July 6, 2022 / by 

 

Death of the Car(go) Cult(ure)

I had an epiphany recently. It sneaked up on me, right about the time I let go of my comfortable illusion of middle-class security and embraced the fact I may be faced with more than $26,000 per year in health care premiums and untold thousands in out-of-pocket deductibles and medication expenses. It could be more than my household income, forcing me to draw down on retirement savings nearly ten years prematurely.

Ticking off monthly expenses — what things could be reduced or eliminated in my household to make up for the additional health care expenses if some mutant abomination of AHCA passes — I came to an abrupt conclusion.

I don’t need a car anymore.

It costs more to own a car at my personal disposal than calling a car-for-hire, whether Uber or Lyft or local cab service.

I had to sit down after that. For nearly fifty years I’ve thought I needed a car, that every American aspired to vehicle ownership, save for big city residents for whom cars would be unmanageable. My entrance to adulthood was marked by the ability to drive a car; my personal freedom hinged upon being able to get away in my own vehicle.

But now? I might be trapped by a car. My six-year-old grocery-getter Mom mobile cost me more than I invested in the stock market the year it was manufactured — it’s worth a fraction of its original value, while my stock is worth several times over. My investment in wheels won’t pay for my future health.

I thought about my kids and the reality they face; only four years separates these two siblings, but a massive cultural shift occurred between them. My 23-year-old daughter drove off like the wind when I gave her my car keys seven years ago; she saw her first vehicle as freedom, just as I did when I was her age. She just signed her first lease on a vehicle, though; after crunching the numbers on new cars, it didn’t make sense to buy one. Leasing a car would yield a lower total cost to operate than buying one. She’s also not stuck with trying to sell it in a couple years when an electric vehicle might be preferred.

This isn’t an earth-shattering shift, but it’s a tectonic move; no one in my family has ever leased a vehicle. We have always bought and owned them over the last four generations.

And now my son. One might assume he was a car buff living here in the backyard of the Big Three Automakers, the progeny of one family which made its fortunes in auto parts and spawn of another family in which two successive generations made a living engineering in automobile manufacturing.

But no — he dragged his feet for nearly three years getting his license. He just didn’t care to get it; the only reason he got a driver’s permit was that everyone else his age had done so. He had the public school bus to get him to class every day, and me to get him to every intramural event. Why should he bother when he had it so good?

Especially when it came to the annoying expense of having his own vehicle. Being in a high-risk group — male, 16-25, driving more than 25 miles a week — he might pay more in insurance each year than the purchase price of the car he would drive. And then gas, which was near $4.00/gallon when he got his permit. And car washes, tires, wipers, oil changes, other increasingly frequent car repairs, and so on…this was not freedom.

His sister had been fortunate to land an internship for the duration of her college career, which helped defray automobile expenses. This has not been the case for her brother because of their different academic pursuits. He works at a summer job, stashing as much of his paycheck away for the academic year while living on his tips during the season. The paycheck and tips combined from his summer service job do not equal the amount his sister made each year; he simply cannot afford a car of his own.

We don’t know how long this may be the case, either. His prospects are different from his sister’s given his field of study. He may need to pursue a master’s degree immediately after he gets his bachelor’s. Leads on internships for his junior year of college are good, but the pay may be less than his sister made at the same point in their studies. A car of his own is a very iffy prospect for years.

Let’s face it: my son’s life is closer to that of the overwhelming number of American’s his age than my daughter’s is to her cohort. This is the shift in our culture, one in which we begin to let go of personal and family automobiles as a norm.

The more I thought about it, the more disturbed I became. Both of my kids will leave college without any debt; I spent what should probably have been my retirement health care savings on their tuition and board. In contrast, my prospective son-in-law carries $40,000 in debt after his graduation this month. Thankfully he has a good job and can pay it down quickly, but what of all other college students in the U.S.? The overwhelming majority will be saddled with a similar or greater amount of debt and middling jobs. They’re part of nearly 50% of America which cannot muster $400 cash in the event of an emergency, perhaps part of the 53% participating in the stock market but still one of the precarious.

These youngsters will be hard pressed to juggle health insurance premiums and deductibles under AHCA with massive college tuition debt and rising rents.

They will be hard pressed to buy a car outright. Screw all of those idiotic “Millennials are killing everything!” opinion pieces; their parents and grandparents have done little to ensure college would not burden them as much or more than an automobile payment.

Or a mortgage. I realized, too, that I am financing and paying taxes on a garage and a driveway I rarely use. I must trek out and shovel tons of snow every year to keep that rarely-used driveway clean; when it’s too much to do by hand, I break out the gas-guzzling, exhaust-belching snowblower.

All in service to a rapidly depreciating fossil-fueled demi-god with a deteriorating finish and in need of an oil change. I’ve become an adherent of a cargo cult, who has for too long believed that possessing this object would yield some greater blessing from the great god of capitalism. Instead of throwing several handfuls of dollars per mile traveled into a gaping maw I should be riding my bike or taking a bus.

When the rest of the U.S. wakes up to this same reality, the real earth-shattering shift will begin. Perhaps it already has.

What happens to a people when they lose their religion? We’re about to find out.
__________
Food for thought:
U.S. automakers question possible excess capacity – but is the challenge too much manufacturing capacity or too little buyers’ capacity due to decades of stagnant wages?

If carmakers like Volvo are already committed to switching completely to electric while entire cities and countries are forcing fossil fuel’s phase out, are potential car buyers simply driving their gas guzzlers to death until the industry has completely migrated?

Or maybe the future isn’t on the road but in the air; will buyers save their pennies for a flying car?


Did NSA Just Reveal Its China BIOS Story Was Made Up?

Secrecy News just released an NSA notice to Congress of authorized disclosure of classified information. The notice was dated December 13, just two days before 60 Minutes had a solicitous piece on the NSA.

Here’s the classified information the NSA says they gave what must be 60 Minutes.

The reference to assisting in locating hostages probably map to the metadata analysis of pirates done onscreen (albeit with altered phone numbers).

But what’s not there in unredacted form — at least beyond the vague description of “USG efforts to mitigate cyber threats” was the China kaboom story told on the show.

John Miller: Could a foreign country tomorrow topple our financial system?

Gen. Keith Alexander: I believe that a foreign nation could impact and destroy major portions of our financial system, yes.

John Miller: How much of it could we stop?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, right now it would be difficult to stop it because our ability to see it is limited.

One they did see coming was called the BIOS Plot. It could have been catastrophic for the United States. While the NSA would not name the country behind it, cyber security experts briefed on the operation told us it was China. Debora Plunkett directs cyber defense for the NSA and for the first time, discusses the agency’s role in discovering the plot.

Debora Plunkett: One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability– to destroy computers.

John Miller: To destroy computers.

Debora Plunkett: To destroy computers. So the BIOS is a basic input, output system. It’s, like, the foundational component firmware of a computer. You start your computer up. The BIOS kicks in. It activates hardware. It activates the operating system. It turns on the computer.

This is the BIOS system which starts most computers. The attack would have been disguised as a request for a software update. If the user agreed, the virus would’ve infected the computer.

John Miller: So, this basically would have gone into the system that starts up the computer, runs the systems, tells it what to do.

Debora Plunkett: That’s right.

John Miller: –and basically turned it into a cinderblock.

Debora Plunkett: A brick.

John Miller: And after that, there wouldn’t be much you could do with that computer.

Debora Plunkett: That’s right. Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy.

John Miller: I don’t mean to be flip about this. But it has a kind of a little Dr. Evil quality– to it that, “I’m going to develop a program that can destroy every computer in the world.” It sounds almost unbelievable.

Debora Plunkett: Don’t be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that.

John Miller: And based on what you learned here at NSA. Would it have worked?

Debora Plunkett: We believe it would have. Yes.

As I noted at the time, the story — the claim that a country of 1.3 billion people who have become very interdependent with the United States would want to destroy the US economy — was a bit absurd.

I’ll need to go back and review this, but the jist of the scary claim at the heart of the report is that the NSA caught China planning a BIOS plot to shut down the global economy.

To.

Shut.

Down.

The.

Global.

Economy.

Of course, if that happened, it’d mean a goodly percentage of China’s 1.3 billion people would go hungry, which would lead to unbelievable chaos in China, which would mean the collapse of the state in China, the one thing the Chinese elite want to prevent more than anything.

But the NSA wants us to believe that this was actually going to happen.

That China was effectively going to set off a global suicide bomb. Strap on the economy in a cyber-suicide vest and … KABOOOOOOOM!

And the NSA heroically thwarted that attack.

That’s what they want us to believe and some people who call themselves reporters are reporting as fact.

Anyway, like I said, no unredacted mention that this was among the classified information shared with CBS. Even accounting for the fact that NSA didn’t identify the country in question to CBS, even the description of the plot would seem to be classified.

If it were true.

But it doesn’t appear on the list of classified things revealed to CBS.


While America Debates Rex Tillerson Nomination, Saudis and Russians Join Hands to Raise Oil Prices

At about 10:46 yesterday morning, Andrea Mitchell reported that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was expected to be named Donald Trump’s Secretary of State.

Donald Trump is expected to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, two sources close to the transition process told NBC News on Saturday.

The 64-year-old veteran oil executive has no government or diplomatic experience, although he has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The pick would put to rest weeks-long speculation of who would earn the post as the U.S.’s top diplomat, and would place Tillerson fourth in line to the presidency.

[snip]

Tillerson, of Wichita Falls, Texas, has already notified his corporate board about taking on the new role, sources told NBC News.

Since then, the chattering class has discussed the Tillerson nomination at length, focusing mostly on his close ties to Vladimir Putin (see this report by Steve Coll, who wrote a book on Exxon’s private empire), not the fact that such a nomination would further demonstrate that Trump plans on reversing any efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change as President. Curiously, Russian hawks turned oil company players Condi Rice and Robert Gates reportedly recommended him. In the face of a potentially problematic confirmation battle, Trump’s campaign has since tried to deflate that trial balloon, suggesting the pick won’t be announced for another few days.

While the chattering class was focusing on Tillerson and on competing stories about why Russia hacked Hillary Clinton’s team, something else was happening: oil states were agreeing to cut production. At first, yesterday morning before Mitchell’s scoop, it was just the Saudi led OPEC states, making good on a plan announced November 30.

But then, yesterday afternoon, something unexpected happened. Russia and other non-OPEC petro-states joined in, and Saudi Arabia claimed it would cut production even further.

Saudi Arabia signaled it’s ready to cut oil production more than expected, a surprise announcement made minutes after Russia and several non-other OPEC countries pledged to curb output next year.

Taken together, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’s first deal with its rivals since 2001 and the Saudi comments represent a forceful effort by producers to wrest back control of the global oil market, depressed by persistent oversupply and record inventories.

“This is shock and awe by Saudi Arabia,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “It shows the commitment of Riyadh to rebalance the market and should end concerns about OPEC delivering the deal.”

Oil prices have surged more than 15 percent since OPEC announced Nov. 30 it will cut production for the first time in eight years, rising this week briefly above $55. The price rise has propelled the shares of energy groups from Exxon Mobil Corp. to shale firms such as Continental Resources Inc.

[snip]

[N]on-OPEC countries agreed to reduce production by 558,000 barrels a day, suggesting he had been waiting for the deal before committing to further cuts. The non-OPEC reduction is equal to the anticipated demand growth next year in China and India, according to data from the International Energy Agency.

We’ll see whether these commitments actually take place; such promises have a way of being broken, or at least cheated on.

Nevertheless, this signals that the petro-states — even those that worked to get Trump and his petro-cabinet elected — are finally going to work in concert to raise prices again.

Throughout the election, I kept remembering the Saudis could do such a thing, which would have tanked Obama’s “recovery.” High gas prices in 2008 were already making things difficult for John McCain, even before Wall Street crashed the global economy.

They waited, but even with dirt cheap oil prices, the pro-Saudi candidate lost.

Now prices are likely to go up — maybe not all that much, but consumers won’t be paying $2.50 for gas anymore, which will make their economic malaise all the worse.


Monday: A Border Too Far

In this roundup: Turkey, pipelines, and a border not meant to be crossed.

It’s nearly the end of the final Monday of 2016’s General Election campaign season. This shit show is nearly over. Thank every greater power in the universe we made it this far through these cumulative horrors.

Speaking of horrors, this Monday’s movie short is just that — a simple horror film, complete with plenty of bloody gritty gore. Rating on it is mature, not for any adult content but for its violence. The film is about illegal immigrants who want more from life, but it plays with the concepts of alien identity and zombie-ism. Who are the illegals, the aliens, the zombies? What is the nature of the predator and their prey? Does a rational explanation for the existence of the monstrous legitimize the horror they perpetuate in any way?

The logline for this film includes an even shorter tag line: Some borders aren’t meant to be crossed. This is worth meditating on after the horrors we’ve seen this past six months. Immigrants and refugees aren’t the monsters. And women aren’t feeble creatures to be marginalized and counted out.

Should also point out this film’s production team is mostly Latin American. This is the near-future of American storytelling and film. I can’t wait for more.

Tough Turkey
The situation in Turkey is extremely challenging, requiring diplomacy a certain Cheeto-headed candidate is not up to handling and will screw up if he places his own interests ahead of that of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  • Luxembourg’s foreign minister compares Erdoğan’s purge to Nazi Germany (Deutsche Welle) — Yeah, I can’t argue with this when a political party representing an ethnic minority and a group sharing religious dogma are targeted for removal from jobs, arrest and detention.
  • Op-Ed: Erdoğan targeting critics of all kinds (Guardian) — Yup. Media, judges, teachers, persons of Kurdish heritage or Gulenist religious bent, secularists, you name it. Power consolidation in progress. Democracy, my left foot.
  • HDP boycotts Turkish parliament after the arrest of its leaders (BBC) — Erdoğan claimed the arrested HDP leaders were in cahoot with the PKK, a Kurdish group identified as a terrorist organization. You’ll recall HDP represents much of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. But Erdoğan also said he doesn’t care if the EU calls him a dictator; he said the EU abets terrorism. Sure. Tell the cities of Paris and Brussels that one. Think Erdoğan has been taking notes from Trump.
  • U.S. and Turkish military leaders meet to work out Kurd-led ops against ISIS (Guardian) — Awkward. Turkish military officials were still tetchy about an arrangement in which Kurdish forces would act against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, about 100 miles east of Aleppo. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia — the Kurdish forces — will work in concert with Arab members of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition in Raqqa to remove ISIS. Initial blame aimed at the PKK for a car bomb after HDP members were arrested heightened existing tensions between Erdoğan loyalists and the Kurds, though ISIS later took responsibility for the deadly blast. Depending on whose take one reads, the Arab part of SDF will lead the effort versus any Kurdish forces. Turkey attacked YPG forces back in August while YPG and Turkey were both supposed to be routing ISIS.

In the background behind Erdoğan’s moves to consolidate power under the Turkish presidency and the fight to eliminate ISIS from Syria and neighboring territory, there is a struggle for control of oil and gas moving through or by Turkey.

Russia lost considerable revenue after oil prices crashed in 2014. A weak ruble has helped but to replace lost revenue based on oil’s price, Russia has increased output to record levels. Increase supply only reduces price, especially when Saudi Arabia, OPEC producers, and Iran cannot agree upon and implement a production limit. If Russia will not likewise agree to production curbs, oil prices will remain low and Russia’s revenues will continue to flag.

Increasing pipelines for both oil and gas could bolster revenues, however. Russia can literally throttle supply near its end of hydrocarbon pipelines and force buyers in the EU and everywhere in between to pay higher rates — the history of Ukrainian-Russian pipeline disputes demonstrates this strategy. Bypassing Ukraine altogether would help Russia avoid both established rates and conflict there with the west. The opportunities encourage Putin to deal with Erdoğan, renormalizing relations after Turkey shot down a Russian jet last November. Russia and Turkey had met in summer of 2015 to discuss a new gas pipeline; they’ve now met again in August and in October to return to plans for funding the same pipeline.

A previous pipeline ‘war’ between Russia and the west ended in late 2014. This conflict may only have been paused, though. Between Russia’s pressure to sell more hydrocarbons to the EU, threats to pipelines from PKK-attributed terrorism and ISIS warfare near Turkey’s southwestern border, and implications that Erdoğan has been involved in ISIS’ sales of oil to the EU, Erdoğan may be willing to drop pursuit of EU membership to gain more internal control and profit from Russia’s desire for more hydrocarbon revenues. In the middle of all this mess, Erdoğan has expressed a desire to reinstate the death penalty for alleged coup plotters and dissenters — a border too far for EU membership since death penalty is not permitted by EU law.

This situation requires far more diplomatic skill than certain presidential candidates will be able to muster. Certainly not from a candidate who doesn’t know what Aleppo is, and certainly not from a candidate who thinks he is the only solution to every problem.

Cybery miscellany

That’s it for now. I’ll put up an open thread dedicated to all things election in the morning. Brace yourselves.


Friday: Fusion

In this roundup: Dakota Access Pipeline news, Hawaiian sovereignty and other indigenous peoples news, the death of space art, and fusion jazz.

It’s Friday — time for some jazz. This time it’s eastern-western fusion, melding Spanish flamenco and Indian classical music. The embedded video here is a real treat, an entire hour and 13 minute concert featuring Anoushka Shankar on sitar, Melon Jimenes on guitar, and Sandra Carrasco’s vocals. My favorite cut is Baleria which begins at 0:42:10 in this video. It feels like the high point of the concert to me, where all the artists are in the same state of flow at this point. I really shouldn’t minimize the contributions of the other artists here — Sanjeev Shankar on the shenhai, Pirashanna Thevarajah on several different percussion instruments, and El Pirana on the cajon — all add incredible depth. Sanjeev Shankar’s shenhai sounds so human in Traveller; I’d really love to hear El Pirana in other jazz work, will have to hunt down more of his work.

Problematic pipeline

  • Militarized law enforcement threatening DAPL protesters after prayer session (Indian Country) — The photos featured in the article at this link don’t do justice to the threat from law enforcement.
  • Note Twitter user @notaxiwarrior’s feed beginning 28-SEP through yesterday showing law enforcement carrying shotguns and automatic weapons, and in at least one case aiming their weapon at protesters. The thread indicates police used tear gas and flash-bang grenades on a prayer group of mostly women and children. Same thread shows a possible contract agent provocateur who may have been trying to incite the protesters to violence.
  • Low-flying aircraft may have dropped chemicals on protesters; 21 arrested (EcoWatch) — It’s not clear from videos and photos here and across the internet what one or more planes may have dropped. Some protesters believed Facebook may have halted streaming. At one point in a video police are loading their weapons. Nauseating to watch and listen.
  • Oil company CEO thinks jobs, economic opportunity will stop DAPL protests (TelesurTV) — James Volker, CEO of Whiting Petroleum, thinks contracting Native American-owned companies for oil services and water hauling will make the affected tribes happy. White male privilege, much? How hard is it to understand the pipeline scars lands which never really belonged to whites, desecrating burial grounds and religiously significant sites, while putting land and water at risk of permanent damage? Imagine the outcry if a Chinese- or Saudi-owned company wanted to rip up the battlefield at Gettysburg for an oil pipeline. But Volker said “he was sensitive to Native American concerns over the pipeline and that he ‘wouldn’t want necessarily a pipeline to go through the cemetery where all my relatives are buried.’” Right. And he’d feel all better about it if somebody offered him a a few paltry bucks for his mother’s grave.
  • Anti-pipeline protest in Vermont culminates in $500K bank account closure (Times Argus) — At a Mountpelier branch of TD Bank, locals protested both a planned Vermont Gas pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. A TD Bank customer closed her $500K account because she was disgusted with TD Bank’s role financing pipeline construction.

Other indigenous news

  • DOI looks at government-to-government relations with future sovereign Hawaii (NBC) — Protesters are unhappy, however, with the change in U.S. Department of Interior position allowing a Native Hawaiian government. In a nutshell, it’s not up to the DOI to tell Native Hawaiians and a sovereign Hawaii how to operate just as no illegal occupying force has a right to define the nation it illegally occupies.
  • First Nations’ children ‘sold’ to Americans as recently as 1982 (CBC) — Heartbreaking read; between 1960-1982, indigenous children were taken from their families and ‘sold’ to adoptive families in the U.s., often labeled as ‘special needs’ when they were simply First Nations’ descendants.
  • Interview: Kichwa leader José Fachín on oil and Peru (Guardian) — Fachín discusses a permanent protest underway, fighting against chronic oil pipeline leaks fouling land and water lived on by Kichwa and other indigenous peoples in Peru. Hard to imagine this persistent assault on indigenous peoples’ environment becoming just as embedded here in the U.S. — fossil fuel extraction must stop.
  • Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist commemorates the loss of indigenous’ history in Sydney art installation (Guardian) — Nearly all artifacts of Australia’s indigenous peoples were destroyed in 1882 when an exhibition building burnt to the ground. Artist Jonathan Jones marks this epic loss with barrangal dyara (skin and bones) constructed from 15,000 gypsum shields marking the outline of the former building site.

Longread: Is ‘Space Art’ dying?
Interesting read about the history of space art and its impact on science. I wonder, though, whether space art has really been dying, or if it has merely been surpassed by the real beauty of space our current technology has been able to capture? Just browse through NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day — phenomenal images captured by cameras. Is the real problem space art faces a matter of imagination; are we not encouraging young artists to ponder what’s out there we have yet to capture with telescopes, space missions, and cameras?

Week’s over, already been tequila thirty here for nearly an hour. Have a nice weekend!


Thursday: Another Grungey Anniversary Observed

In this roundup: Recalling 25 years of Nirvana’s Nevermind, petro-pipeline-economic challenges, lead poisoning, anthrax, and cops gone wild.

Hard to believe it was 25 years ago this past weekend when Seattle grunge band Nirvana released its second and best-selling album Nevermind. This particular collection of songs continues to have deep impact on rock, in no small part because it gave voice to social alienation and frustrations of its decade.

Grunge as a genre petered out by the late 1990s, perhaps in response the impact of Cobain’s suicide, the aging of its audience, and the bursting of the dot com bubble. I’ve wondered, though, if its overwhelmingly white male angst merely went underground, disrupted by 9/11 and redirected toward the war on terror. The grunge generation was the first to be wholly free of the draft, born toward the end of or after the Vietnam War. It had no common goal, no shared sacrifice, at a time when technology became incredibly powerful and a key driver behind economic growth.

Then the dot com bomb, the towers fell, and the grunge generation was forced to look away from its navel, but not toward a positive aim with measurable success defined by concrete benchmarks. It was offered an identity defined by negatives: not ‘radical Muslim’, not ‘Old Europe’, not anything apart from with-Bush/Cheney because it wasn’t popular to be against them for the sub-40-year-old crowd.

Now that +20 years have passed, how are the grunge generation defined?

UPDATE 9:30 AM EDT — News worth updating and inserting higher in post: Congress avoided a government shutdown while simultaneously funding Flint, Michigan’s water system aid as well as Zika virus response. The amount allocated for Flint will be somewhere between $170 million (House) and $220 (Senate). It’s not anywhere near the amount needed for complete removal of damaged water mains and lead piping, but it’s a good start. Snappy synopsis here.

See also this particularly offensive POS from a hotel and tourism advocate in Puerto Rico, published before the deal. Too bad Mr. Miguel Vega will never have to actually carry a Zika infected fetus; his hand wringing over Zika fear is a perfect example of male privilege, applied on behalf of his employers. The real problem with Zika response has always been a lack of knowledge about the virus as well as inadequate concern for the welfare of citizens — not fear. /end update

Fossil Feud
All related to oil, all equally distressing.

  • OPEC to cut oil output (Bloomberg) — The move supports the Saudis’ need for more cash. Russia will tweak its output levels after OPEC has finished setting a firmer level, though it pumped a record amount in September, tripling August’s daily output.
  • Iran’s oil minister described as ‘happy’ (Bloomberg via Twitter) — Bijan Zanganeh’s reaction as the OPEC conference in Algiers ended Wednesday.
  • Congress overrode Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill (Insurance Journal) — In spite of the White House’s effort to kill The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the bill will become law after today’s rare override. The bill allows 9/11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for damages. Passage of the bill may cause the Saudis to delay sales of $10 billion of an international ‘megabond’ as investors could be put off by risks to RSA from lawsuits. But if oil prices go up due to production cuts, the bonds may not be as critical to RSA’s plans.
  • Reps. Grijalva and Ruiz say Dakota Access Pipeline approvals did not comply with law (Indian Country) — After a meeting between Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Raul Ruiz and representatives of Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Lakota, Apache tribes late last week, the representatives called for the Army Corps of Engineers’ permits to be revoked. Full assessments for environmental and historical impact had not been completed before the permits were issued; ACOE may have acted under the influence of pipeline and oil companies. Grijalva and Ruiz are members of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. It’s not clear what will happen next given the anticipated rise in oil prices and the impending general election.
  • Monbiot op-ed: Fossil fuels must remain in the ground to meet Paris Agreement (Guardian-UK) — Fossil fuel industry’s own data shows that current extraction rates and plans will push global temperatures above 1.5C-2C, undermining the Paris agreement on climate change. The only sure way to comply with the temperature goals is to stop extracting fossil fuels.

Use the anticipated increase in oil prices as incentive to reduce its use. Put on the big person’s panties and say no to pipelines and more extraction. Push for incentives to conserve while developing alternative energy. It’s long past time.

Miscellany

  • Police across U.S. misusing databases for personal reasons (AP via Salt Lake Tribune) — After conducting illegal searches of confidential information including addresses and Social Security numbers, police have been punished hundreds of times over the last three years. The article says the number of unauthorized database searches identified during reporting are “unquestionably an undercount.” It’s not clear from this report if these databases also include information gathered from surveillance including Stingray use
  • CDC’s flawed report left East Chicago IN children exposed to lead (Reuters) — Not clear how or why CDC’s 5-year-old report claimed “nearly 100 percent” of children’s blood lead levels had been tested in an area once home to a lead refinery. In reality, only 5 percent to 20 percent had been tested, and 22 percent of children around the West Calumet housing development area tested positive for elevated blood lead. This situation is so fishy; in my opinion, the Department of Justice should look more deeply into this case and not merely assist with obtaining settlement funding. Somebody inside the CDC did more than omit data or misstate conclusions.
  • Mystery of USSR anthrax outbreak uncovered (Twitter) — Lifehacker’s science and health writer Beth Skwarecki tweeted a brief story about a Soviet-era anthrax epidemic. It’s a quick and fascinating read (unrelated to the recent anthrax outbreak, to the best of my knowledge).

Quite enough without adding a longer read or listen, huh? Catch you later!


Tuesday: Change of Pace

I need a break — a change of pace after the last several day’s nonstop doom-and-gloom observing what has become an American version of the Day of the Dead. Add the nauseating bullshit misogynist circus piling on the “church faint” by a post-menopausal woman wearing too much clothing in humid weather while recovering from pneumonia. It’s unrelenting ridiculousness which can only be broken by the injection of dark humor.

I like this young director Almog Avidan Antonir’s body of short works, including this little zombie love story. Looking forward whatever he might have next up his sleeve.

The Dakotas

  • Lawmaker unintentionally makes armed law enforcement drones legal in North Dakota (Independent-UK) — Way to go, dude. Legislator submitted a bill to outlaw armed drones; wretched police union got to the bill with revisions and now law enforcement can use drones armed with non-lethal force. North Dakota is now the first state in the U.S. to legalize armed drones. Want to bet law enforcement is already preparing to use this technology against pipeline protesters?
  • South Dakota Yankton Sioux filed suit against U.S. government over pipeline (Indian Country Today) — While media focused attention on North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Yankton Sioux in South Dakota filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Though the planned pipeline runs through tribal treaty lands, the government did not complete an environmental study or a consult with the affected tribe — same complaint in South as in North Dakota. The pipeline company, Energy Transfer, did not use tribe members to identify any challenges during planning of the pipeline route.
  • Trespass charges against journalist Goodman blows off First Amendment and Justice Dept. (Committee to Protect Journalists) — CPJ’s Carlos Lauria said the warrant issued for Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman is “a transparent attempt to intimidate reporters” covering the NoDAPL protests. Morton County’s warrant ignores Justice Dept’s joint statement with Interior Dept halting pipeline construction, in which the departments said, “we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. …” Goodman clearly identified herself as a reporter.
  • Oil producers whine about pipeline delays interfering with cheap oil (Fortune) — These guys are just not catching the cluestick. It may take shareholder activism to wake these morons up about the end of fossil fuels and a need for entirely new business models instead of forcing oil pipelines through.
  • Standing Rock: a new civil rights movement? (Guardian) — Op-ed looks at the birth of a new movement where environmental and civil rights activism join forces to protect indigenous people and Missouri River — the longest river in the continental U.S.

Flint Water Crisis

  • Former state epidemiologist not talking about possible plea deal (MLive.com) — Corinne Miller, now retired, was arraigned in August on felony misconduct and misdemeanor neglect of duty. Miller suppressed action on children’s blood lead levels and told Michigan Dept of Health and Human Services employees to delete emails related to the blood lead data.
  • Water bill moves forward in Senate (The Hill) — Emergency funding for Flint and its lead-contaminated water system closer to passing as part of a $9.4 billion bill for water-related infrastructure and clean drinking water. The bill also includes assistance for Louisiana’s flood recovery. Money for Flint’s aid may be paid by cutting the Energy Dept’s Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Technology loan program.
  • Water filters still needed by Flint residents through end of year, possibly longer (Detroit Free Press) — There’s no clear end to the water crisis, even though funding may soon be available. Thresholds for lead levels have not yet been agreed upon by state and federal officials. The amount of damage to the city’s water system continues to complicate recovery efforts.

Still Picking on Volkswagen

  • VW engineer plead guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and violating Clean Air Act (Jurist.org) — The record of engineer James Robert Liang’s June indictment was unsealed on Friday, revealing he and co-conspirators designed, implemented, and lied about emissions controls technology which evaded emissions standards. One interesting bit of new information is the involvement of an unnamed third-party engineering company partially owned by Volkswagen, referred to in the indictment as “Company A.”
  • Awkward: Liang to be sentenced during North American International Auto Show (Detroit News) — Four months from now, smack in the middle press week for Detroit’s 2017 NAIAS, VW engineer Liang will be sentence in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan. This op-ed notes Liang’s plea hints at a much-larger conspiracy in VW pursued by investigators. Somebody had to sign off on this design, at a minimum. And somebody had to tell Bosch what and how to make the non-compliant electronic controls units.

Longread: Rakoff on Fiss and rights under a War on Terror
United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff looks at a collection of essays by legal scholar Owen Fiss, written over the last 13 years while the U.S. the so-called “War on Terror.”

Toodles!


Thursday: Alien Occupation

Since I missed a Monday post with a movie clip I think I’ll whip out a golden oldie for today’s post.

This movie — especially this particular scene — still gets to me 37 years after it was first released. The ‘chestburster’ as scene is commonly known is the culmination of a body horror trope in Ridley Scott’s science fiction epic, Alien. The horror arises from knowing something happened to the spacecraft Nostromo’s executive officer Kane when a ‘facehugger’ leapt from a pod in an alien ship, eating through his space helmet, leaving him unresponsive as long as the facehugger remained attached to his face. There is a brief sense of relief once the facehugger detaches and Kane returns to consciousness and normal daily functions. But something isn’t right as the subtle extra scrutiny of the science officer Ash foreshadows at the beginning of this scene.

Director Ridley Scott employed a different variant of body horror in his second contribution to the Alien franchise, this time by way of a xenomorph implanted in her mimicking pregnancy in scientist Shaw. She is sterile, and she knows whatever this is growing inside her must be removed and destroyed or it will kill both her and the remaining crew. The clip shared here and others available in YouTube actually don’t convey the complete body horror — immediately before Shaw enters this AI-operated surgical pod she is thwarted by the pod’s programming for a default male patient. In spite of her mounting panic and growing pain she must flail at the program to enter alternative commands which will remove the thing growing inside her.

I suspect the clips available in YouTube were uploaded by men, or they would understand how integral to Shaw’s body horror is the inability to simply and quickly tell this surgical pod GET THIS FUCKING THING OUT OF ME RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.

I don’t know if any man (by which I mean cis-man) can really understand this horror. Oh sure, men can realistically find themselves host to things like tapeworms and ticks and other creatures which they can have removed. But the horror of frustration, being occupied by something that isn’t right, not normal, shouldn’t continue, putting its host at mortal risk — and not being able to simply demand it should be removed, or expect resources to avoid its implantation and occupation in one’s self? No. Cis-men do not know this terror.

Now imagine the dull background terror of young women in this country who must listen to white straight male legislators demand ridiculous and offensive hurdles before they will consider funding birth control to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, or fund abortions of Zika-infected fetuses which put their mothers at risk of maternal mortality while the fetuses may not be viable or result in deformed infants who’ll live short painful lives. Imagine the horror experienced by 84 pregnant women in Florida alone who’ve tested positive for Zika and are now being monitored, who don’t know the long-term outcomes for themselves or their infants should their fetuses be affected by the virus.

Body horror, daily, due to occupation not only by infectious agents alien to a woman’s body, but occupation by patriarchy.

I expect to get pooh-poohed by men in comments to which I preemptively say fuck off. I’ve had a conversation this week about Zika risks with my 20-something daughter; she turned down an invitation this past week to vacation with friends in Miami. It’s a realistic problem for her should she accidentally get pregnant before/during/immediately following her trip there.

We also talked about one of her college-age friend’s experiences with Guillain–Barré syndrome. It’s taken that young woman nearly three years to recover and resume normal function. She didn’t acquire the syndrome from Zika, but Guillain–Barré’s a risk with Zika infections. There’s too little research yet about the magnitude of the risk — this vacation is not worth the gamble.

But imagine those who live there and can’t take adequate precautions against exposure for economic reasons — imagine the low-level dread. Imagine, too, the employment decisions people are beginning to make should job offers pop up in areas with local Zika transmission.

What’s it going to take to get through to legislators — their own experience of body horror? Movies depicting body horror don’t seem to be enough.

Wheels
Put these two stories together — the next question is, “Who at VW ordered the emissions cheat device from Bosch before 2008?”

Pretty strong incentives for Volkswagen to destroy email evidence. I wonder what Bosch did with their emails?

Self-driving electric cars are incredibly close to full commercialization based on these two stories:

  • Michigan’s state senate bill seeks approval of driverless cars (ReadWrite) — Bill would change state’s code to permit “the motor vehicle to be operated without any control or monitoring by a human operator.” Hope a final version ensures human intervention as necessary by brakes and/or steering wheel. I wonder which manufacturer or association helped write this code revision?
  • California now committed to dramatic changes in greenhouse gas emissions (Los Angeles Times) — State had already been on target to achieve serious reductions in emissions by 2020; the new law enacts an even steeper reduction by 2030 in order to slow climate change effects and improve air quality.

I don’t know if I’m ready to see these on the road in Michigan. Hope the closed test track manufacturers are using here will offer realistic snow/sleet/ice experience; if self-driving cars can’t navigate that, I don’t want to be near them. And if Michigan legislators are ready to sign off on self-driving cars, I hope like hell the NHTSAA is way ahead of them — especially since emissions reductions laws like California’s are banking heavily on self-driving electric cars.

Google-y-do

  • Google’s parent Alphabet-ting on burritos from the sky (Bloomberg) — No. No. NO. Not chocolate, not doughnuts, not wine or beer, but Alphabet subsidiary Project Wing is testing drone delivery of Chipotle burritos to Virginia Tech students? Ugh. This has fail all over it. Watch out anyhow, pizza delivery persons, your jobs could be on the bubble if hot burritos by drone succeed.
  • API company Apigee to join Google’s fold (Fortune) — This is part of a big business model shift at Google. My guess is this acquisition was driven by antitrust suits, slowing Google account growth, and fallout from Oracle’s suit against Google over Java APIs. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are discrete programming subroutines which, in a manner of speaking, act like glue between different programs, allowing programmers to obtain resources from one system for use in a different function without requiring the programmer to have more than passing understanding of the resource. An API producer would allow Google’s other systems to access or be used by non-Google systems.
  • Google to facilitate storage of Drive content at cloud service Box (PC World) — Here’s where an API is necessary: a Google Drive user selects Box instead of Drive for storage, and the API routes the Drive documents to Box instead of Drive. Next: imagine other Google services, like YouTube-created/edited videos or Google Photo-edited images, allowing storage or use by other businesses outside of Google.

Longread: Digitalization and its panopticonic effect on society
Columbia’s Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor in Humanities and a contributor at PC Magazine, takes a non-technical look at the effect our ever-on, ever-observing, ever-connected technology has on us.

Catch you later!


Tuesday: In a Season of Crime

Ride the train, I’m far from home
In a season of crime, none need atone
I kissed your face

— excerpt, Sue (or In a Season of Crime) by David Bowie

Bowie left us an amazing parting shot with his 25th and final album, Blackstar. The cut featured here is a free jazz/jazz-rock fusion work which sounds off-kilter or out of sync, the lyric melody not tracking with rhythm — until one looks at the lyrics as a story of confusion told at the same time as a driving lyric-less and inevitable story beats on at the same time.

Seems like an unintended metaphor for our general election politics.

Back to School, Fool
Guess who’s back in town? A bunch of Congressional lame ducks back from vacation — I mean — work in their districts where they glad-handed at county fairs between bites of deep-fried Twinkies and kissing babies for campaign photo ops.

Get back to work and produce funding for Zika research AND birth control, damn it. Your continued intransigence is costing lives — short, ugly, painful, deformed lives on which you are pitiless and merciless, you fundamentalist let-them-eat-cake hacks. It’s only a matter of time before somebody in your district ends up Zika-infected and pregnant after vacation trip to someplace warm like Miami — or mosquito-bitten during during their day job like lawn care or construction or mail delivery. Researchers are working incredibly hard with the limited funding they’ve had; there’s only so much they can do with inadequate funding. And birth control MUST be available to all who need it. Planned Parenthood can and does hand out condoms, you pathetic slack-handed weasels. Fund them.

STG if I was the president, I’d look at any way possible to trim funding to unusual projects in states with GOP senators and then declare an emergency, pull that trimmed funding to pay for subsidized birth control in the same damned states. With researchers now having found Zika infection may spread by bodily fluids like semen, vaginal fluid, saliva, and tears while documented cases mount, there’s ample grounds to write an executive order during a lame duck session.

Big Oil = Big Bully

The NoDAPL project is bad all around. There’s no good reason for it to proceed.

— The economics of oil supply and demand do not support it; the cost to proceed is simply not supportable.

— The environmental cost of this project and the oil it is intended to carry are untenable; investment of resources private and public should go toward non-fossil fuels.

— The project violates the rights of Native Americans in numerous ways and no good faith effort has been made to address them during planning, let alone now as construction begins. The current and future damage to the Sioux only exacerbates hundreds of years of abuses against their sovereign nation.

— The companies investing in this project including Enbridge cannot assure the safe operation of this pipeline given the history of pipeline leaks across this country. In Enbridge’s case, this foreign-owned corporation has already proven unreliable and opaque in pipeline operations.

— NoDAPL should not proceed for the same reasons Keystone XL pipeline did not proceed: it is not in our country’s best interest.

I don’t know how anyone can look at this bulldozing of land containing buried Native Americans and not see it as a direct, deliberate effort to erase their existence. This is accursed behavior which in no way addresses the needs for alternative energy outlined in the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Review or our nation’s need to secure its people by reducing carbon dioxide output.

Odd Lots

  • Disposal wells in Oklahoma including Osage Nation shut down after earthquake (Tulsa World) — Yet another case where extractive fossil fuel business on Native American tribal lands has been highly problematic. 17 wells were shut down by the EPA after Oklahoma’s M5.6 induced earthquake this weekend; these wells are in addition to 37 other disposal wells shut down this weekend near the quake’s epicenter. Haven’t seen yet whether another earthquake of this magnitude could set off an overdue 500-year magnitude earthquake along Missouri’s New Madrid fault.
  • U.S. district judge denies federal plan to open 1 million acres of central CA public lands for fracking and drilling (IndyBay.org) — Bureau of Land Management didn’t do its homework on environmental risks from fracking, focusing too heavily on drilling instead. Sounds a lot like Army Corp of Engineers’ slap-dash disregard for externalities when it analyzed the NoDAPL, doesn’t it?
  • OK’s earthquake insurance market already under review (Tulsa World) — Insurers have only paid out on 20 percent of earthquake-related claims since 2010; the market has also undergone consolidation and 300-percent rate increases. No word yet on how much damage this weekend’s M5.6 quake or subsequent aftershocks have caused. Hope the public lights a fire under Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak about his review of the market. It’s grossly unfair the public must bear the cost of risk created by extractive industries as it is.

Longread: Lawsuit against DMCA Section 1201
Johns Hopkins University professor and cryptographer Matthew Green filed suit against the federal government in late July to strike down Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The current law prevents security researchers from adequately investigating products. Worthwhile read — this has huge repercussions on our safety and security given how much of the technology around us is copyrighted but leaky as hell and prone to hacking.

Hasta pasta!


Wednesday: If I Had a Heart

Crushed and filled with all I found
Underneath and inside
Just to come around
More, give me more, give me more

— excerpt, If I Had a Heart by Fever Ray

Today’s featured single is from Fever Ray’s eponymous debut album ‘Fever Ray’, the stage name for Swedish singer, songwriter and record producer Karin Elisabeth Dreijer Andersson. If her work sounds familiar, it may be that she and her brother Olof Dreijer also performed as The Knife. Karin’s work is reminiscent of Lykke Li’s and Bjork’s electronic/ambient works, redolent with dark rhythms and layers of deep and high-pitched vocals — very Nordic feminine.

Fever Ray has been very popular with television programmers; the cut featured here is the theme song for History Channel’s Vikings series. It’s also been used in AMC’s Breaking Bad and WB’s The Following. Other songs by Karin as Fever Ray including Keep the Streets Empty for Me have been used by CBS’ Person of Interest and Canadian TV’s Heartbeats as well as a number of films. I’m looking forward to her next work, wondering if it will be just as popular TV and film industry.

Fossil feud

  • TransCanada approval hearing delayed due to protests (Reuters) — Not just U.S. and Native Americans protesting oil pipelines right now; Canada’s National Energy Board deferred this week’s hearings due to security concerns (they say). The board is scheduled to meet again in early October about the planned pipeline from Alberta to Canada’s east coast. There may be more than security concerns holding up these hearings, though…
  • Big projects losing favor with Big Oil (WaPo-Bloomberg) — The ROI on big projects may be negative in some cases, which doesn’t service massive debt Big Oil companies have incurred. They’re looking at faster turnaround projects like shale oil projects — except that these quick-hit projects have poorly assessed externalities which will come back and bite Big Oil over the long run, not to mention the little problem of fracking’s break-even point at $65/barrel.
  • Big Insurance wants G20 to stop funding Big Fossil Fuel (Guardian) — Deadline the biggest insurers set is 2020; by then, Big Insurance wants the G20 nations to stop subsidizing and financing fossil fuels including Big Oil because subsidies and preferential financing skew the true cost of fossil fuels (hello, externalities).
  • Standing Rock Sioux continue their protest against the North Dakota Access Pipeline (Guardian) — Video of the protest at that link. Calls to the White House supporting the Sioux against the DAPL are solicited. Wonder if anybody’s pointing out fracked shale oil is a losing proposition?

Zika-de-doo-dah

  • Adult mosquitoes can transmit Zika to their offspring (American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene) — Study looked at infected Aedes aegypti and albopictus mosquitoes and found the virus in subsequent larva. My only beef with this study is that Culex species were not also studied; they aren’t efficient carriers of Zika, but they do carry other flavivirus well and there are too many cases with unexplained transmission which could have been caused by infected Culex. Clearly need to do more about pre-hatch mosquito control regardless of species.
  • Three drugs show promise in halting Zika damage in humans (Johns Hopkins Univerity Hub) — Important to note some of the same researchers who demonstrated Zika caused damage in mice brain models earlier this year have now rapidly screened existing drugs to test against mice brain models. The drugs include an anti-liver damage medication (emricasan), an anti-parasitic (niclosamide), and an experimental antivirus drug. The limitation of this research is that it can’t tell how the drugs act across placenta to fetus and whether they will work as well and safely once through the placenta on fetuses. More research (and funding!) is needed.
  • Contraception no big deal, says stupid old white male GOP senator’s staffer (Rewire) — Right. If only McConnell and his staff could experience the panic of being poor and at risk of Zika. Not everybody in Puerto Rico has ready access to the “limited number of public health departments, hospitals, and Medicaid Managed Care clinics,” let alone other states like Texas which has such awful women’s reproductive care in terms of access and funding the maternal mortality rate has doubled in two years, up 27%. Pro-life, my ass. By the way, this lack of access to contraception affects men, too, who may unknowingly be infected with Zika and tranmit it to their sexual partners.

Longread Must-read: Super court
If you haven’t already done so, you need to read this investigative report by Chris Hamby at BuzzFeed. While it answers a lot of questions about the lack of perp walks, it spawns many more.

Hasta luego, compadres!

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/energy-policy/page/2/