BP shortcuts led to Gulf oil spill, explosion, fire


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

BP, running weeks behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget trying to complete its troubled Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, took numerous shortcuts that contributed to the disastrous blowout and oil spill last year, federal investigators concluded in a report released Wednesday.

The central cause of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was a failure of the cement at the base of the 18,000-foot-deep well that was supposed to contain oil and gas within the well bore. That failure led to a cascade of human and mechanical errors that allowed natural gas under tremendous pressure to shoot onto the drilling platform, causing an explosion and fire that killed 11 of the 115 crew members and caused an oil spill that took 87 days to get under control.

The two-part report, compiled by a joint task force of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the United States Coast Guard and covering more than 500 pages, is the most comprehensive to date on the April 2010 disaster. Its findings largely mirror those of other investigations, including the inquiry by the commission named by President Obama to determine the causes of the calamity. That panel issued its findings in January.

“The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon,” the latest report said.

It concluded that BP, as the well’s owner, was ultimately responsible for the accident. But it also said that BP’s chief contractors, Transocean, which owned the mobile drilling rig, and Halliburton, which was responsible for the cementing operations, shared blame for many of the fatal mistakes.

RTFA. It’s about what I expected.

It’s been decades since I worked in the offshore drilling trade; but, I doubt attitudes and character have changed especially inside Big Oil. “Imperious” is the first word that comes to mind. These clowns really think the world owes them an emperor’s living. Cost of doing business is important only insofar as it affects profits. Safety, human priorities, are evaluated as a small part of cost/risk analysis.

So it was. So it is.

Recip Tayyip Erdogan calls Turkey the heart of the Arab world


Gaza demonstrators carrying pictures of Erdogan, flags of Turkey and Palestine
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Turkey’s prime minister planted himself at the heart of the Arab world’s turbulent politics on Tuesday, when he declared himself a champion of the Palestinian cause during a speech at the headquarters of the League of Arab States.

“Our Palestinian brothers should declare an independent state,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced to an assembly of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo. “Now is the time to have the Palestinian flag in Gaza, and the Palestinian flag should go to the United Nations,” Erdogan said to applause from the audience.

“Let us hoist the Palestinian flag to the sky, and this should be a symbol of justice and peace in the Middle East.”

Erdogan put an end to decades of relative Turkish isolation from the Arab world. During a speech that sought to highlight shared history, values and faith, he frequently referred to Arabs as “brothers.” He also addressed the sweeping political changes that are rapidly transforming many Arab countries by repeating his endorsement of the rebel Transitional National Council in Libya, which recently captured the capital of Tripoli…

In a move that is sure to win support on the streets of many Arab cities and towns, the Turkish leader continued his diplomatic offensive against Israel. “They [Israel] should pay the price for these attacks and crimes they committed,” Erdogan said, reminding the audience of the botched May 2010 Israeli commando raid against a Turkish-led humanitarian convoy sailing to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

The Turkish government expelled Israel’s ambassador this month and suspended all bilateral military agreements after the Jewish state refused to apologize or pay compensation for eight Turks and an American who were shot dead by Israeli troops…

Egypt is the first stop on what some are calling the Turkish prime minister’s “Revolution Tour.” He is scheduled to travel next to Tunisia and Libya, two other North African countries that have seen their dictators overthrown during the Arab Spring.

I don’t know enough about Erdogan to have full confidence in his new and dynamic diplomacy. Decades ago, a part of my political heart and lived and died in Turkey’s fight for democracy. He appears to have dedicated one plank of his new career to rejection of military saviors for Turkey. That could just be self-preservation. He says he is willing and ready to be the seed to coalesce all Arabs – and freedom loving sentiment – for Palestinian justice and statehood. That may be opportunism.

All of these currents may be aimed at the simple task of bringing Turkey into the European Union. A goal undiminished by the EU’s erratic and weak fiscal policies – and encouraged by the incompetence and corruption of Turkey’s old Aegean enemy, Greece.

Whatever his eventual harbor, Western nations who have relied on Israel and Arab puppets for so many generations have a new challenge at hand. His nation is Turkey.

8-yr-old threatened with debt collectors for overdue library book

An eight-year-old boy was left in tears after being sent a letter threatening him with the debt collectors over an overdue library book.

Jamie Rogers had borrowed a book called ‘A Very Fishy Battle’ by author Jeremy Strong from the Central Library in Bromley, south east London, over the summer holidays. Little Jamie and his brother Kai, six, had borrowed a string of books from the council-run library after taking part in a campaign to get kids reading during the school break.

But after forgetting to return just one book, a letter was sent out addressed to him telling him that he should contact the library immediately or be referred to a ‘debt collection service’.

Jamie’s mum Michelle, 38, of Orpington said her son burst into tears when he opened the letter – and was terrified he would be arrested by the police and hauled before a court.

…She said: “I was horrified. “What is the world coming to when you have to threaten an eight-year-old for an overdue library book..?

Surely a gentle reminder that a book has been out for a while might be sufficient, instead of a threatening letter of this manner…”

A spokesman for Bromley Council said the letter was incorrectly addressed to the eight-year-old and that its library does not charge children late return fees.

The spokesman added: “…”Children’s books are not charged overdue fees but we have a duty to ensure that books are available for everyone after their initial loan period, blah-blah-blah.”

Yes, I added the “blah-blah-blah”. Lower-level petty bureaucrats who don’t get it are part of the whole process of separating service facilities in practice from the people they were chartered to serve.

I hope local users of the Central Library in Bromley, London SE, take the time to discuss procedures, budgets, the intent and function of libraries with folks responsible for running the library. Blah-blah-blah!

Nonsense posing as wisdom – time for an economics lesson


“We’re going to cooperate with who?”
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Those who said after President Barack Obama’s speech last week to Congress that government does not create wealth, does not create jobs and cannot stimulate the economy spoke nonsense. So do those who say that only private business creates wealth, as if any revenue going to taxes destroys wealth.

Adam Smith, who figured out market capitalism in his 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations,” could set them straight. We have plenty of equally competent economists who understand these issues today. They just do not get the attention that the news media lavish on high-profile politicians and pundits who speak with absolute certainty on matters about which their words show they know nothing.

So why are politicians and commentators who speak economic nonsense treated as sages? And why do so many journalists uncritically repeat their nonsense?

Sadly, the answer is that too few people in public life understand economics, numbers or algebra. Too few people learned, or remember, the crucial concept underlying matters of economics and finance known as accounting identities.

Accounting identities are statements that must be true no matter how you arrange the components. Thus 2+1=3 just as 3-1=2. Likewise, net worth equals assets minus liabilities just as assets equal liabilities plus net worth and profits equal revenue minus costs. But water plus flour does not equal steak.

In economics, Gross Domestic Product equals consumer spending plus government spending plus investment plus the net of exports and imports. Or in its simplest form: Spending = Output = Income.

Economics is like a circle, as Smith figured out 235 years ago. More spending by government creates jobs, whether at war plants making smart bombs, dredging ports so cargo moves efficiently or stimulating the gray matter between young ears to create productive adults. Bombs ultimately destroy value, while ports and education add value.

Now…consider these statements by three prominent Republican lawmakers:

“We need to cut spending now in order to create jobs in America” — House Speaker John Boehner on the floor of the House of Representatives in July 2010. “If government spending would stimulate the economy, we’d be in the middle of a boom” — Senator Mitch McConnell in March 2011. “Government doesn’t create jobs, you do” — Representative Nan Hayworth, M.D., speaking in January to business leaders in her New York district.

None of the comments makes sense. The first violates the accounting identity that spending equals income. The second assumes that the stimulus was big enough to make up for the fall in private sector jobs, when it was less than half what accounting identity algebra showed was needed. The third is just plain nonsense…

RTFA for a tad bit more Economics 101. I’m not going to turn this blog into an economics and history course. But, if you watched business news on business news channels – instead of the news as entertainment channels – you’d bump into a fair number of economists. Yes, there are a few who care more for ideology than history. Damned few compared to the clowns in Congress or the patent leather pundits on TV or cluttering up the Web.

Investors and business people need sound information. That’s why polls, surveys and interviews with people who are participating in the global market economy are more optimistic about the future of our economy, more positive about the remedies being advanced by Obama to resolve our jobs crisis – than the crap sources offered by TV talking heads. There are, after all, essential solutions that have been applied successfully since the Great Depression.

Dissent from folks with a modicum of economics education – like yours truly – is generally of the “you’re not trying hard enough, not committing enough to the fight!”

Dissent from people like the Republicans and their Tea Party brown shirts – is generally of the “Hoover was right, screw the working people and The South will rise again!”

Design Award Winner: 4th Amendment Underwear

Now there’s a way to protest those intrusive TSA X-ray body scanners without saying a word. Underclothes printed with the 4th Amendment in Metallic Ink. Let them know they’re spying at the privates of a private citizen. The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution is readable on TSA body scanners.

From the designers:

4th Amendment Wear made a statement without having to say a word. It’s what we considered ‘technological Judo’ – it used the very act of invading someone’s privacy to communicate a message that questioned how far Americans were willing sacrifice that sense of privacy. It didn’t outright condemn the search – it just raised questions. It gave the wearer a sense of individual liberty to be able to express their concerns, while not causing a disturbance.”

Yes, this truly appeals to my sense of humor – and provokes limitless ideas of variations on the theme. Some of which aren’t even obscene.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Government outsourcing to private contractors increases costs

Despite a widespread belief that contracting out services to the private sector saves the federal government money, a new study suggests just the opposite — that the government actually pays more when it farms out work.Do you know anyone who believed that outside of some Republican robot?

The study found that in 33 of 35 occupations, the government actually paid billions of dollars more to hire contractors than it would have cost government employees to perform comparable services. On average, the study found that contractors charged the federal government more than twice the amount it pays federal workers.

The study was conducted by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit Washington group. The federal government spends about $320 billion a year on contracts for services. The POGO study looked at a subset of those contracts.

The study comes after months of criticism, mostly by Republicans, about what they see as the high cost of salaries and benefits for federal workers. The House earlier this year passed a Republican budget plan that would freeze pay grade levels and eliminate raises for five years, and cut the government’s work force by 10 percent. Last year, President Obama announced a two-year salary freeze for federal workers, which Republicans said did not go far enough…

But POGO said its study did not just compare the salaries of the two sectors; instead it focused on what the government actually pays contractors to perform services versus how much it would cost to have that work done by in-house staff members.

“That’s a big difference,” said Scott Amey, POGO’s general counsel. “We compared the full compensation paid to federal government and private sector employees to the billable rates in federal service contracts. Across the board you see that it cost government more to pay for contractors…”

Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University who has studied the contractor work force, said he found the POGO study interesting. “Contracting out to the private sector is often oversold as the answer to better services, better performance and better cost,” Mr. Light said. “But doing this type of analysis shows that it’s not the case.”

Studies contracted with ideological hacks on Republican payrolls are like fundamentalist research on evolution. They start with a premise and then look for information which can be tailored to prove their point. Kind of like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And the “willing” who accept those studies are no less culpable than the craftsmen of sophistry producing them.

Republicans hope to end civil service and privatize federal work with firms owned by their contributors. Gee – I wonder how well Halliburton would run the Food and Drug Administration?

Cold War atomic shelter transformed into geek tecno-headquarters

Set thirty meters underground, deep within the bedrock and in what was once used as a Swedish atomic bomb shelter, lies this high security internet center. What sounds like the perfect hideout for a CIA facility or a film set for the next Jason Bourne film, is actually the HQ for the Swedish internet server provider, Bahnhof. Named “Pionen, White Mountain,” the internet service facility is centrally located in Stockholm, directly below the Sofia Church, where the cave-like formation houses server halls and offices.

The architectural firm behind this impressive transformation was Albert-France Lanord which was asked to treat the granite rocks as if they were a living organism. The idea was to bring human comforts from earth underground, such as plants, light, water and technology. “We created strong contrasts between rooms where the rock dominates and where the human being is a stranger against rooms where the human being took over totally,” says AF-L. Daylight was obviously one of the biggest challenges for the architects, who designed a long tunnel, allowing for natural sunlight to filter through the underground space, with small buttresses to reflect the light into several zones.

There’s a steady market in leftover missile silos and command centers throughout the world. Bunkers that cost taxpayers billions of dollars are being sold for a comparative pittance.

Of course, you still have to find a reasonable use for something originally built to suit cowardice and fear.