When the Choice is Bad or Worse

by lizard

When your choice is between bad and worse, it’s logical to choose the least bad thing. For example, if you transport oil and other fuel by train, this can happen:

Early Saturday morning a train carrying crude oil that was supposed to be stopped for the night rolled downhill toward the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec — less than 10 miles from the U.S. border near Eustis, Maine. It then derailed and caused several powerful explosions and set fires that were still burning on Sunday.

The explosions destroyed the town’s center and killed at least one person, though police are having a difficult time reconciling missing persons reports and expect the death toll to increase. Lac-Megantic’s town center has bars and restaurants that become popular in the summertime, but these places of nighttime revelry turned into disaster zones as explosions caused intense heat, flames, and large plumes of black smoke. The town’s fire chief described the scene as a war zone.

Honestly though, words fail at the scope of this blaze:

Contrast that image with the oil gushing down suburban Mayflower, Arkansas:

I’m sure that contrast isn’t being missed by TransCanada, and its political champions here in Montana, like Jon Tester, Max Baucus and Brian Schweitzer.

Montana politics is another arena where bad and worse gets dressed up and flung around like monkey poo against plexi-glass.

To keep with the poo analogy, imagine the poo is dark money. The worse peddlers of dark money were investigated by Frontline, focusing on American Tradition Partnership. If you haven’t seen it, please do.

For the merely bad (at this point) we have the Council for a Sustainable America, connected to the assumed senatorial candidate and former Montana Guv’ner, Brian Schweitzer. I’d suggest reading John Adams’ whole piece, but here’s an excerpt:

On Monday, FOX Business News reported that Schweitzer, a potential 2014 Democratic front-runner for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat, in 2009 formed a 527 political action committee that later gave more than $300,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based political nonprofit.

FOX’s David Asman alleged the Helena and Washington-based nonprofit groups appeared to have been formed for the sole purpose of doing political work for Schweitzer, a violation of IRS rules.

Asman connected the Helena-based PAC Council for Sustainable America to Schweitzer because on the group’s 2010 990 report to the IRS it listed the same Helena post office box address as Schweitzer’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign.

The merely bad continues with this story when you consider the role Dave Gallik played. Again from Adams’ piece:

Former Rep. Dave Gallik, D-Helena, the man Schweitzer appointed in 2011 as Commissioner of Political Practices, was treasurer of the Helena-based group until it dissolved in 2010. Gallik’s signature appeared on the group’s 2010 990 form in August 2011, but Hall said the group had not been active for more than a year at that point and the 990 filing was a required formality.

I find Dave Gallik’s involvement in this brewing scandal intriguing because, back in January of 2012, a “big brouhaha” went down at the Office of Political Practices, overseen by Mr. Gallik. That link is to a Cowgirl post, so take that into consideration:

A big brouhaha erupted this weekend at the Office of Political Practices.

On Sunday, John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune broke the story that four workers at that office, permanent state employees, went to Adams and told him that Gallik was committing ethical violations because he was mixing his public duties with with his private law job.

According to the Adams story and subsequent reports, the four women, pictured below, alleged that Gallik sent e-mails on the state system in which he conducted his private legal business affairs, which is not permitted. The four clerical employees also alleged that Gallik had not properly filled out his time sheet, and was crediting himself for more hours than he had actually worked. Gallik did send emails to his law office, the Tribune article revealed, and he admitted to having filled out his time sheet improperly but said it was done under a misunderstanding of the rules of state compensation. He said he subsequently corrected the error after receiving guidance from these women and from the governor’s chief advisor.

There was a definite buzz going around the web after this story appeared. Some said it was Gallik’s folly to try to juggle these two careers. Some bloggers sensed a fishy smell surrounding the entire situation. Highly discussed on several blogs were various suggested motives of the employees to have gone through Gallik’s office and take photos of the content of his desk as they did.

Also a big topic of discussion was the photo of the four women, glaring out at readers in a marinade of rage, with a dash satisfaction, several of their faces exhibiting a barely detectable yet unmistakable smirk. Predictably, some sexist comments made their way around the blogs. Here we stick to business and facts.

Sure, business and facts.

Politics is a dirty game, which is why the majority of us non-insiders get rather disgusted by the lips and assholes that are a part of the sausage making process.

But that’s the system we have.

It might not, at first, seem applicable, but it might be useful to consider the concept of harm reduction:

Harm reduction can be described as a strategy directed toward individuals or groups that aims to reduce the harms associated with certain behaviours. When applied to substance abuse, harm reduction accepts that a continuing level of drug use (both licit and illicit) in society is inevitable and defines objectives as reducing adverse consequences. It emphasizes the measurement of health, social and economic outcomes, as opposed to the measurement of drug consumption.

Our political system is addicted to money, and our species is addicted to oil. Because abstinence is unrealistic, the question becomes how can we reduce the harm of these addictions?

  1. All this pales in comparison to the insane plans for Yucca Mtn., Nevada.

  2. lizard19

    wow, proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are already trying to exploit this tragedy:

    This is by all accounts, a major tragedy, lives have been lost, loved ones remain missing and a small town has been nearly wiped off the map. There are still a lot of unknowns about this disaster, but that has not stopped supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from using the horrific events in Lac-Megantic to promote the pipeline.

    In a commentary piece published in the Globe and Mail on Sunday, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a “senior fellow” at the Exxon- and Koch-funded Manhattan Institute writes,

    “After Saturday’s tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., it is time to speed up the approval of new pipeline construction in North America. Pipelines are the safest way of transporting oil and natural gas, and we need more of them, without delay.”

    • Big Johansson

      Exploitation happens on both sides.

      What I can’t stand is bald faced lies.

      “Environmentalist filmmaker Josh Fox presents a hoax perpetrated by a Texas activist designed to malign an innovative oil and gas extraction technique as sensational evidence of its catastrophic environmental impact.

      Fox’s new film, Gasland Part II, features a powerful scene showing a Texas landowner lighting the contents of a garden hose on fire. The incident is presented as evidence of water contamination from a nearby hydraulic fracturing operation.

      According to a Texas court, the scene was actually a hoax devised by a Texas environmental activist engaged in a prolonged battle with a local gas company to falsely inflate the supposed dangers of the oil and gas extraction technique, also known as fracking.”

  3. larry kurtz

    awesome post, liz. we are truly fucked.

  4. The Polish Wolf

    I was going to write on this, too, but you beat me to it. What is your position, liz? Because from a harm reduction point of view, it seems the best option is to build the pipeline, because right now trying to stop oil extraction by blocking the pipeline is only going to lead to more toxic chemical spills (four so far in Canada this year, I believe) because we’re forcing them to use trains to transport their oil. But do you see an alternative? The best I can say is this – the harder politicians fight the pipeline, the more concessions the relevant corporations are likely to make to safety, local economies, etc. But it seems unlikely that actually defeating it is a viable, or even desirable, goal.

    • Matthew Koehler

      Matt Downhour: Does this sort of interesting logic of yours apply only to some of the most pressing environmental issues of this century? Or do you also apply it to issues of human rights, equality, social justice, immigration reform, education, etc?

      • No, my logic I hope is fairly consistent throughout – what liz calls ‘harm reduction’ is quite intelligently framed here. Does anyone feel really warm and fuzzy about embracing the Castros or Ayatollah Khamenei? No, but from a human rights perspective engaging with these figures – despite their spotty records – is the best way to help their people. You could take a ‘principled’ stand and refuse to interact with any regime we disagree with in terms of human rights, and even if you could eliminate the inherent hypocrisy there, you wouldn’t be doing those people any favors. So the intelligent policy is to normalize relations with those states to the extent that it is possible in an effort to limit the suffering of their people and hope they can achieve a more humane government, because an intelligent policy recognizes that an internationally accepted state is far more likely to reform than a pariah.

        The same applies to essentially any issue – sometimes the simplest and purest theoretical position is counter-productive in the long run, once you recognize what you can change and what you cannot. Doing so, however, requires an openness to facts, even those that challenge your biases. I retain my belief that CO2 reduction is the prime environmental challenge today. But the facts would seem to indicate that opposing Keystone XL (and natural gas extraction, while we’re at it) in fact move us further from that goal. So, although environmentalists are right on the big picture – we must get a handle on our CO2 emissions – many of them are failing to translate that into support for policies that would actually do that, and instead continue to make policy decisions based on the traditional biases of the environmental movement.

        • Matthew Koehler

          On July 6, 2013 the 4th annual Tar Sands Healing Walk took place, as over 500 people from the First Nations, Canada and the United States walked 14 kilometers through Canada’s Syncrude tar sands mining operations.

          Montanan Alexis Bonogofsky, with the National Wildlife Federation, has an account of the Walk and the issues at play:


          Her post includes incredibly moving images:

          And a powerful video with traditional First Nations singing and drumming:

          I have to sort of wonder how PW/Downhour’s logic on these issues would be received by the 500 people from the First Nations, Canada and the United States who took part in the Tar Sands Healing Walk.

          • That’s not logic, Matt, that’s an appeal to emotion. Opposing the Tar Sands is still absolutely relevant, and I think the First Nations certainly have a compelling point in so doing – and I was hoping Idle No More and the movement surrounding it could have been mobilized to greater effect regarding Canada’s recent lust affair with fossil fuels. And tribal sovereignty along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a real thing concern that needs to be negotiated carefully.

            The question is, to what extent does opposing the pipeline actually amount to meaningful opposition to the wider Tar Sands project, and to what extent is it merely opposed to moving oil through our country instead of Canada?

            Indeed, as rail transport of oil products has shown to be extremely destructive to the environment (and not just from Canada’s oil exploitation – the train that derailed in Lac-Magentic was also carrying oil from Bakken), it seems the most intelligent way forward is opposition to the Tar Sands on their its own merits, which are compelling, while supporting the safest, most efficient method of transport possible for that oil that is extracted.

  5. lizard19

    well, it’s hard not to echo larry’s sentiment. for example, passing the 400 ppm threshold is a pretty good indication we’re past the tipping point. there is an increasingly compelling argument that we are, you know, kinda fucked.

    that said, it’s how resource scarcity will change the geo-political landscape that really concerns me, and how tightly those resources are controlled by corporations, like Carlyle owning Missoula’s water, for example, and finally getting around to asking the PSC for more money.

    how much more money can people be squeezed to drink water, heat homes, fill the gas tank? wages aren’t keeping up at all, and the unemployment numbers are a joke.

    the pipeline, if our media and politicians were capable of being honest, would NOT be portrayed as the wonderful-job-creating-foreign-dependence-reducing-safely-transported-no-environmental-impact-project it’s being sold as.

    the arguments justifying this project are disingenuous and oftentimes downright deceitful. that a pipeline is maybe the least risky means of transporting one of the dirtiest, most environmentally destructive—not to mention costliest—forms of energy is not, IMHO, very compelling.

  6. Matthew Koehler

    Hey, did you all see how Sen Baucus wants to combat climate change, as outlined in his letter to the President?

    Sen Baucus thinks combating climate change means approving the dirty tar sands Keystone XL pipeline, increasing oil and gas drilling in the Bakken and increasing industrial logging on our public lands.

    Baucus also claimed that the first timber sale lawsuit on the Lolo National Forest in over 6 years (and out of 99 active timber sales from FY 2005 to FY 2010) is “the poster child for out-of-control forest litigation nationally”


    • larry kurtz

      name your choice of candidate for statewide office in montana, matt.

      • larry kurtz

        what? so there no candidates qualified to represent montana in the the senate and house, koehler?

        • larry kurtz

          do you have a felony record and can’t vote, matt?

          • Matthew Koehler

            Ah…no felonies, Kurtz. I just didn’t check back on this site yesterday, so please back off. Also not sure how my choice of a candidate for statewide office has to do with Sen Baucus’ letter to the President about climate change. But since you asked….and asked….and asked….I think Denise Juneau is solid. Thanks.

            • larry kurtz

              you really believe that Supt. Juneau would resist KXL and end what you think are unsustainable logging practices?

              • larry kurtz

                btw: why won’t ncfp add a twitter button? you guys do a great job over there. sharon seems the most sane one, tho.

              • larry kurtz

                you should also know that i agree with you on far more than disagree: republicans aren’t the answer.

              • Matthew Koehler

                Thanks, Larry, I’m glad you like our National Forest policy blog: https://ncfp.wordpress.com. I have no idea how to add a Twitter button, or even what that means, but I’ll pass along the suggestion to Sharon, as she’s the one who handles that type of stuff for the blog….and I’m generally all thumbs with that stuff.

              • JC

                Wel, Juneau is the only one on the state land board to vote against the Otter Creek coal leases.

                “It is a time for us to be visionaries. We cannot vote as if we have blinders on and only see our present economic picture. We must take lessons from the past seven generations and also look forward and provide for the interests of the next seven generations…

                We could sell every parcel of state land and log every tree — but we don’t. We don’t because we want to sustain Montana’s lands for future beneficial use — that is sound stewardship.”

                A bit of native american wisdom we’d all do well to heed.

              • Craig Moore

                JC, then there is the Native wisdom of Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote. http://www.greatfallstribune.com/article/20130709/NEWS01/307090018?odyssey=mod|mostcom

                “I simply desire for the Crow Nation to become self-sufficient by developing its own coal resources and to provide basic services for the health, hopes and future of the Crow people,” Old Coyote told members of the House Natural Resources Energy and Minerals Subcommittee.

                Old Coyote said the Crow Nation has substantial undeveloped coal resources: about 2 million acres that contain about 9 billion tons of coal.

                To tap into that resource, the reservation has leased a portion of its coal reserves to Westmoreland Resources Inc. (WRI), which owns and operates the Absaloka Mine near Hardin. The mine maintains a 70 percent tribal workforce, and its production taxes and royalties to the Crow Nation exceeded $20 million in 2010, representing two-thirds of the Crow Nation’s non-federal budget.

                “The importance of the mine to the economy of the Crow Reservation cannot be overstated,” Old Coyote said. “Without question, it is a critical source of jobs, financial support and domestically produced energy.”

              • larry kurtz

                The Crow were allied with the US during the Battle of Greasy Grass: guess they got what they deserved.

              • JC

                Meh, just another apple: red on the outside, white on the inside.

              • Whoa, Larry and JC – racist much? Goddamn you both crossed a line there. First, Larry – really? Keeping up that old hatred? Anyone stop to think how much it benefits the Native Community in Montana that two of the largest tribes still harbor such animosity towards on another? Rule in my classroom – if you can’t say anything nice, just don’t talk about the Crow at all.

                And JC, who made you the arbiter of who can be a genuine native and who is just faking? You may have a better sense of what the majority of people there think about resource extraction (do you live in Crow/Northern Cheyenne? I know you said you lived on a reservation), but in my experience at least there are legitimate differences of opinion on the most appropriate way to handle non-renewable resources on the reservation, and neither side is any less genuinely ‘native’. Both sides are looking out for their families and nation; a difference of opinion on what’s good for both need not imply disloyalty. And the apple metaphor needs to go – it’s hurtful and often used to bring people, especially kids, down right when they start really moving forward with their lives.

              • JC

                PW, spend some time living on the rez (I live on the Flathead) and you’ll discover that tribal politics is rife with those who hold more traditionalist positions (those who look to the 7 generations for guidance) vs. those who hold positions favoring white capitalists and a liquidate and cash out mentality. Those who would liquidate natural resources for boom and bust gain do great disservice to their peoples. It is those people who draw the animosity to themselves through self-inflicted acts, not the rest of us who create it, yet acknowledge it.

              • larry kurtz

                The Missoulian reports that rudimentary Arabic is being offered to Hellgate High students. Sure. That’s cool.

                But, why not Crow, Blackfeet, Assiniboine and the other tongues native to Montana? ip has hammered on the absence of Lakota in South Dakota high schools and on language equivalents for geographical features on SDDoT highway maps.

                Kayla Gahagan:

                For public schools, simply meeting No Child Left Behind requirements absorbs resources, and with a majority of the day devoted to math and reading, there is little time for Lakota, said Mike Carlow, director of the Tusweca Tiospaye, an organization dedicated to revitalizing the language. But learning the Lakota language and mastering other subjects does not have to be mutually exclusive, said Nicky Belle, project coordinator for the Lakota language program at Red Cloud. “It’s not learning Lakota language and culture to the detriment of everything else,” he said. Success in a second language often translates into overall academic success, experts say, and educators don’t have to separate the two. Red Cloud Indian School language teacher Philomine Lakota said the desire to learn the language can’t be tied directly to success in school anyway, or it won’t be reason enough for students to learn it. “It goes beyond college and how much you earn,” she said. “The greater world is going to hold you to who you are.” Darrell Kipp, founder of the Piegan Institute on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana, is convinced there is only one way to save a language: immersion. The Blackfeet language stood on the verge of extinction in 1985. It prompted Kipp and several others to found the institute and start an immersion school, modeled after successful programs of the Aha Punanoe Leo in Hawaii, which have produced more than 1,000 fluent speakers in the past 25 years. The Blackfeet program is much more humble, Kipp said, but serves as a model for many of the tribes in the western half of the United States. At least a handful of tribal members visit every month to observe the program, he said.
                South Dakota high schools barely offer German, Norwegian, Danish, the languages of its own immigrant population. My sister teaches high school Spanish, now hugely important to families moving to and employed in, Brookings County. But, Lakota is offered in reservation schools only.

                What’s up with that?

              • JC – yes, the divide exists (I got a few earfuls about Flathead politics this year from some of my students), but declaring that those who disagree with your side don’t really belong to their nations is incredibly chauvinistic. I know several otherwise very traditional tribal members who are willing to look into how to use their natural resources to benefit the tribe as a whole. And the appeal to tradition isn’t completely compelling, either – in actuality it’s unlikely that any seven generations of any tribe have ever lived in the same manner. Certainly there is an emphasis on maintaining a sustainable lifestyle, but (and this many natives will emphasize) look at the speed with which their ancestors adopted horses, rifles (faster than Europeans, in fact), moving to new territory and new resources, and numerous other changes in their lifestyles. Pragmatic adaptability is perhaps the oldest tradition in the tribal histories. To speak as if ‘real’ natives are statically traditional is, as I said, chauvinistic. And unless you are a member of the Crow tribe (I have no idea if you are), questioning whether their Chairman is really ‘red inside’ puts you on pretty shaky ground.

      • Matthew Koehler

        Yes BJ.

        Montana’s wolf population is estimated at 625. Yesterday, MT Fish & Wildlife Commissioners increased the wolf hunting/trapping bag limit to 5 per person. They increased rifle season to 6 months, including across tens of millions of acres of public lands. They increased wolf-trapping season to 2 1/2 months. Electronic calls are allowed. There is no statewide quota for total kills. As a MT public land elk/deer hunter, I find the Commissioners actions shameful, disgusting and against the ethics of hunting I have learned. No way this is ‘science-based’ management, or the ‘North American Wildlife Conservation Model’ in action. Thanks.

    • Matthew Koehler

      Hey, did you all notice that on Tuesday, when Sen Baucus sent Pres Obama a letter outlining Sen Baucus’ “Montana-centric” ideas for combating climate change (including approving the dirty tar sands Keystone XL pipeline, increasing oil and gas drilling in the Bakken and increasing industrial logging on our public lands…..

      Senator Baucus also bragged:

      “In 2011, in response to me and several other senators, EPA delayed for three years the application of any greenhouse gas permitting requirements to facilities that use biomass, like sawmills.”

      Well, today, the U.S. Court of Appeals scrapped the Senator Baucus-supported EPA delay that had given wood-burning biomass facilities a pass on compliance with federal greenhouse gas emission standards. Here’s a copy of the ruling. This is good news for those who value clear air and reducing pollution.

      Copy of the ruling, legal analysis of what it might mean, etc is over here:


  7. larry kurtz


  8. Big Johansson

    Re-printed from, “protein wisdom blog”.

    Good news! Your enormous carbon footprint is the only thing saving the world!

    Me, I drive a pair of Jeeps these days, an inline 6-cylinder ’94 Wrangler Sahara that gets about 14-20 MPG, and a V8 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhook that has a tow-capacity of 7400 lbs and logs in 13-22 MPG — and I use a gasoline mower and other gasoline powered tools, as well as pamper with extravagant and delicious CO2 buffets the 5 trees on my property, whose consequent oxygen production fuels even more human exhalation — which makes me something of an environmental hero. An earth warrior! A goddamn saint of the glorious blue-green orb that houses our (for the most part) semi-perambulatory parasitic meatsacks!
    Honestly, someone should build a frickin’ statue to me. With smelted ore. Heated by dirty coal.
    Because I am making life possible. Extending it on this planet, in fact. Unlike the greedy, sanctimonious assholes whose subsidized electric vehicles are not only a net negative for the environment, but they’re far less safe, to boot. Which in thes short run means more dead children. And more dead elderly. Some of them likely orphans. With autism.
    And in the long run? The extinction of humans.
    So then. Not to sound too preachy, but our earth-saving mission — we of the giant carbon footprints, the modern fighting force for humanity’s prolonged survival — requires a kind of in-your-face activism. Opponents of earth-saving green houses gases — carbon in particular — should therefore be mocked, ridiculed, ostracized, condemned. And to do that, we need a label to tag them with — as one might tag an ancient, tiny-brained alligator gar — so that we can study their peculiarly de-evolutionized behaviors even as we readily identify their dangerous social and ecological ignorance.
    And I think I’ve come up with such a name: carbon deniers.
    I’d say we should sew to the sleeves of their trendy hemp shirts a little earth patch encircled by a bold red line and containing a red line through the center, but unfortunately, that kind of behavior, though probably appropriate when dealing with such carriers of human plague, is rather…historically fraught.
    And I’m just not that tacky or insensitive a fellow.
    – See more at: http://proteinwisdom.com/?p=49988#sthash.kis0JjYZ.dpuf

  9. lizard19

    it’s important to remember that businesses’ number one priority is money, not safety. increased safety measures usually requires increased spending, whether its a sensor system to faster detect leaks (TransCanada said nah, we don’t need it for their pipeline) or extra time (lost efficiency) setting and checking brakes.

    that latter issue may have played a role in the Quebec town getting incinerated. if you don’t mind some technical descriptions, this article is worth reading.

  10. lizard19

    please be mindful of using language and labels that could be hurtful. thank you.

  1. 1 Has Keystone Opposition Outlived its Usefulness? :: Intelligent Discontent

    […] has already posted about how the Lac-Magentic tragedy is likely to be exploited and to affect the Keystone XL debate. […]

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