By Matthew Frank: A reporter with the Missoula Independent
Aug 1, 2011
Billionaire ‘philanthropist’ Warren Buffett Owns the Railroad Behind the Scheme to Ship Massive Amounts of Montana Coal to the Biggest Greenhouse-Gas Emitter on the Planet
This remarkable story was originally published in the Missoula Independent and was re-printed with permission from the author.
by Matthew Frank, the Missoula Independent
With the heavy spring rains, the Otter Creek Valley, in southeastern Montana, glows green in early July, dotted with sage and bright patches of yellow clover and wild mustard. Ranchland rises gently toward rugged hills and buttes. Otter Creek twists a narrow channel through the middle, reflecting clouds. Otter Creek Road follows the creek. Few pickups pass between the unincorporated community of Otter to the south and the one-gas-station town of Ashland to the north.
A month before and about 6,000 miles away, in Beijing, a city of 20 million, where enveloping smog obscures the surrounding mountains, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer spoke of this Montana valley—or, rather, what’s beneath it. The governor of the state with the greatest coal reserves keynoted a coal conference sponsored by Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world, with massive operations in northeast Wyoming, just south of Otter. Schweitzer and coal companies such as Peabody see economic opportunity in exporting coal to China and other energy-hungry Asian markets. More than a billion tons of coal beneath the Otter Creek Valley could be shipped and burned there.
Schweitzer addressed a crowd of researchers and coal company reps at the coal gasification conference at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel. “I talked a little bit about energy security in the U.S. and most of the countries that were represented there, and how we share a concern,” Schweitzer told me, speaking recently in his office in Helena. “We’ve become so dependent on oil from just a few unstable regimes, and the sooner we get to a new energy source that’s cleaner, greener, more sustainable, it’s better for everybody. Coal can have a future if we have a solution to CO2″—that is, a way to burn coal and contain the greenhouse gas—”or it doesn’t have a future if we don’t.”
But Arch Coal—and every other coal company in the business of making money—isn’t waiting for a solution. Arch, the second-largest U.S. coal producer, has paid about $160 million to lease 18,000 Otter Creek acres containing 1.4 billion tons of coal from the state of Montana and Great Northern Properties.
by Ben Ayliffe
August 4, 2011
Today Cairn Energy published the latest operational update for its risky oil drilling off Greenland and the news, at least for the wildcat oil company, was far from good.
The company has been forced to plug and abandon its well in the deep water Lady Franklin block in the Davis Strait, a major setback for Cairn and the rest of the oil industry who see the melting ice caps as business opportunity.
It has also temporarily abandoned the well at the Atammik site to move operations further north to open up two new drill sites. whilst still refusing to make its near-mythical oil spill response plan public.
Its share price has taken a hammering, falling nearly 4% today and 13% in the last month. Somehow Chief Executive Simon Thomson remains “encouraged” by the news, saying he “continues to be optimistic” about prospects this year, but analysts have been scathing.
One said it “increases the uncertainty for Cairn,” another called it “clearly a negative” while a third claimed “it’s hard to see how this result won’t impact sentiment towards the remainder of the 2011 program.”
From The Guardian UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/aug/03/epa-republicans-tea-party
House Republicans aim to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, rolling back 40 years’ progress on clean air and water
You’d think Congress would be too busy wrecking the economy to attack the environment. Yet, in the midst of a packed schedule snapping at President Obama’s heels and lunging for each other’s throats, Republicans have found time to try and rip the heart out of the Environmental Protection Agency, killing 40 years of protections for water, air, endangered species, wildlife habitat and national parks.
Instead of taking direct shots at the environment – not even Tea Tendency zealots come out and say they’re pro-pollution – Republicans are going after the EPA. It’s a “job-killer”. America’s high unemployment rate is not the fault of the worldwide recession or the housing bubble or Wall Street hubris or two unfunded wars on top of George W Bush’s silly tax cuts for the rich, it’s those damned DC bunny-huggers. Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho insists, “overregulation from EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy”; his colleague, Rep Louie Gohmert of Texas, says, “Let EPA go the way of the dinosaurs that became fossil fuels.”
Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann doesn’t want to wait for extinction, she advocates abolishing the EPA as soon as God puts the Tea Party in charge. She blames it for a host of anti-free market evils, from what she sees as an attempt to outlaw incandescent light bulbs (she countered with the “Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act of 2011”) to the “hoax” that is global climate change. Take no notice of what elitist scientists say, Bachmann knows better, assuring us that “CO2 is a natural byproduct of Nature.”
The bill funding EPA and the department of the interior (HR 2584, if you want to look it up) is a dirty bomb, meant to destroy any rule that slows down environmental degradation. The legislation is so loaded with industry-backed amendments and riders – 77 so far – that it reads like a polluters’ letter to Santa Claus. One provision would allow uranium mining right next to the Grand Canyon. Another would stop EPA from regulating pesticides, even if the pesticides kill endangered plants, birds, fish and other animals. EPA’s funding would be slashed by 34% over the next two years, but America’s oil and gas companies would be given an extra $55m on top of the $36bn in federal subsidies they already get.
No doubt it’s the merest coincidence that Koch Industries, a major funder of the Tea Party, makes an awful lot of its vast profits off oil and gas exploration, petroleum refining and coal mining.
From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/08/04-1
Amidst a life-and-death struggle to finally shut the nuclear energy industry, the power of green music flows again this Sunday.
It’s also pouring over the Internet, as the historic all-day MUSE2 gathering is staged at the Shoreline Amphitheatre south of San Francisco, re-uniting Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Crosby-Stills-Nash, the Doobie Brothers, John Hall, Sweet Honey in the Rock and many more who’ll sing to benefit victims of the Fukushima disaster and promote a green-powered Earth.
The concert runs from 3pm through the evening Pacific Time and comes as the nuclear power industry desperately seeks federal funding to build new reactors while fighting a tsunami of citizen opposition demanding the shut-down of aging radioactive power stations.
Music has been a unifying, empowering force for social movements for decades. The labor union movement used it during strikes and solidarity marches. It was at the heart of the most powerful campaigns for civil rights. A whole generation’s demand for peace in Vietnam got electrified with rock and roll.
The first MUSE was formed after the 1979 melt-down at Three Mile Island. For five nights Raitt, Browne, CSN, Hall, the Doobies, Sweet Honey were part of an astonishing galaxy of stars that lit up Madison Square Garden. The shows were accompanied by a massive rally at Battery Park City that drew 200,000 people and featured the likes of Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Peter Tosh and many more. (Battery Park City is now the site of one of the nation’s largest solarized urban developments).
Continue reading at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/08/04-1
We risk losing our country to permanent droughts and extreme natural disasters.
August 2, 2011
Scientists have been predicting for years that global warming would produce record-breaking extremes on either side of the thermometer. This past winter, America survived its so-called snowpocalypse, and now that summer has arrived, we’ve got a heat dome.
If you’re wondering what the hell that is — it’s just another obvious climate change assassin that we could see coming miles away, if some of us were paying better attention. If you’re looking for a more technical definition, according to National Geographic a heat dome is a seasonal high-pressure system of dense hot air, albeit one with a highly unusual (for now) strength and size, stretching one million square miles from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. It’s already killed a couple dozen people, adding to a swelling death toll resulting from recent tornadoes and floods that bedeviled the nation this year.
It conforms easily to the ravages of Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter’s so-called Death Map — academically known as “Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States” — which in 2008 peered into climate change’s crystal ball and found intensifying natural disasters capable of regionally reshaping the nation with every catastrophe. According to University of South Carolina scholars Cutter and Borden, heat and drought were the main death-dealers, along with extreme summer and winter events. Borden now works for homeland security risk management specialist Digital Sandbox. If his post-academic career choice doesn’t confirm it outright, then recent warnings from the United Nations Environment Program should: These global warming nightmares, not domestic or international terrorists, are the most dangerous threat to global security in existence.
In other words, the heat dome may be really bad news, but it’s only part of a much bigger picture: We are facing extreme weather from climate change that is challenging life as we know it.
“I think we need absolutely realistic reporting on what’s going on now, and what we can expect in the future,” explained 350.org co-founder, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who in May connected the dots between climate change and the lethal tornadoes that leveled Missouri and Alabama in a popular article for the Washington Post. “I think the fact that the climate is coming unhinged already is starting to break through. How could it not with simultaneous Dust Bowl-scale drought in the Southwest, and Noah-scale flooding in the middle of the country?”
Scientists have been right in predicting that things are going to be bad, but just how bad is a more complicated scenario. Next time a report or study divulging the latest lethality of climate change surfaces, check for a quote from a well-intentioned scientist explaining that everything is happening faster than previously thought. It won’t take long, whether you’re reading about how nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as once assumed, or that the North Pole is melting much faster than everyone thought it would. For all of its supposedly radical activism, if you ask the denialists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with most other scientists have all been extremely efficient at one thing: Underestimating the severity of global warming.
“Scientists are by nature conservative, so it doesn’t surprise me that the earliest estimates of climate change’s impact would be underestimates,” McKibben told AlterNet. “But since the rapid melt of Arctic ice in the summer of 2007, scientists have been trying to send the message that things are happening faster and more violently than expected. The political community, including the United Nations bureaucracy administering the climate talks, hasn’t caught up.”
It could be too late for them to counteract that fatal mistake, according to writer James Howard Kunstler. They may have been better off striking while the iron was hot, especially given how little the American public wants to hear what they have to say. “The scientific community is demoralized by its realization that the public and our leaders are not sane and rational,” he told AlterNet. “The so-called Climategate scandal of 2009, organized by right-wing denialists, pretty much did in the scientists’ hopeful sense of activism. They’re just stuck now with the awful results of the science, and nobody wants to hear about it.”
From Socialist Worker: http://socialistworker.org/2011/08/04/sacrificing-the-earth-on-the-altar-of-politics
Chris Williams, author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis
August 4, 2011
“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
— Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change, 2006
MAROONED FROM the mainland United States, in June, the nuclear power plant at Fort Calhoun, Neb., became a small island. Sandbags were hurriedly deployed to prevent inundation from floodwaters as the Missouri river burst its banks, a consequence of the greatest flood in U.S. history.
Another nuclear facility, this time at Los Alamos in New Mexico, birthplace of atomic weapons, was threatened by an altogether different force of nature. Los Alamos was forced to evacuate as flames overran fire defenses and firefighters struggled to contain the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.
As the Las Conchas wildfire blazed out of control at the end of June, it consumed over 130,000 acres of forest. Large areas of land at Los Alamos are contaminated with radioactive waste from decades of nuclear research and testing. Scorched land increases water run-off and the danger from flash flooding. Thus, a further alarming side effect of the wildfire and Los Alamos’s legacy of radioactive contamination is the likelihood that radioisotopes will spread, as happened when wildfires threatened the Hanford nuclear weapons plant in Washington state.
Extended drought and persistent wildfires saw the U.S. Department of Agriculture declare the entire state of Texas a natural disaster area, as more than 30 percent of crops have been lost due to severe water shortages. This follows a spring where the majority of counties in Texas were on fire as Texas experienced its eighth year out of the last twelve for “exceptional” drought.
Globally, 2010 saw massive and unprecedented flooding in Pakistan that displaced 20 million people. Worsening air quality caused by wildfires in Russia killed 56,000 people and floodwaters in Australia covered an area larger than France and Germany combined; along with commodity speculation, these events contributed to record increases in grain prices, driving many millions more into extreme poverty and starvation. Nineteen countries around the world set new temperature records in 2010.
Outside of the statistics, a despairing op-ed in the New York Times by Midwestern farmer Jack Hedin, a man who can trace his family’s farming history back to before the Great Depression, commented on the desperate nature of his future, as well as identifying an aspect of the cause:
Continue reading at: http://socialistworker.org/2011/08/04/sacrificing-the-earth-on-the-altar-of-politics
Like DIY solar panels or an all electric car.
By David Edwards
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
A Swedish man was arrested last month after authorities discovered that his effort to build a nuclear reactor in his kitchen had ended with a small meltdown.
Richard Handl told The Associated Press Wednesday that he had obtained radium, americium and uranium, but the attempt split atoms had only been a hobby.
Most of the radioactive elements came from common items like smoke detectors and old clock hands, which were bought on eBay. He also purchased a Geiger counter from the U.S. by mail order.
Handl blogged about his efforts, including the “meltdown” that took place on his stove in May.
“A meltdown on my cooker!!!” he wrote. “No, it not so dangerous. But I tried to cook Americium, Radium and Beryllium in 96% sulphuric-acid, to easier get them blended. But the whole thing exploded upp (sic) in the air…”
After suspecting that the enterprise might not be legal, Handl queried Sweden’s Radiation Authority.
I have come to believe that Socialism that gives workers control over the means of production and that doesn’t interfere with people’s private lives would be vastly superior to the cancer stage of capitalism we currently seem to be experiencing.
From World Socialist Web Site: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/aug2011/left-a04.shtml
By David Walsh
4 August 2011
The debt ceiling agreement reached between President Barack Obama and the Democrats and Republicans in Congress this week demonstrates that the two-party system is nothing but a mechanism for defending the rule and wealth of the American financial aristocracy.
Both major parties are indifferent to current and future popular suffering. Tens of millions in America already find it difficult, if not impossible, to make ends meet. What lies in store as the political establishment in Washington attempts to repeal whatever social concessions were forced out of the ruling elite over the course of the past century or more?
In the face of this devastating attack, how have the official liberal-left (the Nation magazine) and “far left” (the International Socialist Organization) in the US responded? There are no surprises here. These extremely tame and complacent political entities, speaking for affluent constituencies in the middle class, divert attention from the central lessons of the recent crisis and continue to encourage illusions in one faction or another of the Democratic Party.
While criticizing Obama for “capitulating” to the Republican right, both the Nation and the ISO hold out hope, explicitly or implicitly, for the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party. What worries these pseudo-left elements, above all, is that the shameless pro-big business policies of the Obama administration, along with congressional acquiescence, will weaken the hold of the Democratic Party on the working class and open the door to mass struggles against the status quo. And they are quite right to be anxious on that score.
Both the Nation’s John Nichols and the editors at the ISO’s Socialist Worker strive to perpetuate the myth that the Democrats’ “Progressive Caucus” in Congress opposed the assault on social programs and acted in a principled manner.
Nichols’ piece posted August 1 is a lengthy defense of Democratic Party liberals (more than 2,000 words), while offering certain criticism of Obama, who, Nichols writes, “Instead of taking a tough stance … blinked in the face of Republican recalcitrance.” Blaming the crisis on the Republicans is another attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the public. Obama took the occasion of the debt ceiling stalemate, which was entirely avoidable, to initiate savage spending cuts.
The Nation correspondent tells his readers that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “reportedly told members of the House Democratic Caucus to vote their ‘individual consciences’” on the deal August 1. Nichols writes that “Consciences divided evenly, with ninety-five Democrats opposing the compromise agreement while ninety-five supported it in a Monday evening vote.”
This is a falsification of the situation, as Nichols knows full well. “Conscience” had nothing to do with any of it. Whatever words she used, this is what Pelosi was really telling her caucus on the eve of the vote in the House: “Listen, I understand that some of you, in order to salvage your political reputations, will have to vote against the debt ceiling deal and its budget cutting. That’s fine. In fact, it is desirable. Your vote will provide the party as a whole some badly needed credibility. In any case, it is entirely safe. We know that there are plenty of votes for the deal and it will pass. So, go ahead, make your little protest, it will help all of us.”
Continue reading at: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/aug2011/left-a04.shtml
by: Jim Hightower
Aug. 3, 2011
By gollies, America’s workaday majority of middle-class and poor people have a fighter on our side in Washington. Unfortunately, that fighter is Barack Obama.
On Sunday, he waved his white hankie of surrender in the debt ceiling battle, agreeing to a disastrous deal ruthlessly pushed by the loopiest of the tea party extremists in the Republican House. It slashes some nearly $1 trillion from national programs that ordinary Americans count on,
puts Social Security and Medicare at risk, and promises to make our depressed economy, and even the deficit, worse.
Obama also cravenly conceded to the demand by GOP/tea party corporatists that those fortunate few at the tippy-top of our economy make no sacrifice whatsoever to the goal of deficit reduction. Tax-dodging corporations, hedge-fund profiteers and the richest 1 percent of our nation’s plutocratic elite are allowed by this sorry deal to retain every dime of their subsidies, tax breaks and other federal giveaways.
Not to worry, though, for as our champ signed his abject capitulation into law on Tuesday, he said that stage two the deficit reduction process will be better. The pampered and privileged few, he insisted, will also have to “chip in,” reassuring all who will be harmed by this week’s deal that he’ll be “fighting for” fundamental principles of fairness in the next one.
Continue reading at: http://www.truth-out.org/obama-says-hell-really-fight-people-next-time/1312377490
By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
The Minnesota Family Council lashed out at FCKH8, a California-based group, for producing a brightly-colored video that irreverently attacks supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages in the state, according to The Minnesota Independent.
“Just after the New York legislature forced same-sex marriage on New Yorkers without a vote of the people, the radical gay-rights activist group F**H8 declared war on Minnesota and released a profanity laden video that attacks Christians and biblically based arguments for traditional marriage,” the Minnesota Family Council wrote in a fundraising pitch to supporters.
In May, the Minnesota Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to define marriage as solely between one man and one woman, giving voters a chance to ratify the proposed amendment in 2012. Same sex marriage is already banned by a statute passed by the state’s legislature in 1997 and upheld by the state Supreme Court. The state does not recognize same sex civil unions, but some cities do have domestic partnership registries.
The nearly 3-minute FCKH8 video hopes to raise money to oppose the ban on same-sex marriage.
“Can it be any clearer?” the Minnesota Family Council continued. “Our opposition will stop at nothing to mock Scripture and ridicule Christians to raise money to redefine marriage in Minnesota. This video has already had over 6 million views. The group is selling T-shirts and offering to donate 10 cents each time the video is ‘Liked’ on Facebook.”
A new report finds that the vast majority of the jobs created in the so-called recovery have been low-wage jobs. That’s a recipe for continued economic pain.
By Sarah Jaffe
August 2, 2011
With all the focus on the drama surrounding the debt ceiling, and the much-too-late focus on the economic pain the final deal’s austerity agenda will inflict, items that really matter—jobs, jobs, and jobs–have been all but ignored.
But a new report by the National Employment Law Project looking at the jobs created since the recession officially ended brings the focus sharply back to jobs, and its findings are frightening: 73 percent of the jobs created since the supposed economic recovery began have been in low-wage fields, where workers make between $7.51 (the national minimum wage) and $13.52 an hour ($15,621 to $28,122 a year for full-time).
In contrast, 60 percent of the layoffs from the Great Recession were in what the report calls midwage occupations, those that make between $28,142 and $42,973 per year.
“But in the weak recovery to date, employment growth has been concentrated in lower-wage occupations, with minimal growth in midwage occupations and net losses in higher-wage occupations,” the report notes.
This report further cements the argument that progressives have been making for a while: that corporations and the wealthy have bounced back in large part on the backs of the working people of the U.S., squeezing more work for less money out of American workers while returning to record profits, salaries and bonuses.
An economy built on low-wage jobs is inherently unstable and bad for everyone, not just the people struggling to feed themselves and their families on $7.51 an hour.
By Matt Taibbi
Aug. 1, 2011
So the debt deal has finally been reached. As expected, the agreement arrives in a form that right-thinking people everywhere can feel terrible about with great confidence.
The general consensus is that for the second time in three years, a gang of financial terrorists has successfully extorted the congress and the White House, threatening to blow up the planet if they didn’t get what they wanted.
Back in 2008, the congress and George Bush rewarded Hank Paulson and Wall Street for pulling the Cleavon-Little-“the-next-man-makes-a-move-the-n—er-gets-it” routine by tossing trillions of bailout dollars at the same people who had wrecked the economy.
Now, Barack Obama has surrendered control of the budget to the Tea Party, whose operatives in congress used the same suicide-bomber tactic, threatening a catastrophic default unless the Democrats committed to a regime of steep spending cuts without any tax increases on the wealthy.
Commentators everywhere are killing the president for his seemingly astonishing level of ball-less-ness. Both the New York Times house editorial and the Nobel prizewinning liberal columnist Paul Krugman are insisting the president should have invoked extreme measures to counter the radicals on the other side, using emergency legal tactics to unilaterally raise the debt limit. Or, at least, he should have threatened to do this, according to Krugman: