Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: February 9, 2009

What Sound Does Credibility Hitting The Floor Make?

Splat?

Well while you consider that, this from a Jake Tapper story today:

The Obama Administration today announced that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc..

The case involves five men who claim to have been victims of extraordinary rendition — including current Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, another plaintiff in jail in Egypt, one in jail in Morocco, and two now free. They sued a San Jose Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, accusing the flight-planning company of aiding the CIA in flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured.

That’s sure to disappoint the Economist which, in a gushing editorial written a couple of days after Obama’s electoral victory said:

America will certainly change under Mr Obama; the world of extraordinary rendition and licensed torture should thankfully soon be gone.

And, as with most things, this is sure to surprise some liberal blogs who recently assured themselves that the Obama administration wasn’t going to support extraordinary rendition.  After claiming the LA Times got punked they soothed themselves into believing that if the CIA isn’t operating the facility then there’s no harm or no foul.  If it is a foreign intelligence service operating the facility in a foreign land to which the CIA turns over prisoners, well, then, that’s just not the same thing, you see.  But, of course, it’s simply a different shade of gray, isn’t it?

BTW, I believe the questioning of Leon Panetta should have disabused our liberal friends who claim the Bush administration’s use of rendition is any different than the Obama administrations use of that belief.

Should any doubt remain that there may be a difference, Tapper adds:

A source inside of the Ninth U.S. District Court tells ABC News that a representative of the Justice Department stood up to say that its position hasn’t changed, that new administration stands behind arguments that previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The DOJ lawyer said the entire subject matter remains a state secret.

Any questions?

How does that go – everybody now – “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

Tapper concludes:

This is not going to please civil libertarians and human rights activists who had hoped the Obama administration would allow the lawsuit to proceed.

Not really. Like the bunch linked above, they’ll simply try to spin it.

More here.

Hope and change.

~McQ

$9.7 Trillion

That’s “trillion” with a capital “T“. And that’s the amount of money being spent by Congress to right our approximately $14.58 Trillion economy (source).

The stimulus package the U.S. Congress is completing would raise the government’s commitment to solving the financial crisis to $9.7

Capitol Spending

Capitol Spending

trillion, enough to pay off more than 90 percent of the nation’s home mortgages.

The Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation have lent or spent almost $3 trillion over the past two years and pledged up to $5.7 trillion more. The Senate is to vote this week on an economic-stimulus measure of at least $780 billion. It would need to be reconciled with an $819 billion plan the House approved last month.

Again, that’s “trillion” with a “T”. In order to grasp the magnitude of that much spending, understand that you can reasonably round the number to $10 Trillion and thereby assume an extra $300 Billion, which is about the amount of TARP funds already pushed out the front doors of Congress. It’s also about one third of the amount being debated in Congress right now. In other words, the stimulus funds are pennies compared to amount of money already spent and/or promised.

Here’s another way to look at it (my emphasis):

The $9.7 trillion in pledges would be enough to send a $1,430 check to every man, woman and child alive in the world. It’s 13 times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office data, and is almost enough to pay off every home mortgage loan in the U.S., calculated at $10.5 trillion by the Federal Reserve.

It’s a lot of money. So why is it that we’re only privy to the debate (if it can be called that) over a measly 10% of the spending?

“We’ve seen money go out the back door of this government unlike any time in the history of our country,” Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said on the Senate floor Feb. 3. “Nobody knows what went out of the Federal Reserve Board, to whom and for what purpose. How much from the FDIC? How much from TARP? When? Why?”

Financial Rescue

The pledges, amounting to almost two-thirds of the value of everything produced in the U.S. last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up about 18 months ago. The promises are composed of about $1 trillion in stimulus packages, around $3 trillion in lending and spending and $5.7 trillion in agreements to provide aid.

Many of us were disappointed with the spending habits of “compassionate conservativism” and lamented how it merely approximated socialist government policies with a friendly face. Of course, the alternative to Bush was real-deal socialist spending and a weakening of our national security.

Now we’re getting the full-on brunt of a dour-visaged collectivist government, employing a magician’s sleight of hand, and it makes the compassionate conservatism look positively stingy in comparison. While we argue over $800 Billion, another $9 Trillion is quietly being shoveled out the backdoor with little to no accountability.

When Congress approved the TARP on Oct. 3, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged the need for transparency and oversight. The Federal Reserve so far is refusing to disclose loan recipients or reveal the collateral they are taking in return.

There’s no doubt that the Bush administration greased the skids, but Obama is running a rocket sled of spending, and there does not appear to be any end in sight.

One has to wonder when Atlas will finally shrug.

So When Is A Lie A Lie? (update)

Or is this just “cynical manipulation?”

President Obama in Elkhart, IN today (email transcript – Fed. News Svc) in answer to a question by Helen Castello, a person in the crowd attending the rally:

So — so we may — we may debate– we — we can debate, you know, whether you’d rather have this tax cut versus that tax cut or this project versus that project. Be clear, though, that there aren’t — there aren’t individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill. Regardless of what the critics say, there are no earmarks in this bill. That’s part of the change that we’re bringing to Washington, is making sure that this money is well-spent to actually create jobs right here in Elkhart.

No earmarks huh? Does President Obama really know that? Or even believe it?

Here he is addressing the House Democrats in Williamsburg last Friday night:

Then there’s the argument, well, this is full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one. (Applause.)

We report. You decide.

But you have to wonder how Ms. Castello, who gushed all over Mr. Obama, must now feel knowing he lied to her face about earmarks knowing full well, as indicated by his remarks to Democrats, that the bill indeed included earmarks?

Hope and change.

~McQ

UPDATE: Here’s a link from a local TV station in Indiana which validates the first quote (although they end up paraphrasing Obama).

Chevron’s Kern River Basin – Things That Make You Go “Wow”!

As most of you know I took a short trip to beautiful Bakersfield California a couple of weeks ago at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute (who paid for the trip) to tour Chevron’s Kern River Basin oil fields. Here’s a short intro video by API that will get you into the game.

Jeff Hatlin, the guy describing most of the facilities and the area, was a fabulous tour guide. And the rest of the staff there (Jim Swartz, David Boroughs, Carla Musser, Ray Thavarajah, Kevin Kimber, Kelly Lucas and Omer Saleem) took a day out of their busy schedules to acquaint 4 bloggers with a huge asset that has been producing oil for over 100 years. My thanks to all of them.

As you might imagine, the “easy oil” days of yore are long over. As Jane Van Ryan, the narrator of the video, notes, the area was first discovered because oil was literally seeping out of the ground. No more. The oil produced at Kern River is what is known in the industry as “heavy oil”. That means the viscosity is very high. For many years in the early days, its viscosity limited its use to asphalt and roofing tar.

That presents an interesting set of problems when you talk about recovery. You’re trying to pump some pretty thick stuff out of the ground and, as you can imagine, that takes a whole bunch of energy. And the oil doesn’t sit in pools, but is distributed throughout the sand layers. So it seems obvious that the way to address the problem is to find a way to lower the viscosity of the oil and cause it to flow before trying to recover it.  As you might imagine, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The way Chevron has addressed those needs is through steam flooding and new drilling techniques such as horizontal drilling.

You saw Jeff Hatlin talk about how that steam is generated (and you got to see the steam generators in the video) and injected into the ground. In the 20 square miles of the Kern River Basin facility, there are approximately 770 steam injection wells helping the 8,700 production wells bring up the oil from depths of over 1,000 feet. What the steam injection wells have allowed Chevron to do is move the field from its primary production days, when only 5-10% of the oil was being recovered, to a production percentage between 50 to 80% with steam flooding. This enhanced recovery technique has helped Chevron keep the field at an 80,000 bpd production rate when, without it, it would be producing very little oil at all.

Another technique which allows more efficient recovery is the 3D modeling that you saw Dale Beeson talking about.  The model in the video has 155 million cells, each 50′ x 50′ x 2′.  That’s a massive amount of information stored, updated and accessible to the Chevron staff as they plan their next wells.  Much of the data for this model is gathered through 660 “observation wells” drilled strategically over the vast property.  Temperature and fluid saturation are monitored allowing for efficient heat management and the location of the richest oil deposits. It is through the integration of that information plus the nearly 1,000,000 data points gathered through out the field on any given day by other means, that Chevron meets its goal of reducing its production decline in the Kern River Basin to 1% a year.

A final technique introduced into the Kern River field in 2006 is horizontal drilling. The 3D modeling helps Chevron exactly pinpoint layers of oil producing sand and using advanced drilling techniques, precisely place the horizontal well in that sand layer. To give you an idea of the efficiency difference, a typical vertical well will produce about 3 bpd of oil. A horizontal well will produce about 100 bpd.

Given all of that, however, there was something else I learned that just blew my mind. While they’re producing that 80,000 bpd of oil, they’re also pumping up 555,000 bpd of water. In fact they joke about really being a water production facility which produces oil as a by-product. That’s more true than you might imagine.

But it also means they must process a half a million barrels of water a day, separate the oil from it and do something with the remaining water. This is where it gets interesting. You heard Jane mention they process and purify some of it through walnut shell filters for agricultural use. In fact, they have about 272,000 bpd in excess that they send through that process and then is sold to California for use in growing all those luscious veggies Californians are so wild about. My guess is that most of California has no idea that’s the case. That avocado you’re enjoying may have been produced with water from Chevron’s Kern River Basin field.

So what do they do with the remaining 231,000 bpd of the water they pump up?  They make steam.  Lots and lots of steam.  And that brings us to something else of which I’m pretty sure the average Californian isn’t aware.  Part of that steam powers up to 20% of the California electrical grid.   It’s called ‘cogeneration’, and Chevron has actually built steam powered electrical plants on the field which are plugged into the California power grid and provide on-demand electricity.  They use the waste steam generated in the steam injection process to power these plants.  Clean energy and highly efficient clean production.

That’s what had me saying “wow” at the end of the trip.  Two critical commodities to California – electricity and water, produced as  by-product of a third critical product, oil.  And all three are produced in a efficient, environmentally friendly way.

If I were Chevron, I’d be telling this story everywhere I could.  It’s not quite the resource-raping, greed-is-king “Big Oil” caricature the media and many of our politicians are fond of painting, is it?

The Promise And The Reality (Part II) – Massive Waste, Fraud And Abuse Likely With Passage Of “Stimulus” Bill

The fear-mongering and panic inducing rhetoric used by the Obama administration and Congresional Democrats concerning the “stimulus” bill has set up another probable broken promise – this time on an unimaginably massive scale.

The Promise: The end of wasteful government spending and more accountability:

-Make Government Spending More Accountable and Efficient: Obama and Biden will ensure that federal contracts over $25,000 are competitively bid. Obama and Biden will also increase the efficiency of government programs through better use of technology, stronger management that demands accountability and by leveraging the government’s high-volume purchasing power to get lower prices.

– End Wasteful Government Spending: Obama and Biden will stop funding wasteful, obsolete federal government programs that make no financial sense. Obama and Biden have called for an end to subsidies for oil and gas companies that are enjoying record profits, as well as the elimination of subsidies to the private student loan industry which has repeatedly used unethical business practices. Obama and Biden will also tackle wasteful spending in the Medicare program.

The administration’s promise was transparency, bid competition, and new auditing resources and oversight boards.

The Reality: But this “stimulus” bill will most likely overwhelm any ability to properly monitor the spending anticipated. And, if such proper monitoring and regulating of spending is indeed required, it will drastically slow the spending process which is supposed to provide the stimulus.

The Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan could end up wasting billions of dollars by attempting to spend money faster than an overburdened government acquisition system can manage and oversee it, according to documents and interviews with contracting specialists.

The $827 billion stimulus legislation under debate in Congress includes provisions aimed at ensuring oversight of the massive infusion of contracts, state grants and other measures. At the urging of the administration, those provisions call for transparency, bid competition, and new auditing resources and oversight boards.

But under the terms of the stimulus proposals, a depleted contracting workforce would be asked to spend more money more rapidly than ever before, while also improving competition and oversight. Auditors would be asked to track surges in spending on projects ranging from bridge construction and schools to research of “green” energy and the development of electronic health records — a challenge made more difficult because many contracts would be awarded by state agencies.

The stimulus plan presents a stark choice: The government can spend unprecedented amounts of money quickly in an effort to jump-start the economy or it can move more deliberately to thwart the cost overruns common to federal contracts in recent years.

“You can’t have both,” said Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center who studied crisis spending in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “There is no way to get around having to make a choice.”

So here’s the choice – remove the oversight, drop the transparancy, go with “no-bid” contracts and eschew the auditing process which will slow the spending to a trickle, or keep them in place and accept the molasses slow flow of supposed stimulus funds.

The probability is we’ll see the promise go by the boards. Why? Because of the insistence by both Congressional leaders and the administration that this bill be passed now, that it can’t wait and that it shouldn’t be debated (and by implication, shouldn’t be closely examined either).

“We don’t have the means to make sure we don’t blow through billions of dollars and give it to the wrong people,” said Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We’re on track to lose billions, if not tens of billions, to waste, fraud and abuse.”

Goodger said the federal contracting system has been extremely troubled in recent years. He emphasized the lack of trained employees to manage contracts, which he called a “human capital crisis.”

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a group that represents government contractors, does not oppose the stimulus package. But he said the government appears to lack the planning and the “infrastructure and architecture” upfront to manage the spending.

“Without it,” he said, “we’re going to have a repeat of what we’ve seen over and over and over, from major weapons systems to Katrina and Iraq.”

Hope and change.

~McQ

Obama’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

Despite all the happy talk about hope and change concerning America’s foreign policy the reality is every nation out there has its own agenda and America still stands in the way of many of them.  In the case of our allies, their agenda usually entails seeing how much of the load they can get America carry.  And, while the hope, hype and spin claim that this is the dawn of a new era, in reality the clock is ticking:

Vladimir Putin of Russia

Vladimir Putin of Russia

The danger is that, as the novelty of the Obama administration begins to wear off the U.S. will be left with little more to show for its renewed focus on diplomacy than the Bush administration achieved.

Before that occurs, U.S. officials are hoping a willingness to engage in a way that the Bush administration never was will produce progress. Major reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Iran are currently under way and are expected to produce new options for Obama within several weeks.

The options produced may be new for Obama, but will they be new for those nations at which they’re aimed? And will they address the fundamental problems in the areas they are intended or will they simply be the same policies with shiny new names? While Obama may come up with what he considers many new options, in reality the options are quite limited when it comes to some of the nations who are going to challenge him (and that will be dictated by the attitude those nations take to any new Obama initiatives).

As the Washington Times notes, his foreign affairs problems are beginning to cascade:

On Friday, Pakistan – the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid – released from house arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist who for two decades ran a black market that sold nuclear-weapons technology to U.S. adversaries including Iran and Libya.

Two days earlier, Kyrgyzstan announced that it would not renew a U.S. lease at

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran

the Manas air base, a critical transshipment point in the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the Russians – who offered Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in cash and loans to oust the Americans – said that they intend to establish a new base in a breakaway enclave of Georgia, the country Moscow invaded over the summer in response to a Georgian assault on another enclave.

If this were not enough, Iran last week launched a crude satellite into space, suggesting that the Islamic regime has mastered at least some of the technology for multistage, long-range missiles.

Finally, Yemen on Sunday announced that it had released 170 men arrested on suspicion of having ties to al Qaeda. Just two weeks earlier, the terrorist group called Yemen its base for the entire Arabian Peninsula.

And let’s not forget that the Obama administration has already upset India with its claim that it would involve itself in the India/Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.

A president’s primary job involves foreign policy. He is the sole architect and executor of it. But thus far, it seems more of a distraction than a focus for Obama. He has primarily concerned himself with his domestic agenda and delegated his foreign policy role to Biden – at least for the time being. But Biden isn’t the decision maker and lack of focus on foreign affairs could see the US end up, diplomatically, behind the power curve if enemies perceive him as not being fully engaged and his diplomatic effort lacking leadership.  That is a weakness they would try to exploit.

If that ends up happening, all of this happy talk will quickly go out of the window and the Obama administration could be facing the same stark choices, and options, that his predecessor faced – if he’s lucky.

~McQ

S-CHIP – An Incremental Move To Universal Health Care

If you harbored any doubt about the real purpose of the recent S-CHIP bill which expanded government health care, these excerpts should remove it:

Obama at a White House signing ceremony said, “I refuse to accept that millions of our children fail to reach their full potential because we fail to meet their basic needs” (Pulizzi/Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 2/4). He added, “In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiation, and health care for our children is one of those obligations” (Mussenden, Media General News/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/5). He said, “The way I see it, providing coverage to 11 million children [through SCHIP] is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American” (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 2/5). He continued, “It is just one component of a much broader effort to finally bring our health care system into the 21st century,” adding, “I am confident that, if we work together, if we come together, we can finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for and fulfill the promise of health care in our time” (Washington Times, 2/5).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “This is the beginning of the change that the American people voted for in the last election and that we will achieve with President Obama” (Los Angeles Times, 2/5). Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said, “I cannot think of a better investment than the health of our children” (Graham, “Triage,” Chicago Tribune, 2/4). Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said, “We’ve waited far too long for this day. America’s kids should be guaranteed comprehensive care whether they need dental care, mental health, medical or surgical treatment” (Rhee, “Political Intelligence,” Boston Globe, 2/4). House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, “While this bill is short of our ultimate goal of health reform, it is a down payment, and is an essential start” (New York Times, 2/5).

Keep your eye on the ball because this is moving very, very quickly.

~McQ