Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Pipeline Protests

Despite being one of the country's top producers of oil, there are only a couple refineries in North Dakota. One, which was built to take Bakken high sulfur sour crude and turn it into diesel to be sold directly to local farmers, was recently sold at a loss. There were plans for more, one near where I grew up in Devils Lake, one proposed on the Fort Berthold Reservation that likely won't be built for a bunch of dramatic reasons, as well as others. 

With most of it not heading directly to market, North Dakota oil needs to be shipped to be refined. This means sending it to huge refineries in places like Texas and Oklahoma. Most of it goes by rail. This was a huge problem for other rail traffic (primarily agriculture) during the oil boom. While it was a problem, and a pipeline was brought up then, profitability was high enough to deal with the rail congestion. Now, with the needing to be heavily refined nasty ND oil barely worth anything, the pipeline is seen as the most cost effective way to get the oil to the refineries. It would be pumped to Illinois where it would link up with existing pipelines. This is the main reason we're seeing the push to build now. 

Local farmers, from South Dakota and Iowa as well, had voiced concerns since the beginning of the proposed pipeline. The idea that the government could use eminent domain to take away land from its owner is not a popular idea in this parts, regardless of its intended use. In this respect, the Stand Rock Sioux have been extremely successful in their cause by publicizing and at least delaying the construction. One of society's most marginalized groups is getting international media coverage for demanding a basic democratic right, and that is absolutely wonderful. The reaction to the protest is disgusting, as authorities have used brute force against peaceful demonstrators and showed little concern for historical sites sacred to the local community. The protest also, however, serves as a example of what is lacking when it comes to fighting climate change. One of the main strengths of the protest, the emotions tied to the horrendous treatment of Native Americans in this country, also helps keep the discussion secured in identity politics. Many on the right, emboldened by Trump's scary appeal to white identity, are eager to find any chance to degenerate a movement they see as ethnically foreign. (Of course the irony in this particular situation is certainly lost on them.) The issue isn't about how much oil should we use and who controls it so much as it is whether you are "for" or "against" Native Americans. Have they been historically mistreated and deserve compensation or are they freeloaders exploiting the past for personal gain? To the extent our use of oil is mentioned, it's usually in a disingenuous way. Opponents of the pipeline talk as though blocking it from being built will stop our reliance on fossil fuels. Proponents act as though building a pipeline will free us from "foreign oil." At this point the back and forth is just theatrics aimed at each side's supporters more than anything else.       

As mentioned there is a reason the push to build the pipeline is coming now, when the price of oil is drastically lower than what had become normal. A pipeline is the most cost effective way to move oil, and even more so in this particular situation. As much as I love seeing oil titans squirm when they can't get what they want, we should be honest. Just as there is no "clean" coal, there is no "good" way to transport oil. Spills will happen no matter what method is used and I haven't been able to find any persuasive evidence that says one way is much safer than the other. Whatever short term gains are to be had by blocking this pipeline will likely to be lost when passions cool and oil prices rise. Then we are back to farmers not being able to move the food we all rely on because the rails are full of the oil we all rely on. I see nothing that in that almost inevitable scenario that fights global warming. We get some protests to remember and the oil keeps flowing.  

Although it got next to no coverage, even within left media, during the boom some smart state legislators had talked about a building a state owned refinery. This would build upon North Dakota's legacy of bucking private power. (There still is a state bank and flour mill which add millions to the public funds each year.) At first thought refining oil seems to contradict the goal of reducing oil usage. But as with so many complex problems, solutions lie in the contradictions. If we want to reduce our fossil fuel usage, we first need pubic control of the processes that make it a viable fuel source. So long as these are in private hands, and there is money to be made, we simply will not be able to fundamentally reduce our impact on the earth's climate. The talks of a state owned refinery went no where in a deeply reactionary state legislature. But there was also no movement demanding it. This is the direction the current fight needs to take if it wants to be more than just another fond memory idealistic liberals romantically look back on. We already have plenty of those.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Midway, a neighborhood in St. Paul that borders us, has a great facebook forum that is unintentionally documenting what looks to be several guilty white liberals', and their racist code word using "the neighborhood's gone to hell" conservative counterparts, first real encounters with the lumpenproletariat. They switch traditional race roles on this, actually. The liberal response is often the "colorblindness" championed by people fighting against things like affirmative action, and the conservative quickly points out that race is an issue. Of course, a comment or two in, racism becomes the sole focus of a robbery, even if people don't know the race of the robber, who was much less interested in skin pigment than iphones and wallets. No where to be found is poverty, much less the causes of poverty and why it hits certain population segments harder than others. At this point it'd be refreshing to talk about culture vs. structural poverty, as I think there's some common ground. (Where do people think culture comes from if it's not a reflection of your material conditions? Generational, structural poverty will certainly affect at least your localized culture to some degree.) Our "working class" (ie, poor) neighborhood has the same problems, and has for years, but the lower income level for all, even whites, means the lumpens are more diverse. Which is a win for the left neoliberal identity folks I guess? 

Saturday, February 14, 2015


After a rough few weeks, Joy surprised me with some cash tucked away to get a nice TV for the living room. I went to midway Walmart to get the biggest goddamn TV I could find for the money. (This is a different topic, but yes, from time to time I'll shop at Walmart. Because we're on a budget. And, well, if you think shopping at Target instead of Walmart makes the world a better place, then god bless you I guess.) The dude checking people out at electronics was going between Somali and english having a conversation with three people while helping me with my pretty new 42" sanyo. It was like a dance. The dude was pulling out a sim card and (I think) explaining how calling cards work to a couple women all the while with a company land line tucked under his chin, which would prompt him to announce the occasional "yes" or "yep." Before I could process who was being helped, all the sudden there was a spin to put the phone down with fleeting eye contact towards anyone remotely near him.

 Brilliant form!

An older Hmong woman was trying to buy a laptop. She explained to him, in broken english, that she needed it primarily for email. He didn't bullshit her. He told her the cheapest one will do and pointed her in the right direction.

Apologizing profusely for the two and a half minute wait, he smiled and handed me the receipt.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Piss Test

I find some perverse solace in knowing someone has to handle my piss, right there in front of me, in order to tell if I've been a good clean boy, or whether I've been dirty and bad.

I hope there's at least a brief moment of " good god, what the fuck am I doing"

(now she's tipping the capped piss container on its side in order to write something I assume is highly technical medical jargon on it.)

Is it warm enough?

Like baby formula, you have to warm up fake piss in the microwave before you can pass it off as your own. (The microwave wattage is important. I don't think altitude matters though.)

I don't even know of any gods who care about piss temperature. 

I know it's not her fault. It's a job.

But holding piss, even if you label it a "specimen," is still a depressing way to sustenance. It's only slightly better than being a bill collector, a stock broker, or the President.

We do share a bond. An unspoken understanding that it's really awkward to be doing this.

(I call it a urinary pact.)

It's superficial, as it should be, but it's also specific enough to be ritualistic. 

Someday, in some grand utopia, it will be more socially unacceptable to be a piss handler than someone compelled, by grave threats, to piss in a plastic cup.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Probable Cause

Interesting how this probable cause works. Easy to find thousands of times across the country every day, particularly if you've the profile that fits, but no where to be found when it counted last night.

Rest in peace Michael Brown, and all the victims of our peculiar institution called a "justice" system.