Sunday, June 6, 2010

It Ain’t Over Yet

All three stories I’ve been following recently – BP, Thailand, Israel – are assuredly unfinished, with serious repercussions yet to follow.

In BP’s case, its fouling of the Gulf has barely begun. It’s recent failing gambit to stop the flow of oil, the top kill, which involved pumping large amounts of trash into the well hoping to clog it up, was one more indicator of its impotency. To some it was a publicity stunt. Since plugging an undersea well hasn’t been done much in the past and never at the depth of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, they are just flailing away, trying anything they can think of, hoping it’ll be a magical cure.

It really wasn’t necessary for BP to think ahead and try to plan for possible blowouts or malfunctions since, paraphrasing Barack Obama, the technology is really advanced and so the chances of encountering problems is very remote.

But, as the famous Murphy once exclaimed, if something can go wrong, it will. So now the current Hail Mary is to make a clean cut in the riser, the pipe that leads up from the broken Blowout Preventer, and try to cap it so most of the gushing oil can be siphoned off. It would be impossible to make a tight fit in such a circumstance, so even if they are successful there will continue to be a substantial amount of oil leaking into the Gulf. They are now siphoning off about 30% of the oil and will try to increase that proportion; this is considered a success.

Regardless of the relative success of the latest gambit, it will continue to leak at least until August when one of the two relief wells now being dug is able to intersect with the leaking well so it can then be plugged off. Actually, the August target is a product of BP’s wishful thinking, independent experts think September is far more likely as a best case.

It is actually quite a challenge to drill from a mile above the sea floor and then through two and a half miles of earth and accurately intersect with the well casing. In fact, it’s entirely possible that neither of the two relief wells now being dug will hit the leaking well closely enough to plug it. In that case it would take another 4 months before the next attempts reach the well.

If they’re lucky, they’ll be able to plug the leak in September. That assumes the whole operation isn’t waylaid or seriously delayed by hurricanes, since the official storm season has officially arrived and is predicted to be an active one.

Meanwhile, the 1989 Ixtoc well blowout in Mexican waters took a full ten months to plug and that was only in 150 feet of water where divers could access the wellhead. More recently a blowout in the Timor sea took five tries before a relief well properly intersected the leaking well.

A lot of people, as reported, are angry at BP for failing to stop the leak. That is stupid and nonsensical. Rest assured BP is doing all in its power to try to stop the leak; its profits, not to mention its very existence is at risk.

People are also complaining that Obama is not doing enough to stanch the flow of oil. Here too they are way off base, there’s not much he or the government can do that BP isn’t already doing. As the government has said, it has neither the equipment nor expertise to do the work.

That said, Obama is partly culpable since the public should be directing the effort and controlling the narrative. BP has consistently tried to low-ball the estimate of how much oil is flowing and held back the first release of videos of the leak until pressure from congress and independent researchers was too great for it to refuse. BP made the ridiculous excuse that they were too busy trying to stem the flow to be distracted by showing the pictures… like you can’t scratch your balls and watch TV at the same time.

The US Environmental Protection Agency told BP to use a less toxic oil dispersant, BP arrogantly ignored the EPA directive. The government wasn’t told the top kill had failed until 18 hours after the fact. Cleanup workers are regularly sickened by the spill’s fumes but BP insists they are not to use respirators, probably because it wouldn’t look good. BP is not just trying to plug the leak they are also trying to cover their ass. With the government in control and information flowing more freely, independent experts might have been able to assist the effort.

Best case scenario is that the cap works to divert most of the oil so that the gusher continues at mere disaster level instead of catastrophic level, hurricanes conveniently wait to unleash their fury until after BP lucks out with one of its first two relief wells and the leaker is plugged in August. Equally likely is that the cap doesn’t work very well, fierce storms seriously hamper the relief well effort and it takes another six months to a year to stop the flow. By then the Gulfstream current could take the oil all the way to Europe.

It ain’t over in Thailand either.

Unelected Prime Minister Abhisit probably feels really good about himself for stopping the red-shirt protest. So good, in fact, that he’s forgone seeking reconciliation and accommodation with protestors who represent the majority of Thais and instead is seeking to charge its leaders with terrorism.

All he bought with the death of 88 protesters was a little time. The Red-shirts will be back. They feel the government was stolen from them and are rightly concerned that, even with an election, it will happen again. Since the government, backed by the yellows, believes that the riff-raff that makes up the opposition is not capable of governing – not smart enough essentially - they may well try to institute some form of limited democracy. Otherwise, as mentioned previously, the reds will undoubtedly win the next election.

Back when I first went to Thailand in 1992, it’s tourist slogan, Land of Smiles, was surprisingly true. Just entering immigration the guy behind the desk was as warm, smiley and pleasant as could be. Today, you’d need to look hard to find a smile in the same circumstance, it’s all completely matter-of-fact. Tourism has tripled over the last 18 years and become boring; the immigration officers working the lines probably have limited incomes and are pissed, consciously or otherwise, at the great income disparity in their country, the worst in the region.

Even back in 1992 I was surprised at poverty levels in a place with glittering high-rises and so many cars it had possibly the worst traffic jams imaginable: In many parts of Bangkok, traffic would back up in peak hour to the point where nothing would move for nearly an hour. Meanwhile, large numbers of people were living in hovels more typical of a dirt poor country like Cambodia than up-and-coming Thailand.

At this point the common people of Thailand are tired of seeing the fruits of prosperity residing totally amongst the elite, and livid with rage at how the first Thai government ever to consider their needs was deposed by people who seek to limit democracy so they can maintain their power and status.

So it ain’t over yet, the Red-shirts will be back.

Once again Israel has resorted to brute military force to counter its opponents. Since its continuing illegal and immoral blockade of Gaza (in which items as simple as pencils, notebooks and coriander are forbidden, not to mention the cement and other building materials desperately needed to rebuild the 50,000 homes and other important structures damaged or destroying in its attack on Gaza) is not justifiable either in international law or common human decency, the only response it can make is intimidation and murder.

Israel says it was attacked, but since they confiscated all cameras and cell phones, not to mention laptops, money and all personal effects, the other side of the story can not be shown. According to eyewitness accounts, Israeli commandos started firing even before the reached the Mavi Marmara’s deck, but, of course, there is no way to visually verify that.

While everyone else in the world is calling for an independent investigation of the incident, the Obama administration, in one of the most craven acts of political cowardice every recorded, wants Israel to investigate itself. We all know the outcome of that one.

The Rachel Corrie, the last ship to try to break the blockade just yesterday, couldn’t join the flotilla because of mechanical problems. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Rachel Corrie was a young American activist who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home. She was in full view wearing bright clothes. The dozer operator chose to kill her. If you think he was ever punished for that murder, you’re living on another planet.

According to Israel the purpose of the blockade is to make life for Gazans so difficult they will turn against Hamas and choose a government more to Israel’s liking; that is, docile and subservient. It ain’t gonna happen. If it takes ten years or fifty years or a century, the Palestinians will not stop fighting for their land and freedom.

Israel likes to say it left Gaza but that’s a lie considering it still controls nearly everything that goes in or out. Israel’s plan for a two state solution to the Middle East would have the West Bank divided into three Bantustans each completely surrounded by Israeli territory thus enabling Israel the same stranglehold on the West Bank it now has on Gaza. A totally untenable non-starter.

Israel’s ongoing theft and colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank (By the way, it’s not called the West Bank in Israel; there it’s Judea and Samaria, thus an essential part of Greater Israel) makes the two state solution impossible. What it really seeks to do is repress, harass and humiliate Palestinians to the point where they will go somewhere else; exactly where is not specified, though many Israeli Jews want to deport them all to Jordan.

As for the Free Gaza Movement, its leaders say they’ll be back next time with even more boats. They say they have many more people who want to participate in trying to break the blockade. I wish I could go myself, but all I can give is my sympathy.

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