Halliburton Pleads Guilty to Destroying Evidence in Deepwater Horizon Explosion

Halliburton is expected to plead guilty to the destruction of evidence related to the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010.

The agreement, made with the United States Department of Justice includes paying the maximum fine of $200,000 — and has indeed, already made a $55 million contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Indeed, the United States has agreed not to pursue further criminal prosecution in exchange for further cooperation in the ongoing  criminal investigation.

Government regulation has once again triumphed.  Halliburton has admitted that it destroyed results of simulations involved cement blocking the blown oil well — the results showing the cementing was unstable and would not work.  Hiding these results, it went ahead with the attempt anyway, which acted as a contractor to the United States Government.  Was this done strictly so it could make the attempt and collect the money — regardless of what happens; and damn the rest?

In an era where people are calling for less government regulation overall — this goes to show that government oversight of business, particularly in government contractors, is a good thing.  Halliburton lied to the people of the United States, then proceeded to go forth with a project that they knew probably wouldn’t work, knowing the results of the simulations — trampling and dishonoring the lives of those who were not only lost, but to the families of those who lost their loved ones, livelihood and those who worked tirelessly to restore habitats and our sea.

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Detroit Skyline. Courtesy of Mike Boening www.memoriesbymike.zenfolio.com

Detroit Bankruptcy… Why is this such a big deal? I will tell you…

Yesterday, at 4:07PM, on approval from Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr ordered the City of Detroit to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection under Title XI of the USC.  Sure.  Other cities have done this before — and people and businesses do it every day, but what’s the big deal?

The big deal is simple: Detroit is the largest municipality in history to declare itself insolvent.  This not only is going to be a major rule-writing moment in American legal history, but also has the potential to do as much harm as it does good over the long term.

The long term positives are fairly simple: Detroit, if successful, will be relieved of most of it’s obligations, and many of the others will be repaid at drastically reduced amounts, as ordered by a federal bankruptcy judge.  This will allow Detroit to begin paying its bills — without borrowing to do so, as it has for the past decade.  This is a good thing.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

The bad news is what gets cut.  The Emergency Manager of Detroit made it clear that his priorities were people first, then creditors — meaning he wanted to protect pay, pensions and benefits for workers and retirees of the City of Detroit as much as he could.  He made this abundantly clear; but stated it was not off the table.  Creditors and contractors would be the next priority.  Creditors didn’t take kindly to this, and indeed, made THAT also clear.

Before all this can happen though, the filing sets in motion several things: the first is immediate relief from creditors.  As of the moment the bankruptcy was filed, for the moment, creditors lost all rights to any money for the time being.  This can, if the Judge allows, give Detroit enough relief to pay what’s necessary to keep it running: it’s employees, contractors and even things like the light bills.  What’s next, and likely beginning to happen today, is the investigation by the court of wether or not Detroit CAN qualify for a Title XI bankruptcy.  Just because one files doesn’t mean one qualifies.  This sets into motion a massive audit of EVERY creditor of every DOLLAR owed BY the City — likely including employees as well.  Next, creditors to the city have a right to appeal, and will likely use the excuse that the City/Emergency Manager negotiated in bad faith, just to hold the process up — as it’s their legal right to do so.  Assuming the City is found to be eligible, the Judge then decides what gets the axe, what gets paid, and who gets paid in what amounts; as likely, those who do get paid (speaking in the terms of creditors and contracts) will likely get paid only a portion, if not a FRACTION, of what they’re owed.

Because this move essentially lays waste to Detroit’s already junk-level bond and credit, the move also will not at all inspire confidence in businesses in Detroit, particularly those who DO business with Detroit.  My major fear is large employers will wind up packing up, and saying “So long, Detroit — it was a nice ride, we wish you the best of luck.”  Not only is this further revenue from taxes and spending lost, just one or two larges businesses to do so could inspire other businesses OR people to flee as well.  A CLEAR vote of no-confidence by the business sector if it were to happen.

Make no mistake, we’re witnessing history — the municipal equivalent of Lehman Brothers is happening as we  speak; which will write books and rules on how to accomplish such a bankruptcy in the future.

I see a Title XI as a mixed blessing for Detroit.  The good — DEFINITELY comes with the bad here.

“We have a great city, but a city going down hill for the last 60 years,” he said at an evening press conference. He said 38% of the city’s budget is being spent on “legacy costs,” such as pensions and debt service. He said police take almost an hour to respond to calls, compared to a national average of 11 minutes, and that 40% of street lights in the city are turned off.  That’s unacceptable,”
    — Kevyn Orr
    Emergency Manager, City of Detroit

Detroit city skyline shot courtesy of Mike Boening
www.memoriesbymike.zenfolio.com

Trans-Pacific Partnership — what’s the deal?

Seal of the Office of the United States Trade ...I’m deeply disturbed by something Senator Elizabeth Warren has brought to the floor of Congress just recently.

The US Trade Representative is currently conducting negotiations on renewing a trade agreement with several allied nations, called the “Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Historically, and even under the Bush Administration, this had Congressional oversight.  Apparently, under the Obama Administration — the Administration who’s buzzword is ‘Transparency,” that’s no longer the case.

The US Trade Representative is REFUSING Congressional requests for review — in any capacity, including “scrubbed” versions, with individual country names redacted, but the policy proposals visible.

Why would a treaty involving commerce, and indeed, including representatives from companies like Bank of America, Comcast, TimeWarner, be so secretive?

Indeed, the only Representative in Congress who’s SEEN the agreement, has said the following:

Florida congressman Alan Grayson.

“There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.”
 — Represenative Alan Grayson (D-FL)

Repeatedly asked for the text that Senator Warren refers to, she, and Congress, have been categorically DENIED.  Why is the US Trade Representative not allowing for either a) Public transparency or b) Congressional transparency when the only member of Congress YET to review it, says there is no concern for National Security?

“…’transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement, because Public Opposition would be significant.’   In other words, if the Public knew what was going on, they would STOP it.”
 — Senator Elizabeth Warren, quoting the US Trade Representative

“If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”
— Senator Elizabeth Warren

See her speech to Congress here.

Signs of a failing infrastructure?

Livonia Water Tank Explosion

One of the things I’ve started to notice is the failure or sheer disasters associated with infrastructure or other related items lately.  A ten million gallon water tank in my neighborhood explodes, dousing the neighborhood in massive amounts of water — which, due to the pressure blew water mains all around, the Texas fertilizer plant explodes, a refinery in Detroit on Fort Street catastrophically fails and blew its top off last evening, causing evacuations around the neighboring city.

Fort Street Refinery Fire in Detroit

The sudden apparent-surge in explosions in things that one would think are regulated makes me wonder if we have a serious two-fold problem: a lack of oversight, and a failing infrastructure.

Infrastructure isn’t just roads, highways and avenues…  It’s pipes.  It’s tanks.  All of these things, particularly when they’re related to anything hazardous.  All of this stuff requires oversight and inspection.  Is it just a freak occurrence in quick succession, or is it a symbol of things to come?

Are Athlete Fraudsters Liable for Reimbursing Funders?

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking ...

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking over the Yellow Jersey at Grand Prix Midi Libre 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Late Tuesday afternoon, the United States Government filed a lawsuit against former Olympic-Gold Medalist cyclist Lance Armstrong, citing the fact that he defrauded them out of millions of dollars in his doping campaign.

The Government, citing the False Claims Act, state that he defrauded the United States Postal Service by doping, and under that law, the USPS is, technically entitled to triple the amount of funds spent, or money in excess of US$120 Million; as the Government is contesting US$40 Million.

The United States asserts in its suit that a use of performance enhancing drugs is a violation and breach of contract of the agreement he signed with the USPS, originally in 1998 – through 2004.

Should any entities who chose to fund people be entitled to collect monies if they were unable to  prove during that time that the athlete/etc in question was doping, or taking other performance enhancing drugs?  While I agree it’s a great deterrent, when people make bad investments, often they are told they “are out of luck.”

Could such a ruling, for instance, be worked into such a precedent as Bankers and Executives for financial companies making and funding bad loans to be held responsible for them; and repayment as well?

Higgs Boson: Mission Accomplished!

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider.

It looks like the verdict is in: we’ve finally found the Higgs Boson — one of the most elusive particles; with the exception of Dark Matter, in nature.  Science has theorized of it’s existence for years, but it was always just beyond our grasp.

Today, we’ve finally confirmed the existence of what we believe is the Higgs Boson.  Last July, physicists and scientists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or known more properly by it’s French acronym CERN, announced that it’s Large Hadron Collider (or LHC) had conducted a particle acceleration test that revealed the presence of a subatomic particle that had the distinctiveness of what physicists postulated as the characteristics of the elusive particle.

Why is the Higgs so important?  So what?  In essence, the Higgs is, according to Gauge theory published in 1964, gives all conventional matter “mass.”  The average particle of matter contains mass, no matter how minuscule.  However, items of other types of matter, such as neutrinos which are able to pass right through solid matter without being interrupted, and the ever-elusive dark matter, seem not to have this subatomic particle in it’s makeup, according to the math.  Dr. Michio Kaku explains more here why the Higgs is so important.

With the numbers all working out, Science has finally [mathematically and now, via observation] proven the existence of the Higgs Boson.  How was such a feat accomplished, nearly 50 years after it’s postulation?

With the Large Hadron Collider, of course!  The largest particle accelerator on Earth, and in human history, the LHC is so large, it stretches through the border of France and Switzerland;

Large Hadron Collider

Large Hadron Collider (Photo credit: Randall Niles)

and remains one of the largest and most complex structures ever to be built by humankind.  Indeed, it’s literal atom-smashing power is in excess of 7 Tetra-electron volts (7 TeV) — or, to put it in some sort of perspective, a single visible photon of light is approximately 3.4 electron volts.  One Tetra-electron volt is 10E12, or ten to the twelfth electron volts.  Indeed, the atom-smashing power of this collider exceeded the previous most-powerful smasher by over seven times.  Some theorists postulated the idea that the LHC, at full power, had enough power to create a black hole if atoms were smashed at full intensity.  Luckily, this seems to have been proven wrong.

What has been proven right on the other hand, has effectively proven that we’re on the right track, and further, have taken another step toward understanding our universe.

What else is out there?  What more do we have to learn?  Plenty, I feel.

Is Apple finally starting to feel the Post-Steve Era?

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Francisco 27th January 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today brought some bad news for Apple: iPhone sales on Verizon‘s network plunged 33% in the past quarter.  With the advent of the new iPhone 5, this is a shocking revelation that even *I* was’t expecting to see.

It brought me back to the journal entry a few weeks ago that I wrote regarding Apple’s future now that Steve Jobs is gone, and can’t come back this time.  The last time Apple found itself without Steve, it found itself having innovation problems, and found itself with an image it couldn’t shake — without welcoming Steve back.

Are smartphone companies like Samsung or HTC [seemingly?] out-innovating Apple?  To their own admission, Apple hasn’t had a benchmark product since the iPad (and to a lesser point, Siri); while products like the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Note II have shown what Smartphones can do when given drastically different dimensions, systems-on-a-chip and the proper innovation.

Where will the future go for Apple?  Will they be able to tread water while their next bench-breaker product is being developed?  Or is this the signal of something else for Apple — long term?

SOPA + PIPA + CISPA = Congress selling out?

ImageFor at the third time, the Congress in the United States is attempting to circumvent the privacy rights of its citizens on the internet.  The first two attempts, the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act failed in Congress because of overwhelming negative feedback from constituents that, was indeed so strong — that even the co-authors wound up pulling their support of the bill.

Why do Representatives in Congress keep trying to shove this type of legislation through?  Is it because of issues that Congress says, which is everything from intellectual property protection to the enforcement of trade embargoes.  OR…

SOPA author Congressman Lamar Smith, a member of the House representing the 21st District of Texas, received almost US$ 2 Million in the last reporting period, according to OpenSecrets.org.  Among his Top 5 Highest Contributors?  CC Media, Comcast and TimeWarner.  What do these companies have in common?  Oh!  Intellectual Property!

Republicans in the United States often argue that “big government” is bad for business — that “big government” today is the basis of why the American economy can’t gain significant traction post-The Great Recession.

However, government in business affairs is okay, on the other hand, when the businesses say it’s okay, apparently.  Fund a Congressman’s campaign — and all of a sudden, you can now write your own legislation, which you hand over to the Congressman’s office, and he places in the ballot box for you.  Sounds preposterous, right?

Image

Rep. Rachel Burgin     (R-FL)

Sadly, it’s not as preposterous as you may think.  Recently, a Congresswoman from the State House of Florida submitted a Bill for consideration.  In her haste to do so, however, she forgot to remove the cover sheet of the email that it came through.  Rachel Burgin’s blunder blew open the fact that the American Legislative Exchange Council actually WROTE the Bill, and gave it to Burgin to submit, to which she did… without even removing the proof that SHE didn’t write it.   [The Bill can be seen here, in it’s original format, as she submitted it — the name of ALEC is plainly visible on the first page…]

Is this an example of the leadership exhibited by our Members of Congress?  While they can’t come together to work out issues of Party and Partisanship, they quietly collect campaign contributions, and then do their bidding by submitting Bills that they write, in the name of the Representative or Senator they buy and sell like Stocks on an exchange?