Standing Rock: violence and evacuation orders raise spectre of showdown – Julia Carrie Wong and Sam Levin Tuesday 29 November 2016 07.46 EST

Apprehension and distrust pervade North Dakota protest site as promises from state that there are no plans to forcibly remove people does little to assuage fears

Current Time 0:00 / Duration Time 1:34 Loaded: 0% Progress: 0% Mute Police blast Standing Rock protesters with water cannon and rubber bullets – video

Current Time 0:00
Police blast Standing Rock protesters with water cannon and rubber bullets – video

Police violence against Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota has risen to extraordinary levels, and activists and observers fear that, with two evacuation orders looming, the worst is yet to come.

A litany of munitions, including water cannons, combined with ambiguous government leadership and misleading police statements, have resulted in mass arrests, serious injuries and a deeply sown atmosphere of fear and distrust on the banks of the Missouri river.

Statements by the US Army Corps of Engineers and North Dakota state government that, despite their orders of evacuation, there are no plans to forcibly remove protesters opposing the Dakota Access pipeline have done little to assuage fears.

As the first snows have fallen and more protesters arrive in support, apprehension at the encampments about the coming days is running high.

“We’re going to hope for the absolute best,” said Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation who works with the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council. “If they do attempt to remove people forcibly, we are certainly preparing for mass casualties.”

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Judge Strikes Down Idaho ‘Ag-Gag’ Law, Raising Questions For Other States – LUKE RUNYON `AUGUST 04, 2015 5:26 PM ET

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at Aug 5, 2015 2.17

Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and North Carolina have also made it illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations.

Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and North Carolina have also made it illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations.


Idaho’s so-called “ag-gag” law, which outlawed undercover investigations of farming operations, is no more. A judge in the federal District Court for Idaho decided Monday that it was unconstitutional, citing First Amendment protections for free speech.

But what about the handful of other states with similar laws on the books?

Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa have also made it illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations. A new North Carolina law goes into effect in January 2016. But now those laws’ days could be numbered, according to the lead attorney for the coalition of animal welfare groups that sued the state of Idaho.

“This is a total victory on our two central constitutional claims,” says University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau, who represented the plaintiff, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in the case. “Ag-gag laws violate the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause. This means that these laws all over the country are in real danger.”

“Ag-gag” refers to a variety of laws meant to curb undercover investigations of agricultural operations, often large dairy, poultry and pork farms. The Idaho law criminalized video or audio recording of a farm without the owner’s consent and lying to a farm owner to gain employment there to do an undercover investigation.

Other “ag-gag” laws require that animal abuse be reported within a specific time frame, a tactic animal activists say is meant to prevent them from gathering evidence of an abuse pattern rather than just a singular event.

Utah’s “ag-gag” law is the subject of another federal lawsuit, filed by the ALDF and PETA. Other states’ laws go back to the early 1990s when Kansas passed criminal penalties for anyone found to damage or harm an agricultural research facility. Iowa’s statute is considered to be the first in a batch of more recent “ag-gag” laws. Signed into law in 2012, it was the first to criminalize secretly videotaping a farm without the owner’s permission.

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A Regrettable Decision – By Dahlia Lithwick JULY 23 2015 5:28 PM

This astonishing, anti-science, states’-rights court decision begs for a ban on abortion.

The Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, July 2, 2013. It is the state’s only abortion clinic. Photo by Dan Koeck/Reuters

The Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, July 2, 2013. It is the state’s only abortion clinic.
Photo by Dan Koeck/Reuters

This week, a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked North Dakota’s so-called fetal heartbeat bill. At first glance, this appears to be a clear victory for abortion rights. The statute—one of the strictest abortion bans in the nation—prohibited, with narrow exceptions, abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often six weeks post-fertilization, sometimes before a woman knows she is pregnant. The law had been pushed through by a Republican state legislature in 2013 but was almost immediately blocked by a federal district court, which found that it clearly violated the constitutional protections afforded in Roe v. Wade.

Roe established that abortions were permissible pre-viability (currently at about 24 weeks into a pregnancy). As the district court originally determined two years ago, “[a] woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has consistently been upheld by the United States Supreme Court for more than forty years since Roe v. Wade.” The district court also determined that “H.B. 1456 clearly prohibits pre-viability abortions in a very significant percentage of cases in North Dakota, thereby imposing an undue burden on women seeking to obtain an abortion.”

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Low oil prices are good for 42 states — and bad for the other eight – Updated by Brad Plumer on December 23, 2014, 8:00 a.m. ET

How will the big plunge in oil prices affect the US economy? Stephen Brown, an economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers a simple mapbreaking things down. On the whole, cheap oil will likely boost economic activity in 42 states (in green and yellow) while hurting it in the remaining 8 (in red):

(Resources for the Future)

(Resources for the Future)

Brown’s calculus is fairly simple. On the one hand, low oil prices mean lower gasoline prices. For people who consume a lot of gasoline — most of the United States, basically — the price plunge is a major boon. Estimates of the average household benefit range from $550 per year to $1,100 per year or more. Plus there are lower energy costs for airlines, shipping, and so on.

Alaska is now facing a $3.5 billion deficit as a result of lower oil prices

But the picture is different for eight states that rely heavily on oil production: namely, Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma Texas, Wyoming and West Virginia. Lower oil prices means less revenue — and, in places like North Dakota or Texas, could force shale producers to scale back their drilling. (Oil-producing states with diversified economies, like California, are much less vulnerable overall.)

On top of that, some of these oil-producing states could find themselves in a budget hole. Alaska, for one, is now facing a $3.5 billion deficit and may have to make it up by shelving infrastructure projects, increasing tuition fees, and so on. (The state has socked away a $13 billion rainy day fund for this eventuality, but that will run down if low prices persist for a long while.)

“These eight states,” Brown writes, “have economies that depend on energy production for export to other states. The extent of the [negative] effects depends the prominence of oil in the state’s energy mix and the lack of diversity in the state’s economy.” You can read more on these nuances here.

The overall economic impact in the US should be positive

So how does this all shake out? Assuming oil stays well below $80 per barrel, as futures markets currently predict, Brown offers some back-of-the-envelope calculations:

Taking into account the income losses for US oil companies, the net gain in US income will amount to $920 per year for each household. The average propensity to consume is around 90 percent, so the average US household could spend around an additional $825 per year.

Because low-income households spend a greater percentage of their income on energy consumption, and are less likely to own stocks in oil companies, such households will see larger gains and spend more. High-income households will spend less. The overall effect should amount to a one-time increase in US GDP of about 0.7-1.0 percent.

There’s a lot more in Brown’s policy brief, written for Resources for the Future, about the various implications of falling oil prices — it’s worth checking out.

Liberal Policies Win; Liberal Candidates Lose – By Annie Lowrey November 5, 2014 9:45 p.m.

Dissonance abounds! On Tuesday, Alaska voters likely elected to the Senate Republican Dan Sullivan, who opposes the marijuana legalization initiative they just approved. Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP/Corbis

On Tuesday, liberals lost at the polls. Republicans picked up at least seven seats in the Senate and more than a dozen in the House, along with a handful of governor’s mansions — including in the deep-blue states of Maryland and Massachusetts. All the intensity was with Republican voters and for Republican candidates. Democrats’ turnout collapsed, particularly among the young.

But on Tuesday, liberal policies won at the polls. Voters rejected fetal personhood ballot measures in North Dakota and Colorado. They approved marijuana legalization in two states and the District of Columbia. And voters in four states and three cities passed ballot initiatives hiking the minimum wage for an estimated 609,000 workers — with the potential for that number to swell to 1.7 million if states that adopted non-binding measures go ahead and lift their wage floors.

Many of those blue ballot initiatives happened in red states, no less. Alaska voted for pot. North Dakota turned down fetal personhood. Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota voted to give their lowest-wage workers a raise. Voters, in other words, found it easy to vote for liberal policies even as they rejected liberal politicians.

What explains the dissonance? Simple ignorance probably accounts for some of it: Americans are often unsure of which party controls what parts of government and who stands for what. For instance, one recent survey found that only 38 percent of Americans knew that Republicans have the majority in the House, and only 38 percent knew that Democrats have the majority in the Senate.

That lack of knowledge — combined with the fact that the parties change their opinions on individual policy measures all the time — means that Americans often hold profoundly muddled political views. The proportion of Americans with consistent political opinions has doubled in the past two decades, according to a major Pew study of political polarization released this year. But even so, just 21 percent of Americans are ideologically consistent.

Four in five are likely to believe, for instance, both that “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost” and “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good,” or that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days” and that “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

There’s evidence for voters’ contradictory beliefs everywhere you look in the polls. Voters hate the Affordable Care Act, but like its major provisions. They disapprove of Barack Obama, but are onboard with most of his major policy proposals. They vote to hike the minimum wage at the same time that they vote in politicians opposed to hiking it. They tell their local representatives to“keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

Granted, active, invested political junkies tend to be more ideologically consistent than average Americans. But even among engaged Republicans, just 33 percent have consistent conservative views, up from 23 percent in 1994, in the midst of the “Republican Revolution,” Pew found. And it is those active, engaged Republicans who tended to show up at the polls on Tuesday — armed less with a clear ideological mandate than a deep distaste for Democrats, and especially Barack Obama.

In shadow of oil boom, North Dakota farmers fight contamination | by Laura Gottesdiener Aljazeera – September 6, 2014 5:00AM ET

ANTLER, N.D. — Last summer, in a wet, remote section of farm country in Bottineau County, landowner Mike Artz and his two neighbors discovered that a ruptured pipeline was spewing contaminated wastewater into his crop fields.

“We saw all this oil on the low area, and all this salt water spread out beyond it,” said his neighbor Larry Peterson, who works as a farmer and an oil-shale contractor. “The water ran out into the wetland.”

It was August, and all across Artz’s farm the barley crop was just reaching maturity. But near the spill, the dead stalks had undeveloped kernels, which, the farmers knew, meant that the barley had been contaminated weeks earlier.

Soon after, state testing of the wetlands showed that chloride levels were so high, they exceeded the range of the test strips. The North Dakota Department of Health estimated that between 400 to 600 barrels of wastewater, the equivalent of 16,800 to 25,200 gallons, had seeped into the ground.

Wastewater, known as “saltwater” because of its high salinity, is a by-product of oil drilling, which has been a boom-and-bust industry in North Dakota since at least the 1930s. Far saltier than ocean water, this wastewater is toxic enough to sterilize land and poison animals that mistakenly drink it. “You never see a saltwater spill produce again,” Artz said, referring to the land affected by the contamination. “Maybe this will be the first, but I doubt it.”

Artz is far from being the only farmer in his area, or even in his family, to be forced to cope with the environmental and financial costs of wastewater. His brother Pete recently testified before the state legislature’s Energy Development and Transmission Committee that he lost five cattle after they drank contaminated water from a reserve pit left from two wells drilled on his property in 2009. His other brother, Bob, had a spill that sent wastewater pouring down the road and across his land in late July.

In fact, farmers and landowners all across Bottineau County are struggling with the compounding effects of both new and decades-old water contamination. The county lies in the northern outskirts of the Bakken Formation, which has transformed over the last few years into one of the top-producing oil fields in the world, generating more than 1 million barrels a day. While the boom has brought wealth, the rapid pace of extraction has sparked fears among the state’s farmers and ranchers about the long-term costs and consequences of land and water contamination, especially because hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, produces far more wastewater than past drilling techniques. (The process, which has exploded in North Dakota since 2008, requires injecting into each well millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals at high pressure in order to break up the shale underneath.) Recent spills, such as July’s massive, million-gallon wastewater spill on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, in western North Dakota, have further stoked fears of future contamination.

In this respect, Bottineau County offers an unusual, decades-long test case, since the region has a long history of contamination and a plethora of aging wells, tanks, pipelines, disposal sites and other infrastructure left from North Dakota’s earlier oil booms in the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s. And the experiment’s not over yet. At a recent meeting, Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, announced that a new wave of production is headed to Bottineau in 2015.

The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail: Bomb Trains – Published on Jul 28, 2014


It’s estimated that 9 million barrels of crude oil are moving over the rail lines of North America at any given moment. Oil trains charging through Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, and Canada’s Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta provinces have derailed and exploded, resulting in severe environmental damage and, in the case of Quebec, considerable human casualties.

A continental oil boom and lack of pipeline infrastructure have forced unprecedented amounts of oil onto US and Canadian railroads. With 43 times more oil being hauled along US rail lines in 2013 than in 2005, communities across North America are bracing for another catastrophe.

VICE News traveled to the Pacific Northwest to investigate the rapid expansion of oil-by-rail transport and speak with residents on the frontline of the battle over bomb trains.

More on VICE News: Do You Live In A “Bomb Train” Blast Zone? –