Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Oil Company Opts for Legal Hearing in San Francisco. Is Chevron Crazy?

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 6:44 PM EST

The presiding judge in the case seems to think so. Judge William Alsup of San Francisco's federal court, hearing arguments in a case pitting Chevron against aggrieved residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon, was perplexed why Chevron's lawyers hadn't asked to relocate the case to South America. "It's a legitimate question to ask," he recently said from the bench. Alsup was no doubt aware that Texaco (now Chevron) faced a similar case in New York in 1993 (jungle, pollution, health problems) and won a motion to send it to Ecuador. "Let me hear from 'Big Oil,'" Alsup commanded, joking about the Big Oil part (perhaps). "Tell me why you didn't make that motion."

Chevron's lawyers argued the quickest way to dispense with the case would be to press for its dismissal. SF Weekly has been reporting on the trail, and today has an insightful piece on why Chevron is tempting fate at the pink hands of SF liberals instead of the well-greased arteries of a banana republic:

The plaintiffs' lawyers cite a couple of good reasons why Chevron might be wary of sending the present case down to Ecuador. The company may be getting nervous about an ongoing case in Quito, the remnant of the case removed from the United States in the 1990s. The judge recently put the trial on the fast track, and a ruling is expected in the next year. That lawsuit demands a massive environmental remediation effort; Amazon Watch estimates it could cost $6 billion in total. Meanwhile, in New York federal court, Chevron is locked into a lawsuit with the government of Ecuador about who should pay for the cleanup or any other legal damages awarded.

With governmental relations already frayed by the litigation in New York, the company may also be wary of the anti-American, socialist sentiment on the rise throughout South America — what commentators have taken to calling the "pink tide" that has swept leftist leaders into power across the continent. "Ecuador just kicked Occidental Petroleum out, and the government is starting to make populist noises," says Terry Collingsworth, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "Chevron is damn nervous."

These macro forces mean little to Judge Alsup, however, as he wades through the muddy legal waters of this case that has its roots in a South American rainforest. In October, he spent a long day hearing testimony from experts flown up from Ecuador. The next day he would have to discuss how the Ecuadorian plaintiffs would be deposed, and whether they could appear for trial; there was some concern that the impoverished Indians wouldn't be able to get visas to enter the United States. It was the end of the afternoon, and the judge finally let his irritation show. "I just don't understand why a case that involves Ecuador is up here!" he burst out. "Now you want a lowly district judge in San Francisco to resolve it! It's all topsy-turvy."

The judge sighed, resigned. "But that's what I've got to do. See you tomorrow," he said, standing up. Chevron's lawyers stayed quiet.

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Tom DeLay Adds Another Side to "Exterminator"

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 3:33 PM EST

Tom DeLay, the former House Speaker who began his working life in the Houston suburbs exterminating ants and roaches, made his name in Congress exterminating his opposition, and exterminated himself in a cloud of ethics scandals, has wrapped up his anihilatory political career by exterminating his paper trail. DeLay's former aides, who recently went to work for his interim Republican replacement, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, deleted unnamed (and presumably sensitive) office files this week before quitting en-masse on Tuesday. A DeLay spokesman told the Times the trashing of files and scrubbing of hard drives was standard operating procedure for congressional transfers of power. Still, Sekula-Gibbs, who is occupying the seat until Democratic victor Nick Lampson is sworn in this January, has asked Congress to investigate the file deleting. You've got to hand it to the Exterminator for his skill creating scandals—even as his political life is upside down and twitching.

Abortion Clinics Resurrected as Fundamentalist Chapels

| Mon Nov. 13, 2006 4:18 PM EST

In a practice at least as old as the Crusades, Christian fundamentalists are converting conquered territory—in this case, abortion clinics—into chapels. According to the right-wing Family News in Focus, pro-lifers have purchased mothballed abortion clinics in five states for memorials to the "pre-born." FNIF happily notes that the number of abortion clinics in America has dwindled from a high of around 2,000 in the early '90s to only 750 today—presumably creating a buyer's market for the faithful.

The practice seems reminiscent of the Dark-Age sacking of mosques or the Spanish razing of Cuzco, right down to the hasty plans for remodeling. Notes FNIF:

[R]edeeming an abortion clinic means tearing down a few walls. When Central Women's Services in downtown Wichita closed, Troy Newman of Operation Rescue purchased it, then gutted the building.

"We're thrilled by the prospect of being in this building – having a chapel here where women can come and even mourn the loss of their baby."

He wants to build a prayer garden behind the building so women can leave flowers for the babies they lost to an abortion.

The Post-Election Price of Oil: Up, Up, and Away?

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 4:57 PM EST

The analysts at New York Global Securities, a major investment strategy firm, didn't see a plot by oil companies to lower prices during the election. But they do believe speculators will now push up the price of oil to the extent they believe the government will let them get away with it. From their October 18 report, Speculation in the Oil Market and the U.S. Midterm Elections:

We believe that following the U.S. midterm elections on November 7, 2006, the price of oil is likely to test the tolerance of the market and the new members of Congress; that is, we believe that after the elections oil will appreciate until there is fear in the market that Congress will take action. It is too early to speculate on the exact level of the increase, but our recommendation at this time is to become progressively long oil at these prices as the election approaches, with the expectation that a topping test pattern will become clear shortly after the election. We believe that the last three major declines in the price of oil coincided with various U.S. Senatorial hearings and expectations surrounding the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. We further believe that these events may have caused speculators within the oil markets to become cautious, resulting in a drop of more than 20% in the price of oil. With regard to the two prior declines, once the Senate hearings were over and the Senate did not take any significant action, the price of oil began to increase. We expect that following the current U.S. elections the price of oil will again rise testing the tolerance of the new Congress.

So far, it's too early to tell if NYGS will be right.

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