Houthi Drone Raid on Abqaiq, Time to Restart

Saudi estimates on time to restart will be available in a few days. so this estimate is an exercise.  A 1960 article from “Aramco World”, titled Sweetening Up the Crude, is relevant. When we think of a refinery, the “cracking unit” comes to mind, as it is most central to producing refined petroleum products. But crackers are not central to the main job of Abqaiq, which is removing sulfur, and dissolved flammable gases under high pressure. Quoting,

All the crude produced in Saudi Arabia—except for that of the offshore Safaniya Field in the Persian Gulf—is "sour." At ground level the pressure may be as high as 1,000 pounds per square inch (or "1,000 psi," as the engineers say). It must be reduced considerably before it reaches the stabilizer, so it's sent first to a gas-oil separator plant, or "GOSP." There are eleven of these in the Abqaiq area.

Now, the gas can't be allowed to "blow off" all at once. If it did, a considerable amount of liquid would also be lost—something like shaking a bottle of soda pop before uncapping it.

The gas is released in stages in a series of drums or columns, known as separators, before it reaches a spheroid where the pressure is cut down to about 2 psi. By now, most of the light hydrocarbon gases have been removed, but the gas is still "sour." The next step is to pump it to the sour-crude storage tanks at the stabilizer to await processing.

If water and sulfur are both present in crude, sulfuric acid forms, which eats through low alloy steels in common use.

The  inlet pressure of the (as of 1960) 11 GOSPs  is about 1000 psi, 10X the operating pressure of a typical “cracker” The GSOP’s at Abqaiq are made of heavy gauge stainless steel to resist both pressure and corrosion by sulfuric acid.   This is required because there is no control over the  composition of the oil as it comes out of the ground. Later in processing, combinations of stabilizing chemicals, and removal of water, make possible (Science Direct) transport of some sour crudes  in HSLA steel pipelines.  But at Abqaiq, Aramco actually transforms sour into sweet, with a resulting price premium.

  • The drone warheads are small, too small to destroy a substantial building. But if a drone hit a GOSP, the high operating pressures and  abundance of flammable gases would multiply the effect, resulting in total destruction.
  • The requirements of replacement: thick stainless steel, custom fabrication, and flawless welding. These days, stainless production and fabrication is principally done in China, a supply chain risk.
  • Other infrastructure, such as pumps and automation, are potentially serviceable with spare parts. This is not the case of the GOSPs.
  • This is not a simple Shukhov thermal cracker, of the kind the massive WWII Allied bombing raids on Ploiești found so hard to flatten. High technology and large scale exact the penalty of long lead times.

The estimate,  purely as an exercise, is 120 days for partial resumption of lost production.

To say there is no defense against this level of attack is incorrect. The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System is a good fit, though study of saturation attack is a requirement. Since,

  • The targets are large, high value infrastructure,
  • Large areas of Houthi control, and all of Iran, enjoy a shield from direct combat conditions,

Saturation attacks are more likely than if the origin is  a combat zone.

 

 

Choosing a National Security Advisor; Beware of the Chinese Menu; Part 2

Let’s continue our study of Brzezinski and Kissinger. While both had personal politics, neither had political aspiration. Each had a patron, someone within the political structure who circumvented the political and social barriers to the corridors of power. Kissinger’s patron was Nelson Rockefeller; Brzezinski’s was David Rockefeller.

The Rockefellers compensated for a defect of our system. Without them, the choices were lesser men (yes, in those days, men), maybe hacks, who knew how to work the system (suck up, kiss down), but little else. They might be lawyers, not a great asset. Lawyers tend to think like lawyers.  They might be politicians, not so great either. Politicians spend so much of their mental energy trying to understand the electorate, it gets in the way of understanding totally alien cultures and their murderous inclinations.

Brzezinski and Kissinger were both college professors. Brzezinski was a people person. His own “pollster”, he spent years traveling around Eastern Europe, talking to ordinary people, getting their ideas for a better world. In retirement, his NPR interviews displayed a genuinely humble person. In the Forecasting World Events program, when a prediction was requested for a minor European election, he suggested instead a question about tennis. He was a tennis enthusiast.

  • Takeaway #1`: Neither spent their lives seeking this job. Unintentionally, they spent their lives in preparation.

The Carter Administration was humiliated by the Iran hostage crisis. Little known, Brzezinski  responded with the start of rapid deployment forces and  Special Missions Units, later publicized as Delta Force, SEAL 6, etc. The initiative has been of lasting value in projection of American power, yet others typically get the credit.

A harder edged personality, Kissinger was a networker, organizer, and negotiator. Some of the hard edge is softened by the critical self evaluation of his autobiography. Kissinger’s ties were mostly with the elite, but he carried on a personal dialog with the anti-war movement. Inner humanity is best revealed by the need to be understood.

  • Takeaway #2: They had expansive job approaches, going beyond definition.

You can have an advisor who is smaller than the job, or one who is bigger. There is no “just right.” Distinguish between personal presence and depth. Some personal presence is necessary to get the attention of the bureaucracy, but it’s useless if the ideas are NFG. Above all, look out for “power for power’s sake.” The job title tends to attract it.

Both Brzezinski and Kissinger were refugees from Hitler’s Nazism. They shared, like many others of this background, a professional cynicism, a large part of what the international relations people call “realpolitik” and “realism.” I’m not getting academic here. People use these words, and this is where it comes from.

  • Takeaway #3: Their inclinations were forged in the crucible of life.

These persons managed to cut away from the common herd. There aren’t a bunch of copies walking around; these men were originals. What were their secrets?

If each man had been handed the other’s problems, would the same solutions result? That’s where luck comes in.  With Kissinger’s comfort moving among elites, he  juggled,operated and resolved conflicts between the Western Bloc, the Eastern Bloc, and  Third World clients of the same.  Brzezinski, primed by his one-on-one interactions with residents of Eastern Europe,   sensed ripeness for change. In response, he replaced Kissinger’s détente with a policy of peaceful confrontation.

  • Takeaway #4: Lefty Gomez again. They were right for the times.

Replacing détente was not a partisan move.  Cyrus Vance, secretary of state under Carter, preferred the continuation of Détente. Foreign policy is used as a political football, but since World War II, the relationship with the issues of domestic politics has been weak and occasional.  This is changing, with major conflict between the “internationalists”, and the “nationalists.” Is there a compromise?

Next: Retrospective.  To be continued shortly.

 

 

 

 

Choosing a National Security Advisor; Beware of the Chinese Menu; Part 1

A new national security advisor offers the opportunities of same-old-same-old, incremental improvement, ideological certainty, or out-of-the-box thinking. Two prior office holders are particularly noteworthy: Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger. (I had the pleasure of competing against Brzezinski in the “Forecasting World Events” competition, when I beat his score at forecasting.) Brzezinski’s achievements  exceed those of any other save Kissinger.

With Kissinger in a class of his own, others of high ability are not marked by achievement for the reason stated by Lefty Gomez: “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Kissinger and Brzezinski  served when world order was in the process of transition,  full of opportunity. But since Louis Pasteur said “Chance favors the prepared mind” , I’d rather be lucky and good. Of the 27 who have filled this role, there are doubtless some whose brilliance was shadowed by the problems of their times.

We had a recent lesson about believing versus adapting, and of being a slave to an idea.  Our power structures — universities and think tanks — are set up to favor the student whose mind can be blueprinted by his Ph.D advisor, and those who want to advance within the power structure. It’s a valuable leg up to have mentors, and hard to have them if you insist on going your own way.

Things to figure out about the applicant:

  • Is the applicant’s mind a xerox copy of one of the famous think tanks, or the intellectual establishment, or the “party line?”
  • Does he have any ideas of his own? Small, like greasing the wheels, big, like an architect? Or does he quote policy to you?
  • Give the guy a simple problem, and ask for a sketch of a solution, on the spot. Is it idealistic, realistic, cynical? Is it a Chinese menu of choices everybody knows?
  • You  don’t like the idea. Does he fold up, try to sell it to you, or start a dialog?
  • If the applicant is “respected”, try to figure out why. The applicant may be an excellent xerox copy, be a good administrator, have winning ways, and be useless for the job.
  • If you find someone who is a brilliant, out-of-the box thinker, and copacetic, bend over backwards to excuse the things you thought were important, like “Nobody ever heard of him.” This is a battle of the brains.

I’ll continue shortly.

If you want the Best of the Best of the Best, this test will get you started.

 

The Intractables: Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Syria

Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, and Syria, the unwanted leftovers of Western colonialism, are  situations of intractable engagement with U.S. forces. . Contrary to the Western powers that abandoned their empires, we’re stuck. A relatively new factor, Islamic terrorism, prohibits the summary exits forced on the UK, Netherlands, France, and Belgium.

(MT) Trump calls off secret Camp David meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders.There has been criticism of Trump’s attempt of a secret meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David. Since this is not a political blog, I will not join the criticism. While I  privately anticipated  failure of the negotiations with the Taliban, I felt that a public assertion would be more irritating than helpful.

If diplomacy is unrivaled by alternatives, there is no reason to criticize the form it takes.  Where talks are held, and whether there is byzantine secrecy, are not central. Diplomacy has been going on as long as palaver. It seems to be something humans do. To deny the role of diplomacy, as a wasted step before inevitable conflict, is like the assertion of (Minority Report) future crime. In the West, post World War II, diplomacy is regarded as a requirement of a moral foreign policy.

In earlier times, and in other regions, the object of diplomacy has been manipulation. An historical quote, perhaps due to Richelieu or Talleyrand, is close to “God gave the diplomat a tongue so he could say what he does not mean.”  Every student of foreign policy becomes familiar with six teaching examples:

  • Munich Agreement of 1938, which enforced on Czechoslovakia the cession of the predominantly German Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. Hitler proclaimed it was his last territorial demand. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced (YouTube)“I have brought peace for our time”  From this stems the thought: Never appease a dictator.
  • Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Unique in this list, it involves two dictators. Adolph Hitler deceived Joseph Stalin  to believe that, with Germany pacified by  delivery of raw materials from Russia, invasion was not imminent.  The illusion was shattered in the early morning hours of Sunday, 22 June 1941, with Operation Barbarossa.
  • Yalta Conference, when FDR sought to curry  Stalin’s favor both on a personal level, and by accession to most of Stalin’s demands. In search of a personal bond with “Uncle Joe”, FDR sidelined Winston Churchill, and the latter’s efforts to stop the annexation of Eastern Europe as satellites of the Soviet Union, with what became known as the Iron Curtain.
  • Paris Peace Accords, resulting from secret talks,1970-73, between  Lê Đức Thọ and Henry Kissinger.  Of note, there were also parallel, public negotiations, valued only as propaganda by North Vietnam. The secret talks were repetitious, empty, and according to Kissinger, a form of torture. Yet the result was an agreement. We’ll dissect this.
  • Shuttle diplomacy, practiced by Kissinger during the Nixon and Ford administrations, which ended hostilities in the wake of the Yom Kippur War,  setting the stage for the Camp David Accords during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
  • SALT(s) and START(s), begun by Kissinger and continued by others.  Generally positive outcomes, with and without treaty ratification.

Three successes, two failures, and one great deception. Munich and Yalta are infamous. While the Paris  Peace Accords were completely undone  when South Vietnam collapsed in 1975, this result has been cited as a hardly inevitable self-inflicted wound.  Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy remains durable to present.

In the West, it is a moral requirement to precede the use of force with diplomacy. Alternatives to diplomacy exist with some situations, as   nonviolent opportunities to shape the future.  It is then a boon if the chance of successful negotiations can be determined in advance.  Is this possible?

Yes!  To be continued shortly.

 

Violence in America Part 2; Two Degrees of Anonymity

We continue from  Violence in America Part 1.

(CNN) A shooting rampage that left 5 dead in West Texas started with a traffic stop.

Many attempts have been made to discover the causes of violent crime, and the reasons some societies are comparatively safe. It is hard for many to absorb that there is no one or two things that decide. It seems likely that there are many mixtures that produce one or the other.

There will be more stringent gun laws.  Mass murder is now a political issue, with greater stage presence than the NRA. Mass shootings will persist.  (MST) Mass Shootings Tracker counts 340 this year to date. Gun Violence Archive counts 280. If gun laws are enacted to the degree held tolerable by the red states, there will be almost as many shootings the following year. In five years, if we’re lucky, the incidence might be halved.

A small minority young U.S. men with vague and barely noticeable mental health issues have been energized by a deadly meme. Contrary to our expectations,  the meme is viable without connection to any ideology at all. The susceptible population of young men may be as high as 2.5%, corresponding to the prevalence of psychotics in the general population.

Our society has evolved in a direction that is a gift to the world’s totalitarian states. They now say, “Look at you. We’re not giving our people freedom to imitate that.”

We must look to the unsavory past, a past that did not respect civil rights, when by our modern standards, the “different” were persecuted, racial equality was denied, women were inferior, and allegiance  was required to false gods, both in the village and in the sky. Injustice was rife and crime was (comparatively) rare. Since then, the Republic has taken a long journey, towards anonymity.

The first degree of anonymity came after World War II. Americans became mobile, relocating in mass migrations; from South to North, East to West. With migration came a cosmopolitan anonymity. Those who relocated were immersed in megalopolises, now surrounded by people who did not know them. For the most part, they never would. The village bigots would not be replaced.

Freedom to live one’s own, distinctly individual life, within the law, but free of the pressure of conformity from unwanted peers, is a treasure of our modern liberal society. The dark side: in the postwar period, crime surged. The same odious peer pressure to conform, to live and act exactly like one’s peers, had  discouraged crime.

The desire of the criminal to commit crime while avoiding apprehension requires anonymity. As police tactics and technology improved, the veil of  anonymity was partially pierced. Crime went down. Other factors doubtless played a part.  Female empowerment, Oprah Winfrey, and TV courts may have substituted for the village bigots, reaching those disinterested in organized religion.

The second degree of anonymity came with the avatar of social media, and the fictional identity that usually accompanies it. Since law enforcement can easily discover the identity of a particular social media user, it may seem ridiculous to identify this as as crucial influence. But it is easy to overestimate human intelligence.

In  Lake Woebegon, all the children are above average. Every where else, half the children and adults are below average. This means dumb. They are not readers of this blog, but social media is very popular. Many are kind, polite, and productive. With limited ability to understand complex issues, many have considerable ability to divine the basic character of other persons, which could explain why our democracy functions as well as it does.

The bulk of criminals come from the below-average and just-average. Quoting from (Criminal Justice Research) Intelligence and Crime, Part V,

The majority of studies have found IQ differences between offenders and nonoffenders (e.g., Ellis &Walsh, 2003). On average, the IQ for chronic juvenile offenders is 92, about half a standard deviation below the population mean. For chronic adult offenders, however, the average IQ is 85, 1 standard deviation below the population mean. A study of Texas inmates who entered the prison system in 2002 indicated that approximately 23% of the inmates scored below 80, almost 69% scored between 80 and 109, and only 9.6% scored above 110 (Ellis & Walsh, 2003).

The avatar is an abstraction combined with a fiction. To the intellectually gifted, it is a pleasant fiction. To those who are intellectually challenged, the reality of the avatar as a true identity is variable. In a person consumed with ideation of violence, the delusion of the avatar may supersede the fiction. It gives the ideator freedom to act.

To save our society, to extinguish the meme of killing, something has to be sacrificed. It’s unthinkable to sacrifice our constitutional freedoms. Gun control by itself will not do away with the meme. We cherish our right to live in anonymous freedom. We don’t want the return of the village bigots.

We cannot rely on our better natures. Something has to change.

I nominate the avatar/fictional identity, to be replaced by something that every intellectually challenged, meme-consumed young male will, in every moment of his online existence, be reminded  is no shield for ideation of mass murder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Chechen Commander Gunned Down In Berlin; Whodunnit?

(RFE) Former Chechen Commander Gunned Down In Berlin; Eyes Turn To Moscow (And Grozny). An excellent article, the entirety is quotable. By reference to a November 2016 event, we offer a whodunnit theory.

Russian involvement is likely. The details challenge the idea that Russian assassinations are authorized and executed by organs of government with a well defined hierarchy of command and control. Quoting from Iran/MEK Bomb Plot; Assassinations; Russia Comparison,

The exception to careful planning is post breakup Russia. While at their best, Russians still excel at the undetectable murder, their reputation has been sullied by high profile embarrassments, amateurish exploits involving high tech poisons, such as the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko,  and the contamination of half of Salisbury with Novichok A-234. It suggests that, contrary to the almost automatic “Putin approved…” theory of assassinations, there are multiple entities in Russia that initiate, including the SVR, and multiple entities that execute, including possible freelancers.

Consider:

  • Litvinenko and the Skripals were attacked with the most sophisticated poisons known.
  • Zelimkhan Khangoshvili  was shot by a Russian on a bicycle. Other Chechens have been assassinated by gun shot.
  • The personal characteristics  of the victims are unrelated to the modes of attack. The mode is determined by the authority that requires it.

Montenegro was challenged to make the distinction, and they did. (BBC) ‘Russian nationalists’ behind Montenegro PM assassination plot. Quoting,

“We don’t have any evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense… but we have evidence that two nationalists from Russia were organisers,” Mr Katnic said.

Elsewhere, the article states,

“There is no evidence the Russian state was involved.”

Really? At the least, it indicates the Russian state can cover its tracks very well. It is possible that activities such as these are covered by a loosely administered slush fund.

Now it’s all set up for the whodunnit play write. Learn a little Russian, infiltrate Russian paramilitaries and be sure they don’t notice you’re taking notes. Fame and fortune can be yours!

 

 

 

 

 

Did A Botched Bid To Recover A Sunken Missile Cause The Russian Radiation Blast?

I wrote about this in Russian Nuclear Cruise Missile Accident Analysis; Reverse Engineering 9M730 Burevestnik.

Quoting (RFE) Did A Botched Bid To Recover A Sunken Missile Cause The Russian Radiation Blast?,

Documents, photographs, satellite imagery, and other open-source materials reviewed by RFE/RL point strongly to an accident — most likely underwater, or just near the surface — …

Quoting (CNBC) US intel report says mysterious Russian explosion was triggered by recovery mission of nuclear-powered missile, not a test,

“This was not a new launch of the weapon, instead it was a recovery mission to salvage a lost missile from a previous test,” said a person with direct knowledge of the U.S. intelligence assessment. “There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery and that caused a reaction in the missile’s nuclear core which lead to the radiation leak,” said another person, who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

This puts my analysis in the class of “brave efforts.” But the intelligence community analysis has a peculiarity, using low-to-normal risk elements to explain a lethal accident involving a high risk test article.

Recovery barges don’t need or carry explosive material, other than motor fuel. A gasoline explosion is possible, as are drunken crewmen, but with a high risk test, scenarios incorporating higher risk elements are preferable.

There is speculation that an explosion on the barge caused a control rod to drop out of the reactor, causing prompt criticality, resulting in explosion. In the West, the danger of a design that can go prompt critical as a result of withdrawal of one control rod was made apparent on January 3, 1961, with the explosion of SL-1. One might expect that since the Russians have had since 1961 to act, they would put a strong spring on that rod.

I can’t repair my analysis, so here’s a try at helping the IC analysis to base firmly on high risk elements.

  • Try #1: The reactor had been operating under water continuously since the failed test. Contact with sea water prevented explosive disassembly until that contact was interrupted, by a lifting crane. When the hoist cleared the water, heat production was evident. It was then lowered into the water, resulting in a steam explosion.
  • Try #2. The Russians were aware that the reactor was operating. They rigged a cooling system prior to lifting the reactor clear of the water. A hose broke. The rest follows Try #1.
  • Try #3. The reactor design is over-damped. This means that intrusion of sea water slows fission. The air passages that support ramjet operation were filled with sea water.  When the water drained from the air passages, fission resumed at the rate allowed by the controls, without cooling by the swiftly flowing air of flight. When excess heat was noted, the reactor was dropped back into the water, resulting in a steam explosion.
  • Try #4. A static test of the reactor. A static test involves a flight component in a non-flight configuration. As with the U.S. Pluto tests, the test reactor was cooled via tanks of compressed air. Pluto also had a water jacket. A barge was used for safety and ease of emergency disposal . The planned response to a reactor event was to drop it in the bay. The operators waited until it got too hot; steam explosion follows.

The above does not have the benefit of intelligence community resources. It does not exclude a low risk element. Someone could have been smoking next to a leaking tank of gasoline. In a confined space, gasoline fumes are explosive. But with test of a dangerous article, human factors tend to recede in comparison to  inherent danger.

Hypersonic Strategies Part 7; Directed Energy Weapons

This is a continuation of Hypersonic Strategies Parts 1 – 6.

(Defense News Daily) Pentagon terminates program for redesigned kill vehicle, preps for new competition. Quoting,

“Ending the program was the responsible thing to do,” Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in the statement. “Development programs sometimes encounter problems. After exercising due diligence, we decided the path we’re going down wouldn’t be fruitful, so we’re not going down that path anymore. This decision supports our efforts to gain full value from every future taxpayer dollar spent on defense.”

The cancellation is fully justified. The reasoning is explored in U.S. Hypersonic Strategies Part 2; Board Game for a Rainy Day and U.S. Hypersonic Strategies Part 3.

Now we turn to directed energy weapons, beginning with the laser. Lasers are mysterious, photogenic, and according to some wags, “the weapon of the future — and always will be.” My treatment of the EKV in Parts 2 and 3 had all the delicacy of a WWE body slam. There is no need to slam the laser, because there isn’t the presumption that it actually works against missiles. There is a lot of hope that it will. I don’t want to squash hope. Hype should be countered; cautious hope is reasonable.

The hype began with H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, in which the invaders possessed heat rays. Auric Goldfinger’s laser helped it along.  It’s just a movie prop, but the Prima Power video is no joke.  The Warcom video is even better. Note:

  • The laser head is a fraction of an inch from the steel, versus a great distance for missile interception.
  • The laser beam heats the steel. If the steel  could reflect the beam, it wouldn’t cut.
  • The laser spot is about 1/32 inch wide. This cannot be maintained at distance. When the beam spreads, cutting power diminishes, eventually to zero.
  • Both companies are multinational; the bulk of manufacture may be in China; this level of technology has already disseminated.

The purpose of this article is to present the aspects of lasers that pertain to missile defense, without the distraction of the fascinating physics. The interests of a missile defense program rest in a few facts:

  • A laser beam is the most parallel light beam that exists. It spreads the least with distance.
  • If a beam is the-most-parallel, not just decently parallel, it comes from a laser. Theory allows no alternative. If it’s not parallel, it doesn’t come from a laser.
  • Even laser beams are not perfectly parallel, which means they spread with distance.
  • Air weakens laser beams, absorbing, distorting, and spreading them. They travel best in space.
  • The frequency, the “color” of the beam, is determined by the application, and how efficient the “color” is to make. Infrared is the usual choice.
  • The more powerful a laser is, the shorter the lifetime. A pulse can be so powerful, the focusing lens falls apart.
  • Lasers make very inefficient use of power for resulting destructive effect. A black powder  musket is much more efficient. But lasers are cheaper per shot than other modern munitions.

An empty soda can in the path of an Avangard warhead would destroy it. A laser beam can be so aimed. Combined with the eerie videos,  our fascination is explained. Laser beams defy the limitations of physical objects. But they come with new limitations. Compare:

  • Atmospheric vulnerability. An antiaircraft bullet isn’t weakened by a cloud; a laser is.
  • Shots per kill. An antiaircraft gun, even a sophisticated Phalanx CIWS, requires many shots to kill. Because a laser beam can be precisely positioned, a laser requires just one shot.
  • Size/power limitation. The power of  a naval laser weapon is restricted by available electricity.  The power of a land forces laser is limited by the weight and bulk of the power supply.  By comparison, a gun-weapon needs little power.
  • Current lasers are effective only against small, agile, “soft” targets, such as drones and helicopters, with vast per-shot savings over anti-missiles.  The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System claims hard kill only at low altitude.
  • Gun-type weapons and missiles can be made to knock a hole in anything.
  • Hypersonic warheads and re-entry vehicles  have some natural resistance to lasers. They could be designed for more.

For the energy used, the laser delivers less punch  than collision with a dense, heavy object. Even a pickaxe beats it. Next, we’ll run some numbers and see why this is so.

Next: Comparison with a pickaxe. In the meantime, polish your technique.

 

Iranian tanker switches destination, heads to Turkey: ship-tracking data

(Reuters) Iranian tanker switches destination, heads to Turkey: ship-tracking data.

When ISIS was at its peak, Syria’s oil region was within ISIS territory.  A major source of revenue was from Syrian oil, refined in improvised refineries, smuggled into Turkey. Google search.  Since the oil region is not within Assad’s control, the regime needs oil.

The oil in Iran’s tanker, the Adrian Darya, can be legally sold to Turkish entities, which can smuggle it to the forbidden original buyer,  the Assad regime. But Turkish interdiction of this outbound activity is much more practical than the previous inbound. The middlemen are within the domain of Turkish law enforcement. Hence if the ship actually docks in Mersin,

  • Some hands are being greased, or
  • Turkey is the replacement buyer.

Mersin is a convenient 111 miles  from Latakia, Syria’s main  port.

Questions:

  • Is the oil still destined for Syria, or is it now for domestic consumption within Turkey? Has Ankara a plan to fudge the paperwork?
  • If it is going to Syria, it comes at a price to Assad. Perhaps more life for Idlib?
  • Will the Adrian Darya dock at Mersin, with  smuggling go through Turkish territory — or will the ship anchor in international waters nearby, relying on tramps to ferry oil to Assad-controlled Syria?

This sounds like the old switcheroo. What’s your guess?

 

 

Cold War With China ?

We are in a cold war with China. Suggested reading:

At the 2018 Aspen Security Conference, CIA analyst Michael Collins said about China,

“By their own terms and what Xi enunciates I would argue by definition what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war, a cold war not like we saw during the Cold War, but a cold war by definition. A country that exploits all avenues of power licit and illicit, public and private, economic and military, to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing without resorting to conflict. The Chinese do not want conflict,” Collins said.

A conference video is available at CIA.gov. Key-strings:  “News and Information”, “Michael Collins at CSIS”, “CIA Headlines Schieffer Panel on “China’s Rise” at CSIS”.

With the exception of panelist Margaret Brennan, a word count suggests conference panelists unconsciously respect a division between geopolitics and economics, and military threat. As I write this, Christopher Johnson’s expectation that there will be a trade deal has has been frustrated. Instead, a progression has occurred: economic imbalance–>exploitation–>negotiations–>trade war–>cold war.

In this current phase, China’s strategy now accepts economic damage in the goal to depose a Western leader. Instead of a trade deal, China wants to get rid of Trump, even at the cost of a world-wide recession.

Until the  bag of attitudes known as “globalism” was challenged in the last election, economic indicators were strongly associated with general welfare.   Shrinking blue collar jobs became a political issue. In the public eye,  unemployment and farming vie with traditional economic indicators.

“Globalism” has now become a politically charged term. Let’s skip the conspiracy theories. The advocates of globalism genuinely believe that regional diversities and efficiencies are best served by manufacturing and marketing that transcend national boundaries. In an ideal world, they are right. They did not anticipate the

  • Rise of state sponsored capitalism.
  • Tendency of areas with low labor costs to cause job migration, with resulting social stress that can break a nation.
  • The vulnerability of democracies to supply chains that intertwine with totalitarian states.

Job losses blamed on globalism were the #1 issue in the past election. Until then,  economic health was largely equated with “quality of life” by globalists and economists. With “growth”, good things would come.

The consensus idea of “growth”, that comes with measurable numbers, is under siege. A significant division of the electorate has been created by the split between economic indicators, and the welfare of particular groups . It tends to follow the haves and have-nots.  Yet Wall Streeters still talk the numbers. Jamie Dimon is a rare exception. See his  shareholder letter via (CNBC) Jamie Dimon:  The social needs of far too many of our citizens are not being met .

Esteem for globalism has diminished, but no one has offered a plan compatible with  the 5 requirements of a replacement:

  • Reduce or eliminate the balance of trade deficit to conform with some definition of solvency.
  • Restore the U.S. manufacturing base to provide jobs for those whose skills are not in demand by the “new economy.”
  • Provide access to markets larger than a single country  to support hyper scale manufacturing, typified by semiconductors. An LCD fab plant costs 8 – 10 $BN See (DSCC)  LCD Manufacturing in the USA?  Don’t Hold Your Breath.
  • Maintain access to raw materials, which could become unaffordable with the establishment of alternative reserve currencies.
  • Incur at most a mild impact on the standard of living.

So there are four discussions going on:

  • The Aspen conference follows geopolitics, so the 5 points are noted only in passing.
  • Wall Street adheres to globalist “growth”, with numbers as a proxy for the general welfare.
  • Nationalist economics, personified by Steve Bannon. It fails the 5 goal test. A hermit kingdom is not viable.
  •  China’s military ascendancy and disregard for what Westerners imagined was “international law.”

The discussions proceed almost in isolation. In any one, the others  are mentioned only in passing. Even the Aspen conference passes on the Nine Dash Line (military ascendancy), which may be the largest seizure of territory in history.

With split discussions, issues fall between the cracks. Supply chain security is one example.  Critical global supply chains loop in and out of China. Some are high tech, others low tech. Even low tech chains offer the possibility of extreme disruption to quality of life. It could be argued that Chinese use of supply chain disruption, as part of a cold war strategy,  would inflict too much damage on  China’s economy.  In the present, perhaps so. One characteristic of China discussions is to be trapped in the present, snap-shot view. But the present is…presently gone.

The separate discussions have prevented convergent development of terms and indicators for costs and goals. “Growth”  remains  a compact quotable number used as a proxy for human welfare. It is not; trickle-down economics doesn’t trickle. Let’s try to remedy this:

  • Devise  measures of  prosperity, and also of suffering, that overweight human economic misery: unemployment, and low/middle income first dollars.

The four discussions inevitably have economic consequences. Everything has a cost. But over the past 20 years, we have slipped from one stationary mindset to another, reliant on “growth” as the unimpeachable metric. This is how we end up comparing strategic issues with the price of Christmas toys. The four discussions need to break out of the present, and come up with their own  prognostications, with numbers of cost and benefit.

  • Once the four discussions have numbers, we can sum them, and optimize strategies. We escape the sin of politics, which is to believe without thinking. The reverse results in better choices.
  • About the price of Christmas toys  and sundries, talk to Americans like they’re grownups. Explain that our independence is at stake in a cold war with China.
  • The soybean issue is the focus of China’s strategy to deprive Trump a second term.  Corn and soybeans can be partially exchanged in crop rotations. Ethanol waivers should be reversed, to increase demand for corn. As an alternative to loans, for an adjustment that may take years, consider  a soybean board, a single-desk market, modeled on the Canadian Wheat Board.

The odds are not in our favor. China  knows this, accounting for extreme patience in a world view that spans decades. We have a chance only if we are very smart and bipartisan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intel9's world view

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