The 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was followed by a wave of sectarian killings. The government has now stepped in to stop the release of a film about the traumatic episode.
It happens twice a year at the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but it has nothing to do with football. We're talking about a much bigger game, one that's only growing: Offshore oil and gas.
Twice a year "landmen" from energy companies file into the Superdome for an auction. They bid for the right to drill for oil and natural gas under the sea. And who's selling that right? You and me, by way of the federal government.
The first thing you see at the Western Planning Area Lease Sale 238 is the map of what's for sale. There's the familiar curve of Texas along the Gulf: Corpus Christi, Galveston. A grid overlays 21.6 million acres of the waters off the coast.
"These blocks are generally 3-by-3 miles, " says Caryl Fagot, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. "The companies are bidding on the right to drill in that particular block. Actually these are, um—"
We're interrupted by an extensive mike check. This is a public auction, after all. Bids must be heard loud and clear. The feeling in the room is dry-as-a-bone serious. But there's a sign posted that hints at drama. "No masks, costumes with head coverings, props or posters."
"Well, we have had protesters," Fagot says. "We've had someone in a polar bear costume, we've had people come with dollar bills attached to themselves, they want to bring in large signs, and we're conducting business here, so we really can't allow that type of thing in the bidding room."
This is big government business. There are thousands of these 3-by-3-mile blocks to manage. All blocks look the same on paper, blue squares of water, but names of certain areas hint at what's underneath: Alaminos Canyon, East Breaks.
The so-called landmen here, who are from BP, Shell, Chevron and others, know what's under the sea floor, or they hope they do, at least.
"It's somewhat of a gamble," says Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. "They do it by looking at seismic data, by looking at other blocks nearby that have been producing, so you use your best expertise to guess which areas might contain important geological formations that might contain oil and gas, and then you take a guess at how much that might be worth."
This year marks the return of BP to this auction. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the company from bidding on new blocks as part of the fallout of the 2010 oil spill. BP had been the biggest producer in the Gulf, so there's some suspense around its plans, which aren't known until the auction starts.
"The bids are sealed until they're opened up later today, so it's a little like the Academy Awards," Luthi says. "You open the envelope and see who's bid and how much."
Now, without further ado… "Welcome, and I thank you for attending today's sale…" No long acceptance speeches. Auctioneer John Rodi with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management moves pretty quick.
"Alaminos Canyon block … a bid by BHP Billiton…3,106,250…a bid by BP Exploration and Production Inc…$2,327,027…"
The oil company landmen are tight-lipped. Most hold up a hand when they see a reporter's microphone, indicating no interviews. But they carefully mark down each bid, and whisper to each other as the prices go public. Each bid is whisked off in a briefcase.
The relatively small sale is all over in half an hour.
The government's own geologists and other experts will make sure the company has paid a fair price for what they think is under the water. If not, the bid gets rejected. Tallied up, this sale brought in about $110 million.
Ben Waring sells data systems to oil companies for offshore exploration. He points to the map and says the sale held surprises. "BP bought everything that wasn't nailed down in this area right here…"
It's an area called Port Isabel. If there's oil worth tapping, it'll take years of development and many millions of investment to get it out. The auction bids are a drop in the bucket of the lucrative universe that is Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling.
Mark Gurman began seriously covering Apple as a journalist when he was just 15.
Gurman says it was a natural progression.
"I've always been interested in Apple and technology," Gurman says. "So, I thought it was a natural intersection to start digging around Apple. And here I am."
Gurman, now 20, is a senior editor at 9to5mac.com — hustling day in and day out to break the next big story on one of the biggest companies in the world.
Oh, and he's also a junior pursuing his bachelor's from the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
"The way I look at it... is that lots of students have jobs," Gurman says. "Some work in restaurants, others work in other places. People make music, they do what they love, and this is just what I like doing."
Despite all he's achieved, Apple does not consider Gurman one of the best reporters on the beat and, as such, excludes him from Apple events and reviewing new products. He says it used to get under his skin, "but then I realized being able to do this all on my own without the intervention of Apple PR has allowed me to do things that otherwise I wouldn't be able to do being under the constant spotlight of not wanting to upset a company."
It's more challenging to find stories, he says, but the outcome is more rewarding.
His paycheck is dependent on page views. But with an exceptional source list and a record of breaking stories, Gurman says he could see as many as hundreds of thousands of clicks a day. Though he would not confirm, some reports have put his salary at six figures.
So, what's next for the superstar reporter who is expected to graduate in two years?
"That is the golden question... To be honest, I'd like to move into something mostly different than what I do now," Gurman says. "Instead of being the person who covers the companies, I'd like there to be someone like me, covering my company."
Ever since Ralph Taylor joined the Navy in 1960, boating has been in his blood.
“You could stick me out in the middle of the ocean, I’d love it,” he says, sitting in his 24-foot pontoon, parked in his Waxahachie driveway.
Ten years ago, Taylor moved to Waxahachie from the coldest city in Texas, Dalhart, because he needed to be closer to the Veterans Affairs facility in Dallas after a liver transplant.
His wife passed away in 1999, so his daughters help him get to and from the hospital for appointments.
“This VA down here is really modern, they take good care of you,” Taylor says. “It’s just they overwhelmed the system.”
The VA North Texas Health Care System is the second busiest in the country. Last year, there were about 1.4 million outpatient visits and although the majority of appointments are made in less than 30 days, new patients often wait a month, even two months on average for a specialty care visit.
So when Taylor started having trouble seeing, the VA turned to Dallas-based Key-Whitman Eye Center.
The Vision For Faster Health Care
Weeks before the Veterans Affairs hospital controversy dominated headlines, Dallas-based Key-Whitman Eye Center received a call from the North Texas VA.
The VA was hoping to expedite eye care services for veterans in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and wanted to establish a formal partnership.
“In the last 80 days, we’ve probably had appointments for 200 patients already,” says Dr. Jeffrey Whitman.
Whitman says it’s an honor to serve the veterans, and he enjoys listening to their stories while helping improve their vision.
“I can have a patient come in with a cataract and within a couple of weeks we probably can have them, with functional vision, back to work,” he says. “And there’s no reason the veteran population shouldn't be able to take advantage of that.”
Dr. Jeffrey Whitman with patient Eddie Carter, a veteran referred to his clinic through the VA North Texas Health Care System.Key-Whitman Eye Center
Just The Beginning
In the last few months, partnerships with local health care providers have ramped up. Jennifer Purdy, assistant director for Outpatient Services at the North Texas VA, says collaboration is part of a long-term solution to cut wait times.
“We've got to ensure that patients have a way to be seen and that their needs are met,” she says. “So I think we will continue to grow [partnerships] out in the community.”
Purdy estimates more than 30 new health care vendors were added this year.
Finding new partners isn’t always easy. Purdy says private practice doctors in some specialties, like endocrinology and psychiatry, haven’t been able to fit veterans in. Part of the reason could be doctors have to wait longer for VA payments, which Dr. Whitman says can be especially tough on smaller practices.
"Every practice may not be able to do this, but I think practices that know that they’re able to do this should raise their hand and volunteer,” Whitman says. “And it’s a win-win. If we have excess capacity, it’s not completely altruistic, I get to stay busier!”
A Glimpse Into The Future For Veterans
Ralph Taylor was happy to go to Key-Whitman, where he had surgery to remove cataracts in both eyes.
Before surgery, Taylor couldn’t drive, couldn’t fix his boat and he definitely couldn’t see individual leaves on the cottonwood outside his window. He couldn't even see individual stars in the evening sky.
“But I was out here the other night and it was a full moon, and boy, I just love Texas at times like that,” he says, smiling.Lauren Silverman
Taylor says the VA, by helping pay for medications and surgeries, has kept him from being, as he puts it, "completely destitute."
Congress is trying to help the VA from going broke and form more partnerships. The $16 billion health care bill signed by President Barack Obama provides money for more partnerships like the one between Key-Whitman Eye Clinic and the North Texas VA.
If providers step up, the second busiest VA system might get some relief. And patients waiting in line might be able to get back to doing the things they love faster.