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October 10, 2015
Bulletin 208: Local meetings; NM Dems break with White House to support military, nukes; U.S. oil production in decline
Dear friends and colleagues –
As usual we had to make hard decisions about what to leave out of this bulletin. Look to our blog for more in the coming days.
Our next public meeting will be in Albuquerque on Thursday, October 29, at 6:00 pm, at the Study Group offices, 2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque. We will have just returned from meeting with delegations at the UN regarding the importance of initiating negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban and from a week on Capitol Hill focused on nuclear weapons modernization, infrastructure, and related issues.
At this meeting we will provide a brief report-back to members and discuss next steps in New Mexico and beyond. We hope to stand up action and outreach committees at this meeting.
We are also meeting with interested members in Santa Fe on the evening of Wednesday the 28th, again with an action and outreach agenda. The private space we have is limited (but beautiful). If you think you might want to come or to be otherwise involved, please write Trish.
Other ways of keeping in touch are via these Bulletins (which we hope you read and share),Twitter, and checking our complicated but rich web site for updates. We will try to provide new content for the Study Group blog more frequently. Group letters to our more active members, with subjects, are now archived here. On the web site there are pretty frequent updates to the plutonium infrastructure pages, such as the "Modern Pit Facility II" (MPF2) page and those linked to it.
The Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (link is to 1915-page bill and report) has now been passed by both houses of Congress and awaits the president’s signature or veto. It authorizes and sets policy (but does not appropriate funds for) national defense, including the nuclear warhead programs of the Department of Energy (DOE).
The bill blows through the spending caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) – but only for national security functions, a significant political shift in spending priorities if it stands. Preferring release from both defense and non-defense spending caps, the White House reiterated ten days ago that the president would veto the bill. As in previous years, the bill uses Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) as a slush fund for ordinary military expenditures, to the tune of $90 billion (up from $64 billion last year).
Passage would not have been possible without some Democrats breaking ranks, including New Mexico Democrats. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first. Then came both senators (Heinrich, Udall). Ben Ray Lujan voted against the bill.
In constant dollars Obama’s military budgets are already the highest in post-World War II history and higher than the other 10 largest militaries in the world combined. Spending on nuclear warhead design, testing, and production under Obama (he of the “Prague vision”) is also the highest in post-WWII history. Obama brags that he has bombed seven countries directly since becoming president (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, I think). It would be easier to list countries where U.S. Special Forces have not recently operated than where they have. This story – our story – will end very badly if U.S. militarism is not reigned in dramatically.
The balance between “guns and butter,” or “guns vs. human and environmental priorities” if you prefer, in federal spending priorities is thus a very big deal for the future of this country and the world.
In our judgment there was no political need for any of these New Mexico Democrats to break ranks with their president on this bill. In a word, it was craven. And regardless of the various excuses offered, these votes send strong signals to the military, military corporations, the president, and constituents – the wrong messages in every case. And thanks to these Democratic votes, the president is now less likely to veto this bill.
Even with these votes these New Mexico Democrats won’t lose support on the political left because these politicians are very loosely associated with “environmental” values and generally support, in the words of social scientists from four prominent universities, a
Democratic agenda [that] has shifted away from general social welfare to policies that target ascriptive identities of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
These particular politicians are very likely to receive continued endorsements and contributions from liberal groups despite their prioritization of the military over domestic needs and increased spending on weapons of mass destruction. The largest donor to Senator Heinrich in his bid for a Senate seat was the League of Conservation Voters; the fourth largest was the Council for a Livable World, an arms control organization, to take just one example.
I will not take up your time or mine in ferreting out the role of campaign contributions and endorsements from various environmental and arms control organizations in making the careers of these politicians, or comparing their actual performance and votes in office to environmental and arms control objectives. It’s a straightforward, sad story.
Let me just mention three things. First, Senator Udall rightly takes credit for shepherding the controversial new B61-12 gravity bomb, with its precision-guided tail kit that opens up new target possibilities, through a skeptical Senate Appropriations committee. Meanwhile then-Rep. Heinrich was probably the most active Democrat promoting nuclear weapons in the House – certainly the most active on the Armed Services Committee – and a real headache for the White House in that regard. Now he promotes nuclear weapons in the Senate. And do the “all of the above” energy policies of all three Democrats in this group serve environmental goals? In a word, no.
Without going into questions about how the Democrats become favorites of the rich and what to do about it, we must ask two questions about these liberal groups. First, why do these environmental groups have such low standards for environmental policy and performance, and how can they be reformed? Second, why do environmental groups not understand that U.S. militarism – and in New Mexico, devotion to nuclear weapons – is incompatible with environmental goals, and what can be done about that?
Until we have those answers and those reforms, greenwashing will no doubt continue to be available at steep discounts from these groups to all Democrats who apply, and these same groups will also continue to provide political cover for ever-increasing militarism and the structural and overt violence that invariably come with it.
Giving Chris Hedges the penultimate word on this,
If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left. It is not a side issue. It is the issue…There will be no genuine democratic, social, [environmental], economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.
Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds. They use the military to carry out futile, decades-long wars to enrich corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. War is a business. And when the generals retire, guess where they go to work? Profits swell. War never stops. Whole sections of the earth live in terror. And our nation is disemboweled and left to live under what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” Libertarians seem to get this. It is time the left woke up.
Of course most working environmentalists (and, especially, their funders) don’t understand that in the final analysis their goals are incompatible with the neoliberal philosophy that completely saturates all but the leftmost fringe of American politics. That’s the problem. In today’s world you have to be pink to be green. Until we understand, with Pope Francis, that injustice to the poor and vulnerable is not just somehow vaguely related to environmental destruction but the same political problem, stemming from the same roots in our societies and mentalities, our civilization will remain on a steep downward vector.
Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (Laudato Si’, 49, emphasis in original)
You all got our brief press release, “Pope Francis denounces nuclear deterrence and calls for prohibition of nuclear weapons (Sep 25, 2015). I would like to share what we sent to a few journalists that same day.
Dear colleagues --
Here are the signatories:
Change is coming to New Mexico. If we choose rightly, we can place our state on the right side of history. Or we can be like the city fathers in Santa Fe a century ago, that rejected the state university in favor of the state penitentiary, because of "jobs." What folly that was. [letter ends here]
Oil is in many ways the “master resource” for our economy and civilization. To quickly take in some appreciation of just a few aspects of the broader significance of this issue, please see Frank Kaminski’s fine review of the excellent second edition of The World After Cheap Oil – or if you have more time, see “In the eye of the peak oil storm,” slides from the Study Group presentation of Oct 28, 2014.
As we wrote early this year, the world is very near the all-time peak in the rate of oil production – that is, crude oil plus field condensate, “C&C.” When it became clear that last year’s price collapse was going to last a long time, drilling and investment began to slow down in more places here and abroad, not least the shale plays that have been boosting U.S. production.
It’s a complicated picture, but basically U.S. production began to turn down in the spring as the number of wells already underway declined (along with production from previously-drilled wells). DOE began to report that downturn in the summer. Specialists had been anticipating and analyzing aspects of this downturn over the past year. It’s now quite noticeable on the ground, and it is visible in economic and employment statistics, in financial markets, and in DOE’s production statistics and forecasts. For the past several months C&C production in the U.S. has been declining at about 1% per month. (DOE estimates are inconsistent but for example see weekly estimates here.)
Kurt Cobb has an excellent recent overview of the North American oil production situation: “Will declines in U.S. and Canadian oil production lead to a global decline?”
The mainstream press is sitting up and taking notice: ‘US Oil Output On Brink Of ‘Dramatic’ Decline’ (Reuters):
Oil executives warned on Tuesday of a “dramatic” decline in U.S. production that could pave the way for a future spike in prices if fuel demand increases. Delegates at the Oil and Money conference in London, an annual gathering of senior industry officials, said world oil prices were now too low to support U.S. shale oil output, the biggest addition to world production over the last decade. “We are about to see a pretty dramatic decline in U.S. production growth,” the former head of oil firm EOG Resources Mark Papa, told the conference. Papa, now a partner at U.S. energy investment firm Riverstone, said U.S. oil production would stall this month and begin to decline from early next year. He said the main reason for the decline would be a lack of bank financing for new shale developments.
Official data show that nationwide U.S. output has already begun to decline after reaching a peak of 9.6 million barrels per day in April, although production in some big shale patches, including North Dakota, has held steady thus far. The Energy Information Administration forecast on Tuesday that output would reach a low of around 8.6 million bpd next year. Until this year, U.S. oil output was growing at the fastest rate on record, adding around 1 million bpd of new supply each year thanks to the introduction of new drilling techniques that have released oil and gas from shale formations. But oil prices have almost halved in the last year on oversupply in a drop that deepened after OPEC in 2014 changed strategy to protect market share against higher-cost producers, rather than cut output to prop up prices as it had done in the past.
Oil production cannot be adjusted instantly with a hypothetical dial in response to price signals. U.S. and Canadian production in particular is heavily dependent on exploiting expensive, complicated oil (or “oil”, depending). Knowledgeable senior people are leaving the field, and drillers are stripping idle rigs for parts to save precious cash, making it more difficult to bring back these rigs later. In systems terms, there is hysteresis.
As engineer Matt Mushalik succinctly concludes his most recent post (highly recommended), “The world lives on borrowed oil. And on borrowed time because we don’t know how long this debt/oil blend will last.”
Some of you may find this recent essay by Gail Tverberg helpful, if rather complicated and loosely argued. She concludes that
…low prices, with no way to get them back up, and no hope of making a profit on extraction, are likely the way we reach limits in a finite world. Because low demand affects all commodities simultaneously, “Limits to Growth” equates to what might be called “Peak Resources” of all kinds, at approximately the same time.
That’s it for now.
Very best wishes,
Greg Mello, for the Study Group