Gordon Campbell on the politics of oil prices and the Eric Garner killing

While Labour and National fiddle around with the powers of the security services – and warrantless surveillance is still an outrage even if it lasts for only 24 hours, Andrew Little – the big international story this week has been the plunge in oil prices. For once, the Greens and the Saudis are almost on the same side of the fence – in that the House of Saud’s recent oil production decisions in OPEC will do serious harm to US shale oil production, and its fracking practices. As oil prices make US shale projects less lucrative, the Middle East’s low-cost fields will become a lot more attractive.

This won’t happen in the short term. Current US shale oil industry investments in wells and other commitments will continue until around the end of 2015. However, what the Saudis have done is cripple the medium/long term investment in shale oil. By refusing to cut their own production as major US supplies start coming on stream, the Saudis are ensuring a surfeit that’s bound to drive down the price of oil to a point where longer term, shale oil production will no longer be economic. Earlier this year, energy forecasters were tipping US production to hit 10 million barrels by 2020, double the levels of 2008.

By slashing into the economics that have been driving that trend, the Saudis are protecting their own share of US consumption for the foreseeable. And given that the two supply streams – US and OPEC – will be co-existing for much of 2015, this could well create one last golden summer for the burning of fossil fuels, and prices could soon hit as low as $40 a barrel. Too bad for the planet, huh?

US shale oil producers in North Dakota who will not be the only people hurting in 2015, as a result. Other oil exporting countries reliant on revenues from oil exports – Russia, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria and Iran would be at the top of the list – are already feeling pain. The economic problems Russia has been experiencing (some caused by Western international sanctions over the Ukraine) are now being compounded by the steep decline in its oil export returns. As a result, the rouble took a dive last week, amid fears of further capital flight. For now anyway, Russians appear to be rallying round Putin in a surge of patriotic feeling based on perceptions that the nation is being bullied by the West.

There are a few winners in this oil price situation, and among them would be the Key government. Talk about luck. With milk powder prices in virtual free fall, the New Zealand dollar losing steam and with slackening demand in the two countries (China, Australia) that got us through the Global Financial Crisis, at least the Key government won’t be facing the political fallout from higher prices at the petrol pump. Other countries, such as Indonesia, are using the (temporary) availability of cheap oil to cut the oil subsidies (long term) on which poorer members of the population depend. At least the current turmoil from the oil price situation proves one thing – OPEC can still make a huge difference to global economic outcomes.

US Police get away with murder
The refusal by a US grand jury to send to trial the Police who killed street merchant Eric Garner is further proof – if any were needed – that the US Police now have a licence to kill at will. Incredible, really. If there is insufficient evidence to send to trial a case where video evidence exists of Police killing someone with an illegal chokehold – even while the victim, an asthmatic, keeps saying “I can’t breathe” – then it is impossible to imagine any circumstances where lethally excessive Police violence can be brought to justice.

The circumstances of the Garner case – and of several other similar incidents where blacks were killed by Police for dubious reasons – were outlined in this current Werewolf article. With the Garner killing and with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the problem doesn’t simply lie with the grand jury system. As mentioned recently in this column, the US Supreme Court has just given the green light to US Police to use lethal force, and to continue using it in any situation, as it sees fit. That ruling was passed 9-0, with justices Ruth Bader Ginzberg and Stephen Breyer objecting only to some of the emotive language used at one point in the opinion, which was written by conservative justice Samuel Alito. The key, offensive line in the Supreme Court judgement – the case is called Plumhoff vs Rickards – went like this: “It stands to reason that if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”

In this case, even if the chokehold was illegal, it seems that if the Police felt justified in using it, they were also justified in using it until the threat posed by Garner being alive was ended. Which is an insane extension of Police power.

Dance Time
I’ve been linking to a lot of sentimental, nostalgic music of late. Lets not do that again. Today, it’s dancefloor instrumental time. Todd Terje’s jaunty classic “Inspector Norse” is from 2012 and the ‘official’ video amusingly treats it as incidental/transcendental background noise. The Lake People and Dark Sky tracks are two personal EDM favourites from earlier this year.