Monday, June 21, 2010

Dowd: Weddings for Everybody!, Ignoring the Omens of Disaster

Weddings for Everybody!

By Maureen Dowd
NY Times Op-Ed: June 20, 2010

San Francisco

Everything about the climax of the legal quest to overturn California's ban
on gay marriage was appropriately cinematic - even the month best to imagine
two men atop a wedding cake or two women walking down the aisle.

"It may be appropriate that the case is coming to closing argument now,"
Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said with a twinkle. "June is, after all, the
month for weddings."

The Federal District Court trial that seems tailored for a made-for-TV movie
features the remarkable odd-couple pairing of two lawyers who have already
been depicted in a made-for-TV movie, "Recount," about their rivalry in
another historic trial, Bush v. Gore. The conservative Ted Olson now prides
himself on being "an honorary lesbian," and the liberal David Boies now
prides himself on upbraiding Barack Obama for not pushing to give gays the
same shot at marital bliss - and misery - that people like the president's
parents got when interracial marriage was legalized.

Officiating from on high was the dapper and quirky, silver-haired,
silver-tongued, silver-goateed Judge Walker, who would have been played in a
40s movie by Clifton Webb. The anti-Ito, Judge Walker moved the trial along
without preening for the media, asking thought-provoking and occasionally
droll questions of lawyers for both sides. Walker is something of a
character who invites magicians to perform at the annual court conference
and who once made a mail thief wear a sign that said: "I have stolen mail.
This is my punishment." Heightening the dramatic possibilities, he is also,
according to The San Francisco Chronicle, gay himself, which might give Prop
8 proponents ammunition to claim bias if he rules against them.

Chad Griffin, the gay former Clinton aide who is the strategic mastermind of
the legal battle against Prop 8, is handsome, boyish and clever, right out
of central casting with hip glasses and sharp suits.

In his two-hours-plus closing argument Wednesday, Charles Cooper, the slim,
white-haired lawyer arguing against same-sex marriage, evoked the Paul
Newman character in "The Verdict," a man who was out of his depth against a
superior legal team.

But Paul Newman was able to lift it in time to save his case. Cooper
appeared not to have his heart in his endgame. He didn't even stay for the
Q. and A. part of the news conference after court on Wednesday. Like he had
somewhere more important to be in the middle of the afternoon following
arguments on a landmark case?

His close was so lame that if you didn't know better, you'd think he was
trying to throw the case. Maybe he was shaken by the fact that some of the
defense witnesses had bailed, intimidated by the Boies deposition process.
Another defense witness, David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute
for American Values, a group that studies marriage and families,
inexplicably ended up helping the plaintiffs when he said that heterosexual
couples have been busy "deinstitutionalizing" the institution of marriage,
and that adoptive parents are as good as natural parents. He also said that
"we will be more American on the day we permit same-sex marriage" and give
gays human dignity.

Cooper failed to reflect the fervor of the anti-gay-marriage proponents who
frothed in 2008, direly warning that marital parity would cause moral
damage, hurting children, helping the devil and destroying civilization.

He tepidly offered an apocalyptic warning: "Without the marital
relationship, Your Honor, society would come to an end." He blamed
"irresponsible procreation" - even though heterosexuals are the more likely

At one point, Cooper was pressed by the judge, who said, "I don't mean to be
flip," but went on to ask the lawyer what testimony in the case supports the
proposition that the object of marriage is procreation.

Cooper said he didn't need evidence of that point, surprising the judge, and
argued that, even if that was wrong, Judge Walker should uphold the law
because the people of California had voted for the same-sex-marriage ban.

Walker seemed bemused, as he did through much of Cooper's stumbling close.
"But the state doesn't withhold the right to marriage to people who are
unable to produce children of their own," the judge said. "Are you
suggesting the state should?" Cooper said no, failing to offer any
compelling argument for discriminating against same-sex couples.

Olson was at the top of his game as he concluded the case and got a standing
ovation from those watching the proceedings onscreen in the overflow room.

"And I submit, at the end of the day," he said, " 'I don't know' and 'I
have to put any evidence,' with all due respect to Mr. Cooper, does not cut
it. It does not cut it when you are taking away the constitutional rights,
basic human rights, and human decency from a large group of individuals."


Talking Business

BP Ignored the Omens of Disaster

By Joe Nocera
NY Times: 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

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.

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