Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

About that oil spill (update)

If you’ve tried to imagine its size, there’s a site out there that will help you. And if that doesn’t put it in context enough for you, you can drop it on a map anywhere you’d like.

I dropped it on Washington DC.

Imagine something of that size in that area. Why there’d be a mobilizing of everything that could be mobilized trying to fight this thing and control it.

And of course there’s the “what will it do” question as in, once it gets into those loop currents around the keys, then what?

That particular test was run with dye within 20m of the surface. Don’t forget there’s a huge plume of oil well below the surface that is going to move as well.

Yes, some will disperse with time. Some will evaporate. But there’s still questions about that which is moving below the surface and how much of that will remain concentrated enough to have an effect. After all, the dye made it.

UPDATE: OK, my bad – the YouTube vid above is that of a model showing how the current flows and approximate time in days, for it to disperse. ScottH in comments brought it up and asked me to make it clear. Not sure how I ended up thinking it was real (oh, yeah, the dye reference). I sound like a global warmist. Anyway, this at least has some real data and some science behind it, however it is a model.

~McQ

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The gang who couldn’t shoot straight

Politico takes a look at the White House team in light of the recent revelations of a job offer to Joe Sestak to pull out of the PA Senate primary and now the emerging story about jobs that may have been offered to a Democratic candidate in Colorado to keep him out of a primary. Politico wonders how the crew which so deftly managed such a successful presidential campaign has lost their "golden touch".

Perhaps there never was a golden touch. Perhaps the inevitability of the win had little to do with their deft management. Perhaps it had more to do with historical timing and a historic first. That and an attractive candidate whose huge faults and thin resume were something people were obviously willing to overlook for the feel-good euphoria they got from him and his rhetoric.

Perhaps, as the Politico calls them, they always were always “one part Dick Daley, one part Barney Fife.”

It would explain their developing reputation as nothing more than machine Chicago pols. And their inability to spin and manage the multiple crisis enveloping the White House and the Obama presidency. It seems each and every day, events and actions by this group conspire to put the administrion in a bad light.

They undercut the Obama’s reputation on two fronts. Trying to put the fix in to deny Democratic voters the chance to choose for themselves who their Senate nominees should be is hardly consistent with the idea of “Yes we can” grassroots empowerment that is central to Obama’s brand. And bungling that fix is at odds with the Obama team’s image — built around the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Obama himself — as shrewd political operatives who know the game and always win it.

Democrats are now apparently complaining. They are of the opinion that the White House is unable to handle more than one major challenge at a time. And any student of the presidency knows that multiple challenges on a daily basis are the norm. Additionally, Obama’s recent forays into state races in support of Democratic candidates has been almost universally unsuccessful. Asks one Democrat:

“How one group of people can be so good at campaigning and so bad at politics?”

Answer? Experience. Campaigning, while it has multiple tasks, has only one goal. Obama has been campaigning his whole life. He knows how to do that. Governing has not only multiple tasks, but multiple challenges and goals. Obama has never run anything or governed anything. This is his first real job. That is the reason most rational people demand that those seeking high executive office have some experience somewhere in their life with the duties and responsibilities of an executive.

We’re now suffering the results of irrational thinking when it comes to electing a president. Timing and “historical moments”, coupled with good campaign theater should never replace the careful consideration of the bona fides of any candidate for office – even at the lowest level. But all too often it does, and, such as in this case, we suffer the consequences. The question, of course, is will we do what is necessary, as soon as possible, to correct the mistake? Or will we again be swept away by the hype and spin and glitz of the one thing this group seems to be able to manage?

~McQ

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Housing market sinks after tax credit ends

Not good news for a market that struggled even with the credit. The underlying weakness of the housing market again seems to be showing itself. And that’s not good news for the overall economy either. Diana Olick takes you through the numbers:

Everybody take a nice long look at today’s Pending Home Sales Index from the National Association of Realtors, because it’s just about the last positive picture we’re going to see for a while.

Those numbers she’s talking about show up in the May and June reports, but then she says, “look out”:

This index is based on contracts signed in August, and that’s how the credit was set up; you had to sign your contract by April 30th and close by June 30th in order to get your $8000 if you’re a first time buyer and $6500 if you’re a move up buyer.

And then came May, traditionally the height of the spring housing season.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home began to sink. Now, four weeks later, mortgage purchase applications are down nearly 40 percent from a month ago to their lowest level since April of 1997.

This is another indicator of a weak economy that still hasn’t yet sorted itself out yet. While the tax credits certainly helped sell some houses, it also hid that weakness that still exists. Look for the July report (Pending Home Sales Index) to again show we have a long way to go to full recovery.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-02

Yesterday, I snidely commented that BP's Plan C for the oil spill was to nuke it. For some, that option isn't a joke. http://bit.ly/cFIVEM #

So, the national debt now exceeds $13 trillion. There has simply GOT to be a way to get the government to buy me a BMW R1200RT. #

Google is going after Apple with Android devices, and Microsoft with the Chrome OS. Google certainly isn't timid. http://bit.ly/90venk #

Steve Jobs created the PC Era. Now, it appears he's creating the post-PC era. http://bit.ly/bWRdLb #

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Such a lack of leadership even Maureen Dowd notices

The political winds certainly seem to be shifting a bit as I watch pundit after pundit begin, every so softly for some, to come to the same conclusion Maureen Dowd has about President Obama.

The oil won’t stop flowing, but the magic has.

The other day, Dowd referred to Obama as “President Spock” and moaned about his inability to relate. He’s not an emmoter-in-chief as Bill Clinton was, she complained. Instead he maintains an aloof distance and instead of tackling the problems that come with the presidency head-on, seems more inclined to treat them as annoyances or distractions.

All this brought on by an oil spill that Barack Obama had nothing to do with, but which is now starting to define his presidency. Said Dowd in the previous editorial:

Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.

Again, to those of us who watched his progression to the Presidency while warning about his wafer thin resume, this doesn’t come as a particular surprise. Call it “I told you so” if you wish, but many critics found his lack of leadership credentials to be the most important reason not to elect the man.

And now, the Dowds, Carvilles and Matthews of the world are discovering this problem.

Certainly, he didn’t cause the leak. George Bush didn’t cause Katrina. But he’s responsible for the federal response, a precedent set by Katrina and the Democrats who demonized and pilloried Bush. Obama is the guy on the spot to make a difference when a disaster strikes. He is the person who must mobilize the federal forces necessary, remove the red-tape and get things headed in the direction they need to be headed.

Where is that? He’s visited the area twice. He seems to have no idea of what further measures might be possible or necessary. He’s delegated everything to others and doesn’t seem that interested in taking an active hand. In fact, it appears he’s only made an effor to look like he’s interested because people are beginning to talk.

Where is the leadership? Where’s Obama taking an active role, for instance, in federalizing some National Guard troops, training them up on beach and marsh clean up and getting them where they need to be? Is every possible boom available on site and either deployed or ready to go? Why isn’t he in using the influence of his office to remove the red tape wound tightly about the Corps of Engineers and helping the governor of LA get his barrier islands constructed?

Why isn’t he talking to Saudi Arabia about how they used supertankers used to clean up the horrendous spill caused by Saddam Hussein over here? How many supertankers are available. Why aren’t we chartering them, and moving them in the spill area?

Instead we see the deployment of the Attorney General to explore criminal indictments against BP, a commission to study the problem and this:

One little hole a mile down on the ocean floor, so deep it seems like hell spewing up its sulfurous smoke, has turned the thrilling saga of “The One” into the gurgling horror of “The Abyss.” (Thank goodness James Cameron, the director of “The Abyss,” came to Washington Tuesday to help the administration figure out how to cap the BP well. What’s next? Sending down the Transformers and Megan Fox?)

Seriously – James Cameron is somehow more of an authority on submersibles than, say, the thousands upon thousands of experts within the oil industry (not just BP) who work with them daily in the environment in question? Is it any wonder to see people like Dowd beginning to lose confidence in Obama’s ability to lead?

Barack Obama isn’t responsible for the leak, and he’s made it clear, and rightfully so, who is. But he is responsible for protecting this country from all enemies and problems – even evil oil slicks that threaten our coastlines and way of life in those areas.

And he’s failing – miserably. Dowd continues to pretend this is something that Obama can change and quickly if he’ll only step up.

This president has made it clear that he’s not comfortable outside whatever domain he’s defined. But unless he wants his story to be marred by a pattern of passivity, detachment, acquiescence and compromise, he’d better seize control of the story line of his White House years. Woe-is-me is not an attractive narrative.

His problem isn’t a story line that he’s deliberately, for whatever reason, allowing to unfold. It is the fact that he hasn’t the experience, the fortitude or the leadership to do what is necessary to address the ever growing problem.

43 days and Obama remains on his balcony, detached, annoyed and clueless. That’s not how anyone wants to see their President.

As he did many times in the Illinois Senate, he is again voting “present”.

~McQ

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Flotilla fallout – For Islamic radicals, "mission accomplished"

As the story continues to unfold, all sorts of questions come to mind.

What is up with Turkey and why are they keeping this so hot? It’s prime minister has recently said:

“Now Israel has shown to all the world how well it knows how to kill,” he said. “People were killed and badly wounded, some from shots, even when bound. How human is this? There is no other way of explaining this to the world. All states condemn it, but this is not enough, we need results. People around the world need to know that one day justice will be revealed. If Israel does not immediately free all the detainees and wounded, the rift in relations with it will widen.”

Yet it has become clear that the boat was loaded with agent provocateurs from the Muslim Brotherhood whose sole intent was the initiation of a violent confrontation with Israeli forces. And, in fact, one of the “humanitarian agencies” represented on the flotilla is a Turkish Islamist group who advocated the overthrow of the Turkish government back in 2000.

So why is that government being so strident and confrontational? Don’t forget too – Turkey is a NATO member. Are we going to be faced, at some point, with choosing to support a NATO member or Israel?

And speaking of Israel, it appears that much of the country is upset with the raid and its outcome. Not so much in sympathy with the Islamists killed, but because it was so poorly thought out and executed. It was, as many are characterizing it, an ambush, and the Isrealis seemingly went into it blindly and were obviously unprepared (you don’t take a paintball gun to a real fight).

Jeffrey Goldberg sums up the feeling in Israel today:

There’s real pain in Israel today, pain at the humiliation of the flotilla raid, pain on behalf of the injured soldiers, and pain that the geniuses who run this country could not figure out a way to out-smart a bunch of Turkish Islamists and their useful idiot fellow travelers. And no, there is no particular pain felt for the dead on the boat; the video of those peace-seeking peace activists beating on the paintball commandos with metal bars pretty much canceled out whatever feelings of sympathy Israelis might have otherwise felt. Plus, most Israelis are aware, unlike much of the rest of the world, that these ships were not on a humanitarian mission, but a political mission, one meant to lend support to Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, so you might have to excuse Israelis for not sympathizing overly much.

There’s more specific “shame and embarrassment” as well. Goldberg goes on:

About that shame and embarrassment: I just met with the son of a friend who serves in an elite Israeli army unit, one very much similiar to Flotilla 13, the Naval commando unit deployed so disastrously against the anti-Israel flotilla, and he explained the shame this way: “These soldiers are the best we have. We are Israel’s deterrent. People in the Middle East need to think we are the best, and we are the best, except that when we’re sent into situations without any intelligence, without any direction, with paintball guns instead of sufficient weapons, with no understanding of who we’re fighting. Then we’re going to have a disaster. These commandos were beaten with pipes! They came onto the deck (of the ship) one by one down a rope and they were beaten by a mob! Commandos!

It is indeed obvious, with the normal benefit of hindsight, that the plan was ill conceved and poorly executed. And, as this friend of Goldberg points out, most of that can be attributed to insufficient, bad or totally inadequate intelligence.

But that begs the question, “why”? This flotilla hasn’t been any secret and it certainly seems many news organizations were gathering information about it. It seems almost inexplicable why the much vaunted Israeli intelligence network wasn’t on top of this or, if they were, how they got it so very wrong.

I don’t care who you are, or how good you are, when you piece-meal your force into a situation where the enemy contols the ground you’re going into, you’re screwed. And to add to the problem, you have a force inadequately armed for the situation (it is obvious by the fact that they were armed with paintball guns that they expected to meet little if any resistance) and an ROE tailored to a completely different situation.

Then there’s the public relations side of this fiasco. However right the Isrealis were in trying to stop these ships from running the blockade, with the deaths involved, they end up on the predictable short end of the PR battle.

And, as is now beginning to play out, there’s even a symbolic side to this that, per some critics, to which the Israelis government should have been more sensitive:

Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon are supposed to know history. They are supposed to know there was no greater mistake than that of the British with regard to the illegal immigrant ship Exodus in the summer of 1947. The brutality employed by the British Mandate against a ferry loaded with Jewish refugees turned the regime into an object of revile. It lost what is now called international legitimacy. British rule over the country ended just 10 months after the Exodus fiasco, The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was no Exodus. It carried not Holocaust survivors but provocateurs, many of them extremists. But a series of baseless decisions on the part of the prime minister and the ministers of defense and of strategic affairs turned the Marmara into a Palestinian Exodus. With a single foolish move, the Israeli cabinet cast the Muslim Brotherhood in the role of the victim and the Israel Navy as the villain and simultaneously opened European, Turkish, Arab, Palestinian and internal Israeli fronts. In so doing, Israel is serving Hamas’ interests better than Hamas itself has ever done.

There’s your “sad but true” statement of the day. That is what most of the rest of the world will compare it too. It will also grant “victimhood” to those killed even if it was the intent of those “victims” to martyr themselves. And the hypocritical Arab world will latch on to that publicly while privately celebrating the deaths.

As one of the flotilla participants, Muslim Brotherhood member of its Egyptian Parliamentary bloc is quoted as saying in March of this year:

“A nation that excels at dying will be blessed by Allah with a life of dignity and with eternal paradise.”

And that was precisely their aim and the outcome. The death cult of radical Islam doesn’t deplore death, it welcomes it and celebrates it. But they also knew the predictable outcome of such “martyrdom” via the world’s reaction to them if they could provoke those deaths.

Mission accomplished.

Now we have to see how this all plays out – but for right now, Israel has put itself between a rock and a hard place in a surprisingly un-Israeli fashion.

~McQ

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SCOTUS – Miranda means you have to say "yes" to silence

The Supreme Court decided yesterday, in a narrow vote, that if you want to remain silent – and stop police from peppering you with questions – you have to say you wish to remain silent (and thereby legally end the police questioning).

Our newest Supreme Court Justice, Sotomeyer, dissented saying this ruling “turns Miranda upside down.”

“Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which counterintuitively requires them to speak,” she said. “At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles on which those precedents are grounded.”

That’s what happens when the word “right” is thrown around haphazardly as it is in today’s culture. What Sotomeyer is attempting to do (and what the court has done in the past) is imbue a legal privilege with the mantle of “right”. Telling someone they have the option of remaining silent has nothing to do with a right. It is a privilege our legal system has granted to those who’ve been arrested so they won’t incriminate themselves mistakenly.

There’s nothing wrong with requiring an acknowledgement that they wish to invoke the privilege of silence. There is likewise nothing wrong with assuming they aren’t invoking it by their silence. They must speak when they’re asked if they understand the Miranda warning, and they must speak to acknowledge their desire for a lawyer. There’s certainly nothing wrong with speaking to say you are invoking the legal privilege of silence.

It’s an “opt in” situation (just as speaking up for a lawyer). Otherwise, police are free to assume that privilege isn’t being used and can continue to try to question the suspect.

I see no right – in real terms – violated by this ruling. And I assume that the Miranda warning will be modified to say that the person arrested must clearly state they choose to be silent and that will be recorded or attested too. The simplest way is verbally followed up by a standard form invoking the privilege and signed by the defendant. I don’t see a problem there.

BTW, Elaina Kagen, now a SCOTUS nominee, had this to say about the case to the court as solicitor general:

“An unambiguous-invocation requirement for the right to remain silent and terminate questioning strikes the appropriate balance between protecting the suspect’s rights and permitting valuable police investigation.”

I agree.

~McQ

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-01

48% of voters say they want state laws similar to AZ's immigration law. 76% oppose anti-AZ boycotts. http://bit.ly/cRS5Sn #

Newest poll shows CA voters favor penalizing pot 49% to 41% opposed. Well, they'll get their chance in November. http://bit.ly/aWjbNh #

BP's Oil Spill Plan B appears to be "grasp at straws". I presume Plan C is to detonate some sort of nuclear device. http://bit.ly/dA3HU8 #

Al & Tipper Gore are splitting up. Thank God we won't uave to watch those two make out on national TV ever again. http://bit.ly/ctirAs #

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Canada healthcare – the future of the US?

Guess what folks, Canada’s moon pony and unicorn “what’s wrong with you Americans, you’re so uncivilized to not have national health care” health care system is in serious financial trouble. And, unbelievably, for the very same reason critics of the recent US health care law said would inevitably happen here. I know, I know – just hard to believe, isn’t it?

Go figure.

The crux of the problem? Well lack of money, what else?

Pressured by an aging population and the need to rein in budget deficits, Canada’s provinces are taking tough measures to curb healthcare costs, a trend that could erode the principles of the popular state-funded system.

[…]

“There’s got to be some change to the status quo whether it happens in three years or 10 years,” said Derek Burleton, senior economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.

“We can’t continually see health spending growing above and beyond the growth rate in the economy because, at some point, it means crowding out of all the other government services.

“At some stage we’re going to hit a breaking point.”

They’re kidding, right? Weren’t we told that once government got involved this stuff would be affordable and would go on forever?

Their first target, of course, is pharmaceutical companies. They want them to slash prices. But at some point, pharma is going to say it can’t anymore. Because pharma isn’t the problem. Central control of health care delivery is. It has no flexibility, or at least not to a level that it can adapt to changes in the market with any nimbleness. That means it continues to hemorrhage money. Health care spending rises at 6% a year by plan. But it is going to, as mentioned above, begin to crowd out all other government services unless the Canadian government gets a handle on it and does so fairly quickly. Anyone know what that means?

But that deal ends in 2013, and the federal government is unlikely to be as generous in future, especially for one-off projects.

“As Ottawa looks to repair its budget balance … one could see these one-time allocations to specific health projects might be curtailed,” said Mary Webb, senior economist at Scotia Capital.

My guess is more than “one-time allocations” might be curtailed. Consider Ontario:

Ontario says healthcare could eat up 70 percent of its budget in 12 years, if all these costs are left unchecked.

“Our objective is to preserve the quality healthcare system we have and indeed to enhance it. But there are difficult decisions ahead and we will continue to make them,” Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan told Reuters.

That’s bureaucratise for “we’re going to have to ration this stuff and do it pretty darn radically” – unless, of course, Ontario would prefer to spend 70% of its budget on health care costs.

I doubt that’s the case.

Here again we have the end game (or at least the results of the game at this point headed to its inevitable end) of where we’re headed.

My favorite line in the story:

Scotia Capital’s Webb said one cost-saving idea may be to make patients aware of how much it costs each time they visit a healthcare professional. “(The public) will use the services more wisely if they know how much it’s costing,” she said.

“If it’s absolutely free with no information on the cost and the information of an alternative that would be have been more practical, then how can we expect the public to wisely use the service?”

No – she really said that. And that’s the type of person who first embraced the moon pony and unicorn promises that were made for the system.

The problem with all of this “reality” suddenly descending on the system? It is pretty apparent to anyone who has studied a welfare state (and the same place we’re now headed):

But change may come slowly. Universal healthcare is central to Canada’s national identity, and decisions are made as much on politics as economics.

“It’s an area that Canadians don’t want to see touched,” said TD’s Burleton. “Essentially it boils down the wishes of the population.

And so it goes, another chapter in the inevitable end of all such programs – over used, broke and headed toward strict rationing. And the moon pony crowd thinks that if they just tell Canadians how much it really costs when they see a doctor, they’ll do it less and save the system.

Heh, yeah, good luck with that.

~McQ

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Oil spill – reshuffling the PR deck

Since hopping out in front of the cameras, thinking the top kill had worked and claiming that the administration has been in charge of the effort from “day one,” things have gone down hill for President Obama. As it turns out the top kill effort was unsuccessful. And, as the Washington Post tells us today, now the effort is to distance the administration from the oil company is supposedly was directing to do its bidding:

Struggling to convey command of the worsening Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Obama administration is taking steps to distance itself from BP and is dispatching Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to the Gulf Coast to meet with federal and state prosecutors. The Holder trip could signal that the environmental calamity might become the subject of a criminal investigation.

Holder has said Justice Department lawyers are examining whether there was any “malfeasance” related to the leaking oil well, and investigators, who have already been on the coast for a month, have sent letters to BP instructing the company to preserve internal records related to the spill. But federal officials indicated that Holder’s trip, which will include a news conference in New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon, will focus on enforcement of environmental laws and holding BP accountable.

The opening of a criminal investigation or civil action against BP, if either were to happen, would create the unusual situation of the federal government weighing charges against a company that it is simultaneously depending on for the most critical elements of the response to the record oil spill.

Usually, if there is a possibility of a criminal investigation and charges in a situation like this, they are kept in abeyance until there’s some resolution to the problem. But in this case, desparate for something which will cast the administration in a favorable light, it appears this is the chosen method. Holder’s news conference will be a welcome distraction from the constant “but what are you doing to stop the leak” questions the administration gets.

That’s the act of symbolic separation.

Step two is to physically separate the administration from the bad guys BP.

The relationship between the federal government and the oil company has been an awkward collaboration all along — “We have them by the neck,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said of BP in congressional testimony last week — but it reached a turning point Monday when the administration said it no longer wants to share a podium with BP at the daily briefing in Louisiana. Instead, the national incident commander, Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, will give a solo briefing wherever he happens to be.

It is a “we’re still in command, but it is an arm’s length, hold-your-nose, we’re forced to work with these people, command.” The perfect setup for something this administration is actually quite good at – demonization.

As for the spill itself, the next step is in contention. Apparently Carl Browner, the head of the EPA has become an expert in fluid dynamics and underwater blowout prevention:

The administration and BP have disagreed over whether the company’s next maneuver would cause a temporary increase in the flow of oil into the gulf. In the coming days, BP plans to saw off the top of the leaking riser pipe where it emerges from the blowout preventer that sits on the well. BP will then lower a containment dome, or cap, onto the riser in an attempt to capture the leaking oil. White House official Carol M. Browner said Sunday that after the pipe is cut, about 20 percent more oil would probably escape before the new cap is in place. BP officials said that they think that is unlikely and that there might be no significant change in the flow.

I’m not sure where she gets the idea that cutting the riser will allow a 20% increase in the flow. They’re cutting it, not removing it. It will still be there with the same diameter it’s always had, it’ll just be shorter so they can deal with it better.

The salient point, of course, is like it or not, the administration is stuck with BP, both in the plugging of the leak and in the clean up effort. And frankly, they wouldn’t have it any other way – this is the company that will be blamed for every failing of the administration. Note I said failing of the administration – it has a role and a duty in this disaster. What it is going to do, or at least attempt to do with this distancing, is to lay all blame on BP from this point on.

Holder’s trip to the Gulf is only the opening salvo.

~McQ

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