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Syria & Antibodies to the US Empire

by BruceMcF Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 03:41:04 AM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

Cross-posted from Voices on the Square: refers to earlier essays cross-posted here at The Sunset Empire Shudders and Shakes and Is Syria the Kind Of Place where World Wars Start?.

Over the weekend, I saw a piece on Syria: Now hundreds of Syrian rebels defect to Al Qaeda: 'Civil war within the civil war' weakens the battle to topple Assad

At least two entire rebel brigades are said to have joined the Nusra Front in opposition-held Raqqa, which borders Turkey. One of the groups, the Raqqa Revolutionaries, is said to have about 750 fighters.

 
A video uploaded by activists from Raqqa yesterday showed a massive convoy of fighters on cars and trucks with artillery and machine guns as they waved black flags. The video's title said it was a newly unified force of Nusra fighters and other rebel battalions which had recently pledged loyalty.


Many Syrian rebels are attracted to radical units because they are generally more effective than the moderate forces which have Western backing but receive only halting military aid.

Shockingly, in a confirmation of Candidate Obama's emphasis on the importance of "soft power" and at least implied critique of President Obama's increasing reliance on "hard power", the evolution of a civil war favors increasing polarization and increasing influence by hard-liners on both sides.

Read more... (13 comments, 2081 words in story)

Is Syria the Kind Of Place where World Wars Start?

by BruceMcF Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 08:52:27 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

See also previously in the examination of the Sunset Empire Shuddering and Shaking

Now, you might think that we don't have enough observations to talk about "where World Wars start" in general. Still, this is something that keeps coming to my mind as I look at the Syrian Civil War, so as long as its kept in mind that this is suggestive rather than definitive, I'm going to have a look at it.

By the early 1900's, the Balance of Power politics of the 1800's had settled down into a polarized system of treaties. Germany's geopolitical strategy of isolating France had failed with the establishment of the Russian / French alliance, which in turn pushed Germany and Austria-Hungary closer together. Then the perceived threat posed to England by the alliance of the German and Austria-Hungarian Empires paved the way to the Entente Cordial with France in 1904 and then the Entente with Russia in 1907. That polarized network of treaty relationships was, of course, the bomb that exploded as WWI.

But the spark that famously set off WWI was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo.

Read more... (20 comments, 3684 words in story)

Australian Greens lose ground in Australian Federal Election

by BruceMcF Sat Sep 7th, 2013 at 11:01:31 PM EST

Right: victory of Climate Suicide Pact casts pall over Sydney Opera House

Going into the election this Saturday (7 Sep 2013), the Australian Greens were holding the balance of power in the Senate and defending their first House of Representatives seat in the inner-urban seat of Melbourne ~ and, yes, despite the strange naming of some constituencies, this was an inner Melbourne seat.

Balance of Power in the Senate was the most important thing, since going into the election the Liberal/National coalition had a strong lead in the polls and were considered a sure thing to win government on a platform that included a promise to end carbon pricing.

Read more... (22 comments, 1446 words in story)

The Sunset Empire Shudders and Shakes

by BruceMcF Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 02:03:36 AM EST

crossposted from Voices on the Square

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

Just this week, intervention into Syria was debated on the floor of the House in a robust, spirited debate in which the government of the nation presented its case, its elected opposition presented the contrary argument, and those fighting against intervention won the vote, 285-272.

front-paged by afew

Read more... (67 comments, 3191 words in story)

Sunday Train: The Myth of Baseload Power

by BruceMcF Sun Aug 18th, 2013 at 03:44:05 AM EST

cross-posted from Voices on the Square
... all US-centric qualifications apply, even if the source study is Ozzie-centric ...

In Baseload power is a myth: even intermittent renewables will work, Mark Diesendorf, Asst. Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales (Australia), writes:

The old myth was based on the incorrect assumption that base-load demand can only be supplied by base-load power stations; for example, coal in Australia and nuclear in France. However, the mix of renewable energy technologies in our computer model, which has no base-load power stations, easily supplies base-load demand. Our optimal mix comprises wind 50-60%; solar PV 15-20%; concentrated solar thermal with 15 hours of thermal storage 15-20%; and the small remainder supplied by existing hydro and gas turbines burning renewable gases or liquids. (Contrary to some claims, concentrated solar with thermal storage does not behave as base-load in winter; however, that doesn't matter.)

Anyone who engages in online discussion on issues involving renewable energy for any length of time will encounter the myth that renewable energy is unreliable in supplying base-load demand. This myth is pushed into the discussion with substantial financial investment, directly and indirectly, by vested interests in continued reliance on the Global Suicide Pact power sources of coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Writing from Australia, Mark Diesendorf flags the use of the Murdoch press empire in propagating this myth. Here in the United States, the myth is promoted by both Big Coal and Big Oil funded propaganda mills ~ including those libertarian "think tanks" that argue against the government getting involved in defending our economy from the prospect of collapse in the face of climate chaos ...

... because the "free market", together with billions of dollars of government subsidies for fossil fuel industry and tens or hundreds of billions of unfunded third party costs of fossil fuel consumption, will surely choose best.

front-paged by afew

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Sunday Train: Net Energy Yield and the Steel Interstate Energy Revolution

by BruceMcF Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:44:13 AM EST

crossposted from Voices on the Square


In the online support for the April, 2013 Scientific American article on Energy Return on Investment (EROI), Scientific American online interviewed Charles Hall, developer of the EROI concept, on whether Fossil Fuels will be able to maintain economic growth. In one of his answers, Charles Hall responds to the question:
What happens when the EROI gets too low? What's achievable at different EROIs?

He says:

If you've got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you've got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you've got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.

Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can't do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].

A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they're all so low EROI. We'd all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it's not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we've got to deal with it realistically.

front-paged by afew

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Economic Populist: Capping Bush Tax Cuts fixes over half of US fiscal problem

by BruceMcF Sat Nov 17th, 2012 at 01:45:48 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Economic Populism

Crossposted from Voices on the Square

Among the many things entirely lost in the mainstream US media coverage of the US "fiscal cliff" are the nature and magnitude of the country's fiscal challenge. The magnitude is why it is not a crisis, and the nature is why we would be better off "just doing nothing" ~ letting the whole Bush tax cuts expire and scrapping the zombie spending cuts ~ is better than the vast majority of "fixes" floating around in the mainstream media.

Read more... (5 comments, 629 words in story)

Arc of the Sun: Does the US Need More Ships and a Bigger Naval Budget?

by BruceMcF Fri Nov 9th, 2012 at 11:58:39 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

Crossposted from: Voices on the Square

Way back in the third US Presidential debate (that was pre-Sandy), the challenger said:

Our Navy is older -- excuse me -- our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the -- to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.

So, how many ships does the Navy need?

On his website, the challenger says:

This will not be a cost-free process. We cannot rebuild our military strength without paying for it. Mitt Romney will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending--meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development--at a floor of 4 percent of GDP.

So, do we need to boost the Naval Budget?

Read more... (20 comments, 5512 words in story)

Sunday Train: Social Dividends and Carbon Taxation

by BruceMcF Sun Nov 4th, 2012 at 07:44:06 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

One thing we will likely be hearing soon, once the election is over and attention inside the beltway returns to the regular programming of how to shrink the middle class and ensure that the resulting growing numbers of working poor are as miserable as possible, is the idea of including Carbon Taxes as a revenue raising component of a "Grand Bargain".

This has been floated already. An "Ayres Law Group" "Policy Alert" from June of 2011 noted that this had been raised by the Center for American Progress, Economic Policy Institute, and Bipartisan Policy Institute.

A lot of people reading this are likely to suspect something is fishy when a firm that takes on "environmental" cases and has clients including oil companies is alerting their client of something, but alarm bells should really start ringing when the Alert notes:

This conclusion emerges from a series of studies recently funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating public discourse about ways to address the country's fiscal challenges.

If this notion of including the Carbon Tax as part of a "Grand Bargain" is passed through rather than stonewalled by one of the chief propagandists for the public deficit hysteria bullshit that has become a chronic infection in our mess media, it surely deserves some serious, critical, scrutiny.

tl;dr summary: No. Even more than that, HELL no. Opponents of the climate suicide of our industrial society who fall for this will have been well and truly suckered, as the German Greens supporting neoliberal fantasies and "responsible" fiscal policy were among the enablers of the austerity policies that are ravaging European economies as I write.

Read more... (3 comments, 1985 words in story)

Economic Populist: The Radical Populist Case for Voting for Obama{+}

by BruceMcF Fri Nov 2nd, 2012 at 12:09:41 AM EST

{+} in swing states

I don't know whether you've seen Matt Stoller's the Progressive Case Against Obama, Peter Coyote's The Progressive Case For Obama, Cassiodorus' The case against the case for Obama, or Priceman's Peter Coyote's Failed Status Quo Exercise in Condescension , but it seems making out "Progressive" cases for and against the incumbent US President is all the fashion. Not to be left out, I composed a little piece along the same lines for radical economic populism. Crossposted from Voices on the Square

Burning the Midnight Oil for Economic Populism

The case against a radical Economic Populist voting for Obama is pretty straightforward:

  • The Obama administration is a neo-liberal administration, and buys into the fantasy that eliminating the deficit somehow fosters growth;
  • The "all of the above" energy strategy is a path to slightly slower climate suicide than the "all in for oil and coal" strategy
  • Support for "smart wars" instead of "dumb wars" means more Americans die as a result of overseas conflicts that we do not have to have than dismantling the American Empire and eliminating the root cause of most attacks on Americans overseas.

I am aware of an argument that a vote for Obama is a vote for a "more effective evil" because the radical reactionary alternative is such an "extreme evil" that it is going to be "less effective". I am not going to address that argument. This is more directed to the "no effective difference" argument.

There are two arguments in opposition to the above Radical Economic Populist case that I can see.

Read more... (13 comments, 1189 words in story)

Arc of the Sun: Gen Patreaus ~ We Can't Leave Afghanistan Now, They Have $T's of Minerals

by BruceMcF Thu Sep 13th, 2012 at 10:48:11 AM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

crossposted from Voices on the Square

A reminder of the caliber of top flight geopolitical thinking in the current administration ... from August 2010, the person who now heads the CIA:

Read more... (12 comments, 387 words in story)

Economic Populist: The Obama Platform and the Grand Bargain

by BruceMcF Thu Sep 6th, 2012 at 08:21:29 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Economic Populism

There is this thing called the "Democratic Party Platform" that people fight over, as another set of people fight over the Republican Party Platform ... but its been decades since the Party Platform was the kind of actual governing platform that we see in the party platforms in parliamentary democracies such as the UK or France or Australia.

The closest thing we are getting to a real platform is what is put on TV, with the speechwriters working in a room underneath the stage vetting the speeches. Part of their job is to ensure consistency of "the message".

And in listening to the economic policy positions as filtered through the speechwriters room ... well, one of these things is not like the others.

Read more... (5 comments, 3161 words in story)

Sunday Train: Cycle & Pedestrian Islands and Tiny Trains

by BruceMcF Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 01:55:24 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

"Oh, sure, more than 1/5 of journeys to work in Eindhoven, The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands are by bike, but they are flat. It would never work here, its hilly." Given that Copenhagen has one of the highest European cycling mode shares in trips to work, winter is obviously not the obstacle that it is sometimes made out to be ~ ah, but hills. They are an insuperable obstacle.

Back in April, 2010, comparing Portland and Seattle, Jarret Walker asked, Should we plan transit for "bikeability"? This was following a project by Adam Parast comparing the cycling potential of Portland and Seattle, including potential bikeability with improved infrastructure. And the geography of Portland, with most development and activity on the flat or gently sloping floor of a valley, is substantially different from the geography of Seattle, built on "seven hills", with water obstacles tossed in for good measure.

Today's Sunday Train looks at what role public transport can serve in helping to increase cycling mode share.

Read more... (9 comments, 2532 words in story)

Economic Populist: Why Is Europe's Economy Imploding?

by BruceMcF Tue Jul 17th, 2012 at 05:00:20 AM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Economic Populism

crossposted from Voices on the Square

The European Union is in a world of hurt right now, as economies go. The crises in Greece and elsewhere are becoming famous, and latest confidence surveys from Germany (pdf) suggest Germany is risking recession.

The problem? The system was built broken, based on unfounded fantasies about how real world economies actually work. Or, as John Maynard Keynes said nearly a century ago:

"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."

front-paged by afew

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Sunday Train: California Senate Approves High Speed Rail Construction

by BruceMcF Sun Jul 8th, 2012 at 07:50:28 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Crossposted from its home station at Voices on the Square

Passed!

Firedog Lake: California Legislature Passes High Speed Rail Bond Issue, Moving Project Forward ~ David Dayen
...
In a closely watched vote of the California state Senate, a bill to issue the first $5.8 billion in bonds for the construction of high speed rail lines passed 21-16. It needed all 21 votes to pass. Four Democrats voted no - including Allen Lowenthal, the Democratic candidate for Congress in CA-47, and Fran Pavley, the author of the state's historic global warming law - but ultimately, just enough Democrats voted in favor of the bonds for them to pass. Joe Simitian and Mark DeSaulnier were the other Democrats who opposed the bill.
...
This does not end the battle for high speed rail. Between the bond issue and the federal money, that covers only about 1/5 of the total funding needed for the full project, which would connect Sacramento and San Diego and all points in between by high speed rail. But if this died today, you can be certain that nothing would ever get built. The federal government was prepared to take away the $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars earmarked for this stage of the project. And faith in the future of high speed rail in California - and indeed the nation - would have been sapped.

So ... what now?

Read more... (42 comments, 3127 words in story)

Passes!!! / Sunday Train: Is State Sen. Simitian aiming to kill High Speed Rail in California?

by BruceMcF Sun Jul 1st, 2012 at 05:56:42 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This coming week is supposed to contain an important symbolic Independence Day: the day when the California State Senate votes whether or not to proceed with one strategic element of Energy Independent Transport for the State of California, or whether to gamble the state's future on petroleum.

It is, of course, a very sure thing as a gamble ~ on the losing side. They aren't making more, and the butane from natural gas liquids and energy inefficient production of ethanol from corn starch that has been used to juke the states on US "liquid fuel production" doesn't change the fact that we still depend on petroleum imports for over half of our petroleum consumption. We deplete more and more low production cost petroleum every year, shifting our consumption to higher cost petroleum.

And even if we had the petroleum that Pollyannas would like to wish into existence, we can't afford to burn it all at an accelerating rate, due to the CO2 emissions that will result.

State Senator Simitian does not seem to see it that way, as he appears set to vote kill the effort to allow the California High Speed Rail project to break ground next year.

Now, in an wonderful display of political pretzel logic, State Senator Simitian threatens to kill the HSR project will declaring his strong support of it: it will all be someone else's fault if he votes to refuse to break ground next year.

Read more... (9 comments, 3468 words in story)

Sunday Train: The Rock Island Line is a Mighty Fine Iowa Rapid-Rail Road

by BruceMcF Sun May 6th, 2012 at 07:28:54 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The Iowa Department of Transport has just completed the Chicago to Omaha Regional Passenger Rail System Planning Study, to select its preferred alignment for a detailed Environmental Impact Report.

There were five alignments in the study, based on the five historical passenger rail services between Chicago and Omaha. From north to south, these are: the Illinois Central; the Chicago & Northwestern; the Milwaukee Road; the Rock Island Line; and the Burlington Line. The study also included one combined alignment, based on where the Burlington Line and the Rock Island Line cross in Wyanet in western Illinois.

The combined alignment is the one selected, taking the Burlington alignment out of Chicago, and then taking the Rock Island line to Moline in the Quad Cities on the Illinois / Iowa border and through Iowa City and Des Moines to Omaha (probably via Council Bluffs, but that has yet to be determined).

Read more... (18 comments, 2648 words in story)

Sunday Train: The Miami/Orlando Passenger Rail Project

by BruceMcF Mon Apr 16th, 2012 at 10:55:54 AM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

I saw this story a couple of weeks ago, but between the happenings in California and some unanswered questions I had, I haven't mentioned it yet. Florida East Coast Industries plans Miami-Orlando passenger service by 2014:

Passenger train service between Miami and Orlando could begin as early as 2014 under a plan announced Thursday by Florida East Coast Industries.

The new "All Aboard Florida" service, which would be privately owned and operated, would offer frequent, regularly scheduled daily trains geared to business travelers and tourists. The Miami-Orlando trip by rail would take three hours, about the same time it takes by car via Florida's Turnpike.

There would be four stops: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, each with connections to airports, seaports and existing rail systems such as Tri-Rail and Metrorail. The trains would run on existing FEC tracks that stretch along the east coast from Miami to Cocoa. Forty miles of new track would link Cocoa to Orlando.

Well, waddya know ~ a Passenger Train that Rick Scott can't kill. More about the Miami/Orlando Train, below the fold.

Read more... (11 comments, 3246 words in story)

Sunday Train: The Texas Wishbone Regional High Speed Rail

by BruceMcF Sun Aug 14th, 2011 at 06:15:26 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Back in the 90's, Texas tried to get an Express HSR system off the ground (that is, a bullet train system somewhere in the 125mph to 220mph range) with the "Texas Triangle" project. It was to be an entirely privately funded project. Not surprisingly, competing against the heavily  publicly subsidized interstate highway and air travel systems, it did not get off the ground.

More recently, the Texas T-Bone was proposed, based on the Dallas to San Antonio leg of the Triangle and a route from Houston to Temple, then running north to Dallas with connections south to Austin and San Antonio.

While the Texas T-Bone seems to be the current plan of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, this is more of an advocacy group than an official HSR Commission or Rail Development Commission.

Given that we are in between periods of substantial federal funding for High Speed Rail, I thought this might be a good time to take a look at the prospects for Regional HSR, in some of the existing rail corridors within the "Texas Triangle" region ... and so arrived at the Texas Wishbone.

Read more... (14 comments, 1782 words in story)

Sunday Train: Why We Fight

by BruceMcF Sun May 29th, 2011 at 07:31:44 PM EST

NB: It is Memorial Day weekend in the US

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

"Why We Fight" is a common feature of propaganda in support of a war. Here, tonight, it is a double entendre. On tonight's Sunday Train, in honor of Memorial Day tomorrow, with two wars launched in the past decade and still ongoing (though in one, "combat operations" by US forces have finished, so any fighting and dying is of the support and training type of fighting and dying), and another recently started up, what it means when we notice that "why we fight" has a simple answer: oil.

And also, politically, why we fight for Living Energy Independence, here on the Sunday Train.

Read more... (50 comments, 1893 words in story)
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