My respect for you has further increased because of your willingness to learn from others, to credit them for their contributions, and to admit to your mistakes.

Thanks for your well researched and thoughtful commentary.

Nancy Weed

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Can an attack be both deniable and an escalation? What would that even look like?

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I’m marking this one down on my calendar: as Harley Lofton notes below, in the space of one issue of The Triad we’re gaming out “limited” nuclear tit-for-tat, spitballing hideous negotiated settlement choices and revealing that JVL and a fair number of others _had no idea of the factual issues around Keystone XL_.

Yes, I’m a Democrat —- and an old one, at that—- but JVL’s ignorance of well-established facts is even more upsetting to me than the other two topics. As educated and well-read as he is, he has managed to exist in a media environment that did not expose him to the most basic facts around a cause that the right has used as a cudgel for years against their political rivals. This is why we are well and truly screwed.

We cannot prevail in the coming realpolitik when we as an educated citizenry do not share the same fact universe and political/patriotic solidarity. I’m not accusing JVL of cluelessness but others still wading in the waters of the Professional Right don’t know where their facts are lacking, where their reflexes are wrong. Our polarized views have become so ingrained that I’m pretty certain we are going to be ineffective opposition to Putin’s unhinged plans. Our fractured democracy makes a joke of “E pluribus unum.”

As long as I’m being rude to the host of the party I might as well have my say about Zelensky(y): can we please tone down the references to Churchill? He IS a failed comedian, an everyman who finds himself in the hottest spotlight of the moment and is just managing to keep his head above water. His repeated insistence on confrontational tactics from NATO is for home consumption and it’s going to tear our domestic and allied politics apart. The Ukrainian populace is going to carry white hot resentment over their inevitable sacrifices for a long time to come and we’re going to be mad that they’re not more grateful. I want Zelensky to survive but he’s the least sophisticated political actor in the room. And for God’s sake, don’t watch more than 20 minutes of TV a day. The media circus is an abomination.

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I consider myself well informed, and the analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline was a revelation to me, as well as JVL. I am also enormously impressed by Zelensky. He has shown uncommon courage and leadership, in the face of enormous geopolitical stress.

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Mar 11, 2022·edited Mar 11, 2022

Zelensky is an actor giving a convincing performance, a needed figurehead in a time of war (think Dubya with a bullhorn at Ground Zero). He has no background in statecraft, governance or international affairs and up until a month ago his popularity in Ukraine had been sinking. It is rational to be glad that he has good speechwriters (from the entertainment industry) but he remains the least knowledgeable head of state involved in this event.




Here's a 10 year span of Keystone XL debunking that you missed:

***Washington Post, 2011:


***President Obama in 2013:

"Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn't have an impact on US gas prices."


***Reuters recent fact check:


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I was aware of some of those issues, like the refinery issues in Texas, and than the refined tar sands oil was mainly exported. But the big facts I missed are that (1) Keystone XL was an addition to an already operating Keystone pipeline, (2) it would increase capacity on the existing pipeline by less than 20%, and (3) was a minuscule percentage of Canadian oil and gas exports. Basically, it appears Keystone XL was a big nothing burger, and private and public propaganda built it up to be something more. Most of the complaints I heard about Keystone XL were the environmental complaints. That was political malpractice that gave the GOP in a winning issue (particularly Trump in 2016). The focus should have been more on the insignificant benefits relative to the costs in land confiscation.

I hated it when I fall for propaganda. But I am pleased that I smarter today, because of JVL's column.

Your comments on Zelensky's lack of experience and low popularity pre-invasion are now largely irrelevant. Experience is valuable for a world leader. But experience\knowledge can be acquired quickly. More important are innate traits like intelligence, leadership skills, communication skills, political courage, and just plain courage in times of enormous stress. Zelensky has demonstrated these traits in spades in response to the Russian invasion. Your throwing shade his direction is, at the very best, very bad timing on your part.

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You appear to like performative leaders, those who by force of personality or communication skills (including those of their speechwriters) can project a sense of authority and competence. I don't agree that "experience/knowledge can be acquired quickly." If a national leader doesn't possess the knowledge of history, tested skills for political negotiation and successful experience with prior governance then they have big blind spots as a leader and will not be able to separate good advice from bad and foolish policy ideas from those likely to succeed. "Courage under stress" doesn't do anything to overcome those shortcomings.

Every fact that impresses you now about Keystone XL was known and widely discussed from the very start of the proposal.

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No, I very much prefer leaders with substance, not just performative. The characteristics I mentioned are all substantive, not performative.

Communication skills can of course can be used by a leader for performative fluff (Trump is exhibit A), but also can be used to rally the country in times of crisis (FDR is a prime example). Courage can also be faked (Trump, again, is a prime example), but also can be authentic (Harry Truman is an example of political courage; JFK of actual courage).

I clearly see much more substantive courage in Zelensky than you do. Harry Truman may be a good comparison for Zelensky -- also underestimated, but rose to the occasion.

The Democrat's opposition to Keystone was focused on environmental concerns. That was political malpractice. The GOP have successfully painted the Democrats as environmental extremists killing oil and gas jobs. The Democrats should have focussed their opposition much more on the oil already being transported through Keystone, and that Keystone XL was a pricy extension that would not significantly increase imports from Canada, and that the U.S. should be producing its own energy, not importing more of it.

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I believe Zelenskyy is also a lawyer

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Re: KXL:

You also need Canadian buy-in politically, and while Alberta citizens are keen (somewhat; the urban citizens less than the rural), the rest of Canada isn't.

The politics of this is a complex issue. Partly, Albertans have done a lot over the last few decades to alienate other Canadians. The usual ebb and flow is that when the Tar Sands are doing well, they want to hoard the cash and drop taxes. Then when the market falls, they rediscover their socialism and it's everyone else's job to keep them afloat until the next boom, while they idle away their time in vaguely white supremacist militias and international truck blockades. (I'm oversimplifing for the sake of comedy, but it's a trite summary) Partly it's Canada's weird gaslighting relationship with Environmentalism, where we're politically kinda hippy-dippy (we have a semi-functional Federal Green Party!), but we're also an economy that regularly produces toxic lakes visible from space and exports asbestos.

Without Canadian political will, KXL is dead. I know it can be easy to forget that we're more than America's chilly natural resource reserve, but our domestic politics are a factor, too, and the voices clamoring for KXL are a small minority up here

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Mar 11, 2022·edited Mar 11, 2022

Interesting take.

I'm an Albertan. I drive a PHEV. I believe in global warming.

I live in one of those Albertan cities. It has more engineers per capita then anywhere else in Canada. It recently elected a brown hindu woman as Mayor, after 3 consecutive terms of electing a brown Muslim mayor.

Perhaps it's all the engineers around, but there are 2 axioms to energy and geopolitics that we never lost sight of, that are at the root of our differences:

1. Energy poverty, is pretty much indistinguishable from poverty. Doesn't matter too much what scale you look this: from developping to developped countries, to within one of those countries. Wealth is pretty tightly correlated to the amount you use.

2. Energy security, is prettty much indistinguishable from economic security.

It's not Alberta that lost sight of that. In the David Brooks sense, it's the eastern / coastal Bobo's that did, as did the Bobo leadership of most of europe.

Putin noticed, and waited.

What Albertan's wanted, was the chance to compete against despots. In a world where 80% of emissions come from burning the stuff, we decried the spreadsheets tallying carbon emissions, whereby if it was being produced somewhere else, it helped in 'meeting your country's emissions targets' to buy it from them, and absolved you of the amount you consume. It felt better to take that trip to Hawaii, or in Trudeau's case, those weekend surfing trips across the country in Tofino, that way.

But there was no column in those spreadsheets for the blood of innocents. For women stoned to death. For chopped up journalists. For labor standards, or workers rights.

What we decried in the face of such glaring omissions in your moral calculus, was that ours was castigated as the 'dirty' oil.

Did you notice, that the companies now divesting from Russia - the Norwegian wealth fund, BP - they fled the 'dirty' oil sands a few years ago.

For they had that same strict "ESG" moral code, you see.

And in the face of this onslaught, your countrymen and women were being cast as villans in a David Cameron movie. KXL entered that symbolic frame. What did our government do? Was there ever a full throated defense of our right to compete against dictators? A recognition that, given the energy axioms, we had to create massive amounts of nuclear generation, before we'd ever get away from the energy density of hydrocarbons?

Can you imagine if Ontario needed defending against allegations they produce 'dirty cars', or that perennially subsidized bombardier produced 'dirty private jets'?

No. What we saw was the cancellation of pipelines. Bills that created regulatory morass and malfeasance such that private development of that infrastructure was impossible, by design. Conditions that literally forced the nationalization of the only pipeline project left (and for which, you expect gratitude). Capital fled, our towers emptied, unemployment spiked - and this was before COVID.

It's not like this everywhere you know. The US and Australia LNG buisness is thriving.

Frankly, your post is an embodyment of the Bobo ethos that has shattered the contract between regions, between classes, between countrymen. The proposal that we just shut it all down, was transparently fraudulent (axiom 1), bound to bring despots to a zenith in their power (axiom 2), and exposed the lie in the 'ESG' being consecrated and celebrated.

For the record, truly Dirty Oil, smells like Ukranian blood. Before that, it smelled like Georgian blood. Or like a bonesaw after a days work.

As David Brooks observed, when you tell people they don't matter, because their work is intrinsically 'dirty', they react poorly. You can expect that reaction to be especially strong, when it's those levelling it that have actually lost touch with reality, and replaced their conscience with a ghg spreadsheet.

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And now I need to apologize AGAIN, because I was an asshole even in the apology part of my reply. Sorry. I'll try to do better in the future.

And to reiterate: I adore Alberta and (many of) her people. I just don't think they're blameless for poor relations with other Canadians.

EDIT: this is why you don't post on the internet before your coffee, kids

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Jeez. Someone's a bit touchy. And isn't it usually "bollocks"? 😉

As I said, my perspective comes from outside the province. It may not be an accurate reflection of interior Albertan practice and policy, but optics and the opinion of the wider country matter.

Realpolitik for a moment here: Do Albertans have any agency in shaping their relationship with the rest of the country, or was it somehow imposed by one (rather dim, rather recent) Prime Minister that you seem to hold responsible for a staggering number of your laundry list of resentments? Is the rest of the country responsible for making Albertan oil less environmentally catastrophic (you didn't actually address that point) and more economically viable, or should Albertans have tried to sell the project to those living in other provinces more effectively? I seem to remember a decade of whiny, borderline-threatening advertisements "refusing to apologize" for the industry's excesses and pollutions, and a shockingly strong separatist movement when their demands weren't met (as though BC had any interest in joining that particular adventure).

Look, I love Calgary, my cousin works the Sands, and I sympathize that your industry collapses again every time the price of a barrel of crude drops. That's the way it's structured: it's a boom-and-bust economy. I don't read much in your screed above even trying to persuade any other Canadian to sympathize with or support Tar Sands. If anything, I imagine you'll be able to strike the usual balance: firearms purchases, lite political intimidation (cough cough Trucker Convoy cough), and complaints that we're not paying to make your industry more profitable. That's the usual pattern.

I'm sorry for the tone of my reply. I think someone dismissing my words as "bullocks" and dismissing me as a Bobo (I *did* say I was oversimplifing) put me on the defensive. But you certainly didn't end up refuting my main point: that Albertans expect the rest of the country to eagerly do whatever they ask to prop up the Tar Sands when times are lean, and get out of their way when crude prices rise.

You wanna compete with the most evil petrostates in the world? Sounds good. I support that. Can we *maybe* do that while working *with* the rest of the country? You can compete against despots without acting like them, yeah?

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I agree completely. It makes no sense to import oil and gas from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela. North America should meet our own needs and also export oil and gas to Europe, Africa, and Asia. The climate effects are not much different in the short term, and probably also the long term, whereas the socio-political consequences are enormous.

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An interesting newsletter today.

My headline for it is "Gaming out the Road to Nuclear Annihilation"

I find it unbelievable that people can casually banter about limited nuclear warfare when no such thing really exists. At what point does the atmosphere become saturated with nuclear waste from all the "non-strategic nuclear weapons"... T How many EMP attacks before nothing works anymore? The notion of the "escalate to deescalate" strategy just seems so absurd and not worth hanging the lives of millions on its working.

Most of this crazy talk is generated by assumptions about what Putin does or doesn't think, will or won't do. If Putin is really the monster we assume him to be then we might as well just declare war directly, invade, try and overthrow him, and figure out how to survive a nuclear winter, live without satellite technology or a working infrastructure and roaming bands of survivalist militias taking what they can from the weak to survive.

But I am sure we would save Ukraine, make the world safe for democracy and "own the Ruskies" when it is all done. So good for us.

Well at least the Social Media would be gone and we wouldn't have to have anymore "hot takes" and "smart takes" on what we think but don't know is happening. There is that.

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So here is the thing with this energy stuff as I see it: not all energy assets are totally fungible with every other energy assets. I get it. But the folks talking about the gas prices for *this week* are making me want to rip what remains of my hair out.

A couple weeks hence, Putin's Russia is still going to be a rogue nation run by a war criminal. You still don't want to buy energy from them. You also have a bunch of American allies who we *should* want to induce to roll back their remaining Russian energy purchases. Lowering prices is in our domestic and FP interests. So yes, Keystone XL is not going to do anything for you on your spring break road trip, but that's not really the fight we are in. Also, getting some energy savings in one area can help offset increases in another area.

I know some of the center-left Bulwark readers probably prioritize climate change higher than I do, but guys, if you have $5.00/gal gas for the next two years and tell people to buy electric vehicles, I'm sorry but go ahead and seal in Trump 2024. Gotta deal with the right now problem right now.

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I know JVL is always right, but you've referred to Lawrence Freedman as Lawrence Freed in two Triads.

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The way Russia has performed so far in Ukraine, whether the country's nuclear arsenal actually works is open to question. Every dollar spent on maintaining it is a dollar that can't go toward the cost of a mega-yacht for some highly placed official.

Of course, that's a double-edged sword: if money is being skimmed from the nuclear weapons maintenance budget it's almost certainly being siphoned from the *safety* budget, too.

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I'm of the mind that any nuclear event, even an airburst designed to generate an EMP and shut down part of the electric grid, nets negative for Russia and Putin.

Everyone around Russia will want to kickstart their nuclear arms programs, especially the Baltic nations.

NATO powers with nuclear programs will be asked (and some might!) start selling and/or shipping nuclear arms to those treaty members without.

We in the US will have to figure out how we manage our end of the alliance after the doors get blown off like that. There are always deeper sanctions and other actions we can take that don't involve putting boots on Ukrainian (or Russian) streets.

And, anyone in their right mind within his organization will be scared shitless over the consequences.

NATO doesn't have to respond, and I don't even know that a response is advisable. But, launching a nuke over a Russian city is bound to lead to problems. I don't believe in an "escalate to de-escalate" scenario succeeding.

A cyberattack, meanwhile, is practically rote for the Russians. I personally see it going that way first.

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The pipeline thing is sure surprising. All this time I have been listening to my Biden complainer friends gripe about it being shut down. I had no idea! And, it wasn't easy to check on what your guy said. Only the TC website talked about the currently working pipeline. All articles on Google search were about XL. I rarely complain about media, but this seems like an important differentiation to me. I knew the product to be shipped wasn't much good, but it's been shipping the whole time anyway. HA!

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I know I'm arguing for my own perspective here, but when it comes to KXL, keep one eye on Canadian media. The spectrum runs from the Toronto Sun on the right to the Georgia Straight on the left (conveniently associated with their geographical locations), but the good ol' CBC has plenty of bland, milquetoast centrist reporting.

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Going to add an asterisk to my JVL is always right shirt

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Isn't there a 'nuclear football' process in Russia that goes down several layers from Putin? He could theoretically make the call to launch but get overruled by a General in the process correct?

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So long as any communication has to take an additional step from a head of state to its destination, there is the chance that someone in the chain doesn't comply. I don't wanna bet Life As We Know It on something that deep inside a black box (at least for me, I'm not aware of what Russian military brass are thinking).

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Fine, if you're going to break out Coldbringer, I'm gonna give one of my favorites to everyone today. Presenting for the Bulwark Plus readership, the tuna and the chef.


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Pfft, Malkavians.

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Are we sure Putin knows Mutually Assured Destruction is still a thing?

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I'm sure his bunker below Moscow is pretty posh and would keep him comfortably alive for another 20 years, even if Moscow is vaporized

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I think if it was Putin alone he probably would have tried an EMP or tactical nuclear strike already. I'm not sure I want to be a fly on the wall in Moscow right now but I am sure there's a lot of anger and fear around what Putin may or may not decide to do. It seems like they are laying the pretext for a chemical or biological false flag now.

On the topic of Keystone, the real problem is that the oil producers are slow to ramp up production in wave of 2019 and COVID cuts. They're going to enjoy huge profit margins until demand crashes and they need to drill more. From a business perspective it's great but it's terrible for the larger economy (us).

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Regarding oil producers, can confirm your statements. Hubby is a recently retired PE. After the price of oil went negative during early covid, all wells but the mega producers were shut in. Employees were purged. They have been slow to put the wells back on production status and have already been enjoying the high prices for some time. Especially after reducing their workforce expenses significantly as well as other associated costs. At the same time, stations have been gouging customers at the pump, as usual when the price of oil is up. Most consumers blame the corporate producers for high gas prices, but the stations do the heavy lifting for raising pump prices disproportionately.

On the side of the producers, it is somewhat costly to bring closed wells back on line, especially after they reduced their workforce. It will take time. And those 9,000 drilling permits open but not drilled? Exponentially expensive. I don't think it is unreasonable for them to get a guarantee that they can produce until all costs are covered and a fair to generous profit is made. The petroleum industry is more skittish of Democratic leadership than the 2A folks who panic about their guns being taken every time a Dem is elected. Even more so here in Cali.

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Yeah, I sympathize with the industry in the sense that it's hard to figure out what your strategy should be when the price of something goes from -$10 to $130 in the space of two years. Especially for the smaller drillers and producers, because they don't have the resources to easily weather that.

But as consumer/citizen of the free world I'd really like to see them start ramping up production. I hope we can get back to 2019 levels by year's end.

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Most of the smaller and/or independents didn't make it. As well as most of the ancillary businesses that the producers depend on. That is yet another complication that hinders rapid production increases.

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Everything I've read points to a nuclear "event" in NATO territory being only a matter of where and when Putin will do it. Would he precede it with a massive cyberattack on the West, especially the US? A tactical nuke strike in Ukraine? But none of this is "our fault", for anything other than far too many years of wishing that Putin would not be Putin.

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