MORE SHELL GAMES?
In last week’s issue of The Nation, my story “Shell Games in Nigeria” examined whether the oil giant was complying with environmental rules in the Niger Delta region. Now it seems that the company may simply be walking off the field. The British Sunday Times reported on December 20 that Shell is seeking to sell off up to $5 billion of its oilfields there. The move would represent a major shift by Shell, which for decades has been Nigeria’s biggest foreign oil producer, toward reducing its presence in the area, following years of costly attacks by militants, disputes with the Nigerian government and harsh scrutiny of its environmental and human rights records.
One of the leading candidates to buy the fields is the Chinese state-owned oil group
. If the purchase goes through, says
, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, local communities that have long struggled with Shell should not hold their breath for any improvements.
“The track records of these Chinese companies are not good in other places in Africa,” says Watts. “Are they worse than Shell? That’s a hard question to answer.” For the long-suffering residents of the Delta, the debate may begin all too soon. SASHA CHAVKIN
WOMEN AND CHILDREN LAST:
Amid the tumult over abortion funding and the public option, almost no one has noticed that children could wind up the biggest losers after healthcare is “reformed.” Less than a year ago, Congress expanded the
Children’s Health Insurance Program
(CHIP) to cover virtually all of the 8.1 million uninsured kids. For kids’ advocates it was a red-letter day, but the legislation passed by the House repeals CHIP outright. Instead, most youngsters would have to sign up for private plans in the newly created exchanges, which provide subsidized coverage for families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
House leaders argue that it makes sense to enroll kids and parents under the same scheme. But the private plans will cost families a lot more; as much as 1,650 percent more out of pocket for those earning 225 percent above the poverty line, according to an actuarial study, while also offering less coverage. The
Congressional Budget Office
concludes that because of the high cost of insurance, shifting kids off CHIP means that millions of youngsters will lose health insurance.
As always, children from poor and working-class families are politically powerless. Although polls suggest that making sure all children have coverage is second only to cost control as a health reform priority and although more than 600 organizations pleaded with Congress to keep CHIP intact, youngsters’ needs went virtually undiscussed in the House.
The Senate version got this issue right by keeping CHIP intact through 2015. It also includes decent dental care and pediatric benefits that many policies don’t cover, and it guarantees coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions. The House must reverse course when it takes up the issue. CHIP is the public option for millions of kids, and health reform can’t mean turning back the clock on meeting their needs. DAVID L. KIRP