Sunday, June 20, 2010





ROV films oil leak coming from rock cracks on seafloor.


Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:




Circulate as Widely as Possible!
Historic Victory - Mass Picket Blocks Unloading of Israeli Ship

2nd Mass Picket, 4:30 p.m., TODAY
Sunday, June 20, 4:30 p.m.
Berth 58, Port of Oakland

Logistics/Transportation details at end of message

Today for the first time ever an Israeli ship was boycotted in a U.S. port. More than 800 spirited picketers gathered at 5:30 a.m. today, blocking four entrances to the Stevedore Services of America terminal in the Port of Oakland. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 10, citing safety concerns, refused to cross the picket lines. The ILWU has a long and great history of supporting progressive struggles here and around the world.

We are calling of everyone to come to the 4:30 p.m. picket line to continue the boycott of the Israeli ship. The evening shift is being assigned the bulk of the work for unloading the ship. Please forward this announcement to everyone you know!

Protest Israel's Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla!
Boycott Israeli Ships and Goods!
Lift the Blockade NOW - Let Gaza Live!
Bring Down Israel's Apartheid Wall!

Unions, labor federations and other organizations around the world have condemned Israel's deadly attack against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, 2010. Nine people were killed and dozens seriously injured in the Israeli commando attack in international waters on ships attempting to bring humanitarian cargo to the suffering and blockaded people of Gaza. Six people aboard the ships are still missing and presumed dead.

Israel maintains a deadly blockade against 1.5 million people in Gaza, with claims ranging from the control of weapons to achieving demographic superiority in favor of Israel 's occupation. The construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank aims to create Jewish-only colonies on Palestinian territories. Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, rose to prominence calling for the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian people living in the borders of the Israeli green line.

Along with dock workers from Sweden and Norway, calls from Malaysia, and following previous actions from liberated South Africa, we will picket the arrival of Israel's Zim ship liner. In San Francisco in 1984, a picket line and refusal by dockworkers to unload a ship carrying South African cargo was a key event in mobilizing the anti-apartheid movement worldwide. We will be picketing the Zim ship and asking the workers to do the same with apartheid Israel.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All
Israeli apartheid must fall!

We call on everyone who stands for justice and against occupation and apartheid to join the June 20 mass picket at the Port of Oakland.

Labor / Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People:
Arab American Union Members Council, ANSWER- Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, Palestine Youth Network, US Palestine Community Network, Al Awda- Right to Return Coalition, Arab Youth Organization, MECA-Middle East Children's Alliance, SJP-Students for Justice in Palestine, AROC-Arab Resource and Organizing Center, ISM-International Solidarity Movement, San Jose Peace and Justice Center, International Socialist Organization, Peace and Freedom Party - SF, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, Bay Area US Labor Against the War, Bay Area Committee for Peace and Justice, Barrio Unido, Movement for Unconditional Amnesty for All Immigrant Workers, National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupation, Friends of Deir Ibzi'a, Socialist Viewpoint, FMLN in Northern California, San Jose Justice for Palestinians, Code Pink - SF, World Can't Wait - SF, International Action Center, Uhuru Solidarity Movement, Skyline Against Cuts, Industrial Workers of the World -SF, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee, QUIT!- Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, Fred Hirsch, Executive Board Member of Plumbers & Fitters Local 393, Delegate to the south Bay AFL -CIO Labor Council, and many labor activists in the Bay Area.

Important Transportation/Logistics Information

The Israeli Zim Lines ship is scheduled to dock at Berth 58, Stevedore Services of America terminal on Middle Harbor Rd., the cross street is Maritime St. in the Port of Oakland. The cross street is Maritime St.

Berth 58 is about a mile from the West Oakland BART station. There is free parking available at the BART station and on nearby streets. We will have shuttles from the BART station to the picket line.

If you are carpooling, carpool drivers should drop their passengers off at the corner of Middle Harbor and Maritime St. and then proceed to the BART station to park. Drivers may be asked to shuttle more people from BART to the picket line. The drivers will be shuttled to the picket line after they park at the BART station.

Car pooling coordination: Chris, 510-282-7032

Driving Directions to Berth 58

From San Francisco: Take the connector exit toward I880 right after coming off the Bay Bridge. Take the first exit off the connector, West Grand Ave/Maritime St. Turn right onto Maritime St. and follow Maritime to the intersection of Maritime and Middle Harbor Rd. After dropping off passengers, continue east on Middle Harbor Rd. Middle Harbor turns into Adeline, continue on Adeline a short distance and turn left on 7th St., go 2 blocks to the West Oakland BART Station.

From Oakland: Follow Adeline St. south into the port, where it turns into Middle Harbor Rd. Follow Middle Harbor Rd. to the Berth 58, corner of Maritime St. See directions above for getting back to the W. Oakland BART station.

From South Bay: Take I880 north to the Market St. exit toward the Harbor Terminals. Turn left onto Adeline St. Adeline turns into Middle Harbor Road, go about 1 mile to the intersection of Maritime St./Berth 58.

From Berkeley/Richmond/North Bay/Sacramento, etc: Take I-80 west to Exit 8A, West Grand Ave. toward Maritime St. Turn right onto Maritime St, go 2 miles to intersection of Middle Harbor Rd./Berth 58.

For drivers going directly to West Oakland BART: West Oakland BART is at the corner of 7th St. and Mandela Parkway.

Link to map of West Oakland

Updates on the actions:

Legal Hotline: 415-285-1011
For questions: 415-821-6545


United National
Peace Conference
July 23 - 25, 2010, Albany, NY or UNAC at P.O. Box 21675, Cleveland, OH 44121

Call to Action!
United National Antiwar Conference (UNAC)
Join us in Albany, New York!
July 23-25, 2010

The National Conference to Bring the Troops Home Now will take place against the backdrop of major developments in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Our planet is aflame with unending wars, threats of new wars and horrendous sanctions against Iran, atrocious attacks on innocent Freedom Flotillas bringing humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Palestinians of Gaza, and with an unprecedented corporate-driven environmental catastrophe.

With U.S. acquiescence, a humanitarian flotilla in international waters, carrying 10,000 tons of food, medical, construction and educational supplies and toys for children, has been brutally attacked by the Israeli military - nine killed and six others missing and/or presumed dead. The 750 peace activists aboard, including NGO members, pacifists, journalists, and members of the European Parliament, were kidnapped, then arrested - their cargo seized. As we write, Iranian and Turkish ships, also loaded with humanitarian supplies, have announced plans to head for beleaguered Gaza to challenge the illegal blockade and Israeli siege. Will the Israeli government once again attack with deadly force bringing the world closer to yet another war?

We are witness to seven years of war against Iraq, a war whose every pretext has been discredited and whose people demand U.S. withdrawal. War for oil, occupation and plunder does not sit well with Iraqis who have suffered 1.4 million dead. "Phased withdrawal" is designed to assuage the U.S. public, and Iraqi majority opposition notwithstanding, there is no end in sight.

Meanwhile, 60,000 barrels of oil daily for the past two months, barely impeded, pour into the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking death, destruction and massive loss of income in adjacent states and north to the Atlantic and beyond. Corporate greed and the absence of a semblance of serious government regulation threaten long-term destruction of the ocean's ecosystem. British Petroleum, the Transocean corporation, and subcontractor Halliburton Industries demonstrate once again that oil profits, whether in the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mexico, trump human life and indeed life on earth in all forms. The insatiable drive for "black gold," the very resource that with continued use threatens all life, has brought us to the brink of what Mother Earth and its inhabitants can endure.

At the same time, our movement has registered some impressive gains while the government is registering important setbacks.

• Public opposition to the Afghanistan War is on the rise!
• The "victory" in Marja has proven ephemeral!
• The economic and political crises have awakened millions to the government's twisted priorities!
• Congressional debates reflect doubts about the war's objectives and costs!
• 24 Guantanamo torture protesters have been acquitted!

History demonstrates time and again that united, democratic and principled mass movements open the door to fundamental social change. That is the lesson of the fight against the Vietnam War, the broad civil rights movements, the struggles for equal rights for women and gays, and labor's struggle to unionize and advance the well-being of tens of millions.

And that's why the Albany conference is so timely. One hundred and twenty-five plenary and workshop speakers are scheduled! They include national and international leaders in the fight against war and for social justice. Twenty-nine national organizations are equal co-sponsors. (See For the first time in many years, a broad and diverse range of U.S. antiwar forces will be in the same room. Joined by social activists across the country and from around the world, they will lay plans to mobilize the American people to Bring the Troops and War Dollars Home Now! and to Fund Human Needs Not War!

The time to act is now! All antiwar and social justice activists welcome! One person one vote! See Draft Action Program online. Related amendments and resolutions are welcome.

The need now is to find common ground in the fight for life itself. The crisis-ridden system cries out for a challenge the world over. Let us be among the first to chart a winning course for the U.S. and for all humanity.

We say, "Massive funds for jobs, education, housing, pensions, the environment and health care! Bring the Troops, Mercenaries, War Profiteers and War Dollars Home Now! Close the 860 Military Bases! Bail Out the People, Not the Banks!"

United we can change the world!


For more information: or call 518-227-6947. A registration form is attached. Brochures announcing the conference can be ordered by writing


Education 4 the People!
October 7 Day of Action in Defense of Public Education - California

MORE THAN 100 activists from across California gathered in Los Angeles April 24 to debate next steps for the fight against the devastating cutbacks facing public education.

The main achievements of the conference were to set a date and location for the next statewide mass action-October 7-and for the next anti-cuts conference, which will happen October 16 at San Francisco State University. The other key outcome was the first steps toward the formation of an ad hoc volunteer coordinating committee to plan for the fall conference.

These decisions were a crucial step toward deepening and broadening the movement. For example, the fall conference will be the key venue for uniting activists from all sectors of public education, and especially from those schools and campuses which saw action on March 4, but which have yet to plug into the broader movement.

This will be crucial for extending the scope and increasing the strength of our movement, as well as for helping us strategize and prepare for what is certain to be a tough year ahead. Similarly, the fall mass action will be crucial to re-igniting the movement following the summer months.

Organizing for the next Statewide Public Education Mobilization Conference at SFSU on OCT 16th
Posted on May 24, 2010 by ooofireballooo
Organizing for the next Statewide Public Education Mobilization Conference
@ San Francisco State University on October 16th

MORE THAN 100 activists from across California gathered in Los Angeles April 24 to debate next steps for the fight against the devastating cutbacks facing public education.

The main achievements of the conference were to set a date and location for the next statewide mass action-October 7-and for the next anti-cuts conference, which will happen October 16 at San Francisco State University. The other key outcome was the first steps toward the formation of an ad hoc volunteer coordinating committee to plan for the fall conference.

These decisions were a crucial step toward deepening and broadening the movement. For example, the fall conference will be the key venue for uniting activists from all sectors of public education, and especially from those schools and campuses which saw action on March 4, but which have yet to plug into the broader movement.

This will be crucial for extending the scope and increasing the strength of our movement, as well as for helping us strategize and prepare for what is certain to be a tough year ahead. Similarly, the fall mass action will be crucial to re-igniting the movement following the summer months.

Proposal: Form a conference organizing listserve immediately!

Please join the google group today.

* Group home page:




Oil Spill Threatens Native American "Water" Village
The town of Grand Bayou, Louisiana, has no streets and no cars, just water and boats. And now the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the very existence of the Atakapa-Ishak Indians who live there. "We're facing the potential for cultural genocide," says one tribe member.
(c) 2010 National Geographic; videographer and field producer: Fritz Faerber


Mumia Abu-Jamal - Legal Update
June 9, 2010
Robert R. Bryan, Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
2088 Union Street, Suite 4
San Francisco, California 94123-4117

Dear All:

There are significant developments on various fronts in the coordinated legal campaign to save & free Mumia Abu-Jamal. The complex court proceedings are moving forward at a fast pace. Mumia's life is on the line.

Court Developments: We are engaged in pivotal litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia. At stake is whether Mumia will be executed or granted a new jury trial on the question of the death penalty. Two years ago we won on that issue, with the federal court finding that the trial judge misled the jury thereby rendering the proceedings constitutionally unfair. Then in January 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that ruling based upon its decision in another case, & ordered that the case be again reviewed by the Court of Appeals.

The prosecution continues its obsession to kill my client, regardless of the truth as to what happened at the time of the 1981 police shooting. Its opening brief was filed April 26. Our initial brief will be submitted on July 28. At issue is the death penalty.

In separate litigation, we are awaiting a decision in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on prosecutorial abuses, having completed all briefing in April. The focus is on ballistics.

Petition for President Barack Obama: It is crucial for people to sign the petition for President Barack Obama, Mumia Abu-Jamal & the Global Abolition of the Death Penalty, which was initially in 10 languages (Swahili & Turkish have since been added). This is the only petition approved by Mumia & me, & is a vital part of the legal effort to save his life. Please sign the petition & circulate its link:

Nearly 22,000 people from around the globe have signed. These include: Bishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa (Nobel Peace Prize); Günter Grass, Germany (Nobel Prize in Literature); Danielle Mitterrand, Paris (former First Lady of France); Fatima Bhutto, Pakistan (writer); Colin Firth (Academy Award Best-Actor nominee), Noam Chomsky, MIT (philosopher & author); Ed Asner (actor); Mike Farrell (actor); & Michael Radford (director of the Oscar winning film Il Postino); Robert Meeropol (son of Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, executed in 1953); Fatima Bhutto, Pakistan (writer); Noam Chomsky, MIT (philosopher & author); Ed Asner (actor); Mike Farrell (actor); Michael Radford (director of the Oscar winning film Il Postino); members of the European Parliament; members of the German Bundestag; European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights; Reporters Without Borders, Paris.

European Parliament; Rosa Luxemburg Conference; World Congress Against the Death Penalty; Geneva Human Rights Film Festival: We began the year with a major address to the annual Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Berlin, Germany, sponsored by the newspaper junge Welt. The large auditorium was filled with a standing-room audience. Mumia joined me by telephone. We announced the launching of the online petition, Mumia Abu-Jamal & the Global Abolition of the Death Penalty.

A large audience on the concluding night of the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland, February 25, heard Mumia by telephone. He spoke as a symbolic representative of the over 20,000 men, women & children on death rows around the world. The call came as a surprise, since we thought it had been canceled. Mumia's comments from inside his death-row cell brought to reality the horror of daily life in which death is a common denominator. During an earlier panel discussion I spoke of racism in capital cases around the globe with the case of Mumia as a prime example. A day before the Congress on February 23, I talked at the Geneva Human Rights Film Festival on the power of films in fighting the death penalty & saving Mumia.

On March 2 in the European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, members Søren Søndergaard (Denmark) & Sabine Lösing (Germany) announced the beginning of a campaign to save Mumia & end executions. They were joined by Sabine Kebir, the noted German author & PEN member, Nicole Bryan, & me. We discussed the online petition which helps not only Mumia, but all the condemned around the globe.

Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense & Online Petition: The complex litigation & investigation that is being pursued on behalf of Mumia is enormously expensive. We are in both the federal & state courts on the issue of the death penalty, prosecutorial wrongdoing, etc. Mumia's life is on the line.

How to Help: For information on how to help, both through donations & signing the Obama petition, please go to Mumia's legal defense website: .

Conclusion: Mumia remains on death row under a death judgment. He is in greater danger than at any time since his arrest 28 years ago. The prosecution is pursuing his execution. I win cases, & will not let them kill my client. He must be free.

Yours very truly,

Robert R. Bryan
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
2088 Union Street, Suite 4
San Francisco, California 94123-4117

Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal


Please forward widely

Dear Friends of Lynne Stewart,

Forgive this hasty note updating Lynne's situation. I am off to Brazil shortly and must catch a plane soon.

I just spoke with Lynne's husband Ralph Poynter last night and learned the following.

A regularly scheduled follow up test to check on whether Lynne's breast cancel had reappeared revealed that Lynne now had a spot on her liver. Lynne struggled with prison authorities to have a required biopsy and related tests conducted at her regular, that is, non-prison, Roosevelt Hospital. Her requests were denied and she was compelled to have the biopsy done in a notoriously inferior facility where the results could not be determined for a week as compared to the almost immediate lab tests available at Roosevelt.

During Lynne's prison hospital stay she was shackled and handcuffed making rest and sleep virtually impossible. A horrified doctor ordered the shackles removed but immediately following his departure they were fastened on Lynne's feet and hands once again.

She is now back in her New York City prison cell. Her attorneys have filed for a postponement of her scheduled July 15 court appearance where Federal District Court sentencing Judge John Koeltl is to review the original 28-month jail sentence that he imposed last year.

This sentence was appealed by government prosecutors, who sought to order Koelt to impose a 30-year sentence. The U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, was sympathetic to the government's position and essentially stated that Koeltl's 28-month sentence exceeded the bounds of "reasonableness." Koeltl was ordered to reconsider. A relatively recent Supreme Court decision granted federal district court judges wide discretion in determining the length of internment. Koeltl's decision took into consideration many factors that the court system allows in determining Lynne's sentence. These included Lynne's character, her service to the community, her health and financial history and more. He ruled, among other things that Lynne's service to the community was indeed a "credit to her profession and to the nation."

Contrariwise, the government and prison authorities see Lynne as a convicted terrorist. Lynne was the victim of a frame-up trial held in the post-911 context. She was convicted on four counts of "aiding and abetting terrorism" stemming from a single act, Lynne's issuance of a press release on behalf of her client, the "blind" Egyptian Shreik Omar Abdel Rachman. The press release, that the government claimed violated a Special Administrative Order (SAM), was originally ignored as essentially trivial by the Clinton administration and then Attorney General Janet Reno. But the Bush administration's Attorney General John Ashcroft decided to go after Lynne with a sledge hammer.

A monstrous trial saw government attorney's pulling out all the stops to convince an intimidated jury that Lynne was associated in some way with terrorist acts across the globe, not to mention with Osama bin Laden. Both the judge and government were compelled to admit in court that there were no such "associations," but press clippings found in Lynne's office were nevertheless admitted as "hearsay" evidence even though they were given to Lynne by the government under the rules of discovery.

It is likely that Lynne's request for a postponement will be granted, assuming the government holds to the law that a prisoner has the right to partake in her/his own defense. Lynne's illness has certainly prevented her from doing so.

In the meantime, Lynne would like nothing more than to hear from her friends and associates. Down the road her defense team will also be looking for appropriate letters to the judge on Lynne's behalf. More later on the suggested content of these letters.

Please write Lynne to express your love and solidarity:

Lynne Stewart 53504-054
150 Park Row
New York, New York 10007

In Solidarity,

Jeff Mackler, West Coast Coordinator
Lynne Stewart Defense Committee


Lynne Stewart and the Guantanamo Lawyers: Same Fact Patterns, Same Opponent, Different Endings?
Lynne Stewart will be re-sentenced sometime in July, in NYC.
By Ralph Poynter
(Ralph Poynter is the Life partner of Lynne Stewart. He is presently dedicated 24/7 to her defense, as well as other causes.)

In the Spring of 2002, Lynne Stewart was arrested by the FBI, at her home in Brooklyn, for materially aiding terrorism by virtue of making a public press release to Reuters on behalf of her client, Sheik Abdel Omar Rahman of Egypt. This was done after she had signed a Special Administrative Measure issued by the Bureau of Prisons not permitting her to communicate with the media, on his behalf.

In 2006, a number of attorneys appointed and working pro bono for detainees at Guantanamo were discovered to be acting in a manner that disobeyed a Federal Judge's protective court order. The adversary in both cases was the United States Department of Justice. The results in each case were very different.

In March of 2010, a right wing group "Keep America Safe" led by Lynne Cheney, hoping to dilute Guantanamo representation and impugn the reputations and careers of the volunteer lawyers, launched a campaign. Initially they attacked the right of the detainees to be represented at all. This was met with a massive denouncement by Press, other media, Civil rights organizations ,and rightly so, as being a threat to the Constitution and particularly the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

A second attack on the Gitmo lawyers was made in the Wall Street Journal of March 16. This has been totally ignored in the media and by civil and human rights groups. This latter revelation about the violations, by these lawyers, of the Judge's protective orders and was revealed via litigation and the Freedom of Information Act. These pro bono lawyers serving clients assigned to them at Gitmo used privileged attorney client mail to send banned materials. They carried in news report of US failures in Afghanistan and Iraq . One lawyer drew a map of the prison. Another delivered lists to his client of all the suspects held there. They placed on the internet a facsimile of the badges worn by the Guards. Some lawyers "provided news outlets with 'interviews' of their clients using questions provided in advance by the news organizations." When a partner at one of the large Wall Street law firms sent in multiple copies of an Amnesty International brochure, which her client was to distribute to other prisoners, she was relieved from her representation and barred by the Military Commander from visiting her client.

This case is significant to interpret not because of the right wing line to punish these lawyers and manipulate their corporate clients to stop patronizing such "wayward" firms. Instead it is significant because, Lynne Stewart, a left wing progressive lawyer who had dedicated her thirty year career to defending the poor, the despised, the political prisoner and those ensnared by reason of race, gender, ethnicity, religion , who was dealt with by the same Department of Justice, in such a draconian fashion, confirms our deepest suspicions that she was targeted for prosecution and punishment because of who she is and who she represented so ably and not because of any misdeed.

Let me be very clear, I am not saying that the Gitmo lawyers acted in any "criminal" manner. The great tradition of the defense bar is to be able to make crucial decisions for and with the client without interference by the adversary Government.

I believe that they were acting as zealous attorneys trying to establish rapport and trust with their clients. That said, the moment the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice tried to remove Julia Tarver Mason from her client, the playing field tilted. Ms Tarver Mason was not led out of her home in handcuffs to the full glare of publicity. There was no press conference. The Attorney General did not go on the David Letterman show to gloat about the latest strike in the War on Terror, the purge of the Gitmo lawyer...NO.

Instead an "armada" of corporate lawyers went to Court against the Government. They, in the terms of the litigation trade, papered the US District Courthouse in Washington D.C. They brought to bear the full force of their Money and Power-- derived from the corporate world--and in 2006 "settled" the case with the government, restoring their clients to Guantanamo without any punishment at all, not to say any Indictment. Lynne Stewart, without corporate connections and coming from a working class background, was tried and convicted for issuing, on behalf of her client, a public press release to Reuters. There was no injury, no harm, no attacks, no deaths.

Yet that same Department of Justice that dealt so favorably and capitulated to the Gitmo corporate lawyers, wants to sentence Lynne Stewart to thirty (30) YEARS in prison. It is the equivalent of asking for a death sentence since she is 70 years old.

This vast disparity in treatment between Lynne and the Gitmo lawyers reveals the deep contradictions of the system ---those who derive power from rich and potent corporations, those whose day to day work maintains and increases that power--are treated differently. Is it because the Corporate Power is intertwined with Government Power???

Lynne Stewart deserves Justice... equal justice under law. Her present sentence of 28 months incarceration (she is in Federal Prison) should at least be maintained, if not made equal to the punishment that was meted out to the Gitmo lawyers. The thirty year sentence, assiduously pursued by DOJ under both Bush and Obama, is an obscenity and an affront to fundamental fairness. They wanted to make her career and dedication to individual clients, a warning, to the defense bar that the Government can arrest any lawyer on any pretext. The sharp contrasts between the cases of Lynne and the Gitmo lawyers just confirm that she is getting a raw deal--one that should be protested actively, visibly and with the full force of our righteous resistance.


Roger Waters - "We Shall Overcome" for Gaza


Bernadette McAliskey Quote on Zionists:

"The root cause of conflict in the Middle East is the very nature of the state of Israel. It is a facist state. It is a international bully, which exists not to protect the rights of the Jewish people but to perpetuate a belief of Zionist supremacy. It debases the victims of the holocaust by its own strategy for extermination of Palestine and Palestinians and has become the image and likeness of its own worst enemy, the Third Reich.

"Anyone challenging their position, their crazed self-image is entitled, in the fascist construction of their thinking, to be wiped out. Every humanitarian becomes a terrorist? How long is the reality of the danger Israel poses to world peace going to be denied by the Western powers who created this monster?"


Rachel Maddow: Disgraceful response to the oil itself


It Ain't My Fault by Mos Def & Lenny Kravitz |


Gulf Oil Spill?

Dear Readers,

If you are wondering why an antiwar newsletter is giving full coverage to the oil spill, it's because:

(1) "Supplying the US army with oil is one of BP's biggest markets, and further exploration in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico is part of its long-term strategy."*
(2) "The Senate on Thursday, [May 27, 2010] approved a nearly $60 billion measure to pay for continuing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq..."**

The two are inextricably entwined and interdependent.

--Bonnie Weinstein

*The black hole at the bottom of the Gulf
No one seems to know the extent of the BP disaster
By David Randall and Margareta Pagano
Sunday, 23 May 2010

**Senate Approves Nearly $60 Billion for Wars
May 27, 2010

Watch BP Live Video Webcam Camera Feed of Gulf Oil Spill Here! (Update 7)

What BP does not want you to see:
ABC News went underwater in the Gulf with Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of famous explorer Jacques Cousteau, and he described what he saw as "one of the most horrible things I've ever seen underwater."

Check out what BP does not want you to see. And please share this widely -- every American should see what's happening under the surface in the Gulf.

Live BP Gulf Oil Spill Webcam Video Reveals 5 Leaks

Stop Shell Oil's Offshore Drilling Plans in the Arctic

Sign the Petition to Ban Offshore Drilling Now!



[ The poem does not mention that the popular herb cardamom is banned from importation into Gaza. Israel probably fears that cardamom can be used as a biological weapon. Rockets with cardamom filled projectiles landing in Israel could cause Israeli soldiers 'guarding' the border to succumb to pangs of hunger, leave their posts to go get something eat, and leave Israel defenseless. - Howard Keylor]

Richard Tillinghast is an American poet who lives in Co Tipperary. He is the author of eight books of poetry, the latest of which is Selected Poems (Dedalus Press, 2010 ), as well as several works of non-fiction


No tinned meat is allowed, no tomato paste,
no clothing, no shoes, no notebooks.
These will be stored in our warehouses at Kerem Shalom
until further notice.
Bananas, apples, and persimmons are allowed into Gaza,
peaches and dates, and now macaroni
(after the American Senator's visit).
These are vital for daily sustenance.

But no apricots, no plums, no grapes, no avocados, no jam.
These are luxuries and are not allowed.
Paper for textbooks is not allowed.
The terrorists could use it to print seditious material.
And why do you need textbooks
now that your schools are rubble?
No steel is allowed, no building supplies, no plastic pipe.
These the terrorists could use to launch rockets
against us.

Pumpkins and carrots you may have, but no delicacies,
no cherries, no pomegranates, no watermelon, no onions,
no chocolate.

We have a list of three dozen items that are allowed,
but we are not obliged to disclose its contents.
This is the decision arrived at
by Colonel Levi, Colonel Rosenzweig, and Colonel Segal.

Our motto:
'No prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.'
You may fish in the Mediterranean,
but only as far as three km from shore.
Beyond that and we open fire.
It is a great pity the waters are polluted
twenty million gallons of raw sewage dumped into the sea every day
is the figure given.

Our rockets struck the sewage treatments plants,
and at this point spare parts to repair them are not allowed.
As long as Hamas threatens us,
no cement is allowed, no glass, no medical equipment.
We are watching you from our pilotless drones
as you cook your sparse meals over open fires
and bed down
in the ruins of houses destroyed by tank shells.

And if your children can't sleep,
missing the ones who were killed in our incursion,
or cry out in the night, or wet their beds
in your makeshift refugee tents,
or scream, feeling pain in their amputated limbs -
that's the price you pay for harbouring terrorists.

God gave us this land.
A land without a people for a people without a land.
Greta Berlin, Co-Founder
+357 99 18 72 75


This is just inspiring! You have to watch it!
Don't Get Caught in a Bad Hotel



[While this is a good beginning to a fight to put safety first--for workers and the planet--we must recognize that the whole thrust of capitalism is to get the job done quicker and cheaper, workers and the world be damned!

It is workers who are intimately aware of the dangers of production and the ways those dangers could be eliminated. And, if, say, a particular mine, factory, industry can't be made to be safe, then it should be abandoned. Those workers effected should simply be "retired" with full pay and benefits. They have already been subjected to the toxins, dangers, etc., on the job.

Basically, safety must be under worker's control. Workers must have first dibs on profits to insure safety first.

It not only means nationalizing industry--but internationalizing industry--and placing it under the control and operation of the workers themselves. Governmental controls of safety regulations are notoriously ineffectual because the politicians themselves are the corporation's paid defenders. It only makes sense that corporate profits should be utilized--under the worker's control--to put safety first or stop production altogether. Safety first has to be interpreted as "safety before profits and profits for safety first!" We can only hope it is not too late!]


The government of the United States must seize BP and freeze its assets, and place those funds in trust to begin providing immediate relief to the working people throughout the Gulf states whose jobs, communities, homes and businesses are being harmed or destroyed by the criminally negligent actions of the CEO, Board of Directors and senior management of BP.

Take action now! Sign the Seize BP petition to demand the seizure of BP!

200,000 gallons of oil a day, or more, are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico with the flow of oil growing. The poisonous devastation to human beings, wildlife, natural habitat and fragile ecosystems will go on for decades. It constitutes an act of environmental violence, the consequences of which will be catastrophic.

BP's Unmitigated Greed

This was a manufactured disaster. It was neither an "Act of God" nor Nature that caused this devastation, but rather the unmitigated greed of Big Oil's most powerful executives in their reckless search for ever-greater profits.

Under BP's CEO Tony Hayward's aggressive leadership, BP made a record $5.6 billion in pure profits just in the first three months of 2010. BP made $163 billion in profits from 2001-09. It has a long history of safety violations and slap-on-the-wrist fines.

BP's Materially False and Misleading Statements

BP filed a 52-page exploration plan and environmental impact analysis with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service for the Deepwater Horizon well, dated February 2009, which repeatedly assured the government that it was "unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities." In the filing, BP stated over and over that it was unlikely for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill causing serious damage to beaches, mammals and fisheries and that as such it did not require a response plan for such an event.

BP's executives are thus either guilty of making materially false statements to the government to obtain the license, of consciously misleading a government that was all too ready to be misled, and/or they are guilty of criminal negligence. At a bare minimum, their representations constitute gross negligence. Whichever the case, BP must be held accountable for its criminal actions that have harmed so many.

Protecting BP's Super-Profits

BP executives are banking that they can ride out the storm of bad publicity and still come out far ahead in terms of the billions in profit that BP will pocket. In 1990, in response to the Exxon Valdez disaster, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Oil Pollution Act, which immunizes oil companies for the damages they cause beyond immediate cleanup costs.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, oil companies are responsible for oil removal and cleanup costs for massive spills, and their liability for all other forms of damages is capped at $75 million-a pittance for a company that made $5.6 billion in profits in just the last three months, and is expected to make $23 billion in pure profit this year. Some in Congress suggest the cap should be set at $10 billion, still less than the potential cost of this devastation-but why should the oil companies have any immunity from responsibility for the damage they cause?

The Oil Pollution Act is an outrage, and it will be used by BP to keep on doing business as usual.

People are up in arms because thousands of workers who have lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result of BP's actions have to wait in line to compete for lower wage and hazardous clean-up jobs from BP. BP's multi-millionaire executives are not asked to sacrifice one penny while working people have to plead for clean-up jobs.

Take Action Now

It is imperative that the government seize BP's assets now for their criminal negligence and begin providing immediate relief for the immense suffering and harm they have caused.

Seize BP Petition button*:


Rachel Carson's Warnings in "The Sea Around Us":
"It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself. . ."


Operation Small Axe - Trailer


Shame on Arizona

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer just signed a law that will authorize officers to pull over, question, and detain anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" to believe is in this country without proper documentation. It's legalized racial profiling, and it's an affront on all of our civil rights, especially Latinos. It's completely unacceptable.

Join us in letting Arizona's leaders know how we feel, and that there will be consequences. A state that dehumanizes its own people does not deserve our economic support

"As long as racial profiling is legal in Arizona, I will do what I can to not visit the state and to avoid spending dollars there."

Sign Petition Here:


Please sign the petition to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and
and forward it to all your lists.

"Mumia Abu-Jamal and The Global Abolition of the Death Penalty"

(A Life In the Balance - The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, at 34, Amnesty Int'l, 2000; www.

[Note: This petition is approved by Mumia Abu-Jamal and his lead attorney, Robert R. Bryan, San Francisco (E-mail:; Website:]

Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012


Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code, section 501c)3), and should be mailed to:

It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no less.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal


Collateral Murder



5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.


San Francisco City and County Tramples on Civil Liberties
A Letter to Antiwar Activists
Dear Activists:
On Saturday, March 20, the San Francisco City and County Recreation and Parks Department's Park Rangers patrolled a large public antiwar demonstration, shutting down the distribution of Socialist Viewpoint magazine. The rally in Civic Center Plaza was held in protest of the illegal and immoral U.S. wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, and to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Park Rangers went table-to-table examining each one. They photographed the Socialist Viewpoint table and the person attending it-me. My sister, Debbie and I, had set up the table. We had a sign on the table that asked for a donation of $1.25 for the magazine. The Park Rangers demanded that I "pack it up" and go, because selling or even asking for donations for newspapers or magazines is no longer permitted without the purchase of a new and expensive "vendors license." Their rationale for this denial of free speech is that the distribution of newspapers, magazines, T-shirts-and even food-would make the political protest a "festival" and not a political protest demonstration!
This City's action is clearly a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution-the right to free speech and freedom of the press-and can't be tolerated.
While they are firing teachers and other San Francisco workers, closing schools, cutting back healthcare access, cutting services to the disabled and elderly, it is outrageous that the Mayor and City Government chose to spend thousands of dollars to police tables at an antiwar rally-a protest demonstration by the people!
We can't let this become the norm. It is so fundamentally anti-democratic. The costs of the permits for the rally, the march, the amplified sound, is already prohibitive. Protest is not a privilege we should have to pay for. It's a basic right in this country and we should reclaim it!
Personally, I experienced a deep feeling of alienation as the crisply-uniformed Park Ranger told me I had to "pack it up"-especially when I knew that they were being paid by the City to do this at this demonstration!
I hope you will join this protest of the violation of the right to distribute and, therefore, the right to read Socialist Viewpoint, by writing or emailing the City officials who are listed below.1
In solidarity,

Bonnie Weinstein, Editorial Board Member, Socialist Viewpoint
60 - 29th Street, #429
San Francisco, CA 94110

1 Mayor Gavin Newsom
City Hall, Room 200
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

Board of Supervisors
City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 244
San Francisco, Ca 94102-4689

San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department Park Rangers
McLaren Lodge & Annex
501 Stanyan Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission
501 Stanyan Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

Chief of Police George Gascón
850 Bryant Street, #525
San Francisco, CA 94103
(I could not find an email address for him.).



Lynne Stewart in Jail!

Mail tax free contributions payable to National Lawyers Guild Foundation. Write in memo box: "Lynne Stewart Defense." Mail to: Lynne Stewart Defense, P.O. Box 10328, Oakland, CA 94610.



U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Department of Justice Main Switchboard - 202-514-2000
Office of the Attorney General Public Comment Line - 202-353-1555

To send Lynne a letter, write:
Lynne Stewart
150 Park Row
New York, NY 10007

Lynne Stewart speaks in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal


On June 30, an innocent man will be given a second chance.

In 1991, Troy Davis was sentenced to death for allegedly killing a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime, and seven out of nine witnesses recanted or contradicted their testimony.

He was sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. But it's not too late to change Troy's fate.

We just learned today that Troy has been granted an evidentiary hearing -- an opportunity to right this wrong. Help give him a second chance by telling your friends to pledge their support for Troy:

Troy Davis may just be one man, but his situation represents an injustice experienced by thousands. And suffering this kind of injustice, by even one man, is one person too many.

Thanks to you and 35,000 other NAACP members and supporters who spoke out last August, the U.S. Supreme Court is granting Troy Davis his day in court--and a chance to make his case after 19 years on death row.

This hearing is the first step.

We appreciate your continued support of Troy. If you have not yet done so, please visit our website, sign the petition, then tell your friends to do the same.

I will be in touch soon to let you know how else you can help.


Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO


Short Video About Al-Awda's Work
The following link is to a short video which provides an overview of Al-Awda's work since the founding of our organization in 2000. This video was first shown on Saturday May 23, 2009 at the fundraising banquet of the 7th Annual Int'l Al-Awda Convention in Anaheim California. It was produced from footage collected over the past nine years.
Support Al-Awda, a Great Organization and Cause!

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, depends on your financial support to carry out its work.

To submit your tax-deductible donation to support our work, go to and follow the simple instructions.

Thank you for your generosity!


FLASHPOINTS Interview with Innocent San Quentin Death Row Inmate
Kevin Cooper -- Aired Monday, May 18,2009
To learn more about Kevin Cooper go to:
San Francisco Chronicle article on the recent ruling:
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and dissent:


Support the troops who refuse to fight!




1) Lawmakers put oil execs in the hot seat
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; A02

2) EXCLUSIVE: New Documents, Employees Reveal BP's Alaska Oilfield Plagued by Major Safety Issues
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Investigative Report
"...BP Alaska avoids spending money on 'upkeep' and instead runs the equipment until it breaks down."
Tuesday 15 June 2010

3) American Man in Limbo on No-Fly List
June 15, 2010

4) Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old
June 16, 2010

5) With Criminal Charges, Costs to BP Could Soar
June 16, 2010

6) Vietnam: Agent Orange Plan
June 16, 2010

7) Spill Takes Toll on Gulf Workers' Psyches
June 16, 2010

8) Sea creatures flee oil spill, gather near shore
Associated Press Writers
Thu Jun 17, 12:18 am ET

9) Afghanistan Moves Quickly to Tap Newfound Mineral Reserves
June 17, 2010

10) Colombian Coal Mine Blast Kills at Least 18
"The United States, while having ample coal reserves of its own, relies on Colombia for some imports. About 80 percent of United States coal imports in the first nine months of 2009 came from Colombia, according to the Department of Energy."
June 17, 2010

11) Students Gain After Strike in Puerto Rico
June 17, 2010

12) Drill Ban Means Hard Times for Rig Workers
June 17, 2010

14) BP's Chief Offers Answers, but Not to Liking of House Committee
June 17, 2010

15) Spill May Have Taken Its Largest Victim Yet
"The fate of the whales, which have frequently been spotted swimming in the oil by planes overhead, has been of intense concern to wildlife biologists. Because whales are large and very mobile, they are relatively less vulnerable to oil spills than other sea life. However, the whales are classified as endangered and the crude oil is toxic to them. Moreover, they prefer to dive and fish right off the continental shelf, where the Deepwater Horizon wellhead is located, and their sensitivity to the large plumes of oil droplets and the enormous amount of dispersants being used to combat this disaster is unknown."
June 17, 2010

16) A Tricky Balance for Oil-State Politicians
June 18, 2010

17) Where Gulf Spill Might Place on the Roll of Disasters
[The key difference between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the others mentioned here is that BP knew full well that the Gulf was a natural habitat for a myriad of land and sea life and a key migration spot; that this life can't live bathed either in oil or detergent mixed with oil; that they were skipping their own, inefficient safety regulations; that they made up their own safety record; that they disregarded warnings that the rig workers gave them; that they lied about their ability to stop an explosion; that they lied about their ability to contain such a massive gusher; that they lied about having the technology to clean up any spill that would or could occur; that they lied every step of the way--and that their only concern was and still is, getting more oil and the only real research they did was how to drill deeper in the ocean to get it--because their only concern was and still is, how to maximize their]
June 18, 2010

18) Peddling Relief, Firms Put Debtors in Deeper Hole
June 18, 2010

19) Plea to Obama Led to an Immigrant's Arrest
June 18, 2010

20) BP Ignored the Omens of Disaster
June 18, 2010

21) High Rate for Deaths of Pregnant Women in New York State
June 18, 2010

22) Thousands Protest Electricity Shortage in Iraq
June 19, 2010

23) BP Chief Draws Outrage for Attending Yacht Race
[Tony Hayward's "getting back to his life" while the Gulf dies.]
June 19, 2010

24) Fishing Tournament Cancellations Spread With Oil Spill
June 19, 2010


1) Lawmakers put oil execs in the hot seat
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; A02

Oil company executives are on the horns of a dilemma. Or, to be
more specific, they are on the tusks of a dilemma.

Congressional investigators looking into the Gulf of Mexico oil
spill found that BP and three other oil companies had filed "oil
spill safety response plans" for the gulf that made reference to
protecting walruses. The problem is that "there aren't any
walruses in the Gulf of Mexico and there have not been for 3
million years," as Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) pointed out.

Markey, chairman of the energy subcommittee interrogating the oil
bosses, turned to Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson. "How can Exxon
Mobil have walruses in their response plan for the Gulf of
Mexico?" the chairman inquired.

"It's unfortunate that walruses were included," the CEO answered.

Markey turned to ConocoPhillips's James Mulva and Chevron's John
Watson. "How do you respond to having walruses in your plan?"

"It's not appropriate," Watson acknowledged.

"I agree," Mulva said.

Goo goo g'joob! At least we have agreement on something.

The oil men had been summoned to Washington for a round of ritual
humiliation, and they played their parts admirably: clueless from
beginning to end. Executives from the other companies tried to
paint BP as an oil-spill outlier that violated industry safety
standards, but lawmakers -- even the Republicans on the panel --
did a good job of making the group of executives look like clowns
in an overstuffed Volkswagen.

There was, for example, the fact that Chevron had named one of its
new rigs in the gulf "Blind Faith." Then there was the awkward
fact that government filings from three of the companies listed
the name and number of the same technical "expert" -- a man named
Peter Lutz, who had died years earlier.

Markey asked Exxon Mobil's Tillerson why in 2009 he filed "a
response plan having a person who has been dead for four years."

"The fact that Dr. Lutz died in 2005 does not mean his work and
the importance of his work died with him," Tillerson answered.

"It just seems to me that when you include Dr. Lutz's phone number
in your plan for response that you have not taken this
responsibility seriously," the chairman continued before putting
the question of the dead expert to the ConocoPhillips boss.

"Well, the plans need to be updated more frequently," Mulva allowed.

The oil men made things worse by giving their own version of the
hearings involving big tobacco, 16 years ago this spring, when
cigarette CEOs insisted that nicotine was not addictive. The oil
executives said they are not so sure that carbon dioxide from
burning fossil fuels is increasing ocean acidity.

"I would not agree with that characterization," said Lamar McKay,
BP America's chief executive.

"I don't agree," Mulva said.

"It's a scientific debate," Tillerson added.

Uncomfortable though it was for all the oil men, McKay was the
pariah's pariah as he sat at the end of the witness table and
listened to the other executives disparage BP's safety practices
and call the spill preventable. All four of BP's rivals said the
company didn't follow industry standards.

And McKay had no good defense for why BP low-balled the initial
oil spill estimates, which prevented the government from mounting
a sufficient response. "Are you ready to apologize to the American
people for getting that number so wrong?" Markey asked.

McKay tried to blame the government -- until Markey pointed out
that the numbers came from a confidential BP document. "Right,"
McKay was forced to admit.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (Fla.), one of the senior Republicans on the
panel, was not pleased with that answer.

"Now, Mr. Markey had asked you for an apology," he said. "I'm not
asking for you to apologize. I'm asking you to resign."

McKay reddened and stared impassively at the dais.

Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), the ranking Republican, was almost as icy
with the man from BP. He asked McKay if the firm would set up an
escrow account with money to pay for oil-spill damages.

"I can't comment yes or no," McKay answered, drawing a mocking
response from the congressman.

Among the few to give a full defense of the oil men was Rep.
Parker Griffith (Ala.), the party-switching Republican who just
lost a primary fight. He accused his colleagues of "childlike,
accusatory, mean-spirited, petulant questioning," proving "there's
really not a lack of natural gas here on Capitol Hill." Griffith
laughed at his own joke. Others groaned. Griffith upbraided his
colleagues as being "disrespectful" of the oil men.

But the oil men did little to merit respect. For all the
assurances they gave the government about their ability to respond
to worst-case spills, in reality the oil companies are "not very
well-equipped to deal with them," as Exxon Mobil's Tillerson put it.

If respect is what oil executives seek, they'll have to do better
than phantom walruses and dead professors.


2) EXCLUSIVE: New Documents, Employees Reveal BP's Alaska Oilfield Plagued by Major Safety Issues
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Investigative Report
"...BP Alaska avoids spending money on 'upkeep' and instead runs the equipment until it breaks down."
Tuesday 15 June 2010

Nearly 5,000 miles from the oil-spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP and its culture of cost-cutting are contributing to another environmental mess.

According to internal BP documents obtained by Truthout, and after interviewing more than a dozen employees over the past month, the Prudhoe Bay oil field, in a remote corner of North America on Alaska's north shore, is in danger.

After two serious oil spills and other mishaps, the BP employees fingered a long list of safety issues that have not been adequately addressed, making the Prudhoe Bay oilfield vulnerable to a devastating accident that potentially could rival the havoc in the Gulf.

"The condition of the [Prudhoe Bay] field is a lot worse and in my opinion a lot more dangerous," said Marc Kovac, who has worked for BP on Alaska's North Slope for more than three decades. "We still have hundreds of miles of rotting pipe ready to break that needs to be replaced. We are totally unprepared for a large spill."

Kovac, a mechanic and welder who is the steward of the United Steelworkers union local 4959, said a lot of employees share his feelings, but "don't want to risk their jobs for speaking out." Kovac said he was willing to take the risk because BP has been slow to deal with the Prudhoe Bay problems and that "many lives are at stake."

Some of the employees, speaking anonymously, said BP follows an "operate to failure" attitude.

Kovac said that means BP Alaska avoids spending money on "upkeep" and instead runs the equipment until it breaks down.

Typical of these problems, the employees said, was an oil spill that was discovered on Nov. 29, 2009, when a BP Alaska employee performing a routine check discovered oil pouring out from a two-foot long gash on the bottom of a 25-year-old pipeline at BP's Lisburne facility.

"The spill was from an 18-inch three-phase common line carrying a mixture of crude oil, produced water, and natural gas," according to an incident report from the Alaska Department of Environment and Conservation's (ADEC) Division of Spill and Response.

BP Alaska's "preliminary estimate for the total volume of oily material released is 45,828 gallons (1,091 barrels)," the report said.

The circumstances behind the spill are now the subject of a criminal and civil investigation by the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska state authorities. BP blamed the rupture on ice plugs that built up inside the pipeline, which caused increased pressure and finally the rupture.

In a January 27 letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), which has not been previously released, BP Alaska President John Minge said the "overpressure rupture" was the result of looping the 18-inch pipeline with a 24-inch one as a way of minimizing "backpressure in the individual pipelines. ...

"The two critical factors that led to the overpressure rupture of the pipeline were this looped configuration in combination with inadequate temperature monitoring locations" that were "physically located on the pipelines" inside the production facility "and not outside," according to a copy of the letter Minge sent to Murkowski in response to her queries about the spill.

The pipeline rupture at Lisburne is another example of BP Alaska failing to learn from its past mistakes. On February 19, 2001, a pipeline ruptured under similar circumstances. In that case, temperature monitors alos were placed on the pipeline inside the building, but BP told the State of Alaska and the ADEC that it would rectify the issue in the future by moving the monitors on all of its pipes outside of the facility so it could accurately check the temperature. The company, it would appear, apparently never fulfilled its promise.

A person who works closely with BP and reviewed Minge's letter to Murkowski said Minge's letter "presents the specific facts of the event," but does not contain the necessary context.

"When he indicates that the temperature sensors were located inside the buildings - obviously this shows a lack of attention to monitoring the pipelines," said this person, who requested anonymity. "It is not just a mistake in placement of the monitors. The letter shows that they knew the line had a low flow rate and would go to the path of least resistance.

"Therefore, knowing that this field is located well above the Arctic Circle - you don't need a temperature sensor to know that by early November there will be sub-zero temperatures in place, he continued. "So, a basic risk assessment should have identified this possibility well before you needed a temperature sensor to tell you what the temperature in the line would be."

A top BP Prudhoe Bay official, who has grown "disillusioned" with the company's management style over the past year, agreed.

"Someone was clearly not paying attention to the flow," said the official, who also requested anonymity because he feared retaliation for discussing internal matters. "The temperature dropped and the line froze. This shouldn't have happened. I equate this with a lack of operating discipline and place the blame squarely on leadership."

Kovac said what Minge did not disclose to Murkowski is that BP failed to take precautionary measures to "freeze protect" the pipeline when it was last inspected in 2008. He said cold temperatures causes pipelines to expand, making them more fragile.

"BP's decision to not adhere to standard industry practice and freeze protect the 18 inch line from [Lisburne] resulted in the line freezing, expanding and breaking, spilling product onto the tundra," said Kovac, who does not work at Lisburne, but speaks to employees who do. "It was stretched too many times and broke. There are hundreds of pipelines flowing in this condition. BP chose to save money. They thought [the pipeline] was open to a parallel flowing line and guessing and hoping that line would stay thawed out."

Rinehart said freeze-protection "would typically be done if a line was to be taken out of service for a period."

"In this case, the line was in operation, but had a flow obstruction," he said. "We were working to assess the blockage and determine how to restore the line to operation when the leak happened. Ice had formed inside the line. This may have occurred because low-flow or slow-flow allowed water to accumulate in certain sections of the pipe.

"The line transported a mixture of oil, water and natural gas from well sites to the Lisburne Processing Center. Typically, the liquid in this mixture was about 25 percent oil and 75 percent water."

"This was an unused line," Kovac said. BP "tried to avoid the cost of freeze protecting it. They were hoping operators would be able to respond if something happened."

A person familiar with BP's Alaska operations said Rinehart's statement is incorrect and is only half the story.

"The Lisburne line was empty (no oil)," this person said. "All oil has water in it until its processed. The water in the unused line froze (water was the obstruction). The water kept accumulating and expanded (ice) which caused the rupture as I understand it."

Two weeks after the spill, a "red flag" e-mail sent by BP's Prudhoe Bay Operations Manager to officials and employees on the oilfield advised employees of the "importance of adhering to established processes that ensure freeze prevention in flow lines, as well as, appropriate responses when freezing occurs."

This kind of investigation isn't possible without the support of our readers. Please make a tax-deductible donation to keep Truthout strong.

Smoking Gun?

But there may have been other factors at play that led to the pipeline rupture at Lisburne, some of which appear to suggest poor management and cutbacks on safety.

Underscoring that point is an email sent to BP officials in Alaska last January from an employee who works at the Lisburne Production Center. The author of the email, whose name was redacted, said Lisburne is "operating in [an] unsafe condition."

The employee listed more than a dozen pieces of crucial production equipment that he claims were not working or were out of service at Lisburne during the time of the spill, thereby "leaving no back-up to running equipment and equipment out of service which should be on-line as per the system requirements to run the plant."

"With minimum manning in maintenance and operations we are basically running a broken plant with too few people to address the problems in a timely and safe manner," the employee said. "Operations can not rely on Management to provide them with a safe and reliable plant to work in. The management of our maintenance at [Lisburne Production Center] simply is not working to maintain a safe operation. This gap in maintenance management causes problems that increase the overall risk of plant integrity and personnel safety."

Jeanne Pascal, the former debarment counsel at the EPA's Seattle office who worked on BP cases for a decade, said in addition to the louvers at Lisburne, the turbines at the facility have not been working properly for about 10 years.

"The EPA air inspector in 2003 also told me the turbines were a problem," Pascal said in an interview. "BP Alaska has known they were a problem for at least 10 years. BP does not operated safely or they would not have the worst health, safety and environmental record of any other company in the US."

One of the most critical safety issues the employee raised in the Libsurne employee's email that undercuts BP's commitment to "integrity management" has to do with "louvers" that he said fail to seal, an issue that has allegedly persisted for years. Louvers are connected to the production facility's fire and gas suppression systems and are supposed to remain closed to trap a halon discharge in the event of fire or a gas buildup. Halon is a chemical that prevents explosions by depleting oxygen in the air.

An employee who works at the facility said, "Simply put, if those louvers don't seal and there is a fire or gas is released, people could die."

In fact, according to a top BP official who works on the North Slope, six Prudhoe Bay employees were told by BP's fire and gas technical authorities that it is likely that, if BP were to test all of the louvers at North Slope facilities, they would fail to seal and the fire and gas suppression systems would be ineffective, which means workers are presently in imminent danger in the event of a gas buildup, explosion or fire.

Moreover, internal BP documents indicated that as of April 11, a week before the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, the louvers were not operating, and will not be dealt with until December 31. It's unclear if the Gulf disaster and the financial resources being poured into the cleanup will further delay the repairs.

The Alaska State Fire Marshal, who would be responsible for inspecting the louvers and other fire and gas-related equipment to ensure it works properly, did not return a call for comment.

Steve Rinehart, a spokesman for BP Alaska, said the issues the employee addressed in the email were immediately dealt with.

"We will not operate facilities unsafely," Rinehart said. "We take this kind of info from employees very seriously. In this case, line leadership started meeting with the employees who raised these issues at Lisburne as soon as they received the list. We have made very good progress. Half the items have been closed out, some of the rest are virtually complete and all are being worked and tracked."

Rinehart did not comment on the current state of the louvers. And employees who work at Lisburne said they do not believe the safety issues addressed in the email have been adequately dealt with.

Two BP management officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters, said budget cuts were largely the reason equipment was not upgraded or repaired, and indicated that much of it has yet to be addressed. BP's Alaska budget for 2010 is $1 billion, compared with $1.1 billion in 2009 and $1.3 billion in 2008.

Moreover, according to two BP Alaska officials, projects related to "safety and integrity" have been cut by 30 percent this year and BP's senior managers receive bonuses for not using funds from BP's designated maintenance budget, a company wide policy implemented by Hayward. Documents show that Hayward also implemented a cost-cutting directive following the oil spills in 2006 in Prudhoe Bay.

However, a document BP sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee before the Gulf disaster said budget cuts have not impacted projects that need to be funded at Prudhoe Bay. The company said the fear by employees that budget cuts would impact "integrity investment" was likely due to "dramatic changes in oil prices and economic uncertainty in late 2008 and continuing into 2009."

"This perception was likely heightened by [BP Alaska's] challenge to its contractors in early 2009 to deliver cost efficiencies," the budget document sent to the House Energy Committee said. "Our commitment to safety as the top priority, continuous risk reduction and bottoms-up planning. Our commitment is to activities that reduce risk - we target efficiency improvements to complete these activities at lower cost."

The document indicates BP deferred or "re-paced" some projects, but the company said it "risk-assessed each of the activities and identified mitigative measures to reduce any risk to safe operations." Deferral of maintenance projects was determined to be the same issue that contributed to the oil spills in 2006, according to a congressional investigation.

Rinehart said BP is "committed to integrity management and safe, reliable operations. Those projects are priority. The BPXA capital spending plans for 2010 are down about from roughly $1 billion in 2009 to about $850 mil in 2010."

One senior BP official asked, in response to Rinehart's statement: "At what point is credibility stretched too far not to realize you cannot reduce the budget as has been done and not have an impact?"

The employee's email, Truthout has learned, is now in the hands of criminal investigators and BP's probation officer, Mary Frances Barnes, who are scrutinizing the employee's claims to determine if it had any bearing on the pipeline rupture last November and whether it would amount to a probation violation for the company. BP pleaded guilty and paid a $20 million fine in October 2007 to a criminal misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, resulting from two oil spills on the North Slope in 2006, which was blamed on severely corroded pipelines that the company failed to upkeep. BP was placed on probation for three years.

Tyler Amon is the special agent-in-charge at the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division probing the circumstances behind last November's oil spill. He did not return calls for comment, nor did Barnes or a spokesperson for the FBI. The email has also been sent to Congressman Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman's office did not return several calls for comment.

As of June 5, Lisburne was shut down for planned maintenance. It's unknown if BP intends to address any of the maintenance and operational issues described in the email.


Kovac and other employees who confirmed his claims also raised red flags about a newly constructed pipeline currently in use, which feeds directly into pump station 1, the beginning of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, that he said was poorly designed. This was a portion of the pipeline that was severely corroded and ruptured in 2006, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of oil across the frozen tundra, which resulted in the largest oil spill on the North Slope.

Eight employees said the two-mile long rebuilt pipeline has experienced "severe hopping up and down on the vertical support members," due to wind induced vibration, a phenomenon that was discovered when the oilfield was developed more than 30 years ago. But it does not appear that BP learned the lessons of the past when it designed the new pipeline. That "hopping," Kovac said, has caused stress on the "pipewall" and weld joints on sections connected to the vertical support members.

"The harmonics in [the pipeline] allowed it to bounce up and down," Kovac said. "BP rectified the problem by placing timbers under the line between the vertical support members [which is not unusual] about two months ago. As far as I know, there isn't a plan in place to fix the problem."

Rinehart, the BP Alaska spokesman, acknowledged that "a section of the new transit line has experienced wind-induced vibration." But he said the company is addressing the matter

"The vibration was not such that it would be expected to damage the line, and was a factor considered in the design," Rinehart said. "Just the same, we have decided to fit wind-susceptible sections of the line with wind dampeners, scheduled to be done before the end of this year. In the meantime, as a precaution, we put timber 'cribbing' underneath wind-susceptible locations, to limit movement. We also checked all the welds in those locations; no damage was found. This has all been communicated to the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, our lead federal pipeline regulator."

But Kovac and other employees added that there are other pipelines that are corroded that should have been replaced three years ago, but which haven't been, and a spill detection system still hasn't been installed. He said the matter is urgent in light of a high-pressure artificial lift natural gas pipeline that ruptured and separated in September 2008, whipped around like a snake, and released natural gas into the atmosphere, all due to external corrosion that BP failed to address for nearly a decade. Had their been an ignition source, employees who were working nearby would have been killed. When the line separated, the force was so powerful, pieces of pipe snapped off, one of which rocketed through the air and was never found.

The corrosion built up as a result of water that accumulated under the insulation that surrounds the line. The insulation was never replaced when it was peeled away following an inspection more than 10 years ago. BP had told state environmental investigators that heavy snowfall in 2003 prevented the company from inspecting the portion of the line that separated. But BP did not re-inspect the line when the snow melted.

According to a February 20, 2009, letter sent to Tony Brock, BP Alaska's senior vice president and technical director from the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, which is investigating the incident, "Had the high pressure gas pipeline failure occurred under slightly different circumstances, the results would have been catastrophic, potentially with the loss of life."

Recently, the House Energy Committee asked John Minge to provide the panel with the results of an internal investigation into the rupture, which he did in late February. The committee has not released the details of BP's own probe into the incident.

Kovac points out that the safety and maintenance issues currently plaguing Prudhoe Bay contradict a promise then-BP President Robert Malone made to Congress in September 2006.

"We recognize that there has been a series of troubling problems that are unacceptable to us and contrary to our values," Malone said, referring to revelations following the largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope, that the conglomerate, among other things, failed for more than a decade to inspect its pipelines for corrosion and retaliated against employees who raised safety concerns. "I commit to members of Congress that I have been given the authority, the resources and the people to assure you that BP America will overcome and ultimately be strengthened by this challenge."


One of the other major issues, according to Kovac and other employees that may also have been a contributing factor in the two most recent oil spills and has been identified in internal company documents as an "imminent safety risk," is 16-18 hour work shifts, due in large part to a shortage of trained personnel.

BP's own internal studies have shown that employees who work more than 16 hours during a 24-hour time period can lack the mental capacity to make sound and timely decisions. Yet during 2009, 16-plus hour work shifts were routine at Prudhoe Bay, with employees working beyond 16 hours about 200-400 times per month, 75 percent of which represented 18 hour work shifts, according to internal BP documents.

Another internal BP document, dated September 8, 2009, shows that a BP employee worked 36 consecutive days of 16 and 18 hour shifts in 2009, in violation of several of BP's own policies.

According to Pascal, the EPA's former debarment counsel, BP told her 10 years ago that the company intended to come up with a plan to "fix" the 16-18 hour work shifts.

"John Minge himself told me that the issue of overtime had not been corrected or settled," Pascal said. "This has been a problem since 2000 when employees started complaining to me about it and management intended to fix it. Clearly, it's still not fixed."

BP employees who work at Prudhoe Bay are supposed to work 12-hour shifts for two weeks, and then receive two weeks off. Employees who work beyond 12 hours receive overtime pay. Kovac said the overtime issue has been ongoing for several years and, despite complaints dating back more than a decade, BP has only recently addressed the issue because of a fear employees would publicize it.

He said some employees are "happy" to work beyond 12 hours because BP pays very well and workers can earn a hefty salary in overtime alone. But, he said, it's "not a healthy situation and creates a dangerous environment."

"It's not a good idea," Kovac said. "Working more than 12 hours during a shift affects decision making and response time and can cause disasters. People have to take catnaps while operating large volumes of hydrocarbons under high pressure. We will have accidents as a result of it."

BP has addressed the issue by hiring technicians, but even that has not solved the problem, as it takes three to four years, Kovac said, for a trainee to be fully prepared to work on the North Slope.

"The number of new technicians sent to the operating facilities since 2006 and the slower-than-expected pace of newly-hired technician training has not kept pace with 'leavers,' new work activities requiring substantial facility/field production technician support, and support for external commitments made and BP initiatives," according to an October 2009 internal BP document discussing overtime concerns and its impact on the safe operations of Prudhoe Bay.

"Additionally, the facility and field-production-authorized complements are insufficient relative to the quantity of absences that occur continuously; thus, the combination of vacancies, not-fully qualified technicians, and absences results in 'open positions' for facility staffing that must be filled by 18 hour work shifts.

Currently, as much as 50 percent of the 16-plus hour work shifts result from 'open positions' filled to cover vacancies and absences to staff facilities and field production positions to the level we established through [Process Hazard Analysis] for safe operation."

"Thirty to forty-five percent of the 16-plus hour work shifts are caused by work activities associated with commitments made to deliver against targets established for external commitments or performance contracts," the BP document says. "Five to 15 percent of 16-plus hour work shifts are caused by work activities directly associated with production. Wellpad operators are being consistently scheduled for 16-plus hour work shifts (primarily 18 hour work shifts) in order to fill 'open positions.'"

In 2009, there were 652 instances in which wellpad and drillsite operators worked in excess of 16 hours.

"Since wellpad operators are designated professional drivers, the scheduling represents a deliberate non-conformance to BP Group Standard for Driving Safety and [the BP Exploration Alaska] Driving Safety Policy," said the October 2009 memo sent to BP's Alaska officials.

"Rather than hire more people who are rested, [BP} would rather work tired workers with too much to do for 18 hours in an environment that handles hazardous and explosive materials," Pascal said in an interview. "Why hasn't Congress and the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] weighed in on this chronic problem that is just another symptom of chronic cost-cutting?"

An OSHA spokesperson did not return calls for comment and an Energy Committee investigator said Waxman is "looking into it."

The document advised BP's management in Alaska to immediately intervene in order to reduce the 16-plus hour work shifts, and if that did not happen, an explanation must be given to employees, BP's corporate officials, Congress and others for why BP Alaska is willing to accept the "current condition of risk for a number of years until accelerated hiring has an eventual impact."

"Allowing the continuation of the 16-plus hour work shifts would be seen by internal and external stakeholders as putting production ahead of safety," the document said.

In a letter dated February 3, 2010, prepared for BP Alaska President John Minge, BP's Ombudsman, former CIA General Counsel and retired judge Stanley Sporkin, said his office has been "engaged in oversight of the overtime and staffing issues that continue to be raised by employees."

"As a result of these concerns, [BP Alaska] changed its overtime policies to limit the number of hours of overtime that can be worked continuously," said Sporkin's letter, which was prepared for Minge in response to recent congressional inquiries about Prudhoe Bay. "In addition, it is taking a more comprehensive approach to hiring and training technicians and operators so that there is more availability of personnel and less need for overtime by the current workforce. These changes will take a while to implement."

Lingering Safety Issue

Back in 2001, Kovac and several other BP employees and management officials prepared an Operations Integrity Review report identifying safety and maintenance issues the company needed to address to protect the welfare of its workers. One of the items employees identified that was in dire need of upgrading was the fire and gas systems at the North Slope facilities, a project estimated to cost about $1 billion that should have been completed, depending on who you speak to, by 2003 or 2005.

After the massive oil spills in March and August 2006, many of the same employees, along with a top BP Prudhoe Bay official, conducted a re-review of the 2001 report to determine what projects BP still needed to tackle. Nearly a decade later, the fire and gas systems have yet to be fully upgraded, largely due to budget cuts, a fact that Rinehart denies.

According to a document prepared for the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year describing the status of BP's Fire and Gas Renewal Program, BP admitted that the project "did not proceed as quickly as we had anticipated," but the company claims the "slower pace did not reflect a change in our level of commitment, but rather was a conscientious adjustment during 2008 that we undertook for technical reasons as we learned more about the scale and complexities of the project."

BP claims it invested twice as much money in 2009 than it did in 2008 - $49 million - and, as of February, was set to spend another $60 million on the project. But while that may sound like quite a bit of money, it means that, if spending at that pace continues, it will take BP more than a decade to complete the upgrades - twenty years after employees identified it as a major safety issue.
BP denied to Congress that budget cuts have or will play a part in 2010. But that was before the disaster in the Gulf.

"You asked us what impact any proposed 'budget cuts' would have on fire and gas upgrade plans, and the answer is simple: we have not reduced our financial commitment for the fire and gas upgrade plan because of 'budget cuts,'" the document said. "The 2008 re-assessment described above was focused on technical considerations, not financial concerns." Kovac said the fact that BP performed a "reassessment in 2008 is a self-indictment."

"They were supposed to do something years ago," he said. "And seven years pass and you still haven't finished. When is the issue going to be resolved? It's a very simple question. How many facilities are obsolete that need fire and prevention system upgrades? This is not that complicated. How many? BP won't say."

"First, understand the facilities are safe, and the fire and gas detection/alarm systems are functional," said Rinehart, the BP Alaska spokesman. "The upgrade is an ongoing, substantial project; more than $90 million invested since 2006. We have not reduced our work plan or commitment to this project as a result of any budget pressures. The work is being carefully staged. Other work has been done at the processing centers, and several more projects are being done this year, while planning continues looking ahead."

Regarding Rinehart's statement that BP Alaska has spent $90 million since 2006, a senior BP official said, "it's not terribly remarkable."

"Do the math on a per year spend," he said. "There's no mention of total potential spend as well as completion year."

Mischaracterizing the Facts

Since the 2006 oil spills, Congress has stepped up its oversight of BP, mainly in the form of writing letters to company officials, requesting documents about the status of various projects, and inquiring about other matters brought to the attention of lawmakers by employees working at Prudhoe Bay.

In January, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-California), the chairman of the House Energy Committee, and Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, did just that when they sent a letter to Minge, BP's Alaska president, seeking information about how BP was managing its Prudhoe Bay operations, as well as seeking internal reports about the circumstances behind five serious incidents at Prudhoe Bay dating back to September 2008, one of which ended in tragedy.

In addition, the lawmakers sought information from the ombudsman's office regarding the "number and type of concerns received and the actions the company has taken in response." The ombudsman's office was set up in 2006 in the aftermath of the oil spills, and investigates concerns raised by employees about a wide range of issues, such as safety, maintenance, retaliation and harassment.

Minge wrote to Sporkin, the ombudsman, asking him to provide him with a report to turn over to Waxman's committee. Sporkin drafted a six-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by Truthout. He said that, since 2006, the office has registered 202 employee concerns, more than half of which generated from Alaska.

Sporkin also said his office "had the opportunity to address concerns at two off-shore platforms, including a case that came in on Christmas Eve 2006 regarding potential safety issues in an operation planned for over the holiday." It's unknown what was the substance of the incident involving offshore drilling platforms Sporkin was referring to.

The Office of the Ombudsman, according to Sporkin's letter, places employee concerns into three categories: Level 1 represents "system integrity or safety issues" and is the most serious; issues that could impact safety are classified as level 2, and human resources issues are identified as level 3. The ombudsman's office is currently conducting 57 investigations. In explaining how successful he felt the ombudsman program has been, Sporkin cited a level 1 safety incident that took place during the summer of 2008, "involving a high pressure gas line that runs across the field, including in close proximity to several North Slope housing camps and critical facilities."

"The Concerned Individual identified that the line, which was scheduled for 'smart' pigging [a device used for cleaning and identifying corrosion], was not going to be pigged in 2008 as a result of deferred work necessary to enable the pigging operation," Sporkin wrote. "As a result of the Ombudsman's intervention, and management support, [BP Alaska] undertook substantial compensatory actions through alternative testing to assure that those parts of the line that presented potential a safety risk to people or facilities were evaluated. Indeed, several areas of risk identified and repaired during the operation, and other areas were more closely monitored. The level of effort undertaken throughout the winter season was extraordinary, and the line was successfully pigged in 2009, with additional repairs ongoing. This is an example of the value from our intervention activities."

There was just one problem with Sporkin's explanation prepared for Congress: it wasn't entirely true. Employees said BP management did not immediately deal with the issue involving the natural gas injection line, nor was it originally brought to the attention of Sporkin in 2008 as he indicated in his letter. In fact, the issue surfaced three years earlier when Stuart Sneed, a contract employee with a stellar safety record, brought the matter to the attention of Paul Flaherty, an external investigator who, since 2002, has provided a confidential avenue for BP Alaska employees to raise concerns.

Flaherty also works with Sporkin.

In an interview, Flaherty confirmed employees' accounts that Sneed brought the corrosion issue to his attention in late 2005. Flaherty said he looked into the matter and found enough evidence to prove the allegations were true, and that a large number of "ultrasonic external corrosion inspections" indicated the integrity of the line was a major concern that needed immediate attention.

Flaherty said he raised the issue with BP's officials in Alaska, and was given assurances that they would take action to correct the corrosion. Flaherty said he monitored the progress roughly every six months, and became concerned that corrective measures on this line were not being implemented on a timely basis.

In late spring of 2008, Flaherty discovered BP Alaska had made little progress repairing the line. During this time, he started working with Sporkin and shared the issue with the Ombudsman Office, and together they characterized the issue as a level 1, "potential for imminent danger."

Flaherty said Sporkin's involvement, with support of Robert Malone, got the attention of BP's Alaska management. He says that without Sporkin's support and intervention, serious risks and potential harm to the slope and its workers were possible.

Interestingly, Malone unexpectedly retired from BP in early 2009, which, according to two BP Alaska officials, appeared to be the result of differences he had with Chief Executive Tony Hayward and Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles. These differences included Malone's support of the Office of the Ombudsman, set up in 2006 as a clearinghouse for employee concerns, and between others within BP that wanted to close this office.

According to Pascal, BP's primary goal in negotiations with EPA in February on a settlement related to debarment was to get rid of Sporkin's office and replace it with a BP employee, so BP could control the outcome and information being divulged to the government. Pascal said she was "adamant" in opposing this. Sporkin's February 3 letter to Minge said that Lamar McKay, the president and chairman of BP America, has extended the ombudsman's contract until June 30, 2011.

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Sneed, who employees were interviewed by Flaherty during the course of a separate investigation he conducted into safety issues Sneed raised, said he, "was likely to be the most careful technician on the Slope," and was "considered by his peers to be a very thorough and competent inspector." Sneed became the subject of retaliation by the company under contract to BP, Acuren, for reporting a number of issues on safety and retaliation both through internal BP-sanctioned safety programs, and to Flaherty.

He was eventually fired in 2007, and waged an unsuccessful and costly legal battle against Acuren. Sneed noted that he felt BP management supported Acuren's action of retaliation against him through "passive support of Acuren and no intervention on his behalf even though his efforts were exactly as BP indicates it wants people to behave."

"In my opinion, Stuart was blacklisted and is without a job since 2007 because of his willingness to raise integrity and safety issues," Flaherty said. "In addition to the pain Sneed has experienced for doing the right thing," Flaherty expressed "a deep concern that other workers may not raise safety and other issues to management that need attention, because they are well aware of what happened to Stuart Sneed."

Flaherty said he did not know why Sporkin's letter contained incorrect information. He said he didn't see it until after it was sent to Congress, but he advised Sporkin that the facts surrounding the 2008 case in his letter were incorrect. According to an investigator on the Energy Committee, Sporkin never did contact them with corrections.

Kovac and other BP employees said they don't believe BP has the wherewithal to tackle the issues plaguing Prudhoe Bay.

"This company seems incapable of managing its assets safely," Kovac said.


3) American Man in Limbo on No-Fly List
June 15, 2010

WASHINGTON - As a 26-year-old Muslim American man who spent 18 months in Yemen before heading home to Virginia in early May, Yahya Wehelie caught the attention of the F.B.I. Agents stopped him while he was changing planes in Cairo, told him he was on the no-fly list and questioned him about his contacts with another American in Yemen, one accused of joining Al Qaeda and fatally shooting a hospital guard.

For six weeks, Mr. Wehelie has been in limbo in the Egyptian capital. He and his parents say he has no radical views, despises Al Qaeda and merely wants to get home to complete his education and get a job.

But after many hours of questioning by F.B.I. agents, he remains on the no-fly list. When he offered to fly home handcuffed and flanked by air marshals, Mr. Wehelie said, F.B.I. agents turned him down.

"The lady told me that Columbus sailed the ocean blue a long time ago when there were no planes," Mr. Wehelie said in a telephone interview from Cairo. "I'm an innocent American in exile, and I have no way to get home."

Mr. Wehelie's predicament reflects the aggressive response of American counterterrorism officials to recent close calls with major terrorist plots: last year's foiled plan to blow up the New York City subway; the failed attempt to take down an airliner headed for Detroit on Dec. 25; and the fizzled car bombing in Times Square on May 1. The case also illustrates the daunting challenge, both for people like Mr. Wehelie and for their F.B.I. questioners, of proving that they pose no security threat.

Accused after the Dec. 25 near-miss of failing to keep the would-be bomber off the plane to Detroit, the government's Terrorist Screening Center has since doubled the no-fly list to 8,000 names, according to a counterterrorism official who discussed the closely held numbers on the condition that he not be identified.

Counterterrorism officials have focused especially on Yemen, where the Dec. 25 bomber was trained. Traditionally, Yemen has been a popular and inexpensive place for Americans and others to study Arabic.

At least three Americans have been detained in recent weeks by the Yemeni authorities on suspicion of terrorist connections, and civil liberties advocates have identified a half-dozen Americans or legal United States residents on the no-fly list who are stranded abroad, most of them after visiting Yemen.

On Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group that has been working with Mr. Wehelie's family, wrote to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to protest what its executive director, Nihad Awad, called "apparently illegal pressure tactics" against Muslim American travelers.

"If the F.B.I. wishes to question American citizens, they should be allowed to return to the United States, where they will be able to maintain their constitutional rights free of threats or intimidation," Mr. Awad wrote.

Mr. Awad noted that Yahya Wehelie's younger brother, Yusuf, 19, who was stopped with him in Cairo, faced a shorter but even more harrowing time in Egypt. Questioned first by the F.B.I., Yusuf was later held for three days by Egyptian security officers, blindfolded, chained to a wall and roughed up before being allowed to travel home May 12, he said in an interview.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it has been contacted by a dozen people who say they have been improperly placed on the no-fly list since December, half of them Americans abroad.

"For many of these Americans, placement on the no-fly list effectively amounts to banishment from their country," said Ben Wizner, a senior staff attorney with the A.C.L.U. He called such treatment "both unfair and unconstitutional."

An F.B.I. spokesman, Michael P. Kortan, said that as a matter of policy, the bureau did not comment on who was on a watch list. But he said the recent plots showed the need "to remain vigilant and thoroughly investigate every lead."

"In conducting such investigations," Mr. Kortan said, "the F.B.I. is always careful to protect the civil rights and privacy concerns of all Americans, including individuals in minority and ethnic communities."

Advocacy groups say they are trying to help Americans stranded in Yemen, Egypt, Colombia and Croatia, among other countries. At least one American, Raymond Earl Knaeble IV, who studied in Yemen and is now in Colombia, was returned to Colombia by the Mexican authorities after he sought to cross the border into the United States, the groups say.

The no-fly list gives the American authorities greater leverage in assessing travelers who are under suspicion, because to reverse the flying ban many are willing to undergo hours of questioning.

But sometimes the questioning concludes neither with criminal charges nor with permission to fly. The Transportation Security Administration has a procedure allowing people to challenge their watch list status in cases of mistaken identity or name mix-up, but Mr. Wehelie does not fit those categories.

Mr. Wehelie was born and raised in the Virginia suburbs of Washington with his five siblings by Abdirizak Wehelie, 58, and Shamsa Noor, 54, Somali immigrants who met in the United States and married in 1981.

He graduated from Lake Braddock High School in Burke, Va., and briefly attended Norfolk State University. He worked in a medical lab and held other jobs, but he was arrested for marijuana possession and reckless driving, and his parents felt he was adrift, he said from Cairo.

In 2008, they insisted that he travel to Yemen, where they thought he could study Arabic, expand his horizons and perhaps find a wife. "That's the crazy thing - I was the one who made him go," said his mother, Ms. Noor.

Mr. Wehelie studied computer science at Lebanese International University in Sana, the Yemeni capital, he said, and last year he married a Somali woman in Yemen. And in the small American expatriate community, he said, he met Sharif Mobley, the New Jersey man who was later accused of joining Al Qaeda and killing a Yemeni guard. Mr. Wehelie said their handful of encounters were brief and casual, the innocent small talk of two expatriates.

"It was just, 'Hey, how you doing?' " Mr. Wehelie said. The F.B.I.'s suspicions are misplaced, he said: "I'm not even a religious person. I hate Al Qaeda. I don't like anything that jeopardizes my country and my family."

Evidently the F.B.I. is not convinced. The American authorities in Cairo canceled his passport and issued a new one Sunday with the notation, "valid only for return to the United States before Sept. 12, 2010," Mr. Wehelie said. That is his goal, he said, but he has no idea how to get home.


4) Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old
June 16, 2010

BODO, Nigeria - Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land. The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.

Not far away, there is still black crude on Gio Creek from an April spill, and just across the state line in Akwa Ibom the fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea buffeted by a spill from an offshore Exxon Mobil pipe in May that lasted for weeks.

The oil spews from rusted and aging pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage. In the face of this black tide is an infrequent protest - soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who were demonstrating last month, according to witnesses - but mostly resentful resignation.

Small children swim in the polluted estuary here, fishermen take their skiffs out ever farther - "There's nothing we can catch here," said Pius Doron, perched anxiously over his boat - and market women trudge through oily streams. "There is Shell oil on my body," said Hannah Baage, emerging from Gio Creek with a machete to cut the cassava stalks balanced on her head.

That the Gulf of Mexico disaster has transfixed a country and president they so admire is a matter of wonder for people here, living among the palm-fringed estuaries in conditions as abject as any in Nigeria, according to the United Nations. Though their region contributes nearly 80 percent of the government's revenue, they have hardly benefited from it; life expectancy is the lowest in Nigeria.

"President Obama is worried about that one," Claytus Kanyie, a local official, said of the gulf spill, standing among dead mangroves in the soft oily muck outside Bodo. "Nobody is worried about this one. The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp."

In the distance, smoke rose from what Mr. Kanyie and environmental activists said was an illegal refining business run by local oil thieves and protected, they said, by Nigerian security forces. The swamp was deserted and quiet, without even bird song; before the spills, Mr. Kanyie said, women from Bodo earned a living gathering mollusks and shellfish among the mangroves.

With new estimates that as many as 2.5 million gallons of oil could be spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day, the Niger Delta has suddenly become a cautionary tale for the United States.

As many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta over the last five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year, a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups concluded in a 2006 report. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.

So the people here cast a jaundiced, if sympathetic, eye at the spill in the gulf. "We're sorry for them, but it's what's been happening to us for 50 years," said Emman Mbong, an official in Eket.

The spills here are all the more devastating because this ecologically sensitive wetlands region, the source of 10 percent of American oil imports, has most of Africa's mangroves and, like the Louisiana coast, has fed the interior for generations with its abundance of fish, shellfish, wildlife and crops.

Local environmentalists have been denouncing the spoliation for years, with little effect. "It's a dead environment," said Patrick Naagbanton of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development in Port Harcourt, the leading city of the oil region.

Though much here has been destroyed, much remains, with large expanses of vibrant green. Environmentalists say that with intensive restoration, the Niger Delta could again be what it once was.

Nigeria produced more than two million barrels of oil a day last year, and in over 50 years thousands of miles of pipes have been laid through the swamps. Shell, the major player, has operations on thousands of square miles of territory, according to Amnesty International. Aging columns of oil-well valves, known as Christmas trees, pop up improbably in clearings among the palm trees. Oil sometimes shoots out of them, even if the wells are defunct.

"The oil was just shooting up in the air, and it goes up in the sky," said Amstel M. Gbarakpor, youth president in Kegbara Dere, recalling the spill in April at Gio Creek. "It took them three weeks to secure this well."

How much of the spillage is due to oil thieves or to sabotage linked to the militant movement active in the Niger Delta, and how much stems from poorly maintained and aging pipes, is a matter of fierce dispute among communities, environmentalists and the oil companies.

Caroline Wittgen, a spokeswoman for Shell in Lagos, said, "We don't discuss individual spills," but argued that the "vast majority" were caused by sabotage or theft, with only 2 percent due to equipment failure or human error.

"We do not believe that we behave irresponsibly, but we do operate in a unique environment where security and lawlessness are major problems," Ms. Wittgen said.

Oil companies also contend that they clean up much of what is lost. A spokesman for Exxon Mobil in Lagos, Nigel A. Cookey-Gam, said that the company's recent offshore spill leaked only about 8,400 gallons and that "this was effectively cleaned up."

But many experts and local officials say the companies attribute too much to sabotage, to lessen their culpability. Richard Steiner, a consultant on oil spills, concluded in a 2008 report that historically "the pipeline failure rate in Nigeria is many times that found elsewhere in the world," and he noted that even Shell acknowledged "almost every year" a spill due to a corroded pipeline.

On the beach at Ibeno, the few fishermen were glum. Far out to sea oil had spilled for weeks from the Exxon Mobil pipe. "We can't see where to fish; oil is in the sea," Patrick Okoni said.

"We don't have an international media to cover us, so nobody cares about it," said Mr. Mbong, in nearby Eket. "Whatever cry we cry is not heard outside of here."


5) With Criminal Charges, Costs to BP Could Soar
June 16, 2010

As BP watches its bill rise quickly for the oil spill, including $20 billion it is setting aside for claims, it could find the tally growing much faster in coming months if the United States Department of Justice files criminal charges against the company.

Based on the latest estimates, for example, the daily civil fine for the escaping oil alone could be $280 million. But criminal penalties, if imposed, could cause the costs to balloon still further, said David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who headed the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department from 2000 to 2007.

Others note that such penalties could lead to loss of government contracts.

Even misdemeanor convictions under environmental laws could produce stunningly large fines under general federal criminal statutes, Mr. Uhlmann added. That is because the Alternative Fines Act allows the federal government to request twice the gain or loss associated with an offense if the Justice Department shows that a crime was committed.

Predictions by analysts of the overall cost of the spill to BP, when criminal penalties are included, have been rising. On Wednesday, Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James, estimated the total legal cost, including criminal fines, at $62.9 billion, which would dwarf the $20 billion escrow account to be used to pay claims of economic loss.

The agreement to create the fund would not pre-empt people from using the courts to resolve disputes with BP over the spill.

Proving a criminal case beyond misdemeanor crimes under federal environmental laws could be difficult. The standard for proving environmental misdemeanors can be relatively low: merely negligent actions can lead to misdemeanor penalties under the Clean Water Act.

Prosecutors would probably prefer, given the severity of the ecological crisis caused by the spill, to seek tougher penalty charges, Mr. Uhlmann said. But those carry a tougher standard of proof. The government would have to show that the company knew its actions would lead to the gushing well on the ocean floor.

A BP spokesman, Toby Odone, said, "We wouldn't comment on either current or future legal matters."

Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said there was no timeline for the civil or criminal investigations, and that the department was "looking for all possible violations of the law."

The department is reviewing the actions of all companies involved in the spill, and focusing on several environmental laws in particular, including the Clean Water Act, which carries civil and criminal penalties, and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, which provide penalties for injury and death to wildlife, could come into play, along with "traditional criminal statutes," Mr. Ames said.

The investigation would almost certainly take into account prior criminal plea agreements from the company, like the guilty plea in the 2005 refinery explosion that killed 15 people in Texas City, Tex.

Prior criminal charges can be used during a trial to support arguments that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is not a unique occurrence, but the result of a corporate culture that lets schedule and budget pressures lead to increases in risk.

Any criminal charges are unlikely to reach up to the executive suite, and would apply to the company as an entity.

Few of the laws under consideration by the Justice Department have felony provisions that would lead to incarceration, and even those require a direct and intentional connection between the defendant and the crime.

Stanley L. Alpert, a former federal prosecutor of environmental crimes, said that even if decisions that might have contributed to the disaster are found to be criminal in nature, they are rarely made by top executives. "It's likely it was done at a much lower, operational level," Mr. Alpert said.

Criminal indictments alone could have substantial ripple effects on a company's fortunes, said Steven L. Schooner, a professor at George Washington University Law School. A company that is indicted risks being blacklisted from future sales contracts with the government under procedures officially known as suspension and debarment.

BP sold $1.6 billion worth of aviation fuel and other products to the military last year, according to the government's procurement site, If a company were given a short-term suspension or debarment, which can last three years, it would not be eligible to get a new contract during that time, Mr. Schooner said.

The point of debarment under the law, he said, is not to punish, but to protect the government from suppliers that do not perform.

Still, he added, "It would not surprise me at all if somebody in the White House decided that we ought to suspend or debar BP just because it will make it look like we're doing something."

Many states monitor the federal debarment list, Mr. Schooner said, and so sales to airports, fire departments, school districts and more could be imperiled by a listing. "The trickle-down can often exceed the initial problem," he said.

Mr. Uhlmann said that if the federal government took an extremely aggressive approach, it might try to argue in court that suspension or debarment should also be applied to the company's federal drilling and operating licenses - potentially, a devastating blow.

But, he added, it would be a risky tactic that would stretch the definition of the blacklisting process. Even if it were successful, it could stay in place only "as long as the condition giving rise to the violation remained in effect." If the company overhauled its processes as part of a settlement, he said, the ban would have to be lifted.

State law enforcers, working from state environmental statutes, might step in as well, predicted Tracy D. Hester, who teaches environmental law at the University of Houston Law Center.

"BP may think they are dealing with one big man across the ring," Mr. Hester said. "The fact is, they are going to have a tag team."


6) Vietnam: Agent Orange Plan
June 16, 2010

A joint panel of American and Vietnamese policy makers, citizens and scientists released an action plan urging the United States government and other donors to provide an estimated $30 million annually over 10 years to help to treat Vietnamese suffering from disabilities and clean sites still contaminated by dioxin, a chemical used in the defoliant Agent Orange. Agent Orange was dumped by the United States military over the south to destroy crops and jungle cover shielding guerrillas, an assault that has been linked to cancers, birth defects and other ailments.


7) Spill Takes Toll on Gulf Workers' Psyches
June 16, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - On a normal night, Hong Le, a deckhand on a fishing boat, would be miles out on the water laying nets and lines to catch tuna. Instead, he lies awake in his rented room agonizing over the money he is not sending to his wife and children in Vietnam and the delay in his longtime dream of bringing them here, apparently dashed by the oil spill.

At each day passes, Mr. Le, 58, says he feels more hopeless. "I just wait at home," he said hollowly through an interpreter.

Beyond the environmental and economic damage, the toll of the mammoth spill in the Gulf of Mexico is being measured in hopelessness, anxiety, stress, anger, depression and even suicidal thoughts among those most affected, social workers say.

Mindful of the surge in psychological ailments after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, community groups are trying to tend to the collective psyche of fishermen like Mr. Le even as they address more immediate needs like financial aid.

When fishermen arrive to pick up emergency aid checks at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit group in this city's Vietnamese-American enclave, crisis counselors from Catholic Charities are on hand to screen for signs of emotional distress and to offer help.

"Are you having trouble sleeping?" the counselors ask through interpreters. "Do you feel out of energy? Do you have thoughts that you would be better off dead?"

Most of the fishermen trooping to the center lack fluency in English or skills beyond fishing, a vocation they have passed on for generations.

"They're very distraught," said the deputy director of the community development corporation, Tuan Nguyen. "For a lot of people, fishing is all they know. They don't like handouts. They're very proud. They don't know how tomorrow is going to be."

Catholic Charities reported this week that of the 9,800 people the counselors had approached since May 1 in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, 1,593 were referred for counseling because of signs of depression.

"It's the fear of losing everything," said Representative Anh Cao, a Republican from New Orleans who has assembled a response team to travel along the Gulf Coast to assess constituents' needs.

Mr. Cao said he had met two fishermen in Plaquemines Parish who told him they were contemplating suicide. While those cases are "extreme," Mr. Cao said, they reflect how some people "are approaching a point of despair."

Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said staff members had counseled 749 people in the last week of May and the first week of June to "mitigate" symptoms that could lead to destructive behavior.

"Most people are in disbelief," said Dr. Tony Speier, deputy assistant secretary of the department's office of mental health. "There's fear not just for economic survival, but for a way of life."

While state officials have emphasized the resiliency of Gulf Coast residents, who suffered through Hurricane Katrina and other major storms like Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, experts say the region should brace for long-term psychological strain.

Researchers who studied the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill said coastal residents of Alaska saw a higher incidence of suicide, divorce, domestic violence and substance abuse. To this day, many are still dealing with the effects of the environmental damage, economic losses and lawsuits.

At the Center for Wellness and Mental Health in Chalmette, which opened last year to treat cases of post-traumatic stress disorder lingering from Hurricane Katrina, the staff is checking in on fishermen's families, mining relationships that were forged when volunteers helped rebuild homes after the hurricane.

An effort is under way to invite wives to receive counseling and learn breathing techniques and other skills to cope with stress, said Joycelyn Heintz, the coordinator of the center, which was founded by the nonprofit St. Bernard Project and the Health Sciences Center at Louisiana State University.

Rachel Morris, one of the wives who has agreed to counseling, said her husband, Louis Lund Jr., 34, was a shell of his formerly joyful self.

After the oil spill grounded fishing, Mr. Lund managed to get a job cleaning the gulf waters for BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, Ms. Morris said. But he is stricken by the sight of dead fish on his cleanup outings, she said, and for the first time has started to frequent bars with other fishermen.

Mr. Lund frets over whether he will be able to pass on his trade to his children, a 13-month-old son and 10-year-old daughter, or even remain in New Orleans, where volunteers just finished rebuilding the family's Katrina-flooded home last October.

"When I saw the oil rig explosion on television, I was, like, 'O.K., oil rig explosion,' " Ms. Morris, 26, said, adding that she told herself to pray for the 11 rig workers who were killed. "Two days later it was, 'The oil is not stopping.' That's when my husband went from a happy guy to a zombie consumed by the oil spill."

She said Mr. Lund had refused to accept counseling. He has lashed out occasionally, she said, venting his anger one evening last week after waiting in line for nearly four hours at the local civic center to pick up his two-week paycheck.

Asked about his state of mind, Mr. Lund told a reporter: "If you're not out there in it, you can't comprehend what this is about. We're going to be surrounded by it. You're going to smell it right here."

Similar frustration was evident one morning last week at the Mary Queen of Vietnam center, where 50 people who had been waiting since as early as 4 a.m. for the doors to open around 9 a.m. suddenly began shouting, pushing and shoving one another. The commotion was soon quelled, but not the expressions of exhaustion and worry.

One of the groups hardest hit by the spill is Vietnamese fishermen, who make up a significant part of the about 12,400 commercial licensed fishermen in Louisiana (state officials had no firm estimate, but locals estimate they are as much as a third).

Having already experienced displacement - emigrating from Vietnam and in some cases losing their homes after Hurricane Katrina - they now face a crisis of epic proportions with an uncertain duration.

Interviewed in a sparsely furnished room he rents for $300 a month in a house with bars on the windows, Mr. Le said he was surviving on handouts after a lifetime of self-sufficiency.

He arrived in the United States in 1979. Nine years ago, he married on a visit home to Phan Thiet in southeastern Vietnam, assuring his wife that one day she would join him here.

Mr. Le said he used to send up to $5,000 a year to his wife and their 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. As his family turns to other relatives for support, he is living on an initial payment of $1,200 from BP and whatever aid comes his way.

In phone conversations, his wife urges him to find a job outside the fishing industry. He applied at two Vietnamese restaurants, but neither would hire him for even the most menial work, Mr. Le said.

"I don't know what's going to happen," he murmured. "Any opportunity for work, I'll do it."


8) Sea creatures flee oil spill, gather near shore
Associated Press Writers
Thu Jun 17, 12:18 am ET

GULF SHORES, Ala. - Dolphins and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep into marshes, never to be seen again.

Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange phenomena.

Fish and other wildlife seem to be fleeing the oil out in the Gulf and clustering in cleaner waters along the coast in a trend that some researchers see as a potentially troubling sign.

The animals' presence close to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the animals could easily be devoured by predators.

"A parallel would be: Why are the wildlife running to the edge of a forest on fire? There will be a lot of fish, sharks, turtles trying to get out of this water they detect is not suitable," said Larry Crowder, a Duke University marine biologist.

The nearly two-month-old spill has created an environmental catastrophe unparalleled in U.S. history as tens of millions of gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Scientists are seeing some unusual things as they try to understand the effects on thousands of species of marine life.

Day by day, scientists in boats tally up dead birds, sea turtles and other animals, but the toll is surprisingly small given the size of the disaster. The latest figures show that 783 birds, 353 turtles and 41 mammals have died - numbers that pale in comparison to what happened after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989, when 250,000 birds and 2,800 otters are believed to have died.

Researchers say there are several reasons for the relatively small death toll: The vast nature of the spill means scientists are able to locate only a small fraction of the dead animals. Many will never be found after sinking to the bottom of the sea or getting scavenged by other marine life. And large numbers of birds are meeting their deaths deep in the Louisiana marshes where they seek refuge from the onslaught of oil.

"That is their understanding of how to protect themselves," said Doug Zimmer, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For nearly four hours Monday, a three-person crew with Greenpeace cruised past delicate islands and mangrove-dotted inlets in Barataria Bay off southern Louisiana. They saw dolphins by the dozen frolicking in the oily sheen and oil-tinged pelicans feeding their young. But they spotted no dead animals.

"I think part of the reason why we're not seeing more yet is that the impacts of this crisis are really just beginning," Greenpeace marine biologist John Hocevar said.

The counting of dead wildlife in the Gulf is more than an academic exercise; the deaths will help determine how much BP pays in damages.

As for the fish, researchers are still trying to determine where exactly they are migrating to understand the full scope of the disaster, and no scientific consensus has emerged about the trend.

Mark Robson, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries Management with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said his agency has to find any scientific evidence that fish are being adversely affected off his state's waters. He noted that it is common for fish to flee major changes in their environment, however.

In some areas along the coast, researchers believe fish are swimming closer to shore because the water is cleaner and more abundant in oxygen. Farther out in the Gulf, researchers say, the spill is not only tainting the water with oil but also depleting oxygen levels.

A similar scenario occurs during "dead zone" periods - the time during summer months when oxygen becomes so depleted that fish race toward shore in large numbers. Sometimes, so many fish gather close to the shoreline off Mobile that locals rush to the beach with tubs and nets to reap the harvest.

But this latest shore migration could prove deadly.

First, more oil could eventually wash ashore and overwhelm the fish. They could also become trapped between the slick and the beach, leading to increased competition for oxygen in the water and causing them to die as they run out of air.

"Their ability to avoid it may be limited in the long term, especially if in near-shore refuges they're crowding in close to shore, and oil continues to come in. At some point they'll get trapped," said Crowder, expert in marine ecology and fisheries. "It could lead to die-offs."

The fish could also fall victim to predators such as sharks and seabirds. Already there have been increased shark sightings in shallow waters along the Gulf Coast.

The migration of fish away from the oil spill can be good news for some coastal residents.

Tom Sabo has been fishing off Panama City, Fla., for years, and he's never seen the fishing better or the water any clearer than it was last weekend 16 to 20 miles off the coast. His fishing spot was far enough east that it wasn't affected by the pollution or federal restrictions, and it's possible that his huge catch of red snapper, grouper, king mackerel and amberjack was a result of fish fleeing the spill.

In Alabama, locals are seeing large schools hanging around piers where fishing has been banned, leading them to believe the fish feel safer now that they are not being disturbed by fishermen.

"We pretty much just got tired of catching fish," Sabo said. "It was just inordinately easy, and these were strong fish, nothing that was affected by oil. It's not just me. I had to wait at the cleaning table to clean fish."


Lush contributed from Barataria Bay, La., Flesher from Traverse City, Mich.


9) Afghanistan Moves Quickly to Tap Newfound Mineral Reserves
June 17, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Ministry of Mines announced Thursday that it would take the first steps toward opening the country's reserves to international investors at a meeting next week in London even as Afghans expressed a mixture of hope and doubt about the government's commitment to develop the country's newly documented mineral wealth.

The focus of the meeting will be the Hajigak area of Bamian Province, which has major iron ore deposits, the Mines Minister, Wahidullah Shahrani, said at a news conference here.

It was Mr. Shahrani's first public appearance since news that the country had at least $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources became public after an article appeared Monday in The New York Times that detailed findings of the Pentagon and United States Geological Survey. Afghan officials described the $1 trillion estimate conservative and said their estimates suggested the reserves could be worth as much as $3 trillion.

"This good news has the potential of adding a lot of value to the economy of Afghanistan and it will serve the development of Afghanistan," Mr. Shahrani said.

The previously unknown deposits include huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium. With so many minerals that are essential to modern industry, Afghanistan could be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, according to American officials.

Two hundred mining investors from around the world have been invited to next week's meeting in London where they will offer suggestions for how to develop the iron ore deposits at Hajigak, said Craig Andrews, the principal mining specialist for Afghanistan for the World Bank.

Then, the ministry will develop a tender offer for that area. For instance, it is possible that the government would require that the bidder develop both a steel plant and the iron ore mine since there are also nearly deposits of coal, Mr. Andrews said. By September, the government hopes to be able to solicit expressions of interest from mining companies and perhaps by December narrow the number to five or six companies who have the capacity to undertake such a large the project.

Non-governmental western mining experts will be helping the ministry develop the bidding process, said Mr. Andrews. Mr. Shahrani pledged to make the bidding and contracting of mining rights as transparent as possible in order to reduce the possibility of corruption. He said the ministry would post contracts on its Web site and would try to brief reporters, and by extension the public. Copies of the contracts would be made available to members of Parliament and to members of civil society.

Mr. Shahrani and his advisers cautioned against overly high expectations, underscoring that development takes years and that there are many obstacles to overcome not least of all the lack of security in some of the areas with the most minerals and the lack of a transportation infrastructure.

In Kabul, students and shopkeepers alike said they thought the government had the capability to develop mines eventually, but not without help from foreigners.

"The current government does not have the ability to launch such big projects - neither administratively, nor in terms of security," said Ghulam Hazrat, a shopkeeper who sells spare parts for cars.

Mr. Hazrat held up his right index finger, which was disfigured when he fought the Russians in the 1980s; he pointed to two scars on his leg and one on his chest from the early 1990s when warlords were fighting each other to control the country.

"Thousands have made sacrifices like me in their lifetime. But I am sure I won't see any benefits from such mines in my life and neither will you in yours. Whether my children will , I don't know."

An adviser to the minister, Abdul Rahman Ashraf, struck a similar note when asked by a young reporter at the news conference whether his generation would see the benefit of the mineral reserves. "Your generation should not think that this $3 trillion is an amount you can spend, but, your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren will have the right for this reserves," he said.

"We need to learn how to use it."

Faisal Farooqi, a first-year student at Kabul University, studying law and political science, was more optimistic and he said he saw the reserves and the international attention to them as something the country needs to take advantage of.

"It is time we show the will," to take advantage of such wealth, he said. "It is an opportunity for us to get out of this misery and we should grab it with both hands - even if our hands are shaky."

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting.


10) Colombian Coal Mine Blast Kills at Least 18
"The United States, while having ample coal reserves of its own, relies on Colombia for some imports. About 80 percent of United States coal imports in the first nine months of 2009 came from Colombia, according to the Department of Energy."
June 17, 2010

CARACAS, Venezuela - An explosion at a coal mine in northwest Colombia killed at least 18 miners, and dozens more trapped inside were feared dead, Colombian rescue officials said Thursday. The officials said the death toll could reach more than 70 when all the bodies were recovered.

The explosion at the mine near the town of Amagá focused new attention on safety practices in Colombia's mining industry, which has had several deadly mining accidents in the last few years. Colombia has South America's second largest coal reserves, after Brazil, and coal accounts for about a quarter of Colombia's export earnings.

The Colombian authorities said the explosion, which took place late Wednesday, appeared to have been caused by a buildup of methane gas. The mining minister, Hernán Martínez, said Thursday that the small, privately owned mine lacked gas detectors and a chimney to ease venting of gases.

A flood at the same mine killed five miners in 2008. The episode this week followed other accidents, including an explosion at a coal mine in 2007 in the province of Norte de Santander that killed 31 workers.

"They're pulling bodies out, but they haven't got my brother out yet," said Beatriz Montaña, 39, a police inspector in Amagá whose brother, Alejandro Echavarría, 33, worked in the mine. "There is sorrow everywhere I look today. We don't know what caused this tragedy."

Officials said her brother was probably dead, she said.

One survivor, Walter Restrepo, 31, said the explosion occurred at the end of his shift. "I was at the mouth of the mine when I felt the explosion, which lifted me into the air," he told local news media from a hospital where he was recovering from burns to 30 percent of his body.

"At that moment I felt a sudden blaze of fire envelop me," Mr. Restrepo said.

Luz Amanda Pulido, Colombia's director of disaster prevention and response, said about 70 rescue officials were working around the clock to recover bodies and search for survivors. Still, she said, the chances of finding anyone alive in the mine on Thursday were "minimal" because of the rock and other debris dislodged by the explosion.

"Oxygen is another problem, since the rescue workers need it themselves in order to carry out their search," Ms. Pulido said. "Accumulated gases in the mine also present a risk."

The latest explosion was already increasing scrutiny of inspection methods in Colombia's mining industry.

But officials said they did not expect the disaster to affect Colombia's coal exports. The United States, while having ample coal reserves of its own, relies on Colombia for some imports. About 80 percent of United States coal imports in the first nine months of 2009 came from Colombia, according to the Department of Energy.

Jenny Carolina González contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.


11) Students Gain After Strike in Puerto Rico
June 17, 2010

MIAMI - Thousands of students at the University of Puerto Rico who went on strike two months ago to oppose severe budget cuts declared victory on Thursday after reaching an agreement with administrators.

As part of a deal brokered by a court-appointed mediator, students would end their strike - one of the largest and longest such walkouts in Puerto Rican history - in exchange for a number of concessions. Most notably, the university's Board of Regents has agreed to cancel a special fee that would have effectively doubled the cost to attend the university's 11 public campuses.

The deal also includes a promise that there will be no sanctions against strike organizers, who clashed at times with the police at the main Río Piedras campus outside San Juan.

The accord must still be approved by a general assembly of university students, which is expected Monday. Christopher Powers, a literature professor at the Mayagüez campus, said it was "nearly a complete victory for the students," noting that they failed to get a promise that there would be no large tuition increase next year. Professor Powers said planned cuts later this year to the salaries and benefits of professors could set off another round of conflict.

"The fact that a student movement was able to force the administration and the government to sit down at the negotiating table and concede to nearly all their demands is a very important precedent," Professor Powers said. "It will serve as an inspiration."


12) Drill Ban Means Hard Times for Rig Workers
June 17, 2010

In addition to the fishermen and hoteliers whose livelihoods have been devastated by BP's hemorrhaging undersea oil well, another group of Gulf Coast residents is beginning to suffer: the tens of thousands of workers like Ronald Brown who run the equipment or serve in support roles on deepwater oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Brown, known as Rusty to his friends, is a "shakerhand." In the rugged vernacular of offshore drilling, that means he monitors the mud flowing back from the drill hole thousands of feet below.

He works aboard the Ocean Monarch, which was idled along with 32 other oil rigs when the Obama administration ordered a six-month moratorium on all deepwater drilling after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The rig's owner is now seeking customers in other parts of the world. If the rig moves, Mr. Brown and his fellow motormen, roughnecks and roustabouts will be left behind, jobless, with few alternatives that would pay anything close to the $3,500 to $4,000 a month typical for such jobs.

On Wednesday, President Obama and BP announced that the company had voluntarily agreed to create a $100 million fund to compensate such rig workers. That's a modest sum, critics say, given the potential economic losses. Each rig job supports roughly four additional jobs for cooks, supply-ship operators and others servicing the industry. Together, they represent total monthly wages of at least $165 million, according to estimates by a Louisiana oil industry group.

Still, Mr. Brown is grateful for any assistance. "Every little bit is going to help until we figure out where else to go," he said. "But I'm not looking forward to unemployment, and I don't know how quickly we'll be able to get some of it."

In an address to the nation Tuesday night, Mr. Obama apologized for the effect on oil workers who had nothing to do with the BP accident. "I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs," he said. "But for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue."

The full economic impact of the drilling moratorium is still unclear, since many of the layoffs are just beginning and no one knows how long the ban will last.

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association has warned that many of the affected rigs will seek to drill in other countries, imperiling roughly 800 to 1,400 jobs per rig, including third-party support personnel.

The securities firm Raymond James & Associates predicts that the moratorium could last well into 2011, directly jeopardizing 50,000 jobs and potentially gutting blue-collar communities that rely heavily on the economic activity that comes with deepwater work. "Just as the demise of auto plants and steel mills in the Upper Midwest devastated entire towns, an extended drilling ban could eventually have a similar effect in the Gulf Coast," the company said in a report Monday.

Lawrence R. Dickerson, the chief executive of Diamond Offshore Drilling, which owns the Ocean Monarch and five other deepwater rigs in the gulf, was less pessimistic, suggesting that 15,000 to 20,000 rig and associated service jobs were at risk. He predicted that some deepwater rigs would remain in the area awaiting a resumption of drilling, but that all would be forced to cut staff as the moratorium continued.

Three Diamond rigs are already prospecting for jobs in the Mediterranean and West Africa. Should they leave, they would take less than half of their crew with them, Mr. Dickerson said.

The halt in drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet came in response to the still-unchecked gusher of oil that followed the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers. The goal was to give the government time to review the rules and oversight of such wells, and the shutdown was welcomed by many Americans who have watched the environmental disaster unfold.

But like fishing and tourism, deepwater drilling is also crucial to the Gulf economy.

At a Congressional hearing last week, Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, confronted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with a list of local companies that serviced and depended on offshore energy development. She said that a temporary drill ban, even if it only lasted a few months, could affect as many as 330,000 people in Louisiana alone. That would "potentially wreak economic havoc on this region that exceeds the havoc wreaked by the spill itself," she said.

Until two weeks ago, the Ocean Monarch - a mammoth, $300 million semi-submersible not unlike the Deepwater Horizon owned by Transocean - was poised to drill a well in 4,000 feet of water at a spot more than 100 miles offshore. About 115 workers from a variety of companies were onboard.

After the moratorium, Cobalt International Energy, the company that had hired the Monarch and spent $60 million preparing to drill the well, said it was looking to dissolve the contract.

Those negotiations continue, but when two New York Times reporters visited the rig last week, it was squatting in just 50 feet of water 27 miles off the coast of Louisiana. On the deck, 75-foot segments of riser pipe were stacked in tidy rows two stories high, and the rig's manifest listed just 77 crew members aboard.

At a meeting with the crew, Mr. Dickerson talked about the uncertain future. "You know, if we can't go back to work for a minimum six months or longer, it's awfully hard to leave rigs sitting here," he said.

Once a rig moves, it tends to stay put, fulfilling multiyear contracts. Lower-level jobs are normally filled using the host country's work force.

After the meeting with Mr. Dickerson, a handful of rig workers - burly men in oil-stained T-shirts and overalls - shared their gnawing fear that the jobs that paid their modest mortgages, doctor bills and children's tuitions were about to disappear.

Louis Alvarez, a motorman and 21-year veteran with Diamond Offshore, said that a layoff could hinder plans that he and his wife had made to send their son to college in the fall. "It's a shame that I have to tell my 18-year-old son that he might have to help his daddy buy groceries," he said.

Mr. Brown, the shakerhand, began to cry when he said that his wife, Athena, was now looking for a job.

A broad-shouldered, broad-faced man, Mr. Brown, 29, is paid roughly $22 an hour to work the rig's standard two-week-on, two-week-off cycle, supplemented by occasional overtime. That's enough to support Athena and their three children: 5-year-old Shiloh, 3-year-old Maelah, and 1-year-old Bennett, who wears a brace to help correct club feet.

The job prospects around their home in Magee, Miss., a dilapidated town of about 4,000, are few. Tyson Foods and Polk's Meat Products have plants in the area, but would be unlikely to match a rig worker's paycheck.

In an interview at their home, Mrs. Brown said that someday, the country might find a low-cost alternative to oil.

"But we don't have an option right now," she said. "For us to stop drilling in the gulf is like ending our lives as far as the way we live. It's really that scary."

Rob Harris contributed reporting.


13) Spill May Have Taken Its Largest Victim Yet
"The fate of the whales, which have frequently been spotted swimming in the oil by planes overhead, has been of intense concern to wildlife biologists. Because whales are large and very mobile, they are relatively less vulnerable to oil spills than other sea life. However, the whales are classified as endangered and the crude oil is toxic to them. Moreover, they prefer to dive and fish right off the continental shelf, where the Deepwater Horizon wellhead is located, and their sensitivity to the large plumes of oil droplets and the enormous amount of dispersants being used to combat this disaster is unknown."
June 17, 2010

Over the last weeks, the carcasses of oily pelicans, turtles and other animals have washed to shore in the Gulf of Mexico. Now the first dead whale has been found - a juvenile sperm whale floating 77 miles from the leaking oil well.

On Tuesday, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship spotted the 25-foot animal due south of the Deepwater Horizon site. The water the whale was floating in was not oiled.

Blair Mase, the Southeast marine mammal stranding coordinator for the oceanic agency, said that scientists were "very concerned" that oil was the cause of the whale's death, but that the whale's body was so decomposed and scavenged by sharks that it would be impossible to say for certain.

Instead, scientists will try to determine whether the whale had been swimming through oil by using a method known as hindcasting, which looks at how bloated an animal's body is to calculate how long it has been dead, then retraces patterns in water currents to tell where the body might have drifted from. The whale's condition suggests it has been dead for at least several days, Ms. Mase said.

Scientists are also taking skin samples from the whale, which will be tested for petroleum. The results of those tests, as well as tests on its skin and blubber to determine its gender, may take weeks to process, the oceanic agency said. Government workers are also trying to rule out other possible causes of death, like a ship strike or net entanglement.

"It is a relatively rare occurrence," said Ms. Mase, who added that there have been only five or six whale deaths in the gulf in five years, "so we are studying this very carefully."

NOAA sent a research ship to the area around the Deepwater Horizon a few days ago specifically to learn whether the oil spill was changing whales' behavior and if so, in what ways.

There are an estimated 1,700 sperm whales that live in gulf waters and they are known to congregate particularly at the mouth of the Mississippi River, a rich feeding ground. Unlike other whales, which travel long distances, these live full-time in the gulf and do not usually mingle with sperm whale pods in the neighboring Caribbean and Sargasso Sea. Ms. Mase said that the dead whale was almost certainly a gulf whale.

The fate of the whales, which have frequently been spotted swimming in the oil by planes overhead, has been of intense concern to wildlife biologists. Because whales are large and very mobile, they are relatively less vulnerable to oil spills than other sea life. However, the whales are classified as endangered and the crude oil is toxic to them. Moreover, they prefer to dive and fish right off the continental shelf, where the Deepwater Horizon wellhead is located, and their sensitivity to the large plumes of oil droplets and the enormous amount of dispersants being used to combat this disaster is unknown.

Hal Whitehead, a biologist who studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said sperm whales are highly social animals that live in matriarchal groups like elephants. They communicate through noises that sound like clicks, which researchers refer to as a dialect. They have also shown behaviors that resemble mourning. In one case, Dr. Whitehead said, when a young sperm whale died, its mother carried its carcass around in her mouth.

Sperm whales live anywhere from 60 to 100 years, scientists estimate. But they reproduce on average only every five years, which is why even a few whale deaths can be significant, Dr. Whitehead said.


14) BP's Chief Offers Answers, but Not to Liking of House Committee
June 17, 2010

WASHINGTON - Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, facing relentless questioning by Congressional Democrats on Thursday, denied any personal responsibility for the decisions that led to the calamitous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Peppered with questions over whether BP officials had cut corners to save time and money on the doomed Macondo well, Mr. Hayward repeatedly said he was not present on the drilling rig and had no advance knowledge of problems with what one company engineer called a "nightmare well" six days before it blew on April 20.

"I had no prior knowledge of the drilling of this well, none whatsoever," he said.

He said he first heard of the well when BP exploration officials reported to him in early April that they had made a major find in the Mississippi Canyon region of the gulf. But, he said, he played no role in decisions on how the well was drilled and could not recall reading any of the numerous alarming reports about problems with finishing the well in the hours and days before it exploded.

And he steadfastly refused to draw any conclusion as to what caused the disaster or who was to blame, saying that would have to await the results of several investigations.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, theatrically accused Mr. Hayward of "stonewalling" the panel.

"I'm not stonewalling," said Mr. Hayward, the 53-year-old Englishman. "I simply wasn't involved in the decision-making."

Mr. Hayward's first appearance before Congress came a day after he and other senior BP executives met with President Obama at the White House and agreed to create a $20 billion escrow fund to pay damage claims from the rig disaster. BP's chairman formally apologized for the death and destruction brought by the accident, an expression of regret that Mr. Hayward echoed in his opening statement.

"The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should have happened - and I am deeply sorry that they did," Mr. Hayward said.

As he began his testimony, the hearing of the oversight and investigations panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee produced some fireworks. A protester with hands stained with a dark substance was dragged from the hearing room shouting: "You need to be charged with a crime! You need to go to jail!"

A few minutes earlier, Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the committee, touched off an uproar by referring to the president's securing of the $20 billion damage fund as a "shakedown."

Later in the day, facing heat from Democrats, the blogosphere and even members of his own party, Mr. Barton retracted most of his comments.

Under questioning from Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the investigations subcommittee, Mr. Hayward said it was too early to identify a cause or set of causes for the April 20 blowout.

"I think it's too early to reach conclusions," Mr. Hayward said. "The investigations are ongoing."

He said, however, that BP was looking at a number of actions that may have contributed to the accident, including the cementing of the completed well, the casing system surrounding the well bore, the pressure testing and the procedures to detect explosive gas in the well. The company is also focusing on the performance of the blowout preventer and the systems intended to activate it that failed.

Mr. Hayward declined to directly answer Mr. Stupak's question about whether companies with poor safety records should be allowed to continue operating in the United States. Mr. Hayward instead replied: "We've engaged in systematic change at BP over the past three years. We have begun to change the culture. I'm not denying there's more to do."

Mr. Waxman produced documents showing a debate among BP engineers on how to complete the well, with warnings that the plan to install a certain type of liner would increase the risk of a blowout and probably violate federal safety regulations.

"Clearly there was a discussion among the engineering team," Mr. Hayward said. "Clearly an engineering judgment was taken."

Under questioning from Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, Mr. Hayward said he had never heard of any of the numerous documented problems with the Macondo well.

"With respect, sir," Mr. Hayward said, "we drill hundreds of wells a year around the world."

Mr. Burgess said, "That's what's scaring me now."

Several other members of the committee noted that on Tuesday the chief executives of four other major oil companies told the panel that they would not have drilled the well the way BP did. Pressed again to acknowledge that BP officials aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had made errors or violated industry standards, Mr. Hayward again declined.

"I want to understand exactly what happened through our investigation and compare it to other practices to determine what is the truth," he said. "I can't comment beyond that."

Near the end of the hearing, which went on more than seven hours (including two breaks to allow the lawmakers to cast votes), the strain of the often repetitive questioning began to show on Mr. Hayward. His answers became shorter and he spent longer periods staring at his hands.

He cast his eyes downward as Mr. Waxman, ever on the attack, returned to his charge, made many hours earlier, that Mr. Hayward was stonewalling the committee.

"You have consistently ducked and evaded our questions," the scowling Mr. Waxman said. "Your evasion will make our job more difficult and impede our understanding of what went wrong. It is regrettable and an unfortunate approach for you to take to the work of this committee of Congress."

Mr. Waxman did not wait for a reply.

John M. Broder reported from Washington, Liz Robbins from New York.


15) Spill May Have Taken Its Largest Victim Yet
"The fate of the whales, which have frequently been spotted swimming in the oil by planes overhead, has been of intense concern to wildlife biologists. Because whales are large and very mobile, they are relatively less vulnerable to oil spills than other sea life. However, the whales are classified as endangered and the crude oil is toxic to them. Moreover, they prefer to dive and fish right off the continental shelf, where the Deepwater Horizon wellhead is located, and their sensitivity to the large plumes of oil droplets and the enormous amount of dispersants being used to combat this disaster is unknown."
June 17, 2010

Over the last weeks, the carcasses of oily pelicans, turtles and other animals have washed to shore in the Gulf of Mexico. Now the first dead whale has been found - a juvenile sperm whale floating 77 miles from the leaking oil well.

On Tuesday, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship spotted the 25-foot animal due south of the Deepwater Horizon site. The water the whale was floating in was not oiled.

Blair Mase, the Southeast marine mammal stranding coordinator for the oceanic agency, said that scientists were "very concerned" that oil was the cause of the whale's death, but that the whale's body was so decomposed and scavenged by sharks that it would be impossible to say for certain.

Instead, scientists will try to determine whether the whale had been swimming through oil by using a method known as hindcasting, which looks at how bloated an animal's body is to calculate how long it has been dead, then retraces patterns in water currents to tell where the body might have drifted from. The whale's condition suggests it has been dead for at least several days, Ms. Mase said.

Scientists are also taking skin samples from the whale, which will be tested for petroleum. The results of those tests, as well as tests on its skin and blubber to determine its gender, may take weeks to process, the oceanic agency said. Government workers are also trying to rule out other possible causes of death, like a ship strike or net entanglement.

"It is a relatively rare occurrence," said Ms. Mase, who added that there have been only five or six whale deaths in the gulf in five years, "so we are studying this very carefully."

NOAA sent a research ship to the area around the Deepwater Horizon a few days ago specifically to learn whether the oil spill was changing whales' behavior and if so, in what ways.

There are an estimated 1,700 sperm whales that live in gulf waters and they are known to congregate particularly at the mouth of the Mississippi River, a rich feeding ground. Unlike other whales, which travel long distances, these live full-time in the gulf and do not usually mingle with sperm whale pods in the neighboring Caribbean and Sargasso Sea. Ms. Mase said that the dead whale was almost certainly a gulf whale.

The fate of the whales, which have frequently been spotted swimming in the oil by planes overhead, has been of intense concern to wildlife biologists. Because whales are large and very mobile, they are relatively less vulnerable to oil spills than other sea life. However, the whales are classified as endangered and the crude oil is toxic to them. Moreover, they prefer to dive and fish right off the continental shelf, where the Deepwater Horizon wellhead is located, and their sensitivity to the large plumes of oil droplets and the enormous amount of dispersants being used to combat this disaster is unknown.

Hal Whitehead, a biologist who studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said sperm whales are highly social animals that live in matriarchal groups like elephants. They communicate through noises that sound like clicks, which researchers refer to as a dialect. They have also shown behaviors that resemble mourning. In one case, Dr. Whitehead said, when a young sperm whale died, its mother carried its carcass around in her mouth.

Sperm whales live anywhere from 60 to 100 years, scientists estimate. But they reproduce on average only every five years, which is why even a few whale deaths can be significant, Dr. Whitehead said.


16) A Tricky Balance for Oil-State Politicians
June 18, 2010

WASHINGTON - The outburst by Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas in support of BP underscored the potential peril for lawmakers forced to respond to crises involving industries vital to their regions, and whose bountiful donations finance their political campaigns.

Democrats continued to make use of Mr. Barton's apology to BP, using it to portray Republicans as beholden to big oil. Mr. Barton, the senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, worked as a consultant to Atlantic Richfield Oil and Gas Company before being elected to Congress. He has long been one of the top beneficiaries of campaign donations from big energy companies, cornerstones of the Texas economy.

But in going after Republicans, the Democrats' attacks gloss over a more complicated picture.

The largest beneficiary of campaign donations from BP in the 2008 election cycle, for instance, was President Obama, who took in $77,000 from company executives and its political action committee. This year, Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas and chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, leads all candidates with $286,000 in donations from oil and gas companies.

And while Democrats have pounced on Mr. Barton for accusing Mr. Obama of conducting a "shakedown" by demanding that BP set up a $20 billion fund for oil spill claims, a number of Democratic lawmakers - especially those from oil-producing Gulf states - have struggled to balance their criticism of BP with support for the industry.

Officials like Senator Mary L. Landrieu and Representative Charlie Melancon, both Democrats of Louisiana, have demanded accountability for BP and reparations for individuals and businesses who may face financial catastrophe. But they have also fought to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling imposed by the Obama administration after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, saying it is crippling the local economy.

"Fifty-seven days ago this country was using 20 million barrels of oil a day," Ms. Landrieu said on the Senate floor this week, responding to a speech by Mr. Obama from the Oval Office. "Today, 57 days later, 11 lives lost, the rig at the bottom of the ocean, we are still using 20 million barrels a day. The president did not say to people last night to park their cars and walk to work."

Ms. Landrieu continued, "We have to understand we have to continue to drill for oil and gas."

Both Ms. Landrieu and Mr. Melancon, who is running for a Senate seat, receive substantial donations from the oil and gas industry, which is hardly surprising given the industry's big presence in Louisiana. For her campaigns, Ms. Landrieu has taken in $751,000 since 1996, while Mr. Melancon has received $312,000 since 2004.

A day after infuriating even his own party's leaders with his remarks, Mr. Barton would not agree to an interview. But a Barton spokeswoman said it was similarly no surprise that a representative from Texas with a senior job on the Energy and Commerce Committee would be the beneficiary of oil and gas companies.

"Joe Barton gets oil money and energy money, well, damn straight," said the spokeswoman, Lisa Miller. "It probably doesn't come as a shock to anybody that Texas congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, receive energy money. But how he feels about BP is not related obviously to his campaign contributions because he is extremely critical of BP."

Ms. Miller pointed out that Mr. Barton had a big role in Congressional inquiries into a 2006 BP oil spill in Alaska and a 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas that killed 15 workers. Ms. Miller said that hearings led by Mr. Barton contributed to the forced retirement of BP's chief executive, John Browne. He was replaced by Tony Hayward, the C.E.O. Mr. Barton apologized to on Thursday.

Mr. Barton was also critical in obtaining major tax breaks for the oil industry in 2004. He has received $1.4 million since the 1990 cycle from individuals and political action committees in the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The nuances of big oil's relationship to Washington was immaterial to Democrats who intensified the onslaught that began on Thursday after Mr. Barton's apology, and his subsequent apology for the apology.

Besides painting Republicans as defenders of big oil, Democrats used Mr. Barton's comments to deflect attention, if briefly, from the Obama administration's difficulties in managing the response to the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"If the G.O.P. wins back the House, Barton is the guy who could be in charge of regulating the oil industry," the Democratic National Committee wrote in a fund-raising pitch. "We're whipping together an ad as fast as possible to make sure voters know exactly whose side Barton and the G.O.P. are on and to demand they stop apologizing to big oil, but we need your help to get it on the air."

In a sign of the political sensitivity around the oil spill, Republicans joined in criticizing Mr. Barton. Representative Jo Bonner, Republican of Alabama, called on Mr. Barton to resign his committee post on Friday, joining Representative Jeff Miller, Republican of Florida.

The tightrope walk faced by elected officials from oil and gas states is similar to the New York delegation's struggles when it comes to legislation to regulate Wall Street banks, or the New Jersey delegation's sensitivity on legislation related to the pharmaceutical industry.

"You've got this conflict for these folks where they acknowledge the spill is a problem but, with the significant support they get from the industry, are a heck of a lot more reluctant to take aggressive legislative action against the company," said Tyson Slocum, who runs the energy program at Public Citizen, a political research and advocacy group.

Besides Ms. Landrieu and Mr. Barton, lawmakers from big energy states include Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana; Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma; and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska.

Ms. Murkowski, who has received $434,000 from the industry since 2002 and whose state economy is particularly linked to the industry, last month blocked the Senate from considering a measure that would raise the liability limit for an oil company's legal exposure to $10 billion from $75 million, saying it could hurt smaller companies and produce "unintended consequences."

For the last decade, the oil industry has been one of the most powerful lobbying constituencies in Washington. It has spent nearly a billion dollars on federal lobbying since 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it the sixth-biggest industry in terms of expenditures.

In the current election cycle, the oil and gas industry has contributed $12.8 million to Congressional candidates, with 71 percent of it going to Republicans.


17) Where Gulf Spill Might Place on the Roll of Disasters
[The key difference between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the others mentioned here is that BP knew full well that the Gulf was a natural habitat for a myriad of land and sea life and a key migration spot; that this life can't live bathed either in oil or detergent mixed with oil; that they were skipping their own, inefficient safety regulations; that they made up their own safety record; that they disregarded warnings that the rig workers gave them; that they lied about their ability to stop an explosion; that they lied about their ability to contain such a massive gusher; that they lied about having the technology to clean up any spill that would or could occur; that they lied every step of the way--and that their only concern was and still is, getting more oil and the only real research they did was how to drill deeper in the ocean to get it--because their only concern was and still is, how to maximize their]
June 18, 2010

From the Oval Office the other night, President Obama called the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." Senior people in the government have echoed that language.

The motive seems clear. The words signal sympathy for the people of the Gulf Coast, an acknowledgment of the magnitude of their struggle. And if this is really the worst environmental disaster, the wording seems to suggest, maybe people need to cut the government some slack for failing to get it under control right away.

But is the description accurate?

Scholars of environmental history, while expressing sympathy for the people of the gulf, say the assertion is debatable. They offer an intimidating list of disasters to consider: floods caused by human negligence, the destruction of forests across the entire continent and the near-extermination of the American bison.

"The White House is ignoring all the shades and complexities here to make a dramatic point," said Donald E. Worster, an environmental historian at the University of Kansas and a visiting scholar at Yale.

The professors also note the impossibility of ranking such a varied list of catastrophes. Perhaps the worst disaster, they say, is always the one people are living through now.

Still, for sheer disruption to human lives, several of them could think of no environmental problem in American history quite equaling the calamity known as the Dust Bowl.

"The Dust Bowl is arguably one of the worst ecological blunders in world history," said Ted Steinberg, a historian at Case Western Reserve University.

Across the High Plains, stretching from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakotas, poor farming practices in the early part of the 20th century stripped away the native grasses that held moisture and soil in place. A drought that began in 1930 exposed the folly.

Boiling clouds of dust whipped up by harsh winds buried homes and cars, destroyed crops, choked farm animals to death and sent children to the hospital with pneumonia. At first the crisis was ignored in Washington, but then the apocalyptic clouds began to blow all the way to New York, Buffalo and Chicago. A hearing in Congress on the disaster was interrupted by the arrival of a dust storm.

By the mid-1930s, people started to give up on the region in droves. The Dust Bowl refugees joined a larger stream of migrants displaced by agricultural mechanization, and by 1940 more than two million people had left the Great Plains States.

However, the Dust Bowl lasted a decade, and that raises an issue. What exactly should be defined as an environmental disaster? How long should an event take to play out, and how many people have to be harmed before it deserves that epithet?

Among sudden events, the Johnstown Flood might be a candidate for worst environmental disaster. On May 31, 1889, heavy rains caused a poorly maintained dam to burst in southwestern Pennsylvania, sending a wall of water 14 miles downriver to the town of Johnstown. About 2,200 people were killed in one of the worst tolls in the nation's history.

At the time it happened, that event was understood as a failure of engineering and maintenance, and that is how it has come down in history. Perhaps a one-day flood is simply too short-term to count as an environmental disaster.

On the other hand, if events that played out over many decades are included, the field of candidates expands sharply.

Perhaps the destruction of the native forests of North America, which took hundreds of years, should be counted as the nation's largest environmental calamity. The slaughtering of millions of bison on the Great Plains might qualify.

Craig E. Colten, a geographer at Louisiana State University, nominates "the human overhaul of the Mississippi River Valley," which destroyed many thousands of acres of wetlands and made the region more vulnerable to later events like Hurricane Katrina.

However, those activities were not seen as disasters at the time, at least by the people who carried them out. They were viewed as desirable alterations of the landscape. It is only in retrospect that people have come to understand what was lost, so maybe those do not belong on a disaster list.

Oil spills, too, seem to be judged more by their effect on people than on the environment. Consider the Lakeview Gusher, which was almost certainly a worse oil spill, by volume, than the one continuing in the gulf.

In the southern end of California's San Joaquin Valley, an oil rush was on in the early decades of the 20th century. On March 14, 1910, a well halfway between the towns of Taft and Maricopa, in Kern County, blew out with a mighty roar.

It continued spewing huge quantities of oil for 18 months. The version of events accepted by the State of California puts the flow rate near 100,000 barrels a day at times. "It's the granddaddy of all gushers," said Pete Gianopulos, an amateur historian in the area.

The ultimate volume spilled was calculated at 9 million barrels, or 378 million gallons. According to the highest government estimates, the Deepwater Horizon spill is not yet half that size.

The Lakeview oil was penned in immense pools by sandbags and earthen berms, and nearly half was recovered and refined by the Union Oil Company. The rest soaked into the ground or evaporated. Today, little evidence of the spill remains, and outside Kern County, it has been largely forgotten. That is surely because the area is desert scrubland, and few people were inconvenienced by the spill.

That sets it apart from the Deepwater Horizon leak. The environmental effects of the gulf spill remain largely unknown. But the number of lives disrupted is certainly in the thousands, if not the tens of thousands; the paychecks lost in industries like fishing add up to millions; and the ultimate cost will be counted in billions.

Even with all that pain, can it yet be called the nation's worst environmental disaster?

"My take," said William W. Savage Jr., a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, "is that we're not going to be able to tell until it's over."

Barclay Walsh contributed research.


18) Peddling Relief, Firms Put Debtors in Deeper Hole
June 18, 2010

PALM BEACH, Fla. - For the companies that promise relief to Americans confronting swelling credit card balances, these are days of lucrative opportunity.

So lucrative, that an industry trade association, the United States Organizations for Bankruptcy Alternatives, recently convened here, in the oceanfront confines of the Four Seasons Resort, to forge deals and plot strategy.

At a well-lubricated evening reception, a steel drum band played Bob Marley songs as hostesses in skimpy dresses draped leis around the necks of arriving entrepreneurs, some with deep tans.

The debt settlement industry can afford some extravagance. The long recession has delivered an abundance of customers - debt-saturated Americans, suffering lost jobs and income, sliding toward bankruptcy. The settlement companies typically harvest fees reaching 15 to 20 percent of the credit card balances carried by their customers, and they tend to collect upfront, regardless of whether a customer's debt is actually reduced.

State attorneys general from New York to California and consumer watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau say the industry's proceeds come at the direct expense of financially troubled Americans who are being fleeced of their last dollars with dubious promises.

Consumers rarely emerge from debt settlement programs with their credit card balances eliminated, these critics say, and many wind up worse off, with severely damaged credit, ceaseless threats from collection agents and lawsuits from creditors.

In the Kansas City area, Linda Robertson, 58, rues the day she bought the pitch from a debt settlement company advertising on the radio, promising to spare her from bankruptcy and eliminate her debts. She wound up sending nearly $4,000 into a special account established under the company's guidance before a credit card company sued her, prompting her to drop out of the program.

By then, her account had only $1,470 remaining: The debt settlement company had collected the rest in fees. She is now filing for bankruptcy.

"They take advantage of vulnerable people," she said. "When you're desperate and you're trying to get out of debt, they take advantage of you." Debt settlement has swollen to some 2,000 firms, from a niche of perhaps a dozen companies a decade ago, according to trade associations and the Federal Trade Commission, which is completing new rules aimed at curbing abuses within the industry.

Last year, within the industry's two leading trade associations - the United States Organizations for Bankruptcy Alternatives and the Association of Settlement Companies - some 250 companies collectively had more than 425,000 customers, who had enrolled roughly $11.7 billion in credit card balances in their programs.

As the industry has grown, so have allegations of unfair practices. Since 2004, at least 21 states have brought at least 128 enforcement actions against debt relief companies, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. Consumer complaints received by states more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, according to comments filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

"The industry's not legitimate," said Norman Googel, assistant attorney general in West Virginia, which has prosecuted debt settlement companies. "They're targeting a group of people who are already drowning in debt. We're talking about middle-class and lower middle-class people who had incomes, but they were using credit cards to survive."

The industry counters that a few rogue operators have unfairly tarnished the reputations of well-intentioned debt settlement companies that provide a crucial service: liberating Americans from impossible credit card burdens.

With the unemployment rate near double digits and 6.7 million people out of work for six months or longer, many have relied on credit cards. By the middle of last year, 6.5 percent of all accounts were at least 30 days past due, up from less than 4 percent in 2005, according to Moody's

Yet a 2005 alteration spurred by the financial industry made it harder for Americans to discharge credit card debts through bankruptcy, generating demand for alternatives like debt settlement.

The Arrangement

The industry casts itself as a victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by the giant banks that dominate the credit card trade and aim to hang on to the spoils: interest rates of 20 percent or more and exorbitant late fees.

"We're the little guys in this," said John Ansbach, the chief lobbyist for the United States Organizations for Bankruptcy Alternatives, better known as Usoba (pronounced you-SO-buh). "We exist to advocate for consumers. Two and a half billion dollars of unsecured debt has been settled by this industry, so how can you take the position that it has no value?"

But consumer watchdogs and state authorities argue that debt settlement companies generally fail to deliver.

In the typical arrangement, the companies direct consumers to set up special accounts and stock them with monthly deposits while skipping their credit card payments. Once balances reach sufficient size, negotiators strike lump-sum settlements with credit card companies that can cut debts in half. The programs generally last two to three years.

"What they don't tell their customers is when you stop sending the money, creditors get angry," said Andrew G. Pizor, a staff lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center. "Collection agents call. Sometimes they sue. People think they're settling their problems and getting some relief, and lo and behold they get slammed with a lawsuit."

In the case of two debt settlement companies sued last year by New York State, the attorney general alleged that no more than 1 percent of customers gained the services promised by marketers. A Colorado investigation came to a similar conclusion.

The industry's own figures show that clients typically fail to secure relief. In a survey of its members, the Association of Settlement Companies found that three years after enrolling, only 34 percent of customers had either completed programs or were still saving for settlements.

"The industry is designed almost as a Ponzi scheme," said Scott Johnson, chief executive of US Debt Resolve, a debt settlement company based in Dallas, which he portrays as a rare island of integrity in a sea of shady competitors. "Consumers come into these programs and pay thousands of dollars and then nothing happens. What they constantly have to have is more consumers coming into the program to come up with the money for more marketing."

The Pitch

Linda Robertson knew nothing about the industry she was about to encounter when she picked up the phone at her Missouri home in February 2009 in response to a radio ad.

What she knew was that she could no longer manage even the monthly payments on her roughly $23,000 in credit card debt.

So much had come apart so quickly.

Before the recession, Ms. Robertson had been living in Phoenix, earning as much as $8,000 a month as a real estate appraiser. In 2005, she paid $185,000 for a three-bedroom house with a swimming pool and a yard dotted with hibiscus.

When the real estate business collapsed, she gave up her house to foreclosure and moved in with her son. She got a job as a waitress, earning enough to hang on to her car. She tapped credit cards to pay for gasoline and groceries.

By late 2007, she and her son could no longer afford his apartment. She moved home to Kansas City, where an aunt offered a room. She took a job on the night shift at a factory that makes plastic lids for packaged potato chips, earning $11.15 an hour.

Still, her credit card balances swelled.

The radio ad offered the services of a company based in Dallas with a soothing name: Financial Freedom of America. It cast itself as an antidote to the breakdown of middle-class life.

"We negotiate the past while you navigate the future," read a caption on its Web site, next to a photo of a young woman nose-kissing an adorable boy. "The American Dream. It was never about bailouts or foreclosures. It was always about American values like hard work, ingenuity and looking out for your neighbor."

When Ms. Robertson called, a customer service representative laid out a plan. Every month, Ms. Robertson would send $427.93 into a new account. Three years later, she would be debt-free. The representative told her the company would take $100 a month as an administrative fee, she recalled. His tone was take-charge.

"You talk about a rush-through," Ms. Robertson said. "I didn't even get to read the contract. It was all done. I had to sign it on the computer while he was on the phone. Then he called me back in 10 minutes to say it was done. He made me feel like this was the answer to my problems and I wasn't going to have to face bankruptcy."

Ms. Robertson made nine payments, according to Financial Freedom. Late last year, a sheriff's deputy arrived at her door with court papers: One of her creditors, Capital One, had filed suit to collect roughly $5,000.

Panicked, she called Financial Freedom to seek guidance. "They said, 'Oh, we don't have any control over that, and you don't have enough money in your account for us to settle with them,' " she recalled.

Her account held only $1,470, the representative explained, though she had by then deposited more than $3,700. Financial Freedom had taken the rest for its administrative fees, the company confirmed.

Financial Freedom later negotiated for her to make $100 monthly payments toward satisfying her debt to the creditor, but Ms. Robertson rejected that arrangement, no longer trusting the company. She demanded her money back.

She also filed a report with the Better Business Bureau in Dallas, adding to a stack of more than 100 consumer complaints lodged against the company. The bureau gives the company a failing grade of F.

Ms. Robertson received $1,470 back through the closure of her account, and then $1,120 - half the fees that Financial Freedom collected. Her pending bankruptcy has cost her $1,500 in legal fees.

"I trusted them," she said. "They sounded like they were going to help me out. It's a rip-off."

Financial Freedom's chief executive, Corey Butcher, rejected that characterization.

"We talked to her multiple times and verified the full details," he said, adding that his company puts every client through a verification process to validate that they understand the risks - from lawsuits to garnished wages.

Intense and brooding, Mr. Butcher speaks of a personal mission to extricate consumers from credit card debt. But roughly half his customers fail to complete the program, he complained, with most of the cancellations coming within the first six months. He pinned the low completion rate on the same lack of discipline that has fostered many American ailments, from obesity to the foreclosure crisis.

"It comes from a lack of commitment," Mr. Butcher said. "It's like going and hiring a personal trainer at a health club. Some people act like they have lost the weight already, when actually they have to go to the gym three days a week, use the treadmill, cut back on their eating. They have to stick with it. At some point, the client has to take responsibility for their circumstance."

Consumer watchdogs point to another reason customers wind up confused and upset: bogus marketing promises.

In April, the United States Government Accountability Office released a report drawing on undercover agents who posed as prospective customers at 20 debt settlement companies. According to the report, 17 of the 20 firms advised clients to stop paying their credit card bills. Some companies marketed their programs as if they had the imprimatur of the federal government, with one advertising itself as a "national debt relief stimulus plan." Several claimed that 85 to 100 percent of their customers completed their programs.

"The vast majority of companies provided fraudulent and deceptive information," said Gregory D. Kutz, managing director of forensic audits and special investigations at the G.A.O. in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee during an April hearing.

At the same hearing, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, pressed Mr. Ansbach, the Usoba lobbyist, to explain why his organization refused to disclose its membership.

"The leadership in our trade group candidly was concerned that publishing a list of members ended up being a subpoena list," Mr. Ansbach said.

"Probably a genuine concern," Senator McCaskill replied.

The Coming Crackdown

On multiple fronts, state and federal authorities are now taking aim at the industry.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed banning upfront fees, bringing vociferous lobbying from industry groups. The commission is expected to issue new rules this summer. Senator McCaskill has joined with fellow Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York to sponsor a bill that would cap fees charged by debt settlement companies at 5 percent of the savings recouped by their customers. Legislation in several states, including New York, California and Illinois, would also cap fees. A new consumer protection agency created as part of the financial regulatory reform bill in Congress could further constrain the industry.

The prospect of regulation hung palpably over the trade show at this Atlantic-side resort, tempering the orchid-adorned buffet tables and poolside cocktails with a note of foreboding.

"The current debt settlement business model is going to die," declared Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum, a lawyer in the Washington firm Venable, addressing a packed ballroom. "The only question is who the executioner is going to be."

That warning did not dislodge the spirit of expansion. Exhibitors paid as much as $4,500 for display space to showcase their wares - software to manage accounts, marketing expertise, call centers - to attendees who came for two days of strategy sessions and networking.

Cody Krebs, a senior account executive from Southern California, manned a booth for, whose Internet ads link customers to debt settlement companies. Like many who have entered the industry, he previously sold subprime mortgages. When that business collapsed, he found refuge selling new products to the same set of customers - people with poor credit.

"It's been tremendous," he said. "Business has tripled in the last year and a half."

The threat of regulations makes securing new customers imperative now, before new rules can take effect, said Matthew G. Hearn, whose firm, Mstars of Minneapolis, trains debt settlement sales staffs. "Do what you have to do to get the deals on the board," he said, pacing excitedly in front of a podium.

And if some debt settlement companies have gained an unsavory reputation, he added, make that a marketing opportunity.

"We aren't like them," Mr. Hearn said. "You need to constantly pitch that. 'We aren't bad actors. It's the ones out there that are.' "


19) Plea to Obama Led to an Immigrant's Arrest
June 18, 2010

The letter appealing to President Obama was written in frustration in January, by a woman who saw her family reflected in his. She was a white United States citizen married to an African man, and the couple - college-educated professionals in Manhattan - were stymied in their long legal battle to keep him in the country.

Could the president help, asked the woman, Caroline Jamieson, a marketing executive. She described the impasse that confronted her husband, Hervé Fonkou Takoulo, a citizen of Cameroon with an outstanding deportation order from a failed bid for asylum.

The response came on June 3, when two immigration agents stopped Mr. Takoulo, 34, in front of the couple's East Village apartment building. He says one agent asked him, "Did you write a letter to President Obama?"

When he acknowledged that his wife had, he was handcuffed and sent to an immigration jail in New Jersey for deportation.

But on Thursday night, Mr. Takoulo was just as suddenly released, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had been questioned about the case by The New York Times.

Officials said they were investigating how the letter - one of thousands routinely referred to the agency by the White House to gather information for a reply - had been improperly used by the agency's "fugitive operations" unit to find and arrest Mr. Takoulo, who has an engineering degree and no criminal record.

While Mr. Takoulo is still subject to the deportation order, immigration officials acknowledged that their actions in the case seemed to violate their standard practice of not using letters seeking help from elected officials as investigative leads. The handling of the case also conflicted with the Obama administration's stated policy of arresting deportable immigrants only if they have criminal records.

The agency is investigating how it happened, a spokesman said, and has released Mr. Takoulo on an electronic ankle monitor while his case is reviewed.

"ICE has a zero tolerance policy for violations of civil rights," the spokesman, Brian P. Hale, said in a statement, adding that if it was determined "that appropriate separation between lawful correspondence and investigations was violated," the case would be referred for immediate action by the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility and the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

Though the case is being treated as an anomaly that breached accepted procedures, a senior agency official acknowledged that there were no written guidelines on the handling of such letters, and that there was no way to know whether similar correspondence had prompted arrests and deportations.

If the investigation bears out what officials have learned so far, "it also flies in the face of our stated priorities to target criminal fugitives," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency had not authorized further discussion of the case.

So far, it appears that Ms. Jamieson's Jan. 10 letter to the president reached the executive secretariat of the immigration enforcement agency on March 8. The secretariat, which handles all official correspondence, sent it to the New York field office the next day, asking for help in drafting a response.

The letter explained that Ms. Jamieson, 42, had filed a petition seeking a green card for her husband on the basis of their 2005 marriage. But before they met, Mr. Takoulo, who first arrived in the country on a temporary business visa, had applied for political asylum and had been denied it by an immigration judge in Baltimore, who ordered him deported.

Only if the agency's chief counsel in Baltimore agreed to reopen the case, the letter said, could that order be suspended long enough for the couple to safely go to federal immigration headquarters in Manhattan for an interview to prove that their marriage was not a sham.

Mr. Takoulo, who had helped write the letter, recalled how he had imagined the president would react. "My hope was that he would call the chief counsel and say, 'This is ridiculous - just open this case,' " Mr. Takoulo said, adding: "He's even said on TV that he needs engineers."

Mr. Takoulo, who worked his way through Stony Brook University, says he now spends his days trading stocks from the couple's apartment because he lacks papers to accept the engineering jobs he was offered when he graduated in 2008.

Typically, officials said, the New York field office would have sent a letter like Ms. Jamieson's back to the secretariat in Washington with a summary of the case, or would perhaps have referred the matter to Baltimore, where the old deportation case was based.

Instead, someone promptly sent it to the district's fugitive operations unit.

Under the Bush administration, the agency had a record of portraying its raids as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant fugitives, while instead going after easier targets.

John Morton, who leads the agency under the Obama administration, recently said that it would no longer seek out immigration violators without criminal records, and that it was focusing its resources "on identifying and removing the most serious criminal offenders first and foremost."

Nevertheless, two agents with the National Fugitive Operations Program were dispatched to the East Village to wait for Mr. Takoulo, who was stopped about 9:30 a.m. as he left home.

He said that after asking questioning him about the letter, they told him, "We're ICE and we're here to arrest you because President Obama sent the letter for a review, and we reviewed it and we denied it."

He was soon in shackles, on his way to the Hudson County Correctional Center in New Jersey, where he spent two weeks in a dormitory with 47 other men, mostly criminal offenders.

Ms. Jamieson campaigned for his release with help from her colleagues at Digitas, a new-media advertising company where she is vice president of marketing. When the latest legal motion to reopen his case was denied last week, she turned to the news media.

Friends and family had filled a dossier with affidavits testifying to the couple's loving relationship, which began seven years ago at an East Village cafe where Mr. Takoulo worked.

On Thursday night, she sobbed with relief as she embraced her newly released husband outside an immigration processing jail on Varick Street.

Later, they celebrated with his two nieces who are studying at New York colleges on student visas. But Ms. Jamieson veered between joy and distress.

"I've been feeling very confused and ashamed as an American citizen," she said, evoking her family's eclectic immigrant origins.

Her father, an emeritus professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of California, Berkeley, is the son of Scottish immigrants; her mother's family were refugees from North Korea; her stepmother is Chinese; and her sister's husband is Egyptian.

All experienced some immigration problems, she said, but "the idea that in the year 2010 I and my family are having the worst and the most barbaric experience - it's just shameful to me."

Ms. Jamieson recalled that she cried when Mr. Obama said during a 2008 campaign speech, "With a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya - "

"I said, 'Oh, Hervé, even the alliteration is right - with a mother from California and a father from Cameroon, our child could do the same!' "

But they have postponed having the baby they both want, she said, because of his precarious immigration status. One step forward: officials told him he will be granted a work permit after he reports to immigration headquarters on July 1.

"I won't stop fighting," Ms. Jamieson said. "He's the love of my life."


20) BP Ignored the Omens of Disaster
June 18, 2010

"We have to get the priorities right," the chief executive of BP said. "And Job 1 is to get to these things that have happened, get them fixed and get them sorted out. We don't just sort them out on the surface, we get them fixed deeply."

The executive was speaking to Matthew L. Wald of The New York Times, vowing to recommit his company to a culture of safety. The oil giant was adding $1 billion to the $6 billion it had already set aside to improve safety, the executive told Mr. Wald. It was setting up a safety advisory panel to make recommendations on how the company could improve. It was bringing in a new man to head its American operations - the source of most of the company's problems - who would make safety his top priority. And on, and on.

That interview didn't take place this week - a week in which BP was excoriated in Congress for the extraordinary safety lapses that led to the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster, while also being strong-armed by President Obama into putting $20 billion in escrow to compensate victims.

No, the interview took place nearly four years ago, after BP's previous disaster on American soil, when oil was discovered leaking from a 16-mile stretch of corroded BP pipeline in Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. And that was just a year after a BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Tex., killed 15 workers and injured hundreds more.

Nor was the chief executive in question Tony Hayward, who spent Thursday before a Congressional panel ducking tough questions and evading personal responsibility - while insisting, absurdly, that as head of the company he had been "laser-focused" on safety. No, the interviewee was his predecessor and mentor John Browne, who had spent nearly 10 years at the helm of BP before resigning in May 2007.

Do you remember the Prudhoe Bay leak and the Texas City explosion? They were big news at the time, though they quickly faded from the headlines. BP was fined $21 million for the numerous violations that contributed to the Texas City explosion, and it was forced to endure a phased shutdown of its Alaska operations while it repaired the corroded pipeline, which cost it additional revenue.

In retrospect, though, the two accidents represented something else as well: they were a huge gift to the company. The fact that these two accidents - thousands of miles apart, and involving very different parts of BP - took place within a year showed that something was systemically wrong with BP's culture. Mr. Browne had built BP by taking over other oil companies, like Amoco in 1998, and then ruthlessly cutting costs, often firing the acquired company's most experienced engineers. Taking shortcuts was ingrained in the company's culture, and everyone in the oil business knew it.

The accidents should have been the wake-up call BP needed to change that culture. But the mistakes and negligence that took place on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico - which are so profound that everyone I spoke to in the oil business found them truly inexplicable - suggest that the two men never did much more than mouth nice-sounding platitudes.

Which also makes the disaster even more unforgivable than it already is. BP executives had four years to fix the company's problems before an accident took place that was truly catastrophic. And they blew it.

Before the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the greatest oil disaster in American history was the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, which spewed 10.8 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound in Alaska. (By comparison, the gulf blowout is pouring out that much oil every four or five days.) That experience was searing for the country - but it was also pretty searing for Exxon (now known as Exxon Mobil). "A low point in the history of the company," Exxon Mobil's chief executive, Rex Tillerson, called it when he testified before Congress on Tuesday.

There is a reason Exxon Mobil has not had a serious accident in the subsequent 21 years. Unlike BP, it used the accident to transform itself.

Immediately after the spill, Exxon pulled together some of its most respected executives and gave them a new assignment: figure out how to embed safety into the core of the company. The message was reiterated by the top brass, including the chief executive, whenever they visited a rig or a refinery. Processes were put in place that had to be followed at any Exxon facility anywhere in the world. Redundancies were built in. Workers were encouraged to bring safety concerns to their bosses. And the statistics bear out the genuineness of this cultural change: by every measure, Exxon Mobil has by far the best safety record in the industry. The company has become so safety-crazed that an Exxon Mobil cafeteria worker takes the temperature of the lettuce in the salad bar.

Compare that to BP's record these last four years. On Thursday, during his day before an angry House energy subcommittee, Mr. Hayward was confronted with the fact that BP had been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 760 "egregious willful" safety violations in its refineries. Mr. Hayward tried to slough this off by claiming that the violations had taken place in 2005 and 2006 - before, that is, he became chief executive and brought his "laser focus" on safety.

But Mr. Hayward was not telling the truth. According to the Center for Public Integrity, which obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act, the violations all took place between 2007 and 2010, very much on Mr. Hayward's watch. What's more, the company violated something called O.S.H.A.'s "process safety management standard" - which is precisely what that BP advisory panel had been charged with examining after the Texas City explosion. In October 2009, O.S.H.A. fined BP an additional $87 million for refinery deficiencies. It doesn't sound like the company took its advisory panel's recommendations very seriously, does it?

Or take the Deepwater Horizon disaster itself, which was preceded by so many instances of corner-cutting and poor decision-making that an accident was practically preordained. Drilling one of the deepest wells in history, the project used only one strand of steel casing, when it should have used at least two. Halliburton recommended that BP use 21 "centralizers," which help ensure that the well doesn't veer off course as it goes deeper into the earth, but the company used just a half-dozen. BP failed to conduct a crucial test to make sure that the cement holding the well at the bottom of the sea was sturdy enough.

And the engineers for BP on board consistently ran roughshod over subcontractors like Halliburton, who openly worried that BP was making decisions that could have catastrophic consequences. "This is how it's going to be," one BP engineer reportedly said, overruling a contractor on the critical question of when to replace the drilling mud - which keeps explosive natural gas from flowing out of the well - with seawater.

What makes this all the more shocking is that BP was drilling what's called a wildcat well, meaning it was drilling in an area that no other company had drilled before, so it had no knowledge of the conditions. For most oil companies, that would be all the more reason to take extra precautions. Yet BP did just the opposite.

Listening to Mr. Hayward's responses on Thursday only reinforced the feeling that the company still didn't understand what it took to instill a culture of safety. He kept saying that the blowout preventer was supposed to be a fail-safe mechanism that would keep the well from raging out of control. But other companies know that it is far too dangerous to depend on the blowout preventer alone and they build in additional safeguards, so that a problem can be dealt with long before the blowout preventer is needed. Asked about the lack of that important cement bonding test, Mr. Hayward blithely replied that he wasn't a cement engineer so he couldn't make a judgment about the decision.

Most telling of all, Mr. Hayward consistently denied knowing of any problems on the rig. As far as he knew everything was fine - until it wasn't. But drilling a well offshore, miles into the earth, is one of the most dangerous activities in the world. Most companies will shut down a well at the first sign of serious trouble and kick the decision-making up to top management. The price of making a big mistake is simply too high. If Exxon Mobil had been running the Deepwater Horizon well, it is implausible that Mr. Tillerson would not have been informed of the problems. And he would also have had to approve any fix. That Mr. Hayward and his top deputies knew nothing about the problems on the Deepwater Horizon well is, by itself, a serious act of negligence.

Changing a company's culture is always hard, no doubt about it. And it is especially hard for a company like BP, which has had such enormous success these last few years, reaping $14 billion in profits last year alone. For such companies, it often requires a crisis to change. Microsoft changed after its antitrust trial a decade ago. Tyco International changed after its chief executive, Dennis Kozlowski, went to jail. And chances are, BP is now going to change, too.

This time, the world's attention will not quickly fade, as it did after the Prudhoe Bay spill. The financial hit, which several Wall Street analysts believe could top $100 billion, is going to be severe. The pressure from the United States government will be unrelenting.

All of this, of course, could have been avoided if the company had truly taken safety to heart four years ago. But it didn't, and the Gulf Coast is suffering the consequences. Normally, I'd say "better late than never." But it's not. Not even close.


21) High Rate for Deaths of Pregnant Women in New York State
June 18, 2010

More mothers die during pregnancy or soon after in New York than in almost every other state, and according to reports released on Friday by the New York Academy of Medicine and the city's health department, social factors like poverty, obesity and lack of insurance may be responsible.

While the total number of maternal deaths are small - an average of about 40 a year across the state - city health officials said their analysis showed that maternal mortality was being driven by environmental factors like poor nutrition that could be changed through public policy.

New York City's analysis, billed as one of the most sophisticated looks at maternal mortality in the country, studied 161 women who died of pregnancy-related causes in the city from 2001 to 2005.

It found that 49 percent of the women who died were obese. Black women, who were more likely to be obese, were seven times as likely to die in pregnancy as white women. Hispanic and Asian women were twice as likely to die as white women.

The death rate was highest in the Bronx and Brooklyn, which have large poor and minority populations. The neighborhoods with the highest death rates were Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn and Jamaica in Queens. Those with the lowest death rates - actually zero - were Chelsea and Greenwich Village in Manhattan, Bensonhurst in Brooklyn and Flushing in Queens.

Women without health insurance - who may receive less preventive care - were four times as likely to die as women with such coverage, but women covered by Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, fared as well as women with private insurance, the city found.

"Black women are more likely to be obese, and they are more likely to be uninsured, and they are more likely to live in communities where the environment does not promote healthy decisions," Deborah Kaplan, the assistant commissioner of the city's bureau of maternal health, said as the city's data was presented at the Academy of Medicine headquarters in Manhattan.

The city's report acknowledged, however, that while factors like obesity, poverty and race were strongly correlated with maternal mortality, it was not possible to say that those factors actually caused the deaths.

The study did not look beyond the statistics to the particular circumstances of each death, which might reveal whether the hospitals that treated the women or decisions made by doctors had contributed to their deaths. "I think we can see this as an issue that needs more clarity," the academy's president, Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, said.

Of the women who died during childbirth, 79 percent were delivered by Caesarean section, which carries all the risks of any other surgery, like hemorrhaging and infection. The top four causes of death were blood clots, hemorrhage, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and infection, which together accounted for 63 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths, according to the city's report. Half of the pregnancy-related deaths occurred within a week of delivery.

Prenatal care, or the lack of it, however, did not seem to play a strong role in the deaths. The study found that half the women who died received care that was considered adequate or better in their first trimester.

Women 40 or older were 2.6 times as likely to die as those under 40.

In 2007, the most recent year cited in the academy's report, New York State's rate was about 16 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. It ranks as the fourth worst rate in the country, followed by Maryland, New Mexico, Georgia and the District of Columbia, according to a multiyear analysis by the National Women's Law Center.

The national rate in 2006 was 13.3 maternal deaths per 100,000, three times as high as the federal government's target for 2010 of 4.3 deaths, and ranking the United States below more than 30 other nations.

New York City has fared even worse. The average maternal mortality rate from 2001 to 2005 in New York City was 23.1, nearly twice the national average of 11.8 during that period, according to the city's report.

In addition to the 161 women whose deaths were directly related to pregnancy, the city looked at another 105 women whose deaths were indirectly related to their pregnancies. Homicide accounted for more than a fifth of these deaths, suggesting that the stress of pregnancy may be related to domestic violence. Black women were five times as likely to be murdered as white women, and Hispanic women were more than twice as likely to be killed as white women.


22) Thousands Protest Electricity Shortage in Iraq
June 19, 2010

BAGHDAD - Thousands of demonstrators surged through the sweltering streets of Iraq's second-largest city to protest persistent shortages of electricity on Saturday, clashing with the police in a disturbance that underlined the growing popular anger here over the Iraqi government's inability to provide the basic necessities of life.

One person was killed when the police opened fire on the demonstrators, who were throwing rocks at the provincial headquarters in Basra. But the symbolism of the event may prove greater than the death toll: Diplomats, officials and politicians have warned that popular frustration over basic services is escalating significantly as summer temperatures climb past 110 degrees and more months pass without a new government.

Voters went to the polls on March 7 after a campaign dominated by promises of more jobs, electricity, housing and better drinking water. None of those pledges has been fulfilled as deadlocked negotiations over a governing coalition threaten to drag into the fall.

"The government should know that the people have been waiting for a long time now," said Samir Kadhum, a 34-year-old protester. "We're no longer patient." Another, 29-year-old Qaisar Banwan, promised "a revolution of electricity."

From the very first days of the American occupation, until now, electricity has proven a constant in the suffering of Iraq's people. The lack of it helped shape sentiments in the summer of 2003 toward the American military, which inherited utilities already crumbling from decades of wars and sanctions. Many are dumbfounded that, seven years later, it remains so scarce, despite billions of dollars in American aid.

Wealthier neighborhoods of Basra have as many as eight hours of city electricity a day; during blackouts, they can also afford the $50 or more a month for power from a generator shared by several blocks. The city's poorer neighborhoods, by far the majority, often have just one hour of electricity a day, a situation not uncommon in Baghdad and other regions. The temperature in Basra on Saturday was 113 degrees.

Sewage still gathers in the streets; the city, about 340 miles southeast of Baghdad and humid because of its proximity to the Persian Gulf, is one of Iraq's most decrepit.

The protest was organized by followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a populist cleric whose movement has long managed to straddle the divide between high politics in the capital and the popular sentiments of the street. Mr. Sadr's group was one of the most successful in the March 7 vote, and his lawmakers are deeply involved in the negotiations over a new government. But they still cast themselves as outsiders, and at Friday Prayer and elsewhere, the movement's clerics insist that they are representing the people's demands.

The protest gathered before the provincial headquarters, where residents ruefully noted that Basra is located in an oil-rich region. "Prison is more comfortable than our homes," one banner read. The protest turned violent when demonstrators began throwing rocks and security forces opened fire. Three people were also wounded, and officials in Basra said they would investigate the shooting of the protester who died.

Some of the protest's leaders said more demonstrations were planned.

"We're going to keep demonstrating until the government meets our simplest needs," said Mohammed al-Bahadli, a 41-year-old cleric and protest organizer.

Hours after the protest, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a delegation to travel to Basra to address the problem. The group met provincial officials Saturday night, but there was no word on what, if anything, would be done.

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed from Basra, Iraq.


23) BP Chief Draws Outrage for Attending Yacht Race
[Tony Hayward's "getting back to his life" while the Gulf dies.]
June 19, 2010

BP officials on Saturday scrambled yet again to respond to another public relations challenge when their embattled chief executive, Tony Hayward, spent the day off the coast of England watching his yacht compete in one of the world's largest races.

Two days after Mr. Hayward angered lawmakers on Capitol Hill with his refusal to provide details during testimony about the worst offshore oil spill in United States history, and one day after BP's chairman said the chief executive would not be as involved in daily operations in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Hayward sparked new controversy from afar.

"He is having some rare private time with his son," a BP spokeswoman, Sheila Williams, said in a telephone interview on Saturday.

But Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who taped an interview for ABC's "This Week," called Mr. Hayward's attendance at the race "part of a long line of P.R. gaffes and mistakes" that he has made.

"To quote Tony Hayward, he's got his life back," Mr. Emanuel said.

On May 31, six weeks after the spill began, Mr. Hayward uttered "I'd like my life back," a comment that struck many in the gulf region as insensitive, and for which he eventually apologized.

On Saturday, Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, called Mr. Hayward's yacht outing the "height of arrogance," in an interview with Fox News.

"I can tell you that yacht ought to be here skimming and cleaning up a lot of the oil," Mr. Shelby said. "He ought to be down here seeing what is really going on. Not in a cocoon somewhere."

But Mr. Hayward's role in the gulf became the topic of further speculation on Saturday, even as Ms. Williams, the BP spokeswoman, insisted that Mr. Hayward was still in charge of the company and the enormous cleanup operations.

"Tony receives regular updates from the gulf," she said in an e-mail message.

On Friday, the chairman of the board of BP, Carl-Henric Svanberg, told the British TV network Sky News that Mr. Hayward would be "now handing over" the daily operations in the gulf to Robert Dudley, an American who joined BP as part of its acquisition of Amoco a decade ago.

On Saturday, BP tried to clarify what Mr. Svanberg had said about the transition of leadership in the gulf. "What he meant by 'now,' " Ms. Williams said, was that "there would be a transition over to Bob over a period of time."

"Obviously, Tony's main priority remains overseeing all BP operations," she said. "Over all, there will be some responsibilities handed over, but Tony will remain in full control until we have stopped the leak."

When that might happen is not clear. Crude oil is flowing at a rate estimated between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil a day from the damaged well, and BP has been able to capture only a percentage of that with its current containment methods.

BP said it was aiming to stop the leak in August, when two relief wells it is drilling will intersect with the damaged one. The company said on Friday that it was ahead of schedule on one of the wells and within 200 feet of the side of the damaged well, but that the drilling would proceed more slowly the closer it got.

Workers had captured 24,500 barrels of oil on Friday before shutting down the operation because of a malfunction on the vessel that is siphoning the oil from the leaking well - 1,000 fewer barrels than on Thursday. Operations restarted early Saturday.

By then, Mr. Hayward was already in Cowes on the southern coast of England for the J. P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, a yacht race around the Isle of Wight. A spokeswoman for the race said in an e-mail message "that a gentleman by the name of Tony Hayward is a co-owner of an entered boat called 'Bob' that was racing today, however his name did not appear on any crew list."

The boat finished fourth in a class of 45 others.


24) Fishing Tournament Cancellations Spread With Oil Spill
June 19, 2010

Shawna Meisner, the director of the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic offshore sports fishing tournament in the Gulf of Mexico, had been one of the last holdouts. But on Thursday - five days before the tournament's start - the spreading BP oil spill left her little choice.

Meisner canceled the event, a team fishing competition in Destin, Fla. It is ranked by Marlin magazine as having the gulf's richest purse, reaching a peak of $1.5 million in 2008.

In the wake of the oil spill, many of the top fishing events in the gulf have been postponed or canceled. Those in recreational fishing regard the sport as a key part of the region's economy. Industry-financed studies estimate that the annual number of day trips on boats to fish in the gulf is 23.5 million, in addition to millions fishing from the shoreline.

Although a small percentage of boating anglers compete in offshore tournaments, they are among the biggest spenders. Each team pays $5,000 to enter the two-day Emerald Coast competition, and the fees can reach more than $50,000 depending on the categories it competes in.

About half a dozen other key tournaments in June and July had been canceled, but Meisner and her tournament committee persisted. In May, they issued a statement that they were "proceeding with optimism."

But some teams pulled out, anyway. About 20 remained last week, down from the more than 70 that typically compete. That decline was not the reason for the cancellation, Meisner said. The breaking point, she said, was when oil spread into the waters off the Florida Panhandle last week, leading to intermittent closures of a waterway that leads to deeper water. The federal authorities also widened the area closed to fishing.

"The long-reaching effect of canceling these events is devastating," said Jim Simons, the president of the World Billfish Series, a major championship in the rapidly growing sport.

The World Billfish Series and the International Game Fishing Association, the two major offshore fishing series, choose top competitors from qualifying tournaments around the world. They will have to adjust their process for selecting the gulf fishing teams for their championships.

The Billfish Series championship is in December in Costa Rica. It plans to invite last year's top competitors in the gulf and will also allow those who just missed qualifying to enter.

The game fishing association runs its championship in Mexico. Dan Jacobs, the tournament director, said it was considering allowing those from the gulf who qualified last year to enter. It may also allow fishing clubs like Emerald Coast to designate representatives.

Previous tournaments that were canceled or postponed stretch from Pensacola, Fla., to Mobile Bay, Ala., Biloxi, Miss, and Venice, La. But the cancellations may benefit other competitions. Jacobs said several teams unable to take part in gulf tournaments planned to compete in events in Bermuda and elsewhere.

In sport fishing competitions, teams essentially bet on who will catch particular kinds of fish. The prize money is divided among top finishers. In catch-and-release categories, teams document the number of fish they catch. Other winners are determined by the weight of individual fish brought to shore.

"It is no longer just a sport for the rich," Simons said. The number of anglers competing in the gulf has increased fivefold in the last decade, rising to about 5,000 people a year, mostly men. The growth has led to more tournaments, including the Emerald Coast competition, which started seven years ago.

Along with devastating the commercial fishing industry in the gulf, the oil spill is crippling the business of offshore recreational sport fishing. Offshore fishing, including tournaments, is worth $1.9 billion a year to the gulf region, based on an American Sportfishing Association-financed analysis of spending on items like hotels, docking and gear. The group said that millions of dollars had been lost.

"It's a disappointing season," said Jeff Shoults, a professional fisherman whose company owns the Mollie, a $3 million, 66-foot boat for deepwater fishing. He was among those who had planned to fish in the Destin tournament and four others in the gulf.

He estimated that in a typical year, his teams spent $80,000 to enter tournaments and grossed $250,000.

"I don't go to practice; I go to win," Shoults said.

His boat is outfitted with radar and satellite imaging to find seams where cold and warm water collide and fish are usually most plentiful. For a typical tournament, his boat may burn 1,500 gallons of fuel and venture more than 200 miles into the gulf in search of a prize blue marlin.

Shoults, 45, conceded his training did not include going to the gym. He just fishes and tries to stay awake for long hours at sea.

"It's a lot of Coca-Colas, Mountain Dews, anything with a lot of sugar," he said. "When you catch a big fish, it's a great feeling. It's a fun ride back to the dock when you know you've got a winner."


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