Streetwise Professor

August 20, 2019

I Call BS on the Russian Explanation for the Severodvinsk Explosion: I’m Sure You’re Shocked

Filed under: Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 2:30 pm

Note: I wrote this Saturday, but was unable to post because of a technical problem at the site. No doubt those damned Russkies were trying to silence me 😛 I’ve only made slight edits, and added the part about Norwegian detection of iodine. Some of what is posted here anticipated discussions in the comments on Sunday and Monday.

In my original post on the Severodvinsk explosion I expressed puzzlement at the Russian explanation that they were testing an “isotope power source for a liquid-fueled rocket engine.”  I did some research to address my ignorance, and found, indeed, that radioisotope rocket engines are a thing.  The problem is that this thing is inconsistent with the closure of nearby waters due to the presence of toxic rocket fuel (allegedly from the explosion) and the mention of “liquid rocket fuel” in the explanation.

Radioisotope rocket engines work by using the energy released from the decay of radioactive isotopes to heat a solid material (the “capacitor”).*  When the capacitor is sufficiently hot, fuel is passed over it.  The capacitor heats the fuel.  The hot gas is vented out through a shaped nozzle, which accelerates it (exploiting the Venturi Effect), creating thrust.

The motor generates a greater pulse (the thrust produced with respect to the amount of propellant exhausted per unit time) than the Space Shuttle Main Engines.  But it generates far less power.  Further, it is fuel limited, and thus does require fuel which limits its utility as a source of continuous propulsion.  Thus, its main application is as rocket thrusters in space, not launching projectiles or powering aircraft or missiles in the atmosphere.  All of the applications of this source of power that I have seen relate to space in some way.

But here’s the thing: whereas conventional rocket engines operate by combustion (i.e., stored chemical energy is released as the result of the burning of the rocket fuel) radioisotope rockets do not.  The fuel is not burned, just heated. Hydrogen has advantages and disadvantages as a fuel for such rockets, but crucially there is no need for conventional rocket fuel, which is nasty stuff—toxic when it isn’t blowing up.

Which is why I call bullshit on the Russian story that specifically mentions “a liquid-fueled rocket engine.”  Conventional liquid rocket fuel combusts—big time.  Even if the Russians were to say that the liquid fuel was liquid hydrogen, that would not explain the alleged release of toxic rocket fuel in quantities sufficient to require the closure of beaches and fishing areas.  And why wouldn’t the Russians say it was a hydrogen explosion? The huge explosion also suggests highly explosive rocket fuel. 

Put simply: a radioisotope propulsion system cannot explain a release of radiation and toxic, combustible liquid rocket fuel. An explosion of a Petrel, or something like it can. The Petrel needs a rocket booster, and hence rocket fuel. The missile’s ramjet is powered by a nuclear reactor.

The Norwegians also reported they detected a release of radioactive iodine. This is consistent with the destruction of a reactor with a fissile fuel source, but not with the explosion of a radioisotope propelled vehicle.

One last thing cements my suspicions.  In their move along, nothing to see here explanation, the Russians said that NASA has developed an isotope power source (“Kilopower”).  Yes, Kilopower is a low power (1kW, with plans to go to 10kW) engine intended to generate electricity for spacecraft. (No rocket fuel, or any fuel for that matter, required!)  So it is almost impossible to imagine it, or anything remotely like it, blowing up, or even being around anything that would blow up, as happened in Severodvinsk. 

But “the Americans do it!” is an excuse right out of the old Soviet playbook. It is a convenient cover story, and one used repeatedly in the past.  Which suggests that they have something the Americans are not doing to cover up.  When this is added to the glaring inconsistency involving rocket fuel and radioisotope rocket engines, the circumstantial case that a Petrel/Skyfall accident is to blame for Severodvinsk becomes very strong indeed.

*It is sickly amusing to note that although the most commonly mentioned power source is Plutonium, Polonium (of Litvinenko infamy) has also been suggested.

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August 11, 2019

Did the Petrel Blow Up Real Good?

Filed under: Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 9:02 pm

In Russia, August, not April, is the cruelest month (though July can be pretty bad too). Recent Augusts have been pretty benign, though: no ferry sinkings or rash of drownings or major fires. This year, however, August (and July) appear to be returning to form, with an explosion at a Siberian ammo dump, raging forest fires (again in Siberia), and last week, an explosion at a missile test in Severodvinsk, in far northern Arkhangelsk. This all followed the sinking of a highly secretive submarine in July.

The first announcement of the Severodvinsk event was puzzling. There was a spike of radiation that had people in the area scurrying to pharmacies to get iodine. There was an announcement of an explosion during the test of a rocket engine. But conventional rocket engines don’t release radiation when they explode, so whence the radiation? Upon reading, the only thing I could think of was that there was a mishap in the testing of Russia’s insane nuclear powered Буревестник (Burevestnik or “Petrel”) cruise missile, of which Putin is so fond.

Since the explosion, the Russians have been telling the truth slowly, and although they have not come out and said it was the Petrel (“Skyfall” in Nato nomenclature) that blowed up real good, everything they have said tends to confirm that suspicion. Oh yeah. Seven people died. Not two. And five of those seven, yeah, they worked for Rosatom–Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation. And yeah, there was an explosion in “isotope power source for a liquid-fueled rocket engine.” (Come again?) A nuclear fuel vessel was anchored nearby, and emergency personnel evacuating the injured wore hazmat suits: the ship had been present at the time of a previous test of the Petrel.

The Dvina Bay has been closed due to alleged pollution from rocket fuel, and the Russians claim that the explosion occurred during the testing of a liquid fuel rocket motor, but this does not rule out that the Petrel was involved: conventional rockets would be used to launch the weapon and give it sufficient velocity for a nuclear powered ramjet mechanism to operate. (Though it is interesting that liquid fuel is involved: even the US’s insane nuclear ramjet Project Pluto utilized safer solid fuel rockets for liftoff. Perhaps the use of liquid fuel is not surprising: Russia’s still in development RS-28 Sarmat ICBM is also liquid-fueled.)

Although in a 1 March, 2018 speech Putin touted the missile as having virtually unlimited range, your results may differ. By a lot:

Russia is preparing for a special operation to find a missile that fell into the Barents Sea. This was reported by CNBC. The American television channel refers to intelligence data. Allegedly the missile with a nuclear power plant was lost during the tests in November 2017. The missile launches themselves were conducted four times, from November 2017 to February 2018. In all four cases, it ended in failure. The longest of the tests lasted about two minutes. The rocket flew about 35 kilometers and fell, according to TASS.

There were supposedly “moderately successful” tests (meaning they didn’t blow up, apparently) in late-2018 and January of this year.

In his March, 2018 speech, and in subsequent remarks Putin has betrayed a Hitleresque fascination with wonder weapons like the Petrel and the Poseidon nuclear torpedo. Hitler’s fascination arose from his realization that American and Soviet industrial might and population advantages made the odds against Germany prevailing in man-on-man, plane-on-plane, tank-on-tank combat vanishingly small. Putin’s focus on wonder weapons likely has a similar motivation.

These projects betray an inordinate fear of US missile defenses (if only they were so effective as to negate Russia’s ICBM arsenal–apparently Reagan’s ghost still haunts them), and something approaching panic at the recognition that the gap between American and Russian military potential is widening inexorably. * Falling behind in symmetric competition, Putin and his military establishment are turning instead to competing asymmetrically. These efforts are in the nuclear sphere, because the Russians recognize that nuclear weapons are their only source of strategic power, leverage, and relevance.

Putin’s pets Petrel and Poseidon are thus signals of weakness and doubt, wrapped up in bravado. They are unlikely to change the strategic balance in any serious way, and so far Petrel has evidently been far more dangerous to its developers than its intended targets. Not that you can expect an admission of that anytime soon.

*The use of liquid fuel in the RS-28 ICBM also likely reflects Russian fears of US missile defenses. Defeating missile defenses by using heavy parallel separation warheads requires much greater thrust that is more reliably delivered with liquid-fueled rockets. Reliance on such rockets may also reflect constraints on Russian capacity to produce solid-fueled rockets, due to the lack of critical materials.

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July 11, 2019

Putin Stands Aloof While Rosneft and Transneft Duke It Out

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:50 pm

Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are noted for their vicious internecine battles between the lords of various economic fiefdoms: Nazi Germany presents a classic example (and perhaps a good thing too, because these battles crippled German war industry). Not-quite-totalitarian Russia is seeing such a battle today, over the fallout from the Druzhba pipeline fiasco. Pipeline operator Transneft and oil producer and refiner Rosneft are at it hammer and tong over the issue:

Russian state-owned pipeline monopoly Transneft launched a broadside at Rosneft on Monday, publicly criticising the oil producer for dragging its feet over oil quality controls and making unsubstantiated damages claims.
Transneft said that Rosneft had been unwilling to help resolve a contaminated oil crisis in the Russian Druzhba export pipeline which began in late April and that the oil producer was seeking compensation from it without any grounds.
Rosneft did not immediately responded to a request for comment.

For his part, Putin is steering clear:

The dispute between Rosneft and Transneft (TRNF_p.MM) is not a matter for Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene in because it is a corporate matter, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

As if Putin never got involved in corporate matters before. Hell, this is supposed to be his job. As I have pointed out for well over a decade, Putin’s primary function in the Russian “natural state” has been to be the balancer, the adjudicator of conflicts within the Russian economic elite, and the distributor of rents among them.

So why is he standing aloof? His power has eroded to the point that he can’t dictate or even negotiate a settlement? Or does he actually quite like economic titans bashing out each other’s brains, thereby distracting them from scheming against him?

I’m guessing the latter. After some more weeks or even months of Tokarev and Sechin bashing one another, he’ll swoop in and graciously broker a solution.

An aside on Transneft’s criticism of Rosneft dragging its feet on “oil quality controls.” To me that is an implicit accusation that the massive contamination wasn’t caused by a handful of mopes currently enjoying the hospitality of a Russian prison, but was the result of something Rosneft did (or didn’t do). Given the volumes involved, that’s quite plausible.

And if true, it would make Sechin’s demand for compensation, and his praise for the operators of Rosneft’s German refinery, truly awesome examples of chutzpah. But we all know that chutzpah is one thing Sechin is expert at. Or should I say the one thing?

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July 6, 2019

Underwater Russian Roulette

Filed under: Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 7:18 pm

When my grandfather was barely 17, his mother signed a paper saying he was 18 (he was a hillbilly with no birth certificate, which gives rise to another story I may tell sometime), and he left Burr Oak, Ohio to join the Navy. He went to electrician’s school, and was assigned as an electrician’s mate on a submarine, the USS K-2 (submarine #33 in the US Navy), on which he served in 1921-22. (The K-2 was laid-up the next year.)

As you can see, she was a tiny thing, displacing 400 tons on the surface, and a little over 500 tons submerged.* My grandfather’s stories of his service on her were pretty harrowing. 1920s submarines were not for the faint of heart.

Even so, if given the choice, I would serve on the K-2 circa 1920 than on a modern Russian sub. Since Soviet days, the Soviet/Russian sub force has experienced a litany of accidents, many of them fatal: here is a list of those since 2000. The most notable of these incidents, and the one with the highest death toll, was of course the Kursk, about which Putin famously and laconically said: “It sank.”

Well, this week Putin didn’t have to say exactly those words about another sub, but there was a fatal incident aboard a Russian boat, reported to be the Losharik, reputedly a super-deep diving research and intelligence vessel.

Given the very secretive nature of the sub’s purposes and missions, and the inherent secretiveness of the Russian state, we know very little beyond a few details. These include that there was a fire that killed 17 aboard. (The standard crew of this class is estimated at 25, so arguably the fire killed 2/3s of those on board.) That the surviving crew was able to seal off the affected compartments, and eventually extinguish the blaze. And that’s about it.

It’s one thing for a dry dock carrying a decrepit hulk like the Kuznetsov to sink. It’s another for one of the most elite units in the Russian Navy to suffer such a catastrophic event. It does not speak well of the condition and readiness of the Russian Navy generally.

There are also some curious details. Reportedly 7 of the 17 killed were captains “of the first rank” (the equivalent of an O-6 in the US Navy). I know the Russian Navy (especially the nuclear sub force) is officer-heavy (and indeed, the entire complement of the boat is apparently officers), but that’s an insanely high number. Most US major combatants (including SSNs, SSBNs, and DDGs) are commanded by commanders (O-5), and others have a single captain, who is CO. What were 7 (or more) captains, plus two Heroes of Russia, doing on board? Was it holding some sort of ceremony? Or was it engaged in activities that were of intense interest to the higher ups?

Another possibility is enlisted ratings, and even junior and mid-grade officers, are not deemed sufficiently qualified and trustworthy to crew such an important vessel. But if they are not given substantial responsibility as lieutenants, how can one be confident in the captains? Is the Russian Navy so paranoid about security that they don’t trust anyone but the very senior, to serve on top-secret ships?

Also, are senior officers the best suited to handle the vital, but more narrow tasks that western navies entrust to well-trained, specialized ratings? If not, depending on the very senior to perform these tasks may increase the risk of things like fatal fires.

I doubt we’ll learn much more about the Losharik. But what we do know, especially in light of the record of Russia’s silent service, reinforces the very real perception that anyone in that service plays a submerged version of Russian Roulette every time his boat casts off.

*My grandfather took dozens of photos in his time on the K-2. I am going to digitize them and will post them when I do.

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June 24, 2019

Vova Phones It In

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 3:13 pm

Vladimir Putin held his annual marathon phone-in session last week. Although Vova was taking the calls, he was the one who was clearly phoning it in. By all accounts his performance was bored and listless, and largely unresponsive to the economic and environmental (as in garbage disposal) concerns expressed by many callers.

Putin’s answers to questions regarding declining living standards bordered on the pathetic, and definitely revealed he has no answers and can offer no serious succor. The best he could do is to tell Russians that things aren’t as bad today as they were in the 90s.

If the key to success is setting low expectations, Putin certainly succeeded! Perhaps the only current world leader who is doing worse than Russia’s in the 90s is Maduro.

As for explanations, the best Putin could offer was sanctions, and low oil prices. The sanctions excuse is somewhat amusing, given that Putin had previously claimed that sanctions not only wouldn’t hurt/weren’t hurting Russia, they would actually rejuvenate the Russian economy by encouraging the development of import-substituting industries. Insofar as oil prices are concerned, Putin’s answer only underlines the failure of Russia under his watch to develop outside the resource extraction sectors.

None of this should be surprising, and I have predicted such a trajectory. Maximum Leaders get old. They get tired. They get bored. They run out of new ideas and don’t have the energy or inclination to generate them. They begin to prefer a quiet life and to abhor change and innovation. Even they get captured by vested interests who strongly favor maintaining the status quo. Moreover, authoritarian leaders like Putin inevitably become progressively more isolated and out-of-touch because they are surrounded by sycophants, and deprived of feedback from elections, a free press, and open debate.

We are witnessing the senescence of Putin, and Putinism. The most grave concern–for Russians mainly, but for the rest of the world too–is that another inherent feature of authoritarian systems like the one in Russia is that the current leader has no interest in creating a system of succession: indeed, he has an interest in NOT creating one. As he continues to age, or if he dies suddenly, the battle to succeed him will intensify, and inevitably destabilize Russia (with spillover effects around the world).

This brings to mind two closing thoughts.

First, if you think Putin is bad, you should shudder at the type who will prevail in the struggle to succeed him. (Such person will almost certainly emerge from the shadows of the security services or their allies, and you will likely not have heard of him.)

Second, for years Putin’s political hole card has been “I have given you stability.” But ironically, his creation of an increasingly ossified system creates the conditions for a resurgence of instability–perhaps as bad as the 90s–upon his demise, or even his enfeeblement.

So it is more accurate to say that Putin has perhaps delayed instability, and guaranteed that the instability will be all the more intense when it inevitably reappears.

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June 15, 2019

If They Didn’t Have Double Standards, They’d Have No Standards At All

Filed under: Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:09 pm

Just when I think politics could not get any more retarded, I’m proven wrong. The latest example being the meltdown freakout over Trump’s statement that he would listen to “dirt” on an opposing candidate passed on by a foreign source.

The mind boggles. Those melting down and freaking out are Democrats to the last he, she, and xe of them. (Mitt Romney et al are basically eunuchs who follow the lead of the Democrats who unmanned them, and whose approval they crave.) They are all die hard Hillary supporters.

This would be the Democratic Party that actively solicited compromising information on Trump and Trump campaign figures from the Ukrainian government. Last time I checked, Ukraine was not the 51st state. Or even the 58th.

This would be the Hillary Clinton whose campaign hired a foreigner to solicit foreigners–Russians, no less, rather than the benign Norwegians whom Trump referred to in his answer–to collect dirt on Trump.

And alleged information passed on by Alexander Downer (who speaks with a funny accent and so I’m pretty sure he’s a furriner) was apparently totally copacetic.

A consistent application of the standards implicit in the meltdown freakout would require those melting down and freaking out to demand the banning of the Democratic Party and Hillary’s incarceration.

Consistent application. Sometimes I crack myself up. If these people didn’t have double standards, they’d have no standards at all.

A few other observations. Does truth matter? That is, should the information provided be ignored and even criminalized merely because it is from a foreign source, even if it is true?

Hypothetical. A source within the FSB provides documentation showing that while honeymooning in the USSR a certain candidate for president agreed to become a source for the KGB, and had in fact regularly provided information to the KGB and then the FSB in the past 30+ years. Is that information to be suppressed, merely because of the source? Isn’t it meddling in an election to keep this information secret? (Any reasonable definition of the word “meddling” would involve an action that affects the outcome of an election, and keeping information secret can impact the outcome just as much as its revelation. Which is precisely why candidates want to suppress compromising information.)

Indeed, some information can only come from foreign sources. So it’s better to accept an increased risk of electing someone who canoodled with foreigners, than to accept information that would disclose such canoodling, because the information came from the foreigners that s/he canoodled with?

The controversy over the DNC emails suggests that truth is not a relevant consideration. The veracity of those emails, and the damaging information in them, were never disputed. Yet their release was supposedly scandalous, and sufficient in the minds of many to rule them out of bounds for discussion.

Moving on. Isn’t the obsession with the foreign-ness of the source of the dirt, oh, I dunno, kinda nationalist? Isn’t it passing strange that people who are willing to accept the illegal immigration of every last Guatemalan to the US (transportation courtesy of a Mexican drug cartel) believe that it is utterly unacceptable for a campaign to accept information provided by a Norwegian or whoever who may never set foot on the fruited plain nor see the amber waves of grain? So citizenship should be totally irrelevant for residency and employment and receiving government benefits, but it is determinative when it comes to who can provide information on political candidates to rival political candidates?

That makes sense how, exactly?

Isn’t it also implicit in the obsessive focus on the citizenship of the provider of information that it’s totally OK for Americans to meddle in elections by passing on damaging information to opposing campaigns?

I could go on, but contemplating the outpouring of sanctimonious hypocrisy for too long makes my head hurt. Suffice it to say, the louder the scream, the more execrable the screamer.

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May 25, 2019

Why the Squealing In DC?: The Deep State is in Deep Sh*t

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 11:01 am

That loud squealing you hear coming from points east is not the sound of 1000s of hogs being scalded: it is the collective scream of the governing class panicked at the Barr investigation, and in particular, at Trump’s instruction to the intelligence agencies that they declassify large amounts of material relating to the origins of the Russia investigation. Not surprisingly, among those protesting most strenuously, like the slimy, sanctimonious James Comey and the Neanderthal-browed (hell, Neanderthal period) John Brennan, are those in the gravest legal jeopardy.

In other words, the Deep State is in Deep Shit, and lashing out in response.

One of the attacks leveled at Trump and Barr is that this investigation will reveal the identity of a super-secret CIA source close to Putin.

Is that the best you all can do? Really?

First, color me skeptical that any such source exists.

Second, even assuming that he did exist . . . he has long since been compromised. Obviously.

Christopher Steele spread around the dossier in mid-2016 like a crack whore spreads around the clap (apologies to crack whores, and to the clap). Russian intelligence therefore would have known about it long before it made it onto Buzzfeed–or into the set-up “briefing” Comey gave Trump in January, 2017. Generously assuming the whole thing was (a) not a Russian disinformation operation in the first place, and (b) not a figment of Steele’s imagination, the dossier’s disclosure that an individual or individuals present at or better yet a participant in conversations with Putin and other high-level Russians (e.g., Sechin) was blabbing to western spooks (ex- or active) would have unleashed the leak investigation from hell, without the legal niceties that protect leakers in the US.

Any source would have been identified, and dealt with. Not necessarily with extreme prejudice: indeed that is an unlikely outcome. It would have been far more useful to turn said source to get information on the CIA and to spread disinformation.

Indeed, the CIA (were it even marginally competent) would have realized that the dossier had burned the source and made him not just useless, but dangerous to the CIA.

So spare me the wailing laments about outing a CIA mole in the Kremlin. If (and that’s a big if) the mole existed, he is no longer a useful intelligence asset to the US, nor can he be any more endangered than was 3 years ago.

Further, the whole “we’d love to tell you but then we have to kill you” pose is rather convenient, no? After all, if there was a super secret CIA squirrel in the Kremlin who could prove that Trump conspired with the Russians, wouldn’t The Resistance just be dying for that information to come out, and to be validated? After all, it would seal their case against their arch-enemy.

How stupid do they think we are, that we would believe that the identity of an already-burned source is so sacrosanct that they would sacrifice their vendetta against Trump (whom they claim is a mortal danger to national security) rather than reveal it?

Please. The strident protests actually undermine the veracity of collusion claims.

I have always been deeply ambivalent about the CIA. I recognize the need for an intelligence apparatus. I further recognize the need for secrecy for it to operate effectively. But I also recognize that this secrecy provides a cover for it to engage in nefarious actions intended to implement its own agendas, which are often malign. Secrecy also makes it almost impossible to hold it accountable for its litany of failures.

There is a colorable case that the Neanderthal and his minions engaged in numerous nefarious acts in 2016 and 2017. Getting to the bottom of that, and holding those responsible for any such acts accountable is far more important to the health of the Republic than protecting some putative source in Putin’s inner circle (who, if he existed, was hopelessly compromised years ago).

Let the investigation continue, the documents be declassified, and the chips fall where they may. The prospect of which is exactly why the hogs are squealing.

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May 15, 2019

Round Up the Usual Suspects, Druzhba Pipeline Contamination Edition

Filed under: Energy,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:36 pm

Russia roiled European oil markets by shipping millions of tons (perhaps upward of 5 million, or about 35 million barrels) of crude oil contaminated with organic chlorine over the Druzhba (“Friendship”) pipeline. The contaminants have the nasty habit of turning into hydrochloric acid in refineries–not good!

About 2 weeks after the first news of the contamination, the Russians claimed they had cracked the case. They arrested four executives of an obscure oil company in Samara, and sought two more, claiming that the company had pumped the oil to conceal a million ruble fraud. One million rubles, as in about $15 grand.

Now, I can see how some Fargo-esque Russian crooks could wreak such havoc to cover up a petty crime, but I’m also very skeptical of the official story.

To start with, amazing, ain’t it, that crack Russian investigators who let many major crimes go unsolved for, like forever can solve this one in mere days? The fact that some of the alleged perps have Chechen names also suggests that this was a “round up the usual suspects” bust that would make Claude Rains/Captain Renault proud.

Also, the quantities don’t make sense. The contamination is serious, and even 10 million rubles of oil would represent only a couple of thousand barrels: could that create the kind of contamination that has forced the shutdown of a pipeline that can carry 1.2-1.4 million barrels per day?

No, pinning this on some obscure suspects seems just too pat, and calculated to let major players (such as the pipeline monopoly Transneft, and major producers, such as Rosneft) off the hook.

Even if crooks in Samara succeeded in introducing into Druzhba contaminated oil in quantities sufficient to make millions of tons unusable, this just raises other questions. Like, who was monitoring what was going into the pipeline? How were the crooks able to get this much bad oil into Druzhba? How is Transneft’s failure to detect this not negligent–or perhaps itself criminal (e.g., involving bribing Transneft employees to overlook the introduction of the tainted oil into the pipeline).

However you look at it, this validates many stereotypes about Russia. Rife criminality, or corruption, or incompetence–or all of the above!

Update. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations. The contaminated oil had 150-330 ppm of the organic chlorides. The acceptable level is 10 ppm. Assume that prior to the contamination, the oil had the maximum allowable amount, 10 ppm. If the contaminated oil had 100 times the allowable amount (1000 ppm) over 14 percent of the oil in the pipe had to be contaminated to that level just to get it to 150 ppm. To get it to 330 ppm, almost a third would have to be contaminated. At 1mm bpd of throughput, that’s 140k-330k bpd. That’s a lot of oil, and certainly more than the piddly companies blamed for this contamination can produce. Even if you increase the contamination by an order of magnitude, you are still talking 1 to 3 percent of the oil in the pipeline.

But if you crank up the contamination rate to cut down the volumes, that just raises the question: WTF was Transneft doing to allow oil with 100 to 1000 times the allowable limit getting into the pipeline.

Pick your poison, Transneft.

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April 20, 2019

Evidence of Absence Is Incompatible With Obstruction

Filed under: Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 10:56 pm

The Mueller Report was released (with redactions) on Thursday. Although the “collusion” portion of the report is framed, as is the case with most decisions not to prosecute, in terms of absence of evidence to meet a burden of proof, the thoroughness of the investigation and the findings come as close to providing evidence of absence as one is ever likely to find. Most telling was the conclusion that although the Russians made numerous attempts at gaining access to Trump and Trump personnel, these attempts were uniformly rebuffed.

Yet like the dog returning to its vomit–again and again and again–the media cannot resist parts of the Mueller report that keep the collusion dream alive. Like this piece in Bloomberg (which has been particularly insane in its post-Mueller coverage). They fail to realize that this story (and others like it) completely demolishes the entire idea of pre-election collusion. If Putin was in cahoots with Trump or his minions before 8 November, he would have had no need to use oligarchs–or anybody else–to try to establish connections with Trump’s people after 8 November. Yet people who were (are!) willing to believe baroque and convoluted theories like the one in which Trump was communicating with the Russians via an Alfa Bank server (to name just one) don’t see how ludicrous these theories are in light of Putin’s obviously desperate attempts to make contact after Trump’s surprising election. So surprising that Putin was clearly caught off-guard and unprepared and completely without connections with the incoming administration.

It is particularly delicious that the Russian billionaire featured prominently in the report (and the Bloomberg article)–Petr Aven–controlled Alfa Bank. So Alfa Bank was supposedly the portal between Putin and Trump which they used to coordinate their dastardly deeds but months later Putin sent the man in charge of Alfa Bank to open communications with Trump–and he fails!

Yeah. Makes total sense!

One wonders when Mueller realized that there was no there there. None whatsoever. I suspect he realized it very early on, but was loath to admit it. If this is so, his extension of the investigation to this late date–and well past the midterm elections–inflicted grave injury on the country, and makes Mueller a figure of infamy deserving severe obloquy.

It is against background that one must evaluate the second portion of Mueller’s report, relating to obstruction. Put aside the Constitutional issues raised by the fact that several of the theories of obstruction involve Trump’s exercise of his presidential powers (firing Comey, requesting that Sessions unrecuse himself, discussing using the pardon power), and others involve the ability of the president to fire an inferior official (which just points out the Constitutional anomalies of special counsels): firing Mueller would have been a blunder, rather than a crime, and Trump was indeed fortunate that he was talked out of it.

No, think of how you would have reacted if you had been subjected to a Kafkaesque investigation into something that you knew was complete and utter bullshit–and bullshit that had been concocted by your political enemies who were dead set on rationalizing–and avenging–their loss to you. I think you would be outraged, and feel completely justified in fighting back by whatever means necessary. I think any normal person would be. And heaven knows, Donald Trump is not normal. If he were, he wouldn’t be president. So of course he said intemperate things and contemplated intemperate actions and no doubt felt perfectly justified in his intemperateness–yet in the end did not take these actions.

Anybody who harrumphs at this–and yeah, I’m looking at you, Mitt–is irredeemably partisan, or not a serious person, or is completely incapable of realistically appraising how he or she would react if in another’s shoes. There are those who attempt to obstruct investigations because they know they are guilty, and there are those who fight investigations that they believe to be unjust. Mueller strained every nerve, tried out every possible legal theory, and left no stone unturned in his attempt to demonstrate illicit dealings, and admitted abject failure. This failure validates Trumps belief that the investigation was a travesty that never should have taken place, and puts his reaction in the second category rather than the first. The excesses are typically Trumpian ones.

That is, the evidence of absence of collusion completely undermines assertions of obstruction, given that obstruction requires mens rea. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Finding Trump innocent (not just not guilty, but innocent) of collusion or conspiracy yet believing that he might have obstructed justice makes Mueller a genius, by the Fitzgerald standard. These are utterly opposed ideas.

Such geniuses the Republic can live without.

I would like to say that Mueller did Trump–and the country–a favor by proving him innocent of illicit dealings with Russia far more convincingly than Trump ever could have himself. To be found not culpable by people who are almost certainly your enemies and who desperately want to hang something on you is as close to vindication as you can get.

But facts don’t matter. Russia was just a pretext, a dog to tree Trump with. If that dog won’t hunt, his enemies will find another. And another. And another.

This is a power struggle, pure and simple. Meaning that Trump has to take that fight to his enemies. And the best way to do that is to attack legally the apparatchiks–the Brennans and Comeys and Clappers and those still in the bureaucracy–who unleashed the Russia collusion hound. And after that, to go after their political masters.

This is war to the knife. Trump has warded off the attacks so far, and almost miraculously survived. He can’t count on such luck continuing, especially since defeat will only spur his enemies to greater efforts. He has to be the attacker now.

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April 13, 2019

The Russians Aren’t There to Spread Disorder; They are There to Maintain Disorder

Filed under: China,Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 4:41 pm

This headline in Bloomberg made me chuckle and think of a famous malapropism from Mayor Daley I: “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

The Russians (and the Chinese) are not in Venezuela to create (or spread) disorder, the Russians are in Venezuela to preserve disorder. Quite literally. Because they are there to preserve Maduro, and Maduro has created such chaos and misery that “disorder” seems far too mild a word to describe it. So adapting Mayor Daley’s words to the Russians in Venezuela, it wouldn’t be a malapropism–it would be descriptively accurate. An understatement, even.

Yes, I understand that permitting foreign interference in the Western Hemisphere violates just short of 200 years of American policy, and this is not a precedent we want to set. But in comparison to say the French in Mexico in the 1860s, this is truly small beer.

And consider the fate of Maximillian et al. Not a precedent that the Russians or Chinese should want to emulate.

Venezuela is a disaster–the world’s largest tar baby (literally, in some respects, given the physical characteristics of Venezuelan crude oil). The Russians and Chinese are actually fools if they think that propping up this disastrous regime–which is on the verge of overseeing a record setting decline in economic output–will increase their odds of getting paid back the billions they lent. Every day that Maduro continues in power, and the catastrophe metastasizes, makes the prospects of recovering even a few kopecs all the more remote.

If recouping some of their debt is an objective, the Russians and Chinese would actually be far better off killing Maduro, overthrowing his thugs, and making a deal with the opposition. But Putin and Xi are doubling down on a regime that makes the phrase “failed state” seem like a compliment.

Putin also views an outpost in Venezuela as a military provocation to the US. Whatever. At over 5400 miles from Russia (and over 9000 miles from Shanghai), that outpost would be utterly unsustainable if push came to shove with the US. Russia has no ability to sustain it logistically over that distance–nor does China, really, even though its navy and sealift are not as decrepit as Russia’s.

Fools put bases in places they can’t support. Complete fools put bases in places that they can’t support AND which are located in places that are descending into a state that the creators of Mad Max would have found fantastical.

So let Putin add Venezuela to his collection of failed state allies. It will be an ulcer, not an asset.

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