Friday, April 01, 2005



"Here's the question I ask of these right-to-lifers, including Vatican bishops: as we enter into Holy Week and we proclaim that death is not triumphant and that with the power of resurrection and the glory of Easter we have the triumph of Christ over death, what are they talking about by presenting death as an unmitigated evil? It doesn’t fit Christian context. Richard McCormick, who was the great Catholic moral theologian of the last 25 years, wrote a brilliant article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1974 called "To Save or Let Die." He said there are two great heresies in our age (and heresy is a strong word in theology — these are false doctrines). One is that life is an absolute good and the other is that death is an absolute evil. We believe that life was created and is a good, but a limited good. Therefore the obligation to sustain it is a limited one. The parameters that mark off those limits are your capacities to function as a human."

-Jesuit Theologian John Paris

"What some of these people are about is not respect for life, but its fetishization."

-Andrew Sullivan


ICC: the rookie at bat

This story is two. The one is about a small international institution being given a huge task and little budget. The second is about a rogue superpower that is forced to recognize, in a limited way, a hated political project.

The first story is about how the world is adapting to crimes against humanity. I am beginning to think that world will evolve towards treating crimes against humanity as crimes by individuals. By this I mean that the efforts to enforce the laws of humanity are not going to be the armies of nations crashing against each other like in WWII or in Kosovo, but rather a slower (and much much cheap) noose that closes around those who commit these crimes.

The second story is that the U.S. has been forced to recognized the authority of the ICC as the international body to deal with this form of crime. Unfortunately, it is woefully under equiped compared to its mandate (I can see frothing amercons screaming that ICC is useless because it never gets things do-- of course that will be because a) it has no resources b) it is by nature a slow process--wham bam thank you ma'am school of justice people will have issues with such an organization. Back on topic, the U.S. has been struggling to make sure that it will never be prosecuted under the ICC (They say it is to protect their soldiers, but it is bloody mass murderers like Kissenger and the current group of bloodsuckers that really are afraid). The fact that they have given in means that they have tacitly admitted the illegitmacy of their own position. Source a point for the rule of law.


The international criminal court was poised to launch a war crimes investigation yesterday into the mass murder and rapes in the Darfur region of Sudan, after international pressure forced the US to withdraw its objections.

The UN security council was expected to back a resolution authorising the prosecution of Sudanese war crimes suspects by the court in a case that could prove crucial to establishing the court's legitimacy.

Prosecutors said in January they would welcome the Darfur case if they were given jurisdiction by the UN. But that was thought unlikely given US opposition to the creation of the court and its involvement in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered and even more displaced over the past 18 months.

A House of Commons report released on Wednesday estimated the total number of dead in the region at "some where around 300,000" and accused the international community of a "scandalously ineffective response" to the situation.

The sheer scale of the conflict in Darfur and the danger of sending investigators into a conflict zone will cause difficulties for the court, which has yet to try a case. It will also be expensive, placing a huge strain on the court's £46m budget. But a successful prosecution would help establish its authority.

Michael Wladimiroff, a lawyer who defended the first suspect at the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the mid-90s, called the apparent shift in US policy an unexpected change that could open the way for further cases at the court, which is based in The Hague.

"This means the court ... can now be used as an instrument by the security council," he said. "All of a sudden there will be a change from waiting for cases to expanding capacity and moving more quickly toward trials."

The ICC can intervene only when countries are "unwilling or unable" to dispense justice themselves. Ninety-eight countries ratified its founding treaty in July 2002 to prosecute individual perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The US, which opposed its creation, has been determined to undermine it for fear that one day American troops might be in the dock. It refuses to hand over US nationals to the court and has signed bilateral immunity deals with several other countries guaranteeing that Americans would not be handed over to the court. (Link)


Quote and comment

"We will look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president."

- Tom DeLay concerning the Shiavo case

Er, arrogant and out-of-control describes the politicians that tied to intervene in this case. More to the point, I am begining to agree with Josh Marshall; this fight isn't over. It is a chance to attack the courts that have which have been at the hert of almost every American "liberal"/human rights victory in the fifty years. The conservatives* are have been push for quite some to do something about the courts (Anytime you hear the discredited term "activist judges" you are hearing their propaganda). An attack on the courts could be imminent.

To any American reading this: Good luck saving your country.



Thursday, March 31, 2005


Hacking politics

The root password to the constitution.


Cold War tanks not made for urban fighting

"Lies, damn lies and statistics:" the author's use of ststistics is a little questionable but the information is interesting. I was curious about the utility of tanks in an insurgency campaign.


WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's Abrams tank, designed during the Cold War to withstand the fiercest blows from the best Soviet tanks, is getting knocked out at surprising rates by the low-tech bombs and rocket-propelled grenades of Iraqi insurgents.

In the all-out battles of the 1991 Gulf War, only 18 Abrams tanks were lost and no soldiers in them killed. But since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with tanks in daily combat against the unexpectedly fierce insurgency, the Army says 80 of the 69-ton behemoths have been damaged so badly they had to be shipped back to the United States.

At least five soldiers have been killed inside the tanks when they hit roadside bombs, according to figures from the Army's Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky. At least 10 more have died while riding partially exposed from open hatches

The casualties are the lowest in any Army vehicles, despite how often the Abrams is targeted — about 70% of the more than 1,100 tanks used in Iraq have been struck by enemy fire, mostly with minor damage.

The Army will not discuss details of how tanks have been damaged by insurgents, lest that give tips to the enemy. "We have been very cautious about giving out information," says Jan Finegan, spokeswoman for Army Materiel Command.

Commanders say the damage is not surprising because the Abrams is used so heavily, and insurgents are determined to destroy it.

"It's a thinking enemy, and they know weak points on the tank, where to hit us," says Col. Russ Gold, who commanded an armored brigade in Iraq and now is chief of staff at the Armor Center.

Because it was designed to fight other tanks, the Abrams' heavy armor is up front. In Iraq's cities, however, insurgents sneak up from behind, fire from rooftops above and set off mines below.

A favorite tactic: detonating a roadside bomb in hopes of blowing the tread off the tank. The insurgents follow with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and gunfire aimed at the less-armored areas, especially the vulnerable rear engine compartment.

It's "a dirty, close fight," says an article in Armor, the Army's official magazine of tank warfare, by a group of officers led by Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli of the 1st Cavalry Division.

"Be wary of eliminating or reducing ... heavy armor" as the Army modernizes, the officers warn, arguing it is crucial against insurgents' "crude but effective weapons."

The Army says most of the "lost" tank hulls can be rebuilt and returned to battle someday. Meanwhile, the Army is upgrading the Abrams, including better protection for the tank's engine compartment. (Link)


Islamic militancy in the Western Sahara

This report suggest the typical: that heavy-hand U.S. policy can come back to haunt it. This is not new. The details from the islamists in the region are more interesting.


DAKAR (Reuters) - The United States will only fuel a rise in Islamic militancy in countries bordering the Sahara

desert if it takes a heavy-handed approach to fighting terrorism in the region, an influential think tank says.

Proselytising Pakistani clerics, an Algerian fundamentalist group allied to al Qaeda and growing resentment of
U.S. foreign policy were causes for concern but did not make West Africa a hotbed of terrorism, the International
Crisis Group (ICG) said on Thursday.

"There are enough indicators to justify caution and greater western involvement out of security interests, but it
has to be done more carefully than it has been so far," ICG's West Africa project director Mike McGovern said in
a report.

Mindful of the al Qaeda training camps that emerged in Afghanistan, some U.S. officials say countries like Mali,
Niger, Chad and Mauritania, which are among the world's poorest, make similarly fertile hunting ground for
militants seeking recruits.

U.S. Special Forces and military experts have trained soldiers in all four countries as part of efforts to help them
fight the threat in the region's vast swathes of desert.

But a military policy that offers no alternative livelihoods to already marginalised nomadic populations risked
causing resentment and radicalising locals further, ICG said.

Preachers, most of whom are Pakistani, from a fundamentalist Muslim missionary society called Jama'at
al-Tabligh have been converting former Tuareg rebels in Mali, it said.

The group's teachings are similar to those that underpin the philosophy of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Although the movement itself was staunchly apolitical, its converts included British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid
and the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, captured in 2001 during the war in Afghanistan, ICG said.

"Both Western and African intelligence services consider them a significant potential threat," it said. "Many
analysts agree that a turn toward Tablighi fundamentalism is sometimes a first step toward a career in violent
Islamist militancy."


The Tuaregs, a pale-skinned minority who live and work in the Sahara, launched insurgencies in Niger and Mali
in the early 1990s because they felt persecuted by a black elite governing far away in the countries' capital cities.

Resentment remains high among former fighters in the ancient Saharan trading towns of Kidal and Timbuktu in
Mali and Agadez in Niger. They say too little has been done to integrate them.

U.S. policy in the Sahara has so far focused on fighting smuggling networks and stopping Algeria's last
powerful rebel force, the al Qaeda-linked Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), from gaining a
foothold outside its homeland.

Many Tuaregs in Timbuktu and Agadez viewed the presence of elite U.S. forces in their towns with suspicion
during training exercises last year, seeing them as a threat to the delicate balance of power that has lasted for
generations in the Sahara.

ICG welcomed plans by Washington for more social and economic support but said Islamic charities, some of
whose operations have been under scrutiny since the September 11 attacks on the United States, were already
filling the aid vacuum.

"Even organisations known to most Americans purely as terrorist groups, like Hezbollah or Hamas, use a large
part of their funds to provide social services," the report said. (Link)


Anti-American Pro-Democracy

At a demonstration here Wednesday, kifaya was the mantra. About 500 secular and democracy activists returned again and again to the one-word slogan - the Arabic word that translates to "enough" - at the heart of their invigorated campaign to bring democracy to Egypt.

Kifaya has become the name of a movement and the buzzword of what some Western commentators are calling the "Arab Spring" - the rise of democratic expression around the region. In rallies from tiny Bahrain to Egypt, demonstrators are shouting kifaya to dictators, kifaya to corruptions, and kifaya to the silence of Arabs eager for change.

There's no question that the freedom rhetoric of the US and President Bush has helped crack the door for political activism in the Middle East. A look behind the slogan, however, reveals a complex web of secular and Islamist activists who say they share Bush's zeal for democracy, but expect real political change will lead to a repudiation of the US.

In Lebanon, largely pro-Western demonstrators saying enough to the Syrian occupation of their country have been met by demonstrators led by Hizbullah, saying enough to what they view as US meddling in Lebanese politics.

In Bahrain last week, the largest protests in memory saw the country's politically disenfranchised Shiite majority saying enough to pro-American King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's policies. And in Cairo Wednesday the chants included "Enough to Mubarak, Enough to Bush, Enough to Blair,'' along with "We will not be ruled by the CIA" and "Down with the White House."

It was a reminder that while the US has contributed to the shift in climate in the Middle East, a real democratic opening, in the short term at least, may not serve US interests. Most in the region appear angry at America's close relationship with Israel and its invasion of Iraq, and say that statements prodding allies to reform haven't overcome decades of support for Arab dictators.

"There seems to be this assumption that if you're pro-democracy then you're pro-US foreign policy, and that's incredibly misleading,'' says Marc Lynch, a political scientist and expert on the Middle East at Williams College in Massachusetts.

As a secular and modern Egyptian democrat, Jihan Shabaan is the very image of the Middle Eastern citizens President Bush hopes will take to the streets and demand the freedom.

She says a lifetime without political freedoms, in which she's watched average Egyptians drift deeper into poverty, has convinced her to risk everything at the forefront of Egypt's Kifaya movement, which is demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's long-time strong-man, step down and be replaced by a freely elected leader.

Beyond just Egypt

But for Ms. Shabaan and most of her colleagues in the movement, "enough" doesn't apply to President Mubarak alone. She expects a democratic Egypt would distance itself from the US, a long-time ally, and hit out at what she calls decades of "hypocritical" US policy in the Middle East.

"If things really change here, America's illusions that its interests in the region would be advanced by democracy will be laid bare,'' she says. "A real democratic government in Egypt would be strongly against the US occupation of Iraq and regional US policies, particularly over Palestine. We are strongly against US influence."

Despite apparently genuine sentiment, Kifaya organizers say there's also practical reasons to make the distance from the US clear. The government has tried to paint democracy activists as foreign puppets in the past, alleging they take foreign money. "The regime are the ones taking American money. But they always accuse us of having foreign money whenever there are calls for democracy," says Shabaan.

Attitudes like Shabaan's point to a frequently overlooked disconnect. America's conviction that its rhetoric will help secure its interests in the region often clash with the anti-US leanings of many of the Arab world's democracy activists, who generally belong either to Islamist parties or to left-leaning, anti-US groups.

"We want a transformation against America and all its projects in the region,'' says Abdel Halim Qandeel, an editor at the anti-regime Al Arabi newspaper and one of Kifaya's key activists. "There's a historical irony here. We have two kinds of resistance in the region - armed resistance as in Iraq and Palestine, and political resistance in the Arab capitals ... and all of the opposition movements are staunchly anti-imperialist, whether Islamists" or secular nationalists.

Wednesday's demonstration was the latest in a string of illegal protests by the Kifaya movement, with about 500 activists waving yellow banners emblazoned with their slogan and chanting slogans against Mubarak and his son, Gamal, who many here believe is being groomed to take over from the president.

Origins of a movement

The nucleus of what calls itself Kifaya today began organizing five years ago in response to the Palestinian uprising and picked up steam in March 2003 when about 10,000 Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo to protest the US invasion of Iraq. That protest quickly evolved into an anti-Mubarak demonstration, the first in his 25-year rule.

While those causes might seem far afield from demands for change inside Egypt, the country's activists see them as inextricably linked.

The US has provided about $2 billion a year in aid to Egypt since its 1980 peace agreement with Israel, and Egypt's activists see in the unpopular peace treaty and relative Egyptian silence over the invasion evidence that the country's foreign policy "has been colonized by the US,'' as Mr. Qandeel puts it. (Link)


Viagra ads are too racy

The American Taliban matches on.


HILL NEWS - What if "a tender moment turns into the right moment," but you're not "ready?" What to do then? Rep. Jim Moran doesn't want people finding out - at least not until after 10 p.m. The Northern Virginia Democrat introduced a bill earlier this month that would ban advertisements for erectile-dysfunction drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra until the late-night hours. . . The eighth-term member is especially concerned that, because Medicare will begin paying for ED treatments under the new prescription-drug benefit next year, the "taxpayer will be helping to subsidize" the industry's $400 million in annual ED ad spending. . . "When Bob Dole was doing the ads, it didn't really bother me, but now there' s just too much sexual innuendo," Moran told the Associated Press. (Link)


U.S. army makes Arab comic book

This is not a bad idea, in and of itself, but this projects success will very much be a matter of execution. Comics need to capture a cultural zeitgeist if they are to gain influence. Will a known American propaganda vehicle do this? I think I will give long odds on this one.


The US military is planning to win the hearts of young people in the Middle East by publishing a new comic.

An advertisement on the US government's Federal Business Opportunities website is inviting applications for someone to develop an "original comic book series".

"In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached," the ad says.

"A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models and improve their education."


The comic is to be a collaborative effort with the US Army, which says it has already done initial character and plot development.

It will be based on "the security forces, military and police, in the near future in the Middle East" and is being produced by US Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Fort Bragg is home to the army's 4th Psychological Operations Group, known as "psy-op warriors", whose weaponry includes radio transmitters, loudspeakers and leaflets.

The unit, whose slogans include Win the Mind - Win the Day and Verbum Vincet (The Word Conquers), is schooled in marketing and advertising techniques.

In the past few years, its soldiers have been deployed during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan dropping leaflets and cartoons urging surrender and broadcasting pro-American messages via radio and television.


A spokesman at Fort Bragg told BBC News website that the initiative for the comic-book project came from the US Department of Defense's Central Command, which is responsible for US security interests in 25 Middle Eastern and Arab nations.

According to the advertisement, the successful applicant will ideally need to have experience of law enforcement and "small unit military operations" - along with a knowledge of Arab language and cultures.

The aim is to involve the ministries of interior of some of Middle East countries.

The army is aiming to test initial comics on focus groups and based on their success or otherwise, will either be developed further or dropped completely.

The US army's comic could see competition from a new Egyptian publishing venture which has created what it bills as the first Arab superheroes: Zein aka the Last Pharaoh, Rakan, a hairy medieval warrior in Mesopotamia, Jalila, a brainy Levantine scientist and fighter for justice and Aya, a North African described as a "vixen who roams the region on her supercharged motorbike confronting crime wherever it rears its ugly head".

AK Comics says its goal is "to fill the cultural gap created over the years by providing essentially Arab role models, in our case, Arab superheroes to become a source of pride to our young generations." (Link)


Rats in Cairo: A propaganda story?

I smell a rat, this article was is most major papers world wide, yet the protests were of the size that rarely makes the news, Most were under a thousand strong, and the largest was estimated at 2000. I think this story got spun up to make it look like it was a continuation of the mega-protests in Lebanon, and therefore part of "the springtime of the Arab peoples". My spidersense is tingling, cause most of the stories do not mention the size of the protests, so when I read the stories I caught myself assuming these were mega-protests. It wasn't until I saw that the secondary protest in Alexandria was 300-400 that my critical thinking kicked in.


Cairo, March 31. (AP): With strident chants against President Hosni Mubarak, protesters defied government warnings and staged a series of pro-reform demonstrations across Egypt on Wednesday.

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Cairo, Alexandria and at a Nile Delta university, but large numbers of police officers did stop the demonstrators from reaching their main target - parliament.

Two members of the Kifaya or "Enough" Movement were detained in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

Some 400 protesters, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, walked about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) across the city from the police cordon at parliament to the Press Syndicate, where they chanted slogans against President Hosni Mubarak on the building's steps.

"The one who strikes the Egyptian people is not fit to rule Egypt" one chant said. "The one who bars demonstrators should face the fate of Sadat," said another chant, referring to the 1981 assassination by Islamic extremists of President Anwar Sadat.

A few protesters who did manage to evade the cordon were stopped in the street outside parliament, where the director of Cairo security, police Maj. Gen. Nabil el-Ezabi told them their presence was illegal.

"I am warning you. You have to leave or we will take the legal procedures against you," el-Ezabi said. Police trucks were on hand to take away detainees.

After a few minutes, the protesters left.

El-Ezabi had warned Tuesday that the police would strictly enforce the emergency laws that forbid unauthorized protests.

Pro-democracy activists and Muslim Brotherhood members have staged a series of such demonstrations during the past four months.

The protests have called for President Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal not to stand in the September elections and for constitutional reform in Egypt.

Some 2,000 students demonstrated on the campus of Mansoura University in the Nile Delta. Heavy lines of police barred them from leaving the campus.

About 500 students protested in Alexandria University, but were also confined to the campus. (Link)


Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Go Ashanti United FC!!!!

I haven't watched a game and I am already a fan of this team. I love an underdog and this team is the patron saint of underdog. We'll be filming the movie in six weeks .


Two things dominate life at Ilala market in Dar es Salaam - one is selling second-hand clothes and the other is their very own football team, Ashanti United FC.

Ashanti are playing in Tanzania's premier league for the first time, since it was founded by the Ilala market community over 40 years ago.

The second-hand clothes traders basically own Ashanti and financially support the side.

A market stall serves as the club's office, where the fundraising and planning for the team is done.

Abdallah Kiboko, a club chieftain and former player, who also collects contributions, says the team operates on a monthly budget of just US$200 and do not have any bank account.

Almost all other teams in the 16-team premier league either have rich individuals backing them or are run by companies. Ashanti depends entirely on contributions from the market traders.

When the players turn up for training they get just US$0.50 to help cover their transport costs and free meals, prepared by the traders.

Group spirit

When the team travels for an away match, the fundraising is done just prior to departure, as they collect just enough to cover the cost of the bus fare.

Fadhil Gasto, a former player and Ilala businessman, is one of the club's loyal supporters.

"I make sure that I contribute money everyday - when business is good I contribute as much as US$1 but when business is bad I give just half of that," he said.

Players do not have enough shirts or boots and many of them are bare-chested during training sessions.

Despite all these obstacles, team captain Mgaya Ali, who is a food vendor at the market, says the club remains focussed.

"Our expectations are to go all the way, win the league title and subsequently take part in international competitions," he says confidently.

What keeps the players going is not the dream of a big-money move to a top club but establishing themselves as second-hand clothes salesmen and earning money for their futures.

The team's integration in the market means former players are guaranteed their own stalls at an already over-crowded commercial centre.

"Former players have been integrated and are doing their businesses here but we are still working out a programme of absorbing young players," said Haji Bechina, a market trader and an executive committee member of the club.

The team's coffers have been boosted this season with US$4,000, given by mobile phone company Vodacom, who sponsor of the league.

Things will improve further for Ashanti when they receive their share of the gate collections when they host top teams like Simba, Yanga and Mtibwa. (Link)


Canada is a highway for terrorists, not!!!!!

Go stuff yourself you annoying spin toad!!! Canada sucks at defending its half of North America from terrorists. I think not (May be a decade ago this was true-- cough "Air India" cough) but not now (Cough border closings cough).


OTTAWA (CP) - While some Americans have suggested that Canada is a superhighway for terrorists bound for their country, the head of Interpol, himself an American, says no.

Ronald Noble, secretary general of the international criminal police body, said Canada works hard in the fight against terrorism.

"I am a citizen of the United States and I say that, with all due respect to my country, my country sometimes gets it half right," he said.

"If it's been said that Canada is a superhighway, I would say they got it half right: Canada is super, but it's not a highway."

Noble, a former law professor at New York University and one-time chief law enforcement officer for the U.S. Treasury Department, was making his first visit to Canada since taking office four years ago.

He said Interpol is making a major effort to improve communications among the world's police forces and to promote information-sharing.

The 182-country body now has a fledgling DNA database, with more than 14,000 entries. It began with only 73 DNA profiles two years ago.

He said the database poses no threat to privacy because there are no names attached. But it allows police in one country to determine if a DNA sample from their crime scene matches that of a crime in another country, allowing the two countries to pool their information to pursue the suspect.

Noble said Canada has played a key role in helping promote co-operative policing.

"Canada contributes in every way one could hope in terms of sharing information," he said.

He said Interpol has set its priorities in crime-fighting: terrorism, financial and high-tech crime, trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children and drugs and organized criminals.

Co-operation is the best defence, he said, and Canada is showing the way.

"I believe that every country in the world has a responsibility to do all it can to keep its citizens safe, its neighbour's citizens safe and the world community safe," he said.

"As secretary-general of Interpol, whatever you call the highest category of support and participation we have, Canada is in that category."

Noble said Interpol acts as a clearinghouse for information and a support service for member police forces. It has no armed agents of its own, issues no warrants of its own and depends on member countries for technical and manpower support.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, a supporter of Interpol who squired Noble around Ottawa during his visit, said he's a major believer in working with other police.

That's what helps keep the Canada-U.S. border as secure as it can be.

"Can we guarantee a 100 per cent? Nobody can.

"But I tell you we work extremely hard and work extremely well in a very integrated and co-ordinated fashion on the Canada side and in an integrated and seamless way with our American partners."


The nature of conservative politics

Needless to say, the defining motif of all conservative politics is victimization. As is the case here. "It was a rallying cry to our conservative community that we are under assault. We need to fight back," says Rep. Cantor (R) of Virginia.

- Joshua Micah Marshall

For those of you who are not active in the blogosphere Joshua Marshall's Talking Points Memo is one of the great gods of blogs. At 100,000 daily readers his is in the top ten of blogs (I have seen it listed as high as 4th). Other luminaries are DailyKos, Slashdot, and Instapundit (Hiss Hiss).



Oil prices and their effect on the economy

Christie Baker, owner of Flowers on the Green, recently had to hike the cost of a delivery in Guilford, Conn., from $6 to $8 to make up for the higher cost of gas. In La Jolla, Calif., Domino's just increased the amount it pays delivery drivers by a nickel a trip: They now get 95 cents to transport a large pepperoni, but it's still not enough to cover the cost, says assistant manager Donald Cunningham. And at Meyers Moving & Storage in New York City, they're now charging $15 more an hour to move from an apartment on the East Side to the West. Owner Guy Drori says the rates may go up again come summer.

The hike in oil prices is beginning to ripple through the economy, pinching consumers at places far beyond the gas pump.

During the past year, the robust economy absorbed much of the increase in energy costs. Competition for consumers helped, and kept many businesses from passing along the spike in fuel costs. But with gas prices hovering around new record highs, and the cost of diesel keeping pace, many businesses are finding they can no longer absorb the increased costs. That was reflected last Tuesday in the Producer Price Index, which rose 0.4 percent in February.

And though prices have eased in recent days, they remain well above $50 a barrel, and many expect them to stay high. So air travelers on international routes are now seeing huge fuel surcharges, the cost of a bunch of grapes is up a few cents, and economists expect to see costs increase on an array of manufactured goods from televisions to toasters.

"The true cost of energy is now being felt more broadly through the entire economy," says Mark Routt, a senior consultant at Energy Security Analysis, Inc., in Wakefield, Mass.

The reason, according to Mr. Routt, is what he calls the "tale of two economies." Most consumers focus on gas prices and the impact on their wallets. But diesel, which fuels truckers and some manufacturers, has gone up just as fast, and in some cases, gone higher. Thanks to that competition for consumers, combined with the concurrent growth of cheap imports, most people have so far been sheltered from that impact.

"I can still go online and I can order a TV set or a pair of pliers or some other gadget and still get free shipping, if I'm careful," says Mr. Routt. "That, however, can't last forever."

Listen to the independent truckers, who've taken a major hit from the diesel-price hikes. The base prices charged by truckers were set when the price of gas was just $1.10 per gallon during the 1990s, according to Larry Daniel, president of America's Independent Truckers' Association. So truckers have been watching their incomes shrink. A decade ago, truckers spent roughly 17 cents per mile on fuel; today they pay 35 cents. While there is a surcharge that truckers can pass along to the shipper, Mr. Daniel said that often the charge is pocketed by a broker or not charged at all.

Eventually, he says, truckers are going to have to start passing those increases along. (Link)


Millenial Ecosystem Assessment

I may or may not have the name right, but a UN report on the state of the planet which came out today is rather depressing. Here are some high lights:


The human race is living beyond its means. A report backed by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries - some of them world leaders in their fields - today warns that the almost two-thirds of the natural machinery that supports life on Earth is being degraded by human pressure.
The study contains what its authors call "a stark warning" for the entire world. The wetlands, forests, savannahs, estuaries, coastal fisheries and other habitats that recycle air, water and nutrients for all living creatures are being irretrievably damaged. In effect, one species is now a hazard to the other 10 million or so on the planet, and to itself.
"Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted," it says.
The report, prepared in Washington under the supervision of a board chaired by Robert Watson, the British-born chief scientist at the World Bank and a former scientific adviser to the White House, will be launched today at the Royal Society in London. It warns that:
· Because of human demand for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel, more land has been claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined.
· An estimated 24% of the Earth's land surface is now cultivated.
· Water withdrawals from lakes and rivers has doubled in the last 40 years. Humans now use between 40% and 50% of all available freshwater running off the land.
· At least a quarter of all fish stocks are overharvested. In some areas, the catch is now less than a hundredth of that before industrial fishing.
· Since 1980, about 35% of mangroves have been lost, 20% of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% badly degraded.
· Deforestation and other changes could increase the risks of malaria and cholera, and open the way for new and so far unknown disease to emerge.
In 1997, a team of biologists and economists tried to put a value on the "business services" provided by nature - the free pollination of crops, the air conditioning provided by wild plants, the recycling of nutrients by the oceans. They came up with an estimate of $33 trillion, almost twice the global gross national product for that year. But after what today's report, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, calls "an unprecedented period of spending Earth's natural bounty" it was time to check the accounts.
"That is what this assessment has done, and it is a sobering statement with much more red than black on the balance sheet," the scientists warn. "In many cases, it is literally a matter of living on borrowed time. By using up supplies of fresh groundwater faster than they can be recharged, for example, we are depleting assets at the expense of our children."
Flow from rivers has been reduced dramatically. For parts of the year, the Yellow River in China, the Nile in Africa and the Colorado in North America dry up before they reach the ocean. An estimated 90% of the total weight of the ocean's large predators - tuna, swordfish and sharks - has disappeared in recent years. An estimated 12% of bird species, 25% of mammals and more than 30% of all amphibians are threatened with extinction within the next century. Some of them are threatened by invaders.
The Baltic Sea is now home to 100 creatures from other parts of the world, a third of them native to the Great Lakes of America. Conversely, a third of the 170 alien species in the Great Lakes are originally from the Baltic.
Invaders can make dramatic changes: the arrival of the American comb jellyfish in the Black Sea led to the destruction of 26 commercially important stocks of fish. Global warming and climate change, could make it increasingly difficult for surviving species to adapt.
A growing proportion of the world lives in cities, exploiting advanced technology. But nature, the scientists warn, is not something to be enjoyed at the weekend. Conservation of natural spaces is not just a luxury.
"These are dangerous illusions that ignore the vast benefits of nature to the lives of 6 billion people on the planet. We may have distanced ourselves from nature, but we rely completely on the services it delivers." (Link)



The FBI once had a name for Americans who took part in the Spanish civil war were listed in the records as "premature anti-fascists."

- Sam Smith


Lebanon leaves the Golan naked

If you have the time the full article is worth reading. The Syrian regime is in considerable difficulty. Its weakening in Lebanon leaves its greatest dilemma unresolvable: How to get back the Golan heights?


At the center of the ongoing crisis surrounding the Syrian presence in Lebanon, a 38-year-old elephant has been loitering almost unnoticed. While the world scrutinizes Syria's promised withdrawal, gawks as the Lebanese opposition and Hezbollah flood the streets of Beirut in their war of demonstrations, and debates whether the Bush administration deserves credit for inspiring the "cedar revolution", little attention has been given to a principal factor binding this Levantine Gordian knot - the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan heights. Though not as glamorous as the more polarizing Israeli occupations in the West Bank and Gaza, Golan is of immense importance because it is the last tangible redoubt of Syrian-Israeli enmity and the physical embodiment of their 57-year ideological and territorial conflict. With Golan quiet since the armistice agreement of 1974 (established after the 1973 "October" War), Lebanon has long been the proving ground for the Levant's principal antagonists. History's arc can easily be traced from June 4, 1967, when Israel conquered the strategically valuable Golan plateau from Syria, across the gory horizons of the Lebanese civil war, in which Syrian and Israeli intervention would eventually contribute to the instabilities that produced the Valentine's Day assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the present imbroglio. The Lebanese pawn may soon be liberated from the stratagems of the surrounding horsemen, however, stripping the Levantine chess board to its bare essentials: Syria and Israel left glowering at each other across the armistice line that divides the mountainous Golan from the road to Damascus. The problem for Syria is that even if the new reality ends up spotlighting the Golan occupation, it will come at the cost of its suzerainty over Beirut. Syria's Hezbollah ally in south Lebanon has been an invaluable stick to prod Israel into negotiations, and, along with Syria's troop complement, the Shi'ite militia serves as a buffer to westward Israeli invasion. Thus weakened, Syria's chances of retrieving the entire Golan from hardline Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may then be about as likely as an elephant walking through the eye of a needle. (Much More)


China builds its influence in Africa

China is building its sphere of influence just like any other great power. It is starting with the outcasts and outlaws and drawing in those countries that have no other safe haven. Watch this space for more action in the future.


HARARE, ZIMBABWE – The Chinese economic juggernaut and its thirst for minerals and markets has increasingly brought it to Africa, including here to Zimbabwe. The fertile hills of this Southern African nation are rich with gold and the world's second-largest platinum reserves. In Sudan, Angola, and along the Gulf of Guinea, the Asian giant is guzzling the continent's vast oil supply.
But lately the Chinese are digging on a different front, one that could complicate the Bush administration's efforts to promote democracy here: African politics.
Last year, China stymied US efforts to levy sanctions on Sudan, which supplies nearly 5 percent of China's oil and where the US says genocide has occurred in its Darfur region. And as Zimbabwe becomes more isolated from the West, China has sent crates of T-shirts for ruling-party supporters who will vote in Thursday's parliamentary elections.
In addition, China or its businesses have reportedly:
• provided a radio-jamming device for a military base outside the capital, preventing independent stations from balancing state-controlled media during the election campaign;
• begun to deliver 12 fighter jets and 100 trucks to Zimbabwe's Army amid a Western arms embargo; and
• designed President Robert Mugabe's new 25-bedroom mansion, complete with helipad. The cobalt-blue tiles for its swooping roof, which echoes Beijing's Forbidden City, were a Chinese gift.
China is increasingly making its presence felt on the continent - from building roads in Kenya and Rwanda to increasing trade with Uganda and South Africa. But critics say its involvement in politics could help prop up questionable regimes, like Mr. Mugabe's increasingly autocratic 25-year reign.
"Suffering under the effects of international isolation, Zimbabwe has looked to new partners, including China, who won't attach conditions, such as economic and political reform" to their support, says a Western diplomat here. Of China's influence on this week's elections, he adds, "I find it hard to believe the Chinese would push hard for free and fair elections - it's not the standard they're known for."
Indeed, Mugabe often praises China and Asia as part of his new "Look East" policy. He responded to tough questions from an interviewer on Britain's Sky News last year about building his $9 million new home, while millions of Zimbabweans live on the verge of starvation, by saying: "You say it's lavish because it is attractive. It has Chinese roofing material, which makes it very beautiful, but it was donated to us. The Chinese are our good friends, you see."
China is becoming good friends to many African nations, as the US has been. Between 2002 and 2003, China-Africa trade jumped 50 percent, to $18.5 billion, Chinese officials say. It's expected to grow to $30 billion by 2006. US-Africa trade was $44.5 billion last year, according to the Commerce Department. As the world's largest oil importer behind the US, China has oil interests in Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Angola, and Gabon. The US is also hunting for oil in Africa, with about 10 percent of imports coming from the continent.
Not all of China's activities in Africa are controversial. Under the auspices of the UN, the China-Africa Business Council opened this month, headquartered in China, to boost trade and development. It has peacekeepers in Liberia and has contributed to construction projects in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia, though critics say it is using these projects to garner goodwill that it can tap into during prickly issues like Taiwan's independence or UN face-offs with the US.
Here in Zimbabwe, China also may be helping to support one of Africa's more oppressive regimes. The radio-jamming equipment that has prevented the independent Short Wave Radio Africa from broadcasting into the country is Chinese, according to the US-funded International Broadcast Bureau.
Reporters Without Borders, a group dedicated to freedom of the press, based in Paris, had this to say about the jamming: "Thanks to support from China, which exports its repressive expertise, Robert Mugabe's government has yet again just proved itself to be one of the most active predators of press freedom."
A Chinese diplomat here insists the equipment didn't come from China. And he says the T-shirts, which reportedly arrived on Air Zimbabwe's new direct flight from Beijing, were "purely a business transaction." But he adds that China-Zimbabwe relations have recently "been cemented in the field of politics and business."
In return for its support, China has received diplomatic backing on Taiwan's independence, as it has from many African nations.
Ultimately, China's expansion into Zimbabwe and Africa is more narrow than the 1800s colonization by European powers, when "Christianity, civilization, and commerce" were the buzzwords. For China, it's all about economics. "They've said: 'If you agree to privatize and sell to us your railways, your electricity generation, etc. - we will come in with capital," says John Robertson, an economist based in Harare.
With an economy that has shrunk as much as 40 percent in five years, Zimbabwe's government uses these promises to put off critics. "The government says, 'The Chinese are coming, and they'll bring in billions of dollars in investment, and soon everything will be fully restored,' " Mr. Robertson says. (Link)


Cooking class for those without time

A neat idea for the rat race world, and a sad comment on the loss of folk tradition. Though if there is demand a solution will appear (Though not always a good one).


PARIS – For years I had thought of taking a cooking class. I love food, enjoy entertaining, and most of all, live in the world's gourmet capital, Paris. But the idea always appeared a little daunting. Courses seemed expensive, time-consuming, and - most of all - too complex.
That is, until cooking school L'Atelier des Chefs opened its doors last summer, offering 30-minute classes at lunchtime, not to mention a table on which to eat your meal afterward in the company of fellow students. All that for about $20, the price of lunch in an average Paris brasserie.L'Atelier des Chefs is located in an open space with a large kitchen in the center, partitioned off by glass walls. On one side, there's a large wooden table, surrounded by racks of wine and fine grocery products. On the other, rows of colorful cookbooks and shiny cooking utensils line the walls.
As I pushed open the front door in time for my class, two young men, dressed in suits and carrying briefcases, followed me in. Those who had arrived before us - mostly in their late 20s to early 30s - browsed through the cookbooks, chatting and laughing as they waited for the class to begin.
There was nothing intimidating about this place. It felt as though I were in someone's home.
"When we came up with the idea of a cooking school, our main aim was make this place accessible," says Nicolas Bergerault, who, with his brother, François, is the founder of the cooking school.
Mr. Bergerault, former marketing director for Nestle, has always been passionate about cooking. He wanted to create courses that differed from other cooking schools in Paris, which can be intimidating, he says, and not always handy for the working man and woman.
"We wanted to cater to 25- to 45-year-olds who have never learned to cook, who work, and don't have the time to attend cooking classes at the traditional times," he explains.
"I wouldn't usually go to cooking classes, but this is simple, and it doesn't take too long," says Alexis Thuaux, who works for a consulting company and has brought along a friend. It's their first visit. "Lunchtime is great, as it doesn't take up too much time, and you learn something," he says. "Even better, you get to eat what you make."
Students are taught to cook only one dish in each class. The recipes are deliberately simple but with a touch of sophistication so that people can reproduce them at home and impress their families and friends, says Bergerault.


Former-IMF official admits it is evil

A man with a unfortunate name spills the beans on the culture and practises inside the IMF. The description fits with the idea that the place is filled with free market fundamentalists, people with a near-religous belief in the functioning of the market (I first saw this term when reading Eric Hobsbawn's awe-inspiring Age of Extremes ).


That a critic of the International Monetary Fund would accuse the institution of arrogance and of imposing economic policies that foment corruption is not unusual. More surprising is when those accusations are leveled at the world's largest lender by one of its former senior officials.

The former official concerned is Claudio Loser, who recounts the internal workings of the institution in full detail to Argentine journalist Ernesto Tenembaum. The result is Enemigos, a book that has hit the best seller list in Buenos Aires over the last three months and is on the verge of selling more than 50,000 copies. What began as a simple interview by Tenembaum for a newspaper article turned into 14 months of e-mail correspondence during 2002 and 2003 in which Loser recounts, explains and criticizes IMF policies and their role in Argentina's economic collapse.

Loser was appointed head of the institution's Western Hemisphere Department in 1994, from where he witnessed - and intervened in - the rise and fall of the economy of his homeland, including the collapse of the financial system, the run on the banks, the social protests, the devaluation of the peso and ultimately the 2001 debt default. In 2002, Loser was removed from his post.

Enemigos contains some surprising moments, such as when Loser tells of how IMF former president Horst Köhler had an almost religious vision of Argentina's economy. "He believed that Argentina should repent and pay for its sins," the former official says. (Link)


Nuclear PR Stunt by the Iranian President

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty allows nations to get quite close to nuclear weapons. What iran is doing is quite legal. Nuclear enrichment is necessary for most types of nuclear reactors (If I remember right Canada's Candu reactors are an exception but I could be blisteringly wrong). I like the the comment that "security concerns" lead the iranians to placing the facility underground. Security concenrs like American and Israeli air strikes.


NATANZ, Iran (Reuters) - Iran took a group of journalists deep underground Wednesday into the heart of a key nuclear plant which Washington wants permanently closed and whose existence was a secret until 2002.

About 30 local and foreign journalists visited Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 150 miles south of Tehran, the centerpiece of Iran's disputed atomic fuel drive.

The unprecedented visit was an unusual gesture of openness by Iran. Reporters, allowed to photograph and film the plant, were later taken to another atomic facility in the central city of Isfahan.

Iran says its nuclear program is nothing for the world to fear and will only be used to generate much-needed electricity. But Washington and the European Union fear Iran could use its nuclear plants to produce bombs.

The journalists, invited to accompany President Mohammad Khatami on an inspection of the 450-hectare (1,110-acre) site, were taken deep inside a building where, two levels below ground, they were shown a vast empty hall designed to house 50,000 enrichment centrifuges.

Centrifuges purify uranium fluoride gas into reactor or bomb fuel by spinning at high speeds. Low-grade enriched uranium is used in atomic power plants but highly enriched uranium can be used in the core of a bomb.

Iranian officials said the enrichment facility had been built more than 18 meters (54 feet) below ground due to "security problems." Defense experts say this is a precaution against possible aerial attack by the United States or Israel, which have vowed to stop Iran acquiring nuclear arms.
Approaching the complex, ringed by arid mountains, journalists counted at least 10 anti-aircraft batteries.


At the heavily guarded main gate there were no signs to indicate the nature of the sprawling site whose existence was first revealed by an Iranian exile group in late 2002, prompting international concern about Iran's atomic ambitions.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors first visited Natanz in early 2003. In October, 2003 the U.N. watchdog sealed Natanz's pilot enrichment facility, containing dozens of centrifuges, as part of an agreement between Iran and the EU.

The EU wants Iran to permanently scrap Natanz and other nuclear fuel work in return for assistance with developing nuclear energy and other economic and security cooperation.

Iran says the suspension of nuclear fuel work is merely a temporary confidence-building measure.
"IAEA inspectors visit this facility at least once a month and also use a monitoring system to check the suspension," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters.

"We can start test enrichment at any time," said Ehsan Monajemi, construction project manager at Natanz.

"The sealing of the facilities has affected the morale of our people. It would be sad if it continued."
Sensitive fuel work has also been frozen at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, which the journalists visited and which is designed to prepare the uranium gas for Natanz.

European diplomats say Iran has offered to limit Natanz to a small pilot facility of around 500 centrifuges.

While the pilot facility would be too small to produce usable quantities of weapons-grade material, it would allow Iran to master the technical know-how to do so in future and is therefore unlikely to be acceptable to Washington, which wants Iran's case sent to the U.N. Security Council.

But a senior Iranian official denied any such proposal was on the table. "Iran has not offered any limitations on its enrichment facilities and will not accept this in the future," Ali Aghamohammadi, head of the Propaganda Office at the Supreme National Security Council, told Reuters. (Link)


Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Do not go gentle: Syria in Lebanon

Syria has not played all of its lebanese cards yet. The withdrawal of their forces, if it completed is not a critical loss of its influnce in Lebanon. Here is why the lebanese street protests are far from the end of the game (If there was anywhere the U.S. would gain from secretly places advisers/spies/assassins it is Lebanon. There is a shadow war brewing.


Last month's assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut and its political fallout have proved portentous developments for Syria, to say the least. Even if Damascus is innocent of any involvement or if rogue elements in one of its 14 intelligence agencies carried out the murder, the effect remains unchanged. It has set in motion widespread civil opposition to the Syrian presence in Lebanon and renewed calls from the international community for a complete Syrian withdrawal from its neighbor.

Not only the United States but also the likes of France, Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have publicly called on Syria to quit Lebanon. With so many forces falling into alignment against Damascus, the increasingly isolated regime of President Bashar Assad confronts a shrinking universe of options with which to maintain its strategic leverage in the region. In the space of a few weeks, Assad has stepped back from an intransigent refusal to consider withdrawing from Lebanon to a conciliatory position promising the removal of Syrian troops and intelligence forces within "a few months". Unfolding events in Lebanon affect not only Syria, but have the potential to alter the balance of power in the region.

A full withdrawal from Lebanon in the face of Western pressure would represent a serious humiliation for the ossified Ba'athist regime, which may not be able to survive such a display of perceived weakness. Surrounded by hostile and semi-hostile states, Lebanon stands alone as part of a Syrian sphere of influence. In important respects, Lebanon is the mortar holding together the bricks of a weak regime. Over the course of three decades, Syria has transformed Lebanon into a vassal state that lacks any true independence - Syria doesn't even recognize Lebanese passports or maintain an embassy in Beirut. The Syrian Ba'athists have long considered Lebanon an integral part of their concept of Bilad al-Sham, or "Greater Syria", a territorial abstraction that also lays claim to Israel, Jordan and parts of Turkey. It is a construct that carries substantial ideological currency and losing its position in Lebanon would only serve to bring Damascus' regional ambitions to an ignominious end. This explains its flurry of diplomatic activity to help place a pan-Arab patina on any withdrawal agreement.

In addition, Syria may face harsh economic realities if forced to quit Lebanon. Perhaps 20% or more of the Syrian economy is based on Lebanese sources of revenue. Up to a million Syrians work in Lebanon, where they earn respectable wages, much of which is remitted to Syria. Commissions on business deals and extensive corruption also benefit the well-heeled in Syria. Syrian interests control much of the country's resources and Syrian domination of the robust Bekaa Valley drug trade also provides significant streams of revenue. Losing its economic suzerainty over Lebanon could cripple an already teetering Syrian economy.

Most important, however, a pliant Lebanon provides Syria strategic depth along its western frontier, a crucial buffer Damascus has relied on to check its Israeli adversary. Quite simply, Lebanon is Damascus' strongest negotiating card with Israel. Losing Lebanon, in the full sense of the word, would represent a significant attenuation of Syria's deterrent posture with Israel - and, if that is lost, a diminution of leverage over the Palestinian issue may not be far behind.

Damascus will not relinquish that easily, and removing 14,000 troops from Lebanon is not especially important from a strategic standpoint. Damascus is not without arrows in its quiver. It has extended its tentacles deeply into Lebanese society, effectively controlling its political, economic and military/intelligence apparatus. Its intelligence services, which are deeply entrenched within Lebanon, are of far greater importance. Their cheek-by-jowl relationship with Lebanese intelligence and thousands of local informants ensure that a pro forma closing of their main office will not end Syrian influence. They still wield the ability to shape political developments and destabilize Lebanon by unleashing massive civil strife.

In addition, Damascus still maintains great influence over Hezbollah, which one former senior US Federal Bureau of Investigation official described as "the best light infantry in the world". Syrian patronage of Hezbollah is well known and its logic rather simple. Its 25,000-man force, armed with 10,000 rockets and missiles, is a strategic asset that Syria has used as leverage in its conflict with Israel, especially with respect to the Golan Heights. Damascus has jealously guarded Hezbollah's position in Lebanon and disarmed all of its rivals. In the face of a Syrian withdrawal, Hezbollah and other Lebanese concerns that have benefited from Syrian patronage may very well resort to violence to protect their interests. Hezbollah may choose to foment strife, conveying the all too clear message that there will be no stability in Lebanon without Syria's steadying hand. Recent bombings in Christian suburbs of Beirut may provide a foretaste of what lies ahead.

This could potentially lead to widespread unrest, even civil war, which would have major ramifications in Israel, Syria and beyond. Some Israeli officials believe that Hezbollah has recently reinvigorated attempts to subcontract attacks in Israel by Palestinian militant groups. A Lebanese civil war may in fact redound to Hezbollah's favor, as a Syrian withdrawal would leave Hezbollah the most powerful force in Lebanon - more powerful than the Lebanese army. (More)


Why sell weapons to just one side

I suspect that the U.S. is no worse than any other arms dealling country (proportional to arms sales). Still the cynical bastardness of the arms trade gets my goat.


NEW DELHI - By offering nuclear-capable F-16 Falcon fighters to Pakistan and the even more advanced F-18 Hornets to India, Washington has shown a cynical readiness to profit from the long-standing rivalry between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors, say analysts.

"This is a bit like the Aesop's fable in which two cats fighting over a loaf take their dispute to a monkey for settlement," said P R Chari, research professor at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a prestigious think-tank devoted to security in South Asia.

In an interview with Inter Press Service (IPS), Chari said what was happening was all too obvious: "The Americans must be laughing all the way to the bank."

Chari pointed to reports in the Washington Post on March 16 that claim the sale of F-16s to Pakistan may have saved 5,000 jobs in US President George W Bush's home state of Texas, where the planes' manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corporation, is located.

Lockheed and other global defense manufacturers depend on sales of sophisticated military hardware to boost their profits. The F-16 deal was "likely to be as warmly greeted in Fort Worth as it is in Karachi", the Post said.

According to Chari, there is little doubt that US arms contractors are now eyeing India's much larger market that had been closed to them since 1974 when New Delhi first tested a nuclear device. Washington at the time reacted by imposing an arms and dual-use technology embargo on India.

India, which signed a military pact with the former Soviet Union in 1971, has traditionally sourced its defense needs from Moscow, although it also maintains squadrons of French Mirage fighters as well as British Jaguars.

But rapidly expanding ties in recent years between India and the US, the world's two largest democracies, have seen a progressive lifting of sanctions and moves toward defense cooperation.

A visit to New Delhi on March 15-16 by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice produced a welter of new concessions covering not only the sale of F-16 and F-18 combat aircraft but also possibilities for co-production.

Lockheed has so far sold F-16s, currently costing US$25 million a piece, to 24 countries and the aviation giant also makes the fighters in Europe, South Korea and Turkey.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, Washington would actually be resuming deliveries of F-16s that were halted in 1990 after a US law barred military exports to Islamabad on suspicions that it was clandestinely developing nuclear weapons.

For India, the real icing on the cake was an offer by Rice of cooperation in India's civilian nuclear energy program, which has since 1974 cut its own path with support from Russia and France as a result of the US-led embargoes. Some analysts, however, caution that India would be wise not to get its hopes up, given the many hoops the Bush administration would have to jump through in Congress and within the numerous non-proliferation agencies to sell American nuclear power plants to India.

As for the fighter deal, analysts like Chari see little use for either India or Pakistan to be buying expensive nuclear-capable aircraft when they are not likely to be put to actual use.

Chari said neither country needed aircraft to deliver nuclear bombs against each other since both possessed missiles with more than adequate range.

"After 1994, when both countries declared themselves as nuclear powers they came close to an all-out war twice - during the 1999 Kargil War and the 2002 border standoff - but on both occasions they desisted from resorting to the nuclear option," he said.

India and Pakistan have been at pains to improve relations, soured by a long-standing dispute over the territory of Kashmir, and are currently engaged in "cricket diplomacy", with a Pakistani team currently touring India as part of a series of confidence-building measures.

Rice had words of praise for this peace initiative, but ironically her actions were matched with the US decision to sell neighbors with a history of more than half-a-century of hostilities sophisticated military hardware.

"The logic of escalating military preparations contrasts with the logic of dialogue and reconciliation," said Professor Achin Vanaik, a well-known anti-nuclear activist who teaches at Delhi University.

What was interesting to note, Chari said, was that from a position of imposing sanctions against both India and Pakistan for carrying out the 1998 tests, Washington has come round to supplying both countries with platforms capable of delivering nuclear bombs.

"It just shows that Washington has a flexible enough foreign policy to accommodate what it judges to be in its own best interest and this includes such issues as nuclear proliferation," Chari said. (Link)


The lost peak oil report

A while ago I had some trouble with blogger. In the process I deleted a posting about a very significant article. It turned out that it was not that posting that was causing the trouble. I felt that this report was so important that I had to dig it out again in case you missed it.

The subject is peak oil production, the begining of the end for the world's oil based economy. Contrary to popular belief the end oil is not a hard stop. The trouble does not come when we suddenly run out of oil, rather it begins when we have used half of the world's oil. After that point it becomes impossible to scale up the production of oil. Ever declining oil reserves lead to declining production. What makes the crisis acute is if demand is increasing when the decline sets in. Demand could be driven by two billion person developing countries doing rapid industrialization. If the peak hit then we could be in for a serious time period.

Here is the link to the full report


The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.

In 2003, the world consumed just under 80 million barrels per day (MM bpd) of oil. U.S. consumption was almost 20 MM bpd, two-thirds of which was in the transportation sector. The U.S. has a fleet of about 210 million automobiles and light trucks (vans, pick-ups, and SUVs). The average age of U.S. automobiles is nine years. Under normal conditions, replacement of only half the automobile fleet will require 10-15 years. The average age of light trucks is seven years. Under normal conditions, replacement of one-half of the stock of light trucks will require 9-14 years. While significant improvements in fuel efficiency are possible in automobiles and light trucks, any affordable approach to upgrading will be inherently time-consuming, requiring more than a decade to achieve significant overall fuel efficiency improvement.

Besides further oil exploration, there are commercial options for increasing world oil supply and for the production of substitute liquid fuels: 1) Improved Oil Recovery (IOR) can marginally increase production from existing reservoirs; one of the largest of the IOR opportunities is Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), which can help moderate oil production declines from reservoirs that are past their peak production: 2) Heavy oil / oil sands represents a large resource of lower grade oils, now primarily produced in Canada and Venezuela; those resources are capable of significant production increases;. 3) Coal liquefaction is a well-established technique for producing clean substitute fuels from the world’s abundant coal reserves; and finally, 4) Clean substitute fuels can be produced from remotely located natural gas, but exploitation must compete with the world’s growing demand for liquefied natural gas. However, world-scale contributions from these options will require 10-20 years of accelerated effort.

Dealing with world oil production peaking will be extremely complex, involve literally trillions of dollars and require many years of intense effort. To explore these complexities, three alternative mitigation scenarios were analyzed:

• Scenario I assumed that action is not initiated until peaking occurs.
• Scenario II assumed that action is initiated 10 years before peaking.
• Scenario III assumed action is initiated 20 years before peaking.

For this analysis estimates of the possible contributions of each mitigation option were developed, based on an assumed crash program rate of implementation. Our approach was simplified in order to provide transparency and promote understanding. Our estimates are approximate, but the mitigation envelope that results is believed to be directionally indicative of the realities of such an enormous undertaking. The inescapable conclusion is that more than a decade will be required for the collective contributions to produce results that significantly impact world supply and demand for liquid fuels.

Important observations and conclusions from this study are as follows:

1. When world oil peaking will occur is not known with certainty. A fundamental problem in predicting oil peaking is the poor quality of and possible political biases in world oil reserves data. Some experts believe peaking may occur soon. This study indicates that “soon” is within 20 years.

2. The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past “energy crisis” experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis.

3. Oil peaking will create a severe liquid fuels problem for the transportation sector, not an “energy crisis” in the usual sense that term has been used.

4. Peaking will result in dramatically higher oil prices, which will cause protracted economic hardship in the United States and the world. However, the problems are not insoluble. Timely, aggressive mitigation initiatives addressing both the supply and the demand sides of the issue will be required.

5. In the developed nations, the problems will be especially serious. In the developing nations peaking problems have the potential to be much worse.

6. Mitigation will require a minimum of a decade of intense, expensive effort, because the scale of liquid fuels mitigation is inherently extremely large.

7. While greater end-use efficiency is essential, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the problem. Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required. A number of commercial or near-commercial substitute fuel production technologies are currently available for deployment, so the production of vast amounts of substitute liquid fuels is feasible with existing technology.

8. Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic. The experiences of the 1970s and 1980s offer important guides as to government actions that are desirable and those that are undesirable, but the process will not be easy.

Mitigating the peaking of world conventional oil production presents a classic risk management problem:

• Mitigation initiated earlier than required may turn out to be premature, if peaking is long delayed.

• If peaking is imminent, failure to initiate timely mitigation could be extremely damaging.

Prudent risk management requires the planning and implementation of mitigation well before peaking. Early mitigation will almost certainly be less expensive than delayed mitigation. A unique aspect of the world oil peaking problem is that its timing is uncertain, because of inadequate and potentially biased reserves data from elsewhere around the world. In addition, the onset of peaking may be obscured by the volatile nature of oil prices. Since the potential economic impact of peaking is immense and the uncertainties relating to all facets of the problem are large, detailed quantitative studies to address the uncertainties and to explore mitigation strategies are a critical need.

The purpose of this analysis was to identify the critical issues surrounding the occurrence and mitigation of world oil production peaking. We simplified many of the complexities in an effort to provide a transparent analysis. Nevertheless, our study is neither simple nor brief. We recognize that when oil prices escalate dramatically, there will be demand and economic impacts that will alter our simplified assumptions. Consideration of those feedbacks will be a daunting task but one that should be undertaken.

Our study required that we make a number of assumptions and estimates. We well recognize that in-depth analyses may yield different numbers. Nevertheless, this analysis clearly demonstrates that the key to mitigation of world oil production peaking will be the construction a large number of substitute fuel production facilities, coupled to significant increases in transportation fuel efficiency. The time required to mitigate world oil production peaking is measured on a decade time-scale. Related production facility size is large and capital intensive. How and when governments decide to address these challenges is yet to be determined.

Our focus on existing commercial and near-commercial mitigation technologies illustrates that a number of technologies are currently ready for immediate and extensive implementation. Our analysis was not meant to be limiting. We believe that future research will provide additional mitigation options, some possibly superior to those we considered. Indeed, it would be appropriate to greatly accelerate public and private oil peaking mitigation research. However, the reader must recognize that doing the research required to bring new technologies to commercial readiness takes time under the best of circumstances. Thereafter, more than a decade of intense implementation will be required for world scale impact, because of the inherently large scale of world oil consumption.

In summary, the problem of the peaking of world conventional oil production is unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society. The challenges and uncertainties need to be much better understood. Technologies exist to mitigate the problem. Timely, aggressive risk management will be essential.



Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull every where. He was dull in a new way, and that made people think him great" - Samuel Johnson on the poet Thomas Gray


I'm Sorry

I am bit more busy than usual this week. It will have a detrimental effect on my updating rate, so the volume of stories will most likely be lower and they will arrive later in the day.



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