Saturday, May 14, 2016

Contemporary politics notHistory

Something I've been seeing a lot in discussions about the current election is one form or anther of the statement that Hillary Clinton is a corporate-backed warmonger who would be dangerous for America, both in terms of her economic agenda and as military hawk who would drag the US into unnecessary foreign wars.

I'll start with the "corporate backed." There are two bases given for this claim. The first is that, having accepted money from Goldman Sachs to give speeches, she has been bought and paid for by that corporation. Here is the complete list of paid speeches she gave from 2013 to 2015. There are a lot of them and she made a lot of money. It's a pretty common career move for retired politicians, and yet, somehow, when those ex-politicians are male, they are never called on it. The organizations she gave speeches to included, among others, the American Camping Association, the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, the Commercial Women Real Estate Network, the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, several entertainment companies, the World Affairs Council of Oregon, some health care firms, several Jewish organizations, and only one speech each to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The one that sticks out for me, though, is Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd, LLP, a law firm that specializes in class action lawsuits, including lawsuits against Wall Street firms. Is she in their pocket as well as Wall Street's? Because that would be quite the trick. She made speeches to make money, and it is well documented that a lot of those speaker's fees went right into charitable foundations. That's working to make a difference in the world, not selling your soul

The second basis for the claim that she is "corporate backed" is the amount of money contributed to her campaign by "Wall Street." The origin of most versions of this claim is a compilation by Open Secrets of all of her campaign donations over her entire career. This data has been used to create memes like this one:

There are several significant problems with this data. The first is that it is incomplete. It is supposed to include the organizations with the largest total contributions to all of her campaigns over her entire career, but it's missing some key players. Looking at the FEC filings from her last run for president, in 2008, it turns out that there are a number of union contributions that are significantly larger than anything on this list. For example, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $2.3 million and the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education gave $1.7 million. Others who would bump the Wall Street corporations off that list include, which gave $1.1 million and Planned Parenthood, which gave $1.8 million. So the list is not, in fact, the largest cumulative donors, but a cherry-picked sample that served the purposes of Open Secret. The second problem is that none of these donations came from the actual corporations listed, rather the money came from individuals associated with those corporations. This includes shareholders, employees, and family members of employees. The kid who works in the mailroom's mom counts. So does everyone who happens to have a connection to that sector who benefitted from her work when she was the junior senator from New York, which includes everyone in New York city or state who was affected by 9/11. So do all of the mid-level employees who don't get bonuses, but have high enough salaries that they have investment portfolios and are also well-enough informed to know that the stock market does better under Democratic presidents than it does under Republican ones. The assumption that individuals with ties to corporation will all, in lockstep, support candidates that serve the corporation with no other concerns is a dehumanizing stereotype that has no bearing on the reality of American politics.

As for warmonger, she voted for pretty much the same military actions that her opponent, Bernie Sanders, did with only one exception. That exception? John Kerry and John Edwards both voted the same way on the initial Iraq War resolution. Did anyone call them out as warmongers when they ran for office? It certainly wasn't part of the national discussion; it seems that is it only women who are held to that standard. On the other hand, she also has a strong record of peace-mongering. She brokered the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, helped negotiate the elimination of chemical weapons from the Syrian conflict, and did most of the work on the Iran agreement (Kerry sealed the deal and is getting all the credit, but he and others involved are on the record that she got it started, got the parties to the table, and got the outlines of the deal set before he took over). While she has supported military action, she has always advocated for making all efforts at diplomacy first and has quite a few runs on the board making the world safer through negotiation.

There are plenty of valid reasons to either support or oppose Hillary Clinton's campaign for president. There are far too many invalid, notHistory ones out there. They need to be stopped.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The World News Daily has published a piece by Burt Prelutsky that argues that, in order to stop the terrorist threat of ISIS, we need to we "remove ISIS from the face of the earth, hopefully as a joint effort with every other nation it has threatened or attacked, and that we then bomb Mecca off the face of the earth, not concerning ourselves in the least with collateral damage, letting the Muslims know once and for all that our God is far more powerful and, yes, vengeful than their own puny deity." He explains that, "It’s harsh, but they’ve been asking for it for over 1,400 years, and it’s time they got it."

So let's take a little look at exactly how "they've been asking for it." Starting 1,400 years ago, which would be when Muhammad still lived in Mecca and was only annoying his neighbors by preaching against the immorality of the ruling clans. Really, you have to go a bit forward in time before you can argue any sort of interaction at all between the Islamic and Christian communities, much less one that constituted "asking for it." 

I suppose you could start with the Umayyad Caliphates conquest of Byzantine Egypt in the 640s, as it was the first violent contact, it was roughly 1,400 years ago and the Byzantine Empire was technically Christian. Except that the Umayyad's went to Egypt on the invitation of the head of the Coptic Church, who begged the Umayyad's to free them from the tyranny of the Catholic Byzantines. As non-Catholic Christians living in a Catholic empire, the Copts were subjected to brutal forms of discrimination. It's hard to see how saving one group of Christians from discrimination by another group of Christians counts as "asking for it."
In fact, you really need to get to the Crusades before you can find any examples of Islamic aggression against Christianity as a religion or a civilization. And not even the First Crusade. No, it wasn't until the aftermath of the Second Crusade that any sort of anti-Christian ideas came into play.

See, in 1160, the Crusades were going pretty well for the Christians. They had control over Jerusalem and there were several prosperous and stable Crusader states in the Holy Land. That prosperity came from trade with the neighboring Islamic states, each of which had individually accepted the new political reality and treated the Christian states as they would any other neighbor. But in 1161, one Reginald of Chatillon-sur-Marne gathered a bunch of disillusioned Crusaders together and started attacking Muslim villages. They were upset that the Christian Crusader states had made treaties with the Islamic States and established peaceful relations instead of engaging in perpetual warfare. Reggie was imprisoned for his crimes, but when he was eventually released, he re-formed his band and started attacking pilgrims on the way to Mecca and eventually Mecca itself.

In response to these actions, and the Crusader States' failure to stop them, the Islamic world finally stopped seeing the Crusades as run of the mill acts of military conquest and began to see them as part of a religious movement that defined Christians and Christianity as an existential threat to Islam. The separate Islamic states put aside their quarrels with each other and united against the Crusaders under the leadership of Salah-al-Din. His recapturing of Jerusalem and defeat of Richard the Lionheart marked the end of the Crusaders' success in the Middle East and the beginning of the still ongoing mistrust between the two religions.

The idea that attacking Mecca would crush the Islamic spirit and prove the greatness of the Christian deity failed rather spectacularly 950 years ago. Instead of crushing the opposition, it united them in a cause that would endure for centuries. Believing that it would somehow work today is nothistory.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marching into nonhistory

I've really enjoyed all the coverage of the Selma anniversary and am looking forward to more civil rights movement anniversaries coming up. But I've also been disturbed by one aspect of how they've been presented: all the images and events have centered entirely around the African-American roles and experiences. I'm not suggesting we should minimize the very real risks and sacrifices and efforts that African-Americans took on as part of that movement, or diminish their accomplishments, but neither am I comfortable with writing out the roles that white people played in that movement.

The story of African-Americans standing up and fighting for the basic rights that this country stands for is an important one. Portraying it purely as a story of black against white is both dishonest and detrimental. It's a story of an America that is and has been completely divided along racial lines, and it's not true. Remembering that there were a lot of white people who stood up and supported the African-American protesters of the 1950s and 1960s, marched alongside them and took those same risks, some of them dying for that cause, that is a story of an America that is bigger than racial difference, that is based on shared values and a common belief in the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people. It is a hopeful story, and it is true.

 In all the recent publicity, I haven't seen one public image MLK during the Selma to Montgomery march that wasn't cropped to cut out the white participants. These are the images I wanted to see, but didn't:


And then there's this guy:

There's nothing wrong with a community celebrating their own successes. But when they make the exclusion of the allies who helped them win their battles intrinsic to the narrative of those successes, they are practicing nothistory.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Notevolution of Blondness (Ukrainian edition)

An article published in Science on March 10th, 2014, explains how the attractiveness of blond hair pushed human evolution.  The old theory was that, having moved to colder climes where dark pigment wasn’t necessary to protect from the sun, Europeans gradually evolved lighter skin, hair and eye color.  This new theory states that, while that had some impact, there was a big evolutionary jump in the last 6000 to 8000 years, so big that it can only be explained by other forces.  The authors “speculate” that the switch to farming, with less animal consumption and therefore less vitamin D, created an evolutionary pressure for lighter skin to enable more efficient vitamin D production.  But that only explains skin color, not hair.  That, they suggest, is explained by the lust-inducing impact of blondness. Here are the key points of the study (full article here):

… [A] team led by Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London, extracted DNA from 63 skeletons previously found at archaeological sites in modern-day Ukraine and surrounding areas. The researchers were able to sequence three pigmentation-related genes from 48 of the skeletons, dated between 6500 and 4000 years old … These three genes, like all pigmentation genes, come in numerous variants that lead to different shades of skin, hair, and eye color.

By comparing the variants of these genes in the ancient skeletons with those in 60 modern-day Ukrainians, as well as a larger sample of 246 modern genomes from the surrounding region, the team found that the frequency of variants related to lighter skin and hair, as well as blue eyes, increased significantly between the ancient and modern populations…  Thus, while the prehistoric Ukrainians had apparently evolved relatively lighter skin and hair, and a higher frequency of blue eyes, in the time since their ancestors had left Africa, the data suggested that they were not done evolving. To further test this conclusion, the team performed computer simulations designed to distinguish between natural selection and “genetic drift,” a change in the frequency of genetic variants due just to chance. These tests—which take into account ancient population sizes and the rate at which genetic alterations occur, and can determine whether genetic drift alone can account for the speed of evolutionary changes—showed that the pigmentation genes were still undergoing strong natural selection after 5000 years ago; indeed, the selection pressure was as great as that for other genes known to be very strongly selected in humans, such as those involved in the ability to digest lactose and protection against malaria.

“The signs of selection are indeed persuasive,” Rocha says. By using ancient DNA, he says, the team was able to “provide direct evidence” that “strong positive selection was the likely driver” of the changes in pigmentation profiles…
As for the trend toward lighter colored hair and blue eyes, Thomas and his co-workers suggest that may be due to sexual attraction—what in evolutionary terms is called sexual selection. If so, then the originally rare males or females with light hair and blue eyes might have been attractive to the opposite sex and so had more offspring; this kind of sexual preference for individuals with unusual appearances has been confirmed in other animals, such as guppies. 

I’m not questioning the science.  I’m not questioning the validity of evolution.  It’s the speculations and suggestions that strike me as nothistory. 

Based on two data points, separated in time by 6000 plus years, the scientist have determined the rate of evolutionary change.  All well and good, IF you have an unchanging population, such that evolution is the only factor affecting genetic changes.  But this is the Ukraine, not an isolated island immune from outside forces.  So we need to talk about migration.  Between the 8th and 3rd centuries BCE, the area absorbed both Greek and Iranian populations.  In the 3rd and 4th centuries CE it was the Goths.  The 5th century brought the Huns, the 9th century the Khazars, and the 12th and 13th centuries brought Mongols.  So there’s a lot of change to the gene pool between the early population in the study, who lived in 8500-6000 BCE, and the later, contemporary one.

Did any of these migrants bring in genes for lighter pigmentation?  Well, the Iranians (also referred to as Caucasians) certainly did.  In fact, one of those Iranian groups, the Sarmations, was described this way by a Roman historian: "Nearly all the Alani are men of great stature and beauty, their hair is somewhat yellow, their eyes are frighteningly fierce."  Another option is the Goths, who moved to the Ukraine from Scandinavia.  There is some argument as to whether they originated in Scandinavia or had moved there from some other place.  One thing we do know about human history, however, is that co-location means interbreeding.  If the Goths spent any time at all in Scandinavia, they would have brought a healthy dose of those Northern, sun-deprived, pigment-deficient genes with them. 

With all due respect, I’d like to suggest that the signs for selection are not, in fact, persuasive.  The signs that the scientists can’t tell that their apples are oranges, however, are.

As for the idea that sexual attraction accounts for the increased prevalence of blondness?  Never mind that they can't cite any evidence that, among humans, those considered more attractive at any particular point in history have had more children than those who aren’t.  Let’s just try to remember that human mating behavior is somewhat more complex than that of guppies.

Finally, in homage to Bill Maher, I’d like to suggest a new rule: Scientists aren’t allowed to publish historical interpretations of their work without first consulting with actual historians.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I'm seeing a lot of discussion of the possible impact of Hurricane Sandy on voter turn-out. I have yet to hear any comment on the potential impact on voter preferences of the experience of Sandy. As I see it, there are two ways this could help the Obama campaign:  

1) Pushing climate change and environmental issues higher on voters' priority lists and/or pushing voters off the climate change fence onto the side of science.

2) Reminding people that, when times get tough, they don't actually want small government, they want a competent FEMA and an actively engaged president. Obama's meeting with FEMA, DOE, etc. and his statement today was well calibrated to emphasize that message.

 I can't think of any ways this could play into the Romney message, but I might be missing something.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The HCR notUnprecedented Mandate

The basic arguments against the constitutionality of the health care reform are that the individual mandate is unprecedented in forcing individuals to buy something and that it goes against the intent of the founders. So, for example, Allen West in The Washington Times stated that, “The 2012 Supreme Court must determine whether the Founders had any intention of mandating the behavior of private enterprises and individuals. To me, the answer is obvious: absolutely not.” Likewise, Paul Gigot argued that, “the Affordable Care Act represents the first time Congress has required Americans to purchase a product. "I do think the question is novel enough -- the compelling of commerce by the federal government."”

There’s been a lot of comment in the past few days on the applicability of the 1792 Second Militia Act, everywhere from the Yale Law School News and Events page to Yahoo News. That was the law, passed by the second Congress and signed by President Washington, that mandated that all able-bodied men purchase muskets for the purpose of being ready and able to serve in the militia if called. That would seem to answer both questions rather conclusively, but for those who see too many differences between an obligation to be prepared to serve in the nation’s defense and buying health insurance, there is another, more relevant precedent.

Just six years later, in 1798, then president John Adams signed An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen that required, among other things, that private individuals who wanted to take employment as sailors on merchant ships buy health insurance. Unlike the Militia Acts, this had very specific mechanism for collection and specified penalties for failure (namely, not getting a job). Rick Ungar reported on this in Forbes over a year ago, in an article that answers every critique I’ve seen about the applicability of the Militia Act. If you missed it the first time around, it’s well worth a look now.

Monday, March 12, 2012


There is a move in my state (Virginia) to try for the Personhood Amendment to the state constitution. This has me thinking about some of the implications of fetus-personhood, and the more I do, the less I think that it's supporters have thought things through.

For example, could a fetus-person donate to a political campaign? Vote? Open a bank account? And would a fetus-person have the same legal rights as a corporate person, namely, to enter into and enforce contracts? Children don't have these rights, but the Personhood Amendments don't define fetuses as children. Hmmm. I guess all the personhood-states are going to have to tinker with the definition of a fetus-person to differentiate it from other kinds of persons. But, if you take away some rights from fetus-persons, what other rights could they lose?

The case of children is illustrative. Western society started, back in Roman times, with the notion of children as property of their fathers or guardians. There wasn't much change until the 19th century, when the first real rights were granted to children as individuals separate from their parents in the forms of compulsory education and child labor laws, innovations that conservatives, then and now, decry as unnecessary intrusions of the state into familial life. Since then, there have been numerous debates and developments in children's rights, in the US most notably over health and welfare issues. To create a new category of fetus-persons, protected from their parents by the state would open up a similarly complex set of issues that would not be resolved quickly or easily, and that would undermine fundamental conservative principles.

If the state has a declared interest in the well-being of the fetus-person, can pregnant women smoke? Drink? Can the neighbors play loud music? Fetuses are far more vulnerable to toxins, which greatly increase the risk of miscarriage; would fetus-personhood create a higher burden on industry to maintain environmental standards? On food manufacturers to limit additives in foods consumed by pregnant women? All of these questions would be raised, and probably litigated. Have the supporters of these measures considered these possibilitiesprobabilities? Besides the ones who are lawyers; I'm sure they are well aware of what a huge financial bonanza this would be to the legal profession.

Then there's the issue of taxes. The fetus-person would, arguably, be a resident. If the personhood-states determine that they are, somehow, legal, then under the US tax code, they could be claimed as a dependents by their mothers. Every expectant mom in a personhood-state gets a tax deduction! Even with the current makeup of the bench, I can't see the Supreme Court allowing individual states to define an entirely new category of federal tax deductions. At the very least, the definition of personhood would have to be modified to 'personhood for the purposes of' something or other, which would fundamentally undermine the premise that the fetal-person's rights should ever be considered equal to those of a full citizen.

Which brings up the question of fetus-person citizenship. We can answer that one. In the US, one of the ways we define persons is by whether or not they are US citizens. We grant citizenship in three ways:
1) By birth to a parent who is a US citizen,
2) by birth on US soil, or
3) by naturalization.
A fetus-person, not having been born, would be ineligible for methods one and two, and thus not inherently a citizen.

This has some interesting implications. Every pregnant woman in a personhood-state would be harboring an illegal alien and subject to prosecution. To avoid this without amending the US Constitution, all those fetuses would have to be naturalized, a process they could, arguably, be eligible for as immediate relatives of US citizens. This process is, of course, the responsibility of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, a federal agency. In 2010, around 675,000 applications for naturalization were processed, but it jumps around a lot - the highest number in the last decade was over a million in 2008. There are about six million pregnancies in the US each year, with just under two million of those ending in miscarriages. Even leaving out the miscarriages, that would, at the very least, quintuple the workload for naturalization services, requiring a significant expansion in the workforce. That being the federal workforce, you understand. Not to mention the trouble the states would have dealing with what to do with their growing illegal-fetus-aliens during the six months it takes USCIS to process each of these requests.

Far more likely is that the federal government would decide that USCIS will not accept naturalization requests for pre-born future-citizens. In that case, personhood-states would simply have to revise their immigration laws to accommodate large populations of temporary, illegal-fetus-aliens by defining them as some other category, like 'future citizens'. But, any fetus that can reasonably expect to be born on US soil is a future citizen. It would be very tricky to write that definition in a way that did not automatically grant temporary immunity from deportation for all pregnant women.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

notmarriage history

Mitt Romney: I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. I disagree with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. I will support an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution to make that expressly clear. Of course, basic civil rights and appropriate benefits must be available to people in nontraditional relationships, but marriage is a special institution between a man and a woman, and our constitution and laws should reflect that.

Newt Gingrich: The sacrament of marriage is based on a man and a woman, has been for 3,000 years, is at the core of our civilization and is worth protecting and upholding.

Rick Santorum: The Ninth Circuit decision yesterday said that marriage — if you believe in traditional marriage — the only reason that you can possibly believe that is because you are a bigot ... Your belief of marriage between a man and a woman is purely irrational based on hatred and bigotry. That’s what they just wrote. Four thousand years of human history. Irrational hatred and bigotry toward a group of people is the only reason you can be for marriage between a man and a woman.”

I usually start with the easy shots and work my way up to the more complicated stuff, but this time there is no complexity.

It is flat out not true that, for 3,000 years or 4,000 years, marriage has been between a (fully adult) man and a (fully adult) woman. There have been many child brides, and still are some today, but there have been child grooms as well, most famously Ptolemy XIII, who married his older sister (by 7 or 8 years, depending on the source) Cleopatra (yes, that Cleopatra) when he was just 10.

It is flat out not true that, for 3,000 years, marriage has been between a (singular) man and a (singular) woman. Polygamy, the marriage of a man to more than one woman, was common in the ancient world and was widely practiced by Mormons in the US not that long ago. Mitt Romney’s own great-something’th-grandfather fled to Mexico in 1884 to avoid US legal restrictions on polygamy. Polyandry, the marriage of a woman to more than one man, has been less common, but has existed in in a number of times and places, including the present day in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada.

It is likewise not true that marriage was, throughout recorded human history, either based on or between a man and a woman. Historically, marriage has most often been a matter between families or communities, negotiated and settled between parents, heads of households, or village elders.

And finally, it is flat out not true that marriage has been either a “special institution” or a sacrament for 3,000 years, particularly as the word 'sacrament' only applies to Christian practices and Christianity hasn't been around that long. In fact, in the early Christian church, marriage wasn't sacred at all, it was a private, civil matter and priests were forbidden from performing marriage ceremonies. This policy was not reversed until the 11th century.

Some days, it's just too easy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Rick Santorum's response to the SOTU speech included this gem:

It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs at American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America — and it is indoctrination...As you know, 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it. And I bet you there are people in this room who give money to colleges and universities who are undermining the very principles of our country every single day by indoctrinating kids in left-wing ideology. And you continue to give to these colleges and universities. Let me have a suggestion: Stop it!

He doesn't cite any evidence for that 62% figure, but I'm willing to believe that, once upon a time, someone did a survey of "faith convictions" of incoming freshmen versus graduating seniors. The real question is, did anyone do a comparable survey of entering freshman-aged non-college attenders and graduating senior-aged non-college attenders? An entering college freshman is typically 17-18 years old. A graduating senior is typically 21-22 years old. It is a critical transition time, from being a teenager to a young adult, from being your parents' child to being your own person, from dependence to independence. How many teenagers with a faith conviction become young adults without one, regardless of their educational experience? Without that information, that 62% is notstatistics.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Keystone confusion

So the Republicans are going to take another shot at forcing through the Keystone pipeline project. The arguments for the pipeline are pretty popular ones. Here are a few examples:

According to Investors Business Daily: The 1,700-mile TransCanada Keystone crude oil pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast is a no-brainer. Canada's oil sands are the largest source of crude oil outside the Middle East and the 700,000 barrels of black gold per day the pipeline would bring would mean hundreds of thousands of new jobs, lower gasoline prices, less U.S. dependence on Mideast oil and hundreds of millions of dollars in increased revenues for the states.

Oil and Energy Investor says that : [Keystone] represents a new North American-centered initiative to lessen reliance on Middle Eastern imports and would create thousands of new jobs.

Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, spoke to Fox News Radio about the possibility that, if the pipeline isn’t approved, all that crude will go to China, saying, “It makes the United States more vulnerable to rely on outside sources for our energy.”

And Mark Green, over at EnergyTomorrowBlog upped the ante with this line: “[In] his rejection of the Keystone XL the president is rejecting jobs – 20,000 of them in the pipeline’s construction phase and up to a half-million more over time.” Where did the half-million number come from? He quotes Jack Gerard: “But the Keystone XL pipeline would create 20,000 new U.S. construction-related jobs over the next two years. More importantly, it would help support the creation of half-a-million new jobs by 2035.” There does not seem to be any other source or evidence for this number.

So, the arguments for the pipeline are:
• It would create thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, half-a-million jobs,
• It would reduce our dependence on “outside sources” of energy, also referred to as Mideast oil,
• And it would lower gasoline prices.

There are already lots of analyses of those jobs numbers, all of which agree that the reality would be a few thousand jobs for the two years of construction followed by maybe a couple of hundred long-term maintenance jobs. I want to look at the other two arguments, both of which are very effectively and convincingly disproved by a rather interesting source: The corporation proposing to build the pipeline.

TransCanada Keystone Pipeline GP Ltd. argues that the pipeline will have no impact on imports from the Mideast and would simply displace US imports from Mexico and Venezuela with imports from Canada. (Yes, Mr. Gerard, Canada is an “outside source”.) Not only that, but the sale of Canadian crude to refineries in the Gulf Coast will also displace the refining of US produced crude in those facilities, forcing domestic producers to transport their product over greater distances and thereby increasing the cost of domestic energy supplies. They further state that this will increase the price of gasoline for US consumers. Where do they say all this? In their application to the National Energy Board of Canada for a permit to go ahead with the project.

First, let's tackle the question of our dependence on “outside sources” of energy.

Let’s just gloss over the fact that Canada actually is a foreign country and accept that ‘foreign’ and 'outside' here are actually code for ‘Arab’. The Gulf Coast refineries are pretty busy, and no one is building new ones, so where do the Canadians think the capacity for processing all their crude is going to come from? Will they be displacing imports from the Middle East? Not so much. Here’s their explanation of where the processing capacity comes from:

Heavy crude runs fell from 2004 to 2007 due to reduced supply of heavy crude, especially from Mexico, as shown in Figure 7. In the first eight months of 2008, heavy crude supplies from Mexico and Venezuela fell another 300,000 B/D (31.8 103m3/d) approximately. Heavy crude imports from other countries increased, but there was a net reduction in heavy crude use of approximately 200,000 B/D (31.8 103m3/d).

Their projections show Canadian heavy crude replacing imports from Mexico and Venezuela, leaving the amount of crude from ‘other’ foreign sources unchanged. So there is no anticipated reduction in US dependence on oil from the Mideast, just a switch from Latin American sources to Canadian ones. Net impact on our dependence on “foreign” oil = zero.

Now onto the question of domestic gasoline prices.

We'll need some vocabulary for this one:
• USGC = United States Gulf Coast
• PADD = Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts
• PADD II = the Midwest (15 states, from the Canadian border down to Oklahoma and from the Dakotas to Ohio)
• PADD III = the Gulf Coast (6 states)

Let’s start with a key takeaway from the summary section at the top of the report:
Existing markets for Canadian heavy crude, principally PADD II, are currently oversupplied, resulting in price discounting for Canadian heavy crude oil. Access to the USGC via the Keystone XL Pipeline is expected to strengthen Canadian crude oil pricing in PADD II by removing this oversupply. This is expected to increase the price of heavy crude to the equivalent cost of imported crude. Similarly, if a surplus of light synthetic crude develops in PADD II, the Keystone XL Pipeline would provide an alternate market and therefore help to mitigate a price discount. The resultant increase in the price of heavy crude is estimated to provide an increase in annual revenue to the Canadian producing industry in 2013 of US $2 billion to US $3.9 billion.

In other words, the Midwest currently gets cheaper gas because they get their Canadian crude at a discount, based on an excess of crude available in the area. If the pipeline goes through, that excess will disappear and the price of Canadian crude will, therefore, go up, increasing revenues.

If you look into the more detailed body of the report (developed for Keystone by independent experts), you find that there are a number of projections as to the impact on PADD II, in most of which supplies actually increase. But, the only one that the Keystone management considers is the one that maximizes their revenues. Is this legitimate? Actually, yes. The only variable that affects the supplies to PADD II in these projections is the amount shipped to the Gulf Coast. Since Keystone will control the pipeline that does the shipping, they can choose the scenario that makes them the most money by restricting supplies and raising gas prices for the American Midwest.

But what happens to the Midwest? They've got that covered: “With lower Canadian deliveries, PADD II refineries would need more domestic crude or other imports to sustain crude runs.” And where does all this crude come from? “The PADD II refineries also use U.S. domestic crudes produced mainly in PADD II, Texas and Louisiana, and they import crudes via pipelines from the USGC.” Unless they have some way of increasing production in their own states, they're going to be piping it in from the Gulf Coast. That's the plan. To pipe Canadian oil all the way South to the Gulf Coast and have Gulf Coast crude be piped North to the Midwest

Why does any of this make sense? Because Title 50a of the US code, section 2406d, bans the export of domestically produced crude. In other words, crude that is pumped out of the ground in the US cannot leave the country in any form. The Gulf Coast refineries can make more money refining Canadian crude piped in from thousands of miles away than they can from crude originating in Texas, because they can export it.

Today, Canadian crude is piped a relatively short distance to PADD II and most Gulf Coast crude is refined locally. Under the Keystone plan, Canadian crude will get piped to the Gulf Coast and Gulf Coast crude will get piped to PADD II states. That’s a whole lot of unnecessary transportation, which takes energy, making the total energy production less efficient. Nor is the oil in question is destined for US markets. But both Keystone and the Gulf refiners will make more money, while consumers in the American Midwest will pay the price. Not to mention that, with increased energy costs, all the agriculture in the Midwest will become more expensive, raising the cost of food for the whole country.