10 worst ideas of the week: Sept. 14, 2008

Contractors bilked Hurricane Katrina cleanup contracts, North Korea miscalculates what building a long-range missile base means and the Raiders’ season-opening prime-time appearance is a bust.

Dim bulb of the week

Oil companies

What: An Interior Department investigation accuses workers at an agency that issues offshore drilling leases and collects royalties of partying, having sex, using drugs and accepting gifts and ski trips and golf outings from energy company representatives with whom they did government business.

Who: Nearly one-third if the workers at the Minerals Management Service’s royalty collection office in Denver are accused of receiving gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies, including Chevron Corp., Shell, Hess Corp. and Denver-based Gary-Williams Energy Corp., the investigators found

Why it matters: Lawmakers in Congress are debating an expansion of the offshore oil and gas leasing program by allowing drilling in areas long off-limits. This scandal cast a shadow over the debate, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who strongly opposes any expansion of offshore drilling, said, “This is why we must not allow Big Oil’s agenda to be jammed through Congress.”

Billions lost on Katrina

1| Four no-bid contracts devoured almost $3 billion for bad work.

The details: The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has issued a scathing report outlining billions wasted by FEMA with lax oversight of Hurricane Katrina recovery projects. Typical of the boondoggles was a $20 million camp for evacuees that was never inspected and proved to be unusable. Apparently, FEMA repeatedly handed out millions for contract invoices without considering whether the billing amounts were allowable or even reasonable. And even more waste is likely to be revealed.

North Korea missiles

2| Nuke-rattling base will only isolate the outlaw nation more.

The details: North Korea quietly spent eight years building a long-range missile base that is larger and more capable of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles than its previously known launch pad. The new launch pad is believed to have been operational since 2005 but, fortunately, has not been used. Still, it suggests that North Korea has not fully given up the long-range nuclear missile ambitions that keep it isolated from the benefits of the global economy.

Bay Bridge work delays

3| Eastern span decks are four to five months behind schedule.

The details: The Shanghai-based subcontractor for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge revealed that its work on the decks and steel segments is running as much as five months late. The official excuse is that such delays are typical for large and complex construction projects. But supposedly this delay will not hold up the 2013 completion date and costs will be covered by the $900 million contingency fund. At least inspectors found the problems early.

Prime-time flop

4| Raiders fizzle again on national television.

The details: Maybe it is the NFL’s idea of a bad joke worth repeating, as everyone close to Raiders owner Al Davis knows the league conspires against the Silver and Black. For the second time in three years, the Raiders opened the season as the nightcap of a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader and, for the second time in three years, they produced another stinker. This time, the Raiders were chewed up 41-14 by a Denver Broncos team not expected to be that good. So much for the preseason excitement surrounding quarterback JaMarcus Russell and running back Darren McFadden. Don’t worry, though, the Raiders still have a Thursday prime-time game against the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 4.

Another governor recall

5| Prison guards union acts out on million-dollar grudge.

The details: The free-spending prison guards’ union decided to put up $1 million or so to place a recall of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the ballot. Union officials say it’s because the Republican has been the “worst governor ever,” but they are also ticked off because he has not given them a new contract and did not exempt them from his threatened temporary salary cutback for state employees. Hmmm, didn’t this governor take office in a recall election, too?

Exit-exam scores

6| Scores fluctuate as special-ed students tested for first time.

The details: It is becoming impossible to understand the meaning of the contradictory No Child Left Behind school rankings arriving at this time each year. Are the California High School Exit Exam scores up or down? For the first time, all special-education students had to be tested, too. So that lowered the San Francisco results even though every other subgroup tested higher this year. But Peninsula schools managed to keep climbing even with the special-education marks added in.

Leap of faith

7| Oops — car thief jumps 200 feet off Telegraph Hill.

The details: A jumpy car break-in suspect from Daly City was spotted in action high atop scenic Telegraph Hill shortly after midnight Friday. When police arrived, he dropped his screwdriver and ran, jumping over a 3-foot wall at the end of Alta Street. Surprise — on the other side of the wall was a 200-foot drop straight down to Sansome Street. James Cockrum, 38, did not survive the plunge.

Tainted baby food

8| FDA warns of toxic melamine in Chinese market imports.

The details: The federal Food and Drug Administration is warning cities with large Chinese populations to beware of imported mainland China baby foods that are popular in ethnic neighborhood markets. Some bottles have been tested as containing melamine, a toxic chemical used in making plastics, which can cause kidney stones in babies or even be fatal. No cases of melamine poisoning have been found in the U.S. yet.

Budget rejection

9| State Republican lawmakers’ budget draft is latest to go down.

The details: With the state budget closing in on a record-breaking three months overdue, the latest to strike out were the Senate Republicans, whose plan called for cutting $1.6 billion more than the Democrats’ $10 billion trim. The Dems claimed these extra cuts were too harsh.

Obama relative targeted

10| Break-in attempt fails; police keep closer watch.

The details: Sarah Obama, the elderly step-grandmother of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, was targeted by would-be burglars at her home in a village 300 miles from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The thieves failed to get inside after apparently using a ladder to climb onto the roof after finding the doors had been locked.

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