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Top 10 MyFDL Diaries of 2010

8:45 am in FDL Community by Brian Sonenstein

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the top 10 FDL blog posts of 2010!

One of the things that makes FDL such an important resource for news coverage and analysis is our thriving diarist community. Our diarists write some of the most compelling and thought-provoking pieces of ‘citizen journalism’ to be found on the internet, especially among the progressive left.

From liveblogging the Prop 8 trial, to offering unique insights into the Julian Assange / WikiLeaks saga, our diarists make important contributions to the work of Firedoglake as a whole.

Check out the top 10 MyFDL diaries from 2010 (based on pageviews):

10. Manic Monday Expected in Washington: How Many Mil Contractors Are There? by Rayne

It’s no secret that the US Government has made use of private contractors in theaters of war for decades. Part of the reason why it’s no secret is because of some of the appalling acts committed by these contractors, such as defrauding the government of billions of taxpayer dollars, raping and killing innocent civilians and engaging in international human trafficking. When word broke that Washington Post writer Dana Priest would be writing an article investigating the size and scope of America’s addiction to contracted security and intelligence service, those respective agencies became very nervous. A day ahead of the article’s release, Rayne posed some important questions to the community, such as “How many of the intelligence contractors aren’t actually contracted by CIA but by DIA?” and “Just how many of these intelligence contractors are not only working in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in places the American public at large doesn’t think of as threats – like Central and South America?”

9. Liveblogging Prop 8 Trial Wednesday Morning 6/16 Closing Arguments (49) by Teddy Partridge

The Prop 8 trial to overturn the ban on same-sex marriages in California was, and continues to be, one of the most contentious civil rights battles of this generation. It’s been a long, arduous fight, but our writers have remained at the forefront, meticulously liveblogging the proceedings while providing great context and analysis at the very same time. Teddy Partridge is one of our most popular diarists and was part of a team (along with Marcy Wheeler and David Dayen) covering Perry vs Schwarzenegger from the San Fransisco courtroom. His work garnered a lot of attention and was referenced by writers across the spectrum. This post in particular is just one of several of Teddy’s livebloggings — but the entire set is well worth the read.

8. Rand Paul And Historical Amnesia by Jim Moss

Simply put, Rand Paul is a gaffe machine. As of last spring, it seemed as though the Senate candidate from Kentucky could not make an appearance without creating some sort of controversy. Most notably, Paul got himself in a lot of trouble by acknowledging his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While many were caught up in the accusations that Paul was a racist, Jim Moss pointed out that the more subversive and dangerous point being made here was instead about an ideology pertaining to the role of government. In this excellent post, Jim goes through a list of important government contributions to the preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to disprove the oft-repeated conservative line that government serves to take freedoms, not protect them.

7. Stunning Video of Unemployed Workers: Meet Obama’s Human Shields by Michael Whitney

President Obama caved on his promise to end the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy amidst soaring unemployment and expiring benefits, leaving millions of Americans empty handed and without hope. The AFL-CIO and many other groups worked hard to prevent renewing the Bush tax cuts – an effort that unfortunately failed in the end. As part of the AFL-CIO’s campaign, they put together a tremendous video showcasing several unemployed Americans whose benefits were on the verge of expiration (if they hadn’t expired already). It’s an important look into the struggles facing the nearly 15 million Americans currently out of work.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Gulf Residents Beg Kenneth Feinberg to Restore Livelihoods

9:12 am in BP oil disaster by Brian Sonenstein

With the release of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission report this week, we’re seeing some renewed interest in the fallout from the BP oil spill.

In particular, the $20 billion escrow fund managed by Kenneth Feinberg has been a main point of contention between the Gulf and BP since last fall, when BP began threatening to withhold compensation to residents if Congress placed greater restrictions on their drilling. Many residents have complained of the difficulty in securing so much as a pittance from the fund, and a number of lawsuits against BP have followed as a result.

So Feinberg has spent the last few months trying to quell the uproar over the escrow account, using town hall meetings to let these destitute fisherman air their grievances and, hopefully, stop suing BP over their inability to efficiently process claims. The problem is that most of the fishermen who have received compensation claim it’s nowhere near enough to support their families, while others have been forced to wait helplessly for for months on end for their checks to arrive.

At once such town hall meeting this week, a shrimper named Elmer Rogers actually got on his knees and begged Feinberg for help:

“Thanksgiving, I was under review,” said Rogers. “My kids barely ate. I barely ate. Christmas came. Christmas came. My child is 13 years old. She got nothing. You know what she woke up to? No water in the house, and no power.”

Here is the video of the exchange, courtesy WWLTV:

VIDEO: The BP Coffee Disaster

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Here’s a little comic relief from the horrors of the Gulf oil leak (52 days and counting).

From UCB Comedy (h/t jason):

Some reactions from across the political spectrum (courtesy of Scarecrow):

Read the rest of this entry →

VIDEO: Swimming Through the Plumes

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

For weeks, we’ve been inundated with images of bright orange booms floating idly in the Gulf. We’ve tried to digest images of plane after plane dumping endless gallons of chemical dispersant into already-polluted waters. We’ve sat helplessly as we watch long slicks of oil make landfall on some of our most fragile coastline, smothering any wildlife in its path.

But while we’ve heard an awful lot about them, we have yet to actually see perhaps the greatest danger that lies before us– the massive plumes of oil and dispersant that now lurk hundreds of miles from the Deepwater Horizon explosion site, choking the life out of anything and everything in their path.

Now, courtesy of intrepid diver Al Walker, we have a real, fish-eye view of the catastrophe.

Check out this segment from AP, in which Walker remarks, "It’s just globs of death out there." (h/t bmaz)

[LIVE]: President Obama to Announce 6-Month Extension of Partial Moratorium on New Deepwater Drilling Projects

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

As Scarecrow reported this morning, the President is expected to announce a 6 month extension of the partial moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects off the coasts of Alaska, Virginia and the western Gulf of Mexico.

The press conference is expected to begin at 12:45 EDT. We’ve got the live feed from the White House embedded below. And, as always, feel free to share your thoughts and reactions with us in the comments.

The Deepwater Drama and the Pursuit of Honest Reporting

11:42 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

As the world gets its first, live look at oil gushing from the well head in the Gulf, Ken Ringle of Nieman Watchdog weighs in on what he feels to be the media’s unhelpful exaggeration of the disaster’s potential consequences.

Ringle starts out by talking about his experience covering the 1979 disaster off the coast of Trinidad & Tobago, in which two massive oil tankers– the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain– collided during a tropical storm and hemorrhaged 287,000 metric tons of oil. That was the 3rd largest spill in history, but, purportedly through the use of dispersants and other techniques, the oil slick never managed to make landfall.

As for the damage to ocean life, I was having trouble finding much information. But as Ringle remembers it:

The calamity was bad enough. One ship exploded and sank, 27 people died and there WAS an enormous oil spill. But it never hit any beaches, never appeared to oil any birds, and ultimately simply disappeared. Most of it evaporated; the rest was consumed by oil-eating microbes in the sea. As near as anyone can tell, there was virtually no environmental damage.

I didn’t want to believe this could be true. It took aerial flights over the spill site and interviews with a dozen or more experts before I understood and reported that seemingly impossible truth.

How lucky! But then Ringle takes it a step too far.

The month before the oil spill in Tobago, the Mexican oil company Pemex had its Ixtoc I rig blow out in the Bay of Campeche, 600 miles south of the Texas coast. That resulted in one of the largest oil spills in history. The drilling platform burned and collapsed in an accident intriguingly similar to that of the BP rig off Louisiana. The well leaked from 10,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day for eight months before it was capped. Yet resulting coastal damage was minimal.

Coastal damage was minimal? With all due respect, Mr. Ringle, the Ixtoc 1 was an infamous spill not only because of how massive it was at sea, but also because of the havoc it wreaked back home.

From the Guardian:

Ixtoc 1 owners, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the Mexican state oil company, could not cap the well for 10 long months, by which time an estimated 90m gallons of oil had escaped. Much of it evaporated, was dispersed by chemicals or burned off in the fire, but the remainder drifted in a greasy slick up to 60-70 miles long on to the US coastline, damaging wildlife, fishing and tourism. A report for the US government later concluded that the lost oil, equipment and clean up cost Pemex $498m – more than US$1bn in today’s money – and there were claims for damages of more than $400m, making it "probably the most expensive oil spill in history".

You can read that report from our friends at MMS here [PDF].

How bad was this minimal coastal damage?

Despite a big operation to use skimmers and booms to protect the coast, Ixtoc 1 damaged 162 miles of Texas beaches. Birds were badly affected with 1,421 oiled royal terns, blue-faced boobies, sanderlings, willets, plovers, herons, noddy terns, and snowy egrets rescued, while thousands more were driven away from their feeding and breeding grounds, many of them not returning for years afterwards. The impact on smaller species was – as so often – impossible to calculate.

I can get on board with the idea that media sensationalism doesn’t help and in some cases makes things worse. The (original) point of journalism is to present the facts to the public in an unbiased way.

As a writer for a well-respected journalism watchdog like Nieman, Ringle knows that, and I truly believe he’s trying to encourage more balanced reporting on the BP disaster with this piece.

Ringle’s argument seems to hinge on the fact that naturally-occurring, oil-eating bacteria are an important line of defense in an oil spill, and how evaporation is a key player as well.

But what about the possibility of the toxic dispersants killing off those bacteria? And even if they don’t, what about the fact that those toxins will be ingested by the bacteria, allowing the chemicals to make their way up the food chain?

And if the dispersants are supposed to ball up the oil into tar, how exactly does that promote evaporation?

The parallels between Ixtoc 1 and Deepwater Horizon are quite popular; a simple google search will prove that. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to assume the devastation could be all that different.

The bottom line: the media will report the story that attracts readers. We can’t expect anything more or less from them. But if we’re going to push back, let’s at least do it in an honest manner.

[VIDEO] Live Stream of the Gulf Gusher

10:12 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Note: The video seems to be coming in and out, so if it appears to be down just give it a few minutes and a couple of old fashioned refreshes and it should come back.

After nearly driving my colleague Michael Whitney insane, BP managed to get it’s act together and finally get the live feed of the leaking well head online.

Ustream is now hosting the video, and we’ve got it embedded on our BP Oil Disaster resource page.

I encourage you to bookmark it and monitor the leak’s progress (or lack there of) for yourself. After all, we can’t really depend on anyone else to do it for us.

Free Webcam Chat at Ustream

[VIDEO] Kevin Costner to the Rescue

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Brian Sonenstein

Watch this demonstration of Kevin Costner’s Ocean Therapy centrifuge devices, which are said to be able to siphon up to 97% of the oil from the water, with the largest one handling around 200 gallons of sea water a minute.

A spokesperson in the video says that they are currently refining the technology to capture the other 3%, so that you’ll even be able to drink the water that comes out of it (well, it’s salt water, but you get the point).

I have to say, with Kevin Costner as our potential hero, this whole thing is shaping up to look a bit like a South Park episode.

Compared to the in-situ burns and deployed booms, this seems to be the most effective way to get the oil out of the water, and could do a lot to address the underwater plumes. Let’s just hope he gets out there as soon as possible and that these devices work, because it’s getting uglier by the day.

Better Luck Next Time: Shell Reassures MMS That the Next Spill Won’t Be So Bad

9:58 am in BP oil disaster, Energy by Brian Sonenstein

flamerig.jpgThe popular narrative in regard to the BP oil spill doesn’t make much of a problem with the fact that oil is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico at tremendous rates, but rather the fact that BP was largely unprepared to stop and clean it up. The question of whether or not offshore drilling is worth the trouble is a debate that has been decidedly left off the table by anyone in a position to do something about it.

And given the global addiction to fossil fuels, this isn’t all that surprising. While we’re exploring for a cleaner, safer alternative, we can’t readily swear off oil altogether.

But it’s unsatisfactory for me to say that the lesson we’ll eventually learn from this oil spill is that next time the response will be faster, or that next time there will be greater controls in place to reduce the impact on the environment and our communities. It avoids the fact that the consequences of such a spill are so great and irreversible that we can’t really afford to have "the next one."

Unfortunately, this seems to be the direction we’re headed in. In a move to get in good with the notoriously accommodating folks over at Minerals Management Service, who will be under much more scrutiny and pressure following the Gulf spill, Shell wrote them a letter to assuage any fears they might have about the oil giant’s future plans– specifically a controversial drilling project off the coast of Alaska (emphasis mine):

Responding to a federal request to increase safety measures for its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, Shell Oil on Monday vowed an “unprecedented” response in the event of an oil spill, including staging a pre-made dome in Alaska for use in trying to contain any leaking well.

As the Obama Administration reviews the safety and environmental risks of offshore oil drilling after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the fate of the pending Shell project in Alaska looms more urgently. Shell has received initial permits and hopes to begin exploratory drilling this summer. Yet the project, which would be the first offshore drilling in Alaska in many years, still requires final permits and could be delayed.

Environmentalists and Native Alaskan groups that have long worked to stop the project have seized on the Gulf spill to emphasize risks in the Alaska project. The drill sites, far out in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, are in some of the most remote and frigid waters of North America, with ice forming much of the year, endangered whales and other animals living in the area and little onshore support in the event of a spill.

In a letter sent to the head of the Minerals Management Service, S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, Shell’s president, Marvin E. Odum, said Shell the dome it would have ready would “take into consideration issues with hydrate formation.”

[...]

Shell also said it would be ready to apply dispersal agents below water “at the source of any oil flow” after “all necessary permits are acquired.”

The company also said it would work to prevent a spill from happening, including refining how it drills, increasing the frequency of inspections of its blowout preventer to 7 days from 14 – the blowout preventer failed in the Gulf spill – and adding a remote underwater vehicle nearby that would be capable of working on the blowout preventer.

I suppose it’s marginally comforting to hear an oil company publicly recognize the importance of safety measures and spill prevention. But it does nothing to address the fundamental problem that this drilling is so exploratory, so potentially dangerous and so irreparably destructive in the event of an accident that perhaps it’s just not a good idea in the first place.

There’s something seriously wrong when we accept that oil spills are facts of life and that our concerns should instead rest on how effective and coordinated the response should be.

As long as that’s the pervasive narrative, you can bet that future drilling accidents will forever be apologized for with reassurances for "next time."

But just how many more "next times" do we have left?

Transocean Invokes Obscure 159-year-old Law to Avoid Paying Damages to Injured Employees

11:47 am in BP oil disaster, Energy by Brian Sonenstein

Let’s talk about this little piece of news from Mother Jones (emphasis mine):

Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded and is still spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, is sending a message loud and clear: it intends to assume very little financial responsibility for the disaster. In a filing submitted to a federal court in Houston this week, the company has invoked an obscure, 159-year-old law to contend that it should only have to pay for the cost of salvaging the debris of the rig from the ocean.

Right, because the remnants of the rig are our biggest problem right now.

At the very same time, Transocean is also petitioning to consolidate its outstanding lawsuits in an attempt to avoid paying worker compensation down the road. Let’s not forget Transocean was trying to get workers to sign forms saying they weren’t injured and didn’t know what happened when the rig just plain exploded underneath their feet.

From McClatchy (emphasis mine):

In a statement, Transocean said the court petition was filed at the request of its insurance companies, and the petition will allow the company to consolidate all outstanding lawsuits before a single federal judge in Houston. The company said it now faces more than 100 lawsuits over the spill in several states.

Lawyers for those injured in the blast said the petition could also prevent any claims filed more than six months after the accident

Too bad for anyone who may suffer from delayed PTSD as a result of a rig exploding beneath you. You’re out of luck.

And the list of casualties just keeps growing, and growing, and growing…

UPDATE: Well, at least someone’s trying

Jo Lang, a prominent national lawmaker for [Switzerland's Green Party], said he plans to introduce a motion in parliament calling for any taxes paid by Transocean in Switzerland last year to be donated toward helping those who suffered as a result of the rig disaster.

The amount is likely to be symbolic, as Transocean pays hardly any taxes in Switzerland.

"We want to show that the oil spill in the Gulf reaches all the way to Zug," Lang told The Associated Press.