Should we move to a pure natural gas transport model?

What follows is the text of a rebuttal letter I wrote to Michael Fitzsimmons who is a retired engineer and a proponent of moving all transport to natural gas as a way to free the US from reliance upon imported oil. We had a series of letters on the Seeking Alpha financial web site. This is my final letter to him:

MF: Your idea of a dialog is "Your figures are wrong"? (I offered him a link to the US Energy Information Agency, the definitive  governmental website on all aspects of energy). These are up to date(November 2010) EIA’s figures for proven reserves. They are not mine. Did you click on the link? It is apparent you have made up your mind because you don’t bother to rebut anyone’s arguments in a respectful fashion using credible data. You merely rewind your tape and repeat your arguments.You have chosen to include ALL categories of reserves which you do not mention anywhere that I could find. You argue like Hugo Chavez, the Oil Shale advocates , the Coal proponents and even the Saudis. There is only a certain small portion of the resource that will be economically available at any remotely affordable price. Chavez says there is more oil in Orinoco sands than in the middle east. Probably true. There may be more oil and gas in Western US shale as well. More in Canada than Saudi Arabia. So what, Mike. Even Rigzone, the respected Oil & Gas trade publication, throws cold water on estimates of supply from people such as yourself who have a simplistic agenda and a mission short on details. You are however absolutely correct that the 2/3 reliance on imported oil is an ongoing disaster which is not being addressed as part of a coherent energy policy. Your statement of how much could be saved by a switch to NG takes the lowest price I could find which was about $1.50 for gasoline equivalent. Prices actually seem to range from $1.50-2.50. I don’t see a fuel tax on NG in our nearest metro area. Plan on at least 25-50 cents a gallon. The kind of expansion of NG you are proposing would require many new pipelines. You say rail is too expensive and too slow which is incorrect. You  also fail to mention that natural gas on a btu basis is about 1/4 of oil. That is a temporary aberration which would certainly evaporate if vast amounts of gas were to be used as a transport fuel. What will be the price of NG fuel on an oil btu equivalent or even half of an oil equivalent? Do the math. We have a gas pipeline being constructed from here in Wyoming to Oregon, 675 miles. It is the Ruby Pipeline. It will cost at least $3 billion which is $4.4 million per mile. It is going thru open empty land, Indian land, barren land and it is still $4.4 million/mile. Rail in Wyoming laying a new track in flat terrain. for freight(not high speed) is ball park $1 million/mile.(source: a friend in Idaho who works for UP) In Southern Cal adding a second main line is higher for many urban reasons. It is about$2-3 million mile depending again on terrain and location. Urban Rail costs range from numbers like this to absurdly high numbers in the range of $20-60 million a mile in cities.. Rehabbing Freight rail in open country in 1995 estimate(Google) from MO DOT was estimated at $248,000/mile. That is more than double now. Urban rail costs for rail generally include the cost of everything, cars, rail, ties, switches, stations etc. The costs of digging up an urban area and sinking a pipeline of relatively short life is equally expensive. In the US we use rail for freight. In Europe they use Rail for people. It would be stupid to ruin a decent freight rail system in the US by jamming passengers down the throats of UP and CSX. Laying new track alongside an existing ROW@ is relatively cheap as I have pointed out and is very fast, far faster than digging a pipeline. I see no credible estimates of the ultimate buildout costs of your NG plan. There are damn few pipelines in the US and you would need massive expansion of spur pipelines? Your costs? You haven’t provided them because it would be almost impossible to estimate the costs. If you stick to say, Interstate corridors I am confident you could generate credible figures. I could generate equally credible figures for rail lines coexistent with interstate road corridors. What is clear to me is that laying rail extra main lines is massively faster than burying pipelines and it is undeniably cheaper . When the rail buildout is completed you will have the ability to transport all conventional forms of transportation energy, people and goods. What would result is a massively improved transportation network which could have trains driven by whatever fuel most feasible at the time, whether electricity, oil, coal, firewood, biofuels, nuclear and yes even gas. What we would have with your not original proposals would be pipes in the ground which would in a few decades would be just that, but they would be empty. Your proposal is unworkable, unaffordable, unnecessary and deeply flawed on multiple systemic levels. You might ask the folks in New Mexico what happened to their gas. With no easy way to store gas at 3000 psi, when the pressure drops in the pipe for whatever reason, the party is over. While there will be some transport by CNG and electric in the future as part of a broad transport model, using CNG as the fuel model to move to is bogus and delusional. It is delusional just as Obama’s high speed rail proposals are equally delusional,impractical, and unaffordable. We are long past the time to have a national energy plan. Gas will be part of that plan if it ever happens as will all the fossil and non fossil energy resources. Switching all transport to gas alone is as ludicrous as switching to a pure coal  or pure solar.

Hosi! Ease up! Disappear Brother.. You’re making the CIA and the US look really bad.

So by now you’ve probably heard about that little brouhaha going on over in Cairo with students and little old ladies protesting against another close  dictator ally of the United States,  and getting stomped by  Hosi thugs wielding swords from stampeding camels and galloping Arabians. I am sure the events are not being lost on Robert Ludlum and Hollywood. Talk about grist for the next Jason Bourne movie. Of course, they might be filming as we speak. Of course who knows what intrigues are going on behind closed doors. We have learned that Hillary, our current Secretary of State and her husband, old whathisname regard Hosni’s Family as family friends.mubarak
That’s Hosni and his adorable wife Susan and the boys. It looks like Hosni is not taking any chances. He is either doing his best Napoleon imitation or hanging on to his Glock. In case you were starting to feel bad for the old dictator, don’t. Hosni has done all right by himself and his boys. They’re all billionaires and I don’t mean just billionaires. I mean mover over Bill Gates and Warren Buffet BILLIONAIRES: From Todays Guardian:

Mubarak family fortune could reach $70bn, say experts

Egyptian president has cash in British and Swiss banks plus UK and US property

clip_image001Gamal and Hosni Mubarak are reported to have built up huge fortunes, including properties in London. Photograph: Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images
President Hosni Mubarak‘s family fortune could be as much as $70bn (£43.5bn) according to analysis by Middle East experts, with much of his wealth in British and Swiss banks or tied up in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and along expensive tracts of the Red Sea coast.
After 30 years as president and many more as a senior military official, Mubarak has had access to investment deals that have generated hundreds of millions of pounds in profits. Most of those gains have been taken offshore and deposited in secret bank accounts or invested in upmarket homes and hotels.
According to a report last year in the Arabic newspaper Al Khabar, Mubarak has properties in Manhattan and exclusive Beverly Hills addresses on Rodeo Drive.
His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal’s ostentatious home at 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family’s appetite for western trophy assets.
Amaney Jamal, a political science professor at Princeton University, said the estimate of $40bn-70bn was comparable with the vast wealth of leaders in other Gulf countries.
“The business ventures from his military and government service accumulated to his personal wealth,” she told ABC news. “There was a lot of corruption in this regime and stifling of public resources for personal gain.
“This is the pattern of other Middle Eastern dictators so their wealth will not be taken during a transition. These leaders plan on this.”
I’m sure all the boys in Langley are chain smoking and burning the midnight oil wondering where the hell are they going to be able to do their renditions if Hosni and the fam have to make a mad dash for Riyadh or Tel Aviv.  Course, the dark side is that Hosni and his whiz kids might be coming home to the auld sod to roost as they have lots of property here on , namely NYC and Rodeo Drive. Don’t know how long he might last over here with every state moving to  concealed carry laws. That’s the nice thing about Cairo, only his thugs have guns.

The real serious issue is of course yet another revelation of the utter failure and corruption of US Foreign policy in its decades long attempt to set up and prop up dictators friendly to US corporate interests. You can just about name any country . If we have had or have significant corporate interests, the CIA and its thugs have  probably been there, done that. Think Central and South America. There’s a reason that the Latins  have a long tradition of hating us.  In central America the Corporation du jour was the United Fruit Company which had huge plantations  all over the region. The business model was slave labor wages, corrupt politicians and monopoly. Eventually in many of the countries the natives eventually pushed back./ There are a myriad of examples but the CIA special OP PBSUCCESS,  toppled the Guatemalan government when it started talking about peasant rights and expropriating property with or without compensation. This sounded like communism to Langley and in 1954, the  CIA gave those socialists an attitude adjustment. Much the same thing had happened the year before over in Iran. That was the CIA’s ” Operation Ajax” :
This happened on August 19, 1953   overthrowing  the  democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.    Mohammed  with the unanimous support of the Iranian Parliament attempted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. England had other ideas and called Langley and launched AJAX which toppled Mohammed and installed the Sha  of Iran who lasted until 1979. You know the rest. The problem was, this infuriated the entire coutry of Iran and in Iran, memories die hard. Ajax was a debacle of historic proportions. Iran was a highly civilized wealthy educated country with a proud  cultured history, who today might have become a bulwark of stability and prosperity in the region and we and the Brits destroyed all trust and hope for the future. The United States didn’t even need the Oil as we were the WORLD’S  LARGEST OIL PRODUCER. It is no wonder that  the Iranian people demanded payback. The blunder  continues today. Talk about reaping what you sow. We are long past the time when we could have sat down with the Iranian leaders who were not radicalized and said ”Listen Mohammed. We’re sorry. What can we do to make this right.”  Frankly I still think it is not too late to sit down and try to have a conversation if it were done cleverly and diplomatically starting with an apology to the Iranian People. Instead we continue to sanction and threaten a radicalized regime which doesn’t even represent the Iranian people. These same winning  CIA strategies continued in SE Asia(Think Viet Nam) Chile, Iraq and much of Central America and of course now in Iraq and Afghanistan . No empire has ever taken over Afghanistan for long and the CIA plans on trying to rectify that little quirk of history. It is depressing to think how our extra governmental agencies like the CIA and the Federal Reserve are  so ineffably unaccountable and un answerable to the American People. And now we have their little water boarding torture basement in Egypt  at risk of being shut down.  What will be the next chapter coming out of Langley? God help the world if the dominoes in the middle east continue to topple and we get the CIA involved.The Bozos still rule.

The US needs China to finance its deficits, or does it?


Of course you recognize this building, right? It’s the Bank of China in Bejiing. These are the boys that the US is afraid to annoy with rants of undervalued currency, balance of payment issues, human rights abuses, Tiananmen Square, North Korea, intellectual property abuses, theft of patents  and technology, carbon pollution, you know, the works. The US can’t unsettle China with anything economically threatening. We have been told by  the Economists in the State Department as well as the Globalized Banks( a branch of the State Department) that raising these sorts of issues with the Chinese might tick them off and that would be bad, right? After all, it’s the Chinese who fund our debt. It’s the Chinese who fund our  ability to run big budget deficits. Sure, other folks fund the deficits besides the Chinese like Japan, Asian countries and rich individuals in the US and elsewhere, collectively known as the bond market. So imagine my surprise when I saw this headline in the Financial Times:

Fed passes China in Treasury holdings

By Michael Mackenzie in New York

Published: February 2 2011 00:01 | Last updated: February 2 2011 00:01

The Federal Reserve has surpassed China as the leading holder of US Treasury securities even though it has yet to reach the halfway mark in its latest round of quantitative easing, according to official figures.

Based on weekly data released on Thursday, the New York Fed’s holdings of Treasuries in its System Open Market Account, known as Soma, total $1,108bn, made up of bills, notes, bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or Tips.

According to the most recent US Treasury data on foreign holders of US government paper, China holds $896bn and Japan owns $877bn.

“By June [the Fed] will have accumulated some $1,600bn (!!!)of Treasury securities, likely to be in the vicinity of China and Japan’s combined holdings,” said Richard Gilhooly, a strategist at TD Securities. “The New York Fed surpassed China in the past month as the largest holder of US Treasury securities,” he noted.

Whoa horsey!  Talk about cognitive dissonance. !! You may remember before the bernank showed up replacing the last guru of financial psychobabble, Senor Greenspan, the US Government had to raise money to finance it’s budget by issuing debt, but no more. I guess we don’t need China and the bond market any more.  Maybe there is something I don’t understand but is this yet another sign that we are nearing our economic "” End of Days?” Can we now demand:  Mister  Chinaman, Tear down this wall!”

How Obama is making the Depression Worse

When Obama stepped into the Oval Office, the train was  on shaky footing threatening  a full derailment because of the horrible governmental and financial mismanagement  of the previous 10 years, both in the waning Clinton term and the debacle of the Bush years. When I like many other Americans stepped into the voting booth presented with the usual American choice of the lesser of two evils, in this case an over the hill geriatric and his inarticulate   aging beauty queen bimbo and an untried  but articulate black Harvard lawyer, I held my nose and filled in my ballot. Unlike many Americans I wasn’t expecting much from a political system owned and controlled by corporate elites but I held a wee little hope that the situation might not get worse with Bush gone. Wrong . Well before the election  Obama had been assembling an economic team drawn from the same entrenched Wall Street financial crowd of the previous two administrations but there at least was a few old warhorses in the crowd, notably Paul Volker which gave me a sliver of hope. Wrong again.Whether Obama was captured well before, slightly before or just after his accession to the throne is irrelevant. That he is a tool of Wall Street against Main Street is undeniable. There are many factors contributing to this Great Depression which I and many folks far better than I have covered in great detail. The takeover of the American Government and the structural  transformation  of the American Economy from a mixed manufacturing, construction, technological  and Service economy to one dominated by a non productive financialized  economy is complete and for the moment  an intact and rollicking kleptocracy. The TBTF banks and Insurance companies who caused this depression are stronger than ever aided and supported by by the financial elite who transferred their almost impossibly large losses to the impotent and withering middle class and their hapless children. The casino investment banks forced with devastating losses were converted to bank holding companies, which supposedly means full service banks but doesn’t under Obama. They are just continuing the bulk of their gambling with public funds. and in the process rolling up vast increases in national debt which has exploded under Obama. Under new FASFA rules the  banks were allowed to change their accounting rules  of  realistic audits of assets and liabilities to a system where the liabilities became assets. All those mortgage backed securities went from being a few cents on the dollar to 100 cents on the dollar. How could that have happened? Well pardner, if you used truthful auditing principles, the banks would be bankrupt. Can’t have that. So banks like Citigroup and BOA are fine and dandy. Only they’re not but I guess they could eventually become solvent as long as the taxpayer courtesy of  a Federal Reserve  Banking Cartel who answers to no one continues to prop them up and allowing the bernank and his treasury Tonto Tim to keep feeding  them chips from the  Fed Casino. Much of Obama’s first team has left to be replaced by an absolutely outrageous second team of  Aryan Pure Wall Streeters. JP Morgan bank gave us Bill Daley, GE gave us Jeff Immelt who we are told is going to give the jobs back to Americans that GE outsourced to the rest of the world,. This is the same GE that I pointed out in a previous blog who is one of the world’s largest companies but who normally pays little to no taxes because GE in the 1980’s  rewrote the tax laws to benefit their business model. Jeff wants Obama to lower  the corporate tax rate even though GE has never paid any where near the putative 35% rate. In fact in the disastrous year of 2009 GE, one of the world’s largest companies still managed a profit of $11 billion and paid how much in taxes? Zip. In fact the government had to send a tax refund to old Jeff Immelt. The details of how this huge company can make money hand over fist decade after decade and pay little or no taxes is repeated endlessly with one globalized company after another who has outsourced production to slave labor rate countries like China. GE rigged the tax system to defer taxes on earnings overseas, in many cases indefinitely, while shifting losses to the US. It’s the perfect scam and the globalized corporate world all do it, deducting the cost of overseas business  and deferring profits. The actual   tricks  of how  they use the tax code to swindle the US taxpayer and US workers would take a book. I have explored the scam at some length and may revisit this in the future but I am a big picture guy and I’d rather leave it to someone with business or accounting background. I should also state that the big TBTF banks are also at the top  of the list of companies that pay little or no taxes, also courtesy of the tax system. These are the same companies that steal bailouts from the taxpayer’s children who then go on like Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs to pay $16 billion in executive bonuses to himself and his apostles. Of course they can deduct these bonuses as employee compensation. That way they don’t have to return these rapacious profits to the shareholders. Wouldn’t it be a fair and simple matter to allow only limited deduction of employee compensation, say $100,000 per employee and not allow unlimited compensation? The other egregious tricks that most people are familiar with are shifting money for compensation to the much lower capital gains rate to compensate the oligarchs at for example,   the hedge funds. That way you can avoid all those petty charges from  social security and medicare. But to return to Jeff Immelt. Does he sound like a guy who will bring good paying manufacturing jobs back to main street? Conflict of interest is  hardly a strong enough term to describe having a bona fide robber baron in charge of restoring  American jobs that he and his ilk destroyed. If he were to do the unlikely, returning good jobs to our shores, he would be slitting his own throat. So it wont happen. I’m sure he would be happy to return slave labor to the United States at slave labor rates. There simply is no limit to what the corpocracy will do to maximize profits to themselves. I look at trends and try to extrapolate what I think could be the logical consequences of trends and trying to devise non violent and effective strategies to counter the  pernicious influence of the ruling elites. It  is difficult and discouraging in a nation of sheep who have shown no inclination to take to the streets and return the democracy that has been stealthily ripped from their hands(hoofs?) in the past thirty years. I am skeptical of any meaningful change until the society and the economy experiences and out and out train wreck.

Why Big Ag Has No Future

I blog when I have something useful to say. For that reason I sometimes go long periods of no posts. Here is a stunning picture of a topic near and dear to my heart. The picture c/o National Geographic and the website on sustainable AG says it all. It shows in pictorial form the amount of energy used from fossil sources to produce a given amount of beef flesh for human consumption. AS the website states, the fossil energy comes from many sources, not just oil and so oil was chosen as the proxy for the sources. The article states that 26 units of fossil energy is needed to produce one unit of “beef” energy. I would like to source this research to verify these numbers as the previous data I have in hand states the ratio more like 7 or 8 to one. A graph from the site is included sowing the correlation from IEA and other sources of the correlation of food to oil price which I have long suspected but never have previously seen in such graphic form. It is obvious that this has societal, financial and ethical implications. I suspect this graph would only be valid in an energy profligate big ag type of agriculture but perhaps not. The website is here. Click on the images to enlarge them.


Davos 2011 vs the SOTU

Now that America’s  annual irrelevant recitation of platitudes and clichés in the SOTU is over in DC, I need to clue you in on where the real party  is jumping. I am referring to the World Economic Forum being held high in the Swiss Alps in a secure berg/sometime ski area by the name of Davos.  I long ago gave up on the political circus of the State of the Union(SOTU) years ago in which nothing of substance is ever said interrupted by loud applause from the dominant party de jour. I do confess I generally read a transcript of  what the president says but ESPN college basketball and the Australian Open was far more compelling boob tube fare than watching the  latest lesser of 2 evils political leader spouting cornpone shibboleths, half lies and sheer nonsense.
     Davos  is where it’s happening. It is the annual by invitation only FORUM   to  the 2500 masters of the Universe, the people who actually rule the world, the  echte ruling classes to engage in deal making, kibitzing and partying and receiving the latest in financial and economic wisdom handed down from the various think tanks associated with the WEF. I will report on one of those economic reports in a bit but let’s take a look at who the WEF really is. Their slick website is here: The featured face that popped up when I clicked the link was the famous bankster Jamie Dimon so I knew what I was in for even before I did my due diligence research. First some background. The WEF was founded by a German businessman named Klaus Schwab in 1971. It is structured as a NGO non profit organization but it appears to be  well funded from the profits of its members. Here is a citation from Wikipedia of who pays to play:


The foundation is funded by its 1,000-member companies, the typical company being a global enterprise with more than five billion dollars in turnover, although the latter can vary by industry and region. In addition, these enterprises rank among the top companies within their industry and/or country and play a leading role in shaping the future of their industry and/or region. As of 2005, each member company pays a basic annual membership fee of CHF 42,500 and a CHF 18,000 annual-meeting fee which covers the participation of its chief executive officer at the annual meeting. Industry Partners and Strategic Partners pay CHF 250,000 and CHF 500,000, respectively, allowing them to play a greater role in the foundation’s initiatives.[11][12].


Headquartered in Cologny, the foundation opened, in 2006, regional offices in Beijing, China; and New York City, New York, United States. It strives to be impartial, and is not tied to any political, partisan or national interests. The foundation is “committed to improving the State of the World”,[9] and has observer status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and is under the supervision of the Swiss Federal Council. The foundation’s highest governance body is the Foundation Board consisting of 22 members.
So we are told that it is an impartial organization funded by more than 1000 global corporations who do at least $5 Billion per annum with a nice sliding scale allowing more play to those that pay. I did look up  some of the  members of that highest governing board which consists of some curious souls like George Bush lapdog Tony Blair and Queen Rania of Jordan? Who woulda thunk it?rania  You may remember her when she was a bank executive working in Jordan for Citibank.  I enclose a passport size picture for your viewing pleasure. But I digress…..Naturally every TBTF bank on the globe is a member and the members list is thick with unindicted banksters as well as the uberwealthy oligarchs from industry and technology like Bill Gates as well as every hedge fund you can think of. Some impartiality there. I see George Soros gave a speech there the other day  castigating the world’s central banks for being asleep at the switch. His harsh remarks did hurt some feelings.  It does appear that some of the talks and seminars purport to have  lofty goals but the nature of the participants being the Kings( and queens) of Globalization does trigger a blip in my cynical BS meter. Unfortunately for the world, the members list includes an assortment of discredited Sorcerers, excuse me, I mean Economists  drawn from Ivory towers as well as the expected economic Think Tanks. And that brings me to my next topic.
Here is the headline in The Telegraph. I’d say the headline speaks for how the WEF thinks:

World needs $100 trillion more credit, says World Economic Forum

The world’s expected economic growth will have to be supported by an extra $100 trillion (£63 trillion) in credit over the next decade, according to the World Economic Forum.

By Emma Rowley 8:49PM GMT 18 Jan 2011
Here is a clip from Emma Rowley’s article:
This doubling of existing credit levels could be achieved without increasing the risk of a major crisis, said the report from the WEF ahead of its high-profile annual meeting in Davos.
But researchers warned that leaders must be wary of new credit “hotspots”, where too much lending takes place, as the world emerges from a financial catastrophe blamed in large part “to the failure of the financial system to detect and constrain” these areas of unsustainable debt.
“Pockets of credit grew rapidly to excess – and brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse,” said the report, written in conjunction with consulting firm McKinsey. “Yet, credit is the lifeblood of the economy, and much more of it will be needed to sustain the recovery and enable the developing world to achieve its growth potential.”
The global credit stock has already doubled in recent years, from $57 trillion to $109 trillion between 2000 and 2009, according to the report.
The WEF said the continued demand for credit could be met “responsibly, sustainably – and with fewer crises”. However, it cautioned that to achieve this goal, financial institutions, regulators, and policy makers need more robust indicators of unsustainable lending,
I really don’t know where to start. It is simply baffling to me that there are people who actually draw a salary to write this stuff.  By way of background, world GDP is somewhere in the vicinity of $60 Trillion. We see that debt doubled in the last decade. Most of the world banking system is now holding that debt not marked to market as we say in the economic blogosphere.  If it were held at what the market would pay, most of the banks would be bankrupt. Instead this debt is held at what the bank says it is worth, which in most cases is the amount that was lent out with interest. Much of that debt went to fund  a massive worldwide building expansion which became a bubble and is beginning to pop everywhere.  All these banks are pretending that the money they lent to belly up developers will be coming back to the banks with interest. But of course it isn’t and in most cases it wont. This is capital, credit, debt, money, or whatever you choose to call it, that is going poof. Of course the banks and central banks have had a solution: Hit the taxpayers up for the bank’s mistakes and this has been the solution not only here in the US but all over the world where this banking model of loaning money to anyone with a pulse was the modus operandi. In a few cases, namely Iceland, the people said Hell NO and told their government that they the people, were in no way responsible for their bank’s mistakes. This sort of behavior terrifies the types of Oligarchs who are partying in Davos. God forbid. What would happen to them if the serfs of the world refuse to pay for the crimes of these plutocrats. WE need austerity! More austerity!  So the solution to all this bad debt is GOOD DEBT, like maybe another $100 trillion or so. These sorcerer economists assure us the demand for credit can be met sustainably and responsibly with fewer crises.   The kind of people that could write such a paper are living in a parallel universe. a never never land in which debt doesn’t matter, jobs can arbitraged to the lowest bidder nation, economic growth can grow to the sky even as the population soars, world energy supplies are in decline and pollution fills the skies, the rivers and the oceans. I have some friends who cry out “When will  we be free of these Bozos?”, My guess is no time soon.

Latest News from the Auld Sod

     I generally only blog when events merit and on January 18, we had one of those events. irish central bank The news  from Ireland was simply stunning.  It seems that the building pictured above which looks more like a parking garage than the Irish Central Bank had done the unthinkable. It had printed $51 Billion Euros out of thin air, with no backing whatever and handed them over to the insolvent Irish Banks who were  continuing to suffer from an ongoing bank run. Many banks around the world are insolvent and the Irish Banks are among the worst in that respect. To my knowledge this money printing  is unique in the history of the Euro. The early reports were not clear to me whether the money was the result of a keystroke transfer to the Irish banking system or was in fact euro printing. In fact it may have been both but I did discover(Wikipedia) that Euro notes have country codes on them listing which commercial or national printing press did the printing. Euros with the letter “T” are Irish euros . What this central bank did presumably with the permission of the European Central Bank is pure and simple money printing exactly as done by Zimbabwe and the 1920’s Wiemar Republic. What stunned me even more was the deafening silence in the European Press. I would have assumed that the German Public would have rioted in the streets. If one country in the Euro community can print money without issuing debt, why can’t they all do the same ? I guess the Irish decided that if Ben Bernanke can employ QE to feed to America’s TBTF banks, then so can they. The process is fundamentally the same in both countries but the Irish did it baldly and directly. Who will be next? Greece obviously along with Portugal, Spain, Italy. It is amazing to me what the banks of the world will do to save their fat asses and how little the world notices. People! This is a big deal. German People! French People! It is time to march on your central bank and demand and explanation and reversal of this  crime against your currency. IF this act is not reversed, I cannot imagine how the Euro can survive.

Beware the Parabola

 This overlong post has been churning in my Kitchenaid brain machine for some time and I couldn’t find my way clear to post it as a series because I feel the interrelatedness of the concepts demanded a coherent single post. Blogs shouldn’t be this long. If  it seems to long to bother with, my apologies. Just like the Irish cop I will say:” Comon folks. Move along. It’s all  over.”                                                                                                                                                         I  I have used this graph before  and it remains extremely worrisome:(click to enlarge)

The rise in debt is parabolic and only goes through 2006. The past 5 years have only steepened the curve.This curve is just official debt and doesn’t include other unfunded mandates like  public sector pensions, Medicare promises, hidden military debt and future losses for example in commercial and residential real estate. Nor does it include all the casino gambling debt of the major banks with their derivative exposure and toxic  mispriced assets hidden on falsified fraudulent bank balance sheets. Also keep in mind that this debt/gdp graph has similar morphology  across a variety of European countries, most notably the PIGS countries. And yet astoundingly, those governments as well as ours continue to add to the debt as they extend and pretend  with their deliberate lying statistics of a turn in unemployment and job statistics, manufacturing, housing and the economy returning to normal . This deliberate structured propaganda originates from government economic channels reporting to formerly trustworthy mainstream media as well as the thousands of economists working at the major banks and investment houses and hedge funds who themselves are victims of crowd psychology and flawed econometric models. Dick Cheney mouthed their cherished beliefs when he said “Debt doesn’t matter.”  My contention is that debt matters a great deal and the assumption of more debt is riding the tail end of Joseph Tainters curve of diminishing marginal returns. I think I will venture a prediction: this will all end very badly. Our industrial society is driven and formed by debt and this debt bubble will eventually collapse as do all phenomena characterized and described by a parabolic  or exponential curve. This curve of debt is indistinguishable from other financial bubbles and manias as far back as the South Sea bubble and the Tulip Bubble. The only way to put this debt laden economy on a secure footing is to extinguish this debt by either paying down the debt through a prolonged period of austerity or defaulting on the debt by outright default or by inflating it away. Again: this will all end very badly.It cannot help but end badly. What form this bubble collapse will take is subject to debate and educated and uneducated guessing but it will likely include deflationary price collapse early on if debt is defaulted on. Credit will become extinguished as well . Imagine an economy where as debt and credit disappears, so does in effect, money. Money in our society is primarily a function of debt and credit.  Money is debt and credit in my opinion.Money is brought into being as part of a fractional reserve model in which a unit of money loaned out again and again from one financial institution to another which has the effect of multiplying the original  issued amount by a factor or 10-40 times .  If the loaned out money can’t be paid back with interest, it wont be loaned out, debt will not be assumed and as a consequence, credit collapses, and in more than just a theoretical sense, money disappears.

     The next important trend is the role of energy in supporting and maintaining this debt and credit based economy. This  next graph displays the world’s consumption of energy from the dawn of the industrial age to the present in a convenient unit  of derived  work called exjaoule which is 10 to the 18th joules. A joule as you may recall from high school physics is one watt over a period of one sec. joules can be described in electrical terms as well but I digress.… The dashed line represents  real GDP in 1990 dollars.  The world used 474 exjoules in 2008. Wikipedia mentions that the world in the last 20 years has used up over half of the energy consumed in the last 200 years. In this graph there is an obvious relation between world GDP and energy production. In the last graph we saw a debt parabola. I posit that there is a direct relation of energy use and economic output. It takes work and energy to produce stuff . And you can produce a lot more stuff if you can use machines running on  energy provided by the amazing concentrated power contained in fossil energy.  Under the right economic conditions you can make one heck of a lot of stuff using a credit and debt based system leveraging this energy availability to make your stuff. More debt using More energy=more jobs=more stuff=more GDP.  A powerful and parabolic positive feedback loop.The converse applies as well. If energy availability diminishes or its cost goes up, one could suppose that the dashed GDP line would turn down. A Panglossian neo classical economist would dispute my conclusion. He would say energy is an externality to the production process. If fossil energy became scarce,then the market would substitute another form of energy and that dashed line could resume its parabolic ascent. This is where I part company  with  the Panglossians and the cornucopians who loudly assert that there is plenty of oil and gas and coal, algae, cow farts, hummingbird wings and unharnessed dark energy. With the right technology, the dream can go on, the future is unbounded. I acknowledge that there is a possibility that some new cheap form of energy could be found which  could keep that graph of GDP parabolic.   But parabolic curves make me very nervous. Parabolic curves describe bubbles, unstable finite systems, immanent collapse. If I were sharing a cabin on the Titanic with a Panglossian after the iceberg incident, my conclusion just like George Bush would be to shout “This sucker is going down,” and head for the lifeboat deck.. Msr Pangloss would hopefully assert that “there ought to be some way, some technology to get the water out of this tub.”  Peut-etre monsieur but once that curve goes parabolic it is time to get worried. So let’s pull all this together. It looks like we have parabolic debt, parabolic energy use, parabolic world GDP rise, parabolic population increases. I mean, what could go wrong? The key driver is cheap energy and cheap credit. Pull out cheap energy and I hazard that the parabola will collapse as all parabolas  describing biologic  or economic systems eventually do.

     There are optimistic voices in the environmental let’s save the world community who offer what is to them the obvious solution. They see that energy and peak oil may be a real threat and suggest a shift to renewables, renewable energy. Of course in an absolute sense they are right. We need to return to a world which can exist on the energy availability of sun, wind and water and with a little luck and hard work, we will. But dig a little deeper and you will hear that they don’t want a return to a pre industrial, pre oil and coal past. They want to keep the existing party going on renewable energy with a little conservation thrown in, of course. They see electric cars powered by Li Ion batteries made from lithium mined in Afghanistan and Chile.  But to my mind, it doesn’t compute, it doesn’t scale. Unless the society is willing to subsidize renewable energy on a massive scale the way we subsidize corn ethanol, the whole concept is flawed on many levels but cost alone is a deal breaker, especially in a country that is functionally bankrupt. Let’s use the example of wind as our renewable energy source as it is widely regarded as the cheapest renewable. Our earnest and well meaning lefties point to success stories like Denmark which gets 70% of its power from wind. What they omit to mention is Denmark is a tiny densely populated country, wealthy and with a lot of wind. They also omit to mention that Demark has the world highest electricity rates at 36 cents per kilowatt hour. It is also true that some areas of the United States have undeniable wind potential which given subsidies could compete with 3 cent/kw coal and 5 cent natural gas. My home state of Wyoming is awash with wind almost every dusty day but nobody lives here and our wind resource is a long way from the metro centers who could use it. Wyoming is also the country’s largest producer of that 3 cent/kw coal produced electricity.  The coal and gas and oil lobby in Wyoming has formidable political power as do the globalized oil and gas companies . Their lobbyists own Congress. Do you still think you’ll get your subsidy?   They have their subsidies and definitely don’t want to share. There are a myriad of other issues. Electric cars have the same range as they did in 1910 and building a nationwide network of battery or CNG stations would take decades. That Chevy Volt is $40,000. The Toyota Prius hybrid is over half that and gets about 50 mpg with complex electronics and an expensive battery pack and a wimpy gas engine. I have a Toyota Corolla which gets up to 50 mpg which is a brutally simple manual transmission plain jane  econobox  with  a 100 hp engine, and its operating cost per mile is far less than a Prius with much less complexity. Currently most hybrids are charged from Coal or gas power plants which would have to be massively increased to generate enough electricity to fuel a hybrid fleet.  Keep in mind  also that the wind towers were built using electricity generated not by wind but from coal and gas . They were transported vast distances by oil powered ships  and on huge trucks running  on asphalt  roadbeds capable of heavy loads, hoisted into place with huge  diesel powered cranes . The service life of the towers transmissions and blades is short compared to other energy plants
and most of these wind towers were manufactured in China and Europe. There is a place for wind power in some regions but intermittent wind still needs fossil  or nuke or hydro backup. Water and wave energy has obvious potential but only in coastal regions. One could imagine San Francisco running entirely on wind and water with its fierce tidal currents and reliable afternoon breezes but all I hear from there is a deafening silence.  Energy nerds know that I am talking about and around the crucial concept of EROEI, acronym for energy return on energy invested, or just Net Energy.  As the resource diminishes, the cost to discover and process the resource increases. It takes energy to get energy. If it takes as much energy to acquire it as you receive, you are out of business.  EROEI is normally expressed as a ratio of energy consumed to energy obtained and realistically depending on the type of equipment in use, distance to transport, wages paid and so forth, once you get to about 3:1 with oil for example using one unit of oil to get 3 units of oil, you are perilously close to shutting down. Germany in WW2 had minimal access to oil and used a coal to oil conversion which used an awful lot of coal to get a little diesel oil and their inability to seize and hold oil fields and refineries is one of the factors that finished them. They were defeated by the US with access to vast reserves of oil with EROEI ratios exceeding 100:1. Had Germany had the same reserves  of cheap energy when the war began, we might all be speaking English with a German accent.
        Now I will give you yet another crucially important graph illustrating what I have just explained, entitled the Net Energy Cliff and it is all about EROEI ratios:

You will note that the author used the ratio of 8:1 as the minimum ratio needed to just maintain our extravagant lifestyle. There are many ways to calculate EROEI ratios and the reader will note differences depending upon who is crunching the numbers but the general concept is the important thing. For example, absent a $.50/ gallon subsidy for corn ethanol combined with tariffs on Brazilian sugar cane bagasse ethanol from our percipient congress, there wouldn’t be any corn ethanol which is said to have a EROEI just above or below 1:1. Corn ethanol exists as a gift to the Industrial corn producers who wrote the legislation. Canadian tar sands are said to be in a 3:1 EROEI range which would using my methodology, be uneconomical to produce but tar bitumen production is still economical because it is an energy arbitrage using very cheap(at the moment)  Canadian natural gas as the primary energy source to heat and remove the thick bitumen from the sand. If and when the energy or BTU content of oil and gas reach parity, you can say bye bye to the tar sands in Canada which just so happens to be our largest source of imported oil. You will also note the general shape of the net energy cliff curve resembles an exponential or parabolic curve. The conclusion I draw from the curve is that once energy starts to be withdrawn from society, things happen in a big hurry. It is not an arithmetic decay curve where the resource diminishes gradually.  When it begins to bite, it will bite you hard and fast, with precious little time to react.
       And that brings me to my summary phase. Systems characterized or described by parabolic or exponential growth phases are inherently unstable. I am characterizing our national debt as a bubble, as is 200 years increasing use of fossil energy, growth of GDP, and population growth. These are all systems characterized by some factor increasing at an increasing rate and if uncontrolled or ungoverned, collapse eventually ensues which is by definition the pop of a bubble, an uncontrolled collapse. Up to a certain point if the growth curve can be moderated , modulated or reduced to growth at a sustainable rate, the bubble can be deflated and a descent to sustainability can be slow and controlled. There is a period or window within which it is still possible to avert a collapse or uncontrolled chaotic descent to the abyss. But because we are talking about complex adaptive or maladaptive systems on a globalized scale, knowing where the point of no return is, is  probably an unknowable situation. For example we almost certainly have a debt bubble in the United States but the bubble is not just conventional debt but bets on the debt and bets on bets  using derivatives which leverage the debt into the stratosphere. Since the possibility or probability of a bubble or multiple simultaneous bubble collapses may not be knowable or predictable, the only strategy for the individual whether contemplating financial or personal survival is to prepare and think of actions to mitigate personal, familial and social pain. Clearly an obvious strategy is to put some distance between yourself and the bubble. If your existence is tied to the bubble, you will pop along with the bubble.  My conclusion is that lack or scarcity or simply high cost of  energy will be the impetus to a financial collapse. A financial collapse doesn’t necessarily imply a societal or cultural or political collapse. Russia experienced a political and financial as well as a regime collapse twenty years ago and they recovered amazingly well for many reasons not the least of which includes their vast energy resources and relative lack of globalized interconnectedness in their financial system. WE in the United States do not have those advantages. We have other advantages but there is no way of knowing whether we could quickly recover as Russia did. Ancient Rome made several recoveries in the waning centuries of its existence and it was able to maintain its power and wealth by expanding and stealing the wealth and energy of its neighbors. Once that wealth extraction hit a point of diminishing returns, Rome was finished, and really finished. 1200 years after Rome’s collapse, only livestock were grazing on the Palatine Hill above the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

This of course is the inscription for all who are entering hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. But there is nothing comical about President  Obama’s deliberations over who should replace Larry “Lucifer” Summers as White House Director of the Council of Economic Sorcers. Multiple news orgaizations are naming the sorcerers under consideration to replace larry who could one day be remembered as one of the most economically destructive devils ever to bend the ear of a national leader. A number of economic commentators from Paul Krugman to Jim Kunstler have tried to cut our community organizer slack as he tries to learn the job blundering from one compromise to another with the ruling class of Wall Street Corporate and Finance Oligarchs.
       Among the men(not women ) under consideration is former JP Morgan executive William Daley and Gene Sperling, close compadre of Tim Geithner, and Roger Altman, who founded  investment bank Evercore Partners all of whom who have worked closely with Summers to perpetuate and protect and conceal  the mounting  losses and influence of the Wall Street banking establishment from from the American People. So Obama will make no mid course correction to resist the pernicious influence of the Federal banking Cartel. Wall street banksters have been enscounced in the past three administrations and they are maintaining their stranglehold on what passes for the tattered democracy of the United States. These men, the creators  who  invented toxic securitization of mortgages, nationalized Ponzi finance, free money to the investment casino banks and finally backstopping of their enormous losses by forcing them on helpless taxpayers remain in plac and in power. Obama could have demanded  Eric Holder at the justice department to prosecute the criminal TBTF bank executives for fraud in mortgage securitization and Mexican money laudering to just name a few possible avenues of inquiry. But why shoud Eric get off of his FA to investigate the very folks who own him and the legislative and executive branch. The corporate takeover of government was complete more than a decade ago and wishin’ and hopin’ that the corrupt military corpocracy will investigate itself is delusional thinking.
      Rep Joe Wilson shouted down Obama last year yelling “You Lie!”. Change you can believe in, has been Obama’s big lie.Abandon hope, all ye who live here.