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Jon Chait Has a Fine Testimonial on Mitt Romney’s Integrity

4:10 pm in Media, Politics by Scarecrow

(image: EN2008/flickr)

I don’t think I’m a stupid person, but sometimes I read what seem to be really stupid things.  At least that’s how I felt after reading a post by Jonathan Chait, entitled “Mitt Romney Lies a Lot, But He’s Not a Liar.” Yes, that really is the title, so let it sink in a bit.

Now there are at least two possible reasons you’d read a post with that title:  (1) it’s so absurd on its face, it must be snark, so maybe it will be fun to read; or (2) there is some hitherto unappreciated, redeeming social value in Mitt Romney’s pervasive and pathological lying that, should he become President, we will not be completely embarrassed or ashamed and want to hide the children every time he opens his mouth.

Alas, no luck on either theory.  After noting that we sometimes see our own actions differently from how we see others’ actions, Chait begins his argument:

This is a useful prism through which to understand Mitt Romney’s propensity to lie. He says lots of things that are obviously false and that he clearly knows to be false – particularly, but not exclusively, about his own record. But it’s not clear that this tells us anything about Romney’s character.

Please get your jaw off the floor; you probably thought persistent lying tells you reams about the man’s character, so we’re not off to a good start.  But maybe Chait’s point will become more plausible as we read along:

Lying is what politicians do when the truth stands between them and their goals. I don’t mean to completely dismiss the role of character here. Some politicians are more comfortable lying than are others. But circumstance plays a powerful role.

Ah, I see where he’s going.  Mitt’s kids are being held hostage by liberal terrorists, and he has to lie and make himself look like an unprincipled buffoon and pretend you are all complete dolts, because otherwise the terrorists will kill his kids, right?  Uh, no; Chait explains poor Mitt has just been unlucky:

It’s Romney’s bad luck that fate has dictated his only path to the presidency lies in being a huge liar. First, he was a Republican running in a heavily Democratic state, which forced him to shade his abortion views rightward, and present himself generally as moderate to progressive, ideologically. After having had to shade his views as far left as he could get away with to win in Massachusetts, he had to obtain the Republican nomination in 2008, making himself acceptable to a dramatically more conservative electorate. And then, four years later, he has had to make himself acceptable to a Republican electorate that has moved further right still.

Huh.  By now, I’m starting to realize I’ve been conned into reading something that no one could possibly accept as an excuse for being unprincipled, unworthy of anyone’s trust and contributing to the nation’s mind-numbing level of misinformation.  Chait is saying that poor Mitt simply had to pander to whatever audience he confronts in whatever era he’s in just to get elected, and now all those lies “have formed an extensive public record that he is forced to deny, revise, and cover up.”  Gosh, what a tragedy.

Finally, we’re told that it’s not personal; it’s just circumstantial and part of the job:  “He wanted a political career, and once he made that decision, he had only two choices: massive dishonesty or certain defeat.”

Here’s a different view.  Mitt Romney lies, because he’s not an honest man.  It shows Mitt Romney’s ambition is far stronger than his character and he has no respect for voters.  Occam’s razor.

ABC This Week’s Stephanopoulus Helps Gingrich Spin Tale on Gas Prices

11:38 am in Energy, Environment, Media by Scarecrow

Why is it that ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN thought that the politician America needed to hear from this week was Newt Gingrich, a candidate who’s been thoroughly rejected by all but the most delusional and extreme Republican voters and has no chance of becoming President? Even if it hadn’t been a ghastly week, with Republican icons insulting women and degrading the national discourse while the GOP leadership and Presidential candidates hid, the idea of giving the man who has spent 20 years contributing to our declining politics yet another national platform would be inexcusable for any supposedly news entity.

Every viewer knows that any interview of Newt Gingrich usually results in an uninterrupted commercial for himself, his lies, and his fantasies. With a weak interviewer like ABC’s George Stephanopoulus, that means we get 10 minutes of misrepresentations, misdirection and evasions with little or no pushback, leaving the audience either frustrated or more misinformed than they were before.

Today’s This Week with Newt and George was a perfect example.  Not only did Stephanopoulus give virtually free time for Newt’s dissembling, he facilitated and contributed to the misinformation on the topic of energy prices.

The backstory is one the GOP has uniformly misrepresented, though Politico eventually corrected its part in repeating the scam.  It’s the claim that Energy Secretary Chu told a Congressional hearing that it was not the Administration’s policy to lower gas prices, when in fact he said no such thing. Apparently, the corrections to this lie, easily available on teh Google, are unknown to George and could not be found by the crack ABC research team, even though the topic was in one of George’s prepared questions. Here’s just one link.

First, a summary of part of what Gingrich claimed, while telling us he could get gas prices below $2: (emphasis mine)

“This president and his secretary of anti-energy, Dr. Chu, have as a goal getting us to pay European-level prices of $8 or $9. Dr. Chu was clear about that before he became secretary. He wants us to get to be a European-level price structure of $8 or $9 a gallon,” said Gingrich. “He said this week, in testifying in the House, he has ‘no intention of trying to lower the price of oil or the price of gasoline.’ The American people on the other hand would much rather pay $2.50 and be independent of Saudi Arabia than be where we are today. ”

Note that Stephanopoulus did not bother to challenge Newt’s total fantasy that with billions of Chinese and Indians demanding more oil/gas for the ten million new cars they bought last year, never mind Newt et ilk beating the drums for war with the world’s fourth largest oil producer, we are only a Gingrich presidency away from again buying gas at $2.50/gallon (he bragged it would be below that today).

Gingrich was misrepresenting what Chu said, but Stephanopoulus didn’t seem to know that. Instead, when he later asked David Axelrod (why would any President allow this apologist to be their spokesman?) about Newt’s preposterous claims, George began by showing an out of context clipped video of Chu’s Congressional appearance.  He then repeated the GOP’s misrepresentation.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

So what really happened when Chu testified?

In the context of a discussion of gas prices in Europe, which because of higher gas taxes and European threats to boycott Iranian oil have reportedly reached something like $8/gallon, Secretary Chu was asked “is it the overall goal to get our prices . . .”  And the questioner didn’t finish.

Get our prices to what? Up to $8/gallon or European levels? Or down to something lower? But as the clip shows, instead of waiting for the rest of the question, Secretary Chu interrupted and said “No . . .”  It seems likely he understood the point of the question in the context of the discussion of Europe to be asking about getting US gas prices up to their levels, to which Chu answered “No . . .” But ever since, the Republican wurlitzer has falsely claimed that he was asked whether the policy was to get prices down, and Chu said “no.”  No, he didn’t.  Stephanopoulus simply repeats this GOP fabricated talking point.

To be clear, I think the Administration is being disingenuous and foolish with it’s “all of the above” energy policy.  That’s a recipe that leaves us even more dependent on today’s dominant, harmful options and at the mercy of the unaccountable monster corporations (some of whom sponsored the show) and countries that control the supplies.  The policy should be, “we need a lot more of the options, starting with no-regrets conservation and efficiency, that don’t harm our health and threaten the planet, and a lot less of the conventional options that do hurt us.” Right now, we have it backwards.

Why the Administration thinks it can’t sell that common sense policy escapes me, but perhaps everyone (except Secretary Chu?) believes the nonsense they are selling.  I’d like to see that discussion, but if the Talking Head shows waste our time on charlatans like Newt Gingrich, there is no chance we can have that conversation.

If I Only Had a Brain: My (Rejected) CNN Headlines

5:10 am in Media, Politics by Scarecrow

my brains - let me show you them

"my brains - let me show you them


Well, once again, I submitted proposed headlines to forward to those nice folks at CNN, so the nation would have an honest picture of what’s happening in/to America, if they only saw the headlines. But alas, the PTB didn’t understand a word I wrote. What could I be doing wrong?

0. Third of US, like much of SE Africa, getting baked, in worst drought since Dust Bowl; record flooding in other parts; but don’t worry about climate change.

1. Mitch McConnell realizes Tea-GOP driving off cliff; Eric Cantor insists he can fly and sneer at the same time. Don’t let your children watch this cartoon.

2. Reality Bites: Larry O’Donnell’s 11 Dimensional Chess meets Obama’s belief in confidence fairy, plans to cut Social Security, Medicare

3. Candidate Obama: “Iraq was a war of choice.” President Obama’s Defense Secretary to US Troops in Iraq: “You’re here because of 9/11.” No wonder the CIA missed Arab Spring.
Read the rest of this entry →

Earth to Obama: Tea-GOPs Are Okay If Govt Stops and Economy Fails on Your Watch

11:49 am in Media by Scarecrow

As the nation careens towards the cliffs of insanity, I’ve yet to see a convincing explanation for why President Obama is helping the destructive elements of the Tea-GOP blackmail the government and force reductions in dozens of programs that represent the fundamental purposes of government.

I don’t have the slightest doubt Mr. Obama wants to preserve government functions, even if he’s willing to accept reduced levels of efficacy and benefits to Americans and unwilling to demand the most well off pay for them. And I’m certain he wants the debt level raised enough to avoid confronting that issue again before the 2012 elections. I assume he wants the solution to impose minimum damage to the economy, even if I fundamentally disagree with his economic analysis. Surely he believes his reelection strongly depends on whether voters believe the economy and jobs are on a credible path to recovery.

So we’re left to speculate how the White House thinks it can overcome the fact that the dominant party in Congress has chosen to hold the US economy hostage and risk a worse recession and/or a costly rise in interest rates and potentially catastrophic hit to US credit. What’s their logic? How does this end?

We got a hint of Mr. Obama’s thinking today when he again clearly endorsed two prevalent myths: the confidence fairy belief that up to $2 trillion in business investment and hiring are just waiting for a deficit deal even though there are not enough customers with enough money to buy their products, and the preposterous notion of Tea-GOP rationality and good faith.

What we can do is to solve this underlying debt and deficit problem for a long period of time, so that then we can get back to having a conversation about [jobs]. Read the rest of this entry →

Sunday Talk Shows: Making America Dumber One Week at a Time

12:32 pm in Media by Scarecrow

There is no valid journalistic reason for CBS, NBC and CNN to continue their Sunday Talk shows. (There is still hope for Ms. Amanpour’s efforts to bring some intelligence to ABC.)

What should they have talked about today? Aside from Middle East revolutions, recent domestic news has been dominated, as Frank Rich notes, by Tea-GOPer assaults on any/all government functions that can address income inequality or rein in corporate misconduct. The latter have all been disguised as “necessary” spending cuts to reduce “unsustainable” debts nationally, or as reductions in public worker’s wages, benefits and rights at the state level.

So it would make sense for the shows’ hosts to have at least a basic grasp of the most important budget and fiscal facts, even if they insist on interviewing only Tea-GOP governors and anti-labor zealots with only a lone labor representative invited onto NBC after viewer protests.

Here are a few facts the hosts might have understood (or at least known what was being argued by prominent critics) before CBS’ Bob Schieffer interviewed NJ Gov. Christie or NBC allowed GOP governors Barbour, Haley and Walker to spin in unison their poll-tested talking points:

1. The current budget crises in many states were not caused by runaway wages and benefits for public workers. While there are examples of excesses created by public corruption, which no one defends, the large state budget deficits are almost entirely due to the Great Recession, which was brought on by federal regulators — Greenspan’s Fed, SEC, OCC etc — who recklessly ignored predatory lending, fraudulent securitizations, a housing bubble and its inevitable collapse — and by the financial industry’s reckless self-immolation. Shouldn’t the governors have been asked if they even understand this most basis cause?  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Breaking: Keith Olbermann Out at MSNBC [UPDATED]

6:15 pm in Government, Media, Politics by Scarecrow

Stunning his Countdown audience, Keith Olbermann announced at the very end of his show tonight that this would be the last edition of Countdown. He gave no explanation but thanked his audience.

Within minutes MSNBC released a statement indicating that it was not renewing Keith’s contract.

MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

The new evening lineup would be:

6:00 p.m. Cenk (just “filling in”?)
7:00 p.m. Hardball
8:00 p.m. Larry O’Donnell
9:00 p.m. Rachel Maddow
10:00 p.m. Ed Show

We’ll add details as we get them. But the first question has to be: Is this the first action by cable conglomerate Comcast, after the FCC and Justice Department approved their takeover of NBC, in deciding what we see on television? Gosh, who coulda predicted?

Update: from the NYT coverage, “NBC executives said the move had nothing to do with the impending takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast.” Yeah, that’s about what I’d expect Comcast to tell NBC to say.

Update II, Saturday a.m.: Statement from Comcast (h/t Howie at DownWithTyranny):

“Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBC Universal and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC. We pledged from the day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBC Universal’s news operations. We have not and we will not.”

More here and here on the implications of the Comcast takeover. Al Franken’s Senate speech on Comcast and internet neutrality.

Nobel Economist Hints NYT Propaganda Against Public Pensions Can’t Be Trusted

1:18 pm in Executive Branch, Government, Media, Politics by Scarecrow

Can it be the New York Times worries it may lose the fact-free deficit hysteria propaganda market to the Washington Post? Today’s Times has its leading front page article suggesting public employee retirements benefits are so out of control and breaking the backs of state budgets that we may need a Constitutional Amendment to push States into bankruptcy. That way, the poor states can renege on their promises to public employees, defy their own state constitutions, and just for giggles, break the backs of employee unions.

The two-column, front page headline hides the responsibility for this propaganda hit piece in the passive voice:

A Path is Sought for States To Escape Debt Burdens

. . . which is followed by the subheading, “Traditional Bankruptcy Is Not an Option, but Versions of It Gain Support.”

The editorial viewpoint in this “news” is then reinforced by the first five paragraphs, all above the fold, making it appear that responsible policy makers are hard at work trying to solve this very hard problem before it forces defunding of essential public programs. Just marvel at the dishonest journalism:

Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid.

Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.

Bankruptcy could permit a state to alter its contractual promises to retirees, which are often protected by state constitutions, and it could provide an alternative to a no-strings bailout. Along with retirees, however, investors in a state’s bonds could suffer, possibly ending up at the back of the line as unsecured creditors.

So who are these heroes, these responsible “policy makers” and unnamed “proponents” and “members of Congress” who are quietly thinking about ways to save the Republic? Well, it’s the same gaggle of budget deficit hysterics who have systematically lied about the debt and the “crisis” in Social Security. The article eventually cites Sen. John Cornyn, House Republicans, and the paragon of fiscal virtue, Newt Gingrich! Those would be the same budget arsonists who gave us two unfunded wars ($1-3 trillion), an unfunded drug benefit (another trillion), Bush tax cuts (more trillions) and want extensions of the same (trillions and trillions) . . . forever!

It is not until we get inside the paper that the Times bothers to ask an employee rep what he thinks about this nonsense. And buried in a later paragraph, the Times barely mentions a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but with little about what the CBPP says that might rebut the deficit/pension hysterics. It’s doubtful most readers will bother to check, even if they’ve read this far.

Enter a certain Nobel economist, who, unable to post much because he’s traveling, gives us this short note:

Probably no posting, unless we get stranded in some airport somewhere.

If you want something to read, look at Iris Lav’s debunking of myths about state and local finances

Huh. So what does the economist want us to read? Well, only that same CBPP report, where honest folks have politely but utterly debunked the entire premise of the Times front page and pension hysteria propaganda. The CPBB report is well written and should be read from beginning to end, but here are a few highlights:

A spate of recent articles regarding the fiscal situation of states and localities have lumped together their current fiscal problems, stemming largely from the recession, with longer-term issues relating to debt, pension obligations, and retiree health costs, to create the mistaken impression that drastic and immediate measures are needed to avoid an imminent fiscal meltdown.

The large operating deficits that most states are projecting for the 2012 fiscal year, which they have to close before the fiscal year begins (on July 1 in most states), are caused largely by the weak economy. . . . [i.e., the US could easily fix that, as they did partly in the stimulus act]

Unlike the projected operating deficits for fiscal year 2012, which require near-term solutions to meet states’ and localities’ balanced-budget requirements, longer-term issues related to bond indebtedness, pension obligations, and retiree health insurance — discussed more fully below — can be addressed over the next several decades. It is not appropriate to add these longer-term costs to projected operating deficits. Nor should the size and implications of these longer-term costs be exaggerated, as some recent discussions have done. Such mistakes can lead to inappropriate policy prescriptions.

What follows is a point-by-point debunking of all the fact-free gibberish from deficit hysterics that’s repeated on the Times front page. Samples:

Some observers claim that states and localities have run up huge bond indebtedness, in part to finance operating costs, and that there is a high risk that a number of local governments will default on their bonds. Both claims are greatly exaggerated. [followed by further historical data and rebuttal] . . .

Some observers claim that states and localities have $3 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities and that pension obligations are unmanageable, may cause localities to declare bankruptcy, and are a reason to enact a federal law allowing states to declare bankruptcy. Some also are calling for a federal law to force states and localities to change the way they calculate their pension liabilities (and possibly to change the way they fund those liabilities as well). Such claims overstate the fiscal problem, fail to acknowledge that severe problems are concentrated in a small number of states, and often promote extreme actions rather than more appropriate solutions. [followed by more factual rebuttals, including an explanation how misrepresenting or manipulating the assumed discount rate can make a more manageable $700 billion deficit look like a scarier $3 trillion deficit ]. . .

– States and localities have managed to build up their pension trust funds in the past without outside intervention. They began pre-funding their pension plans in the 1970s, and between 1980 and 2007 accumulated more than $3 trillion in assets. There is reason to assume that they can and will do so again, once revenues and markets fully recover.

– States and localities have the next 30 years in which to remedy any pension shortfalls. As Alicia Munnell, an expert on these matters who directs the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, has explained, “even after the worst market crash in decades, state and local plans do not face an immediate liquidity crisis; most plans will be able to cover benefit payments for the next 15-20 years.” [5] States and localities do not need to increase contributions immediately, and generally should not do so while the economy is still weak and they are struggling to provide basic services. . . . [more follows]

Once again, the same intellectually dishonest deficit hysterics who have been conning the public and the media into believing we face imminent financial crisis that can only be solved by cutting Social Security, are pulling the same con about public pensions. The con is to get states to renege on commitments, some embedded in state constitutions (so much for conservative reverence for the 10th Amendment!), to fund public pension/retirement programs that employees worked, paid, and bargained for, while claiming we have no choice. It’s a lie.

It’s shameful that the New York Times is not reporting this straight but has instead published a blatantly misleading propaganda piece on the front page of its news section.

MSNBC Suspends Scarborough for Campaign Donations; Democracy Safe

12:22 pm in Government, Media by Scarecrow

Well, this is a relief:

MSNBC said Friday that it is suspending “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough for two days after he acknowledged giving eight previously unknown $500 contributions to friends and family members running for state and local offices during his tenure at the network, a violation of parent NBC’s ban on political contributions by employees without specific permission from the network president.

Democracy is now safe. Neither Keith Olbermann nor Morning Joe, who are real persons/citizens, can contribute insignificant, puny amounts to political campaigns without asking their corporate daddy’s permission.

Meanwhile, the advertising sponsors of NBC/MSNBC programs can blatantly launder hundreds of millions of dollars through Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And NBC/MSNBC will continue to take millions from Chevron, AT&T and Citi, etc to sponsor their news/commentary shows, while continuing to claim they believe in unbiased, objective reporting about global climate change, net neutrality and media concentration and financial regulation.

These people make my cynicism look Pollyannish.
Also, today’s reading is from Matthew 7:3

George Will Proves Krugman’s Point on the Axis of Depression

10:16 pm in Economy, Media by Scarecrow

[Monty Python video from Paul Krugman's post, Austerity in Action.]

In Thursday’s Washington Post column, George Will attacks the Federal Reserves’ latest “quantitative easing,” lamenting that the Fed is required to care about human suffering caused by massive unemployment. Will cites Rep. Paul Ryan, but he’s also following such economic sages as Sarah Palin, Mike Pence, and Bob Corker. It’s all part of the latest coordinated conservative attack on the Fed’s dual statutory mandate to pursue full employment as well as price stability and moderate interest rates.

As Mark Thoma, Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Martin Wolf et al have explained, the Fed has traditionally used its authority to move interest rates to help control inflation, and hence to dampen excessive growth or spur anemic growth; each of these then affects employment. The only difference now is that with short term interest rates near zero, the Fed’s usual tools for affecting interest rates are at their limit. So the same concept — via purchasing government bonds — is being used now to help lower longer-term rates.

But of course, if the latest “quantitative easing” effort succeeds (many observers doubt it will go far enough), it would improve the economy and lower unemployment. And what’s wrong with that? Will won’t answer that; he sneers at a former Fed official for “regulating society’s reservoir of self esteem.”

Mishkin said “the rationale for maximizing employment is fairly obvious”: “The alternative situation – high unemployment – is associated with human misery, including lower living standards and increases in poverty as well as social pathologies such as loss of self-esteem, a higher incidence of divorce, increased rates of violent crime, and even suicide.”

One wonders what it is that conservatives find so objectionable about government efforts aimed at reducing human suffering. But no matter, the GOP is now intellectually and morally handcuffed by small government zealots, except that part of government needed to shield corporations, wage wars and enforce economic order. They can’t stand the idea that a fundamental government purpose, not just the Federal Reserve’s mandates, might have something to do with promoting the general economic welfare, rather than simply advancing the narrow interests of banksters, creditors and other masters of commerce.

Paul Krugman, who suggested the video above, concludes the GOP belongs in an “axis of depression” along with China and Germany. The latter two are condemning Ben Bernanke, because the Fed’s buying US Treasuries could, among other things, push down the dollar’s value against their currencies. That could improve US exports at the expense of those economies dependent on supporting large trade surpluses with the US.

But why, Krugman asks, is the GOP aligned with Germany and China whose self-interested trade policies are hurting US exports and increasing US unemployment? The reasons are both “odd” and “incoherent.”

The odd: on Monday, a somewhat strange group of Republican figures . . . released an open letter to the Fed warning that its policies “risk currency debasement and inflation.” These concerns were echoed in a letter the top four Republicans in Congress sent Mr. Bernanke on Wednesday. Neither letter explained why we should fear inflation when the reality is that inflation keeps hitting record lows.

And about dollar debasement: leaving aside the fact that a weaker dollar actually helps U.S. manufacturing, where were these people during the previous administration? The dollar slid steadily through most of the Bush years, a decline that dwarfs the recent downtick. Why weren’t there similar letters demanding that Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman at the time, tighten policy?

Meanwhile, the incoherent: Two Republicans, Mike Pence in the House and Bob Corker in the Senate, have called on the Fed to abandon all efforts to achieve full employment and focus solely on price stability. Why? Because unemployment remains so high. No, I don’t understand the logic either.

So what’s really motivating the G.O.P. attack on the Fed? . . . [T]he budget expert Stan Collender predicted it all. Back in August, he warned Mr. Bernanke that “with Republican policy makers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory,” they would be “opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better.” In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed. . . .

China and Germany want America to stay uncompetitive; Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.

So what’s the GOP’s response to America’s unemployed? And why isn’t the GOP’s handcuff-the-Fed gang required to register as lobbyists of foreign governments?

Konczal/Rortybomb, Survey of 30 conservative economists
NYT, Fed Officials brief Congress, bolster defense of QE
Martin Wolf/Financial Times, The Fed is right to turn on the tap

NOAA Distances Itself from Scientists’ Claims of Underwater Gulf Oil Plumes

12:22 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy, Media by Scarecrow

I don’t know whether this is good or bad news. Last weekend, the New York Times quoted several ocean scientists collecting samples in the area of the BP oil disaster to the effect that there could be large plumes of oil at various depths below the Gulf surface.

Today, however, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a disclaimer, stating they had no confirmation and claiming "media reports" were "misleading." From the NOAA press release:

"Media reports related to the research work conducted aboard the R/V Pelican included information that was misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate. Yesterday the independent scientists clarified three important points:

1. No definitive conclusions have been reached by this research team about the composition of the undersea layers they discovered. Characterization of these layers will require analysis of samples and calibration of key instruments. The hypothesis that the layers consist of oil remains to be verified.

2. While oxygen levels detected in the layers were somewhat below normal, they are not low enough to be a source of concern at this time.

3. Although their initial interest in searching for subsurface oil was motivated by consideration of subsurface use of dispersants, there is no information to connect use of dispersants to the subsurface layers they discovered.

NOAA thanks the Pelican scientists and crew for repurposing their previously scheduled mission to gather information about possible impacts of the BP oil spill. We eagerly await results from their analyses and share with them the goal of disseminating accurate information.

NOAA continues to work closely with EPA and the federal response team to monitor the presence of oil and the use of surface and sub-surface dispersants. As we have emphasized, dispersants are not a silver bullet. They are used to move us towards the lesser of two environmental outcomes. Until the flow of oil is stemmed, we must take every responsible action to reduce the impact of the oil.”

Well, great. We either have a group of irresponsible scientists who are the only ones reporting and possibly the only ones in the region doing onsite research on the possible composition of plumes near the well, or we have a very politically compromised NOAA trying to manage public concerns. Because if you read the Times story, the "media reports" being blamed here consisted of quotes from the scientists.

What the NOAA statement doesn’t tell us:

1. What, if any, direct collection of under/deep-water samples in the vicinity have been taken or are being taken? What do those samples, show? Who is doing this?

2. If NOAA is still waiting to see analysis of the scientists’ test samples, what is the basis for NOAA’s claims that levels of oxygen are not low enough to be a basis for concern?

3. What is the basis for the EPA/NOAA assumption that massive use of deepwater dispersants is an acceptable tradeoff against impacts from surface levels?

4. Is it true that the dispersants EPA permitted BP to use have been shown to have worse toxicity and less effectiveness than available alternative dispersants, and if so, why is the BP choice accepted under any rational environmental regime? Has BP’s corporate relationship with the chosen dispersant manufacturer played a role in allowing this choice?

5. What steps is NOAA or anyone else within US government taking to account for the huge discrepancies between the "official" estimates of the flow rates and the much larger rates estimated by several different, independent scientists? Is there a large quantity of oil "missing" and unaccounted for, or isn’t there? And what is the government doing to sort that out?

It may be that NOAA is one of the more trusted entities is this saga, and that all we have here is an effort to make sure the media does not get ahead of the known facts. Fine. But government oversight of a powerful industry has clearly failed because of pervasive industry capture, and that failure has embarrassed the Administration and undermined it’s announced pro-industry policies. "Trust us" doesn’t get it, and it never should.