Daily Archive: 06/26/2012

Jun 26 2012

Black Gold

Shell gears up for new Arctic quest

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Houston Chronicle

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Valdez, about 800 miles from Shell’s planned Arctic wells, the company has spent weeks training recruits how to deploy inflatable booms to corral floating crude so skimmers can suck it up.



But while federal regulators have approved Shell’s broad drilling plans and signed off on the company’s emergency plans for the region, the technology for sopping up spilled oil hasn’t been tested publicly in U.S. Arctic waters in 12 years, and the results weren’t encouraging.

During that earlier test, skimmers failed and floating ice slipped under booms meant to corral crude.

Shell tries to contain skepticism in Arctic

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Houston Chronicle

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shell’s sizable armada doesn’t carry enough equipment to satisfy environmentalists who argue that existing technology can sop up only a small percentage of spilled crude, even from calm, warm seas. They warn that the equipment’s success rate might be worse in the Arctic, especially if waters are slushy or covered in ice.

Federal regulators have approved Shell’s oil spill response plans for the region, which describe a scenario for recovering 95 percent of the oil spilled. It would use an under-water containment system including a capping stack – an array of valves and other equipment that would be lowered to the ocean floor to plug a gushing well – along with skimmers, booms, chemical dispersants and burn-off of floating crude.

Mike LeVine, the Pacific senior counsel for the conservation group Oceana, scoffed at the 95 percent target.

He noted that only 8 percent of the oil was removed after the Exxon Valdez spill and 10 percent from spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The idea they could somehow magically get to 10 times that seems absurd to us,” LeVine said.

Oil Trades Below $80 for a Third Day on Economic Outlook

By Sherry Su and Ben Sharples, Bloomberg News

Jun 25, 2012 7:58 AM ET

Oil traded below $80 a barrel for a third day in New York amid concern that Europe’s debt crisis will curb demand for fuels.

Futures slid as much as 1.2 percent as George Soros warned that a failure by European Union leaders meeting this week to produce drastic measures could spell the demise of the bloc’s shared currency. Developed economies are running into the limits of monetary policy, the Bank for International Settlements said in its annual report yesterday. Oil earlier rose as much as 1.2 percent after Tropical Storm Debby approached oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The outlook for oil remains negative while concerns remain about the economic outlook in Europe weigh on demand,” Michael Hewson, a London-based analyst at CMC Markets, which handles about $240 million a day in U.S. crude contracts, said today in an e-mail. “Investors remain skeptical that EU leaders will be able to agree on anything tangible to alleviate the current crisis.”

TransCanada wins 1 of 3 US nods for Keystone line

Reuters

Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:07am IST

CALGARY, Alberta, June 26 (Reuters) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted TransCanada Corp one of three permits it needs to build the $2.3 billion southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project President Barack Obama had pledged to move forward quickly.



The southern section would carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude to Texas refineries from the glutted Cushing, Oklahoma, storage hub with the aims of helping to raise deeply discounted prices and providing the region more secure oil supplies.

My emphasis.

Jun 26 2012

Antonin Scalia Cites Southern Slave Laws

In his dissenting opinion on the Arizona v. United States, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia went on a politically motivated rant that was directed at President Obama’s directive that would allow 800,000 undocumented immigrants who are under 30 came here as children to legally remain in the US. Not only was Scalia’s partisan political rant an embarrassment for the Court, it was factually wrong and racist.

First the facts that Scalia misrepresented and skewed. The Justice made this statement (pdf):

After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants under the age of 30. If an individual unlawfully present in the United States

   “• came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

   “• has continuously resided in the United States for at least five years . . . ,

   “• is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education develop­ment certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran . . . ,

   “• has not been convicted of a [serious crime]; and

   “• is not above the age of thirty,” . . . .

   The husbanding of scarce enforcement resources can hardly be the justification for this, since the considerable administrative cost of conduct­ing as many as 1.4 million background checks, and ruling on the biennial requests for dispensation that the nonen­forcement program envisions, will necessarily be deducted from immigration enforcement.

Part of the President’s reasoning for this order is the fact that congress has failed to provide the the $285 billion cost of deporting every illegal immigrant currently in the US and decided to use the limited resources available by focusing on undocumented immigrants who commit serious offenses and shifting resources away from college students and veterans. Scalia’s math is a bit off by some 600,000 more immigrants than is estimated to be affected by the President’s new policy.

Now to the really egregious racist spew that relied on racist Post Civil War laws that prohibited freed slaves from moving into Southern States:

Notwithstanding “[t]he myth of an era of unrestricted immigration” in the first 100 years of the Republic, the States enacted numerous laws restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted crimi­nals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks. State laws not only provided for the removal of unwanted immigrants but also imposed penalties on unlawfully present aliens and those who aided their immigration

This is comes on the heels of Scalia’s defense of tortute, his dismissal of the execution of innocent people at the hands of the states and his homophobia and his inability to distinguish legal arguments from political talking points

Scalia doesn’t seem to care that in his dotage he is sounding increasingly unhinged and more and more like a right wing talk radio host. Even Chief Justice Roberts should be embarrassed by this racist bile. If Scalia can’t control himself, he should be removed from the Court, if he doesn’t have the good sense to remove himself into retirement.  

Jun 26 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial: Citizens United

The Supreme Court examined the Arizona immigration law in minute detail, but when it came to revisiting the damage caused by its own handiwork in the 2010 Citizens United case, it couldn’t be bothered. In a single dismissive paragraph on Monday, the court’s conservative majority refused to allow Montana or any other state to impose limits on corporate election spending and wouldn’t even entertain arguments on the subject. [..]

Congress can – and should – require disclosure of secret donations. The Internal Revenue Service should crack down on political organizations that pose as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to avoid current disclosure rules.

But, for now, the nation’s highest court has chosen to turn its back as elections are bought by the biggest check writers.

Simon Johnson: U.S. Banks Aren’t Nearly Ready for Coming European Crisis

The euro area faces a major economic crisis, most likely a series of rolling, country-specific problems involving some combination of failing banks and sovereigns that can’t pay their debts in full.

This will culminate in systemwide stress, emergency liquidity loans from the European Central Bank and politicians from all the countries involved increasingly at one another’s throats.

Even the optimists now say openly that Europe will only solve its problems when the alternatives look sufficiently bleak and time has run out. Less optimistic people increasingly think that the euro area will break up because all the proposed solutions are pie-in-the-sky. If the latter view is right — or even if concern about dissolution grows in coming months — markets, investors, regulators and governments need to worry not just about interest-rate risk and credit risk, but also dissolution risk.

Eugene Robinson: John Roberts’ View From the Liberals’ End of the Bench

By throwing out most of the anti-Latino Arizona immigration law and neutering the rest, the Supreme Court struck a rare blow for fairness and justice. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a streak.

Let’s also hope that Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the 5-3 majority in the Arizona case, likes the view from the liberals’ end of the bench. They could use his vote on the health care reform ruling, expected to be announced Thursday.

In a perfect world, the court would have definitively eliminated the most notorious section of the Arizona law: the requirement that police check the immigration status of anyone who is detained. Because of its chilling invocation of police-state tactics, this became known as the “papers, please” provision.

John W. Whitehead: In a Police State, Everyone Loses: The Supreme Court’s Ruling in Arizona v. United States Endangers Us All

If you’re dark-haired, brown-skinned and have the misfortune of living in Arizona in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in State of Arizona v. United States of America (pdf), get ready to be stopped, searched and questioned. Then again, if you’re a citizen living in the United States, this is merely one more component of the police state that appears to be descending upon us.

Thanks to a muddled decision handed down by the Supreme Court on June 25, Arizona police officers now have broad authority to stop, search and question individuals — citizen and non-citizen alike. While the law prohibits officers from considering race, color, or national origin, it amounts to little more than a perfunctory nod to discrimination laws on the books, while paving the way for outright racial profiling.

Dean Baker: The Regulation Monster

Those familiar with the “confidence fairy” recognize that economic policy debates in Washington are dominated by imaginary creatures. The confidence fairy, which was discovered by Paul Krugman, is the mythical creature that brings investment, jobs and growth as a reward to countries that practice painful austerity.

Economies don’t actually work this way, but important people in policy making positions in Washington and Europe insist that they do. And they hope that they can get the public to believe in the confidence fairy, or at least a large enough segment of the public, to stay in power.

John Kallianniotis: The return of the drachma

The new Greek coalition government will likely try to renegotiate the terms of the second bailout of my economically beleaguered homeland – which would be a welcome development. But it may only prolong the inevitable.

Sooner rather than later, it will finally dawn on leaders in Athens that the idea to include Greece in the single currency plan was never going to work. The Greek people don’t want it, and it is not good economic policy for the nation.

Greece, the cradle of Western civilization, is not like the industrialized nations of northern Europe. It’s more like Denmark and Sweden – members of the European Union that don’t participate in the single currency system.

The experiment that included Greece in the euro-zone has failed from the start. An overvalued euro has destroyed exports, foreign investments, tourism, shipping and many other activities. I have watched my country weaken economically over the past few decades. To continue on this path is madness.

George Zornick: Federal Reserve Presented With Petition, Plea That Jamie Dimon Be Fired

The push to remove JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and other financial-sector executives from the Federal Reserve Boards of Governors came inside the walls of the Fed on Monday, as noted economist Simon Johnson presented officials there with a petition and urged them to change the structure of the important boards.

At the twelve regional Federal Reserve banks, there are nine-member boards of directors. Six of the seats are selected by banks from the region-three directors to represent their interests, and then three directors, picked by the banks, that will allegedly represent “the public’s interest.”

Jun 26 2012

Robin Wells: Universal Coverage, Europe

PBS Newshour

Getting Away with It

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, The New York Review of Books

July 12, 2012

When Obama was elected in 2008, many progressives looked forward to a replay of the New Deal. The economic situation was, after all, strikingly similar. As in the 1930s, a runaway financial system had led first to excessive private debt, then financial crisis; the slump that followed (and that persists to this day), while not as severe as the Great Depression, bears an obvious family resemblance. So why shouldn’t policy and politics follow a similar script?

But while the economy now may bear a strong resemblance to that of the 1930s, the political scene does not, because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are what once they were. Coming into the Obama presidency, much of the Democratic Party was close to, one might almost say captured by, the very financial interests that brought on the crisis; and as the Booker and Clinton incidents showed, some of the party still is.

Jun 26 2012

SCOTUS Ruling Limited Free Speech

The latest session of the US Supreme Court is coming to a close with several decisions handed down since last Thursday, that peaked today with several rulings handed down. The “grand finale” will be this Thursday when the court announces its decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The media has been focused mostly on today’s ruling that gutted three quarters of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070. The overturn of a 100-year-old Montana state law that banned corporations in that state from spending any of their corporate cash to support or oppose a candidate or a political party and the ruling that struck out any requirement that life without parole be the mandatory penalty for murder by a minor got second and third billing.

What the media chose to ignore was last Thursday’s 5 -4 decision in Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that dealt a blow against public sector labor unions and in favor of employees who are represented by a union but are not members:

The case has three holdings: (1) When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice (the Court’s vote on this issue was seven to two); (2) the union cannot require nonmembers to pay the increased amount unless they opt in by affirmatively consenting (vote of five to four); and (3) the case was not rendered moot by the union’s post-certiorari offer of a full refund (unanimous).

So what you say? Why is this an important ruling? It’s important because it requires Unions to do something that corporations aren’t. It requires unions to get permission from their non-members, who pay fees so they are covered by SEIU-negotiated contracts, before that money can be used for political spending. Instead of the traditional “opt-out”, the now have to “opt-in.” Corporations are not required to get share holders permission to spend millions on a political campaign. This could significantly impact on labor’s ability to fight back against corporations in the political arena. It restricts the union’s First Amendment rights to spend unlimited amounts under the 2010 Citizens United ruling:

“The court’s opinion makes clear its displeasure with 60 years of precedent on the dues issue, which have placed the burden on employees who object (to political spending) to opt out,” said William Gould, who from 1994 to 1998 chaired the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that governs labor relations in the private sector. “This decision is an invitation to litigate this issue.”

Although the Knox case involved special assessments on non-union members, Gould said, the Supreme Court’s reasoning suggests that it could be applied to all union dues that fund political spending paid by non-members. The next time that a union goes through the standard process of notifying non-members they have the ability to opt out, the union may well be met with a legal challenge, warned Gould. “(This decision) indicates that if these five (justices) are there when these cases come back to the Court, that the Court will decide these cases adversely to unions,” he said.

That thought has the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, and similar groups celebrating — and labor advocates fearing the worst.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the foundation, said via email that while some justices have used similar language in the past, the Knox decision confirms that now a majority believe “compulsory unionism” is a violation of First Amendment rights.

SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina pointed out that while this complicates matters for unions it is “doable”. But he also noted that this decision was one sided in that “There is nothing in this [Knox] decision that even speaks to the question of shareholders, or corporations having to tell shareholders about any of the contributions they make, [..] “The language, to me, signals what has been the rightward drift of the Supreme Court … Now they’ve come up with a decision to make it more difficult for workers to be able to effectively participate in the [political] process.”

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and her guest, legal correspondent and senior editor for Slate Dahlia Litwick discussed all of these rulings with emphasis on the Knox ruling.

As was expressed in it opinion on June 23, the New York Times rightly noted:

The conservative majority strode into the center of the bitter debate about right-to-work laws preventing unions in 23 states from requiring nonmembers to pay any union expenses, including those supporting collective bargaining that benefits nonmembers. It used this narrow case to insert itself into that political controversy when there was no reason to do so.

Jun 26 2012

On This Day In History June 26

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge.

June 26 is the 177th day of the year (178th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 188 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1959, St. Lawrence Seaway opened.

In a ceremony presided over by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II, the St. Lawrence Seaway is officially opened, creating a navigational channel from the Atlantic Ocean to all the Great Lakes. The seaway, made up of a system of canals, locks, and dredged waterways, extends a distance of nearly 2,500 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota, on Lake Superior.

History

The Saint Lawrence Seaway was preceded by a number of other canals. In 1871, locks on the Saint Lawrence allowed transit of vessels 186 ft (57 m) long, 44 ft 6 in (13.56 m) wide, and 9 ft (2.7 m) deep. The Welland Canal at that time allowed transit of vessels 142 ft (43 m) long, 26 ft (7.9 m) wide, and 10 ft (3.0 m) deep, but was generally too small to allow passage of larger ocean-going ships.

The first proposals for a binational comprehensive deep waterway along the St. Lawrence came in the 1890s. In the following decades the idea of a power project became inseparable from the seaway – in fact, the various governments involved believed that the deeper water created by the hydro project were necessary to make the seaway channels feasible. American proposals for development up to and including the First World War met with little interest from the Canadian federal government. But the two national government submitted St. Lawrence plans, and the Wooten-Bowden Report and the International Joint Commission both recommended the project in the early 1920s. Although the Liberal Mackenzkie King was reluctant to proceed, in part of because of opposition to the project in Quebec, in 1932 the two countries inked a treaty. This failed to receive the assent of Congress. Subsequent attempts to forge an agreement in the 1930s came to naught as the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn, along with Quebec, got in the way. By 1941, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister King made an executive agreement to build the joint hydro and navigation works, but this too failed to receive the assent of Congress. Proposals for the seaway were met with resistance from railway and port lobbyists in the United States.

In the post-1945 years, proposals to introduce tolls still could not induce the U.S. Congress to approve the project. Growing impatient, and with Ontario desperate for hydro-electricity, Canada began to consider “going it alone.” This seized the imagination of Canadians, engendering a groundswell of St. Lawrence nationalism. Fueled by this support, the Canadian Louis St. Laurent government decided over the course of 1951 and 1952 to construct the waterway alone, combined with a hydro project (which would prove to be the joint responsibility of Ontario and New York – as a power dam would change the water levels, it required bilateral cooperation). However, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations considered it a national security threat for Canada to alone control the deep waterway, and used various means – such as delaying and stalling the Federal Power Commission license for the power aspect – until Congress in early 1954 approved an American seaway role via the Wiley act. Canada, out of concern for the ramifications of the bilateral relationship, reluctantly acquiesced.

In the United States, Dr. N.R. Danelian (who was the Director of the 13 volume St. Lawrence Seaway Survey in the U.S. Department of Navigation (1932-1963)), worked with the U.S. Secretary of State on Canadian-United States issues regarding the Seaway and worked for over 15 years on passage of the Seaway Act. He later became President of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Association to further the interests of the Seaway development to benefit the American Heartland.

The seaway opened in 1959 and cost $638 million in Canadian dollars, $336.2 million of which was paid by the U.S. government.[1] Queen Elizabeth II and President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally opened the Seaway with a short cruise aboard Royal Yacht Britannia after addressing the crowds in St. Lambert, Quebec.

The seaway’s opening is often credited with making the Erie Canal obsolete, thus setting off the severe economic decline of several cities in Upstate New York.