Tuesday, May 07, 2019
America, You Are Fired!
I have made these points continuously since before Trump got into office. Whether or not you think that Trump was actually elected, he did get in somehow, and there are reasons to believe that this had something to do with his wonderfully refreshing “You are fired!” tag line. It’s a fair guess that what motivated people to vote for him was their ardent wish that somebody would come along and fire all of the miscreants that infest Washington, DC and surrounding areas. Alas, that he couldn’t do. Figurehead leaders are never granted the authority to dismantle the political establishments that install them. But that is not to say that it can’t be done at all.
What happened instead was that the political establishment spent two years thrashing about in search of a reason to say “You are fired!” to Trump but has been unable to find one, and so Trump remains in office, although to say that he “remains in power” would be to invite sardonic laughter from anyone who knows what real political power smells like. Trump is but a prisoner in the White House, just like his predecessor was. Ironically, the quest for Trump’s impeachment has been fruitless as far as firing him, but most fruitful in terms of enhancing his ability to not only fire lots of establishment figures but perhaps even send them to jail—with the help of the Justice Department—and his character traits of extreme rancor, spitefulness and vindictiveness should be most conducive toward that end, making for a fun spectacle. His numerous enemies and detractors may yet look back wistfully on the halcyon days when they could lambaste him with impunity.
The quest to stop Trump started well before the election, with Obama and the Clintons collaborating on misusing federal resources to dig up dirt on Trump; specifically, evidence of “Russian collusion”… and they couldn’t find any. They did manage to find some “Russian meddling” (in the form of Facebook clickbait ads) but the evidence they dug up was too ridiculous to show in court. Too bad they didn’t look for Ukrainian collusion and meddling, or Israeli collusion and meddling, or Saudi collusion and meddling, because then they would have found plenty—enough to not only knock Hillary Clinton out of the running but also to lock her up. It would have been a constructive, useful exercise for them to go look for Ukrainian political meddling, but as I’ve explained before the American modus operandi is quite the opposite, and it compelled them to go after Russia instead.
In any case, the complete failure of Mueller’s team to find anything actionable against Trump has left him grasping at straws, and the one straw he seized upon was the vague possibility of accusing Trump of obstructing justice, based on 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), which specifies that someone is guilty of obstruction as follows: “…obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” Apparently, a neuron snapped inside poor Mueller’s head making him think that his own investigation was an “official proceeding,” although if you look up this term you’ll find that it relates to things happening inside courtrooms, with one or more judges presiding, and to launch such a proceeding requires evidence that a crime has been committed. If there is no crime, then there is no proceeding, and nothing to obstruct, influence or impede.
There ensued a sort of bureaucratic danse macabre. Normally, the Attorney General has the authority to provide guidance on such questions, and AG Jeff Sessions could have told Mueller that 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) is only relevant to court proceedings and that would have been it. But Sessions had the unfortunate luck of having had a casual chat with the amiable and roly-poly Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. By virtue of this little chat Sessions contaminated his precious bodily fluids (just breathing the same air as a Russian can be politically fatal, you know) and was forced to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation. Trump’s legal team then reached out to William Barr, a former AG, and asked him to chime in. Barr wrote a memo clarifying the issue and sent it to deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who remained as second-in-command at the Justice Department after Sessions’ recusal, and who should have read it, understood it and acted on it, terminating Mueller’s investigation, but somehow he didn’t.
The denouement of this bureaucratic danse macabre played out as follows. After the midterm elections Trump said “You’re fired!” to Jeff Sessions and William Barr was confirmed as AG. Barr then said “You’re fired!” to both Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller for being unpardonably dense. Barr also made it clear that he plans to leave no stone unturned in investigating this fantastic instance of misuse of official resources and prosecutorial misconduct. This will be fun to watch, if you have nothing more important to pay attention to, but I suspect that the phrase “You’re fired!” will continue to bounce around the halls of Washington like a rubber grenade for a good long time. There are, however, things to pay attention to that are far more important.
There is a lot happening in the world all at once right now. The entire planet is rapidly reconfiguring itself. The world is begging for a new, post-capitalist, post-industrial order to be born, but the overabundance of natural resources that have made previous such revolutions possible (coal for the age of steam, oil for the current oil age) simply no longer exist. All that remains is optimizations, enhancements and reconfigurations of the existing order of things, cutting out that which is most harmful and most dysfunctional. To this end, Western European nations are attempting to reclaim the sovereignty they ceded to the United States and the European Union while Eurasia is coming together to form a massive economic and security conglomerate centered on China and Russia. Both are playing for time, because redirecting trade and financial flows away from the US is quite a process.
The world’s central banks are doing their best to get rid of their US dollar reserves and to buy gold, which, as of this April, they are allowed to consider a risk-free financial asset. Many people now expect gold to go up as a result, but that expectation is based on an illusion. Think of gold as a lighthouse and of fiat currencies as sinking ships: those aboard them may look around and decide that the lighthouse is going up, but that’s just an optical illusion. The purchasing power of fiat currencies is sure to fall (some more than others). The purchasing power of gold will seem to increase, but that will also be an illusion: it will appear to rise against the backdrop of crashing markets, in real estate and physical plant especially. But overall the purchasing power of gold will drop too, because the future purchasing power of any financial asset is determined by just one thing: energy, fossil fuel energy in particular, and energy from crude oil above all. Without energy, nothing within an economy moves, unless it is an agrarian economy based on fodder and animal muscle power.
A particularly interesting piece to the gold story is that it may turn out that much of the gold supposedly stored in the US may in fact be missing. Since Nixon closed the “gold window” in 1971, ending the convertibility of US dollar for gold bullion, and until recently the US dollar has been able to retain its position as a global reserve currency by an act of sheer financial levitation, but that bit of magic may have actually been sleight of hand: behind-the-scenes gold sales to the largest US creditors. When various countries, Germany in particular, have attempted to repatriate their gold, which they had entrusted to the US, they were rebuffed, and when they did succeed, the gold that was returned wasn’t the same gold, and it took a long time. The US hunger for gold has forced it to conduct rather unseemly heists, stealing the gold reserves of Iraq, Libya and the Ukraine. Thus, when the time comes for the US to defend its currency by employing its hoard of gold, it may turn out that the cupboard is bare.
Gold is becoming increasingly important, but energy is more important still, and always will be. After being pushed into the background for a few years, questions of energy supply and energy security are once again becoming front and center. Peak Oil turns out to not be dead after all; it was just postponed by a few years by virtue of the US burning through a huge pile of retirement savings while exploiting shale oil. But now most of the sweet spots have been tapped already and diminishing returns on continued frantic drilling are being added to the fracking industry’s permanently dismal financial returns. In the meantime, Russia has built several natural gas liquefaction plants, a new oil pipeline to China and two new gas pipelines to Turkey and Germany, and to Western Europe beyond, which will circumvent the Ukraine, reducing its value as a geopolitical asset to zero.
A desperate ploy by the US to seize control of Venezuela’s oil fields has backfired in a most embarrassing fashion; there, recent developments have brought up an important question: What if the US threw a color revolution but nobody came? As I had predicted would happen six years ago in my book The Five Stages of Collapse the Color Revolution Syndicate has steadily lost its mojo. In spite of all the bluster by various Washington foreign policy has-beens, a US military intervention in Venezuela is unthinkable: Venezuela’s Russian S-300 air defense systems effectively make it a no-fly zone for US planes. Meanwhile, the US, having cut itself off from Venezuela’s oil using its own sanctions, has been forced to resort to importing Russian oil. (For now, but not for much longer, the US has a glut of low-quality light crude from fracking, but it’s useless for making diesel and other distillates unless it is blended with heavier grades of crude, which have to be imported.)
Meanwhile, Russia and Belarus have been staging a noisy lover’s quarrel over Russian oil exports to Europe, much of which go through a Belarussian pipeline. Russia and Belarus—or Byelorussia, or White Russia—are not exactly distinct entities in most ways, and when they fight the bystanders should discount the foul language and instead look out for flying pots and cutlery. The result of this family spat is that White Russia will no longer supply the Ukraine with products distilled from Russian oil. Another odd development is that the Russian oil being piped to White Russia, and from thence to the EU, has become mysteriously contaminated and the flow has been stopped until the situation is resolved, causing a bit of a panic in Europe. The US volunteered to unseal its Strategic Petroleum Reserve to compensate, but then, in another bizarre twist, some of that oil too has turned out to have gone foul. More foul yet, the US has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, threatening anyone who imports Iranian oil, bringing up another important question: What is the US imposes unilateral sanctions on the whole world, and everybody just yawns?
Financially ruinous and generally nonsensical schemes such as tar sands, shale oil and industrial-scale photovoltaics, wind generation and electric cars will only accelerate the process of sorting nations into energy haves and energy have-nots, with the have-nots wiping themselves out sooner rather than later. Leaving aside various fictional and notional schemes (nuclear fusion, space mirrors, etc.) and focusing just on the technologies that already exist, there is only one way to maintain industrial civilization, and that is nuclear, based on Uranium 235 (which is scarce) and Plutonium 239 produced from Uranium 238 (of which there is enough to last for thousands of years) using fast neutron reactors. If you don’t like this choice, then your other choice is to go completely agrarian, with significantly reduced population densities and no urban centers of any size.
And if you do like this choice, then you have few alternatives other than to go with the world’s main purveyor of nuclear technology (VVER-series light water reactors, BN-series fast neutron breeder reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle technology) which happens to be Russia’s state-owned conglomerate Rosatom. It owns over a third of the world nuclear energy market and has a portfolio of international projects stretching far into the future that includes as much as 80% of the reactors that are going to be built. The US hasn’t been able to complete a nuclear reactor in decades, the Europeans managed to get just one new reactor on line (in China) while Japan’s nuclear program has been in disarray ever since Fukushima and Toshiba’s financially disastrous acquisition of Westinghouse. The only other contenders are South Korea and China. Again, if you don’t like nuclear—for whatever reason—then you can always just buy yourself some pasture and some hayfields and start breeding donkeys.
This may seem like shocking news to someone who’s been exposed solely to mass media in the US and other Anglophone countries or in the EU. Well, it may be shocking, but it’s definitely not news: none of these developments is particularly new, and none of them is unforeseen. The high level of denial of all of the above issues in Washington, which has been ground zero in a powerful explosion of unreality, and in Western media generally, is also unsurprising; nor is it helpful. Upon finding these things out for yourself, you may be tempted to shout about them from rooftops. This, I dare say, would be inadvisable. The proper thing to do with people who insist on remaining in denial is to humor them, to run out the clock on any games they try to play with you, and then to politely bid them adieu. Indeed, this is what we are seeing: nobody particularly wants to negotiate with US officials but they do so anyway because, as every crisis negotiator knows, it is essential to keep talking, even if simply to stall for time. While they are talking the hostages—to Wall Street, to the Pentagon, to US Treasury and Federal Reserve—are quietly being evacuated. Time is running out for the US, and once it has run out, what we will hear, in a supreme twist of irony, is the whole world telling the US: “You’re fired!”
if these new types of nuclear reactors multiply in different parts of the world, will we not have more Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents over time?
No, one does not automatically follow the other. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima were carefully staged acts of sabotage, not random accidents, as was Three Mile Island. There were some actual major accidents as well, but hardly anyone has ever heard of them because they were kept out of the press. Nuclear energy is a powerful people-frightener and a favorite among those whose job is to keep people in line by keeping them scared.
You've mentioned before about Chernobyl & 3 Mile Island accidents being sabotage. Do you have any plans to elaborate on that, perhaps in a future article? Or do you recommend any reliable sources to read about that? Thanks!
My wife Connie Barlow (a science writer) and I read you twice weekly with delight. As a former 8th grade spelling bee champion (she's now 67 years old) it thrilled Connie to be able to find a word you misspelled in today's post... liquefaction. :-)
Keep up the great writing!
Surely there must be a window of opportunity for gold?
Russia and China are buying, probably to prepare for the transition phase from fiat currencies bust. Maybe people with gold will be able to more easily migrate there?
Thats my plan at least !
Hello Dmitry! [seems that I finally got the departure from Patreon fixed, despite all their obstruction; now with SubscribeStar - with an upped contribution, because their smallest one is too cheapskate! :) ] Can you point to some information sources for your intriguing statements in your answer above to Tony, please? This is stuff that I ought to know about, I think. The whole post is full of interest, as usual. Many thanks! It's why I keep coming back to your unique take on things - that and the mordant humour...
I tend to suspect that JMGreer's picture of the world in a century or so will turn out to be what happens: a world so battered to its knees by the Long Descent away from industrial hitech 'civilisation' that some form of - possibly permacultured, if we can raise the gumption - agrarian society might be the new normal around much of the world, with - maybe - some islands of more complex urban 'civilisation' scattered thinly in unpredictably lucky places; if lucky is the right word. Would such a societal pattern still be able to achieve adequate nuclear technology for power generation; or for end-of-working-life decommissioning and safe disposal?
As you will know, I suppose, John thinks that that's unlikely, and that there will be a series of radioactively-contaminated badland zones on the Earth's face where humankind don't go, if they know what's good for them; one, two, many Chernobyl Exclusion Zones. I'm not a knee-jerk anti-nuclear person, btw; just a touch sceptical that anyone has yet got it into the category of reliably safe over its whole mining-processing-generating-decommissioning cycle. Can Rosatom actually demonstrate that capability?
I imagine that all the states on-board with BRI will be using the nearer-term time between now and the final appearance of the next dark age in a zero-sum game which will beggar the stiff-necked West at the same time as turning the tables that have prevailed during the past half-millennium of Western imperial rapacity inflicted on the world, with the Russia/China follower states getting something of their own back. But can even BRI-driven ingenuity and a more mutually-cooperative period now dawning deflect the final descent into the dark age? An age that will then persist for several more centuries, whilst Mam Gaia heals her injured planet, regrows the forests, and begins the process of re-stocking the ecological niches emptied by our unfolding grand crisis. The BRI states, like the West, may not be able, in the event, to cancel the ecogeophysical imperatives which now have the whole planet in their grip.
Uranium 235 you mean, which is less than 1/2% of supply...
If you continue to use and expand nuclear energy, I guess you don't need to decommission any power plant, just build a few more (modern) reactors near it to keep it cool and keep the area producing, and using the same transport infrastructure...
Why were these nuclear power plants sabotaged?
Also what about the long term safe disposal of nuclear waste in post industrial economies?
Three Mile Island was sabotaged (and boy did it take some work!) in order to justify a massive federal power grab over the nuclear industry. Nobody was hurt. It was, in a sense, necessary, because in the US tight government control of anything is hard to justify, but in the case of nuclear it is absolutely necessary.
Chernobyl was blown up on purpose (hurting thousands of people) in order to bankrupt the USSR. The cost of the damage and the clean-up was on the scale of the GDP of the entire country. The institutional/reputation damage was just as bad. It was sabotage, from the highest levels (traitors were within the Politburo) and Gorbachev admitted as much, though not in public.
Fukushima was caused by a small nuclear charge dropped from a US Navy ship on top of a geological fault some 100km offshore, triggering the tsunami. The seismographs of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami show a superimposition of two signatures: nuclear charge explosion and seismic event, with the nuclear explosion as the obvious trigger for the seismic event. Satellites picked up the radioactive plume from the upwelled gas a 100km offshore of Fukushima. A bunch of US sailors got irradiated. The Fukushima site was specifically staged and rigged to cause a sequence of three meltdowns, roughly one a day, for maximum effect: it was virtually designed to melt down. The rationale for the sabotage was a shortage of enriched uranium that would have caused the East Coast of the US to go dark unless Japan's nukes were taken off-line. Japan has the spare fossil fuel generation capacity to compensate, the US does not, so it got thrown under the bus. The shortage was caused by the termination of the "kilotons to killowats" program, by which Russia supplied nuclear fuel to the US by grinding up some number of its nuclear weapons. The Fukushima event shocked Russia into agreeing to extend the program. In return Russia got the Uranium One deal and is now very well supplied with uranium ore from around the world. This has allowed it to become the main purveyor of nuclear fuel in the world.
Disposing of nuclear waste safely is a thorny problem, and virtually impossible for post-industrial economies. The only idea that comes to mind is paying the Russians whatever it takes to just take care of it. High-level nuclear waste can be loaded into Russian BN-series reactors, where it can generate a bit of additional energy while decaying a whole lot faster than it otherwise would, becoming safe to bury in just 300 years instead of the usual thousands to millions of years. The holy grail is the closed nuclear cycle, where cheap and plentiful uranium 238 goes in and low-level radioactive waste comes out. The Russians aren't quite there yet, but they are getting close, and they are damned determined to get there.
I'm not convinced the US is done with Venezuela. The last coup attempt was more of a Chinese fire drill than a serious attempt to take power. According to John Perkins, first comes the carrot, then the stick, and failing that, the invasion. Russian air defenses notwithstanding, in a protracted war, Venezuela doesn't stand a chance. Yes, the US is spread thin across the globe, but there's nothing saying those assets wouldn't be withdrawn and redeployed for the biggest prize remaining in the age of oil. New and improved nuclear reactors are at this moment conjectural. The oil infrastructure is here and now and hungry.
One point I raise with Dimitri: I suggest that the shortage of uranium in 2011 was a short-term supply issue, not a strategic reserves issue. Since 2005, Kazakhstan has rapidly produced enough uranium oxide to supply the massive shortage of uranium supply, which dropped rapidly in 1990 worldwide. I guess that Adam Smith lives, and speaks Kazak. The price of yellowcake Uranium Oxide has stalled at about $55/kilo, about the same price as a barrel of oil, which yields 6.1 GJ energy. [Uranium 235 comprises 3.76x10^4 GJ purified, 270 GJ as less than 1% of yellowcake oxide.] It doesn't take that many kilos to fulfil requirements. The US refines 1.5 million kg/year. Most US uranium mines cannot stay profitable without a heavy subsidy. But Canadian resources are far more substantial, and Australia's are very high-grade, nearly pure uranium oxide.
The point is, the US nor the world is not near "peak nuclear fuel" as we are near "peak oil." No matter if the US "accidentally" seals off the Persian Gulf supply with a war with Iran, and puts Venezuelan tar on the open market (if it can). Oil is so yesterday. But dying cultures cannot live in the world of today, so must imagine that the world has not changed since their years of prosperity. Now, if the world shuts down uranium importation into the US, even then a defensive and peaceful overthrow of the Canadian narcoterrorist junta will bring us all the uranium the US needs. And maple syrup.
The move to nuclear still faces the issue of electrification of all our systems. From a thermodynamics point of view the net energy provided to the non energy sector will be insufficient to prevent our energy collapse. Every non renewable resource that is required for nukes and our industrial civilisation is faceing the steady trend of becoming more energy intense to acquire year by year. Hopefully nukes will stall that process for as long as possible but then the continuation of BAU just fuels collapse by other means such as financial or ecological phase changes. Interesting times ahead.
With regards to waste, probably most spent nuke fuel will get dumped at sea where it can boil away for life times creating a new genetic mutation lottery for future winning species.
The date of the Fukushima event was a giveaway: 3/11/11 not to be confused with 9/11/01. My suspicion at the time was that Japan was shutting down its nuclear reactors in preparation for WW3.
Dmitry said, "The purchasing power of gold will seem to increase, but that will also be an illusion: it will appear to rise against the backdrop of crashing markets, in real estate and physical plant especially. But overall the purchasing power of gold will drop too, because the future purchasing power of any financial asset is determined by just one thing: energy, fossil fuel energy in particular, and energy from crude oil above all."
I find this to be profound and yet simple. And I have, like a doof, been missing it.
On the nuclear front I can't imagine that Mother Earth is going to sanction a lot more industrial shenanigans from H.sapiens. The biosphere is nearly tapped out as far as human survival is concerned, I'm guessing.
Dmitry, have you considered the possible future development of thorium reactors which have the advantage of minimising the nuclear waste storage problem?
How many gigawatts of grid electricity are produced using thorium reactors? Precisely zero. That's the only number I need to know. In practical terms, this technology is exactly the same as pixies running inside hamster wheels.
Steve Vaughn -
Just noticed your rather opinionated comment. You are missing a key piece of the picture: the US no longer has the uranium fuel cycle. Mined uranium oxide is only .7% U235, and the US no longer has enrichment technology to bring it up to the needed 3-5%. The US has given up on diffusion-based enrichment. They built a centrifuge farm, but never got it to work. Nor is the US still capable of building new nuclear power plants (even with mostly imported parts). The DOE recently threw another pile of money at a nuclear money pit they have going in Georgia. Little chance of it ever getting completed. Meanwhile, a lot of the existing reactors in the US are due to be retired. In short, the US is spontaneously denuclearizing.
We build nuclear reactors all the time for Navy ships. Although the Navy doesn't manage the supply chain for the fuel (DOE does that) I've never heard of a shortage or of any delays in construction or refueling because of fuel supply issues and I personally know people that oversee that work. Also the nuclear accidents you refer to have been studied exhaustively and operators learn all about the details--doesnt seem made up to me. And there's no way a Navy ship planted a tsunami-causing charge off the coast of Japan. Even if it were ordered, I don't think sailors would do it--a lot of Americans are stationed there. Even if they did it unwittingly, they would have figured it out after the fact and it would have leaked.
Steve V -- Maybe we could just contract with Russia or China to build us a nuclear power plant, then reverse-engineer it.
No, wait. STEM just isn't sexy anymore. Hard to reverse-engineer a power plant without, you know, engineers...
If we become an agricultural/nuclear society; likely, how then do we educate, train and supply enough engineers, etc to handle the nukes until eternity. A full industrial society, it seems to me, is the only kind to handle nukes successfully.
Toktomi & Dmitry,
While it may be true that the value of gold will diminish as energy becomes scarce, it won't diminish at anything like the rate that fiat currencies will diminish. In the end, it will be the last one standing (perhaps as the backing for a new fiat currency) and will still be able to command resources and human labor. This labor may be devoid of the multiplier effect bestowed by oil, but it nevertheless has value.
people-frightener and a favorite among those whose job is to keep people in line by keeping them scared...
People-frightening, I would think, might be worth some analysis.
In re the issue of the Chernobyl disaster - there is an excellent video documentary detailing what it is claimed happened.
I only watched it because it's Russian made - English subs.
I never watch anything about Russia made by any AngloEuro outfit.
They do put the blame purely on incompetence of the original design and builders, and a particular engineer overseeing a test run under non-detailed conditions.
It looks purely like a combination of incompetence, arrogance, lack of independence among workers and unwillingness to risk a good job.
However, it occurs to me, reading Dmitry's claim of it being done deliberately by traitors, that such could explain it just as well. If the Engineer in charge - who went to prison - had been deliberately paid off, he could have run things exactly as depicted here.
Still curious - and still worth a look. It was a well done documentary.
"Fukushima was caused by a small nuclear charge dropped from a US Navy ship on top of a geological fault some 100km offshore, triggering the tsunami."
The explanation after that is also bit weird as in a nutshell:
US forced Russia to sell Uranium to US by triggering a Tsunami with the help of a Nuclear BOMB on to Japan!? What?
but most of all what kind of nation Japan is that took 3rd destruction caused by a nuclear weapon from the same country and docent react to it...
Been avid reader of your blog for over a decade. Agree with most of your thoughts and find it provocative as well as entertaining.
However,I do believe you are off base thinking that the end of cheap energy will lead to destruction of the modern way of life. My prediction is the onset of expensive energz will accelerate efficiency programs already underway. Already in the most advanced societies, energy use has been decouple from economic growth for a long time.
Given a decade or 2 to transition, we'll muddle along just fine.
This chart from wikipedia highlights how fairly prosperous societies (Hungry, Costa Rica, Danemark ) have modern societies with low energy use:
I agree that the Ex-urbanites of the North America and to a lesser extent England & Australia will be in for a big shock as the cost of energy triples or quadruples in the medium term future. There will be plenty of "stranded assets" in these places. The political consequences will be profound in those regions.
But, outside of those regions, the rest of the world will muddle along just fine.
Sure, stuff that uses lots of energy will skyrocket in price - like aluminum foil or certain plastics; and we'll have to heat our houses to 10 or 12C instead of 20-22C; and we'll drive 30HP cars less than 5.000KM a year - those effects are mere bothersome quirks in the grand scheme of things.
The wikipedia chart is worth studying.
Thank you for your writing. Big Fan here.
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