The Upshot
  • AP070101032319The federal commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the causes of the BP oil disaster continues to trickle out revelations. The latest: its finding that Minerals Management Service agents tasked with regulating offshore drilling often knew very little, and in some cases nothing, about the operations they were supposed to be overseeing on drilling rigs and platforms.

    Specifically, the commission found that many MMS agents knew little or nothing about how drilling crews should go about safely lining and sealing an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico -- one of the systematic failures that led to the Deepwater Horizon explosion April 20.

    "When we asked about cementing and centralizers, they said very freely, 'We don't know about that stuff; we have to trust the companies,' " commission co-chairman William Reilly said this week. "All they get is on-the-job training. It really is fairly startling, considering how sophisticated the industry has become. And the inspectors themselves are quite aware of their needs."

    Read More »from Some oil regulators knew nothing of processes they oversaw, panel finds
  • Report: Prisoners, guards exposed to toxic waste

    Prison LaborPrison LaborInmates and guards at federal prisons have been exposed to toxic metals such as cadmium and lead when they were put to work processing electronic waste for recycling, a Justice Department probe has found.

    In a report released last week, the department's inspector general also found that the waste had been shipped overseas, perhaps to developing countries, the New York Times reports.

    "We have said all along that prisoners should not be managing toxic waste, and the federal government should never allow the export of such wastes to developing countries," an official with the Basel Action Network, which supports stronger standards for recycling electronic waste, told the Times.

    At the center of the disputed practices is an outfit called Unicor, a government-owned corporation that uses inmate labor to manufacture license plates, furniture and other items.  In the past, critics have assailed the company for paying meager wages -- since minimum-wage laws don't apply to prisoners, they're sometimes paid as little as 23 cents an hour -- and for exposing inmates to unsafe working conditions.

    Read More »from Report: Prisoners, guards exposed to toxic waste
  • AP090108014763Education reformers are worried that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives would block spending for new reforms touted by President Barack Obama, Seyward Darby of the New Republic reports.

    The irony is that former President George W. Bush cemented Republicans' reputations as the pro-education-reform party. The No Child Left Behind law enacted early in the first Bush term allowed the GOP reformers to claim credit for bucking powerful teachers unions' wishes to support experimental charter schools, data-based teacher evaluations and other reforms.

    But after the 2010 balloting is over, that dynamic could be turned on its head. Tea party candidates have rallied popular sentiment behind a pervasive mistrust of government and federal spending--with some GOP candidates reviving a longstanding conservative crusade to eradicate the federal Department of Education.

    Read More »from Education reformers say GOP-controlled House would block funding

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