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Will We Ever Get Change if We Keep Electing People Who Represent Special Interests?

By: letsgetitdone Friday March 6, 2015 10:03 am

We can see the positioning and the messaging on the Democratic side beginning to take shape for the 2016 elections. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with nods to Thomas Piketty and various economists have stepped forward to offer the themes of salvation for the middle class, moderating the extremes of inequality in American society, and doing something real about jobs and wages.

Clinton World seems to be responding, not yet with forthright statements from Hillary Clinton, but recently with articles by stalwarts of neoliberal Clintonism (and veterans of the Obama Administration) such as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, expressing concerns about inequality and proposing measures to alleviate it, even including increased taxation on the wealthy.

It is likely that such statements are harbingers of what Hillary Clinton will run on when she begins to talk more broadly about issues that concern those with both economic insecurities and pronounced economic need, and to make promises about how she and the Democrats will bring change and blunt the power of Wall Street to continue to increase inequality and concentrate more and more wealth in the hands of a decreasing number of people. Clinton world it seems, will try to sell the idea that Hillary’s the one we can trust to do the job of restoring democracy in the United States and it will reinforce that claim with statements from “advisers” Summers, Orszag, Gene Sperling, John Podesta, and I’m sure eventually Jack Lew, designed to show that they are in the forefront of the battle for greater economic equality, and that since they will likely be part of Hillary Clinton’s economic team, she will be getting the right advice to do something about the inequality problem during the eight years (they hope) of her coming two terms as president.

How are we to feel about this obvious attempt to create a narrative associated with Clinton World that will counter the concerns about extreme inequality expressed by Sanders and Warren? Well, forgive me if I view these recent conversions to concern about inequality as less than authentic. First, all the people mentioned are professional and very long-term participants in the maelstrom of the system of political influence in Washington, DC. They thrive in that maelstrom by sensing the rise and fall of popular issues and adapting themselves to what seems to be the politically correct positioning on these issues and by trying to frame their messaging to benefit the people they serve and hope to serve.

It would perhaps be too much for me to say that they believe in nothing but access to power, since I know none of them and cannot read their minds. But it does seem to me that since all have been a part of the Clinton/Wall Street/Obama axis, have supported many of the important policies and Administrative measures that have exacerbated inequality, been hugely responsible for the increasing inequality characteristic of the past two decades, and increased their own personal wealth as a result, that a healthy dose of skepticism about their willingness to really do anything about inequality is in order.

When we add to this, that President Obama promised change to the voters too, appointed these very people to help to implement it, and then received advice from them that produced continued whippings, but this time with scorpions, one’s mind just screams: “do not trust these people and do not for a moment believe a thing that say.” Let us ask instead:

– Do they state concrete and explicit goals such as full employment, at least enhanced Medicare for All, at least a federally-funded job guarantee at a living wage, at least enforcement of the laws against banksters and fraudsters who brought the economy to its knees and who still commit frauds daily, and at least the ending of the carbon-based economy that is fueling climate change?

– Do they tell us how they will do the things they advocate for while they still call for the increasingly small deficits, or even surpluses, they have advocated for in the past?

– Are they ready now to advocate for the very large deficits that will be necessary to deliver full employment, a robust economy, and real prosperity to the American people?

– Do they understand and tell us that creating and maintaining full employment will require running deficits the size of both the trade deficit, and the private sector surplus consistent with the savings desires of people and non-government organizations combined?

And, if the answer is that they don’t say things like this, then why should we even begin to trust what they say? And, if we consider that when we vote for a presidential candidate we are voting to elect not only she or he, but also the team of people she or he wants by their side who they intend to rely on during their presidency, then why should should we trust she or he to implement a concerted and successful program to reduce inequality?

To put this another way, do we really think that people who have always represented the interests of the few, the 1%, will suddenly start to implement policies favoring the 99% if they get into power once again? Do we really think that advisers such as those I’ve named, working for a candidate like Hillary Clinton who never seems to have met a Wall Street contributor she didn’t like, will produce change in the form of reduced inequality or even economic gains for the 99%? Do we really think that she and her advisers will cease to represent special interests and the 1%? Tell me another one, please!

It is time to end this cycle of failure of the American political system, and we will never end it if we keep electing people who, along with their top advisers represent special interests. So, what we need to do now is to consider it a disqualification for candidate/adviser teams to have served in previous Administrations that have failed the 99% by passing measures that have increased inequality and failed to create full employment. Since that includes every Administration for a very long time, in effect, I am proposing a clean sweep of Washington, DC of those who have served in previous administrations or are closely identified with either Clinton World or Bush World.

Let us look for and find entirely new people to govern our country. Let us demand that all political parties recruit competent candidates for office who have not made the mistakes of the past. Let us not above all, continue to reward failure and poor performance by investing our trust in people who are responsible for the sorry state in which we find ourselves and our, increasingly, failed democracy.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

 

Boston Bombing News: Opening Statements

By: jane24 Friday March 6, 2015 9:30 am

Opening statements in the case of US v Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took place on Wednesday, 4th. March at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. A particularly prominent presence of both law enforcement and media was obvious outside the courthouse but I saw no sign of any protestors or demonstrators other than one man holding a small sign declaring the death penalty to be murder.

On this occasion I did not gain access to courtroom 9 where proceedings were being held but was directed to courtroom 22 where I was able to take a seat in the front row directly in front of the television monitor. It has been reported elsewhere that courtroom 9 was largely occupied by “Tsarnaev fangirls” but a member of the court staff told me that in fact this courtroom was largely occupied by victims of the bombing and their families. Overflow rooms were also available in courtroom 20 and the jury assembly room on the first floor.

Judge O’Toole entered the courtroom at around 9.20 am and immediately denied motions 1080, 1103, (filed under seal), and 1108, (4th. motion for change of venue.) This was followed by a ten minute sidebar during which sound was turned off in the overflow rooms and we were informed that music would be played in courtroom 9 to ensure the conversation between the judge and attorneys was not overheard.

Immediately after the sidebar Judge O’Toole granted the prosecution’s motion to exclude mitigating evidence from the guilt phase of the trial.

The jury entered the courtroom at 9.35 am and Judge O’Toole  inquired as to whether they had avoided speaking with the media and others in regard to the case. He appeared satisfied with their assurances that this was so and moved on to outline the charges against the defendant, the course proceedings in this case will take and to caution the jurors that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is to be presumed innocent until such time as the government proves him otherwise.

Opening statements began with William Weinreb speaking for the prosecution. (As transcripts of the opening statements have now been released I will post links to these transcripts rather than typing my own notes. Unfortunately due to some technical difficulties in posting this report I will have to post these links at the first comment on the following thread. My apologies for any inconvenience this may cause readers.)

Weinreb’s opening statements not only outlined the charges against Tsarnaev and the course of events, according to the government, before, during and after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, but also sought to incite hatred for the defendant in emphasizing the government’s contention that Tsarnaev deliberately chose to place a bomb in close proximity to children and was fully aware of the carnage which would result from the detonation of such a device.

The murder of Officer Sean Collier was referenced and although it was admitted that surveillance video believed to show the perpetrators of this crime is in fact inconclusive, Weinreb claimed that the government can link Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the murder by way of ballistics and also forensics due to a glove allegedly found in Tsarnaev’s Honda which had Officer Collier’s blood on it. A witness who claims to have made eye contact with a man he saw leaning into Collier’s police cruiser was  mentioned.

Much was made of the fact that the government are apparently in possession of the defendant buying milk soon after the bombings took place and was used to infer indifference to the suffering of the victims of the bombing. For this reason I do believe that the government intends to aggressively pursue the death penalty in this case.

Judy Clarke made opening statements for the defense. She began by acknowledging the tragedy which was the bombing of the Boston Marathon and expressed her empathy for the victims and the Boston community and in doing so described the crimes committed as “incomprehensible” and “unforgivable.” This tactic surprised many including myself but undoubtedly got the attention of the jury and my perception was that Clarke’s initial statements persuaded the jury, and indeed those attending to listen to her and afforded her much credibility.

Clarke described Dzhokhar’s brother, Tamerlan, as having been “obsessed with violent Islamic extremism” and asserted that it was Tamerlan who planned the bombing and purchased the materials to manufacture the bombs detonated at the Marathon in 2013. She went on to state that it was Tamerlan who pointed a gun at Dun Meng, (“Danny”), and shot Officer Collier.

It has been reported that Clarke said, “he did it”, in reference to her client. She did not. What she actually said was that “it was him.” This comment was made in acknowledgement that her client, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was in fact present at the Boston Marathon, the murder of Collier, the car-jacking of Dun Meng and his Mercedes and at the Watertown “shoot-out.” A photograph of a very young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with his older brother was then shown to the court and Clarke spoke of the differences between the prosecution’s version and the defense’s version of “how we got from here to where we are today.” ( I do believe that this will be of great interest to all of us.)

Judge O’Toole scheduled a 15 minute break at 11.05 am and when proceedings began again, actually at 11.35 am, witnesses for the prosecution were called to testify. The first of these witnesses was Thomas Grilk who was a member of the Boston Athletic Association, (now retired), and described the organization and history of the marathon.

Grilk was the only witness for the government to be cross examined by the defense when Miriam Conrad asked him if he prepared the diagram of a section of Boyleston Street shown to the court and what he had meant in affirming to the prosecution that he believed this diagram to be “to scale.” Grilk said that he had not prepared the diagram personally and that in affirming that he believed said diagram to be “to scale” he had simply meant that “it looked about right.” (Obviously there is some relevance attached to these questions.)

Grilk was followed by Shane O’Hara who was manager of “Marathon Sports” at the time of the bombing. He described his experiences that day.

A hour’s lunch break was scheduled at 1.00 pm and when court reconvened it was explained that sound was to be suppressed during a section of one of the videos of the aftermath of the bombing about to be shown to the court. No reason was given as to why.

During the remainder of the afternoon testimony was heard from Coulten Kilgore, Rebbecca Gregory, Sydney Corcoran and Karen McWaters. (Formerly Rand .) All of these witnesses were injured in the bombing and had friends and/or family members who were injured in the bombing and described their experiences at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Their testimony was accompanied by exhibits in the form of videos and photographs. Most of these exhibits had not been seen by the public previously and all were graphic and disturbing in the extreme. Some, fortunately, were redacted due to their very graphic nature. Court was adjourned at 4.05 pm.

Despite Judy Clarke’s admission of her client’s presence at the Boston Marathon, the murder of Collier, the car-jacking and the Watertown shootout I would like to remind all who have followed this case that the “holes” in the government’s narrative and unlikelihoods we have observed remain as yet unexplained. The color of Dzhokhar’s backpack and the detonation site of the second bomb are but two obvious examples. Have deals been struck to possibly exclude some testimony or evidence in this case, perhaps in the interests of “national security”? Is all the “evidence” wholly credible? Whilst I am aware that many will disagree with me I personally believe this may be so. For this reason we should all remain vigilant.

 

 

Health care law did not end discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions.

By: Kay Tillow Friday March 6, 2015 8:08 am

Demonstration at Humana corporate headquarters, Louisville, KY

In 2010 the giant health insurance company WellPoint created an algorithm that searched its database, located breast cancer patients, and targeted them for cancellation of their policies.

A few years earlier Michael Moore’s stunning documentary, “Sicko,” showed an unending list of illnesses that had been used by insurers to refuse to sell people policies, to charge them much more, or to deny payment for “pre-existing conditions.”

The public became acutely aware of these harmful, widespread practices and sharply condemned them.  So it was not by chance that this insistent popular support resulted in inclusion of a ban on these practices in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was passed in 2010.

The government website explains.  “Your insurance company can’t turn you down or charge you more because of your pre-existing health or medical condition like asthma, back pain, diabetes, or cancer.  Once you have insurance, they can’t refuse to cover treatment for your pre-existing condition.”

Even some Republicans who are trying to repeal the ACA insist that they stand for keeping a provision against such discrimination.  “We would protect people with existing conditions,” say Reps. Paul Ryan, John Kline, and Fred Upton.

Regardless of opinions on mandates or the health reform law in general, the entire nation embraced the part of the legislation that outlawed discrimination on the basis of illness.

So we’ve won, right, at least this much reform?  Sadly, no.

Last July, over 300 patient advocacy groups wrote to Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, to express their concerns.  “…(W)e are increasingly aware of evidence that new enrollees, especially those with chronic health conditions, are still facing barriers to care,” the letter said.

The groups that signed the letter are well known.  They include the American Lung Association, Epilepsy Foundation, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, National Alliance on Mental Illness, The Parkinson’s Association, Easter Seals, and the AIDS Institute.  They praised the ACA for helping many of their members to finally get coverage.  All of these groups supported the ACA prior to its passage and still do.

The letter urges action against discriminatory benefit designs that limit access for patients that were subjected to pre-existing conditions restrictions prior to the ACA.  They spell it out.  Some plans do not include all the drugs prescribed for enrollees.  Some plans don’t cover critical medications including combination therapies.  Plans can remove medications during the plan year.  Some plans are restricting access to drugs by requiring prior authorization, step therapy, and quantity limits.  The network of physicians and hospitals in some plans is so narrow as to deny patients the specialty care needed.  Much of the information needed for patients to choose the most appropriate plan is not available.

The letter details the damage.  High cost sharing means patients don’t get the drugs they need.  Some plans sold on the exchanges require patients to pay 30, 40 or 50% for drugs that go for several thousand dollars a month.  HIV drugs, certain cancer medications, and multiple sclerosis drugs are among them.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found exchange plans in several states that charged patients with blood cancer as much as 50% co-insurance rates.

Charis Hill, a biking enthusiast from Sacramento, California, counted on the medication Enbrel to keep her moving despite her diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis.  But then the cost went up to $2,000, far more than she could afford.  “Insurance companies are basically singling out certain conditions by placing some medications on high-cost tiers,” Ms. Hill said.  She called it “pretty blatant discrimination.”

Julie Davis, a young wife and mother of two from Louisville, Kentucky, is struggling with the consequences of this failure to end the discrimination.  Her epilepsy medication, Keppra, that had kept her stable and seizure free suddenly skyrocketed from $60 per month co-pay to $1,200.  The high price forced her to change medications in spite of the professional judgment of her physician.  The seizures returned.  With the problem not yet solved, Ms. Davis has written an Op Ed and testified before the Kentucky Senate Health and Welfare Committee.  She and her organization, the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana, are publicizing the injustice and working to pass state legislation to cap drug co-pays in Kentucky.

HIV/AIDS patients have had to struggle to obtain the drugs crucial to their survival.  Carl Schmid, Deputy Executive Director of the AIDS Institute, asserted that “limited benefit coverage, cost-sharing for medications that can reach as high as 50%, and lack of transparency…mean many patients…are not receiving the care and medications they need.”

Even the insurance commissioner of the state of Washington, Mike Kreidler, said “there is no question” that “discrimination is creeping back.”

After spelling out the many ways in which patients with chronic conditions are denied access to medications and specialists, the letter concludes:  “We believe these practices are highly discriminatory against patients with chronic health conditions and may, in fact, violate the ACA non-discrimination provisions.”

On October 27, 2014, Secretary Burwell responded to the letter.  She said they would take a look at all of the issues and work to make it better for the future.

The dialog between Burwell and the patient advocacy groups continues.  The advocacy groups urge a crackdown on the companies that continue to discriminate.

As of February, 2015, a study by Avalere Health found that some exchange plans place all drugs used to treat complex diseases – such as HIV, cancer, and multiple sclerosis – on the highest cost-sharing tier.  In 2015 an even higher number of the plans in the exchanges have placed drugs necessary for special conditions on tiers out of reach for patients.   “In spite of the pushback, it’s getting worse, not better,” said Don McCanne, MD, Physicians for a National Health Program policy expert.

When patients can see that their medication is not covered or is far too expensive, they will avoid those plans.  That will allow those insurers to “lemon drop,” to keep those who have expensive chronic conditions out of their plans.  The impact is the same as underwriting and rescission.  Good for profits, bad for patients.

Insurance companies have more tricks than wily coyote.  Their power at the center of our profit-based health care system leaves them in position to defy the law and call the shots.  With most of the enforcement left to understaffed state regulators and violations ubiquitous, we can expect the insurance companies to continue to avoid the sick, to price care beyond their reach, and to find ways to refuse payment.

No other nation in the industrialized world allows insurance companies to run their health care system.  Discrimination is inherent in for-profit health care.  The United States has tried every solution that the insurance companies and their paid experts can devise.  It’s now time to admit that to end the discrimination we must move to single payer public financing that frees our health care from the control of the insurance and drug industries.

 

All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676

Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care

Asking If the House of Cards Is Realistic Is the Wrong Question

By: spocko Tuesday March 3, 2015 8:21 pm

Sunday Night on Virtually Speaking Digby and I talked about the Leonard Nimoy’s passing and how fiction and fictional characters can shape people’s attitudes.  (podcast link here.)

Today some friends who work in the world of politics were discussing House of Cards. Some loved it, some hated it.  I don’t really move in those specific circles so before the discussion I wanted to know, “Is it realistic?”
A professional musician friend asked,

Does anyone really expect a TV show about politics to be a more realistic representation of that life and that process than the Monkees represented a life of trying to make it as a young band in theirs?

This seems like such an obvious point I realized that I was NOT asking the question that the producers and writers of the show were asking themselves, which is, “Is it entertaining?

Last night I watched a movie called “Harmontown” about the creator of Community, Dan Harmon. He talked about his deep desire to entertain people. He craved the satisfaction he got knowing his writing made people laugh, smile or feel better.

I watch a lot of fiction on tv. I also read a lot of fiction. I sometimes forget that my attitudes are shaped by people whose goal is to entertain.

If people think that it’s a “message movie” it will often turn them off. “I don’t want people to ram their message down my throat!” they say, even if they might agree with the message. When the question, “Is it entertaining?” is answered first, any message it might also have slides in more subtly and perhaps more effectively.

A message that writers of TV and movies have been sending for a long time is torture is effective. On tv and movies they show it is effective in getting non-false, new information in a short time.  They show the threat of torture is effective. It has become so ingrained in our thinking that when confronted with the reality of torture, reality is questioned, not the fiction.

The fiction that we see in our movies and TV shows are designed to be entertaining. Torture, and the threat of torture, serve the needs of the writers in these cases. It can make the story more dramatic, horrifying, gruesome, sexy and even funny. Its use serves a major goal of fiction, entertainment.

Torture’s use can move the story forward, show character traits, tap into viewer or readers empathy or fear.

When the Senate report on torture came out showing that actionable intelligence was not obtained by torture, it seemed to go against what we knew from fiction or what we read and heard about from the “real” world and “the dark side” that Cheney talked about.

This “non-fiction” about torture is coming from a media that gets their info from an entire group of people in the CIA whose job it was to push the lie that torture got them intel.

Interestingly for some media, torture not working goes against their “common sense.” A sense based on school yard experience and low tolerance for pain.

“I would totally spill the beans if I was tortured!” They might say. This assumes they knew about the beans in the first place.

“I would torture if we needed that bomb location.” They would say on their TV show. This assumes the person they are torturing knows the bomb location, is just like us and not someone who would rather die than “spill the beans.”

So the question is, if fiction better mirrored the reality of torture, would it still be entertaining? I don’t mean fun or likable, but entertaining in its broadest sense.

I haven’t seen American Sniper, but I understand that it is an entertaining movie. I think about another entertaining film from Clint Eastwood, one that had a killer as a lead character. A movie that helped change attitudes toward a fictional character we believed we knew.

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.

Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

The fictional movies and TV shows that flip the idea of a “heroic torturer” and effectiveness of torture on its head might be out there, but they aren’t coming through with the same power as other fictions.

If these ideas do start showing up in our fiction, I believe the writers can make them as useful to their stories as their previous ideas on torture, and just as entertaining.

Republican Outrage at Democratic Personal Attacks

By: Synoia Tuesday March 3, 2015 7:59 pm

Republicans in Congress are united at denouncing the latest democratic attack on Republicans.

A statement from Speaker Buhner’s Office reads:

Democrats are using Onomatopoeia, alliteration, and bathos to attack prosaic yet grammarless Republicans. We believe this new attack slanders Republicans and especially mocks the Republican Tea Party base. This use of satire and humor is beyond all tenets of civilized debate, and we believe this foul behavior could even lead to a severe and continued attack of sarcasm.

Mining & Fracking World Whirl: 3 Mar 2015

By: KateCA Tuesday March 3, 2015 3:01 pm

Our sun over the past five years.

*Worldwide.  Destroying the world that feeds us:  shellfish are now threatened.   Ocean acidification (OA) is increasing as the oceans try to absorb all the carbon we produce, thus endangering much ocean life.  Most vulnerable US coastal areas affected are identified, along with OA “drivers and amplifiers” and how to reduce them.

*USA.  Go youth! Teens and young adults are turning to courts for help in combatting climate change.  “‘Every suit and every administrative petition filed in every state in the country and against the federal government asks . . . for the government . . . to bring down carbon emissions . . .  necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.”  Good videos.

*USA.  The bad news:  half of “the U.S.’s lakes, rivers and streams are unsafe” due to pollution.  The good news:  Americans submitted over 800,000 public comments in support of Clean Water Act provisions covering small waterways.  The challenge: Keeping Americans’ message about clean water front and center as big corps spend $$$s to ensure continued dumping of “206 million pounds of toxic materials” into those waterways annually.   Table shows 10 top polluters, the toxic tonnage released and how much they spend to keep at it.

*USA.  What timing.  “Two days before contract negotiations are schedule to resume between Royal Dutch Shell and the United Steelworkers’ oil union, the company announced plans to run its second-largest U.S. refinery without union labor.”

*USA.  While the US should produce about 9.27 million barrels per day of crude oil this year,  can US refineries process all of it?  Prolly not, since most are “configured for sour, high-sulfur imports from the Middle East.”  And the solution is . . . ?  Well, apparently not to stash it somewhere until later, since the US “is running out of places to put it”, indicating “even lower . . . prices . . . in the coming months.”

*USA33 oil rigs down by the end of last week, a decrease of 39% “since October, an unprecedented retreat.”  Do note, though, that “new efficiencies in U.S. drilling and pumping may make raw numbers of rigs . . . misleading.”  Accompanying chart is very interesting.

*USA.  Here they are: The 1998 Climate Change Denial Team, courtesy of Big Oil.  Who they are, what they did and where they are now, including a couple who apparently paid attention to evidence and subsequently moved on.

*USA.  Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) responds to the Senator with the Snowball.

*AK.  The Iñupiat village of Kivalino  must be moved since the thick sea ice that protected the 400 inhabitants has thinned dangerously.  No action, however:  the people have no funds for the relocation and Republicans in  Congress won’t appropriate funds to help.

*AK.  Tractor trailer “lost traction” in the ice and snow, overturned, releasing 3000 – 4000 gallons of diesel on the Dalton Highway.

*AK.  Fight over two natural gas pipelines from the North Slope,  the larger one  being built by the state and oil producers and the smaller one built solely by the state.  Gov. Bill Walker (I) wants the smaller one (bringing gas to Alaskans) to be on par with the larger one (taking gas to ports). House Speaker Mike Chenault (R) is opposed.

*CA.  It gets worse.  Kern County water “officials . . . discovered that oil producers have been dumping chemical-laden wastewater into hundreds of unlined pits that are operating without proper permits.”  300 “previously unidentified waste sites” identified thus far.

*CA.  And worse:  officials don’t know “who put the chemical-laden water [in those Kern County wastepits nor] how to remediate any potential environmental damage.”  Oh, but they’re working on it.

*CA.  Persistent drought translates into no federal water deliveries for 100s of farmers this year.

*FL.  Places like Miami are considering water pumping stations (cost around $32 million for Miami) to prevent sinking.  Water could rise 24” around Miami by 2060.

*Gulf Coast.  Heckuva run-down of what BP has avoided paying for the Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent damage.

*MT.  Sioux and Assiniboine tribes at Fort Peck are now officially opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline.  Reservation drinking water is a primary concern.

*ND.  Apartment rents have dropped by as much as 20% in Williston, center of the Bakken oil fracking boom, in response to “the plunge in crude oil prices”.

*ND.  The Bakken oil field boom has produced a meth and heroin boom in the MHA Nation (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara).  It’s such a scary mess, with ties to Central American gangs,  that “the three tribes flew Guatemalan gang experts” in late last year to instruct local law enforcement.  The FBI is setting up an office nearby.

*NE.  A York County judge “issued a temporary order to stop” land seizures by TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline.  Another stop order is in effect in Holt County.  TransCanada says it’ll halt other eminent domain actions until several pending lawsuits are resolved.

*NE.  Why are conservatives, usually vociferously defending private property, so silent about TransCanada seizing people’s land through eminent domain for the Keystone Xl pipeline?

*NJ.  “A long-fought legal battle to recover $8.9 billion in damages from Exxon Mobil Corporation for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in northern New Jersey has been quietly settled by the state for around $250 million.”  Update:  According to this source, Christie inserted his substantial self into the matter and it concluded right quick like, and at the much smaller amount.  Rachel’s on it.

*NV.  There’s now a $60 million agreement concluding the 25-year effort to obtain guaranteed water rights for the Shoshone-Paiute Duck Valley Reservation.

*NY.  Ira Rennert, worth some $6 billion, will have to cough up $118 million to pay for damages after a jury found he took money from now-defunct MagCorp magnesium mining company and used it to build a humongous house for himself in the Hamptons (which Kurt Vonnegut Jr. lampooned).

*VA.  “Since 1970, the sea level has risen eight inches in Norfolk.  By 2030, scientists expect the sea to rise another six inches.”

*WA.  All “Ayes” on the Vancouver City Council to extend its moratorium on crude oil facilities.

*WI.  Gogebic Taconite is now going to abandon their “huge and controversial [iron ore] mine in northern Wisconsin”.  They came roaring in, promising “jobs and $2.2 billion in investment.”  Their spokesman now has a nice new job in state government, courtesy of Gov. Scott Walker (R).

*WI.  Much demand for Wisconsin sand, with “thousands of acres now in mines”. What happens once the sand is all gone; what about negative air quality contributing to cardiovascular and pulmonary problems?  This is Scott Walker country where monitoring for sand mine pollutant PM 2.5 is not done.

*WI.  Gov. Scott Walker (R) to slash funding for state parks, land conservation, fish protection, recycling, removing road-kill deer, and also for “preventing manure and other materials from running off the land and polluting state waters.”

*WY.  Rejoice, children of Wyoming:  the legislature has passed a bill “that would allow the state board of education to consider the Next Generation Science Standards, which acknowledge man-made climate change.”

*Canada/Mexico.  Was Excellon Resources (Canadian mining company) aided by the Canadian Embassy in Mexico in achieving “high level connections that led to violent repression against” protesters?

*Canada.   Oil prices are half what they used to be, tar-sands oil companies have backed off new investments and are “axing jobs by the thousands”, the Canadian dollar is down, there’s a projected C$2.3 billion deficit, and Justin Trudeau is looking pretty good.  Stay tuned.

*Colombia.  The “newly elected president [of Colombia’s constitutional court is] accused . . . of having sought a $200,000 bribe . . . “ so Fidupetrol oil company wouldn’t have to pay $9 million in fines.

*Chile.  Hmmmm. “Chile isn’t as friendly a jurisdiction [toward miners] as it once was.”  Barrick Gold Corp. even had to suspend  work on a “massive” project in 2013 after aboriginal communities complained about violations of environmental standards. Pity.

*France.  A pipe in its oldest nuclear power plant developed a problem Saturday, so the entire facility is shut down.

*Poland.  Farmers protesting “GMO infiltration and land grabs by biotech and Big Ag corporations . . . blocked roadways and . . . [held] numerous demonstrations”.

*Greece.  Eldorado Gold Corp’s plan for a mine in Greece has been blocked, “prompting a furious response”.  Elections do have consequences.

*Russia.  Bad news.  That huge (100-ft diameter) sinkhole that appeared suddenly in Siberia has “unusually high concentrations of methane”.   Russia’s gas fields are nearby.

*South Africa. Great relief:  all 486 workers trapped by a fire in Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine have been safely rescued.

*Dubai.  From a new report for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi  “. . . renewables will be an established and significant part of the future energy mix . . . globally.”  Renewables will considerably lower energy costs and intense carbon generation.  More; check it out.

*Iran.  “Iran will be facing water shortage next year”.  Rainfall down 18%, “cross-country water flow” down 50% and snow down 40%.

*Japan.  Fukushima nuclear plant has leaked radioactive water since last May—and Tepco kept it quiet.

*Antarctica.  Big melt “going way faster than anyone [(scientist)] had thought.”  Very worrying.

Who’s A Bigger Threat To Your Freedom, ISIS Or The Federal Government?

By: Lloyd Chapman Tuesday March 3, 2015 10:18 am

I don’t know about most Americans, but I’m much more concerned about the NSA than I am ISIS.

You hear lot of talk about “freedom not being free” and young soldiers dying for freedom. I’m genuinely confused about what people are talking about. I’m not aware of any of my freedoms that are being threatened by ISIS or any other terrorist group.

You’re a thousand times more likely to be killed by a bee sting or a shark attack than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack.

The only freedoms I have lost during my lifetime were taken away by the federal government.

My freedom to carry a gun in my car when I go on a long trip has been taken away even though the second amendment gives me the right to bear arms. My ability to privately send an email, make a phone call or send a friend a text message has been taken away. The NSA has taken that freedom away from me and all my communications are tracked, recorded and permanently stored.  

I saw a story the other day where the Justice Department is now tracking our license plate numbers by using the network of traffic cameras around the country. Now your freedom to travel around without the federal government monitoring you has been taken away.

The revelations of Eric Snowden exposed the fact the federal government is tracking everything we say and do and everywhere we go. If I uncover federal employees committing fraud, violating federal law or violating the constitution, I don’t have the freedom to report that to the media without the fear of retaliation from the Justice Department or the IRS. The Obama Administration’s War on Whistleblowers has been well documented.

Government employees and private citizens that have exposed blatant violations to the constitution have faced harsh retribution by the federal government. If you uncover fraud or corruption by any branch of government you might find yourself the target of a predawn FBI raid on your home or a retaliatory IRS audit.

We have lost our freedom to see how our government operates. It has been widely reported the Obama Administration is the least transparent administration in history. I found that out first hand. Using the Freedom of Information Act I requested some seemingly benign government data on small business subcontracting. I have been in federal court for months because I simply asked for the government documents that would indicate what Pentagon prime contractor Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation’s small business subcontracting goal is. When a Federal District Court judge ruled in my favor the Office of Solicitor General intervened and now I’m on m way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just to obtain small business subcontracting data. Federal Judge William even accused the Pentagon of trying to “cover up” the data I was seeking. He also accused them of trying to “suppress the evidence”.

My freedom to search the Internet without the federal government knowing every website I view has been taken away.

I’m sure there are a number of other examples of freedoms we all used to enjoy that have now been taken away by the federal government.

What’s next? America is starting to resemble science fictions movies about the future where an oppressive and corrupt government rules the land.

I may be in the minority here but I would rather worry about terrorist attacks than to have the federal government monitoring my phone calls, emails, text messages and tracking my every move.

Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

I think he was right.

Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic Nightmares

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday March 3, 2015 10:11 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

If Sarah Palin were president, we’d know just what it was: a drill-baby-drill administration.  Of course, there’s no mama grizzly in the White House, yet these last years have been a grizzly tale of the expansion of American oil and natural gas exploration and drilling from the fracking fields of Texas and North Dakota to the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico.  Most recently, the southern Atlantic seaboard, where there are an estimated untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas, was provisionally opened for future exploration and drilling.  So keep in mind that it wasn’t under Palin’s tutelage but Barack Obama’s that the United States experienced its staggering resurgence in the oil and gas sweepstakes, turning itself into “Saudi America.”

The math, which this president undoubtedly knows well, isn’t that complicated.  According to climate change scientists, of all the fossil fuel reserves believed to be left on the planet — and the ability of oil companies to successfully tap ever more extreme deposits has been a regular surprise in these years — scientists estimate that 80% must remain underground to prevent a planetary disaster.  And yet, it seems that ever fewer waters off ever fewer American coasts are now sacrosanct.  Back in the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama criticized his opponent, John McCain, for pushing the expansion of offshore drilling.  “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines… When I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium.”  And he was right that to expand significantly into coastal waters is indeed dangerous.  Sooner or later, it ensures more BP-style Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophes, as well as the everyday cumulative disasters that, as marine biologist Carl Safina has written, simply come with oil company exploration and extraction efforts.

It’s true that a 2011 moratorium on new drilling and lease sales off the West Coast remains in place until 2018, but in addition to the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic, the most forbidding and dangerous waters off any American coast — those in the Arctic — are again in play.  You would think that this would be an open-and-shut no-go case for reasons that Subhankar Banerjee, leading Arctic photographer, environmentalist, and author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, lays out vividly today. (Back in 2003, a show of his photos on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History was scandalously all but cancelled at a moment when the Bush administration was eager to open that pristine wilderness area to exploitation.)

If you’re talking about extracting extreme fossil fuels from an incredibly rich environment that is utterly treacherous and would be the single most obvious reserve on the planet to simply keep in the ground, this has to be the place.  And yet the president has long shown a special interest in those Arctic waters and Royal Dutch Shell’s urge to drill in them.  Now, at a time that would seem inauspicious as well as unappealing, given the glut of new American oil on the market (and falling oil prices), the Obama administration, despite a recent bow to Arctic preservation, stands at the edge of once again green-lighting a Shell foray into Arctic waters. You explain it. Tom

To Drill or Not to Drill, That Is the Question
The Obama Administration, Shell, and the Fate of the Arctic Ocean
by Subhankar Banerjee

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

The problem, however, is that the major oil company Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and that could, in the long term, spell doom for one of the last great, relatively untouched oceanic environments on the planet. Let me explain why Shell’s drilling ambitions are so dangerous. Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.

You might have heard aboutthe sixth extinction,” the way at this moment species are blinking off at a historically unprecedented rate. The Arctic seas of Alaska, however, still are sanctuaries not only for tens of thousands of whales, but also hundreds of thousands of walruses and seals, millions of birds, thousands of polar bears, and innumerable fish from more than one hundred species, not to mention all the uncharismatic sub-sea life that eludes our eyes but makes up the food web — phytoplankton, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers, to name only a few. Think of the Arctic Ocean as among the last remaining marine ecological paradises on the planet.

Now for that oil. Looking for it in Arctic waters happens to be the most dangerous form of drilling imaginable, because no proven technology exists that could clean up a major oil spill in distant ice-choked seas in the cold and dark, under one of the harshest environments on Earth. Even during the brief “summer” open-water season, ice floes remain a constant threat as Shell found out in 2012 when one of its drill ships encountered a floe the size of Manhattan and was forced to disconnect from its seafloor anchor and temporarily halt its operations. Deep fog severely restricts visibility. Storms are not exceptions but the norm, and are becoming more frequent and violent in a rapidly warming region.

I’ve spent much time in the Arctic and, believe me, it’s a forbidding environment for outsiders.  In late September, as summer gives way to autumn, ice begins to form in the seas and darkness descends. Any spill that occurs late in the brief potential drilling season would remain untouched and unattended to until the ice melted the following summer. But even if such a blowout occurred in summer, there is no infrastructure in place to respond to a disaster. The nearest Coast Guard station is more than 1,000 miles away.  And keep in mind that a disaster of this sort would not remain conveniently contained in the Arctic. As a recent U.S. National Research Council study on responding to an Arctic offshore oil spill puts it, “The risk of an oil spill in the Arctic presents hazards for the Arctic nations and their neighbors.”

Add to this potential nightmare scenario another little fact: Shell has garnered a well-deserved reputation as “the company with the spottiest Arctic record.” In September 2012, it initiated exploration drilling in U.S. Arctic waters with a conditional permit from the Obama administration, only to end a disastrous year in which one of its two drill rigs, the Kulluk, was grounded in the Gulf of Alaska on New Year’s Eve. The other ship, Noble Discoverer, suffered damage after catching fire, while both were fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act, and the contractor Noble Drilling pleaded guilty in 2014 to all eight felony charges leveled against it for environmental violations and agreed to ante up $12.2 million in fines and community service payments. Because of the damage to its rigs, Shell was forced to give up its 2013 drilling plans. A court ruling in January 2014 in favor of local Iñupiat tribes and environmentalists forced the company not to drill that summer either.

Since then, the price of oil has plunged, sending a shock wave across the oil industry and deep-sixing all sorts of prospective plans planet-wide to drill in Arctic waters: Norway’s Statoil shelved its 2015 drilling plan in the Barents Sea off that country’s northern coast and handed back the three leases it had purchased in the Baffin Bay off the west coast of Greenland. Chevron put its plan to drill in Canada’s Beaufort Sea on indefinite hold. Following the Ukraine crisis and American sanctions on Russia, ExxonMobil was prohibited from working with the oil company Rosneft on a joint plan to drill in the Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic. Even had those sanctions not been in place, the low price of oil would have made such exploration a far less appetizing prospect for the moment.

“It is up to Shell then to keep the oil industry’s Arctic dreams alive,” one journalist suggested and indeed, on January 29th, that company announced that, after a two-year hiatus, it would drill this summer in the Chukchi Sea. Two weeks later, the Obama administration issued its final supplemental environmental impact statement on the site where the drilling would take place, the controversial Chukchi Lease Sale 193, bringing Shell’s plan one step closer to reality.

But before considering the politics of oil drilling there, let’s take a little dive into the Arctic Ocean and the history of its exploitation.

Who Owns the Arctic Ocean?

For more than four centuries, western nations have regarded the Arctic Ocean as an economic treasure chest. The oil harvested from Arctic whales helped fuel the economies of countries in Europe and North America and drove the magnificent bowhead whale to near extinction.

In February 1880, the future creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, then a 20-year-old medical student, interrupted his studies for a six-month voyage on the Arctic whaler, Hope, as the ship’s surgeon. From his diary we learn that the drive to profit trumped any concern about the possible extinction of the bowhead, or Greenland, whale.  “Price tends to rise steadily for the number of the creatures is diminishing,” he wrote, “probably not more than 300 of them left alive in the whole expanse of the Greenland seas.” On another day, he added that, “[T]he creatures…own those unsailed seas.” Of course, those seas were anything but “unsailed” as commercial ships were plying them to harvest whales, so consider that instead Doyle’s euphoric expression of how it felt to him to see the life in that ocean.

Today, to the extent that seas can be “owned,” governments own them and are selling pieces off to the highest bidders — oil companies. Ownership or territorial control for commercial exploitation is, however, only one side of the story of the Arctic Ocean. The magnificent and complex ecology of the northern seas is now being altered by three human-caused phenomena: climate change, ocean acidification, and pollution.

Arctic sea ice is vanishing at an astonishing rate thanks to climate change, which is having devastating impacts on the region’s polar bears and walruses. In the southern Beaufort Sea of Alaska and Arctic Canada, the polar bear population declined by 40% between 2001 and 2010. Meanwhile, in six of the last eight years, tens of thousands of Pacific walruses have hauled themselves out onto barrier islands and tundra along the Chukchi Sea because there was no sea ice left for them to rest on. Onshore, walruses are far from their food sources and young walruses are particularly susceptible to being trampled to death by the adults in the colony.

Commercial whaling in the region, which started in 1848, ended by about 1921, when petroleum supplanted whale oil as the fuel of choice. With no industrial activity in those waters for more than half a century, the bowhead population slowly began to recover. Whales don’t depend on sea ice the way polar bears and walruses do, so in 2011 the bowhead population in the U.S. Arctic was estimated at almost 17,000 and is increasing by 3.7% per year.

The half-century of commercial calm in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas ended, however, in the late 1970s, when oil exploration began. By the early 1990s, the expensive hunt for oil in Arctic seas had largely failed and almost all leases were relinquished. The second wave of U.S. Arctic offshore oil and gas exploration only started when George W. Bush took office. Between 2003 and 2008 leases were sold on more than three million acres in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, while generating substantial controversy and court challenges from the tribal Iñupiat peoples and environmental groups. The persistence of this resistance to drilling, along with the recent price collapse, has marked the second boom-and-bust cycle in Arctic exploration.  The French company Total, for instance, simply walked away from the U.S. Arctic in 2012 pointing out that offshore drilling there could lead to a “disaster,” and other companies have put exploration on indefinite hold — but not Shell.

Inevitability and Rush

Historically, government-sponsored research on the U.S. Arctic has been driven not by that hallmark of science, curiosity, but by the desire to drill for oil and gas — by, that is, two impulses that are quite unscientific in nature. The first is an oil-company-inculcated urge to transform the decision to drill into a sense of inevitability and the second is an oil-company-sponsored urge to rush the process.

In fact, according to the National Research Council oil spill response study, systematic data collection in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas only began in the late 1970s — in other words, just as the first wave of Arctic offshore oil exploration was revving up. Onshore, the situation was the same: the initial comprehensive study of the flora and fauna of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge only took place in the mid-1980s, after the Reagan administration made a push to open it up to development — and (irony of ironies) the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was what saved the refuge from industrial exploitation.

While there have only been sporadic studies of the marine environments in question since then, no comprehensive benchmark study for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas has ever been done; nor is there any thorough understanding of how the marine food web works in those seas, or of the population sizes and distribution of any but the sentinel species (whales, polar bears, walruses, and seals). Even the data on them is considered “not reliable or precise enough to examine trends, evaluate influences from climate change, or estimate population-level damage in the event of an oil spill,” according to the National Research Council study.

The first benchmark study of the Hanna Shoal, one of the most biologically productive spots in the Chukchi Sea, only began in early August 2012. At the end of that month, the Obama administration gave Shell a conditional permit to begin drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. In other words, Arctic science hasn’t been guiding public policy, but rushing to catch up with the extractivist agenda of Big Oil.

Under the circumstances and given the perils of such extreme drilling in such an environment, what’s curious is the rush to inevitability exhibited by two successive administrations. And despite the recent collapse of oil prices, which makes such Arctic drilling prohibitively expensive and unprofitable, it hasn’t ended yet.  On January 27th, the White House noted a conservation decision it had made with this reassuring headline at its website: “President Obama Protects Untouched Marine Wilderness in Alaska.” The president had indeed withdrawn 9.8 million acres of U.S. Arctic waters, including Hanna Shoal, from future oil and gas lease sales.  Just over two weeks later, however, the administration also issued the final supplemental environmental impact statement for Chukchi Lease Sale 193, which includes blocks of Arctic waters adjacent to and upstream from Hanna Shoal. In such waters generally, “protection” is an exaggeration in any case because, as one senior scientist from the Hanna Shoal study team put it in 2012, “anything that goes in the water at the drill sites may end up in this very productive region.”

Keeping Arctic Resources Underground

The leases the Bush administration sold in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, Lease Sale 193 among them, generated substantial controversy and met with legal challenges.  A coalition of native Alaskan and environmental organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the leases, the government’s inadequate gathering of baseline scientific data, and its unwillingness to appropriately assess what a potential blowout would mean to the ecology of the regions and the life of indigenous cultures there.

As it turned out, the plaintiffs won twice, first in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska in 2010, and then in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2014. Following that ruling, the Department of Interior finally went back to the drawing board and, on October 31, 2014, released a new draft supplemental environmental impact statement that acknowledged some of the ecological realities of drilling in Arctic seas.  It suggested that there would be a 75% chance of one or more large oil spills (more than 1,000 barrels) if serious drilling began there and that any such spill could have catastrophic ecological consequences. The public comment period on the draft ended on December 22nd.

Nonetheless, this February, the Obama administration issued the final impact statement for Lease Sale 193 and sent the process forward. The Interior Department had by then taken less than two months, including the Christmas holiday season, to consider the more than 400,000 public comments it had received. “The analysis was rushed to cater to Shell’s desire to drill this summer,” Leah Donahey, Arctic Ocean senior campaign director with the Alaska Wilderness League, told me over the phone. Iñupiaq elder and conservationist Rosemary Ahtuangaruak emailed me this: “We are faced with a plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean — Our Ocean, Our Garden, Our Future. With a clean ocean we have our traditions and culture, and our life, health, and safety. We risk all of it with this decision.”

The question, of course, should be: in a country that has, in recent years, opened so many new drilling vistas from the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico, creating what energy experts now call “Saudi America,” why is there still such a rush to industrialize the Arctic Ocean? Shell has a long history of trying to establish itself as a leader in Arctic exploration and drilling, and despite the inauspicious global situation for expensive forms of drilling, continues to push the process as fast as it can.

This, too, has long been the case.  In the fall of 2010, for instance, the company launched a “We have the technology, let’s go” multi-million-dollar ad campaign to pressure the Obama administration to green-light the necessary permits for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.  In 2012, having gotten the necessary permits, it had a thoroughly disastrous drilling season, proving beyond a doubt that it did not “have the technology” to deal with the far North. Knowing that, and knowing as well that there is no proven technology for cleaning up a major oil spill in the ice-choked, forbidding, mostly dark environment of the Arctic seas, Shell is nonetheless back again.

As part of an ongoing competition among the major oil companies, Shell is clearly trying to establish itself as quickly as possible as the dominant player in Arctic offshore drilling, just as BP did in the Gulf of Mexico — with results that we remember well from the Deepwater Horizon blowout of 2010. Nonetheless, the Gulf looks like Club Med compared to the Arctic.  To let Shell drill in the Chukchi Sea when the price of oil is low and its profits slumping would be a rash act indeed, given that a company under pressure elsewhere has a tendency to cut costs and compromise safety. Shell has already set a precedent. In 2012, the company’s decision to avoid Alaskan taxes resulted in moving its drill ship Kulluk from Alaska to Washington, only to see it grounded along the way.

Some things can be counted on like the sun setting in the West.  In the extreme environment of the Arctic seas, a devastating oil spill is one of them if exploration is allowed to continue.  The Obama administration, having just opened the southeastern Atlantic Coast to large-scale future oil exploration and drilling, is now poised to let Shell turn America’s Arctic waters into a disaster area.  That it will happen sooner or later is a given should the company proceed.  That Washington is still considering letting Shell do it anyway should amaze us all.

The final decision about whether to “end or affirm” the Chukchi Sea oil leases will be made on March 20th. Shell still needs approval on several permits before it can head north. The Obama administration cannot approve these permits until Lease Sale 193 is finalized. This may have contributed to the administration’s rushed analysis of that impact statement.

In January, the prestigious science journal Nature published a study adding one more obvious factor to an already grim equation.  The development of oil and gas resources in the Arctic would, it wrote, be “incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 degrees centigrade.” In other words, at a moment when the planet is experiencing an oil glut, it’s possible that the Obama administration will add yet another potential source of extreme oil to the list of future sources of the greenhouse warming of this planet.

Think of drilling in the Arctic as a future catastrophe in a single enticing package.  In April, the United States takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council.  If it decides to let Shell proceed, how will it present itself to the rest of the Arctic nation states, the indigenous Arctic nations and organizations, and the rest of us?  Will it be as the Arctic driller-in-chief, the planet’s warmer-in-chief, or a country committed to climate change mitigation and the conservation of biotic life and indigenous cultures in the midst of the sixth great extinction event in the Earth’s history?

Subhankar Banerjee’s most recent book is Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. His Arctic photographs are currently on display in two exhibitions at the Nottingham Contemporary in the United Kingdom and at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Ontario, Canada. He has been deeply involved with the native tribes of the Arctic in trying to prevent the destruction of Arctic lands and seas.

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Copyright 2015 Subhankar Banerjee