Posts Tagged ‘North Dakota’

American Comedian Lee Camp on the Real Reason Iran’s Been Put ‘On Notice’

February 11, 2017

This week Trump’s administration officially put Iran ‘on notice’ for the crime of testing a ballistic missile in their own country. The missile wasn’t capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, but nevertheless Trump and his Nazis accused it of preparing to acquire them.

In this edition of RT’s Redacted Tonight, the host, comedian Lee Camp, suggests the real reason Trump has warned Iran of a possible invasion should they not comply with America’s wishes, has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. No, it’s for the simple reason that Iran is planning to ditch the dollar as the currency for trade in oil. He cites newspaper reports and Perkins’ Confession of an Economic Hitman to show that one of the reasons for the Iraq invasion was that Saddam Hussein was also considering abandoning the dollar. As was Colonel Gaddafi. Gaddafi wanted to set up the gold dinar as Africa’s and the Middle East’s rival to the dollar and euro.

As for Iran being put ‘on notice’, Camp remarks that they just might have worked out that America was threatening to invade them through the number of US bases encircling the country.

Camp then contrasts the ire of America’s corporate elite to this financial outrage, with the way Trump tolerates and encourage the destruction of the environment. BP has just been allowed to resume drilling again in the Gulf of Mexico, despite the oil spill that devastated the region’s ecosystem the other year. And what are they calling their new rig? Mad Dog II.

He also discusses Nancy Pelosi’s terrified reaction when a young member of a TV audience put her on the spot by telling her that Millennials don’t support capitalism. This is true. A recent poll showed that American young people don’t. Cue nervous laughter from Pelosi and the hurried response that ‘We’re capitalists’. She then went on to burble bilge about ‘stakeholder capitalism’, and so, as Camp remarked, try to position herself as supporting capitalism and working people simultaneously. He also jokes about the Democrats’ extremely weak response to opposing the Republicans.

He also talks to Naomi Karavani about the Republican’s criminalisation of the DAPL protestors. North Dakota is considering passing legislation to allow drivers to run down protestors. They also have footage of some politico claiming that the protestors were all paid and bussed in specially, and that after leaving the DAPL protests they will simply go on to the next one. He also reports how the DAPL protestors, including elderly ladies, who have done nothing except peacefully block the way and pray, are now ‘terrorists’. They also want to amend the laws on rioting so it includes simply standing there when told to go away.

Finally on the show he talks to John F. O’Donnell about Trump’s intention to repeal the Dodd Frank Act. This is the act that obliges the big financial firms to put away hundreds of millions of dollars to provide against another financial crash. This would allow the banks to pay out millions to shareholders, but it would mean that they would once more become that bit more vulnerable to financial collapse. O’Donnell also discusses Trump’s abolition of the financial regulator, that has forced pay day loan companies and other companies to pay money back to victims of financial wrongdoing.

He reports Bernie Sanders’ response to this, in which the veteran left-wing Democrat called Trump what he is: a fraud. Trump had promised during his election campaign that he was going to reign in Wall Street. Now he’s doing his best to strengthen it and expand its power.

Warning: Camp is one of the young, edgy comedians, so there is language and some might find some jokes offensive. Like when compares the tired excuses of the American military for their warmongering, that they’re attacking to prevent the other side from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, to a couple with Alzheimer’s in a retirement home.

Camp is, however, exactly right in his criticisms and the report about Iran and its intention to move to an alternative currency instead of the dollar has more than the ring of truth. Greg Palast in his discussion of the Iraq invasion in his book, Armed Madhouse, states that the American economy is to a very large extent insulated from many of the financial crises that hit the rest of the world’s countries because the dollar is the world currency for the oil industry. The moment an alternative currency is set up – such as Gaddafi’s Gold Dinar – much of America’s economic strength is wiped out. Hence the aggressive response to any oil producing state that dares to do so.

We’re being threatened with being taken into another war, simply to keep American oil billionaires rolling in it. More of our brave squaddies may die, and the innocent people of another country massacred and its oil and other industries looted.

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Despite DAPL, Trump Plans to Steal More Native American Oil

December 7, 2016

A few days ago the water protectors in North Dakota won a victory against big oil when Barack Obama finally did the right thing, and refused to award the oil company the final permit that would allow them to dig. Despite this victory for the First Nations, and the very many Americans of all races and creeds, who came together to support them, it seems big oil and their puppets in Congress still want to take Native Americans’ final natural resources.

In this short piece from The Young Turks, Ana Kasparian and her hosts discuss plans by Donald Trump’s advisors to privatise the oil deposits on the Indian reservations, so that they can be exploited by private industry. Although the reservations comprise only 5 per cent of America’s land, they hold 20 per cent of the country’s oil deposits. And so naturally the oil companies want to get their mitts on them. If this goes through, it would violate the reservations’ status as sovereign nations. Kasparian and The Turks believe that the advisors will try to sell this idea to Native Americans as an opportunity for them to become prosperous through the exploitation of their mineral wealth. However, in reality this is just another episode in the long history of Native Americans having their lands seized by the American government and private industry. They also make the point that the American government actively overthrows governments in the interests of big business, such as Arbenz’s government in Guatemala and the 1953 coup that toppled Mossadeq in Iran. Arbenz was a democratic Socialist -but not a Communist – who nationalised the banana plantations. Most of these were owned by the American company, United Fruit, who had the American government organise a right-wing coup. This set up a brutal military dictatorship, which kept the majority of Guatemalans as virtual slaves to the plantation masters. Mossadeq in Iran was also overthrown, because he nationalised the Iranian oil industry, which again was in foreign hands. As a result, America organised a coup, which overthrew him, thus initiating the brutal rule of the Shah as absolute monarch, a rule which only ended with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Trump’s administration really is one of rapacious capitalism, absolutely determined to crush Americans’ civil liberties, and the rights of minorities for the benefit of big business. Not that Killary’s regime would have been any different. She was gearing up for more war in the Middle East, wars which would have been fought not free its peoples from dictators, but simply so that American multinationals could loot their oil and state industries.

Tribal sovereignty is, quite rightly, a very sensitive issue with Native Americans. Way back in the 1980s there was an armed stand-off between one of the Amerindian people in New York state. The FBI had pursued a Native American man, who was a member of the American Indian Movement, for a series of violent offences. The man drove into the reservation, and the way was blocked by angry indigenous Americans when the FBI tried to follow him. They claimed that the reservation was a sovereign country in its own right, and that any attempt by the authorities to infringe that sovereignty would be met with force. The tribe’s chief stated that if the police and the FBI tried to enter, the matter would then be up to the tribe’s young warriors.

I think the issue must have been legally clarified since then, as I can remember that at the same time there was considerable controversy over the decision by some Amerindian peoples to issue their own passports, as separate, independent nations.

Given how extremely sensitive the matter of sovereignty and land rights are to Native Americans, this latest scheme by Trump’s friends in the oil industry seems to me to have the potential to do immense harm, not just in the potential environmental damage, and the further dispossession and impoverishment of the First Nations, but also in overturning what must have been a series of very delicate negotiations between the Federal law enforcement agencies and the First Nations. This is quite apart from the various other programmes that have been launched over the years to bring Native and non-Native Americans together, and incorporate their point of view into the wider story of American history.

As for trying to convince Native Americans that private ownership of their oil would bring prosperity, that was the line the mining companies were trying to sell to the Aboriginal Australians back in the 1980s. I can remember a piece in the Torygraph of the time moaning that left-wingers were keeping Aboriginal Aussies poor by refusing them to mine the uranium on their lands.

Given the immense environmental damage oil pipelines like DAPL have done, and the rapacity of the oil companies and American government when it comes to exploiting other nations’ oil, Native Americans would likely be very well advised to keep well away from this. One of the instances of massive environmental damage done by the oil corporations show in one of the American left-wing news sites – I can’t remember whether it was The Turks, Majority Report or Secular Talk, was the destruction of hundreds of acres of waterways in Louisiana. The oil company had completely removed all the available oil, which had formed a supporting layer under the fertile rock and soil. As a result, the surface started sinking, with the marshland and waterways degenerating into a toxic, oil-sodden sludge.

The multinational companies in the Middle East also pay very little in royalties to the countries, whose oil deposits they exploit. Greg Palast in his book, Armed Madhouse, states that Aramco, the oil conglomerate formed to exploit the oil in Saudi Arabia, actually only gives one per cent of its profits to the Saudis as royalties. It’s a pittance, though enough to support the bloated and corrupt Saudi ruling caste in obscene luxury and absolute power. Similar trivial amounts of money are paid to the other Middle Eastern countries for exploitation rights, including Iraq.

If this goes ahead, the Amerindians can look forward to losing more of their territory, the devastation of the tribal lands, which is at the heart of the culture, and further poverty as the oil companies keep the profits for themselves.

Of course, the oil deposits do offer the possibility of enriching the tribes that posses them. But you can raise the question quite legitimately why a private company is needed, or should be allowed, to extract the oil. I understand that many tribes have set up their own, collectively owned companies to manage and exploit their natural resources for themselves, through tourism, woodland management and agriculture. One of the First Nations in California set up a company to catch, can and market the area’s salmon. If companies are to drill for oil on tribal land, a strong case could be made that the company should be at least part-owned by the tribe as the sovereign people, and very strict provisions put and rigorously enforced to protect the people and their homeland.

Oil Police Building Razor Wire Around Native Burial Ground for DAPL Pipeline

November 26, 2016

The dispossession for the indigenous people in North Dakota, and the brutalisation of the water protectors and protesters from Americans of all ethnic groups for the profit of big oil continues. In this short video from The Young Turks, their reporter Jordan Cheriton shows how militarised police are building a razor wire fence around a Native burial ground, so that the local indigenous people cannot visit or pray at the graves of their ancestors. There was an attempt by the NODAPL protestors to reach the island earlier in canoes, but they were beaten off by the police. The abandoned canoes were left on the island’s shore, where they are shown being hauled away and broken up by the rozzers.

Cheriton intervenes one of the water protectors, Mr Akicita Tokahe, who is a former US army veteran. Mr Tokahe was one of the US squaddies sent to Panama. He describes how the saw the local people there regard him and his army buddies with a mixture of fear and joy in their eyes. Now, he says, he’s experiencing what it’s like to be on the other side of an armed force.

The video ends with a young woman’s voice chanting a song about not giving up the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This is just one disgraceful episode in a long line of instances of police brutality, official injustice, greed and intimidation. It shows the overwhelming power of the oil industry in America, the way they’ve been able to ride roughshod over laws and treaties protecting indigenous land, and the absolute contempt they have for the Native people of America.

The pipeline was due to go through, or past, the town of Bismarck. However, as this would have posed a threat to the water quality of White, suburban community, the people complained and the decision was made to send it straight through the land of the Sioux people. And this is very much treaty land. Cheriton, or one of the others from The Turks, talked to a Black protestor, who had worked as one of the environmental teams researching and presenting evidence on whether oil pipelines could be legally constructed in particular areas. America has legislation, which should prevent oil, or other potentially dangerous or polluting engineering projects, being situated in poor, Black or otherwise disadvantages neighbourhoods. The oil company deliberately falsified evidence to claim wrongly that the land through which the pipeline was going to be laid was not Native American. They did so by counting only the indigenous Americans resident on Federal land, ignoring the greater amount of reservation land which the pipeline will run through. And as Cheriton points out here, the oil company shouldn’t be on that small island either. It belongs to the American military, and by law the only people allowed on that land should be the US armed forces.

So far, we’ve seen instances where the cops have done their best to prevent peaceful protests and prayers at the state capital. They’ve used mace against the protestors, physically attacked them, including with dogs. Indigenous protectors, including women, have been hauled off to be kept in dog kennels. They have been shot with rubber bullets, and the other day a White young woman, Sophia Wilansky, had her lower arm blow off when one of these goons shot her directly with a stun grenade. This is illegal, but they did it anyway and are now lying about it. The protestors have made it very clear that they’re putting this in the perspective of the long-term dispossession of the Native people of America by Whites. I don’t think you can fairly argue against this. A desire for the wealth of natural resources and agricultural land was behind the continuing seizure of Indian land and relocation of the Amerindians themselves during the 19th century. Despite the fact that this land is protected by the Fort Laramie treaty of 1863, if I’m not mistaken, the whole affair shows that the authorities are still willing to violate treaties and seize indigenous land, just as their 19th century predecessors did, when it suits them.

There is indeed a real danger that the pipeline will foul the area’s drinking water and damage its ecology. One of the statistics cited is that there already been 300 odd oil spills across America, which aren’t reported. And the authorities in America seem to have absolutely no interest in protecting the water quality of their citizens. The people of Flint, Michigan, have had their drinking water poisoned with lead by the local water company, but so far little, if any, action seems to have been taken to clean up the mess and punish those responsible. Communities have also seen their water contaminated by fracking, again with the absolute complicity of the local politicos.

There’s a lesson for us over here. The same companies that are fouling the American environment are keen to start fracking over here, and local authorities and the Tory party are all too eager to let them do it. So we can also expect communities harmed by poisoned drinking water, what the politicos take the bucks handed to them by fossil fuel companies completely indifferent to the suffering and damage they’ve caused.

As an archaeologist, I’m also left astonished and disgusted by the desecration of the tribe’s burial grounds. The respectful treatment of human remains excavated through engineering works, archaeological investigation or preserved in museums is a serious issue. It naturally arouses concern by people that their dead ancestors should be treated with dignity. And the issue is particularly strong, when the remains are those of peoples that have suffered from persecution. For example, a few years ago human remains were uncovered during building work for a new supermarket in one of the northern English towns. It was established that these were Jewish burials, including some of the victims of one of the terrible pogroms unleashed against them during the Middle Ages. Their excavation and removal to another site was, obviously, a delicate matter involving careful negotiation between the authorities, developers, archaeologists and the Jewish community.

Similarly, I was told by a Canadian archaeologist friend that the American archaeologists conducting an investigation of Native burials had to participate and observe certain ritual requirements, including being anointed with buffalo grease, while conducting the excavation. And rightly so, as they were on indigenous territory, interfering with their ancestors’ burials and remains, and so it was only correct that they should have to observe indigenous customs governing the sanctity of the dead.

And you can probably think of other, more prosaic examples of similar concern in White communities, when the dead there have been disturbed due to redevelopment. Yet the police and the oil company there have shown no such sensitivity to the feelings of the local people, or respect for their dead.

This is an absolute disgrace. And I’m very sure we can expect the same callous attitudes and casual brutality over here in Blighty when fracking starts.

Book On Ancient Amerindian Archaeology

September 10, 2016

This is a follow-up to my previous post about the deliberate destruction by the oil company constructing the North Dakota Access Pipeline, of the ancient burials in the area, which were to form part of the Standing Rock Sioux people’s case against the pipeline’s construction. Jan Hasselman, the lawyer representing the tribe, had arranged for archaeologists to survey the site, and they duly deposited their evidence to the court hearing their complaint. The very next day, the company moved the bulldozers in to destroy the site.

It’s appalling and outrageous when anyone’s burials are disturbed. It is even more so in this case, when it is the gratuitous action of a powerful, multibillion dollar company against an impoverished community, which has suffered centuries of brutality and injustice. Native American archaeology is rare, and there have been numerous attempts in the past to destroy the Native people’s culture, if not the indigenous people’s themselves. This is yet another of them.

Many people are interested in America and Canada’s First Nations and their past. A little while ago I found an excellent book on the archaeology of the American First Nations. This is Exploring Ancient Native America: An Archaeological Guide, by David Hurst Thomas (New York: Routledge 1994).

native-american-archaeology-pic

This is a comprehensive guide to Native American and Canadian archaeology from the settlement of the Continent by tribes crossing the Behring Strait to the Contact period. It has the following chapters:

The Global Prologue;
The First Americans;
Spreading Out Across America;
Agricultural Imperatives in the American Southwest;
Harvesting the Eastern Woodlands;
Mississippian Transformations;
Colliding Worlds: Old and New?
Epilogue: An Enduring Encounter.

It’s profusely illustrated, with some truly awesome and beautiful photos and drawings of the impressive monuments constructed by Native Americans, from the Pueblo villages and towns of the southwest, to the mounds made in the form of animals, like the Serpent Mound, of the Mississippi cultures, as well as smaller artifacts like pottery, tools, arrow- and spearheads and carvings.

There is are also passages giving the Native American perspective on the monuments and their significance to them. The book also includes a list of recommended museums on Native American archaeology, many of which are naturally run by the indigenous peoples themselves. It also gives advice on appropriate behaviour when visiting Native American communities.

The two museums mentioned by the book for Native American archaeology in North Dakota are the Four Bears Museum at New Town, North Dakota, and the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site at Stanton, North Dakota. The Four Bears Museum is an Indian-operated institution, and is dedicated to the archaeology of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. The book gives the tribe’s headquarters as south east of Minot on SR 23. It’s local three miles north on CR 37. It also has a visitor centre.

The book also has this illustration by Gilbert Wilson of the structure of a Mandan earth lodge. This was the particular lodge of Small-ankle, the father of Buffalo-bird-woman, as described by her.

earth-lodge-pic

The tribe, whose land is being desecrated by the oil company, is the Standing Rock Sioux people. I don’t think they have a museum, which is why the oil company was able to destroy their archaeological heritage. This makes it all the more important that their cultural remains should be preserved quickly.

Indian America: A Traveler’s Companion, by Eagle/Walking Turtle (Santa Fe: John Muir Publication 1995) gives the location of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation at Port Yates, North Dakota 58538. It’s in south-central North Dakota and north-central South Dakota, directly south of Bismarck, North Dakota. The tribes placed on this site in 1908 were the Blackfoot (Sihasapa), Hunkpapa and the Lower and Upper Yanktonai Sioux. The tribe holds its annual pow-wow at Little Eagle, South Dakota.

North Dakota Oil Pipeline: Company Destroys Native Burial Sites

September 10, 2016

If true, this is pure barbarism. I blogged earlier this week about protests by Native Americans about the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which is intended to carry oil through the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux people. The tribe are opposing it, as they fear that the pipeline will lead to the pollution of their water supply and the destruction of their lands and its ecosystem. In this piece from Democracy Now!, the anchor Amy Goodson speaks to the tribe’s lawyer, Jan Hasselman, from the chambers Earthjustice, and the tribe’s chairman Dave Archambault.

The oil company has tried a number of tactics to try to close down and disrupt the protests. They local sheriff and officials have pulled cellphone access over the area, to stop citizens uploading videos of the protests to the internet. They’ve also attacked the protesters with dogs and pepper spray. There’s video footage of the bites some of the protesters received from one of the animals, with blood dripping from the muzzle of a Doberman Pinscher. The oil company has also tried to destroy the ancient burials on the site, which Mr Hasselman was hoping to use as part of his case against the development.

Mr Hasselman and a team of archaeologists surveyed the site to show that there were Native American archaeological remains, some of them very rare, in the area which was scheduled for digging. These included the burials. They submitted these to the court in the hope that the judge would therefore rule that digging could not go ahead under the relevant legislation protecting ancient monuments in America and desecrating burial sites. The reverse happened. The company took the information, and used it as a guide to the location of the remains. They then sent the bulldozers in to destroy them. They did so in front of the protesters, and when they moved to protect the monuments, the security guards set the dogs on them and attacked them with mace.

Here’s the report.

This is outrageous on so many levels. It’s disgusting when anyone’s graves are desecrated. It is particularly outrageous when it’s deliberately done by a multimillion, if not multibillion dollar company against an impoverished community in a deliberate attempt to destroy their past for corporate profit. I have a postgraduate qualification in Archaeology from Bristol University. When I was on the course, a number of the other students I met were archaeologists from the other side of the Atlantic – America and Canada. Several of them had worked studying ancient First Nation American and Canadian remains. One young woman had designed a heritage park for one of the local peoples in southeast America. Another young man had also worked in Canada, prospecting ahead of the oil companies on the Canadian prairie for palaeoindian remains. And another young woman had been part of an expedition to the Canadian arctic to study Inuit monuments.

There is a wealth of fascinating archaeology from the indigenous American and Canadian cultures, which archaeologists have recovered and from which they are still learning. This archaeology is often not fully appreciated, even by the local people, to whom it really belongs, as for years the American and Canadian governments and some religious organisations, Such as the Roman Catholic missions in the American South West, did their level best to destroy the indigenous culture. In Canada, this was most notoriously through the government boarding schools, which were designed to isolate Native children from their ancestral culture and inculcate in them the culture, including clothing and language, of the White majority. The same policy was adopted in Australia against the Aboriginal people. As a result, some First Nation peoples tragically have only a very hazy idea of their traditional culture and the meaning of the monuments their ancestors created and left behind. I believe such a policy today of trying to destroy the Native people’s ancestral way of life would count as genocide under international human rights legislation.

Because of the historic injustice against these communities, excavation of these sites is extremely sensitive and, in Canada, they’re very strongly protected. The lad, who worked on the prairie informed me that he was working to make sure that there were no ancient Indian artifacts around before the oil companies moved in to extract oil from the shale geology of the area. If just one flint arrowhead was found, the area was a protected site and no development could go ahead. He also told me of some of the ceremonies that had to be carried out, and in which the archaeologists conducting the excavation, had to take part according to tribal religion. The archaeologists exploring ancient Sioux burial grounds, for example, had to be ‘smudged’ by the tribe’s shaman. ‘Smudging’ is something like Christian exorcism, but also rather different. The excavators and investigators, including those just handling the remains and writing up the notes, had to be anointed on their wrists and neck with buffalo grease by the local shaman for as long as the excavation lasted. This obviously made washing and personal cleanliness difficult, but it had to be done. The archaeologists were after all investigating another people’s culture, and so had to respect it.

Because archaeological remains are scarcer in America and Canada, because of the sparser population before the European conquest, excavations are carried out with a greater thoroughness than in Britain and Europe. They may take longer, and are done in finer detail than is frequently possible across the Atlantic.

Now it seems remains of immense cultural, spiritual and personal value to Sioux people, as well as of inestimable scientific value to archaeologists, has been destroyed for no reason other than to spite the protesters and their supporters, and prevent proper investigation by the courts. Several of the faculty at Bristol uni were members of, or had personal connections to, the World Heritage Organisation. Archaeologists, like other academics, travel all over the world to excavate and teach. So you can bet that scholars across the world have heard of this attack through their organisations, colleagues and students. And they aren’t going to be impressed.

Sioux Nation Honours Native American Protestor Against North Dakota Pipeline

September 7, 2016

This is another interesting video from The Young Turks’ reporter, Jordan Cheriton. In it, he covers a ceremony by the Rosebud Sioux tribe to honour one of their members, Happy American Horse, for his courage in protesting against the North Dakota Pipeline. This is an oil pipeline being tunnelled through the tribe’s territory, which threatens to pollute their water. As the chief in this simple ceremony points out, water is life, and ecology is important to Native American spirituality and identity. Mr American Horse is awarded an eagle feather, the traditional Plains Indian mark of a courageous act. The guy chained himself to one of the digging machines and stayed there to stop them digging, despite his understandable fear and calls from the workers to start it up, and so kill or injure him. Also present at the ceremony is Black American activist, who leads a chant of the words of one of the great Black American civil rights leaders, and a Black Jamaican. This last man, who describes himself as from the land of Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley, also unveils the Jamaican flag to honour Mr Horse’s courage. Marcus Garvey was one of the pioneers of Black emancipation in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was his belief that there would be a Black messiah from Ethiopia that laid the foundations for Rastafarianism. There are also a couple of White Green activists present, as well as Cheriton, who also add his words of encouragement.

I’m reblogging this as, although it’s very much an American protest, it’s part of the same struggle that’s going on over here as well in the campaigns against fracking. Quite often, those companies despoiling the awesome beauty of the American countryside are the same people wrecking the awesome beauty of the British environment, and poisoning our water like they’re poisoning those of the poor, the marginalised, and ordinary Americans over the other side of the Atlantic. These are the same companies supported by the Republicans, Shrillary Clinton and the Tories over here.

The coverage of the ceremony is another example of the way YouTube and the internet is transforming politics. Yeah, there’s a lot of rubbish and craziness on there, but it also allows activists to see, talk to and be informed about activism by ordinary people right across the planet. It’s why YouTube has now got frightened of this power, and is issuing stupid restrictive guidelines in case it puts off advertisers. It’s why the Tories want to censor the Net, all under the guise of protecting the vulnerable from Paedophiles, of course.

But at it’s best, the technology does help to fulfil Reith’s dream of bring nations and people’s together. ‘Nation shall speak peace unto nation’ is the quote from the Bible that’s written above the BBC’s entrance. This is also part of it.

Empire Files: The Tyranny of Big Oil

January 19, 2016

This is another excellent video from the Empire Files. In this edition, the presenter, Abby Martin, discusses the power and corruption at the heart of the industry, from the emergence of the first oil monopoly under the Rockefellers, to the effect control of the market, the economy and US and global politics by a few firms, such as Standard Oil, Chevron, Mobil and, of course, BP. These firms have reaped massive profits, and are able to act with impunity to trash the environment, and destroy lives and livelihoods by buying the loyalty of politicians in both the Republican and Democrat parties. Through their influence in the media and in academia, they suppress or distort climate science to allow the continuing massive destruction of Earth’s fragile ecosystem through oil spills, global warming and the effects of fracking.

Martin begins by describing how oil wealth is at the very heart of US imperialism. Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Qatar have all been set up as ‘oil monarchies’ founded on its power. She describes how John D. Rockefeller climbed to his position as the world’s first oil billionaire through strong arm tactics used against the other oil firms. Rockefeller was the owner and founder of Standard Oil. He made a deal with the railway companies, which he used to force the other companies in the nascent oil companies to sell up to him. When this didn’t work, he bought their pipelines, and then used his power there to force them to give in. Eventually, Standard Oil owned 90% of all US refineries, and had a workforce of about 150,000 men. Rockefeller was, unsurprisingly, bitterly anti-union, and so they had no union representation. And since him the power of the oil tycoons subverts democracy in the US and imperils the Earth.

Martin then interviews Antonia Juhasz, the author of the book, The Tyranny of Oil, written during the final years of the Bush administration about the massive political, human rights’ and economic abuses of the oil industry. She states that Obama is not as tied to the oil industry as Bush was, but nevertheless he was not confronting the industry’s power. She then moved on to discuss the rise of deep drilling in oil rigs off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The age of easy oil, where all you had to do was stick a pipe into the ground and out it would come is over. Most of the world’s oil is already claimed, and that which isn’t, is difficult to get to. As a result, oil drilling went further out into the ocean and deeper. And the results were blow-outs and spills. Such as the BP blowout in 2012. This resulted in the deaths of a million birds. To disperse the oil, 2 million gallons of a chemical were used which made it 42% more toxic. It also caused the deaths of eleven men. During the investigation it became clear that BP actually had no plans what to do in the eventuality of a spill. They simply counted on learning it ‘on the fly’. And the result was the world’s largest offshore oil spill to date. Juhasz states that she herself saw some of the resulting ecological devastation from a submarine. All the local wildlife that could get out of the area, did. The animals and plants that couldn’t, in her words, ‘were nuked’. There’s nothing down there except a tarry blanket of oil that will be there forever.

Martin also has as another of her speakers the left-wing journalist, Greg Palast. He reveals that BP had a spill 17 months previously in the Caspian Sea. This was covered up by the company itself, the Azerbaijani government – which he terms the Islamic Republic of Azerbaijan, because it’s so completely owned by BP – and also the American government’s State Department under Condoleeza Rice. Why the American government? Because the spill was partly due to BP using an American quick-drying cement. Despite this, the US Defense Department doubled their contracts with BP.

The Gulf Coast blow-out cost BP $17 billion in fines. This is a staggering amount of money, but not nearly as much as the company should have been fined. The Bush administration passed a number of extremely strict environmental laws. If these had been properly applied, then BP would have been hit with a fine of $200 billion. This would have made it difficult for the company to continue operating. As it was, the company said that the fine they eventually got was ‘manageable’.

The programme also discusses the immense political power the oil industry has through the banking lobby, and the power of the big corporations over the Senate. In the early part of last century, pressure from the Progressive Party and mass protests and agitation caused the US government to pass the anti-trust laws and break up Standard Oil, not least because they also wanted to destroy the unions. This was fragmented into 34 separate companies. These, however, are beginning to coagulate and reform back into a single giant trust as they merge and buy each other out. BP was a prime example of this. The company only got into America because it bought a US company, Arco. By the time Standard Oil had been broken up in 1911, Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire. At that time the world’s oil industry was owned by only three dynasties – the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and the Dutch royal family.

This dependence on oil and the power of the oil industry has shaped the structure of American cities. The oil industry has done everything it can to destroy public transport systems. In 1949 the system of streetcars in one US city was destroyed through illegal action taken jointly by General Motors and the oil industry. The legislation passed to protect the environment contains massive exemptions for the oil industry. The corruption goes deep into government. Three of every four lobbyist for dirty energy used to work for the US government. 430 + congressmen have ties to the oil industry. And the industry has already given $35 million to political candidates for 2016. Dick Cheney was part of the industry, duly drafting legislation in its favour. Condoleeza Rice sat on the board of Chevron. And under Obama America has become the world’s top producer of oil and gas.

The programme then moves on to fracking, and the disastrous effects this has had on North Dakota. This state has been overnight transformed into an oil-producing environment. It contrasts with the other areas, where the industry has been around longer and so people have had time to get used to it and organise resistance. The state’s beautiful countryside of rolling hillsides and buttes, including a Native American reservation, are now disrupted by flaring, in which natural gas is burnt off. In neighbouring Oklahoma there have been 600 earthquakes in a single year due to the dumping of the waste water produced by fracking.

As for politics and the oil industry, the programme states that the oil industry now is the American political process. It’s not as bad under Obama as it was under Bush. Then big oil was the American government. The power of the oil industry is still there, but it’s now more subtle. Palast describes how every Republican candidate in the US elections is frantically in favour of the Excel pipeline, to the point where one of them even said that ‘you have to love it.’ This is directly due to the Koch brothers. The Koch brother bought a big refinery on the coast. However, there are laws that prevent them from using Texan oil. So they have to import ‘heavy’ oil from elsewhere. This is either Venezuela, where they’ll have to try to remove opposite by ousting Chavez or Madura, or to import it from Canada. This is the Excel pipeline, from which the Koch brothers will each get an extra $1 billion a year. Just as the Republicans are connected to the oil companies, so the Democrats have their links to BP. Obama has approved drilling in the Arctic. Palast describes how he was at one of the communities that may be affect, Qoqtovik, where he was told by one of the local Inuit that if drilling started, ‘it was over for them as a people there’. And if there is a spill in the arctic, it’ll go under the ice cap all the way to Norway.

Martin and her guests also discuss why it is Americans are so ignorant about climate change. The problem is that the oil industry buys up America’s academics. Palast states that almost every biologist in America is on BP’s payroll through grants from the Lawrence Livermore laboratory, which were donated by BP. And what happened to biology has also happened to climate science. The oil industry will also exaggerate the importance and status of dissenting scientists through the press. One flagrant example of this was when NPR, which Palast calls National Petroleum Radio, stated that the oil spill in the Gulf would be eaten by ‘oil-eating’ bacteria. This piece of disinformation came courtesy of a $1/2 billion grant to Lawrence Livermore by BP. The press, however, never informed its readers that the release and the science was paid for by that company. America no longer has an investigative press. They simply state that some people say this, while other have an opposite opinion.

Another example of corporate control over academia was in the case of Von Heerden, a meteorologist at Louisiana’s Hurricane Center. One month before Hurricane Katrina hit, Von Heerden warned that New Orleans could be under water due to the oil industry’s destruction of the neighbouring mangrove swamps for 100 miles. And 30 days later, New Orleans was under water. Instead of celebrating this man for his warning and efforts to save the city, the state closed down the Hurricane Centre and replace it with a Wetlands Centre. This was due to the state receiving a massive cheque from the oil companies, who specified that they would also choose the staff to be employed in the new Centre.

And globally the environmental damage from the oil industry is devastating, to the point where the future of the planet is in grave danger. The UN in 2015 stated for the very worst effects of climate change to be avoided, three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Yet in the US alone there have been 20,000 oil spills a year. In the Niger Delta they have had to put up with the consequences of the devastation equivalent to an Exxon-Mobil spill every year for the past fifty years, due to untouchable oil corporations. In 2013, 1.15 million gallons of oil was spilled due to derailed trains. The preferred mode of transport for the oil industry nevertheless remains road. From 2008 to 2012 550 workers in the oil industry were killed in industrial accidents. This is a deathrate eight times higher than the other industries. And yet the world’s use of oil is completely unnecessary. Stanford University developed a plan to transfer America entirely to renewable energy, state by state, by 2050. The cost of the Iraq War alone could have financed the world’s transition to renewables. However, the power of the oil industry will only be destroyed when the power of the American Empire is also destroyed.