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Pipelines vs. Trains

[ 65 ] January 21, 2014 |

As another oil train is dangling over a railroad bridge in Philadelphia, some wonder whether pipelines or trains are better for transporting oil. The answer from available evidence in the United States seems that the difference is fairly negligible.

Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.

The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.

But then:

The March 2013 Exxon Mobil Pegasus tar sands oil pipeline disaster in Mayflower, Arkansas that poisoned nearby wetlands and killed dozens of birds, turtles and snakes. Exxon has never provided a definitive total of how much oil spilled, estimating 210,000 to 294,000 gallons. Mayflower and its wildlife are still struggling to recover.

An 840,000 gallon oil pipeline rupture in North Dakota discovered last October, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to one news report, there have been hundreds of publicly unreported oil pipeline spills in North Dakota in the last two years.

A 27,000 gallon fuel leak in Utah last March that could’ve been much more disastrous if not for a beaver dam.

17,000 gallons of crude oil spilled by the Koch Pipeline Company in Texas last October.

In other words, transporting oil from Canadian tar sands is going to be terrible for the environment and public health of the United States whether it comes via pipeline or rail and both need to be opposed.

Scab Cereal

[ 82 ] January 21, 2014 |

Time to avoid Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, since Kellogg’s has locked out the workers making the cereal at its Memphis factory and instead bused in scabs through an Ohio unionbusting company.

Bradshaw says the lockout is part of a plan to make Kellogg union-free. “If we win in Memphis, they have to wait until the master contract expires to make these changes,” he said. “If we lose in Memphis, it’s going everywhere.

“Other companies are going to see it. General Mills has already called our international president and said, ‘What are you doing about Kellogg?’ He’s thinking if Kellogg can do it, they can, too.”

The Memphis lockout is only the latest step in a series of increasingly hostile anti-union moves by Kellogg globally. Management recently announced that two union plants in Australia and Canada will close this year, and production will move to non-union facilities.

Kellogg also recently shifted 58 million pounds per year of cereal production from Memphis to Mexico. Bradshaw said workers in Mexico are required to live in a housing compound near the factory and are bused to work. Some have been kidnapped by drug cartels.

In 1996, more than 800 people worked at the Memphis facility. Now it stands just above 200. Much of the work is automated.

Hardly surprising that a giant corporation like Kellogg’s is using capital mobility as a union-busting strategy. Capital mobility and the outsourcing of American jobs has done more than anything to undermine the middle class, making the working class ever more poor, and generate the enormous income inequality of the New Gilded Age.

Race and Richard Sherman

[ 375 ] January 21, 2014 |

A last point on Richard Sherman, from Greg Howard, who places the reaction to Sherman in the context of American racial tropes:

When you’re a public figure, there are rules. Here’s one: A public personality can be black, talented, or arrogant, but he can’t be any more than two of these traits at a time. It’s why antics and soundbites from guys like Brett Favre, Johnny Football and Bryce Harper seem almost hyper-American, capable of capturing the country’s imagination, but black superstars like Sherman, Floyd Mayweather, and Cam Newton are seen as polarizing, as selfish, as glory boys, as distasteful and perhaps offensive. It’s why we recoil at Kanye West’s rants, like when West, one of the greatest musical minds of our generation, had the audacity to publicly declare himself a genius (was this up for debate?), and partly why, over the six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, a noisy, obstreperous wing of the GOP has seemed perpetually on the cusp of calling him “uppity.” Barry Bonds at his peak was black, talented, and arrogant; he was a problem for America. Joe Louis was black, talented, and at least outwardly humble; he was “a credit to his race, the human race,” as Jimmy Cannon once wrote.

All this is based on the common, very American belief that black males must know their place, and more tellingly, that their place is somewhere different than that of whites. It’s been etched into our cultural fabric that to act as anything but a loud, yet harmless buffoon or an immensely powerful, yet humble servant is overstepping. It’s uppity. It is, as Fox Sports’s Kayla Knapp tweeted last night, petrifying.

What I find interesting about the debate is how some of the people criticizing Sherman, even on this blog, are reinforcing a whole history of racial discourse around black athletes and entertainers.

Zirin has similar points.

I also believe that Richard Sherman is on the same trajectory as Charles Barkley. Today one of sports’ most beloved media figures, it’s easy to forget just how loathed Barkley was during his career. There was the incident where he spat on a fan. There was the unnecessary elbow to the Angolan player during the 92 Olympics. His remarks that he wasn’t responsible to the public for his behavior because athletes shouldn’t be role models. But of course Barkley was incredibly smart and managed to transition into a media figure, almost without anyone expecting it. Sherman is much more self-conscious about his post-playing career and since he already has a regular column at Sports Illustrated and is very smart and charismatic himself, he’ll almost certainly be a talking head after retirement from the field.

…One more link. Andrew Hartman compares the reaction to Sherman to the reaction against 2 Live Crew in the late 80s.

Méliès Monday: The Conquest of the Pole

[ 5 ] January 20, 2014 |

Some late Georges Méliès this week, from 1912

Mapping Modern (Jenny) McCarthyism

[ 181 ] January 20, 2014 |

Drum leads us to this map of outbreaks of preventable disease.

Why the big uptick in cases of whooping cough, mumps, measles and other old-timey diseases in the United States? People not getting their kids vaccinated of course thanks to Jenny McCarthy and other crackpots who think they are consumers of medicine and thus can go online, read a bunch of stuff by whoever, and accept or reject whatever health guidelines doctors give them.


[ 71 ] January 20, 2014 |

On a day where we are celebrating MLK Day with a bunch of old white men complaining about the behavior of a young, brash black man in a football game last night, it’s worth reading the eminent historian Tom Sugrue on how King’s words are distorted today. Sugrue identifies 4 Kings in modern memory, each a distortion: Commemorative King, Therapeutic King, Conservative King, and Commodified King. Most of our readers are probably most interested in the Conservative King. But as someone who worked for awhile at the MLK national park in Atlanta, I’m most interested in the Commodified King because ever since 1968, King’s family has cashed in on his memory:

Finally, in perhaps the most American of twists, we have the commodified King — efforts in the last decade, largely spearheaded by the King family itself — to market the words and image of the Reverend King. In classic American fashion, Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a consumer good. King’s family has engaged in an aggressive effort to market the image of the Reverend King, including a multi-million dollar deal with Time Warner for the rights to King’s speeches, writings, and recordings. The King family sued to prevent companies from using King’s image on refrigerator magnets, switchblades, and on “I have a Dream” ice cream cones. But they quickly turned to their own business in King kitsch. In the mid-90s, the Reverend King’s son Dexter King, who administered the King estate, took a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of another King, “THE KING,” Elvis at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee to pick up some marketing lessons. Since the mid-1990s, King’s estate has authorized, among other things, commemorative pins for the Atlanta Summer Olympics with the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., porcelain statuettes of King, and, my favorite, checkbooks bearing King’s likeness.

American indeed.

The Republican Path to 270

[ 110 ] January 20, 2014 |

Yeah, yeah, it’s way too early. But with the Chris Christie implosion (primary or general, every anti-Christie spot is going to show a traffic jam. And really, if you want to make the average voter dislike you, tell them you made them sit in traffic for hours out of spite for a small town mayor) and the trend of the country, the path to 270 electoral votes for the Republicans in 2016 is a pretty tough one. Even with the open embrace of Jim Crow-esque voting restrictions in North Carolina, Texas, and other states, it’s going to be tough sledding. Sad, I know.

Why You Are Rooting for the Seahawks

[ 174 ] January 19, 2014 |

Sure, some of you might want to root for Denver. But then realize that you would be on the same side as John Podhoretz, who just tweeted this about Richard Sherman:

Classy as always!

I think this is an appropriate rebuttal:

Yeah, that’ll do.

I’m just going to assume that all Broncos fans are also fans of John Podhoretz, including my brother, who is the most obnoxious Broncos fan ever. This is going to be the greatest most epic Super Bowl of all time, with bragging rights that will last until we die.

[SL] My personal favorite:

Similar sentiments to JPod’s collected here.

The True Meaning of Freedom

[ 145 ] January 18, 2014 |

The true meaning of freedom is Freedom Industries declaring bankruptcy immediately after its chemical spill made water unsafe for 300,000 West Virginia residents.

Freedom owes $3.6 million to its top 20 unsecured creditors, according to bankruptcy documents. The company also owes more than $2.4 million in unpaid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and the IRS has placed at least three liens on Freedom’s property, demanding payment.

The unpaid taxes date back to at least 2000, according to a lien filed in 2010.

Under the bankruptcy code, Chapter 11 permits a company to reorganize and continue operating.

The filing also puts a hold on all of the lawsuits filed against Freedom Industries. Since the leak last week, about a mile and a half upriver from West Virginia Water American’s plant in Charleston, about 25 lawsuits have been filed against Freedom in Kanawha Circuit Court. The company also faces a federal lawsuit.

That’s a neat trick, filing bankruptcy at the same time that locals are filing suit against you because of your actions. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. But then doing the same is so easy for everyday people, filing bankruptcy to get out of devastating student loan debt for instance, that it’s really only fair that we extend the same right to corporations….. But then the coal industry has always expressed nothing but respect for the people of West Virginia.

Capital Mobility and Transnational Exploitation

[ 60 ] January 18, 2014 |

David Bacon’s The Right to Stay Home is high on my reading list. Demonstrating the profound impact of NAFTA on both the United States and Mexico, it shows how NAFTA allowed American corporations to go into Mexico, buy up land and evict farmers, create a new pool of cheap labor for American companies in both the US and Mexico that forced Mexican farmers to migrate against their wills, and use immigration authorities as its own union-busting force when that labor begins to unionize.

To illustrate how NAFTA worked in practice, Bacon explains how a Smithfield Foods subsidiary used NAFTA’s land reform laws. The company scooped up land in Veracruz to open a massive mechanized hog-raising facility, driving small local pork producers out of business. Those displaced small farmers then filled the recruiting buses to go work at Smithfield’s packinghouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

Undocumented immigrants were shipped in partly to break a union campaign. When they said “enough is enough” and joined the union drive, Smithfield colluded with ICE to terrorize the workforce. Ultimately, the union drive won, but at tremendous cost: firings, fear, deportations, resentment among the different communities.

The union organizing in Tar Heel mirrored a community effort in Veracruz to limit the growth of the Smithfield subsidiary—in particular because of its toxic waste that destroyed the water table, causing kidney infections and forcing communities to depend on bottled water. The community won an agreement that the company would not expand further.

In another example, further south in Oaxaca, mining corporations gobbled up farmers’ land—also using NAFTA provisions—and poisoned the environment with toxic wastes. They provided a few jobs at above-average wages, but dried up many more.

These are the processes I am talking about in my own forthcoming book on the effects of capital mobility. Capitalism unbound by national borders and with the support of corrupt elite classes around the world undermines both labor and environmental rights and regulations everywhere with no consequences for their actions. These are the complex forces we have to fight against. Even when you have meaningful and difficult to achieve transnational progressive alliances, the forces of capital combined with the forces of capitalists’ client states make real wins few and far between. Probably nothing suggests the power of capital mobility than food and food policy, where free trade agreements create not only new markets for rich world corporations but by forcing people off the land through either direct eviction or more commonly undermining their economic stability, they then create a labor force for their own operations around the world. It’s win-win for corporations and lose-lose for most of the world’s workers.

Biomass is a Terrible Idea as a Major Energy Source

[ 185 ] January 17, 2014 |

You might think corn-based ethanol is the worst possible “green energy” alternative. And I’d like to think you are right. After all, turning the entire Midwest into a giant corn monoculture and destroying the remnants of a once fertile ecosystem in order to force an inefficient and dirty way to create ethanol on a nation all because of an already powerful industry with a huge lobbying arm is a pretty bloody awful idea.

But then there’s biomass. And sure, efficient use of plant resources makes sense. After all, the timber industry realized by the 1940s that rather than wasting all that sawdust and stumpage, turning it into wood alcohol or other products was a smart economic strategy that ultimately meant needing to cut less trees for the same amount of product. But biomass as a core alternative energy source? Only if you like massive deforestation.

In 2007, the European Union set an ambitious goal to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. That, in effect, required power plants across the continent to quickly find new ways to make energy. Some turned to wind and solar. But for coal-fired power plants it was much cheaper to convert their facilities to burn wood. The conundrum for those companies is that much of western Europe doesn’t have sufficiently large forests left to meet the demand, and the remaining woodland is heavily regulated. So corporations turned to the Southeastern U.S., where wood is plentiful, and regulations about what can be done on private land are lax.

Wood pellet manufacturing in the U.S. is now booming.

Drax, Britain’s largest coal plant, is in the process of converting most of its operations to biomass fuel, and other power plants across the continent are following suit.

In 2008 Europe imported about 2.5 million tons of wood pellets. By 2012 it imported 9 million. And by 2020 it’s projected to import upwards of 20 million tons, largely from the United States and Canada, according to John Bingham of Hawkins Wright, a British forest products consultancy.


Quaranda said his group has documented several cases of forests clear-cut for biomass fuel. A Wall Street Journal report also found clear-cutting in North Carolina.

Seth Ginther, a lawyer with the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, insists the pellet industry is not responsible for environmental damage. But he acknowledged that private landowners are free to do what they wish, including cut down whole trees on their land.

And in the South, where nearly 90 percent of land is privately owned, there is no law on the books requiring landowners to grow those trees back.

Dozens of biomass facilities have been built in the South. There are currently two in Louisiana, with eight more planned, according to Quaranda.

With a permit to build roads for logging in a protected area of the Atchafalaya pending approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, Dean Wilson worries he’s just seen the beginning of a decades-long battle to protect the woods he’s been looking after since the 1980s.

Now Wilson is trying to employ the same tactic he used when he found out retailers were selling cypress mulch taken from the Atchafalaya.

Biomass as a major industry basically means the elimination of the United States’ private forests. It would provide a lot of short term profit for companies and land-owners and unbelievably enormous long-term problems, including the destruction of ecosystems, huge losses of carbon-using greenery, erosion, degraded water quality, and widespread deforestation. And if anyone believes the idea that trees are a crop and thus will be replanted for future use, especially on private land, please contact me about the oceanfront property I have to offer you in western Nebraska. The regulatory regime on reforestation, especially in the South is basically zero.

Industrialized biomass is a terrible idea and while we need a multifaceted energy production future and while all energy production has a cost, this cost is completely unacceptable.

Climate Coverage

[ 98 ] January 17, 2014 |

It’s no wonder that we are doing nothing on climate change given that it gets almost no coverage in the national media. And it’s not like climate change is the most important problem faced by humans or anything.

Climate change got more coverage on broadcast news in 2013 than in the previous few years, but the issue still didn’t get nearly as much attention as it did in 2009, Media Matters found in a new analysis.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox together featured more coverage in 2013 than they did in 2012. The amount of airtime granted to climate change on both the Sunday shows and the nightly news was up, too — to a total of 27 minutes, and an hour and 42 minutes, respectively, for the entire year. The progressive media watchdog group Media Matters totaled the time broadcasters devoted to climate change for a new report released Thursday.

Up to 27 minutes on the Sunday shows! Well then! Surely John McCain must have something to say about this. And interviewing 2 climate scientists on the major networks over the last 5 years seems like 2 too many. James Inhofe really should have enough to say without them, plus his beliefs support America.

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