Monday, March 31, 2014

Kunstler: Attention Deficit

Kunstler: Attention Deficit.

Apparently someone at the US State Department put out the fire in John Kerry’s magnificent head of hair, because he has stopped declaiming (for now) on the urgent need to start World War Three over Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. In my lifetime, there has never been a more pointless and unnecessary international crisis than the current rumble over Ukraine, and it’s pretty much all our doing.

After all, we kicked it off by financing the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government. How do you suppose the US would feel if Moscow engineered the overthrow of the Mexican government? Perhaps a little insecure? Perhaps even tempted to post some troops on the border?

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has engaged in a nonstop projection of power around the world with grievous results in every case except in the breakup of Yugoslavia. The latest adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been the most expensive — at least a trillion dollars — and mayhem still rules in both places. In fact, news reports out of Kabul on NPR this morning raised doubts that the scheduled elections could take place later this week. The country’s so-called Independent Election Commission has been under rocket attack for days, the most popular hotel for foreign journalists was the site of a massacre two weeks ago, and the Taliban remains active slaughtering civilians in the lawless territory outside of the Afghan capital.

Of course, even those dreadful incidents raise the rather fundamental question as to why anything about Afghanistan really matters to the USA. How many years will it take for us to get over the fact that Osama bin Laden ran a training camp for jihadists there? Right now you can be sure that somewhere between Casablanca and East Timor there are training camps for religious maniacs and thousands more casual meet-ups among aggrieved young men with testosterone boiling in their brains and nothing else to occupy their time but playing with guns. Are we going to invade every land where this goes on?

One part of our ever-evolving reality is that the global economy is in the process of cracking up. Despite the claims of one Tom Friedman at The New York Times, Globalism was not a permanent installation in the human condition. Rather, it was a set of transient economic relations brought about by special circumstances in a particular time of history — namely, a hundred years of cheap energy and about fifty years of relative peace between the larger nations. That’s all it was. And now it’s dissolving because energy is increasingly non-cheap and that is causing a lot of friction between nations utterly addicted to high flows of cheap oil and gas.

The friction is manifesting especially in the realm of money and finance. The high energy addicted nations have been trying to offset the rising cost of their addiction, and the absence of conventional economic “growth,” by borrowing ever more money, that is, generating ever more debt. This ends up expressing itself in “money printing,” that range of computerized banking activities that pumps more and more “liquidity” into “advanced” economies. The result of all that is the mis-pricing of just about everything (including especially the cost of borrowing money), and an increasingly antagonistic climate of currency war as all players vie for the supposed advantages devaluation — most particularly the ability to dissolve their own sovereign debts via inflation.

The finer points of all that are debatable as to eventual consequences but we can easily draw some larger conclusions about the macro trends. The global orgy of cheap goods and bubble finance is ending. Nations and indeed regions within nations are going to have to find a new way of making a living on the smaller scale. This is sure to include new arrangements for governance. The breakup of nation states is well underway and is moving from the margins inward to the political center — from the hopeless scrublands of overpopulated nations that will never “develop” to the increasingly sclerotic giants.

The USA is exhibiting pretty severe signs of that sclerosis in the demented behavior of its leaders in episodes such as the current unnecessary manufactured fiasco over Ukraine to the physical deterioration of our towns, roads, bridges, and all the plastic crap we managed to smear over the mutilated landscape to the comportment of our demoralized, mentally inert, drugged-up, tattoo-bedizened populace of twerking slobs.

In short, it is self-evident that Russians have an abiding interest in the Crimea and we have none, while both the material and cultural life of the US is in a shambles and much more worthy of our own attention.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tough Times for Small Colleges

It was recently announced that BYU-Hawaii would phase out its athletic program within three years.

And the historically black St. Paul's University, which closed last June, is selling its campus on 9 April, in hopes of finding another college to adopt it as an educational institution.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Much to Say

I need some time to hash out some things about journalism and politics.

In the meantime I'm glad for the sunny days.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Scientific American: Fracking Hammers Clean Energy Research

The illusion of abundant energy through fracking distracts from renewable-energy research. I found this article through Richard Heinberg's Twitter. Fracking Hammers Clean Energy Research.

Orlov: Ukrainian Unrest

Dmitri Orlov: Ukrainians on Verge of Nervous Breakdown.

Kunstler: Weak Sister

In which Kunstler discusses Russia, Ukraine, and proposals to undercut Russian power with American exports of natural gas to Europe (a.k.a. fracking for freedom).

24 March evening update: John McCain talks tough about Russia but in
this oldie-but-a-goodie of an article, McCain has cultivated extensive ties to the Kremlin.
(Another reason I'm glad I never voted for him.) Romney also had harsh things to say about Russia in 2012, and recently, but he had invested in Gazprom through his equity fund, later divesting himself of Russian investments around the start of the 2012 campaign. The Russia Today article is boosterish about the country's business climate, as befits the output of a state-owned network, but it's good to know.

Kunstler: Weak Sister

Was it such a good thing in the post-cold-war decades that the US was regarded as the supreme sole super-power? Look what we did with that privilege: fumbled around like an overfed stumblebum, blundering from one foreign occupation to another, breaking a lot of things and killing a lot of people — under the clownishly-conceived rubric of a “war on terror.”

Why is it in our interest which way Ukraine tilts? It has been in the Russian orbit for hundreds of years under one administration or another. Are we disappointed now that Kiev won’t answer to the floundering Eurocrats of Brussels? Was that ever a realistic expectation? Really, the best outcome for western Europe would be a return to the prior condition of Ukraine as a mute bearskin rug with oil and gas pipelines running through it to the oil and gas starved West. The idea that the US could supply Europe with oil and gas instead of Russia is a preposterous fantasy. Anybody wondering whether Ukraine might turn its armed forces loose on Russian forces supposedly massing at its border should ask themselves how Ukrainian soldiers will get paid.

I’m sure Russia can’t afford to annex all of Ukraine. Russia can barely maintain its paved roads. But it obviously couldn’t afford to give up its rented warm water ports and naval bases in the Crimea, either, with the new Kiev government making so much anti-Russian noise since the “revolution.” The annexation of Crimea changes nothing materially about the disposition of Russian military force in the region. They were already there. Given the size of their navy compared to the other nations in the neighborhood, the Black Sea is Russia’s bathtub and has been as long as anyone can remember. Was the brass at the US State Department shocked to discover this two weeks ago?

The recognition that there are some places on the planet where the US can’t exert its influence has also come as a shock to the so-called American Deep State — that matrix of bureaucratic toxic sludge that labors to pretend to control everything and succeeds mainly in embarrassing itself in a world that is now deeply tending away from the centralized control of anything. Nations are breaking up everywhere and for the moment there is no coherent public discussion of the ramifications. Venice voted the other day to secede from Italy — that is, to not send anymore tax revenue to Rome. That should be interesting. How about Scotland’s independence vote scheduled for September? Judging by the British newspapers, there is next-to-zero concern about that. Then there is the list of failed states, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and probably half the manufactured nations of sub-Saharan Africa, places with no viable economy or polity and too many clamoring poor people. These are parts of the world that will neither develop nor redevelop. In a hundred years they could be no-go zones or just return to howling wilderness.

The US would be better served these days to literally mind its own business. With Detroit in bankruptcy, why would we send Kiev billions of dollars? American urban infrastructures — water, sewer, gas, and electric lines — are falling apart. We have no idea how we’re going to manage most of the crucial economic activities of daily life in ten years, when the illusions of shale gas and shale evaporate in a dark cloud of disenchantment, when we no longer have an airline industry, and most Americans won’t have the means to own automobiles, and there’s not enough diesel fuel to plow Iowa mega-farms, or enough oil and gas based fertilizers or herbicides to pour into the eroding topsoil, and not enough fossil water left in the Oglala aquifer or enough electricity to run the center-pivot sprinklers where the prairie meets the desert? How are Americans going to live and eat and get from Point A to Point B and keep a roof over our heads in this beat-down land?

We’re having no conversation about these things and the political landscape in this country is a wasteland of mirages and dust devils. That is the true weakness of the USA now. We’re incapable of seeing the disorder in our own house. Why should we even glance overseas at others?

When Mike Huckabee Was Fat-Shaming the Schoolchildren of Arkansas

As governor, Mike Huckabee lost a considerable amount of weight through diet and exercise, then got self-righteous about it: wriing a book titled Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork and having children's BMIs (body mass indexes) on their report cards. Not only is the BMI an imprecise measurement of how overweight one is (e.g., muscle weighs more than fat, so a very muscular child could be considered obese), what else did Huckabee do to help reduce obesity among Arkansan schoolchildren?

Keystone Kochs

24 March update: Like those who urge "fracking for freedom", some point to oil spills as a reason why we need the Keystone XL pipeline.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Crimean River

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The USDA Economic Research Service

The website of theEconomic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ERS also has a Twitter account.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Highway Removal

I didn't know there was an effort to demolish freeways. A welcome development.

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Highway Removal from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Well, I saw the first part of The Rachel Maddow Show yesterday, and she discussed the immensity of ExxonMobil (the most profitable company in history), a company exceeded in size by Russia's state oil company. They're uniting in a $500 billion venture.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fracking for Freedom (a post in progress)

I've intended to write this post for about a week or so. Basically, the unrest in Ukraine has given pro-fracking advocates an excuse to push for the United States to drill and frack for natural gas, convert it to liquid form (liquefied natural gas, or LNG) and export it to Europe in order to undermine Putin's control of natural gas supplies and routes to Europe. Some pro-frackers throw in criticism of Obama's supposed inaction for good measure. Fracking and exporting are neither cheap nor simple. Here I will post some links to articles and videos.

Fracking Ban Momentum Builds on Both Sides of the Atlantic.

At least twenty liquefication plants are proposed.

Krauthammer urges Obama to get tough with Putin and expedite 25 LNG plants in the process.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) Joins Call for Natural Gas Exports in Response to Ukrainian Crisis.

The article mentions The Natural Gas Act of 1938.

The New York Times: U.S. Seeks to Reduce Ukraine's Reliance on Russia for Natural Gas.

The article notes that "Congressional Republicans have joined major oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil in urging the administration to speed up oil and natural gas exports. Although environmentalists, some Democrats and American manufacturing companies that depend on the competitive advantage of cheap domestic natural gas oppose the effort, they have fallen to the sidelines in the rush." It adds, "The United States does not yet export its natural gas. But the Energy Department has begun to issue permits to American companies to export natural gas starting in 2015. American companies have submitted 21 applications to build port facilities in the United States to export liquefied natural gas by tanker. The agency has approved six of the applications."

Though this isn't about fracking to export LNG, it is about the Ukraine. Orlov asks, Is Anyone Really in Control in Ukraine?

Fracking is not the only thing being pushed in the name of "national security" and "protecting our friends and allies." On Thursday, retired general James Jones (a former national security advisor in the Obama administration) testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. Rejecting it would make Putin's day, he says. Jones did not disclose his extensive industry ties before testifying. (FYI: There are no disclosure rules for hearing witnesses in the United States Senate.)

This is a C-SPAN video of the hearing.

17 March update: The idea that America can displace Russia as the provider of natural gas is not new, as Orlov points out in his blog post "Shale Gas: The View from Russia."

24 March update: The Nation: "How the Gas Lobby is Using the Crimea Crisis to Push Bad Policy and Make More Money."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

D.J. Max Blumenthal

Tonight Max Blumenthal was a guest DJ on the New Jersey-based freeform radio station WFMU and played these songs. The show concluded just before 9 p.m. Hawaii time. He was glad for this change of pace.

More soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

More on the Future of Oil, and Rand Paul's Proposal to Export Natural Gas

'Peak is Dead' and the Future of Oil Supply."

Dan Dicker, an oil trader, was on All In With Chris Hayes tonight (10 March) to discuss Rand Paul's proposal on Fox News Sunday to drill everywhere for petroleum*. Chris noted the irony of Rand Paul's pro-drilling stance, as he represents a state where coal is the main energy source. In other words, fracking has displaced coal.

Dicker says not only is it unprofitable to export liquefied natural gas, high prices for LNG are not guaranteed. Most of all, the United States risks becoming a petrostate like Venezuela or--Russia, using petroleum as political leverage.

Again, I'll try to compile some of the CPAC material about fracking for freedom soon.

11 March update. From CounterPunch: "Up in Smoke: A Record 36 Percent of North Dakota Fracked Gas Flared in December.

* From the Fox News Sunday transcript (linked above):

PAUL: ...The other thing is Putin needs to be warned, and I'm perfectly willing to tell him, that if he does occupy Ukraine, it will be chaos for him and for the world. If he creates a Syria out of Ukraine, what's going to happen is 80 percent of his oil and gas is going through Ukraine. It will be a disaster for him. And so, he needs to be fully aware of that.

The other thing I've said is that I would do something differently than the president because that would immediately get every obstacle out of the way for our export of oil and gas, and I would begin drilling in every possible conceivable place within our territories in order to have production that we could supply Europe with if it's interrupted from Ukraine.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kunstler: Deep State Descending

Kunstler: Deep State Descending.

And so it’s back to the Kardashians for the US of ADD. As of Sunday The New York Times kicked Ukraine off its front page, a sure sign that the establishment (let’s revive that useful word) is sensitive to the growing ridicule over its claims of national interest in that floundering, bedraggled crypto-nation. The Kardashians* sound enough like one of the central Asian ethnic groups battling over the Crimea lo these many centuries — Circassians, Meskhetian Turkmen, Tatars, Karachay-Cherkessians — so the sore-beset American public must be content that they’re getting the news-of-the-world. Perhaps one of those groups was once led by a Great Kanye.

Secretary of State John Kerry has shut his pie-hole, too, for the moment, as it becomes more obvious that Ukraine happens to be Russia’s headache (and neighbor). The playbook of great nations is going obsolete in this new era of great nations having, by necessity, to become smaller broken-up nations. It could easily happen in the USA too as our grandiose Deep State descends further into incompetence, irrelevance, buffoonery, and practical bankruptcy.

Theories abound about what drives this crisis and all the credible stories revolve around the question of natural gas. I go a little further, actually, and say that the specter of declining energy sources worldwide is behind this particular eruption of disorder in one sad corner of the globe and that we’re sure to see more symptoms of that same basic problem in one country after another from here on, moving from the political margins to the centers. The world is out of cheap oil and gas and, at the same time, out of capital to produce the non-cheap oil and gas. So what’s going on is a scramble between desperate producers and populations worried about shivering in the dark. The Ukraine is just a threadbare carpet-runner between them.

Contributing to our own country’s excessive vanity in the arena of nations is the mistaken belief that we have so much shale gas of our own that we barely know what to do with it. This is certainly the view, for instance, of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who complained last week about bureaucratic barriers to the building of new natural gas export terminals, with the idea that we could easily take over the European gas market from Russia.** Boehner is out of his mind. Does he not know that the early big American shale gas plays (Barnett in Texas, Haynesville in Louisiana, Fayettville in Arkansas) are already winding down after just ten years of production? That’s on top of the growing austerity in available capital for the so-far-unprofitable shale gas industry. That’s on top of the scarcity of capital for building new liquid natural gas terminals and ditto the fleet of specialized refrigerated tanker ships required to haul the stuff across the ocean. File under “not going to happen.”

Even the idea that we will have enough natural gas for our own needs in the USA beyond the short term ought to be viewed with skepticism. What happens, for instance, when we finally realize that it costs more to frack it out of the ground than people can pay for it? I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: the gas will remain underground bound up in its “tight rock,” possibly forever, and a lot of Americans will freeze to death.

The most amazing part of the current story is that US political leaders are so ignorant of the facts. They apparently look only to the public relations officers in the oil-and-gas industries and no further. Does Barack Obama still believe, as he said in 2011, that we have a hundred years of shale gas?” That was just something that a flack from the Chesapeake Corporation told to some White House aide over a bottle of Lalou Bize-Leroy Domaine d’Auvenay Les Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. [I added a link should you want to learn more about this wine.--P.Z.] Government officials believe similar fairy tales about shale oil from the Bakken in North Dakota — a way overhyped resource play likely to pass its own peak at the end of this year.

If you travel around the upper Hudson Valley, north of Albany, where I live, you would see towns and landscapes every bit as desolate as a former Soviet republic. In fact, our towns look infinitely worse than the street-views of Ukraine’s population centers. Ours were built of glue and vinyl, with most of the work completed thirty years ago so that it’s all delaminating under a yellow-gray patina of auto emissions. Inside these miserable structures, American citizens with no prospects and no hope huddle around electric space heaters. They have no idea how they’re going to pay the bill for that come April. They already spent the money on tattoos and heroin.

*I like the recent episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which I began watching again. In fact, they (Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Rob) are part-Armenian. Their father was the high-powered attorney Robert Kardashian, best known for being one of O.J. Simpson's defense lawyers. The show usually airs in tandem with #Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, that I'll discuss in another post.

** This was a big topic at CPAC. I call it "Fracking for freedom." I'll address this in more detail later.

Proyect vs. Blumenthal

The things one finds at three in the morning.

Louis Proyect: Thoughts Triggered by Max Blumenthal Tweets About Ukrainian Fascists.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Proyect vs. Orlov

Proyect: The Disinformation Campaign on the Ukraine Gathers Momentum.

Orlov: Reichstag Fire in Kiev. Proyect doesn't even deign to mention Orlov's name.

I don't know much about what's happening there, like most everyone, and one can dispute Orlov's article, but dismissing it as a "pile of garbage" means not bothering to read Orlov's other posts, in which he addresses the post-Soviet collapse, which he attributes to a crash in oil revenues, not the U.S.-Russian arms race.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Oscars

The Oscars is a nickname. ABC should go back to titling it the Academy Awards.

Kunstler: Let's You and Him Fight

Kunstler on Russia vs. Ukraine.

So, now we are threatening to start World War Three because Russia is trying to control the chaos in a failed state on its border — a state that our own government spooks provoked into failure? The last time I checked, there was a list of countries that the USA had sent troops, armed ships, and aircraft into recently, and for reasons similar to Russia’s in Crimea: the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, none of them even anywhere close to American soil. I don’t remember Russia threatening confrontations with the USA over these adventures.

The phones at the White House and the congressional offices ought to be ringing off the hook with angry US citizens objecting to the posturing of our elected officials. There ought to be crowds with bobbing placards in Farragut Square reminding the occupant of 1400 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue* how ridiculous this makes us look.

The saber-rattlers at The New York Times were sounding like the promoters of a World Wrestling Federation stunt Monday morning when they said in a Page One story:

“The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin?”

Are they out of their chicken-hawk minds over there? It sounds like a ploy out of the old Eric Berne playbook: Let’s You and Him Fight. What the USA and its European factotums ought to do is mind their own business and stop issuing idle threats. They set the scene for the Ukrainian melt-down by trying to tilt the government their way, financing a pro-Euroland revolt, only to see their sponsored proxy dissidents give way to a claque of armed neo-Nazis, whose first official act was to outlaw the use of the Russian language in a country with millions of long-established Russian-speakers. This is apart, of course, from the fact Ukraine had been until very recently a province of Russia’s former Soviet empire.

Secretary of State John Kerry — a haircut in search of a brain — is winging to Kiev tomorrow to pretend that the USA has a direct interest in what happens there. Since US behavior is so patently hypocritical, it raises the pretty basic question: what are our motives? I don’t think they amount to anything more than international grandstanding — based on the delusion that we have the power and the right to control everything on the planet, which is based, in turn, on our current mood of extreme insecurity as our own ongoing spate of bad choices sets the table for a banquet of consequences.

America can’t even manage its own affairs. We ignore our own gathering energy crisis, telling ourselves the fairy tale that shale oil will allow us to keep driving to WalMart forever. We paper over all of our financial degeneracy and wink at financial criminals. Our infrastructure is falling apart. We’re constructing an edifice of surveillance and social control that would make the late Dr. Joseph Goebbels turn green in his grave with envy while we squander our dwindling political capital on stupid gender confusion battles.

The Russians, on the other hand, have every right to protect their interests along their own border, to protect the persons and property of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who, not long ago, were citizens of a greater Russia, to discourage neo-Nazi activity in their back-yard, and most of all to try to stabilize a region that has little history and experience with independence. They also have to contend with the bankruptcy of Ukraine, which may be the principal cause of its current crack-up. Ukraine is deep in hock to Russia, but also to a network of Western banks, and it remains to be seen whether the failure of these linked obligations will lead to contagion throughout the global financial system. It only takes one additional falling snowflake to push a snow-field into criticality.

Welcome to the era of failed states. We’ve already seen plenty of action around the world and we’re going to see more as resource and capital scarcities drive down standards of living and lower the trust horizon. The world is not going in the direction that Tom Friedman and the globalists thought. Anything organized at the giant scale is now in trouble, nation-states in particular. The USA is not immune to this trend, whatever we imagine about ourselves for now.

* It's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.--P.Z.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Where's the Agency?

As I've read elsewhere, will they ever show a movie about Nat Turner?

Also, Stanley Crouch mentioned in a recent column that in 1984 Gordon Parks made a movie for PBS based on Solomon Northrup's life. It's probably a lot different from 12 Years a Slave.