49 percent of Republicans do not believe in evolution

Tyrannosaurus_rex_p1050042

Source: Daily Kos

Author: Hunter

Emphasis Mine 

There’s a new Public Policy Polling poll out identifying Scott Walker as the top Republican pick among their presidential maybe-candidates. But some of the other poll results among self-identified Republicans are doozies. For example:

49 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in evolution. Only 37 percent say they do.

66 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in global warming. Mind you, even the most science-denying Republicans in Congress have said they “believe” in global warming, they just don’t think we should do anything about it. Their base has not yet reached this enlightened state.

57 percent of Republicans would support establishing Christianity as our “national religion.”

So it would seem that Scott Walker indeed has the conservative id pegged, and that Republican candidates seeking primary frontrunner status will indeed need to learn to embrace a base that at this point has become very conspicuously stupid. People for whom even the basic sciences are conspiracies if it goes against what they would rather believe to be true. People who love America very, very much, but have never cottoned to the religious freedom part that was so obsequiously drilled into them in grade school as the very reason the people with the belt-buckle hats chose to settle on this landmass to begin with. People who consider Bill O’Reilly to be an upstanding individual.

Welp, now I’m depressed.

There is hope, I suppose. Sixty-six percent of Republicans don’t actually know thing one about “global warming,” for example, they just know they’re supposed to be against it because the angry-sounding guy on the radio was pretty clear on that subject. There’s nothing inherently conservative or Republican about that position, it is just the reactionary fad-of-the-moment, and it will likely change back when another sufficiently belligerent shouter comes along to shout the opposite stance. Or not, if the loathing of “science” as an entity has simply overtaken all the other conservative neural pathways.  As for the others, yep, we’re likely doomed. The thinking of the Republican base goes that we need to establish religious law in this country because otherwise we’ll be taken over by people who somehow convert us all and make us live under their religious law, and wouldn’t that be bad. Then we’ll burn down all the natural history museums because they are offensive to Our Lord, by which I mean whoever grovels to the base enough to win these upcoming primaries.

see: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/02/25/1366834/-49-percent-of-Republicans-do-not-believe-in-evolution?detail=email

Health Law Drives Down U.S. Rate Of Uninsured Patients, Survey Finds

Source: National Memo

Author: Noam Levy

Emphasis Mine 

America’s uninsured rate plummeted last year, with the improvement driven by states that have fully implemented the Affordable Care Act, a new nationwide Gallup survey indicates.

Led by Arkansas and Kentucky, which both saw double-digit declines, seven states saw the percentage of adults without insurance fall by more than 5 percentage points between 2013 and 2014.

All but one of the 11 states with the biggest drops implemented both pillars of the federal health law: expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income adults and setting up a fully or partially functioning state-based marketplace.

“While a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, it has clearly had an impact in reducing the uninsured rate in the U.S., which declined to its lowest point in seven years in 2014,” Gallup’s Dan Witters wrote in a report outlining the new findings.

While some critics of the health law continue to question its impact on coverage, a growing number of independent surveys show the number of Americans without health insurance fell dramatically last year. The rate had been increasing in the years before the new law went into effect.

Gallup’s poll is among the largest surveys on the issue, with more than 175,000 interviews annually. It found that nationwide the rate of uninsured adults declined from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 13.8 percent last year.

The lowest uninsured rates continue to be primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Massachusetts, whose 2006 coverage expansion became the model for the national law, had the lowest rate at 4.6 percent.

The highest uninsured rates are in the South and West. For the seventh consecutive year, Texas has the worst rate in the country, with nearly a quarter of its adults uncovered.

Gallup’s survey also underscored how the health law may be widening the nation’s health care divide.

States that have fully implemented the law saw a 4.8 percentage point improvement in the share of the adult population with insurance between 2013 and 2014. That was nearly twice the rate of decline in states that have not fully implemented the law.

California, which historically had among the highest uninsured rates, recorded one of the fastest declines. The share of adults without coverage in the state fell from 21.6 percent to 15.3 percent.

Even Connecticut and Maryland, which already had among the highest rates of coverage, saw major declines in the rate of uninsured adults. Connecticut’s rate dropped from 12.3 percent to 6 percent; Maryland’s went from 12.9 percent to 7.8 percent.

All three states have enthusiastically embraced the health law.

By contrast, Texas, where opposition to the health law has been fierce, recorded a decline of less than 3 points, from 27 percent to 24.4 percent.

The Gallup survey results were based on interviews nationwide with 178,072 adults in 2013 and 176,702 adults in 2014. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 or 2 percentage points in most states, though it is closer to 4 percentage points in small states.

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See: http://www.nationalmemo.com/health-law-drives-u-s-rate-uninsured-patients-survey-finds/

We Would Miss Obamacare

N.B.: Since the ACA was:

 o crafted by the House and Senate

 o Passed by both the House and Senate

 o Signed into law by the President,

Should we call it HouseSenateCare?

Source: National Memo

Author: EJ Dionne

Emphasis Mine

WASHINGTON — Will it take the repeal of the Affordable Care Act or its evisceration by the Supreme Court for us to appreciate what it’s actually done?

Critics of the ACA are so insistent on pointing to the problems it has encountered — erroneous tax information to 800,000 taxpayers is the latest — that it was especially enlightening on Friday to talk with Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

You might think of her as a wonk with a heart. She refers to her agency as the “Department of the Kitchen Table” because the issues it deals with, from health care to food safety to the problems facing elderly parents, are the sorts that we discuss at breakfast or dinner.

What does Obamacare mean at many of those kitchen tables? Because of the law, at least 10 million fewer Americans are uninsured — and that’s a conservative number. The drop in the nation’s uninsured rate is the largest since the early 1970s, when Medicaid was still taking hold and both Medicare and Medicaid were expanded to cover people with disabilities.

These aren’t just government numbers. Here is what Gallup said in January: “The uninsured rate has dropped 4.2 percentage points since the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for Americans to have health insurance went into effect one year ago.”

Gallup might have mentioned not just the mandate but also the financial help many Americans have received to buy coverage under the ACA. Some more numbers: 87 percent of the people who signed up on the exchanges qualified for subsidies, and the average assistance to each was $268 per month. Perhaps some out there would rather not have government help people buy health insurance, but this seems to me a good and decent use of our tax money.

True, the administration messed up at the start of the program and will have to rectify this tax problem. Still, in this year’s enrollment period, its target was 9.1 million, and 11.4 million signed up. Again, Burwell doesn’t want to oversell: Some of those signing up will fall by the wayside before they complete the process and pay for insurance. But past experience suggests the final number will still surpass the target.

We don’t talk about it much, but by closing the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare drug program, thus providing more help, the law has saved 8.2 million seniors over $11 billion since 2010. That comes to $1,407 per beneficiary. How many elderly Americans want that to go away? This is something else that “repealing Obamacare” would mean.

Are you a budget hawk? The slowdown in Medicare cost inflation between 2009 and 2012 saved the government $116.4 billion. Burwell is way too careful a wonk to claim that all this was caused by the health care law, but largely good things have happened — including, by the way, to employment — since it passed. Its critics predicted all sorts of catastrophes. They were wrong.

Oh, yes, and between the Medicaid expansion and the children’s health insurance program, 10 million people gained coverage. And that’s with two of the states with the largest number of uninsured, Texas and Florida, staying out of the ACA expansion.

Roughly 3 million young adults have received coverage courtesy of the law’s provision that allows them to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. And Americans no longer have to worry that they won’t be able to get insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

I am sorry to burden you with all these numbers, but the arguments you usually hear about the law are remarkably fact-free. As Burwell says, they typically focus on a single word — that would be “Obamacare” — not what the law does.

Burwell would love to work with Republicans to make the law better. More could be done, she says, to ensure that people now getting coverage also receive the care they need. Both parties could team up to improve “the quality of the care and the value of the dollar we pay.” And we could ease the income “cliffs,” the points where people become ineligible for government help.

But it’s lots more fun for opponents of Obamacare to scream “socialism” and make scary and groundless predictions.

I hope that when the Supreme Court deals with the frivolous lawsuit concocted to wreck the law, the justices think about all the people they would hurt — badly — if they destroyed it. The Repeal Obamacare crowd might usefully think a little more about them, too.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

 

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See: http://www.nationalmemo.com/miss-obamacare/

War On Christianity? FBI Hate Crime Statistics Utterly Destroy Fox News Lies

Source: Addicting Info

Author: Randa Morris

Emphasis Mine

The right wing insists that there’s a war on Christianity. FBI hate crimes statistics tell a very different story, however. Far from being the victims of religiously motivated attacks, hate crimes against protestants are almost non-existent, while crimes against Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths occur much more frequently, with more violent consequences.

According to the most recent FBI hate crimes statistics (2013), most hate crimes in the United States are not religiously motivated. Almost half of all hate crimes committed in the US are racially motivated. Out of those, more than 66 percent were directed at black people. Another 11 plus percent of hate crimes are motivated by an ethnic bias, such as a bias toward Arab Americans or toward Hispanic citizens. Altogether, attacks against minorities constitute more than 77 percent of all hate crimes in the US.

But we know that it’s white America that’s really under attack, right? At least that’s what they keep telling us on Fox News.

Anti-gay violence is the second most commonly occurring type of hate crime in the United States. Contrary to the right wing narrative that Christians are under attack by the gays, the list of violent crimes committed against the LGBT community speaks for itself. Where are the incidents of gays attacking Christians? They do not exist.

Image credit: fbi.gov

Finally, we get to the third most commonly occurring hate crime in the United States. Those are crimes committed because of a religious bias.

This is where we should see evidence of the war on Christianity.

As you can see from the chart above, about 17.4 percent of all hate crimes are religiously motivated.

Attacks against Jewish citizens are the most common religiously motivated attacks. Hate crimes against people of the Jewish faith constitute about 60 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US. Anti-Semitism is promoted and disseminated by right wing extremist groups such as the American Nazi Party, the KKK, the Christian Identity church, and a growing number of leaders in the mainstream conservative Christian community. Anti-Semitism is pushed by right wing conspiracy theorists, who claim a link between the ‘secret society of the Illuminati’ and the Jews. There are conspiracy theories about everything from the Jews and abortion to the Jews and Hollywood, ideas which are peddled by the likes of Alex Jones and Glen Beck. Many of these same groups spread the misinformation about minorities and members of the LGBT community, as well.

The second group that is attacked most often because of their faith includes people who practice the Islamic faith. 13 percent of all religiously motivated attacks are committed against Islamic citizens. That number is 5 times higher today than it was before 9/11.

A study conducted by the Center For American Progress links a rise in Islamophobic attacks against Muslims with an increase in anti-Muslim propaganda, which is spread directly by the right wing ‘Christian’ community.

Since 2001, nearly $60 million has been spent by just six individuals, who disseminate the kind of anti-Muslim propaganda that incites violence and leads to religiously motivated attacks on the Muslim community. Daniel Pipes, David HorowitzDavid Yerushalmi, Frank Gaffney, Robert Spencer and Steven Emerson, have spent a huge amount of money in order to convince US Christians that they are the ones under attack. A network of organizations, politicians and media pundits help these six men disseminate anti-Islam rhetoric. This interactive website, based on Center For American Progress study titled ‘Fear Inc.‘ provides a good look at the politicians, pundits and organizations that are involved in the Islamophobic Network.

The third most common type of religiously motivated attacks in the US consists of attacks against people who practice a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. The victims might be Buddhist, Hindu, or practice some other religion that doesn’t have enough followers in the US to warrant a category of its own. In spite of the fact that only about 2 percent of the population practices a faith other than the “big three,” attacks against these people make up about 11-and-a-half percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes.

There are dozens of right wing hate groups that are aggressively anti-Catholic, including the KKK.

To see a partial list of the “Christian” groups that openly persecute Catholics and spread anti-Catholic propaganda click here.

Attacks against people of the Catholic faith made up 6.1 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes. Anti-Catholic sentiments among protestants have been on-going since the reformation. The right wing upped the attacks against members of the Catholic faith, after Pope Francis was sworn in March of 2013. In November, the Washington Post reported that groups of protestant ‘Christians’ had descended on services at several Catholic churches, disrupting mass by storming inside the churches, shouting through bullhorns and handing out fundamentalist literature. Rev. Mike Jones of St. Pius Catholic told the Washington Post:

 “We don’t have to go to the other side of the world to experience religious extremists.

“We were assaulted by shouting and hatred being spewed by protesters standing at both our driveways. Armed with megaphones and brandishing signs, these ‘christians’ ranted for more than 30 minutes about everything they view as ‘evils’ of our Catholic faith. They attacked our dogmas, teachings, practices and leaders, including Pope Francis! Who are they? We don’t yet know.”

According to Pew Research, more than 78 percent of people in the US say they’re Christian. Of those, more than 50 percent are protestant and just under 24 percent are Catholic. Yet, attacks against Catholics occur almost twice as often as attacks against protestants, the group that consistently claims to be under attack in the United States.

Attacks against protestant Christians made up just 3.8 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes. Yet, all we hear about is this supposed “war on Christianity.”

This chart from the Washington Post provides a visual reality check. If you were to stack the bars representing each group that is not protestant Christian on top of each other, and then compare that single bar to the small bar representing protestant Christians, then you’d have an even better representation of the non-existent war on Christianity.

Image credit: Washington Post

A closer look at the hate crime data shows that in far more cases than not, right wing Christians are the instigators or even the perpetrators of a very large majority of the hate crimes committed in the US.

The ‘war on Christianity’ is a propaganda war. It’s a war that is being waged in the minds of the people who listen to hate radio and watch Fox News. In 2013 there were 7,242 hate crimes committed in the US. In total, crimes against protestant Christians amounted to .0051 percent, a tiny fraction of a percentage point.

Right wing fear and hate-mongering makes people believe that they’re under attack, when it’s clear that they’re not. It makes them believe that others are threatening them, even when the facts tell a very different story. A large compilation of research released over the summer showed that conservatives have a much larger negativity bias than other people. The research also showed that conservatives also have a greater tendency to ‘perceive threats,’ whether real or imaginary.

The question of whether it is nature or nurture is hard to answer. Are conservatives naturally fearful, even paranoid? Do they gravitate toward right wing media because of some trait or traits that they were born with? Or does being exposed to right wing media on a regular basis actually cause increased feelings of fear, along with exaggerated perception of threats?

If you listen to right wing radio or expose your brain to Fox News on a regular basis, and if you believe that everything you’re told is the “God’s truth” you would quickly start to also believe that almost everyone in the world is out to get you – from liberals to atheists, to the illuminati, to lizard people and possibly even big foot. The world is a great big giant conspiracy, run by the corrupt, God-hating government. Education is a liberal plot to destroy America and reading or listening to anything that isn’t generated and endorsed by the right wing is equal to risking your immortal soul’s damnation.

A quick search of youtube will give you an idea just how often the right wing media pushes the “war on Christianity” narrative to their followers.

Since other studies have demonstrated that low intelligence adults tend to gravitate to conservative ideology, it makes sense that some people just don’t have the mental capacity to think critically about the things they see, hear, or read. That makes them victims of the right wing misinformation network. But the fact that they may be victims, doesn’t make them any less dangerous to society.

There’s no doubt that there are many people on the right who absolutely believe there is a war on Christianity. What the statistics show us, however, is that the attacks are being waged by the right, not against them. It’s a perpetual cycle. The more they believe that everyone else is out to get them, the more they will continue to attack others in what they perceive as “self-defense,” or “patriotism” or even service to God.

 *Featured image credit: video screen capture, Fox News via Mass Tea Party on youtube

 

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See: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/02/20/war-on-christianity-fbi-hate-crime-statistics-utterly-destroy-fox-news-lies/

4,000 African Americans Were Lynched by White Mobs

Source: AlterNet

Author: Cliff Weathers

Emphasis Mine

Nearly 4,000 African Americans were victims of “racial terror lynchings” in the South between 1877 and 1950, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

The report, released today, is the result of some five years of research by the organization. It has found that racial terror lynching was much more prevalent than previously reported. The researchers documented several hundred more lynchings than had been identified in the past. They did so by reviewing local newspapers, historical archives and court records. They also conducted interviews with local historians, and the families and descendants of the victims.

In all, EJI documented 3,959 lynchings of black people in twelve Southern states, which is at least 700 more lynchings in these states than previously reported. More than half of the lynching victims were killed under accusation of committing murder or rape against white victims. The EJI says that racial hostility fed suspicion that the perpetrators of the crimes were black and the accusations were seldom scrutinized. “Of the hundreds of black people lynched under accusation of rape and murder, nearly all were killed without being legally convicted,” says the report.

Some states and regions were particularly terrifying for African Americans, with dramatically higher rates of lynchings compared to the rest of the South. These areas included Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Counties that were particularly terrifying were Hernando, Taylor, Lafayette, and Citrus counties in Florida; Early and Oconee counties in Georgia; Fulton County, Kentucky; and Moore County, Tennessee, which had the highest rates of lynchings. Phillips County, Arkansas, and Lafourche and Tensas parishes in Louisiana were regions of mass killings of African Americans that make them historically notorious. Georgia and Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings of all the Southern states.

In conversations with survivors of those that had been lynched, EJI found that lynching played an integral role in the migration of millions of African Americans away from Southern states.

EJI also found that there was an astonishing lack of effort to acknowledge, discuss or address lynching in Southern states and communities. According to the report, many of these communities tried to veil this violent past by erecting monuments memorializing the Confederacy and the Civil War instead, while hiding the violence and terror used against African Americans.

The report says that there are currently few memorials that address the legacy of lynching, and that most communities do not actively  recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.

Bryan Stevenson of EJI told the New York Times that his group wants to force people to reckon with the country’s violent and racist past by erecting the memorials. He said the EJI hopes to select some of the lynching sites and erect markers there. This will involve a significant amount of fundraising by the non-profit group. EJI is also bracing for controversies and objections as it tries to erect these markers.

“Lynching and the terror era shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century,” said Stevenson.

The report by EJI is part of a larger project that also involves the recognition of slave markets in the South and the erection of markers on those sites, particularly in Montgomery, AL. Stevenson said that  regional and state governments have not been receptive to such markers although there are plenty of Civil War memorials in Montgomery, as well as some Civil Rights movement markers.

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, Raw Story and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on his Facebook page.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/4000-african-americans-were-lynched-white-terrorists?akid=12777.123424.KSrvRa&rd=1&src=newsletter1031653&t=8

Robert Reich: The Wealthy Have Pulled America Back to the 19th Century

Source: AlterNet

Author: Robert Reich

N.B.: Marx: correct in the 19th century, and still correct today.

Emphasis Mine

My recent column about the growth of on-demand jobs like Uber making life less predictable and secure for workers unleashed a small barrage of criticism from some who contend that workers get what they’re worth in the market.

A Forbes Magazine contributor, for example, writes that jobs exist only  “when both employer and employee are happy with the deal being made.” So if the new jobs are low-paying and irregular, too bad.

Much the same argument was voiced in the late nineteenth century over alleged “freedom of contract.” Any deal between employees and workers was assumed to be fine if both sides voluntarily agreed to it.

It was an era when many workers were “happy” to toil twelve-hour days in sweat shops for lack of any better alternative.

It was also a time of great wealth for a few and squalor for many. And of corruption, as the lackeys of robber barons deposited sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

Finally, after decades of labor strife and political tumult, the twentieth century brought an understanding that capitalism requires minimum standards of decency and fairness – workplace safety, a minimum wage, maximum hours (and time-and-a-half for overtime), and a ban on child labor.

We also learned that capitalism needs a fair balance of power between big corporations and workers.

We achieved that through antitrust laws that reduced the capacity of giant corporations to impose their will, and labor laws that allowed workers to organize and bargain collectively.

By the 1950s, when 35 percent of private-sector workers belonged to a labor union, they were able to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions than employers would otherwise have been “happy” to provide.

But now we seem to be heading back to nineteenth century.

Corporations are shifting full-time work onto temps, free-lancers, and contract workers who fall outside the labor protections established decades ago.

The nation’s biggest corporations and Wall Street banks are larger and more potent than ever.

And labor union membership has shrunk to fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers.

So it’s not surprising we’re once again hearing that workers are worth no more than what they can get in the market.

But as we should have learned a century ago, markets don’t exist in nature. They’re created by human beings. The real question is how they’re organized and for whose benefit.

In the late nineteenth century they were organized for the benefit of a few at the top.

But by the middle of the twentieth century they were organized for the vast majority.

During the thirty years after the end of World War II, as the economy doubled in size, so did the wages of most Americans — along with improved hours and working conditions.

Yet since around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.

This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever.

It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind.

That includes trade agreements protecting the intellectual property of large corporations and Wall Street’s financial assets, but not American jobs and wages.

Bailouts of big Wall Street banks and their executives and shareholders when they can’t pay what they owe, but not of homeowners who can’t meet their mortgage payments.

Bankruptcy protection for big corporations, allowing them  to shed their debts, including labor contracts. But no bankruptcy protection for college graduates over-burdened with student debts.

Antitrust leniency toward a vast swathe of American industry – including Big Cable (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner), Big Tech (Amazon, Google), Big Pharma, the largest Wall Street banks, and giant retailers (Walmart).

But less tolerance toward labor unions — as workers trying to form unions are fired with impunity, and more states adopt so-called “right-to-work” laws that undermine unions.

We seem to be heading full speed back to the late nineteenth century.

So what will be the galvanizing force for change this time?

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His homepage is www.robertreich.org.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/robert-reich-wealthy-have-pulled-america-back-19th-century

Environment: ​Is Fracking Really Dying?

Source:AlterNet

Author: Cliff Weathers

shutterstock_66760384                                                        Photo Credit: Tim Pleasant/Shutterstock

Emphasis Mine

Two short years ago, industry analysts and television pundits were toasting North Dakota as the “Saudi Arabia of North America.” But the fracking rush that made the Peace Garden State the poster child of the U.S. energy boom has gone bust.

North Dakota’s numerous gas flares, which have been notably visible from space, are flickering out as drilling rigs shut down and tens of thousands of energy workers face reduced hours and pink slips. Small North Dakota towns recently bustling with workers and other fortune seekers are returning to the rural tranquility they once knew. So why has fracking slipped into hibernation? Depends who you ask. Many industry analysts say fracking is a victim of its own success, helping to drive oil prices so low it was no longer affordable to frack new wells. Others point to the drop in global demand, spurred by a slowdown in the Chinese economy, alternative energies and an American public that’s not only driving more fuel-efficient cars, but driving less. Most popular, perhaps, is the theory that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, purposely sabotaged the U.S. fracking industry by maintaining its current production levels while global oil demand falls, causing prices to spiral downward.

There is probably some truth to all three. The U.S. fracking industry, which hardly existed in 2008, doubled U.S. oil output in only six years. Because of fracking, last year the U.S. became the largest oil-producing nation, leapfrogging over Saudi Arabia and Russia.

But fracking is expensive. While much depends on geology and geography, fracking companies need to fetch prices between $55 and $100 a barrel just to break even. As the price of oil is now at $44 a barrel — and threatening to drop even further — it makes little sense to develop or even operate these sites, many run by relatively small energy companies. Meanwhile, many OPEC nations, which mostly rely on less expensive and conventional extraction methods, can still continue making profits even at $30-35 a barrel.

So, while the demise of fracking is a story of supply and demand, it is also a story about how OPEC, particularly Saudi Arabia, has responded to the threat U.S. oil production presents to its preeminence in the global market. OPEC is flexing some muscle, showing the world that it’s willing to wait out a short-term plunge in prices while the thousands of Lilliputian fracking operations that challenge its dominance shut down or fail.

Roughly a third of U.S. fracking operations are now too cost prohibitive to continue, say economists. Lending to companies for fracking operations has stopped and investors may not come back even if oil prices are high enough for them to make meager profits.

“Smart people don’t invest in things that break even,” says energy expert Arthur Berman on Oilprice.com. “Why should I take a risk to make no money on an energy company when I can invest in a variable annuity or a REIT that has almost no risk that will pay me a reasonable margin? So are companies OK at current oil prices? Hell no! They are dying at these prices.”

Of course, many wells are not fracked for oil but for natural gas, but dropping prices for natural gas is affecting production in the Marcellus Shale. Wholesale natural gas prices have dropped from about $13.42 per million BTU in 2005 to about $2.85 today and are still dropping thanks to a milder than normal winter in the Northeast. At those prices, the incentive to justify further investment in fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale is vaporizing.

However, unlike with oil, natural gas fracked in Northeastern states is much less expensive to produce than natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico and Canada. So it’s unlikely that currently operating wells in the shale will suffer much from falling natural gas prices.

Not even Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent decision to ban fracking in New York enticed speculators to push prices upward. New York was never going to be a big player in fracking, as the state’s available reserves in the shale are minuscule compared to West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Many companies that leased land in New York for fracking decided to pull out, as the high costs of starting up would eat away at any profit. Energy companies have become more gun shy as existing local and state-imposed limitations make nearly two-thirds of the viable land unavailable to be fracked.

Pipeline to Nowhere?

While Congress is pinning its hopes that the Keystone XL pipeline expansion will bring a jobs boom to middle America, cheap oil prices are also threatening this controversial project. The business case for building the 1,179 mile pipeline just isn’t there. Not only is tar-sands oil from Canada much more expensive to extract (around $74 a barrel), it’s more expensive to transport, whether by rail or pipeline.

Tar-sands oil is also not attractive to refiners as it’s much harder to convert into transportation fuels, so it typically sells for $20 a barrel less than the North Dakota’s Bakken Crude and $30 less per barrel than Texas crude. The State Department’s study on the Keystone XL pipeline determined that if overall oil prices dropped between $65 and $75, it would erase the profits of tar sands extraction. So at today’s even lower oil prices, it’s all but worthless today, as would be the pipeline.

However, TransCanada, the pipeline’s builders, and supporters say Keystone XL is a long-term investment and they are unfazed by commodity prices.

Some independent analysts, however, say that TransCanada is being overly optimistic and that investors won’t put up with years of losses, or even the notion that the pipeline could become a stone around the neck of TransCanada should OPEC choose to manipulate prices again. Even the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy research says there are many questions about the viability of the pipeline.

The High Price of Low Gas Prices

While American consumers and businesses might enjoy the lower oil and natural gas prices, there is a dark side to this windfall. As shale exploration is all but dead, and most of it was funded by some $200 billion in bonds and other borrowings, there’s concern that this money will never be paid back, and such losses could lead to major adjustments, possibly even a collapse of the global financial markets similar to the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the housing market bubble in 2008.

Low oil prices are already taking their toll on Alaska, which has an economy largely based on fossil-fuel extraction. While only about 20% of Alaska’s wells are fracked, oil production is even more expensive than in western Canada and in North Dakota, costing as much as $78 a barrel to produce.

Alaska has no income or sales tax and virtually funds itself from taxing crude oil. The state’s residents have become used to receiving annual checks from a $51 billion fund from these taxes. Alaska budgeted on the assumption that oil would be about $100 a barrel throughout 2015. But the state will have to dip into its rainy day fund to keep from going belly up, and investment ratings agencies say Alaska will blow through that fund quickly.

“The oil plunge caught them off guard, and now they are trying to recalibrate,” said Ted Hampton, an analyst at Moody’s Investment Services, which downgraded Alaska’s credit rating from “stable” to “negative” in December 2014.

But Alaska doesn’t seem convinced that low crude oil prices are here to stay. While drastic budget cuts and dipping into emergency funds is the plan for the next two years, the state’s acting revenue commissioner, Marcia Davis, is forecasting better days in 2017, with oil prices back to above $90 a barrel.

North Dakota doesn’t rely on funds from fossil-fuel extraction to keep the lights on in Bismarck, so it’s better protected from such large swings in oil prices. Still, the loss of oil royalties, taxes on crude oil and taxes collected on oil workers will leave it several billion behind on its revenue projections this year.

Back in November, Russian oil baron Leonid Fedun predicted the fracking industry would crash. He told Bloomberg News it was the objective of OPEC to clean up the “marginal American oil market” and once that goal is accomplished, the price of oil will once again rise above $100 a barrel.

“The shale boom is on par with the dot-com boom,” said Fedun. “The strong players will remain, the weak ones will vanish.”

It’s likely that the larger energy companies will pick up the pieces, at pennies on the dollar, from the smaller ones that fail. These larger companies will be able to weather big swings in commodity prices and speculators will be much more cautious the second time around, making a second fracking collapse less likely.

Cheap oil also might create large changes in how the world consumes fuel, environmental analysts say. They note that when oil prices were this low last time, large gas-guzzling SUVs were de rigueur and conserving and efficiency fell down on the list of priorities. Similar increases in demand could quickly send the pendulum swinging the other way.

“If oil is high, people will burn less; that’s a good a thing,” Jackie Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana told NPR.

Fracking as we know it is beginning to wither, ironically at the hands of the same oil markets that spawned it. But nothing lasts forever, not even gifts from Saudi kings. So when global oil production is cut or if we return to our wasteful ways, prices will recover and the fracking boom will spring back to life. Unless that is, anti-fracking activists remain vigilant and kill it first.

 

See:http://www.alternet.org/environment/fracking-really-dying?akid=12744.123424.KlOZb9&rd=1&src=newsletter1031225&t=4