Three Things: Dead, Deader, Deadest

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Watching Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine has been horrific, bodies shredded and families burnt to cinders as their cities are leveled by Russian missiles. Photographic evidence of war crimes has been particularly difficult to witness.

Whatabouters argue western countries particularly the U.S. engage in a double standard over Ukraine’s losses compared to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other past engagements in which western military force has been mustered.

If their point is that U.S. foreign policy has been conflicted in the past, yes, it has, and it’s been so because of conditions established long before many of us were born.

Like our nation’s reliance on oil and the agreement to protect Saudi Arabia to assure continuity of oil production for economic national security.

Other crappy foreign policy decisions spin from that origin or are tangentially related to that agreement because in part elections have been bought by oil and gas money, or the dependency of U.S. national security on the flow of oil and gas has been made economically sticky.

We had a critical opportunity in 2000 to take an alternative time line and delaminate our security from oil but that fork in the road wasn’t taken.

Instead the presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of an oil man who lost the popular vote — in essence, a right-wing coup took place in favor of continued reliance on oil and the eventual hamstringing of Americans’ domestic needs by trillions of taxpayers’ dollars spent in unlawful and unnecessary wars to assure our continued addiction to fossil fuels.

But this is what has made the existential crisis in Ukraine so dynamic and engaging to western observers, particularly Americans. The problem is black and white: a sovereign democracy was attacked by a larger hostile neighbor which seeks to eliminate its existence. It happened in full view of the global public with access to the internet and social media platforms.

The fossil fuel problem is now likewise simplistic: the hostile neighbor’s kleptocratic economy relies heavily on oil and natural gas. It has used both to bully neighboring countries for decades, threatening the economic security of western allies. It’s using its fossil fuels now to cudgel the market for supporting Ukraine and to raise funds to continue its illegitimate invasion.

We’ve returned to the fork in the road again, 22 years later. Our national security and that of our allies is threatened by the continued reliance on fossil fuels, not including the increased geopolitical and economic instability generated by the mounting climate crisis.

Fossil fuels must die, should already have been long dead. It’s past time to liberate ourselves and other sovereign democratic nations from its grip.

~ 3 ~

Speaking of death, there have been a few unexpected deaths in Russia. Reported by Russia’s Sota Vision via Twitter:

…Family members of the former vice-president of Gazprombank Vladislav Avaev and himself found dead in Moscow According to the preliminary version of the investigation, Avaev shot his wife and thirteen-year-old daughter with a pistol, and then shot himself. The bodies of the dead were discovered by a relative of the family.

Gazprombank converted Gazprom sales in non-rubles to rubles. Vladislav Avayev’s death is the third one of executives affiliated with Gazprom this year. The unconfirmed scuttlebutt is that Avayev had been in the middle of a messy divorced, tensions heightened because his daughter was disabled. But the divorce makes a handy cover story if this wasn’t a murder-suicide situation.

The previous Gazprom-related deaths were also suicides in which windows weren’t used.

Alexander Tyulyakov, an executive identified as Deputy General Director of the Unified Settlement Center of Gazprom, was found hanged on February 25, the morning after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Quelle coïncidence.

(Side note: I’m not able to confirm one way or another this Tyulyakov is the same one who held onto a bunch of uranium which was involved in the U.S. uranium repatriation program with Russia back in 2003.)

Leonid Shulman, executive at Gazprom Invest, was found on January 29 dead of an apparent suicide. Descriptions of his death are sketchy but it sounds like he’d bled out in a bathtub.

Both Tyulyakov and Shulman died at home in the region referred to as “the nest” where many of Gazprom executives lived.

Reading about this cluster of deaths, one outlet remarked how rare executives “suicide” deaths have been with only four having occurred over the last dozen years. It’s a rather dry method of noting how very bad this cluster of three deaths is from Russians’ perspective, and how deadly being an executive in Russian business can be.

~ 2 ~

Russia has suffered the loss of yet another general this past weekend. Major General Vladimir Frolov, deputy commander of the 8th Army, died in combat in Donbas region. That’s eight dead generals since the invasion began. Details about this officer’s death are fuzzy at best.

Frolov wasn’t the only senior Russian government figure of note lost this past week; retired army general and veteran of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Vyacheslav Trubnikov died at age 78. No mention of cause of death in any report I found, only praise for Trubnikov’s service and mourning over his death.

Trubnikov’s death was announced more than 5-10 days after Ukraine doxxed 620 members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the intelligence agency.

Was Trubnikov still a spy for Russia even at his advanced age? Was this a roll-up or just an old dude shuffling off the mortal coil?

~ 1 ~

Russia lost nearly one million citizens between October 2020 and September 2021. The country’s total population before the pandemic began was less than 43% of the U.S.’s population, which suggests its COVID deaths were not only grossly underreported but multiple times greater than that of the U.S.

And you know how stupid and avoidable U.S. COVID deaths have been even before vaccines were approved and distributed. COVID surely had an impact on the number of active duty and retired Russian military available for deployment.

At a rate of 10.7 births per 1,000 citizens, Russia has experienced a decline in birth rates like all other developed nations. Its birth rate is lower than that of the U.S. and may be related to factors like increased alcoholism and the lingering fallout from the economic upheaval of the 1990s. Russian women born during the 1990s are much fewer in number than the cohort who were children and young adults at that time.

… The effects of this dramatic and prolonged collapse in birthrates are now becoming apparent. A brief glance at Russia’s population pyramid illustrates this knock-on effect. There are around 12.5 million Russians between the ages of 30 and 34 who were born around or just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there are around 6.5 million people between the ages of 20 and 24 who were born during the chaos of the late 1990s. This smaller base of people able to bear children means the birthrate is almost destined to decline. And that is exactly what has happened; after a brief period of natural population growth in the mid-2010s, Russia’s population once again began to contract in 2019. It will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future. … [source]

Which means there were fewer male children born during the 1990s as well. This certainly has affected the number of Russian service persons, and likely explains why we’ve seen Chechens enlisted as well as recruiting from African countries and the Middle East, and why military contractors have been engaged to fight against Ukraine.

The deaths of so many Russian military leaders may also be related to COVID. Russia does not encourage its lowest level service persons to exercise much independent decision making in the field; major generals and superior officers below them are in the field to provide direction. If much of the military has been exposed to COVID with at least 20-25% suffering from some degree of long COVID, leadership’s function is degraded as is the function of all subordinates. (In actuality the percentage globally of COVID infected who suffer from long COVID is closer to 43%. Age appears to increase the likelihood of long COVID.)

Poor performance due to the effects of COVID only exacerbates morale problems among those serving who weren’t told they were going to invade Ukraine, who weren’t supposed to be engaged in active warfare as conscripts, who were police and not military as some were.

Many have surely paid with their lives for Russia’s inability to plan for the effects of COVID. One can only wonder how much more COVID will cut into both Russia’s military, its country, and its future — recall that COVID also does a number on men’s testicles and on pregnant women.

~ 0 ~

And now today, even as I was writing this, yet another executive of a Russian gas company was found dead along with his wife and daughter. Sergei Protosenya was the former deputy chairman of Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer. He had been staying in Catalonia with his wife and daughter; his son couldn’t get them on the phone and called the police to investigate. They found what appeared to be a murder-suicide but reports implied this was subject to further investigation.

What are the odds of two Russian natural gas executives and their families dead by murder-suicide within a week’s time?

Three Things: Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Because community members are posting Ukraine content in the Durham-Sussman thread, I’m putting up a fresh post here to capture Ukraine related comments.

~ 3 ~

Look, we all should have and could have seen the current situation coming. Think about it.

— The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the incursion into eastern Ukraine along with the shooting down of Malaysia Air MH-17;

— Paul Manafort, former consultant and lobbyist for pro-Russian former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016  during which the GOP’s platform was tweaked in favor of Russia over Ukraine;

Sanctions placed on Russia at the end of the Obama administration for election hacking tweaked Putin;

— Trump was in Russia’s pocket before and after his inauguration, from his real estate and golf course development to his first visit by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House in May 2017 and beyond;

Cyberattacks in 2017 which appeared to target Ukraine;

— The GOP’s failure to establish a new platform in 2018 and in 2020 besides the one created in 2016, leaving their position frozen in place;

— The laying of Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany from Russia;

— The threat by Lavrov in 2019 about Georgia becoming a NATO member;

— Trump’s gross abuse of office over the Ukraine quid pro quo for which he was impeached by a Democratic-majority House but not convicted by a GOP-majority Senate in 2020;

— The change in leadership in Germany and the increasingly white nationalist fascist positions of European countries like Hungary;

— The questionable election in Belarus as a soft annexation by Russia.

I’m sure there’s much, much more to this list of predicate events and conditions but I want to get this post up and not write a book. I’ve already published a lengthy piece back in 2019 with a timeline documenting many points of conflict since WWII between Ukraine and Russia spelling out generations’ worth of tension.

We shouldn’t be surprised at all by the current situation. If anything we should be surprised this hadn’t ramped up more quickly last January-February while Biden was still getting his sea legs in office during a pandemic.

Of course now, during winter when natural gas supplies offer increased leverage on the EU, when it’s easier to move heavy equipment over frozen ground, when soldiers are more likely to want to wear masks so their faces don’t freeze off. There are a lot of not so obvious reasons why now.

One of them may be the possibility that 2022 is up in the air — the hold on Congress may be thin, and a lot of negative sentiment one way or the other can build up over the next 9 months. It may be too close to call.

The other may be that destabilization is at its maximum considering the majority of this country voted for Biden and GOP voters are killing themselves with COVID. A key ally, the United Kingdom, has nearly had enough of destabilization by Brexit and Boris Johnson, and may soon be angry enough to reject one if not both.

And then there’s time. Putin is 69 years old. The average life expectancy for men in Russia is a little over 73 years. Granted, Putin will have access to better care than the overwhelming majority of his countrymen. But time doesn’t care, and the pandemic has reduced access to quality health care for everyone by some degree everywhere. He doesn’t have long to do whatever it is he wants to do for his own ego trip and for his legacy.

Don’t need a clock to hear that tick-tock.

~ 2 ~

Here’s Michael McFaul about the increased tensions over Ukraine:

McFaul’s had a lot of experience dealing with Russia. A key point his expressed position doesn’t communicate is that Putin isn’t a legitimate leader with authority conferred upon him by a free citizenry — just ask Alexei Navalny. Oops, you really can’t do that freely.

What we are dealing with is another flavor of narcissist, this time one who is far more ruthless and clever than Trump, retaining power with an iron grip and a lot of defenestrations and dead journalists. We are dealing with a mob boss of mob bosses who wants to protect his turf absolutely and wants to add yet more turf.

We are constrained by being a democracy and the needs of our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine.

We’re somehow going to have to navigate that difference to protect Ukraine and NATO.

~ 1 ~

But why are we bothering at all? Why don’t we let fishstick heir and now Russian asset Tucker Carlson persuade us that Russia is merely protecting its interests with those +100,000 Russian troops sitting at the Ukraine-Russia border?

The U.S. is party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances — as is Russia and the UK — in which it was agreed that the parties would “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine.

Russia is and has been in violation of this agreement since 2014.

The U.S. is a proponent of democracy, and Ukraine is a democracy. If Ukraine asks our assistance to protect its democracy and enforce the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, we should provide aid.

The U.S. is a NATO member; under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, any attack on a NATO member is an attack on all of NATO. NATO’s EU members rely heavily on natural gas supplied through Ukrainian pipelines; any effort to cut off natural gas to and through Ukraine poses an economic attack — hybrid warfare, in other words. Cyber attacks on Ukraine which affect NATO members may also constitute hybrid warfare. We may be engaged just as we were in 2017 when Ukraine was attacked with NotPetya since U.S. business interests were affected.

~ 0 ~

Let’s confine comments on Ukraine-Russia to posts about Ukraine, please. Marcy may have a Ukraine-related post soon as well. Leave the January 6-related comments under those posts.

Three Things: Pouring Cement Down the Wells

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

The last 24 hours made me think of this quote:

Supply chains cannot tolerate even 24 hours of disruption. So if you lose your place in the supply chain because of wild behavior you could lose a lot. It would be like pouring cement down one of your oil wells. — Tom Friedman

I don’t care much for Friedman; he’s a shallow pond. But it’s worth pondering his perspective that supply chains shouldn’t be disrupted.

Tell COVID that, son. Tell Nature’s response to our society’s refusal to stop the supply chain over the last four decades. This mostly-closed system we call Earth has a way of telling us not too subtly when our hubris has gotten out of hand.

Though COVID has been and remains a scourge of human life, it may have been one of the best opportunities to stop the supply chain and literally pour cement down oil wells which in their own way have become a scourge.

Disruption to food and health care supplies has been problematic, but most of that could have been addressed on a proactive basis by government which was both competent and benign. But the bigger problems our society faces, the overarching global climate emergency in particular, may best have been served with pandemic sand in the gears of normalcy.

Finally — there’s no going back to the toxic avoidance of disruption. Change has come whether we like it or not.

~ 3 ~

“Hostile” stakeholders rattled the 12th largest corporation by revenue and the 6th largest oil and gas business this week.

ExxonMobil’s (XOM) board of directors now has at least two new directors promoted by an activist fund, Energy No. 1. The fund, launched by tech industry investor Chris James, had the support of BlackRock, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, California State Teachers’ Retirement System and New York State Common Retirement Fund in its demand to replace at least four of the board with candidates of their choosing. Apart from BlackRock, the three retirement funds are the largest in the U.S. and represent $850 billion in assets; XOM’s valued at $252 billion.

Since late last year, Energy No. 1 has accumulated a $50 million stake in XOM. The fund wants

Engine No. 1 wants ExxonMobil to pledge to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050, warning that this was “not just a climate issue but a fundamental investor issue — no different than capital allocation or management compensation — given the immense risk to ExxonMobil’s current business model in a rapidly changing world.”

XOM hasn’t performed well over the last 15 years; its last stock price high was in mid-2014 ahead of Iran’s oil re-entering the global market.

XOM has accumulated far too much debt, servicing shareholder dividends, offering weak sauce like investment in carbon capture announced on Earth Day this year, yet still expecting to be part of the White House’s green energy policy.

The corporation doesn’t appear to be making adequate progress toward a low-to-no-oil future, one in which privately-owned vehicles are electric rather than combustion engine. With countries beginning to ban the sale of combustion engine vehicles as soon as 2027 and some cities banning their use as far back as 2013 (ex. Utrecht banned older diesel engines that year), XOM hasn’t made enough effort to move to a different mix of products to maintain or build revenue over the long run.

Nor has the oil and gas corporation responded to climate change as competitors BP and Royal Dutch Shell have by establishing a goal of zero emissions by 2050.

The final tally of shareholder votes and the subsequent board composition may not be known for several weeks. No matter the board’s final members, change isn’t over for XOM, especially when the family which created its progenitor is moving to encourage change. The Rockefellers, heirs to the Standard Oil fortune, provided considerable funds to the #ExxonKnew movement in order to force XOM to deal with its toxic business model.

Don’t be surprised if Rockefellers buy up stock in cement manufacturers.

~ 2 ~

A court told Royal Dutch Shell it must reduce emissions. The 6th largest corporation in the world based on revenue, Shell had been sued by the Dutch branch of the Friends of the Earth for violating human rights with its extractive business, undermining the Paris Agreement.

The suit followed a 2015 precedent in which an environmental activist organization Urgenda had successfully sued the Dutch government for failing to meet its own benchmarks on emissions reduction.

The court ordered Shell to cut the corporation’s net emissions by 45 percent compared to 2019 levels by a 2030 deadline. The emissions to be cut are those generated by Shell’s business processes and not by the use of the fossil fuel products it sells.

A personal experience shapes my opinion about Shell as well as my opinion of the entire fossil fuel industry. In the late 1980s I had been working for a Fortune 100 company which relied on fossil fuels (as many businesses still do today); the corporation had a curriculum of sorts to ensure its workforce was global caliber. The curriculum included a session with a consultancy which guided large corporations in future planning. This consultancy used Royal Dutch Shell’s scenario planning as tool, pointing to Shell’s scenarios which saw peak oil and an end to oil. Shell at that time had already begun future-proofing itself by investing in wind energy development and other alternative energy sources.

But inside a handful of years it was evident the fossil fuel industry didn’t see the same scenarios, and Shell’s management no longer looked presciently oracular. Instead the country watched Enron’s corruption around energy blowing apart any idea the fossil fuel industry was looking deep into the future instead of the next quarter’s profits.

That it takes a court order to force Shell back toward its 1990 direction says something about the fossil fuel industry as well as corporate governance over the the last three decades.

~ 1 ~

The Daily Beast’s headline: Biden Administration Backs Trump’s Massive Alaska Oil Drilling Project

The New York Times’ headline: Biden Administration Defends Huge Alaska Oil Drilling Project

What’s disturbing in these and other outlets’ coverage of ConocoPhillips’ Alaska project is the reference solely to Biden when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm are surely key to the government’s support for drilling in Alaska. What could these two cabinet-level officials have in common? An inconvenient distaff angle to the prevailing media narrative?

NYT buries at the end of its piece the biggest single reason why the current administration may not yet yank the gangplank out from under ConocoPhillips’ Alaska project:

Other Alaska Native groups, however, said they welcomed the jobs as well as the state and local revenue expected to be generated by the project. In an April letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, George Edwardson, president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, called oil drilling “critical to the economic survival of the eight Inupiat villages that call this region home” and said the Willow project had the group’s “strong support.”

“Alaska’s oil and gas industry provides much-needed jobs for our people, tax revenue to support our schools and health clinics, and support for basic public services,” he wrote.

If the rest of their livelihood is collapsing under climate change, it’s understandable the local population will grab what jobs they can.

But there’s more to this than jobs for locals as the administration appears to reverse course on fossil fuel development. It’s not jobs but cash injections into local businesses which have suffered under the pandemic; it’s roads and other infrastructure paid for in large part by a corporation and not by local/state/federal tax dollars.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has been plugging electric vehicles like Ford’s new electric F-150.

Is there a disconnect? Not in my opinion. Instead we are looking at asymmetric warfare, which may also explain why Biden appears to take a less aggressive stance on the Russian NordStream 2 pipeline running beneath the Baltic Sea.

In the case of ConocoPhillips, it’s blowing huge amounts of money to develop a field while vehicle manufacturers are racing toward an all-electric product lineup which may cause the price of oil to drop below cost of production. Unlike its competitors XOM and Shell, ConocoPhillips hasn’t yet had a reckoning with shareholders about its business model though overproduction of oil across the industry has already been a problem during the Trump administration.

Biden pointed out NordStream 2 is already mostly built and paid for — but some of the pipeline’s investors/co-developers are among those pressed by shareholders and environmental activists to reduce their carbon emissions. They’re out the sunk cost into the pipeline if the price of oil drops in response to falling demand.

Ditto for Russia’s oil businesses invested in NordStream 2.

These extractive companies — and petrostates — aren’t going to be able to recoup their investments anywhere near as fast as they’d initially projected. If electric vehicles arrive and are adopted by the public rapidly, they may lose much of their investment.

So go ahead, pump some cash into the economy. Build some roads and maybe some pipeline.

The locals will enjoy them for years to come after the oil business has collapsed and gone.

~ 0 ~

By the way, somebody remind the White House the Trump administration killed participation in tracking products of extractive industries. We still need to keep an eye on them. Specifically, in 2017 the U.S. withdrew from the EITI — Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the extractive industries anti-corruption effort — and now Congress needs to revisit the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 13q-1, which implemented Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform related to tracking large payments made by extractive industries.

Hold this last thought about the U.S. needing to track money related to oil and gas. I promise it’s going to come up in a future post.

Minority Report: Ukraine as Bugbear

[NB: Note the byline; I began writing this as one of my Minority Report pieces; it’s been in my Work In Progress folder for nearly two years, and an unfinished draft here at emptywheel for 18 months. I left off work on it well before the final Special Counsel’s Report was published. This post’s content has become more relevant even if it’s not entirely complete, needing more meat in some areas, and now requiring the last two-plus years of fossil fuel-related developments and events related to the U.S.-Ukraine-Russia triangle after the 2016 U.S. general election. /~Rayne]

This post looks at the possibility that the hacking of U.S. election system and events affecting the election’s outcome are part of a much larger picture — one in which NATO figures large, and the future of energy figures even larger.

One could attribute Russian attempts at hacking and influencing the 2016 general election to retaliation for the CIA’s involvement in Ukraine, or to a personal vendetta against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with regard to Ukraine ahead of the Maidan revolt, or to rousing anti-Putin sentiment in Russia:

… Five years ago, he blamed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. “She set the tone for some of our actors in the country and gave the signal,” Putin said. “They heard this and, with the support of the U.S. State Department, began active work.” (No evidence was provided for the accusation.) …

But after looking at the mission and history of NATO, the integral role of natural gas to Europe’s industry and continuity, Ukraine’s role as a conduit for Russian gas to European states, one might come to a very different conclusion.

Especially given the death of Alexander Litvinenko on UK soil by radioactive poisoning and the downing of Malaysian Air flight 17, a passenger plane carrying passengers who lived across several NATO countries.

Has the U.S. been asked to provide protection to European NATO members’ supply of fossil fuels transiting Ukraine? Has the U.S. been asked during the last two administrations to push back on Russia because of incursions related to energy?

What makes Ukraine so different from Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, and Moldova, which also have pipelines carrying Russian gas and experienced price disputes — is it the percentage of energy supplied to EU states crossing Ukraine in comparison? Of these four countries, only Lithuania is a NATO member.

How does tiny Montenegro, the newest NATO member state, fit into this picture?

NATO

In 1949, twelve North American and European countries signed a treaty creating an intergovernmental military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). They pledged a collective system of mutual defense against external forces attacking any one or all of its member states. The alliance has grown over the years to 29 nation-states with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, North Macedonia and Ukraine having expressed interest in joining. Each member state commits to spending at least 2% of its GDP on defense spending to support the organization’s mission.

It’s critical to note NATO members agreed under the treaty’s Article V that an ‘armed’ attack against any member in North America or Europe would be considered an attack against all of them. Response to an attack upon a NATO member does not require armed or military force. Over time, threats to NATO states were not limited to armed attacks; they were economic in the case of fuel pipeline shutdowns.

In the digital age, what is an armed attack, especially if both sides call it “cyber warfare” or “information warfare”?

FOSSIL FUELS

Like the U.S., Europe has been entirely too reliant on fossil fuels. It has been far too lax in governance when it comes to resulting pollution let alone political and economic volatility related to fossil fuel use. Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal and the EU’s slow response to VW’s fraud and resulting air pollution offer a perfect example.

While Europe has made substantive headway to reduce fossil fuels and replace them with alternatives — Germany, for example, drew 30% of its energy from non-fossil fuel alternatives in 2014 — until the EU has completely eliminated fossil fuels including natural gas it will be vulnerable to pressure by Russia and other fossil fuel-rich countries. It has been too easy for Russia to threaten the EU and Ukraine alike by simply throttling the flow of natural gas through Ukraine’s major pipelines originating in Russia.

But this is not the only front; the “long war” (pdf) across the middle east and northern Africa is also driven by competition for fossil fuels. So, too, is much of the instability in South and central America, and increasingly in North America as the population rejects fracking, shale extraction, and related pipeline installation.

There is only one true solution to socio-economic volatility caused by fossil fuels: development and implementation of alternative energy resources which are not reliant on extraction, nor limited tightly by resource location (ex: cobalt (from DRC), lithium (South America), uranium (Australia, Canada, others)). The amount we have spent on warfare to preserve fossil fuel’s status quo would have paid for this many times over, and we might have had better education and health care along with it. NATO’s EU states could not be threatened by the loss of natural gas from Russia if it could rely entirely on renewable alternatives produced inside the EU.

Magnitsky Act and retaliation

One other key question arises from this timeline. In addition to all the other tension and conflicts between the U.S. and its NATO allies and Russia, note the passage of  the U.S. Magnitsky Act  of 2012 and the Russians’ corresponding retaliatory sanction which stopped all further adoptions of Russian children by U.S. parents. If the adoption issue is itself a retaliatory sanction and reversing or changing this Russian sanction requires changing or lifting the U.S. Magnitsky Act, didn’t Donnie Jr.’s June 9 talk during the campaign season with Natalia Veselnitskaya about resuming adoptions under a Trump presidency mean Donnie Jr. conspired or negotiated with a foreign government in a dispute with the U.S. — a violation of the Logan Act? Wasn’t the issue of adoptions merely cover — a coded alternative term — for negotiating Magnitsky Act and other Russian sanctions prior to the election?


Timeline: NATO and Ukraine

1949 — North Atlantic Treaty signed.

1982-1984 — Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline constructed; it provides transcontinental transport of gas from Western Siberia to Western Europe. The Reagan administration did not support this pipeline, preventing U.S. companies from selling construction materials to the Soviets partly in protest against the Soviets’ policies toward Poland and partly due to the perceive imbalance of trade the pipeline would create in Europe’s energy market. European countries did not respect the U.S.’ boycott of the pipeline, resulting in sanctions against some European companies.

15-DEC-1983 — A fire broke out at a compressor station in Urengoy, USSR in western Siberia. Construction of the pipeline was still underway. (Cause of the fire not clear from available resources.)

1985 — Vladimir Putin was stationed by KGB to Dresden — located north of the western end of the Uzhgorod-Waidhaus pipeline — after Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline began operation.

19-NOV-1990 — Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed, setting limits of weaponry between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact states.

26-DEC-1991 —  USSR was dissolved; the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) formed in its wake from some of the former Soviet Union’s members. The  Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania elected not to join CIS.

1992-1994 — Russia suspended natural gas to Ukraine for non-payment several times over the course of two years.

XX-SEP-1993 — (into November 1994) Ukrainian companies diverted natural gas from pipelines several times. The reasons for the diversions are not clear; was gas diverted in lieu of transit tariffs, topping off reserves, or due to local shortages?

XX-SEP-1993 — Russia’s Boris Yeltsin offered a deal to Ukraine’s Leonid Kravchuck: Ukrainian debts would be forgiven in exchange for control of the Black Sea Fleet and Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal. The deal is scrapped after negative feedback from Ukrainian politicians. (pdf, pg 19)

XX-MAR-1994 — Tentative agreement made that Russia could acquire a 51% state in the Ukraine pipeline system.

1995 — Early in the year, Russia and Ukraine agreed to form a joint venture, Gaztransit, which would operate pipeline system in exchange for write down of Ukraine debt to Russia.

XX-NOV-1995 — Ukraine’s parliament banned privatization of oil and gas assets. The agreement for Gaztransit was never implemented nor was debt forgiven.

1997 — Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland were invited to join NATO.

1998 — A new contract between Gazprom and Naftohaz was written linking gas prices and transit tariffs but did not resolve pre-existing gas debts. Later the same year, Gazprom claimed Ukraine diverted gas and owed USD$2.8 billion, suspending oil and gas exports to Ukraine for 1999.

1999 — Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland became NATO members (pdf).

2000 — Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna acknowledged that 7-8 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas were diverted from pipelines before export that year. (pdf, pg 22)

04-OCT-2001 — 2001 Transit Agreement signed, settling the debt between Ukraine and Russia. (pdf, pg 22)

2002 — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were invited to join NATO.

2004 — (April?) Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania became members.

XX-JUL-2004 — Ukraine’s debt of USD$1.25 billion for gas was settled with Gazprom and NAK Naftogaz. Ukraine may have been importing more gas from Turkmenistan.

22-NOV-2004 — Orange Revolution began.

23-JAN-2005 — Orange Revolution ended; Ukraine was one of three Commonwealth of Independent States to experience a “color revolution” between 2003-2005.

24-JAN-2005 – Yulia Tymoshenko takes office as Ukraine’s 10th prime minister; she is a proponent of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO.

08-SEP-2005 – President Viktor Yushchenko fires Tymoshenko and her government; observers believe this is political trumpery targeting Tymoshenko.

01-NOV-2006 — Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive PO-210 and died a few weeks later on 23-NOV. Litvinenko met former KGB members Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square where it is believed he drank tea containing the poison. Multiple byzantine theories about Litvinenko’s death arose.

28/29-NOV-2006 — Energy security was a key topic at NATO’s Riga, Latvia summit. Efforts aimed at a bilateral discussion with Vladimir Putin on the topic of energy security during this summit fell through. From RFERL on the joint summit declaration:

The Riga summit declaration breaks new ground with a reference to energy, saying the alliance recognizes its security can be affected “by the disruption of the flow of vital resources.” NATO undertakes to study the risks and identify areas where it could “add value” to its members’ relevant security interests.

07-MAY-2007 — Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline exploded near Boyarka in central Ukraine, just west of Kyiv/Kiev. Gazprom said the 30-meter break in pipe would not cause a disruption in gas delivery.

22-MAY-2007 — UK determined Andrei Lugovoy should be charged and tried for Litvinenko’s murder, then asked Russia to extradite Lugovoy in relation to Litvinenko’s death.

05-JUL-2007 — Russia refused to extradite Lugovoy due to the terms of its constitution. This perceived lack of cooperation may have discouraged relations between UK and Russia.

02-OCT-2007 — ‘Gazprom may cut gas to Ukraine‘ due to debt of USD$1.3B

08-OCT-2007 — ‘Ukraine settles Russian gas row

18-DEC-2007 — Yulia Tymoshenko takes office as Ukraine’s 13th prime minister.

05-JAN-2008 — ‘Gazprom threatens Ukraine gas cut‘; Gazprom said it would throttle gas on 11-JAN if USD$1.5B still not paid.

12-FEB-2008 — ‘Russian, Ukraine gas deal averts crisis’ reported after Putin and Yuschenko announce an agreement in which Ukraine would pay for Nov-Dec 2007 gas and USD$179.5/1000cm would be maintained through 2008. They also announced the formation of new energy intermediary companies as a JV between Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftohaz.

04-APR-2008 — Accession of Croatia and Albania addressed at Bucharest summit in April. NATO pledges Georgia and Ukraine will someday become members but are not invited to this summit. Czech Republic agrees to the installation of a U.S. missile defense radar tracking system. Installation of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland remains in negotiation.

18-AUG-2008 — Georgia exited the Commonwealth of Independent States as a result of the five-day Russo-Georgian War in early August.

XX-APR-2009 — Croatia and Albania become NATO members.

27-JUN-2010 — Illegals Program spy ring broken with arrest of 10 Russian spies including Anna Chapman.

09-JUL-2010 — All 10 Illegals Program spies arrested in US were swapped in Vienna for four Russian nationals. Two other spies had left the US before they could be arrested.

XX-OCT-2011 — Litvinenko’s widow Marina won the right to an coroner’s inquest in London; the inquest is delayed repeatedly. She insisted her deceased husband had worked with UK’s MI6 after fleeing to the UK in 2000.

24-FEB-2012 — ‘Russia threatens Ukraine over gas‘ after a shortfall of gas to EU through Ukraine during a severe cold snap. It’s not clear what caused the shortfall; Russia may try to run around Ukraine by way of the South Stream pipeline to avoid future disruptions blamed on Ukraine’s state oil and gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy. The conflict could be a head fake to mask Gasprom’s inability to respond to rapid short-term uptick in gas demand in Europe.

19-JUL-2012Magnitsky Act was introduced in  the House.

14-DEC-2012President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law.

XX-MAY-2013 — (into JUL-2013) Coroner decided a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death would be better than an inquest. Ministers rule out the request for an inquiry.

11-FEB-2014 — UK’s High Court rules Home Office in the wrong to decided against a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death.

18/23-FEB-2014Protests erupt in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Maidan Square) in Kyiv.

01-MAR-2014Russia’s parliament approved the use of troops in Ukraine.

01-APR-2014 — (Related/unrelated?) Russia’s GLONASS satellite location system is offline beginning at midnight and not fully back up for 12 hours. No initial cause reported though some months later the outage its blamed on software update.

14-MAY-2014 — An alleged terrorist attack blamed for a gas pipeline explosion near Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine.

17-JUN-2014 — Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Germany pipeline exploded near Poltave in central Ukraine, located ~240 miles northwest of Donetsk and ~210 miles southeast of Kyiv/Kiev.

17-JUL-2014 —  Malaysia Air flight MH17 downed over eastern Ukraine by a missile.

01-DEC-2014 —  Vladimir Putin cancels the South Stream pipeline project running from Russia through the Black Sea to northern Bulgaria. (Recall Bulgaria became a NATO member in 2004.)

01-DEC-2014 —  Gazprom signed signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Turkish BOTAŞ for construction of a new gas pipeline running beneath the Black Sea from Russia to the Turkey-Greece border. Part of the deal includes providing Russia gas to Turkey with the rest shipping to the European market.

26-JAN-2015 — Evgeny Buryakov was arrested for acting as an unregistered foreign agent and conspiracy; his counterparts Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporychev had already fled the country.

27-JAN-2015 — A public inquest began into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

21-JAN-2016 — UK public inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded it was an FSB operation likely approved by Putin.

11-MAR-2016 — Evgeny Buryakov pleaded guilty to begin a 30-month sentence.

28-MAR-2016 — Paul Manafort joins the Trump campaign.

06-JUN-2016 — Donnie Trump Jr. meets with Russian attorney Nataliya Veselnitskaya ostensibly to discuss Russia’s ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

10/18-JUL-2016 — In the run up to Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention, the Republican Party’s platform on Ukraine was ‘softened’; the final wording said the U.S. would provide “appropriate assistance” to Ukraine and “greater coordination with NATO defense planning” instead of “lethal” assistance. The wording was changed to coordinate with Trump’s position, in contrast with that of the original proposed by an RNC delegate.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Something Smells — and It’s Not Burning Oil

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Others have offered more trenchant responses after Trump’s tweets as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham’s warmongering, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s drivel about the apparent attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility this weekend. Let me offer my two cents about the attack.

This is an early assessment of what happened by a Bloomberg correspondent:

Do open the tweet to look at both images in it; this is the one on the right in the tweet.

Here’s a another image of a portion of the damage from a Bloomberg article (click to expand):

Note carefully this color image as it appears on Bloomberg’s site is an expanded, rotated view of the damage shown in the black-and-white marked up photo on the left in the Bloomberg correspondent’s tweet. The pond at the right hand of the area under smoke is the point of reference.

Now note the detail from the color satellite photo. The color image is attributed to Planet Labs, Inc. at the Bloomberg article while the black-and-white ones are attributed to Digital Globe. The detail is pretty good but not as good as the image taken of the Iranian launch site explosion Trump tweeted on August 30.

I’ll be the first to admit I am not an expert on missiles, munitions, explosions, or oil processing systems. But something about these images doesn’t make sense to me. They don’t look like what I’d expect from missile damage targeting oil facilities.

Below is an image of a BP refinery explosion in Texas from 2005; the cause was blamed on exposure of flammable vapors to a spark from a running motor.

No missile involved. No drone dropping an explosive, either. Some leak and a spark and *FWOOM* (love the technical term).

Granted, the satellite imagery didn’t catch the Abqaiq facility immediately after the explosion when there would have been more flames. But the damage afterward doesn’t look as extensive as the BP refinery explosion.

Note the size of the holes in the rounded tanks in the second black-and-white satellite image to the right in the Bloomberg correspondent’s tweet. Awfully small, more like something used on an automobile-sized target, in my uninformed opinion.

Now note the shadows in the images. These were taken before solar noon over the location; shadows appear on the north-northwest side of any object with adequate profile above ground.

What ever hit the tank-like features came from the northwest and not from the east.

Iran is to the northeast of Saudi Arabia across the gulf.

One more wrinkle — check this map from the Indian Defence Review circa February 2015, analyzing Saudi Arabia’s defenses.

The Abqaiq oil processing facility is located between Riyadh and Dammam.

How would 17 separate missiles or drones from either Iran or Yemen get by the defense network to hit the facility from the northwest?

Pompeo has now said the attack didn’t come from Iraq’s direction.

A whole cascade of questions arises from there on out if you think about it. For grins use Twitter’s search tool and look for “abqaiq.” If you scroll through you’ll see many people are noting similar issues and posing similar questions.

Recommended additional reading: Connecticut’s Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted a thread last night related to the other culture issues involved in the regional tensions. It’s worth your time.

Treat this as an open thread.

Light Cycles

In 8 minutes, 18 seconds light travels from the sun to Earth. In that time, roughly 25 million in national debt accrues. Somewhere around 157,806 tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. 113,046 years of global human experience goes by in 8 minutes, 18 seconds. Around 900 people die — a Jonestown Tragedy, if such a thing could be a unit.

Here is how to make the modern world:

Begin with light, born billions years ago at the heart of the sun. It wanders for untold time around the vast interior of our star, bumping into this and that in a world of unfathomable heat and pressure. A very small bit of that light, called a photon, meanders its way slowly past the solar surface, and starts a frenetic journey 93 million miles aimed at us. It experiences no time in all of its existence, but for us, it takes 8 minutes and 18 seconds to reach the atmospheric skin of our world. It avoids scattering in our atmosphere, or bouncing off the water back into space, or striking dead land, and instead falls on the outstretched leaf of a plant. Plants have always been the mechanism of transformation, the way sunlight energy is banked on Earth. Photosynthesis absorbs the moment of light out of the free flight between worlds and turns it into a chemical instrument.

Take crushed Jurassic ferns, the algae, the microscopic floating forests and creatures of the Devonian sea, the Carboniferous forest, and everything since, save them from being eaten by bacteria. Cook and compress them for an incomprehensible time under geologic weight, stored deep underground. Strings of hydrocarbons in their decayed bodies draw together into tighter, longer, and more pure clumps of blackened sunlight. This is fossil fuel, the borrowed and condensed light energy of past eons. Let it rest for hundreds of millions of years.

Wait for the rise of humans, who search out this stuff with an insatiable lust. And the rest — our civilizations, the mechanisms of our lives, from the machines of the industrial revolution to the construction of the LA freeways, the painting of Guernica, landing on the moon, and the building of Beijing — all of that happens in a geological eye blink.

For a half a billion years the Earth banked sunlight this way,letting the corpses of fallen life slowly simplify towards being only: hydrogen, surrounding and bound to carbon, and the energy of the sun thusly contained. It seems simple, but there’s a reason societies are addicted to it, it’s amazing stuff. The energy density of fossil fuel is such that a teaspoon could run an iPhone for a couple of months. We stare impatiently at a pump, tap our feet, glance at the time, while moving more energy in 3 minutes than our ancestors would harness in their lives. We are greedy for this energy. We use our best science to pull it out of the ground, borrowing the past’s light to make more of our world, and more of us to inhabit it. We betray each other for it, kill each other, despoil our land and sea for it. Dale Pendell, the mad and brilliant philosopher/poet of drugs, commented on fossil fuels in his book Pharmako/Poeia, namely, the practice of huffing them. In all of his Pharmako series, spanning a range of drugs that baffle, bless, and destroy the mind, the fumes of fossil fuels were the only substance he ever seemed to condemn. Whatever the high may be, he explained the practitioners of huffing don’t have the faculties left to speak of it. Fossil fuels, the normally ecumenical Pendell explained, always lead to irrevocable destruction of mind and body.

But if we are addicted to this thing that kills us, what we do with it is amazing too. We make the old sunlight into batteries, light and light switches. We move giant steam turbines with it. Plastic is made of ancient sunlight. We use it to make fertilizers and feed billions. We pour it into planes, we spoon it into our children’s mouths, we cover their heads with Devonian sunlight to keep their skin safe from new sunlight. The way we use fossil fuels is very human; we have always burned the past to make the future. But we didn’t create this situation, we found it. We can’t create or destroy anything in this equation; we move it around to the benefit and detriment of the momentarily extant creatures. The past Earth is our creditor, with the constant and rich deposits that got us into this mess. The Earth built this wealth for billions of years. Then we came along, the trust fund species that’s hooked, not listening, and blowing the family fortune on a suicidal bender.

Though as an energy source unsustainable, the process by which nature banks energy is by no means halted. Undoubtedly with the passage of sufficient time, plenty of our bodies, our children, dogs, cats, and houseplants will become part of the rich, anonymous hydrocarbon slurry. There’s nothing we could do that would really change that in the long run. We’re just digging it up and burning it much faster than it forms.

We love to talk of innovation, consumption, excess, and even entitlement when it comes to our energy use. But in truth, physics puts us in our place. We will never create a technology that can consume or create energy, only ever more ways to move it around. With every move a price is paid to entropy, the ultimate accounting of loss, the ebbing away of vital heat. With every transformation of energy, Mr. Entropy takes his fee, and moves infinitesimally closer to the quietude of universal death. The tax he puts on fossil fuels is immense.

 

 

In 8 minutes, 18 seconds, around 2,000 babies are born. 45218 barrels of oil are imported into America. We pay $3,074,824 for that 8 minutes, 18 seconds. During that time, more energy will hit the Earth in the form of solar photons than we use in a year.

 

 

 

 

No one is sure how much biomass goes into the earth to become more fossil fuel these days, though as we deforest and burn the world, it lessens. It might be as much as Somalia’s energy use every year, around 200 gigawatts. Every year we take 12 terawatts back out of the earth, most of the energy use of everything else, according to Saul Griffith, a MacArther Genius and expert on energy generation and consumption. He has an air of palpable frustration when he talks about fossil fuels. “It’s absolutely a Ponzi scheme against our kids,” said Griffith.

Right now we act like we are desperately running out of cheap energy, and we fight like starved children over fossil fuel, while we are bathed so constantly in the raw energy that made it we can barely imagine it being useful. “There is a shitload more than we need. 86,000 terrawatts hit the surface every year, and we’re too stupid or too lazy to use it,” said Griffith. A single day’s light brings us around 48,000 times as much energy as we use that day.

We don’t capture much of it, and in America, little is planned to change that. Our energy infrastructure is 30, 40, or in some places, 50 years old, and often meant to be replaced a decade or more ago. As we extend the lifetime of those old plants, we artificially lower the cost of energy. “It’s an infrastructure debt we’re ignoring,” says Griffith, “You can only get this far into monetary debt by using energy badly.”

Through heroic measures we can change all this. For a mere 4 trillion dollars, says Griffith, we could achieve energy independence in America. That seems like a lot of money, and it is. But such an effort is not without precedent, if we eliminated fossil fuel subsidies and instituted a jobs program with the money saved, subsidized the education we need, we could be well on our way in a few years, gradually lessening our dose, taking in something more pure, more healthy.

The estimate for the world is much harder to get. Sampling between different countries’ studies on energy independence, and Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi’s plan for full renewables by 2050, it’s perhaps 80 to 100 trillion dollars. This is still a bargain, because we would still have a world we can comfortably inhabit. Money at this level is not a real thing. It’s just human time and resources, focused on a goal.

The estimates for what we spend globally to subsidize the fossil fuel industry vary from $200 billion (OECD) to $5 trillion, (IMF), and none of those figures include what we pay for it. The more renewable energy caduceus cult build, the less we have to pay for fossil fuels, the less we have to dig them out of the ground.

Building a new system of energy for the world is the work of a generational at least, but right now we are living through a global pandemic of unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment. They are the people with the most to lose in a future of energy crisis, climate change, extinction, and shitty air. Nearly 75 million young people are unemployed, a huge portion of them near the very deserts from where we could get our best solar energy.

We could use our last hit of fossil fuel to build a new energy miracle. We could clean up our mess, and employ our world in a meaningful shared project while we’re at it.

We could end the Ponzi scheme before it kills our children. We could bask in the sun without the 100 million year wait. The sun would support us, for billions of years, paying all of our bills. The sun could make us rich beyond our mere dreams. But we don’t, because we believe it’s too expensive, too unrealistic a project. As if the rest of this was realistic. We keep burning the trust fund while the world around us slowly dies of it, drowning in a poisonous soup of hot air and acid oceans. We are making a choice every day we wait, about who we are and what we choose to be. It’s a terrible choice, but not without its own glories.

At the end of his meditation on the huffing of fossil fuels, Pendall concluded: “The ecologist Howard Odum once quipped that the evolutionary purpose of human beings was to release all the carbon locked up under the ground back into the biosphere. If true, our mission will soon be accomplished. That it be a suicide mission in no way detracts from its grandeur or heroism.” Ours is an amazing suicide,  we’ve done so much so fast. I don’t, I can’t, regret that humanity has made civilization. But right now, it’s still a suicide mission.

In 8 minutes, 18 seconds, you can listen to most of American Pie. A person can walk .42 of a mile at a normal human pace. That person can look around them and see more energy falling on their world than they could use in their lifetime. In any 8 minutes, 18 seconds, waiting for the next rain of photons from the ever-giving sun, any one of us could decide this world is worth saving.


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon.


Sources

https://www.treasurydirect.gov
https://www.ipcc.ch
http://www.ecology.com/
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fossil-fuel-subsidies-cost-5-trillion-annually-and-worsen-pollution/
https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2015/wp15105.pdf
https://www.oecd.org/environment/support-to-fossil-fuels-remains-high-and-the-time-is-ripe-for-change.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preferred_walking_speed

With much thanks to Simon Quellen Field

 

 

[US Oil Fund ETF via Google Finance]

The Curious Timing of Kushner’s visit to KSA and the U.S.’ EITI Exit

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — he of the shaky memory and a massive debt in need of refinancing — met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman within the same week the U.S. withdrew from an anti-corruption effort and Saudi Arabia cracked down on corruption. What curious timing.

Let’s look at a short timeline of key events:

Tuesday 24-OCT-2017 — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helms a three-day business development conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, referred to as “Davos in the desert.” Attendees include large investment banks as well as fund representatives; one of the key topics is the impending IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Wednesday 25-OCT-2017 — Jared Kushner departed for an unpublicized meeting with government officials in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday 25-OCT-2017 — Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker traveled separately from Kushner to participate in bilateral discussions, which included the memorandum of understanding with the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC). The U.S. and Saudi Arabia chair the TFTC while Gulf States form its membership.

Friday 27-OCT-2017 — Reports emerged that at least one Trump campaign team will be indicted on Monday.

Monday 30-OCT-2017 — Jared Kushner met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, discussing strategy until 4:00 am. News reports didn’t indicate when exactly Kushner arrived or when discussions began. (Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopolous were indicted this day, but not Kushner; good thing “excellent guy” Papadopolous as a former Trump campaign “energy and oil consultant” wasn’t involved in Kushner’s work with Saudi Arabia, that we know of.)

Thursday 02-NOV-2017 — U.S. Office of Natural Resources Revenue sent a letter to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multinational effort to reduce corruption by increasing transparency around payments made by fossil fuel companies to foreign governments. The U.S. had been an implementing member since 2014.

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — At 7:49 am EDT, Trump tweets,

“Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!”

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — (approximately 5:00 pm EDT, midnight Riyadh local time) At least 10 Saudi princes and dozens of government ministers were arrested and detained under what has been reported as an anti-corruption initiative. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a critic of Trump and a tech industry investor of note, was among those arrested this weekend.

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — At 11:12 pm EDT Reuters reported Trump said he had spoken with King Salman bin Abdulaziz about listing Saudi Aramco on the NYSE. The IPO is expected to be the largest offering ever.

But wait…there are some much earlier events which should be inserted in this timeline:

Friday 03-FEB-2017 — Using the Congressional Review Act to fast track their effort, Senate passes a joint resolution already approved by the house, disproving the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 13q-1, which implemented Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 1504, the bipartisan product of former senator Richard Lugar and Sen. Ben Cardin (now ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee),

“…a public company that qualified as a “resource extraction issuer” would have been required to publicly disclose in an annual report on Form SD information relating to any single “payment” or series of related “payments” made by the issuer, its subsidiaries or controlled entities of $100,000 or more during the fiscal year covered by the Form SD to a “foreign government” or the U.S. Federal government for the “commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals” on a “project”-by-“project” basis. Resource extraction issuers were not required to comply with the rule until their first fiscal year ending on or after September 30, 2018 and their first report on Form SD was not due until 150 days after such fiscal year end.” (source: National Law Review)

Section 1504 and SEC rule 13q-1 enacted the U.S.’ participation in the EITI’s anti-corruption effort.

Monday 13-FEB-2017 — Trump signed the disproving resolution. (Probably just another coincidence that Michael Flynn resigned this day as National Security Adviser.)

From the earliest days of this administration, both the Trump White House and the GOP-led Congress have been ensuring that extractive industries including oil companies will not be accountable for taxes, fees, and other miscellaneous payments (read: dark money donations and bribes, the latter being a bone of contention to Trump) paid to foreign governments.

Some of the immediate beneficiaries are Exxon Mobil, for which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used to work, and the Koch brothers, among U.S. oil companies which claimed additional reporting requirements under Rule 13q-1 would make them less competitive with overseas oil producers.

What’s not yet clear: How is this reduced openness supposed to help track financing of terrorism, which Treasury was supposed to be working on?

What of transparency related to arms deals involving Saudi money or Aramco? What of transactions between U.S. oil companies and other foreign companies involved in deals with Russian fossil fuel firms like Gazprom?

Can Trump, Jared Kushner, their family and minions, and members of Congress profit from this increased lack of transparency?

What happens to the U.S. and global economy when oil prices rise without adequate transparency to the market to explain price increases?

Also not yet clear: what happened to the 19.5% stake in Rosneft sold last year, allegedly bought by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and Glencore (the same Glencore now embroiled in Paradise Papers scandal)? This massive chunk of Russia’s largest oil company has increased in value in tandem with crude oil’s rise, especially since the Saudi crackdown on Saturday. What’s to keep this massive amount of Rosneft shares from being laundered through stock markets as Deutsche Bank did between 2011 and 2015?

It’s all just so curious, the unanswered questions, the odd timing: Aided and abetted by GOP-led Congress, Trump pulls out of an anti-corruption initiative while Treasury Department appears to work on anti-corruption, and Kushner meets on the sly with the Saudi crown prince just days before an anti-corruption crackdown.

Hmm.

Three Things: Mas Gas, Las Vegas and Sass

I’m not even going to touch the massive stream of news out of Washington over the last 24 hours, from the Washington Post piece featuring ‘leaked’ transcripts of Trump’s whack doodle conversations with Mexico’s and Australia’s presidents to the impaneled grand jury and subpoenas. Plenty of other material not getting adequate air time.

Speaking of air time, hope you have a chance to catch Marcy on Democracy Now. She spoke with Amy Goodman about the confirmation of Chris Wray as FBI Director as well as former Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler’s lawsuit against Fox News.

Onward…

~ 3 ~

Venezuela’s state-run oil producer PDVSA is cutting oil sales to U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum. At the same time it is increasing shipments of oil to Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft. Venezuela is using its oil to pay down a $1.6 billion loan extended to PDVSA last year. Rosneft has loaned an even larger sum of money in the not-too-distant past, but the terms aren’t known; payments in oil as well as a hefty minority stake in Citgo were believed to be included in negotiations.

The threat to U.S. gasoline supply: though at lower levels than a decade ago, Venezuela is the third largest supplier of oil to the U.S.

Citgo has, however, been shifting its purchasing wider afield than just PDVSA:

Citgo last year started sending gasoline and other fuels to Venezuela in exchange for a portion of its crude supply. But Citgo has increased the volume of U.S. oil it refines, and has also has also expanded its crude import sources.
[…]
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has promised strong economic sanctions against Venezuela’s government after a Constituent Assembly was elected last week in what United States called a “sham” vote. The new body will have power to rewrite the constitution and abolish the opposition-led Congress.

If those sanctions were to constrain Venezuela’s oil shipments to the United States, Citgo could be ahead of its competitors in finding new supply sources.

The public will feel at the pump whatever happens to Citgo and other gasoline producers. Gasoline prices are already $0.16-0.24 per gallon higher than they were last year.

Who is profiting from this?

~ 2 ~

I’ve been thinking about the tagline, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” right about now after the arrest of Marcus Hutchins, a.k.a. MalwareTechBlog following Defcon’s end in Las Vegas. You’ve probably read Marcy’s piece already (catch up if you didn’t); since she published her post the information security community has been digging into Hutchins’ past and stewing about why/what/how.

Some speculate this was an aggressive recruitment effort; this might explain why the U.K. didn’t arrest him before he left for Defcon. Or did the U.K. and the U.S. agree not to spook any Defcon attendees by stopping Hutchins before he arrived in Vegas? Responses by U.K. authorities are annoyingly banal:

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are in touch with local authorities in Las Vegas following reports of a British man being arrested.”

The UK’s National Crime Agency said: “We are aware a UK national has been arrested but it’s a matter for the authorities in the US.”

Others speculate he was framed as the target of revenge by someone caught up in Alphabay’s seizure. How does shutting down WannaCry fit into this scenario?

I don’t have a favorite theory right now. All I know is that WannaCry’s heat map sticks in my craw.

One thing which should come out of this situation is a dialog about coding, malware, and intent; the infosec community is having that discussion now, but it needs to be wider. If a white hat codes malware in part or whole to investigate capabilities, they are only separated from criminal malware producers/sellers/distributors by intent. How does law enforcement determine intent?

~ 1 ~

Your opinion is constantly shaped by the media you consume. Some consumers aren’t conscious of this shaping; neither are some producers.

And some producers know it but are just plain jerks.

A very important way in which opinion is shaped is by the perspective presenting a viewpoint. If only the members of one-half of the population ever gets a chance to present a perspective, consumers’ opinions are narrowed by that same factor. This is why gender equity in media is critical; if you’re only hearing men you’re not getting but part of the picture.

WIRED magazine knows that gender equity in content is important, but their last issue contained only male-written content. As a twisted tribute to the women who helped produce the issue, WIRED stuck a colophon listing important females.

Including a dog.

Really? The women of WIRED are on the same footing as a pet?

Somebody/ies at WIRED need a kick in the sass; I don’t give a fig if half the staff is female if the content itself is all-male. I’m going to do my best this next month not to cite WIRED.

Don’t think for a moment this is just WIRED, either. The VIDA Count measures annually gender equity in literary arts. There’s progress though slow.

~ 0 ~

That’s a wrap on this open thread. Let’s hope with Tiny Hands McGolfer on vacation that news slows a bit as we enter this weekend. I’m not holding my breath though. Behave.

Three Things: Bad, Worse, and Just Deal Already

I’ve got to run some errands, only have time for a very quick three things post.

~ 3 ~

Because Trump wants a cheaper Air Force One, the Air Force bought a bankrupt Russian company’s canceled Boeing 747s.

Why does this sound like 1) a crap deal which doesn’t solve the need for an attack-resistant AF1, 2) a bail-out for some entity, whether Boeing or whoever in Russia is holding the bag on the down payment?

~ 2 ~

A few days ago I read yet another right-wing character assassination attempt aimed at Robert Mueller, distributing disinformation related to Russia and radioactive materials. Real story completely stretched beyond recognition to attack the special counsel looking into Trump-Russia.

Meanwhile, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has improperly MAILED radioactive materials repeatedly.

This highlights our long-term problems with outsourcing nuclear sites’ management to private contractors.

Please let’s not allow Trump cut a deal on this matter. It’s bad enough we have Dancing With The Stars’ Rick Perry involved in any way. And watch for more disinfo about Robert Mueller as the Trump-Russia investigation heats up.

~ 1 ~

Baltimore Ravens need to get off it and hire Colin Kaepernick. Baltimore the city needs him. Not only is Kaepernick a good Plan B because of Joe Flacco’s back, the Ravens need a reset on their image — many women still don’t have a high opinion of the Ravens (or the NFL) after the Ray Rice scandal. And Kaepernick is a solid player worth watching; he doesn’t deserve the racist bullshit he’s received from the NFL, quietly blacklisted for exercising his First Amendment rights. Football isn’t slavery demanding forfeit of human rights, after all — or is it?

~ 0 ~

Off to run the roads. This is an open thread. Behave.

Three Things: Killing Oil, Too Money, Kaspersky’s World

Too much going on here today but the existing threads are getting too deep and a couple are drifting off-topic. Here’s three quick things to chew on and an open thread.

~ 3 ~

The marketplace will bring death to oil long before the government. (Bloomberg). But will governments — US and oil-producing countries alike — get in the way of alternative energy in spite of the market demanding more alternatives to fossil fuels? With this trend away from combustion engines pressing on them, fossil fuel producers are shifting toward increased LNG for use in electricity production; this only shifts CO2 creation from vehicles to power plants. Will the market put an end to that, too?

~ 2 ~

There’s too much money out there if Delta can order multiple planes configured for all-first class service. I just spoke with a friend earlier today about round-trip fares from a major Midwest airport to major cities in Europe; they were quite high even with a departure date more than a month out, and higher than they had seen in a while. Fuel prices haven’t increased that much over the last year; low oil prices are threatening pipelines as financing construction costs more than the return on oil. Somewhere between slack fuel prices, firm fares and demand, Delta’s making enough money to build these let-them-eat-cake planes.

One could argue that if buyers have the money they can have whatever they want — except that taxpayers finance the infrastructure including essential safety regulatory system which will now protect the few and not the many while increasing congestion. Too money — somebody needs to pay more taxes to support the infrastructure they’re using.

~ 1 ~

Kaspersky Labs is releasing around the globe a free version of their antivirus software (Reuters). It won’t replace the paid version of their AV software, providing only very basic protection. I’m not using it, though, for two reasons: if it’s like Kaspersky’s existing free tool, it will send messages back to the parent company about infections it finds — and possibly more. Congress and the U.S. intelligence community may have concerns about Kaspersky Lab’s vulnerability to the Russian government; I’m more concerned about Kaspersky Lab having been breached at least once in 2015, compromising data in their systems. Your mileage may vary; use under advisement.

~ 0 ~

That’s it for now. This is an open thread. Behave.

P.S. The fight against attacks on the health care system isn’t over. Call your senator at (202) 224-3121. Other tools for your use in this post.

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