Saturday, May 21, 2011

Double, double, oil and trouble

As usual, the hardly-extreme position of wanting to look after the planet--and protect our ecosystems, not to mention our food and water supplies so as to save our own hides as well as leave our grandchildren a decent place in which to live--is under attack. Make that, undergoing a full-on assault.

It needs to be said, again, that opponents of clean energy policy, responsible climate-change policy--indeed, any and all initiatives to educate Americans about climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, period--are the ones behind a significant amount of the attacking, insulting, and discrediting of President Obama that's been going on for as long as he has been in office. (That much of it is also fueled by racism at the base level means it's that much easier for the oil giants to garner support in their attacks on the president--surely you didn't think it was all about his being a secret Kenyan Muslim usurper?!)

At the top of the list of offenders are the reviled Koch brothers and their monied front groups, like Americans for Prosperity, as well as the libertarian and conservative think-tanks they help fund, like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Despite their open and despicable attacks on the president, the Koch Brothers, who stand to benefit in a big way, would like nothing more than for him to give the Keystone XL Pipeline his blessing. From ClimateProgress:

The Keystone XL pipeline, awaiting a thumbs up or down on a presidential permit, would increase the import of heavy oil from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. by as much as 510,000 barrels a day, if it gets built.

Proponents tout it as a boon to national security that would reduce America’s dependence on oil from unfriendly regimes. Opponents say it would magnify an environmental nightmare at great cost and provide only the illusion of national benefit.

What’s been left out of the ferocious debate over the pipeline, however, is the prospect that if president Obama allows a permit for the Keystone XL to be granted, he would be handing a big victory and great financial opportunity to Charles and David Koch, his bitterest political enemies and among the most powerful opponents of his clean economy agenda.
And yes, in case you were wondering, it's not just a pride thing, not just a matter of holding grudges against people who smeared you--the pipeline's environmental threats are very real and rather jaw-dropping in their enormity.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would cut through six states; its presence and operation would threaten 2,000 miles worth of American homes and farmlands. This is dirty tar sands oil we're talking about, and its ill effects are much worse than those associated with conventional oil. From Friends of the Earth:
Pollution from tar sands oil greatly eclipses that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, doubling our country's reliance on it and resulting in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than six million new cars to U.S. roads.
How risky would it be? Very.
The XL route touted by (Alberta Premier Ed) Stelmach also passes through an active seismic zone that had a 4.3 magnitude earthquake as recently as 2002. In spite of this danger, the proponent TransCanada has applied to the U.S. government to use thinner steel and pump at higher pressures, saving the company as much as a $1 billion.
Furthermore, the Keystone XL pipeline, if permitted, would put many of the native people living in the northern part of the continent at risk, as pipelines have, in the past, poisoned their sources of food and water which in turn led to spikes in certain cancers and other ailments within their populations; moreover, it would threaten a vast swath of the High Plains Water Table, on which nearly 2 million Americans depend for drinking water (er, Homeland Security? Can you put down the blue rubber gloves for a moment and pay attention to some real, documented threats to our safety?) From Futurism Now:

The State Department considers pipelines carrying the world’s dirtiest oil into the United States to be matters of paramount national interest. To this administration, as with the last, pretty much everything can be a matter of national interest or national security when it is about oil. Bombing Libya was also a matter of “national interest” to Hillary Clinton, and so have been other dirty tar sands pipelines, like the Alberta Clipper pipeline that she approved, to be built in my state. These pipelines are also matters of eminent domain, because the government seizes privately owned land and builds the pipelines across them. Homeowners, land owners have no choice in the matter. All for some of the world’s worst oil representing the world’s worst environmental degradation in Canada.
So where do plans for this pipeline stand right now? A bill supporting it, the North American-Made Energy Security Act of 2011, is currently being circulated in draft form and will be aired publicly when the House Energy and Power Subcommittee convenes on Monday. From yesterday's Reuters feed:
WASHINGTON— Environmentalists understand why so many House Republicans are gung-ho about upping imports of oil mined from the tar sands of Western Canada.
What puzzles them is why Michigan Rep. Fred Upton has emerged as one of the cause's lead GOP cheerleaders. [...]

No doubt the former centrist's embrace of fossil fuels has tightened ever since he took charge of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee in January. Even though the Democrat-led Senate is less likely to back such a measure, Upton's grip is alarming to conservationists who know how much power his panel wields on Capitol Hill.

"What this bill is doing is perpetuating myths about the tar sands that the Alberta government, the Canadian government and the oil industry want us to believe," Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, an oil sands specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council told SolveClimate News in an interview. "It's a way for them to promote their own products at the expense and well-being of the American people."

And then, toward the end of the article, one encounters that omnipresent Cerberus of high-ranking power, political campaigns, and lobbyists' influence. Weep along with me for a brief moment, gentle readers, and then waste no time in contacting your Congresscritters:
Upton and his committee, it turns out, aren't the only ones prodding the State Department to meet a specific deadline.

After waiting five months for department officials to release possible communications between TransCanada chief lobbyist Paul Elliott and Clinton, four environmental and ethics organizations sued the State Department Wednesday.

TransCanada hired the native New Yorker as its government relations director more than two and a half years ago. He served as a presidential campaign manager for Clinton in 2008.

Earthjustice, a public interest law firm, is representing Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law and Corporate Ethics International in the lawsuit.

"This raises important questions of transparency and fairness," said Sarah Burt, an Earthjustice attorney. "If a decision to approve a transcontinental pipeline is made based on relationships and access to Clinton, while completely overlooking the significant environmental and public health dangers posed by the pipeline, the public needs to be aware of it."
To find your House reps, click here.

And please, sign the petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to deny approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

(H/T--and thanks--to my Mum)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

America's Worst Legislature? By a mile of rotting oranges, I'd say.

I've been having an interesting e-mail conversation with friends around the country, and the consensus so far is that Florida is definitely right up there (or down there, as it were), running neck-and-neck with Arizona for the honor of America's Worst Legislature. I am obviously biased, but I think we win this one. You have to admit, we've got some uniquely awful new stuff coming out of Tallahassee these days (and considering how much fun the tabloids and pundits have always had with Florida's general lunacy over the years, that's really saying something).

So far, in the Florida column, we've got:
Doctors will be prohibited from talking to patients about gun safety. Hey, a patient has the right to not hear about what a gun can do his, er, health and well-being.

BUT, a patient does not have the right to not hear about that which she is already well-aware of: "Hey, you're pregnant!" (or she wouldn't be seeking an abortion in the first place, but these are old white guys making the rules, and this is their sadistic idea of "logic"). In sum, doctors will be required by law to force women to submit to ultrasound imaging (sonograms) before abortions, even very early procedures and terminations induced via oral medication, which before the three month point means the ultrasound wand must be used vaginally. If it isn't clear already, let me point out that for a woman (or girl) who was raped and abused--and indeed may be seeking a termination as a result of said rape--this penetration would subject her to further trauma. Cruel and patently needless trauma. For SHAME, Florida.

AND...people who have the temerity to be poor and in need of access to Florida's miserly and wafer-thin safety net (aka "welfare") will be henceforth required to submit to drug testing via forced urinalysis. And pay for said testing themselves, up front. If your private bodily fluids are not acceptably drug-free for Rick Scott, no soup for you. Or your kids. (Stay away from poppyseed bagels and definitely hope and pray your submitted sample doesn't fall into that category the labs like to call "margin of error".) Oh, and you forfeit the money you spent on the drug test you were forced to take. Let them eat...what, exactly? Lab receipts?

No sex with animals. Hey, they're serious and they mean it.

(Next up: a proposed constitutional amendment to rework the species cladograms so as to give humans a brand new kingdom all our own. Ergo, Floridian biology classes will now teach kids about the three kingdoms: Plant, Animal, and now--brought to you by your friends at BP, Exxon Mobil, and Monsanto--a brand-new kingdom of creatures: Those Life-forms Who've Generally Fucked The Other Two.)

No already-several-years-out-of-fashion showing of the human bottom, or, as one legislator put it back in the day when they were busily banning thong bikinis on our beaches, "we must ban clothing that shows the anal cleft".

Somewhere out there in the cosmos, Charles Darwin is either weeping copiously or completely rethinking the notion of human brains being capable of evolving.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A poem for our day

The Hand That Signed The Paper

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.

-- Dylan Thomas

(H/T Minstrel Boy)

On balance

I am firmly against the death penalty, yet I am also keenly aware that not only could I kill someone in the defense of an innocent--or myself (a sometimes-innocent)--but also, that I would be deeply conflicted if I were to face an actual, flesh-and-bone version of the ethical quandary so often posed as a hypothetical to philosophy students: namely, Could you kill someone if (a) he or she was already shown, in no uncertain terms, to be a murderer AND (b) if it were proven, positively, that killing him or her would save many innocent lives in the future?

If I'm honest, I'll admit I don't know how to answer that. The death-penalty-qua-death-penalty situation affords a comfortable space between the lofty atmosphere of Deborah's ethics and the sometimes gritty concept of justice-not-delayed. However, if I am inserted into the equation in a real-world sense--if I must do the deed, if I am to be the executioner--it is nowhere near as simple.

And once again, I find that Mill smacks into Kant. Meanwhile, the faces of those potential innocents saved? They float before a mother's eyes like pale and disembodied dreams--partly remembered yet surely there.

I believe justice was served yesterday.


UPDATE: Roger Ebert feels likewise, and on Twitter, he invokes Walt Whitman:
I am against the Death Penalty. I rejoice that Bin Laden was killed. "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself." (Whitman)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

"These are the things I know are true": Journey of the Bonesetter's Daughter on PBS May 8

Watch the full episode. See more PBS Presents.

Congratulations to my friend Amy Tan on the success of an epic project: turning her bestselling novel The Bonesetter's Daughter into an opera.

Posted above is a preview of the "making-of" documentary, to be aired on PBS next Sunday, which promises to tell the story-within-the-story (the operatic within the opera?) I can't wait!

In 2005, I was fortunate to have traveled to New York for my birthday; that weekend, over Mallomars and coffee at Amy's kitchen table, I got to observe Amy and Stewart working on the opera during its early creative phase. The Bonesetter's Daughter, performed by the San Francisco Opera, opened in that city to glowing reviews in 2008.

I didn't make it to San Francisco that fall, alas. But New York is a much quicker hop--perhaps Broadway next year, Amy?!