Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rahm the brilliant!

Rahm Emanuel criticizes Tony Hayward for taking time off for recreation, even as his own boss hits the links.

I've heard that clip of Helen Thomas described as "ambush." The man asking the questions lays that nonsense to rest. If anything, it was more like a snake springing out of the grass of the White House lawn.

Thus spake Barack Obama:
What has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny—our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.
Ah, the essence of post-modern "leadership:" We don't know where we're going but we know we'll get there. We don't know what we're fighting for, but we WILL win. As the article says, not his, nor our, finest hour.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Steven Hayward compares environmental groups to battered spouses who keep returning to support Democrats like Obama no matter how often they neglect their agenda when in power. I think that's a little strong. For myself, I don't believe that these groups really care as much about the environment as they just covet power. Marxism has failed, so they've just found another vehicle to ride into their preferred role of telling the rest of us how to live. I don't doubt the zeal of those people down in Louisiana washing the oil fouled creatures, but they aren't the ones funding the environmental movement. Those are the attendees of San Francisco fundraisers for Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer and the Hollywood elite like James Cameron who fancy themselves better than the rest of us, despite their Brobdingnagian carbon footprints. They don't have to worry about gasoline prices, so they support policies that drive them up for everybody.

They support Democrats because Democrats can be relied on to flatter them and promise to advance their causes, if only those evil capitalist Republicans weren't getting in the way. Their enthusiastic support for global warming alarmism wasn't because it had compelling proof behind it. It was based mostly on computer models purporting to predict global average temperatures over 50 to 100 years, with details cherry picked because they supported the theory. But what really attracted them was the opportunity for attacking capitalism. No matter that crippling the U.S. Economy wouldn't prevent India and China from continuing to emit carbon dioxide or that countries producing oil and gas would have far worse environmental and safety records than we do. These aren't dumb people. They just don't care if the theory makes sense. It fits their desired political posture, and that's what really matters.

More trouble for BP
Anadarko Petroleum, which owns 25 per cent of the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, on Friday accused BP of “reckless decisions and actions” and indicated it might sue for actions that it said “likely represent gross negligence or wilful misconduct”.

Anadarko is responsible for 25 per cent of the clean-up costs. Yet while those costs are more easily absorbed by BP, which had revenues of $239bn last year, they could be significant for Anadarko, with revenues of $9bn. Moody’s, the credit rating agency, yesterday cut its rating on Anadarko to junk status and indicated that it could cut further owing to uncertainty over the costs it would incur from the spill.
I wonder if BP was counting on Anadarko to pony up half of its annual revenues for the escrow.

More evidence that big government doesn't work. What's the penalty for federal agencies that screw up? More laws.

Who told Obama that drilling is 'absolutely safe'?
When discussing projects like offshore exploration, engineers often use the phrases "PF," which stands for probability of failure, and "CF," which stands for consequences of failure. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a classic low-probability, high-consequence event. Even with good safety procedures, strange combinations of human error, mechanical failure and sheer bad luck can combine to cause a devastating accident. "There has been a constant improvement in safety, but you can never say that a very low probability but very high consequence event is impossible," says Ken Arnold. "You can never say that."

That's the point that comes back over and over in discussing offshore oil drilling. Even though technology has gotten better and better over the years, you can't say it is absolutely safe.
I think this point may be the one that's been bothering me. Nothing done by mankind is absolutely safe. But life fools us. We go out on the highways despite the risk of accidents. We still ship oil in tankers. We fly in airplanes. We invest. We vote. In 2008, we elected a blowout.

From an oil company's point of view, there are a lot more risks that just the possibility of a blowout and environmental disaster. They could sink millions on a dry hole. This spill could destroy the company, leaving us with nobody to foot the bill, which is why scapegoating it is probably not a great idea. I still have the feeling that we really don't know the whole story and won't until they're able to bring up the well stack, which may never happen. I can't believe that any real expert in the oil industry would tell the President something like that, or that the President would be naive enough to believe it. Does he think the space program is absolutely safe, too?

UPDATE: Add to this Jonah Goldberg's assessment of how Obama uses science:
But it is bordering on the grotesque to handpick scientists to give you an opinion and then lie about what they actually said, and implement a policy they don't endorse. (According to the Journal, the Interior Department has apologized to the scientists. But the administration publicly refuses to acknowledge it did anything wrong).

The most important point isn't about cheap politics and hypocrisy. It's about the fundamental misunderstanding of the role of science in policymaking.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Richard Epstein's comments on the handling of the BP gusher makes a lot of sense to me. He argues for a strict liability policy, a requirement under tort laws that parties engaging in dangerous, but beneficial, activities be held liable for all damage that occurs.
A tough liability system does more than provide compensation for serious harms after the fact. It also sorts out the wheat from the chaff—so that in this case companies with weak safety profiles don't get within a mile of an oil derrick. Solid insurance underwriting is likely to do a better job in pricing risk than any program of direct government oversight. Only strong players, highly incentivized and fully bonded, need apply for a permit to operate.. . .

Tort liability does not preclude direct government safety inspection and regulation, especially in the Gulf of Mexico, where the government itself leases the drilling rights. So by all means work hard to make these better. Just be skeptical that this or any other presidential administration will reform the Department of Interior's hapless Minerals Management Service.. . .

Oddly enough, what is needed is a relaxation of the permit mentality in locations most suitable for drilling—including dry land and shallow waters, and ditto for nuclear power generation. In the case of nuclear energy, political parochialism also has killed plans to build a major nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain, Nev. The result is that large quantities of nuclear waste are housed in more dangerous temporary facilities throughout the land, generating a slew of complex lawsuits against the government for its failure to remove the waste.

Legal reform should not just be limited to oil spills. Environmental priorities also need to be straightened out. To take just one example, in virtually every coastal location today, acerbic green lobbies parade about as if new luxury beachfront homes are the moral equivalent of oil pollution. Those histrionic outbursts create civic discord and stunt our economic base. They can be stopped by insisting that private developers be compensated for the full costs of any new-fangled land use restrictions, at which point popular support for such lobbying will collapse.

Ultimately, the current BP disaster has its roots in the loss of our focus in developing a sound overall energy and environmental policy within the framework of a leaner and more responsive legal system. This disaster is proof we need to change course.
I think that this "permit mentality" is what has bothered me throughout all of this, because it assumes that government regulators will protect us from all bad things. That's nonsense, of course. What actually happens is that they're always playing catch up and calling for more laws. What should really prevent disasters is the prudence of parties seeking to develop these resources, and the knowledge that they have to provide for complete payment of damages if they screw up, or nature itself just blows up on them.

I also think the criticisms of Obama's highhandedness covered here are valid. This isn't leadership. It's demagoguery.

Every once in a while a news story stuns you with how big America is. Campbell Soup Co. "is recalling 15 million pounds of SpaghettiOs with meatballs due to possible underprocessing." It doesn't say what percentage of its daily output that represents, but that's an amazing thing to wrap your head around.

I wonder, if they dropped all those cans down the BP well, would it stop the leak? Call it the SpaghettiOs Kill.

I've tried to post something about the pummeling of BP that's going on, but I can't quite decide what I think. One thing is that I don't see how the company is going to be able to pay damages if we drive it into bankruptcy. I keep seeing the conclusion that the company was "reckless." Does that include all the shareholders? And isn't it kind of unfair to change the rules after the disaster happens? Does BP have a bank account somewhere with $20 billion in it that it can dump into escrow? That doesn't seem like the best way to manage your business. The idea is to make more than you'd get from a bank account, no?

On the other hand, while this was an accident, it was a foreseeable one, and BP was apparently counting on the $75 million damages limit. A law changing that retroactively would seem to be unconstitutional, or at least prevented by estoppel, but I would have said that about the Superfund law, too.

I guess what this all comes down to is that Obama is just a bungler and BP doesn't look much better, although it has had a crisis team working on it from the beginning, while it took him six weeks to really start doing anything. It's certain that BP didn't expect this blowout, nor has it disclaimed responsibility. On the other hand, while it has been trying to stop this gusher, the government hasn't done its job of containing and cleaning up the oil. Maybe it can't be cleaned up and just has to run its course, but for the government to essentially do nothing for six weeks and then blame its lousy performance on BP kind of rankles. Demanding a $20 billion payment before the damages have been proven or properly apportioned strikes me as high-handed, too. Since when do we start demanding bail for civil suits?

Basically this is a case of soaking the party with the deep pockets, and the federal government doesn't have those anymore, since we've run the deficits into the trillions and the President is still asking for more. BP will have to pay, one way or another, but anybody who's done collections knows it doesn't work to drive debtors into bankruptcy or drive down their ability to pay.

We have natural catastrophes all the time, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and even volcanic eruptions. All are unforeseen, even though we know most of them have happened and will happen again. What I can't understand is why we never seem to be prepared when they happen.

UPDATE: As if to accentuate my doubts about the governments' performance, it now comes out that barges ordered by Governor Jindal to help suck up spilled oil have been shut down by the feds, demanding proof that they have fire extinguishers and life jackets. If you're sucking up crude oil from the waters you're floating on and a fire starts, how big of an extinguisher do you need.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rand Simberg:
We don’t know as much as we think we do, about climate on either the sun or the earth. Imagine the cosmic irony if we end up with a mile of ice over Chicago because we pauperized ourselves to keep the planet from warming.
Precisely why I distrust activists who think they've got all the answers, especially when they want us to give them the power to enact them without really explaining them. I'd much rather have leaders who promised just to do their jobs competently than leaders who only talk in vague terms like hope, change and vision. Don't promise me that you'll remake America. Just show me that you understand what we've got now and that you will make it work or get rid of it. Freedom is all about doing things for yourself. I won't claim that my life has been a success, but it's mine and I'm accountable for it. That's the best any of us can say.

Partice Physics proves tantalizing once again.
There may be multiple versions of the elusive "God particle" - or Higgs boson - according to a new study.

Finding the Higgs is the primary aim of the £6bn ($10bn) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment near Geneva.

But recent results from the LHC's US rival suggest physicists could be hunting five particles, not one.

The data may point to new laws of physics beyond the current accepted theory - known as the Standard Model.

The Higgs boson's nickname comes from its importance to the Standard Model; it is the sub-atomic particle which explains why all other particles have mass.

However, despite decades trying, no-one, so far, has detected it.

The idea of multiple Higgs bosons is supported by results gathered by the DZero experiment at the Tevatron particle accelerator, operated by Fermilab in Illinois, US.
So far these experiments consume ever growing amounts of money, time and hardware, but only result in new particles that pose new mysteries.

I'm not complaining, really. I think that this the legacy of intelligence, but it suggests that we may be wandering down a blind alley. Science is a construct that rules out some explanations simply by definition. For example, defining consciousness as nothing more than the accumulation of synaptic firings, hardly gives a satisfying answer to the question of what it is. What is will? What is imagination, or emotion? Psychology doesn't have answers, because no answers could pass muster as a true science.

I guess I'm just annoyed by phrases like "the God particle," which make light of belief in God or reveal a serious misunderstanding of him. At any rate, there doesn't seem to be much progress at this point toward reconciliation of the Standard Model with Einstein's theory of gravity.

I'm listening to Into The Universe the story of everything written by Stephen Hawking, discussing dark energy and his view that the Universe will end in a Big Chill. He asks if before then we will have been able to travel to another universe, which depends on understanding why the universe exists at all. The problem with that kind of statement is that the concept of Why is answered only partly by a description of the mechanics of something, it also encompasses the concept of purpose, which is one of those ideas science doesn't allow us to ask.

Holman Jenkins, Jr.:
Government is the greatest of blessings, without which many other blessings are not possible, such as freedom from fraud and extortion and violence. The problem, and irony, is that government, in clearing the field of other fraudsters and extortionists, is ever tempted by those roles itself.

A policeman kicks out your taillight and then writes you a ticket for a faulty taillight. A president announces a moratorium on offshore drilling as a sop to a section of his public that always opposes drilling, and to be seen "doing something." Then he turns around and demands that BP compensate those injured by the president's own careless action.

Jonah Goldberg argues the case against biofuels. They aren't the only choice we have, of course, but trying to replace petroleum with methanol will take distilleries on a huge scale, with quite a bit of waste material. Goldberg makes the point that modern agriculture can do quite a bit more damage to the oceans than the oil spills that occur about once per 20 years around the world.

I'm not sure that's a good defense of offshore drilling, since it isn't really necessary. We have huge reserves of hydrocarbon fuels under the ground in this country, in the form of coal, oil shale, and gas, but mining these upsets environmentalists and they have become hugely powerful in politics and the news media. Because the Gulf Coast isn't the home of a lot of the beautiful people who fund liberal politicians and environmental groups, offshore drilling has found a home there contributing billions to our national economy and creating thousands of well paying jobs. Being far off shore, these platforms aren't nearly as likely to create NIMBY opposition.

But the BP spill, as predictable as clockwork, has given impetus to new calls for a stop to all offshore drilling. Of course, that won't stop more offshore drilling in other countries where we will continue to buy our oil.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

“If we see something, we’ll try to capture it and take it into custody,”

Oh, spare us the large-scale transformations.

- Stressing the need for a “clean-energy future,” Obama said the country must bear the cost of a large-scale energy transformation. “We can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater," he said.
This is typical central planning blather: "We just need to force more people to march in step with our grand vision." That has been failing since the Wilson administration. When someone can build a car and a fuel distribution system that works better than what we have now, it won't need government help. The government couldn't stop it. If the central planning model worked, we'd all be handling punch cards, and the computers would all still be mainframes.

I just heard Obama promise the people of Florida that nothing like the BP spill would ever happen again. How can he keep that promise without totally eliminating offshore drilling? All that does is make me more distrustful of his pronouncements.

As for the Democrats' new Anti-global Warming bill, here's Ann Althouse's reaction:
You see why this is absolutely necessary, don't you? What if nothing is done and global warming... doesn't happen? What a disaster! But if disastrously extreme measures are taken and then global warming doesn't happen? What a great relief! It will be impossible to tell whether the solution worked or whether global warming just wasn't going to happen anyway. Win-win!
But what if these extreme measures destroy the economy and global warming happens anyway because China and India continue to burn coal and other fossil fuels, or the volcanoes in Iceland add so much CO2 that we can't make a dent? Lose-lose!

I think that no matter what we do, we're screwed-screwed!

OK, this is just sophistry. Caption of accompanying photo:
Obama says those who say he should do more formerly criticized him for doing too much.
I've never criticized him for doing too much. I have criticized his use of this spill as an excuse for wasting taxpayer money on alternative energy, but that's not the same thing. Another thing I've criticized him for was not sticking to the job he was elected to do. He's been mooning over remaking America, but neglecting the day to day concrete job of making the government work as it should under existing laws. Had his appointees been doing that, this spill need not have happened.

I really hate this kind of straw man argument and the snide way it's always made by the left. Nobody I've read anywhere has criticized him for doing too much in connection with the BP spill. But his plans to subsidize and foist uneconomical alternatives on us will quickly cost us more than the costs of this spill and its damage to the environment. More, not less, oil will be pumped in areas where they have worse environmental protections than we do. It is a disgusting slur to suggests that BP, which was formed by the merge or British Petroleum and Amoco, doesn't care about a spill like this or that it knew it would happen.

Michael Barone on Americans' perpetual adolescence. What else can you expect when you keep promising to take care of everybody, and destroy the economy by overtaxing the nation to pay for socialist programs?

What does the Mineral Management Service have to do with alternate, i.e. non-mineral, sources of energy? Byron York reports that those in charge were more interested in promoting wind power and solar power than in getting the agency to do its original job of supervising oil wells, and were thus caught flat-footed when the Deepwater Horizon blew up.

We've had "truthers" and "birthers." Now we have "goofers", believers that Republicans "planted" Alvin Greene in the Democrat primary. Anybody hearing the story has to know that there was nobody minding the store at the Democratic Party in So. Carolina. Having awoken to the fact that this guy had won the nomination, they're trying to come up with a plausible story that lays it at the feet of the GOP.

The Perdido Oil rig, also in the Gulf of Mexico, will drill from 7200 feet below the surface to reach oil another 6000 feet below that.

The Deepwater Horizon drilled at a point under 5000 feet of water. And tapped into oil and gas with enough pressure to drive the drill string back up 30000 feet of pipe to the surpface and set fire to the drilling platform and break multiple holes in the pipe. The wellhead is under 150 times the pressure on the surface, in an environment cold enought to create mathane hydrates, a mixture of methane help within a lattice of water molecules.

The Blowout Preventer is a series of hydraulic rams which control the pressure at the wellhead, including one pair which are supposed to sever the well and shut it off completely, but the power lines to the BOP has been severed. Until the well is shut in and the well stack can be brought up, we don't really know what failed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dave Zirin attempts to make soccer a partisan/ideological issue. Apparently soccer is a liberal sport. Good, Dave. Go with that.

Contemplate the number--What the 14 trillion dollar deficit means, and how it masks even greater debts out there.h

The U.S. military discovers vast mineral resources in Afghanistan The Left's reaction? "It's all about the lithium!"

Obama at a tipping point?If that means people are catching on, I'd say yes.

Michael Barone:
Before this year, projections have always been that Social Security wouldn’t cross that line into negative cash flow for five years or so. Now it’s a reality.

Boy, I'd never have guessed!

Most "jihadists" are pathetic losers and stumblebums.
Their leaders and recruiters can be lethally subtle and manipulative, but the quiet truth is that many of the deluded foot soldiers are foolish and untrained, perhaps even untrainable.. . .

Nowhere is the gap between sinister stereotype and ridiculous reality more apparent than in Afghanistan, where it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself. And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks.
This certainly fits the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber, but Nidal Hasan, for all his ineptitude and social awkwardness, shot a lot of people. Will making fun of them hurt recruiting efforts?

Maybe these guys are just depressed and suicidal and letting their despair suck them into this "martyrdom" syndrome was an afterthought.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Jewish response to Helen Thomas

Obama compares BP spill to 9/11

Is that wise? The high point of Bush's presidency was his reaction to 9/11. It galvanized him and led to his Bullhorn Moment at Ground Zero. No matter how much you despised Bush, drawing comparisons between Obama's handling of this crisis with Bush's reaction to 9/11 can't be good for Obama. It also reminds us of how we're still faced with a major terrorism problem that he hasn't handled all that well either.

But what really is scary is this:
Obama — facing mounting criticism of his handling of the BP gusher, even from longtime allies — vowed to make a “bold” push for a new energy law even as the calamity continues to unfold. And he said he will use the rest of his presidency to try to put the United States on a course toward a “new way of doing business when it comes to energy.”

Bad idea.

When your impulse is to push for major new reform laws, after what we witnessed with Health Care, you just haven't learned your lesson. We have laws on the books that would have prevented this fiasco had they been enforced and followed. Adding new ones won't prevent another disaster, only make it more maddening when it fails.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that we allowed drilling at 5000 feet down because we have placed other, less risky oil reserves off limits. There are already more than 5000 operating offshore oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico that are critical to our economy. Abandoning oil before we have something to take its place would be a truly foolish and impetuous move.

UPDATE: After declaring the spill to be like 9/11, Obama went golfing. I don't begrudge him recreation, but does he have no sense at all?

Obama's fifth(?) response.
"Even though I'm president of the United States, my power is not limitless," he told Grand Isle, La., locals in the video, released Friday. "So I can't dive down there and plug the hole. I can't suck it up with a straw. All I can do is make sure that I put honest, hard-working smart people in place ... to implement this thing."
I'm sure that the management of BP would say something very similar, except that it HAS sucked a lot of oil up through the equivalent of a straw. I don't think it does anybody good to dump blame on each other. The oil industry has been very good to Louisiana and Texas, and it's not as if BP and its contractors thought they were operating recklessly. It's easy in hindsight to say they should have made more provisions to clean up a spill, but that criticism applies to the federal agencies with responsibility over this industry and this sector.

Obama's mishandling of this mishap consisted in that he at first seemed to think it would be handled by someone else. After being bitterly criticized, he tried to reverse the criticisms by showing more empathy, and then by overstating the degree to which he was in charge, claiming that he and his underlings were pulling all of BP's levers, then blasting BP as the ecological corporate villain of the Century. This video seems to take a more sensible and honest approach. He knows now that the president isn't above a crisis like this and must be actively engaged in events, but also that the government doesn't have all the expertise and technology to handle everything that happens. If he learns some humility from this, as well as from the way his stimulus plans and health care reform aren't turning out to be the magical solutions he expected. some good will have been done. I think he sounds more real now that he knows the limits of what government can do and yet is committed to do what it can for the people who are suffering from this spill.

Of course, he also gave this interview in which he made one of the most inept gaffes in the history of politics, by trying to blame his failure to anticipate and prepare for this disaster on the supposed opposition of Republicans in congress if he had done those things. For a man in his forties, he sounds about as puerile and whiny as can be imagined.

I think the best thing that could happen to him at this point would be for Democrats to lose control of Congress. At least then, he might have a plausible excuse for his failures.