Iran, Pakistan Break Ground on Gas Pipeline, Capping Horrible Week for US in Region

Headline and photo from Pakistan's Express Tribune announcing the pipeline groundbreaking ceremony.

Headline and photo from Pakistan’s Express Tribune announcing the pipeline groundbreaking ceremony. The image could be an old one, since that is Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the left.

On Saturday, the ceremony to transfer final control of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghanistan was canceled at the last minute as the US once again tried to maintain veto power over Afghan decisions on which prisoners to free. This occurred amid a backdrop of a range of other events demonstrating how the US is trapped in a quagmire in Afghanistan and yesterday was no better, as Karzai ratcheted up his rhetoric even further, prompting cancellation of the joint press appearance featuring Karzai and Chuck Hagel, who was making his first trip to Afghanistan as the new US Secretary of Defense.

Today caps the shitstorm in the region, as we have yet another green on blue attack, and although it is very early in sorting out details, it appears to involve US Special Forces in Maidan Wardak province, where Karzai had made today the deadline for SOF to withdraw from the province over allegations of widespread atrocities at the hands of groups claiming to be affiliated with and/or trained by US SOF. But US pain and embarrassment spread further out into the region immediately surrounding Afghanistan today, as Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a joint appearance to commemorate the official ground-breaking for construction of Pakistan’s side of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. From the PressTV account of the event, we get some background:

The 1,600-kilometer pipeline, projected to cost USD 1.2-1.5 billion, would enable the export of 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan on a daily basis.

Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil.

Tehran-based Tadbir Energy Development Group will reportedly undertake all engineering procurement and construction work for the first segment of the project, which starts from the Iran-Pakistan border and costs around USD 250 million.

The Iranian firm will also carry out the second segment of the project, and extend the financing later to USD 500 million.

The Express Tribune relates the history of the US trying to prevent the pipeline being built:

The two sides hope the pipeline will be complete in time to start delivery of 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan by December 2014.

The US has issued warnings to invoke economic sanctions already in place against Iran if Pakistan went ahead with its plans to import natural gas from the Islamic republic.

The United States has steadfastly opposed Pakistani and Indian involvement, saying the project could violate sanctions imposed on Iran over nuclear activities that Washington suspects are aimed at developing a weapons capability. Iran denies this.

India quit the project in 2009, citing costs and security issues, a year after it signed a nuclear deal with Washington.

Isn’t that interesting? The pipeline could come online the same month that NATO troops are scheduled to end their involvement in Afghanistan. That could well be why we see this paragraph in the Fars News story on the pipeline:

During the meeting at the international airport of the Southeastern Iranian port of Chabahar today, Ahmadinejad and Zardari said that the gas pipeline will further strengthen the economic, political and security relations between Tehran and Islamabad and other regional states.

US presence in the region clearly has been a destabilizing force. Iran and Pakistan appear to be taking steps toward what they hope will be improved stability once we are gone.

The Cost of Bullshit: Climate Change, National Security, and Inaction

photo: toolmantim via Flickr

photo: toolmantim via Flickr

While we’re waiting for Congress and the White House to do something productive together for once, let’s recap:

•  The Department of Defense said climate change is a critical strategic concern with regard to its operations and its impact on defense efforts, based on its legislatively-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) published two-plus years ago in 2010;

•  The State Department also said climate change is a serious threat to our national security, noted in its inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QQDR), also published two-plus years ago in 2010;

•  A who’s who of defense and diplomacy expressed their concerns about climate change and the need for urgent action, as Marcy noted two days ago; apparently whatever action has been taken so far has not impressed these experts as responsive to the threat climate change poses.

Yet if asked, the average American likely could not point to a single action taken by the U.S. government to reduce the impact of climate change.

In other words, all the effort expended and resources spent on drafting the components of the QDR and QQDR are wasted, the words published mere bullshit—more wasted government employees’ time and taxpayer money.

How much has this wordy inaction cost us?

Here’s a more specific opportunity to save taxpayer money:

…Of all military spending, energy accounts for a small proportion, roughly less than 2% of total military expenditures and 2% of total US energy usage–but is 93% of all US government energy consumption.In fact, the US military is the single biggest consumer of energy in the nation, at about 932 trillion BTU in 2009, resulting in 4% of all US carbon emissions.

Oil accounts for 78.5% of all US military energy usage (54% of that is jet fuel); electricity is 11%, direct use of natural gas comes in a bit under electricity. Direct use of coal and other sources of energy are small fractions of total usage. …

[source: TreeHugger.com, 05-MAY-2011]

The amount spent on energy surely hasn’t declined since these numbers were published in 2009.

Yet Congress and the White House have been locking horns over the sequester for some time now, looking for places to cut costs. Doesn’t it seem like any item should be ripe for examination and audit for cost-cutting if the government is the largest consumer?

Further:

…The United States is far and away the largest military spender on the planet–but you probably already knew that. How much more? In 2010 the US accounted for 42.8% of all military spending in the world (and has doubled military spending since 2001). The next nearest competitor, China, accounts for 7.3% of global military spending. The UK, France, and Russia each spend roughly 3.7%. Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy round out the top ten. All other nations spending 25.3% combined.

In dollar terms, the grand total spent on military offense and defense in 2010 was $1.6 trillion. So based on those calculations, done by a Swedish think tank, the US outspent China by 5.86 times. …

[source: TreeHugger.com, 05-MAY-2011]

If the U.S. is the largest military spender, its energy expenditures must likewise be the largest globally. This means the U.S. military could provide the largest impact globally on climate change by urgently and robustly changing its fossil fuel consumption.

Which begs the question: are we going to stop wasting time and money on reports like the QDR and the QDDR when we’re clearly making no effort to follow the recommendations they contain by responding to climate change and its inherent national security risks?

Or are we going to save some serious money on downsizing our military’s fossil fuel consumption AND make immediate, widespread impact on climate change and national security at the same time?

We really need an answer because this bullshit is costing us a fortune in taxes and lost societal opportunities. (Hurricane Sandy cost the federal government at least $180 million dollars; it’s not yet clear how much February’s blizzard cost in tax dollars. Toronto CAN, however, spent CA$4 million on cleanup and repairs, and it was not the municipality hardest hit by the storm.)

And with each drought and mega-storm, the lack of response is costing us even greater treasure in loss of personal opportunities, homes and lives.

Mohammed bin Nayef’s Debutante Ball

This Marc Lynch post on America’s Saudi problem is worth reading for its discussion of how our uncritical support for Saudi Arabia undermines our efforts in the Middle East.

America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia remains the greatest contradiction inherent in its attempt to align itself with popular aspirations for change in the region. A Saudi exception certainly makes things such as coordinating the containment of Iran easier for diplomats on a daily basis. But it sustains and perpetuates a regional order which over the long term is costly to sustain and clearly at odds with American normative preferences.

It’s also notable because it remains one of the few commentaries I’ve seen to mention Mohammed bin Nayef’s trip to DC from 10 days ago.

For instance, the symbolism of President Obama’s unusual meeting with new Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, which looked to many Saudis like an endorsement of someone they identify with the most repressive and anti-democratic trends in the kingdom, was unfortunate.

As this release from the Saudi embassy lays out in detail, MbN was in DC from January 14 through 16. There were a few explicit orders of business. Hillary Clinton and MbN renewed the Technical Cooperation Agreement (which would have expired in May) providing US support to protect Saudi critical infrastructure, especially its oil facilities. MbN signed Memoranda of Understanding with Janet Napolitano on cybersecurity and a trusted traveler program. As Lynch noted, he was granted a private meeting with President Obama, which resulted in the following readout.

Today, President Obama met with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Interior, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, in the Oval Office. They affirmed the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and discussed security and regional issues of mutual interest. The President congratulated Prince Mohammed bin Nayef on his appointment to Minister of Interior and asked him to convey his best wishes to King Abdullah bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud.

But in addition to that, MbN had a series of meetings with almost every major major player in our security establishment.

Prince Mohammad also met with a number of senior U.S. officials throughout his visit, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Robert Clapper, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller, and Director of the National Security Agency General Keith B. Alexander.

This leaves out only DOD and CIA (though even before he was nominated to be CIA Director, we could assume former Riyadh station chief John Brennan heavily influenced Saudi ties to CIA).

Given such a high profile visit, I have been expecting someone to discuss what merited the full coming out party (aside from MbN’s November appointment to be Minister of Interior, but MbN has been serving as our counterterrorism liaison for years). But I’ve seen little reporting to explain the trip.

And there are a few more reasons why I would really like to know what MbN discussed with almost the entire national security establishment.

There’s Turki al-Faisal’s call for “sophisticated, high-level weapons” to be sent to Syria (not to mention the recent release of a purported April 2012 Saudi directive releasing Saudi death row prisoners to fight jihad against Bashar al-Assad).

Then there’s the escalation of drone strikes in Yemen since MbN’s visit, attacking targets that have no apparent tie to America’s stated targeting criteria there–a threat to American interests. Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron has observed that the drone strikes–as opposed to overflights–have been unusually concentrated in northern provinces.

interestingly, drone uptick has been concentrated in northern provinces: 2013 has yet to see one reported in shabwa/abyan/hadramawt.

Add in a bit of confusion over the reported scope of the new drone rulebook. The WaPo’s report describes that only Pakistan is exempted from the rulebook, yet some have suggested that the CIA’s drone program in Yemen, too will be exempted.

Then there’s the role that MbN has played in the past. In addition to being the key player on the roll-out of the TCA (more on that below), he created Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program, which this March 2009 WikiLeaks cable ties closely to the TCA renewed on the trip. At least two former Gitmo detainees who went through the program ended up serving as infiltrators into AQAP. This Saudi-US Relations Information Service release actually points to the toner cartridge plot revealed by deradicalization graduate Jabir al-Fayfi along with the recent UndieBomb 2.0 plot–which was created by a third infiltrator directed by the Saudis–in its coverage of MbN’s visit, suggesting he may have had a role there, too. Should we expect similar operations in the near future? Note, while he is understood to have been a genuine recidivist, another graduate of Gitmo and then MbN’s deradicalization program, AQAP’s number 2, Said al-Shirhi, was reported on Thursday to have died from wounds suffered in a November counterterrorism strike.

All this takes place against the background of unrest in Saudi Arabia (which Lynch describes at length). While Lynch disagrees, Bruce Reidel has been warning–and hawking a book–about a possible revolution in Saudi Arabia. To the extent the unrest represents a serious threat, it would put MbN, as Minister of the Interior, at the forefront. Interestingly, as part of the TCA renewed on this trip and led by MbN, the US helped Saudi Arabia develop a 35,000 person strong Facilities Security Force, which includes a paramilitary function, which would be crucial in the Eastern Provinces experiencing the most real unrest (the same day MbN came to the US, King Abdullah put MbN’s older brother in charge of the Eastern Province). When you couple that with the cybersecurity cooperation MbN discussed with Janet Napolitano–remember the fear-mongering around the technically simple but executed by insiders ARAMCO hack–and it suggests the US may be more worried about the Eastern Province than Lynch.

So maybe MbN’s visit represents real concerns about unrest in the Kingdom (which would play into our pressure on Iran), not least because the Saudis blame Iran for the unrest among its Shia population. Or maybe MbN’s visit represents a further expansion of our already significant counterterrorism and other covert operations.

I sure would like to know, though.

Yet Another Edition of “You Were Warned”

Dear unnamed power company/ies: Thank you for providing me an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos.

AGAIN.

You were warned about the possibility of security threats to your systems. Repeatedly–the video above is just one such warning. What’s it take to get through to you–a clue-by-four alongside the head? A massive, lengthy power outage you can’t resolve for days or weeks, with consumers calling for managements’ heads on pikes? A complete tank of your company’s stock value? The Department of Energy on your doorstep, taking possession of your site as it investigates you?

I love this part at 32:28 into the video where Ralf Langer says,

“…many things we thought about cyberwarfare earlier just were proven wrong. …”

Everything you thought you knew about infosec/cybersecurity needs to be revisited. The assumptions you’ve been using are clearly wrong.

Now get a frigging clue and revisit your security policies. STAT. You can start with checking these:

— No USB or other external media which have not been deeply screened for infection.

— External network connections to production equipment are to be avoided at all costs. Connections between corporate business and the power grid should be closed, dedicated network. Revisiting appropriateness of traditional isolation of production networks might be worthwhile.

— No third-party contractors permitted on site that do not comply completely with power company security policies, including spot inspections. (You do spot inspections, right? Contractors are screened coming in and out of facilities, right?)

What are you doing here, reading this? Get to work. RUN.

Dear U.S. Department of Energy: Um, hello? Did your brains’ functions suffer irreparable damage from exposure to BP’s dispersants?

It’s the only excuse I can think of as to why security measures and subsequent audits of the nation’s power grid for infections and intrusions from network and external devices haven’t removed these threats.

By the way, this 2009 document making suggestions to power companies about security measures is now out of date and needs to be revisited, in light of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s authorization of cyber weapon deployment and subsequent blowback risk, let alone the case of USB devices laden with crimeware.

Dear Fellow Americans: I really hate feeling like Cassandra. I’d love to see the power industry and our government prove me wrong by preventing outages related to security breaches about which they’ve been warned. At the rate they’re going, you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick, without electricity to read my anticipated future post which I expect to entitle, “I told you so.”

You might want to contact your government representatives and ask them what they know about power grid security and if they’ve actually done anything to investigate the safety of power in their district. If their understanding is shaped by the Department of Energy’s latency, they need to be brought up to speed and pronto. Don’t wait until you don’t have the juice to read my next post on this topic.

US Climate Inaction: Blame Dick Cheney

In one of my earliest blog posts ever–one I’ve lost somewhere–I grappled with why the Bush Administration would choose their Iraq adventure in the face of Peak Oil and climate change.

Why, at the time the US enjoyed its greatest relative power, after Dick Cheney had fought his earliest battles to dodge congressional oversight with his energy task force to study declining readily explotable oil and its alternatives, would the Bush Administration expend America’s hegemonic power in an illegal invasion of Iraq?

This post, asking whether the US refuses to do anything about climate change because it will affect the US relatively less than it will affect other countries, reminded me of that post I wrote years ago.

What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

[snip]

What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

The conclusion to that 8 year old post–one I still think is valid–is that in the face of both Peak Oil and climate change, Cheney committed the US to doubling down on the source of its hegemonic power in the belief that by retaining hegemonic power for this period of transition out of oil and into alternatives, it would retain hegemonic power thereafter.

Rather than invest the trillion dollars squandered on Iraq (or even the hundreds of billion they had to know it would cost) to make the US energy self-sufficient and lead the world in climate response, Cheney instead chose to seize the largest source of readily exploitable oil, in the process providing an alternative swing producer to the Saudis, whose citizens and funds attacked us on 9/11 (and remember, Iran was teed up to be overthrown next). By choosing the oil route, I figured, Cheney also chose the route that supported relative unilateralism rather than the cooperation that a real climate change response would and ultimately will require.

So I don’t so much think the US has decided it will ride out climate change better than other nations as I think it is intent on retaining its hegemonic position of power, which has been built since 1945 on cheap oil. Sure, the US also seems to have grown comfortable with Neo-Feudalism in the last decade, meaning the elite will happily live in their compounds protected from the instability that climate change will and already has unleashed. And the Global War on Terror will morph unnoticeably into a global counter-insurgency to protect those Neo-Feudal bastions.

But ultimately, I think, this country’s elites have decided they must retain their grasp on power no matter what. And that power rests on oil.

And don’t get me wrong. While I think Cheney fully understood the alternatives presented by this choice and made it for the rest of us, I’m not saying Democrats generally or Obama specifically are innocent. Consider Obama’s unwavering focus on energy independence, which he often cloaks in a false concern for climate change. US power is currently built off a death embrace with the Saudis. But as news reports increasingly–if prematurely–tout, we’re headed for Saudi-level targets of production. That will free us from the troubling demands the Saudis make, shore up our currency, but also keep us precisely where we are, relying on cheap oil to drive our economy and power. That is the goal of Obama’s energy choices, not replacing coal with less-polluting gas. And that explains why Obama just started selling off the rest of the Gulf for exploitation.

It’s crazy, I know. But I sincerely believe there are top secret discussions that insist if we just keep hold of power during what will undoubtedly be a chaotic fifty years, then we can fix whatever mess we’ve caused in the interim. If we can just get the oil while the getting is good, I think they believe, we can adjust to what comes later. Even if the Chinese and Koreans and Europeans will have been eating our lunch in developing new technologies, I guess they believe, we’ll be able to seize them back when the time comes.

The alternative, of course, one Dick Cheney surely recognized during his energy task force, would be to invest instead in a Manhattan project of alternative energy and to dissolve our power into the cooperative structures that will be needed in the face of climate change. That was not, and remains not, a viable option for a top American national security figure.

And so we–and the rest of the world–will melt as a result.

Redirecting the Redirected: Returning Attention to Climate Change Policy and Planning

Corporate interests with strong ties to conservative politics have undermined American’s awareness and understanding about climate change. Record profits from fossil fuel businesses have been threatened by talk of reducing consumption. Rather than change their business model, these entities went on the offensive against knowledge; facts were stretched until barely recognizable, bolstered with easy untruths, and fed to the public alongside infotainment through co-opted media.

The same fossil fuel interests bought politicians who are easily led by cash infusions or manipulated through electoral scaremongering by increasingly ignorant, easily acquired political factions (hello, Tea Party).

Presto: Americans are the least likely to believe in anthropomorphic climate change, and they’re likely to vote for candidates who mirror their own tractability.

But the truth has a nasty way of bitchslapping consumers and voters until their attention is returned to the facts. Hurricane Sandy, following this past summer’s wretched Dust Bowl-like drought, delivered a one-two punch to the public’s consciousness. Americans are ripe right-the-hell NOW for corrective action in the form of education and effective policy.

Therein lies the problem: there is no ongoing nationwide sustained discussion on climate change reaching a critical mass of the American public, and they in turn are not demanding better, effective, and immediate policy. There’s lots of hand-wringing over the damages caused by the drought and hurricane. There’s discussion about improvements to emergency response (tactical), and chatter about building dikes a la Netherlands to protect New York City from future hurricanes (tactical).

Yet there’s only tactical discussion–no society-wide dialog about strategic approaches to climate change.

The challenge to the educated and aware is to change this scenario and fast. The longer it takes for the tractable to become engaged and aware, the more time fossil fuel interests have to re-poison the minds of the public before the next truth-borne bitchslapping. Read more

David Petraeus’ Response to Climate Change: MOAR DRONZ!

When I saw DHS is acquiring more drones this morning, I joked that the policy response of government agencies when they fail at their core function is to ask for more drones.

Pretty sure there’s direct correlation bet size of NatSec departments [sic] failures at core job–HUMINT, safety–& desire for drones–CIA, DHS.

CIA has another massive HUMINT failure. Response? Moar dronz! DHS fusion centers proven to be huge wastes. Response? Moar dronz!

After @kade_ellis got into the fun, I pushed the idea, suggesting our country would respond to bank looting and climate change with a demand for more drones, too.

Banks looting the country? MOAR DRONZ! Impending climate catastrophe? MOAR DRONZ!

I swear, when I made that joke, I had not yet read how the CIA closed its climate change center because David Petraeus thought it more important to hunt terrorists with drones.

The center was designed as a small unit of senior specialists focused on the impact that environmental changes could have on political, economic and social factors in countries of concern to the United States. The analysts probed questions such as, under what scenarios might a massive drought cause large-scale migration, and when might a government’s failure to respond to a devastating flood open the door for terrorist groups to win over the local populace?

Analysts at the center worked to develop warning software that combined regional climate projections with political and demographic information, and held climate war games looking at what might happen in extreme scenarios, such as if rapid glacial melt caused the ocean’s major currents to shut down.

The center didn’t focus on the science behind climate change but instead relied on data from other government agencies as well as recommendations — including ones in a report released just over a week ago — from the National Academy of Sciences (Greenwire, Nov. 9).

But congressional Republicans skeptical of the science behind climate change sought to block the center’s funding shortly after it was launched. Those efforts failed, but sources say the center received little internal support after Panetta left the CIA in 2011 to take the top job at the Defense Department. Under his successor, David Petraeus, the agency was highly focused on terrorism, specifically targeted killings using armed drones. [my emphasis]

The diddling Director, it seems, thought taking out an American teenager with a drone was more important than responding to a crisis that is already leading to migration and increased credibility for terrorist groups.

But it’s not just the diddling Director. The CIA’s statement on the closure says instead of focusing on climate change, the CIA is focusing on energy.

CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz confirmed the change.

“The CIA for several years has studied the national security implications of climate change,” Ebitz said in a statement to Greenwire. “This work is now performed by a dedicated team in an office that looks at a variety of economic and energy security issues affecting the United States.”

This parallels, as it happens, Obama’s changing emphasis on gas production for energy security reasons, and only secondarily for climate change ones.

It seems our national security establishment–from the man who would turn back the oceans to the diddling Director–are more interested in replacing the Saudis as the petro-state than really preventing climate disaster in the not-too-distant future.

And if that emphasis should continue to destabilize the increasingly climate-wracked world?

MOAR DRONZ!

Prediction: Mitt Will Condemn Capitalist Consolidation Tonight

If I had my way, President Obama would defend his investments in alternative energy by saying something like this:

In 1945, a great Democratic President sealed an alliance with our Saudi allies that cemented our energy security for the next half a century. While our commitment to the Saudis has come with setbacks over the years, it nevertheless provided the foundation for unprecedented American power and strength.

It’s in the same spirit of proactively ensuring America’s future greatness that my Administration set out to–and succeeded–in doubling our production of alternative energy. My Republican opponents, however, have sought to turn efforts to ensure America’s future greatness into a petty political issue. Doing so risks leaving America unprepared to compete in the future.

Never mind the problems FDR’s commitment to oil in 1945 brought about. Never mind overselling the importance of his 1945 meeting. Both are details Republicans will never point out.

More importantly, by posing Republican opposition to alternative energy as a refusal to take care of America’s future, it would turn GOP favoritism for oil into a national security weakness. As it really is.

But Obama won’t say that (or at least he hasn’t yet, and he’s had over a year of Solyndra attacks in which to do so).

So I hope when Mitt brings up the A123 bankruptcy tonight, Obama is at least prepared to call it what it is: capitalist consolidation just like the kind that Mitt has built his quarter billion fortune on. And this one is probably a net win for the US all around.

A123, one of the more innovative battery companies, announced this morning that it will file for bankruptcy. Mitt is likely to bring it up because A123 received energy stimulus funds for battery plants in MI.

But not only is A123 in negotiations to sell the rest of its business areas, it has already announced Johnson Controls (disclosure: I own stock) will purchase it auto related holdings–the stuff that benefitted from stimulus dollars.

A123 this morning said that it has agreed to sell its automotive business assets, including facilities in Livonia and Romulus, Michigan, its manufacturing facilities in China and its stake in the joint venture Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., to Johnson Controls for $125 million.

A123 said it “continues to engage in active discussions regarding strategic alternatives for its grid, commercial, government and other operations, and has received several indications of interest for these businesses.”

Say what you will about diminishing competition in a field where competition really serves innovation. But as far as stimulus dollars goes, this represents a consolidation. JCI–which received multiple energy grants itself, including for a battery factory in Holland, MI–has gotten expanded facilites at a discount. It will also benefit from the money the Chinese have invested in A123.

One more neat part to this: JCI is headquartered in Milwaukee, WI. They’re not in Paul Ryan’s district, but they do bleed into his WI ideological home, Waukesha. So when Mitt attacks the A123 investment, he will ultimately be attacking his running mate’s neighborhood.

It’s likely Mitt will bring up the A123 bankruptcy tonight. If he does, I hope Obama is prepared to use it to flip GOP attacks back on Mitt.

Update: The Department of Energy is talking about consolidation too.

In an emerging industry, it’s very common to see some firms consolidate with others as the industry grows and matures. Read more

Winter™ — Property of The Weather Channel®

(photo: Blizzard 2010 by *Low* via Flickr)

With a lot of self-justifying, back-patting hoopla today, The Weather Channel announced it’s decided unilaterally to assign names to winter storms.

During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation.

Yes, fewer surprises. Just the one about winter’s natural disasters being branded by The Weather Channel.

There’s no indication that any federal government entity, including NOAA, has sanctioned this scheme let alone the names.

…until now, there has been no organized naming system for these storms before they impact population centers.

One of the reasons this may be true is that there is no national center, such as the National Hurricane Center, to coordinate and communicate information on a multi-state scale to cover such big events. The National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s Hydrologic Prediction Center (HPC) does issue discussions and snowfall forecasts on a national scale but it does not fill the same role as the NHC in naming storms. …

At this point The Weather Channel’s management breaks their arms with back-patting, lauding their efforts while calling it a bunch of euphemisms for team-playing:

…it would be a great benefit for a partner in the weather industry to take on the responsibility of developing a new concept.

This is where a world-class organization such as The Weather Channel will play a significant role. We have the meteorological ability, support and technology to provide the same level of reporting for winter storms that we have done for years with tropical weather systems. …

In the absence of any government inputs, the selected storm names for this season appear to be intellectual property of The Weather Channel.

Bet you didn’t think that natural disasters could be co-opted, branded, and marketed!  Read more

Obama, Stuck in the 9/11 Era as Much as Mitt Is Stuck in the Cold War Era

Working on another post, I went back and read all three Obama DNC speeches. (200420082012) Aside from the biographical details, several things remained constant through all three: the Hope theme (though it has evolved in interesting ways, which is what I was looking at), the inclusion of some version of “We don’t think the government can solve all our problems,” and a call for energy independence.

2004

In 2004, that call came in a list of things John Kerry planned to accomplish.

John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies or the sabotage of foreign oil fields.

2008

In 2008, the call came with a specific goal: to end dependence on the Middle East by 2019.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. [my emphasis]

Obama embodied the refusal of DC to address energy independence in John McCain’s career, and in the “Drill Baby Drill” chant that was the rage in political circles in 2008.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

And he made several promises–several of which he has made progress on, several of which he has thankfully not achieved, one of which–nukes–he has at least rhetorically dropped from his convention speech.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

2012

And last week he, correctly, argued that Mitt would not continue this commitment to an energy independence that relies on a range of sources (Mitt would certainly keep drilling, would expand traditional coal mining, and would keep paying Iowa farmers to pour corn into cars, but would probably not continued subsidies for clean technologies).

OBAMA: You can choose the path where we control more of our own energy. After thirty years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas.

(APPLAUSE)

In this section, Obama quietly–too quietly–bragged about the jobs he created in battery and turbine plants.

We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines, and long-lasting batteries.

And he accurately claimed that these policies (plus the recession, plus a warm winter, though he doesn’t mention them) have made a difference.

In the last year alone, we cut oil imports by one million barrels a day, more than any administration in recent history. And today, the United States of America is less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in the last two decades.

(APPLAUSE)

So, now you have a choice – between a strategy that reverses this progress, or one that builds on it.

What I’m interested in, though, is the emphasis he places on the energy and the unconvincing nod he makes to climate change. In 2004, Obama had listed “the future of our planet” as the third of three reasons for his commitment to energy independence; the other two were “our economy” and “our security.” Here, an explicit admission that “climate change is not a hoax” comes among promises to “drill baby drill.”

We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more. But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers. We’re offering a better path. [my emphasis]

Even when I listened to this passage the other night, I was offended by his promise not to let oil companies endanger our coastlines. Oil from the BP spill came onshore with Hurricaine Isaac. Just a week before he delivered these lines, Obama approved Shell drilling in the Chukchi Sea which presents predictable dangers to coastlines and species, particularly given how Shell has already failed to take necessary precautions. And even the Saudis recognize that fracking presents a real threat to our groundwater. So not only is Obama not subordinating the sanctity of our coastlines to his commitment to drill, neither is he making adequate efforts to protect our drinking water.

(APPLAUSE)

We’re offering a better path, a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where — where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet.

If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.

(APPLAUSE) [my emphasis]

Then, after what, given the brevity of the speech, is a very long section on drilling, Obama immediately nods to climate change.

And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is not a hoax. Read more

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