Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Black Hole of Russia

Russia is in the news in a big way again.  As I'm sure you're all aware, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down flying over the Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing 298 people.  And how could you not be aware?  As tragic as this incident is, and as important as it is for the truth to be discovered and justice meted out, I really am appalled (though not surprised) at how the Radical Establishment Media (REM) in the West is practically salivating at the prospect of starting World War III.  The posters at Rigorous Intuition did a great job tracking their trail of inflammatory rhetoric, including a tip of the hat to the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I by CNN referring to the shoot down of MH17 as an "Archduke Franz Ferdinand" moment.  Check out the recent thread by MacCruiskeen for visual confirmation of just how saber-rattling this propaganda is.  Here's just one example of the Nuke Putin Brigade, and it's hardly the most incendiary.


Image



As a thinly disguised Henry Kissinger in The Pink Panther Strikes Again said, "Mr. President, everybody, calm down."  What do we really know?  Conspiracy hypotheses have already cropped up on both sides of the story.  The Russians have the most colorful one, positing that MH17 was actually MH370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared March 8, 2014 over the Indian Ocean.  The plane "was taken to an American military base, Diego-Garcia.”  It was then taken to Holland, filled with corpses.  After take-off, the pilots ejected, the plane was flown on auto-pilot over the Ukraine, but instead of being shot down was blown up with a bomb packed on board.  Quite a saber-rattling hypothesis, isn't it?

But not one I would necessarily subscribe to.  There's a more in-depth analysis of what's really wrong with the MH17 story from 21st Century Wire.  Looking at available evidence that Ukrainian Air Traffic Control ordered MH17 off of its original flight path directly into the war zone, as well as documenting a number of statements by the Ukrainian government that turned out to be false, they conclude that the tragic downing of MH17 was "a highly coordinated, but failed false flag event."  I'm not necessarily subscribing to that theory, but I think it's worth keeping tabs on, considering the contradictory evidence they've accumulated, and exploring further.  It's certainly better than being sucked into the black hole of Cold War Revival rhetoric that the REM is ratcheting up.



But that's not the Russian black hole I really want to write about.  As fascinating as the story is, with its 9/11 echoes of strangely "coincidental" military drills, it might in the long-view of history take a back seat to the literal black hole that recently appeared in Siberia.  Truthout did a great analysis of what this bizarre event might really mean:



A Mysterious Hole at the End of the World

Thursday, 17 July 2014 15:26 By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed
2014 717 hole swHelicopter pilots flying over the giant crater-like hole in the Siberian tundra. (Screengrab via The Telegraph)The wilderness of Siberia has just gotten a lot more mysterious.

Helicopter pilots flying over the Yamal Peninsula have discovered a giant crater-like hole in the Siberian tundra. The hole is reportedly large enough to fit "several" of the very helicopters that discovered it.

The hole, estimated to be 150 to 250 feet across, appears to have been made by some sort of blast, and is thought to be around two years old. It's also about 30 miles from one of the Yamal Peninsula's largest natural gas fields. The Yamal Peninsula is Russia's main production area for gas.

The Russian internet is ablaze with speculation about the origin of the giant hole, from a UFO drilling experiment, to a massive meteor impact.

But one of the more plausible explanations for the giant hole comes from Anna Kurchatova, from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre in Russia. She told The Siberian Times that the crater was likely formed by a water-salt and gas mixture that caused an underground explosion.

That gas that she is referring to is methane.

Methane is one of the strongest of the natural greenhouse gases, about 80 times more potent than CO2, and while it may not get as much attention as its cousin CO2, it certainly can do as much, if not more, damage to our planet. And right now, there are trillions of tons of it embedded in a kind of ice slurry called methane hydrate or methane clathrate crystals in the Arctic, including in the Siberian tundra, and in the seas around the continental shelves all around the world.

But thanks to global warming, the permafrost and Arctic sea ice, which has trapped that methane gas for thousands of years, are melting, releasing methane into the atmosphere. In the case of the giant crater, Kurchatova believes that it was melted and released methane that interacted with other elements to cause a massive explosion.

If so, we can expect to start seeing a lot more of these giant craters to start popping up around the world. That's because the permafrost and Arctic sea ice that currently trap trillions of tons of methane underground are melting at unprecedented rates.

In fact, as Gaius Publius points out over at America Blog, just about every reputable projection on the loss of Arctic sea ice has been wrong in a very, very bad way.

The lack of sea ice cover in the Arctic that we're seeing today wasn't supposed to happen for 20+ more years according to 13 of the most accurate models. As all that sea ice melts, the Arctic ice which once reflected sunlight and prevented global warming, becomes a very blue ocean that absorbs heat and causes even more melting.

And this all means that more and more methane is being released into the atmosphere much faster than expected, speeding up the process of global warming and climate change.

Meanwhile, Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center have found that Arctic methane is leaking out from the ocean floor nearly twice as fast as was previously thought.
The researchers found that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is releasing at least 17 million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year.

As Malcolm Light writes over at Arctic News, and as I talked about in the documentary Last Hours, there are such large amounts of methane trapped underneath the Arctic surface, that if only a fraction of that methane was released, it could lead to a jump in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere of at least 10 degrees Celsius, and produce a Permian-like mass extinction which would wipe out the human race.
Basically, the methane that is trapped underground in the Arctic is like a giant ticking time bomb, and if it goes off, we're all screwed.

Unless we start seriously fighting back against global warming and climate change, giant craters in the Siberian wilderness will be the least of our worries.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication. 
 
 
 
 
If this phenomenon is truly linked to global warming, we would expect to see more than just one.  One week later, a second one appeared in the same region!  Robert Scribbler has a great blog entry on it:
 


Is This the Compost Bomb’s Smoking Gun? Second Mysterious Hole Found in Yamal Russia

They call it ‘the end of the Earth.’
Yamal, Russia — a stretch of tundra flats and peat bogs stretching as far as the eye can see before terminating into the chill waters of the Kara. A rather stark and desolate place, one that was mostly unknown until a massive and strange hole appeared in the earth there last week. Since that time, the strange hole has been the butt of every kind of wild speculation and controversy.
Yamal Siberia
(MODIS satellite shot of Yamal Siberia — the peninsula located in center frame and recent site of mysterious holes that may have been caused by the catastrophic destabilization of thawing methane gas embedded in the permafrost. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
The hole itself was an alien feature. “We haven’t seen anything like this before,” would be an entirely accurate statement. All about the hole was a large pile of debris — overturned earth, huge chunks of soil piled up in a signature very familiar to the ejecta of a meteor impact crater.
Approaching the hole edge, we came to a gradual slope that proceeded downward for about 40 feet at about a 35 degree incline. Along the surface of this incline, both the unfrozen soil cap and the frozen permafrost were visible.
But it wasn’t until we hit the bottom edge of this incline that we encountered the strangest feature of all — a sheer cliff, rounded in a shape like the smooth bore of a gun, and plunging straight down through icy permafrost for about another hundred and twenty feet before revealing a basement cavern slowly filling with melt.
It’s a combination of features that appears to be one half impact crater and one half sink hole.
Russia Siberia Crater
(The freakish combination of features including apparent ejecta piled around a crater with a sheer tunnel coring 220 feet down. Image source: The Siberian Times)
One theory on the feature is that it might be a pingo — a melting of a permafrost water pocket left over by an ancient lake that was long ago buried by sediment. But a pingo would typically form in a manner similar to a sinkhole and would probably not have apparent ejected material piled around its mouth.
Another theory, advanced by Russian Arctic scientists, is that a pocket of gas beneath the permafrost spontaneously destabilized — either through chemical or physical processes. The destabilized gas then is thought to have violently blown away the surface layer “like the popping of a cork in a champagne bottle.”
The Compost Bomb
Key to the second theory is that thawing permafrost contains vast stores of volatile methane at various depths. The methane is either trapped in pockets encased in ice and soil or locked in a water lattice structure forming what is called methane hydrate. Both forms are unstable, though they are often buried beneath tens to hundreds of meters of permafrost. Researchers have remained unsure how rapidly this methane would release and its rate of release is key to how fast the world will warm this century in response to human-caused greenhouse gas heat forcing.
Over 1,400 gigatons of carbon are sequestered in the permafrost. Much of this immense store is biological material buried over the 2 million year span of below-freezing conditions dominating much of the Arctic region of our planet. During this time, gradual glacial advance and retreat froze and refroze the earth in layers entombing a vast load of the stuff. Now, human warming is beginning to unlock it.
Permafrost spans much of the Arctic, under-girding Siberia, far Northern Europe, the northern tiers of Canada, and most of Alaska. It also rests beneath a flooded zone called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Initial reports and research from these regions indicate an ongoing release of millions of tons of methane and CO2 annually. Bubbling seabed stores from the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf have caused some to speculate that releases of 1 billion tons to 50 billion tons of methane could be possible during the coming years and decades.
Tundra map NASA
(Is a sleeping dragon awakening in the Arctic? Map of wide expanse of permafrost containing 1,400 gigatons of carbon. Image provided by NASA’s CARVE methane research experiment which is now under the aegis of ABOVE.
Peter Wadhams, in an article for Nature last year, attempted to bracket the potential impacts of such large releases. In the article, Wadhams estimated that a 50 gigaton emission from the Arctic methane store over the next two decades would increase global temperatures by about 0.6 C above the current rate of warming and force temperatures through the 2 C barrier by 2035 (ironically, Michael Mann comes to the same conclusion without implicit inclusion of a powerful methane release). The costs in human lives and economic damage from such a release would be immense and it would risk further outbursts from the large and vulnerable carbon store.
And though the potential for such very large releases remain highly controversial among scientists, the massive pile of thawing permafrost carbon is an ominously large and unstable store facing off against an initial human warming that is more than six times faster than at any time during the geological past.
In the shadow of this emerging and hard to gauge threat, a term emerged to encapsulate the vast warming potential stored in permafrost, should it release and hit the atmosphere. The term — compost bomb — alludes to the risk involved in pushing the two-million-year-old Northern Hemisphere permafrost stores into rapid thaw.
Mystery Hole — A Smoking Gun?
With the spontaneous emergence of a strange hole that Russian scientists are linking to destabilized gas pockets within the permafrost due to thaw, it became possible that, yet one more, explosive mechanism for release had presented itself. And now, today, a second and similar hole has been discovered:
According to the Moscow Times:
“Global warming, causing an alarming melt in the ice under the soil, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne cork,” the news report said, citing an expert at the Subarctic Scientific Research Center.
The first hole is estimated to be about 50 meters wide and 70 meters deep, with water from melting permafrost cascading down its sides into the icy deposit below.
The second hole is “exactly” like the first one, but “much smaller,” local lawmaker Mikhail Lapsui told the Interfax-Ural news agency. “Inside the crater itself, snow can be seen. (emphasis added)”
And so, in the course of just one week, we have two very strange holes that Russian scientists are linking to destabilizing gas pockets beneath the thawing tundra. Smoking barrel of the compost bomb? Or as a commenter here called Colorado Bob puts it:
We’re going to see the tundra breaking out in these things like zits on a teenager.
Let’s hope these are mere sink-holes from collapsing ice pockets in the permafrost. Let’s hope there’s another explanation for what appears to be ejecta piled around these holes. Let’s hope that these ‘zits’ showing up in the Yamal permafrost remain local to the area. And let’s hope we don’t start seeing similar explosive outbursts from tundra in other regions, or worse, along the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
Lastly, let’s hope that any outbursts remain small in size and do not lift very large sections of land or submerged sea bed.
In any case, these initial reports are not promising and it appears we may both have a compost bomb smoking gun and a potential mechanism for rapid destabilization and explosive release of gas pockets deeply embedded in the frozen tundra all wrapped into one. Not very reassuring to say the least.
Links:
Mystery Behind Giant Hole Clearer as Second Hole Discovered
Now There Are Two Weird Holes in Siberia
LANCE-MODIS
The Siberian Times
NASA/CARVE
ABOVE
Impacts of Large Releases from Monstrous Arctic Methane Stores
Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick
Hat tip to todaysguestis
Hat tip to Colorado Bob



So why do I consider this Russian black hole story more important than the political black hole the REM is trying to drag us into?  Because if in fact, the scientific research currently being conducted on the literal black holes verify that this phenomenon is a destabilized methane ejection and that global warming is responsible, then we staring the possibility of imminent runaway climate change in the face.  Once the permafrost goes, that's an irreversible feedback loop that no amount of human mitigation can stop.

We're talking about an existential threat.  Sure, Putin has nukes.  The West has nukes.  But because that existential threat is more explicit, I find it ultimately less threatening.  Those are the devils we know.  Methane is a bit more mysterious to the vast majority as an existential threat.  Almost invisible.

That is, until giant gaping black holes show up in the landscape.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

There's Something About Tesla

I am like Dylan's Mr. Jones when it comes to some of the strange occurrences revolving around Tesla Motors: I know something's happening, but I don't know what it is.  There was a strange "coincidence" with the twin car crashes involving Tesla cars that occurred on the 4th of July in West Hollywood and Palmdale.  I put the word coincidence in quotation marks for two reasons: 1) I have written previously about car crashes, particularly about exploding cars and the weird "lattice of coincidence" through which they can be viewed and 2) This wasn't the first time this year a Tesla was involved in a car accident in southern California.  Looking for information in the weekend paper, I came across this:

On the Spot: What to do with accidents involving rental cars

July 7, 2014, 7:30 a.m.
Question: On May 16, when we returned to our car parked at the Santa Barbara Amtrak station, a group of people was gathered in the lot. We were approached by a Santa Barbara police officer; someone had run into our car and fled the scene. The officer ran the license plate given to him by the witnesses and learned the car was owned by Hertz. We worked with the local office, and then we were asked to file a claim on May 19, which we did. An adjuster came to our office to view the damage and to complete the claim. All seemed to be in order until we received a letter stating that Hertz was going to cap its liability at $5,000. The damage is going to be closer to $8,000; Hertz said it would not pay the difference. Our car is 6 months old. What can be done?

Vanessa Troyer

Redondo Beach

Answer: This story does have a mostly happy ending but with some unhappy parts.

Besides contacting us, Troyer also contacted the chairman of Hertz Corp. and a Hertz public relations representative. That was June 16. On June 20, I talked with Troyer and listened, incredulously, to her story. At 11:22 a.m. June 23, I emailed the Hertz representative. At 11:38 a.m. June 23, Troyer received an email saying the damage would be covered.

This is undoubtedly coincidental, unless you're of the school of thought that believes that one should take credit even when it isn't due.

Some credit goes to Hertz Corp., which is the umbrella company for Dollar, Thrifty and Hertz (this was actually a rental from Dollar), for reconsidering this case, which has a twist: The driver who hit Troyer's car was visiting from Europe, where he lives.

Oh, and did we mention that the car he hit is a Tesla Model S 85, the much-talked-about electric car that starts at about $80,000 and was Motor Trend's 2013 car of the year?

The complication — other than Tesla's all-aluminum construction — was that the driver voided his insurance contract, said Paula Rivera, a Hertz Corp. spokeswoman.

"This international renter started out doing the right thing because he actually purchased liability and collision protection from us, so that was a good thing," she said, "except for the fact that a hit-and-run, to a degree, [makes it] null and void."

But Hertz reevaluated the seriousness of what voided the contract — the hit-and-run — and although what the driver did was wrong, it wasn't as serious as, say, damage incurred in the commission of a felony. The company decided to cover the cost.

One small hitch remained at press time, Troyer said: "The check came with a remittance that said 'full and final payment.'" The repair shop said the cost may be more than the estimate. "We decided to wait to see what the outcome of the repair shop's quote," she said.

more...

http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-80703510/



So that's three car crashes involving Teslas, all within the past two months, all taking place in southern California, one involving a rental car, one involving a stolen car.  Strange.  Wait, I just found another one that happened last year:



Head-on collision in Laguna Beach kills 2, closes road

April 02, 2013|By Matt Stevens
         
A head-on traffic collision in Laguna Beach early Tuesday killed two people and injured another, forcing the closure of Laguna Canyon Road between El Toro Road and State Route 73.
Authorities received calls reporting the accident around 6:40 a.m., according to Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Louise Callus. Emergency personnel found two vehicles involved in the collision and debris scattered across the northbound and southbound lanes of the roadway, a police statement said.

Two adult men inside a "severely damaged" Honda Accord were declared dead at the scene, officials said. The driver of the second vehicle, a Tesla, was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries, Callus said.
Investigators said the Tesla was leaving Laguna Beach and veered into oncoming traffic causing the collision. No additional details were immediately available.
The affected stretch of Laguna Canyon Road will remain "closed through the morning hours," the police statement said.  




Now I really don't know what to make of this weirdness.  Some internet wags are declaring this may be a conspiracy of Teslas seeking out Hondas, though that explanation errs in citing the Palmdale crash involving a Honda when it actually involved a Toyota.  It also doesn't take into account that annoying question central to any good conspiracy theory: cui bono?  Who benefits?  At first glance, it certainly doesn't seem to benefit Tesla Motors.  After the twin crashes on July 4, their stock dropped.  And here's what's really bizarre: almost the exact same thing happened last November - three Tesla crashes, three Tesla batteries catch fire, and Tesla's stock drops.  The only difference between then and now is no geographical closeness to the crashes:




Tesla fire: 3rd Model S crashes, burns. Tesla Motors (TSLA) stock follows suit.

Tesla Motors (TSLA) had avoided major battery complications until this fall, when three Model S cars crashed and their batteries caught fire. Tesla Motors officials are scrambling to assure investors and the public that these Tesla fires are not spontaneous eruptions that have plagued other battery-powered vehicles. 

By , Staff writer

  • View Caption
Three Tesla Motors (TSLA) Model S electric cars have caught fire after crashing in the past five weeks. It's an electric car company's worst public-relations nightmare.

The advanced lithium-ion batteries used in modern electric cars are prone to overheating, and early generations suffered high-profile fiery battery incidents that didn't help electric carmakers make their case to the driving public.

Up until a little over a month ago, Tesla Motors' Model S had avoided major battery complications. But now the Palo Alto, Calif., company has three battery fires on its hands, and is scrambling to assure investors and the public that these fires are isolated incidents resulting from collisions – not the spontaneous eruptions caused by overheating.

"For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid," Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk wrote in a blog post after the first fire last month. 

Shares of Tesla stock were down 7 percent to $142.04 in afternoon trading Thursday, after reports of the third Model S fire emerged. That's after sinking 14.5 percent Wednesday, triggering a "circuit breaker" on the Nasdaq exchange after its third-quarter sales didn't meet analysts' expectations. Limited battery supplies hampered sales.

The third fire took place Wednesday near Smyrna, Tenn., after a crash. Tesla has said the fire was caused by an accident and is investigating further.

“We have been in contact with the driver, who was not injured and believes the car saved his life," Liz Jarvis-Sheen. a Tesla spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. "Our team is on its way to Tennessee to learn more about what happened in the accident. We will provide more information when we’re able to do so.”

The previous fires took place in Seattle and Merida, Mexico. No one has been reported seriously injured in any of the incidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reviewed the first incident, but found no reason to perform a full investigation at the time.

Tesla cites added protective casing and ventilation around the energy-dense batteries as reason for its superior safety record. The Model S ranked among the safest cars on the road in NHTSA testing.

more...

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2013/1107/Tesla-fire-3rd-Model-S-crashes-burns.-Tesla-Motors-TSLA-stock-follows-suit



Yes, things do come in threes, but twice?  In successive years?  Such an anomaly in the "lattice of coincidence" prompts the question: who would want to see Tesla Motors fail?  There's quite a gallery of suspects around that question.  For starters, how about Governor Chris "Traffic Jam" Christie:



A Tesla conspiracy in N.J.? (Editorial)

tesla.jpg
Tesla Motors' battle to sell electric cars directly to consumers faces a new hurdle as another state, this time Missouri, considers a measure to bar its company-owned store system. Above, a Tesla Motors Model S on display at the company's store at the Short Hills Mall. (Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg)
Star-Ledger Editorial Board By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on May 09, 2014 at 7:00 PM, updated May 09, 2014 at 7:05 PM

This is how conspiracy theories get started.Electric cars are so rare that many New Jerseyans have never seen one. Yet already two efforts have arisen in Trenton to hobble the industry.

The first came last year in the form of a bill proposed by state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) that would have slapped a per-mile fee on zero-emission vehicles.

Whelan’s rationale was that the state would lose gas tax revenue as more electric cars joined the fleet. The math says otherwise. Federal regulations require the average fuel economy of all vehicles to rise gradually until 2025, when the average would be 54.5 mpg.

Obviously, the total gas consumed — and the total tax collected on it — will be the same if every car averages exactly 54.5 mpg or some get 25 mpg and others use no gas at all. So a conspiracy theorist might be tempted to think the bill’s Democratic sponsor had some other motive, such as strangling the industry in its infancy.
The same suspicions might apply to the recent actions of our Republican governor. In January, Chris Christie pocketed a $5,500 contribution to his inaugural committee from the state’s powerful auto dealers lobby. In March, the governor’s Motor Vehicle Commission voted to kick the most successful electric-car manufacturer in history, Tesla, out of the state on the grounds that the company had cut out the middle man by selling directly to consumers instead of through dealers.

Never mind that Tesla had just two showrooms in New Jersey and sold only a handful of cars per week. A cynic — or a conspiracy theorist — might note that the dealers wanted to block the sale of electric cars because they don’t require much maintenance. There are no oil changes and no spark-plug changes. There are no emissions adjustments because there are no emissions. Tires and brakes can be changed anywhere. So what’s left for the dealer to do — except push to have them outlawed, of course?

All of this was a big embarrassment to a governor who has positioned himself as a free market champion. Before long, Christie was insisting the MVC was just enforcing the law. He hinted he would sign a bill to change that law.

A couple Democratic assemblymen are now offering him that chance. Lou Greenwald of
Camden County and Tim Eustace of Bergen County are sponsoring a bill that would permit electric-car manufacturers to sell directly to consumers. Greenwald said he expects the bill to sail through both houses. Soon, it could once again be legal to sell Teslas in the most densely populated state, where the car’s 270-mile range makes it practical for any trip imaginable within state boundaries.

Let’s hope there’s a conspiracy to get it signed into law.

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/05/a_tesla_conspiracy_in_nj_editorial.html



Very suspicious.  But to be honest, as big as Chris Christie is (no, that's not a fat joke), he's really a small player in the grand scheme of things, I think.  When it comes to big players, we're talking about the corporate world, car companies, oil companies.  Doesn't exactly narrow down the field of suspects, does it?  So maybe the more prudent approach would be to look at the presumed target: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.  Who is this character?  Let's start by looking at his spin on the most recent events:



Tesla Crash: Model S May Have Had Shields to Prevent Battery Fire

9:17 PM PST 07/05/2014 by Michael Walker

Associated Press

The headline-generating collision in West Hollywood on July 4 involving a stolen Model S sheds light on why no one has yet been killed in a Model S.

It is a measure of Tesla's formidable buzz that a stolen-car story involving no celebrities or deaths — albeit accompanied by July 4-worthy fireworks — makes international news.
The high-speed crash of a Model S early Friday in West Hollywood that split the car in two and may have caused its lithium-ion battery to erupt in flames received coverage in Bloomberg News, the U.K.'s Daily Mail, USA Today, and dozens of other far-flung media outlets. 
A subsequent, deadly crash later the same day involving a Model S that rear-ended a Toyota Corolla in Palmdale, Calif., killing the Toyota's driver and two child passengers, also received extensive coverage. 

Granted, July 4 is a proverbial slow news day, and Tesla's previous difficulties with the Model S's batteries igniting after two of the cars stuck debris drew the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to NHTSA statistics, approximately 30,000 fatal crashes and 1.5 million injury crashes occur in the U.S. annually, or about 4,000 per day. And while both July 4 Tesla accidents involved unusual circumstances — a high-speed chase in the first and multiple fatalities in the second — none of the other crashes the same day made a measurable ripple in the national and international media.

After the earlier incidents, Tesla CEO Elon Musk pointed out that the two Model S fires drew disproportionate coverage given that there were 200,000 fires in gasoline-powered cars the same year.

Meanwhile, the fact that the drivers of both Teslas in the July 4 crashes survived — the driver in the Palmdale crash received only minor injuries — is cited as further evidence of the Model S safety. 
In remarks to shareholders in June, Musk boasted that no one had been killed in a Model S despite the cars having been driven a total of 344 million miles. He stated that no one in a Model S crash has sustained "a serious permanent injury — and there have been some crazy crashes," Musk said. "There was one guy who drove through two concrete walls at 110 mph."

Following the battery fires, Tesla reinforced the Model S with three underbody shields made from aluminum and titanium to prevent debris from compromising the battery pack and starting a fire. All Teslas made since March 6 have the shielding; cars manufactured before can be retrofitted free of charge. 

It was unclear whether the Model S that caught fire after the West Hollywood crash had the shields, but it was stolen from a Los Angeles Tesla store and was reported to be a new model.

 



To be fair, Musk has a responsibility to his stockholders to spin events regarding his company in as positive a light as possible.  But it may be the case that this strange scenario doesn't break down into a neat little story of good guys and bad guys.  Musk has been responsible for other high-profile companies with some strange connections.  In 1999, Musk was instrumental in the early growth of PayPal.  It is through PayPal that Musk is connected with the founder of Ebay, Pierre Omidyar.  Worth $8.5 billion, Omidyar is bankrolling a general news service which will host Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist who has broken a series of stories on the NSA from documents by whistleblower Edward Snowden.  This seems to be a somewhat paradoxical development, considering that Omidyar, through PayPal, has connections to the NSA.  As James Corbett reported:

More worrying still are Pierre Omidyar’s role in this saga. That this billionaire co-founder of eBay is suddenly so concerned with the state of journalism that he is willing to drop a quarter of a billion dollars purchasing the services of the very man who is sitting on a trove of tens of thousands (or more) NSA documents is odd, especially considering that Omidyar’s record on civil liberties and his network’s connections to the NSA and Booz Allen Hamilton are enough to raise serious red flags about his new venture.

As principal shareholder and chairman of eBay, Omidyar controls eBay’s child company, PayPal. PayPal has recently made headlines for prosecuting the so-called “PayPal 14,” the hacktivists who staged a virtual ‘sit in’ in protest of PayPal’s decision to cut off Wikileaks’ funding by organizing a Denial of Service attack on PayPal’s website. PayPal was co-founded by Max Levchin, a dedicated NSA supporter.

More worrying still, Sal Gambianco, one of the principal investment partners with the Omidyar Network, actually sits on theboard of advisors of Globant, a software company in which both the Omidyar Network and Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden’s former employer, are major shareholdersPhilip Odeen, one of the Booz Allen Hamilton board members, also sits on the Board of Directors of Globant. The Omidyar Network and Booz Allen Hamilton are also both major investors in Innocentive.




But there is another company Musk founded that might give a better indication of the forces within the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) that might be seeking a competitive edge against him by any means necessary.  That company is SpaceX.  And the competitors?  That would be entrenched MIC members Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.  This article from the Washington Post highlights a recent dispute between the corporations:



Elon Musk’s SpaceX granted injunction in rocket launch suit against government


SpaceX founder Elon Musk participates in a discussion during the 2014 annual conference of the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) April 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Musk said SpaceX would file a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force on shutting out private companies for launching national security related rockets. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
April 30

A U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge issued an injunction late Wednesday prohibiting a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing from proceeding with plans to buy Russian-made rocket engines.
Judge Susan G. Braden’s ruling came after SpaceX, a California-based rocket company, sued the federal government Monday, protesting the Air Force’s award of a lucrative space contract, saying it should have been competitively bid.

In the suit, SpaceX criticizes United Launch Alliance (ULA) for using Russian engines in some of its rockets, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk said might be a violation of U.S. sanctions and was unseemly at a time when Russia “is the process of invading Ukraine.”

Musk alleged that the deal would benefit Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister who heads the Russian defense industry and is named by the U.S. government in the sanctions.

In reaction to the sanctions, Rogozin tweeted: “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the U.S. delivers its astronauts to the ISS [International Space Station] with a trampoline.”

Braden’s ruling prohibits ULA from making payments to the Russian engine manufacturer.

The contract, for 36 rockets to launch defense payloads, such as satellites, was awarded to ULA — a 50-50 venture of Boeing and Bethesda-based Lockheed — on a sole-source basis in December. By 2030, the Pentagon expects to spend almost $70 billion on the program.

At a news conference last week announcing the suit, Musk, the entrepreneur who co-founded PayPal and Tesla Motors, said SpaceX could provide rockets at considerably lower cost than ULA. Since then, he has gained the support of some members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have called for increased competition in the awarding of large multiyear contracts.

“This is not SpaceX protesting and saying these launches should be awarded to us,” Musk said at the news conference. “We’re just saying these launches should be competed. If we compete and lose, that’s fine. But why would they not even compete it? That doesn’t make sense.”

In a statement issued this week, ULA said it is “the only government certified launch provider that meets all of the unique . . . requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe.”

A rigorous acquisitions process “saved the government and taxpayers approximately $4 billion while keeping our nation’s assured access to deliver critical national security assets safely to space,” the company said.



Note the suspicious timing of events: ULA, the Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture, is awarded the contract in December 2013.  This is just one month after the first triple string of Tesla crashes that caused their stock to drop.  Then in April, Musk wins this injunction in his suit against the government.  This is just one month before the first crash in the second triple string of Tesla crashes.  Then four days after the back-to-back 4th of July crashes, with Tesla's stock dropping once again, ULA filed a court order to dismiss SpaceX's lawsuit.

Time will tell who the winner of this case will be.  We've seen previously in the case of Preston Tucker that upstart innovators in the automotive industry don't fare well when taking on corporate behemoths in bed with the government.  I'm not sure if Musk is another Tucker, or a DeLorean, or a completely different animal.  Quite fascinating that Musk would choose to name his car company after the genius electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, who has been the subject of multiple conspiracy theories.  I wonder if Musk really sees himself as standing in his shadow.  Considering his proposed Hyperloop project, I wouldn't doubt it.

So what's really going on?  I can only close the way I opened this post, with a song lyric from the 1960s, this time from Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth: "There's something happening here.  But what it is ain't exactly clear."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Quagmire Redux

A couple days ago, I came home from work and my wife was a couple hours into watching Apocalypse Now Redux.  I walked in during the scene in which Willard (Martin Sheen) stops at the French rubber plantation to bury Clean (Laurence Fishburne).  He stays for dinner with the head of the plantation, Hubert De Marais (Christian Marquand) and his family.  What follows is an extended argument over the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War.  Hubert implores Willard to "learn from our mistakes" so the Americans do not repeat them.

Learn from the mistakes of the French?  Hell, we can't even learn from our own mistakes!  To be honest, there are times when I revel in being right, when I can symbolically or literally dance around in delight at my own prescience and say, "I told you so."  But this is not one of those times.  Watching that scene in the context of current events brought me back to moments in my life 11-12 years ago in late 2002-early 2003 as the Bush/Cheney Fearmongering PR machine kicked into high gear over the non-existent threat posed to US by Iraq.  I remember vividly the arguments I would get into with co-workers and relatives over what a horrific Pandora's Box we were on the verge of opening.  Inevitably, to provide an analogous context, I would bring up Vietnam, which would usually result in an emotional explosion.  "Come on!  This isn't like Vietnam at all!  We're not gonna lose 50,000 troops!"  My response to that was that I had no idea how many people would die in a war in Iraq, but the point of the Vietnam analogy is to illustrate how long a quagmire can last and draw down our resources to the point that we will leave Iraq the same way we left Vietnam: fleeing in helicopters, staring back in horror at the hell that we've unleashed.

Suddenly, Iraq is in the news again.  After drawing down our resources near the neighborhood of a ten figure (that's trillion with a T) budget deficit which contributed in no small part to the 2008 Economic Meltdown that brought us the Great Recession (as Guy McPherson says, "Prozac Nation can't handle the word Depression, so we say Recession"), we pulled all our troops out of Iraq.  All, that is, except those guarding the US Embassy, the largest embassy we have, encompassing an area larger than Vatican City.  But there's a funny Frankenstein effect that occurs when a foreign power initiates a civil war - sometimes the Creature gets out of control.  I first became aware of this Creature named ISIS last year.  ISIS (an acronym probably coined by the same marketing dumbbells who initially came up with the name Operation Iraqi Liberation - because we need a mythological sounding nemesis for One Nation Under God to fight) is a spawn so evil, even his father al-Qaeda rejected him after ISIS told Daddy to go fuck himself.  Well, OK, that's a bit crass and simplistic, so I've got a better analogy.  It's still a bit imperfect, but hopefully more historically illustrative: what the Khmer Rouge was to Mao, so is ISIS to al-Qaeda.  This article that I read in October of last year gives more details.


Syria's Civil War: Will The Jihadists Overreach?

  • Oct. 14, 2013, 11:11 AM

 

An extremist group is ruffling feathers, including those of its Islamist peers.

THE civil war in Syria, a nightmare for most Syrians, is a dream come true for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the latter name being variously translated as "Greater Syria" or "the Levant". The extremist group, formed in Iraq in 2006 as a broad jihadist front that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, has had its best year to date for expansion. In Syria it runs a clutch of towns, taking it a step closer to its goal of creating a limitless Islamic caliphate. In Iraq its campaign of bombing against Shia Muslims, whom it considers heretics, and of assassinations of its opponents, has reached a new pitch of fury.

Syria's power vacuum has given it an ideal base. Since expanding into the country in April, ISIS has spread across the northern and eastern provinces abutting Iraq and Turkey to include thousands of fighters on both sides of the border. Its foreign leadership is experienced, its footmen, foreign and Syrian, well-trained and disciplined. Its control of Syria's oilfields has added wealth to the funds it gets from donors in the Gulf. It has sought to increase its popularity by providing services, such as supplying bread, and activities including Koranic classes for children.

But the group has ruffled feathers by becoming increasingly aggressive. It is fighting to control the border between Syria and Turkey. Last month it kicked out Northern Storm, a local rebel force, from Azaz, a staging post north of the Syrian city of Aleppo. Another border town under its control has been renamed the "emirate of Jarablus", complete with a religious school and posters extolling the virtue of the full veil for women.

Other rebels have always been wary of ISIS, but are awestruck by its fighting prowess. Some Islamist groups have joined forces with it to fight against Kurdish militias who have taken over Syria's north-east. Yet ISIS's strength and ideology have led to clashes with a range of rebels, not just Kurds, from Azaz to the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. Some smaller rebel bands, nervous of being clobbered by ISIS, have merged with it. In Raqqa, the only provincial capital in rebel hands, all groups have now signed up to it or to Jabhat al-Nusra, the other al-Qaeda-linked outfit that is nearest to it in clout.

ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi, have grand ambitions, as heralded by the use of "state" in the group's name. ISIS's foray into Syria has led it openly to defy al-Qaeda's overall leadership, to which it supposedly defers. After creating Jabhat al-Nusra in 2012, Mr Baghdadi claimed this year to have merged it with ISIS. But Muhammad al-Golani, Jabhat al-Nusra's leader, disagreed--and was backed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's overall chief. ISIS and Mr Baghdadi rejected his ruling.

Al-Qaeda's central leadership has long found the brutality of ISIS counter-productive, in Iraq as in Syria. Its bombs in Iraq often cause mass casualties among civilians, including Sunnis. While Jabhat al-Nusra is treading more carefully with Syrians, ISIS bans smoking, harasses unveiled women and metes out the harshest of punishments, including beheadings, in the areas it controls. In May it summarily executed three members of the Alawite sect, a Shia offshoot to which the Assad family belongs, in Deir ez-Zor. It has even opened fire on Syrian civilians protesting against its behaviour.

Still, ISIS is now the most feted group on jihadist online forums, where prominent scholars have called on people to pledge the baya, or oath of allegiance, to Mr Baghdadi. But ISIS comes up against big obstacles in Syria, as it has done in Iraq. It faces growing criticism from locals who say they do not wish to fight against one regime, only to be oppressed and humiliated by another bunch of criminals. In Iraq, when al-Qaeda-linked groups overreached themselves, they provoked a successful sahwa, or uprising, by Sunni tribes backed by foreign money and arms. The same could happen to ISIS in Syria.


Some may look at this and call it blowback. I call it an insurance policy for further justification of The War That Will Not End in Our Lifetime.  There has been so much blather across the ideological spectrum trying to point the finger of blame over ultimate responsibility.  I think this video from StormCloudsGathering cuts through the bullshit with remarkable precision and clarity.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ey9tExYbjm8


So what's the best solution in a no-win situation?  First, let's acknowledge that like Vietnam, as Albert Brooks compared his obsessive relationship in Modern Romance, Iraq is a no-win situation.  Second, let's acknowledge that the reason this no-win situation was created was to control and ultimately profit from a non-renewable, greenhouse gas-producing resource whose consumption ultimately will destroy civilization barring its immediate curtailment: OIL!  Finally, taking those first two points as our guiding force, we should abandon our imperial death-grip on pimping the Infinite Growth Paradigm via dollar supremacy to every fucking corner of the planet and de-imperialize, de-industrialize, and generally speaking, just decompress.

Not gonna happen?  Well then pass the popcorn, there's explosions to watch on TV!