Category: Corruption

Texas/Mexico pipeline opposition builds in Big Bend country

No pipeline
Click to enlargePhotograph/Tom Dart

Thorny mesquite branches scratched the sides of James Spriggs’ battered old Chevrolet truck as he drove the rutted pathway from his house towards other, less natural, spiky objects.

On his 4,400-acre ranch there are deer, quail, jackrabbits, roadrunners, dragonflies and even the occasional eagle or mountain lion. And there are wooden stakes indicating the route of a natural gas pipeline that will slice through his property against his wishes.

“They stand out, kind of out of the ordinary, when the light’s correct on them,” he said, picking up a stake that lay flat beneath a small tree. Since their discovery, Spriggs and others have made it their mission to protest a proposal that would be routine almost anywhere else in the state.

Many moved to Big Bend because it is spiritually and physically unlike much of the rest of Texas, which long ago kowtowed to the boom-and-bust thrust of Big Oil, with all its possibilities and problems.

Some 426,000 miles of pipelines already crisscross Texas, acting as the cardiovascular system of the state’s thriving economy. Only one large area is untouched, but that is about to change – unless a diverse group of citizens can prevail in an underdog fight against billionaires, anemic regulators and new economic realities…

The oil industry may be squirming because of the low price of crude, but natural gas pipelines are sprouting as a response to soaring demand in Mexico and legal changes there in 2014 that make it easier for foreign exporters to sell the fruits of the Texas fracking boom…

The Trans-Pecos pipeline is a partnership between companies controlled by billionaires: Mexico’s Carlos Slim, reportedly the world’s second-richest man, and Kelcy Warren, head of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which in February welcomed former Texas governor and failed Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to its board of directors.

They hope that construction will start in the first quarter of next year and in 2017 the 42-inch pipeline will transport 1.4bn cubic feet of natural gas per day from a processing plant near Fort Stockton to the border, where the line will go under the Rio Grande and connect with Mexican infrastructure.

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Pic of the day

Gun-toting nutballs at an Islamic Community Centre in Phoenix, AZ

On October 9 and 10, a group calling itself the Global Rally for Humanity plans anti-Islam rallies nationwide. It’s a stunning display of prejudice against Muslims.

Find the terrorists in the photo. Hint: They’re the only ones with guns.

The US “leads” the solar energy revolution by laying off solar energy researchers

On Monday, Oct. 5, Stuart Farrell had planned to take the morning off from his job as a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., after being awake all night taking care of his sick 2-year-old son. But at 10:30 a.m., he received a call asking him to come in for an 11:30 meeting…

Farrell, who had worked in solar energy research at the laboratory for two and a half years, was one of 15 solar research staff members laid off that day due to federal funding cuts, according to NREL public affairs manager George Douglas. And another 40 to 60 staff members are expected to be lost through a voluntary separation program that the lab will initiate on Oct. 12.

Almost all of the researchers already laid off were involved in “next generation,” or long-term, solar research, Douglas said. Farrell’s work, for instance, involved research on improving the efficiency of cadmium telluride solar cells.

It’s the latest sign of a trend that experts say is undermining U.S. efforts to promote alternative energy: Federal funding for solar energy research has declined steadily over the past several years, despite emphasis from the Obama administration on continued investment in research and development of clean energy technologies. These cuts have affected the federal solar program at large, not just solar research at NREL…

“NREL is actually one of the smallest of the national laboratories, and I think it’s been one that has had one of the largest impacts of any of the national laboratories,” said Al Compaan, president and CTO of Lucintech, a company involved in the development of photovoltaic modules. “I’m particularly pained to see any further cuts in funding [to NREL].” For instance, support from NREL was integral to the success of photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar, which Compaan referred to as “one of the bright shining stars in the success of federal government support for solar energy.”…

Yet the budget appropriations have fallen short of the requests over the past few years, and applied research, particularly on long-term, forward-looking technologies like the project Farrell was involved with at NREL, has been one of the areas to suffer. The reasons for the funding cuts could be tied to budget sequestration, or limits on the size of the federal budget, which can force spending cuts in certain areas in order to bring the total budget down…

Despite these reductions, solar energy itself has continued to expand and contribute to decarbonization in the U.S., at least partly thanks to the importation of solar modules from other nations, particularly China. The U.S. market share in photovoltaic manufacturing has dropped significantly since the late 90s, and China has become the major source of module shipments over the past five years…

Jobs, jobs, jobs – the mantra of political hacks from both parties. But, as long as the government is run by an amalgamation of reactionaries and cowards the inevitability of change continues to be driven by the nations with a real dedication to alternative energy.

President Obama can blather all he wants at press conferences celebrating his joint energy and environment agreements with President Xi. At the rate we’re going the only American jobs flowing from the solar revolution will be as installers. Manufacturing for domestic consumption – much less export – will continue to diminish in a nation that would rather dedicate research to new and exciting weapons of mass destruction.

Our politicians take Americans another step backwards – bowing to the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel empire.

Air Force clinic fires technician accused of being a witch

Groucho got it right

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is representing a former Air Force contractor who says she was fired from a dental clinic at Fort Meade, Maryland, after complaining that her co-workers discriminated against her because she was Hindu. She claims they then accused her of being a witch.

Group founder and president Mikey Weinstein wrote in a letter to officials: “We have spoken with witnesses at the clinic under your command who have universally confirmed that, not only did this horrid harassment take place, but ever since the execution of her punishment for failing the religious test imposed by the leadership of Epes Dental Clinic, a particular offending party has effusively celebrated her replacement by a Catholic woman by saying publicly that ‘It’s good to see we got an angel, since last time we had the devil.’”

The alleged harassment violates a “vast sea” of Defense Department and Air Force directives as well as the U.S. Constitution, Weinstein writes.

“The No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution absolutely forbids the exact same type of practices which are so commonplace under your command in the brazen establishment of evangelical Christianity as the only approved solution for religious belief in the 579th D[ental] S[quadron] of the Epes Dental Clinic at Fort Meade…”

Reached by Air Force Times, Deborah Schoenfeld said that her co-workers at the Epes Dental Clinic harassed her over her Hindu faith, claiming she was satanic for wanting to practice yoga and meditating.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two of her former co-workers confirmed Schoenfeld’s account to Air Force Times and said that other employees at the dental clinic are devoutly Christian and deeply suspicious of Hinduism. One of them confirmed that she was referred to as a “Hindu witch.”

One co-worker, who Schoenfeld said prayed for her to find Jesus, told her that meditation summons demons, adding that “all the soldiers who are doing meditation and yoga to help their PTSD, they are getting infected also,” Schoenfeld said.

When her requests for help through the chain of command went nowhere, she filed a formal complaint on Sept. 2, Schoenfeld said. That day, she was fired for allegedly using profanity against a co-worker, although she was not allowed to know who had accused her of doing so…

As it is so often in the United States, “defending religious liberty” means supporting only the advocacy of Christianity, evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity to the exclusion of all other belief systems religious or secular.

Hypocrisy and bigotry come along for the ride.

EU court ruling says US privacy protection sucks

The Atlantic Ocean just got a little wider. The European Court of Justice’s latest ruling has determined that the US “does not afford an adequate level of protection of personal data”.

The case brought against Facebook over the potential for US government snooping on European citizens’ data, throws the differences in internet culture into stark relief. But those differences have been growing for some time.

Also reflecting comparable difference between thoughtful Americans and corporate/government hacks.

Until Tuesday, it had been US companies – principally Google and Facebook – that had been driving the wedge in. In 2012 Google enraged European privacy regulators by declaring that it would unite data from its different services, mashing different privacy agreements into one. (The row is still going on.)

Then in 2014 the European Court of Justice declared that Google, as a “data processor” was covered by the data protection principles, and so must remove links about people from its search index that were “outdated, incorrect or irrelevant” (though with exceptions for public figures). Google has implemented the so-called “right to be forgotten” more or less, but the ruling infuriated many in the US…

Now the ECJ has ruled again, and once more highlighted the gulf in attitudes either side of the pond. “Safe harbour” ostensibly means that a European citizen’s personal data being processed by a US company on US-based computers is under the same protections as if it were still in Europe on a European-owned system. But the ECJ says it doesn’t protect that data from US government snooping – and so cannot be allowed.

The problem with safe harbour is that the US government now treats any data on computers of US-owned companies anywhere in the world as fair game for examination. Microsoft, in fact, is vigorously appealing a court case won (in the US) by the US government, which asserts that it has the right to access data held in one of the company’s Irish data centres. Safe harbour applied, in theory, to US companies but not to the US government; now the edifice has come crashing down…

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, commented: “In the face of the Snowden revelations, it is clear that safe harbour is not worth the paper its written on. We need a new agreement that will protect EU citizens from mass surveillance by the NSA.”…

In the longer term, the bigger problem will be the gap that is opening between the US and Europe. Privacy policies with teeth, the “right to be forgotten”, the desire to keep data inside Europe – all are at odds with the US’s treatment of data, which is more cavalier…Will Europe act as the example for the US to follow? History suggests not – which means the cultural gap is going to get wider.

I have to agree with Charles Arthur’s conclusions. The battle standard has been raised in the US by many organizations and individuals, even a few corporations – notably Apple. The rest of the tech industry will be guided by the almighty dollar and that may be aid and comfort to the rest of us.

Uncle Sugar may want to maintain a self-appointed right to snoop on everyone on Earth – while whining about cyber-spying. The ultimate in hypocrisy. But, just like the fiasco we went through in early days of global online communications – government prohibitions banning the sale of ordinary office software to keep those Dangerous Furriners from stealing our secrets :) – the paranoia of American politicians will end up limiting profits of American companies more than anything else. That won’t be allowed to last.

The TPP Free-Trade Charade

This was published just before the “resolution” of negotiations. What changed? Details of how we’re screwed.

As negotiators and ministers from the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries meet in Atlanta in an effort to finalize the details of the sweeping new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), some sober analysis is warranted. The biggest regional trade and investment agreement in history is not what it seems.

You will hear much about the importance of the TPP for “free trade.” The reality is that this is an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies. Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about “free” trade

For starters, consider what the agreement would do to expand intellectual property rights for big pharmaceutical companies, as we learned from leaked versions of the negotiating text. Economic research clearly shows the argument that such intellectual property rights promote research to be weak at best. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary: When the Supreme Court invalidated Myriad’s patent on the BRCA gene, it led to a burst of innovation that resulted in better tests at lower costs. Indeed, provisions in the TPP would restrain open competition and raise prices for consumers in the US and around the world – anathema to free trade…

Similarly, consider how the US hopes to use the TPP to manage trade for the tobacco industry. For decades, US-based tobacco companies have used foreign investor adjudication mechanisms created by agreements like the TPP to fight regulations intended to curb the public-health scourge of smoking. Under these investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems, foreign investors gain new rights to sue national governments in binding private arbitration for regulations they see as diminishing the expected profitability of their investments…

To be sure, investors – wherever they call home – deserve protection from expropriation or discriminatory regulations. But ISDS goes much further: The obligation to compensate investors for losses of expected profits can and has been applied even where rules are nondiscriminatory and profits are made from causing public harm…

Imagine what would have happened if these provisions had been in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered. Rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens. Taxpayers would have been hit twice – first to pay for the health damage caused by asbestos, and then to compensate manufacturers for their lost profits when the government stepped in to regulate a dangerous product.

It should surprise no one that America’s international agreements produce managed rather than free trade. That is what happens when the policymaking process is closed to non-business stakeholders – not to mention the people’s elected representatives in Congress.

That presumes, of course, that our Congress is up to performing required due diligence on behalf of American workers and their families. Something I still need to be convinced of.