for companies that cause a major spill is still just $75 million, companies with dismal safety records can still obtain new leases, and they can still avoid compensating families when workers die on rigs. In January, the National Oil Spill Commission released 300 pages of findings and recommendations that Congress has largely ignored.

6. GOP House members want more drilling off all our coasts with less environmental review. The Natural Resources Committee is considering a trio of bills that would open new areas for drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans for drilling, speed up the process of approving permits, and force the Department of Interior to move forward with lease sales in the central Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia without further environmental review. And, for good measure, the legislation would even create economic incentives for oil companies to use seismic technology to survey for oil reserves, letting taxpayers cover half the cost.

7. "Fail safe" technology isn't fail safe. The blowout preventer (BOP), the device that was supposed to stop a catastrophic spill after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, failed due to a faulty design and a bent piece of pipe, according to a report released in March. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement contracted the Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas to conduct a forensic examination of the BOP. The blind shear rams, which were supposed cut through and close off the well, failed because a pipe had buckled, the 551-page report concluded—a problem that casts doubt on all the other BOPs in use today.

8. The country's offshore regulator has a new name, but it's still got plenty of problems. The much-maligned Minerals Management Service (MMS) got a branding overhaul and is now known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE). And while it's made a number of changes in the past year, there are still plenty of concerns about whether the agency is up to the task. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BOEMRE head Michael Bromwich acknowledge that it will take years of reforms to ensure that drilling is safe for workers and the environment.

9. Fewer than half of people who have filed claims from the spill have been paid. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, under the direction of administrator Kenneth Feinberg, has approved approximately 300,000 claims out of the 857,000 it has received from individuals and businesses, totaling $3.8 billion. The claims facility cited the "unprecedented magnitude of the task" in its announcement marking the year since the spill. A number of residents have grown frustrated with the process and say they would rather sue than wait on the claims facility.

10. BP still doesn't want you to see its tar balls. That's right—even a year later, BP is still blocking reporters from the beaches.

Researchers Say Oil Dispersants Still an Issue in the Gulf

Researchers Say Oil Dispersants Still an Issue in the Gulf

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A boat wades through the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico, on June 16, 2010. The water has an iridescent rainbow sheen from the dispersant used to break up the crude oil spill. (Photo: kk+)

Scientists are still working to understand the ecological and human health impacts of the environmental disaster that followed BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico one year ago. While it may too soon to identify the long-term consequences of the disaster, a growing body of evidence reveals that the massive release of oil combined with the unprecedented amount of chemical oil dispersants applied by BP is still an environmental threat a year later.

Truthout reported on BP's decision to exclusively use the controversial dispersants Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527 in early June 2010, when conservationists blamed the chemicals for massive fish kills and health agencies reported that the chemicals were making people sick. Research conducted in the past year suggests that Corexit, combined with dispersed oil in broad undersea plumes, could have been the culprit.

Dispersants like Corexit do not eliminate oil, but break it down into tiny, more biodegradable droplets that are less visible on the surface and can sink to the bottom. Nalco, the company that currently manufactures Corexit, claimed the chemicals were safer than dish soap and would decompose in 28 days. Scientific research conducted since the disaster, however, shows components of Corexit and dispersed oil lingered in Gulf waters much longer and could still be in the food chain.

In late May 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency urged BP to use dispersants thought to be safer and more effective, but BP argued that the Corexit line was the best choice and bought up large reserves of the chemical. BP continued to exclusively use Corexit dispersants even after it was revealed that Nalco's board of directors includes Rodney Chase, who spent 38 years with BP and 11 years on BP's executive board. A report released this week by watchdog group Food and Water Watch (FWW) reveals that Nalco has shown tremendous revenue gains as a result of $70 billion in dispersant sales to BP.

An unprecedented 1.84 million gallons of Corexit were added to the Gulf of Mexico over several months after the blowout, according to the FWW report. Nearly a million gallons of Corexit were applied near the leaking wellhead below the Deepwater Horizon, a novel and unprecedented application technique that has caused some experts concern over the long-term health of marine life.Corexit applied in deep water was trapped in layers of the ocean and traveled on ocean currents, and a team of researchers with the University of Georgia found one chemical component of Corexit had not degraded by December 2010. This persistence, the FWW report claims, raises concerns about long-term impacts of the dispersants and shows that wildlife and seafood eaters may have been exposed to the chemicals for a longer period of time that previously thought.

"We're still extremely worried about the underwater plumes of oil and dispersant since they're even more toxic than dispersant sprayed on the top of the water," said FWW Director Wenonah Hauter. "The dispersed oil in plumes is more easily absorbed and consumed by marine animals. We should definitely consider this when researching the dolphin and sea turtle deaths. A year later, the body count keeps rising."

The FWW points out that, on March 11, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an "unusual mortality event" after more than 80 dead dolphins washed up on Gulf state shores between mid-January and early March. As of April 7, 153 dead dolphins were found, and experts believe the actual death count to be as high as 7,650. Many of the dolphins were premature, stillborn or newborn. The carcasses of hundreds of turtles and other endangered species were also found.

"Basic physiology suggests that dispersed oil will negatively impact the reproductive capabilities of a wide variety of animals," said Richard Condrey, an associate professor at Louisiana State University who specializes in coastal ecology and fisheries.

Researchers believe Corexit also made hundreds of people sick during the disaster in the Gulf, and efforts are underway to determine potential long-term impacts on human health. Corexit 9527 was one of the dispersants used to clean up the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Nearly 7,000 cleanup workers reported feeling ill with breathing problems at the time, and chemicals in Corexit have long been suspected to be the culprits. FWW reports that the average age of death for Exxon Valdez cleanup workers is 50 years.

Despite these warning signs, BP chose to use Corexit exclusively. In early August, 275 oil and cleanup workers and 84 members of the general public reported "spill-related health problems" consistent with symptoms of exposure to Corexit, according to the FWW report. A door-to-door survey taken 11 days after the well was capped found that 48 percent of people living in coastal communities in Louisiana reported having short-term bouts of coughing, headaches, rashes, and other symptoms consistent with chemical exposure.

Although controversial, Corexit did keep large quantities of oil from washing up on America's beaches. Critics, however, say widespread use of the dispersant on the surface and below the Gulf was a big experiment and safer products and methods should have been considered. The decision to apply Corexit with unconventional methods was a hasty one, the FWW report concludes, and only long-term research will reveal its full impact in the Gulf of Mexico

BP Still Being Awarded Lucrative Government Contracts

BP Still Being Awarded Lucrative Government Contracts

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(Photo: sunstarrr)

BP continues to receive tens of millions of dollars in government contracts, despite the fact that the British oil company is under federal criminal investigation over the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and twice violated its probation late last year.

Last week, the Defense Logistics Agency awarded Air BP, a division of BP Products North America, a $42 million contract to supply fuel to Dover Air Force Base for the next month and a half. BP is the biggest supplier of fuel to the Defense Department.

What makes this particular contract unique is that it is one identified as "an unusual and compelling urgency" contract, which means the government would be "seriously injured"and national security could be at risk unless the Defense Logistics Agency was permitted to "limit the number of sources from which it solicits bids or proposals."

The Defense Logistics Agency sent out a request for proposals on March 25 and set a deadline of April 1 for offers to be returned. Included in the government's proposal is a purchase request for 20 million gallons of jet fuel at an average price of $2.10 a gallon.

According to government contracting regulations, "an unusual and compelling urgency precludes full and open competition" and "delay in award of a contract would result in serious injury, financial or other, to the Government."

Scott Amey, general counsel for watchdog group Project On Government Oversight (POGO), said, "unusual and compelling urgency" is often used by the government when it awards a no-bid, sole source contract.

"It's just another way of getting around competitive bidding," Amey said in an interview. "The military needs to justify why there was little or no competition."

Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency, told Truthout a copy of the justification for "the unusual and compelling urgency" would be posted online within 30 days after the contract award.

She added that the contract awarded to Air BP "was needed to meet requirements at Dover [Air Force Base] during the period of April 15, 2011 - May 31, 2011."

McCaskill could not obtain a timely response to questions about whether the Defense Logistics Agency received bids from other companies.

[UPDATE: On Thursday morning, McCaskill sent an email to Truthout stating the Defense Logistics Agency did receive bids for the "unusual and compelling" contract from other oil companies. Moreover, McCaskill said the fuel contract awarded to Air BP "is the third supplemental solicitation tied to the terms and conditions of the basic solicitation." In other words, this is part of a larger fuel contract the agency first solicited proposals for late last year. In February, the Defense Logistics Agency needed to supplement the larger contract with an additional purchase of 14 million gallons of fuel to "provide support for ongoing operations on" Dover Air Force Base and issued a request for proposals to three oil companies, which included Air BP and Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company. But the agency awarded the contract, also identified as "unusal and compelling," to ExxonMobil for $30.8 million, a bid that was more than $100,000 less than Air BP's. It is unknown what mission the contract awarded to ExxonMobil in February supported as that information is redacted in documents released to justify the "unusual and compelling" contract.]

BP won the most recent contract even though the company's federal probation officer petitioned a US district court judge last November to revoke the company's probation over a 46,000 gallon oil spill that occurred at BP's Lisburne facility on Alaska's North Slope in November 2009.

The probation officer, Mary Frances Barnes, said in court documents that the spill amounted to "criminal negligence" under Alaska state law and the federal Clean Water Act and violated the terms of the probation agreement BP signed in November 2007 following a 212,000 gallon oil spill on the North Slope a year earlier. BP has pleaded not guilty to the probation violation charge and is fighting the case in federal court.

Furthermore, last September, BP was found to have violated the terms of a settlement agreement it entered into with government regulators six years ago to make certain safety upgrades at its Texas City refinery, where an explosion in March 2005 killed 15 people and maimed and seriously injured 170 others. The Justice Department refused to pursue a probation revocation case in that incident, opting instead to give BP another year to make the upgrades at the refinery.


McCaskill would not say exactly what the government's "unusual and compelling urgency" is in awarding the fuel contract to Air BP. One possibility is that the jet fuel Air BP is supplying is intended for aircraft leaving Dover Air Force Base carrying cargo to support NATO's air war against Libya. Obama turned over control of the entire Libya operation, known as Operation Odyssey Dawn, to NATO on March 31. But over the past week, NATO has complained that it is running short of munitions.

McCaskill referred questions about whether the jet fuel Air BP is supplying over the next 46 days is being used on aircraft utilized for Libya operations to Dover Air Force Base. Brett Kangas, a spokesman for Dover, said he was unable to obtain answers to specific questions about what aircraft the fuel is being used for and what the mission is.

But a March 31 news release posted on Dover Air Force Base's web site provides some clues. It says Dover has "four C-5M aircraft, all of which are involved in the support of the international crisis in Libya."

"In order for the strike operations implementing the no-fly zone to continue, the 'bullets' have to make it to the fight and that is where Dover Air Force Base delivers," the Dover press release states. "Delivering oversized cargo is the name of the game here at Dover [Air Force Base, Delaware]."

Last Friday, on the same day the Air BP contract was set to begin, unnamed US and NATO officials told The Washington Post NATO is running short on precision bombs and other munitions for the military action that began a little more than a month ago.

"The shortage of European munitions, along with the limited number of aircraft available, has raised doubts among some officials about whether the United States can continue to avoid returning to the air campaign if Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi hangs on to power for several more months," the Post reported.

Kangas noted, however, that there is a possibility the jet fuel could also be used for C-17 aircraft flying out of Dover for humanitarian missions to Japan.

Awarding Air BP a contract to supply fuel for aircraft supporting Libya operations, if that turns out to be the case, would be ironic. Last year, BP confirmed that it told the British government in 2007 that the company's $900 million oil contract with Libya would be at risk unless a prisoner transfer agreement, which allegedly included Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence official convicted of the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, between the two countries was hammered out.

Too Big to Fail

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials held talks about possibly debarring or limiting BP from receiving additional government contracts several months after the deadly April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which claimed the lives of 11 workers and spilled at least five million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

But two senior EPA officials, who spoke to Truthout on condition of anonymity, said those discussions "went nowhere" largely because the federal government relies too heavily on BP to meet its needs and "arguments were raised" by "various agency officials" about the "possibility of debarment being a threat to national security."

"But ultimately what it came down to was a lack of interest in holding this company accountable," one EPA official said.

In an interview last year, Jeanne Pascal, the former debarment counsel at the EPA's Seattle office who spent more than a decade working on issues related to environmental crimes BP had been convicted of, said she had to proceed with caution when she considered debarring the oil company from receiving government contracts.

"If I had debarred BP while they were supplying 80 percent of the fuel to US forces it would have been almost certain that the Defense Department would have been forced to get an exception," Pascal said.

She had noted that the 80 percent figure was provided by her "contact," an attorney, who works at the Defense Energy Support Center, the agency that responsible for purchasing all of the fuel for the military.

"There's a provision in the debarment regulations that says in a time of war or extreme need exceptions can be granted to debarment so that federal agencies with critical needs can continue doing business with debarred contractors. I was in a quandary," Pascal added. "If I moved forward with debarment we would have had a major federal contractor doing business with the federal government with no governmental oversight or audit provisions. I felt oversight terms and conditions were critical with BP, so I pursued settlement of the matter in the hopes of getting oversight and audit terms."

Amey, POGO's general counsel, said that "the government still turns [to BP] with goods and services and does not take into account their past performance, level of responsibility and the fact they violated laws is a perfect example of a contractor too big to fail."

On POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, BP comes in at number 48 in a list of the top 100 government contractors. But the company ranks second, behind Lockheed Martin, as having the most instances of misconduct - 53 - since 1995, which has resulted in more than $1.6 billion in fines.

Those factors do not appear to be of concern to the federal government.

According to, which tracks government contracts, BP was awarded 52 government contracts worth $56.5 million for fiscal year 2011 to supply fuel, gas, and other petroleum products to agencies such as the Defense Department and Department of Health and Human Services. From fiscal year 2006 through 2010, BP received 707 government contracts worth nearly $7 billion.

However, the federal government does want the public to believe it scrutinizes its awardees before turning over billions in taxpayer dollars to companies such as BP.

Last Friday, the government launched its answer to POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database: the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS).

"In 2008, Congress passed the law that created FAPIIS, which agencies must check before awarding a contract or grant to ensure the prospective awardee is 'responsible,'" POGO reported. As a "condition for making FAPIIS public, a few concessions had to be granted to the entities listed in it. This included making so-called 'past performance reviews' off-limits to the public and only posting data entered into FAPIIS on or after April 15, 2011."

That means the public won't be able to find any information about BP's past misconduct. Indeed, a search for BP Products North America's government contracts did not turn up any critical reports about the company.

Prior to the database search, a message pops up. It says: "Contracting officials should be aware that use of the information in the FAPIIS systems should not result in de facto debarment. Current procedures emphasize that certain past performance in the system may no longer be relevant to a determination of present responsibility."

The Deadly Toll of the BP Disaster, One Year Later

The Deadly Toll of the BP Disaster, One Year Later

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One year ago today, these men were killed in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig:

Jason Anderson, 35

Aaron Dale Burkeen, 37

Donald Clark, 49

Stephen Curtis, 39

Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27

Karl Kleppinger, 38

Gordon Jones, 28

Blair Manuel, 56

Dewey Revette, 48

Shane Roshto, 22

Adam Weise, 24

As calculated by Tierra Curry at the Center for Biological Diversity, the gusher also harmed or killed 10 times as much wildlife as U.S. government tallies claim during the year since the gusher:

82,000 birds in 102 species, including black skimmers, brown pelicans, clapper rails, common loons, laughing gulls, northern gannets and several species of terns.

6000 sea turtles in five species—green, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead—that are all on the endangered list.

25,900 marine mammals, including bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, melon-headed whales and sperm whales. "The oil spill could impair marine mammal reproduction in the Gulf for decades, as some orca whales that were exposed to the Exxon Valdez oil spill have not been able to reproduce since that spill in 1989."

Innumerable fish of 500 species. "The BP disaster particularly threatens species that are already at risk of extinction such as Atlantic bluefin tuna, Gulf sturgeon, smalltooth sawfish and the dwarf seahorse. The oil spill occurred during the peak spawning months for the bluefin tuna, pushing this severely overfished species closer to the brink of extinction."

Vast numbers of invertebrates such as corals, lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams, zooplankton, starfish and sand-dwelling organisms.

Unknown numbers of land-based animals such as federally protected beach mice.

Damage to mangroves, sea grasses and wetland vegetation.

Personnel costs at BP:

• CEO Tony Hayward got "his life back" in exile at BP's affiliate in Russia. COO Doug Suttles, senior vice president Kent Wells and former head of exploration and production Andy Inglis left the company.

Economic costs to BP:

• $40 billion to $60 billion, perhaps higher depending on the disposition of lawsuits. The fine that the Environmental Protection Agency eventually levies on BP ranges from $1100 to $4300 per barrel depending on how negligent the company is determined to have been. At its worst, that fine could be $21 billion.

• The $20 billion compensation fund set up by BP at the insistence of President Obama has so far only paid out $3.8 billion to 176,000 claimants who suffered economic damage from the gusher. Most of the final claims already settled, 116,000, have been for quick, flat payments of $5000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses. The idea behind this is to get those out of the way before tackling the bigger claims and the hundreds of now-consolidated lawsuits. The trouble with that approach is that shenanigans are putting pressure on some claimants:

Jackie Jackson of Metairie, a longtime waitress at Carmine's Restaurant in Metairie, was laid off last year. After sending her documentation to the claims facility no fewer than six times, she was three months behind on rent and about to be evicted. Last week, she took the $5,000 quick payment so she could pay her landlord and cover two more months of bills while she looked for a new job. She believes a full settlement would have covered about $19,000 in lost earnings.

"I signed the waiver, but I sent in a paper stating I signed it under duress," she said. "If I could have had more time, it would have worked much better."

If BP has been as concerned with safety as it claimed to be and taken its time on April 20, 2010, things might have worked out much better for everyone, including 11 men who would still be alive.

The New Corporate World Order

The New Corporate World Order

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The debate over Republicans’ insistence on continued tax breaks for the superrich and the corporations they run should come to a screeching halt with the report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal headlined “Big U.S. Firms Shift Hiring Abroad.” Those tax breaks over the past decade, leaving some corporations such as General Electric to pay no taxes at all, were supposed to lead to job creation, but just the opposite has occurred. As the WSJ put it, the multinational companies “cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.”

General Electric, which was bailed out by taxpayers and which stored so much of its profit abroad that it paid no taxes for the past two years, was forced to tighten up, but while cutting its foreign workforce by 1,000 it cut a far more severe 28,000 in the United States. Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, recently appointed by President Barack Obama as his chief outside economic adviser, admits that this does not involve poorly paid work that Americans don’t want, but instead prime jobs: “We’ve globalized around markets, not cheap labor. The era of globalization around cheap labor is over. Today we go to China, we go to India, because that’s where the customers are.”

There is a bitter irony in that statement given that consumer purchasing power is down in the U.S. thanks to the devastating collapse of a housing bubble GE Capital fed with suspect mortgage financing that provided the company with well over half of its profits before the crash. The loss of well-paying jobs at multinationals like GE to other nations—54 percent of the GE workforce is foreign—exacerbates the plight of U.S. consumers while making the foreign customers even more attractive.

Of course it will be argued that multinational corporations have the right to arrange their business as they see fit in order to maximize profit. But if that is the case, do beleaguered American taxpayers have to foot the bill? When those corporations run into trouble overseas because of financial hustles or hostile locals and need the diplomatic and military might of the U.S. government to protect their interests abroad, it is again the U.S. taxpayer who must pay to maintain this new world order. It is an order, as we see with three current wars and a military budget that rivals Cold War highs, that is contributing mightily to the U.S. government debt. More than half of all discretionary spending, the dollars that the Republicans in Congress now want to take out of needed domestic programs, is accounted for by defense spending. That defense spending to support a massive network of military bases and deployed weapons and troops is key to establishing an order in which the interests of American corporations are attended to. If the companies don’t feel that way, let them operate under the flag of Liberia or the Cayman Islands.

No less important than U.S. military muscle is the power of the American government to construct and enforce a worldwide trade and finance structure to the advantage of U.S.-based multinational corporations. That is why the companies spend so much money lobbying Congress on matters ranging from regional trade agreements to international banking regulations. It is precisely the impact of trade agreements like NAFTA that has facilitated the erosion of well-paying jobs. And it was the deregulation of international banking standards, led by the U.S. Treasury Department under the past five presidents, that created the conditions for the recent disastrous housing and banking meltdown.

Big government, the devil that Republicans love to inveigh against, is big precisely because it is so active in so many costly ways in serving the interests of our biggest corporations. Corporate lobbyists attest with their every breath that big government and big business are bedmates in a bountiful venture that impoverishes the rest of us. It is time to admit that we are, in practice if not surface appearance, close to the Chinese communist model of state-sponsored capitalism that sacrifices the interests of ordinary workers, be they in the public or private sector, for the exorbitant profits of the superrich. It is the corporations that need big government to protect their interests, and one would hope they would be willing to pay for the services that their government so faithfully renders to make them obscenely wealthy as it studiously ignores the well-being of the rest of us.

Walker Admits Union Busting Provision 'Doesn't Save Any' Money

Walker Admits

Walker Admits Union Busting Provision 'Doesn't Save Any' Money

Walker Admits

Top "US" Corporations Outsourced More Than 2.4 Million American Jobs Over the Last Decadebolo

CHART: Top ‘U.S.’ Corporations Outsourced More Than 2.4 Million American Jobs Over The Last Decade

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A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this morning finds that 44 percent, a plurality, of Americans think the economy is getting worse, rather than staying the same or getting better. With unemployment hovering around 9.6 percent while economic inequality is at levels not seen since the Depression, many Americans feel as if the economy is leaving them behind.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Corporate America certainly isn’t doing its part to help bring America out of its economic malaise. The paper surveyed employment data by some of the nation’s largest corporations — General Electric, Caterpillar, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Chevron, Cisco, Intel, Stanley Works, Merck, United Technologies, and Oracle — and found that they cut their workforces by 2.9 million people over the last decade while hiring 2.4 million people overseas.

The paper notes that this is actually a sharp reversal from trends in the late 1990s, when these major companies were creating more jobs in the United States than overseas. Yet by 2001, things took a turn for the worse, and these corporations have been adding more jobs abroad than at home, as is illustrated here:

As you can see from the chart, the economic recession has had little impact on Corporate America’s patriotism. In fact, in 2009, representatives of many of the nation’s most powerful corporations attended the “2009 Strategic Outsourcing Conference” to talk about how to send American jobs overseas. Conference organizers polled the more than 70 senior executives who attended the conference about the behavior of their companies in response to the recession. The majority said their companies increased outsourcing in response to the downturn, with only 9 percent saying they terminated some outsourcing agreements:

Another question asked of the executives found that the top reason for companies to outsource was to “reduce operating costs” (46 percent of respondents). Only 12 percent of respondents said their reason for outsourcing was “access to world class capabilities.” This means companies are outsourcing to save themselves money, not make better products.

Unfortunately, for some of these companies, sending American jobs overseas isn’t enough. They also want to bring the profits back into the United States with as little tax liability as possible. Cisco Systems, which had 26 percent of its workforce abroad at the start of the decade but 46 percent of its workforce abroad by the end, is currently involved in a lobbying campaign titled “Win America” calling for a tax repatriation holiday that would let big corporations “bring money they have stashed overseas back to the U.S. at a dramatically lower tax rate.” A similar tax break in 2004 actually increased the amount of money companies store overseas.