American Culture

Let’s talk about oil pipelines, for instance

Wherein I try a new troll…#indiesplaining

As with everything else, I’m no expert. I’m just some rando doing some supposing about things when a headline catches the eye. Right now I’m thinking about this from HuffPo:  Trump Wants To Give Ryan Zinke The Power To Approve Pipelines In National Parks.

What’s my starting point on this issue?

Illustration, silhouette of head with question mark, thought bubbles, and map

My knee jerk instinct is that pipelines are bad. I associate them with leaks, and regulatory capture, slimy corporations slinking out from under their responsibility to clean up their messes, and a militarized police state breaking up protests with violent measures. I’m angry because we’re sold these pollution conduits on the basis of all the jobs they’ll create, while the energy shills don’t bother to point out that really, it’s only a couple thousand permanent jobs when all is said and done. I have a heart, so of course I see degrading our pristine wildernesses as a bad thing. Of course I loathe our official utter disdain for the will of Native Americans.

And I know none of that will appeal to the reasoning of a committed conservative who will dismiss these points out of hand and point to oil, and jobs, and America, by God. One who opposes that kind of thinking can trot out all the sentiment in the world, and that just starts out at a disadvantage. It’s a cession of power in the conversation, because as far as the opposition is concerned, whatever the decent environmentalist thinks of them (and they couldn’t give a damn), they think the bleeding heart starts out in a pit of safe spaces reserved for snowflakes that need to be dug out of before they’ll even give one the time of day.

Your sources don’t matter. WashPo? NYT? ABC? CBS? NBC? MSnbc? C. N. Friggin’ N? You already know what they’re going to say.

But they love industry insiders, as long as they’re not Democrat industry insiders, because those are swampy.

Maybe, and this is just a maybe, instead of trying to convince them they are mistaken, instead of trying to get them to change their minds or their votes, maybe we can change up the narrative a bit and talk, not about what they’re voting against, but what they’re voting for.

Why am I choosing to have this conversation with you? Because there’s no point in trying to have it with them at the moment. Their own narrative is that they’re in power and staying that way, suck it up loser, lock her up, Trump 2020! The balance to that zeal? Well, if you could lock McCain, Flake, and Paul in a room together, you might be able to form a primordial conscience.

So, here we are, talking about pipelines for the moment because I don’t think the left hand knows how to ask the right hand to stop stabbing it with such glee since we’re part of the same body politic after all, and the body suffers for the one’s knife, the other’s incoherence, and the willful spitefulness of both.

Now, this is old news. Like, really old 1993 news from the Oil & Gas Journal. I’m going to make a minor assumption here. If this kind of analysis was a thing back then, it’s a thing now, and the numbers are (hopefully) no less accurate. This isn’t anti-environmentalist screed. This isn’t pro-pipeline advocacy. This is boring nuts and bolts insider talk about the methodology of calculating pipeline failure rates because of its central importance to pipeline operation risk management.

Sexy, huh?

I think it benefits from how boring it is. Whatever anyone feels about pipelines, and boy howdy, we as a nation have found a way to feel something, often strongly, about damned near everything these days, this isn’t a question of pipelines leaking. It’s a matter of how often they leak, how much they leak, and how much it costs to clean up leaks. Nobody should buy a car without an honest appraisal of how much work it’s likely to need over the years, and how expensive parts & labor will be. Don’t say “no pipeline!” Just ask, “how much work is this jalopy going to need, how much is it going to cost, who foots the bill, and is it worth it for what we get back?” Let’s not let either us or them get lost in the means. What are the ends? Would they support a better means to the same ends?

Sure, right now we don’t even agree that the ends themselves are the problem. Good luck changing minds on that if we can’t even change minds on practicality.

Pipeline ABC will leak as surely as that new truck is going to need a new alternator in 75,000 miles. “Well, that’s about $500, right there,” is a perfectly sane thought about buying that truck. Let’s credit the opposition with having at least that much savvy, and maybe we’ll get somewhere with them. They might not know how you use those fancy slide rules or how to drink avocado toast with their pinkies sticking out right, but your opposition is smart enough to buy the right truck for the right job and generally not get screwed by their mechanics. At least that’s the myth on that side. There’s exceptions to every self-narrative.

“Okay, yeah, if a truck is going to need a new alternator, it makes sense a pipeline is going to need service. Why? Parts fail. When a part fails, what happens? Depends on the part and the machine. Blow a hydraulic hose on your tractor, maybe your loader slams to the ground and you spew a few gallons of hydro. So, okay, parts fail, pipe leak. So what?”

This will take you into territory they can speak to. “How many times has that tractor needed a pump replaced?” is a different thing than fear-mongering them about, “zomg, what about the pumps?!”

It’s not if pipelines fail. How often? That’s a question that can be answered to greater or lesser degree. Surely the sides can compromise on a number between the low number posed by industry and the high number posed by someone else. This many leaks happen.

How much of what is leaked? That’s a question that can be answered.

How much does it cost to clean up a leak? That can be answered.

At that point, isn’t it at least possible to talk about how much it costs to clean up leaks in general?

I’m not optimistic that the conversation can even progress beyond that into whether or not a leak is a harm or into the matter of who foots the bill until we can at least get that far. Then we can talk about externalities and where the burden falls.

The way things are going, I’m not optimistic that the Democratic party machinery is necessarily capable of taking back Congress or the presidency to change by law what they couldn’t sell with persuasion. I’m not confident in that because, of late, I seem to be observing a party, a side, that is so divided that it’s become two opposing camps, one of which is further split, often at cross purposes, and most of which, from center to edge, I find myself opposing for various reasons while feeling no inclination toward whatever the right has to offer, either. I see a centrist camp of wealthy neoliberal technocrats with a death grip on the reins of party power and lip service for any identity group they can trick into voting for them, and a gaggle of identity groups with mostly legitimate claims and all the messaging savvy of a drunken toddler with lipstick and a bare wall.

I’ve beat this drum against the right so often that I’ve forgotten to pound on it over here where I’d most hoped to find the most synergy, where I’d taken that fit for granted for so long. Maybe it’s time for the left to remember what the right won’t countenance.

Note on napkin math: it’s napkin math. These numbers are quick n’ dirty estimates based on quick n’ dirty Google searches, which is still a damned sight more thought put into the issues than found in the typical news article from anywhere. My gut is that more accurate numbers only make my case stronger, even when not as favorably, because at least then the case is better substantiated. I’ve seen nothing to suggest more accurate numbers would reverse my position.

The US population is ~323,000,000.

About 235,000,000 Americans are of voting age.

There’s a largely untapped voting pool of 35 million right there.

We’ve got about 200,000,000 registered voters.

About 48% of those are registered Democrats. That’s about 92 million. About 44% are registered Republicans. That about 88 million. Add them together and you get about 180 million, leaving another gap of about 20 million registered as other than D or R.

I’m thinking that’s about 55 million people the parties don’t speak for.

The Democrat 28% of the population vies with the Republican 27% of the population while 17% of the nation who could vote essentially cedes power to both bands of rapscallions, and why?

Well, we’re watching DACA unfold, for instance. It should be a matter of principle. As a matter of principle, it should have been a matter of principle long ago. But it wasn’t. What does that tell the party outsider who mistrusts both parties? It’s not principle now. Oh, sure, it’s real. And there’s real people involved. And real misery. And real costs. And…now it’s an issue. Why might that be?

Could it be that the Democratic party thinks it has more to gain in terms of appeasing its fractious left wing contingent and might just pick up about 800,000 loyalty votes for at least putting on a good show of it?

That’s what it looks like over here. The Big D party has walked like a duck and quacked like a duck enough times that it would be a hard sell to convince…not me alone, but most independents, I think, that there’s authentic principle here, unless that principle is votes and political contributions.

Why would they do that?

Well, I think the Democratic party has already milked the black vote for all it can get. If anything, it stands to lose black voters to attrition. The Dems and the left more generally don’t like to contemplate that there is a broad swath of voting black Americans that are more conservative than they are on social issues. The right has gotten quite adept at trotting out Diamond and Silk and Clarke and West and Carson, and they’re not wrong to do so. I don’t have to agree with any of them to see that the left hasn’t cornered the market on the black conscience, and shame on anyone who thinks it has. Don’t believe me. I’d just be some rando #whitesplaining. If you’re black and I’m wrong, please correct me. If you’re not black, ask your black friends.

With #metoo, even Bannon is trying to tell the right that if they’re not careful women pose an existential political threat to GOP hegemony. He’s not wrong. But if you think conservative women are waiting in the wings and eager to race into the embrace of pink pussy hats and sex-positive, trans-inclusive right-now feminism (I can’t even predict what wave they’ll be considered in 5 years), you might be a bit delusional. Or maybe you just don’t talk to conservative women. They don’t like rape, assault, and abuse any more than any other woman. But if they think they’re getting a raw deal from both sides, my money is on them just sitting it out, especially if the left can’t sell what they’re not buying.

Cynically, maybe attrition in the black vote on the left might cancel out attrition in the women’s vote on the right. I don’t know. Look up the numbers and see what you conclude. I’m just supposing.

I’m just supposing, because I’m part of that out of the loop and disenfranchised 55,000,000 given the spectacle of a devil’s brew of Sophie’s Choices every so many years. That’s about 55 million Americans waiting to be persuaded on the facts.

And we don’t like poison pills any more than the next voiceless American.

And the Dems are cynically stretching for 800,000.

Why is that? Well, when the Democratic party and its allies make it the central issue of any proposed platform that the national presidential debates be opened, and that management of those debates passes into impartial hands that run the debates by impartial rules, maybe they can be taken seriously about wanting any of those 55,000,000 votes.

That’s why they’ll stretch for 800,000 instead.

And the Republicans are no better. They’re arguably worse. And we’re sick of lesser evils.

Take pipelines, for instance. The centrist left loves them unless the occasional small fry out of 535 smells environmentalist chum votes in the water. The purported left is a raging cacophony of discordant interests. The actual left is wondering why we’re begging the question of capitalism by just suggesting it be restrained instead of put down. So the only people who might come to the issue from the nominal left are among the most partisan of the bunch.

And from what I’ve seen, through some tacit silence and much loud proclaiming, the partisan left is over trying to negotiate with terrorists, or, as I like to call them, fellow Americans who disagree. The age of persuasion is over.

I believe this to be true, else the left would be trying to persuade the 55 million instead of buying the 800,000 with pandering.

Again, take pipelines, for instance. I think we can agree that there are, in theory, numbers we should be able to agree on. How many gallons of what spilled at what rate at what expense, payable by whom? Those numbers come with support for pipelines, broadly speaking, in the same way that steak comes with the plate its on.

And we can’t even get that far. How on earth, then, are we supposed to get beyond the napkin math of leaks to talk about the “good” that’s bought at that price? The arguable number of jobs? The net impact on the economy? Whether or not there’s a better means to the same or similar end? Whether or not there are better ends? Whether or not the ends justify the means?

Of the thousands of people I’ve known, maybe two are knowledgeable enough to have the discussion with little preparation. I’m not one of them. It’s not the issue as I see presented with any regularity, outside of the occasional wonkish article with the latest statistics that get boiled down to talking points small enough to fit on poster board to be waved around by a sea of people instantly dismissed by the opposition as pussy hat wearing snowflakes with no unified agenda. The road to discussion about pipelines passes through an argument about transgender bathroom access, and those of the wrong pH may not pass.

And I think the right is mistaken for that dismissal as well. You have all the makings of an agenda, issue by issue. But by insisting on a rally ’round the Democratic flagpole to address the issues without showing an iota of interest in ending the rein of false dichotomy in this nation, all the left conveys is that persuasion is hard, the new boss will be the same as the old boss, 800,000 loyalty votes should be the new Democratic entitlement, and those other 55 million just aren’t worth the cost in power ceded.