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October 10, 2015

Bulletin 208: Local meetings; NM Dems break with White House to support military, nukes; U.S. oil production in decline

  1. Local meetings later this month
  2. For frequent updates follow the Study Group on Facebook and sign up to our blog.
  3. New Mexico senators and Rep. Lujan Grisham, all Democrats, vote with Republicans to break spending caps for military in the face of White House veto threat
  4. Pope Francis issues dramatic wake-up call on nuclear weapons, of special interest in New Mexico
  5. The Defense Authorization Bill on the president’s desk contains troubling nuclear weapons commitments
  6. North American oil production now declining rapidly

Dear friends and colleagues –

As usual we had to make hard decisions about what to leave out of this bulletin.  Look to our blog for more in the coming days.

  1. Local meetings later this month

Our next public meeting will be in Albuquerque on Thursday, October 29, at 6:00 pm, at the Study Group offices, 2901 Summit Place NE, Albuquerque.  We will have just returned from meeting with delegations at the UN regarding the importance of initiating negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban and from a week on Capitol Hill focused on nuclear weapons modernization, infrastructure, and related issues.

At this meeting we will provide a brief report-back to members and discuss next steps in New Mexico and beyond.  We hope to stand up action and outreach committees at this meeting.

We are also meeting with interested members in Santa Fe on the evening of Wednesday the 28th, again with an action and outreach agenda.  The private space we have is limited (but beautiful).  If you think you might want to come or to be otherwise involved, please write Trish.

  1. For frequent updates follow the Study Group on Facebook and sign up to our blog.

Other ways of keeping in touch are via these Bulletins (which we hope you read and share),Twitter, and checking our complicated but rich web site for updates.  We will try to provide new content for the Study Group blog more frequently.  Group letters to our more active members, with subjects, are now archived here.  On the web site there are pretty frequent updates to the plutonium infrastructure pages, such as the "Modern Pit Facility II" (MPF2) page and those linked to it. 

  1. Rep. Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico senators vote with Republicans to break spending caps for military in the face of White House veto threat

The Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (link is to 1915-page bill and report) has now been passed by both houses of Congress and awaits the president’s signature or veto.  It authorizes and sets policy (but does not appropriate funds for) national defense, including the nuclear warhead programs of the Department of Energy (DOE). 

The bill blows through the spending caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) – but only for national security functions, a significant political shift in spending priorities if it stands.  Preferring release from both defense and non-defense spending caps, the White House reiterated ten days ago that the president would veto the bill.  As in previous years, the bill uses Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) as a slush fund for ordinary military expenditures, to the tune of $90 billion (up from $64 billion last year).

Passage would not have been possible without some Democrats breaking ranks, including New Mexico Democrats.  Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first.  Then came both senators (Heinrich, Udall).  Ben Ray Lujan voted against the bill. 

In constant dollars Obama’s military budgets are already the highest in post-World War II history and higher than the other 10 largest militaries in the world combined.  Spending on nuclear warhead design, testing, and production under Obama (he of the “Prague vision”) is also the highest in post-WWII history.  Obama brags that he has bombed seven countries directly since becoming president (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, I think).  It would be easier to list countries where U.S. Special Forces have not recently operated than where they have.  This story – our story – will end very badly if U.S. militarism is not reigned in dramatically. 

The balance between “guns and butter,” or “guns vs. human and environmental priorities” if you prefer, in federal spending priorities is thus a very big deal for the future of this country and the world. 

In our judgment there was no political need for any of these New Mexico Democrats to break ranks with their president on this bill.  In a word, it was craven.  And regardless of the various excuses offered, these votes send strong signals to the military, military corporations, the president, and constituents – the wrong messages in every case.  And thanks to these Democratic votes, the president is now less likely to veto this bill. 

Even with these votes these New Mexico Democrats won’t lose support on the political left because these politicians are very loosely associated with “environmental” values and generally support, in the words of social scientists from four prominent universities, a

Democratic agenda [that] has shifted away from general social welfare to policies that target ascriptive identities of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

These particular politicians are very likely to receive continued endorsements and contributions from liberal groups despite their prioritization of the military over domestic needs and increased spending on weapons of mass destruction.  The largest donor to Senator Heinrich in his bid for a Senate seat was the League of Conservation Voters; the fourth largest was the Council for a Livable World, an arms control organization, to take just one example.

I will not take up your time or mine in ferreting out the role of campaign contributions and endorsements from various environmental and arms control organizations in making the careers of these politicians, or comparing their actual performance and votes in office to environmental and arms control objectives.  It’s a straightforward, sad story.

Let me just mention three things.  First, Senator Udall rightly takes credit for shepherding the controversial new B61-12 gravity bomb, with its precision-guided tail kit that opens up new target possibilities, through a skeptical Senate Appropriations committee.  Meanwhile then-Rep. Heinrich was probably the most active Democrat promoting nuclear weapons in the House – certainly the most active on the Armed Services Committee – and a real headache for the White House in that regard.  Now he promotes nuclear weapons in the Senate.  And do the “all of the above” energy policies of all three Democrats in this group serve environmental goals?  In a word, no. 

Without going into questions about how the Democrats become favorites of the rich and what to do about it, we must ask two questions about these liberal groups.  First, why do these environmental groups have such low standards for environmental policy and performance, and how can they be reformed?  Second, why do environmental groups not understand that U.S. militarism – and in New Mexico, devotion to nuclear weapons – is incompatible with environmental goals, and what can be done about that? 

Until we have those answers and those reforms, greenwashing will no doubt continue to be available at steep discounts from these groups to all Democrats who apply, and these same groups will also continue to provide political cover for ever-increasing militarism and the structural and overt violence that invariably come with it. 

Giving Chris Hedges the penultimate word on this,

If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left. It is not a side issue. It is the issue…There will be no genuine democratic, social, [environmental], economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.
Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds. They use the military to carry out futile, decades-long wars to enrich corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. War is a business. And when the generals retire, guess where they go to work? Profits swell. War never stops. Whole sections of the earth live in terror. And our nation is disemboweled and left to live under what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” Libertarians seem to get this. It is time the left woke up.

Of course most working environmentalists (and, especially, their funders) don’t understand that in the final analysis their goals are incompatible with the neoliberal philosophy that completely saturates all but the leftmost fringe of American politics.  That’s the problem.  In today’s world you have to be pink to be green.  Until we understand, with Pope Francis, that injustice to the poor and vulnerable is not just somehow vaguely related to environmental destruction but the same political problem, stemming from the same roots in our societies and mentalities, our civilization will remain on a steep downward vector.

Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (Laudato Si’, 49, emphasis in original)
  1. Pope Francis issues dramatic wake-up call on nuclear weapons, of special interest in New Mexico

You all got our brief press release, “Pope Francis denounces nuclear deterrence and calls for prohibition of nuclear weapons (Sep 25, 2015).  I would like to share what we sent to a few journalists that same day.

Dear colleagues --

Pope Francis has just said, in the largest and most important forum in the world, that one of the largest and most celebrated industries in New Mexico is unethical, unlawful, and "an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations."  Such things have never before been said by any Pope, let alone at the U.N. itself.

These words have tremendous implications for us in New Mexico, including for opinion leaders in the news media and on our blogs, in pulpits of our churches, and in our environmental organizations. 

His words today:

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The Pope didn't just make a grand gesture.  He called for something quite specific: the "complete prohibition" of nuclear weapons.  This is not necessarily a distant goal.  Some foreign ministries are discussing such a treaty right now.  Already 117 countries have joined Austria in pledging to support negotiations toward a nuclear weapons ban treaty.  There is a surge in support across Europe for a global parliamentary appeal to ban nuclear weapons. 

This is a historic day, especially for New Mexico.  We should all sit up and pay attention.  The world, and our world here in New Mexico, have changed, and the Pope is telling us that.  The Pope, speaking not just for the Catholic Church but for a troubled western civilization and for humanity, has pointed out the direction we must go to survive.  He is not saying anything new, but his having said it is new.  The fact that he was invited to speak, knowing what he would likely say, is new.  He is pointing to permanent truths that are suddenly relevant to our history and prospects, now, and we had better pay attention.  

His words have special meaning for Catholics, who comprise by far the largest religion in New Mexico.  But as polls show, this Pope is very popular with a wide cross-section of Americans, not just Catholics.  We, the Los Alamos Study Group, call upon all New Mexico churches and environmental organizations to heed the Pope's call to solidarity and humanity.  The challenges we face are interconnected.  We need to address them that way, not superficially in an endless and failing game of whack-a-mole.  Wholesale, revolutionary changes are needed, first of all in our own thinking.

In his broad message of human and environmental solidarity and compassion, the Pope offers New Mexico new horizons in economic development.  When an industry is immoral, or polluting, when it can offer no products for sale and no services to society, when it is based on the perpetuation of fear and a posture of deadly confrontation, when it threatens the extinction of humanity, when it is secret (in part because it is so shameful) – that industry cannot create economic or social development.  Nuclear weapons are that industry.  Contrary to conventional myth, this state's relative per capita income rank has fallen, and its inequality risen, as its nuclear weapons spending has risen.  New Mexico is not dependent on nuclear weapons, but nuclear weapons are dependent upon New Mexico. 

New Mexico needs to plan for a future without nuclear weapons.  That goal may or may not be distant, but the change in thinking, planning, and acting will be immediate and fruitful.  It will be like light breaking through the clouds, like rain after decades of drought.

We recently wrote to our Albuquerque members:

The relatively stable post-Cold War decades are now gone, never to return.  We are in a completely new situation, one in which our president just declared that our current “anti-terrorism” wars are “generational,” i.e. permanent. Hybrid and proxy wars are increasing, according to the Pentagon itself.

Progress on nuclear disarmament is now intimately connected with profound economic, climate, and ecological crises, with justice within and between societies, with human dignity and common survival.  We do not see nuclear disarmament as an isolated issue (and never have).  It is more and more a fundamental requirement for human solidarity and survival, and it is high time we approached it as such.

In calling attention to the Pope's words, we are not being opportunistic.  The Pope's policy agenda, as expressed in his Laudate Si encyclical, in his message to the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact on nuclear weapons, in his speech to Congress yesterday and in his speech today [9/25/15], is almost exactly our own.  Look at our letterhead or web site banner.

Finally, I want to say that the Study Group has taken an enormous amount of flak from U.S. foundations and NGOs for consistently pursuing nuclear abolition and now a prohibition on nuclear weapons.  Few U.S. organizations have been willing to call on states to prohibit nuclear weapons. 

In a campaign that ended in 2008 we recruited support for, among other things, a prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons, from hundreds of New Mexico businesses, organizations, and churches, as well as national organizations.  The City of Santa Fe passed a resolution supporting these concepts as well. 

Here was that statement, which called for a ban on the possession of nuclear weapons:

The continued possession, further development, and manufacture of nuclear weapons by the United States undermines the ethical basis of our society, breaks treaties our nation has signed, wastes our nation’s wealth, and permanently contaminates our environment, while providing no real contribution to U.S. national security.

In fact, implicit and explicit nuclear threats by the U.S. undermine global efforts to halt proliferation of not just nuclear weapons, but all weapons of mass destruction. Neither can our nuclear facilities ever be made fully secure from accident, internal sabotage, theft, or attack.

New Mexico’s two nuclear weapons labs lead the world in spending for weapons of mass destruction. But as the labs have grown, our state’s relative economic standing has declined and now trails almost all other states.

We therefore call upon our elected leaders to:

  • Stop the design and manufacture of all nuclear weapons, including plutonium bomb cores (“pits”) at Los Alamos and elsewhere.

  • Dismantle our nuclear arsenal in concert with other nuclear powers, pursuant to Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. As the most powerful nation on earth, the U.S. must take the first steps in this process.

  • Halt disposal of nuclear waste at Los Alamos, as thousands of citizens and dozens of environmental organizations have already requested.

We demand quite different priorities: affordable health care for everyone, better education, renewable energy, and economic opportunity for those who have none. We call for investment in our people and families, in our economy and environment, instead of in preparation for nuclear war.

Here are the signatories:
Change is coming to New Mexico.  If we choose rightly, we can place our state on the right side of history.  Or we can be like the city fathers in Santa Fe a century ago, that rejected the state university in favor of the state penitentiary, because of "jobs."  What folly that was.  [letter ends here]
  1. The Defense Authorization Bill on the president’s desk contains troubling nuclear weapons commitments
  • The Secretary of Energy is directed to establish a “stockpile responsiveness program” alongside the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program “to identify, sustain, enhance, integrate, and continually exercise all capabilities required to conceptualize, study, design, develop, engineer, certify, produce and deploy nuclear weapons,” in order to ensure knowledge transfer “with respect to all phases of the joint nuclear weapons life cycle process from one generation of nuclear weapon designers and engineers to the following generation.”  (Would that be the State Department’s “Generation Prague,” I wonder?  Probably not.)

  • Regarding pit production (p. 1266), we see that "timelines for creating certain capacities for production of plutonium pits and other nuclear weapons components must be driven by the requirement to hedge against technical and geopolitical risk [the latter being entirely subjective and propagandistic in nature] and not solely by the needs of life extension programs” [because there aren't any such needs, if Interoperable Warhead 1 is further postponed or canceled as it very likely will be, the Navy having convinced NNSA to proceed with other plans].  We are to be told what this "geopolitical" production capacity requirement is supposed to be by March 1, 2016. 

  • The bill orders the Secretary of Defense to submit to Congress “a plan outlining the development of military capabilities, including counterforce capabilities, countervailing strike capabilities, and active defense to defend against intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks” by the Russian Federation.  
  1. North American oil production now declining rapidly

Oil is in many ways the “master resource” for our economy and civilization.  To quickly take in some appreciation of just a few aspects of the broader significance of this issue, please see Frank Kaminski’s fine review of the excellent second edition of The World After Cheap Oil – or if you have more time, see “In the eye of the peak oil storm,” slides from the Study Group presentation of Oct 28, 2014. 

As we wrote early this year, the world is very near the all-time peak in the rate of oil production – that is, crude oil plus field condensate, “C&C.”  When it became clear that last year’s price collapse was going to last a long time, drilling and investment began to slow down in more places here and abroad, not least the shale plays that have been boosting U.S. production. 

It’s a complicated picture, but basically U.S. production began to turn down in the spring as the number of wells already underway declined (along with production from previously-drilled wells).  DOE began to report that downturn in the summer.  Specialists had been anticipating and analyzing aspects of this downturn over the past year.  It’s now quite noticeable on the ground, and it is visible in economic and employment statistics, in financial markets, and in DOE’s production statistics and forecasts.  For the past several months C&C production in the U.S. has been declining at about 1% per month.  (DOE estimates are inconsistent but for example see weekly estimates here.) 

Kurt Cobb has an excellent recent overview of the North American oil production situation: “Will declines in U.S. and Canadian oil production lead to a global decline?

The mainstream press is sitting up and taking notice: ‘US Oil Output On Brink Of ‘Dramatic’ Decline’ (Reuters):

Oil executives warned on Tuesday of a “dramatic” decline in U.S. production that could pave the way for a future spike in prices if fuel demand increases. Delegates at the Oil and Money conference in London, an annual gathering of senior industry officials, said world oil prices were now too low to support U.S. shale oil output, the biggest addition to world production over the last decade. “We are about to see a pretty dramatic decline in U.S. production growth,” the former head of oil firm EOG Resources Mark Papa, told the conference. Papa, now a partner at U.S. energy investment firm Riverstone, said U.S. oil production would stall this month and begin to decline from early next year. He said the main reason for the decline would be a lack of bank financing for new shale developments.
Official data show that nationwide U.S. output has already begun to decline after reaching a peak of 9.6 million barrels per day in April, although production in some big shale patches, including North Dakota, has held steady thus far. The Energy Information Administration forecast on Tuesday that output would reach a low of around 8.6 million bpd next year. Until this year, U.S. oil output was growing at the fastest rate on record, adding around 1 million bpd of new supply each year thanks to the introduction of new drilling techniques that have released oil and gas from shale formations. But oil prices have almost halved in the last year on oversupply in a drop that deepened after OPEC in 2014 changed strategy to protect market share against higher-cost producers, rather than cut output to prop up prices as it had done in the past.

Oil production cannot be adjusted instantly with a hypothetical dial in response to price signals.  U.S. and Canadian production in particular is heavily dependent on exploiting expensive, complicated oil (or “oil”, depending).  Knowledgeable senior people are leaving the field, and drillers are stripping idle rigs for parts to save precious cash, making it more difficult to bring back these rigs later.  In systems terms, there is hysteresis.

As engineer Matt Mushalik succinctly concludes his most recent post (highly recommended), “The world lives on borrowed oil. And on borrowed time because we don’t know how long this debt/oil blend will last.” 

Some of you may find this recent essay by Gail Tverberg helpful, if rather complicated and loosely argued. She concludes that

…low prices, with no way to get them back up, and no hope of making a profit on extraction, are likely the way we reach limits in a finite world. Because low demand affects all commodities simultaneously, “Limits to Growth” equates to what might be called “Peak Resources” of all kinds, at approximately the same time.

That’s it for now.

Very best wishes,

Greg Mello, for the Study Group


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