October 2007

DOHA, Oct 29 (Reuters) – OPEC would be happy to raise crude oil output if needed but there was no sign yet of a supply shortage in world oil markets, despite record high prices, Qatar’s oil minister said on Monday.

Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah told reporters that international tensions were behind high oil prices.

“I haven’t any signal that there is any shortage of crude… I believe a big portion of the oil price today is related to geopolitics and fear factors, and we cannot solve it,” he said.

“Sometimes there is a shortage of oil products but not of crude. This is because of limitations of refinery (capacity). Consumers and producers should invest more in refining. We don’t have a magic stick to solve this.”

Oil leapt to a fresh record high on Monday, to $93.20 a barrel as Mexico briefly halted a fifth of its production due to bad weather and the dollar struck new lows.

Full article here.


In case you thought you were the only one with troubles at the pump …

Gas stations in parts of China are rationing and even halting diesel sales amid a fuel shortage triggered by a widening gap between the soaring cost of crude oil and government-controlled retail prices, the financial chief of China’s biggest refiner said Tuesday.

“Oil prices are rising but (domestic) oil product prices are kept low by the government. The impact on our refining operations is quite big,” Dai Houliang, chief financial officer at China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, said in a teleconference in Hong Kong to discuss the company’s third-quarter results.

Dai said that overall supplies in China were still stable, but that some areas might experience shortages. He blamed rising demand as well as bad weather, which was preventing supplies getting to some areas.

“We will try the best to ensure a stable supply of fuel in the market, but it’s a big challenge for us,” he said.

Full article here.

I know that Cracked is among our readers’ favorite science magazines … but in case you all missed it, Cracked gives us five reasons to keep us all worried about a zombie apocalypse — and yet none of them seem to involve a Mitt Romney victory in 2008.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains officially optimistic on talks with Iran:

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A U.N. nuclear agency official described cooperation with Iran as “good” ahead of talks on Monday about Tehran’s atomic work, after an Iranian warning that new U.S. sanctions could harm ties.

Iranian news agencies quoted Olli Heinonen, deputy director of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as making the brief comment upon arrival in Tehran for a new round of negotiations with senior Iranian officials.

Iran and the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agreed in August on a timetable to answer outstanding IAEA questions about the nuclear programme, prompting world powers to postpone a third round of U.N. sanctions on Tehran until at least November.

Full article here. Meanwhile, an unnamed Palestinian intelligence officials forecasts a U.S. attack, supported by some Arab nations with an Israeli deal on the West Bank, if there is no diplomatic progress:

A senior Palestinian intelligence official said that based on meetings with American diplomats he “understood” the US plans to target Iran’s suspected nuclear installations in two to three months if negotiations with Tehran don’t generate a major breakthrough.

The official, speaking to WND yesterday on condition of anonymity, said according to what he “understood,” the US will “pay” for Arab support for a US strike against Iran by creating a temporary Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank by next summer.

The official met last week with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her trip here earlier this month to prepare for a US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian summit slated for next month in which Israel is expected to outline a future

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in recent weeks hinted at willingness to give away sections of Jerusalem.

Full article here.

IN A DIRT TURNOUT ALONG BLACKSMITH RD., NEAR LESLIE, GEORGIA – I’ve come here to talk with you today about agriculture, and U.S. agricultural policy.

Someone was telling me today that they thought it was unusual for an independent presidential candidate to have a policy on agriculture.  To be honest, I think it’s rare even for a mainstream presidential candidate to talk about agriculture during the campaign.  Except in Iowa.  They come to Iowa, and they pronounce a few platitudes about subsidies and crop insurance, and as soon as the Caucuses are over, they forget they’ve ever heard of farmers.

Farmers, you see, aren’t much of a voting block.  ADM, Cargill, Noble Group, on the other hand – the big players in international agribusiness – they have a powerful lobby, and there’s no real need for a mainstream presidential candidate to go public with his or her agricultural policy when all he or she has to do is to call a few of the big boys over for cocktails and hash it out with them in private.  Cheney-style.

But that’s the real reason that I’m here to talk to you today about agriculture.  Washington politicians now seem to take it for granted that the true constituents of a national agricultural policy are the ADMs and Cargills of the world, with some lip service paid to the independent family farmer along the way. 

This top-down view of agriculture in this country is symptomatic of an even greater structural problem:  over the course of four generations, the natural connections between, and awareness of, the food that we choose to eat, the processes by which it is grown and prepared, and the land from which it emanates, have been all but erased from the American consciousness.  The only way most of us experience agriculture today is on the back-end of a shopping cart rolling down Aisle 3 at the Winn-Dixie, or in the drive-through at a Burger King – and with every order comes a heaping helping of denial.

Our lack of awareness about where our food comes from helps to mask serious systemic problems in American agriculture, what it is doing to our economy and our environment, and what we end up eating:

  • The current subsidy system in this country, which was designed in the 1930s to help farmers manage risk, now favors large agribusiness over small family farms — ten percent of all farms now receive almost three-quarters of all subsidies.  This inevitably contributes to the consolidation of farming activities in the hands of a small number of producers, disrupting rural community life and the health of rural economies.  As I’ve said before, absentee corporate ownership tends to suck the life out of communities, and can quickly kill what remains of a community when “external economics” no longer make sense for an absentee corporate owner to remain there.
  • Ninety percent of all subsidies go to the production of just five crops:  wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and rice.  The current subsidy system discourages crop diversity by rewarding the planting of this select group of crops — usually from a narrow group of generic varieties pushed by multinational seed suppliers — without regard to the practical desirability of crop rotation.
  • This generic, monocultural approach to agriculture is eroding biodiversity among both plants and animals.  About 7,000 different species of plants have been raised as food crops in the history of human agriculture, but only fifteen plant and eight animal species are now relied upon for about 90% of all human food.  Why should we care?  When someone rips up huge areas of good land to plant generic seeds for sale into the international food processing supply-chain year after year, not only is the natural balance of the local ecology disrupted — which inevitably leads to the disappearance of certain varieties of plants and animals, and interferes with natural processes of pollination, soil regeneration and the building up of resistances to pests and disease — but in the end we find ourselves eating tasteless food, and gradually losing valuable technical knowledge, unique to our localities, of how we interact with, learn from, and can be nourished by, our local environment.
  • Synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, designed to enhance yields, are polluting our soil, our water and our air, to the detriment of our environment as well as to our health.
  • Apart from the pollution, industrial agriculture is also contributing to the erosion of soil and the consumption of water at unsustainable rates.  If you don’t think that’s serious, it’s worth noting that unsustainable uses of water and soil were among the primary reasons why the great ancient Mesopotamian civilizations ultimately failed.  Remember, they used to call that part of the world “the fertile crescent.”
  • And here’s the big one folks, the one that hits you where you live.  If none of what I’ve told you is troubling thus far, consider this:  agribusiness in the 21st century is almost irretrievably dependent upon fossil fuels.  It uses them in the chemicals it sprays on our food, it moves the Earth with them, and it burns millions of gallons of them hauling lettuce from California to Kalamazoo, or grapes from Chile to Chattanooga.  Oil went up over $90 a barrel today; and when fuel prices really bust through the roof, we will begin to see the price of fuel passed onto us in the form of higher prices at the supermarket, and we will begin to see certain staples disappearing from supermarket shelves.  This is inevitable within a system of agriculture which favors meeting consumer demand from geographically disparate regions of the Earth, almost to the total exclusion of local production for local needs.

If we choose to look at agricultural policy as food policy in this country, then the constituency suddenly becomes everyone who eats … rather than a few agribusiness giants.  And this is the first important point I want to make:  our national agricultural policy is not supposed to be some political afterthought, a bit of esoterica hashed out behind closed doors.  It means food, and it means life.  It is a fundamental, defining aspect of American culture.  And if it is sick, then we are sick — as a people.

The second important point I want to make is that to fix the system, we need not kill international agribusiness.  In fact, we don’t want to — our production of wheat, corn and soybeans, in particular, gives us global strategic rewards that we would be unwise to ignore.  But we do need to balance the structural advantages available in this country to large agricultural companies with a set of structural advantages that can be made available to sustainable, local agricultural enterprises.

What does sustainable agriculture look like?  What kind of agriculture do we want to cultivate, to balance the iniquities of industrial agriculture in this country?

  • First, and most significantly, it involves increasing the amount of local production for local use in our communities – for the ultimate improvement of our food security and for the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Second, as a flipside to the agribusiness approach to agriculture in this country, sustainable agriculture is an ecology-based approach.  It can be but does not have to be purely “organic,” but it certainly must be low-input and regenerative — “farming with nature,” promoting biodiversity, recycling, conserving water, protecting soil from erosion … and making a modest profit.
  • Third, we have to take the manpower issue seriously.  Increasing the number of people working for a fair wage in agriculture in this country is not a sign of economic “backwardness,” but a gesture toward our future as a people.  We have some work to do to restore the nobility of farming as a profession within this country.

I think the first step, in order to promote the development of sustainable agriculture in this country, would be to cause the federal government to recognize the value of sustainable agriculture, to simply acknowledge that it is something that should be promoted within our country. 

Then I would begin to address structural advantages.  Much as I would bifurcate the securities regulatory schemes between large, multinational and small, community-oriented businesses, so would I bifurcate the regulatory schemes between large, multinational agribusiness and small, community-oriented sustainable farming enterprises – regulation needs to be scaled to the size of the enterprise so that the regulatory cost of small-scale farming does not overrun its feasibility; and there needs to be a significant component of community stewardship over sustainable farming activities.

In order to build a more robust market for the products of sustainable farms outside of commodity supply chains and corporate vertical integration, I would propose tax incentives for enterprises that sell a large percentage of agricultural goods from local sources.

Total U.S. agricultural subsidies number in the billions of dollars each year.  Taking even a small percentage away from the current subsidy system and creating a “sustainable farming capital enhancement fund,” to assist in the development of community-supported agriculture and small farmer cooperatives, and to promote, through community-developed educational programs, natural and sustainable farming methods, would have a tremendous impact on the development of sustainable agriculture in the U.S.

The entire population of the world is capable of surviving on the products of current world food production, yet even here in the U.S., we live with extremes of hunger and of obesity.  Our system is out of whack.  By bringing agriculture back to our communities in a sustainable way, closer to our own doorsteps, the process of managing our way back to equilibrium will begin.

In the meantime, try something new.  Buy from local farmers.  Make time to cook for yourself, with fresh, locally-grown ingredients; invite your friends over for a home-cooked meal.  Start a kitchen garden.  You won’t regret the way these little things will change your life.

I thank you for listening, and I’ll be seeing you along the trail.

The United States will Thursday order sanctions against the Iranian military, media reports said a day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice singled out Iran as the biggest threat to US security.Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are to designate Iran’s elite Quds force as a supporter of terrorism and its Revolutionary Guards as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction, triggering economic sanctions, the Washington Post and New York Times reported.

The sanctions allow efforts to financially isolate Iran’s military and press hundreds of foreign companies doing business with it to back out or risk US sanctions, the newspapers reported.

These will be the broadest sanctions imposed on Iran since the country’s Islamic revolution in 1979 and comes as the international community is embroiled in a mounting standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Full article here. The announcement comes after this weekend’s surprising news that Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, had been removed from his post by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Larijani’s removal was jarring, in part, because it seemed to signal that hard-liners in the Iranian government were asserting their control over the nuclear issue; Larijani is widely seen as a moderate who desired constructive dialogue with the United States.

Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the European Union, suggests that the hard-liners might nevertheless be having a hard time taking control of the nuclear issue:

Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator, replaced this weekend in a surprise announcement in Tehran, nevertheless maintained his authority and leadership in talks with the EU in Rome, the European Union foreign policy chief was quoted as saying Thursday.

The EU’s Javier Solana met with Ali Larijani, the former negotiator, and his successor, Saeed Jalili, for a session in Rome Tuesday. The three met again briefly on Wednesday.

“Here I found the same Larijani I had met before, and he had the role of chief negotiator,” Solana was quoted as saying in an interview with Rome daily La Repubblica.

“I have to say that the meeting was chiefly with Larijani, who clearly was the group leader and maintained his authority and the leadership in the negotiations,” added Solana.

During a news conference, too, Larijani took the lead in fielding questions from reporters.

Full article here.

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) — Crude oil rose for the first day in three on tensions in the oil-rich Middle East, as Iran signaled a tougher stance in nuclear program talks and Turkey considered military action in Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country’s forces may attack Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq in “days.” Iran said it should set conditions for discussions with international agencies over its pursuit of nuclear technology.

“Although we believe in negotiations, we do not bargain over our rights,” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Armenia, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. Prime Minister Erdogan said today Turkey could use its military “at any time” to attack militants based in Iraq.

Crude oil for December delivery rose as much as 77 cents or 0.9 percent to $86.79 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract traded at $86.33 at 1:40 p.m. in London.

Full article here.  Analysts are beginning to see a Turkish invasion as an inevitability:

The Turkish army, NATO’s second- largest, is poised for a possible attack on northern Iraq that may begin with air strikes and strafing runs by helicopter gunships aimed at smashing the mountain hideouts used by Kurdish guerrillas.

Turkey might follow the strikes with tanks and armored personnel carriers that would punch across the border as helicopters ferry commandos to a string of guerrilla bases some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the frontier, military analysts say. The Turks would face rebels who have had years to reinforce their bases and are well-trained in mountain warfare.

“It would be a major incursion,” said Michael Radu, co- chairman of the Center on Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. The Turks “cannot pull back now and say, ‘We have made all these noises and we increased oil prices and OK, we’ll send 200 people in.’ That is not going to happen.”

Full article here.

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