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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – October 7, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes) National Park, Mongolia. The lakes are just 22 miles from the Orkhon waterfalls, but are accessible only by hiking, or by horse. You can get to it with 4 wheel drive vehicles, but it is 80+ miles one way, 160 if there are heavy rains. You are probably never coming here.

Rick Perry heads Trump’s Department of Energy, (DoE). With the Russians, nuclear war with North Korea, ditching the Iran deal, and hurricanes, we have ignored Perry. But Perry hasn’t ignored the coal industry Trump hired him to protect. The DoE has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to begin the rule-making process to subsidize coal and nuclear plant operator’s costs and profits. From Vox:

Perry wants utilities to pay coal and nuclear power plants for all their costs and all the power they produce, whether those plants are needed or not.

This takes a brief unpacking. The DoE did a study of power grid reliability that said:

The loss of coal plants had not diminished grid reliability; in fact, the grid is more reliable than ever. Reliability can be improved further through smart planning and a portfolio of flexible resources.

Then the DoE said to FERC: Address a crisis we determined doesn’t exist. They are asking FERC to adopt a rule forcing utilities in competitive energy markets to pay the full cost of plants that have 90 days’ worth of fuel on-site. Perry’s argument is that the levels of renewable energy produced from wind and solar is variable. And since backup is needed for days with calm winds or cloudy skies, we need to preserve the aging coal and nuclear plants to protect the power grid from dips in availability, because they alone among electric power sources, have 90-days of fuel on hand.

Perry’s contention is that coal and nuclear stored fuel is necessary for grid reliability, and, that these plants are unfairly being driven out of business by subsidies to renewable energy. This is patently false. It is cheap natural gas that is driving coal out of business.

Having fuel on-site does little for grid resilience. No one expects energy outages if coal and nuclear plants continue closing. But, let’s have more corporate welfare for the least useful part of the energy industry!

Perry’s alleged problem isn’t real, and his solution, subsidizing coal and nuclear plants, is a form of theft. A transfer from the most deserving, clean renewable and safe plants, to the least deserving, most polluting and dangerous coal and nuclear plants.

And people will be taxed through artificially higher electricity rates to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. More from Vox:

It’s hard to overstate how radical this proposal is. It is wildly contradictory to both the spirit and practice of competitive energy markets. It amounts to selective re-regulation, but only for particular power sources, which wouldn’t have to compete, they’d just have to have piles of fuel.

So does FERC have to do what DoE asks? No, but consider this: FERC has three commissioners (a quorum), two of which, including the chair, are Trump appointees. The chair is Neil Chatterjee, who was a staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s champion of coal. Chatterjee recently said:

I believe baseload power should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix. … I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, needs to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system.

So, this market-wrecking plan to Make Coal Great Again is likely to happen.

This is an old-school Ayn Rand-style looter giveaway from a bunch of self-described free-market “conservatives” trying to rescue a dinosaur industry that is choking the world.

Just another issue that raises our anxiety level. It’s Saturday, and we need to dial it back, relax and stop thinking about how these Trump termites are quietly undermining everything. Grab a hot, steaming cup of Mystic Monk Paradiso Blend coffee ($15.99/lb.), find a quiet corner, put on the Bluetooth headphones and listen to Telemann’s “Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings”, TWV 53:D5. Here performed by the Bremer Barockorchester, recorded in a November, 2015 live performance at the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, Germany:

Note the valveless trumpet played by Giuseppe Frau. It is an Egger (three-hole system) Baroque trumpet.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Congress Greases the Skids for Exxon

(See below for the Daily Escape)

While America’s focus has been on the Orange Overlord’s blizzard of executive orders, and his public love-making with Putin, we were distracted from some of the actions by the GOP’s Congressional worms who are intent on chewing through our regulatory protections.

Did you feel burdened by a Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule requiring that American corporations doing business overseas reveal how much money they’re spending in foreign countries? This is called the Resource Extraction Rule, and apparently, it has been a terrible burden for Exxon and other oil firms.

VOX reported that, on the same day the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, the House voted to kill a transparency rule for oil companies that Tillerson once lobbied against while CEO of Exxon Mobil. Now it’s on to the Senate and the Orange Leader for action:

Using the little-known Congressional Review Act, the House GOP voted on Wednesday to kill an Obama-era regulation that would require publicly traded oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose any payments that they made to foreign governments, including taxes and royalties.

The Resource Extraction Rule is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Back then, senators from both parties included a provision requiring greater disclosure from mining and drilling companies’ activities abroad. The hope was to cut down on corruption in resource-rich developing countries by increasing transparency.

Over the past six years, the SEC tried to craft a rule that would give the legislation teeth. But the SEC’s first attempt at regulation was struck down by the courts in 2012. The rule didn’t actually get finished until June 27, 2016. As Charlie Pierce says: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

In other countries, resource extraction is a polite way of describing corruption and bribery on a grand scale, and it’s also a dead serious matter for local activists who are trying to take on international corporations and their native plunderers in local government.

Remember the Congressional Review Act (CRA). It is the mechanism the GOP will use to undo much of what the Obama administration did in the areas of corporate responsibility and environmental justice.

At its core, the CRA states that any “recent” regulation (the Act’s definition of recent means it only applies to those passed by the Obama administration after June, 2016) can be repealed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Any repeal vote taken by the Senate cannot be filibustered, and the list includes more than 50 Obama-era regulations.

So far, the Stream Protection rule that restricted coal companies from dumping debris and waste into nearby waterways has been revoked, along with the Social Security gun rule that prevented mentally impaired persons from buying guns.

Now, they’ve gutted the Resource Extraction rule.

Under the CRA, the SEC is barred from crafting a new rule that has “substantially the same form” as the repealed regulation. So, Congress has thrown a rose to the oil and gas and mining industries that will be difficult to reverse.

Despite GOP concerns, similar rules are in place in the European Union. Reporting by the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Canada shows $150 billion in payments to governments in more than 100 countries.

Sounds like something citizens should know about.

The GOP’s argument is that American oil and gas companies need to make these under-the-table payments, in order to compete in third world countries.

This is America under the GOP: We can’t afford to provide the world’s best education to our kids. We can’t afford to take care of our elderly, but we absolutely must have policies that allow Exxon and friends to bribe foreign governments.

 

The Daily Escape: The National Library of China, in Beijing’s educational district.

(Image by Tian-yu Xiong for the National Geographic)

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Is Climate Change Real?

Wrongo has never written about climate change, but will make an exception today. NASA recently released a series of then and now photos called “Images of Change” which reveal how our world has changed (not for the better) over the past 30+ years. The series provides a comparison of satellite images that depict everything from Arctic ice retreat to island building, to urbanization.

The series shows how rapidly our planet has changed in recent decades, due largely to urbanization and climate change. Perhaps, with the Trump administration firmly in control of a climate denial narrative, these photos will soon disappear from the internet, so please go and see all of them while it is still possible.

Here is one photo that shows the Arctic’s sea ice. It is clear that the ice has been shrinking for decades. The picture below compares September 1984 (on the left) with September 2016:

The total area of persistent (4 years or older) ice has declined from 718,000 square miles to 42,000 square miles in the 32 year time period. In the images, blue/grey ice is younger whereas white ice is older. But please calm down, you can’t stop the Trump express to climate Armageddon unless:

  • We take control of the Senate from the Republicans, and
  • Win the White House in 2020.

And at a time when we won’t let most Muslims into our country, and absolutely zero Syrians, maybe it’s time we chill out with a beautiful song by a Syrian national currently based in Paris, Lena Chamamyan. Here she is singing “Love in Damascus”. The accompanying video has many photos of Damascus; probably most taken before the rebellion. Wrongo could not find a reliable translation from Arabic for you, but the singing is beautiful:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Congress Is Back, And the Revolution Begins!

Here is food for thought from David Weigel of the WaPo: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

When the 115th Congress begins this week, with Republicans firmly in charge of the House and Senate, much of that legislation will form the basis of the most ambitious conservative policy agenda since the 1920s. And rather than a Democratic president standing in the way, a soon-to-be-inaugurated Donald Trump seems ready to sign much of it into law…

That plan was long in the making. Almost the entire agenda has already been vetted, promoted and worked over by Republicans and think tanks that look at the White House less for leadership and more for signing ceremonies

There is little reason for Republicans to seek bipartisan support for middle-of-the-road legislation. They will simply work as a hive to turn America into Kansas. You remember Kansas, the state that has such a terrible record of job creation and economic growth? Kansas governor Republican Sam Brownback launched the orthodoxy of Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers on the state. And Brownback and Steven Moore who helped Brownback with his disastrous legislative agenda, are both economic advisors to Trump.

We have seen lots of hand-wringing about how to stand up to the Trump agenda that will begin raining down on America on January 20th. Most calls to action are from single-issue activist groups that lack the resources to get media attention, or to make a difference.

But there is a clear need for collective action on national, state and local levels. And that movement needs a leader.

How about an anti-president? Maybe Bernie Sanders? When Trump governs by tweet, he would be countered by the anti-president. Americans might come to know that, while Trump and company are cutting healthcare, the shadow government led by anti-president Sanders and vice president Warren are passing and signing a national healthcare bill.

When Trump cuts taxes on the rich and corporations, the shadow government is raising taxes on the rich and penalizing corporations that locate overseas to avoid paying tax at home.

When Trump appoints an anti-abortion, pro-Citizens United Supreme Court Justice, the shadow government appoints someone who is for social justice.

This can begin to build a consensus about what Trump is doing wrong.

We don’t have a parliamentary system, but, most Americans have no idea about political theory, or political facts. So, few will realize that a shadow government isn’t consistent with our Constitutional system!

And the new shadow government MUST not contain Pelosi, Schumer, or any of the geriatric Democrats in the House and Senate. That will de-legitimize the effort.

On New Year’s Day, Wrongo and Ms. Right attended a Baroque music concert at an old Congregational church in Washington CT that dates from 1741. Within a beautiful program, we heard a piece by the Italian composer, Domenico Zipoli. Zipoli has an interesting history. He studied with Scarlatti, he became a Jesuit, and worked as a missionary and died in 1726 in Argentina at age 38. Zipoli’s music was a revelation to us. Here is Zipoli’s “Elevazione” for oboe, violin, organ and cello. It was wonderful to hear it in a place with a good pipe organ.

The “elevation” is the point in the Catholic mass when the chalice and host are presented to the congregation. The performance lasts for eight+ minutes, much longer than what Wrongo prefers to present to you, but it is achingly beautiful, so please have patience.

It may be the perfect antidote to the shenanigans we will be seeing from the Trump administration, and we may need to watch it daily for a few months:

It begs the question, why was the 18th century blessed with so many great composers while the 21st century was given Justin Bieber?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Your Holiday Gift Is Team Trump

From Ian Welsh: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Trump is now Team Trump. The two most influential people in his court appear to be his son-in-law, [Jared] Kushner, a fellow real-estate developer and the guy who made the key strategic decisions which led to Trump’s victory; and {Steve] Bannon. Bannon is an economic nationalist with white nationalist leanings, who identifies with the working class and wants to bring manufacturing back to America. He’s quite willing to have a trade war to do it.

And while we are at it, Wrongo is sure that all of the Goldman Sachs alligators Trump is dumping into DC’s undrained swamp have lots of winning in mind for America. Welsh adds:

Trump’s children are influential, and it appears that Ivanka, his daughter, is the most influential of the three. She’s probably the most liberal person in the administration (even if she, strictly speaking, isn’t in the administration.)

Despite Welsh saying Ivanka won’t be in the administration, US News reported that she will set up shop in the White House space usually set aside for the first lady, which is in the East Wing. That sounds like influence!

With almost five weeks remaining until the inauguration, attempting to understand what Trump’s administration will do to you (or for you, if you are a fan), is America’s favorite holiday party game.

Trump has loaded up on oligarchs and generals to help steer his thinking on policy. More from Welsh: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, for example, his shift on China policy [to confrontation] is in alignment with what a lot of generals think (China is the real threat) and with what Bannon thinks (manufacturing jobs, economic nationalism.)

In some ways, Trump’s China policy is a continuation and extension of existing policy, but his style is confrontational, and more focused. All of Trump’s complaints about Chinese actions are long-standing US complaints that had not been addressed by previous administrations.

When we look at Trump’s team, they are anti-labor, pro-corporatist, pro-Wall Street, pro-MIC, Big Oil, Big Coal, climate changing denialists. With Pruitt @ EPA, Perry @ Energy, and Ryan Zinke @ Interior, all the news looks bad for those of us who want to see more alternative energy and a radically improved global environment. And Price @ HHS will have the largest and quickest negative impact on Americans.

These proposed cabinet appointments are not the source of any Christmas cheer if you favor our current domestic policies.

And it will get worse: Congressional Republicans told BuzzFeed News that the GOP plans to re-introduce the First Amendment Defense Act. The act prohibits the federal government from taking action against private businesses and individuals that discriminate against LGBT people (or others) due to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Trump has already stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act:

If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths…

We got to this precipitous place after a very close election. Paul Campos tells us that the US has recorded the popular vote in 34 US presidential elections (despite having had 57 of them), and Trump received the smallest share of the popular vote of any winning candidate in US presidential election history, if we exclude elections which featured a significant third-party vote.

Jacob Levy points out that Trump eked out victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and therefore the presidency, by a combined 80,000 votes across those three states.

That is a .05% vote margin in a 137 million vote election.

This is why vast numbers of people head into the holidays scared for their families and future.

So you need an Xmas soother. It’s not bad enough to be late in buying presents for people who you know will be disappointed when they open them. Now you gotta deal with Team Trump, and all of the winning we will see in the next four years.

Here are the Piano Guys with O come, O come, Emmanuel. It was filmed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Jerusalem Movie Set in Goshen Utah:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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New OPEC Deal Puts Saudi Arabia On The Sidelines

The new OPEC deal to cut oil output, the Cartel’s first since 2008, gives OPEC what it wanted: higher oil prices. It was difficult for the Cartel to achieve an agreement. Russia, a major oil producer that isn’t even a member of OPEC, brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. From Oil Price:

The interventions ahead of Wednesday’s OPEC meeting came…from Putin, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani…According to Reuters, Putin’s role as intermediary between Riyadh and Tehran was pivotal, and is a “testament to the rising influence of Russia in the Middle East since its military intervention in the Syrian civil war just over a year ago.”

Prior OPEC meetings failed to deliver consensus, because nobody wanted to cut production. Tehran argued OPEC should not prevent it from restoring the output lost by years of Western sanctions, but the Saudis wouldn’t agree. The animosity between them didn’t help: Proxy wars in Syria and Yemen have exacerbated decades of tension between the Saudi Sunni kingdom and the Iranian Shi’ite Islamic republic.

The brokering started when Putin met Saudi’s Prince Mohammed on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China. Both felt they could benefit from cooperating to push oil prices higher, and agreed to work together to cut excess production that had more than halved oil prices since 2014. Lower prices had created large budget deficits for both Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Financial pain made cooperation possible, despite the huge political differences between Russia and Saudi Arabia over the civil war in Syria. But Iran also had to agree. Prince Mohammed had repeatedly demanded that Iran participate in any production cuts. Saudi and Iranian OPEC negotiators had debated the point without compromise for months.

Putin stepped in: He established that the Saudis would shoulder the lion’s share of cuts, as long as Riyadh wasn’t seen as making concessions to Iran. A deal was possible if Iran didn’t celebrate a victory over the Saudis.

Reuters reports that a phone call between Putin and Iranian President Rouhani smoothed the way. After the call, Rouhani and oil minister Bijan Zanganeh went to Iran’s supreme leader for approval. During the meeting, leader Khamenei approved the deal. He also agreed that Iran wouldn’t take a victory lap once the deal was announced.

And so the deal got done. OPEC is trimming output by 1.2m barrels per day (bpd) starting January 1st.

The deal is contingent on securing the agreement of non-OPEC producers to lower production by 600,000m barrels per day. Russia says it will contribute half of that, 300,000 bpd. Iran was allowed to slightly boost its output, while Iraq slightly lowered theirs.

We’ll see if the deal holds, and/or, who cheats.

Pundits like to chalk up winners and losers in this type of deal. Since OPEC now accounts for less than half of all energy output in the world, it is a weakened cartel, dependent on the kindness of outsiders (like Russia) to hold together.

Saudi Arabia looks like the biggest loser. First, it cut production by 500,000 bpd. Second, it has presided over a momentous shift in global power, one that is as stunning as Brexit or Trump’s victory.

Saudi’s capitulation to Russia and Iran ends OPEC’s domination of the world’s energy market. The Saudis also made the US shale oil market more powerful in the global energy market, since US shale will produce more oil whenever oil prices are high. However, Saudi oil remains far cheaper to produce than American shale oil, since it requires far less energy to extract and refine.

Russia emerged as the biggest winner. Its economy did not buckle under the Saudi effort to drive oil prices down via increased production. Putin is now the indispensable power broker in the Middle East, something that was unthinkable even 12 months ago. The Syrian civil war will soon end with Russia winning, Assad staying in power, and Saudi Arabia as the regional loser.

And so, this year truly has seen the death of one world order, along with the birth of another. The US and Saudi now have very little to show for their 50+ year joint effort to dominate the Middle East. The EU looks far from stable as a force in Western Europe.

And Saudi Arabia has just become the third dinosaur to be felled by the asteroid called 2016.

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Smart Guys, Smart Power

When we think of entrepreneurs involved in renewable energy, usually just one name comes to mind, Elon Musk, a smart guy who has given Tesla a new meaning. He just merged Tesla with Solar City.

But smart entrepreneurs in solar are emerging. The NYT wrote yesterday about Nicholas Beatty, a former banker who has covered about 25 acres of his farm in England with solar panels. This isn’t a new phenomenon, lots of farms have solar arrays both in the UK and elsewhere:

What’s new in Mr. Beatty’s field is a hulking 40-foot-long shipping container. Stacked inside, in what look like drawers, are about 200 lithium-ion cells that make up a battery large enough to store a substantial portion of the electricity the solar farm puts out.

The battery and its smart software give Mr. Beatty an advantage over other solar panel farmers. Power prices rise and fall depending on the supply and demand. The spread between the high and low price can be dramatic. By storing power in the battery, Mr. Beatty can feed it into the grid when prices are high:

The battery effectively takes power off the line when there is too much and puts it on when there is too little…

Improved industrial-sized batteries are a way of achieving that flexibility. Mr. Beatty’s battery storage system cost about $1 million, but could increase revenue for his solar farm by as much as $250k per year. Beatty is one of many entrepreneurs and businesses trying to play the fast-shifting electric power landscape. This is a capital-intensive business:

With about a dozen friends and family members…he spent £6.5 million ($8 .1 million) to build the solar farm in 2014. The solar panels…generate about £650,000 ($810k) in revenue a year…

Improved battery storage and its smart controlling software has been one of the two pillars required to make solar power competitive with non-renewable energy sources. The other is the cost of solar panels. Tesla has been working on both axis. They have built a solar demonstration project on the island of Ta’u in American Samoa that generates 1.4 megawatts of energy. The microgrid has 60 Tesla Powerpacks, the company’s large commercial battery with 6 megawatt hours of battery storage. These batteries can be fully charged with only 7 hours of daylight from 5,300 solar panels.

The microgrid facility can fully power the island of 600 residents for 3 days on battery power. It is expected to save the island 109,500 gallons of diesel per year or $8 million in fuel costs. Ta’u previously relied on diesel fueled generators for power.

Cost of solar energy per kilowatt or megawatt hour has been uncompetitive for a long time, but that is changing. And most countries and most US states now are willing to purchase power from independent generators, like Mr. Beatty in the UK. The Economist has this chart of the relative costs of sources of energy:

price-of-solar

All of this means that American farmers could open a new revenue stream by becoming smart solar power generators. Farmers own large acreage in sunny locations. They have a deep understanding of farming, another capital-intensive business. They understand that farming is a climate-dependent enterprise, another factor in common with solar power generation.

A key factor is whether their state allows interconnection with the power grid, and whether the state’s program to pay the independent power generator for power sent to the grid at an economic rate.

Let’s hope that Donald Trump’s fascination with coal doesn’t lead to bad policy. The Economist reports that Trump has promised to make more public land available to miners; but access to coal reserves isn’t their problem. Coal employment peaked in the 1920s, and today, fewer electric utilities want to use coal. If he intervenes on behalf of coal, he will be actively handicapping renewables and natural gas. If Trump’s energy policy is focused on a few unprofitable coal-mines, China will take a commanding lead in batteries, solar panels and wind turbines. That wouldn’t be so smart.

We are at a time when the cost of solar energy has dropped dramatically, and with greater economies of scale, it will fall even further.

It is past time for a few smart entrepreneurs to take up the disruption of the fossil fuel industry and its fellow travelers, the electric utilities.

 

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What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 7, 2016

Today’s wake-up call is for the Republican Party.

Beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Republican Party began its deal with the Devil by starting their catering to those on the farthest Right edge of the political spectrum, inviting people who traffic in anger, hatred, religious zealotry, and fearmongering of those not like them, inside the GOP tent.

The election of Ronald Reagan helped bring these zealots some legitimacy, not because he was one of them, but because he had courted them in his first run for the White House.

We forget that in 1976, an evangelical Christian who taught Sunday school, and who endeavored to follow Christ in his daily life ran for President and won. But, despite Jimmy Carter’s strong Christian beliefs, Evangelicals went heavily for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Because they admired his Christian faith? No, his faith seemed situational. But he projected what they perceived as strength and leadership.

Evangelicals ignored one of their own in favor of a secular Republican who talked tough and affected an air of someone who could talk tough when events called for toughness. Turns out that for Evangelicals, like many groups, are primarily concerned with political power; their need for a theologically-sound candidate takes a back seat whenever it has to.

That’s the reality today, as it was back then. Trump is barely Christian, and Cruz is solidly Christian, but the politics of the Christian Right demands fealty to a political agenda that tolerates hatred, exclusion, and intolerance. Therefore, Trump and Cruz quality.

The contrast between the Democratic and Republican parties couldn’t be more sharply defined.

Since the late 1800s, when businesses were undertaking tremendous consolidation, leading to the formation of trusts, Republicans supported business, despite the fact that business was beginning to prey on people and overshadow the government.

After the brief Republican Progressive period from 1890-1917, in which Republicans were the force behind “trust-busting”, they have advanced an increasingly exclusionary and discriminatory agenda, denying a collective responsibility to care for our fellow human beings in favor of elevating corporate interests along with their view of individual liberties above all else. Government is an instrument designed to show strength, project American power, and enforce a neo-liberal, dog-eat-dog economic worldview, one that will take the social contract back to where it was in the early 1900’s.

Democrats understood that government needs to be more than a police and fire department. One of the most important roles assumed by government was ensuring that we create a level playing field for all citizens, that corporations were not first among equals in America. They also believed that we must look after those who are down on their luck by providing a social safety net.

Government was not to be primarily an instrument for projecting power and protecting the influential, but rather one of ensuring the American social contract, while protecting our citizens from the abuses of big business.

After years of courting the Radical Right, thinking that they could be kept under control, Establishment Republicans now understand that, not only do they no longer have control, the inmates are now running the asylum – poorly. Faced with the reality that the bill for their deal with the Devil has come due, Republicans trotted out Mitt Romney to make the case against The Donald, who responded with crude personal insults and inappropriate sexual innuendo:

COW Trump Miracle Worker

Congratulations, Republicans, you have only yourselves to blame. Now, you desperately need a Wrongo Wake up Call. To help you wake up, let’s return to the “small hands” innuendo of the last GOP debate.

Here are the Talking Heads doing “Born Under Punches” live in Rome in 1980, from their great album, “Remain in Light”. This 8-minute live version is worth your time, since it includes spectacular guest guitar work by Adrian Belew, who played with Frank Zappa and King Crimson.

Some think the guitar that Belew is playing was originally jimmy Hendrix’s (the one he burned at the Monterey Pop festival). Frank Zappa repaired it, and loaned it to Adrian Belew, whose main influence was Hendrix.

The bassist in the white dress is Tina Weymouth who is (still) married to Chris Franz, the Talking Heads guitarist. Here are some sample lyrics:

Take a look at these hands
Take a look at these hands
The hand speaks, the hand of a government man
Well I’m a tumbler born under punches, I’m so thin

Hmmm. Is Trump a government man?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day. The news of Week That Was included the New Hampshire primary, another power grab by the Supreme Court, the Zika virus, and proof of the existence of gravitational waves.

Some people have an embarrassment of riches on Valentine’s Day:

COW Valentines Day

NH reminds Hillary about kids in a different way than before:

COW Comeback Kid

Sanders met with Sharpton before heading to South Carolina:

COW Sharpton Sanders

When the history of early 21st Century US is written, the villains will already be wearing black:

COW EPA Court

Zika virus is all over the news:

COW Zika

 

Proving Einstein right about gravitational waves took 100 years. Hope we do better with market panic:

COW Gravity Waves

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