Thursday, June 3, 2010

Supreme Court backs off strict enforcement of Miranda rights

Once a suspect has been informed of his rights, he has the duty to invoke them, the justices say. The decision reinstates a murder conviction based largely on a suspect's one-word answer to police.

The Supreme Court backed off Tuesday from strict enforcement of its historic Miranda decision, ruling that a crime suspect's words can be used against him if he fails to clearly tell police that he does not want to talk.

In the past, the court said the "burden rests on the government" to show that a crime suspect had "knowingly and intelligently waived" his rights. Some police departments tell officers not to begin questioning until a suspect has waived his rights, usually by signing a waiver form.

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But in Tuesday's 5-4 decision, the court shifted the balance in favor of the police, saying a suspect has a duty to speak up and say he does not want to talk.

Moreover, the police are "not required to obtain a waiver" of the suspect's "right to remain silent before interrogating him," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote.

In her first strongly written dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the ruling "turns Miranda upside down" and "marks a substantial retreat from the protection against compelled self-incrimination."

Some experts on police questioning said the court's subtle shift would be felt in station houses across the country.

"This is the most important Miranda decision in a decade. And it will have a substantial impact on police practices," said Charles Weisselberg, a law professor at UC Berkeley. "This decision approves of the practice of giving the warnings and then asking questions of the suspect, without asking first whether he wants to waive his rights."

The case decided Tuesday involved Van Thompkins, who was arrested a year after the shooting of two men outside a mall in Southfield, Mich. One of the men died.

A police detective read Thompkins his rights, including the right to remain silent and to have a lawyer. Thompkins said he understood, but did not sign a form.

For about two hours and 45 minutes, Thompkins said almost nothing in response to questions. The detective asked Thompkins if he believed in God and then asked: "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?"

"Yes," Thompkins said, and looked away. He refused to sign a confession or to speak further, but he was convicted of first-degree murder, based largely on his one-word reply.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Thompkins' conviction on the grounds that the use of the incriminating answer violated his right against self-incrimination under the Miranda decision.

The Supreme Court reversed that ruling and reinstated the conviction.

A suspect who wants to invoke the right to remain silent must "do so unambiguously," Kennedy said. "Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk with the police. Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his right to cut off questioning."

Joining Kennedy to form the majority were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Kennedy has played a key role in the last decade in preserving the core Miranda rule, while also narrowing its practical effect. For example, he joined with the liberal bloc for a 5-4 ruling in 2004 that rejected the police tactic of questioning first and then warning a suspect of his rights only after he made an incriminating comment.

The same day, he joined a 5-4 ruling by the conservative side that said physical evidence, such as a gun or cash, could be used against a suspect even if he revealed it during questioning without Miranda warnings.

In the case decided Tuesday, Kennedy emphasized that the suspect had been warned of his rights and eventually chose to speak.

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation praised the justices for paring back the "artificial rule" set in the Miranda decision. The court "recognized the practical realities that the police face in dealing with suspects," said Kent Scheidegger, the group's legal director.

But Steven Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the case "demonstrates the power of custodial interrogation to wear down the defendant's willpower, which is what Miranda was designed to prevent."

In her dissent, Sotomayor faulted the majority for announcing a "new general principle of law" that will be confusing in practice.

"Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak," she said.

Joining her in dissent were Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The majority ruling is in line with the position taken by the Obama administration and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who has been nominated to the Supreme Court.

In December, Kagan filed a brief on the side of Michigan prosecutors and argued that "the government need not prove that a suspect expressly waived his rights."

BP's Dismal Safety Record

As the nation comes to grips with the worst oil disaster in its history , there is evidence BP has one of the worst safety track records of any major oil company operating in the United States.

The employees stationed on the Gulf oil rig testify in a congressional hearing.

In two separate disasters prior to the Gulf oil rig explosion, 30 BP workers have been killed, and more than 200 seriously injured.

In the last five years, investigators found, BP has admitted to breaking U.S. environmental and safety laws and committing outright fraud. BP paid $373 million in fines to avoid prosecution.

BP's safety violations far outstrip its fellow oil companies. According to the Center for Public Integrity, in the last three years, BP refineries in Ohio and Texas have accounted for 97 percent of the "egregious, willful" violations handed out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

U.N. Report Highly Critical of U.S. Drone Attacks

WASHINGTON — A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects was undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example would lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spread.

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit meeting of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.

In an interview, Mr. Alston said the United States appeared to think that it was “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justified its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible.”

But that example, he said, could quickly lead to a situation in which dozens of countries carry out “competing drone attacks” outside their borders against people “labeled as terrorists by one group or another.”

“I’m particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe,” Mr. Alston said in an accompanying statement. “But this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”

Mr. Alston is scheduled to present his findings to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday. While not legally binding, his report escalates the volume of international concerns over a tactic that has become the Obama administration’s weapon of choice against Al Qaeda and its allies.

The New York Times reported last week that Mr. Alston’s report would call on the United States to stop using Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones and limit the technology to regular military forces because they are open and publicly accountable for their conduct — for example, by investigating missile strikes that kill civilians.

Days later, news emerged that a C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas was believed to have killed Al Qaeda’s third-ranking leader, apparently a major success. In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Alston acknowledged that the United States could make “a reasonable legal argument” that a strike against such a figure in those circumstances was lawful and appropriate, but he argued that the escalating number of drone strikes in Pakistan still raised concerns.

The recent strike “is a very convenient one because there you have got a very clearly acceptable target, but we’re not told who the other strikes are against and what efforts are being made to comply with the rules,” he said.

The report calls on nations like Pakistan to publicly disclose the scope and limits of any permission granted for drone strikes on their territories. It also calls on drone operators like the United States to disclose the legal justification for such killings, the criteria and safeguards used when selecting targets, and the process for investigating attacks that kill civilians.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the report, but pointed to a speech in March by the State Department legal adviser, Harold Koh, that partly outlined the Obama administration’s legal rationale. Mr. Koh said the United States obeyed legal limits on the use of force when selecting targets, and he defended drone killings as lawful because of the armed conflict with Al Qaeda and because of the nation’s right to self-defense.

“A state that is engaged in an armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force,” he said. “Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise.”

The United Nations report agrees that drone killings can be lawful in battlefield combat. But it says that the United States is stretching the limits of who can be lawful targets.

For example, it criticized the United States for singling out drug lords in Afghanistan suspected of giving money to the Taliban, a policy it said was contrary to the traditional understanding of the laws of war. Similarly, it said, terrorism financiers, propagandists and others who are not fighters should face criminal prosecution, not summary killing.

Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Arrested on Corruption charges

OVIEDO--While lying in bed with his young son Wednesday morning, the FDLE showed up to arrest former Oviedo City Councilman and Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer.

Shortly after 9 a.m., with his wife and children in the house, Greer, 47, was taken into custody and booked into the John E. Polk Correctional Facility. He is charged with four counts of grand theft, one count of money laundering and one count of organized scheme to defraud, according to Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd.

Shepherd said a grand jury handed down the indictment against Greer. It was that indictment that triggered Greer's arrest.

Governor Charlie Crist, who appointed Greer to the position at RPOF, was notified a few minutes prior to the arrest.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Shepherd said the State believes Greer skimmed money from the RPOF through Victory Strategies, LLC, a company he set up in which he was a majority owner.

Shepherd said Greer used the money, at least $100,000, to support his lifestyle.

RPOF Executive Director Delmar Johnson was the minority owner in the company.

Shepherd said Johnson was a witness in the case against Greer and was given "delayed prosecution" for working with the authorities.

According to a search warrant affidavit, signed on June 1, Greer was having financial problems last year.

Attorneys for Greer were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Check back for updates.

Feds Approve New Gulf Oil Well off La

Federal regulators approved Wednesday the first new Gulf of Mexico oil well since President Barack Obama lifted a brief ban on drilling in shallow water, even while deepwater projects remain frozen after the massive BP spill.

The Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit sought by Bandon Oil and Gas for a site about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana and 115 feet below the ocean's surface. It's south of Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve, far to the west of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the BP spill.

Obama last week extended a moratorium on wells in deep water like the BP one that blew out a mile below the surface in April and is gushing millions of gallons of oil. But at the same time, the president quietly allowed a three-week-old ban on drilling in shallow water to expire.

"I'm outraged," said Kieran Suckling, executive director for the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity. "How is it that shallow water drilling suddenly became safe again?"

Bandon Oil and Gas first sought the permit in April shortly after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. The permit was approved Wednesday morning, according to MMS records.

Suckling said the administration was misleading the public by quietly resuming work in shallow waters while acting as if it was taking a tough look at deepwater work.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release Sunday that the extended moratorium on deepwater drilling was needed to provide time to implement new safety requirements.

"With the BP oil spill still growing in the Gulf, and investigations and reviews still under way, a six-month pause in drilling is needed, appropriate, and prudent," Salazar said. He said the term "deepwater" referred to drilling at depths of 500 feet or greater.

Frank Quimby, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior, said officials were comfortable with a variety of interim safety measures for shallow drilling, such as re-certification to ensure that blowout preventers will work properly. Officials plan to soon distribute a formal note to companies that outlines all the required actions.

"The interim safety measures, as long as they're completely adhered to, we feel that's enough for the shallow-water drilling to proceed under closer scrutiny and stepped-up inspections," Quimby said.

Meanwhile, the acting director of the Minerals Management Service announced further restrictions for offshore drilling.

Bob Abbey, named Friday to lead the agency, said operators will be required to submit additional information about potential risks and safety considerations before being allowed to drill. The rule applies even to those plans that have already been approved or received a waiver exempting them from detailed environmental scrutiny, Abbey said.

The Deepwater Horizon rig was among those given a waiver known as a "categorical exclusion." New information must be submitted before any drilling of new wells.

"Pulling back exploration plans and development plans and requiring them to be updated with new information is consistent with this cautious approach" adopted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Abbey said. The rule should ensure that tighter safety standards and better consideration of risks are incorporated into drilling plans, he said.

The plan will establish separate requirements for deep water and shallow water exploration, Abbey said.


Associated Press Writers Matt Daly in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Latest Setback for BP: Saw Snags Underwater

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Mood of resistance sweeps continent

The British protests against cuts on 22 June will be part of a cross‑European fightback. There are moves towards a day of coordinated strikes and demonstrations across the continent.

Portuguese workers took to the streets of the capital, Lisbon, last Saturday to protest against the minority Socialist Party government’s plans for wage and job cuts.

The General Union of Workers claims around 300,000 people joined the demonstration—the equivalent of over 1.5 million in Britain.

They marched with placards and banners reading, “Stop the rise in unemployment”, “No to austerity” and “Those responsible for the crisis should pay for it.”

Portugal’s union leaders say the rally last weekend was only the first step in protest at an austerity plan including tax rises and a freeze on civil service workers’ pay.

“It’s a stage of a continuous struggle that will intensify,” said Armenio Carlos, a member of the union’s national leadership committee.

“We’re leaving all options open, including calling a national general strike.”

Three days earlier, up to one million French workers took part in some 90 demonstrations across the country against an increase in the age at which workers receive their pensions.


Italy’s six-million strong CGIL union announced a nationwide stoppage for Friday 25 June to be preceded by protest rallies around the country two weeks earlier.

Bankers increased the pressure on the Spanish Socialist Party after the credit ratings agency Fitch raised fears that the government might not be able to meet future debt repayments, causing markets to tumble.

But this has only increased support from workers for resistance. A public sector strike is set for next Tuesday 8 June, and private sector unions are discussing joining in.

Romanian workers, facing 25 percent public sector pay cuts, have launched their biggest strikes and protests for 20 years.

Hundreds of thousands struck and tens of thousands marched on Monday.

Greek workers in the private sector union GSEE are to strike against attacks on their pensions.

And the union’s leader called for a day of strikes and protests across Europe—a call quickly supported by Italy’s CGIL.

“At this moment we need initiatives at a European level,” said CGIL leader Guglielmo Epifani. European unions were meeting to discuss the plan as Socialist Worker went to press.

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Lisbon: Massive Demonstration Against Government

Over three hundred thousand people (more than three per cent of the Portuguese population) marched today in central Lisbon in a mega-demonstration against the socially insulting policies of the conservative, right-wing Government provided by the Socialist Party, an insult to Socialism, an insult to Government and the epitome of laboratory politics practised by professional politicians who have never had a real job.

Three hundred thousand people for Portugal is a lot. In terms of the United States of America, it would be equivalent to nine million people. In terms of the UK, France, Italy, almost two million people.

The Portuguese people marched today in protest against the horrific social austerity package proposed by the ruling Socialist Party (which in fact is anything but Socialist) in a demonstration supported by the GCTP Union, the Portuguese Communist Party, Green Party and the Left Block.

The Portuguese people have been governed by the two main parties, the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, sometimes in coalition with the Popular Party (Christian Democrats) since the “Revolution” of 25th April 1974. What they have witnessed since this putsch, has been a wholesale selling-off of the country, the destruction of its industries, the destruction of its agriculture and fisheries. In return for what?

Each and every new Government usually starts its term in office with the sickening phrase “We are going to ask for sacrifices from the Portuguese people”. This has been going on for three decades and where have these sacrifices led the people?

Now, the Socialist (joke!) Government of Prime Minister Jose Sousa (who calls himself Jose Socrates, as if he were some academic…another joke in Portugal) has announced an austerity package which is no more or less than an insult to the Portuguese people who have had to put up with these professional politicians practising laboratory politics, without any idea of what it is to work.

Hence the three hundred thousand (plus) people marching through central Lisbon this Saturday.

Under the able Government of Mr. Sousa (or Socrates, or whatever he wants to call himself) and previous Governments led by the Social Democrats (including the ten years that the former Prime Minister, now President of Portugal, Anibal Silva, who calls himself Cavaco Silva for some reason, led the country at a time when Euro-billions were pouring in and were subsequently wasted) the average salary in Portugal has reached a pinnacle of some 800 Euro per month. Supermarket food prices must be among the highest in Europe.

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US naval attack group makes for South Korea

Nuclear-powered USS George Washington. Photo: EPA

A US naval attack group led by the George Washington nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is making for South Korea for holding emergency exercises with a South Korean naval force.

Military manoeuvres with gunnery and missile firing are held one month ahead of schedule. Yet another US-South Korean military exercise is due in late June, the one against enemy submarines.

The actions come as Washington’s and Seoul’s reaction to the sinking of the Cheonan South Korean corvette in the Yellow Sea, near the delimitation line with North Korea, in late March. South Korean experts reached the conclusion that the ship was destroyed by a North Korean torpedo.

China's Wen reveals fears of any Korea conflict spreading

(Reuters) - China repeatedly expresses fears about tensions on the Korean peninsula, but Premier Wen Jiabao took that point further by spelling out that any clash could have serious reverberations for the region, not least his own country.


North Korea has been blamed by an international investigation for sinking the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors, but China has refused to join condemnation of its ally Pyongyang and said it is still assessing the evidence.

In a transcript of an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website on Wednesday, Wen declined to say whether China would support any censure of the North by the U.N. Security Council. As a permanent member of the Council, China could veto any such action.

But China had a direct stake in resolving the stand-off, he said.

"If there is a clash, he people of North and South Korea will suffer the most serious harm, but China would be lucky to escape," Wen said.

"In China we have a proverb: 'If the city gate catches fire, the disaster even affects the fish in the moat', Wen said, citing a traditional saying meaning innocent bystanders are vulnerable to trouble at their doorstep.

"Only neighbouring countries will have this feeling."

Even a limited military clash between North and South Korea would rattle the region, and outright conflict -- which observers says remains extremely unlikely -- could unleash a flood of refugees over the North's porous border with China.

Wen repeated calls for calm and restraint, and said he had discussed the issue over nearly four hours of talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Seoul has pledged to take the incident to the U.N. Security Council, as it seeks to respond strongly to the deadliest military incident since the Korean war while avoiding letting tensions with the North getting out of hand.

"We will conscientiously study all aspects of the situation and reactions to it. We will fairly and objectively express our position. In terms of what we will do in the (U.N.) Security Council, please keep an eye on this," Wen told his interviewer.

China is North Korea's biggest trade partner and fought alongside the North in 1950-53 Korean War.

Beijing fears harsh condemnation of Pyongyang over the sinking could erode already-limited leverage over reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, dash any hopes of persuading him to abandon his nuclear weapons, and upset the brittle stability on the Korean peninsula, analysts say.

(Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Chris Buckley)

Your request is being processed... China Tells Defense Secretary Gates Not To Visit

WASHINGTON � China has ruled out a stopover by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had hoped to make improved military ties with Beijing the centerpiece of his trip to Asia this week.

Gates leaves Wednesday for an around-the-world trip that will take him to countries in Asia and Europe, but aides said China has explained that this is not a convenient time.

Beijing didn't elaborate, but China leaders were angered by the Obama administration's recent decision to go ahead with arms sales to Taiwan worth more than $6 billion.

Gates will spend the weekend meeting with defense officials from every other major Asian power during a security conference in Singapore

BP ADR Each Representing Six Ord Shs: Ownership

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'Money is killing us,' Gulf fisherman says

The latest health risk in the Gulf of Mexico is an abundance of money, says one Louisiana fisherman.

"Money," says Clint Guidry, acting president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, "is killing us."

BP is paying fishermen up to $3,000 a day to help clean up the oil, according to a contract between BP and one of the fishermen obtained by CNN.

He says the nine fishermen who were brought to the hospital while working for BP are unwilling to talk because they fear losing their jobs. The men suffered symptoms such as shortness of breath, irritated nasal passages, nausea and headaches.

"Working for BP is their livelihood, since they can't fish anymore," Guidry said. "BP is putting food on their tables. These gentlemen won't talk publicly because they're scared for their well-being and scared for their families."

Graham MacEwen, spokesperson for the petroleum company, says workers have no reason to fear retaliation if they speak out and should feel free to voice any safety concerns to their supervisors.

Several of the shrimpers contacted by CNN declined to talk on the record.

When the clean-up effort first started, BP required those hired to work in their "Vessels of Opportunity" program to sign confidentiality agreements, according to Jim Klick, an attorney representing two fishermen who became ill while working for BP. But he says the clause was taken out after objections from lawyers.

Even those who didn't sign a confidentiality agreement are scared of retaliation by BP if they speak out, Klick added

"There's huge concerns about this," he said.

It's not clear exactly what's made the fishermen sick. Guidry says it's breathing in vapors from a combination of the oil and Corexit, the dispersant being used to break down the oil, but Tony Hayward, the chief executive officer of BP, has another theory.

"Food poisoning is a very big issue," Hayward said Sunday. "We have to be very mindful of that."

Guidry was having a cup of coffee Monday morning at a marina in Lafitte, Louisiana, when he heard Hayward talking on CNN. The marina had a pool table.

"I couldn't believe it. First, he makes our boys sick, and then he insults good Cajun cooking," he said. "If he'd been right here, I would have shoved the pool cue down his throat."

From the 1953 CIA Overthrow of Democracy in Iran, to the Iraq War, to the Criminal Gulf Catastrophe and Deaths, BP Was There

If you were to draw an oily line from the first exploitation of oil in the Middle East by the British in 1901 (they were in the process of converting their then world dominating naval fleet from coal to oil and were in desperate need of it) to the overthrow of the secular democratic leader in Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, in 1953, to the Iraq War, to the criminal environmental catastrophe in the Gulf, BP would have been there.

But the fourth largest company in the world wasn't always called BP. It used to be owned by the British Government (remember the navy armada in need of oil). It was named the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company when the CIA teamed up with the British because the Western style Iranian leader Mossadeq wanted to nationalize Britain's 100% owned and run giant oil concession in Iran, and the West would have none of that. So Eisenhower authorized "Operation Ajax," and the Shah of Iran was placed in power -- ruling with an iron fist and the dreaded SAVAK, all the time fully backed by the U.S. -- leading to the radical theocratic revolution that we still confront today. All the time BP, which formally adopted its current name in 1954, was there.

BP was there throughout the de facto colonization of the Middle East to provide oil to the West, the British and the U.S. remaining strong partners in keeping any recalcitrant nations in line. Which leads to the Iraq War and why many Americans and Brits were puzzled by Tony Blair's eagerness to go along with Cheney's secret oil committee plan to seize Iraq oil fields and Bush's belief that the war was Biblically justified. BP is the largest corporation in the UK and the third largest energy company. Do you have any more questions?

BP and its American counterparts are part of the corporate oligarchy that run governments when it comes to energy policy. They don't take orders from sovereign nations; they give them. They are unelected, but because of their hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and profit, they run the show when it comes to oil policy, and profit comes first: forget about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Oil is their gold; we are just consumers who can be replaced at any time by more consumers, vassals to the oil company Masters of the Universe. There is no brake on their malfeasance, greed and criminal behavior, nor their ability to get nations to go to war, overthrow democratically elected leaders, and to get away with pollution of proportions beyond the imagination.

For over a century, whenever American and British GIs have died for oil, whenever pollution and toxicity have been let loose to ravage our shores, whenever residents have died of cancer caused by the oil refining process and spills, whenever Congress and White Houses have loosened regulations to allow reckless and massively damaging behavior, BP was there, along with their American counterparts: companies so large that they are above the law and governmental control.

Most American presidencies and Congress -- and particularly the Bush/Cheney Presidency -- have regarded oil companies and the control of oil resources as essential to the survival of the American economy. As a result oil companies and the secondary businesses that support them -- such as Halliburton and Transocean -- are indeed able to call the shots and get the U.S. and the UK to do their bidding. In the UK, BP is the power behind 10 Downing Street when it comes to foreign policy, drilling, and all things oil; that is why Tony Blair could not refuse to join the Bush/Cheney (and Rumsfeld) attack on Iraq.

Which leads us to the catastrophe in the Gulf. Of course, BP was off drilling in waters too deep for them to have developed a plan in case the well blew. Of course, they had memos indicating that they valued profits over lives and the environment. Of course, they have lied about the size of the oil pollution and their ability to fix it from the moment that more then 10 men died as the well exploded. That is their job. It has been since 1901, when their predecessor company began exploration in Iran. During her "reign," the iron maiden, Margaret Thatcher, allowed BP to be privatized, and it quickly -- Pac Man style -- gobbled up several other oil companies, including AMOCO.

For more than a century, we -- citizens of a nation founded on democratic principles of citizens deciding their nation's destiny -- have been nothing but pawns in the war over access to oil, wherever it is or might be found.

And the forecast in any shift of power from oil governance to governance by the people is looking bleaker every day.

Global Research Articles by Mark Karlin

What Caused The Explosion On The Deepwater Horizon?

As more details emerge about the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, it has become clear that the single-minded drive for profit and a total lack of regulation created the disaster.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, oil giant BP, rig operator Transocean and the Obama administration all took the position that the disaster was an unforeseeable event. Interviews with workers, information gathered by researchers and testimony given to Congressional and Coast Guard hearings prove, however, that there was in fact ample warning that a disaster was possible, even likely. But BP and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, disregarded these warnings.

They could do so with impunity. There exists no regulatory body in the oil industry to defend the safety interests of workers and the environment, the Mineral Management Service (MMS) of the Department of the Interior having long ago ceded all meaningful regulatory control to the industry itself.
Buildup to disaster

Evidence revealed in Congressional testimony, press accounts and gathered by University of California professor Robert Bea has provided a detailed picture of the weeks and hours leading up to the explosion.

Deepwater Horizon was not an extractive oil rig, but an exploratory rig. When it exploded on April 20 it was in the process of completing its exploration by capping the well it had bored some three miles below the ocean floor, before moving on to another exploration site. This required the rig to plug the oil well and separate its riser piping from the wellhead to the rig. A separate rig would later have come to access the sealed wellhead.

Deepwater Horizon’s exploratory drilling had been troubled by unusually frequent and forceful contact with explosive natural gas deposits, known in the industry as “kicks,” workers say. Only weeks before the fatal explosion, so much gas forced its way up the well bore and onto the rig platform that an emergency freeze was placed on many activities aboard the rig in order to avoid triggering an explosion.

According to one worker’s account, submitted to Bea, “at one point during the previous several weeks, so much [gas] came belching up to the surface that a loudspeaker announcement called for a halt to all ‘hot work,’ meaning any smoking, welding, cooking or any other use of fire. Smaller belches, or ‘kicks,’ had stalled work as the job was winding down.”

“As the job unfolded ... the workers did have intermittent trouble with pockets of natural gas,” another rig employee reported to Bea. “Highly flammable, the gas was forcing its way up the drill pipes. This was something BP had not foreseen as a serious problem, declaring a year earlier that gas was likely to pose only a ‘negligible’ risk. The government warned the company that gas buildup was a real concern and that BP should ‘exercise caution.’”

The day of the explosion, engineers reportedly argued over whether or not to remove dense drilling mud from the well bore, replacing it with much lighter sea water. Normally this step is taken only after a second cement plug is hardened in the piping, a process that takes several hours. Until this plug is fully installed, heavy mud is the first line of defense against kicks and “blowouts,” when oil and natural surge up the bore to the rig platform.

The decision was taken to replace the mud before plugging the well, even thought this would increase the chances of an explosion—and even though the operation failed a critical pressure test the same day, BP and Transocean executives admitted to the House Energy Committee. This clearly reckless decision to press forward was very likely done to protect BP’s profit interests, both because it paid rig owner Transocean an estimated $500,000 per day for use of Deepwater Horizon and its crew, and because it was anxious to bring the new well into active production.

A worker told the Wall Street Journal that the crew was in fact preparing to drop the cement plug down the riser—standard procedure—when the order came to instead pump out the mud. “Usually we set the cement plug at that point and let it set for six hours, then displace the well,” he said. The worker told the Journal that this dangerous step was first cleared with the MMS. The MMS refused comment.

It is likely that this decision combined with the failure of two other lines of defense: cement outside the well bore’s piping under the ocean floor, which is designed to prevent natural gas from moving up the bore and the riser to the rig; and the blowout preventer, a massive piece of equipment that sits on the ocean floor and is equipped with powerful hydraulic shears whose task is to sever piping in the event of a blowout.

Halliburton, which contracted for the cement and mudding work on the rig, had deployed a new chemical cement that it said would be resistant to structural damage caused by methane hydrates, which were present in the undersea rock in high quantities. But Bea, an expert with decades of experience in oil extraction engineering, said that when he saw the formula for Halliburton’s cement, he said “Uh oh.”

Bea told the Times-Picayune that Halliburton had produced “many excellent papers” that claim “because of the chemicals they’ve added, they think the cement can cure rapidly.” But Bea explained that the same chemicals they added likely gave off too much heat, thus thawing gases lodged in the rocks from their methane hydrate form and sending them up the bore and riser.

When the cement failed, gas began to force its way up the riser. At this point, concrete well plugs in the pipe should have blocked the gas. But contrary to normal practice, the final plug had not been installed, and the salt water was not heavy enough to stop the high pressure gas from rising.

On the evening of April 20, a geyser of seawater erupted onto the rig, shooting 240 feet into the air. This was soon followed by the eruption of a slushy combination of mud, gas and water. At this point workers knew they were in danger because the mud could only have come from 10,000 feet down, Bea said. On the rig, the gas component of the slushy material quickly transitioned into a fully gaseous state and then ignited into a series of explosions and then a firestorm. Workers immediately attempted to activate the blowout preventer, but it too failed.

Ironically, at the moment of the explosion a number of BP officials, recently helicoptered to the rig, had gathered for a celebration with rig staff marking seven years of a “spotless” safety record. Those at the party were thrown violently to the floor by the force of the explosion.

Bea, who headed up an independent team of scientists that investigated failure of levees during Hurricane Katrina, compared the two events. “BP fell into the same damn trap, and they were not engineering; they were ‘imagineering,’” he told the Times-Picayune. “Risk analysis continues to mislead us because we’re only looking at part of the risk. The same trail of tears led to Katrina, to the Massey Big Branch (coal) mine disaster, and it’s showing up here again.”

“For me, the tragedy of Katrina was floating bodies and the homes and businesses that were destroyed,” Bea said. “This time, it’s different. Certainly the people on the rig were killed and the pieces of equipment were destroyed, but like Katrina, there’s another non-voting population getting hurt this time and it is those marine animals that are our equivalents.”
A collapse in regulation

The series of mechanical failures and human errors that conspired to produce the disaster aboard the Deepwater Horizon were not random accidents, as the Obama administration and much of the media seek to portray them. They arose from the deregulation of the oil industry that has advanced for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations. These conditions made a major spill inevitable— if not on the Deepwater Horizon, then on some other rig. Indeed, thousands of oil rigs operating under precisely the same regulatory environment that produced the Deepwater Horizon disaster continue to extract oil even today.

The Deepwater Horizon, it has become clear, was operated in the total absence of real government regulation. This is most evident in relationship to the rig’s blowout preventer, its final line of defense.

At hearings in Louisiana held by the MMS and the US Coast Guard, the head of MMS’s Louisiana engineering operations, Frank Patton, who had given BP authorization to begin drilling at the Deepwater Horizon site, admitted that he had performed no inquiry and had been given no assurance that the rig’s blowout preventer would function in the event of a spill. He also admitted that he had certified “hundreds” of oil rigs without verifying the efficacy of their blowout preventers. These rigs presumably continue to operate in Gulf waters—a handful in deeper water than the Deepwater Horizon.

At House Energy Committee hearings held Wednesday, the head of Transocean, Steven Newman, confirmed that one of the Deepwater Horizon’s shear rams, devices used in blowout preventers to sever pipes, was altered in 2005 at the request of BP and with the approval of the MMS. It was modified for testing, but in the process was likely rendered useless for a real emergency.

The MMS was also aware years ago that shear rams are likely to fail in emergencies, even when functional. A 2002 study by Per Holand, a Norwegian engineer, found that shear rams are not powerful enough to cut through joints in piping, which account for about 10 percent of total surface area in a blowout preventer’s piping. None of Holand’s resulting proposals were acted upon.

Another 2002 study conducted by the MMS revealed that in laboratory testing of one manufacturer’s shear rams half failed. Seven other makers refused to have their shear rams tested.

Yet another report commissioned by the MMS in 2004 questioned whether shear rams could even function under immense oceanic pressures such as those experienced by the Deepwater Horizon. The devices were literally untested in deep sea conditions. The study authors called this a “grim snapshot of the lack of preparedness in the industry to shear and seal a well with the last line of defense against a blowout” in deep water. In spite of the study, no standards were put in place.

In a 2000 safety alert the MMS “urged” deep sea oil rigs to include a backup device used to activate blowout preventers in the event of an explosion. The device, known as a “deadman,” was included on the Deepwater Horizon. But, according to testimony given to the House Energy Committee, the device’s battery was likely dead. The MMS, it has been revealed, does not inspect—let alone enforce—the use of blowout preventers. Other oil producing nations, including Norway, Canada and Brazil, require a second backup device that can be activated by sound. It is not required on US rigs.

It has also been revealed that the number of drill site inspections carried out by the MMS dropped by over 40 percent between 2005 and 2009, even as the number of drill rigs operating in US waters rapidly increased. Penalties issued by MMS for regulatory violations fell from 66 in 2000 to 20 last year. By all accounts, regulation depends almost entirely on industry “self-enforcement.”

The gutting of regulation continued into the Obama administration. Under Obama, the MMS intervened in a court case last summer to allow BP to proceed with exploration and extraction at its Deepwater Horizon site without submitting a legally required environmental impact study. Obama promoted a vast expansion of offshore and deep sea drilling, declaring the industry to be safe, without having addressed any of the outstanding safety issues.

Yet, like the more immediate causes of the explosion and sinking on the Deepwater Horizon, none of these regulatory decisions were mere “mistakes.” Regulation in the oil industry—as in every other US industry, including the financial system—has been reduced to its present state by a series of conscious political decisions enacted at every level of government by both Republicans and Democrats.

This political shift, in turn, has arisen from the demands of the US corporate and financial elite, who have sought to dismantle every obstacle to their personal enrichment—regardless the costs for their workers and the health of the planet.

Safety fluid was removed before oil rig exploded in Gulf

This story is by David Hammer and Dan Shea oil-spill-deep-gulf.JPGA flotilla of boats is on hand Thursday to try and cap the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The boat hauling the cofferdam is bottom right.

The investigation into what went wrong when the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and started spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is sure to find several engineering failures, from cement seals that didn't hold back a powerful gas bubble to a 450-ton, 40-foot-tall blowout preventer, a stack of metal valves and pistons that each failed to close off the well.

There was, however, a simpler protection against the disaster: mud. An attorney representing a witness says oil giant BP and the owner of the drilling platform, Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd., started to remove a mud barrier before a final cement plug was installed, a move industry experts say weakens control of the well in an emergency.

When the explosion occurred, BP was attempting to seal off an exploratory well. The company had succeeded in tapping into a reservoir of oil, and it was capping the well so it could leave and set up more permanent operations to extract its riches.

In order to properly cap a well, drillers rely on three lines of defense to protect themselves from an explosive blowout: a column of heavy mud in the well itself and in the drilling riser that runs up to the rig; at least two cement plugs that fit in the well with a column of mud between them; and a blowout preventer that is supposed to seal the well if the mud and plugs all fail.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, Scott Bickford, a lawyer for a rig worker who survived the explosions, said the mud was being extracted from the riser before the top cement cap was in place, and a statement by cementing contractor Halliburton confirmed the top cap was not installed.

Mud could have averted catastrophe

If all of the mud had still been present, it would have helped push back against the gas burping up toward the rig, though it might not have held it back indefinitely.

oil-cause-050710.jpgClick to see a full size PDF file about what happened on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.When the gas got to the sea floor, the third defense - the blowout preventer -- also failed, and it has continued to fail for weeks as unmanned submarines have tried to get it to engage.

BP declined to answer questions about exactly how far along they were in the process of closing the well head 5,000 feet below the Deepwater Horizon rig when the explosion occurred.

But Halliburton said in a statement that it had completed pouring cement that lines the well 20 hours before the blowout. After that cement lining is done, the federal Minerals Management Service requires at least two prefabricated cement plugs to be placed at the bottom of the well and farther up, with mud packed in between. Halliburton's official statement shows there was still one more cement plug to be inserted.

"Well operations had not yet reached the point requiring the placement of the final cement plug which would enable the planned temporary abandonment of the well, consistent with normal oilfield practice," the Halliburton statement said.

Lawsuit disputes Halliburton statement

But Bickford's client, who was working immediately next to the drill floor at the time of the explosion, claims the rig operators had already started pumping mud out of the riser. Bickford said his client, whose identity he wants to protect for now, will allege human error in the decision to start removing the mud barrier before the well was totally capped.

Bickford said his client is the survivor of the rig explosions who called into the April 29 "Mark Levin Show," a nationally syndicated talk show out of WABC in New York, and gave perhaps the most detailed witness description available so far of what was taking place at the time. He used the assumed name "James" on the show.

oilspill-blowout-preventer.JPGThe bottom of the damaged and leaking marine riser sits atop the failed blowout preventer on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The main tube of the riser guides the drill pipe into the well, while the other pipes carry hydraulic fluid to operate the blowout preventer.

"We had set the bottom cement plug," the caller said. "At that point the BOP stack, the blowout preventer, was tested. I don't know the results of that test. However, it must have passed because at that point they elected to displace the marine riser from the vessel to the sea floor. They displaced all the mud out to the riser preparing to unlatch from the well two days later. So they displaced it with sea water."

Bickford's client went on to say that the crew opened a valve on the well head, allowing a huge kick of gas to push the seawater out the top of the marine riser and all the way to the top of the rig tower, 240 feet in the air. The resulting explosion probably instantly killed his colleagues who were in the path of the gas, "James" said.

Explosion doomed oil rig

Crew members were caught off-guard by a gas-bubble kick that spewed watered-down mud and an invisible plume of heavy gas onto the rig, igniting a fiery explosion that killed 11 crew members and doomed the rig.

Bickford said his client saw mud being pumped out of the riser and onto boats that normally collect the mud in tanks. Another lawyer, Stuart Smith, said he represents fishermen who witnessed the explosion and saw the mud being extracted beforehand.

BP spokesmen have declined to confirm or deny these descriptions of events, saying the details will come out as a result of the ongoing investigation.

Other lawsuits by rig workers paint a similar picture. Bill Johnson, a Transocean deck pusher with 35 years of experience on oil rigs, was injured in the explosion and has sued his employer, BP, Halliburton and others in Galveston County, Texas. Johnson's attorney, Kurt Arnold of Houston, said Johnson had a meeting with a BP supervisor about 10 hours before the explosion and was told "things were plugged in the well and good to go. He thinks in retrospect the company man was not following procedure."

Another one of Arnold's clients, roustabout Nick Watson, said mud came back up the hole so suddenly before the explosion that he was trying to wipe it away from his eyes on the deck when the power went out and the first explosion came, Arnold said.

'Mud weight is the first round of defense'

If the final cement plug wasn't in place yet, removing the mud would be at odds with "good oil-field practice" outlined in 2003 by the federal Minerals Management Service. The MMS report, prepared by WEST Engineering Services, warns against single-point failures -- counting on one mode of protection -- by saying that "mud weight is the first round of defense against a kick, followed up by" the blowout preventer. Removing the mud left the blowout preventer as the only failsafe.

"To displace mud above the position of the upper plug with water before setting the upper plug means that you are relying on one barrier for the duration; this is not good," said a deepwater drilling expert who did not want to be identified because he does business with BP. The expert is not involved in the Deepwater Horizon project.

While the mud could have given workers more time to react to the blowout, the accident itself and the oil spill originated in the failure of the cement and the failure of the blowout protector.

Blowouts often related to cement problems

Blowouts are not unprecedented, and often they are caused by cementing failures. An MMS study found that half of 39 blowouts on offshore rigs from 1992 to 2006 were related to cement problems.

Cement has two roles in oil exploration: It seals the pipe lining the well from the bedrock around it, and it is used to seal wells on the inside before abandoning them. It's not known which of the two cementing jobs was the culprit in the BP accident.

Even with the problems with cement seals and the weakening of the mud barrier, the blowout preventer, or BOP, a contraption built by Cameron International, still could have blocked the oil gusher. Unfortunately, those devices, too, have had documented troubles. Transocean Chief Executive Officer Steve Newman reported "a handful of BOP problems" during a call with stock analysts last year, although he said "they were anomalies."

According to internal BP documents obtained by The Times-Picayune, the preventer on the Deepwater Horizon's well head had a series of six valves and "pipe rams" that are activated by hydraulic pistons and constrict around the drill pipe to close off the well. BP said those valves failed to close the well before the rig was abandoned. In addition, there's a last-ditch mechanism, called a shear ram, that is supposed to use high pressure to slice clear through the drill pipe and shut off the whole opening.

But shear rams have a weakness. They are not engineered to cut through tool joints, the knuckles where sections of the drill pipe are connected every 30 feet. That means that about 10 percent of a pipe is made up of tool joints that a shear ram isn't strong enough to penetrate, said Per Holand, a drilling expert from Norway who has advised the MMS.

"If they do not know the exact location of the tool joint, they would normally close a pipe ram and lower the drillpipe until it stops against the pipe ram to ensure that the shear blind ram does not hit a tool joint," Holand said. "This may of course be difficult if you have a crisis on the rig."

The removal of the mud could have limited the amount of time the crew had to work through the process Holand described.

The shear ram is activated by a button on a control panel on the drill ship. An MMS safety alert in 2000 urged drill operators on the Outer Continental Shelf to have a backup method for activating the blowout preventer.

Blowout preventer backup not required

But the United States does not require the acoustic backup system that must be used in Norway, Canada and Brazil. Holand said such an acoustic system could have helped avert such a massive spill from the Deepwater Horizon well if the section of pipe inside the blowout preventer was normal-sized. But if there were tool joints inside the preventer, an acoustic trigger system "may not have worked" anyway, Holand said.

Robots on the seafloor have been unable to activate the shear ram using a manual switch.

Even if a tool joint wasn't in its way, the shear ram may not have been strong enough to cut through the pipe under the intense conditions at the bottom of the sea, where fluid inside the well bore may be as hot as 400 degrees and the water on the seabed outside can be just above freezing. The shear rams are rarely, if ever, put to the test in real-life emergencies.

Because the shear rams are the prevention method of last resort and would destroy any drill pipe if used -- costing oil companies a tremendous sum of money -- they are tested on location just to see if they move, without any pipe getting cut. The standards for manufacturing them with enough force to actually cut a drill in two at the bottom of the sea are all based on formulas.

In a September 2004 study for the MMS, researchers from WEST Engineering found that BOP manufacturers were not using the best models for calculating the necessary force and were not adjusting the force according to different types of pipes.

With all of these potential Achilles' heels, it's amazing that oil companies and regulators haven't prepared for the possibility that all of the redundant protections could fail at once, said Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane University Law School.

"It doesn't matter how many levels of sophistication there are in the blowout prevention device; if you have nothing to fall back on that's when a spill becomes catastrophic," he said. "We in New Orleans know, this is almost like building levees, you can build them with the expectation that they will hold in every event, but we know there's risk of something unknown and unprepared for. The risk of harm is so great, that's why we need a backup system on the two-to-three-day horizon, not 60-to-90 days."