The Big Daddy Of Hot Rocks  

Posted by Big Gav

The Australian has a report on a big drilling rig for GeoDynamics' geothermal project heading down under.

A 960-TONNE drill rig, dubbed the "big daddy" of Australia's hot-rocks industry, set sail from Texas yesterday and by December will complete Australia's first working hot-rocks energy well. The nation's leading hot-rock company, Brisbane-based Geodynamics, will drill in South Australia's north and is expected to produce its first commercial power by the end of 2009.

Chief executive Adrian Williams said Labor's promise of $50million in matched funds for deep drilling in the hot-rock sector filled a gap for the nascent industry. "This money will go a long way to increasing confidence in the industry by drilling. It is a good move," Dr Williams told The Australian. "The rig will set a new benchmark - it will be the big daddy of Australian hot rocks, and will drill hundreds of wells over the next 25 to 30 years."

Hot-rock wells are expensive to drill - about $5 million each - because most go down more than 3km. While the industry will produce no greenhouse emissions and no waste, and requires no fuel, hot- rock projects require large initial investments for drilling and building power plants. Labor's funding will make the first 10 wells sunk by the industry effectively half price.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Earth is nearing the tipping point on climate change.
Dangerous climate change has not yet arrived, but the tipping point may not be far off. And it may be reached with a smaller temperature rise than recent studies suggest.

Those are among the conclusions from an international team of climate scientists in a study this month, which they say bolsters the case for an alternative strategy to combat climate change. The main idea: focus intensely on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions other than carbon dioxide in the short term, giving the world a little leeway in dealing with the trickier issue of CO2.

Most climate scientists point to rising carbon-dioxide levels from burning coal, oil, and gas as the main driver behind global warming. But the international team says that fighting ozone, soot, and other pollutants, which also can warm the atmosphere, could allow CO2 levels to rise a little higher without reaching the tipping point.

"This is good news," notes Gavin Schmidt, a member of the research team and a scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), in an e-mail. "There is scope for effective action, even though it will fall short of stopping human-caused climate change completely."

Yet this more comprehensive approach to curbing emissions is unlikely to remain an option for too long, according to James Hansen, a climate scientist also at GISS and lead author of the study. If global CO2 emissions continue on their current "business as usual" path for another 10 years, he notes, "it becomes impractical to achieve the alternative scenario." The business-as-usual approach allows too many fossil-fuel intensive power plants and factories to be built – investments designed to last for decades, he adds.

Eastern Australia has had a record warm May.
Long-standing temperature records have been smashed during Queensland's warmest May on record, say meteorological consultants Weatherzone. Georgetown's maximum of average of 34 degrees celsius was the north Queensland town's highest for May in 113 years of records. Gatton, Amberley, South Johnstone, Townsville, Lady Elliott Island, Rockhampton, Taroom, Camooweal, Urandangi, Windorah and Mitchell also broke high temperature records going back more than 50 years, Weatherzone said. ...

Weatherzone meteorologist Matt Pearce said most of eastern Australia also had its warmest May on record. "This is yet another sign of the widespread climate change that we are seeing unfold across the globe," Mr Pearce said.



In positive news, there have been some heavy rains at last in Victoria.
WATER restrictions are being eased in several towns in Victoria's north-east after heavy rainfall in the past month, boosting local morale. ... But despite the deluge across much of the state in recent weeks, some towns are being elevated to higher restrictions because water storages are still critically low. Shepparton, Seymour, Alexandra and Eildon are today raised to stage 3 from stage 2, while Kerang, Mildura and Swan Hill will be on stage 3 from Monday.

The Wimmera town of Natimuk, where the previously dry creek is filling the lake for the first time in four years, is one place that is to continue on the toughest restrictions for the foreseeable future. Mansfield grass seed farmer Brad Parks has declared the drought over on his property after more than 100 millimetres fell in the past five weeks, filling about half of his 180 dams.

Mr Parks said farmers in the district were ecstatic about the wet conditions, and providing there was consistent rain in coming months, were confident about good crops and healthy livestock. "I've never seen so many smiles on people's faces as I have in the last two weeks. It's terrific. It's taken the burden off everyone's shoulders."

Allen Gale, director of technical services for Goulburn Valley Water, said the water turnaround in the Mansfield and Euroa areas was positive. But he said other towns would not have their restrictions eased because there was still little run-off from the Murray and Goulburn rivers system. "We need a heck of a lot more rain to build up the bank so we can get through the dry summer months," he said.

Alexi Conboy, of Lake Natimuk, said people gathered at the local caravan park on Wednesday night to watch the Natimuk Creek flow for the first time in years. "It was like Grand Central Station last night," Mr Conboy said. "People thought it would never run again. It's amazing, really good. If we get another inch or two the lake will be full."

But Andrew Rose, of Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, said towns like Natimuk would not have their stage 4 restrictions lifted because overall water storages in the drought-ravaged area were at 4.6 per cent. "We've clawed our way up from 3.4 per cent three or four weeks ago, but we really have a long, long, way to come back."

As expected, the Rodent's climate change taskforce recommended a do nothing strategy. "Oikos" has a detailed look at the emissions report.
AUSTRALIA needs a domestic emissions trading scheme but it would not begin until after 2012 and it was too early yet to set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report by the Prime Minister's emissions taskforce, handed to him yesterday, recommends "a cautious approach to the adoption of targets approached internationally".

This approach is in stark contrast to the Labor Party's stated policy of starting a domestic trading scheme by 2010 with the goal, as outlined in the British Stern report, of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. John Howard's taskforce, comprising government officials, mining, banking and power industry executives, warns that adopting that target without a detailed assessment of its impacts could be detrimental [to the economy]. ...

For climate change to be tackled, a comprehensive global approach was needed. International consensus was proving difficult so in the interim Australia needed to start its own scheme, but one that would not overtly harm the economy. Labor supports signing the Kyoto Protocol, which the taskforce says has fundamental shortcomings. A new international framework is needed, it says.

The recommendations will be the subject of a speech by Mr Howard in Sydney on Sunday in which he is expected to commission further work on finding a target and accuse Labor of being economically irresponsible. The time frame allows him to announce a target and details of an "economically responsible" scheme closer to the election.

Crikey has some illuminating facts about Kyoto and the economy that would seem to indicate that, as usual, the Rodent is proving to be a perfect example of the old line about politicians "you can tell he is lying by seeing if his lips move".
Ratifying Kyoto would have hurt Australia's economy:

John Howard: I'm not going to sign up to something that puts Australian jobs at risk.

But even though we didn't ratify the 1997 document, we're still meeting our Kyoto targets:

John Howard: We're one of a small number of countries that will meet the target.

Which makes you wonder how it could be that:

John Howard: We've had a wonderful economy over the last 10 years.



The Australian reports that the UK has slammed our latest excuse.
BRITISH Environment Secretary David Miliband has hit out at one of the Howard Government's key arguments on climate change, saying that wealthy countries should take the lead and make painful reforms ahead of similar action by developing nations.

One of the Howard Government's arguments for refusing to commit to the Kyoto Protocol's targets for cutting carbon emissions has been that any reductions by Australia and other rich countries would make little difference if countries such as China and India continued to increase their emissions. ...

Speaking in Wales, Mr Miliband said the argument of the climate change denial lobby was changing its spots. "Sceptics and others opposed to taking action spent years challenging the scientific evidence that human activity was causing global warming but the evidence eventually became too overwhelming to deny," he said. "They then argued that it would cost too much money to do anything meaningful about climate change, but the Stern Report commissioned by the UK Government had shown that doing nothing would be even more costly. The new argument, and you see this a lot in Australia and a little bit here, was that there was no point in developed countries making sacrifices unless China, India and other rapidly developing countries were also forced to take action."

Mr Miliband said that argument was self-interested, short-sighted and strategically flawed because when he and other environment ministers met their counterparts from developing countries, they would have no negotiating leverage or moral authority unless the rich countries had already improved their own performances.

Bush's new grunts and mutterings about climate change also got short shrift from skeptical observers, who also declared his speech just another delaying tactic.
The world gave George W. Bush lemons, and he made some dee-licious lemonade. Yesterday, Bush said the U.S. would take the lead on the climate issue, convening a series of meetings of the world's top 10 to 15 polluting nations and setting long-term goals for cutting emissions. Coming amid criticism that the U.S. is blocking potential climate progress at next week's G8 summit in Germany, the news seemed sweet. But those who sipped his lemony concoction got all puckery.

"The declaration by President Bush basically restates the U.S. classic line on climate change: no mandatory reductions, no carbon trading, and vaguely expressed objectives," said E.U. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. Tony Juniper, head of Friends of the Earth U.K., called it a "delaying tactic" that would push the climate issue onto Bush's successor. Making her own lemonade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "What is positive is that we can see from the speech ... that nobody can ignore the question of climate change."



British politician Tony Benn has spoken out against carbon credits - not because the whole concept is evil (as I believe, as it gives me the heebie jeebies about "the carbon dictatorship") but because people might trade them.
Tony Benn has spoken out against a proposal for individual carbon allowances put forward by the environment secretary, David Miliband, last December, stating that "carbon credits are absolutely wrong."

Speaking to the Guardian at the Hay festival today, the political diarist and former secretary of state for energy drew an analogy with the food rationing policies in place during the second world war. "In the war it was a criminal offence for me to sell my ration book to somebody else, because the purpose of the rationing was to see that everybody had a fair share," he said. "If we need to ration [carbon expenditure] that's one thing, but fair distribution is the key to it. If the world is short of resources we have to ration them, which is different from selling them."

The idea of a personal carbon allowance was first devised by the environmental writer and former chairman of the Soil Association, David Fleming, in1996, and was floated again in a speech by Miliband in July of last year. Since then, the idea of 'carbon credits', under which everyone would receive an annual allowance of the carbon to 'spend' on products such as food, energy and travel, has been gaining currency. A feasibility study commissioned by Miliband and carried out by the Centre for Sustainable Energy for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recommended in December that the scheme could come into operation within the next five years.

A key element of the proposal, however, is that individuals would be free to trade their credits, selling any surplus carbon to others, or buying more if their requirements exceeded their allowance. It is this aspect of the scheme which Benn disapproves of, objecting to "the idea that a rich person can buy credits from a poor person so that he can go on driving his Chelsea tractor". Rather, he advocates an approach of personal responsibility, suggesting that "there is undoubtedly a lot to be done locally - you can use those low-power light bulbs or insulate your house."

David at the EcoLibertarian says this is the worst possible objection to personal carbon credits.
Britain’s aged socialist icon Tony Benn demonstrates why socialists can’t be trusted with environmental policy as he denounces the idea of tradeable personal carbon allowances.

I’m not hot on the idea myself, which is being kicked around by Britain’s current environment minister, because I can’t imagine any government introducing something just about as complex as a second currency to any modern economy without screwing it up — actually, probably more complex than a second currency, because its value would have to be re-pegged periodically according to how much carbon … — look, anyway, nobody could get it right.

But get a load of Benn:
In the war it was a criminal offence for me to sell my ration book to somebody else, because the purpose of the rationing was to see that everybody had a fair share … If we need to ration [carbon expenditure] that’s one thing, but fair distribution is the key to it. If the world is short of resources we have to ration them, which is different from selling them… The earth is a common treasure; it is a crime to buy and sell it for personal gain.

So in Benn’s vision, virtue cannot be rewarded. Also, during the war, nobody traded rations of stuff they didn’t want to get stuff they did, and if they did, it was wrong. Why would anybody listen to this?

I've learnt over the past few years to stop reflexively saying bad things about most socialists as they, by and large, seem to have good intentions and at the very least are preferable to the monsters that make up the modern day conservative movement. However, if you want to combine "eco" with "socialism" you'll need to find a way of not viewing the world as some sort of zero-sum game to be regulated to within an inch of its life. The whole idea of carbon rations is stupid, unworkable and ripe for abuse in all sorts of ways. It also fails to address the actual problem - moving to non-carbon intensive sources of energy. Preventing people from trading their carbon rations (in the ghastlty event that they are implemented) and buying clean energy instead (or making themselves so energy efficient they don't need the rations) is just classically short sighted over-regulation from my point of view - utterly idiotic and counter-productive.

After Gutenberg has a post on a Multi-Crystalline 18% Efficient Solar Cell.
This is good news, at least in the opinion of GCC commentator sjc. Multi-crystalline cells are easier and cheaper to manufacture than mono-crystalline, but have been unable to reduce significantly the cost of solar power because they are less efficient.

Green Car Congress1 relays an announcement from Mitsubishi Electric that may mean multi-crystalline silicon solar cells regain some of the market share they have begun to lose to thin-film photo voltaic laminates. This blog recently relayed an opinion expressed by Jim Fraser that China’s largest manufacturers of photo voltaic solar cells would be providing some stiff competition to other manufacturers.

Suntech makes PVL with deposits of amorphous and micro-crystalline silicon on glass substrate. Material costs are kept low by using less than 2% of the silicon required to manufacture equivalent crystalline silicon PV products. Suntech currently projects an initial production cost of approximately $1.20 per watt (based on 6% solar conversion efficiency).

On the other hand, their thin film modules will have a solar conversion efficiency of 6% to 9%. Six percent conversion efficiency has become a minimal expect value in the business. Still Suntech forecasts a further decline in production cost, as both production scale and conversion efficiencies increase, which is a truism for the industry as a whole. Thus, the Mitsubishi Electric announcement is timely; they have achieved a photoelectric conversion efficiency rate of 18.0%, which should make them more competitive. ...

TreeHugger wonders if there is such a thing as Green Bricks.
In the fight to save energy and combat emissions, every little bit helps: even the lowly, mass-produced clay brick. Over nine billion bricks are churned out annually, each at great cost to the environment (making cement for concrete bricks emits thousands of pounds of mercury into the air while baking them discharges a diverse array of pollutants). Henry Liu, a 70-year-old retired civil engineer, decided he could improve upon this wasteful process.

He came up with the concept for a better brick, one that would put to use fly ash, a waste product commonly issued from coal-power plants, and that would prove just as durable as regular clay bricks. Because they solidify under pressure instead of high heat, building his bricks would help save energy and would cost at least 20 percent less. In addition, their molded shape, which gives them a smoother and more uniform appearance, would help cut down on bricklaying time and work.

Having spent most of his professional career working with hydraulic presses, Liu jumped at the chance to try out his hydraulic rig when a power plant gave him some free fly ash to use in 1999. After mixing the powder with water and pounding it with 4,000 psi of pressure, he let the mixture set for two weeks and obtained blocks that were as strong as concrete. He found that their strength derived from the concrete's ability to stick together with cement, specifically the calcium oxide present within the material that would bind with surrounding elements when it reacted with water.

The hard part for Liu was meeting federal safety standards, which took him another eight years and over $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) after his original discovery. In order to reach the goal of surviving 50 cycles of freezing and thawing (a test he initially failed when his bricks broke after eight), he incorporated an air-entrapment agent, a chemical often used to strengthen concrete bricks by preventing the infiltration of water into the material, into his mixture.

He hopes to license the bricks and start selling them next year, a step that may not prove popular with all potential clienteles. "The people who buy bricks will definitely be interested," says Pat Schaefer, a sales manager for Midwest Block & Brick. "But I don't see the brick companies liking it at all."

TreeHugger also has a post on people who go off-pipe - "Grey Water Guerrillas" (catchy name, though I can't see John Robb covering them). Also at TreeHugger - "How to Green Your Book (for Authors)".
We have written about going off-pipe, about the problems with society's methods of managing waste water. We did not know that there was a movement, and like movements everywhere, a manifesto: Dam Nation — Dispatches from the Water Underground, edited by Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, Laura Allen and July Oskar Cole. According to the New York Times, they are "a team focused on promoting and installing clandestine plumbing systems that recycle gray water — the effluent of sinks, showers and washing machines — to flush toilets or irrigate gardens." with a mission: “It’s about trying to use resources to their full potential and interact with ecosystems in a beneficial way.”

This is not just using a hose to spray your garden with shower water, this is a sophisticated recovery system. the picture above shows "A pipe running from the house deposits shower and sink water into an elevated bathtub in the yard that is filled with gravel and reeds, and the roots of plants begin filtering and absorbing contaminants. The water then flows into a second, lower, tub, also containing a reedbed, before flowing into a still-lower tub of floating water hyacinths and small fish."

Building codes are pretty restrictive about plumbing and most of these systems would not pass inspection; Thus the Underground movement. However reading excerpts from the website, one realizes that they are on to something bigger. Their chapter on composting toilets hits some of the notes we have talked about on TreeHugger ...



And some final posts from TreeHugger, these ones on Using Solar Roofs To Power Hybrids and New Battery Pushes Prius to 125 MPG (plus the related Detroit Dead Pool - though Ford and the auto unions are trying to stay dry).
A company called Solar Electrical Vehicles is specializing in adding a convex solar roof to hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, Highlander Hybrid and the Ford Escape Hybrid. The solar modules are rated at 200-300 watts, and this power is utilized to charge a supplemental battery. With the solar roof, the Toyota Prius can operate up to 20 miles per day in electric mode thus improving fuel economy by up to 29% (depending on driving habits and conditions). The system costs $2000-$4000 and the payback time is said to be 2-3 years.

The higher-capacity batteries will add another 10 miles of gas-free driving, says Greg Johanson, president of Solar Electrical Systems, adding that the company is also looking at ways to add the technology to Toyota Highlanders and electric Teslas.The company is also currently experimenting with increasing its 212-watt module to a 320-watt module.

“All the technology is there,” Johanson said. “It’s just the larger manufacturer taking the next step.” For the first 40 miles of a commute, the cars use batteries rather than gas. Forty miles a day is equal to 50 cents a gallon off the utility grid.

With gas prices expecting to break $4 a gallon in the near future, Johanson said they will be gaining in popularity. To date, the company has manufactured nearly 100 of the kits to individual buyers. “Four dollars is the break-even point for these kits,” Johanson said. “Then it pays for itself in two years. That’s where the economics makes sense for the kits. Do you want to own it or do you want to rent energy for the next three years?



VentureBeat has a post on the latest algae to biofuels company - LiveFuels.
LiveFuels, a Menlo Park, Calif. company seeking to turn algae into an alternative fuel, has raised a $10 million round of capital. The investor was David Gelbaum at the Quercus Trust, which has previously backed environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Wildlands Conservancy. We reported earlier that LiveFuels was looking to raise the money, and ran a column by LifeFuels’ founding investor Rich Hilt about why using algae makes sense.

Why algae? Well, as the company puts it, the slimy critters…


* are naturally comprised of up to 60 percent oil.
* grow happily in marginalized lands where corn fears to tread.
* can be grown in fresh or brackish water (saltier water algae are oilier)
* thrive on sunlight, CO2 and nutrient rich agricultural run-off and waste.
* offer per acre yields that are 250 times that of soybeans.

The latest TED Talk to catch my eye was from KPCB's John Doerr.
John Doerr, Silicon Valley's legendary moneyman, is afraid of eco-apocalypse. After building his reputation (and a considerable fortune) investing in high-tech successes, he's turning his focus toward green technologies, and hoping it isn't too late. Doerr has turned his investment focus from high tech to greentech -- because his daughter asked him to.

Doerr, a partner in famed VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, made upwards of $1 billion picking dot-com stars like Amazon, Google, Compaq and Netscape. (He also picked some flops, like Go Corporation and the scandal-ridden MyCFO.com.) He was famously quoted saying, "The Internet is the greatest legal creation of wealth in history," right before the dot-com crash.

But now he's back, warning that carbon-dioxide-sputtering, gas-powered capitalism will destroy us all, and that going green may be the "biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century." So Kleiner Perkins has invested $200 million in so-called greentech, a combination of startups that are pioneering alternative energy, waste remediation and other schemes to prevent the coming environmental calamity. But Doerr is afraid that it might be too little, too late.



Tel Aviv University is doing some research into a Biofuel That Grows Like A Magic Mushroom.
The race is on. With the threat of global warming looming over our heads and rising oil prices -- politicians, environmentalists and everyone in between can agree that the world needs alternative fuel sources. Some people are afraid that today’s best alternatives: biofuels from corn and soy will be destructive to the planet in certain ways as farmers in developing nations slash and burn forests to grow new crops. A Tel Aviv University scientist, Amir Sharon, may have discovered the next best alternative: a funky fungi in the form of a genetically-modified mushroom that yields a large biomass which can be converted into a first-rate biofuel. ...

The SMH reports that the East Timorese were paranoid about Australia spying on them during negotiations over oil in the Timor Sea.
EAST TIMOR's former prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, and his officials were convinced the Australian Government was spying on them during the often heated negotiations for a treaty over oil and gas in the Timor Sea.

A book on the $41 billion energy deal - Shakedown: Australia's Grab for Timor Oil - also says Australian foreign affairs officials intimated to their Timorese counterparts that they were eavesdropping on them.

Its author, Paul Cleary, a former Herald journalist, was part of the Timorese team led by Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat.

During talks in Canberra in September 2004 Mr Galbraith told colleagues to stop holding meetings in their hotel, fearing their rooms were bugged. The officials threw their mobile phones in a bag, which was dumped while they held their talks in the National Gallery's sculpture garden 100 metres away.

William Engdahl's latest missive is "Darfur? It’s the Oil, Stupid…". I'm never quite sure how much of Engdahl's work should be labelled tinfoil, but the idea that China and the US are wrestling for control of African oil is sound enough...
To paraphrase the famous quip during the 1992 US Presidential debates, when an unknown William Jefferson Clinton told then-President George Herbert Walker Bush, “It’s the economy, stupid ,” the present concern of the current Washington Administration over Darfur in southern Sudan is not, if we were to look closely, genuine concern over genocide against the peoples in that poorest of poor part of a forsaken section of Africa.

No. “It’s the oil, stupid.”

Hereby hangs a tale of cynical dimension appropriate to a Washington Administration that has shown no regard for its own genocide in Iraq, when its control over major oil reserves is involved. What’s at stake in the battle for Darfur? Control over oil, lots and lots of oil.

The case of Darfur, a forbidding piece of sun-parched real estate in the southern part of Sudan, illustrates the new Cold War over oil, where the dramatic rise in China’s oil demand to fuel its booming growth has led Beijing to embark on an aggressive policy of – ironically – dollar diplomacy. With its more than $1.3 trillion in mainly US dollar reserves at the People`s Bank of China, Beijing is engaging in active petroleum geopolitics. Africa is a major focus, and in Africa, the central region between Sudan and Chad is priority. This is defining a major new front in what, since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, is a new Cold War between Washington and Beijing over control of major oil sources. So far Beijing has played its cards a bit more cleverly than Washington. Darfur is a major battleground in this high-stakes contest for oil control.

China Oil diplomacy

In recent months, Beijing has embarked on a series of initiatives designed to secure long-term raw materials sources from one of the planet’s most endowed regions – the African subcontinent. No raw material has higher priority in Beijing at present than the securing of long term oil sources.

Today China draws an estimated 30% of its crude oil from Africa. That explains an extraordinary series of diplomatic initiatives which have left Washington furious. China is using no-strings-attached dollar credits to gain access to Africa’s vast raw material wealth, leaving Washington’s typical control game via the World Bank and IMF out in the cold. Who needs the painful medicine of the IMF when China gives easy terms and builds roads and schools to boot?

In November last year Beijing hosted an extraordinary summit of 40 African heads of state. They literally rolled out the red carpet for the heads of among others Algeria, Nigeria, Mali, Angola, Central African Republic, Zambia, South Africa.

China has just done an oil deal, linking the Peoples Republic of China with the continent's two largest nations - Nigeria and South Africa. China's CNOC will lift the oil in Nigeria, via a consortium that also includes South African Petroleum Co. giving China access to what could be 175,000 barrels a day by 2008. It’s a $2.27 billion deal that gives state-controlled CNOC a 45% stake in a large off-shore Nigeria oil field. Previously, Nigeria had been considered in Washington to be an asset of the Anglo-American oil majors, ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron.

China has been generous in dispensing its soft loans, with no interest or outright grants to some of the poorest debtor states of Africa. The loans have gone to infrastructure including highways, hospitals, and schools, a stark contrast to the brutal austerity demands of the IMF and World Bank. In 2006 China committed more than $8 billion to Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique, versus $2.3 billion to all sub-Saharan Africa from the World Bank. Ghana is negotiating a $1.2 billion Chinese electrification loan. Unlike the World Bank, a de facto arm of US foreign economic policy, China shrewdly attaches no strings to its loans.

This oil-related Chinese diplomacy has led to the bizarre accusation from Washington that Beijing is trying to “secure oil at the sources,” something Washington foreign policy has itself been preoccupied with for at least a Century.

No source of oil has been more the focus of China-US oil conflict of late than Sudan, home of Darfur. ...

In random political news, the anonymous Republican Senator who put a secret block on a vote on a freedom of information act has been unmasked, Bill O'Reilly and John McCain have shared a white supremacist moment and a majority of Iowa Republicans want the US to leave Iraq now.

Tom Engelhardt has a post on "The Colossus Of Baghdad".
Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains.

We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; nowadays, at least, it's easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black marble Vietnam Memorial from her remarkable brain for the veterans of that war; Frank Gehry dreamt up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation's world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah's Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all—an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration's vision of an American-reordered Middle East. We're talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted American embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 104-acre stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad's embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, Senior Architect and Project Manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm's website): "We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our resources to make our client's vision a reality."

And what a vision it was! What a reality it's turned out to be! ...

It is worth remembering that, when the American commanders whose troops had just taken Baghdad, wanted their victory photo snapped, they memorably seated themselves, grinning happily, behind a marble table in one of those captured palaces; that American soldiers and newly arrived officials marveled at the former tyrant's exotic symbols of power; that they swam in Saddam's pools, fed rare antelopes from his son Uday's private zoo to its lions (and elsewhere shot his herd of gazelles and ate them themselves); and, when in need of someplace to set up an American embassy, the newly arrived occupation officials chose—are you surprised?—one of his former dream palaces. They found nothing strange in the symbolism of this (though it was carefully noted by Baghdadis), even as they swore they were bringing liberation and democracy to Saddam's benighted land.

And then, as the Iraqi capital's landscape became ever more dangerous, as an insurgency gained traction while the administration's dreams of a redesigned American Middle East remained as strong as ever, its officials evidently concluded that even one of Saddam's palaces, roomy enough for a dictator interested in the control of a single country (or the odd neighboring state), wasn't faintly big enough, or safe enough, or modern enough for the representatives of the planet's New Rome.

Hence, Missouri's BDY. That midwestern firm's designers can now be classified as architects to the wildest imperial dreamers and schemers of our time. And the company seems proud of it. You can go to its website and take a little tour in sketch form, a blast-resistant spin, through its Bush-inspired wonder, its particular colossus of the modern world. Imagine this: At $592 million, its proudest boast is that, unlike almost any other American construction project in that country, it is coming in on budget and on time. Of course, with a 30% increase in staffing size since Congress approved the project two years ago, it is now estimated that being "represented" in Baghdad will cost a staggering $1.2 billion per year. No wonder, with a crew of perhaps 1,000 officials assigned to it and a supporting staff (from food service workers to Marine guards and private security contractors) of several thousand more. ...

The Cato Institute is warning libertarians to beware the "rigid reign of Rudy Giuliani". Rudy is also being followed by angry relatives of the victims of 911.
Behind Rudy Giuliani's impressive lead in the polls is one fact that puzzles the pundits: Many cultural conservatives are backing a pro-choice, pro-gun control candidate. But what should be equally surprising is the strong support Giuliani is finding among libertarian-leaning Republicans, who also make up a big slice of the GOP base.

Here's why: Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush. ... it should distress many conservatives that Giuliani took umbrage at affronts to his dignity, perhaps most notoriously when he tried to stop city buses from carrying a New York magazine ad saying the publication was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." The First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes in his book, "Speaking Freely," that "over 35 separate successful lawsuits were brought against the city under Giuliani's stewardship arising out of his insistence on doing the one thing that the First Amendment most clearly forbids: using the power of government to restrict or punish speech critical of government itself."

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani's authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President's power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani's view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power." George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.

Rolling Stone has also joined the chorus, declaring that Rudy would be "worse than Bush".
In his years as mayor -- and his subsequent career as a lobbyist -- Rudy jumped into bed with anyone who could afford a rubber. Saudi Arabia, Rupert Murdoch, tobacco interests, pharmaceutical companies, private prisons, Bechtel, ChevronTexaco -- Giuliani took money from them all. You could change Rudy's mind literally in the time it took to write a check. A former prosecutor, Giuliani used to call drug dealers "murderers." But as a lobbyist he agreed to represent Seisint, a security firm run by former cocaine smuggler Hank Asher. "I have a great admiration for what he's doing," Rudy gushed after taking $2 million of Asher's money.

As mayor, Rudy had a history of asking financially interested parties to help shape important government policies. At one point, he allowed a deputy mayor who was on the payroll of Major League Baseball to work on deals for the Yankees and Mets; at another point he commissioned a $600,000 report on privatizing JFK and LaGuardia from a consultant with ties to the British Airport Authority, Rudy's handpicked choice to manage the airports.

And let's not forget Bernie Kerik, Rudy's very own hairy-assed Sancho Panza, who was nixed as director of Homeland Security after investigators uncovered a gift he received from a construction firm with alleged mob ties that wanted to do business with Giuliani's administration. It is a testament to the monstrous breadth of Rudy's chutzpah that he used his post-9/11 celebrity to push his personal bagman for a post that milks the world's hugest security-contracts tit -- at the very moment when he himself was creating a security-services company.

Then there's 9/11. Like Bush's, Rudy's career before the bombing was in the toilet; New Yorkers had come to think of him as an ambition-sick meanie whose personal scandals were truly wearying to think about. But on the day of the attack, it must be admitted, Rudy hit the perfect note; he displayed all the strength and reassuring calm that Bush did not, and for one day at least, he was everything you'd want in a leader. Then he woke up the next day and the opportunist in him saw that there was money to be made in an America high on fear.

For starters, Rudy tried to use the tragedy to shred election rules, pushing to postpone the inauguration of his successor so he could hog the limelight for a few more months. Then, with the dust from the World Trade Center barely settled, he went on the road as the Man With the Bullhorn, pocketing as much as $200,000 for a single speaking engagement. In 2002 he reported $8 million in speaking income; this past year it was more than $11 million. He's traveled in style, at one stop last year requesting a $47,000 flight on a private jet, five hotel rooms and a private suite with a balcony view and a king-size bed.

While the mayor himself flew out of New York on a magic carpet, thousands of cash-strapped cops, firemen and city workers involved with the cleanup at the World Trade Center were developing cancers and infections and mysterious respiratory ailments like the "WTC cough." This is the dirty little secret lurking underneath Rudy's 9/11 hero image -- the most egregious example of his willingness to shape public policy to suit his donors. While the cleanup effort at the Pentagon was turned over to federal agencies like OSHA, which quickly sealed off the site and required relief workers to wear hazmat suits, the World Trade Center cleanup was handed over to Giuliani. The city's Department of Design and Construction (DDC) promptly farmed out the waste-clearing effort to a smattering of politically connected companies, including Bechtel, Bovis and AMEC construction.

The mayor pledged to reopen downtown in no time, and internal DDC memos indicate that the cleanup was directed at a breakneck pace. One memo to DDC chief Michael Burton warned, "Project management appears to only address safety issues when convenient for the schedule of the project." Burton, however, had his own priorities: He threatened to fire contractors if "the highest level of efficiency is not maintained."

Although respiratory-mask use was mandatory, the city allowed a macho culture to develop on the site: Even the mayor himself showed up without a mask. By October, it was estimated, masks were being worn on site as little as twenty-nine percent of the time. Rudy proclaimed that there were "no significant problems" with the air at the World Trade Center. But there was something wrong with the air: It was one of the most dangerous toxic-waste sites in human history, full of everything from benzene to asbestos and PCBs to dioxin (the active ingredient in Agent Orange). Since the cleanup ended, police and firefighters have reported a host of serious illnesses -- respiratory ailments like sarcoidosis; leukemia and lymphoma and other cancers; and immune-system problems.

"The likelihood is that more people will eventually die from the cleanup than from the original accident," says David Worby, an attorney representing thousands of cleanup workers in a class-action lawsuit against the city. "Giuliani wears 9/11 like a badge of honor, but he screwed up so badly."

When I first spoke to Worby, he was on his way home from the funeral of a cop. "One thing about Giuliani," he told me. "He's never been to a funeral of a cleanup worker."

Indeed, Rudy has had little at all to say about the issue. About the only move he's made to address the problem was to write a letter urging Congress to pass a law capping the city's liability at $350 million.

Did Giuliani know the air at the World Trade Center was poison? Who knows -- but we do know he took over the cleanup, refusing to let more experienced federal agencies run the show. He stood on a few brick piles on the day of the bombing, then spent the next ten months making damn sure everyone worked the night shift on-site while he bonked his mistress and negotiated his gazillion-dollar move to the private sector. Meanwhile, the people who actually cleaned up the rubble got used to checking their stool for blood every morning.

Now Giuliani is running for president -- as the hero of 9/11. George Bush has balls, too, but even he has to bow to this motherfucker.

David Marr at the SMH has a column on the Rodent's dislike of free speech and dissent - "careful, he might hear you". Hopefully we'll soon hear the sound of him scuttling back into the harbour - though I'm not holding high hopes for the next lot when it comes to restoring traditional civil liberties and freedom either...
At the heart of democracy is a contest of conversations. The tone of a democracy is set by the dialogue between a nation and its leaders. For the past decade, Australia has had a prime minister almost superhumanly reluctant to engage in frank debate. Of course, debate ploughs on in Australia. Hansard is fatter than ever. The Prime Minister is always at the microphone. But after being belittled for most of his political career, John Howard came to power determined that public debate would be conducted on his terms. These are subtle, bizarre and at times brutal.

Since 1996, Howard has cowed his critics, muffled the press, intimidated the ABC, gagged scientists, silenced non-government organisations, neutered Canberra's mandarins, curtailed parliamentary scrutiny, censored the arts, banned books, criminalised protest and prosecuted whistleblowers.

This is not as Howard advertised himself on arrival. Then he spoke proudly of his party's tradition of defending individual liberty and the rule of law. He still does. He painted his victory as a repudiation of "stultifying political correctness" that left Australians able "to speak a little more freely and a little more openly about what they feel". The ravings of Pauline Hanson he represented as a triumph of free speech over stifling orthodoxy. And after Aboriginal protesters burnt the flag on Australia Day last year, he rejected calls for their prosecution. "Much in all as I despise what they did, I do not believe that it should be a criminal offence," he told Neil Mitchell of 3AW in Melbourne. "I do hold to the old Voltairean principle that I disagree with what he says but I will defend to the death his right to say it, and I see that kind of thing as just an expression, however offensive to the majority of the community, an expression of political opinion."

The Old Voltairean has fallen a bit short. He leads a Government notably uncomfortable with freewheeling debate. Uncomfortable is too kind a description: the dislike is profound. For a decade now, public debate has been bullied and starved as if this were an ordinary function of government. It's important not to exaggerate the result. Suppression is not systematic. There are no gulags for dissidents under Howard. We reserve them for refugees. The occasional victories liberty wins in Canberra are illuminating. There are limits. But Howard's Government has been the most unscrupulous corrupter of public debate in Australia since the Cold War's worst days back in the 1950s.

We haven't been hoodwinked. Each step along the way has been reported - perhaps not as thoroughly and passionately as it should have been, but we're not dealing in dark secrets here. We've known what's going on. If we cared, we didn't care enough to stop it. Boredom, indifference and fear have played a part in this. So does something about ourselves we rarely face: Australians trust authority. Not love, perhaps, but trust. It's bred in the bone. We call ourselves larrikins, but we leave our leaders to get on with it. Even the leaders we mock.

We've watched Howard spin, block, prevaricate, sidestep, confound and just keep talking come what may through any crisis. Words grind out of him unstoppably. He has a genius for ambiguity we've almost come to applaud, and most of the time he keeps himself just this side of deceit. But he also lies without shame. Howard invented the breakable, or non-core, promise - the first was to maintain ABC funding - five years before those children weren't thrown overboard. The truth is we've known he was a liar from the start.

Howard can admit error, but it is extremely rare. Apologies are almost unknown. More than any law, any failure of the Opposition or individual act of bastardry over the past decade, what's done most to gag democracy in this country is the sense that debating John Howard is futile.

One response has been to turn away and wait for him to disappear in the belief that Australia will once again be what we remember it was: free, open, principled, fearless, fair, etc. It wasn't. Most of what troubles us now about the state of public discourse began under Labor. Many of us complaining now did not complain loudly enough back then as Paul Keating bullied the press, the public service and the Parliament. But Howard has come to dominate the country in ways Keating never could. To the task of projecting his voice across Australia, he brought all the ruthless professionalism that marks his Government. Perhaps the man has now exhausted his welcome, but even when the Howard years are long gone, we will be left confronting the damage done and the difficult question of how we let this happen.

We roll with the insults, threats and suppressions because we have come to expect Howard's Government to behave like this. We're habituated. Christian warriors fighting sex on the screen demand film censors serve brief terms for fear that exposure to all that filth will "desensitise" them. After a decade, Australia is desensitised to John Howard. So why doesn't Labor rally the nation to fight Canberra's bullying in the name of free speech? Because the party's heart isn't in it and Australians have only the patchiest record of becoming passionate about great abstractions - even the greatest of them, liberty.

We've never fought to be free. Vinegar Hill was a convict breakout easily and brutally suppressed. The officers who overthrew Bligh spouted liberty to trade in rum. Shorn of the colour, Eureka was a bunch of miners who didn't want to pay tax. The great issue that drove self-government for the colonies was seizing control of land. We were as much a part of the British Empire after Federation as we were before. And each step away from Britain had to be forced on Australia until the great Mother of the nation finally turned her back on us and walked into Europe. Australia surprised itself by refusing to accept Menzies' tyrannical plans to ban the Communist Party. But only just. Referendums opposed by any of the big parties always lose, and usually heavily. Liberty was preserved in 1951 by 50,000 votes in a nation of millions. The barricades have rarely been manned since.

We aren't the larrikins of our imagination. Australians are an orderly people. We grumble about authority instead of challenging it. We despise politicians. Belittling them as a class is a cover for our own passivity. We elect leaders much as we hire electricians: we may whinge about the job and haggle over the bill, but essentially we leave them to get on with their work.

The historian John Hirst writes: "Australians think of themselves as anti-authority. It is not true. Australians are suspicious of persons in authority, but towards impersonal authority they are very obedient. This is a country which for a long time closed its pubs at 6pm and which pioneered the compulsory wearing of seatbelts in cars. Its people since 1924 have accepted the compulsion to vote. Its anti-smoking legislation is so tough that smoking is prohibited in its largest sporting stadium, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, though it is open to the skies."

Many puzzles of this subtle country can be solved by remembering how British we remain. It's structural. We have - and have voted to keep - the Crown. Our courts are British down to the horsehair wigs. The ethic of government is shifting from Westminster to Washington, but the framework remains British. We have a British suspicion of open information. Freedom of information legislation hasn't challenged an instinct for secrecy deep within government, justice and business. We were together in the rearguard of democracies opposing guarantees of citizens' rights, particularly American notions of free speech. With Britain now absorbed reluctantly into Europe's human rights regime, Australia remains the last Western democracy left without any national bill of rights. Polls tell us we'd like to have one - but we're not particularly concerned. It's another struggle for liberty we're not busting to fight.

David Malouf has a wonderful notion that Australia and America were made such different places by the English we carried in our baggage. To America, settlers took a language of high abstraction: "Passionately evangelical and utopian, deeply imbued with the religious fanaticism and radical violence of the time, this was the language of the Diggers, Levellers, English Separatists and other religious dissenters of the early 17th century who left England to found a new society that would be free, as they saw it, of authoritarian government by Church and Crown."

By the time Australia was colonised, the language had changed. What came with the First Fleet was the English of the Enlightenment: "Sober, unemphatic, good-humoured; a very sociable and moderate language; modern in a way that even we would recognise, and supremely rational and down to earth." ...

Wonkette reports that the US Marine Corps Wants America's Favorite Marine To Shut Up!.
Iraq veteran and honorably discharged Marine Sgt. Adam Kokesh has been the Pentagon’s biggest public relations nightmare this year, because he’s some kind of magical Cindy Sheehan — people actually like him!

And while right-wingers had no problem mocking the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, they have a tougher time mocking an actual living Marine male veteran who actually fought in the war they just write about on their blogs. Plus, you get the feeling he wouldn’t mind beating the shit out of, say, the entire staff of National Review Online … and that they’d probably enjoy it, too.

Kokesh and his anti-war veteran buddies have pulled several picture-perfect stunts in Washington, including a mock military funeral at the Hart Senate building and keeping score of how many times Alberto Gonzales said “I don’t recall” during his Senate grilling last month.

The funeral stunt earned the protesters a coveted “political protest” arrest — apparently it’s now illegal to protest anything for political reasons — and your favorite Marine was also charged with “Unlawful Assembly — Loud and Boisterous,” despite the fact that he was silent during the performance.

For this, the Marine Corps is now “investigating” Kokesh, even though he’s officially out of the Corps and banished from reenlistment due to bringing home an Iraqi pistol for his war souvenir — that’s against the rules if you get caught!

On Monday, Kokesh has to show up at a hearing so the Corps can re-discharge him, this time dishonorably. Why? Because even when you get out of the military these days, Rumsfeld’s “back door draft” makes you eligible for another call-up because there aren’t enough people volunteering to jump in the Baghdad Meatgrinder. But they don’t want him back, even for the Individual Ready Reserve. So what’s the point?

All the chickenhawks will have permission to call him a traitor or whatever on the blogs and talk radio if he suddenly becomes dishonorably discharged, that’s the point!

Deconsumption has a post on a UN report calling for US dollar support to avoid global recession.
Surprisingly tough to find links to this story. Here's one. Here's another. And here's the Report.
"In order for current world economic growth rates to continue, it is crucial to keep the United States dollar from falling rapidly while also avoiding a recession, says a United Nations report released Wednesday.

We call for a coordinated strategy that would think about how to adjust these global imbalances while avoiding recessionary tendencies in the global economy”

In other words: everyone wants out of the US Dollar, the Central Banks of the world aren't confident they can "coordinate" it amongst themselves, so now the UN is stepping into the fray.

Oh, and that last line there...you could substitute the words "Don't panic everybody, we can still all get out of this with our shirts intact". Well, all but the "non-privileged" Americans anyway....

I'll close with some posts from Cryptogon - State Department Orders Site to Take Down Photos of $592 Million U.S. Embassy In Iraq, Raising Questions About 9/11 Gets an Army Sergeant Demoted for “Disloyalty” and Forced to Eat Higher Food Prices, plus some thoughts on the convalescing Mike Ruppert (Ruppert also features in this piece ofcontrarian peak oil conspiracy theory).

I saw some of the Embassy drawings a couple of days back (presumably the same ones though I can't remember where) - they didn't seem to be very detailed other than some lovely pictures of the tennis courts and swimming pool - should keep the proconsul and his minions comfortable for the next 30 or so years...

Oh yeah - one last item - the Bilderbergers are coming...

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