This is the first in a five part series on the ascent of renewable energy sources. Over the course of the next several weeks, we will address the changing energy mix in the US as solar and wind dominate marginal additions to the powergrid, and aging fossil-fuel power retires. The…
All through the years of the great recession, during the bombed out aftermath of 2008’s financial crisis that saw jobs, wages, and growth recover at a frustratingly slow pace, something unusual began to happen in states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania: oil and gas production began to grow and then accelerate - beginning from low, inconsequential levels. Improbably, the State of North Dakota now produces more oil than former OPEC state Indonesia. And Pennsylvania’s natural gas production has grown so quickly, volumes have risen over twelve-fold in just the past 48 months, that were the Keystone State a country, it would now rank as the 10th largest producer in the world.
But the momentous changes in America’s energy profile don’t end there. The great recession and the oil shock of 2008 triggered long-cycle changes in the way Americans actually use oil: walkable neighborhoods, electric vehicles, and train travel have all become popular as US drivers throttled back their gasoline consumption. The result is that for every three barrels of new, homemade oil coming out of plays in Texas, North Dakota, Colorado and Oklahoma, Americans have walked away from 2 barrels of their previous, sky-high oil demand. The result is a profound change in America’s energy balance sheet. And the spread—the difference between the energy America consumes and the energy it still has to import—has shrunk to a tiny version of its former self. These days there is a 10% difference in that spread; as recently as 2005 the difference was a steep 30%. The implications, for the US trade deficit, economy, interest rates, and the US Dollar are broad and already spreading. And the geo-political ripple effects of America’s shrinking energy spread, the recent volatility in oil prices notwithstanding, are starting to steamroll forward.
Since President Obama came to office, US energy production has increased by over 13 quadrillion BTU from 2009 through 2014—the largest five year advance in half a century. The President is no oil and gas man, to be sure. But the unabated drill, drill, drill frenzy in the US since 2009 punctures dearly held political beliefs on both the right and the left, about our President’s perspective on the use, retrieving, and future of fossil fuels.
In early 2012, President Obama made it clear that, in pursuit of solving, America’s energy difficulties he would continue to aggressively pursue every energy source possible: wind, solar, nuclear, efficiency programs and yes, oil and gas. “We can’t have an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past. We need an energy strategy for the future – an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy," said the President. Second, the President has repeatedly stated his goal, from his 2010 State of the Union Speech, to double America’s exports. That goal has nearly been met - US exports are up from $1.6 trillion in 2009 to $2.3 trillion in 2014—and energy exports have formed a nice little piece of that puzzle, at about 7.5% of the total. But there’s more. Because in a flurry of federal level approvals from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) this Spring and Summer, the President’s administration is now set to deliver its fossil fuel coup-de-grace: a wave of new LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminals to be built between now and 2020 that will export as much as 10% of US daily natural gas production. Eclipsing Russia in 2009 as the largest natural gas producer globally the US is now on the threshold of sending that gas out into the world: a new, LNG exporting giant. Intriguingly, both the President and the Administration have been quiet on this major policy shift, avoiding any self-congratulatory announcements or press briefings. Instead, louder reactions have come from Congress, where there are legitimate concerns a huge upswing in LNG exports could increase natural gas prices for Americans, here at home. This was exactly the experience in Australia, where a significant LNG export program is also underway. Indeed, various industries in the US that also thrive on exceedingly cheap natural gas, like the chemicals industry, have also voiced alarm to the administration about the torrid pace of 2014's LNG export approvals.
On a Sunday evening in March 2013, after a late spring snowstorm, several hundred people braved the weather to reach an unassuming building nestled into a former strip mall in the small suburban community of Grandview, Missouri, 16 miles south of Kansas City. Their destination was the International House of Prayer. The prayer room—a nondescript auditorium ringed with small side rooms for prophesying and faith healing—receives daily visitors from all over the world who want to experience what IHOP’s founder, the controversial, and self-titled, “prophet” Mike Bickle, claims is a recreation of the biblical King David’s tabernacle. Bickle maintains he is helping Christians achieve a greater intimacy with Jesus through 24/7 music and prayer - a prerequisite, he says, for Jesus to return to earth, carry out God’s battle plan for the end-times, vanquish the Antichrist, and rule the world from his throne in Jerusalem.
On that snowy night, hundreds of followers in what is known as the charismatic Christian movement descended on Grandview for a “Transform World” prayer summit, a meeting that promised 70 consecutive hours of prayer to add new houses of prayer to the hundreds of IHOP imitators around the world. Growing the number of houses of prayer, the participants believed, will help “transform” communities, preparing them for a global revival.
Through IHOP and its associated church, Forerunner Christian Fellowship, Bickle claims to be cultivating an elite class of “forerunners,” or people who “represent God and his interests,” and who “prepare the people to respond rightly to Jesus by making known God's plans so the people can make sense of what will happen before it actually happens.” His vision of the end-times, which is central to his teaching, maintains that these “redeemed” people will be raptured just as Jesus begins his “royal procession” into Jerusalem. Bickle believes they will return to earth as “resurrected saints” who will “possess supernatural abilities.” When Jesus rules as “King over all dominions and spheres of society,” these resurrected saints will rule with him, “as kings and priests.”
Bickle is a major figure in what is known as charismatic Christianity, a sprawling movement with no clear organizational structure or hierarchy, led by magnetic and often authoritarian figures who proclaim themselves to be modern-day prophets and apostles. Driven by the passionate pronouncements of these "prophets," rather than by, say, a denominational creed, the movement derides mainstream evangelical churches as moribund and dull – and in so doing has forced them to adapt to its presence. Lest you think these movements are fringe, just look at Republican politics, which has increasingly embraced the charismatic movement and its leaders in its quest for the evangelical vote. Outside of politics--but still crucial to its ongoing and future entanglement with religion--movements like Bickle's entice the very young people evangelical leaders fret are slipping away from their faith. In one sense, IHOP, with its heterodox theology, inhabits a world of its own. But its draw to young people has led evangelical, and even mainline Protestant churches, as well as word of mouth and social media networks, to advertise its virtues to parents and teenagers who think they want to achieve more "intimacy" with God.
Part of the attraction is sheer excitement. Charismatic, or renewalist Christianity – and, by extension, IHOP’s theology – is made up of born-again adherents whose worship practices focus on supernatural occurrences, faith healing, miracles, prophecy, and revelation, many of which developed over the mid-to-late 20th century as part of a “Third Wave” of charismatic revival. The first wave was born of the early 20th century Pentecostal revival launched by the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles; later, a second wave of charismatic Christians who did not identify as Pentecostal were seen in growing nondenominational and even mainline churches. IHOP grew out of the strand late-20th century, or Third Wave charismatic Christianity that emphasized the role of modern-day prophets and apostles who claim to receive authoritative, extra-biblical revelations directly from God.
Prophesy and miracles may sound fringe, but Bickle’s acolytes extend to high places. Bickle and his IHOP co-founder, the evangelist and anti-abortion crusader Lou Engle, have captured the attention of politicians eager reach a religious base increasingly influenced by these movements. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer rally, The Response, held just before he announced his presidential bid, was bankrolled by the American Family Association, directed by IHOP staffer Luis Cataldo, and featured Bickle in a prominent role as a speaker. Misty Edwards, who leads musical worship at IHOP and is hugely popular in the Christian music world, also led musical interludes at The Response.
It wasn’t a one-off. Last year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback—who once shared a Washington, DC apartment with Engle—welcomed IHOP’s annual One Thing conference, which takes place in Kansas City every December and draws tens of thousands of young people to “encounter Jesus, so that we might go forth to do His works and change the world, until the fame of Jesus fills the earth.”
And on the National Mall in 2008 Bickle shared a stage with one-time Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee. That day he preached that prayer and repentance, not politics, are the answer to America’s problems. Engle, too, has prayed with Republican members of Congress, including Reps. Michele Bachmann and Randy Forbes (co-chair of the 93-member bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus) and then-Sens. Brownback and Jim DeMint (now president of the Heritage Foundation), against passage of health care reform. IHOP was a “ministry partner,” along with the Family Research Council and the National Day of Prayer Task Force, for a 2012 “solemn assembly” for prayer and meeting with members of Congress.
Yet elected friends or not, Bickle’s 30-year career has been marked as much by his charismatic attraction to followers as by accusations of “aberrant” practices, false prophecies -- even heresy. Since his affiliation with a group called the Kansas City Prophets, a group of self-declared prophets which coalesced around Bickle’s church in the 1980s, a legion of critics—theologically conservative evangelicals themselves, including former IHOP followers and staff—say his theology and practices are a distortion of the Bible, and the spiritual demands placed on followers, including unquestioning obedience to Bickle’s ideas, are authoritarian and abusive.
Over the years, when his prophecies did not come to pass, disillusioned followers and pastors in the community have confronted Bickle. He has been asked, time and again, to reform his teachings and practices. Yet, somehow, rather than change, each time he emerges with followers and institutions intact, although he may alter, ever so slightly, certain claims or statements in the trove of writings on his website.
On a chilly Sunday evening in early February, as tens of thousands of fans converged on the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, America’s first “Bong Bowl” began. The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos—teams representing the only two states in the nation to have legalized recreational marijuana—were facing off to determine who would take home the coveted national football title. As they played, a static spectacle at the edge of the field raised eyebrows: massive advertisements slyly championing the merits of cannabis. Two billboards, one in the blue and green color scheme of the Seahawks, the other cloaked in Broncos’ orange and blue, read, “Marijuana is less harmful to our bodies than alcohol. Why does the league punish us for making the safer choice?”
Five months later the New York Times editorial board is asking the same question: why do we still prohibit marijuana? And the grey lady’s decision – to pit weed against alcohol – fits right up with some of the most vociferous advocates of repealing marijuana prohibition in America.
Imagine: you’re on an uneventful final descent into your local metropolitan airport when suddenly the pilot makes a violent lurch to the left. The captain’s voice comes over the loudspeaker with an apology for the turbulence. “Sorry folks,” she says, “all OK up here, but we had to swerve to avoid an 'agricultural drone' that drifted off course from its assigned soy bean fields. We should be clear from here on out.”
Sound far-fetched? It’s not. On March 4, 2013, as an Alitalia pilot brought his plane into its final descent at New York’s busy John F. Kennedy Airport, a three-foot-long unmanned vehicle flew within two hundred feet of his Boeing 777. The small black drone appeared to be what the industry calls a quadcopter, a widely available remote controlled aircraft popular among hobbyists and law enforcement with the range of a conventional model aircraft on steroids and the capability to fly into a passenger jet's flight-path. The incident ended without much fanfare, but it was a hint of some of the nightmare scenarios that led Congress in 2012 to instruct the Federal Aviation Agency devise a plan to integrate commercial and governmental drones into US civilian airspace by 2015.
For the FAA, it is a very unenviable task. Deep-pocketed lobbyists for motion pictures, energy, and industrial agriculture want commercial drones legalized for their clients. Aerospace manufacturers and giant military-industrial complex companies like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman see civilian drones as a potential moneymaker. Their desires stand in contrast to the public, which is generally ambivalent about the idea of unmanned, camera-equipped aircraft flying above them—and to legislators, who see civilian drones as a hot-button election issue.
It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been fast. But there is no more time to wait. The technology behind unmanned drones has migrated from foreign battle zones to the shores of the United States, and is being adapted to civilian and domestic law enforcement uses. Whether they are called drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or unmanned aerial systems (UASes), camera-equipped unmanned aircraft are here to stay.
Football fans threw smoke bombs on İstiklal Caddesi
The orange smoke billowed upwards, blocking out the buildings of Istanbul's grandest boulevard. Riot cops lined up in front of a water cannon. The protesters could not go forward. They would not go back.
Fans of Istanbul's three main football teams- Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, and Beşiktaş – have shared enmity nearly since the clubs were formed. But since the 2013 Gezi protests, which came to symbolize the battle against state authoritarianism, they've united. They share one enemy now, the police.
It’s April 20th, I'm with them on the streets of Turkey's largest city, as they protest a new e-ticketing system for games. Now, to buy a ticket, a fan must first purchase a special debit card displaying his or her photo and identifying information. If he chants political slogans, he can be tracked. Surveillance sold as convenience. Passolig, the company that came up with this gem, is owned by a friend of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Used to battling cops at games, football fans formed Gezi's frontlines. Now, the police are so afraid they plead with protestors to please disperse. “Children of whores,” the fans chant back. It's a sweet change from the last few years of New York demonstrations, where cops often forced demonstrators into pens, beat them, and arrested them like cattle. Next to hundreds of football fans spoiling for a fight, I finally feel safe from the police.
I dive to the front. Amidst the A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards) scarves and E-ticket fuck no graffiti spray-painted on the sidewalks, a masked boy holds up a flare. It burns neon. From Galatasaray gates, fans have hung a banner emblazoned with the words “There is no description for our love.” Flyers fluttered like ten thousand birds.
The riot cops advance. The fans flee, pursued by special sports police. In the smoke, a water-cannon rolls forward. It aims, fires, dripping water like a spent cock.
A street-cleaning vehicle follows, sucking up flyers. Except for the parked water cannon, within a half hour, not a trace of the protest remains.
Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, there is little to see across the flat expanse in the desert east of Barstow, California. Head to the state line and there are few gas stations and fewer towns. Most of the action happens underground: alongside I-15, near the Nevada border, in a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it town called Mountain Pass, more than 350 people work around the clock to mine and process the rare earth elements essential to the smartphones and computers which run our world.
Mountain Pass is operated by a company called Molycorp. It's part of an exclusive club - one that holds the key to a problem that vexes the tech industry, the military, and governments the world over: How to keep rare earth metals affordable.
The February filibuster of Chuck Hagel was the last straw for Harry Reid.
In the eyes of the Democratic majority leader, Republicans had just shattered a mere three-weeks-old agreement to avoid a drastic change to the Senate rules. Not only was the Hagel vote the first time in U.S. history the Senate filibustered a nominee to be secretary of defense, but the minority party took an unprecedented step and rebuked one of their own: Hagel was a former red state Republican senator who also happened to be a decorated war veteran.
In the days that followed, a few things crystallized in the Nevada senator’s mind. The re-election of President Barack Obama and Republican promises of a "new day" in the Senate were all for naught. It became clear that the GOP was not going to change its practice of obstruction, which was rendering dysfunctional not only the legislative branch but also the executive and judicial branches by thwarting presidential nominations.
This past July, the highest profile hacker conference in America - known as DEFCON - made a show of publicly disinviting all federal employees from attending. It was a shock, and a reversal: Last summer not only were the Feds in the audience, they were on the stage: National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander was the keynote speaker; he had come, he said, to "solicit" support for cybersecurity. "You have the talent," he said, and called for more sharing between private companies and the government. (He also denied that the NSA keeps a file on every U.S. citizen.)
Only a few found outside of a paranoid fringe found Alexander's remarks terribly controversial at the time. That has now changed.
Gen. Alexander's appeal came from a deep understanding that the NSA cannot get very far without technologically savvy, innovative people designing secure systems, breaking encryption, and creating offensive cyberweapons. Some call them hackers: people who are obsessed with problem solving, and who love to take apart technology to see how it works and, if they're really good, how it can work better. The world of hackers - or coders, to use a softer term - can be difficult for outsiders to understand - an obsession with cryptography, Linux and homemade bespoke software, and a preference for cleverness over user-friendly design doesn't exactly endear them to mainstream America. There's another problem hackers have with the government - they tend to believe there is a right and a wrong way to do things, a mix of mindset and ideology, that doesn't fit well into Washington's or the Intelligence Community's very grey, sometimes dark, world.