Evidently Big Oil is going to lay pipelines and hogwash all over South Dakota. Oil and Gas Association dirctor Adam Martin is running around East River telling folks that having the Dakota Access pipeline shoved through their land is somehow a glorious chance to participate in the oil boom.

Help me understand: my neighbor Charlie Johnson gets a big oil pipeline under his organic farm that will carry potentially leaky, explosive oil for maybe 30 years, then sit there and pollute and collapse long afterwards, and he capitalizes on that... how?

As long as America and the industrialized world remains addicted to oil, there's probably no getting around pipelines. But if we buck long enough, we might get the pipelines to go around us. Look at Keystone XL. President Barack Obama as been keeping TransCanada's tar sands pipeline at bay for years with his cowardly but clever delays. And now Alberta's oil producers may take a different route, east through Canada to the Atlantic!

In this period of national gloom comes an idea -- a crazy-sounding notion, or maybe, actually, an epiphany. How about an all-Canadian route to liberate that oil sands crude from Alberta’s isolation and America’s fickleness? Canada’s own environmental and aboriginal politics are holding up a shorter and cheaper pipeline to the Pacific that would supply a shipping portal to oil-thirsty Asia.

Instead, go east, all the way to the Atlantic.

Thus was born Energy East, an improbable pipeline that its backers say has a high probability of being built. It will cost C$12 billion ($10.7 billion) and could be up and running by 2018. Its 4,600-kilometer (2,858-mile) path, taking advantage of a vast length of existing and underused natural gas pipeline, would wend through six provinces and four time zones. It would be Keystone on steroids, more than twice as long and carrying a third more crude [Rebecca Penty, Hugo Miller, Andrew Mayeda and Edward Greenspon, "Keystone Be Darned: Canada Finds Oil Route Around Obama," Bloomberg, 2014.10.08].

Running even more tar sands oil through Canada instead of South Dakota wouldn't make Bill McKibben, climate-change crusaders, or alternative-energy advocates happy. But it would keep South Dakotans from bearing the costs of a pipeline that does not serve South Dakota interests.

And if Energy East supplants Keystone XL, it will be because committed activists kept up the pressure that forced the market to seek other solutions. That's not a total win, but it's better than nothing.

So Charlie, what can we do to get Dakota Access to seek alternatives?


The difference I hear Libertarians wheeze about, that the United States is a Republic Not a Democracy™, is practically irrelevant. My conservative friends and I should agree that the much greater problem is that we are not a democracy but an oligarchy. Research says so:

A study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:

"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy" [Eric Zuesse, "US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

A PDF draft of the paper Zuesse cites, by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page, is available online. Gilens and Page anticipate the possible objection that perhaps wealthy elites are better at making policy than the masses, and they dismiss that objection in favor of faith in the demos:

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.50 Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one's own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative [Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," draft, Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming Fall 2014; posted online at Princeton 2014.04.09].

For hope against research, I look across the border to Canada, where citizens of Kitimat just voted against a Big Oil alternative to Keystone XL:

In a vote cheered as a victory for democracy, one community in British Columbia has given a flat rejection to a proposed tar sands pipeline.

Over 58 percent of voters who headed to the polls in the North Coast municipality of Kitimat on Saturday said "no" to Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.

That project would include a pipeline to carry tar sands crude from near Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat.

..."The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process," Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said in a statement following the vote. "We’ll be talking about this Monday night at Council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever Council decides" [Andrea Germanos, "In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

Voting can beat money. Democracy can beat oligarchy. But we have to work at it. Fellow citizens, keep hope alive.


Don't be fooled by Annette Bosworth's Noem-plagiarizing campaign video: the only thing she knows about farming is how to spread manure.

Vscan handheld ultrasound device, available in Canada.

Vscan handheld ultrasound device, available in Canada. Photo from Annette Bosworth, Facebook, 2013.09.29

On Facebook and apparently in airports, Bosworth shows off her $7,900 Vscan handheld ultrasound device. Dr. Bosworth, who is not an ob-gyn, claims she had the following interaction:

On a jet-plane. Shared my ultrasound with a Canadian Pregnant woman. Access to an ultrasound is not possible when there is no free market. She was fascinated [Annette Boswroth, Facebook post, 2013.09.29].

The young mother from Canada was fascinated that such technology existed ... Big government reduces the drive for innovation & competition found in our free market [Annette Bosworth, another Facebook post, 2013.09.29].

Perhaps the young mother for whom Bosworth shook out the contents of her medical bag was fascinated. But she was also naïve. Canada has handheld ultrasound devices. Canada licensed the Vscan ultrasound device at about the same time the United States did. A Vancouver hospital got them in 2010. This Canadian doctor tried it out and found the handheld device solid but too clunky for convenient portable use. Innovators in ultrasound technology have included Canadians, Germans, Brits, Norwegians, and others whose socialized health systems have helped them provide better care to expecting mothers for less money than it would cost in America.

Bosworth's identification as a Republican stems from opportunism, not principle. But she epitomizes one core GOP strategy: never let facts get in the way of a good ideological talking point.


A friend from Canada visited us at Lake Herman this weekend. Fun people that we are, we peppered each other with questions about our nations' health care systems. Our friend shared one anecdote that should give pause to anyone thinking Canada's socialized health coverage program provides worse care than ours.

My friend was working in the Yukon last year. She felt fine, but during her regular check-up (and she does have her check-ups regularly, since Canada covers that), her doctor suggested she undergo a test to see if she had a condition that a family member has. Unfortunately, the equipment for this test isn't available in the Yukon.

So the doctor arranged for my friend to have this test done in Vancouver, British Columbia, over 900 miles away. The health care system arranged and paid for the appointment, the test, and the flight to Vancouver. All my friend had to do was show up at the airport on time.

The Yukon is more rural and isolated than anywhere in South Dakota. Health care and other services and goods can be hard to get, as is the case in any rural area. But Canada's socialized health coverage system, rather than making the shortage works, takes extra steps to ensure rural folks can access the same quality health care as their urban compatriots.

* * *
Speaking of government health insurance, the Kaiser Family Foundation has a new online calculator to help you figure out how much your family's health insurance may cost under our pale shadow of Canada's excellent guaranteed health coverage. I just punched in the data for my family. KFF estimates that under the Affordable Care Act, the Heidelbergers could pay $3,265 per year ($272 a month) for a "Silver" plan, which would lower our out-of-pocket costs and provide better coverage than our current plans, which combined cost us over $500 a month.

* * *
Our Canadian guest accompanied us to the Sioux Empire Fair yesterday. We did not witness the carnie drug bust, but we did see the "Stop ObamaCare!" petition at the Tea Party booth and the "Support ObamaCare!" petition at the Planned Parenthood booth. You can guess which one we signed.


We American should be alarmed that TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline suffered twelve reported leaks, in its first year of operation. We can take only twisted comfort in this report that during that time, TransCanada leaked all over its home soil even more:

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has logged 100 different incidents and accidents on federally regulated Canadian oil and gas pipelines over the past two years, new documents released to Postmedia News reveal.

The log entries by investigators are dominated by two Alberta-based companies, Enbridge and TransCanada, which are involved in nearly three quarters of the reported cases, including 21 incidents on the latter's brand new, multibillion-dollar Keystone pipeline, which launched the first phase of its commercial operation in June 2010.

...In one case on the Keystone pipeline, the board noted that crude oil leaked in January from a threaded connection due to vibration at a pump station in Hardisty, Alberta. It was repaired after the "threads were re-taped."

The most recent incidents on the new Keystone line include three cases from early June of leakage at pumping stations in Alberta and Saskatchewan [Mike De Souza, "Exclusive: Feds Recorded 100 Pipeline Spills and Accidents since 2010," Vancouver Sun, 2011.07.05].

Three spills in early June? The Keystone pipeline is getting leakier!

Remember, once upon a time, TransCanada told us to expect "a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system... once every 65 years." TransCanada told us we could expect spills of any magnitude to come at a rate of 1.4 every 10 years. Along the entire pipeline system, we have now had 33 spills in barely one year.

33 times 10, divided by 1.4... that's over 230 times the predicted spill rate.

230 times: maybe that's how much longer we should extend the review period for TransCanada's permit to build Keystone XL.

Related: The North American-Made Energy Security Act (H.R. 1938), a House Republican effort to force the Obama Administration to speed the environmental review and permitting process for Keystone XL, is before the House Natural Resources Committee. Our Congresswoman Kristi Noem serves on this committee.


Hat tip to Plains Justice!

I've noted previously that TransCanada has a hard time making the economic case for its Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Gasoline demand in the United States is currently at a five-year low. That demand dip may be permanent, with experts predicting America's gasoline use may drop 20% by 2030. TransCanada insists its pipeline will boost America's oil supplies, but who will use that oil?

China, says blogger Vince Wade. Check out the pieces he puts together:

  • China's demand for oil is going nowhere but up.
  • China is buying up shares in the Alberta tar sands.
  • PetroChina and Enbridge tried to build a tar sands pipeline across British Columbia to the Pacific, but intense Canadian opposition drove PetroChina away from that plan in 2007. Enbridge still faces stiff opposition to the pipeline.
  • Tesoro recently refit the TransPanama pipeline to run oil parallel to the Canal from East to West---i.e., toward China.
  • The U.S. is very eager to make nice with China and increase exports.

It's a tight, logical picture: build a pipeline across flat, flyover prairie to conservative Texas instead of across the Rocky Mountains and to a port in liberal British Columbia. Connect with a guaranteed growing market. Use America as the middleman (and bearer of environmental externalities) for a Canada-China deal.

Oddly, TransCanada could still spin this scenario as good for America. It's still all about dependency on foreign oil... but the trick is that while we get off our addiction through conservation, efficiency, and alternative energy sources, we get China hooked on Canadian oil. Clever.

* * *

But prairie lawmakers may save us from a complete cave-in to TransCanada and its possible China connection. Nebraska State Senator Annette Dubas has floated a bill to require pipeline companies to submit their projects for approval to the Nebraska Public Service Commission. And South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard says he'll propose reforms to South Dakota's contractor's tax rebate system to prevent multi-million-dollar rebates from going to big projects that would have happened even without the kickback. Daugaard didn't mention TransCanada specifically... but I can't wait to see him make Senate Majority Leader and Big Oil quisling Russell Olson carry water on this bill.


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