Photo from Library of Congress
Perhaps many Americans are unaware of the importance of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project and its political importance in both Canada and America. In fact it is an issue that puts a spotlight on everything that is wrong in American politics right now.
First, it is important to understand what the project consists of and why environmentalists are adamantly opposed to it. The oil development project consists of extracting oil from sands that are saturated with tar. This tar is known as bitumen. This is nothing like normal oil operations. This involves oil extraction techniques known as fracking. Vast amounts of heat, water and chemicals are used to extract the tar from the sand, silt and clay. Already in California it has been discovered that oil companies have illegally dumped three billion gallons of toxic water polluted by fracking into California’s aquifers. Aquifers are underground water supplies. In addition the amount of water used for fracking in drought stricken California is a scandal in and of itself.
Just recently there has been a natural gas leak that forced people to be evacuated from their homes in eastern Ohio due to a fracking incident. Last summer a fire broke out in eastern Ohio at a Halliburton fracking site that spilled thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into an Ohio river. Last October in eastern Ohio a rupture spread natural gas and methane forcing the evacuation of over 400 families. One worker was killed in a fire. In another rupture several acres of woods caught on fire. In Canada indigenous people have been removed from their land and have fallen victim to rare cancers and other diseases due to tar sands oil extraction.
Illustration by Dominique Chappard
The Keystone XL Pipeline project has become a lens into the current dirty politics at work in Washington. It was used to keep long-term unemployed people from receiving the Federal Unemployment Extension after their state unemployment benefits ran out. Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to allow a bi-partisan Senate passed bill to renew it for five months with retroactive payments as an emergency measure to help the unemployed by passing it on to President Obama asking him to add a jobs creation bill to it. This is the first time in American history that the House of Representatives has not passed a Federal Unemployment Extension benefits bill after it has passed the Senate. These are nasty times in American politics and the long-term unemployed have been used as a bargaining chip.
President Barack Obama did not even bother to call John Boehner on the issue. One of his greatest failures as president is his inability to work with the Republican leadership. Unfortunately the jobs creation bills that were passed by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives all included approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, tax cuts for the largest corporations and wealthiest people and reductions in environmental laws. This is why the Senate which until recently was under Democratic control would not allow a vote on these House passed bills. Meanwhile all of the jobs creation bills sponsored and approved by the Democrats and Obama have not been allowed to come to a vote in the House under the leadership of John Boehner.
In fact the leadership of the Republican party has been taken over by the Tea Party, a group that pretends to be grassroots but is really funded by the multi-billionaire Koch brothers. When David Koch ran for president as the Libertarian candidate he had a platform that included abolishing minimum wage, social security, unemployment payments and privatizing the post office. The Koch brothers heavily fund the political campaigns of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell is now the Senate majority leader. He is known for his extreme right wing views. He was tape recorded in a conversation with the Koch brothers in which he bashed minimum wage, unemployment benefits and student loans. He is known for bashing consumer financial protections and environmental protection laws.
Democrat Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana voted for the Keystone XL pipeline. In Louisiana’s primary system if no single candidate gets enough votes there is a run off election between the top two candidates in December. The Democrats failed to supply Mary L. Landrieu’s campaign with the promised one million dollars to defeat Republican candidate, Bill Cassidy, choosing instead to use the money in other campaigns. This shows how in the current American system financial contributions to political campaigns from the districts or states in which a candidate is running do not win elections. Not only can multi-billionaires such as the Koch brothers help to decide elections in small states like Kentucky where right wing Mitch McConnell is from but the Democratic National Convention and its Republican counterpart can help to decide local elections with their treasure chest of campaign money. The only reason I can think of that Mary Landrieu would vote for the environmentally unsafe Keystone XL pipeline which would terminate at a processing plant in nearby Texas is to appear to be pro-business and pro-jobs . This, in spite of the fact that nationally the pipeline would create few jobs and displace farmers. She had lost much of her electoral base because Hurricane Katrina caused many blacks who traditionally voted Democrat to leave the state. Mary Landrieu lost in the runoff election.
Among the other Democrat senators who voted for the Keystone XL pipeline were: Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Thomas Carper, D-Del., Robert Casey, D-Pa., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Walsh, D-Mont., Mark Warner, D-Va.
In March of 2015 the Senate failed to override President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline bill that passed the Congress after the Republicans took control of the Senate at the beginning of the year. The reason for this article is to remove the certainty that the mainstream mass media seems to put in people’s minds that the two major political parties always vote in a block without dissension in their ranks. I, also, wanted to point out that without dissension within the ranks of the political parties there really is no democracy. This is compounded by the current system of financing political campaigns that undermines the ability of voters within voting districts to decide on who their representatives are.