As Robert Service said in The Cremation of Sam McGee,
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun,
By the men who moil for gold;
Service would certainly say that events in the US and Canada of 2011 bear him out.
As this is written, young people are demonstrating and occupying offices on Wall Street, and are about to on Bay Street (Toronto) and Howe Street (Vancouver). It’s hard to put a precise reason on these sit-ins which come at an interesting time in US, thus World politics – more on that, in a moment.
There is a pipeline in the works that starts in Cardiston, Alberta, Canada, where the Tar Sands are. It runs through 7 US states to Houston, Texas, and called Keystone XL which is Trans Canada Pipelines in drag. In the path of this pipeline is a huge aquifer, the size of British Columbia, as well as the US “breadbasket”.
Not to be outdone, there is a 1000 km+ pipeline from the Tar Sands through my home province, British Columbia, to salt water at Kitimat where it will be shipped, by tanker, through arguably the most beautiful coastline in the world and unarguably the most dangerous.
Are you with me so far? Good because it gets messier and at the end of the day lies the future, if any, of President Obama.
Canadaand the US are both federations where the powers of the federal government and the states/provinces are constitutionally guaranteed. This is important to know because the powers possessed by the states/provinces are not devolved from the federal government, as in the UK for example, but are etched in constitutional marble. Except, one cannot say with any certainty who has the power to say yea or nay over a pipeline!
In each case the feds say it’s their callexcept the constitutional experts I have consulted – (I was once myself a lawyer and minister in the BC government and spokesman for constitutional matters) – aren’t so certain. Even if the feds have overall jurisdiction the states/provinces have numerous constitutional ways to hold up projects interminably.
Then there are what used to be known as Indians and now more elegantly called First Nations. In British Columbia and the US the proposed pipelines go right through First Nations land over which they say they have jurisdiction – in BC they’re probably right.
Take a deep breath, folks, we’re not through yet.
The pipeline companies each have an appalling record for “accidents”.Moreover, no matter how they try to gussy it up, you simply can’t have a safe pipeline. It’s rather like having a revolver with 100 chambers and one bullet. If you put that to your temple and start pulling the trigger without restricting the times you’re going to do or for how long, it’s no longer a risk but a certainty waiting to happen. Now if the bullet is made out of marshmallow, who cares? But that stuff in the pipelines ain’t marshmallow, folks.
In fact the Tar Sands aren’t drilled, they’re mined. It’s black goo (called bitumen in polite circles) and must be blended with natural gas for it to move through the pipes meaning, in the case of BC, we’re talking about two pipelines with one to take back what’s left after the bitumen is taken out.
Needless to say, the proponents of these lines mouth the usual blather about minimal risks and take out full page ads showing happy wildlife gambolling amongst the pipes. Read that stuff then Google “Kalamazoo spill” which will tell you how the Enbridge (the company doing the BC lines) spill has ruined the Kalamazoo River and the clean-up is far from over.
This is the main points environmentalists make – there is no such thing as a “mild” spill. In BC, for example, the proposed lines pass over three main salmon rivers.
Re-enter Barack Obama.
In a way, his situation reminds one of the Balkans wars of the 90s when it was well nigh impossible to figure out who the hell was fighting whom what with several groups and several religions, in itself confusing enough, except some ethnic groups were split into two or even three religions!
There is no question that Mr. Obama is being beaten up by the Republicans, especially the right wing “Tea Party” group.That, you would think, would make it easy for the president to embrace the young sitters-in. Not so – even though no one on Wall Street is a Democrat Obama knows that if it continues on its erratic downward fall, the already battered economy will get even worse. Mr. Obama is already being pummelled for bailing out big banks and brokerage houses, by his party, the Democrats, while the Republicans, under whose watch the market crashed blame him for not bailing out enough and, get this, for bailing out the big banks and brokerage houses in the first place…If that puzzles you, remember that George W Bush, a draft dodger, won in 2008 by pillorying the much decorated John Kerry as a coward!
It happens that every state the Keystone XL proposal passes through 7 is coloured red for Republican.You’d think that’s a no brainer – to hell with them, they’re the enemy. It’s not that easy.
Obama has promised to create jobs, something that won’t happen if he doesn’t approve the pipeline.Moreover, in the American Congress as it’s currently constituted, the president needs bi-partisan support and having 14 Senators, even though they’re all Republicans, out for your blood is not a good idea. Yet, on the other hand, Mr. Obama’s natural constituency, including the burgeoning environmental community will holler foul if this appalling disaster-in-waiting is approved. The only way you square that circle is by remembering that the environmentalists have nowhere else to go but the Democrats.
Now comes the clincher, much of the oil sands products going to Houston, Texas or Kitimat is going to China which has a billion dollars riding on the Canadian line. Now – I told you this wouldn’t be easy folks – China doesn’t have the refinery capacity for this sludge so it looks like the US is getting it all – by pipeline or by ship from Kitimat. The answer is that oil is a commodity such that if the US uses the entire Tar Sands product, that releases refined oil from elsewhere for its China obligations. The bottom line, at the end of the day, in the fullness of time, in due course – choose your own tiresome metaphor – China must get want it wants because the US is deeply in hock to China.
Except – and the whirling merry-go-round is almost done – China can’t afford to have its principal debtor go broke.
Now to the part that matters. If, like me, you are horrified at the thought of any of the current lot of Republican hopefuls being the most powerful person in the word, I can offer no consolation. As so often happens in US politics, the guy that inherited the crap gets blamed for it and pays the price the bad guy ought to pay. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barack Obama will be no shoo-in to be the Democratic candidate.
The only hope is that in politics, six weeks is an eternity.