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May 29, 2010

Uh-Oh: "Junk Shot" Fails; "Top Kill" Halted and Being Reevaluated

At the current moment: Mission Not Accomplished. Damn hole not plugged.

BP engineers failed again to plug the gushing oil well on Saturday, a technician working on the project said, representing another setback in a series of unsuccessful procedures the company has tried to stem the flow spreading into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP made a third attempt Friday night at what is termed the “junk shot,” a procedure that involves pumping odds and ends like plastic cubes, knotted rope and golf balls into the blowout preventer, the five-story safety device atop the well. The maneuver is complementary to the heavily scrutinized effort known as a top kill, which began four days ago and involves pumping heavy mud into the well to counteract the push of the escaping oil. If the well is sealed, the company plans to then fill it with cement.

The technician working on the project said Saturday that the top kill procedure had been halted and that a review of the data was under way.

“Right now, I would not be optimistic,” said the technician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the effort. But he added that if another attempt at the junk shot were to succeed, “that would turn things around.”

BP said Saturday that it would not comment on the technician’s assertions.

At a news conference on Saturday morning, Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said it was too soon to tell whether the procedure was working. He said it was a process of stopping, starting and re-evaluating.

“We are looking at this continuously,” he said. “If we believe it will work, we should stay with it as long as it takes,” he said. “If we think it won’t, we will go on to the next.”

It's not even slowing the spill:

"I don't think the amount of oil coming out has changed," Doug Suttles, the London-based oil giant's chief operating officer, acknowledged as oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for the 40th day.

...

The top kill maneuver started on Wednesday and involves pumping heavy fluids and other material into the well shaft to stifle the flow, then sealing it with cement. BP initially said it would take 24 to 48 hours to know if it would work, but Suttles sounded less than confident on Saturday.

There's an interesting and useful debate among conservatives about whether to maintain their own intellectual consistency or demagogue the hell out of this, as liberals have done and will continue doing until the end of time.

Should we note that the President is not all-powerful, and that sometimes things are simply beyond his control, and that it's a childish view of the world to believe the President can fix serious problems simply by thinking real hard about them, being smart, and barking out orders in a clipped and authoritative voice?

I don't think I need to remind anyone that this was the standard of presidential expectations during the Bush years, as far as Iraq and Katrina and every other damn thing too.

Or should we take a more adult and nuanced view, taking into consideration our own arguments through the Bush years that sometimes things just get bad and not everything is chargeable as a defect in presidential leadership?

And also, as a reader urges on me: That this is a primarily a problem for BP, not the federal government, and if we believe in free market capitalism, it's either up to BP to fix this thing or simply go bankrupt from liability?

I don't really buy that last bit at all, because the government is taxed with putting out fires and arresting criminals and defending our borders and rescuing those lost at sea and handling the aftermath of disasters. I reject this idea that the basic functions of any government are really the functions of private actors and private enterprise. That takes libertarianism to an anarchist extreme.

But the debate is being had, and is useful.

Anyone can probably guess my own reaction: I am in favor of the sort of intellectual consistency that says if the Democrats and media forced a certain rule on Bush (even against our objections), then they won that debate, and they established a precedent, and that precedent applies equally (if vindictively) to President Present.

I believe in a politics that abides by the judicial notion of precedent. If a court establishes a rule, then that is the rule to be followed in the future. It doesn't matter if we (the judges in the minority) argued for a different rule and objected to the rule that prevailed. We lost. A rule was established, and that rule should be followed.

We cannot and should not allow a vindictive rule to be pressed against our favorites, over our objections, and then, when our opponents are caught in the brutal operation of that rule, argue again against precedent to reassert the rule we wanted initially and let our opponent off the hook.

Nope, not for me. This is the rule you wanted; this is the rule you shall have.

Charles Krauthammer, I think, takes this position too:

In the end, speeches will make no difference. If BP can cap the well in time to prevent an absolute calamity in the Gulf, the president will escape politically. If it doesn't -- if the gusher isn't stopped before the relief wells are completed in August -- it will become Obama's Katrina.

That will be unfair, because Obama is no more responsible for the damage caused by this than Bush was for the damage caused by Katrina. But that's the nature of American politics and its presidential cult of personality: We expect our presidents to play Superman. Helplessness, however undeniable, is no defense.

Moreover, Obama has never been overly modest about his own powers. Two years ago next week, he declared that history will mark his ascent to the presidency as the moment when "our planet began to heal" and "the rise of the oceans began to slow."

Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute, you mustnt be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.

Lower that ocean, Mr. President. Lower that ocean by 5000 feet so you can walk on the ocean's surface, dry, and just plug that hole like you'd turn off a sink's water.

They say the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Neither is consistency a suicide pact. If Bush and Obama were competing in the Olympics in the high jump, and the liberals set the bar at 9 feet for Bush, we cannot permit them to set the bar at three feet for Obama.

Nine feet is the mark. I didn't argue for that high bar for success under Bush, but, the mark having been established, I'll be damned if I'm going to let it be lowered for King Obama.

"But That Makes Us Just as Guilty Of a Double-Standard As the Liberals!" A lot of conservatives say this sort of thing, and it annoys me.

That may be true in some situations -- but not all.

First of all, I wouldn't fetishize consistency as a virtue. Believe in it, yes. Fetishize it, no, because at the end of the day, we are all inconsistent and urge rules that act in our favor and different rules for our opponents, and to not accept this fundamental flaw in human nature, to believe oneself immune from it, is to indulge in a vanity.

I suppose one could and should fight this impulse, and at least keep it in check -- but one also has to keep in mind that this becomes a less important consideration when one's opponents aren't doing the same. That is, if one's opponents are engaging in staggering hypocrisy and double-standards, one is a sap to maintain such standards perfectly for oneself.

But there's a much more important and persuasive argument than "They do it too!" (which is, admittedly, a childish impulse).

And it gets to the idea of precedent again. The important thing in a courtroom as far as future rules and future behavior is not what principle you argued for, but rather what principle actually carried the day and is thus established as the rule-going-forward.

If I'm a lawyer in the year 1400, I might argue against the "excited utterance" exception to hearsay rule. I might be utterly unconvinced by my opponent's suggestion that if an utterance is "excited" it is vested with some intrinsic reassurance of its truthfulness -- excitement, after all, can be faked.

But if I lose on that point, and the exception is established (as it was), I'd be a fool to not take advantage of that exception to the rule when it benefited me. I would be a fool, and a sap, and a chump, to accept that rule, imposed on me by the judge, when it damaged me, and then self-impose the opposite rule on myself, and not take advantage of the precedent, when the judge's ruling could benefit me.

A lot of the times, when conservatives, attempting something like rigor of intellectual consistency, say "But then we'd be hypocrites!," they are utterly failing to consider which rule actually prevailed in court -- the court of public opinion and the court of media coverage and the court of political consequences.

Yes, we argued passionately for a different rule. But we lost, and a new rule was established. This is the rule, then, going forward for all parties, and we shouldn't permit Democrats alone to take advantage of the rule, or, if it's a vindictive rule, we shouldn't allow Republicans alone to suffer from it.

If a Republican president is caught lying under oath about an affair that occurred during his tenure in the Oval Office, that is not an impeachable offense.* Yes, I know damn well I argued the opposite in 1998. But so what? I argued the opposite proposition, but I lost in that fight; the rule I had to live with, along with everyone else, was that the president was permitted to do this and retain his office.

This isn't hypocrisy: This is simply accepting that as we fight and argue certain precedents for future conduct are established, certain rules-going-forward laid out.

We can't allow our opponents to endlessly establish one rule for themselves, loose and easy, and another rule, stringent and vindictive, for ourselves.

A rule for presidential conduct in disaster prevention and disaster containment has been established. Liberals urged this rule. They prevailed on it.

It now applies to them as well. Precedent is established, and a rule is in place.

I am not a hypocrite for noticing the historical fact that a rule was in fact established.


* Well, technically, the rule established is that it's impeachment-level but not conviction-and-removal-level.

However, given that the point of an impeachment is to conduct a trial, and we already know what the outcome of that trial should be (acquittal), there hardly seems any point in going through the motions of impeachment, either.


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posted by Ace at 03:21 PM

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