Learning The Lessons Of Fossil Fuel Dependency  

Posted by Big Gav

Grist has a post on the enthusiasm for clean energy in the current generation of students.

In answer to the loathed question "What are you going to do after you graduate?" gaggles of U.S. college students are looking into careers in alternative energy. (A group of college students is called a gaggle, right?) Green technology is having a heyday in schools from Illinois State to Harvard to Dartmouth; energy professor Dan Kammen says enrollment in energy classes at UC-Berkeley "is off the charts." At Stanford, which recently renamed its Petroleum Engineering Department the Energy Resources Engineering Department, attendance at a recent student-organized renewable-energy symposium was nearly triple the 500 expected. "There is a fad dynamic to this, but I think that this is going to be a long-term thing," says Christine Rosen of UC's Haas School of Business. "Technological innovation, the rising cost of oil, conflict in the Middle East, and the public's growing awareness of global climate change are having an impact." You might even say we're finally learning our lesson.

OLED's are one of those technologies I have high hopes for - the next generation of ultra energy efficient lighting. Groovy Green has a post on GE's development progress.
While we’re all busy adding compact fluorescent bulbs and waiting for cheap LED lighting, GE is reaching beyond all of that and pushing ahead with the development of OLED technology. For those too busy to keep up, OLEDs (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) are thin, organic materials sandwiched between two electrodes, which illuminate when an electrical charge is applied. They truly represent the next revolution in home lighting. Imagine not a bulb, but an entire wall that can light up. Everything from computer screens to electronic paper (the traditional newspaper should start sweating) will benefit and be lighter, thinner, and more efficient than anything on the market. All of this, GE hopes, will take place in three years. From the release,

“GE Consumer & Industrial Vice President Michael Petras said, ‘In a world demanding higher standards for energy efficiency and environmental performance, OLED lighting has the potential to become a major lighting source on both fronts. And because OLED lighting is soft and diffused, it will create some exciting application opportunities for designers and specifiers. The applications are numerous, ranging from ceiling lighting for office and residential applications to interior automotive and aircraft lighting to many specialty lighting applications such as task lighting, sign and various forms of interior retail lighting.’”

As you’ll see in the below video, the applications for OLED are endless. You an even cut or punch holes in the “light” without damaging the whole piece. Imagine the incredible art that might come from this. Additionally, I’m inclined to believe that things like movie posters could take on a whole new level of “look at me!” as well. One of the OLED scientists working with GE has a blog post here with some more behind the scenes information.

Steve Balogh also has a review of a book called "Green Design" up at Groovy Green.
Mark Batty Publisher provided Groovy Green a copy of the book "Green Design " for us to review. It is a eclectic mix of design ideas that runs the full spectrum of the definition of sustainability. It starts with the most interesting liner notes I've read on a book - they describe the life cycle, or I should say the after-life cycle of a tree sustainably harvested, as it moves from product to product within the recycling chain, from an envelope to news paper print ad, through the fashion world as a recycled bag, and finally to the glossy book jacket, on which the life cycle story is printed.

The book starts with a bold outside-the-norm declaration of a injection molded plastic toy as a "green design". I had to admit that it took me a second read to come around to this interpretation. However, when I realized that I was keeping my expanded set of LEGOs to pass down to my children, I realized where they were coming from. Build with a minimal use of materials, created to be completely interchangeable, a "modular backwards-compatible system," this toy is designed to last a lifetime and beyond. A toy meant to avoid becoming obsolete vs. one with built-in obsolescence. Beyond that, the LEGO company has attempted to reduce supply chain energy use by producing their product close to their consumers, and has been increasing the social quality of their labor.

Other "green design" examples for toys include handmade dolls and animals from the Kenana Knitters collective in Njoro, Kenya - which cooperates to provide over 300 wool spinners, and 200 knitters a source of income. Now these women are empowered to earn a living and provide food access to medicine for their families. They have seen a boost in self-esteem and a rise in respect in a traditionally patriarchal society. Also the book describes sustainably harvested "Tree Blocks" made from waste wood, a board game that teaches basic agriculture principles and is built from recycled materials: Orchard; and finally a toy maker/teacher in India who educates and entertains his students with toys built exclusively from items scavenged from the streets.

The emphasis on design is apparent throughout the book, as the images are crisp, bright, and wonderfully laid out in each chapter. The photos help to exemplify each objects design and sustainability.

The next section moves on to "green objects", which runs the gamut from jewelery to scarves to household items with a "sustainable" twist. With a focus on reuse and recycle of consumer goods, this section shows the ingenuity of using Ultrasuede scraps from upholstered furniture as material for both scarves and pillows. Rubber bands, and office supplies become transformed into chic earrings and bracelets. Some of the other items highlighted include: turning bike parts into frames and clocks in Oregon, circuit boards into coasters and bedside lamps, and plastic soda bottles weaved into indoor/outdoor rugs in Thailand.

"Green power" tackles the lesser discussed down side of our electronics obsession, including poorly designed iPods that require users to send the product back to the company at near the replacement cost to replace a failed battery. Also, the enormous amount of cheap alkaline batteries that are produced each year and find their way into landfills around the world. This section looks at the ways future products may be powered using solar, kinetic, and even water and urine power. Yes, you heard me right, urine powered batteries that may some day bring the diagnostic lab to isolated, rural areas.

The "Green Fabrics" section discusses the numerous ways that the fashion industry has embraced "green" design, recycled fabrics and materials provide the inspiration for several bag designers, from wood to sail cloth. Old T-shirts become speedo-like briefs, and on a much more interesting note, old cassette tapes are recycled into a fabric for Sonic Fabric dresses, messenger bags, and prayer flags. Also covered is fair wage, organic cotton clothing from American Apparel now in a Whole Foods near you.

The final section of the book deals with a subject near and dear to the publishing industry, "green paper". The old idea of grocery bag brown recycled paper has been thrown out the window. The book itself is printed on 3 different forms of recycled paper: a glossy book jacket, Mango recycled matt, and an index printed on non-deinked post consumer waste. There's also a look at Smencils, a recycled newspaper product that uses the paper to replace the wood in pencils, while releasing a scent each time it's sharpened. Finally, the ultimate reuse story, old volumes of books combined with salvaged lumber, turned into shelves to hold - what else? Books.

As someone who believes that our consumer culture what may be preventing us from achieving a truly "sustainable" future, I was skeptical about some of the ideas presented in this book. Being a realist I do realize that part of our culture is not going to be changed any time soon. I am glad that there are people out there striving to make the products that are on the market more ecologically friendly, and reduce the impact of our consumption on the planet. "Green Design" is an inspiring collection of entrepreneurs and innovators who have successfully achieved profitability while maintaining ecological and social responsibility. I recommend you pick up a copy and get inspired yourself.

Craig at Celsias has an interesting post on the use of public funds in Australia and what happens to scientists who pursue research that won't result in more profits for the likes of Monsanto. As usual, the Rodents government is busy sending my hard earned tax dollars overseas. Celsias also has apost on Time's global warming survival guide.
The CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is the national government body for scientific research in Australia. As a publicly funded body it should be working for the public good. Recent press releases indicate a potential industry conflict of interests that has resulted in the sacking of one of Australia’s leading soil scientists, resulting in a setback for Australia’s ability to be carbon neutral and to improve the health of their environment and their citizens.

The title of this post is the title of the following recently released press release that outlines the drama:
CSIRO Plant Industry sacked leading soil and organic researcher Dr Maarten Stapper last week. His research on healthier soil systems and criticisms of crop Gene Manipulation (GM) upset CSIRO management.

“This travesty of justice shows again that priorities for taxpayer-funded research are grossly distorted by CSIRO contracts with companies, that direct public funds to private profits,” says Bob Phelps, director of Gene Ethics.

“Stapper was sacked because GM giants like Bayer and Monsanto can’t patent know-how on healthier soils,” he says.

“Scientists who publish negative evidence about GM technology and its products are victimised, everywhere in the world,” he says.

“Australian governments spent $1.29 billion on GM research from 2003 to 2005 alone (Warren Truss MP, Media Release, June 2005) and how this money is allocated should be the subject of public discussion,” he says.

“Gene Ethics calls for a democratic system of funding policy and decisions to set research and development priorities. Our scarce R&D resources are now being misallocated by those who stand to gain most,” he says.

“GM has failed to fulfill its promises so Australian taxpayers and producers are ripped off,” Mr Phelps says.

“Even where success is claimed, the companies with patented genes benefit most. For instance, GM cotton was developed by CSIRO and Cotton Australia at taxpayer and grower expense, but Monsanto’s technology fee is well over $150 for every hectare grown,” he says.

“Billions are spent on GM, but research on the sustainable biological and organic farming systems needed to cope with climate change and the end of oil is under-funded,” he says.

“CSIRO chief Jeremy Burdon’s claim that environmentally friendly systems are ‘not a long term viable strategy’ is refuted by their success. Sustainable organics are the fastest growing sector of Australian farming and they will not use GM or synthetic chemicals,” he says.

“Repairing Australia’s systemic agronomic and environmental problems on farms is urgent. But the funds go to GM crop research that can’t solve our core problems - salty, acidic, chemical polluted, drought affected, denuded, and waterlogged soils,” he says.

“Public-good research is starved of funds as it does not enrich the companies or keep hi-tech lab scientists working on GM plants,” he says.

“For instance, disbanding the CRC for Weed Management because it lacked corporate partners was another foolish, short-sighted travesty,” he says.

“CSIRO is failing us badly. Gene Ethics calls on state governments to fund Dr Stapper’s soil health research, increase his funding and recruit more staff for sustainable farming projects,” Mr Phelps concludes. - News Media Release, GM Free Ireland (do text search for CSIRO)

At this point in climate change history, people like Maarten Stapper are just the kind we should be financing and supporting. Seeing them get sacked and sidelined instead is of great concern. We’ve written before about the incredible carbon sequestration potential of healthy soils, of which Maarten Stapper is acutely aware. Maarten has worked to bring his research findings to the people that need them - farmers in Australia that are grappling with increasingly stubborn soils, despite the promises of industry giants keen to sell their wares. Maarten has urged a focus on healthy soil microbiology, showing that increasing soil health results in a dramatic reduction in the necessity for fossil fuel inputs (fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides), and dramatic increases in plant health (with its corresponding reduction in pest problems), and significant improvement in carbon sequestration - a critical element in our battle with global warming.
Dr Maarten Stapper a Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO-Plant Industries will show farmers how to improve the profitability of their operations by harnessing natural soil processes. According to Dr Stapper a healthy soil leads to better crops and pastures requiring less inputs for similar productivity, resulting in healthy animals and improved food quality for healthy humans. In the process soil organic carbon can be doubled which also helps society by slowing climate change. - The Third OFA National Organic Conference, 22-23 July 2006

But, such forms of agriculture put natural systems back into harmony, and put soil life and beneficial insects back to work - seriously impacting on the role of agribusiness in their sale of chemicals and genetically modified seeds.

The Oil Drum, Energy Bulletin and Groovy Green all have roundups of commentary on the US GAO report on peak oil. Khebab, as always, has some interesting analysis of the data used in the report:
From the chart, we can derive a probability density function:

Below is the cumulative density function (cdf):

There is 5% of chance (F05) that PO data < 2007, 50% of probability that PO data < 2034 (F50) and 95% of probability that PO date < 2114 (F95).


Note that the maximum likelihood derived from the pdf above is between 2012 and 2017.

Michael Pascoe at Crikey really does have a bee in his bonnet about peak oil doomers. While I agree with his "the market will adjust" sentiments to a large degree, I think he's being a bit too glib - the market can adjust in a number of ways - some of which are very unfortunate for the poor and/or global warming - especially if cost of energy alternatives (the criteria the market weights most heavily) is the determining factor. Electric transport coupled with a renewable energy smart grid gives the best overall outcome. Dirty coal based solutions are the cheapest way to adjust for the next decade or two. Some alternatives like biofuels will result in the third world poor being dispossessed of their land and starving. So simply leaving it up to the market without thinking of the externalities and applying compensating price signals doesn't really cut it...
There’s nothing like an oil price spike to bring the "Peak Oil" doomsayers out of their nuclear fallout shelters, even a spike as transparent as the present one. But the alarmists are no worse than the profiteering in which local petrol companies are indulging.

A bit of kidnapping in the Middle East and oil finished over US$66 a barrel overnight. Nothing has actually happened to supply or demand, it’s just speculation about what might happen if the UK and Iran get really silly over the 15 British sailors and marines the mad mullahs are playing with. It’s an easy way to come up with a “$100 a barrel” headline, even while acknowledging nothing is likely to happen.

If you were really cynical, you might think those canny Persians are just manipulating the oil price to their own advantage – a very fine example of successful insider trading. They have absolutely no interest in interrupting the supply of oil as they need the money, but this has to be a better method of boosting the price than cutting production.

Before anyone is taken in by the noise, it’s worth remembering that oil is only back where it was six or seven months ago and that it has run to $75 a barrel without causing much damage. And as for the “peak oil” Chicken Littles – the higher the price goes, the more substitution occurs, the better the market mechanism allocates resources, the more we brilliantly ingenious creatures find alternatives.

But in the immediate term, there’s been some very dodgy business going on at the local petrol pump. The Shell "average" price site reckons petrol peaked in Sydney yesterday at $1.30 a litre, down three cents from the previous Thursday. As reported here on Monday, the peak should have been $1.28 if the petrol companies really base their pricing on a rolling seven-day average of Singapore unleaded. And there still seems to be a convenient correlation between Middle East headlines and straight profiteering, such as the Shell and BP service stations charging $1.39 a litre. That certainly doesn’t reflect Singapore pricing.

So let’s start the rumour - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a petrol company stooge.

The BBC notes that the end of oil heralds climate pain (thanks Dave for the link).
In fact peak oil could even make emissions worse if it drives us to exploit the wrong kinds of fuel. Burning rainforest and peatlands to create palm oil plantations for biofuels releases vast amounts of CO2, and has already made Indonesia, according to some ways of calculating it, the world's third biggest emitter after the US and China.

Synthetic transport fuels made from natural gas using the Fischer-Tropsch process emit even more carbon on a well-to-wheels basis than conventional crude; and when the feedstock is coal, the emissions double. None of these alternatives are likely to fill the gap left by conventional crude - at least, not in time.

But because they are so much more carbon intensive, it is quite easy to conjure scenarios in which we still suffer fuel shortages while emitting even more CO2 than in the current business-as-usual forecast - the worst of all possible worlds.

The China Daily reports that China's first coal to liquids plant is due to open next year.
China's first coal liquefaction project, which will go into operation in 2008, will be able to produce more than one million tons of oil a year, significantly reducing the country's dependence on oil imports. ...

"The project transforms coal into refined oil. When the second phase is completed in 2010, the plant will produce 6 million tons of oil products each year and help reduce China's reliance on crude oil imports," said Wang Pinggang, vice president of Shenhua Group.

The Christian Science Monitor has a report on the Global boom in coal power – and emissions.
In the past five years, [the world] has been on a coal-fired binge, bringing new generators online at a rate of better than two per week. That has added some 1 billion tons of new carbon-dioxide emissions that humans pump into the atmosphere each year. Coal-fired power now accounts for nearly a third of human-generated global CO2 emissions. ... To date, many climate models have not fully accounted for the worldwide acceleration of coal-plant building, scientists say.

"The phenomenon ... would lead to greater CO2 emissions than most 'business as usual' forecasts project," says Robert Socolow, co-director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University.

The Globe and Mail has a Reuters report on the predicted impact of global warming on Australia. Energy Bulletin has a roundup of more news on Australian climate.
Australia, slowly emerging from its worst drought in a century, will suffer killer heat waves, bushfires and floods as global warming intensifies, a draft report by international climate scientists said on Friday.

Already the world's driest inhabited continent, Australia's outback interior will see temperatures rise by up to 6.7 degrees Celsius by 2080, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said. “An increase in fire danger in Australia is likely to be associated with a reduced interval between fires, increased fire intensity, a decrease in fire extinguishments,” sections of the report leaked to Australian media said on Friday.

The study will increase pressure on Australia's conservative government, which refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol, to do more to combat climate change ahead of elections later this year. Global warming is shaping as a major issue.

The draft is the second of four to be completed this year by IPCC climate experts and will be released for discussion in Brussels on April 6. The first study said there was almost 90 per cent certainty that humans were changing the world's climate and causing global warming, mostly through reliance on burning fossil fuels. The draft second report said sea levels would rise due to glacial melt, causing havoc for coastal-dwelling Australia and New Zealand with “greater coastal inundation, erosion, loss of wetlands and salt water intrusion into freshwater sources”.

Rising temperatures would also hit the Great Barrier Reef with “catastrophic mortality of coral species annually”. The first report by the IPCC said the reef would be “functionally extinct” in 40 years. Landslides, water shortages and storm surges would cause infrastructure destruction, and heat-related deaths could rise to 6,300 a year from 1,115 at present by 2050, when temperatures would have already spiked by 3.4 C, the report said.

The Australian government, which this week hardened opposition to signing the Kyoto Protocol which set greenhouse gas reduction targets, said there was nothing new in the draft. “We know that there is the possibility or the probability of a hotter and drier future,” Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Richard Behan has a very interesting article up at Common Dreams looking at a tricky little landmine George Bush has placed in the Iraq Accountability Act, noting If the Iraqi People Get Revenue Sharing, They Lose Their Oil to Exxon
George Bush has a land mine planted in the supplemental appropriation legislation working its way through Congress.

The Iraq Accountability Act passed by the House and the companion bill passed in the Senate contain deadlines for withdrawing our troops from Iraq, in open defiance of the President’s repeated objections.

He threatens a veto, but he might well be bluffing. Buried deep in the legislation and intentionally obscured is a near-guarantee of success for the Bush Administration’s true objective of the war-capturing Iraq’s oil-and George Bush will not casually forego that.

This bizarre circumstance is the end-game of the brilliant, ever-deceitful maneuvering by the Bush Administration in conducting the entire scenario of the “global war on terror.”

The supplemental appropriation package requires the Iraqi government to meet a series of “benchmarks” President Bush established in his speech to the nation on January 10 (in which he made his case for the “surge”). Most of Mr. Bush’s benchmarks are designed to blame the victim, forcing the Iraqis to solve the problems George Bush himself created.

One of the President’s benchmarks, however, stands apart. This is how the President described it: “To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.” A seemingly decent, even noble concession. That’s all Mr. Bush said about that benchmark, but his brevity was gravely misleading, and it had to be intentional.

The Iraqi Parliament has before it today, in fact, a bill called the hydrocarbon law, and it does call for revenue sharing among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. For President Bush, this is a must-have law, and it is the only “benchmark” that truly matters to his Administration.

Yes, revenue sharing is there-essentially in fine print, essentially trivial. The bill is long and complex, it has been years in the making, and its primary purpose is transformational in scope: a radical and wholesale reconstruction-virtual privatization-of the currently nationalized Iraqi oil industry.

If passed, the law will make available to Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell about 4/5’s of the stupendous petroleum reserves in Iraq. That is the wretched goal of the Bush Administration, and in his speech setting the revenue-sharing “benchmark” Mr. Bush consciously avoided any hint of it.

The legislation pending now in Washington requires the President to certify to Congress by next October that the benchmarks have been met-specifically that the Iraqi hydrocarbon law has been passed. That’s the land mine: he will certify the American and British oil companies have access to Iraqi oil. This is not likely what Congress intended, but it is precisely what Mr. Bush has sought for the better part of six years.

It is why we went to war.

For years President Bush has cloaked his intentions behind the fabricated “Global War on Terrorism.” It has long been suspected that oil drove the wars, but dozens of skilled and determined writers have documented it. It is no longer a matter of suspicion, nor is it speculation now: it is sordid fact. (See a brief summary of the story at http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/47489/ . )

Planning for the two wars was underway almost immediately upon the Bush Administration taking office–at least six months before September 11, 2001. The wars had nothing to do with terrorism. Terrorism was initially rejected by the new Administration as unworthy of national concern and public policy, but 9/11 gave them a conveniently timed and spectacular alibi to undertake the wars. Quickly inventing a catchy “global war on terror” theme, the Administration disguised the true nature of the wars very cleverly, and with enduring success.

The “global war on terror” is bogus. The prime terrorist in Afghanistan and the architect of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was never apprehended, and the President’s subsequent indifference is a matter of record. And Iraq harbored no terrorists at all. But both countries were invaded, both countries suffer military occupation today, both are dotted with permanent U.S. military bases protecting the hydrocarbon assets, and both have been provided with puppet governments.

And a billion dollar embassy in Baghdad is under construction now. It will be the largest U.S. embassy in the world by a factor of ten. (To see it, go to http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20070124&articleId=4579 .) It consists of 21 buildings on 104 acres, six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York city, larger than Vatican City. It will house a delegation of more than five thousand people. It will have its own water, electric, and sewage systems, and it is surrounded by a fortress wall of concrete fifteen feet thick. For an Administration committed to fighting terrorism with armies and bombs, that’s far more anti-terror diplomacy than a tiny country needs. There must be another purpose for it.

In the first two months of the Bush Administration two significant events took place that preordained the Iraqi war. Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force was created, composed of federal officials and oil industry people. By March of 2001, half a year before 9/11, the Task Force was poring secretly over maps of the Iraqi oil fields, pipe lines, and tanker terminals. It studied a listing of foreign oil company “suitors” for exploration and development contracts, to be executed with Saddam Hussein’s oil ministry. There was not a single American or British oil company included, and to Mr. Cheney and his cohorts that was intolerable. The final report of the Task Force was candid: “… Middle East oil producers will remain central to world security. The Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy.” The detailed meaning of “focus” was left blank.

The other event was the first meeting of President Bush’s National Security Council, and it filled in the blank. The Council abandoned abruptly the decades-long attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and set a new priority for Middle East foreign policy instead: the invasion of Iraq. This, too, was six months before 9/11. “Focus” would mean war.

By the fall of 2002, the White House Iraq Group-a collection not of foreign policy experts but of media and public relations people-was cranking up the marketing campaign for the war. A contract was signed with the Halliburton Corporation-even before military force in Iraq had been authorized by Congress-to organize the suppression of oil well fires, should Saddam torch the fields as he had done in the first Gulf War. Little was left to chance.

The oil industry is the primary client and top-ranked beneficiary of the Bush Administration. There can be no question the Administration intended to secure for American oil corporations the rich petroleum resources of Iraq: 115 billion barrels of proven reserves, twice that in probable and possible resources, potentially far more than Saudi Arabia. The Energy Task Force spoke to this and the National Security Council answered.

A secret NSC memorandum in 2001 spoke candidly of “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields” in Iraq. In 2002 Paul Wolfowitz suggested simply seizing the oil fields. These words and suggestions were draconian, overt, and reprehensible-morally, historically, politically and diplomatically. The seizure of the oil would have to be oblique and far more sophisticated.

A year before the war the State Department undertook the “Future of Iraq” project, expressly to design the institutional contours of the postwar country. The ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­”Oil and Energy Working Group” looked with dismay at the National Iraqi Oil Company, the government agency that owned and operated the Iraqi oil fields and marketed the products. 100% of the revenues went directly to the central government, and constituted about 90% of its income. Saddam Hussein benefited, certainly-his lavish palaces-but the Iraqi people did so to a far greater extent, in terms of the nation’s public services and physical infrastructure. For this reason nationalized oil industries are the norm throughout the world.

The Oil and Energy Working Group designed a scheme that was oblique and sophisticated, indeed. The oil seizure would be less than total. It would be obscured in complexity. The apparent responsibility for it would be shifted, and it would be disguised as benefiting, even necessary to Iraq’s well being. Their work was supremely ingenious, undeniably brilliant.

The plan would keep the National Iraqi Oil Company in place, to continue overseeing the currently producing fields. But those fields represent only 19% of Iraq’s petroleum reserves. The other 81% would be flung open to “investment” by foreign oil interests, and the companies in favored positions today-because of the war and their political connections-are Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell.

The nationalized industry would be 80% privatized.

The investment vehicle would be the “production sharing agreement,” a long-term contract-up to 40 years-that grants to the company a share of the oil produced; in exchange, the company underwrites the development costs and oilfield infrastructure. Such “investment” is touted by the Bush Administration and its puppets in Iraq as necessary to the country’s recovery, and a huge benefit, accordingly. But it is not unusual for these contracts to grant the companies more than half the profits for the first 15-30 years, and to deny the host country any revenue at all until the investment costs have been recovered.

The Iraqi oil industry does very much need a great deal of investment capital, to repair, replace, and upgrade its infrastructure. But it does not need Exxon/Mobil or any other foreign company to provide it. At a reduced level, Iraq is still producing oil and hence revenue, and no country in the world, perhaps, has better collateral against which to float bond issues for public investment. Privatization of any sort and in any degree is utterly unnecessary in Iraq today.

The features of the State Department plan were inserted by Paul Bremer’s Provisional Coalition Authority into the developing structures of Iraqi governance. American oil companies were omnipresent in Baghdad then and have been since, shaping and shepherding the plan through the several iterations of puppet governments-the “democracy” said to be taking hold in Iraq.

The package today is in the form of draft legislation, the hydrocarbon law. Only a handful of Iraqi officials know its details. Virtually none of them had a hand in its construction. (It was first written in English.) And its exclusive beneficiaries are the American and British oil companies, whose profits will come directly from the pockets of the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi people do, however, benefit to some degree. The seizure is not total. The hydrocarbon law specifies the oil revenues-the residue accruing to Iraq-will be shared equally among the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regions, on a basis of population. This is the feature President Bush relies upon exclusively to justify, to insist on the passage of the hydrocarbon law. His real reasons are Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell.

No one can say at the moment how much the hydrocarbon law will cost the Iraqi people, but it will be in the hundreds of billions. The circumstances of its passage are mired in the country’s chaos, and its final details are not yet settled. If and when it passes, however, Iraq will orchestrate the foreign capture of its own oil. The ingenious, brilliant seizure of Iraqi oil will be assured.

That outcome has been on the Bush Administration’s agenda since early in 2001, long before terrorism struck in New York and Washington. The Iraqi war has never been about terrorism.

It is blood for oil.

The blood has been spilled already, hugely, criminally. More than 3,200 American military men and women have died in Iraq. 26,500 more have been wounded. But the oil remains in play.

The game will end if the revenue-sharing “benchmark” is fully enforced. The land mine will detonate.

Mission almost accomplished, Mr. President.

If you're a chronic multi-tasker like me who gets annoyed about not getting into the "flow state" (or what I used to call "the zone" when I was a teenager playing video games or basketball) very often, you might find this post from Kathy at "Creating Passionate Users" interesting.
Twitter scares me. For all its popularity, I see at least three issues: 1) it's a near-perfect example of the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, the key addictive element of slot machines. 2) The strong "feeling of connectedness" Twitterers get can trick the brain into thinking its having a meaningful social interaction, while another (ancient) part of the brain "knows" something crucial to human survival is missing. 3) Twitter is yet another--potentially more dramatic--contribution to the problems of always-on multi-tasking... you can't be Twittering (or emailing or chatting, of course) and simultaneously be in deep thought and/or a flow state.

I'll look at each of the three points in more detail ...

Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest... being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that's quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching tv, etc.) Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.

And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we're stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it's a matter of being able to focus.

We're already seeing a backlash response to info overload, and it seems like a good chunk of Web 2.0 VC investments are going to companies that promise to help us get/stay organized. There's a reason 43 Folders is a Top 100 blog, and it's got to be more than just Merlin Mann's good looks ; )

Lots of people are talking about this, and perhaps nobody more eloquently than Linda Stone:

"To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention -- CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.

We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking."

FNMN Reloaded  

Posted by Big Gav

Time for some traditional Friday Night Fear Mongering.

Jeff Vail starts it off with a post on "Stomry Weather" - looking at portents of war in the Persian Gulf and financial collapse in the US (go to the post itself for plenty of links). Jeff also has a post at The Oil Drum on "Financial Intelligence: How Arbitrage Forensics Provide Insight into Saudi Knowledge" which outlines another view of Saudi oil production having peaked. Jeff doesn't go into detail about the British sailors captured by the Iranians saga - Alternet has a post on this.

Oil is up $2 today, seventh straight day of gains. What will happen in Iran? Tensions are escalating, the situation with the captured British sailors seems to be beyond the control of either Iran or the UK, and the sheer quantity of military forces operating on edge in close proximity in the Persian Gulf makes the probability of an accidental "Gulf of Tonkin" type incident more and more likely by the hour. Not to mention incidents of the non-accidental type. Now it seems that the Nimitz is heading to the gulf to replace one of the two US carriers operating there--there will, of course, be a bit of an overlap, so for a period there will be 3 US carriers in the gulf. Oh, did I forget to mention that the French carrier, the Charles de Gaul, also recently arrived in the Arabian sea? Four carriers in one place almost speaks for itself. I wonder which would better build public support for an attack on Iran, the Nimitz "getting struck by a Sunburn SSM" while trainsiting the Strait of Hormuz, or the de Gaul "hitting a mine" while making the same passage. People keep asking me when and if we're going to attack Iran. I didn't think we'd attack Iraq (booked a vacation that I had to skip, in fact), so maybe I'm overly conservative in these areas as it is, but I'm rapidly coming around to the prospect of an attack on Iran. I still think that we're looking for an incident to build support back home--and the current administration will probably keep ratcheting up the tension until such an incident becomes inevitable. Hey, if it happens before the current troop funding for Iraq expires, then Bush could force the Democrats' hand on war funding, kill the timeline issue entirely, and give McCain a 20 point lead in the '08 presidential race.

But that isn't the only rosy news. The mortgage problems are getting worse. You've heard all about the sub-prime mortgage issue. Now take two minutes and carefully look at this graph:

Scared? If not, look again. That's $ 500 BILLION in sub-prime ARMs set to adjust higher in the next 24 months, and given the recent events, these people will not be able to get new sub-prime loans to refinance to fixed rates. The risk allocation system of Credit-Swap Derivatives did an admirable job of redistributing the first $100 billion in defaults (though only about $10 billion has actually defaulted, the rest are still at some point in the foreclosure process), but will it be able to handle this, or will it bring down the whole house of cards trying? So far only 44 mortgage lenders, including 3 of the top 10, have imploded (see the mortgage lender implode-o-meter) in the sub-prime debacle. How will the economy handle the next wave, which will be between 5 and 50 times as large? ...

Bill Bonner at The Daily Reckoning has some notes on the subprime mortgage market and the end of empire.
A thought crossed our mind. How many of today’s artists could create a beautiful statue out of a block of marble?

But blocks of marble are not our beat here at the Daily Reckoning, so let us get back to money. What is endangering America’s money is the same thing that is undermining its position in the world - slipping standards. And slipping standards is what had brought about the fifth of our Big E’s.

We began to review our Four Big E trends the other day: Energy, Experimental Money (the faith-backed dollar), and the Exodus of power and wealth from West to East. Today, we look at our fourth - the Empire.

When we say that America is an Empire, it is neither a matter of desire or reproach. It is simply an observation.

Some readers think it is unpatriotic or un-American to notice. But while a good husband doesn’t notice when his wife gets fat, perhaps, a citizen with his wits about him might do well to keep a close eye on his government. And if he looks carefully at America circa 2007 he will see that it more closely resembles an empire than a modest republic.
Its troops…its culture…and its commerce…impose themselves over almost the entire planet.

Empires must be empires and follow the imperial path…from humbug, to farce, to disaster. They must believe what isn’t true (that they have some intrinsic, inalienable advantage)…and they must relax their standards…as they stretch…and then overstretch…until they have stretched too far.

Steve at Deconsumption has made a brief blogging reappearance to give two thumbs up to Marc Widdowson's book "The Phoenix Principle and the Coming Dark Age".
... to get to the point of this post, one minor benefit to being away these past few months is that it gave me a chance to read "The Phoenix Principle and the Coming Dark Age" by Marc Widdowson (downloadable for free at the author's website The Coming Dark Age). I ran across a strong recommendation of it somewhere awhile back, maybe two years ago or more, and I'd even gone so far as to print the entire book out (in 4 parts and probably over 400 pages). But maybe the dark title turned me off a bit....and the fact that it was a free e-book may have dissuaded me as well from taking it too seriously. At any rate, I tucked it away in a drawer for a later date when I'd have more time.

Well I finally found the time, and I'm absolutely floored by it. It's head-and-shoulders above any other study of social collapse that has emerged in recent years. It's a classical study in every meaning of the term, and monolithically referenced to boot. At some point The Phoenix Principle will likely form one of the cornerstones for a new field of socio-historical science that seems to be emerging around the study of social collapse. (And as a side comment, I think it's imperitive that such a study does emerge, since it would likely prove of greater benefit to humankind than almost any other study modern science has yet undertaken--revealing to ourselves exactly why it is we continually walk the path of self-destruction. But that, as they say, is a whole 'nother subject).

Actually, the tone of "The Phoenix Principle" isn't dark at all, aside from some of its implications. Widdowson presents a fascinating and truly sweeping view of major historical empires throughout world history, and offers an analysis of exactly what special confluence of forces allow a certain rare few of them to suddenly rise-up so dynamically as to set themselves apart as true "empires" in domination of the rest. From this starting point he begins to outline a broad but concise set of theorems to help define the social dynamics (both internal and external) that drive this endlessly recurring theme of growth, ascendency and the inevitable collapse of such human civilizations.

On a personal note I'd point out that long-time readers of Deconsumption might recall an early series of posts I'd grouped together under the title "The Cycle of Man" in which I tried to similarly outline the over-arching "framework" of civilizations, and how we might thereby recognize the aged-ness and degeneracy of this framework in our American empire, serving to show that a major, global cycle had already ended and was beginning to unravel. I eventually pulled those posts from the site. I'd gradually lost interest in examining things that seemed to me to be glaringly obvious, and I also felt it wasn't possible to communicate this kind of study well in the cursory style of an internet weblog. And it's undoubtedly for the best, since "The Phoenix Principle" works directly in that vein and is admittedly far superior to anything I would have come up with if I'd persisted. Plus, it written several years earlier.

But it's comforting (if only to my ego) to know that Widdowson identifies exactly the same framework I have. To my mind there were three essential structures which, if properly maintained and brought together in the right relationship, serve as the catalyst to launch an otherwise sedentary and balanced society off on an unstoppable rampage of growth. I termed these Government, Enterprise and Culture. And Widdowson observes the exact same elements, naming them as "power relations, commercial activity, and moral and aesthetic sensibility". He shows that by accustoming oneself to the study of these macro-forces it's possible to diagnose the true health of a civilization...and to fade the "white noise" produced by the almost incomprehensible number of smaller-scale and shorter-term movements going on within it, which distract the greater mass of society from recognizing their true predicament.

"The Phoenix Principle" is an inspired study, and virtually every page of my copy has been highlighted with insights and observations that struck me as novel, significant and enlightening. Generously, the full text is offered free of charge at the author's website The Coming Dark Age, which also provides an ongoing news-feed documenting our present collapse, similar to what this and many other websites nowadays are doing. ...

At any length, I heartily recommend it as a worthwhile read, at least until I can get Deconsumption up and running on a regular basis once again....

"Green Man" at The Oil Drum has issued what he calls "A Peak Oil credo" within one of the comments threads, provoking widespread agreement and dark muttering. Personally I think it would be better titled "The Doomer Manifesto", but whatever...
This morning I took a few minutes to record my Peak Oil thoughts. I did so in a series of "I Believe" statements. I think this is generally a good exercise, if only to explicitly formulate the assumptions I filter new information through.

I do not claim that anyone else should share these beliefs. You will note that I offer no arguments to sway others to my "camp". I offer no defense of them.

They have evolved considerably in my time lurking at TOD [The Oil Drum]. I expect that they will continue to do so. Thus, they represent a snapshot of one man's view of the near future.

I am enclosing them, below, for your amusement.

1. I believe that light sweet crude production peaked several years ago - probably in the 2000 era. This is mostly a refining issue, and one that can be fixed with sufficient investment in existing refineries to process available grades.

2. I believe Deffreys was probably right about the peak of C+C [conventional crude + condensate] production being the fall of 2005. Since C+C is the overwhelming single component of all liquids production, and it is now in decline, we entered the bumpy plateau at about the same time.

3. I believe that the first crossover event, where demand bumped up against available supply, ocurred in 2005. We had a round of price increases that resulted in demand destruction. Prices continued to climb into 2006 based on market momentum. The new floor of $60 was established. I define "bumping up against available supply" to mean that surplus capacity dropped to an unacceptably low level.

4. I believe that 2006 was an unusually quiet year as far as energy issues went. A relatively mild winter lead into a fairly mild summer (as far as air conditioning loads were concerned). There was almost no hurricane activity, due to an El Nino pattern. The first six weeks of the 2006-2007 winter were the warmest on record. Rebel activity in Nigeria was constant at a low level. We had a pipeline interruption from Alaska that was quickly repaired. The Israeli/Lebannon conflict was brief and did not spread. There was a great deal of feel-good propaganda leading up to the election. Prices held at $60.

5. I believe that quiet years will be the exception going forward.

6. I believe that we are now a year and a half into the bumpy plateau of all liquids production.

7. I believe that actual peak, which may have already ocurred, will not be more than a 5% increase in today's production. For all practical purposes, peak is now.

8. I believe that the relevant issue is not when peak will occur, but how long we can expect to remain on the bumpy plateau, and how rapidly we drop off it.

9. I believe that the bumpy plateau will not be symmetric around the peak. Peak may occur at any point in the plateau, including near the beginning or the end. This is due to the fact that the ultimate limit will not be geologic, but above-ground factors. We will approach but never quite reach the geologic limit.

10. I believe that 2007 will witness another crossover event, and we will see a large increase in prices, another round of demand destruction. A new, higher support level will be established for prices. I would guess that this would be in the $80 range.

11. I believe that production estimates made by reputable Peak Oilers are probably pretty good, but that decline rate assumptions are overly optimistic. Projecting historical rates of decline into the next couple of decades paints too rosey a picture. Historical rates of decline were dominated by fields which were developed with traditional techniques. We have seen, in Yibal, in the North Sea, and in Cantarell, very high rates of decline associated with modern production techniques. As the weighted mix of producing fields trends towards fields developed with these techniques, we will observe the overall decline rate to be higher than historical norms.

12. I believe, based on the above and bottom-up analysis such as the Megaprojects list, that the bumpy plateau will be relatively short. We will begin to drop off it as soon as 2010. Above-ground factors could accelerate that.

13. I believe that the result in industrialized nations will be a series of crossover events, of increasing amplitude and frequency. Since there is probably some minimum time that the market needs to accomodate a spike in prices with demand destruction, the events will eventually merge into a fairly continuous process. This will look like a super-inflation (not quite hyper-inflation) in energy prices. Perhaps on the order of 30%-40% per year, compounded.

14. I believe that demand destruction sufficient to match the decline rate past the bumpy plateau will require an ever-deepening recession/depression that eventually reaches economic collapse.

15. I believe that when economic collapse finally occurs worldwide that consumption will drop sharply, and create a cushion of surplus capacity, even as production continues to decline.

To quote Dmitri Orlov:

An economy does not collapse into a black hole from which no light can escape. Instead, something else happens: society begins to spontaneously reconfigure itself, establish new relationships, evolve new rules, in order to find a point of equilibrium at a lower rate of resource expenditure.

Prices will drop. The spin will be that "the crisis is over" and "good times are just around the corner".

16. I believe the Peak Oil is only one of the major challenges facing industrial civilization. As serious as it is, history may record it as an "also-ran". In America they are, in temporal order: recession, natural gas shortages, peak oil, collapse of the economy, collapse of the political order, climate change. Other nations will have a somewhat different order of occurrance based on their particular circumstances.

17. I believe that we are not tens of years away from these things, but (perhaps several) tens of months. That before the lumbering political system, which includes the corporatocracy, can be pressed into action we will reach a point, again to quote Dmitri Orlov, where "No long-term planning [is] possible. Large new projects [are] not even considered.".

18. I believe that solutions, where they can be found at all, are to be found at the individual and community levels.

The Yomiuri Shimbun is reporting that 132 million in Asia 'face starvation' / Warming may cut harvests by 30% in 2050s.
Grain harvests in the Asian region will drop by as much as 30 percent, leading to skyrocketing food prices and the starvation of 132 million people in Asia in the 2050s, if fossil fuels continue to be consumed at the current rate, according to a report of the Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report includes the likely impact of global warming on Asia and assesses the impact of global warming on human activities and the ecosystem. It is expected to be adopted by the U.N. IPCC at a meeting in Brussels starting Monday,

A report of the Working Group I on the cause and environmental predictions of the greenhouse effect was released last month. According to government sources, the report found that many Asian areas, including Japan and eastern Russia, have already seen a decline in grain harvests, a phenomenon that will make it more difficult for developing countries to meet their growing demand for food. In addition to rising temperatures caused by global warming, chronic flooding, heat waves and droughts are behind the falling harvests, the report says.

In the future, grain harvests will drop by between 2.5 percent and 10 percent in the 2020s, and 5 percent to 30 percent in the 2050s, compared with the amount harvested in 1990, the report says. Even if the mercury rises by just 0.5 C in winter, the wheat harvest in India would be badly affected, the report says. In the event the temperature rises 2 C, rice harvests in China could plunge by between 5 percent and 12 percent, according to the report.

Higher seawater temperatures in the area spreading from East Asia to Southeast Asia would drastically change fish habitats, with minnows in tropical seas most at risk, which would see fish catches decline.

The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, which serve as a natural dam, would lead to a scenario that could threaten the life of more than 700 million people who rely on meltwater, the report warns. The report predicts that if the Himalayan glaciers continue melting at the current speed, they will have almost vanished by 2035.

The New York Times reports on the widening income gap in the US - "Wealth Concentration at Pre Great Depression Levels".
Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows. The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent. The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

The Guardian reports Fidel Castro is saying that the poor will starve because of the uptake of biofuels. Maybe he's been reading Monbiot ? Via Energy Bulletin, which also has a roundup of news from the "Via Campesina" movement - one of those things I'd never even heard of - its nice when you learn something new (and there isn't much new in this post, to be honest).
The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, today attacked George Bush's new-found fondness for biofuels, warning that food stocks for millions of people could be threatened.

In his first foray into international politics following months of recuperation from intestinal surgery, Mr Castro claimed that valuable agricultural land in poorer countries could be taken over for biofuel crops destined for wealthier nations.

Mr Castro made his attack in an article for the communist party daily, Granma, which was headlined: "Condemned to premature death by hunger and thirst - more than 3 billion people of the world." "This isn't an exaggerated number; it is actually cautious," said the article by Mr Castro. "Apply this recipe to the countries of the third world and you will see how many people among the hungry masses of our planet will no longer consume corn. "Or even worse: by offering financing to poor countries to produce ethanol from corn or any other kind of food no tree will be left to defend humanity from climate change."

The octogenarian leader wrote that during a meeting earlier this week between the US president and American car manufacturers, "the sinister idea of converting food into combustibles was definitively established as the economic line of the foreign policy of the United States".

As Bush and his pet Iraqi bloggers noted yesterday, things continue to improve in Iraq.
ONE of the bloodiest chapters in Iraq's sectarian strife has unfolded in the northern city of Tal Afar, where gunmen, some of them apparently police officers, participated in the revenge killings of scores of Sunnis in the aftermath of a huge double suicide-bombing in a Shiite area.

Two hours after the explosion of the truck bombs, which killed 83 people and wounded more than 185, the gunmen - some of whom witnesses recognised as police officers - went house to house in a Sunni neighbourhood on Tuesday night, dragged people into the street and shot them in the head, witnesses and local leaders said. The killing went on for several hours before the Iraqi Army intervened. The police are mostly Shiites, although the city is mixed.

The Turkoman Front political movement condemned the killings in a statement.

"The militia after the explosions, backed by the police, raided the Sunni houses in the area and pulled people outdoors and killed them," it said. "There are tens of bodies still scattered on the road. In the meantime, the state security forces are incapable of doing anything."

An Iraqi Army spokesman said the final toll from the retaliatory violence was 70 people killed, 40 kidnapped and 30 wounded. "They were all Sunnis," said Major-General Khorsheed Doski, the spokesman for the 3rd Brigade of the Iraqi Army.

However, there was conflicting information about the dead. Military sources described those killed as men, aged between 20 and 60. But Salih Qadou, the chief doctor at the Tal Afar hospital, said there were women and children as well. He said 60 were killed.

"So many bloodied corpses were brought in on Tuesday night that the entry hall could not be kept clean," Dr Qadou said. "If you would have seen the inside of the hospital yesterday, it would have looked as if it were painted red despite all our efforts to clean the entry … I haven't heard or seen such a massacre in my life."

A witness to the killings, Muhie Muhammad Ebrahim, groped for words. "After the events of yesterday, which claimed the lives of a lot of people of Tal Afar, mostly Shiites, a horrible thing happened," he said. "Some of the families of the victims were enraged, and with co-operation of some policemen they attacked the Sunni areas. I can say that a public slaughter took place."

Mike Davis (author of "Planet of Slums", amongst other things), has a new book on the history of the car bomb out, and has a new article in TomDispatch asking "Have the Car-bombers Already Defeated the Surge?".
Despite heroic reassurances from both the White House and the Pentagon that the six-week-old U.S. escalation in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province is proceeding on course, suicide car-bombers continue to devastate Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, often under the noses of reinforced American patrols and checkpoints. Indeed, February was a record month for car bombings, with at least 44 deadly explosions in Baghdad alone, and March promises to duplicate the carnage.

Car bombs, moreover, continue to evolve in horror and lethality. In January and March, the first chemical "dirty bomb" explosions took place using chlorine gas, giving potential new meaning to the President's missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The sectarian guerrillas who claim affiliation with "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" are now striking savagely, and seemingly at will, against dissident Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province as well as Shiite areas of Baghdad and Shiite pilgrims on the highways to the south of the capital. With each massacre, the bombers refute Bush administration claims that the U.S. military can "take back and secure" Baghdad block-by-block or establish its own patrols and new, fortified mini-bases as a realistic substitute for local self-defense militias.

On February 23rd, for instance, shortly after the beginning of the "Surge," a suicide truck-bomber killed 36 Sunnis in Habbaniya, west of Baghdad, after an imam at a local mosque had denounced al-Qaeda. Ten days later, a kamikaze driver ploughed his truck bomb into Baghdad's famed literary bazaar, the crowded corridor of bookstores and coffee houses along Mutanabi Street, incinerating at least 30 people and, perhaps, the last hopes of an Iraqi intellectual renaissance.

On March 10th, another suicide bomber massacred 20 people in Sadr City, just a few hundred yards away from one of the new U.S. bases. The next day, a bomber rammed his car into flatbed truck full of Shiite pilgrims, killing more than 30. A week later, horror exceeded itself when a car bomber evidently used two little children as a decoy to get through a military checkpoint, then exploded the car with the kids still in the back seat.

In a demonstration of a tactic that has proven especially deadly over the past year, a car-bomb attack on March 23rd was coordinated with an assailant in a suicide vest and almost killed Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, whose tribal alliance, the Anbar Salvation Council, has accepted funding from the Americans and been denounced by the jihadis.

When it comes to the development of suicide vehicles, however, the most alarming innovation has, without doubt, been the debut in January of truck bombs carrying chlorine gas tanks rigged with explosives. Of course, "dirty bombs," usually of the nuclear variety, have been a longtime obsession of anti-terrorism experts (as well as the producers of TV potboilers), but the sinister glamour of radioactive devices -- scattering deadly radiological waste in the City of London or across midtown Manhattan -- has tended to overshadow the far greater likelihood that bomb-makers would initially be attracted to the cheapness and ease of combining explosives with any number of ordinary industrial caustics and toxins.

As if to emphasize that poison-gas explosions were now part of their standard arsenal, sectarian bombers -- identified, as usual, by the American military as members of "al-Qaeda in Mespotamia" -- unleashed three successive chlorine suicide-bomb attacks on March 16th against Sunni towns outside of Falluja. The two largest attacks involved dump trucks loaded with 200-gallon chlorine tanks. Aside from the dozens wounded or killed by the direct explosions, at least another 350 people were stricken by the yellow-green clouds of chlorine.

As in April 1915, with the first uses of chlorine gas on the Western Front in World War I, these explosions sowed widespread panic, underlining -- as the bombers no doubt intended -- the inability of the Americans to protect potential allies in al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency. (The recent discovery of stocks of chlorine and nitric acid in a Sunni neighborhood of west Baghdad will hardly assuage those fears.) ...

At least someone is trying to see the bright side of things - Google has reportedly switched their maps back to show pre-Katrina pictures of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - welcome to the "good old days".
Google's popular map portal has replaced post-Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery with pictures taken before the storm, leaving locals feeling like they're in a time loop and even fueling suspicions of a conspiracy. Scroll across the city and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and everything is back to normal: Marinas are filled with boats, bridges are intact and parks are filled with healthy, full-bodied trees.

"Come on," said an incredulous Ruston Henry, president of the economic development association in New Orleans' devastated Lower 9th Ward. "Just put in big bold this: 'Google, don't pull the wool over the world's eyes. Let the truth shine.'"

Chikai Ohazama, a Google Inc. product manager for satellite imagery, said the maps now available are the best the company can offer. Numerous factors decide what goes into the databases, "everything from resolution, to quality, to when the actual imagery was acquired." He said he was not sure when the current images replaced views of the city taken after Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005, flooding an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans.

In the images available Thursday, the cranes working to fix the breach of the 17th Street Canal are gone. Blue tarps that covered roofless homes are replaced by shingles. Homes wiped off their foundations are miraculously back in place in the Lower 9th. So, too, is the historic lighthouse on Lake Pontchartrain.

But in the Lower 9th Ward, the truth isn't as pretty, 19 months after Katrina. "Everything is missing. The people are missing. Nobody is there," Henry said.

After Katrina, Google's satellite images were in high demand among exiles and hurricane victims anxious to see whether their homes were damaged. The new, virtual Potemkin village is fueling the imagination of locals frustrated with the slow pace of recovery and what they see as attempts by political leaders to paint a rosier picture.

Back to something positive tomorrow - don't forget Earth Hour tomorrow night (guess I'll be watching the football in the dark).

Snowy Hydro Is Dry  

Posted by Big Gav

The SMH has an article on Snowy Hydro running out of water. They also point out (as I have occasionally in the past) that using coal fired power to pump water back up into the dams during low demand periods makes a mockery of clean power generation - its only clean the first time the water goes down the hill - after that its dirtier than coal (due to energy losses when pumping).

THE Snowy scheme has almost run out of water and risks breaching environmental limits because of a heavy reliance on coal and gas for power.

Snowy Hydro's water shortage is so dire it has been forced to rely on an antiquated and polluting gas-fired power plant in the Latrobe Valley, south-east of Melbourne, to generate much of its energy. Industry sources say the plant - which uses old aircraft jet engines to drive turbines - has already used more than 75 per cent of its annual allotment of allowable operating hours.

Further undermining its green credentials, Snowy Hydro has also been using conventional power from the grid to generate hydro-electricity at its Tumut 3 Power Station at Talbingo. In a highly energy-intensive process, water is pumped from a lower to a higher catchment overnight using off-peak power. The water is then released during the day to generate hydro electricity.

After 10 years of drought and overuse, Snowy Hydro water levels have dropped to an average of just 12 per cent. Its massive Tantangara reservoir is 6.4 per cent full, while the Eucumbene dam has fallen to 16.8 per cent. ...

A Snowy Hydro spokesman, Paul Johnston, would not confirm or deny that the company was planning to apply for increased operating hours at its gas-fired plants. "We have placed no application to the EPA for licence changes," he said. But Mr Johnston had earlier told the Herald: "We believe gas generation is the way to go. We have been looking and will keep looking at opportunities."

He said drought was affecting all of south-east Australia and Snowy Hydro was not immune. Snowy Hydro bought the 300-megawatt Valley Power plant in 2005, and the 320-megawatt Laverton North station was completed last year. "We have been operating them more regularly to replace water with gas," Mr Johnston said. "We now have over 600 megawatts of gas-fired generation plant that can be substituted for hydro generation, thus conserving water for when it is needed most."

Nicholas Stern is in Canberra telling our elected representatives that they need to do something about reducing carbon emissions. The out of touch Rodent is still hypocritcally bleating "what about the coalminers" while ignoring the underlying economic truth - it will be much cheaper to mitigate global warming by reducing emissions than to try and repair the problems caused by it.
SIR NICHOLAS STERN, the man dubbed "the rock star of climate change", is performing in Canberra today. Kevin Rudd will be doing a pretty good lip-sync to the tune Stern is singing and he'll copy some of the moves. John Howard will try to hum along while tapping a foot in time. ...

The author of the British Government's Stern Review on the economics of climate change is laying down tough conditions for Australia's political leaders to meet. "The effect of business as usual would be enormously damaging," Stern told the Herald yesterday. To head this off, Australia has to make serious changes that "will involve everyone".

In Australia, just about everyone is ready to be involved. It is public opinion that led the two main political parties to brace up for the challenge, and the political leadership followed. But with a federal election looming in the next eight months or so, Australia's political leaders are very coy about spelling out exactly what they will do about it. Neither Rudd nor Howard wants to be the first to tell voters in an election year that we will have to make difficult, even wrenching, changes in our fat-bottomed four-lane lifestyles.

The most important change Stern urges is also the most difficult. He says all rich countries, including Australia, must enact mandatory cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions of between 60 per cent and 90 per cent by 2050. ...

Rudd is ahead of Howard. Labor has been singing the part of Stern's song about cutting national emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. But when the head of the British Government Economic Service gets to the part about making such cuts legally enforceable, Rudd's voice trails off. Like the Government, Labor has committed to no specific means of compelling any cuts.

Stern's best chance for achieving change in Australia is to sing over the heads of the political leadership, inviting the voting public to sing along. Because Australians already know the words and eventually, as they have before, the people - not the politicians - will lead change in this realm.

Auckland airport is to trial some techniques for reducing fuel consumption by incoming planes.
Passenger jets will glide into Auckland International Airport in a trial to save fuel and reduce air pollution.

Big passenger jets are set to glide into Auckland International Airport from next month in a trial to save fuel and reduce air pollution. Airways New Zealand said it had been working with Air New Zealand and Qantas for jumbo jets to reduce fuel use and emissions as the aircraft came into land.

The procedure was safe and flights into Auckland would be spaced to allow a glide descent into the airport from their top of descent point, Airways New Zealand main trunk manager Lew Jenkins said. "These glide descent profiles will be flown with the aircraft engines set at idle, thereby significantly reducing fuel burn and emissions," he said.

The trial is to establish what the actual fuel burn was for an arriving flight and to gauge the potential fuel savings and associated emission reductions. "This is a perfectly safe procedure, and other flights will be controlled by Airways New Zealand's air traffic controllers to remain clear of the trial flight paths," he said.

He said all commercial airlines wanted to be safe but they also needed to be profitable, fuel efficient, and environmentally friendly. "A key component in this equation is fuel. The airlines have plenty of detail on how their aircraft need to fly in order to burn the minimum amount of fuel, especially on the arrival segment, but traditionally this has been balanced by an air traffic control imperative, driven primarily by on-time performance and runway capacity."

He said that had meant that the way an aircraft needed to fly to use minimum fuel was often at odds with requirements to arrive on time or to ensure best runway utilisation.

George Monbiot has declared biofuels a lethal solution to the energy problem. Somewhat bizarrely, the foaming troglodytes at the National Review agree with him !
It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless.

In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow – it is released again when the fuel is burnt. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be “decarbonising” our transport networks.

In the budget last week, Gordon Brown announced that he would extend the tax rebate for biofuels until 2010. ...

So what’s wrong with these programmes? Only that they are a formula for environmental and humanitarian disaster. In 2004 this column warned that biofuels would set up a competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation. It would also lead to the destruction of rainforests and other important habitats. I received more abuse than I’ve had for any other column, except when I attacked the 9/11 conspiracists. I was told my claims were ridiculous, laughable, impossible. Well in one respect I was wrong. I thought these effects wouldn’t materialise for many years. They are happening already.

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled(6). The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year.” According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from both maize and wheat.

Farmers will respond to better prices by planting more, but it is not clear that they can overtake the booming demand for biofuel. Even if they do, they will catch up only by ploughing virgin habitat.

Already we know that biofuel is worse for the planet than petroleum. The UN has just published a report suggesting that 98% of the natural rainforest in Indonesia will be degraded or gone by 2022. Just five years ago, the same agencies predicted that this wouldn’t happen until 2032. But they reckoned without the planting of palm oil to turn into biodiesel for the European market. This is now the main cause of deforestation there and it is likely soon to become responsible for the extinction of the orang utan in the wild. But it gets worse. As the forests are burnt, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or ten times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes TEN TIMES as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

There are similar impacts all over the world. Sugarcane producers are moving into rare scrubland habitats (the cerrado) in Brazil and soya farmers are ripping up the Amazon rainforests. As President Bush has just signed a biofuel agreement with President Lula, it’s likely to become a lot worse. Indigenous people in South America, Asia and Africa are starting to complain about incursions onto their land by fuel planters. A petition launched by a group called biofuelwatch, begging western governments to stop, has been signed by campaigners from 250 groups.

The British government is well aware that there’s a problem. On his blog last year the environment secretary David Miliband noted that palm oil plantations “are destroying 0.7% of the Malaysian rain forest each year, reducing a vital natural resource (and in the process, destroying the natural habitat of the orang-utan). It is all connected.” Unlike government policy.

The reason governments are so enthusiastic about biofuels is that they don’t upset drivers. They appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It’s an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total. The forest clearance in Malaysia doesn’t increase our official impact by a gram.

In February the European Commission was faced with a straight choice between fuel efficiency and biofuels. It had intended to tell car companies that the average carbon emission from new cars in 2012 would be 120 grams per kilometre. After heavy lobbying by Angela Merkel on behalf of her car manufacturers, it caved in and raised the limit to 130 grams. It announced that it would make up the shortfall by increasing the contribution from biofuel.

The British government says it “will require transport fuel suppliers to report on the carbon saving and sustainability of the biofuels they supply.” But it will not require them to do anything. It can’t: its consultants have already shown that if it tries to impose wider environmental standards on biofuels, it will fall foul of world trade rules. And even “sustainable” biofuels merely occupy the space that other crops now fill, displacing them into new habitats. It promises that one day there will be a “second generation” of biofuels, made from straw or grass or wood. But there are still major technical obstacles(17). By the time the new fuels are ready, the damage will have been done.

We need a moratorium on all targets and incentives for biofuels, until a second generation of fuels can be produced for less than it costs to make fuel from palm oil or sugarcane. Even then, the targets should be set low and increased only cautiously. I suggest a five-year freeze.

This would require a huge campaign, tougher than the one which helped to win a five-year freeze on growing genetically modified crops in the UK. That was important – GM crops give big companies unprecedented control over the foodchain. But most of their effects are indirect, while the devastation caused by biofuel is immediate and already visible.

This is why it will be harder to stop: encouraged by government policy, vast investments are now being made by farmers and chemical companies. Stopping them requires one heck of a battle. But it has to be fought.

You can join the campaign at www.biofuelwatch.org.uk.

The Australian CleanTech Forum has come up with a list of the 10 best Australian clean technology companies that are trying to raise capital.
# Global Renewables - Perfect for sustainable city solutions. Internationally proven UR-3R mechanical biological treatment for municipal solid waste: saves landfill, increases recyclables, produces compost, reduces emissions, uses biogas for electrical generation.

# Environmental Clean Technology Clean coal technology to meet the global market demand. Clean Coal technology removes and recovers water from brown coal and is being used with Matmor Steel technologies in a pilot plant operation to produce steel.

# Microflow - A preferred clean technology over traditional approaches particularly in hydraulic systems. A suite of energy efficiency valve technology products that reduces operational energy requirements in mainstream industrial and manufacturing processes.

# Dyesol Limited - This green energy is the most advanced 3rd generation solar technology. Dye Solar Cell technology research, development and manufacture of nanoparticulate electrodes that biomimic photosynthesis in plants.

# Alternative Fuels and Energy - An innovative new way to heat or cool homes and commercial buildings. The Sun Lizard technology is a solar heat extractor in development and R&D is underway on the solar air-conditioner - Cool!

# Katrix - Technology for sustainable energy solutions in the 1 to 50 kW power range. The fluid expander technology generates rotational power like turbines which meets the growing demand for commercially viable small-scale power systems.

# Anzode NZ - The technology solves the rechargeability problems with zinc battery technology that has high vale markets in transport and defence. The technology enables zinc to function at commercialisable levels and manufacturing is planned in India.

# GridX Power - A real-time economic energy alternative by generating and using power onsite. The technology is designed to work “off grid”. It is a district energy system that monitrors local generators and then uses hot and cold water to supply thermal energy on site.

# Earth Systems Technologies - This could revolutionise the way subsurface migration of fluids or gas and the chemical in them are controlled by the creation of rock barriers. The neutral barrier technology is being field tested now and the signs are good.

# BioPower Systems - Inspired by living creatures and moving with the power of the ocean below the surface, bioWAVE and bioSTREAM technologies supply utility scale grid-connected renewable electricity. Full scale ocean-based “plants” are the next step.

Alex at WorldChanging has a post on Strategic Consumption: How to Change the World with What You Buy.
...the whole time that phrase kept rattling around in my head, "Buy a better future."

It stuck in my craw, and here's why: You can't.

You cannot buy a better future, at least not the sort of bright green future we talk about here at Worldchanging. That sort of future -- a sustainable one, a future that itself has a future -- is not available for purchase: It doesn't yet exist. You can't find it on shelves, and you can't even order it up custom, no matter how much money you're willing to spend.

You can be heroic in your efforts, but at the moment it's essentially impossible to live a North American consumer lifestyle and do no harm. You can buy only organic food, recycled products, and natural fibers and you won't get there. You can even trade your car for a hybrid, harvest your rainwater and only run your CFLs off your backyard wind turbine, and you still won't get there, both because the waste associated with consumerism is so massive and because the systems outside your direct control upon which you depend -- from your local roads to your nation's army to the design of the assembly lines used to build your car, rain barrel and windmill -- are still profoundly unsustainable. You quite literally cannot shop your way to a one-planet footprint. The best you can do is nudge the market in that direction.

The reality is that only massive systemic changes offer us the chance to avoid the catastrophes looming ahead. Stuffed animals with recycled filler and natural exfoliating creams are not really leveraging much change in the system. Indeed, the vast majority of the green products around us are, at best, a form of advertisement for the idea that we should live sustainably, a sort of shopping therapy for the ecologically guilty.

... the glut of green shopping opportunities is overshadowing the most basic message of all, which is that the most sustainable product is the one you never bought in the first place.

So, should we give up on trying to spend our money in ways that could do some good? Absolutely not, but we need to start getting better at buying in ways that make an impact. We need to begin to practice strategic consumption.

What makes consumption strategic? Multiplied leverage.

The ideal is to buy products that not only do their job more sustainably, but send market signals back through the economy that are likely to result in more meaningful systemic changes.

If we want to see these changes, we should pursue five strategies, listed in order of increasing importance:

1) Defaulting to green: When relatively equal alternatives exist, routinely choose the greener one, even if its impact is only minimally better (for instance, choose recycled toilet paper whenever possible). This may not produce massive change, but it helps solidify the gains of greener products. We ought to be working to put obviously dumb products -- like bleached, pulped-forest toilet paper or toxic chemical household cleaning solutions -- out of business. That'd be a pretty clear market signal.

2) Lengthening our time horizons: A great number of costlier green products are smart investments when viewed from the perspective of long-term cost. This is true of everything from more efficient home appliances (which can pay for themselves through energy savings) to low-flow shower heads. These are big-ticket items, requiring substantial industrial investment to manufacture. Buying them represents a wise investment and speeds up the process of higher standards being more widely adopted, but it also requires spending more up front -- sometimes a lot more. (It'd be easier if we all adopted the Japanese approach of requiring today's best performance levels to be the minimum allowable a few years hence.) This kind of sustainable consumption makes good sense.

3) Greening our geeks: One of the best ways to pursue sustainable innovation is to have millions of people working to make their special areas of expertise and passion as green and socially responsible as possible. Gardeners, for instance, can plant native species, harvest rainwater, build rain gardens and create backyard habitat, transforming what once was lawn into an oasis of living creatures and good sense. The same thing's true for home improvement buffs, amateur chefs, travel hounds and all sorts of other enthusiasts: We can take the thing we love and make it better, something that's not only satisfying to do, but satisfying in its consequences. As Bruce says:
I don't believe in "average people" doing anything. People ought to support mitigation and adaptation within their own line of work, no matter how un-average that is. I mean: if you're butcher, baker, ballerina, banker, or a plumber, envision yourself as the post-fossil-fuel version of yourself, and get right after it.

Buying green is pretty hard in a lot of product categories and it just got harder for parents in Australia with major retailer Woolworths no longer selling environmentally friendly nappies.
ENVIRONMENTALLY minded consumers are willing to drive hybrid cars but putting a biodegradable nappy on their child might be a stretch. Woolworths has removed the only range of biodegradable nappies from its stores because they were not selling enough, despite a 60 per cent rise in sales in the last two quarters of 2006.

Australian Pacific Paper Products's EcoBots are made of bioplastics and take just months to degrade compared with the years it takes conventional nappies to break down. EcoBots also cost about the same as other nappies. ... APPP marketing manager Val Ianno said: "What's changed is the expectation that is was going to sell even higher and it hasn't. "That's not to say sales aren't healthy or improving, they are, but maybe the expectations haven't been met. We understand and we have to accept their decision."

Mr Ianno said the company had been flooded with calls from frustrated consumers.

Paul Klymenko, chief executive of Planet Ark, whose logo appears on the nappies, said: "It's popular alright, it's just that it is not popular enough." He said retailers risked alienating consumers who had already aligned their values to the brand. "This is not about a choice based on price but one based on what is the best of the environment. There is a world of difference," he said.

A Woolworths spokesman said the decision was based on supply problems and "poor sales". A replacement product - from Sweden called Nature Babycare- will be in stores in a fortnight.

In contrast, sales of Lexus's petrol electric - or hybrid - luxury vehicles are beating expectations. Sales of the $121,000 sedan GS450h have already passed the target of 161 cars since the launch in May last year, to reach 226. Similarly, sales of the hybrid version of its four-wheel drive RX400, which is advertised as having "guilt-free performance", have reached 309 - 24 ahead of target. Lexus marketing manager Matt Tannocksaid the company had been "blown away" by the sales of the sedan.

But companies are failing to tap into growing concern about the environment, according to Howard Parry-Husband of research firm Pollinate, which runs a monthly poll on green issues. He said consumers' understanding of the issues was low but concern was high. Nearly 80 per cent of shoppers surveyed in February said they wanted to make "environmentally friendly purchases", but admitted they could do more. Only 14 per cent actually bought green products. "The problem is that there is nothing for the concerned consumer to buy," Mr Parry-Husband said. "So I'd say there is a vast untapped potential just sitting out there."

The SMH notes the effect tension over Iran is having on the oil price (which is now well out of its recent downtrend).
US crude oil futures on Tuesday briefly shot up more than $US5, or 8.2 per cent, in late electronic trading to hit $US68 a barrel, the highest level since early September, amid unsubstantiated rumours Iran had fired on a US naval vessel in the Persian Gulf.

Prices were trading around the day's settlement at $US62.93, then jumped sharply close to 5pm here. Traders were stumped to explain as prices swung dramatically in a matter of minutes. New York Mercantile Exchange personnel confirmed that all prices flashed on trading screens were accurate.

"The market has been on pins and needles with the Iran situation and as soon as the rumour mill got started things took off," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading in Chicago.

Later, the US Navy said it had no information to substantiate the market rumour that Iran had fired at a US ship.

The White House added that it had no information to indicate any incident taking place regarding Iran.

Reuters has a summary of facts about The Strait of Hormuz, Iran and the risk to oil.
Oil prices hit a 2007 high this week on tensions over Iran's nuclear plans and its capture of 15 British servicemen. Analysts fear Iran could seek to impede trade through the Strait of Hormuz if it were threatened or attacked. The strategic channel at the entrance to the Gulf is the world's most important waterway or choke point because of the huge volume of oil exported through it daily.

-- Oil flows through the Strait account for roughly two-fifths of all globally traded oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
-- Some 16-17 million barrels of oil are carried through the narrow channel on oil tankers every day, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
-- Some 2 million barrels of oil products, including fuel oil, are exported through the passage daily.
-- Ninety percent of oil exported from Gulf producers is carried on oil tankers through the Strait.
-- Iran, which sits adjacent to the strait, has in the past talked of impeding traffic through it if threatened. ...

Past Peak notes the US navy is putting on a "Show Of Force". Energy Bulletin also has a roundup of news items about Iran.
The US Navy is staging a huge "show of force" in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran. But what they're really doing, whether they acknowledge it to themselves or not, is positioning a whole bunch of sitting duck targets where any nut with a missile can start World War III. AP:
The U.S. Navy on Tuesday began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

The maneuvers bring together two strike groups of U.S. warships and more than 100 U.S. warplanes to conduct simulated air warfare in the crowded Gulf shipping lanes. [...]

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the U.S. maneuvers were not organized in response to the capture of the British sailors - nor were they meant to threaten the Islamic Republic, whose navy operates in the same waters. [...]

Overall, the exercises involve more than 10,000 U.S. personnel on warships and aircraft making simulated attacks on enemy shipping with aircraft and ships, hunting enemy submarines and finding mines.

"What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that it's for regional stability and security," Aandahl said. "These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behavior."

"It's for regional stability and security." They think we're idiots.

The David Hicks saga seems close to coming to an end (I think the Rodent wanted to get this out the way well before the election now it had become an issue for moderate Liberal voters), with "conservatives" triumphing his guilty plea and everyone else mocking the detention and kangaroo court system. On a semi-related subject Crikey also notes that our own detention centre at Christmas Island is also nearing completion.
This morning came the news that David Hicks has pleaded guilty. We should not be surprised.

After the legal drama in his initial hearing today, David Hicks surely would have reflected on the fact that years after his initial plea of innocence, he was still locked in a cell 1.8m². Any normal Australian, facing a system weighted so heavily against them and broken by five years of unimaginable privation, is likely to have signed a document that would get them out of Guantanamo – regardless of their guilt or innocence.

David Hicks' guilty plea is not justice served, nor does it necessarily reflect Hicks' guilt – it is simply further evidence of a rank system, and Australians can smell it from afar.

Almost every eminent jurist and legal body in the country has condemned a tribunal that has more in common with a circus than justice. Australian and international jurists agree this system was designed to guarantee convictions. It should come as no surprise, then, that it has. It reflects a system that is no more than justice on the make – offending basic legal principles of independence and impartiality.

This is evidenced by the shenanigans at today's arraignment. Hicks' civilian lawyer was dismissed as he refused to sign a document that compromised his own ethical standards.

It would also be highly unusual in any normal court for a counsel to question the presiding judge over their impartiality – as Major Mori had to, concerning Judge Kohlmann's rulings.

This is what happens in a flawed system where the tribunal, the "jury", the chief prosecutor, the charges and the plea agreements are determined by the executive branch of government – the same Administration with so much invested in Hicks' conviction.

The Federal Government should not think today's guilty plea lets them off the hook. They have diminished Australia by legitimising an unfair system by allowing an Australian -- guilty or innocent -- to languish in detention for five years, only to face a severely compromised legal process.

When John Howard sifts through his mail this weekend he'll find over 10,000 GetUp! postcards from residents of his own electorate angry at his disregard for basic Australian rights -- a sentiment they are likely to carry with them to the ballot box later this year.

The key question now is: will David Hicks be home by then and, of equal importance, under what conditions?

Or as GetUp put it - Hicks guilty by incarceration.
David Hicks has pleaded guilty to part of a single charge remaining against him - providing material support for terrorism.

Depending on which paper you read, the story was - after years of denial David Hicks has finally admitted he's a terrorist. Or, that after five years in Guantanamo Bay with no prospect of a fair trial, David Hicks has done what any person would do, and bargained his way out.

But because the evidence against David Hicks will never really be tested in a proper court, we will never feel certain whether five years plus of punishment was given to an innocent or guilty man. Because unlike other governments, ours has failed to stand up for its citizen's basic human and legal rights - and that matters more than what kind of man David Hicks is or isn't.

The Federal Government has diminished Australia by legitimising an unfair and illegal system, by allowing an Australian, guilty or innocent, to be imprisoned year after year without trial despite serious reports of mistreatment and abuse; by failing to do what America, its allies and even its adversaries around the world did, which is to say "no citizen of ours will be treated this way."

Our Government should stand shamed, not smirking. And to help remind our Prime Minister where the Australian people stand, we've got a delivery planned: 17,000 postcards from you, plus 10,143 directly from voters in his own electorate, demanding David Hicks be returned home now. Collected in just ten hours by GetUp members, that's roughly one in every eight voters in Bennelong; people who, regardless of their opinion of David Hicks, have written directly to John Howard asking for justice.

That's because they understand something the Prime Minister apparently doesn't - that the values of a civilised society, including the prohibition against torture and freedom from imprisonment without a fair trial, are bedrock. They're what we fight for when our soldiers are sent to war; they're what we look to in times of uncertainty. They're part of what separates us from the dictators and thugs we condemn. We invite you to share your thoughts on our blog.

From the beginning, this campaign has been about the values and rights of our democracy, and the power of people to defend those rights. It's the community pressure that has shifted this debate, and we're not ready to let up just yet. In the next few days, GetUp is publishing an Open Letter to the Prime Minister in the press, with the message that John Howard has lost his chance to defend Australian rights, but the Australian people still have the power to hold the Government accountable. You can donate to help fund the full-page letter to John Howard here.

No one should have to bargain with their liberty because their basic rights have been abandoned. David Hicks has still not been judged by a fair legal process, and he is still not home. The Commission circus is set to roll on over coming days, raising further concerns about the lawfulness of his expected imprisonment back home. We know what justice looks like, and we will not let those who claim to represent the values of our democracy forget.

Bush is now quoting Iraqi bloggers (the subject of some disputes in the past) in an effort to convince us all is going well in Iraq. I wonder why he didn't quote Riverbend ?
In an unusual step, US President George W Bush cited a pair of Iraqi bloggers to try to bolster his case that his troop buildup in Iraq is making progress. .. "'Displaced families are returning home, marketplaces are seeing more activity, stores that were long shuttered are now reopening,'" Bush quoted the bloggers as writing.

In a speech, Bush did not identify them, but the White House said he was referring to an opinion article published March 5 in the Wall Street Journal by the two bloggers, Omar and Mohammed Fadhil. They are a pair of Iraqi dentists who write an English-language blog, IraqTheModel.com, and who met Bush in the Oval Office in December 2004.

And to close, here's a report from Boing Boing - Stasi chief was an Orwell fan, bent reality to get room 101.
Erich Mielke, the head of the East German secret police, was a great fan of Orwell's novel 1984, and desperately wanted his office to be in Room 101 (the location of the torture chamber in the novel). His office was on the second floor. So he renamed the first floor the mezzanine.
"I’d long been fascinated by George Orwell’s work, but I resisted reading 1984 until I finished the manuscript for Stasiland. After that, I devoured it, and I couldn’t believe Orwell’s prescience. When I went into Mielke’s office, I saw it had the number 101, which in 1984 is the number of the torture chamber. 1984 was banned in the G.D.R. but of course, Mielke and Honecker had access to banned material. The guide told me that Mielke wanted this number so much that even though his office was on the 2nd floor, he had the entire first floor renamed the Mezzanine so that he could call his room 101."

--Anna Funder, author of Stasiland


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