The River Of Gold  

Posted by Big Gav

Tonights episode of Foreign Correspondent had a couple of interesting reports - one on the aftermath of Sudan's civil war, including the largely Chinese driven oil exploration gold rush. The other report was on "Iraq's Missing Millions" and the river of gold flowing out of the country (unfortunately most of the transcript isn't online, at least not while I'm writing this). I believe that this episode will be viewed in retrospect as the largest frenzy of pillaging (both of Iraq and the US Treasury) in history.

While the dollar cost of the war in Iraq is still being counted, it’s estimated that about $US50 billion has already been directed to private contractors, most of them American, to rebuild and secure the country.

But auditors say that vast amounts are unaccounted for. The BBC’s Peter Marshall has been investigating startling allegations of cronyism, contracts and war profiteers. “It was the most blatant disregard for the procurement regulations I have ever seen,” says Bunny Greenhouse, a Contracting Officer in the US Army.

The report examines the remarkable story of one company, Custer Battles, who won a contract for $US17m to provide security for an airport. They demanded, and received, $US2m upfront, in cash. They were unable to do the job, but were paid the full amount in any case. A senior US official tells Marshall that Custer Battles were “opportunistic, aggressive, and took advantage of a chaotic situation to make a lot of money.” The company is now being sued for $US10m, for fraud.

According to Marshall, one contract for repairs to a cement factory was awarded to a US contractor for $US50 million. They were unable to carry it out, so the same job was eventually done by an Iraqi company for $US80,000.

Marshall says that the Houston oil and gas company Halliburton has cornered more than half of Iraq’s reconstruction work. The US Vice President, Dick Cheney, was Chief Executive of Halliburton for five years, immediately before becoming V-P. One $US2.4 billion contract – to restore Iraqi oil wells – was awarded to Halliburton without any competition. Auditors say the company overcharged by $US200 million, but they don’t have to pay it back.

Meanwhile Bunny Greenhouse, who first blew the whistle on the contract, has been demoted.

Past Peak has an excellent post linking together a number of commentaries on the situation in Iraq, and concludes with the same message that I occasionally try to deliver from my soapbox here (and I wish that more people understood the linkages):
In its latest Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon stopped talking about a war on terror. Instead, they're talking about "the long war". They're not kidding.

It's all one big Gordian Knot: Iraq, peak oil, global warming. We need to understand that and not forget it. If we don't deal with energy, we will be stuck with war and catastrophic climate change. It's all one problem.

Past Peak also has a great post on the propaganda system. While on the one hand this sort of thing always makes me grimly acknowledge Orwell's ability to describe the world he lived in in an elliptical way, I can't help but be impressed at how the system has evolved.
Americans are naive. We're brought up to believe that we've got a free news media, we've got real representative politics, and so on. The game may be rigged in other countries, but not here. So, we know that the NSA listens to every scrap of electronic communications overseas, but we take it on faith that they don't listen to communications here in the US. But then it turns out they do.

We know also that the CIA is skilled in manipulating the news media overseas. We know they manipulate other countries' political processes, funding this candidate, smearing that one, bolstering a regime here, creating chaos there. But we take it on faith that they don't apply those skills internally. Why? If they believe the national security is at stake, why wouldn't they conclude it is their duty to bring to bear every tool at their disposal?

Actually, we don't have to guess. In 1977, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame wrote an article for Rolling Stone that exposed the fact that hundreds of American journalists, including some of the biggest names in news, had secretly carried out assignments on behalf of the CIA
The recent cyclone actvity here has had a couple of positive side effects - quite a lot of rain and some big surf - surfers may be one group who appreciate global warming.

Mobjectivist has an update on UK oil depletion, which includes some excellent graphs of the production profile, segmented on a field by field basis. This sort of graph is a great way of illustrating peak oil, even for the few remaining regions that haven't peaked - to believe otherwise you would have to believe that we will always find more fields...

Mobjectivist also points to the tale of some wingnut blogger who has been outed for plagiarism and nominates Noam Chomsky as his replacement at the Washington Post. The blue voice also comments on the topic, and points to Billmon's latest epic.
A couple of years ago, I published an op-ed in the LA Times on the Selling of the Blogosphere -- for which I received an enormous amount of shit, much of it from bloggers (such as Michelle Malkin) who were most aggressively peddling their talents, such as they are, in the media marketplace, even as they decried the influence of the evil MSM.

Although much of what I wrote then turned out to be unadulterated myopia, one of my predictions looks rather spot on now:
What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise. In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers — those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy — is gaining larger audiences and greater influence.

This is not the product of some inherent hierarchical tendency of the blogosphere, which has proven to be a hell of a lot more fluid than I expected -- i.e. you're only as good, or as important, as your last post. But the eagerness of the corporate media to roll out the red carpet for the rhetorical bomb throwers of the right has been every bit as impressive as I expected, and then some -- to the point, as others have already noted, where it's getting hard to find a major conservative blogger who doesn't have some sort of MSM gig or affiliation, and/or isn't constantly being shoved down the optic nerves of the cable TV news audience.

Maybe this is just the flip side of the '60s radical chic memoralized by Tom Wolfe -- when the liberal establishment of the day tried to make kissy face with Weathermen and Black Panthers. Maybe pasty-faced Young Republicans in bow ties really are the new black. But it feels a lot more calculated and cynical, not to mention mutually exploitative. The liberal mavens who feted Angela Davis and Huey Newton were powerful -- or at least privileged -- people who felt vaguely guilty about being powerful and privileged. The corporate suits now opening the journalistic doors to the propagandists of the authoritarian right are powerful and privileged people who hope that appeasing the blogswarm will help them remain powerful and privileged -- or at least avoid the fate of Eason Jordan and Dan Rather. This, as I (and many others) have already noted, bears a striking resemblance to a successful protection racket.

The Minnesota Daily has an article on "Peak oil and failing mass media" which asks how we can solve a problem most people don't know exists ?
nitially, I had planned on writing my final column in this series on the politics of the oil industry. However, after observing the ongoing neglect of peak oil in the media for the past few weeks, it occurred to me that our nation’s complacency in addressing our energy crisis might have less to do with the corruption of our elected officials than the tight control of information exercised by today’s mega media conglomerations.

Corporate media’s failure to report on the urgent discussions now under way among government agencies and petroleum geologists concerning our energy situation has left the American public dangerously oblivious.

The facts are not in question: Reports commissioned by the U. S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have warned that the days of cheap energy rapidly are drawing to a close. Global oil production is poised to decline sharply in the next two decades — if not sooner — leading to steep and irreversible energy price hikes. The permanent loss of inexpensive petroleum will pave the way for an economic crash unparalleled in U.S. history.

The mass media remain silent.

Where were the national media when an internal report from Mexico’s state-owned oil company was leaked last month, disclosing that Mexico’s super-giant Cantarell Oil Field — the world’s second-biggest reserve — recently passed its peak and now is facing significant production declines? Considering that Mexico is the second-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, one would expect this kind of revelation to spark discussion and widespread trepidation. Hardly a word was spoken.

Heritage seeds are a topic which I tend to view fondly, although the sad state of the lone Kentia Palm on my balcony would attest to the fact that I'm no gardener. "A Crack In The Pavement" has a post on heritage seed resources.

The Energy Blog has a post noting that the cost of wind-generated electricity for consumers is now less that of electricity from conventional sources in some markets - which is a trend I see continuing as oil and gas depletion proceed and uranium starts to become a hot commodity

WorldChanging's weekly roundup of sustainable transportation news is always a good summary of whats happening.
One of the most powerful cyclones to hit Australia in decades blasted ashore near Cairns, Queensland, with winds of up to 290 km/hr (180 mph). Larry flattened sugarcane fields and banana crops, ripped roofs off houses and uprooted trees in a 300km-wide swath (186 miles). The area is the heart of Australia’s banana industry and also accounts for 25% of Australia’s sugar cane production.

In the US, Accuweather forecast that the northeast US coast could be the target of a major hurricane, perhaps as early as this season. The forecast suggests that in terms of number of storms, the 2006 hurricane season will be more active than normal, but less active than last summer’s historic storm season.

Researchers at Georgia Tech applied a new methodology to the analysis of global hurricane data and concluded that the increasing trend in the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes for the period 1970 to 2004 is directly linked to the trend in rising sea surface temperatures (SST).

A set of papers published in the 24 March issue of Science suggests that the ice sheets covering both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century.

A study published in the 14 March online early edition of New Phytologist suggests that rising levels of ozone starting at the Earth’s surface (tropospheric ozone) could reduce soybean harvests.

A new study released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlights that human exposure to increased pollutant concentrations due to traffic in densely populated urban areas remains high.

Oil production from Alaska’s North Slope oil fields is declining faster than expected. State officials have admitted they have been too optimistic in their production forecasts, and produced a new, more conservative estimate.

Chevron reported that its combined oil and natural gas production for January and February in the US increased 5%, driven by the on-going restoration of storm-related shut-in volumes in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). However, the company stated that combined international liquids and natural gas production—which accounts for about two-third of Chevron’s upstream output—declined 4%.

Collapsists may be alarmed to read a report on MSNBC that the World Bank is warning of a new Great Depression this year - the story itself is on Hamas' budgetary difficulties - has anyone seen any other references to the bank's report ?
If you think you have a lousy job, meet Omar Abdel-Razeq. Last week the soft-spoken economist was named as Hamas's choice to be the Palestinian Authority's next Finance minister. The 48-year-old professor happened to be in an Israeli jail when his Islamist colleagues won an absolute majority in the Palestinian Parliament two months ago. And as he sat in his cell, Abdel-Razeq recalls, he found himself hoping he might stay there until after Hamas had finished forming its cabinet.

No such luck. Released a week ago, Abdel-Razeq says he hasn't yet had time to sift through the World Bank's dire projections for 2006, warning of an economic downturn equivalent to the Great Depression.

I haven't been paying attention to events in South America in recent months, though I did note with some cynicism moves in Paraguay last year as it became clear that the spread of Bolivarianism was likely to encompass Bolivia and its natural gas reserves.
Other challenges to this leftist shift are posed by the US government and multinational corporations. The US military has set up a base in Paraguay , 200 kilometers from the border with Bolivia. Hundreds of troops are reportedly stationed there. Analysts in Bolivia and Paraguay who I've spoken with believe the troops are there to monitor the Morales administration, leftist groups in the region and to keep an eye on Bolivia's gas reserves (which are the second largest in Latin America) and the Guarani Aquifer which is one of the biggest water reserves in the hemisphere.

Apparently the US military base in Paraguay is now open (according to Bellaciao anyway). The subject of the Guarani water aquifer always seems to get raised along with Bolivian gas reserves whenever this subject is commented on (which is rarely and usually in way out to the left outlets) which has me somewhat baffled - the US isn't known for seizing control of foreign water resources and I'm not entirely sure what good it would do them unless you have some particularly apocalyptic vision of the future in mind. Anyway - this tale of a Moonie colonisation of the aquifer region was thrown into the mix, for what its worth (it claims they are planning to create an "ecological paradise").

The topic of Bolivia popped up (elsewhere ?) in the tinfoil world last week, with RI posting about a bizarre incident where a (seemingly crazed) american was arrested after bombing one or more hotels (it also explains the rain of frogs scene in the movie "Magnolia" for those who were confused by it).

On the subject of tinfoil I must admit that 911 conspiracy theories do seem to be increasingly popular, with over 80% of respondents to a recent CNN poll agreeing with Charlie Sheen that "the U.S. government covered up the real events of the 9/11 attacks".

I guess Osama bin Laden might be able to shed some light on "what really happened" if anyone actually bothered to catch him. Apparently he used to be a keen Arsenal fan when he lived in London, so perhaps they should try searching the now seat-covered terraces at Highbury (assuming he manages to sneak in now he's banned, which might be difficult for a tall, bearded dude trailing a dialysis machine).
In his 2001 book Bin Laden: Behind The Mask Of Terror, author Adam Robinson claims that bin Laden became a fanatical supporter of the north London giants in the 1990s, when he was living in England. He was apparently on the terraces when the Gunners reached the final of the 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup, and even bought a replica shirt for his eldest son. On hearing the reports in 2001, Arsenal promptly banned the terrorist for life from the club.

Via a recommendation from the intrepid Tim of Suburbia, I recently watched the 911 conspiracy documentary "Loose Change", which is quite well done (though I have no way of telling which parts are true and which are just fantasy) - I especially liked the voiceover for the first part, featuring a Hunter S Thompson interview on Australian radio. It had some interesting historical references in there as well, including one picture of a B-52 crashing into the Empire State Building in 1945 (which was actually a B-25 - the filmmaker is claiming dyslexia though it seems) - which didn't cause the building a great deal of harm.

While I'm on the topic of history, when I was doing some research on world war 1 a while back I came across the story of the Czech Legion, which is quite intriguing (and probably would make the basis of a good movie - I vaguely recall reading somewhere thay actually managed to keep hold of one car of bullion and founded a major Prague bank with the loot after the war - one more example of a river of gold).
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Bolshevik government concluded the separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and it was agreed between the Bolsheviks and the corps to evacuate the Czechs and Slovaks to France to join the Czechoslovak corps and continue fighting there. Because the European front was blocked by German and Austrian armies, the evacuation was to be done by a detour via Siberia, the Pacific port of Vladivostok and the USA.

The slow evacuation by the Trans-Siberian railway was exacerbated by transportation shortages – as agreed to by the Brest-Litovsk treaty, the Bolsheviks were at the same time returning German, Austrian and Hungarian POWs from Siberia back home. In May 1918 the Czechs and Slovaks stopped a Hungarian train at Chelyabinsk and shot a soldier who had apparently thrown something at their train. The local Bolshevik government arrested the Czech and Slovak culprits and to free them their comrades had to storm the railway station and subsequently occupied the whole city.

Some time later Leon Trotsky, the then People's Commissar of War, ordered the disarming of the Legion. As a result, the Legion took over a considerable area around the railway just east of Volga River, in the process capturing eight train cars of gold bullion from the Imperial reserve in Kazan. After that, the Bolsheviks had to negotiate a new deal – gold for the free passage home (1920). Eventually, most of the Legion was evacuated via Vladivostok, but some part joined the anti-Bolshevik army of Admiral Kolchak.

To close, I'll quote some Virgil, which caught my eye because it mentioned Janus - the god of the West.
There was a sacred custom in Latium, Land of the West, which the Alban Cities continuously observed, and Rome, supreme in all the world, observes today when Romans first stir Mars to engage battle, alike if they prepare to launch war's miseries with might and main on Getae, Hyrcanians, or Arabs, or to journey to India, in the track of dawn, and to bid the Parthians hand our standards back. There are twin Gates of War, for by that name men call them; and they are hallowed by men's awe and the dread presence of heartless Mars. A hundred bars of bronze, and iron's tough, everlasting strength, close them, and Janus, never moving from that threshold, is their guard. When the senators have irrevocably decided for battle, the consul himself, a figure conspicuous in Quirine toga of State and Gabine cincture, unbolts these gates, and their hinge-posts groan; it is he who calls the fighting forth, then the rest of their manhood follows, and the bronze horns, in hoarse assent, add their breath.

[Virgil, Aeneid, 7.601-615 ]


Re; the Great Depression of 2006. With respect, the prediction is not about the world economy. It only is meant to be applicable to the Palestinean Authority.
"If Israel continues to withhold revenues from a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and the major donor countries reduce their budget support and development aid, the Palestinian Authority will be thrown into a deep depression, with a decline in personal incomes of 30 percent this year alone, according to a World Bank study requested by the donors and sent to them Wednesday night.

In these circumstances, the study says, the Palestinian economy will shrink by 27 percent in 2006, a one-year contraction that compares to the Great Depression in the United States."

Ah - that makes a lot more sense - the World Bank, whatever its faults, have never struck me as alarmists.

No need for respect with that sort of glaring reading error BTW - I can take well deserved criticism :-)

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