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Campaign Curiosities May 3, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Politics.
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1 comment so far

For the last few months, I’ve been working for a campaign consultant group.  Others might find collecting and formatting electoral data boring, but I actually enjoy it.  Every so often you come across a real gem or bizarre anecdote, and I finally have the time to share a few of these with you.  Please forgive me for the following schizophrenic list:

The 2012 Republican candidate for Kentucky Attorney General is named Todd P’Pool [sic].  Evidently his family could not find a satisfactory Earth language to pick a name from.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), a dentist, took in about $631,000 of individual contributions to his 2010 campaign.  More than half of those contributions were from other dentists.  He also took the usual committee contributions, but fully 1/5 of his campaign was funded by dentists.

There are two different potential 2012 GOP senate candidates named Salmon – one in Vermont, another in Arizona. 

Of the 100 current U.S. Senators, 9 of them were Eagle Scouts (3 D’s, 6 R’s).  2% of boy scouts become Eagles Scouts.  Tangential side-note: the current president of the Boy Scouts of America is ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.  Ick. 

While gathering historical election results from Massachusetts, I encountered numerous 3rd party candidates who did not earn a single vote; they didn’t even vote for themselves.  Neither did their mothers, spouses, friends, or children…

Having scanned hundreds of FEC reports, it seems like every company has a political action committee (PAC) these days.  The usual suspects you’d expect are all there, like defense contractors and oil companies and unions.  But you’d be surprised by some.  For example, Cracker Barrel has an active PAC that uses your breakfast money to support conservative politicians.  I don’t find that particularly funny.  I do, however, enjoy the Land O’Lakes Political Action Committee because it is abbreviated on some FEC filings to “LOL PAC”.  There is also an ICE PAC, but it isn’t fun or even interesting in its longer form.  Further, the Frat and Sorority PAC supports the ~160 current US senators and representatives who were Greek, ostensibly in hopes of earning their support for Greek life legislation should it ever arise?  I don’t get it.  But in case you were wondering, so far in this cycle, the brothers of the Kappa Alpha Order are contributing more than the rest of PanHel combined. 

Finally, my favorite new piece of trivia: The state of Hawaii has five counties.  Four of them are normal.  The fifth, Kalawao County, is truly bizarre.  It is located on the tiny Kalaupapa Peninsula on the northern coast of the island of Moloka’i.  It is surrounded by high cliffs and the only land access to the entire county is a mule trail.  But that’s not a big deal because the county is home to 90 residents.  Why?  Because it was a leper colony from the 1860s until 1969, when the disease was deemed treatable.  Yet even once the quarantine was lifted, many of the patients chose to stay and they have been granted permission to live out their lives there (the 2000 census counted 147 residents).  State law prohibits new people from moving there and children under 16 are forbidden to visit.  The county is administered by the Hawaii Department of Health and has no county government except a sheriff who is appointed from among the residents.  Kalawao is understandably the poorest county in the country (by median income).  It is not, however, the least populous – that distinction belongs to Loving County Texas, with 82 residents.  As I understand it they’re not lepers, they just live in the middle of absolutely nowhere. 

So there you have it.  Hopefully you found those mildly interesting.

For the last few months, I have not posted an original post here. When I have posted, it has linked a post at Change.org that I was not allowed to repost in its entirety.  Lately I stopped even doing that.  Today, I am happy to report that I am winding down my various commitments in advance of law school and, at least for the remainder of the summer, will be back to using this blog more frequently.  

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Deepwater Drilling Moratorium Version 2.0 July 14, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Offshore Drilling, Politics.
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4 comments

Last month, as most of you know, the Obama administration’s first deepwater drilling moratorium in response to the ongoing BP oil spill was overturned in a logically unsound and ostensibly political decision by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman.

This week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a second moratorium on new deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico through November 30th.  It is designed to address the “concerns” raised by Judge Feldman (download here).

I have said this before, but it must be repeated in any discussion of a deepwater drilling moratorium:

-Fact: We do not yet know what caused the blowout that sank the Deepwater Horizon rig.

-Fact: We do not have adequate prevention or containment methods for a deepwater blowout, so a massive oil spill is guaranteed if a blowout occurs.

-Fact: A massive oil spill is unacceptably destructive.

-Conclusion: Deepwater drilling must be halted AT LEAST until we know how to prevent and/or recover from deepwater blowouts.

This, in and of itself, ought to sufficiently justify a moratorium.  However, without addressing this issue, Judge Feldman somehow found the following items troubling enough to take the extreme measure of overturning the moratorium:

The original moratorium alluded to but did not explicitly describe the devastation caused by deepwater blowouts.  Judge Feldman did not think the moratorium followed logically from the 30-day safety report on which it was based.

The original moratorium covered oil rigs drilling in more than 500 feet of water.  Judge Feldman felt this depth-based cutoff was arbitrary (it’s not – in Feldman’s own words, it is “undisputed” that to drill beneath that depth, floating rigs are required to conduct the more dangerous, deepwater drilling).

The oil industry has also cited a bogus job-loss argument that I refuted in my original defense of such a drilling moratorium.  Yes, temporarily halting drilling does temporary reduce the number of drilling jobs available.  But when one considers the job loss beyond the oil industry as a result of oil spills (in nature-driven sectors such as fishing and tourism), it is clear that oil spills destroy far more jobs than a temporary halt in drilling.

This new moratorium addresses Judge Feldman’s stated concerns.

First, it essentially makes the case I have made above: it cites the oil industry’s inability to identify the cause of and thus prevent another blowout of this type.  It catalogues the utter inadequacy of every oil company’s cleanup and containment procedures in the event of a deepwater blowout.  It spells out what the rest of us already know.

Second, it removes the depth-based determination of which wells must halt their drilling.  Instead, this moratorium applies only to oil rigs “using subsea blowout preventers (BOPs) or surface BOPs on a floating facility” regardless of depth.

In regard to the scope of the moratorium, this different language appears mainly to address Feldman’s flimsy yet prohibitive criticisms of the original moratorium; it seems that the moratorium will still apply to the same 30 or so deepwater rigs currently in the Gulf.

It is true that BP was operating its rigs more recklessly than others in the oil industry.  Interestingly enough, one oil industry group (that usually spends its resources on important things like funding climate denial) has turned its guns inward on BP as the rest of the industry tries to distance itself from BP.  They released the graphic below detailing BP’s shortcomings:

BP was extra reckless with the Deepwater Horizon well, but deepwater drilling has intrinsic risks that cannot be fully negated. Click for larger.

But even the oil industry conceded during Congressional testimony that the risks of deepwater drilling cannot be avoided:

“When these things happen, we are not very well equipped to deal with them, and that’s why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring.” -Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson

For the first time in my life, I agree with Rex; that, in one sentence, explains why the drilling moratorium is in place.

Some members of the presidential commission investigating the oil spill have concerns about the economic impacts of the moratorium and have changed their minds to oppose it.  However, until I hear a response to the three facts and conclusion laid out at the beginning of this post, I will support a moratorium.

Commission co-chairman Bob Graham compared the situation to Boeing’s treatment of its fleet when a defect was discovered in the cockpit glass of 1,200 planes. “They didn’t wait until all 1,200 had been examined to release the first one,” he said.  He feels that because there are only 36 or so rigs in question, we should simply be able to inspect each one, and allow them to continue drilling if and as soon as they pass inspection.

This is not an analogous situation.  The Boeing technicians knew what they were looking for; we don’t. Until you have diagnosed a problem, you cannot fix it.  An inconclusive doctor’s visit does not ipso facto cure an undiagnosed disease.

Until we know what happened, a drilling moratorium is the right move.  That’s why the European Union’s top energy minister has called for a similar moratorium on deepwater drilling as well – pending the results of an investigation of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

We cannot skimp on safety precautions just because the oil industry has a stranglehold on the Gulf economy.  Whatever economic losses may accompany a halt in drilling are still BP’s fault.  If BP is compensating fishermen who not work as a result of their recklessness, they should be compensating their own employees who cannot work because of their recklessness.

The oil industry is using its drilling jobs as leverage to threaten us into prematurely lifting our moratorium.  It is perverse to cave to their demands before we have even stopped this ongoing catastrophe.

Check out this post at Grist that gives some scale to the cleanup effort.