Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Big Oil Spoils North Dakota


Big oil companies in North Dakota said their impact on the environment would be minimal. They lied.  The citizens of Tioga witnessed the largest land oil spill in recent American history in September, 2013.  Also in 2013, the locomotive of an oil train derailed and exploded in a collision near Casselton.  This year North Dakotans discovered illegally dumped oil filter socks, a source of hazardous radiation. A landfill with waste from oil fields is near the banks of the Missouri River.  Some families experienced dirty drinking water.  “One company, in fact, sued three activist landowners in 2011, seeking damages for trespassing after the men tried to document what they believed was the cover-up of a saltwater spill.”  Federal wildlife agents asked the oil companies to cover their waste pits as migratory birds sometimes dived in.  They were refused.  Thirty percent of the natural gas produced in the state was being treated as a byproduct and burned off, spoiling the air for neighbors.

      The oil drillers are lightly regulated by the three-member North Dakota Industrial Commission composed of the Governor, Attorney General, and the Agricultural Commissioner.  In their eagerness to gain great wealth, the state largely let the oil companies police themselves.  The oil companies made contributions to the governor’s campaign in 2012, a total of $550,000 from oil-related executives.

         A family signed a lease and saw their first well drilled in 2008.  Then June, 2011, they were informed that Burlington Resources intended to create a 30,883 acre oil production unit that would override their lease agreement.  Instead of receiving royalties for their land, the revenues would be split by all owners in the mega-unit. The mega-unit would include part of the Little Missouri State Park (three storage tank batteries inside park boundaries). The family learned that their consent was not required.  Only 60 percent of the unit’s owners were needed, and Burlington together with the Federal government land already amounted to 60%.  This freed Conoco Phillips, successor to Burlington, from boundary lines that required 200-foot set-backs from the borders of each production unit.  The companies would not have to negotiate easements or rights of way for pads, roads, and pipelines.  Dec 20, 2013, the commission approved the mega-unit.  This amounts to private eminent domain—taking of land by private companies for their own benefit.
             Source: New York Times, Nov. 23, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving

There are still some things to be thankful for--like not living in Buffalo NY.  Apologies to buffaloes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Identity


" In a world where 2 billion more people have entered the workforce since 1989, the insecurity of those suddenly forced to compete that much harder was always bound to grow. If you’re one of the beneficiaries of this massive upheaval, you’re fine. But for the millions who fear they are losing out, and who see their town or country changing around them, including through immigration, it’s natural to hold on tight to, and fiercely defend, an identity that feels safe and familiar." Jonathan Freedland writing in the Guardian UK. 21 Nov 2014
    Cultural arguments are taking the place of what used to be bread and butter issues.  The Republican party has exploited this very cleverly, while they turn the bread and butter toward the very rich. When will the 90 % figure it out? And, when will the Democrats figure out that identity politics is where it's at.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Neo-liberals and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)

Cass Sunstein was appointed head of OIRA from 2009-2012 and led it to delay and eviscerate a host of environmental regulations.  Pres. Reagan created the office ostensibly to improve decision making by insisting on benefit-cost analysis of all rules, but industry used it to escape and delay regulation.  An example of its over-reaching and bizarre twists is to count lost pleasure from smoking as an off-set to health benefits of reduced smoking.  Besides, early death saves health care costs over the smokers' lifetime they claim! All of this is justified by the neo-liberal championing of what they call liberty-enhancement. If some want to kill themselves, they should be free to do so.  This is a neat trick that diverts blame from systemic corporate malfeasance to individuals. 
   This is documented in Robert Kuttner, "Obama's Obama" Harpers, December 2014." A must read by those interested in good government and avoidance of the siren song and paternalism of the neo-liberals. Obama does not come off well. Sunstein and Obama prove once again that smart and wise are not the same thing.

Virunga, Congo

Oil companies are circling Virunga National Park in the Congo, home to several endangered wildlife species such as mountain gorillas.  The oil company thugs stoop to bribery and murder.  The Government is silent saying they must support anything that will lift their people out of poverty.  One could be more impressed if they were putting a large part of their royalties into a trust fund for all its citizens, such as Alaska did.  
 The Congo has been home to natural resource exploitation by the Belgians for generations and where are the jobs it was supposed to create?  Any natural resource eventually runs out and the people who get rich are government officials and foreign companies.
Source: NYT 16 Nov 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Japan's Folly

Japan's economy has been in the doldrums for years.  So what are they doing? Their central bank is buying government debt just like the US Fed was doing.  Supposedly, these purchases keep interest rates low and stimulate borrowing and growth.  But the evidence is to the contrary in  a country with zero interest rates and still little investment. If this policy worked it would have worked before now, but evidence be damned! We live in a world driven by ideology and bankers.

Brussels Riots

Riots broke out a few days ago in Brussels as people protested the government's austerity policies. In Europe when people are fed up, they riot while in the U.S. our low income people accept their fate and believe it is their fault. Austerity policy has not worked anywhere in Europe, but they hold to it like a dog with a bone.  Germany lost WW II but they dominate Europe and the EU and insist all countries should follow them no matter how different are their economies.