Archive for June 17, 2010

Buy My House, Please

A few years ago, you couldn’t even get a For Sale sign up before a house that was for sale sold in my neighborhood.  Good schools, quiet, great access to downtown, yada yada, suburban paradise.  Now you can’t give them away. It’s not really a surprise, as I pointed out in September, 2009:

“As for the foreclosure crisis–that nasty little house of cards seems to have eased.  Or not.  Seems there are some mortgages called Option ARMs about 70% of which will reset before 2011, some by as much as 63% leaving a whole lot more people with not much of an option but to go into foreclosure, so  that one isn’t over yet either.”

Pretty obviously the rose-colored punditry that we were hearing at that point has indeed turned out to be tripe, something that gives me no pleasure to be right about since I would dearly love to sell my now empty nest and move elsewhere.  As this rather astute piece points out it really is that bad, and maybe worse:

“Is the housing market already double dipping? That certainly appears to be the case – and exactly on cue as the government steps aside. While the mortgage applications are no guarantee of a renewed trend the warning flags are popping up all over the place. In addition to the negative seasonal trends ahead of us, we are also seeing lumber prices off 33% in the last month, continuing high historical inventories, a slew of mortgage resets in the coming years, and the biggie – the end of government intervention.”

Back in September there was an asinine discussion going on about whether the recession would double dip and if so what form it would take–everyone was using letter shape analogies.  My take on that was never mind letters, think roller-coaster:

“the most terrifying ride in the park–you go up a little and then down, your heart lands in your stomach and you’re afraid you’re going to upchuck all over your date but then you realize that you survived and it isn’t so bad and hey you’re going up again. And then you get to the top of the next rise and see the very long and steep decline that lies ahead…

…Whether or not the  recession is ending is irrelevant and not even the correct question.  At best, we are in a bit of economic remission, but do not be  deluded, the ride has only just begun, and the big fall is still ahead.”

Anyone taking bets on whether we’re at that last crest before the big fall now?

You Can’t Fight An Oil ‘Spill’

As I was listening to Obama’s Oval Office oil ‘spill’ speech, I had a fantasy that he was going to tell us that he would immediately order the cessation of the use of dispersants because clearly they were making things even worse than just the oil and that going forward, the U.S. would do its bit to cut dependence on oil by immediately ceasing all military actions because BP is the Pentagon’s largest fuel supplier and it was time to set an example for the rest of the world by being good planetary citizens.

Unfortunately, not only did Obama not say this, it came off sounding like he was going to war with the oil, while all the while referring to it as a ‘spill’, rather than an act of corporate terrorism. Very metaphorically mixed thinking, that ended with an actually we got nothing reference to faith.

“Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it’s not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.

But make no mistake: We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.

Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward: what we’re doing to clean up the oil, what we’re doing to help our neighbors in the Gulf, and what we’re doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.

First, the cleanup. From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history — an effort led by Admiral Thad Allen, who has almost 40 years of experience responding to disasters.”

Can we just call bs on that last statement?

“We now have nearly 30,000 personnel who are working across four states to contain and clean up the oil. Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding in the Gulf. And I’ve authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. These servicemen and women are ready to help stop the oil from coming ashore, they’re ready to help clean the beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims — and I urge the governors in the affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible.”

While I actually agree that in fact that is a good use of the National Guard, why on earth did it take this long to authorize their use? But as I said, the tenor of his speech was of the ‘this is war’ genre and frankly, I don’t think Mother Earth can take any more assaults. We need to absolutely quit talking about cleanup and recovery as if we can make this disappear. We can clean up some of it, salvage what we can, and work to make people’s lives whole again, but we can’t fix this disaster–significant parts of the Gulf are now dead and we have unleashed a toxic monster that will be with us for a long time if not forever, and no amount of National Guard troops is going to change that.


Addenda:  Robert Scheer eloquently addresses the inexcusable war lingo here:

“What’s with the president’s war analogy on the oil spill? It’s as if some alien force, “The Invasion of the Slippery Sludge,” suddenly attacked us. “Abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al-Qaida,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday in his White House speech, “and tonight, I’ve returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens.”

What nonsense. The oil was minding its own business until some multinational corporations, enabled by a dysfunctional government regulatory regime, decided to wage war on the ecological balance of the oceans by employing technology that they were not prepared to control. Cleaning up the oil spill mess we made by raping the environment to satiate our consumer gluttony is not a glorious battle against evil but rather obligatory penance for the profound error of our ways.

You wound Mother Nature by punching a hole deep in her pristine ocean where you have no business going and when she bleeds uncontrollably you dare blame her for the assault? This from a president who shortly before this disaster had given the oil companies permission to pillage in the deep seas at will.”

Is The Gulf Oil Disaster Compromising Our Reproductive Health?

Last week, in an article published by Truthout, I examined the potential for human reproductive harm as a result of the Gulf oil disaster.  It was not until this week however that the EPA finally released information regarding what chemicals are in the dispersants, a crucial first step in definitively assessing harm.  The manufacturer,  Nalco, had claimed that some of the ingredients were trade secrets. But they were happy to explain in general terms on their website what was in the dispersants,

“Corexit contains six primary ingredients. Examples of everyday products with specific ingredients in common with COREXIT 9500 include:

• One ingredient is used as a wetting agent in dry gelatin, beverage mixtures, and fruit juice drinks.
• A second ingredient is used in a brand-name dry skin cream and also in a body shampoo.
• A third ingredient is found in a popular brand of baby bath liquid.
• A fourth ingredient is found extensively in cosmetics and is also used as a surface-active agent and emulsifier for agents used in food contact.
• A fifth ingredient is used by a major supplier of brand name household cleaning products for “soap scum” removal.
• A sixth ingredient is used in hand creams and lotions, odorless paints and stain blockers.”

Really?  We drink this stuff and put it on our babies? Must be harmless, right?  So why not just tell us the exact ingredients??

Finally however, the public and planetary right to know has  triumphed over greed. Two different versions of Corexit have been used.  The New York Times provides this description of the two products:

“Corexit 9527, used in lesser quantities during the earlier days of the spill response, is designated a chronic and acute health hazard by EPA. The 9527 formula contains 2-butoxyethanol, pinpointed as the cause of lingering health problems experienced by cleanup workers after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and propylene glycol, a commonly used solvent.”

“Corexit 9500, described by Pajor as the “sole product” Nalco has manufactured for the Gulf since late April, contains propylene glycol and light petroleum distillates, a type of chemical refined from crude oil. Nalco had previously declined to identify the third hazardous substance in the 9500 formula, but EPA’s website reveals it to be dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, a detergent and common ingredient in laxatives.”

Memo to self:  avoid laxatives at all costs.  But seriously, what the heck are those chemicals and what can they do? Tom Philpott has written the most thorough description that I’ve seen thus far:

“We finally know the main two dispersants that BP and the U.S. government are using to treat the ongoing Gulf spill. Both, by their maker’s own admission, have the “potential to bioconcentrate,” and both have “moderate toxicity to early life stages of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks,” according to a study by Exxon, the company that originally developed them. Their use may be the least-bad course, given the importance of minimizing oil’s effect on coastal wetlands. But a little digging into the chemical makeup of these two substances, which are being dumped in vast quantities into the Gulf, reveals that they could potentially do far more harm than good, both to the Gulf and to humans who later eat from it…

substances that bioconcentrate tend to move from water into fish, where they can do damage to the fish itself, as well as be passed on to predator fish – and on up the food chain, to human eaters…

And just how toxic is this stuff? The data sheets for both products contain this shocker: “No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product” – meaning testing their safety for humans”…

…According to their data sheets, both 9500 and 9527 are composed of three potentially hazardous substances. They share two in common, organic sulfonic acid salt and propylene glycol. In addition to those two, Corexit 9500 contains something called “Distillates, petroleum, hydrotreated light,” while Corexit 9527 contains 2-Butoxyethanol…

…Petroleum distillates and 2-Butoxyethanol are both solvents; neither are substances you’d excitedly dump into a vibrant ecosytem. According to its International Chemical Scorecard, 2-Butoxyethanol “may be absorbed” by the skin; causes “cough, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, nausea, and weakness” when inhaled; and “abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting” when ingested. For petroleum distillates, the International Chemical Scorecard has similar indications about exposure for humans, and adds this unsettling line: “The substance is harmful to aquatic organisms.””

So we know that the dispersants contain toxic substances.  It would seem that at the very least, since we’ve already dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of them into the Gulf, that we–meaning presumably a governmental agency tasked with doing such things–should be rigorously monitoring their impact.  Don’t hold your breath, or rather, it might be a good idea if you do.  NRDC’s Gina Solomon reports that,

“New BP air testing results were posted.. from April 27 – May 26 for benzene, total hydrocarbons, and 2-Butoxyethanol. There’s still no information about other oil-related air toxic chemicals such as naphthalene or hydrogen sulfide, offshore.

The BP sampling plan focuses only on workers on the large ships, and appears to not include monitoring for the people on the approximately 1,500 small fishing boats helping to clean up the spill. These people are dismissed as of “Reduced Priority” on page 4 of the BP sampling plan.

Nearly 70% (275 out of 399) of offshore air samples had detectable levels of hydrocarbons and nearly 1 in 5 (73 out of 399) had levels greater than 10 parts per million (ppm), which is an EPA cutoff level for further investigation.

6 samples exceed 100 ppm which in a previous monitoring summary was labeled as the action limit.  This label appears to have been removed in the most recent summary document. No information is given on where these samples, or the 4 found to be between 50 and 100 ppm, were taken.

20 (5%) samples had detectable levels of benzene with measurements up to 0.5 ppm. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) is 0.1 ppm.

20% (29 out of 146) samples had detectable levels of 2-Butoxyethanol with measurements up to 10 ppm.  This range encompasses the NIOSH REL for occupational exposure to 2-Butoxyethanol of 5 ppm. The BP document cites the OSHA PEL for 2-Butoxyethanol of 50 ppm, which would not protect workers.”

In other words, it would appear that people working near these chemicals are being at least in some cases exposed to levels that are unacceptable.  And those are the priority people, we don’t know about the reduced priority people. (Never mind all those chemicals,  let’s just start by forbidding our data collectors from ever referring to anyone as a reduced priority person. And hello?  Why is BP monitoring this, that has about as much integrity as putting an embezzler in charge of a bank fraud investigation.)

Also according to Solomon,

“The immediate worry is what are called volatile organic compounds, which include chemicals like benzene that can be released in a vapor phase from the oil that’s floating in the water,” Solomon said. “These chemicals can cause acute health effects such as headache, nausea, vomiting, cough, dizziness. The chemicals can also cause longer-term effects, including the potential for miscarriage or low birth weight in pregnant women and risk of cancer over the longer term.”

“So far,” Solomon added, “the levels of these chemicals have been fairly low along the shore lines, so the main concern is for the emergency response workers. But we’re worried that as the oil gets closer to shore the levels of the chemicals in the air will rise.”

So what does all of this mean?  Good question.  We know that several of the ingredients in these products are harmful.  To what extent, we simply don’t know because:

A.  They have not been adequately tested for toxicity prior to use.

B.  No one has ever taken a wholesale toxic chemical dump in a large body of water on this grand a scale before.

C.  There is a concern that by breaking the oil up, the dispersants are making the oil itself, also toxic, harder to clean up.

D.  As Solomon notes, the data that we are getting via BP is problematic, making quantifying the damage all the more difficult.

I don’t want to re-hash all the points I made in the Truthout article, but suffice to say, this additional information only confirms my concerns.  We know that aquatic life is dying, that wetlands are being grievously harmed, and that people are suffering from a variety of health symptoms.  What we don’t know and won’t for quite some time is what the reproductive consequences may be.  In the meantime, it is urgent that data be properly collected and made available and that every precaution be made to protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly pregnant women and children.

Addenda: Two additional points that add to the urgency of addressing this issue, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

“In a report written by Anita George-Ares and James R. Clark for Exxon Biomedical Sciences, Inc. titled “Acute Aquatic Toxicity of Three Corexit Products: An Overview” Corexit 9500 was found to be one of the most toxic dispersal agents ever developed.

According to the Clark and George-Ares report, Corexit mixed with the higher gulf coast water temperatures becomes even more toxic.”

And even more worrisome:

“It seems like damage brought by the oil gusher has spread way beyond the ocean, coastal areas and beaches. Collateral damage now appears to include agricultural damage way inland Mississippi.

A mysterious “disease” has caused widespread damage to plants from weeds to farmed organic and conventionally grown crops. There is very strong suspicion that ocean winds have blown Corexit aerosol plumes or droplets and that dispersants have caused the unexplained widespread damage or “disease”.

There is no other explanation for the crop damage. Everything points to something that has a widespread effect on plants and crops. While no one precisely knows, all the signs point to BP’s use of aerosolized Corexit brought inland by the ocean winds or rain.

Remember acid rain? Now it seems we could have toxic dispersant rain.”

In the Truthout article, I mentioned acid rain as a reason to be concerned that the toxicity of the oil and the dispersants could move inland.  At the time, quite honestly I wanted the ramifications of that happening to remain a hypothetical nightmare.  It would appear that this may be exactly what is happening, and the implications for our food and water supplies, our health and our lives are very, very bad.

Playgrounds At Guantanamo

In the jaw hanging open department, this is just a hop, skip and a jump from a certain oil disaster–couldn’t we maybe put the oil here, or at the very least, the top brass of BP, Halliburton and Transocean?  Afterall, the oil is actually threatening our shores, unlike most if not all of the prisoners for life at Guantanamo?

“The cost of the marquee (at Guantanamo), along with a smaller sign positioned near the airfield: $188,000. Among other odd legacies from war-on-terror spending since 2001 for the troops at Guantanamo Bay: an abandoned volleyball court for $249,000, an unused go-kart track for $296,000 and $3.5 million for 27 playgrounds that are often vacant.”

Playgrounds??? For whom?

“The Pentagon also spent $683,000 to renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee, and $773,000 to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant.

The spending is part of at least $500 million that has transformed what was once a sun-beaten and forgotten Caribbean base into one of the most secure military and prison installations in the world. That does not include construction bonuses, which typically run into the millions.

Also not included are annual operating costs of $150 million — double the amount for a comparable U.S. prison, according to the White House. Add in clandestine black-budget items, such as the top-secret Camp 7 prison for high-value detainees, aptly nicknamed Camp Platinum, and the post-Sept. 11, 2001, bill for the 45-square-mile base easily soars toward $2 billion…

Millions went to build artificial-turf football and baseball fields that professional players would envy, surrounded by a cluster of facilities, including a running track, a skate park, an outdoor roller hockey rink and batting cages.”

And while we pour millions down the Guantanamo hell hole, people in this country do not have jobs, they are losing their homes, cannot afford healthcare or education. But not to worry, we have a roller hockey rink at Guantanamo.

Wanna Buy Some Oily Swampland In Florida?

As things get more and more surreal every moment on this planet, it becomes difficult to write in a way that

A last romp at the beach?

A last romp at the beach?

doesn’t send you the reader or me the writer into tears or over a cliff.  While the oil continues to gush, there have been some truly bat-shit scary ideas of how to stop it, including the Dr. Strangelove nuke it solution.  Nuking a hole in a gushing hole, radiating the gulf and who knows what else when the wind blows is helpful how?

One thing to be said for that idea, it makes the idea of putting the military, you know the one that is winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in to deal with it almost sound sane.  I said almost.  But not to worry,

“U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is rejecting a more forceful role for the military in plugging the Gulf of Mexico oil leak.Gates says the deep-water disaster is beyond the military’s expertise.”

Osama Bin Laden is rolling on the floor laughing in his cave.  We spend how much every year to protect ourselves against all manner of ‘terrorism’ and when we actually have a real something to be afraid about, the military’s response is ‘We got nothing’?  Oh and in answer to how much we spend to not be able to defend ourselves against real threats, here is the growing count and amount,

“The US spent $661 billion on its military in 2009, a 75.8 percent increase from 2000. While current US military spending is still a carryover from the years of George W. Bush, President Barack Obama shows no signs of cutting spending. The Nobel Peace Prize winner excluded security-related expenditure from a planned three-year squeeze in discretionary expenditure. At a recent hearing before Congress, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talked about efforts to trim the fat but the proposed Defense Department baseline budget for fiscal 2011 is $708 billion.”

But don’t look to divert any of those funds to cleaning up wetlands or providing employment assistance for those along the Gulf who now joint the ranks of the already beleaguered unemployed.  After all, a strong defense is important.

And then there is the Goldman Sachs oh so timely sale of BP shares?  No need to be suspicious of that with Tim Geithner at the helm.

And the recession remember the recession?  Is it back?  Might could be, hardly a surprise, ‘splains the mirage like quality of our supposed recovery.

And in the miscellaneous oh there’s a surprise category:

1.  Meanwhile, we spent how much money fighting the less than epic swine flu pandemic to the benefit of big Pharma and why?  Remember Rumsfeld’s connection with Tamiflu?  Nuf said.

2.  And radioactive fish?  Has nothing to do with proximity to nuclear plants.

Meanwhile, Arizona is doing its damnedest to whitewash itself, Israel went into its bat shit bully mode and the DADT debate is promising to last longer than the healthcare debate.  I won’t even bother with links for those, you know, and I can’t bear to even spend the time to remind you. Stay tuned, the bad news is there will be more bad news and worse yet, more bad lies.  And you’ll never guess who is going to get stuck paying the tab.

Oil Slick Culture–The Cookbook Edition

In the sometimes you shouldn’t speak without a script department:

“(Mississippi Governor Haley) Barbour described the oil as “weathered, emulsified, caramel-colored mousse, like the food mousse.” “Once it gets to this stage, it’s not poisonous,” Barbour said. “But if a small animal got coated enough with it, it could smother it. But if you got enough toothpaste on you, you couldn’t breathe.””

If you’re rolling on the floor laughing it is hard to breathe too, but actually it isn’t funny, and implying that weathered oil is safe is putting wildlife and people in danger.