Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Arctic Melt: The New Cold War

                                        This article was first published in King's Tribune.

   There isn't going to be a shooting war for Arctic resources just yet.

  Major powers like the the US, China and Russia are still waiting for the Arctic ice to hurry up and melt away. And that process is moving along at a pace that makes the average environmentalist want to sign yet another petition during Nat Geo Channel commercial breaks and bong hits. The Arctic is said to have up to 25% of the world’s oil and gas sitting like Inca gold under all that pesky ice and, with current global oil production maxed out and prices rising fast, the North Pole sure has the potential to be proxy resource war central in the increasingly tense 21st century.

  In 2007, the Russians planted a titanium flag on the seabed under the polar ice which was a pretty ballsy move ripped straight out of the 16th century when European powers had a habit of sailing to foreign shores and planting flags on valuable shit they didn’t own. That flag move was designed by Putin to tell Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway (who all claim a piece of the Arctic action) that the Russian claim theoretically extends all the way to the Pole. Naturally, this pissed off everyone and sets the stage for a Cold War Part II later on this century.

  Another fun thing about the melting ice is the profitable new shipping routes that are opening up. The famed “Northeast Passage” is a handy shortcut from Europe to Asia that bypasses the Suez Canal and becomes ice-free every summer. Lately, that shipping lane along the northern Russian coast is becoming increasingly viable even in winter. The Russians like this because it would mean cheaper export routes for Russian oil tankers to burgeoning energy hungry soon-to-be superpower, China. The Russians recently exported 60,000 tons of oil products to China via northern Siberia on the vessel, Perseverance. A trial voyage for sure, but a whole lot cheaper than building a pipeline to China.

  Meanwhile, the US is engaged in proxy resource war in Middle East deserts and sniffing at regime change in Iran and the opening of the third largest oil field on the planet to sleazy Western oil companies. The Russians and Chinese are playing a longer game here on the global energy chessboard. While blocking concerted action at the UN against Iran and Syria (stymying Western attempts at energy field access in Persia), they see a future multi polar world of more balanced rival powers (as the US loses it singular super power perch) and the ending of US hegemony on global energy supply.

  This sure is an interesting time if you’re interested in how the 21st century will play out.

  The retreating Arctic ice shelf is putting a smaller and much ignored part of the planet into the global spotlight. Ground zero for global resource scrambles in the Arctic right now is Greenland. Nominally a Danish ‘protectorate’ (code speak for Copenhagen owns all your shit), the US has been floating the idea of ‘independence’ for that Euro centric island. This would be handy for US oil and mining corporations to skirt pesky European environmental laws that say you have to clean up the mess after you’re done strip mining. Preliminary reports from the soggy permafrost in Greenland reveal uranium, diamonds, gold and rare earth metals packed under the retreating glaciers and those rare earths are in high demand too since 90% of existing supply comes from a single mine in China. Those rare earths get crammed into plasma TVs and i-Pads and the Chinese have been restricting exports, which are subtle opening salvos in the proxy resource wars that will dominate the 21st century.

  The Greenlanders recently retracted laws governing the digging up of radioactive elements on their soil and decided spilling gamma waves into igloos for cash was a deal they could live with. This has attracted the usual swarm of sleazy corporations looking for mining rights. Fun thing is, these corps represent US, Russian and Chinese mining interests with a host of smaller countries like Canada, Australia, Norway and Finland looking for a piece of the action too. Everyone wants access to the last  non-raped piece of real estate on the planet. Sure, the polar bears won’t like it but let’s face it; polar bears are assholes. They'll just have to make do with shitty zoo swimming pools and dancing for fat fucks on cellphone vids.

   Will there be shooting over these resources anytime soon?


   Climate change still has some work to do to melt away those last bits of polar habitat that'll make the region viable for free-for-all energy and commodity extraction. But if we fast-forward to say 2020, shit starts to get interesting. By then, it'll have fully sunken in to us dumb upright apes that economic growth on a planet is finite and tied to energy supply. Nobody's going to be particularly happy about this. Especially in rich countries where we will get to learn the hard way that the plastic bottle that contains the Coca Cola is actually worth more in real terms than the shitty sugar water inside. When that truth comes down the pipe, along with $200 barrel oil, food price increases and shittier lives, it's going to be somebody's fault. In Western countries, that'll probably mean the Chinese and Russians.

   That's where the seeds of future resource wars will get sown.

   Wars always start with angry people. People who get angry blowing their paychecks on fuel and food and not having enough left over for a new plasma screen. This has been going on ever since some hunter-gatherer tribe killed the last mammoth in the valley and pissed off all the other tribes who also needed new fur coats too. Truth is, despite the dystopian sci fi consumertopia we're all living in today, not too much has changed. We've got satellites and i-phones but we're still dumb upright apes when it comes to killing people who try to take our shit. Killing each other for resources is a proven strategy and civilization is just a thin veneer pasted on top of four million years of naked raw survival. When lower living standards peel that veneer away, shit will get interesting fast. And by interesting I mean war. Thing is, future resource wars are going to go global fast because every tribe is going to want a piece of the last mammoth left in the valley.

   Will the Arctic be worth fighting over?


   The Russians have already started beefing up their Northern Fleet and, I shit you not, have begun building a prototype floating nuclear power station to power undersea drilling. That’s sure to make environmentalists shit bricks. The Norwegians just inked a deal with the US for 52 new F-35 multi role stealth fighters which is a $10.5 billion order and gigantic when you consider Norway’s tiny population. It reeks of a ballsy ambition to stake a claim for some Polar resources but then that’s typical of the Nordics. If the shooting ever starts they’ll be looking at a Finn style rerun of the Winter War in 1939 when the tiny Finns bloodied the Red Army’s nose.

   The Canadians too are gearing up for some possible pew-pew.

   In October, the Canadian Navy announced a $25 billion order for 23 new combat vessels of various types aimed at patrolling the Northwest passage, shipping lanes in the Canadian Arctic that are opening up to maritime trade again due to melting ice. Canada has been running Arctic military exercises every year since 2006 (Operation Nanook) designed to warn the Russkis to keep their filthy titanium flags off Canada’s sea floor.

   The US of course is well positioned to defend any Arctic claim. In addition to a defense budget larger than the next ten countries combined, the US has 50 nuclear attack subs that have been lurking under the Arctic ice for decades and it’s hard to see them being over whelmed in any future resource war.

   But here’s where we come to the fun part.

   In an increasingly nuclear-armed world, are limited resource wars even possible without escalating to full on WWIII take-us-back-to-the-Stone Age action? That sure is an interesting question for the 21st century and the fun thing about nukes themselves. They're really only useful when they never get used. In fact, nukes are the greatest peace keeping weapons ever invented.

   Global power since WWII has been primarily economic and “soft”. Having aircraft carriers and stealth bombers is useful but not game winning when you consider that once a nuclear armed power starts losing a conventional war it’s time to press the big red button of win and sort out WWIV with sticks and stones. Nukes were the mutually assured destruction glue that kept the Cold War from ever turning into a shooting contest. The US and Russia fought through proxies and kept warfare on the down low. But will this paradigm endure once oil production peaks and prices increase to the point where the era of cheap energy ends?

   Right now nukes mean there can be no winner and that has made leaders realize that it is better to trade than conquer. Global communication means there are no ideological divisions right now; every nation is money grabbing capitalist pig and that works pretty well for everything but the planet. As planet conditions change and make human populations more costly to sustain, it sure raises some interesting questions.

  Do we get to stage where desperation creeps in?

  Sometime later this century, a major power may have to make a move on some energy, water, or sea lane because failing to do so would result in a collapse of the state anyway; so war and nuke escalation events further down the road are not impossible the way they are now. Resource shortages later this century are the type of things that result in paradigm shifts. Sure, China right now is happy exporting plastic shit, Russia is having a lulz fest squeezing European natural gas supply and the Americans are having a field day running around ME deserts securing future oil supply. But this kind of status quo has a sell by date and that's coming pretty damn soon.

   It's a scary recipe for the future. In fact, it’s so scary I think I’ll go sign some useless petitions and take a bong hit.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Man wakes up from decade long coma and figures he's living in an Orwellian dystopia... asks if he can be a Viking instead.

   Taking a look around at how scary the world is getting makes me wonder what it'd be like to wake up after a decade-long coma and take a fresh look at the surveillance society that's been coming down the pipe since the 9/11 attacks baptized the new century in crazy. Let's say it's 1999 again and you dropped some windowpane, watched The Matrix, felt like you just witnessed your autobiography and then jumped off the roof of your apartment to see if you are indeed "the one". Bad idea... seemed logical at the time. Anyway, next thing you know you wake up in a hospital bed and everyone around you looks like they stuck with the blue pill because they're wearing that ‘bad test result’ face as they tell you it's 2012 and you just skipped the whole terror decade.

   All of it.

   Catching up on world history since 1999 would be like reading some dystopian future sci-fi novel by the likes of Orwell or Dick except you're reading The New York Times and it's news and all real. Just a quick scan of early 21st century history would have you longing for the '90s and the happy days of OJ trials and sex scandals in the Oval Office where the corporate spokesman in the suit messes up the intern's dress and not the entire direction of the new century. 

   The century got defined by 9/11 right from the start and the future was always going to suck if you were a fan of privacy and keeping your shit on the down low. For a coma victim nursing a migraine in 2012, the 9/11 attacks sure would look like some stunt ripped out of one of the shittier Bond movies complete with the perpetrator being an evil villain millionaire living in a cave lair. Sure, it'd sound like the dumbest cliché-ridden plot ever if you tried to sell it to Paramount, but the new reality has a habit of running with the absurd.

Bond villain lair or actual news story? This graphic actually appeared in US media in 2001.

   Quite apart from the very bad idea of a land war in Afghanistan and the necessary resource grab in the Mesopotamian desert, the greatest legacy of the 9/11attacks for the United States will be the terrorism-industrial-complex that sprung up horribly like an erection at a nudist funeral. Just nine days after the attacks the largest merger in US government history occurred  when 17 agencies from the Coast Guard to the cops merged into the colossal Ingsoc that is the Department of Homeland Security. 9/11 was seen as a "failure to communicate and connect the dots" on the part of everyone with a badge and a 9mm, so centralization and intelligence sharing in a single giant database was seen as the answer. That, and a few billion dollars to corporations and private contractors to design and run the software

   To keep us safe.

   US intelligence agencies have always relied on technology to invent their way out of a knowledge hole. Since WWII the NSA and CIA have excelled in the areas of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Imaging Intelligence (IMINT), which is your run of the mill but tech heavy wire-tapping, code-breaking and picture-taking of your "secret" new missile launch facility. From the U2 spy plane to the SR-71 Blackbird and on to satellites that can read your golf ball from space, IMINT has never been a problem for the skilled genius of US technology.  The weak spot has always been Human Intelligence (HUMINT). That's a harder pitch for the US to swing at as it involves spies and agents and assets operating behind enemy lines speaking and acting like natives. The Israelis are the kings of this simply by the demographics of the Jewish diaspora. There are native Jews in many countries and if Mossad wants to know where a nuke scientist's mistress lives, fresh HUMINT is an encrypted email away. During the Cold War, the US relied on Israel for HUMINT in exchange for US SIGINT and IMINT. Post 9/11, mass surveillance is seen by the US as the way to make up for their HUMINT deficiencies, a weakness the US sees as leading directly to 9/11. 

   In the new sci-fi dystopia, the police state starts with the cop on patrol who is expected to "feed the system" with suspicious stuff that might flag someone as a terrorist. The problem is, Main Street USA isn't exactly a target-rich environment for towel-headed mullahs waving AKs and yelling "Allah Ackbar" every time the local 7/11 runs out of pita bread . In order to justify the billions being spent, the DHS must continually see 'enemies' everywhere. The enemy morphs into the citizenry itself, be it activist, protester or anyone with a beef against the prevailing narrative. The primary weapon of the average cop is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), which includes activities like taking pictures, reading maps, driving while looking out the window a lot; pretty much anything about you the average donut guzzler doesn't like. Cop cars are being equipped now with license plate scanners that not only read every infraction of every passing car but also relay this info along with GPS data to the centralized database; something that makes every unpaid parking ticket a shit brick offense. 

   In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect.

   It's no surprise that most of the headline-making F.B.I. busts of terror plots in the US are perpetrated by a bunch of dumb fuck wannabe al-Qaedas who end up sleepwalking into an F.B.I.-produced trap, like stars in some twisted episode of MTV's Punk'd where the G-men supply fake explosives, blasting caps and a party van while co-opting some dip shit Bin Laden fan to drive into the middle of the sting. The mark gets zip ties instead of cameras and there's no explosion except for the thud of the perp's skull against the cell wall of a SuperMax as he trys to figure out why he trusted the 'knowledgeable chemical guy' at Home Depot who turned out to be a bomb tech narc. After you get showcased nabbed, it's a simple matter for the F.B.I. to go on Fox News and tell all their viewers how they are winning the war on a noun. Just recently, we learned the evil doers (still operating under the al-Qaeda franchise) are hiding their 'secret plans' for mayhem inside porn images which is the funniest thing I've heard since that idiot tried to blow up a plane with his boxer shorts.

   What ever happened to the smart terrorists?

   There are currently 72 DHS "fusion centers" planted all around the US collating and indexing every bit of HUMINT about everyone, trying to sniff out who might want to hijack a cruise ship, blow up a bridge or chuck a flaming shit bomb into an Olive Garden. There's been a ten-year building boom going on around Washington D.C. too as drab-looking four-story buildings sprout up like whack a moles. Beneath these nondescript Cold War commie-looking structures are up to ten subterranean floors of who knows what. Nobody knows how much they've cost – including the US government – because everything is a semi state/ corporate hybrid of melded privatization and black hole money pit contracts hidden under a rug of secrecy in the name of national security.  The monitoring of information (SIGINT) between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ECHELON) is well known but the US seems to be hitting it out of the park when it comes to total communications monitoring of its population. This of course comes in the form of the recently reported super structure under construction in the Utah desert, the Stellar Wind server farm that will basically be 'downloading' the entire Internet every second and sniffing through yottabytes of our emails and faxes and cellphone GPS data searching for the bad guy with a plane ticket to New York and a pipe bomb up his hole.

   In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect. 

   And your privacy is the price of your security because what do you have to hide?

Sometimes paranoia is just a heightened state of

     Sometimes you need to be a decade out of the loop to truly see the extent of what's gone down. History happens gradually and things only gain context when historians hammer events into a coherent narrative usually long after the fact. Meaning emerges further down the road. For instance, a Weimar Republic German in a similar coma in say 1926 who woke up a decade later would wonder why so many of his countrymen were buying into the crazy  bullshit of the angry guy with the mustache. First it was a beer hall putsch followed by goose-stepping militarism and a power-grab later, the Reichstag burned down mysteriously and in no time the German Army were partying on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées thinking "this is awesome but possibly a bad move in the long run if shit doesn't play out well". The nature of history is that it unfolds gradually enough that nobody notices the emergent narrative because they're too busy living in it. By the time the story emerges in context, Army Group South is surrounded by Zhukov at Stalingrad and the Wehrmacht is screwed.

   The one thing about the mass surveillance society we're building that would fry Orwell's brain is the nature of information in the Internet age. Sure most governments these days see 1984 as an operational tech manual but we're not just living in an age when just Big Brother is watching; we ourselves are watching each other with the intense fascination of zoo chimps fapping at the banana delivery man. The camera culture is so prevalent and everyone's face so buried in a cellphone that nobody knows what's going on in his or her immediate vicinity. Except of course when there's a car wreck and then everyone's phone is uploading footage to YouTube or, if it's really awesome and messy, LiveLeak.

   Part of the sci-fi dystopia is the willingness of the population to be watched.

   To be a minor celebrity in the ongoing movie of your own life. 

  I was voyeuring on some old school friends via Facebook the other day and came across this guy I remember from first grade who used to shit his pants in class just because it pissed off the teacher and made everyone laugh. I remember the teacher washing his underwear and me watching it steaming dry on the radiator as he waved his little cock at the teacher when she turned her back. It was pretty funny when you were seven. Yeah, I went to Catholic school. Anyway, according to Facebook that guy's a plumber now (shit makes sense) and just got a divorce from a wife who took the kids and left him for some douche bag. I know all this because he thought it would be cool to post all this on his Facebook wall and not keep his shit on the down low. It's a law enforcement wet dream. No need for gum shoe field agents anymore, just Google the perp and see where he hangs out and who his friends are.

   Orwell's mind would be blown.

Except the cop investigating you or the prospective
employer checking to see if you're an asshole.

   Next up to the party: Police Department unmanned aerial drones circling 24hrs a day over every city. Now that's pure sci-fi. It's also handy if you can control the narrative too. That hasn't been a problem so far. The thing with wars these days is that the corporate oligarchy are getting really fucking good at bullshitting. The technology of bullshit is now so ubiquitous that the mass media totality of Internet, TV, cellphones and 24hr news cycles make it easy to beam a consensus reality into the ether of our brave new world. We are all feeder antennae jacking into a whitewash of total information where everything is up for debate. There's no need to hide anything anymore because anything could be true because you read it on the Internet.

   Case in point: Libya. All the interventionist narrative needed was a bad guy (Gaddafi); some oil, a possible Euro refugee crisis and some media story about Gaddafi firing back at the guys trying to overthrow him. Basically, he  pulled a Kent State with attack choppers; nothing the US wouldn't have done if OWS protesters brought something a little harder-hitting to the party than sleeping bags and a bong and started wrecking some Bentleys. NATO precision bombed Gaddafi's armor and the country got handed over to a rag tag bunch of rebels willing to write favorable oil deals with sleazy Western oil corps. All this went down live on TV without a single sign-waving long hair on a street anywhere. That's when you know you've got serious media penetration and total control of the narrative.

    Holy shit! What a time to be alive, right?

   That old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times," sure applies today.

  I've often wondered what it'd be like to live in other eras. Personally, I've always fancied a stint as a Viking, you know, sailing around with your mates in a bad ass longship, raping and pillaging in a consequence-free environment but I was born too late for this and missed out on all that awesome Valhalla action. And it looks like I was born too soon to hyperdrive around the galaxy on seed ships discovering strange new worlds and...  and raping and pillaging them in a consequence-free environment. Christ, if we humans ever advance to the level of a space-faring species the galaxy is screwed. It'll never happen though because we upright apes will self destruct before we get that far. The technological adolescence hurdle of "fission before fusion" is like a universal failsafe to keep the riff-raff out of the star gate club. Any civ must prove they can live 100 years with nukes and not red button each other back to the Stone Age before they gain access to free energy and 'warp drive'. Right now, we ain't gonna be passing that test.

   Let's face it, we just might be the scary bad guys in our own dystopian sci-fi novel that leaves us all wondering...

   Who wrote this book?

   Everyone is suspect.