Daily Archive: 07/11/2013

Jul 11 2013

Billions more in potential damages in BP Oil Disaster

Potentially some good news in victim compensation in the Deepwater Horizon spill.  In March BP agreed to a  scheme for awarding financial damages with lawyers representing the class of people who suffered economic harm.

In the 1000 page agreement, certified by a Louisiana Judge, awards were to be determined by the income and revenue before and after the disaster.

As it turns out the amount could double or more the $8.5 Billion BP estimated AND their fines for environmental damage could be $23 Billion more than the $25 Billion they have already spent on clean up.

So in total this could end up costing them north of $55 Billion.  Good news if you believe in justice and accountability, bad news if you’re a BP shareholder.

US government assessment of BP oil spill ‘will not account for damage’

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian

Thursday 11 July 2013 08.17 EDT

A report from the National Research Council said the US government’s efforts to put a price on damage from the April 2010 disaster failed to capture the full extent of the environmental and economic losses in Gulf waters and coastal areas, fisheries, marine life, and the deep sea caused by BP’s runaway well.

Compiled by a team of 16 scientists at the request of Congress, the study went on to call for a sweeping overhaul of methods for putting a price on environmental losses – especially after an event on the scale of the BP disaster.



The researchers noted that 20 million people in the US alone lived and worked around the Gulf of Mexico. Before the April 2010 disaster, the Gulf accounted for about a quarter of the country’s seafood catch. It also provided about 30% of America’s oil and nearly 20% of natural gas. Meanwhile, coastal wetlands provided protection against storm surges.

But the report noted: “Disruptions in the ecosystem caused by the oil spill could impair these services, leading to economic and social impacts that may not be apparent from an assessment of environmental damage alone.”

The April 2010 explosion killed 11 workers aboard the oil rig, and spewed more than 4m barrels of oil into the Gulf, according to the US government’s estimate. It was the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

BP says it has spent $25bn so far in clean-up and restoration costs. It owes the government an additional $4.5bn in fines. The company is also on the hook for an $8bn settlement of economic claims – a figure which is uncapped and growing.

BP could be facing even more expensive litigation in the autumn, involving fines of up to $17.5bn under the Clean Water Act.

Billions more hinge on the outcome of a trial involving claims by the federal government and five Gulf states for restoring damage to natural resources. Government scientists are now engaged in a closely guarded exercise of trying to get a full accounting of the damage done to the Gulf, and the cost of restoring oiled coastlines and waters, and protecting populations of marine wildlife, such as dolphins, which have suffered die-offs since the disaster.

BP appeals against ‘inflated’ Deepwater Horizon claims

Associated Press

Monday 8 July 2013 14.45 EDT

Ted Olson made the arguments in a packed courtroom before a three-judge panel of the 5th US circuit court of appeals. A lower court has already refused to block payments to businesses that claim the spill cost them money.



Olson, who served as solicitor general under former president George W Bush, attacked the payout process. “Irreparable injustices are taking place and money is being dispensed to parties from whom it may not be recoverable,” he said. Under the settlement, BP initially estimated that it would pay $7.8bn (¬£5.2bn) to resolve claims by tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents and businesses. Now the company says it no longer can give a reliable estimate for how much the deal will cost, amid reports that it could be double the initial forecast.



Awards to businesses are based on a comparison of their revenues and expenses before and after the spill. BP says a “policy decision” that Juneau announced in January 2013 allows businesses to manipulate those figures.

The panel opened Monday’s hearing by asking Olson whether the court has jurisdiction in a case involving a settlement already approved by the parties in the case and a US district court judge. Judge James Dennis seemed sceptical at times, asking: “How can we go beyond the four corners of the agreement?”

Deepwater Horizon: BP cry foul as 10,000 claims flood in each month

Dominic Rushe, The Observer

Saturday 6 July 2013

Last week, the judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the multibillion-dollar civil damages case against BP, appointed Louis Freeh, a former judge and head of the FBI, to look into allegations of misconduct at the office that administers compensation claims.

So far, the company has had little luck arguing against the scheme that it set up last March. A panel of three judges will hear tomorrow’s appeal, in which each side has 20 minutes to state its case. BP argues that the compensation committee is ignoring the accepted legal meaning of words such as “revenue” and “earnings” in the way that it assesses claims.



(Daniel) Jacobs (visiting scholar at UCLA institute of the environment and sustainability) said Freeh’s appointment was further evidence of Barbier’s determination to make sure that BP received a fair hearing. “If you really want something investigated, you hire Freeh. He is going to get to the bottom of it. I have a lot of faith in Barbier, he’s doing an incredible job. These are serious allegations and they are being treated seriously,” he said.

“BP has been whining for a while, maybe because they think Juneau is more lenient than Feinberg, but Barbier has the jurisdiction to reverse any of these awards and is overseeing the appeals process. I don’t know what else BP wants to be done here.”

Jacobs added that it was difficult to see BP as an innocent victim given its record in the US. The company has been fined and publicly censured for other accidents, including the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 170.

“BP writ large is a felon and a recidivist. They have a terrible record in the environmental arena and other areas.”

Jul 11 2013

Student Loan Deal: From Bad to Worse

On July 1, student loan rated double to to 6.8% when Congress failed to take action. This placed an enormous debt on students who start off in deep debt in an seriously depressed labor market.

In the Senate, a vote to restore low interest rates temporarily on some new federal student loans failed to advance sparking a clash among Democrats.

Liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) blasted a fellow Democratic senator Tuesday as a dispute over student loan rates escalated divisions within the party.

“Elizabeth came out very strong against Manchin,” said a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss the exchange. “She said, ‘They’re already making money off the backs of students, and this adds another $1 billion.‘”

Warren was referring to a deal Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and two other members of the caucus, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Angus King (I-Maine), struck with Republicans to peg student-lending rates to the 10-year Treasury notes.

It appears that Manchin, Carper and King have prevailed with a deal that will possibly be even more costly for future college students:

Rates on new student loans from the Department of Education, the dominant source of college loans, would be pegged to the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. Undergraduates would pay 1.8 percentage points above the government’s cost to borrow for 10 years. Graduate students would pay 3.8 percentage points above the rate. Parents would pay 4.5 percentage points above the benchmark, officials said.

The yield on the 10-year note was 2.57 percent late Wednesday, according to Bloomberg. Assuming the measure is signed into law as is, most students starting school this fall and their parents would enjoy lower borrowing costs than the rates that prevailed during the last school year.

But their savings would effectively be subsidized by future borrowers, who would pay more relative to current law as the economy improves and interest rates rise. [..]

Many Senate Democrats have been reluctant to support the measures, in part because of the possibility that future students would pay much higher rates than they do under current law.

Before Wednesday’s failed vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called for student loan rates to be returned to 3.4%.

“We have a major crisis in our country today in terms of the high cost of college and the incredible debt burden that college students and their families are facing,” Sanders said in a Senate floor speech. “Our job is to improve that situation, to lessen the burden on students and their families — not to make it worse.”

The deficit hawks have prevailed to once again put the burden of the non-existent debt/deficit crisis on the backs of those who can least afford it.  

Jul 11 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: You’ve Been Warned

With two bad rules adopted on Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission has all but invited hucksters, rip-off artists and other bad actors to prey on individual investors. The new rules are another disturbing sign that under the leadership of the new chairwoman, Mary Jo White, the S.E.C. will pursue deregulation at the expense of investor protection.

One rule concerns “general solicitation”, or the mass advertising of investments in companies that are not publicly traded. Until last year, federal securities laws had long banned general solicitation – and for good reason. Private securities offerings – say, by hedge funds, venture capital firms and start-ups – are not subject to disclosure rules and other investor protections that apply to publicly held companies; as a result, they are difficult if not impossible to evaluate without inside knowledge and are especially prone to fraud

John Nichols: To End Abuses of Workers, the Senate Must End Abuses of the Filibuster

For the first time since the New Deal era, the United States could, by the time Labor Day 2013 rolls around, find itself entering into an extended period without either a secretary of labor or a functioning National Labor Relations Board.

The prospects are dire for working people and for the unions that represent them.

But Senate majority leader Harry Reid and his Democratic colleagues have the power to avert the crisis created by Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism. [..]

This is no longer merely about filibuster reform or arcane Senate rules. McConnell’s obstructionism now threatens to render the NLRB dysfunctional – and to make the enforcement of rules protecting American workers dramatically more difficult.

This is about a lot more than politics. It is about whether the government will function as it has under Democratic and Republican presidents, under liberals like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and conservatives like Ronald Reagan. It is about whether the constitutionally defined responsibility of the Senate to provide advice and consent, to approve or disapprove presidential appointments, is respected. And it is about whether working Americans will have a government that watches out for them-as opposed to Mitch McConnell’s corporate campaign contributors.

Heidi Moore: How the SEC is enabling Wall Street’s fungal creep into Main Street

New rules allowing hedge funds to advertise encourage baby-boomers to bet their pensions. What could possibly go wrong?

For most people in the US, Wall Street is not an everyday concept. It’s more like a haunted Victorian mansion on the edge of town where your 401(k) retirement plan lives: it takes a long time to understand how to get there and you’re pretty sure something’s not right about it, but you’re too scared to get close enough to check. [..]

Wall Street is in your bank account, charging you fees on your checking account; it’s in your driveway, where your car sleeps as you pay off your auto loan – a debt that has already been sliced and diced and sold to a trader at a bank somewhere. Wall Street is in your house – which it probably owns a part of – and because the interest rate on your mortgage bill was likely set by 18 traders in London one day a few years back.

As a result, Wall Street is not so much like a haunted Victorian mansion as a quiet, creeping fungus right where you live: it grows fast and takes root everywhere, silently.

Mona Eltahaway: Egypt needs a revolution against sexual violence

New reports of sexual assault against female protesters in Tahrir mirror my traumatic experience in 2011. Women deserve justice

This isn’t an essay on how Egyptian regimes like Mubarak’s targeted female activists and journalists as a political ploy. Nor is it about how regimes like Morsi’s largely ignored sexual violence, and even when it did acknowledge it, blamed women for bringing assaults upon themselves. Nor is it an article about how such assaults and such refusal to hold anyone accountable have given a green light to our abusers that women’s bodies are fair game. Nor will I tell you that – were it not for the silence and denial surrounding sexual assault in Egypt – such assaults would not be enacted so frequently on women’s bodies on the Egyptian streets.

I don’t know who is behind those mob assaults in Tahrir, but I do know that they would not attack women if they didn’t know they would get away with it and that the women would always be asked “why didn’t you resist?”

From the ground up, we need a national campaign against sexual violence in Egypt. It must push whoever we elect to govern Egypt next, as well as our legislators, to take sexual assaults more seriously.

Robert Reich: Where Are the Voices of Republican Senators Who Still Care About Democratic Institutions?

Before January 2009, the filibuster was used only for measures and nominations on which the minority party in the Senate had their strongest objections. Since then, Senate Republicans have filibustered almost everything, betting that voters will blame Democrats for the dysfunction in Congress as much as they blame the GOP.

So far the bet is paying off because the press has failed to call out the GOP — which is now preventing votes on the president’s choices for three D.C. Circuit Court nominees, the Labor Department and the EPA, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and the National Labor Relations Board. (The GOP has blocked all labor board nominees, some to whom the president gave recess appointments, but he’s now asking approval for all.) [..]

Harry Reid may now be able to summon 51 votes to abolish the filibuster, at least for cabinet officials and other high-level policy makers. But that shouldn’t be considered a victory. It’s a sad commentary on where we’ve come to.

Norman Solomon: Denouncing NSA Surveillance Isn’t Enough-We Need the Power to Stop It

For more than a month, outrage has been profuse in response to news about NSA surveillance and other evidence that all three branches of the U.S. government are turning Uncle Sam into Big Brother.

Now what?

Continuing to expose and denounce the assaults on civil liberties is essential. So is supporting Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers-past, present and future. But those vital efforts are far from sufficient. [..]

At the core of the surveillance state is the hollowness of its democratic pretenses. Only with authentic democracy can we save ourselves from devastating evisceration of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

The enormous corporate leverage over government policies doesn’t change the fact that the nexus of the surveillance state-and the only organization with enough potential torque to reverse its anti-democratic trajectory-is government itself.

Jul 11 2013

Not Evil Internet

Who says I don’t ever post good news?

NSA scandal delivers record numbers of internet users to DuckDuckGo

Charles Arthur, The Guardian

Wednesday 10 July 2013 12.25 EDT

(Y)ou’ve probably never heard of DuckDuckGo. … You won’t find it offered as an alternative default search engine on any browser, on desktop or mobile. Using it is very definitely an active choice, whereas using Google is the default option on most browsers. And 95% of people never change the default settings on anything.

But this 20-person business offers what none of the big search engines do: zero tracking. It doesn’t use cookies or store data about its users’ IP addresses, doesn’t offer user logins, and uses an encrypted connection by default. (Google provides an encrypted connection for logged-in users, but not automatically for non-logged in users.) If the NSA demanded data from DuckDuckGo, there would be none to hand over.



(H)e (Gabriel Weinberg) noticed growing amounts of junk sites in Google results – pushed there by experts who had gamed the giant’s algorithms. He decided that by hooking into web services such as Wikipedia, Yelp and Qype, he could get focused answers cheaply. By using a combination of those services and crowdsourced links, he built the site’s first search index.

Of the privacy angle, he says: “I kind of backed into that.” It wasn’t a political decision, but a personal one. “It’s hard to define my politics. I take every issue seriously and come to my own conclusion. I don’t really feel like I belong to any political party in the US … I guess I’m more on the liberal side.”

The reason he decided not to store search data was because it reveals so much about us. In 2005, AOL accidentally released details of searches made by 650,000 of its users via Google; reporters from the New York Times were able to use the information to identify one of the users: a 62-year-old woman in Georgia. Nowadays Google would also have your IP address (indicating your ISP and perhaps precise location) and, if you were logged in, all your previous search history. If you logged in to use Google on your mobile, it would have your location history too.

Having decided that searching is intimately personal, he deduced that governments would want to get hold of search data. “I looked at the search fiascos such as the AOL data release, and decided that government requests were real and would be inevitable, and that search engines and content companies would be handing over that data [to government] in increasing amounts.”

Search data, he says, “is arguably the most personal data people are entering into anything. You’re typing in your problems, your desires. It’s not the same as things you post publicly on a social network.”

So why does Google store it? “It’s a myth that Google needs to store all this data about you. Almost all the money they make on search is based on what you type into the search box. Nothing more. They need to track you for their other services – Gmail, YouTube – because those are hard to monetise, and that’s why you get ads following around the internet all the time.” (Google owns DoubleClick, the largest display ad supplier online.)

I’ve made DuckDuckGo the default search on all my browsers and find it gives better answers than Google because it doesn’t just keep recycling the same results you’ve already seen.  Also, you can use any other search engine anytime (if DuckDuckGo runs out of results it gives you the choice of continuing your search on Google, Bing, and Yahoo).

Tiny Utah-based ISP makes a name for itself by rebuffing government snoops

Rory Carroll, The Guardian

Tuesday 9 July 2013 11.49 EDT

Xmission, Utah’s first independent and oldest internet service provider, has spent the past 15 years resolutely shielding customers’ privacy from government snoops in a way that larger rivals appear to have not.

The company, a comparative midget with just 30,000 subscribers, cited the Fourth Amendment in rebuffing warrantless requests from local, state and federal authorities, showing it was possible to resist official pressure.

“I would tell them I didn’t need to respond if they didn’t have a warrant, that (to do so) wouldn’t be constitutional,” the founder and chief executive, Pete Ashdown, said in an interview at his Salt Lake City headquarters.

Since 1998 he rejected dozens of law enforcement requests, including Department of Justice subpoenas, on the grounds they violated the US constitution and state law. “I would tell them, please send us a warrant, and then they’d just drop it.”

Ashdown, 46, assented just once, on his lawyer’s advice, to a 2010 FBI request backed by a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.



The Electronic Freedom Foundation called it a model for the industry. “XMission’s transparency report is one of the most transparent we’ve seen,” said Nate Cardozo, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based advocacy group.



Utah is an unlikely home for an internet privacy champion. The state’s conservative politicians cheered the Bush-era Patriot Act and welcomed the NSA’s new 1m sq ft data centre at Bluffdale, outside Salt Lake City.

Ashdown, who toured the facility with a group of local data centre operators, said he had not received NSA information requests but saw irony in it siting its data behemoth in his backyard.

Jul 11 2013

On This Day In History July 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

July 11 is the 192nd day of the year (193rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 173 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1789, Jacques Necker is dismissed as France’s Finance Minister sparking the Storming of the Bastille.

Necker was seen as the savior of France while the country stood on the brink of ruin, but his actions could not stop the French Revolution. Necker put a stop to the rebellion in the Dauphin√© by legalizing its assembly, and then set to work to arrange for the summons of the Estates-General of 1789. He advocated doubling the representation of the Third Estate to satisfy the people. But he failed to address the matter of voting – rather than voting by head count, which is what the people wanted, voting remained as one vote for each estate. Also, his address at the Estates-General was terribly miscalculated: it lasted for hours, and while those present expected a reforming policy to save the nation, he gave them financial data. This approach had serious repercussions on Necker’s reputation; he appeared to consider the Estates-General to be a facility designed to help the administration rather than to reform government.

Necker’s dismissal on 11 July 1789 made the people of France incredibly angry and provoked the storming of the Bastille on July 14. The king recalled him on 19 July. He was received with joy in every city he traversed, but in Paris he again proved to be no statesman. Believing that he could save France alone, he refused to act with the Comte de Mirabeau or Marquis de Lafayette. He caused the king’s acceptance of the suspensive veto, by which he sacrificed his chief prerogative in September, and destroyed all chance of a strong executive by contriving the decree of 7 November by which the ministry might not be chosen from the assembly. Financially he proved equally incapable for a time of crisis, and could not understand the need of such extreme measures as the establishment of assignats in order to keep the country quiet. Necker stayed in office until 1790, but his efforts to keep the financial situation afloat were ineffective. His popularity had vanished, and he resigned with a broken reputation.

Jul 11 2013

Comey Set To Be Confirmed

If anyone, at this point, thinks that President Barack Obama would a change from the Bush administration, his nomination of James Comey to be FBI Director should be proof that any change from the past was a delusion. Besides his record of approving torture, indefinite detention and warrantless wiretapping, at his confirmation hearing Comey defended current US surveillance practices.

James Comey defends US surveillance practices at FBI confirmation hearing

by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Former deputy attorney general who famously rebelled against warrantless spying in 2004 declines to criticise current policy

James Comey, the former US deputy attorney general, said Tuesday that the secret surveillance court that approves wiretapping requests is “anything but a rubber stamp”, even though the so-called Fisa court approves nearly every surveillance request by the government.

“I think folks don’t understand that the FBI operates under a wide variety of constraints,” Comey testified during his confirmation hearing to succeed Robert Mueller as the second director of the bureau since 9/11. The combination of the Fisa court, investigative guidelines from the US attorney general, congressional scrutiny and internal inspectors general are “very effective” at checking FBI abuse, Comey argued.[..]

But Comey declined to criticize the broad, ongoing collection of the phone records when senators asked if they should be scaled back.

Having been out of government since 2005, Comey said that he was “not familiar with the details of the current programs” and did not wish to opine on them. “I do know, as a general matter, the collection and analysis of metadata is a valuable tool in counter-terrorism.”

When questioned about the use of drones, Comey said he did not think drones should be used to kill US citizens in America, but left the door open for cases of “imminent threats.” The precise definition of what circumstances would constitute an “imminent thread” were left unanswered.

Former FBI agent, Colleen Crowley, who was a division legal counsel for 13 years and taught constitutional rights to FBI agents and police, joined Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now! to discuss Comey’s testimony and inevitable confirmation.



Transcript can be read here

At his confirmation hearing to head the FBI, former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General James Comey refused to criticize the broad, ongoing collection of the phone records of Americans and defended the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens deemed to be enemy combatants. Comey also explained why he signed off on a memo authorizing waterboarding while serving under Attorney General John Ashcroft. We get reaction from former special FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who served with the Bureau from 1981 to 2004. The New York Times just published her op-ed titled “Questions for the FBI Nominee.” In 2002, Time magazine named her and two other female whistleblowers as Time’s “Person of the Year,” for warning about the FBI’s failure to help prevent the 9/11 attacks.

What digbt said: What do you have to do to not be eligible for promotion in official Washington?

I’ve always thought it was a mistake for the administration not to pursue prosecutions for the torture regime. It seems like a bad idea for a powerful nation to ignore war crimes. You have to assume that it could blow back on it some time in the future. But since we now know that the presidency is largely a ceremonial position without any power to shape the debate, affect legislation or influence the military industrial complex, it’s clearly awfully tough to do anything at all. Best stick to nice pictures with foreign leaders and leave it at that.

However, even those who view the office as nothing more than a symbol of leadership would have to grant that the president surely has the discretion not to promote the people who signed off on the war crimes.