2015/10/24

Keep San Francisco FAIR!


Ed Lee is corrupt and San Francisco is being destroyed by the lack of affordable housing and the evisceration of rental stock by Airbnb.

Keep San Francisco FAIR! Vote yes on Prop F, yes on Prop A, yes on Prop I, and Replace Ed Lee!

Vote 1-2-3 to Replace Ed Lee! Use ranked choice voting to vote for the following candidates for Mayor, in any order:


Check out the campaign websites for:

Feel free to use the artwork, modify as you wish. Contact martin.mackerel@gmail.com for source documents.

I've also made a PDF on white background suitable for printing.

2015/08/10

No, We Don't Stand Together

The slogan "We Stand Together" is as bad as "All Lives Matter", and Bernie supporters would do well to steer clear of it.

Everyone should realize by now how hollow the phrase "All Lives Matter" is. If black people had used the slogan "All Lives Matter" originally, that would actually mean what it says. But the phrase "All Lives Matter" was only uttered after the slogan "Black Lives Matter" burst upon the scene. "Black Lives Matter" is used to emphasize that black lives do matter, in the face of a society that so clearly does not value black lives.

In that context, the phrase "All Lives Matter" is a retort – it opposes "Black Lives Matter", covers it up, hides it under the false universal of "all lives". But, of course, if all lives truly mattered, there would be no need to say "Black Lives Matter".

In the same way, "We Stand Together" uses a false universal. Who is we? "We" are the white progressives who don't want to be distracted by all this discussion of racism and white supremacy – that's "someone else's issue". Why can't we instead talk about class, or debt, or the 1% – you know, the issues that matter to "all" of "us".

This is the same "we" of feminism that obscures women of colour and trans women. This is the "we" of gay rights that says that staying in solidarity with the "T" of LGBT is just too divisive.

We don't stand together. Some of us do stand in a very different position vis-à-vis the police, the courts, the banks, the job market, etc., etc. The reaction of the crowd to the Seattle interruption shows exactly why it is necessary to keep bringing up the issue of race.

"We Stand Together" is a blatant attempt to shut down dissent, to crowd it out, to refuse to listen to it. If you're standing in a crowd of Bernie Sanders supporters who start chanting "We Stand Together", do the honourable thing: sit down. Or even, lie down for Mike Brown.

2015/08/07

Comments on the scope of the WesPac EIR, part 2

August 7th, 2015 - my second email submitting comments, focusing on climate change. Part one focuses on more local and regional issues.

This is the second part of my comments on the scope of the WesPac RDEIR, focusing on climate change, both the project's effect on climate change and the effects of climate action on the project's purpose and long-term viability.

Preface


It is not merely the manner in which the proposed WesPac project would operate that is a problem; it is its very existence itself. The purpose of the project is to increase the flexibility and capacity of the petroleum industry. It is likely to, however marginally, increase production of and reduce the costs of fossil fuels, and thereby increase the global use of those fossil fuels. And that is precisely the problem.

In a public comment of September 13, 2013, I said the following:
Even if the facility operated flawlessly, however, it would contribute to the increased global use of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gases that through climate change endanger our physical infrastructure, our health, our environment, and potentially the very viability of human civilization.

It is imperative that we change our energy system. To start with, we must insist on NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE.

There is simply no excuse to do otherwise; any statement of environmental impact that claims low impact for additional fossil fuel infrastructure and allows its construction is extremely irresponsible.
Two years later that comment is, unfortunately, still valid. My claim that the very viability of our civilization is endangered is far from being an exaggeration. The climate change that is already "locked in" will strain our ability to adapt. The very material bases of our civilization are under assault: changing weather patterns mean that agriculture will be increasingly difficult, sea-level rise threatens many cities and much infrastructure, and more heat waves, storms, and cold spells mean more property damage and fatalities in the years ahead.

Comments on the scope of the WesPac EIR, part 1

August 7th, 2015 - my first email submitting comments, on issues other than climate change. Part two focuses on climate change.

In this document, I am listing all comments on the scope of the WesPac 2015 RDEIR other than those related to climate change.

Pipeline and tank integrity issues


When I refer to "pipelines", I mean both the pipelines fully internal to the site, as well as the external pipelines that connect to the regional refineries and other distribution networks.

Please include detailed information about the age of all tanks and pipelines. Which of these tanks will be refurbished?

What are the limits of vapor pressure that the tanks and pipelines can handle? How does this compare to the known very high vapor pressure of Bakken shale oil?

What other effects does crude type have on pipeline or tank integrity? For example, both tar sands dilbit and Bakken shale are likely to be more corrosive than fuel oil or other crudes, and the more viscous tar sands dilbit is likely to be pumped at higher pressure than other crudes. Tar sands dilbit is also often heated to get it to flow; how does this affect pipeline integrity? It could increase corrosion and it could also increase wear-and-tear from thermal expansion and contraction.

The Mayflower spill in Arkansas was a result of the rupture of Pegasus, a 65-year-old pipeline that was intended for refined products. Exxon 1) reversed the flow and 2) sent more corrosive tar sands dilbit down the pipe 3) at high pressure. All three actions stressed the already quite old pipeline; together, they weakened it enough to rupture it.

2015/08/04

Notes from WesPac EIR Scoping Session, 2015/07/22

WesPac is back. The proposal for an oil terminal in Pittsburg, CA has been modified, dropping the rail component. It would include a marine terminal, lots of oil storage, and pipelines to Bay Area refineries. The storage tanks are within 200 feet of homes, and there are churches and schools nearby as well.

A new EIR will be prepared, and there was a scoping session on July 22nd. Comments on the scope of the EIR will be taken until 5pm on Friday, August 7th, 2015. I took some rough notes from the scoping session.

A couple of City staffers and a representative from TRC, the consulting company doing the EIR, spoke. The purpose of the scoping session, they said, was 1) to educate the public about the process and 2) to take public comment. Significantly, the public comment was supposed to be on the scope of the EIR, and not supposed to be about the merits of the project itself. Nevertheless, many speakers did share their opinion on the project as a whole. After public comment, the TRC rep said there had been two kinds of comments: 1) impacts of the EIR, and 2) opinions. He said, "Please let your decisionmakers (City Councilmembers and Planning Commissioners) know your opinions."

The rep introduced the rationale for the project: a California Energy Commission determination that there is a shortage of crude oil storage in the Bay Area, coupled with an increase in oil imports, and ship congestion at existing terminals. None of this holds water - the CEC determination is from several years ago, there are plenty of marine terminals at existing refineries, and in any case, California gasoline and diesel use is declining.

Public Comment


I took brief notes on each speaker. Public comment lasted about two hours. Unfortunately, the City did not provide video recording or a stenographer - they had a staffer take notes on an easel pad. I will be submitting these notes.

2015/04/30

The Violence Inside

Earlier this week I had an emotional meltdown over Freddie Gray's murder and the subsequent events in Baltimore. I wrote several tweets that were openly calling for the death of cops. I'm writing this blog post not to retract those comments, but to explain them.

The police mutilated Freddie Gray's body in a way that I can't even comprehend the physics of. I know the police can be animals, but that level of horrific brutality shocked me to the core. Not only were several cops were involved, but we know from cases like these that even cops not directly involved will lie and cover up for their co-workers and that prosecutors and attorneys general will avoid any punishment for the cops whatsoever. The Coup has a line: "Every cop is a corrupt one." Absolutely true.

Every cop is a bad cop, because they all support this kind of brutality. "Police whistleblower" is an oxymoron – cops do not testify against other cops. Cops are, in a sense, not individuals. Becoming police means becoming a part of a mass that has no true understanding of justice or fairness – it is a depersonalized, sociopathic force to maintain the existing social order.

Thinking about how the Baltimore police mutilated Freddie Gray's body ignited a murderous rage in me. I wanted to see cops killed. I wanted to kill cops myself. I still do. I want to watch a cop's blood pour out into the gutter. I have seen fear in a cop's eyes and it is a beautiful thing. But now I fantasize about watching the light fade from those eyes.

This very hateful and violent impulse is a scary thing to face in myself. But I see no value in denying it. It's there, the mirror image of the sickness that the cops carry, that they give into. It has been one thing for me to read Martin Luther King Jr.'s words about how violence leads only to violence, and how hatred only leads to more hatred. It was one thing to become angry at the police and realize that that is a deliberate effect of state violence.

It is another thing entirely for me to personally plunge directly into the abyss, to not just intellectually think that someone should be killed, but to passionately desire their brutal death. I grapple with this twisted fact that the very evil I see in the world and fight against, rises up inside me and that my own strong drive for justice can become poisoned, taken over, transformed into the very thing I detest.

This has led me to go back to some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s words, particularly his Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. His six basic points about nonviolence are not easy. They can be very, very difficult. While I still wouldn't rule out some kinds of violent action in order to get to a better world, my intense reaction this week reminded me to go back, again and again, to these fundamental points, in particular the fifth point. It is a struggle for me to avoid the "internal violence of spirit", but its appearance has been a lesson for me.

2015/04/14

Investing to Support the Clean-Energy Revolution

While I'm definitely anti-capitalist, for the meantime, capitalism is the social form we have. So I am investigating the best ways to limit climate change within that system, while at the same time looking to overcome it.

One way to work within capitalism is in the directing of your money, both as a consumer and as an investor. Here are the results of my research into some "green" ways to invest.

Financing installation, not companies

I am focused on directly financing the rollout of existing clean energy technologies – primarily wind and solar – rather than financing R&D or buying stock in clean-energy companies. Since I still work full-time, any investment income is taxed at a high rate. But most of the investment instruments that finance the direct implementation of these technologies are income-generating assets (which makes sense). Therefore I am specifically looking for things that I can buy through my retirement accounts.

In any case, most of my investable money is in my retirement accounts (IRAs that were rolled over from 401k funds). I have them all at Vanguard, and it's easy to set up a brokerage account. From there I can buy anything publicly traded.

YieldCos


The main type of investment I've invested in (of the money devoted to clean energy) is the YieldCo, a relatively new type of investment that provides a steady stream of income. The idea is that the YieldCo effectively owns income-generating assets like wind farms and solar installations and distributes most of the income as dividends. YieldCos buy these assets from developers; the developers can then take that capital and use it to build new wind farms and install more solar. Usually each YieldCo is closely tied to one developer, which does raise the potential for conflicts of interest.

I did some investigation into some of the available YieldCos. I picked a few for purity and yield (like meth). By yield of course I mean how much the dividends amount to as a percentage of the purchase price. By purity I mean how much of their assets are in clean energy. One in particular, NRG's YieldCo, has a high percentage of dirty energy assets (natural gas power plants and even coal power plants) in order to have the tax equity to take full advantage of the federal Investment Tax Credit available for solar and wind. While I understand the rationale, I'd prefer my money to be used to fund as close to 100% clean energy as possible. And as you can see, it's quite possible:


This graph is from an absolutely excellent overview (about a year old) at Forbes called Clean Energy Yield Cos: Growing Pains.

2015/04/08

Dinosaur Mating and the Endgame of the Fossil Fuel Era

The Fossil Fuel Endgame

It is my contention that we are currently witnessing the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry.

After years of high prices for crude oil (~$100/barrel for Brent, just under that for West Texas Intermediate), prices starting falling in late summer 2014 and have been sitting for the past few months at just above half their former prices. The proximate cause of this fall is the decision by the Saudis to go after market share rather than keep oil prices high.

I believe this decision marks a turning point in the history of oil. It's not short-term but permanent.

The average barrel of oil has become more difficult to extract over time, and oil prices have risen accordingly. The Saudis are sitting on enormous reserves of cheap-to-extract oil, and have benefited from the increased prices. A couple of years ago, their reserves looked like a steadily appreciating asset - worth more in the future (when oil would likely be more expensive than now).

However, we have two major new factors: renewable energy is rapidly decreasing in cost, and real climate policy in the major economies (US, China, EU) looks inevitable. Now oil is likely to be less lucrative in the future - and most of it will have to be left in the ground. This graph shows just how dramatically the price of solar has dropped in recent years (wind has seen similar though less dramatic improvements over time):


That means that oil is now a depreciating asset and it makes financial sense to sell it now, even at historically cheap prices. It's like a gold rush in reverse, as the endgame of the fossil fuel era plays out. The Saudis have single-handedly cut the price of oil in half and have announced their intention to push prices lower if need be. So oil prices won't be going up any time soon.

At today's prices, Canadian tar sands projects are totally untenable, and Bakken shale oil is marginal: oil will continue to flow from existing wells, but new wells will only tap the most productive spots. This means that the need for North American crude-by-rail will dry up over the next year or so. In particular, we've seen the Pittsburg WesPac project be re-proposed, but this time without the rail terminal. And the Kinder Morgan crude-by-rail terminal in Richmond, CA apparently stopped receiving shipments in February 2015.

Dinosaurs Mating

Recently Shell announced that it would buy the BG Group (an LNG - liquefied natural gas - supplier) at a 50% premium in a huge deal. Far from being a sign of a robust and growing industry, this reminds me of nothing so much as the "dinosaur mating" of the big mainframe manufacturers as their product became less and less relevant over the course of the 1980s and 1990s.

In the face of inexorable improvements in price/performance of clean energy technology, a growing fossil fuel divestment movement, and increased clamor for a price on carbon or other way to tackle climate change, I think we will see more of these deals in the future as the industry contracts and slowly dies. Our goal should be to hasten the death of this industry in order to limit the damage it's still able to inflict.

Update

This Financial Post article, "Saudi Arabia was worried about a danger much bigger than shale when it blindsided oil markets", supports much of what I say here. The Saudis are worried about the peak and then decline of demand for oil, in part because of its replacement by clean energy. If anything I think they're not paranoid enough.