Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 14, 2005

Global Warning - Believe It!

Summitkilimanjaro300

The Kilimanjaro as it has not been seen (without snow) in 11,000 years (The Guardian)

(Hat tip to Dismal Science)

The Guardian

Africa's tallest mountain, with its white peak, is one of the most instantly recognisable sights in the world. But as this aerial photograph shows, Kilimanjaro's trademark snowy cap, at 5,895 metres (1,934ft), is now all but gone - 15 years before scientists predicted it would melt through global warming.

. Separately, the graph below was published 2 weeks ago in The Economist and it is the graphic illustration of yet another convincing scientific study that global warming is real:

SOME people do not believe global warming is happening; some believe it is happening, but that it is the result of natural variation; and some believe it is being caused by human activity.

A paper presented to the AAAS by Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, provides further evidence that the third camp is right.

Most published research on climate change looks at the atmosphere. That is partly because the records are good and partly because it is in the atmosphere that the human-induced changes that might be causing it are happening. One of these changes, which would promote global warming, is a rise in the level of so-called greenhouse gases (particularly carbon dioxide) which trap heat from the sun and thus warm the air. Another, which would oppose warming, is a rise in the quantity of sulphate-based aerosols, which encourage cloud formation and thus cool the air by reflecting sunlight back into space.

Dr Barnett, however, thinks that the air is the wrong place to look. He would rather look in the sea. Water has a far higher capacity to retain heat than air, so most of any heat that was causing global warming would be expected to end up in the oceans.

And that was what he found.

Go read the rest of the article, or go directly to the actual research.

Ocean_temperatures

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 14, 2005 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (79)

March 13, 2005

Simply Naive

Last October a Reality Based News (RBN) piece, "Strategic Campaign Extended", was published here. It reported about the obscure "European Security Advocacy Group" that puts millions into terrorizing ad campaigns in 10 European countries. My RBN piece quoted a Senior Administration Official

Bjørn Stærk, a Norwegian blogger, complained that the quotes were of a reality different than his and warned that people could get confused.

Now some more folks have picked up my RBN piece and today Bjørn complains again.

There were hundreds of stories in major news outlets citing Senior Administration Official confirming the reality of huge WMD stocks in Iraq. For two years a reality in the White House press room wrote anti-gay news for a fake GOP news agency while advertising himself as a gay male prostitute. Today's NYT has a long piece about reality news. Actors payed by the administration claiming to be journalists report administration friendly news which is proliferated through hundreds of local TV stations. That is news  reality!

Bjørn says I did lie in my piece. I did not. I highlighted the modus operandi of the US administration and the US media using the appropriate rhetoric tool of imitation.

In Bjørn's reality ESAG's claim to be "advised by a diverse group of communications professionals and academics from six countries" without naming one of them is a different reality than my RBN piece claim of a Senior Administration Official.

It is not. To think so is simply naive.

Posted by b on March 13, 2005 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Mashkadov and Our Lost Honor

Do you remember General Massud? The leader of the Northern Alliance, and the last obstacle to full control of Afghanistan by the Taliban, after having been the leader of the resistance against the Soviet occupation in the 80s, he was assassinated on 9 September 2001, in a move which has been widely associated with 9/11.

Last week, Aslan Maskhadov, the elected President of the Chechens, was also assassinated, by Russian forces. There are many troubling similarities between Massoud and Mashkadov - honourable men engaged in a thankless fight for their countrymen against a massively superior force, sometimes supported by the West but most of the time ignored and forgotten in the name of realpolitik. Both were also moderates in a fight increasingly dominated by extremist Islamists. I am not predicting another event like 9/11 in the wake of this assassination, but some parallels are eerie and some lessons for the West are stark.

Below is the scathing indictment of our cowardly behavior by André Glucksmann, a French philosopher long involved in fighting causes like Bosnia and Chechnya, as well as other viewpoints on the topic.

The French version of his text was published by Le Monde. Below is a translation provided in Johnson's Russia List, an e-mail distribution list partially published on the net here.

Thanks from the new Czar

A comment on the assassination of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov.

By Andre Glucksmann

Thank you, Messrs Chirac, Bush and Schröder. Aslan Maskhadov, the man elected president of Chechnya under international supervision, is dead. Assassinated.

The Russian authorities have succeeded. Their only opponent now is Shamil Basayev, the radical warlord they themselves trained and often spared, be it in Budyonnovsk or Dagestan. Mr Putin, the Soviet agent who spends his holidays in the company of Messrs Schröder and Berlusconi, finds himself faced with a man like himself, a man who may not have his clout yet, but already his cruelty. The massacre may now continue, the attacks recommence.

Aslan Maskhadov had just declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced he represented Western values, not those of radical Islamism. This ceasefire had been respected by all boeviki (Chechen fighters) for the past month. Maskhadov had shown his strength. The time had therefore come to kill him to prevent the spirit of "permanent revolution"  which our friend, the Czar, abhors  from reaching the northern Caucasus.

Not a single Western leader dared call for the Kremlin to negotiate with the only legitimate leader of a martyred and heroic people. Remember Ahmed Shah Massoud of Afghanistan? First he resisted the Russians, then the Islamists. He was abandoned by the world's democracies and assassinated  to Osama Bin Laden's benefit. There too, not one of our representatives contradicted Vladimir Putin when he equated Chechen pro-independence military resistance with international terrorism. On the contrary, Chirac and Schröder proclaimed the master of the Kremlin the archangel of peace in view of his sympathy towards Saddam Hussein, a blank cheque the KGB man has now cashed in.

Stripped of their morals, our leaders have also shown remarkable political stupidity. Who will now be able to calm the thousands of torture victims who dream of nothing but revenge? Who will now be in a position to negotiate if the Russians don't one day become aware of their murderous insanity? Where in this young generation that has known nothing but war and oppression can we find a man of Maskhadov's stature and temperance? Chechnya will plunge further into horror, but it won't dive alone.

Who prevented the pain-crazed fighters from blowing up a nuclear power plant in Russia? Corrupt secret servicemen, perhaps? Evidently not. Who reined in the influence of Basayev  a former agent of the GRU, the Russian army's special forces  within the Chechen resistance movement? Who, if not Aslan Maskhadov?

The dying Yassir Arafat was granted full honours in France and Europe. And yet the Chechen president who never called for the murder of civilians died alone, just as he had fought. Abandoned by the world, isolated in his rebel mountains, seeing his people massacred amid general indifference, Maskhadov unconditionally condemned the Moscow theatre hostage drama and the horrors of Beslan, offering to go there in person to forbid the massacre of innocents. Just as he had not hesitated to denounce the September 11th attacks.

Despite being a pro-independence hero, Maskhadov proposed an anti-terrorist peace plan that deferred the question of independence. In the name of peace. His plan called for the demilitarisation of the fighters under international supervision. The UN, EU, OSCE, Nato and all the other "things" designed to preserve the peace among the world's peoples and guarantee the self-determination of nations didn't even see fit to discuss the three-year-old and constantly reiterated plan.

In spite of the filtration camps, the ethnic cleansing, the rape and theft, the death of almost a quarter of the population (imagine if 10 to 15 million people were wiped out in Italy or France) and the exodus of a similar number of frightened civilians, Chechnya resists both the Russian barbarity and the sirens of religious fanaticism. Why all this relentless hounding of a population of (once) a million people? Why so little compassion?

Moscow's obstinacy is based on neither strategic motives nor mere interest in fuel. The main reason for three centuries of colonial war and Russian cruelty in the Caucasus is pedagogic. The great Russian poets had identified it: it is simply to set an example and teach the Russian people themselves that it's not worth disobeying orders. In 1818, General Ermolov gave Czar Nicolas I the key to such a combat: "This Chechen people inspires by its example a rebellious spirit and a love for freedom even in your Majesty's most devoted subjects." Putin has translated the lessons of czarist imperialism into his terms, that is, those of a Soviet-era non-commissioned officer. He says these eternal rebels should be "kicked all the way down the drain".

So yes, Aslan Maskhadov had blood on his hands, just like the resistance fighters in France and elsewhere. But he was up against an enemy armed and guided by genocidal impulses. It's not good being a resistant nowadays, not a real one. Maskhadov also died because of our lexical inability. We constantly make a hue and cry about genocide  except when it actually happens, as was the case in Rwanda in 1994. We describe as "resistants" the Salafists and Saddamites who slit the throats of election officials and voters in Iraq, yet refuse to use the same term for freedom fighters who won't accept the annihilation of their people. By refusing to call him what he is, namely a president and a patriot, western leaders gave their blessing to his assassination in advance.

Maskhadov liked me. During my travels in Chechnya in June 2000, we couldn't really talk properly, as our meetings were interrupted by bombs on three occasions. I sent him my questions, he replied by cassette, a very long letter in which he denounced Islamism and concluded, "In a free Chechnya, no Chechen woman would ever be forced to cover her face."

At the end of his last novel "Hadji Mourat", Tolstoy painted a hallucinatory picture in the form of a literary and political testament: A spineless Czar is brought the decapitated head of a noble Chechen leader on a plate. Aslan Maskhadov died yesterday in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt. Chechnya has lost its de Gaulle, and we have dishonoured ourselves once again.

The article was published in French in Le Monde dated 10 March, 2005, and in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 11 March, 2005.

André Glucksmann is a philosopher.

While less accusatory of the West, most press comments in Europe underline the fact the Maskhadov's death also means the death to any negotiated solution to the Chechen war:

BBC Round up

"Arresting or eliminating Maskhadov was never an insoluble task from a military-tactical point of view", says Izvestiya, suggesting that his killing was "the result of a decision taken at the highest level" as part of "a fundamental change" in the Kremlin's policy on Chechnya.

"The weakening argument that there was nothing to discuss with Maskhadov, who controls nobody, has been replaced by the unchallengeable argument that now there really is nobody to talk to", the paper concludes.
(...)
Similarly, Germany's Die Welt says the killing has put paid to any prospect of the conflict being settled round the negotiating table.

"With Maskhadov, a negotiated solution for Chechnya has died, too," the paper says

As this neutral obituary in the Economist puts it, his story is similar to that of Massoud, that of an Army officer becoming a war leader almost by accident, and trying to restrain the worst impulses of his co-fighters.

Then in 1991, as the Soviet Union splintered, Mr Maskhadov teamed up with another talented officer, a bomber pilot called General Jokar Dudayev, to proclaim the creation of a new Chechen state. While each of 15 territories which once formed the Union became an internationally recognised country, Chechnya had no such luck; because it was legally part of the Russian republic, its independence bid was seen as an illegal act of secession. In December 1994 Russia began a cruel, clumsy effort to reassert control by carpet-bombing Grozny.

After that, Mr Maskhadov often found himself cast in the role of quiet but increasingly marginalised conciliator, doing his best to restrain his wilder compatriots, often unsuccessfully. As a military man, he lacked a politician's touch. He was embarrassed by the bombastic style of Dudayev, who was eventually killed by a Russian missile in 1996, and loathed the wild, counter-productive extremism of the young warlord, Shamil Basayev. He also disliked the new Saudi-inspired school of militant Islam that was replacing the old Sufi traditions, and it was only with reluctance, and under pressure from senior comrades, that he proclaimed a regime of sharia law in 1998.

Mr Maskhadov's best days were in 1997, when he was elected president in a decentish ballot and received in the Kremlin, where deals were made that placed Chechnya, in effect, under his control while leaving its future status vague. But the peace these agreements promised was shattered in 1999, when an incursion by Mr Basayev into neighbouring Dagestan and a mysterious wave of bombs in Moscow triggered a fresh Russian onslaught and five years of war and atrocity.

Mr Maskhadov condemned last year's massacre at a school in southern Russia. Earlier this year he proclaimed, and broadly enforced, a three-week end to hostitilies. He insisted that if he were given just half an hour with Mr Putin, and allowed to explain what was really happening, the war would end quickly. All these initiatives, however, were a threat to those--from militant Islamists to Russian officers-turned-profiteers--with a stake in Chechnya's bloodshed.

That request for a half-hour conversation came in an interview published a few days before his assassination:

In a statement on his Web site, Maskhadov said; "We think that 30 minutes of honest eye-to-eye talk would be enough to end this war, so as to explain to the Russian president what Chechens want. I believe he does not know,"

"To start this dialogue it would be enough to deal with the following questions. For (Chechnya), the security of the Chechen people and for Russia, the defense of her regional and military interests in the North Caucasus."

Maskhadov also said that the Kremlin ignored his offer of peace talks and said that Putin isn't aware of the real situation in Chechnya, where soldiers and rebels clash every day.

Putin refuses to hold talks with Maskhadov, and has labeled the rebel leader an international terrorist, even linking him to al-Qaeda network.

In February, Maskhadov ordered his fighters, including Shamil Basayev, to observe a 30-days ceasefire and to stop all attacks in Chechnya and bordering areas as "a display of good will."

He also renewed his calls for negotiations with the Russian leadership, which has frequently dismissed his demands.

Russian officials claimed at the time that Maskhadov's call was fake and that it was made to attract media attention.

"I think the Russian president has been led into a grave error. His special services, his generals, his advisers and his local puppets are mainly to blame for this," said Maskhadov.

Putin's attacks on Chechen rebels failed to end the war, which has spread into neighboring regions, Maskhadov said, adding that the Kremlin only had itself to blame.

"There is no need to blame bin Laden or al Qaeda. I am convinced bin Laden couldn't even find these republics on the map," said Maskhadov, stressing that rebel fighters in other regions were under his control.

A longer article on his comments can be found here. Another view is that of Peter Lavelle, a more pro-Russian, but thoughtful commentator:

A number of Moscow-based analysts are of the opinion that the selling of Maskhadov as a "moderate" was nothing more than a ploy of spinning Maskhadov as "good cop" of the political wing of Chechen resistance, with Basayev playing the role of "bad cop" of the military wing.

The West is now in a bind. In the Western outcry over Maskhadov's death, claims are being made that terrorists' acts will now increase, rebel groups will become even more radicalized, and most importantly these groups will seek aid from foreign militants. Can the West support any rebel leaders or groups in Chechnya under these conditions?

Support of Shamil Basayev as an alterative is simply untenable. This is the Kremlin's strategy. With Maskhadov dead, the West is left with the Kremlin's simple proposition: "Are you with us or against us in the fight against terrorism?"

The West will also have to take another look at Kremlin-supported Chechen President Alu Alkhanov. While not universally loved in Chechnya, Alkhanov has a modicum of legitimacy as an elected leader. The Kremlin called Maskhadov a terrorist, but more than anything else he represented a threat to the Kremlin-supported regime. With Maskhadov gone, the Kremlin's "Chechenization" approach begun before the assassination of Russian-backed Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov in 2004 is set to get boost.

Whether Maskhadov was accidentally killed or what he could have done as a "moderate" no long matters. His removal from the political scene has given the Kremlin the initiative and challenges the West to rethink its approach to Chechnya. Putin has essentially turned the tables on those in the West sympathetic to the Chechen rebel cause.

(Peter Lavelle provides a number of other interesting view points here)

Putin is successfully surfing on Bush's "you're either with us or against us" policies, by eliminating all other options, presenting Chechens as evil Islamist terrorists (after having pushed them in that direction by conducting a dirty all out war on both civilians and combatants and targetting the "moderates" more than the hardline warlords), and bringing the West into a nasty contradiction between the fight against terrorism and the fight for democracy...

Nobody is clean in this conflict, and the Chechens, whose main "industry" after the peace accord of 1996 was that of kidnappings, can justifiably be blamed for the Russians coming back in to bring order to a lawless region whose unstability was spilling into neighboring areas. Of course, nothing excuses the Russian Army policies of destruction, mindless killing of civilians, large scale torture, and its own participation in trafficking and looting, and nothing excuses the West's pathetic ignorance of these horrors to cozy up with Putin for ill-defined great power games.

The worst is that, while the West has clearly lost its honor in this conflict, as Glucksmann states eloquently, it is highly unlikely that the Russians' hamfisted policies will work against terrorism. As Latynina, a good observer of Russian power circles writes:

Maskhadov's death was a huge propaganda victory for the Kremlin. But the death of the president of Ichkeria will not end the war in Chechnya, just as the death of former Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev didn't stop the fighting. Because no war that is being waged by the people will end when one of the representatives of the people dies. Moreover, now that Maskhadov, a former Soviet army colonel, is gone, there is no one left among the separatists who wants to hold talks with Russia and who will work within the Western - or at the very least Russian - framework.

From the point of view of military tactics, Maskhadov's death has left the Russians in a less-than-favorable position.

The second Chechen war is not merely a war of Chechen against Russian. It is also a civil war of Chechen against Chechen. It began before the invasion of Dagestan in 1999. It began inside Chechnya itself. It began because Maskhadov could not keep control of field commanders or stop the increasingly popular Wahhabis from fighting with proponents of more traditional forms of Islam. Maskhadov was not able to prevent this war and did not want to take part in it.

When top mufti and deceased Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, a believer in traditional Sufi Islam, began demanding that Maskhadov get rid of Wahhabis like warlord Shamil Basayev, Maskhadov replied that he wasn't about to start a civil war. So Akhmad Kadyrov went over to the Russians because as someone used to ruling the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of the faithful, he found the Wahhabis far more terrifying than the Russians.

Maskhadov had legitimacy, but he didn't have enough strength. He could not manage the field commanders while at the same time acting as president of Chechnya. He was a symbol of the resistance, but not its driving force. His death will give field commanders an excellent excuse to band together in a very real way.

However, the strategic consequences of his death could prove even more dangerous.

Russia is successfully fighting the separatists.

Once upon a time, it battled them successfully in Chechnya. Now it is successfully fighting separatists all across the North Caucasus.

In the past, Russia fought Chechen field commanders. Now it is fighting Wahhabi jamaats, or religious cells. What began as a civil war in Chechnya has now turned into a holy war across the entire North Caucasus.

Field commanders and their guerrillas are a kind of military organization.

Jamaats are a way of life. Field commanders can't gather and elect a president of the North Caucasus, for example. Jamaats, in contrast, can get together and choose a Wahhabi imam for the North Caucasus. Whether that imam will be Basayev or someone else is a question of secondary importance.

The Kremlin has not killed a separatist leader. The Kremlin has killed Russia's last hope of maintaining control over the North Caucasus.

Like in Afghanistan 15 years ago, the Russians are creating and feeding a monster. This time, we are supporting the other side, but by again ignoring the moderates, we are encouraging the extremists and, of course, losing control of the consequences of unleashing such monsters in an unstable area of the world. The Russians are likely to be the first ones to pay the consequences of these choices, but it could end up falling on us as well.

Have a thought for the Chechen population which has been caught in war and massacres for the past 10 years; for the young Russian soldiers who are sent in a thankless guerilla war with limited training and equipment and get killed, injured or permanently scarred by the atrocities they see, do or face, and for our lost honor.

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 13, 2005 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

March 12, 2005

My Birthday - Not Happy to Be Right

I am sorry to inflict upon you yet another energy story, but this one is pretty big:

It's the first time that the International Energy Agency, the body created by Western countries after the first oil shock in the 70s to advise on energy and try to prevent such shocks from happening again, has accompanied its monthly report on the oil market with a stark warning that oil supplies may not be sufficient and changes in oil demand are required.

IEA says world must turn away from oil

(see more details below)

While it is always pleasant to be vindicated by such an august body, it would be nicer if we actually did something about it... I've been told that I preach to the choir here. So, choir, let's make good use of this thread: what are the smartest way to conserve? Bring your own!

050312_demand

Oil demand has been growing at a record pace, and the IEA is finally coming to its senses:

The rapid rise in global oil demand should lead the industrialised world to promote alternatives to oil as well as energy conservation, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.

The warning, from the West's energy policy adviser, signals a sharp turnaround by the IEA, which has previously tried to cool oil markets by blaming prices on speculators and short-term supply disruptions.

“The reality is that oil consumption has caught up with installed crude and refining capacity,” the Paris-based agency said.

(...)

The IEA's warning comes at a time when prices are close to their record nominal levels, a signal that high prices are not denting consumption. Brent, Europe's benchmark oil price, hit a record high of $54.30 a barrel this week. On Friday Brent was trading at $53.25 a barrel, up 59 cents on the day. US benchmark crude prices were 66 cents higher at $54.20.

In its March report, the IEA raised its 2005 global oil demand growth forecast by 290,000 barrels a day, to 1.81m b/d, because of higher demand in the US and China, the world's two largest oil consumers. The higher forecast gave average daily consumption for 2005 of 84.3m b/d.

At the same time, the world's spare refining capacity has shrunk as demand for oil products has grown faster than the addition of new capacity.

Oil companies' failure to add new refining capacity to keep up with global demand for petroleum products is exacerbating already tight oil supply conditions and fuelling the rise in oil prices to nominal record highs.

Stricter environmental laws in the US, Europe, China and India are compounding the lack of excess refinery capacity as companies invest in new equipment to reduce sulphur content at the expense of adding new capacity.

Last year's increase of 2.65m barrels a day in global oil demand overshadowed the modest rise of 700,000 b/d in global refining capacity in 2004. This led to refiners enjoying their best margins in decades as gasoline and heating oil prices reached record highs.

The International Energy Agency, the energy watchdog for industrialised countries, sees a repeat of the pattern this year with 2005 global oil demand increasing by 1.8m b/d, and refining capacity by 1m b/d. industry,” said Jeffrey Currie, managing director of global investment research at Goldman Sachs. European benchmark crude prices hit a record $54.30 a barrel on Thursday.

(...)

Goldman Sachs estimates a total of 2.575m b/d of refinery capacity added by the end of 2010, but global oil demand growth is expected to average about 1.5m b/d for the rest of the decade. [That means 5m b/d will be missing by then - Jérôme]

Most of the new refineries are to be built in Asia, particularly China, but no new ones are planned for the US and western Europe, which have built none for three decades. This has led the US to import an ever increasing volume of oil products, and may force Europe to become a net importer of oil products.

Sat Roopra, analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said the tightness in global refinery capacity followed a period of substantial surplus capacity following a massive expansion by Asian refiners during the mid-1990s. This turned to idle capacity following the region's currency crisis in 1997-8.

Graham Sharp, head of energy trading at Trafigura, the commodities trading group, said the quick swing from massive surplus to thin spare capacity has caught off-guard most of the international oil companies that own a sizeable share of the world's refining capacity.

Despite the attractive margins offered by the industry, listed oil companies are reluctant to spend billions of dollars on a new refinery at a time when investors are more concerned about their replacement of reserves.

“It takes a long time before investors see a return on a new refinery, so if one of the majors was to build a new refinery, it would not go down too well with investors,” Mr Sharp said.

You may wonder why the lack of refining capacity has an impact on oil prices. Quite simple: the refiners focus on the kinds of oil that they can process best and have the best margins on (usually, the lightest "sweetest" (i.e. with the least sulphur) grades). This increases the demand for that specific kind of oil. In the Western world, the refiners have to focus on the best quality oil in order to produce gasoline and other products that respect the stringent environmental standards in our countries, and that increases the demand for these specific light oils, which, as it were, ard those used to set the benchmark world prices. That also means that poorer quality oil - which is now significantly cheaper than the sweet kind - ends up in countries with less severe norms and is used in less optimal ways, contributing to air pollution and worse energy efficiency overall...

The other important element to note is that the oil majors are NOT INVESTING. They cannot find enough opportunities to invest in oil & gas exploration and production ("upstream"), and they are not yet keen to invest in the refinery sector ("downstream") which has been until recently a major headache for them, with very thin margins, regular tightening of the environmental norms, and major security and NIMBY issues.

In the upstream sector, the oil majors are still using a value of 20-25$/bbl to assess whether an investment is worthwhile, and have stated that they have no intention of going any higher, with some good reasons, the main one being that host countries tend to tax any revenue beyond 25$/bl in the 90-100% range, and the oil countries thus see very little of the extra revenue. It will take a lot more time with high oil prices before oil countries accept to change this tax regime and share the booty, so to speak, with the foreign industrial investors.
So the current record profits from the oil industry are not invested to produce more, and not invested in any significant way in alternative energies (this requires a political decision, the oil companies won't go beyond the few hundred millions of dollars they are putting there to keep abreast of things) - they are given back to shareholders - who do not do a better job of investing in alernative energies themselves... Don't blame the oil companies - they are only a mirror of our societies (and we own them, after all).

To sum up:

- the current prices reflect the strong demand growth in a context where production capacity cannot follow

- such prices are not yet high enough to trigger changes in behavior (demande reduction)

- once prices reach the requisite heights, it will still take a few years for any investments to have a real effect on supply, if any. The impact on our economies will be real

- expect more instability in oil producing countries, as their populations demand a bigger portion of the huge windfall coming their way, get used to receiving these riches, and have little tolerance whenever oil price volatility makes it difficult for their governments to deliver the same consistently. Add in the disruptive effect of being courted diplomatically or otherwise by the US, China and other oil consumers - and getting caught in geopolitical games with high stakes.

- don't expect your gasoline prices to go down

- don't expect your politicians to tell you the truth and make you face the hard fact that major changes in our behavior are required, and that it would be better to anticipate such changes, for instance by levying a gas tax and using it to invest in alternative energies and, most of all, conservation.

So let's hear your smart ideas.

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 12, 2005 at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)

March 11, 2005

Billmon: 03/11

Billmon takes credit for Back to the Future

One $ one vote ...

Posted by b on March 11, 2005 at 06:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

March 10, 2005

Open Thread 05-26

Link to the forerunner ...

Posted by b on March 10, 2005 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (115)

Greenspan's bubbles - more scary graphs

From Marc Faber and Jim Puplava (links found by Bernhard) come the following graphs which explain in no uncertain terms why the current economic situation is worrying:

050310_equity_extraction

050310_bubble_double

My analysis of these graphs, and other scary ones, below.

The first graph is telling a simple story: people are cashing in on the increased value of their houses - by piling on more debt, which simply appears more sustainable when the asset backing these debts (your house) is more valuable. ("extraction" in the graph means debt extraction, i.e. adding on to mortgages and spending the money).

050310_savings_debt

The debt burden on US consumers has increased steadily for the past 20 years. In part, this reflects more sophisticated financial instruments and a general trend towards lower interests throughout the period (as the 70s inflation was fought off successfully). What is really worrying is that, contrary to what happened in the early 90s, the 2001 "recession" did nothing to reduce that debt burden: debt service to disposable income (i.e. the portion of your cash that you use to pay off debt - the red line above) has remained at record highs, and the net savings are at record lows - they have actually negative: Americans now spend more than they earn.


The second graph above the fold (which is formatted to make the two curves look similar, but is nevertheless very scary) shows that the increase in homebuilders's share prices (a proxy for the real estate market) is looking distinctly frothy.

What this means is that US consumers are spending real money based on the virtual increase in the value of their homes - after spending the real money based on the virtual increase in the value of their shares a few years back.

050310_globalgrowth

As this graph shows, consumption has grown in the US faster than real GDP in every year since 1997, fuelled by the two successive asset bubbles. This consumption growth has fuelled an import boom which has widened the trade deficits to new records.

What these graphs mean is that consumption is not fuelled by a healthy economy, but by increasing debt. The absence of savings means that there is little investment in the US economy (all investment is financed by foreigners and not by local savings), and therefore the money is spent elsewhere.

Contrary to what many of you on this site think (from the comments in my previous diaries), this is not a sign that the US economy is not competitive - it is simply a sign that you are choosing, as consumers, on an a macro level, to spend on "stuff" and not to invest, and that the local production capacities are therefore not extended to provide for this demand - not because they would be unable to compete, but because you (the Amercian population as a whole) would rather buy foreign stuff now than US stuff a little bit later.

050310_fall_in_loans

This graph shows that US banks are significantly reducing their loans to the commercial and industrial sector. As Marc Faber writes:

So, all Mr. Greenspan has created is a huge financial and asset bubble everywhere in the world, but no real improvement in the US economy, which is like a drug addict and requires more and more credit to stay afloat. As someone once said, in order to avoid a hangover, you must keep on drinking...

The problem, however, is that the US requires an increasing amount of credit growth in order to keep real estate and stock prices up and to make them move higher, which in turn supports the US consumer's excessive consumption. But, at the same time, while asset prices in the US are soaring, output is not rising for the simple reason that the market has discounted this "evil" Fed induced con game.

Meanwhile, things are reaching their limits:

- the number of homes available for sale is at record highs. Should demand slow down (because debt gets more expensive with increased interest rates), supply will be too plentiful, thus leading potentially to a nasty fall in prices - and makind all that "virtual" equity worthless - but nonetheless already spent.

050310_homes_for_sale

- the accumulation of US dollars by foreigners is reaching macro economic levels which are worrisome. In the case of Japan, the first holder of reserves, these reserves represent a growing portion of the country's GDP. That means they are working, giving the fruit of their labor to the Americans and are getting in exchange that growing pile of IOUs which is beginning to steadily lose its value (against some currencies). This is NOT a good deal for them anymore...

050310_japan_reserves

Turning into a nation of sharecroppers may end up being a nice outcome...

And remember - it IS Greenspan's fault.


Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 10, 2005 at 06:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (86)

Useless Statistical Almanac n°4

Child_poverty
1) Please provide arguments against the usual retort: "but poor means having 50% of the median revenue, which, in the US, is quite significantly higher than elsewhere, so being poor in the US is not so bad"

2) What do you think of having a new statistical tool whereby the wealth of a country would be measured not by GDP per capita but by GDP per capita of the lowest 10% (or 25%) of the population?


Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 10, 2005 at 04:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

March 09, 2005

War in Paradise

Mapofnorthborneosipadan

From today's Asia Times: Sulawesi Sea row dredges up defenses

Indonesia has sent four F-16 fighter planes and three more warships to join the four already stationed in the oil-rich waters off Borneo Island. The Royal Malaysian Navy has also deployed two warships to the area, further adding to the tensions. Though both governments continue to insist that the dispute over conflicting claims as to who controls the resource-rich offshore area will be resolved diplomatically, the buildup of military forces in the waters continues to be a cause for concern.

(...)

Oil concessions add fuel to the fire
On February 16 Malaysia's state oil firm Petronas awarded oil-exploration rights in two exploration blocks in the disputed Ambalat area to its own exploration arm along with Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch/Shell. However, Indonesia already had granted a concession to US-based oil giant Unocal Corp in November to pump liquefied natural gas (LNG) from deepwater blocks in that area.

Meanwhile, one wonders why, the US Department of Energy has raised its forecast for oil prices in 2005 to 49$/barrel (its forecast for 2005 made a year ago was 29$/barrel)...

More from Asia Times

When asked about the International Court of Justice's decision to award sovereignty over the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands to Malaysia, Oegroseno said the judges had stated that the interests of mapping Malaysian sovereignty over the two islands did not have a direct influence on the delineation of the continental shelf. "In other words, the maritime region still belonged to Indonesia," he said.

(...) back in Jakarta, leading legislators were beginning to push for a hardline stance, with Speaker of the House of Representatives (DPR) Agung Laksono urging stern action, including the use of military force if necessary, to "solve" the dispute.

"We will support such moves as we believe the people will also support such a move," Laksono said. The Ambalat block is well inside Indonesian territory and undeniably part of Indonesia, he added.

(...)

Ties between the two predominantly Muslim nations already are being severely tested by a Malaysian crackdown on an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants, some 400,000 of whom come from Indonesia. Malaysia's controversial operation to round up, whip and even deport the illegal workers has attracted widespread condemnation by rights groups and the governments of affected Asian countries.

(...) Jakarta is unlikely to be the first to back down. If the undoubted goodwill between both leaders and the ongoing high-level talks fail to produce a compromise, the only other option may be to return to the International Court of Justice, particularly given the strong national sentiment in Indonesia's fractured parliament and the fact that anti-Malaysia sentiment has already surfaced on the streets in Jakarta.

Former People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais has urged the government to make all efforts to continue the fight for Ambalat. "If the government is softhearted and weak, they [Malaysia] will really put pressure on us. So the ball is really in the government's court," Rais said in Makassar, South Sulawesi, where a small "Front for Crushing Malaysia" center has been set up to defend the country should tensions continue.

The Indonesian military is clearly ready to assume battle positions in the unlikely event that this recent bout of gunboat diplomacy leads to shots being fired in anger. On Monday the navy's main spokesman, First Admiral Abdul Malik Yusuf, was quoted as saying: "We will not let an inch of our land or a drop of our ocean fall into the hands of foreigners."

See also this earlier article on the international arbitration regarding the Islands.

Meanwhile, the Energy Information Agency (via the FT) is not optimistic:

The report envisaged no sign of slowing demand, despite the relatively high oil price. It predicted an increase in global oil consumption averaging 84.7m barrels a day in 2005, up 200,000 b/d from the February report.

The increase was due to China, where demand is forecast to average 7.4m b/d, up 12 per cent from last year.

Washington is concerned about supplies from non-Opec countries because lower production would increase dependence on Opec oil. It said lower production in Mexico and the North Sea would contribute to a 300,000 b/d decline in non-Opec supply forecasts to 50.7m b/d this year.

What does Congress do? The new energy bill is being pushed again. Sounds like good news? Think again:

Time is now right to pass energy bill, says Bush camp

"American people recognise that we have to do something," Mr Abraham told the FT. "We spent the better part of four years trying to find a consensus deal. I don't suspect that people are going to want to dramatically depart from the earlier bill."

(...)

While the energy policy drew some criticism for its limited attention to conservation and efficiency measures, it was the sheer scale of the proposed tax breaks and incentives that fuelled most opposition.

(...)

Some political analysts believe the Republicans may opt for a stripped-down bill costing around $12bn, focusing on the supply measures and steering away from the research elements - notably for renewables and for energy conservation - that inflated the costs of the previous proposal.

I find it amazing that the focus continues to be on supply and not on demand.

The supply of oil comes (increasingly, as stated above) from unstable or difficult countries; it is certain that we will face major physical constraints (in a few years or at best in a few decades) from depletion of reserves; the remaining oil fields are going to be the source of tensions and conflicts, between countries as in the above example between Malaysia and Indonesia, or between countries and Western (and Chinese) oil companies scrambling for them.

Meanwhile, demand, pulled by the US and China, is running amok, and yet no effort seems to be done to work on that side of the balance. Why? Why?

Where is the smart politician who will find "pork" in energy conservation?

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 9, 2005 at 05:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

March 08, 2005

8 March 2005 - How to Be Respected Today

"You get respect with this"

Kombat_jpeg

Please use as an open International Woman's Day thread

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 8, 2005 at 10:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

Billmon: 03/07

Uncle Sam Wants You

Media Relations

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 8, 2005 at 04:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

March 07, 2005

Known Unknowns

"I think it's absurd to make any such suggestion that our men and women in uniform deliberately targeted innocent civilians. That's just absurd," said spokesman Scott McClellan.
Reuters: Italy Honors Agent; U.S. Denies Deliberate Killing

"Sir,
The incident is under investigation. As additional details are available, they will be released.
SSG Dees"
Answer from the U.S. Army to a detailed request for information by the newsweekly 'Die Zeit' (Sgrena does write for 'Die Zeit')

[Sgrena] later told Italian state TV RAI that "when they let me go, it was a difficult moment for me because they told me, 'The Americans don't want you to return alive to Italy.'" She didn't elaborate.
WaPo: White House: Italian Journalist's Comments 'Absurd'

Posted by b on March 7, 2005 at 06:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

How?

Newsweek, via Dan Froomkin, on a Bush "townhall" meeting:

Carlos Huertas was billed as a concerned grandfather and hard-working engineer when he sat onstage next to President Bush to talk about retirement accounts in downtown Tampa, Fla., last month.
...
The Florida granddad is an activist for FreedomWorks, a conservative group founded by former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and Dick Armey, the former House GOP leader.

The pressure groups website says:

FreedomWorks recruits, educates, trains and mobilizes hundreds of thousands of volunteer activists to fight for less government, lower taxes, and more freedom.

Recruit, educate, train, mobilize to fight - interesting language ...

Bush plans 60 "townhall" events in the next 60 days. The format is not for discussion. The idea is to stir up the his troops. An additional effect is the local and national press reporting on them in a fair and balanced way.

Social Security is not an urgent problem. It is not even a problem. Medicare and Medicaid have financial problems, Social Security has not. But by repeating and repeating and repeating the people are made to believe that there is a problem and that it is urgent. It worked on Iraq, in worked in the campaign and it may work again.

Distribute doubt and fear, and when these have grown enough, come down as the archangel and solve the problem. The people will be grateful. Ten years later, they will recognize they have been had.

This tactic has worked in my country some 70 years ago. Currently nobody would try them in any systematic way. But such methods do spread, especially when they are successful. Blair has already copied much of this modus operandi.

So here are the questions:

  • How does one counter this method?
  • How does one counter militant groups like FreedomWorks?

I really do not know. Please give me some ideas.

Posted by b on March 7, 2005 at 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Open Door Thread

Come in, come in ...

Posted by b on March 7, 2005 at 07:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (89)

March 06, 2005

Customs Duties or Interest Rate Hike?

Warren Buffet thinks trade policy should be used to correct the U.S. current account deficit. I do think this is the wrong way.

The evidence grows that our trade policies will put unremitting pressure on the dollar for many years to come
...

Without policy changes, currency markets could even become disorderly and generate spillover effects, both political and financial.
...
A country that is now aspiring to an “Ownership Society” will not find happiness in – and I’ll use hyperbole here for emphasis – a “Sharecropper’s Society.” But that’s precisely where our trade policies, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, are taking us.
...
.. in effect if not in intent, the rest of the world is practicing mercantilism in respect to the U.S., an act made possible by our vast store of assets and our pristine credit history. Indeed, the world would never let any other country use a credit card denominated in its own currency to the insatiable extent we are employing ours. Presently, most foreign investors are sanguine: they may view us as spending junkies, but they know we are rich junkies as well.
Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders (pdf), page 19f.

Buffet does not say what instrument of trade policy should be used. Increased import duties on Chinese goods is one that is currently discussed in Congress.

These would lead to trade wars in which all sides would loose. It is the wrong policy to decrease the U.S. overspending. Higher interest rates would help to achieve this and would be a far more effective and system compatible way to do so.

This is also the way credit-card companies handle overspending debtors (plus pressing them with myriads of unmoral contract clauses). They ask for risk compensation, but do not tell the debtor what and where to buy. Setting interest rates is Greenspan's task. But for party political reasons, he is obviously not willing to fulfill it.

Buffet has now invested more than $20 billion in foreign currencies. In 2004 Berkshire made $1.8 billion through foreign exchange contracts. More than half of its pre-tax  gain.

Posted by b on March 6, 2005 at 04:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

Billmon: 03/06

War is Hell

Posted by b on March 6, 2005 at 05:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

March 05, 2005

Billmon: 03/05

More Anti-Military Slurs from the MSM

Of course that was to be expected. These lubral media are the real terrorists!

Through the Looking Glass - Humpty Dumpty on the difference of "carve out" vs. "add-on". Why should there be any?

Posted by b on March 5, 2005 at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (88)

March 04, 2005

Billmon: 03/04

The Chinese think about the merging of the Chinese and U.S. culture.

Both honestly care for the Rectification of Errors.

Plus: For Whom the Blog Tolls The Iranian revolution eating its Children.

Posted by b on March 4, 2005 at 06:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Screw Up Or Plan?

U.S. Fires on Car Carrying Freed Hostage

BAGHDAD, Iraq - American forces fired on a car carrying a freed Italian hostage as it approached a checkpoint in Baghdad on Friday, killing an Italian intelligence officer and wounding three others, including the just-released journalist, Italian officials said.
...
The U.S. military said "at approximately 8:55 p.m. tonight, coalition forces assigned to the multinational force Iraq fired on a vehicle that was approaching a coalition checkpoint in Baghdad at a high rate of speed."

If this was a screw up, imagine how many of these are happening every day without any reporting. If this was a plan ...

UPDATE: Fresh from the ticker

AP: U.S. Secret Service Agent Shot Dead by Italian Forces in Iraq

WASHINGTON - A freed American hostage was injured and an American secret service agent killed Friday after an Italian armored vehicle fired on a car in which they were riding in Iraq (news - web sites), two news agencies reported.
(stolen from a kos comment)

What would the headlines say? And the Krauthammer's and O`Reilly's OpEd's and comments?

Posted by b on March 4, 2005 at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (60)

Send Me A Letter

The blog Newshounds received a letter from the syndication company of Faux' Bill O'Reilly demanding to:

immediately cease and desist from your unauthorized use of the link to Bill O'Reilly's column on his website.

This column is as ridicules as one could expect.

Many Americans believe that little kids should have a childhood and not be subjected to any kind of sexuality. I don't want to be offensive here, but who in their right mind wants to explain Norma and Barbara's lifestyle to their 4-year-old?

People who know about children and sex education do answer questions that children have. It helps to keep them healthy and to not grow up to some harassing bigot like Bill O´Reilly is.

Now please, here is the link to that column again. Please send me a letter. Please.

Posted by b on March 4, 2005 at 01:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Semi-Directed Open Thread

Keep talking...

A few bar snacks:

Oil majors in scramble to tap Qatar's extensive gas reserves

Ukraine ex-minister linked to murder of journalist found dead

Honor killings still legal in Pakistan

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 4, 2005 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)

March 03, 2005

Billmon: 03/03

The Salt Pit

Posted by b on March 3, 2005 at 04:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

1,500+100,000+54.60+

More than 1,500 GI's have died in Iraq by now. Additionally some 200 contractors and some 100 soldiers from several other countries died.

The accounts vary:
U.S. Department of Defense has some numbers. Global Security has other numbers, as do ICasualties.org and the Associated Press. All the above are usually based on reports from the U.S. military and I have my doubts that these numbers are correct.

Iraq Body Count only counts confirmed civilian dead, some 18,000 by now, directly attributed to the war and not including possible insurgents. They say their numbers are certainly an underestimation.

The scientifically correct Lancet study (free sub.) four month ago did give, as the most probable number of war related Iraqi casualties, 100,000. This was not the maximum number as some reports said, but the most probable.  Today that number is likely higher.

Uncounted are still the future victims of this war. Especially those from radioactive dust distributed through the use of depleted uranium ammunition and other long term illnesses.

Higher today are also oil prices $54.60/bl and going for $80.00/bl, if not higher. This does not only mean recession, but it will also kill people, because the price for wheat, corn, rice and soybeans will rise with the oil price and the poor on this planet will not be able to afford food.

The fruitless actions of the military and the mercenaries will continue, as will the prices for commodities, until the U.S. public wakes up and kicks ass. In Vietnam it took more than 50,000 killed GI's to bring the war to an end. What will it take in Iraq?

Posted by b on March 3, 2005 at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (35)

March 02, 2005

Billmon: 03/02

Völkischer Beobachter as People's Choice

and Greenspan at the Bat

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 2, 2005 at 02:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

To Cynically Manipulate

Two weeks ago, Paul Krugman advised for Wag-the-Dog Protection

The campaign against Social Security is going so badly that longtime critics of President Bush, accustomed to seeing their efforts to point out flaws in administration initiatives brushed aside, are pinching themselves. But they shouldn't relax: if the past is any guide, the Bush administration will soon change the subject back to national security.

The political landscape today reminds me of the spring of 2002, after the big revelations of corporate fraud. Then as now, the administration was on the defensive, and Democrats expected to do well in midterm elections.

Then, suddenly, it was all Iraq, all the time, and Harken Energy and Halliburton vanished from the headlines.

I don't know which foreign threat the administration will start playing up this time, but Bush critics should be prepared for the shift.

Today's WaPo writes that the "Social Security Vote May Be Delayed"

The Senate's top Republican said yesterday that President Bush's bid to restructure Social Security may have to wait until next year and might not involve the individual accounts the White House has been pushing hard.

Delayed until next year? To play up Social Security before the 2006 elections would cost the repubs 30% of their seats in Congress. This beast may still twitch a little, but it is  dead as it can be and Bush for now a lame duck in domestic politics.

So here comes the shift to a foreign threat just as Krugman expected. Reuters titles U.S. Ratchets Up Pressure on Iran Over Atomic Plans

Bush's envoy Jackie Sanders told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors that Iran was "willing and apparently able to cynically manipulate the nuclear non-proliferation regime in the pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Quite cynical manipulation - isn´t it?

Iran says it does not want to make nuclear weapons. The IAEA has found no hint that Iran is working on, or planing nuclear weapons. They are planing and working on enriching their natural uranium for their nuclear reactor. They are exercising their right and their duties under the Non Proliferation Treaty. But the Bush regime comes up with accusations and now "ratchets up pressure".

"Who are you gonna believe, Bush or your lying eyes?" some may ask. "Bush!" will be the answer of a blinded US public and it will come pretty fast.

The first enriched uranium load from Russia to the Iran's Bushehr reactor could be ready in April or May, though Putin might choose to delay this a bit. When the uranium is in place, an air attack on the reactor is out of question. The fall out would bring all kinds of trouble. Therefore expect an American/Israeli air attack on Bushehr and several other Iranian sites before that train leaves Russia.

But how will Bush play this up to the 2006 congress election which is more than a year from now? That piece is still missing, but be assured, they do have it in somewhere.

Posted by b on March 2, 2005 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Lighter Than Air

To change oh so slightly the topic from the doom and gloom of previous posts, here's a bit of good news, unless you are DeAnander:

The Flying Taxi:

Photo1_jetpods

This was brought to my attention via an article in Le Monde, which is quite upbeat in the article.

Initially developed by NASA, the technology has recently been validated by detailed studies conducted by City University of London, which conclude that the "plane" could take off and land with only 125 meters of runway.

The concept is a low-altitude, low speed flyer (thus requiring no pressurization) which could be used on specific point to point lines (airport to city center, for instance). With a USD 1 million price tag, the "commute" could be affordable to a number of people, although it will never become a mass system of transportation...

Jetpod_interior

 

Of course, the manufacturer, Avcen of the UK, has prepared a military version which is likely to be developed first...

Oh, well, the little boy in me can dream...

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 2, 2005 at 07:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (28)

Billmon: 03/01-2

Both are white: Pots and Kettles
On cotton: George W. Minderbinder

Posted by b on March 2, 2005 at 04:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 01, 2005

China - Desert Threatens 400 Million People & Other Scary News

Well, after my previous post about China's laudable attempts to develop renewable energy (see below), here's a darker picture, still taken from the subscription part of the Financial Times: Shifting sands threaten China's economic march

China as a whole appears to be fighting a losing battle against the shifting desert sands. According to official estimates, China's deserts are growing by 3,500 sq km a year and now cover 18 per cent of the country. The sand threatens a further one-third of the mainland and 400m people, says Wang Xinjiang, an official from the anti-desertification office of the state forestry administration. The Asian Development Bank says accelerating desertification in China “increasingly threatens the economic welfare of the nation”. It has resulted in the loss of vast swathes of arable land, sinking ground water levels and heavily silted rivers. Mr Wang says China's expanding deserts have direct economic costs of Rmb54bn (€4.9bn) a year. The problem is largely man-made, with logging and over-exploitation of land aggravating a natural lack of water and rainfall, leading to rapid soil erosion.
from the same article The government's drive to become self-sufficient in food led in the past to the cultivation of unsuitable grain crops in desert frontiers.

Critics say China's dash for growth and rapid exploitation of natural resources has shown little regard for the environmental impact of development. Campaigners have frequently criticised the country's massive industrial and power projects such as the Three Gorges Dam because of their impact on residents, who have at times been forcibly relocated, and the regional environment.

I am not a specialist of China, I've never been there, and you must be getting sick and tired of the topic.
Well, welcome to globalisation, y'know, when decisions made by others impact you also...and China has reached the point when they influence everyone and everything, and I keep bumping on articles about China this, China that on pretty much any topic, usually peppered with superlatives, breathless comments about the scale of the challenge, the growth, the ... you get the point.

So here's a round up of the most striking numbers I have collected recently:

- 30% of mercury pollution in the US (and worldwide) comes from Chinese electricity production;

- China currently consumes almost half of the world's cement and more than 60% of construction cranes

- China already produces 13.5% (and growing) of worldwide CO2 emissions (with the same emission intensity as the US, i.e. the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted by $ of GDP). It is a signatory of the Kyoto Treaty but is exempted (as a developping country) from any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

- China has suddenly turned into a massive importer of oil, with obvious consequences on oil prices:

China_oil_trade

Crude_correlation

- Chinese demand has caused steel prices to increase significantly in the past 2 years and continuing, with worldwide impact

- China is about to overtake Germany as the third manufacturer of cars worlwide. (Volkswagen has already been selling more cars in China than in Germany for 2 years). And yet - Chinese has ten times fewer cars than the US - for 4 times the population...

- of course, China now holds above 600 billion dollars of reserves, up more than 200 billion from a year ago, second only to Japan.

- maybe the most scary of all: 6 boys are born for every 5 girls (117:100 ratio). There are 12.7 million more boys aged under 9 than girls under 9.

the normal newborn sex proportion is 100:104-107, and if China's disproportionate figure is allowed to continue unchecked, there would be 30 to 40 million marriage-age men who would be single all their lives by 2020.

Remember the easiest way to keep sex-starved young men busy : war, rape and pillaging.

So, are you terrified yet?

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 1, 2005 at 06:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (65)

Billmon: 03/01

War Rooms

Strauss Waltz

Order of the Court


Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 1, 2005 at 04:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

State Department Lies in Human Rights Report

Correction: - Sorry I got the original story wrong. -

I accused the U.S. State Department Human Rights report of lying, when it said about a man tortured in Syria that he had "returned home to Syria to visit his family".

I assumed the man mentioned was Maher Arar, who had been abducted by U.S. officials and was send to Syria to be tortured. With this assumption in mind, it looked like a lie.

But the State Departments report may refer to Abdullah Almalki who is a Canadian-Syrian and who did return to Syria to visit relatives. Both men, Maher Arar and Abdullah Almalki, are reported to have been severly tortured in Syrian prisions. There are some 47,700 Google links related to "Maher Arar" and some 1,220 related to "Abdullah Almalki". I did assume the wider reported story was the base of the report.

So the State Department may not have lied as I alleged. But the State Department has the hypocrisy and chutzpah to include the case of a Abdullah Almalki in their human rights report on Syria, while ommitting the very well documented case of Maher Arar.

In the omitted case the US administration is directly responsible for Human Rights violations. It was obviously convinient, to not include it.

This in mind, you still may want to read my original uncorrected post below the fold.

Uncorrected post follows:

The U.S. State Department just released their yearly Human Rights report which covers all foreign countries. It is a good report and tough even on Americas friends, but this year the State Department lies.

The report says about one man who was tortured in Syria that he had "returned home to Syria to visit his family" before he was tortured there. This is an outrages lie. The man that is reported on was abducted by the United States government and send to Syria in an euphemistic named extraordinary rendition case.

To follow the trail we have to start in Canada.

Some people think Canada would be great country to emigrate to in case things get too hot at home. But maybe there are Human Rights issues? Check the report:

U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005   

CANADA

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

On January 21, police officers searched the home of an Ottawa newspaper reporter and the offices of the newspaper itself in search of documents related to a Syrian-born Canadian citizen arrested abroad as a suspected terrorist. The reporter faced possible criminal charges under the anti-terrorism Security of Information Act. Although a court authorized the search, some members of the media and human rights groups raised concerns that it infringed on the Charter of Rights, which guarantees the freedom of the press.

Reporters Without Borders describes why reporter Juliet O'Neill was harassed:

The search was linked to an article by O'Neill that appeared on 8 November 2003 about the case of Syrian-Canadian citizen Maher Arar. She had investigated the implication that the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) were involved in his expulsion to Syria, under suspicion of links with al-Qaida.

A serious case. The State Department is right to criticize Canada on this. The reporter that uncovers illegal government behavior by using 'secret' information should be lauded and not become the victim of a police raid (10 officers, no less) and a criminal investigations.

The State Departments report also includes Syria. Syria is accused of torture in every State Department Human Rights report since 1999. Unfortunately Syrias practice has not changed much in 2004.

SYRIA

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Former prisoners and detainees, as well as the HRAS, reported that torture methods included administering electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; hyperextending the spine; bending the detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; and using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the victim's spine. Torture was most likely to occur while detainees were being held at one of the many detention centers run by the various security services throughout the country, particularly while the authorities were attempting to extract a confession or information. For example, in July, a Syrian-Canadian citizen reportedly was tortured while being questioned by security services (see Section 1.e).
...
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

On July 11, the [Supreme State Security Court] SSSC acquitted for lack of evidence a Syrian-Canadian citizen arrested in 2002 when he returned home to Syria to visit his family. The individual was charged with belonging to a religious group and was reportedly tortured while in detention (see Section 1.c.).

The same Syrian-Canadian citizen that Juliet O'Neill reported on, was tortured in Syria and I agree with the State Departments human rights report to damn such behavior. 

But the State Department lies. They say the tortured man "returned home to Syria to visit his family".

Here Bob Herbert's column in yesterdays New York Times says something different:
It's Called Torture

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.

Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.

Maher Arar did not "returned home to Syria to visit his family". Maher Arar was on the way from Tunisia to his Canadian home when he was abducted during a stop-over in New York and secretly shipped off into the torture hell of Syrian prisons by the United States Government and with help of the Canadian police.

The State Department's Human Rights report includes this outrages lie to cover Human Rights misdeeds of the United States of America.

The report covers all countries of this world - but one.

Guess why.

Posted by b on March 1, 2005 at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Open Thread 05-23

Speak up!

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 1, 2005 at 06:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (61)

China Getting Serious About Renewable Energy. Meanwhile, the US Dither...

China Daily
Non-fossil energy sources, including wind, solar power and thermal power, will make up a bigger share of China's energy resources under a new bill passed yesterday encouraging use of renewable energy.

Yep, while Europe is quietly turning into a wind superpower (small pdf), and while the US says that the American Way of Life is "non-negotiable", dithers about supporting renewable energy (see below) and dreams about the Alaskan (smallish) hydrocarbon reserves, China is facing its very real energy problems in a more sensible way.

Would you have believed it, 5 years ago, that China could have more sensible policies than the US on such important matters?

Members of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) approved the Law on Renewable Sources, which upholds renewable energy as a priority in China's energy strategy.

"The development and use of renewable energy has special importance because China is a developing country with severe energy shortages," Standing Committee member Li Congjun said at a discussion on Saturday.

The new law, effective next year, provides a host of practices to ensure that renewable energy can be produced, marketed and used.

It orders power grid operators to purchase "in full amounts" resources from registered renewable energy producers within their domains. It also encourages oil distribution companies to sell biological liquid fuel on the sidelines.

According to the law, power grid operators should buy renewable-source-generated power at directed prices calculated by the government. The extra costs incurred by this will be shared throughout the overall power network.

The law also offers financial incentives, such as a national fund to foster renewable energy development, and discounted lending and tax preferences for renewable energy projects.

Take my word for it, or do your own research, but they are doing all the right things to get renewable energy going:

  • guaranteed access to the grid (very important for intermittent producers like solar and wind)
  • specific prices for each energy source. Most renewable energy sources are currently not directly competitive at today's energy prices, which do not reflect the externalities (pollution, military costs, depletion, global warming) of the current energy sources, and need to be helped. This is fair as it also reflects the lack of externalities of these energy sources. Wind is already almost competitive without help and will be very competitive when the alternatives are correctly priced to reflect their real cost on society; solar is still a lot more expensive but prices are coming down as economies of scale kick in and research advances.
  • long term framework. Renewable energy projects need 10-15 years to make sense economically, so the fact that you have a clear national strategy in that respect, and the corresponding political backing for it, is very important for investors as they know that the new regulatory framework will not disappear half way through.

Now consider how the US is supporting renewable energies. The main tool is the PTC (production tax credit), a tax refund that you receive for 10 years for each kWh of renewable energy you produce. The problems with that:

  • the fact that it's a tax refund means that you need an investor who has a big enough tax bill to benefit from it. That means that small developers need to find financial investors to join them, and build complicated corporate structures;
  • there is no guarantee in the law that your power will be bought at all times, which, as I wrote above, is a big issue for intermittent power. So you need to find a buyer (usually, a local utility) that will accept to buy your electricity at all times through a bilateral contract. Again, more complexity, and the difficulty for small developers to be taken seriously by the big utilities they will depend upon. Som states have a more favorable framework that encourages their utilities to support renewable projects, but it's on a case by case basis;
  • as the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind" Energy bill has shown, all other energy producers in the US get loads of tax breaks, advantages, subsidies that reduce renewable energy's relative competitivity and show most of all that there is no coherent energy policy in that country;
  • worst of all, the PTC mechanism has been limping on in the past few years. It expired in 2001, was renewed in late 2000 for 2 years only, and was caught in 2003 in the horrible debate on the energy bill - so was renewed only in late 2004 until the end of 2005. (Project will get the 10-year PTC if the project gets into operation at a time when the PTC rule is in place). As wind projects take about a year to develop (at least) and another year to build, this law has become essentially meaningless. Many projects have been on hold throughout 2004, waiting for the PTC to be reinstated; now they are all rushing to be built before the end of 2005, creating major strains for turbine manufacturers (which heavy industry can cope with demand jumping by 100% one year, dropping to almost zero the next year, and then jumping up again to new record level the next, and with high risk that demand will fall again after that??).

With erratic, inconsistent support and no long term framework, it's a miracle that the US is still the third largest wind producer in the world (after Germany and Spain). But if Chinese plans go in accordance with all declarations (and everything points the same way over there) the US will soon be overtaken and China will have taken yet another advantage in the energy race between the two countries.

from the same article

It usually takes three reviews before an act goes to a vote. But this one was passed after the second round, with senior legislators acknowledging the vital need to get the nation on a sustainable energy fast track amid worries about the country's worsening pollution problems, chronic energy shortages and increasing reliance on imported energy sources.

China is getting serious about energy. When will the US do the same?

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 1, 2005 at 06:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Billmon: From Russia With Love

About these "Special Press Relations".

Posted by b on March 1, 2005 at 02:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)