Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Shifting centers of balance: trends undermining OPEC, Russia, and (possibly) China!

Equilibria are shifting. One more reason not to let Bushes (or their factotums) back anywhere near where they can mess up these trends. For example:

Ramin Jahanbegloo writes in response to the historic nuclear deal and opening with Iran, "from now on Iran will be a full partner in the big game in the Middle East and the world," including through "intensified sectarian proxy wars" in the region. (From the WorldPost.)

But I like to go behind the news to deeper implications. For example the fact that this deal is likely to open opportunities back home for more than a million Iranian expatriates, whose money and cultural influence could become a tipping factor in that nation's internal Culture Wars.

Moreover, in the wake of the deal to end sanctions on Iran, in exchange for severe limitations on its nuclear program… have you seen all the headlines lumping together two U.S. allies who are strange bedfellows, united in opposition? The Saudis and Israelis are both hyper worried about Iran. Oh really?

In that case, might I suggest that... um... you make peace with each other? 

It would require the Saudis to realize something that you or I would call minor and symbolic, but to them might seem catastrophic... that the "caliphate" brand (their secret dream for 80 years) has been spoiled by the spawn of their own propaganda mills. The word is now unusable -- at least without rousing total alarm in the West. So maybe... just maybe a change in strategy? Instead try on for size  the dream of the Hashemite Faisel -- to unify the Sons of Abraham -- Jews and Arabs – combining their strengths and soothing grievances? Perhaps that might offer greater long range prospects than Ummayid fantasies.

With Saudi money, Palestine could be solved and more friction points eased. The resulting alliances might be spectacularly powerful, calming the entire region. But it would take actual brains and guts to make such a Super-Camp-David swing. Lots and lots of guts.  I'm not holding my breath.

Oh but might there be signs? Here's one hint that higher Arab powers are testing the waters of rapprochement.  

And another hint? Saudi Arabian billionaire – and Fox News co-owner -- Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has said he will donate his entire $32bn fortune to charity. The money would be used to "foster cultural understanding", "empower women", and "provide vital disaster relief", among other things, he said, adding he had been inspired by the Gates Foundation. That amount, alone, could transform Palestine… But no no.  I will believe it when they stop subsidizing Rupert Murdoch’s campaign to destroy America by eliminating politics as a problem-solving skill.

Oh, one more factor. 

== The End of OPEC? ==

Not only was "peak oil" off-base... it was way, way off base. Out in the shale fields, it appears that a new kind of Moore's Law is at work, with incredible new technologies making wells up to 50% more efficient per year! You may not like carbon -- and indeed over the span of a decade, neither do I. But it is in all of our interests that (1) coal be driven out of business by natural gas, (2) American manufacturing be spurred by cheap natural gas, (3) the Middle East lose its compulsory power over our attention, (4) that some powers in the Middle East, especially, come to realize they are not unlimited gods.  

John Mauldin recently ran down a long list of these technologies. And the foolish self-destruction by OPEC that has led to this boom. "OPEC countries have no one to blame but themselves. Those years when they kept prices at $90 and higher gave the fracking industry, as well as solar and other alternatives, time to develop. They can’t put that genie back in the bottle."  In other words, it is a GOOD thing that prices were high for a time. It helped drive us toward efficiency and sustainables, till the latter are starting to really ramp up on their own merits.  Still, we will not cross the next ten years to sustainables-heaven without doing the best we can with the best fossil fuels we can.  And did I mention that domestic methane is a lot better, for many reasons, than coal and Middle-Eastern oil?

Do not get me wrong on this!  We must have politics that emphasizes sustainables, getting them online as fast as possible!  Sustainables and efficiency are core to our survival and the political wing that has opposed and obstructed them deserves to roast in hell. They are no less than traitors.

Still. Try to map and negotiate the transition decade with realism and care.  A healthy economy and energy independence will allow us to think rationally and have the wealth to invest in the sustainables push.

== Who will feel the pain? ==

Mauldin continues: "Saudi Arabia is trapped. If prices go up, US shale producers will uncap some wells and produce more. And if it isn’t the US, it will be Australia, Canada, or even China’s growing shale industry. Argentina has potentially massive shale oil plays. Ditto Mexico. There is oil and natural gas all over Eastern Europe. Oil-producing nations (and not just OPEC members) are losing the ability to subsidize their government spending with oil revenues. Look at this table of the oil price they need in order to balance their budgets."

Mauldin is that rare commodity these days -- a genuinely sane Republican (though delusional in imagining that some of his party's leaders share this trait.) For one thing, he does not deny climate change is urgent, but couches it is safer (for a conservative pundit) terms: "Does cheap shale mean solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources will lose momentum? I don’t think so. Governments around the world still want to reduce carbon emissions. For that matter, so do I. I prefer not to see the air I am breathing, thank you very much." 

Okay John.  Now convince Rupert and the Elders.

The fight isn't yet won. Coal is still cheapest, though part of that is due to cheating subsidies which should be reversed and turned into harm-taxes.  But my friend Ramez Naam shows that solar costs are plummeting so fast that they will cross natural gas soon... though solar's inherent cycle problems mean we desperately need RandD to smooth that out.  RandD that will not happen, if Republicans have their way.

Finally, John offers the following insight on how solar will change economic calculations: "For simplicity sake, let’s say you buy $10,000 worth of electricity a year from your local utility. That is $10,000 of GDP. Now let’s say you spend $40,000 to put in a solar system that allows you to get off the grid. That is a one-time boost to GDP of $40,000. But now you no longer pay $10,000 a year to the utility, so as long as you are on the solar system, you are no longer contributing to GDP. Further, if you buy an electric car and charge it, you are no longer buying gas, and thus the portion of your money previously spent on fuel is no longer contributing to GDP."

Fascinating times.

== An energy-related debacle ==

The sheer magnitude of the Tianjin catastrophe is simply stunning.  It is a war zone.  Movie directors should be rushing in to get footage because no special effects wizardry could emulate the apocalyptic video. And this one.

Though in fairness… it seems similar to the Texas City disaster of April 1947, which involved an explosion of 2300 tons of ammonium nitrate in a ship.  It was the worst industrial accident in US history.  (The worst in world history was at Bhopal, mostly not due to the explosion but poisons released by the explosion.) The Texas City disaster killed 581 and injured 5000.  The resulting fire also led to a later second explosion that broke windows up to 40 miles away, supposedly by "earthshock." Here is a pretty good list of AN-caused disasters.

Then there's the 1917 Halifax harbor explosion -- a munitions ship blew up, leveling half the town. I understand that the Chinese disaster involved a warehouse for storing a variety of dangerous chemicals.  So, does history console us that China, too, will swing over to a rule of law that reduces such calamitous failures of governance to a minimu?  We should hope so and pray that it happens soon.

== Trans Pacific Partnership? Or predation?  ==

Finally, rounding out this international roundup. Asian economics expert Scott Foster on the Strategic News Service offered up the following insights about the Trans Pacific Partnership, unknown by most American (simplistic) political factions:

1) The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) emphasizes protection of intellectual property and aims to limit government intervention in the economy - the two biggest problems foreign companies have when dealing with China. China is not part of the TPP now and would not be allowed to join in the future without conforming to its principles. Meanwhile, Japan must -- under stringent TPP rules -- at last abandon its own predatory-mercantilist practices of the past.

Japan will be tying its economy at the hip to one of two industrial behemoths. Do you want that to be China?

2) Worrying about the TPP creating an open road for Asian exporters to the US is a waste of time; that open road already exists. Tell me what your plan is, to crank that back. Greater access for us into the world's largest and fastest-growing market is more important.

3) Japan's Prime Minister Abe has been using the TPP as a tool to weaken Japan's agricultural lobby and other structural impediments to economic recovery - and, by extension, foreign access to Japanese markets. 

There are other aspects.  So many of them. But let’s start from a position that's rare, nowadays -- considering a mentally difficult-to-grasp possibility.  That all the nations who are joining TPP actually may want a positive sum game. They are all scared by (among other things) recent territory grabs in the South and East China Seas.

Perhaps... (and yes, the devil is in the details)... these folks may also be sincere.

Meanwhile, conservative Republicans are trying to shut down the U.S. Export-Import Bank. A completely insane idea with just one aim, to ecconomically harm blue states that make most of our valuable manufactured exports. Gridlock resolved: I'll shoot this foot, you shoot that one.


Jumper said...

Wish to find a link to the "Moore's Law of petroleum tech" I couldn't find on a cursory search of Mauldin's site.

Some things just get invented because no one really thought of them before, such as combining sideways drilling and fracking, both technologies which existed before. As far as I know the Austin Chalk was the first test ground of this. I will Google.
Also as far as I know, the geothermal energy people haven't wrapped their own heads around the idea of horizontal drilling combined with fracking. Again, I will Google.

Didn't the primary Saudi investor in Fox News (or Newscorp) sell most of it recently?

Jumper said...
Doesn't specify the wildcat genius, but it's a good article!

Alfred Differ said...

The spiffy thing about high prices is they draw talented/motivated people to places where 'no one really thought of them before.' Adam Smith's invisible hand is always at work.

I've seen different numbers for the oil price needed to balance local budgets, but not wildly different. Where I was taught to worry was in how social institutions will change in nations that can no longer afford to subsidize internal programs. That raises the potential for civil unrest in those nations. Any oil producing nation without an old monarchy and the intact social traditions associated with them is at risk.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that the Chinese Communist/Capitalist Party will last more than a decade before falling. There are inevitable cancer plagues coming to hit them after their horrific mismanagement of their environment. I have long predicted that it would be healthcare that breaks the Dragon's back and I still think so. The Kim Dynasty is becoming more and more of an embarrassment and I think it is inevitable that a protest movement originating in Hong Kong will spread to Mainland cities. The tried and true method for keeping power when your society is crumbling is to instigate a war. Our illustrious host has suggested that China may have designs on Siberian territories. Their illiberal alliance with Tsar Putin wont be worth much when/if they realize that Russia is one of the weakest neighbors they have. Another Sino-Soviet War? Even weakened by internal divisions, the Chinese could slap those drunk Rooskies down pretty easy. Or they purchase it from them at bargain basement prices. Either way, a new frontier would be great for the Chinese culture, but I doubt it would save the CC/CP in the long run.


raito said...

With regards to solar, at least one local utility deserves to roast in hell.

A few years ago, a co-worker (and excellent electrical engineer) converted a small pickup to electric. He was also looking at converting his house to solar in order to power that vehicle, but also to power his house, with maybe a little net metering on the side. Understand, WI law requires net metering. But the utility wanted $75K up front to do a 'study' to see if his equipment would be compatible with the grid. That particular local utility on the one hand, says it really wants sustainables. On the other, it wants you to pay more for them. Seriously. You can sign up for their 'get your juice from wind', but it costs some cents more per KWh.

But WI does have some statutes in place that are good. Around 2008, they added solar and wind statutes that state that any deed restriction (HOA, covenant, or other) that restricts solar is not enforceable. And it's grandfathered. The only way to keep solar out is if that particular installation is unsafe (which someone will use to keep it out by the force of making someone else spend money on the courts, probably). Also, once your solar is installed, you have a right to the sun (no one can build in a way that blocks your use). There is a provision that says you can't block the other guy building if they already have the building permit, though, so no cheating by preventing development by installing solar.

And my current automobile already plugs in. I like it. A lot.

As for the 'cycle problems', there's lots of engineers out there who would just love to work on large-scale grid planning. Except that the companies that deal with the grid don't appear to be much interested (power transmission is currently a poor stepchild specialty of electrical engineering). Locally, we'd never heard of the company that owned the transmission lines until their projects started getting vetoed at the local level. Then they started advertising and lobbying.

Alex Tolley said...

One problem with methane fracking is that the losses to the atmosphe5re are high, perhaps 25%. So we are adding a very potent GHG to the atmosphere, even if the residency time is relatively short.

Fracked oil is expensive, probably oil needs to be greater than $50/bbl just to break even. There was a story in Fortune/Forbes about companies producing for cash flow even as the total operation increased the losses. It isn't clear where this ends up, oil at a floor price, or at a ceiling. I also seer it as a sign of desperation that legislators in oil friendly states are blocking municipal regulation of fracking due to concerns over groundwater contamination and even earthquakes. This could result in a political backlash.

Solar in California is getting extraordinarily cheap. It is now cheap enough that even the low tier 1 users are close to breakeven. Our utility, PG&E is countering by raising connection fees that cannot be removed by net-metering. I fully expect the industry captured PUC to start reducing net metering requirements too. To my mind, this accelerates the time when panels plus storage will cause homes to "pull the plug" on the utilities. IIRC, PG&E permitting costs are already higher than the panel peak watt prices. Going off grid will get rid of that cost. I gather SolarCity will be pushing Tesla batteries in 2016 as an option.

Alex Tolley said...

Wasn't there a study that showed that solar could supply 85% of electric demand without problems, compared to the much lower 25-35% that the utilities claimed?

We're seeing a blossoming of energy storage ideas, from residence to utility scale. Cost is going to be the driver for acceptance. I don't see LiOn batteries as being the solution, but there are other cheaper battery technologies in the works that could be. It may not be that far off when we install cheap perovskite panels and cheap batteries, with additional demand supplied with with a gas powered generator or fuel cell.

Andrew said...

Mauldin's comments on converting from utility generation and fossil-fuel powered transportation to local generation and electrically-powered transportation falls afoul of the broken windows fallacy. The money not spent on electricity and gasoline doesn't just magically disappear from the economy. It gets used for other purposes - maybe not immediately, but eventually, chances are that it gets spent. And even if it doesn't, keeping it in a bank means that the bank can use that money, under our fractional reserve banking system, to loan more money out to entrepreneurs and other homeowners who want to make similar upgrades. Just because the big utilities and fossil fuel companies have been making money off of us for a century now doesn't mean that they have a right to continue to do so.

Alex Tolley said...

@Andrew Mauldin's comments on converting from utility generation and fossil-fuel powered transportation to local generation and electrically-powered transportation falls afoul of the broken windows fallacy.

Well spotted. We also have to bear in mind that GDP is a crude measure of the economy. Any work not paid for but done, e.g. housecleaning and cooking not done by paid cleaners and cooks is ignored by GDP even though output is the same. The actual economy doesn't suffer.

I think the opposite argument can also be made. Cheaper energy from solar should make the economy grow faster as the energy cost is a drag on output.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Worrying about the TPP creating an open road for Asian exporters to the US is a waste of time; that open road already exists. Tell me what your plan is, to crank that back. Greater access for us into the world's largest and fastest-growing market is more important.

My grave concerns about TPP have nothing to do with trade per se. It's about the defacto recognition of a corporation's "right to profit" and subsequent ability to challenge local laws on that basis. The agreement effectively asserts that if, say a rule against poisoning the air and water, or rules demanding levels of worker safety, or presumably even anti-child labor laws are detrimental to a company's bottom line, they can recover "damages" or invalidate the laws. As long as this aspect of the agreement seems to be the raison d'etre for the TPP, I can't be in favor of it.

Perhaps... (and yes, the devil is in the details)... these folks may also be sincere.

You mean the Republicans who oppose anything and everything President Obama proposes, even the things that contradict the other things, but in this one instance are champing at the bit to give him both a legislative victory and extraordinary executive powers, might simply be following their consciences? And the Democrats oppose the deal because...why?

I wish I could share your optimism, but we've been screwed over by trade agreements at least since NAFTA. And this one seems to be the mother of all screwings.

Alfred Differ said...

The GDP analogy that popped into my mind comes from the textile industry when mechanization changed the price of cloth and clothing. A person's clothing could cost a large fraction of their monthly income if they needed something new, but the eventual price drop didn't remove that money from the market. Instead, many of us have wardrobes stuffed full of clothes... and what we wear is relatively clean as a result. win-win-win-etc.

I suspect when energy gets even cheaper in real terms (costs we pay + hidden costs) we will use more. If we can be relatively clean about it, we might even use it to do things we wouldn't consider today. We could guess, but there is no need. Afterall, who among the ancients would have thought we'd string copper wire over much of our world?

Alex Tolley said...

The TPP is primarily about containing China, which is why some god awful countries like Malaysia are included.

As LarryHart says, it was crafted, in secret, by corporate trade trade groups and is their wet dream legislation guaranteeing them supra-national authority. The various other agreements, TTIP with the EU, TISA etc are all crafted in a similar manner that gives corporations what they want, rather than the populations of sovereign nations. The only good news for now is that the TTP appears to be stalled as it is sticking in the throats of some lead nations.

Obviously republicans support the TTP, their corporate paymasters want it. Look at which Democrats support it too, and note who their funders are.

Best government corporations can buy.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm curious...
Who here has been harmed by NAFTA in a tangible way?

Alex Tolley said...

Afterall, who among the ancients would have thought we'd string copper wire over much of our world?

Or glass beads :)

Anonymous said...

Maudlin's drek? "pure fantasy that cannot be supported by data"

smitpa said...

Could we please not require 100 lumen minimum light levels at night. I would like to see more than 50 stars. Low energy prices and LED's will allow the world to ban night altogether. It would be nice to see past 4th magnitude.

Alfred Differ said...

Directed lighting would certainly help with that, but the young astronomy students might get confused with all those extra stars messing up their pattern recognition. 8)

reason said...

if you think peak oil was wrong, you don't understand the peak oil concept (i.e. that rate of extraction of finite resource must peak at some stage, and that we are near that peak). What you actually mean, is that some of the most dramatic predictions made by peak oil promoters were not correct. The fact is that natural oil extraction rates have flattened and the trend of price is long term higher.

sociotard said...

David, I think you're glossing over a lot of the problems with these kinds of free trade agreements. It isn't just transfer of jobs.

These agreements can impede the ability of government elites to address corporate elites. Example:

Australia tried to force cigarette companies to use plain packages. But they had a free trade agreement with Hong Kong. This was used to sue the government to overturn the law.
**EDIT** Evidently the suit didn't work. Almost. Went to the high court and everything. Good for Australia.

Anyway, these treaties can make reasonable governance difficult. IIRC, some countries tried to ban those questionable financial instruments that led to the recent recession, but couldn't, because they were stuck in treaties that protected the bankers selling whatever they wanted.

Alex Tolley said...

to follow on from Sociotard's comment. Under TTP the case would not have reached the courts but been adjudicated by a 3 man arbitration court ( of corporate lawyers). The likely result would have favored the tobacco companies.

Tacitus said...

It must be because I have been watching Lawrence of Arabia on Netflix but Saudi Arabia has been on my mind. It and the wider Gulf region have certainly been given a fabulous opportunity.....great wealth and influence showers down upon a society that either has never had it, or in their eyes, once did.

I can't speak to the whole Caliphate Redux notion other than to say it would ill fit the modern world and can't be sustained without a steady flow of ridiculous money. I have no animus towards their society, and in fact find it interesting. But when they can no longer buy friends they will find that they don't have many. Will they again be "a little people, a silly people - greedy barbarous and cruel"?

That would be an unfair characterization I suspect. Under the whole robes and camels nostalgia kick they have certainly experienced enough of the modern world to adapt on some level. Their cultural issues with limiting the role of women, with a dubious personal work ethic, and with the huge growth of a young population base will make it harder. Except that last, it could make it easier or harder depending on the kind of young they have created....or failed to create.


Alex Tolley said...

Who here has been harmed by NAFTA in a tangible way?

Trivially, I had my garage flooded by a relatively new water tank that rusted out prematurely. Made in Mexico. Plumbing company person said they were seeing more failures of Mexican produced tanks.

This doesn't prove anything, nor that the fault lies with Mexican production processes rather than US managers cutting corners. However I would argue we are seeing the same with China - stainless steel of such low specs that it isn't. And of course we have seen for years the use of cheaper solder in computers since the 1990's that cause more rapid failure of circuit boards. Again, not proof of the cause (poor manufacture or consumers buying cheap?) just am outcome.

Less trivially, is the tradeoff of increased business in poorer countries worth the degraded environment their populations experience? East Germany is a good example of a wrecked environment under communist rule.

Least trivially, as we outsource manufacturing, we also experience the impact of processes out of our control. GW is a good example. Our future is now shifting to the policies of China. What they do about fossil fuel consumption is out of our control and will depend on their decisions. (I'm not ignorant of the irony of saying that as a US resident under US energy policies).

Economic theory used to assume (and most economists still accept) that Ricardian trade is a net benefit. However the evidence is accumulating that this is not absolutely true and that current trade mechanisms are not net benefits, and certainly not to the higher wage nations. There is now evidence that inequality is exacerbated by trade, at least under our current socio-economic arrangements.

Alex Tolley said...

"a little people, a silly people - greedy barbarous and cruel". Nice quote from the movie, but did Lawrence actually say that? It was also a century ago, things do change, even in Saudi.

Great movie, even if my adult step-daughter disparagingly calls it "the sand movie". She also calls 2001 boring. Kids... :)

I find Saudi attitudes very annoying. Their elites call their situation extremely complex and beyond western understanding. I call BS on that. I think it is just an excuse to shut down questions about their policies, some of which are duplicitous. Since oil nationalization, they have had a long time to build their human capital, but have largely not done that except for their elites. When the oil revenues run out, they will experience real economic pain.

Tacitus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tacitus said...

Deleted for spelling errors!

Who knows what T.E. Lawrence said and did. Even what his writings are the sort of intertwined truth and mythos that the movie captured so well.


Paul451 said...

Re: Dickish utilities
"To my mind, this accelerates the time when panels plus storage will cause homes to "pull the plug" on the utilities."

Unfortunately, some jurisdictions forbid this due to archaic anti-poverty laws that require a dwelling to be connected to a minimum number of utilities. This has tripping up "off-gridders" in the US.

It would be a shame if pulling the plug on the grid became the preferred option, though; having both distributed power generation and distributed power storage systems on the grid is one of those deep resilience systems that can save a city in an emergency. Smart meters that give everyone access to a limited "community share" during the emergency, just enough to keep refrigerators, medical equipment, water/gas pumps working through the crisis, could be a life-saver.

"Wasn't there a study that showed that solar could supply 85% of electric demand without problems, compared to the much lower 25-35% that the utilities claimed?"

The typical engineering rule of thumb is that variable alternatives (like solar, wind) can supply up to half the current difference between peak and trough before they cause issues.

locumranch said...

Except for some misplaced optimism about the Iranian nuclear deal leading to a most fantastical peace (which even our host can't swallow), the current best case scenario is the domino-like destruction of Sunni states, starting with Kuwait, Qatar & UAE, followed inevitably by Saudi Arabia, then ending with the conversion of Palestine (and perhaps Jordan, too) into a post-nuclear No Man's Land that separates an immovable Zionist Israel from an irresistible Shiite Iran BECAUSE this so-called 'historic' deal amounts to little more than League-of-Nation's style appeasement.

Not to worry, though. This 'historic' crisis will most likely coincide with the concurrent collapse of the global fishery, finance, eu-refugee (diversity) & peak oil bubbles, just as sure as all of the other great historic bubbles (whale oil, buffalo hides, california sardines, etc) were immediately preceded by a transiently giddy & technologically-facilitated oversupply, proving only that we live in interesting times.


David Brin said...

Eep and he actually prescribes medications for other people....

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - I would prefer to stay on the grid, but utilities seem to want to maintain their growth by charging uneconomic rents for their distribution to make up for their power revenue losses. A good reason why they should be publicly owned so that the public can properly control them, rather than having to put up with the private growth juggernaut.

Acacia H. said...

Tell me, locum, what would you do instead? If you were leader of the United States, what would you do to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons? Mind you, the policy that was in place prior to Obama's plan won't prevent Iran from getting a bomb. And the policy under Bush actually resulted in Iran going from 0 centrifuges to 5,000.

So. What would you do?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

The notion that folks in Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and Algeria would allow their fellow sunnis to be slaughtered is... quaint.

Jumper said...
The nirvana fallacy is a name given to the informal fallacy of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley responding about NAFTA:

Economic theory used to assume (and most economists still accept) that Ricardian trade is a net benefit. However the evidence is accumulating that this is not absolutely true and that current trade mechanisms are not net benefits, and certainly not to the higher wage nations. There is now evidence that inequality is exacerbated by trade, at least under our current socio-economic arrangements.

Not specifically NAFTA per se, but I'd say most of us have been harmed by the "race to the bottom" in the manner that one of Kurt Vonnegut's characters put it in the incredibly prescient 1953 novel "Player Piano".

The character said he didn't like machines because they were slaves. The person he was arguing with mentioned (quite correctly) that the machines weren't hurt by their "enslavement" the way human slaves were, so replacing real slavery with automation was a good thing. Then, the first character made the point that machines compete with human beings, and anyone who competes with a slave has to become a slave.

Afreements like NAFTA are much like that. Goods created by unpaid de-facto slaves without regard for local environmental concerns "compete" with those created under humane first-world conditions. Of course, the former will cost less. That's hardly the point, though. If our values are such as to be against slavery and for not pooping where we eat, then we can't add the paranthetical (but we must be competitive with those who don't share those values). It renders our values meaningless. Just as much as "We don't believe in torture, but we'll rendition you over to someone who does."

LarryHart said...


BECAUSE this so-called 'historic' deal amounts to little more than League-of-Nation's style appeasement.

No, see if we scuttle the agreement, then the sanctions will be lifted anyway (by all except the USA) and there will be no inspection regime, thus insuring that Iran goes nuclear. The deal at least puts the infrastructure of prevention in place. Almost the opposite of how Munich went down.

The cognitive dissonance in the anti- arguments floors me. Sarah Palin says only a fan of the Iran regime could like this deal, when in fact, breaking the deal would be a gift to Iran. But the Right-wing/AIPAC Axis doesn't care about foiling Iran. What they want is perpetual war. And this is supposed to be good for Israel?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Eep and he actually prescribes medications for other people....

I know, right?


David Brin said...

What I don't get is why Europe is not bribing Turkey to go into Syria and Egypt and Algeria to clean up Libya.

locumranch said...

First, there is no way to PREVENT Iran (or any nation, for that matter) from pursuing & developing nuclear weapons if they are so inclined (as Rob's false dichotomy presupposes), especially when our French & German allies have been openly trading nuclear technologies to Iran in exchange for oil over many decades (which, btw, is why prior economic embargoes have proven unworkable).

Second, the Nirvana Fallacy applies to the Iranian Nuclear deal if & only if we accept (as Rob & Jumper appear to accept) that this deal exists as an either-or dichotomy wherein nuclear deal approval (a deal which they assume to be 'advantageous') is both implausibly & falsely assumed to have the opposite effect to that of disapproval, even though no such advantage or disadvantage is clearly evident.

And, third, is exceptionally 'quaint' to assume sort of Sunni altruism between the Saudis, Pakistanis, Egyptian, Turkish & Algerians when those that make that assumption are prone to deny ISIL, Saddam Hussein & Muammar Gaddafi the same providence, particularly when it was Saudi partisan support for 9/11 that precipitated the current 'Mess-in' potamia.

Indeed, the world is well & truly screwed when the Algerians (who are still fighting their own 65 year civil war) are seen as a goddamm STABLISING force, made even more farcical (or is that 'farsi-cal'?) as Turkey spirals into its own civil war, my point being that any US-Iran 'deal' is entirely irrelevant to subsequent Middle East outcome as the poor kill the rich & vice versa.

To put it another way -- Appeasement!!

(1) Iran wants nuclear weapons so we sign a treaty that will allow them nuclear weapons after a brief delay because we cannot prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons anyway;

(2) A malcontent demands my wallet and I give it to him, willingly, in the mistaken belief that the threat-induced gift of my wallet will prevent me from being robbed;

(3) A band of refugees breaks into my home & pillages my cupboard and, as I lack the authority to prevent their trespass, I generously call them 'guest'; and,

(4) The best discouragement against future trespass, I rationalise, is encouraging appeasement 'cause it worked so well previously in Versailles when "we taught them a lesson in 1918 and they've hardly bothered us since then" (MLF Lullaby).


Laurent Weppe said...

"the Right-wing/AIPAC Axis doesn't care about foiling Iran. What they want is perpetual war. And this is supposed to be good for Israel?"

You're making a very common mistake: the Right-wing/AIPAC Axis doesn't serve the interest of Israel: they serve the interest of the ashkenazi oligarchs who lord over Israel and need the perpetual conflict to keep the Mizrahi plebs from revolting against them.

Anonymous said...


(1) Iran wants nuclear weapons so we sign a treaty that will allow them nuclear weapons after a brief delay because we cannot prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons anyway;

Your side claims Iran is two months away from a nuke anyway. Then you make it sound as if, at the end of ten or fifteen years, this deal "allows" them to build a bomb in two months. Even if your rhetoric is true, how is "fifteen years and two months away" worse than "two months from last Tuesday"?

Instead, the deal you detest degrades their ability to do so. Again, how is this worse, and what is the alternative?

Laurent Weppe:

"the Right-wing/AIPAC Axis doesn't care about foiling Iran. What they want is perpetual war. And this is supposed to be good for Israel?"

You're making a very common mistake: the Right-wing/AIPAC Axis doesn't serve the interest of Israel: they serve the interest of the ashkenazi oligarchs who lord over Israel and need the perpetual conflict to keep the Mizrahi plebs from revolting against them.

I get that, but my question was rhetorical. The right-wing at least claims that their position is out of concern for Israel. It seems my brother was right when, during the W administration, he asserted that politicians aren't even pretending their principled positions any more, they're just "pretending to pretend".

Jumper said...
A decent summary.

Alex Tolley said...

Some more references on the Iran nuclear deal:

Full text of the Iran nuclear deal - Washington Post
Iran nuclear deal framework - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
PolitiFact Sheet: 6 things to know about the Iran nuclear deal | PolitiFact

I know facts have a well known liberal bias, but come on. Locum you are living in a bubble of political disinformation that is cynically generated.

David Brin said...

Laurent that is silly. It is the old founder-socialist-european Israelis who want peace. The Haredim - the fast-rising orhtodox - are the ones demanding sttlements and annexation.

Acacia H. said...

Locum, you failed to answer my question.

If you were the Chief of State of the United States, what would YOU do to prevent Iran from building an atomic bomb.

You complain about Obama's negotiated diplomatic deal. Well then. Pony up and show us what is the better approach. And then prepare for us to tear it apart and reveal it to be hot air and nonsense.

But if you don't show us a deal, then all your complaints are nonsensical and not worth listening to.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...


"Facts have a well known liberal bias" is snark. Politifact has a well known liberal bias might be closer to the truth. I have taken exception with them in the past as they give considerably more latitude in their interpretation to some individuals and groups than to others. And if Fact is what Politifact says it is, we do have a problem.

In this instance however their presentation is well thought out. It does perhaps undersell the difficulties involved in stopping an Iran bent on going nuclear in the near term. And does not address a lot of side issues such as the possibilities of other regional powers starting their own nuclear programs and/or upgrading their delivery systems.

Was this the best deal available? I don't know. I sense that we were in a delaying action and that we have postponed having an Iranian finger on the Red Button through some times that otherwise would have been more tense than they already were. 9/11, the Arab Spring, the saber rattling over a possible Syrian intervention. We won't have that luxury in the future, be it 5, 10 or 20 years.

Was this deal implemented in a fashion that put its best face forward? Not. At. All.
There are said to be side deals with the IAEC that are germane to the interests of all but are secret. And going for UN approval before Congress has a chance to begin debate? Not productive and frankly, looks contemptuous of the co-equal power of the Leg. branch.

I may not see how this turns out. My kids will.


TheMadLibrarian said...

The latest thing electric utilities are pulling, aside from endless tests and studies before you are permitted to install solar panels (in some areas) are a use charge for people who have installed solar power systems. The idea is that even if you are pulling very little power from the utilities, you still need to pay upkeep on the wiring and other systems needed to get you that 10%. I am not adverse to maintaining the electrical grid, not unlike making sure the public highways, sewer, and water systems are likewise maintained, even if I use well water, have a septic tank, and mostly work from home. The utilities, however, are looking at this as a way to boost dropping revenues as more people are installing solar, wind, and what-have-you, and the add-on fees are rising, like airlines unbundling baggage fees, seating choices, etc. from basic prices for flights.

Now that our solar power system is up and running, we have had to chase the local electric company around about installing the right meter. They initially put in the wrong meter with a one way ratchet; we were supposed to get credit for the power we fed back into the grid when we generated in excess of our house needs, but the meter never credited it to our account. Getting a partial fix installed took several weeks of nagging the electric company, not to mention data logging for that length of time to verify what was happening. If this happened to a large percentage of people in our area getting solar power, well, we hate conspiracy theories, but...!

raito said...


What you're describing reminds me of another industry that needs to change in the face of a changing world. Oddly, it's the recording industry.

It used to be that, really, the primary thing a recording publisher did was to front money for recordings. Yes, there was manufacture, distribution, promotion, A&R, etc., but really, it was all about money. Recording was expensive, and to get a pro result, you needed pro money.

Now, anyone with a few thousand dollars and some know-how can get the same recording results.

If the recording publishers were on the ball, they'd change to a service bureau model. They'd be hired by the artist to provide those other services that they excel in. But that would mean giving up control. Apparently, they'd rather die.

And so it is with the electric utilities. If they were on the ball, they'd change to a model where most of what they were providing was distribution and billing. Certainly, if every residence had panels on the roof and a windmill in their yard, they wouldn't need to keep up quite as many plants (I'm deliberately leaving aside large-scale grid stuff here). How many is debatable.

But again, it means giving up control. And you know how likely that is to happen.

Fortunately, my electric is municipal.

locumranch said...

Alex, Rob & Anon offer up a sham choice (false dichotomy) by asking 'How is this (the proposed Iranian Nuclear deal) worse' than the alternative ??

Well, the short answer is that this proposed deal is not 'worse' (nor is it any 'better') than no deal at all, mostly because the proposed value judgment about 'alternatives' is largely irrelevant as there is absolutely 'no way' (short of an utterly devastating preemptive military strike) to prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear agenda if it so chooses.

That said, do I support a preemptive military strike against Iran??

Absolutely NOT. That's a terrible idea & a stupid question, entirely based on a similarly false dichotomy that led the US to intervene in the Middle East (Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Imperial Iran, etc) to begin with.

Frack 'em. Frack 'em all (in both a literal & figurative sense) because those oligarchic oil-rich monarchies have outlived their usefulness to the West, partly due to fracking technology (howsoever long that bubble lasts) and partly due to their own fracking arrogance.

As they once did to the 'Riviera of the Middle East', Beirut (circa 1970), let them sort things out amongst themselves through either populist Jihad OR the massive extortion (aka 'redistribution') of Saudi Arabian wealth, and then -- only then -- should we consider a singular 'deal' with the (preferably) singular & more enlightened victor.


Alex Tolley said...

The Iran deal isn't just a US agreement, it is with other nations. Is this the best deal? I don't know, and neither do you. It was the deal that was hammered out over a long time, so I suggest that it was an acceptable compromise to all parties.

Is Iran "hell bent" on gaining nukes. We don't know that. They were intending to build nukes, but is that surprising when Israel has them, and the US has made noises about using nukes again? Iran hasn't threatened to invade the US either. Keep rattling swords and don't be surprised if your enemy wants them too.

The deal is quite restrictive and there is plenty of built-in verification to prevent enrichment for warheads. If they want nukes, it might just be easier to clandestinely buy them.

The deal removes the sanctions that were hurting the population and gives us time to see how they respond. It seems better than keeping sanctions, trying to determine if they have built nukes and engaging in cyber-warfare against them.

That Republicans want to waste time with symbolic votes of disapproval is childish.

As for detecting nuclear material, a neutrino map of the world has just been released showing that in principle we could detect nuclear material anywhere on the planet and that cannot be hidden with shielding.

neutrino map of world

Alex Tolley said...

@locum Frack 'em. Frack 'em all

While Iran is an oil exporting nation, it actually has a fairly well educated population. This is unlike most other ME petro states. If they have survived with oil export sanctions, making their oil worthless isn't going to do much.

Education in Iran

Young Iranians may even be better educated than Americans. Don't mistake Iran for turn of the 20th century arabs.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum "As they once did to the 'Riviera of the Middle East', Beirut (circa 1970), let them sort things out amongst themselves "

So let's hear you call for withdrawal of US involvement in the ME, including support for Israel, and publicly disavow Republican demands for more intervention.

Acacia H. said...

Once again, Locum, you didn't say what you would do if you were Chief of State instead of this deal. You have said what you would not do - an armed strike. But you have not provided an alternative.

Put up or shut up, I believe the term is.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...


Stipulated and agreed, I do not know if this is the best deal possible. Any secret provisions make me worry. This sort of thing blundered the world into WWI.
Yes, they could buy nukes. May in fact have done so.

No, I don't have a better option to offer.

Yes, Republican opposition is petty, but the way the deal was presented did not help that.

In a world where 3D printers exist and where there is no Pax Anybody to enforce things, it will be hard to keep nations from going nuclear. Hell, even the Norks managed it, and at what cost in human suffering?

I guess it is good news that we are living in a time when an over the Pole Armeggedon is far less likely. But the more smaller states that decide to trade up to the Big Boy table and get them some nukes, the more likely it is that one or more cities pay the price for this modernity.

If you want an example of a diplomatic effort that more smoothly, opening relations with Cuba seems to have gone better. Some grumbling, sure, but a slow rapprochement is happening and about time.


locumranch said...

I think I stated my position quite succinctly, Rob. I would not have agreed to this Iranian deal because it is empty talk, a non-deal, an irrelevancy and a distraction, lacking in checks, balances & penalties, about as binding as an abstinence pledge from a horny teenager or the sovereign debt of Argentina, Greece & Puerto Rico.

In the absence of consequence, reciprocity or mutually-assured destruction, most treaties aren't worth the pinky-promise paper they're written on, so why bother bloviating ? Frack em all, especially those who confuse educated intelligence with reciprocating morality, never forgetting that Pax 'anything' presupposes the potential of a 'second strike' cataclysm (provided to the Middle East locale by Israel, perhaps?)

And we will all bake together when we bake. There'll be nobody present at the wake. With complete participation in that grand incineration, nearly (seven) billion hunks of well-done steak --- the alternative being that we balkanise soonest, think & act locally (for a change) instead of globally, and offer a choice of vegetarian, kosher & halal entrees.


David Brin said...

Alex is even more right when it comes to the several million Iranian expatriates who will now have far better access to their homeland, where their money and ideas can tip the balance.

Idiots raving against the Iran deal never mention one feature... Iran HANDS OVER nearly all of the Uranium that they have already enriched to intermediate levels. Several years worth at MAX production. And they are handing it over. That in itself should have mollified the hawks, and it would have! If Obama had been Republican.

TACITUS: sorry, but facts do have an extreme liberal bias. Not because leftism is correct. American style liberals are not leftist by any reasonable standards and American leftists control nothing but some city councils and universities.

No the bias is real because it happens that 90% of todays American conservatives are clinically crazy, engaged in one level or another of denial. It has surprisingly little to do with classic left-right, since in fact EVERY metric of overall economic and market health does better across democratic administrations, every single one. Period. Indeed, FIND for me one case where my indictments against the right have anything to do with "socialist" positions. You know darned well that I am Adam Smith's truest heir.

No, my evidence is simple. All of the professions where facts matter are fleeing the GOP as fast as they can. Scientists above all. But also vast majorities of teachers, civil servants, economists, medical doctors, skilled labor and military officers.

The fact that you would nod when Ted Cruz says "this and such specific data shows no global heating across the last seventeen years...!" and no specificity alarm goes off? No checking why SEVENTEEN years? Chosen in order to peg the "before" comparison on the hottest year (1998) that humanity ever saw? The last huge El Nino? That sly trick was used in almost every conservative medium and by every mouthpiece...

...and any American conservative who does no writhe in embarrassment over such diabolically evil tricks has no basis for claiming that "facts are evenhanded."

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: Regarding Vonnegut’s story where a human competing with a slave must become a slave, I’m going to call ‘nonsense’. A human doing that is just being stupid. A slave is a tool wither it is mechanical or biological. (The moral evil comes from turning a human into a tool.) No human competes with a tool if they have half a brain. They use the tool to extend themselves. Do I compete with a hammer when doing carpentry work by smashing nails in with my hands? No. I grab a tool and use it.

The machines won’t be slaves. They will either be our children or literal extensions of our selves. The first is not a slave. The second is a tool even if it is a tool capable of love.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: I had to smile at the notion of a Sunni domino theory. How familiar that sounds to those of us who were alive during the 60’s. 8)

If the Sunni states were so easily toppled, they’d have gone extinct many generations ago. That region of the world is familiar with genocide. Nukes are just something else to which they will adapt.

The only domino theory that makes any sense to me is the one that say ‘if one gets it, they all will.’ When I’m in a dark mood, I think to myself that this might do them some good. It would put all of them on our target lists. ALL of them.

Alfred Differ said...

@raito: Getting the electricity distributors to shift often involves interactions with local PUC’s and a lot of thought given to writing off old generation assets with payback durations measured in decades. Renewables are disruptive in a market that makes multi-decade plans. It’s a non-trivial problem to figure out who gets stuck with the bad investments.

Alfred Differ said...

Iran doesn’t actually need nukes and it is quite possible they know that. Ranting as if they plan to develop one is useful, though. It is the ploy a weak player uses to scare the stronger one into leaving them be for a while. Don’t mess with the insane kid! He just might do the illogical thing! North Korea plays this game even better.

A deal with Iran (just about any deal) encourages them to stop playing that game and try a different one. Obviously we want a good outcome, but ending the scare game is useful to us.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

No human competes with a tool if they have half a brain. They use the tool to extend themselves. Do I compete with a hammer when doing carpentry work by smashing nails in with my hands? No. I grab a tool and use it.

No, of course a human doesn't compete with his own tool. He competes with the machines that are owned by the private owners of his means of survival. I think I agree with you that technology should free humans from drudgery and give them leisure to pursue higher goals. I despair that in reality, technology only seems to "free" humans from the ability to earn a living, because the owners don't need us any more, and so have no reason to give us any of "their" food, water, energy, or living space.

John Henry competed with a steam drill. IIRC correctly, he actually won, but at the cost of his life.

That's my take. Vonnegut's was slightly different, and I only "get it" late in life. His story seemed to assert that humans without meaningful jobs lacked dignity. His point wasn't about wages per se.

Alfred Differ said...

Okay. I'll just admit that I don't get the argument that we have to have meaningful jobs to have dignity. I see it the other way around. If I have dignity, I will make my job meaningful whether I work for someone or myself. Purpose is necessary, but it comes from within.

Most of us are already free of the 'jobs' our ancestors held 8,000 years ago. We've found other ways to ensure we acquire the means to live and increased the population by a couple orders of magnitude. So... I'm not overly worried. If 'they' want to keep 'their' food, water, energy, and so on, they will find people at their gates like one of my grandmothers who will just take it from them... or worse.

Alfred Differ said...

Not quite the trends mentioned in the post, but it does involve undermining...

Sarasota opts to deregulate

Alex Tolley said...

The irony is that I used Uber in SF a few weeks ago, and with congestion pricing, the trip was more expensive than the same trip I had taken in a regulated taxi cab. I was not impressed. Uber is certainly more ubiquitous there, but the drivers are fairly clueless, and are working for pocket money in comparison to cab drivers. Let's see Uber compete when they have to pay their drivers as employees.

TheMadLibrarian said...

For an example of a smart grid done right, look at Chattanooga, TN. Due to frequent blackouts and the electric companies losing money as a result, they elected to upgrade their infrastructure to include fiberoptic smart grid control, in the hopes it would reduce blackouts and allow areas affected to recover faster. It did, and as a beneficial side effect, Chattanooga also created the fastest municipal Internet service in the Western Hemisphere. This put Comcast's knickers in a twist; Comcast sued the city twice, unsuccessfully. Now Chattanooga's inhabitants receive a gigabit per second Internet access, and more reliable power distribution.

Unknown said...

"I'm curious...
Who here has been harmed by NAFTA in a tangible way?"

After the American textile industry was disintegrated after the inaction of the treaty in 1994, the Lee Jeans Company shut down all of their plants in the Ozarks region of southern Missouri.

My father had been a fork lift driver for a plant in a town called Lebanon MO for twenty years before the closing. We ended up losing our house( I was 15 at the time) and living with my grandparents for a year before my father found another job.

I know that those in the actual working classes have no value in your absolutist ideological "Classical Liberal" mindset, but "free trade" has real consequences for actual human beings at the bottom of the pay scale.

But of course as I said, you don't see value in basic human labor, so I doubt you really care.

Unknown said...

And so many seem to be shocked at the rise of old school demagogic populism in our political arena.

Its a natural reaction to whats been going on among our political classes and their melding with the capitalist class, especially the finance wing of said capitalist class.

You couldn't possibly think that there wouldn't be a reaction to the erosion of middle and working class social status because of it could you?

Its also not surprising that the reaction is coming from the right. Since the Democratic Party has become so ridiculously craven and cowardly with actually acknowledging the plight of the lower classes out of fear of being labeled socialist that they have left the forfeited the entire issue to the populist right.

Jumper said...

I was left with fewer career choices as transformer manufacturing went to Mexico. It hurt mostly because I had much to offer in what I'd learned, but management focused solely on labor cost rather than face certain technological errors they themselves had made. So it's hard to say what I lost because the opportunities vanished.

Tacitus said...

"The fact that you would nod when Ted Cruz says....."

Whatever follows after that is unimportant. When someone bothers to come here and offer the occasional insight he or she deserves better than to be considered a mindless bobblehead. You transgress, Sir, when you presume to know how I would respond to anything Sen. Cruz has to say.

I have serious questions as to the value of a Comments Section to Contrary Brin. It does not bring out the best in your prose. The insights offered by others still rise to mildly interesting once in a while (did like the discussion on illegal cheese a few weeks back).

But really, I and most reasonable people have more important uses of my time. And if I get nostalgic I can just check back in a month or three. The Comments will read the same.


Jumper said...

For what it's worth, Tacitus, I saw no call for that either considering how you usually present yourself.

Alex Tolley said...

Chomsky on the Iran deal.

David Brin said...

I apologize for the remark that coule be interpreted as meaning that Tacitus bobble-heads anything. SIncerely.

Too bad it blocked the point, which was in refutation of his assertion that the parties are roughly the same when it comes to the so-called "liberal bias" of 'facts'.

Please replace "The fact that you would nod when Ted Cruz says....." with "The fact that any sapient citizen would nod when Ted Cruz says....."

The stunning deceitfulness of pegging "before" appraisals of global warming upon 1998's hottest year in all human recordings is so toweringly and spectacularly fact-averse that any member of such a movement would angrily demand correction if ONLY in order to salvage some credibility for the movement. Like failing to ask WHICH eight foreign governments George Soros personally "toppled."

But these aren't isolated examples. If Politifact seems to have a tilt... it is less ideologiocal that preponderance of actual facts.

Anonymous said...

Only 43% of climate scientists agree with the IPCC “97%” certainty.”

Alex Tolley said...

@Anon - that report is almost overwhelmingly in support of GW, that it is anthropogenic and GHG is the driver. There is no question and results that support your implied dissent.

Q 4c is directed at the subset (271) of the respondents who answered that they thought the IPCC climate sensitivity was too high.

Jumper said...

I smell the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity!
- Big Daddy

David Brin said...

Anon how does it feel as increasingly you grow aware that the scientific people around you know... they know for a fact ... that you are crazy? You clutch ever more bizarre rationalizations, while the Arctic ocean goes ice-free and the US military is frantically preparing for climate change problems and every scientist who can parse the Navier Stokes equation (can you? can ANYONE you know?) is desperately worried?

Does it wake you up, even occasionally, that the shill propaganda mills that feed you your hypnotic hate-science talking points are the same ones who declared negroes inferior, then cars don't cause smog, then tobacco is cancer free?

Do you have a backup plan, for when (not if) you are exposed as having been their tool? Just wondering.

David Brin said...



Celsius1414 said...

"[...]But now you no longer pay $10,000 a year to the utility, so as long as you are on the solar system, you are no longer contributing to GDP. Further, if you buy an electric car and charge it, you are no longer buying gas, and thus the portion of your money previously spent on fuel is no longer contributing to GDP."

This is pretty specious -- that $10,000 might no longer be contributing to the bottom line of gas companies, but it's now available to contribute to other industries and, thus, to GDP.

siska said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.