Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tom Friedman Needs to Stop Making Sense

From the NY Times.

...The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”

Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

Are you sitting down?

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.

These credits are critical because they ensure that if oil prices slip back down again — which often happens — investments in wind and solar would still be profitable. That’s how you launch a new energy technology and help it achieve scale, so it can compete without subsidies.

The Democrats wanted the wind and solar credits to be paid for by taking away tax credits from the oil industry. President Bush said he would veto that. Neither side would back down, and Mr. Bush — showing not one iota of leadership — refused to get all the adults together in a room and work out a compromise. Stalemate. Meanwhile, Germany has a 20-year solar incentive program; Japan 12 years. Ours, at best, run two years.

“It’s a disaster,” says Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy, one of the biggest wind-power developers in America. “Wind is a very capital-intensive industry, and financial institutions are not ready to take ‘Congressional risk.’ They say if you don’t get the [production tax credit] we will not lend you the money to buy more turbines and build projects.”

It is also alarming, says Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that the U.S. has reached a point “where the priorities of Congress could become so distorted by politics” that it would turn its back on the next great global industry — clean power — “but that’s exactly what is happening.” If the wind and solar credits expire, said Resch, the impact in just 2009 would be more than 100,000 jobs either lost or not created in these industries, and $20 billion worth of investments that won’t be made.

While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America’s premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany — 540 high-paying engineering jobs — because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

In 1997, said Resch, America was the leader in solar energy technology, with 40 percent of global solar production. “Last year, we were less than 8 percent, and even most of that was manufacturing for overseas markets.”

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

Is this a compliment? From CNN.

Easley, a popular two term governor who is unable to run for re-election because of term limits, also praised Clinton for her persistence.

"I've been accused of being persistent, and down right aggravating…but this lady right here makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy," Easley said.

Another Edition of Follow the Money

April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Barack Obama's supporters are giving him more than just record amounts of cash. They also are providing personal information that may make his donor list the most powerful tool in U.S. politics.

Even if the Democratic presidential candidate doesn't succeed in his White House bid, this data will make Obama a power broker in the party for years to come. For the interest groups or Democratic candidates he chooses to sell it to, it would provide a gold mine of information and access to potential donors.

Almost 2 million people have entered personal information on Obama pages on social-networking Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace and his campaign's, offering home addresses, phone numbers, their views on specific issues and the names of friends. The data have allowed Obama, 46, to raise more than $200 million, fill sports arenas with supporters across the nation and motivate millions more with custom-tailored messages.

``It's gigantic,'' said Laura Quinn, chief executive officer of Catalist, a company that maintains a database of 280 million Americans. The list is as ``transformational'' as the advent of political advertising, she said.

Volunteering Information

The Illinois senator's biggest innovation is in persuading people to enter personal information directly on his campaign's Web site, according to Bill McIntyre, executive vice president of Grassroots Enterprise Inc., a Washington-based Internet marketing firm that advises campaigns.

McIntyre, a Republican and former chief national spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said the data entered by 800,000 names on may be worth as much as $200 million.

While in the past, campaigns have cross-referenced lists of registered voters against other records such as credit-card purchases or magazine subscriptions to find potential supporters, Obama's information is more accurate and precise because it relies on data that donors provide themselves.

``When people give information online, they are going to be more truthful and more credible because they are in the privacy of their own environment,'' said McIntyre.

Republican Effort

It's the kind of detailed information that Republican operatives such as Karl Rove, who directed President George W. Bush's campaigns, excelled at gathering through expensive microtargeting techniques that combine data from several sources. The Democrats responded with Catalist, a similar list- building effort organized by top Clinton campaign adviser Harold Ickes that sells its data to ``progressive'' causes and candidates, according to its Web site.

Obama's success stems from a decision early in his campaign to embrace the concept of social networking, allowing him to leap ahead of his Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, or the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona. For example, Obama now has 790,000 Facebook ``friends,'' compared with 150,000 for Clinton, 60, and 117,000 for McCain, 71., the first social network specifically devoted to a political campaign, is modeled on Facebook. Chris Hughes, a 24-year-old Facebook co-founder, has been a fulltime Obama campaign worker for more than a year and helped develop the candidate's site.

Part of Campaign

When supporters join, they become part of the campaign, gaining access to phone bank lists, local events and the ability to contact like-minded people or recruit new ones. is also a sophisticated data network that allows the campaign to home in on detailed information such as whether a supporter is more concerned about civil liberties, foreign policy, education or energy policy.

People who provide their information on line may not realize that the data they are posting at may have a long afterlife and find its way to other campaigns in future election cycles.

According to the Obama campaign's online privacy statement, it reserves the right to ``make personal information available to organizations with similar political viewpoints and objectives, in furtherance of our own political objectives.''

Fair-Market Value

Federal election laws require campaigns to charge for the use of their data. The campaign must either sell the information or record the transaction as an in-kind contribution at fair- market value.

Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment on the value or possible future uses of the data.

Even as Obama's interactive databases prove to be efficient ways to energize volunteers, their ability to raise large amounts of money may outlast the current campaign, said Tad Devine, an independent media consultant.

``That's really what we are talking about here,'' said Devine, a former strategist for Democrat John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. ``We are talking about a fundraising network that will far surpass the dominance that the Republicans held in the '80s and even in to the '90s.''

Obama's list of 1.4 million donors may be an especially strong fundraising tool in the future, Devine said.

``This is something where if this guy sends out a letter saying send some money to someone, suddenly a House candidate can have a half million dollars in a day,'' said Devine. ``That may be what the House candidate was hoping to raise in a quarter.''

This ability to produce results ensures Obama will play a prominent role in the future.

``Win or lose, it's his list,'' McIntyre sai

Monday, April 28, 2008

good take on Basra - iran using proxies

From NY Post

April 10, 2008 -- A GAMBLE that proved too costly.

That's how analysts in Tehran describe events last month in Basra. Iran's state-run media have de facto confirmed that this was no spontaneous "uprising." Rather, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tried to seize control of Iraq's second-largest city using local Shiite militias as a Trojan horse.

Tehran's decision to make the gamble was based on three assumptions:

* Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn't have the courage to defend Basra at the risk of burning his bridges with the Islamic Republic in Iran.Link

* The international force would be in no position to intervene in the Basra battle. The British, who controlled Basra until last December, had no desire to return, especially if this meant getting involved in fighting. The Americans, meanwhile, never had enough troops to finish off al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, let alone fight Iran and its local militias on a new front.

* The Shiite clerical leadership in Najaf would oppose intervention by the new Iraqi security forces in a battle that could lead to heavy Shiite casualties.

The Iranian plan - developed by Revolutionary Guard's Quds (Jerusalem) unit, which is in charge of "exporting the Islamic Revolution" - aimed at a quick victory. To achieve that, Tehran spent vast sums persuading local Iraqi security personnel to switch sides or to remain neutral.

The hoped-for victory was to be achieved as part of a massive Shiite uprising spreading from Baghdad to the south via heartland cities such as Karbala, Kut and al-Amarah. A barrage of rockets and missiles against the "Green Zone" in Baghdad and armed attacks on a dozen police stations and Iraqi army barracks in the Shiite heartland were designed to keep the Maliki government under pressure.

To seize control of Basra, Quds commanders used units known as Special Groups. These consist of individuals recruited from among the estimated 1.8 million Iraqi refugees who spent more than two decades in Iran during Saddam Hussein's reign. They returned to Iraq shortly after Saddam's fall and started to act as liaisons between Quds and local Shiite militias.

In last month's operation, Quds commanders used the name and insignia of the Mahdi Army, a militia originally created by the maverick cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as a cover for the Special Groups.

Initially, Quds commanders appeared to have won their bet. Their Special Groups and Mahdi Army allies easily seized control of key areas of Basra when more than 500 Iraqi security personnel abandoned their positions and disappeared into the woodwork.

Soon, however, the tide turned. Maliki proved that he had the courage to lead the new Iraqi Security Force (ISF) into battle, even if that meant confronting Iran. The ISF showed that it had the capacity and the will to fight.

Only a year ago, the ISF had been unable to provide three brigades (some 9,000 men) to help the US-led "surge" restore security in Baghdad. This time, the ISF had no difficulty deploying 15 brigades (30,000 men) for the battle of Basra.

Led by Gen. Mohan al-Freiji, the Iraqi force sent to Basra was the largest that the ISF had put together since its creation five years ago. This was the first time that the ISF was in charge of a major operation from start to finish and was fighting a large, well-armed adversary without US advisers.

During the Basra battles, the ISF did call on British and US forces to provide some firepower, especially via air strikes against enemy positions. But, in another first, the ISF used its own aircraft to transport troops and materiel and relied on its own communication system.

The expected call from the Najaf ayatollahs to stop "Shiite fratricide" failed to materialize. Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, the top cleric in Iraq, gave his blessings to the Maliki-launched operation. More broadly, the Shiite uprisings in Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and other cities that Quds commanders had counted upon didn't happen. The "Green Zone" wasn't evacuated in panic under a barrage of rockets and missiles.

After more than a week of fighting, the Iraqis forced the Quds commanders to call for a cease-fire through Sadr. The Iraqi commander agreed - provided that the Quds force directly guaranteed it. To highlight Iran's role in the episode, he insisted that the Quds force dispatch a senior commander to finalize the accord.

The Iran-backed side lost more than 600 men, with more than 1,000 injured. The ISF lost 88 dead and 122 wounded.

Some analysts suggest this was the first war between new Iraq and the Islamic Republic. If so, the Iraqis won.

To be sure, the Iranian-backed side lost partly because Iran couldn't use its full might, especially its air force. (That almost certainly would've led to war between Iran and the US-led coalition in Iraq.)

The battle for Basra showed that Iraq has a new army that's willing and able to fight. If the 15 brigades that fought are a sample, the new Iraq may have an effective army of more than 300,000 before year's end.

But the battle also showed that the ISF still lacks the weapons systems, including attack aircraft and longer-range missiles, needed to transform tactical victories into strategic ones. The Iranian-sponsored Special Groups and their Mahdi Army allies simply disappeared from the scene, taking their weapons with them, waiting for another fight.

Tehran tried to test the waters in Basra and, as an opportunist power, would've annexed southern Iraq under a quisling administration had that been attainable at a low cost. Once it became clear that the cost might be higher than the Quds force expected, Tehran opted to back down.

Yet this was just the first round. The struggle for Iraq isn't over.

Morty's Republican In-laws Will Not Like This - Sorry

The Democratic Party will not be suicidal. From TPM.

Howard Dean: Party Elders All Agree Race Shouldn't Go To Convention
By Greg Sargent - April 28, 2008, 9:07AM

Howard Dean, on ABC this morning, makes it absolutely clear that he and all the other "party elders" want the race to end well in advance of the convention:

"The rules say [superdelegates] can make up their mind in August if they want to, but there are a lot of Democrats myself included, Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi, and many many others who understand that we want the voters to have their say, that's over on June 3rd, and then the unpledged delegates really have got to make up their mind.

"None of the so-called party elders that I've talked to thought that this should go to the convention and I agree with that."

This is likely to provoke more anger from Hillary's major supporters, who have expressed fury at Dean for statements like this, which they characterize as meddling in the Dem primary.

Either way, Dean appears to be suggesting that it's likely that party elders will step in after the voting and try to engineer a movement of super-dels to the perceived winner.

Hillary, clearly, is hoping to be able to argue that by some metric or other she won the popular vote, in order to obscure perceptions of who won, hence turning the contest into a battle for super-del support. But if Obama wins the pledged del count, as expected, it doesn't appear likely that party elders will stand idly by while that happens, if these comments from Dean are any indication.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

pretty pretty bad for clinton

From NBC's Chuck Todd
One of the things that both Dem campaigns are always nervous about is defectors. In particular, Clinton is more vulnerable to this problem since she's the candidate that is trailing. Well, NBC News has learned that a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, former Amb. to Chile Gabriel Guerra-Mondragon is leaving the campaign to join up Barack Obama's campaign. Officially dubbed a "Hillraiser," Guerra-Mondragon raised nearly $500,000 for Clinton's campaign, according to some estimates. He has been informing people inside Clintonworld this week in what's been described as some tough conversations. A formal announcement of a role for Guerra-Mondragon on Obama's national finance committee will be made next week. Guerra-Mondragon was appointed Amb. to Chile by Pres. Clinton in '94 and served until '98.

Among the reasons for Guerra-Mondragon to defect, according to one informed source, was he was uneasy with the tone of the Clinton campaign and was beginning to worry about what this would mean for the general election.

It's unclear if this defection will lead to others; the Clinton camp has been particularly effective at getting folks to keep their powder dry. For Obama, this comes at a time when his campaign is trying to re-convince insiders that the math indicates he has the nomination virtually wrapped up. In addition, Guerra-Mondragon's defection could serve as a tipping point with some key Hispanic Democratic leaders that Obama is ready to start making a bigger effort to court Hispanics.

shark attack bitches

SOLANA BEACH, Calif. (AP) - Swimmers, surfers and casual beachgoers know now a great white shark might be lurking below the glassy blue surface of the ocean here.

With the weekend forecast promising dry winds and summery temperatures - classic Southern California beach weather - the thousands that typically would be expected to throng the Pacific shoreline will have to decide whether ignoring authorities and taking a dip is worth risking the danger officials believe still exists.

Helicopters searching for signs of the shark that killed triathlete David Martin will continue scanning the coastline Saturday from the city of San Diego to Carlsbad, said Solana Beach Lifeguard Capt. Craig Miller.

The beaches remain closed and will be patrolled throughout the weekend, according to city and county officials.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Best. Headline. Ever.

The story's not bad either. From Rueters, via The Cunning Realist.

Lynchings in Congo as penis theft panic hits capital

By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.

Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur.

Rumors of penis theft began circulating last week in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo's sprawling capital of some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.

Purported victims, 14 of whom were also detained by police, claimed that sorcerers simply touched them to make their genitals shrink or disappear, in what some residents said was an attempt to extort cash with the promise of a cure.

"You just have to be accused of that, and people come after you. We've had a number of attempted lynchings. ... You see them covered in marks after being beaten," Kinshasa's police chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Police arrested the accused sorcerers and their victims in an effort to avoid the sort of bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 suspected penis snatchers were beaten to death by angry mobs. The 27 men have since been released.

"I'm tempted to say it's one huge joke," Oleko said.

"But when you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it'," he said...

Money Talks Louder Than Happy Talk

Good indications here. From Bloomberg.

April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. led $43.3 billion of U.S. corporate bond sales, the busiest week on record, as financial companies sold debt at the highest yields since May 2001.

Sales compare with $31.2 billion last week and an average this year of $18 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Citigroup, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, sold $6 billion of hybrid bonds in the company's largest public debt offering, while New York-based securities firm Merrill Lynch raised $9.55 billion by issuing debt and preferred securities.

Bond offerings soared as investors grew more optimistic financial companies can recover from $309 billion of writedowns and credit losses tied to the collapse of subprime-mortgage securities. Banks and securities firms sold 88 percent of investment-grade debt this week, Bloomberg data show. High-yield bond sales swelled to the most since November.

``Investors are feeling better about banks being proactive about raising capital,'' said Mike Difley, who helps oversee $21 billion in fixed-income assets as a portfolio manager at American Century Investment Management in Kansas City. ``They're trying to get their house in order.''

The extra yield investors demand to own investment-grade debt fell 9 basis points this week to 268 basis points, the lowest since March 5, according to Merrill Lynch index data. Yet yields rose to 6.13 percent, the highest since August. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point...

Hi Girls... Nice to Meet You

From The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Eagles pick new cheerleading squad

By Peter Mucha

Last night, in a sold-out show at the Annenberg Center, 60 women competed to make the new Eagles cheerleading squad.

Who landed the 38 spots was kept secret, however, until this morning, when the competitors could call a hotline.

"I was very impressed by the contestants last night, and I think that we have assembled an amazing group of women," said Barbara Zaun, director of cheerleading.

Judges, who included Eagles owner Christina Lurie and former Eagles Brian Baldinger and Vaughn Hebron, scored the women based on a fitness walk in swimsuits, a dance routine, and a Q&A session. The event was hosted by Vinnie the Crumb of WYSP (94.1).

"I thought it was a very tough competition this year because all the girls were beautiful. They all brought a lot of power to the table," said Madeline Kane, 20, who will return to the squad after not only winning last night's dance competition but earning the highest overall score.

All but one of the 24 women who sought to return made the squad again, said Zaun.

Among the 15 rookies are two sisters from Media - Paige and Danni-Lynn Bell - who are joining their sister, Nikki, who made the squad last year.

"I think it's amazing to have three sisters who all have similar interests, all love the performing arts, and all have the qualifications to make the squad," Zaun said.

Jamie Steinberger, 23, will be back for her third season, after winning the fitness portion competition, for which she wore a navy-blue-and-white-striped swimsuit.

"It's the easiest part of the night," she said. "We walk around in a circle and strut ourselves on the stage. That's about it."

She could, however, have done "about 75 push-ups in a row, without stopping," if the judges had asked, the West Chester University student said.

Alicia Lee, 27, of Moorestown, won in the beauty category, also judged during the fitness portion of the show. Lee, who'll be back for her third year, said she does some professional modeling, works in her neurologist father's office, and hopes to become a professional poker player.

The Q&A portion was nerve-wracking, Kane said, and the women tried to prepare backstage by questioning one another.

Kane said she was so anxious, she wasn't sure afterward how she replied when asked what qualities she'd bring to the squad.

"I think I said I'm outgoing, I'm energetic, I'm a real team player," she said. ". . . I hope I said something that good."

Steinberger, asked why she liked living in the United States, spoke about appreciating America's freedom, opportunity and diversity. "I was thrilled to get that question," she said.

Asked what she'd change about her life, Lee said she wouldn't change a thing, because otherwise, she might not be standing on that stage.

The cheerleaders, who are paid an hourly rate, make $400 to $1,000 a month and hold other jobs, Zaun said. Among them are teachers, a medical student, an operating-room nurse, an accountant, and even a Defense Department employee...

Maria, If You're Reading, Don't Sleep...

From Springwise.

Earlier this year, we wrote about a sympathetic initiative by Paris airports, giving weary travellers a chance to recharge with a dose of full-spectrum light therapy.

Last week, IKEA offered fatigued Stockholm shoppers a similar form of respite by installing a Sovhotell (sleep hotel) in one of the city's downtown shopping centres. After checking in at Sovhotell's front desk, guests were asked whether they normally sleep on their stomach, side or back, and were given a pillow to suit their personal sleeping style. In addition to single and double beds, the Sovhotell also featured a bridal suite.

Guests were welcome to snooze for 15 minutes, and were given eye masks and headphones with soothing soundscapes to help them benefit from their sponsored power naps. According to IKEA, inspiration for the Sovhotell came from Japanese capsule hotels and from the fact that the shoppers in its own stores are occasionally found napping in the bedroom section.

No word yet on whether IKEA is planning to bring this shopper-friendly campaign to malls in other parts of the world, but we think it's a great example of the tryvertising trend: marketing a product by letting customers try it out in a relevant setting, without pressuring them to buy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

John McCain Uses Slave Labor?

I'm already not a fan, but this is pretty pretty disgusting. From The Birmingham News.

Thursday, April 24, 2008
News staff writer

Republican presidential candidate John McCain got a deal when his campaign rented gathering space from the city of Homewood for a private fundraiser earlier this week.

His campaign was given a discount of about 80 percent off the standard booking rate for Rosewood Hall. In September, Jefferson County Democrats rented the same facility and were charged the full rate.

The McCain campaign was charged $250 to use two rooms in the hall, which normally would book for $1,200 on a weeknight. The campaign also was given free labor from Homewood City Jail inmates to set up tables and chairs for the event, avoiding a $100 set-up fee, but did pay a standard $50 cleaning fee.

A big FU to the Mid East

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Brazil's discoveries of what may be two of the world's three biggest oil finds in the past 30 years could help end the Western Hemisphere's reliance on Middle East crude, Strategic Forecasting Inc. said.

Saudi Arabia's influence as the biggest oil exporter would wane if the fields are as big as advertised, and China and India would become dominant buyers of Persian Gulf oil, said Peter Zeihan, vice president of analysis at Strategic Forecasting in Austin, Texas. Zeihan's firm, which consults for companies and governments around the world, was described in a 2001 Barron's article as ``the shadow CIA.''

Brazil may be pumping ``several million'' barrels of crude daily by 2020, vaulting the nation into the ranks of the world's seven biggest producers, Zeihan said in a telephone interview. The U.S. Navy's presence in the Persian Gulf and adjacent waters would be reduced, leaving the region exposed to more conflict, he said.

``We could see that world becoming a very violent one,'' said Zeihan, former chief of Middle East and East Asia analysis for Strategic Forecasting. ``If the United States isn't getting any crude from the Gulf, what benefit does it have in policing the Gulf anymore? All of the geopolitical flux that wracks that region regularly suddenly isn't our problem.''

Tupi and Carioca

Brazil's state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA in November said the offshore Tupi field may hold 8 billion barrels of recoverable crude. Among discoveries in the past 30 years, only the 15-billion-barrel Kashagan field in Kazakhstan is larger.

Haroldo Lima, director of the country's oil agency, last week said another subsea field, Carioca, may have 33 billion barrels of oil. That would be the third biggest field in history, behind only the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia and Burgan in Kuwait.

Analysts Mark Flannery of Credit Suisse Group and Gustavo Gattass of UBS AG challenge the estimate for Carioca. Lima, the Brazilian oil agency director, later attributed the figure to a magazine.

Flannery told clients during an April 16 conference call that 600 million barrels is a ``reasonable'' estimate and suggested Lima may have been referring to the entire geologic formation to which Carioca belongs.

Supply Boost

Carioca is one of seven fields identified so far in the BM- S-9 exploration area, part of a formation called Sugar Loaf.

If additional drilling by Petrobras, as Petroleo Brasileiro is known, confirms the Tupi and Carioca estimates, the fields together would contain enough oil to supply every refinery on the U.S. Gulf Coast for 15 years. Petrobras said it needs at least three months to determine how much crude Carioca may hold.

Zeihan said that beyond supply gains from Brazil, it will take a tripling of Canadian oil-sands output and greater fuel efficiency to end Western reliance on Middle East oil.

The U.S. imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, or 66 percent of its needs, according to the Energy Department in Washington. Saudi Arabia was the second-largest supplier in January, behind Canada.

Persian Gulf nations accounted for 23 percent of U.S. imports, compared with Brazil's 1.7 percent share. Brazilian crude output rose 1.9 percent last year to 2.14 million barrels, according to the International Energy Agency.

``Hemispheric energy independence sounds a little pie-in- the-sky given that this hemisphere already is generating one- third of overall global demand,'' said Jason Gammel, an oil analyst at Macquarie Bank Ltd. in New York. ``It's pretty tough to talk about self-sufficiency unless we were to see food-based biofuels taking an even bigger role in the next five to 10 years than is already mandated.''

Offshore Fields

Zeihan predicts a 2012 start to production at Tupi. Technology needed to tap fields like Tupi, which sit hundreds of miles offshore beneath thousands of feet of rock, sand and salt, hasn't been developed, he said.

Petrobras, Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Norsk Hydro ASA plan to start pumping oil from eight Brazilian fields in the next 2 1/2 years that will produce a combined 1.02 million barrels a day, enough to supply two-thirds of the crude used by U.S. East Coast refineries.

More discoveries will follow in Brazil's offshore basins, most of which have yet to be opened to exploration, Zeihan said. Repsol YPF SA, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Devon Energy Corp. are among the producers scouring Brazil's waters for reserves.

``The finds they've got so far are just the tip of the iceberg,'' Zeihan said. ``Brazil is going to change the balance of the global oil markets, and Petrobras will become a geopolitical supermajor.''

more misguided US policy to alternative energy

Create incentives for all to build green energy plants, etc and they will. from

The biggest barrier to building all these solar thermal power plants in the Mojave desert is, unsurprisingly, cost. At this week’s Fortune Green conference the CEO of California utility PG&E, Peter Darbee, said he’s had discussions about using PG&E’s deep pockets to buy their own solar thermal power plants. It’s a big deal because utilities don’t traditionally own solar power-generating systems, and PG&E’s $36 billion in assets could potentially provide much-needed funding for solar startups to get these plants up and running in California.

“There are some very compelling financial reasons for utilities to own solar plants,” explained PG&E spokesperson Keely Wachs. “One reason that Peter highlighted is the fact that utilities can leverage their assets to get relatively less costly access to capital.”

But PG&E says there are some hurdles standing between it and the solar power-generation business, namely the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The ITC, a tax credit for 30 percent of a solar investment, has helped to reduce the costs of building solar systems for numerous solar companies. But as Wachs notes, it doesn’t extend to the utility industry — at least not now.

PG&E would obviously like to share in this credit, so much so that Darbee said he is actively trying to get the regulation amended so that utilities could qualify. But if it’s not, he says the company will look into creating a subsidiary that would qualify, ultimately giving PG&E access to the credit.

ITC or no, PG&E still wants to own solar plants. “I wouldn’t say that a lack of the ITC would prevent us from pursuing ownership of solar plants,” Wachs told us.

Utilities are increasingly being subject to state renewable portfolio standards, which means they have to make sure a certain percentage of their energy comes from renewable sources. This is likely driving utilities to become more aggressive in getting into the power generation business.

While some utilities have started acquiring wind projects, very few have moved to own solar thermal plants. Though Southern California Edison will own its distributed photovoltaic rooftop plan, which it announced back in March. And if PG&E does decide to own a solar plant, it won’t be the first time in its history that PG&E will generate power. Wachs explained that “prior to deregulation, the corporation did own other generating entities. The company was forced to sell these assets under deregulation.”

The solar startups building these plants in the desert would certainly support the idea of PG&E’s ownership plans. Some, like the CEO of solar thermal startup Ausra, Bob Fishman (our interview with him here), said, are expecting it. “I see utilities stepping into the space and becoming owners of plants,” he said at the Fortune conference.

Burgeoning middle class in India

India's luxury car market, till recently was dominated by just one player, Mercedes Benz and a few individual imports, registered a 50% growth last year, with the sale of 4,500 cars. That was the first effect of the entry of more players.

This year, they expect to sell between 6,000-7,000, with more players and more models. Of this number, the oldest player in the segment, Mercedes Benz, has revised its sales target for 08 to 3,000 cars. BMW's target is 2,000 cars, leaving the balance for the others.

One reason for the higher sales is the aggressive dealer network that the car makers are rolling out. In Pune, for instance, from a situation a few months ago of just Mercedes Benz having a showroom, BMW and Audi have set up dealerships. And Volvo Cars, part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group (PAG) has declared its intention of setting up dealerships in the country's top 10 cities, including Pune.

Auto industry analysts claim Pune had a population of about 50 Audis, prior to the opening of the showroom, imported by individuals. Now that there is a dealer in the city, this number has risen dramatically, with at least another 25-30 cars with the four inter-linked circles to be seen on city roads.

Ditto for BMW, which opened a showroom in the city in December 07. While a BMW spokesperson said they do not give city-specific details, the visible effect is everywhere: open a dealership and see sales grow dramatically.

WaWa, Moishe used to love her

From the Illadelph:

Looks like Wawa is pulling out of Center City entirely. Less than three months after Wawa closed its Rittenhouse Square Wawa at 20th and Locust, it is closing its psuedo-Rittenhouse Square Wawa at 20th and Chestnut.

The 20th and Chestnut Wawa will shutter on Saturday, May 2, 2008. For no reason whatsoever. The Wawa at 17th and Arch is also closing in May.

Wow, Wawa Corporate — you are some cold-hearted deceitful and downright deathly stupid bitches.

After all, what company doesn't strive to obtain an incredibly desirable and loyal customer base of 100,000 strong conveniently located in a compact 2.5-square-mile downtown… and then screw them entirely all at once???

Howard Stoeckel, Mr. Wawa CEO, pat yourself on the back. You sir have just raised the bar for corporate incompetence/douchebaggery to an entirely new level. Congratulations — you possess the vision and business acumen of a drunken sea otter.

most people in this country could stand to work out their brains

From Springwise:

Our brains resemble our muscles in one key respect: don’t exercise them, and they're likely to lose strength. Conversely, many experts now believe that brains stimulated in a healthy manner can better resist debilitating mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Which begs the question: how to keep brains in top shape?

The solution offered by vibrantBrains, a San Francisco start-up, is to create a workout centre for the brain, patterned after a health club. Instead of exercising muscle groups via a series of circuit-training machines, vibrantBrains members hone their mental skills using a variety of computer software programs and other tools, for a monthly membership fee of USD 60. vibrantBrain’s health-club-for-the-mind approach should appeal to the millions of baby boomers who’ve spent their adult lives regularly visiting gyms. As they approach retirement age, they’ll want to maintain their mental agility, too, as attested by sales of Nintendo’s Brain Age, which sold 10 million copies, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

No doubt we’ll see plenty of additional products and services aimed at enhancing baby boomers’ brain power, joining a long list of companies already selling everything from vitamins to training seminars. Still, vibrantBrain’s model is unique. And from a business standpoint, it has a couple of profit-enhancing advantages over the traditional gyms that it’s based on. Space requirements are minimal compared to health clubs, and entrepreneurs won’t have to lease or buy an expensive array of exercise machines.

If the mental health club idea catches on, the real competition eventually may come from traditional health clubs, which could add brain-exercise routines as easily as they’ve added yoga and martial arts instruction. However, even if that happens, there should be plenty of opportunities for start-ups to differentiate themselves—from rehabilitative clinics for the elderly to centers focused on mental and physical exercises for kids.


Wow! Young Michael Jordan

Via True Hoop.

Trieste (Italy) summer of 1986,Stefanel Trieste vs Juve Caserta, Nike exhibition game with Michael Jordan shattered the backboard,i recorded it in the year 1986 in a sports program of the Spanish television,i can promise you that this video is absolutely real,no fake,i have published the video with the music of the B.S.O of the movie Crocodile Dundee,Theme:Mick Meets New York

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

From Matt Yglesias.

...Ultimately, the only thing we really know about either candidate's base of support is that Obama's is slightly larger, and that he's demonstrated more ability to expand it over time through campaigning. Either way, though, I think Democrats can be fairly confident. What voters "know" about the three candidates right now is that John McCain is a war hero maverick, Hillary Clinton is a castrating harpy, and Barack Obama is a radical black Muslim and given that . . . the race is about tied. As Ross Douthat points out that's not good news for McCain.

WTF is wrong with kids these days? (they all want their fifteen minutes of fame is Moishe's guess)

From The Smoking Gun:

APRIL 23--A Florida man is facing elder abuse charges after he allegedly filmed his senile 85-year-old grandmother wearing a ski mask and holding a gun for a "Gangstas and Thugs" street DVD series. Michael Alfinez, 18, was arrested yesterday by Palm Beach sheriff's deputies, who began their probe after a troubling video was seized earlier this year during a traffic stop. According to a sheriff's report, a copy of which you'll find below, Alfinez admitted filming his grandmother, Marie Huertas, and placing a ski mask on the senior citizen. He also acknowledged telling Huertas what to say on the video. Alfinez is pictured in the mug shot at right; Huertas, in a ski mask, can be seen in the adjacent video screen grab. The report notes that Huertas, who is holding a .22-caliber gun and appears "disoriented" in the video, makes a series of profane threats and statements like, "Fuck you if you don't like this," "I'll shoot you," and "Palm Beach County, bitch." When investigators showed Huertas the video, "she appeared to be shocked" at her recorded comments, and remarked, "they are making a criminal out of me." In addition to the abuse charge, Alfinez is facing weapons charges since the video also shows him (and two pals) firing a gun from a moving vehicle. Alfinez said that he got the idea to film his grandmother from an earlier "Gangstas and Thugs" production (which apparently featured another pensioner). Alfinez told investigators that he "knew my grandma could be like that too or better."

Small solar power plants networked in cities - genius!

From Venturebeat:

Writing on Nanosolar’s blog, CEO Martin Roscheisen has unveiled the next prong in his firm’s business plan — a focus on municipal solar power plants of 2 - 10 megawatts in size. The idea is to build 10 acre lots on the outskirts of small cities that could feed into the municipal power grid directly.

Each lot, consisting of several rows of solar panels mounted on rails above ground, could provide up to 2 megawatts, enough to serve 1,000 homes. The panels would be mounted on rails to prevent them from affecting the surrounding wildlife and vegetation.

Nanosolar’s scheme could be scaled up to supply the needs of larger cities — for instance, 5 lots, which would generate 10 megawatts of electricity, could serve 5,000 homes. Unlike coal-fired plants, which typically take 10 - 15 years to build, solar power plants can be done in as little as 12 months — and much more cheaply.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sony buys Gracenote, Interesting buy (moishe thinks)

From MacWorld

Sony Corp. of America will buy Gracenote, which made its name with software that identifies digital music files, for about $260 million.

Sony will keep Gracenote as a wholly owned subsidiary and use its technology in its own digital content, service and device offerings. But Gracenote’s current business will keep operating separately and developing new technologies, and its management will remain, Sony said. It will pay $260 million plus “other contingent consideration,” the company said.

Although it pioneered portable music players with the Walkman cassette player and jointly developed the CD, Sony’s digital and online music efforts have fallen short of competitors such as Apple. The company shut down its Connect music store last August after trying to compete against Apple’s iTunes Store for three years.

Gracenote, formerly CDDB, maintains a database of information about music and uses it in a variety of applications, including identifying tracks, finding similar songs and presenting lyrics and other relevant content. Its customers include iTunes, Yahoo Music Jukebox, and companies in the mobile music business, such as Sony Ericsson, Japanese carrier KDDI and Europe’s Musiwave. Consumer electronics suppliers, including Sony, also use Gracenote technology in their products. The company is based in Emeryville, California.

The companies expect the deal to close in late May.

wait? is this real or SNL skit?


Very enlightening. From the New Republic.

Highway Bias

Just to follow up on the point about public transportation in the previous post, it's no secret that Congress has always spent far more to promote driving than it's spent on public transit—note that the White House requested $40 billion for the federal highway budget in 2008, versus $1.08 billion for railroad funding. But that's only the beginning. While doing some searching around, I came across an old Brookings report from 2003, which usefully compared the funding process for highway and mass transit projects, and laid out some glaring differences. nder current law, the federal government usually covers about 80-90 percent of the costs for a new highway project, compared with only 50 percent of the costs for a transit system. Local communities have to pick up most of the rest of the tab for public transportation, with state governments chipping in what's left. Since doing that usually requires raising property taxes, most local governments just prefer to build highways. (Indeed, some 30 states restrict their gas-tax revenues to highway purposes only.)

Moreover, transit projects have to undergo intensive scrutiny: a cost-benefit analysis, a land-use analysis, an environmental-impact analysis, and, usually, a detailed comparison among various alternatives. That all sounds pretty reasonable, except that highway projects don't have to undergo any of this—save for a (considerably less strict) environmental analysis—federal oversight is rather minimal. Highway money is basically a gift to states and local governments.

Not surprisingly, most communities find it far easier to build new highways than to set up, say, a light-rail system, no matter how popular the latter might be. (The Brookings report gives an example of a popular light-rail proposal in Milwaukee going down in flames for exactly this reason.) So, sure, any decent plan for reducing emissions and curbing gasoline use should include more money for public transit. But it also seems like a lot of funding rules need to be changed, so that transit and highway projects can compete on a more level playing field.

--Bradford Plumer

Doesnt this put Iran and US on same page?

AIRO, Egypt (AP) - Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader issued a new audiotape Tuesday accusing Shiite Iran of spreading a conspiracy theory about who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks to discredit the power of the Sunni terrorist network.

Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, has stepped up his denunciations of Iran in recent messages in part to depict al-Qaida as the Arabs' top defense against the Persian nation's rising power in the Middle East.

The increasing enmity toward Iran is a notable change of rhetoric from al-Zawahri, who in the past rarely mentioned the country—apparently in a hopes he would be able to forge some sort of understanding with Tehran based on their common rivalry with the United States. Iran has long sought to distance itself from al-Qaida.

"Al-Zawahri wanted to work with Iran, but he's deeply disappointed that Iran has not cooperated with al-Qaida," said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert and author of "Inside al-Qaida: The Global Network of Terror."

So now, al-Zawahri "wants to appeal to the anti-Shiite, anti-Iran sentiments in the Arab and Muslim world," said Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

Al-Zawahri appeared intent on exploiting widespread worry in the Arab world over Iran's influence, particularly in Iraq, to garner support for al-Qaida. At the same time, he sought to denigrate Iran's ally Hezbollah, which has gained some popularity even among Sunnis in the region for its fight against Israel.

This is good for Moishe's goal to trade carbon offsets

From Carbon Positive:

A nationwide emissions trading scheme in the United States would have no serious detrimental impact on the economy and add less than one cent in the dollar to US households bills, according to analysis released by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The EDF study analyses the results of five other studies on the impact of emissions trading on the US economy conducted by Energy Information Agency, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Research Triangle Institute and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.

EDF concluded that reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2050 would only slow US economic growth by 0.03 per cent a year and maintain an average long term growth rate of 3 per cent. This represents the median impact distilled from the five studies and shows a carbon trading regime would not put big emitters out of business or cost jobs, EDF says.

“Put another way, our gross domestic product is projected to reach $26 trillion in January 2030. If we capped greenhouse gases, according to these studies, the economy would hit that same mark by April,” said report author Nathaniel Keohane, director of economic policy and analysis at EDF.

“If we put a cap-and-trade policy in place soon, we can achieve substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions without significant adverse consequences to the economy,” the report says. This echoes the findings of international reports such as the IPCC fourth assessment and the UK Stern Report which drew similar conclusions. Like those reports, EDF warns that the economic cost of doing nothing about climate change will be a lot greater in the long run than the cost of putting a price on carbon emissions.

US President George W Bush continues to reject the idea of a cap and trade scheme and hard emissions reduction targets. He announced last week a goal to stop the growth in emissions by 2025.

The EDF findings are also at directly odds with other US studies including one released in March by the National Association of Manufacturers and American Council for Capital Formation that a cap and trade scheme of the sort being proposed in the Senate in the Leiberman-Warner Bill would result in the loss of up to 1.8 million jobs by 2020 and 4 million by 2030.

EDF’s Peter Goldmark accused some corporate interests of “deliberately trying to scare the American public” over emissions trading in the lead up to the Senate debate over the bill scheduled to begin in June.

A key rider on EDF’s conclusions is that carbon import tariffs may have to be levied on goods coming into the US “to ensure a level playing field”. There is growing support in industrialised nations for such trade support to protect the competitiveness of their import-competing industries by imposing duties on goods coming from developing nations without similar emissions restraints.

No One is Leading on This Issue, But Clinton Joins the McCain Stupidity Parade

Update to an earlier post.

Clinton Joins McCain on Gas-Tax Holiday; Obama Opposes

Nick Timiraos reports from Pittsburgh on the presidential race.

Policy differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been far and few, but a new one emerged on Monday over a proposed gas tax holiday. Obama says he’s against while Clinton says she’s in favor, putting her on the same side as John McCain, who proposed such a holiday last week.

Gas prices could hit $4 this summer, raising the ire of voters and putting pressure on presidential candidates to promise immediate action.

Speaking on Larry King Live on Monday night, Clinton outlined a series of steps to address the issue at the beginning of the show, reflecting the growing importance of pocketbook concerns among voters. “I would also consider a gas tax holiday, if we could make up the lost revenues from the Highway Trust Fund,” she said, without specifying how to make up those lost revenues.

Earlier Monday at a community college in the Philadelphia suburbs, Obama rejected a tax holiday as bad economic policy. “I’ve said I think John McCain’s proposal for a three-month tax holiday is a bad idea,” Obama said, warning consumers that any price cut would be short lived before costs spike back.

“We’re talking about 5 percent of your total cost of gas that you suspend for three months, which might save you a few hundred bucks that then will spike right up,” Obama said. “Now keep in mind that it will save you that if Exxon Mobil doesn’t decide, ‘We’ll just tack on another 5 percent on the current cost.’”

Obama also said that pausing the tax would deprive the federal highway fund of its revenue source for needed infrastructure repairs. But he said he opposed an increase in the gas tax, despite a need for Americans to reduce their dependence on oil.

McCain, the likely Republican nominee, called for Congress to suspend the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor day last week. Economists have warned that the benefits of such a holiday are short lived.

McCain may feel more pressure to take steps because voters could hold the Bush administration accountable if gas prices spiral out of control. At a press conference earlier this year, President Bush expressed surprise over how high gas prices had risen.

28% Approval Actually Sounds Pretty Good to Me, All Things Considered

From USA Today.

WASHINGTON — President Bush has set a record he'd presumably prefer to avoid: the highest disapproval rating of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing; 69% disapprove. The approval rating matches the low point of his presidency, and the disapproval sets a new high for any president since Franklin Roosevelt.

The previous record of 67% was reached by Harry Truman in January 1952, when the United States was enmeshed in the Korean War...

Location, Location, Location...

Turkey is playing hardball, I like it. From Bloomberg.

Turkey Seeks Bigger Pipeline Role, Roils Europe It Aims to Join

By Celestine Bohlen

April 22 (Bloomberg) -- Turkey is playing hardball in the geopolitical struggle over an $8 billion pipeline at the center of Europe's efforts to cut dependence on Russian natural gas.

The nation, which bridges Europe and Central Asia, is trying to profit from its strategic location and become a key part of Europe's energy plan. This might bolster its push to join the European Union -- if its negotiating tactics don't exhaust Europe's patience.

Europe wants Turkey to be a transit corridor along the Nabucco pipeline's 3,300-kilometer (2,062-mile) route from the Caspian Sea region to Austria. Turkey wants more control: acting as a regional energy hub, collecting gas from the east, buying some domestically at below-market prices and passing on the rest to Europe for a variable fee.
Pipeline Monopoly

Moscow-based Gazprom OAO has a monopoly on gas pipelines from Russia and Central Asia to Europe. Russia accounts for a quarter of the EU's gas consumption and more than 40 percent of gas imports. With gas demand rising 3 percent a year, the EU will consume 620 billion cubic meters by 2020, 500 billion imported, its figures show.

Nabucco has political backing from the EU and U.S. as an alternative to Gazprom. Meanwhile Gazprom and Eni SpA, Italy's largest oil company, are promoting a new $15 billion pipeline, named South Stream, to rival Nabucco.

In January 2006, Nabucco catapulted to the top of the EU's agenda after Russia briefly cut gas deliveries to Ukraine over a price dispute, blocking flows to Europe. Although Nabucco's capacity of 31 billion cubic meters would account for only 5 percent of the EU's 2020 gas needs, it would provide competition and may help lower prices, the EU says.

``The Nabucco pipeline is a clear economic and political necessity,'' said EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in a March 2006 interview.

Gas-Rich Regions

Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an EU candidate since 2005, has long aspired to link the oil-and gas-rich regions of Central Asia with Europe. Its port city of Ceyhan receives 1 million barrels daily of Azerbaijani oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

Turkey's push for more control over Nabucco, and more revenue, clashes with the EU's proposal that Turkey -- like EU members Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria -- collect only transmission fees tied to costs.

``All Turkey is trying to do is get some of the gas for domestic consumption, and its fair share of commercial transactions,'' says Mithat Balkan, who until six months ago was the Turkish Foreign Ministry's energy coordinator.

Turkey doesn't feel any obligation to abide by rules set by a club that hasn't yet accepted it as a member, Balkan says.

Will Isiah Thomas Top Larry Brown's Buyout Number?

Larry set the bar high with $18.5 mil, so good luck, Isiah. From ESPN.

Former New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas has been banned from having any contact with members of the team as part of his reassignment agreement with team president Donnie Walsh, the New York Daily News reported, citing a team source.

Walsh, who replaced Thomas as the Knicks' president, fired him as coach last week after Thomas went 56-108 as coach, including this season's 23-59 disaster. He has been reassigned as an advisor to the team.

According to the report, there is concern that Thomas, if allowed to have any contact with the team, could either willingly or unwillingly undermine its new coach. Thomas acquired all the players on the current Knicks roster as team president.

But the agreement does not prohibit Thomas from speaking to Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, according to the report.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bloomberg = Mr Fix It

first they want him to run for president, now just buy the NY Times:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - People close to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are encouraging him to buy the New York Times Co and save the company from shareholder assaults, while members of its controlling family are interested in a rescuer, according to media reports.

Bloomberg could take the company private and "help protect the brand" with his estimated $11.6 billion personal fortune, Newsweek magazine said in its April 28 edition, quoting an unnamed source.

Shares of the New York Times, publisher of the newspaper of the same name and the Boston Globe, rose as much as 3 percent.

The New York Post reported on Monday that some members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family want to find a protector, according to unnamed sources.

But a Times spokeswoman, repeating a position frequently attributed to the Ochs-Sulzbergers, said the family believes the company's current capital structure is the best way to protect its editorial independence.

scary - hezbollah

From the excellent blog, Global Guerrillas:

Hezbollah is in the process of evolving into a more effective force. Nicholas Blanford has a great article over at the Christian Science Monitor on this.

New type of military:

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the party's leader, in February said that Hizbullah had evolved into an "unparalleled new school" that is part guerrilla force and part conventional army.

This is aka a 4GW military.

New offensive methods:

New tactics are being taught, including how to "seize and hold" positions, a requirement that Hizbullah's guerrilla fighters – traditionally schooled in hit-and-run methods – never needed before... Jawad says that the next war will be "fought more in Israel than in Lebanon," one comment of many from various fighters that suggest Hizbullah is planning commando raids into northern Israel.

In context: Simultaneous hostage dramas during a conflict to shut down city/town centers, economic activity, and sow confusion? Broad spectrum damage. Civilians are the best defensive works possible in the modern variant of the strategic barrage. As a result, these hostage dramas could last for the duration of the conflict. Message to fighters is that if they survive: they will be released in end of conflict prisoner exchange (its not necessarily a one way mission).

Wider movement :

Hizbullah's military buildup is not confined to Shiite Lebanese. Sunnis, Christians, and Druze also are being recruited into reservist units called "Saraya," or battalions... Sheikh Afif Naboulsi, a prominent Hizbullah cleric, last month was quoted as saying that next time "the Israelis will find resistance fighters from all sects and denominations."

This is a variation on open insurgency.

novel approach to generating more energy

China is the Saudi Arabia of waste heat, according to Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies.

The country's power plants aren't very efficient and, unlike Denmark or Japan, China hasn't invested a lot in technologies that can capture the heat and harness it to produce electricity. That means there's a vast amount of potential energy being squandered--or waiting to be tapped by an entrepreneur or two.

China isn't alone. Over half of the electricity produced in the U.S., for instance, never actually gets used for a productive purpose. A lot of it gets converted into heat, and is then lost.

"There is a tremendous amount of low-hanging fruit," Ballentine said. "Power plants in the U.S. make more heat than Japan uses in a year."

As a result, expect to see a number of companies pursuing this opportunity. China Energy Recovery, for instance, announced this week that it has landed $8.5 million in financing to expand operations. (Ballentine consults for CER.).

In the U.S., meanwhile, keep an eye on Recycled Energy Development, founded by Tom Casten, one of the big names in the industry. He also founded Trigen Energy and Primary Energy.

And GMZ Energy, spun out of Boston College and MIT, says that it too has a more efficient way for converting heat to electricity.

Recycled Energy, like most companies in this business, doesn't sell equipment. Rather, the companies install it at a power plant, maintain it, and get paid according to the percentage of power the equipment saves. If power consumption, controlling for variables, drops by $1 million, a company might receive $500,000, for example.

The technology, Ballentine said, is fairly well-established. Mostly, getting energy out of waste heat revolves around getting companies to adopt it.

Quote of the Day

Tell Morty how you really feel, Juan Cole.

McCain's whole discourse on Iraq is just a typical rightwing Washington fantasy made up in order to get you to spend $15 billion a month on his friends in the military industrial complex and to get you to allow him to gut the US constitution and the Bill of Rights.
McCain can't come out and say we need to crush the Armed Iraqi Revolution, because that would be an admission that the US has been fighting Iraqis for 5 years and still hasn't defeated them. So he and the Republican strategists and the retired generals and their Pentagon handlers make up this "al-Qaeda" business, as though people in Baquba would be gunning for Americans if Americans hadn't invaded their country and turned it upside down.

It is the US military occupation of Iraq that is producing "al-Qaeda" wannabes, and if it is ended the Iraqis and their neighbors will polish those off tout de suite. Keep the military occupation going, as McCain desires, and you are running an incubator for terrorism against the US and its allies that has already produced hits on Madrid and the London Underground.

In other words, elect McCain, my friends, and you are summoning the awful genie of another 9/11. I said it. I mean it. I'm not taking it back. That man's announced policies could well produce a blowback that will lead to the end of democracy in the United States. It is a momentous decision.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

trojan horse for mass acceptance of frankenfood?

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) - The U.N. chief warned Sunday that the world must urgently increase food production to ease skyrocketing prices and pledged to set up a task force on a crisis threatening to destabilize developing nations.

The cost of food has increased by around 40 percent since mid-2007 worldwide, and the strain has caused riots and protests in countries like Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Egypt.

"We must make no mistake, the problem is big. If we offer the right aid, the solutions will come," Ban said at the opening of a a five-day U.N. conference on trade and development in Ghana's capital, Accra.

why flowers have lost their scent

from the Independent

Pollution is dulling the scent of flowers and impeding some of the most basic processes of nature, disrupting insect life and imperilling food supplies, a new study suggests.

The potentially hugely significant research – funded by the blue-chip US National Science Foundation – has found that gases mainly formed from the emissions of car exhausts prevent flowers from attracting bees and other insects in order to pollinate them. And the scientists who have conducted the study fear that insects' ability to repel enemies and attract mates may also be impeded.

The researchers – at the University of Virginia – say that pollution is dramatically cutting the distance travelled by the scent of flowers. Professor Jose Fuentes, who led the study, said: "Scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment could travel for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 metres. But today they may travel only 200 to 300 metres. This makes it increasingly difficult for bees and other insects to locate the flowers."

for some peoples, times are really good

LONDON (Reuters) - While the global credit crunch has forced many consumers to rein in spending, one Beijing-based billionaire has splashed out a record $500,000 on 27 bottles of red wine, London-based Antique Wine Company said on Saturday.

The anonymous Chinese entrepreneur bought a mix of vintages of Romanee Conti, a Burgundy wine and considered to be among the world's most exclusive with only 450 cases produced each year.

The client bought 12 bottles of Romanee Conti 1978, two bottles of the 1961, 1966, 1996 and 2003 and single bottles of the 1981, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2002.

PALM BEACH — In another sign of just how hot the mansion market is, the oceanfront estate built by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Sidney Kimmel has sold for $81.5 million, a record for the island.

John L. Thornton, 54, a former Goldman Sachs partner and chairman of the Brookings Institution, is the buyer, people familiar with the transaction said.

this sentiment can be applicable to most any foreign and domestic policy

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted Friday that an international deadlock over how to deal with global warming will end once President Bush leaves office, while a leading expert warned of dire consequences if urgent action is not taken.

Schwarzenegger spoke at a conference at Yale University in which 18 states pledged to take action on climate change. He noted a dispute over whether the U.S. should commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions before China and India do the same.

"But I think the deadlock is about to be broken," said Schwarzenegger, a Republican like Bush.

Schwarzenegger said all three president candidates would be great for the environment and predicted progress after one is inaugurated.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Funky Jazz (as opposed to jazzy funk)

Great artists, great tracks, nothing not to like. Go check out Funky 16 Corners.


Herbie Hancock – Wiggle Waggle (WB)
Buddy Rich – Chameleon (Groove Merchant)
Ray Bryant – Doing My Thing (Cadet)
Lou Donaldson – Sanford and Son (Blue Note)
Eddie Harris – Listen Here (Atlantic)
Mongo Santamaria – Windjammer (Atlantic)
Barry Miles – Woodstock (Mainstream)
Houston Person – Cissy Strut (Prestige)
Freddy McCoy – Huh! (Prestige)
Reuben Wilson – Cisco Kid (Groove Merchant)
Ramsey Lewis – The Unsilent Minority (Cadet)

If trees could talk

The world's oldest living tree on record is a nearly 10,000 year-old spruce that has been discovered in central Sweden, Umeaa University said on Thursday.

Researchers had discovered a spruce with genetic material dating back 9,550 years in the Fulu mountain in Dalarna, according to Leif Kullmann, a professor of Physical Geography at the university in northwestern Sweden.

That would mean it had taken root in roughly the year 7,542 BC.

"It was a big surprise because we thought until (now) that this kind of spruce grew much later in those regions," he said.

Scientists had previously believed the world's oldest trees were 4,000 to 5,000 year-old pine trees found in North America.

The new record-breaking tree was discovered in Dalarna in 2004 when Swedish researchers were carrying out a census of tree species in the region, Kullman said.

The tree's genetic material age had been calculated using carbon dating at a laboratory in Miami, Florida.

Spruces, which according to Kullmann offer rich insight into climate change, had long been regarded as relatively newcomers in the Swedish mountain region.

The discovery of the ancient tree had therefore led to "a big change in our way of thinking," he said.

Good Question

This is a pet peeve of mine. From Paul Krugman.

I understand why it’s political poison to show disrespect for small-town values — dignity is precious to all of us, and often trumps material interest. But why is it OK to disrespect big city values, even to suggest — as Bush has — that big-city dwellers aren’t part of the “real America”?


Glad I did not tune in. From the Washington Post.

By Tom Shales
Thursday, April 17, 2008; Page C01

When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.
For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.

The fact is, cable networks CNN and MSNBC both did better jobs with earlier candidate debates. Also, neither of those cable networks, if memory serves, rushed to a commercial break just five minutes into the proceedings, after giving each candidate a tiny, token moment to make an opening statement. Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.

Gibson sat there peering down at the candidates over glasses perched on the end of his nose, looking prosecutorial and at times portraying himself as a spokesman for the working class. Blunderingly he addressed an early question, about whether each would be willing to serve as the other's running mate, "to both of you," which is simple ineptitude or bad manners. It was his job to indicate which candidate should answer first. When, understandably, both waited politely for the other to talk, Gibson said snidely, "Don't all speak at once."

For that matter, the running-mate question that Gibson made such a big deal over was decidedly not a big deal -- especially since Wolf Blitzer asked it during a previous debate televised and produced by CNN.

The boyish Stephanopoulos, who has done wonders with the network's Sunday morning hour, "This Week" (as, indeed, has Gibson with the nightly "World News"), looked like an overly ambitious intern helping out at a subcommittee hearing, digging through notes for something smart-alecky and slimy. He came up with such tired tripe as a charge that Obama once associated with a nutty bomb-throwing anarchist. That was "40 years ago, when I was 8 years old," Obama said with exasperation.

Obama was right on the money when he complained about the campaign being bogged down in media-driven inanities and obsessiveness over any misstatement a candidate might make along the way, whether in a speech or while being eavesdropped upon by the opposition. The tactic has been to "take one statement and beat it to death," he said. ...At the end, Gibson pompously thanked the candidates -- or was he really patting himself on the back? -- for "what I think has been a fascinating debate." He's entitled to his opinion, but the most fascinating aspect was waiting to see how low he and Stephanopoulos would go, and then being appalled at the answer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

people like themselves some trash - appaling

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The world's beaches and shores are anything but pristine. Volunteers scoured 33,000 miles of shoreline worldwide and found 6 million pounds of debris from cigarette butts and food wrappers to abandoned fishing lines and plastic bags that threaten seabirds and marine mammals.

A report by the Ocean Conservancy, to be released Wednesday, catalogues nearly 7.2 million items that were collected by volunteers on a single day last September as they combed beaches and rocky shorelines in 76 countries from Bahrain to Bangladesh and in 45 states from southern California to the rocky coast of Maine.

"This is a snapshot of one day, one moment in time, but it serves as a powerful reminder of our carelessness and how our disparate and random actions actually have a collective and global impact," Vikki Spruill, president of the Ocean Conservancy said in an interview.

The 378,000 volunteers on average collected 182 pounds of trash for every mile of shoreline, both ocean coastlines and beaches on inland lakes and streams, providing a "global snapshot of the ocean trash problem."

The most extensive cleanup was in the United States where 190,000 volunteers covered 10,110 miles - about a third of the worldwide total - and picked up 3.9 million pounds of debris on a single Saturday last September, according to the report.

That's 390 pounds of trash per mile, among the highest rates of any country, although the high number also reflects the large number of U.S. volunteers who took part, said Spruill. By comparison, volunteers in neighboring Canada collected 74 pounds per mile and those in Mexico, 157 pounds per mile, said the report. About 65 pounds of trash were collected per mile in China and 46 pounds per mile in New Zealand. Volunteers covered one mile in Bahrain and found 300 pounds of trash.

But Spruill said the volume of trash collected tells only part of the story. It's the items that are found that tells us about the behavior of people enjoying the beaches and coastlines of the world.

"It represents a general carelessness we have. ... We're the bad guys. Trash doesn't fall from the sky. It actually falls from our hands," said Spruill.

The debris ranges from the relatively harmless, although annoying and an eyesore, to items that annually result in the death of hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine mammals caught in abandoned fishing lines and netting.

A third of the items found came from smokers.

The volunteers collected and cataloged nearly 2.3 million cigarette butts, filters and cigar tips. And they found 587,827 bags; more than 1.7 million food wrappers, containers, lids, cups, plates and eating utensils; and nearly 1.2 million bottles and beverage cans.

Divers also scoured waters offshore, collecting about 160,000 pounds of debris from cigarette waste and food containers to more threatening items: abandoned fishing lines, plastic bags, rope, fishing nets and abandoned crab and lobster traps.

The International Coastal Cleanup also focused attention on the damage these items can do, said program sponsors.

The volunteers came across 81 birds, 63 fish, 49 invertebrates, 30 mammals and 11 reptiles and one amphibian that all had become entangled in various debris, most often discarded fishing line, rope or plastic bags, according to the report.

Among other items that entangle animals and birds were balloon ribbons and strings, building material, vehicle tires, wire, and beverage six-pack holders.

In all, 57 percent of the trash was related to shoreline recreational activities, 33 percent from smoking-related activities, 6.3 percent from fishing or waterway activities, 2 percent from dumping and less than 1 percent from medical and personal hygiene activities, said the report.

this is a funny visual - george W and some Frum cats

Merrill Lynch what were you thinking (or not)?

The WSJ has a wonderful narrative today of how Merrill Lynch managed to get so badly hit by the mortgage-bond crisis: apparently it's going to take even more write-downs in the first quarter, making an unprecedented three successive quarterly losses. So much for the kitchen sink theory.

The story in short:

Merrill was making a lot of money structuring mortgage-backed bonds. The junky bits were popular, the super-senior tranches at the top of the waterfall, less so, and the risk there had to be laid off to insurer AIG. But at the end of 2005, AIG said it didn't want that risk any more. What did Merrill do? It simply self-insured, keeping those super-senior tranches for itself. That was the first mistake.

The MBS business was now riskier than ever for Merrill, because it was putting its own balance sheet at risk with each deal. So how did Merrill respond to the extra risk? By doing even more deals. That was mistake number two.

With all the new deals, Merrill's internal risk officers started getting worried. And how did Merrill respond to such concerns? By overruling the risk officers. Mistake three.

It wasn't just the risk officers who were worried, however: the bond desk was worried too. Merrill's response bond traders and executives like Jeffrey Kronthal who wanted to throttle back on the MBS business? It fired them. Mistake four.

Eventually, the MBS market started falling, and Merrill started "de-risking". Except instead of just selling risky assets, Merrill decided that the smart move would be to bundle them up into CDOs, sell off the risker tranches of the CDOs, and hold on to the safer bits. Mistake five.

When the CDO market dried up, Merrill moved to Plan B: simply insuring its assets against default. But its counterparty of choice, XL Capital, didn't want the business. And neither did MBIA. So Merrill turned to tiny ACA, an insurer with just $400 million of capital underpinning $60 billion of insured securities. Mistake six.

And that's just the big mistakes which managed to make it into the WSJ's story. Yes, it's a catalogue of incomeptence and nearsightedness and greed. But it's also a cautionary tale: if this can happen to Merrill, it can, realistically, happen to any investment bank. Financial services is a risky business to be in.

some people are just morons

Philadelphia Inquirer

In the hurried life of the E-ZPass lane, there are slipups - moments when a driver forgets to lift the transponder into place against the windshield, or leaves home without it.

Then there are the cheats - zooming through the computerized lanes without ever opening an account, stealing a free ride on a toll road.

Among the latter, Frank Maier is considered a superstar.

According to Delaware officials, he is the state's top E-ZPass violator, accused of racking up 633 illegal trips through state tollbooths, mostly on I-95.

Now the 55-year-old Maryland man could face a different kind of trip - to state prison for up to two years. Under Delaware's new crackdown, E-ZPass evaders with more than $1,000 in unpaid charges face prosecution for theft of services, a felony under the state's criminal code.

Maier owes $4,748 in tolls and $30,000 in fees and penalties, said Darrel Cole, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Transportation. He was aghast at Maier's alleged exploits, logged from Jan. 2, 2005, through Oct. 30, 2007.

"Six hundred thirty-three times is unbelievable," Cole said. "It's not a mistake, an 'Oops, I forgot.' It's 'I'm going to violate the law, and I don't care what anyone thinks.' "

Maier, who lives in Abingdon and does not have an E-ZPass account, could not be reached for comment.

Under E-ZPass, drivers typically open an account with a credit card and receive a transponder to affix to their windshield. The transponder triggers the monitoring system when the vehicle uses an E-ZPass lane, causing tolls to be deducted from the driver's prepaid account.

Cole declined to divulge specifics of Maier's case, saying, "I don't want to give tips on how to evade" the tolls. He said Maier was accused of "committing a fraud with a license plate."

Warrants for Maier's arrest were issued Monday, and he turned himself in. He was arraigned and released on $2,000 unsecured bail, Cole said.

"Oof, that's a lot," said Carl DeFebo, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority. "I don't believe that we've ever had anybody in that range."

In New Jersey, Joe Orlando, spokesman for that state's turnpike authority, called the numbers in Maier's case "a valiant effort." But they pale next to those of Stephen Shells.

"Right now our reigning champion . . . is coming to us with 1,444 violations," Orlando said yesterday.

Shells was arrested April 3 by state police who went to his Lakewood home with thousands of pictures of his license plate taken by E-ZPass cameras. Most of the toll-dodging, Orlando said, was on the Garden State Parkway.

He owes $1,700 in tolls and $36,000 in administration fees.

But the title of New Jersey's most creative offender goes to a driver who hooked his license plate to a rope inside the car, Orlando said. Going through the tolls, he'd tug the rope, causing the plate to flip up so that the cameras couldn't catch the tag number. Details of the case weren't available yesterday.

While some escapades are humorous, they have a serious bottom line. Nationwide, bridges, tunnels and roads generate an estimated $8 billion in tolls annually. How much is lost to theft is hard to quantify.

Since Delaware began aggressively pursuing E-ZPass scofflaws a year ago, it has collected more than $2 million, mostly from drivers with "maybe a couple dozen" offenses, Cole said.

"We want a message sent that it's a serious business here," he said. "We don't take this kind of violation lightly."