Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Arctic Future War and Other Choices

There are so many potential conflicts for the Earth's energy supplies that the medias inattention to them borders on criminal. A recent example is the multi-national conference in Greenland to try to divy up the Arctic's resources. It is interesting to see that the American rep was John Negroponte, an American diplomatic hit man if ever there was.
Canada hopes to assert sovereignity through the "Law of the Sea" which has varying interpretations:

"CBC" interpretation:
"Canada is committed to defending and protecting its sovereignty in the waters of the High Arctic as it begins the process of mapping the northern territory with other nations, says the federal minister of natural resources.

Gary Lunn is travelling to Ilulissat, Greenland, on Tuesday to discuss Canada's claim to the northern seabed with officials from Denmark, Norway, the United States and Russia, who are also looking to secure their piece of the Arctic pie.

"There's a lot of co-operation between countries that is happening, but it's important that we have strong presence on the world stage," said Lunn.

The three-day conference is expected to discuss rules, dictated by the UN Law of the Sea Convention, on dividing jurisdiction over the High Arctic waters, one of the most rapidly changing parts of the world due to climate change.

As the ice continues to melt, countries with continental shelves on the Arctic Ocean are increasingly concerned over who controls the territory and its resources.

"It's critically important that it's under our sovereign control so that we set the parameters for the environment and that we make the decisions whether or not even to allow exploration," Lunn said Monday.

Under the UN law, signed by Canada in 2003, the five northern countries may be able to extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical-mile limit recognized in international law if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.

Canada's claim includes a swath of ocean floor stretching to the North Pole that would be the equivalent in size to the three Prairie provinces combined. Canada has until 2013 to submit its claim on the area, which stretches from the Yukon to the eastern Arctic.

The area in question wouldn't be subject to any sort of overlapping claim with other countries, Lunn said. Canada's territorial disputes in the Arctic, such as the location of the boundary between the Yukon and Alaska and the control of the Northwest Passage, aren't expected to be major topics at the conference.
Firms already after oil, gas reserves

The High Arctic seabed is coveted for its potential oil and gas reserves, not just along the coast of Beaufort Sea but at the North Pole. Estimates put about 25 per cent of the world's remaining oil and gas reserves beneath the Arctic's ocean floor.

Energy firms have already begun exploring the waters off Greenland, while large deposits of gas are known to exist off the islands of the Canadian archipelago, as well as the coasts of the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

Inhospitable conditions, including extreme cold and six months of darkness every year, make the Far North a difficult place for exploration.

"There's an interest in those resources, but more immediate in the area is the fact that there will be more international shipping over the top of the world as the ice starts to melt," the CBC's Margo McDiarmid reported Tuesday from Ottawa.

The nautical journey from China to New York, for example, is 7,000 kilometres shorter if travelled across the Arctic waters over the top of the world rather than through the Panama Canal.

As new passages are established by melting ice, Canada will be increasingly open to international traffic across and around its borders.

"The fear is that there will be more international shipping, more cruise ships, and there needs to be some kind of control, especially for Canada for those ships travelling through its waters," McDiarmid said.

Lunn emphasized that boundaries in the High Arctic must be defined by science, but would not speculate on the possible outcomes of the conference, saying only "we want to reaffirm our commitment on the world stage."

The conference is also expected to address co-operation between the five countries on maritime safety, environmental protection and search and rescue."


"Conference could mark start of Arctic power struggle
Randy Boswell , Canwest News Service
Published: 5 hours ago

ILULISSAT, Greenland - An Arctic Ocean summit aimed at easing territorial tensions among the five nations bordering the northern sea - including Canada - appeared to evolve Wednesday into something more substantial: a kind of Arctic G-5 with ambitious plans for overseeing polar oil and mineral exploration, maritime security, transportation and environmental regulation.

"The Arctic Ocean stands at the threshold of significant changes," the countries' Ilulissat Declaration stated. "Climate change and the melting of ice have a potential impact on vulnerable ecosystems, the livelihoods of local inhabitants and indigenous communities, and the potential exploitation of natural resources.

"By virtue of their sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in large areas of the Arctic Ocean, the five coastal states are in a unique position to address these possibilities and challenges."
Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Greenland's Aleqa Hammond, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, and American John Negroponte admire the view from their boat Wednesday near Ilulissat in Greenland, ahead of an Arctic Ocean conference.
Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Greenland's Aleqa Hammond, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, and American John Negroponte admire the view from their boat Wednesday near Ilulissat in Greenland, ahead of an Arctic Ocean conference.
Jan-Morten Bjoernbakk/AFP/Getty Images
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But the conference, which was organized by Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller and also included the U.S., Russia and Norway, could well mark the beginning of an international power struggle over the future governance of the rapidly warming and increasingly accessible polar region.

Chief among the goals laid out in the declaration was to block any "new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean" - a clear shot across the bow of some European politicians and other Arctic observers who see the region as a largely unspoiled seascape best governed, like Antarctica, as an international trust.

They have pushed for the adoption of a broader legal framework - perhaps even an "Arctic Treaty" under the auspices of the United Nations - to regulate commercial activity, environmental threats and scientific research in the extreme north.

The summit was initially billed as an attempt to cool the rhetoric between the five polar neighbours following Russia's controversial dive to the North Pole seabed last year, an ongoing Danish-Canadian feud over tiny Hans Island and several other jurisdictional disputes.

And the final declaration did promise "the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims."

But in his opening remarks at the conference, Moeller made clear the chief purpose of the gathering by targeting "the assumption by some that there is a need for a new legal regime for the Arctic Ocean. I do not see such a need, as we have international law, we have the Law of the Sea, which already provide us with a comprehensive legal regime."

A proposal is before the European Parliament to adopt an Arctic policy to assert greater influence over environmental protection and other spheres of activity in the polar region.

The Arctic Council - an eight-country coalition of northern nations which includes the five coastal states plus Sweden, Finland, Iceland and various Arctic indigenous peoples - has also been working to develop rules for managing Arctic resources and environmental threats.

While the delegation leaders - including Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, Gary Lunn - expressed a desire to continue working through the Arctic Council and other international bodies on polar issues, they said the new coastal coalition is merited because those nations have unique opportunities and responsibilities.

"We are states that border the Arctic Ocean, and we have a responsibility to ensure that we put in the safeguards to ensure transportation and environmental protection, search and rescue, and so on - that we co-operate," said Lunn, whose ministry is overseeing Arctic seabed research aimed at securing vast extensions to Canada's continental shelf in the polar north.

The five-nation pact also envisions greater co-operation among the coastal nations in search-and-rescue operations, environmental crisis management and the regulation of oil tankers that could soon be routinely cruising through an ice-free Northwest Passage.

"Everybody, of course, wants to avoid a Titanic or an Exxon Valdez in the Arctic Ocean," Moeller said. "New possibilities of transport in and through the region increase the risk of accidents. More cruises than ever before reach even up to Thule (in far northern Greenland). As responsible coastal states we must strive to minimize this risk."

There is one notable hitch in the five-state strategy to rely on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty designed largely to resolve jurisdictional disputes in coastal regions and govern ocean shipping, as the chief guide to governing Arctic waters.

The most powerful of the five nations at the summit - the United States - hasn't ratified the accord.

John Negroponte, the U.S. deputy secretary of state and head of the American delegation, took pains to express the Bush administration's strong support for signing UNCLOS and predicted U.S. ratification soon.

Adoption of the convention has been blocked by Congress in recent years, largely by conservative legislators concerned about surrendering U.S. power to international legal frameworks.

"We certainly believe it's in the interests of the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea treaty, not the least of which would be for the impact it would have on our Arctic policy, where it's very important," Negroponte told reporters.

Two opposition MPs from northern Canada who attended the conference as observers - the NDP's Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington and Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell - applauded the agreement reached between the five countries.

Two Canadian experts on polar issues offered contrasting opinions on the outcome of the summit.

University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert said the five-country plan to manage the ocean's affairs means "Arctic issues will be dealt with on an ad hoc, piecemeal, bilateral basis. The Arctic is much too complicated to deal with in this manner today."

He said the coming problems require "an Arctic Council with teeth, or each issue will deteriorate on its own."

But University of British Columbia political scientist Michael Byers praised the direction of the grouping he dubbed "the Arctic Ocean 5."

The five-nation summit was "a perfectly appropriate venue to discuss Law of the Sea issues as they relate to the Arctic Ocean seabed. Countries that do not border on the Arctic Ocean simply don't have the same interests or potential disputes with respect to those areas and potential resources."

© Canwest News Service 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

Remembrance Day Thoughts

There seems to be an unwritten rule in the U.S. that military service makes one an expert on the matters of war and peace. Be that as it may I would like to defer on this Memorial Day to General Smedley Butler, a man ahead of his time:

"-- Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Other Russia Meeting Disrupted By Flying Phallus

In the bad old days meetings of Russian dissidents were routinely disrupted by government goon squads. In new Russia things are different. Meetings are now disrupted by remote controlled flying dildos. Mr. Kasparov was relatively non-plussed as per the National Post:

"I think we have to be thankful for the opposition's demonstration of the level of discourse we need to anticipate," said Mr. Kasparov after the attack. "Also, apparently most of their arguments are located beneath the belt." Someone in the audience shouts, "Finally the political power shows its face!" to which he replied, "Well, if that's its face..."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The American Reality Disconnect

There is a disconnect in the American political contest in regards to world evolution. For instance the increase in petroleum prices, the decline in the U.S. dollar, and impoverishment of America that is starting to resemble Russian collapse. None of these issues are dealt with honestly or straight forwardly in the U.S. A good example is the recent Bush trip to the Mid-East which was by all accounts a huge fiasco, Asia Times Online goes into further detail:

" Bush's Middle East policy in tatters
By M K Bhadrakumar

"They [Arab leaders] have stopped taking their instructions from Islam, they have decided that peace with the Zionists is their strategic option, so damn their decision." - Osama bin Laden, audio message, May 18

Last Tuesday, while United States President George W Bush was setting out from Washington on a five-day tour of the Middle East, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as hinting that Tehran might consider a cut in oil exports. Of course, Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari quickly clarified that Tehran was only reviewing its exports

and here, too, a decision was to be taken on a possible increase or decrease.

Neither Ahmadinejad nor Nozari said anything like Iran was reviewing oil output as such (which exceeds 4.2 million barrels per day, the highest level since the 1979 Islamic revolution). But US oil prices went into a tizzy nonetheless and hit a record high of US$126 per barrel by the time Bush landed in the Persian Gulf region.

"Bush was expected to press the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for an early meet to raise oil production. (OPEC is scheduled to next meet in September to decide on its oil output policy.) Stephen Hadley, the US national security advisor, was on record that Bush would tell Saudi King Abdullah that the oil-exporting countries should regard it to be in their self-interest to "take into account the economic health of their customers who pay these prices". In the event, when they met on Friday, Bush found that the Saudi king was not to be persuaded.

Meanwhile, Nozari was back on stage. He told Fars news agency, "I believe there is no need for an [emergency] OPEC meeting. Why should there be this meeting when oil prices go up? The OPEC members are currently utilizing their full capacity and are supplying the market ... With oil at US$126, it is not wise for those with oil not to supply it." Nozari then added, "I believe it is not that oil is becoming more expensive, but the dollar is becoming cheaper."

It would have been unthinkable five or six years ago that a visiting US president would receive such an open rebuff in the Middle East. Last weekend's exchanges revealed the extent of decline in the US's dominance of the Middle East through the present Bush administration. No doubt, oil lies at the very center of the decline of the American dominion. The cascading rise in oil prices has led to a massive transfer of resources to the energy exporting countries. Iran is one principal beneficiary.

The huge accumulation of wealth enables Iran to exert influence regionally and ensure there is practically nothing the US can do to stop its rise as a regional power. Goldman Sachs in a report on Friday predicted oil would further jump to a level of $140 by July. "The near-term outlook for oil prices continues to be bullish," Goldman said. Investors are flocking to the oil market as a hedge against the fall in the value of the dollar. The Wall Street Journal has reported that at the moment the Iranians hold about 25 million barrels - about twice the quantum of the US's daily imports - of heavy crude in offshore tankers in the Persian Gulf."

Even more interesting is the beginning of the "end of the car dialogue" and the end of American suburbia, exurbia, culture as noted in the Philidephia Inquirer:

"Call it a change of plan.

Across the nation, the price of gasoline is sending more and more Americans to public transit.

This ridership surge points up three things: (1) These millions of new riders can do it. Most of them always could have. They just didn't. (2): We're not at the end of car culture yet . . . that's a few generations off . . . but (3) it's clear, in not-quite-hindsight, that the U.S. car culture does not work.

Meanwhile, more people are parking the car and hopping on the train or bus. Just ask the people at SEPTA. Director of public affairs Richard Maloney says: "It's been a steady upward curve for the last 18 months, 14 percent growth in that time and 24 percent in the last three years, driven primarily by gasoline prices." Growth is greatest, he says, in regional rail, among suburban communities, and among people with long car commutes.

On the eastern side of the Delaware, New Jersey Transit's Trenton-to-Camden River Line had its best-ever quarter ended in September, averaging a record 7,900 riders a day, and followed that with another record quarter through December. And the Delaware River Port Authority says ridership on the PATCO High-Speed Line is up 7 percent from a year ago.

All of which fits a big national pattern. According to a May 10 New York Times survey, metro Minneapolis, Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco all are seeing ridership spikes, with big gains both where public transit is long-established (New York, Boston) and where it is comparatively new (Houston, Charlotte, N.C.).

Clarence W. Marsella, chief executive of the Denver Regional Transportation District, told the Times that gasoline prices had brought on a "tipping point" regarding ridership. Maybe so. Or is this just momentary, and once we get used to higher prices, we'll backslide into former habits?I can imagine a reasonable objection: "The car culture doesn't work? The car has made our lives possible! It has made this country great, made contemporary life what it is today. Life without cars - without the unquestioned right to personal mobility at will - is unimaginable. You couldn't have the suburbs without the auto. Didn't Frank Lloyd Wright design his modern suburbs based on the car? And Levittown . . ."

Agreed. All true. Car culture got us where we wanted when we wanted - for five generations. Much has been spectacular, beyond what could have been dreamed 100 years ago.

How, then, can I say that car culture doesn't work? Because the cost to individual and communal life, and to the environment, has been too high. And the bill is just now coming due.

It's not evil, just heedless. People take the opportunities they're given. They have the right. The car symbolizes freedom, rights of passage, career, sexuality. We've created the national road system, bought hundreds of millions of cars, based hundreds of millions of lives on the assumption that Hey, we can just drive. But all that time, we've been burning resources, replacing none. (How much steel have we put back in the ground? How much oil?)

We've basically laid the environment to waste, millions of acres never to return, all because there was no plan B. Roads are good things - but where you build a road, you outrage an environment, and no one ever rectifies it. The sad sprawl of the 1980s and 1990s, when people let towns metastasize into hastily planned and built exurban strips - that worked well, didn't it?

And does anyone think the morning and evening rush is good for us? Individually and as a society? Single drivers (70 percent and more in many metro area traffic jams) in single cars, edging ahead, until sometimes it seems as if the ambient blood pressure is about to blow? (Studies show traffic jams do contribute to stress and high blood pressure. But you knew that.)

And wasteful: The car commute amounts to a willing sacrifice of billions of hours of precious, productive time. U.S. Census figures suggest the average U.S. driver spends 100 hours commuting a year (the standard vacation, 10 work days of eight hours apiece, is only 80 hours). Philadelphia ranks fifth among cities with a long one-way commute (29.4 minutes); New Jersey ranks third among states (28.5 minutes). Traffic jams waste time, and therefore bucks: A 2007 Texas Traffic Institute study said that in 2005, folks wasted an average of 38 hours a year stalled, for grand totals of 4.2 billion hours, 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, and a loss to the economy of $78.2 billion. That's what I call not working. (At least you can work on a train or bus.)

This has wrecked family life for many who live farther and farther from work - and so work farther and farther from home. It has created the commuter suburb, whose residents have little to do with their towns except, just about, the bed where they happen to sleep between commutes. How great is that?

We will all put up with it, as long as we can get where we're going.

I sure did. It's with us for the foreseeable. But no one has to love it. Many are now finding there are other ways. As oil gets scarcer and pricier, people may start to work closer to home, based on resources. They're starting to, it seems. That may benefit cities, with people increasingly opting for "elegant density" and closeness to work and amenities. We should have been doing this all along. We just weren't paying attention.

So, no, we haven't reached the tipping point - we've reached a pocketbook point. When things really tip, we'll discover - gasp - we don't have enough trains and buses for those who need them. (Already, says Maloney, SEPTA "has every available car in service" and is "searching internationally" for more train cars.)

Life will change. The roads will start getting lonely. It's a while off - but worth thinking about. Maybe then we'll make plan "B"."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Visit to Las Vegas

While a visit to Las Vegas is usually associated with inebriation and compulsive gambling there are other things to pursue which quite frankly border on the surreal in an already surreal place. During my recent visit while at a medical conference (take home message the U.S. medical system demonstrates a complete disconnect between quality and cost) I payed a visit to the Atomic Test Site Museum, a fascinating, if somewhat creepy place. There is a palpable ambivalence about the ethics of nuclear war and I do think the place should dump the 9-11 reference (a girder from the World Trade Center which I believe was brought down with box cutters not nukes) which is nothing more than gratuitous propaganda. Beyond that there is a glimpse into the paranoia and fear which gave us the National Security State that we now live in.

Another example of of Americana that only Vegas can do justice to is the Liberace Museum that encapsulates West Allis, Wisconsin's contribution to popular culture. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for alternate entertainment in Vegas and don't miss the Wes Winter's show that goes with this.

Weenie Wagging in Red Square

After more than a decade Russia now feels the need to exhibit its military equipment in the name of national pride. The occasion is "Victory Day", commemerating the end of "The Great Patriotic War" in 1945. As reported in the Guardian not all were impressed:

"Western defence specialists pronounce themselves unimpressed by Russia's displays - described by one as "willy-waving". They snidely point out most hardware dates from the Brezhnev era; the conscript army is also mired in scandals over bullying of recruits. "If they wish to get out their old equipment and take it for a spin, they're more than welcome to do so," a Pentagon spokesman said this week when asked whether the Bush administration considered Russia a threat."

Russia is of course not the only country to engage in military exhibitionism but this does seem to be a step backwards.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Coming Middle Class U.S. Collapse

I love it when mild mannered academics start giving the hard truth, obviously the end is near. Courtesy Energy Bulletin Net.

Who Lives Well In Russia?

A very interesting video from Kommersant, the answers which were very revealing about contemporary Russia ranging from" no one" to "me" to, as one furtive respondent, "the Jews."Even more illustrative is the Russians themselves that tends to fly in the face of American ill-informed stereotypes.