Countless people stepped up to testify before the Texas Senate committee on the restrictive abortion law, which would essentially ban abortions in most of the state. One stood out as Katie Heim from Austin bravely gave her testimony before the committee in the form of a poem titled, “If My Vagina Was a Gun.”
The poem, by Katie Heim, was a hit with opponents of any abortion restrictions and has been reblogged extensively:
You would ride on buses and fight all the fights.
If my vagina was a gun, you would treat it with care,
You wouldn’t spill all its secrets because, well, why go there.
If my vagina was a gun, you’d say what it holds is private
From cold dead hands we could pry, you surely would riot.
If my vagina was a gun, its rights would all be protected,
no matter the body count or the children affected.
If my vagina was a gun, I could bypass security,
concealed carry laws would ensure I’d have impunity.
If my vagina was a gun, I wouldn’t have to beg you,
I could hunt this great land and do all the things men do.
But my vagina is not a gun, it is a mightier thing,
With a voice that rings true making lawmakers’ ears ring.
Vaginas are not delicate, they are muscular and magic,
So stop messing with mine, with legislation that’s tragic.
My vagina’s here to demand from the source,
Listen to the voices of thousands or feel their full force.
The Politics of Abortion- Sadism as Politics: Rick Perry, Paul Ryan, Anti-Abortion Politics and Kicking the Poor
The victory in Texas on Senate Bill 5 – the successful filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis and the crowd of pro-choice Texans who packed the Capitol to stand with her, who shouted down the vote in what Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst petulantly called “Occupy Wall Street tactics” – may be short-lived, as Governor (and failed Republican presidential candidate) Rick Perry has already declared that he’s calling another special legislative session to pass the bill. As if that’s not enough, Perry gave a speech Thursday at the National Right to Life conference and used Davis’ personal life as an example of someone who was “born into difficult circumstances,” the daughter of a single mom and a teen mother herself. Perry’s immediate need not just to argue with Wendy Davis and the people who stood with her but to shame them personally, to tell a crowd that “The louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done” is just the latest reminder of what this kind of anti-abortion politics is really about: power. It’s not just a tactic to move toward banning abortion slowly, inch by inch, hoping that we don’t notice our rights disappearing. This strategy of passing more and more restrictions on how and when and where and with whose permission one can obtain an abortion is itself a method of demonstrating and reiterating power over our bodies; it’s a sharp reminder that they exercise this power largely because they can. Because as members of a privileged class – economically and politically as well as by virtue of race and gender – they will wield that power, not for our own good but in spite of our desires, and the more we scream the more pleasure they take in their victory. The discipline, Perry’s comment shows, is the point. Perry, and his comrade-in-sadism Paul Ryan, aren’t just anti-abortionists, of course. They’re also big fans of punishing and controlling the poor – usually imagined, often not entirely correctly, as non-white people. Ryan has proposed drastic cuts to Social Security, wanted to turn Medicare into a voucher program, and just last week voted to support an amendment that would boot people off food assistance if they can’t find a job; Perry wants to drug test the unemployed and recipients of food stamps and presided over the largest cuts to public education since World War II. And of course, the granddaddy of today’s vicious, sadistic politics is Newt Gingrich, about to be launched back into our living rooms via CNN’s resurrected Crossfire program. Americans remember him recently telling us that low-income children should work as janitors in schools and should remember him, too, as the driving force behind the 1990s welfare “reform” signed and promoted by Bill Clinton. Welfare reform is perhaps the perfect policy to demonstrate where these issues come together. The Gingriches of the world would deny low-income parents the right to plan their families, and then would punish them for having families at all by forcing them into dead-end low-wage jobs, all the while beating them up rhetorically as well for not being the kind of full-time parents that conservatives dream of. Reproduction is always another pathway to punishment. And we shouldn’t forget that the night before Perry spoke these words, he presided over Texas’ 500th execution since resuming capital punishment in 1982 – of a woman, Kimberly McCarthy, convicted of the 1997 murder of her neighbor during a robbery. Perry’s been in charge of more than half of those 500 executions – 261, to be exact – over the course of his three terms as governor, more than any other governor in the country. In consensual S&M, the exchange of power, the restriction of freedom down to what a dominant allows, is done for pleasure, for boundary-pushing. It’s about control willingly given up – without that willingness, play violence turns real. The thrill is seeing how far you can go, not in actually being abused. In the game that Perry and his comrades are playing, there has been no informed consent; there is no safe-word we can use to stop the pain, and the “no” of thousands of Texas women is just an excuse to try it again. We may think we see the psychosexual glint in Perry’s eye when he talks about women “screaming,” but what he reveals is much bigger than a personal kink – it’s the connections between sadistic economic policy, sadistic reproductive health policy (if you can call it that) and sadistic “justice” policy. These issues are of a piece, and the piece is control. Many of us like to point out that abortion is an economic issue, and this is certainly true, but what Perry shows us is that even economic policy is about more than money. It’s not enough that unemployment remains high and the people in Texas who are finding jobs are largely finding them in low-wage, no-security industries; no, he has to keep finding ways to turn the rack. A thoroughly cowed working class that has to beg for scraps is less likely to rise up and exercise its own power when the punishment for doing so grows ever harsher. Those of us who’ve spent time in and around the labor movement know that the boss is often willing to grant workers a raise if they’ll give up their demands for a union – giving up a bit of power and control to the workers is infinitely more threatening to bosses than money. They regularly shell out plenty of cash to anti-union “consultants” to make sure their underlings remain suitably scared. The question is not money, but power. Take this line of thought a step further and include this week’s Voting Rights Act ruling, a question purely and honestly of power – not fairness or rights but of political power. State governments – like Rick Perry’s Texas – have gone about redistricting to draw bright slashes through communities of color that could exercise power at the ballot box by acting together to send representatives that actually speak for them to the legislature. They’re deliberately attacking the concentrated political power of those communities. Perry also pushed for and signed into law (in another “emergency” session; taking away rights is often an “emergency” for Perry) a voter ID bill that made “illegal voting” a felony, required one of five acceptable forms of picture ID, and was of course decried as racist by representatives whose districts are largely populated by people of color. The same people whose voting rights are being attacked are the ones who face incarceration and execution at hugely disproportionate rates, and they are the ones who will suffer the most if Perry’s anti-abortion bill makes it through. Those of us who don’t fit into the categories singled out for special punishment are supposed to be grateful that we’re better off, and keep voting the Perrys and Dewhursts and Ryans into office. It works more often than most of us would like to admit. Texas’ new district maps are legal now unless Congress – the current makeup of which is itself the result of gerrymandering that allowed a Republican majority to hold without holding a majority of the votes – acts. Of course, Perry can’t gerrymander the state’s borders (yet) and it’s there that we might hold out hope for change. He might be able to redistrict Wendy Davis out of her seat, but if Texans decide to fight back, maybe they can put her – or someone like her – in his job. The only way to beat Perry and his ilk is to be as merciless with them as they would be with us. Organize, shut them down, and throw them out. Via http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/17314-sadism-as-politics-on-rick-perry-paul-ryan-anti-abortion-politics-power-and-kicking-the-poor (2)
America is returning to what it once was. Unfortunately, I’m not referring to its former dominance as the world’s only super power or its economic peak, but rather its racist roots. How can I say that when we have a (half) black president? Just read the news.
The Supreme Court just undid 48 years of racial progress by dismantling the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It took the great state of Texas less than two hours to enact the most stringent voter ID law in the country. And now they are working furiously at redistricting their voting maps to further disenfranchise minorities. These measures were previously considered in violation of the now defunct Voting Rights Act.
Turn the page of your newspaper (or nook) and you can read about the George Zimmerman trial. Unless you are one of the 6 women jurors in the case, you’ll recall that an armed man (Zimmerman) told 911 that he was pursuing an unarmed teenager (Trayvon Martin) who happened to have wound up dead by Zimmerman’s gun. He also happened to be black. Incredulously, the police did not hold Zimmerman or even take his gun until a month of public outrage embarrassed them into arresting him.
Now the prosecution is claiming self-defense and trying to paint the 17-year-old victim as a dangerously aggressive drugged out hoodlum. I admit that I’ve been accused of painting the situation too far in the other direction in my piece “A Tale Of Two Hoodies.” But then I’m an artist visually representing the overall problem of racism, not a lawyer in a court of law distorting facts to misrepresent the actual events.
The fact that Zimmerman called Martin “a suspicious person” with nothing more to go on other than he was a black youth wearing a hood suggests racial profiling by an individual. The fact that the police initially chose not to even charge Zimmerman suggests racism in the police force. The fact that the Supreme Court made it possible for Texas, along with many other states, to create voting restrictions aimed to suppress minorities from voting suggests a racist government. Sadly, it seems America is becoming a shining example of backwards progress in social and racial justice.
Fracking–the process the oil and gas industry uses to extract fossil fuel as much as two miles below the ground–may directly impact the nation’s water supply, reduce water-based recreational and sports activity, and lead to an increase in the cost of food.
The cocktail soup required for each well requires about two million pounds of silica sand, as much as 100,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, and three to nine million gallons of fresh water. There are more than 500,000 active wells in the country.
In 2011, the last year for which data is available, Texas energy companies used about 26.5 billion gallons of water. Energy companies drilling Pennsylvania used the second greatest amount of water, followed by Colorado and Arkansas. Nuclear plants, which use more water, can recycle most of it. Because frack wastewater is toxic, oil and gas companies can’t recycle the contaminated water.
The water is provided by companies that draw up to three million gallons a day from rivers and lakes, by individuals who sell water from their ponds, and by municipalities. Steubenville, Ohio, is tapping one of its reservoirs to sell up to 700,000 gallons of water every day for five years to Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest players in the fracking industry.
Big EnergyHowever, fresh water is not unlimited.
Beginning about five years ago, the water in the nation’s aquifers has been decreasing significantly. The depletion since 2008, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. is about three times the rate as between 1900 through 2008.
Significant reductions in water availability are now common for the 1,450 mile long Colorado River, which provides water to about 40 million people in California and the southwest, including the agriculture-rich Imperial Desert of southeastern California. Lake Mead, a part of the Colorado system, provides water to Las Vegas and the Nevada desert communities; its water level is close to the point where the Department of the Interior will declare a water shortage and impose strict water-use regulation.
The depletion of the rivers, lakes, and aquifers is because of population growth, higher usage, climate change, and a severe drought that has spread throughout the Midwest and southwest for the past three years.
The C oalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), basing its analysis upon more than 25,000 wells, reports almost 47 percent of wells that use fracking were developed in areas with high or extremely high water stress levels; 92 percent of all gas wells in Colorado are in extremely high-stressed regions; In Texas, 51 percent are in high or extremely high stress water regions.
Water is so critical to fracking that oil and gas companies have been paying premium prices, as much as $1,000–$2,000 for about 326,000 gallons (an acre foot) and outbidding farmers in the drought-ravaged parts of the country for the water; the normal price is about $30–$100 for the same amount. Oil and gas drillers have also been trucking in water to the Midwest and southwest from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The companies are “going to pay what they need to pay,” said Dr. Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.
If farmers have to pay more for water, they will raise the prices of their product. If they can’t get enough water, because the energy companies are taking as much as they can get, they grow fewer crops and reduce the size of their livestock herds; this, also, will force food prices up. It’s a simple case of supply and demand.
But, there are other problems. Some farmers and owners of corporate farms who have large water resources often sell that water to the energy companies; they can get more money for the water and leave their fields barren than they can get for growing crops and selling them to wholesalers and distributors.
Another reality may be driving food prices higher.
Fossil fuel mining and agriculture have always co-existed. But, that is changing.
Beneath about 200,000 square miles of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan, lying between 4,500 and 7,500 feet below the surface of the earth, is the Bakken Shale. Oil in the shale was discovered in 1953; however, because the shale is only 13 to 140 feet thick, using conventional drilling methods were marginally profitable until five years ago with the development of horizontal fracking.
The Bakken Shale lies directly below one of the most fertile wheat fields in the United States. North Dakota farmers produce almost three-fourths of all amber durum harvested in the United States. High in protein and one of the strongest of all wheat, amber durum is a base for most of the world’s food production. It is used for all pastas, pizza crusts, couscous, and numerous kinds of breads. Red durum, a variety, is used to feed cattle. North Dakota farmers in late Summer harvest about 50 million bushels (about 1.4 million tons) of amber durum, almost three-fourths of all amber durum produced in the United States. About one-third of the production is exported, primarily to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Destruction of the wheat fields, from a combination of global warming and fracking, will cause production to decline, prices to rise, and famine to increase.
Energy company landmen, buying land and negotiating min eral rights leases, became as pesky as aphids in the wheat fields. However, the landmen didn’t have to do much sweet talking with the farmers, many of whom were hugging bankruptcy during the Great Recession. The farmers yielded parts of their land to the energy companies in exchange for immediate income and the promise of future royalties. By November 2012 there were 7,791 wells in North Dakota .
In 2006, oil production in the North Dakota fields was about 92 million gallons. Energy companies are expected to mine more than 15.2 billion gallons this year. Drilling for oil also yields natural gas; there are about two trillion barrels of natural gas in the shale.
In Pennsylvania, 17,000 acres have already been lost to the development of natural gas fracking. That land is not likely to be productive for several years because of “compaction and landscape reshaping,” according to a study by the Penn State Extension Office. U.S. Geological Survey scientists conclude there is a “low probability that the disturbed land will revert back to a natural state in the near future.”
The presence of natural gas drilling companies has also led to decreased milk and cheese production. Penn State researchers Riley Adams and Dr. Timothy Kelsey concluded: ” Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity.” Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experi enced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells.”
Beneath some of the nation’s richest agricultural land in drought-ravaged central California lies the Monterrey Shale, a 1,750 square mile formation that holds about two-thirds of the country’s estimated shale oil reserves, about 15.4 billion barrels (647 trillion gallons). The landmen have already arrived to buy leases and set up what is likely to be the biggest oil and gas boom in the country.
More than 200 different crops are grown in the central valley, including about 70 percent of the world’s supply of almonds, most of the grape production and 90 percent of all domestic wine sold in the United States. The Sun-Maid farm cooperative, headquartered in the Central Valley, is one of the world’s largest producers of raisins and dried fruits.
When the politicians unleashed Big Energy to frack the nation and extract gas, they parroted industry claims that extensive drilling would improve the economy, lower natural gas prices, and help make the United States energy independent from having to import foreign oil. What is happening is that the companies have purchased far too much land, are in heavy debt with the banks, and have a glut of natural gas that has forced the prices to the lowest level in almost 10 years.
The solution is that these patriotic corporations, to reduce the glut and force domestic residential prices back up as the mined gas becomes less available, are developing extensive plans to export natural gas to countries that will pay significantly higher prices than what is currently charged in the American market.
There is one problem. The United States can’t import water.
Nick Flores is an economist who knows the oil-and-gas industry from the inside, having been in the merchant marines hauling platforms and rigs to sundry locations in the Gulf. Industry exposure didn’t end there; he was in grad school six months after the Exxon Valdez sullied the Arctic shore and studied first-hand the economics of accidents. He was not dismayed. In his words, “Shale gas is a revolution. It has transformed energy in America. What we’re seeing now is but the tip of the iceberg.” He didn’t say from which dwindling sheet it might have been calved.
Yet Flores is not utterly enchanted by the industry. There is what he terms a problem of externalities, meaning that the full cost of the venture is not appreciated when such “routine” risks as methane leaks and pollution of ground or surface water, and “high-priority” risks such as cement, drill-casing, and wastewater-impoundment failures, are not factored into the economic analysis. Such externalities are often expensive and not easily addressed, and should be internalized to reflect real costs.
Having lived in San Francisco, which receives water from the Hetch Hetchy water system, a system so pristine it is one of the few for which the Environmental Protection Agency requires no filtration, Flores comprehends the preciousness of pure water. He wonders what will happen if in our zeal to poke the earth we should inadvertently pollute a major aquifer such as the Ogallala, which underlies eight states and once contained water equal in quantity to Lake Huron. (It too is dwindling.) If such an integral resource should be fouled by whatever means, what then? Part of the damage hits the pocketbook. In heavily fracked Washington County, Pennsylvania, property values have declined almost 25 percent in places overlying aquifers through which drillers cement their casings. Is it “right” that property values have declined, or is it just perception? The answer is unimportant; all that matters is perception’s effect on the market.
Flores notes EPA’s limp-wristed governance of greenhouse gases. Methane, the major component of natural gas, is utterly ignored. (Oh, there are voluntary programs.) EPA may have downsized its prior estimate of how much methane leaks from fracking wells, but that puts it at odds with NOAA‘s recent study. Who is right? In any case, geologists and EPA agree that, compared to conventional drilling, hydraulic fracturing leaks more methane. Fracking fluid is injected and then pumped out (or a percentage is), but it returns laden with natural gas and other disinterred volatile chemicals that if released foul the air around drill sites. An estimated 90 percent of this “burping” can be captured in a “green-completion” process that caps the well and separates the petrochemicals for later sale. Even though this is of economic benefit of drillers, however, it is by no means always done; old fields may lack technology while new fields may have neither pipelines nor storage facilities built, and meanwhile methane seeps away. As you may know, methane in the atmosphere is a serious contender in atmospheric warming. Atmospheric methane gradually converts to carbon dioxide so it is over the short term that it does its damage. In its first 20 years, methane’s ability to capture heat in the atmosphere dwarfs that of carbon dioxide 70 times over.
Much like spent rods from nuclear plants and almost as dangerous, wastewater is a facet of fracking often overlooked and underfunded. Current options include dumping it into often-open holding pools, forcing it into injection wells, or recycling. Dumping it anywhere presents obvious problems including, with injection wells, persuasive evidence of earthquakes. Recycling would be great, but it’s not easy to clean water laced with not only heavy metals and radionuclides but dissolved salts, which require reverse osmosis or other exotic means to treat. (If desalinating salt water were easy, the world would have no freshwater problem, at least not yet.)
Options for dealing with wastewater are under creative review. Why not ship it away? (What do you mean there is no away?) Last March the Coast Guard “quietly” sent to the White House a proposal to put fracking wastewater on barges, said to be safer for transport than trucks and trains. The toxic brew will be shipped to someone else’s back yard for disposal. Yucca Mountain anyone? Frio County, Texas, which is not among the state’s top gas producers but that nevertheless has more disposal wells than the three top gas-producing counties combined, is evaluating a penny-a-barrel fee on disposed wastewater. The compensation is expected to bring the county over a million dollars a year, which would feed a fund to combat environmental damage.
We have such faith in compensation. While it comforts the aggrieved and pains the aggressor, that’s often as far as it goes. And the aggressor’s pain may be tiny indeed. Caps on damages provide a well-trod path for industry to escape real consequence for their sins. (Caps can zap citizens on the other cheek when they limit damages for civil suits.) In the end, let us not forget that no amount of compensation will restore what is irreplaceable.
Subterranean Aquifer Blues
Although groundwater property rights vary widely by state, they generally emphasize water quantity over contamination. Some landowners may use as much groundwater as they wish without regard for impacts anywhere else. This is called the Absolute Dominion Rule, and it is codified in 11 states, including Texas. “Use” in this case would include, I suppose, the right to pollute the groundwater. Colorado and other western states have adopted a doctrine of Prior Appropriation–the first landowner to “beneficially” use or divert water from underground is given priority over later users. Now many states have updated this doctrine with a permit system. Available permits are in hot pursuit; you can guess by whom.
When your well-water starts fizzing, fingering the culprit isn’t easy. Contaminants act differently underground, like senators behind doors. How do you prove who polluted the water, and when, and how? Equally important, what is to be done? EPA says that much progress on cleaning polluted aquifers has been made. Wells can shlep contaminated water to the surface for treatment. This intensive technology works if contaminants contain neither solvents nor oil and so long as the contamination has not spread. Since fracking fluid and wastewater are excluded and aquifers tend not to be contained, EPA’s assertion seems delusional.
Small producers lose their shirts in these times of low gas prices, so one might wonder why they keep drilling. Two reasons. Leases may mandate that lessees use their drilling rights or lose them. And prices may be low now, but just wait. Prices for natural gas in other areas–Japan, Europe–are much higher. It costs to convert gas to liquefied natural gas for long-distance transport, but producers have their eyes on the prize and preparations are being made. US prices will then rise; it won’t go the other way around.
It wasn’t so long ago that energy prices were rising in the face of looming energy scarcity. Very quickly shale-gas production has reversed that. In the first decade of this century, US gas production went from almost none to more than 10 billion cubic feet per day. In 2012, shale gas was 50 percent of the gas market; by 2035, Flores says, the percentage should swell to three-quarters. If oil imports diminish and “petro dollars” remain in the US, the dollar should be fortified and economic growth fueled by this bonanza. That is, to the extent that the bonanza remains both at low prices and here. And to the extent that climate change does not rudely intervene.
Natural gas may burn cleanly but it remains a fossil fuel. Our dependence on fossil fuels is irrevocably changing our world while we tend to our piquant concerns. Even if less is escaping at wellheads, incalculable amounts of methane now erupt from thawing Arctic tundra and waters. Will depleting a new fossil fuel will be our salvation?
Thousands of gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Texas, the third accident of its kind in only a week.
Shell Pipeline, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, shut down their West Columbia, Texas, pipeline last Friday after electronic calculations conducted by the US National Response Center showed that upwards of 700 barrels had been lost, amounting to almost 30,000 gallons of crude oil.
By Monday, Shell spokespeople said inspectors found “no evidence” of an oil leak, but days later it was revealed that a breach did occur. Representatives with the US Coast Guard confirmed to Dow Jones on Thursday that roughly 50 barrels of oil spilled from a pipe near Houston, Texas and entered a waterway that connects to the Gulf of Mexico.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Steven Lehman said that Shell had dispatched clean-up crews that were working hard to correct any damage to Vince Bayou, a small waterway that runs for less than 20 miles from the Houston area into a shipping channel that opens into the Gulf.
The spill was contained, said Lehman, who was hesitant to offer an official number on how much crude was lost in the accident. According to Shell spokeswoman Kim Windon, though, the damage could have been quite significant. After being presented with the estimate that said as much as 700 barrels were found to have leaked from the pipeline due to an unknown cause, investigators determined that 60 barrels entered the bayou.
“That’s a very early estimate–things can change,” Officer Lehman told Dow Jones.
Meanwhile, though, rescue works in Arkansas have been getting their hands dirty responding to an emergency there. A rupture in ExxonMobil‘s Pegasus pipeline late last week send thousands of barrels of oil into the small town of Mayflower, around 25 miles outside of Little Rock. Authorities evacuated more than 20 homes in response, and by this Thursday roughly 19,000 barrels had been recovered.
Another incident in Canada this week caused an estimated 400 barrels — or roughly 16,800 gallons — of oil to be compromised in northern Ontario when a train derailed. Originally, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd said only four barrels were lost in the accident.
I’ve been tracking a tube of black putrid ooze, a toxic viper slowly slithering 2,000 miles across the belly of America, swallowing all water aquifers, politicians and reason in its path.
The XL Keystone Pipeline.
As Nagini, the murderous snake in the Harry Potter tales, had its master Voldemort, I figured the Keystone XL Pipeline must also have its own dark lords.
And the Dark Lords of the Keystone Pipeline left clear clues: environmental horror, political payouts and the odour of sulphur stronger than explained by the stinking hot tar inside it. I smelled Koch.
David and Charles Koch are each worth $20 billion (£12.7 billion), and they’re quite certain that’s not enough. And so they need the XL Keystone Pipeline.
The XL Keystone will take Canadian tar-sands oil, the filthiest crude on the planet, and suck it down to Texas’ Gulf Coast refineries. Alberta’s oil-glop reserve, if it can get to the US market, will warm the planet by nearly 0.4°C all by itself.
Why in the world would America pistol-whip Mother Nature to bring oil to Texas? I mean, it’s just plain weird to suck heavy tar oil out of Canada to drag it across the entire middle of the USA and import it into the oil-exporting Lone Star State.
Here’s where a little lesson in oil chemistry comes in. You can’t just throw any old crude oil into an oil refinery. These giant filth factories are actually quite sensitive. The refineries of the Texas Gulf Coast are optimised for heavy crude.
It would cost billions of dollars to rebuild the giant Flint Hills Corpus Christi Refinery, owned by Koch Industries, to use the less-polluting Texas oil drilled nearby.
The Kochs need heavy crude. But the Brothers Koch have a problem. Heavy crude is controlled by a heavy dude – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
In case you haven’t heard, the US Department of Energy now says Venezuela, not Saudi Arabia, has the world’s largest petroleum reserve – including the overwhelming bulk of the planet’s heavy crude.
And Chavez is not giving it away. “We are no longer an oil colony, Mr Palast,” Chavez told me during one of our meet-ups in Caracas.
He wasn’t kidding. Venezuela’s export price now averages around $100 (£64) a barrel.
So the Kochs have turned their gaze upward – to Canada, where Alberta oil men are selling their tar-sands gunk for a whopping $33 (£21) a barrel less than Chavez’s heavy. Do the maths: With 289,000 barrels a day refined at Corpus Christi, switching from Venezuela heavy to Canadian tar could put an extra $3 billion (£1.9 billion) a year into the pockets of the Kochs.
However, there’s a problem. Between Canada and Houston is the United States. At the moment, there’s no pipeline that can take all that cheap crude south. The southbound pipeline network now chokes at Cushing, Oklahoma, which is already blocked with 47 million barrels of crude sitting in storage tanks with nowhere to go.
So all the Kochs have to do is get the US government to agree to pop a pipe through Cushing to Houston: the Keystone XL. But that would require that the US government go stark raving mad, commit environmental suicide and reverse all policy to slow global warming – all to bring in foreign oil while the US itself is suffering from a major oil and gas glut.
Furthermore, approving the Keystone XL Pipeline will raise the price of heating oil and gasoline in the US.
Let me repeat: Approving the Keystone XL Pipeline will raise the price of oil and gasoline.
This is the nasty little secret of the pipeline lords and unknown to all but experts. Every Republican politician and not a few Democrats have promoted the fairy tale that the XL Pipeline will reduce gasoline and oil prices throughout the USA.
It’s bullshit, but it’s gospel – utterly unquestioned by the mainstream media. Most official opponents of the pipeline buy the lower-cost-oil line, repeating variants of the New York Times editorial that the economic “benefit from Keystone XL outweigh the certain damages” to the environment.
But the “benefit” is bogus. Prices for gasoline will rise by about 15 cents (nine pence) a gallon in the Upper Midwest if the pipe opens.
Here’s why. Normally, the supply of crude oil in the US doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the price of gas you put in your Humvee. Normally, Canadians could hose us down with hot tar and it wouldn’t change oil and gas prices by a penny.
That’s because the international price of oil is not set by supply and demand in the marketplace. Rather, the price is fixed by a dictator in a bathrobe, Abdullah, King of Saudi Arabia. He dictates, you pay.
But there are always anomalies.
As matters stand, with nowhere to dump their tar goo, Canadians have to sell at a $33 (£21) a barrel discount to nearby refineries in the US Upper Midwest.
American consumers are getting the benefit of this oil backup. Indeed, one angry Canuck, Cenovus Energy CEO Brian Ferguson, complains that the pipeline plug results in “subsidisation to the United States consumer by $1,200 (£764) per Canadian”.
The XL Pipeline would act as an oil enema, releasing the impacted inventory, enriching the Gulf refineries.
The result of opening the spigot through the XL Keystone will mean that US Midwest retail heating oil prices will skyrocket and gasoline in the region, as the crude drains away to other refineries, will rise an estimated 15 cents a gallon.
True, cheaper crude oil will now flow south, but as Canadian economist Robyn Allan writes, “It’s the refining sector that sees the benefit of lower-priced WCS [West Canadian Sands oil] in the form of windfall profits from low feedstock costs.”
The gusher of cheap crude from a new pipeline will enrich the refiners – none more so than refiners named Koch.
But how will the Kochs get Obama and the US government to turn against US consumers and their own green policies and promises? We’ll get to that next week.
I’ve been tracking the Kochs for 18 years, first as a private investigator on a case of oil missing from a Native American Indian reservation.
One thing from that case sticks with me even today. The trail of missing oil led to Charles Koch himself, who (according to a secret recording), told a co-conspirator why he did it. The billionaire said,
“I want my fair share. And that’s ALL OF IT.”
And “all of it” now includes a pipeline filled with hot, cheap oil.
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HOUSTON — In the weeks since President Obama’s re-election, Republicans around the country have been wondering how to proceed. Some conservatives in Texas have been asking a far more pointed question: how to secede.
Secession fever has struck parts of Texas, which Mitt Romney won by nearly 1.3 million votes.
Sales of bumper stickers reading “Secede” — one for $2, or three for $5 — have increased at TexasSecede.com. In East Texas, a Republican official sent out an e-mail newsletter saying it was time for Texas and Vermont to each “go her own way in peace” and sign a free-trade agreement among the states.
A petition calling for secession that was filed by a Texas man on a White House Web site has received tens of thousands of signatures, and the Obama administration must now issue a response. And Larry Scott Kilgore, a perennial Republican candidate from Arlington, a Dallas suburb, announced that he was running for governor in 2014 and would legally change his name to Larry Secede Kilgore, with Secede in capital letters. As his Web page, secedekilgore.com, puts it: “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.”
In Texas, talk of secession in recent years has steadily shifted to the center from the fringe right. It has emerged as an echo of the state Republican leadership’s anti-Washington, pro-Texas-sovereignty mantra on a variety of issues, including health care and environmental regulations. For some Texans, the renewed interest in the subject serves simply as comic relief after a crushing election defeat.
But for other proponents of secession and its sister ideology, Texas nationalism — a focus of the Texas Nationalist Movement and other groups that want the state to become an independent nation, as it was in the 1830s and 1840s — it is a far more serious matter.
The official in East Texas, Peter Morrison, the treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, said in a statement that he had received overwhelming support from conservative Texans and overwhelming opposition from liberals outside the state in response to his comments in his newsletter. He said that it may take time for “people to appreciate that the fundamental cultural differences between Texas and other parts of the United States may be best addressed by an amicable divorce, a peaceful separation.”
The online petitions — created on the We the People platform at petitions.whitehouse.gov — are required to receive 25,000 signatures in 30 days for the White House to respond. The Texas petition, created Nov. 9 by a man identified as Micah H. of Arlington, had received more than 116,000 signatures by Friday. It asks the Obama administration to “peacefully grant” the withdrawal of Texas, and describes doing so as “practically feasible,” given the state’s large economy.
Residents in other states, including Alabama, Florida, Colorado, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have submitted similar petitions, though none have received as many signatures as the one from Texas.
A White House official said every petition that crossed the signature threshold would be reviewed and would receive a response, though it was unclear precisely when Micah H. would receive his answer.
Gov. Rick Perry, who twice made public remarks in 2009 suggesting that he was sympathetic to the secessionist cause, will not be signing the petition. “Governor Perry believes in the greatness of our union, and nothing should be done to change it,” a spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said in a statement. “But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government.”
The secession movement in Texas is divergent, with differences in goals and tactics. One group, the Republic of Texas, says that secession is unnecessary because, it claims, Texas is an independent nation that was illegally annexed by the United States in 1845. (The group’s leader and other followers waged a weeklong standoff with the Texas Rangers in 1997 that left one of its members dead.) Mr. Kilgore, the candidate who is changing his middle name, said he had not signed the White House petition because he did not believe that Texans needed to ask Washington for permission to leave.
“Our economy is about 30 percent larger than that of Australia,” said Mr. Kilgore, 48, a telecommunications contractor. “Australia can survive on their own, and I don’t think we’ll have any problem at all surviving on our own in Texas.”
Few of the public calls for secession have addressed the messy details, like what would happen to the state’s many federal courthouses, prisons, military bases and parklands. No one has said what would become of Kevin Patteson, the director of the state’s Office of State-Federal Relations, and no one has asked the Texas residents who received tens of millions of dollars in federal aid after destructive wildfires last year for their thoughts on the subject.
But all the secession talk has intrigued liberals as well. Caleb M. of Austin started his own petition on the White House Web site. He asked the federal government to allow Austin to withdraw from Texas and remain part of the United States, “in the event that Texas is successful in the current bid to secede.” It had more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday.
A version of this article appeared in print on November 24, 2011
“It ain’t worth a damn,” the man responded. “None of it good at all. Don’t agree with anything he done.”
The president is so disliked in the county, in fact, that during the 2012 presidential election, he received only five votes. Yes, in a county with a population of about 255, only five people voted for President Obama.
This means King County holds the distinction of being the county where President Obama received the lowest vote percentage.
“If you could tell Barack Obama to do one thing,” Tuchman said to another resident, “what would you tell him?”
“To resign,” the resident laughingly responded.
Citizens from more than 40 states have filed petitions with the White House seeking to secede from the union, and by Wednesday, seven states had gathered enough signatures to qualify for a response to the largely symbolic protest.
The petitions, which have been signed by a small percentage of state residents, have virtually no chance of succeeding. The United States’ bloodiest conflict, the 1861-1865 Civil War, erupted after 11 states withdrew from the union.
The White House has set up a “We the People” page on its website that allows Americans to file petitions on issues of concern. If a petition collects 25,000 signatures, the website says, the administration will review and respond to it.
The petition filed by Texas residents has racked up about 100,000 signatures. Six others from Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have collected 30,000.
Among the seven states, only Florida gave its electoral votes to Democratic President Barack Obama in last week’s election.
The Texas petition says the United States is suffering from economic troubles stemming from the federal government’s failure to reform spending. It also complains of alleged rights abuses committed by agencies like the Transportation Security Administration.
“Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union,” it said.
A counter-petition has been filed calling for the state capital Austin to secede from Texas and remain part of the United States.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Stacey Joyce)
With more than 28,600 signatures collected since Nov. 9, a White House website petition from an Arlington, Texas man has attracted enough support to trigger an automatic review by the Obama administration.
Petitions submitted through the Obama White House’s “We the People” program “require a response” from the administration after they have attracted 25,000 signatures.
The Daily Caller reported Monday morning that since the day after President Barack Obama’s re-election, citizens from 20 states had submitted petitions asking for peaceful separations from the United States.
By Monday afternoon that number had grown to 25.
Gov. Rick Perry’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheDC. The White House has also not returned phone calls or responded to emails about whether the administration will give secession requests serious consideration.
In 2009 Perry told the Associated Press that Texans weren’t likely to turn a famous tourism slogan — “Texas: It’s like a whole other country” — into reality.
But ”there’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said.
“We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?”
Also in 2009, Perry told a group of bloggers that “when we [Texas] came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”
His recorded comments became fodder for left-wing commentators and columnists.
In addition to the Texas petition currently pending on the White House’s “We the People” Web page, other petitions represent citizens of 19 states.
Other than Texas, states with secession-related petitions pending in a public area of the White House’s website now include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Three states — Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina — are each represented by two competing petitions.
In addition, TheDC has confirmed that citizens from Alaska, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have submitted petitions. Those efforts have not yet attracted 150 signatures, the minimum required for the White House to make them publicly available.
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