Hook Versus Crook

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Publishes on the Economic Undertow on November 17, 2015

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When reports of gunmen shooting up nightclubs and cafés in Paris emerged late Friday, the immediate thought was, “What are they going to take away from us now? What remaining liberty will we be forced to surrender … to make us safe?”

The second immediate thought was, “false flag’: what did the intelligence services have to do with this attack? Did they know the plot in advance and did they look the other way? Did they go farther and provide planning, target lists, information, money and supplies? Did they offer safe-houses, transportation or false papers? Who were the attackers? Were they what the media loudly trumpets them to be, Islamic State militants, or were they something else; common criminals or government operatives posing as militants?

These are questions not being asked, instead, there is the non-stop, televised fear mongering, the demand for retribution and the promise of more military action by otherwise inept bosses.

At some level, the agencies had to know of this attack in advance, they could not be so incompetent as to be unaware. Friday’s attack was the latest in a long series of militant strikes against civilians. In Europe as in the US, spy agencies have surveillance over everyone’s computers and smartphones twenty-four hours a day. Like the rest of the modern world’s children, jihadis cannot function without credit cards, Facebook and Twitter … online porn and ‘Candy Crush’. France is thick on the ground with informants and stool pigeons. Many of these are racketeers and hardened criminals who have no fear of jihadi violence and much to gain by trading information about competing gangs to the police. In the poor areas of Belgium; in Molenbeek and the grimy high-rise slums of suburban Paris and Lyon, in Marseilles and elsewhere, everyone knows what everyone else is doing. There are no secrets. Since Friday, the French and Belgian police have conducted 160 raids against terror suspects, they did not come up with names and addresses over the weekend … They knew.

France did not find targets in Raqqa, Syria and send jet aircraft and the other supporting infrastructure to strike them in 72 hours. All of the forces involved were set into motion long ago, the entire operation including the recent attacks appears to have been staged: French military preparations, pre-positioning of hardware and command structure in Jordan and UAE since early in 2015; the French air attacks on Syria; the tit-for-tat massacres in France, the media saturation and hysteria followed by the next level of military response and the urging on by the US and others in a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle. “The game is afoot,” cries Sherlock Holmes; the question is, what sort of game is it?

Militarism is a factor. War is a form of economic stimulus, a self- referential or self- advertising scam; a bastardized Keynesianism directed toward arms manufacturers and ‘service providers’. War has also historically been a way to seize and exploit resources. Western governments tend to avoid the blitz- and conquest approach because of costs. Instead, governments colonize indirectly by exporting political and social instability to targeted countries — particularly the petro-states — then importing consumption capacity along with the crude. This strategy aims to offset the decline in net petroleum exports as described by Jeffrey Brown, (Peak Prosperity):

“I started wondering in late 2005 what happens to oil exports from an exporting country, given a production decline and rising consumption. And, so I just started, I just constructed a simple little model. I assumed a production of about two million barrels a day or so at peak, consumption of one, and assumed production falls about 5% per year, basically what the North Sea did, and assumed consumption increases to 2.5% per year. What the model showed was that exports, net exports would go to zero in only nine years, even though a roughly modest production decline. So, the easy way to state it is giving an ongoing, inevitable decline in production, unless an exporting country cuts their domestic oil consumption at the same rate as the rate of decline in production, or at a faster rate, it’s a mathematical certainty that the net export decline rate, what they actually ship out to consumers will exceed the rate of decline in production. And, furthermore, it accelerates … “

Always pay close attention to what the bosses do and ignore what they say: targeted ‘destability’ is by itself evidence for the presumably defunct ‘peak oil theory’ as well as the establishment’s understanding and appreciation of it. Because fuel constraints are destabilizing by themselves; little additional prodding is required to unhinge vulnerable countries. When Syrians, Ukraines, Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Afghans and others are unable to drive because they are car-less, road-less, dead, penniless or refugees, Americans drive in their place. “The American way of life is non-negotiable,” proclaimed George HW Bush in 1992; the inch-by-inch demolition of countries … including Greece, Spain, Portugal and France … is what ‘non-negotiable’ looks like.

IMG_0118

The amounts of fuel to be had by way of ‘consumption switching’ from the destitute countries of the global south is trivial, no more than a few hundred-thousand barrels per day; unraveling these countries is overture/practice for the larger game. The prizes are Europe, with its crude daily consumption of 12.5 million barrels; also China and Russia, with their daily output of 15+ million barrels per day. Should Europe be wrenched into consuming half of that current total, Americans will gain the balance. As China- and Russia’s economies collapse oil prices will crash even lower than they are now as more desperate barrels are dumped onto the world market.

The ongoing ‘crude oil glut’ is not the result of fracking technology or Saudi marketing strategy but a result of war and economic distress, purposefully applied wherever there are vulnerabilities. A devastated country with no government or business activity to speak of will continue to pump as much oil as it can, for as long as it can, to provide logistical support to meet increasingly urgent military needs … and to provide ‘safe spaces’ for antsy bosses, whomever they might happen to be, whomever they might happen to be, whomever they might happen to be!

Iraq7

Figure 1: Iraq no longer exists as a unified country but the fragments nevertheless extract 4 million barrels of light crude per day (Ron Patterson/Peak Oil Barrel). The appearance of excess supply glut has occurred during a period when gross crude production has been relatively flat. In the face of unlimited demand (not to be confused with consumption) there must be triage: to accommodate some users, other users have to levered out of the market … by hook or by crook.

Mazama France 111615

Figure 2: Hook vs. crook: French petroleum consumption has been declining steadily for economic reasons, chart by Mazama Science (click for big). French drivers guzzle 1.5 million barrels of MENA (Middle East, North Africa) crude per day. Paris has an interest in destabilizing these areas to absorb their consumption and make them more dependent upon French euros; the US has an interest in ruining France so that it’s millions of barrels of daily consumption might flow into American gas tanks.

The foregoing leaves out the fact that customers in France and elsewhere around the world are broke and becoming less able to afford fuel at any price.

Islamic State is the New Black.

ISIS and other, similar groups are the future revealing itself. Instead of science fiction-y high technology and ‘innovation’, singularities and robot immortality, there is 17th century barbarism. Along with Ukraine and Iraq, Syria is one more fiercely ugly place-of-the-moment where fantasy of unlimited material ‘progress’ and the reality of resource constraints collide. The West and the United States have caught themselves in a trap of their own making. The West requires resources from the Middle East and elsewhere to produce GDP expansion. The West’s (borrowed) fuel payments provide funding for messianic non-state actors that threaten the West itself. If you drive a car you must buy fuel, when you buy fuel you are funding ISIS and growing constellation of similar groups.

To buy fuel we borrow because using fuel is non-remunerative: it’s recreational like sitting in a café in the 11th arrondissement. We are ironically borrowing ourselves into bankruptcy so that we might support individuals whose intent is to murder us all in our nightclubs.

Because the West’s fuel payments are borrowed; the cost threatens the West ‘through the back door’. More expensive credit makes it increasingly difficult to destroy the militants: failing to destroy makes them more ‘efficient’. Our waste + borrowing + warfare cycle has created a Frankenstein monster that nobody can get rid of or control.

The same monster becomes the rationalization for governments to do whatever they will to control their own citizens with the citizens’ blessing. ISIS & Co. has become the end that justifies all means but one … what would fatally undermine the group … to give up the precious automobiles and all the high-cost, money/resource guzzling crap that goes with them.

It’s important to view what is underway in the world right now in both developed and developing countries through a petroleum prism. Economic distress in the OECD and elsewhere is a consequence of the high cost of- and lack of return on fuel consumption. Political ineptitude and social distress is a product of declining economic fortunes. The rise of militancy in developing countries is a consequence of consumption switching and military meddling by the West. Islamic militancy, like climate change has become another ‘wicked problem’, where proposed solutions are simply new problems in drag, with costs that cannot be discovered until the solutions are deployed and found wanting.

Ryan Lissa @ New Yorker observes that none of the Democratic candidates for president have a plan for removing #ISIS. The Republicans don’t have a plan, either. Nobody does because we don’t want to give up anything. We are desperate for pleasant outcomes, managers are satisfied to make minuscule adjustments on the margins which cannot ‘scale up’ resulting in failure.

Militancy cannot be removed from its context of neo-colonial exploitation of global south’s resources. We need to actually change our lifestyles, to make sacrifices, to give somethings up, our useless, costly toys. #ISIS is a consequence, an externality of our squandrous waste of irreplaceable capital. Sending in the air force fails because doing so wastes more capital even as prior interventions are what birthed and nurtured groups like #ISIS in the first place.

We have created a world where we must drive fifteen miles from the living room to the bathroom. We look to shift the costs of this folly onto others far away … which becomes too close for comfort when the refugees and militants arrive onto our doorsteps, begging for handouts or spraying bullets. Instability feeds on itself, whether it is in Raqqa, Somalia or Paris, South Sudan or Afghanistan = ‘Conservation by Other Means™’

Islamic State’ is an idea, not a country, it has little in the way of precious infrastructure to destroy. Bombing it is a waste of time and resources. The only way to get rid of the militants is to bankrupt them. That happens when the West and its imitators stop using fuel.

The fighting in the Middle East would end instantly if the US government instructed the petro-states Saudi Arabia and Iran to stand down or else … The Navy would halt the flow of tankers to- and from the Persian Gulf. It can do so safely from 200 miles away, out of range of (Iranian) aircraft or missiles. Without tanker traffic => no oil sales => no dollars or euros or pounds-sterling => no cash flow for hobby wars or other nonsense. Simply starting a public discussion about this option on television would cause the Middle Eastern oil powers and their proxies to make a run for the negotiating table. To do otherwise would be too risky: if consumers around the world were to free themselves from Middle Eastern crude for even a little while … there is no reason why they could not do so permanently.

The US should also embargo military hardware sales to combatants, it should freeze the combatants’ dollar funds held in the West’s banking system, including funds belonging to the Islamic State. The US leadership could get on TV and instruct the Americans in no uncertain terms to cut energy use in half in two years … to do so or else. Doing so would rid us of useless, bankrupting automobiles, for which so much blood is being shed.

2 Responses to Hook Versus Crook

  • Surly says:

    Steve, I typically enjoy your work very much, but this article ranks as one of your best.

    After 9-11, Bush the Lesser famously urged us all to "go shopping." You suggest we give up our cars? How would we get to the mall?

    You note the Dems don't have a plan for defeating ISIS. "The Republicans don’t have a plan, either. Nobody does because we don’t want to give up anything." We won't give up anything; the corporate state will just continue to take it from us, one piece at a time, as they do now.

  • George Robinson says:

    i thought we were all pretty clear that IS is just another al Quaeda, a proxy military force funded and organised by the West in order to destabilise oil-rich countries.  Our mainstream declaration to be fighting them is just a sham to lend them credibility as an independent force.  But we're not fighting them in reality. British and American aircraft are known to supply the terrosrists in Syria.  The collapse of any nationalist political force in Syria will achieve our goal of Syrian oil flowing free of charge into our tankers.  Just like Libya and Iraq.

    Or have I got it wrong, and modern governments don't perpetrate that kind of barbarism any more?

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