Monthly Archive: November 2015

Today’s Round Up – 11/18/2015

1. Oil Refinery Intrigue in the Virgin Islands
One of the world’s largest oil refineries, owned by HOVENSA (a joint venture between Hess Oil and PDVSA) was in the US Virgin Islands. That was, until it closed in 2012, with the loss of a lot of jobs, which are scarce in the Virgin Islands.
Since the closure, the Island’s government and the refinery’s owners were locked in negotiations in an attempt to re-open the refinery, which was converted to an oil storage depot after its closure. The attempts to re-open the refinery were, at various times, vetoed by the island’s government, which finally lost patience and filed a lawsuit. At which point the refinery’s owners filed for bankruptcy. Whether any petroleum refining activities will resume is doubtful. The background is a typical one of an extractive industry evading regulation and failing to invest in its own business.

2. No, the West cannot simply march in and subdue ISIS on the ground
Here, in this article, a military strategist with real-world experience explains the numbers involved in subduing ISIS by purely military means. Of course, none of this will impinge upon the craniums of politicians and armchair warriors everywhere.

3. So the USA is a haven for refugees? Well, not quite…
Sadly, despite the fine sentiments engraved on the Statue of Liberty, It is clear from a reading of US history that the idea that the USA has not been consistently welcoming to refugees. This article shows how Jewish refugees were initially refused in 1938, despite ample evidence of Nazi persecution efforts. There was also the rather shameful internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

4. The world of the conman
This article is the story of a man who has apparently disappeared, after collecting a lot of money from friends and colleagues and not paying most of it back.


Thoughts about the defeat of HERO

Some thoughts about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) that was voted down by a clear majority on Tuesday night. My comments are less about the vote itself and more about the bigger picture issues.
1. The ballot for HERO was ordered by the Texas Supreme Court. IMHO, this is a second example in recent months of what I consider to be a dangerous trend – the negation of local decision-making processes by elected representatives or electors by state agents and courts. The current GOP, which dominates Texas politics, is always banging on about devolving powers down to local level, often ranting and complaining about the Federal Government, yet twice in the last year (once for HERO, once for the Denton fracking ban) we have seen state courts step in and completely override decisions taken at a local level. The cynic in me believes that right now, the GOP leadership in Texas is in favour of local democracy and decisions, but only as long as those local districts and cities make decisions that they agree with. Once they refuse to do that, they will invoke higher powers to countermand the decision.
2. The whole premise behind HERO, that the scope of equal protection and rights for people can be determined by a popular vote, is, from my perspective, unconstitutionally nonsensical. The Fourteenth Amendment (containing the Equal Protection Clause) was invoked recently by SCOTUS in its ruling on same-sex marriage, where a majority of the justices held that marriage was a protected right, equally available for all. That ruling applied country-wide (despite what some religious crackpots try to claim) and HERO, being a piece of legislation designed primarily to extend equal protection under various laws to gay and transgender people, falls into the same logical category as same sex marriage. I expect that even if no further changes are made in the laws in the city of Houston, sooner or later, a gay or transgender person or persons will be discriminated against or penalized, and eventually SCOTUS will become involved. I would then expect them to hand down a fairly simple decision along the lines of “you cannot discriminate – fix it”. If you adhere to the conceot of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as defined in the Declaration of Independence, then putting other people’s rights up for a popular vote is a ludicrous negation of that concept, a narrow-minded penalistic approach rooted in the fallacy that rights are a zero-sum game, that by giving people equal rights it diminishes the rights of others.
3. There may yet be an economic downside to the defeat of HERO. Houston has a lot of conference business, and businesses do not, as a rule, like to host conferences in cities with discriminatory and controversial local legislation. Arizona lost a lot of conference business after the passage of SB1070 (I personally know of 2 IT conferences that left Phoenix shortly after the passage of that bill).
4. The turnout for the election cycle was, by any standards of the health of democracy, appalling. 30% of the electorate voted, so nearly 70% of the electors sat on their posteriors. This speaks to a fundamental malaise in democracy at local level in the USA. Low turnout results in a progressively smaller number of voters being able to determine the result of elections. Elderly and retired electors tend to vote more than younger and working electors, for obvious logistical reasons, so it is likely that

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