You've heard of government 'by the people, for the people'?

By Al Kamen
Friday, June 11, 2010

Now that it's abundantly clear that neither BP nor the federal government has any clue how to resolve the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, everyone -- from BP itself to CNN and other media outlets -- has been soliciting ideas on what to do. Tens of thousands of suggestions, some serious, some not so, have come in on ways to plug the gusher.

Even Hollywood has gotten into the act, with Kevin Costner urging the use of oil-separation centrifuges and director/producer James ("Titanic") Cameron -- after getting into deep water by calling the BP engineers "morons" -- helping out.

We're hearing that even Scarlett Johansson, while in town for the White House Correspondents' Association dinner May 1, shared her views with administration officials on what to do to fix the leak.

And for those who thought maybe, just maybe, the Department of Energy, led by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, would have some good solutions in mind, we got this e-mail from Bill Valdez, acting director of the department's small-business office, asking 35,000 small-business owners on his e-mail list.

"The Department of Energy is working tirelessly to address the oil spill in the Gulf," he explained in his June 8 e-mail. Secretary Steven Chu, he added, is working "closely with a team of top scientist from academia and the U.S. government, with support from more than 200 personnel from DOE's national laboratories, to analyze the response efforts and recommend additional options for stopping the leaking oil."

Well, that sounds promising. But then came this:

"We'd like you to share your ideas on how to stop or contain the oil spill and mitigate the impact on the environment," Valdez wrote. "The Deepwater Horizon Response has an online form available to collect suggestions here: Valdez explained that by adding that small-business folks "know that innovation comes from many sources" and that the feds "need to tap into the spirit of American entrepreneurship to learn as much as possible." There's an online form, titled "Alternative Technology Response," he writes, that "collects detailed information about your idea, including the materials, equipment and resources required to put your idea into action. Your idea, once you fill out the form will go to a team of 30 technical and operational BP personnel for evaluation."

Don't delay. Since you started reading this, countless barrels of oil may have befouled the gulf. "We encourage you to be part of the solution and submit any ideas you have to the Deepwater Horizon Response," Valdez said, "and to share this message with others who might be able to help."

Not an expert in these matters? There are so many other things you can do. You might want to write the Defense Department with your ideas on how to find Osama bin Laden. Maybe the Environmental Protection Agency could use your thoughts on climate change. Any deficit-reduction thoughts?

Getting the message

Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Republican, issued a lengthy report Thursday on the state of U.S. international broadcasting, calling on the Senate to confirm a long-stalled slate of nominees for the eight-member Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees that broadcasting.

The 95-page report asks, "Is Anybody Listening?" The answer is decidedly mixed. For example, Alhurra, the much-criticized Arabic-language television station, has "marginal" viewership outside Iraq, the report says. Earlier studies note that TV Marti, the anti-Castro station, doesn't even have a "marginal" viewership in Cuba.

On the other hand, Arabic-language radio seems to have a "large following," and broadcasts to Iran provided "much-needed news and information" to that country.

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