Friday, December 18, 2009

the $200,000 customs agent

NYTimes | At first, Luis F. Alarid seemed well on his way to becoming a customs agency success story. He had risen from a childhood of poverty and foster homes, some of them abusive, earned praise and commendations while serving in the Army and the Marines, including two tours in Iraq, and returned to Southern California to fulfill a goal of serving in law enforcement.

But, early last year, after just a few months as a customs inspector, he was waving in trucks from Mexico carrying loads of marijuana and illegal immigrants. He pocketed some $200,000 in cash that paid for, as far as the government could tell, a $15,000 motorcycle, flat-screen televisions, a laptop computer and more.

Some investigators believe that Mr. Alarid, 32, who was paid off by a Mexican smuggling crew that included several members of his family, intended to work for smugglers all along. At one point, Mr. Alarid, who was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in February, told investigators that he had researched just how much prison time he might get for his crimes and believed, as investigators later reported, that he could do it “standing on his head.”

Mr. Alarid began working at the border in San Diego in October 2007. In his guilty plea, he admitted that he had started smuggling in February 2008. He was arrested three months later.

Mr. Alarid would wave in vehicles that should have raised suspicion, either because their license plates were partly covered or because the plates did not belong to the vehicle, something he would have seen on the computer screen in his inspection booth.

Before reporting to his lane, he would go out to the employee parking lot to use his cellphone, which federal agents believe was his way of telling the smugglers which lane to approach.

At his sentencing, all involved — the prosecutors, the judge, his lawyer — expressed bewilderment at the turn in Mr. Alarid’s life. But in an interview, a family member who was not part of the case said Mr. Alarid had mounting gambling debts and, despite it all, had always sought a bond with his biological mother.

Still, Judge Janis L. Sammartino accepted the government’s argument that a deterrent message needed to be sent.

“I do think that the public, for a while at least, needs to be assured that who we have at the border are 100 percent individuals of integrity,” she said. “I think you were at one time. I don’t know what went wrong for you, sir, and I hope that you attain that again.”

the $1,000,000 politician

NYTimes | First, Senator Joseph Lieberman — the former Democrat, current independent from Connecticut — rejected the so-called public health care option. Then he threatened to torpedo the entire health care reform bill if it allowed people over 55 to buy Medicare plans.

The aim of that idea, like the public option, is to provide more choice for consumers and more competition for the private insurance industry. And that industry, you will not be surprised to hear, has been very, very good to Mr. Lieberman.

What makes it all the more hypocritical is that Mr. Lieberman claims to want health care reform. And way back in September, the senator was publicly championing a Medicare buy-in.

In an interview with The Connecticut Post, he said he had been refining his views on health care for many years and was “very focused on a group post-50, or maybe more like post-55” whose members should be able to buy Medicare if they lacked insurance.

This week, when there actually seemed to be a compromise on health care that did not focus on Mr. Lieberman, he announced that he would block the package if the Democrats included a terrible idea — allowing people between 55 and 65 to buy Medicare.

He presented this as a principled effort to keep down federal debt, but when a Times reporter asked about his 180-degree turn, he said he had forgotten taking his earlier position until the Democratic leadership reminded him about it over the weekend.

Mr. Lieberman has taken more than $1 million from the industry over his Senate career. In his 2006 re-election campaign, he ranked second in the Senate in contributions from the industry. He doesn’t seem to have forgotten that.

The Senate bill was better with the public option, as weak as it was. The Medicare buy-in was an intriguing alternative. Still, even without either one, the Senate must pass this vital measure.

Now that Mr. Lieberman has gotten his way and everyone’s attention, he has a responsibility to move things forward. He can help persuade a wavering Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and a hesitant Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, to vote for the bill. Or has he also forgotten his commitment to health care reform?

we are not iceland, we are not dubai!!!

NYTimes | Greece struggles to stay afloat as debts pile on. Ever since Greece’s credit rating was downgraded last week, its new Socialist government has fought back, saying it has the mettle to tackle the soaring deficit and structural woes that have earned the country a reputation as the weak link in the euro zone.

“We will reduce the deficit, we will control the debt and there will be no need for a bailout,” the Greek finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, said in an interview in his office here this week. “We are not Iceland; we are not Dubai.”

But Mr. Papaconstantinou may have good reason for the traditional Greek metal worry beads he fingered during the interview. Outside his office, garbage was piled high in Syntagma Square, a result of a two-week strike by trash collectors that ended Friday.

A student demonstration was advancing on the square a day after pensioners had taken to the streets. This week, protests for the first anniversary of the death of an Athenian teenager shot by the police turned violent, but did not cause as much damage as disturbances last year.

Common in Greece even during better times, such protests are expected to increase drastically once the government introduces austerity measures in its 2010 budget, including wage freezes and measures to scale back public sector hiring, steps it says are needed to bring Greece’s finances under control.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

are americans a broken people?

AlterNet | A psychologist asks: Have consumerism, suburbanization and a malevolent corporate-government partnership so beaten us down that we no longer have the will to save ourselves?

Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not "set them free" but instead further demoralize them? Has such a demoralization happened in the United States?

Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?

What forces have created a demoralized, passive, dis-couraged U.S. population?

Can anything be done to turn this around?

Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not "set them free" but instead further demoralize them?

Yes. It is called the "abuse syndrome." How do abusive pimps, spouses, bosses, corporations, and governments stay in control? They shove lies, emotional and physical abuses, and injustices in their victims' faces, and when victims are afraid to exit from these relationships, they get weaker. So the abuser then makes their victims eat even more lies, abuses, and injustices, resulting in victims even weaker as they remain in these relationships.

Does knowing the truth of their abuse set people free when they are deep in these abuse syndromes?

No. For victims of the abuse syndrome, the truth of their passive submission to humiliating oppression is more than embarrassing; it can feel shameful -- and there is nothing more painful than shame. When one already feels beaten down and demoralized, the likely response to the pain of shame is not constructive action, but more attempts to shut down or divert oneself from this pain. It is not likely that the truth of one's humiliating oppression is going to energize one to constructive actions.

Has such a demoralization happened in the U.S.?

Yet another right on time topical collaboration from my man Dale.

james douglass redux

spain's second largest bank on peak oil

BBVA | The purpose of this paper is to provide an informed contribution to the existing debate on the topic of peak oil and the future sustainability of the prevailing dominant energy model. More specifically, the primary objective is to heighten general awareness of the high levels of uncertainty currently plaguing the future physical potential of global oil supply. The main sources of uncertainty pinpointed in this analysis are rooted, on the one hand, in the general shortage of verifiable information on the volume of existing reserves and, on the other, in our collective hazy knowledge regarding the current rate of decline of the world’s oil supply. The reliability of available estimates concerning these two variables has been clearly thrown into doubt by the poor quality and availability of the source data employed.

Global Trends: 'The potential of the oil supply: How long until the peak?'

Main sources of uncertainty in formulating potential growth scenarios for oil supply

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

biology (not religion) equals morality

Edge | For many, living a moral life is synonymous with living a religious life. Just as educated students of mathematics, chemistry and politics know that 1=1, water=H2O, and Barack Obama=US president, so, too, do religiously educated people know that religion=morality.

As simple and pleasing as this relationship may seem, it has at least three possible interpretations.

First, if religion represents the source of moral understanding, then those lacking a religious education are morally lost, adrift in a sea of sinful temptation. Those with a religious education not only chart a steady course, guided by the cliched moral compass but they know why some actions are morally virtuous and others are morally abhorrent.

Second, perhaps everyone has a standard engine for working out what is morally right or wrong but those with a religious background have extra accessories that refine our actions, fuelling altruism and fending off harms to others.

Third, while religion certainly does provide moral inspiration, not all of its recommendations are morally laudatory. Though we can all applaud those religions that teach compassion, forgiveness and genuine altruism, we can also express disgust and moral outrage at those religions that promote ethnic cleansing, often by praising those willing to commit suicide for the good of the religious "team".

None of my comments so far are meant to be divisive with respect to the meaning and sense of community that many derive from religion. Where I intend to be divisive is with respect to the argument that religion, and moral education more generally, represent the only — or perhaps even the ultimate — source of moral reasoning. If anything, moral education is often motivated by self-interest, to do what's best for those within a moral community, preaching singularity, not plurality. Blame nurture, not nature, for our moral atrocities against humanity. And blame educated partiality more generally, as this allows us to lump into one category all those who fail to acknowledge our shared humanity and fail to use secular reasoning to practise compassion.

If religion is not the source of our moral insights — and moral education has the demonstrated potential to teach partiality and, therefore, morally destructive behaviour — then what other sources of inspiration are on offer?

One answer to this question is emerging from an unsuspected corner of academia: the mind sciences. Recent discoveries suggest that all humans, young and old, male and female, conservative and liberal, living in Sydney, San Francisco and Seoul, growing up as atheists, Buddhists, Catholics and Jews, with high school, university or professional degrees, are endowed with a gift from nature, a biological code for living a moral life.

This code, a universal moral grammar, provides us with an unconscious suite of principles for judging what is morally right and wrong. It is an impartial, rational and unemotional capacity. It doesn't dictate who we should help or who we are licensed to harm. Rather, it provides an abstract set of rules for how to intuitively understand when helping another is obligatory and when harming another is forbidden. And it does so dispassionately and impartially. What's the evidence?

why these humans mutilate themselves?

WorldScience | Tat­toos and body pierc­ings—com­mon world­wide since an­cient times—may ex­ist be­cause they ef­fec­tively ad­ver­tise ro­bust health and good genes to po­ten­tial mates, a study pro­poses.

Bi­ol­o­gists the­o­rize that many risky, costly and ap­par­ently use­less be­hav­iors per­sist am­ong ani­mals be­cause of what they com­mu­ni­cate to po­ten­tial mates, ri­vals and oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, an ex­pen­sive Rolex watch may be no more use­ful or pret­ti­er than a Timex, but for some peo­ple it serves a func­tion by cre­at­ing an au­ra of wealth.

A field of ev­o­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gy called sig­nal­ing the­o­ry ex­am­ines such be­hav­iors.

“Hon­est sig­nals” are de­fined as sig­nals that are hard to fake and thus make bet­ter ad­ver­tisements. For in­stance, the Rolex may not show true fi­nan­cial sol­id­ity; you might have just over­drawn your cred­it card or be run­ning a Ponzi scheme.

On the oth­er hand, if you stick a met­al pin through your cheek with­out suf­fer­ing any ill ef­fects, that may ac­tu­ally say some­thing about your im­mune sys­tem, es­pe­cially if dis­in­fec­tion has­n’t been in­vented yet. Thus, it could be an hon­est sig­nal of health, if per­haps not of the sharpest mind.

Sla­womir Koziel of the Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Sci­ences’ In­sti­tute of An­thro­po­l­ogy in Wro­claw, Po­land, and col­leagues de­cid­ed to ex­plore wheth­er body-de­cor­ated peo­ple ac­tu­ally do have bet­ter health than aver­age.

They meas­ured lev­els of bodily sym­me­try in 200 peo­ple with and with­out tat­tooes and un­con­ven­tion­al pierc­ings. Many sci­en­tists con­sid­er such sym­me­try as an in­di­ca­tor of healthy de­vel­op­ment.

Sym­me­try was sig­nif­i­cantly high­er in the tat­tooed-and-pierced group, es­pe­cially in men, the re­search­ers found.

number of cops fatally shot up 24% in 2009

CBSNews | A police officer is gunned down in his patrol car in Penn Hills, Pa., while waiting for backup. Near Seattle, four officers starting their day at a coffee shop are ambushed by an ex-con with a handgun. Another four officers are shot to death in Oakland, Calif., after a traffic stop gone awry.

Across the nation, 2009 was a particularly perilous year for officers involved in gun disputes.

The number of officers killed in the line of duty by gunfire increased 24 percent from 2008, according to preliminary statistics compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a national nonprofit organization that tracks officer-related deaths.

As of Saturday, 47 police officers have died nationwide this year after being shot while on duty, up from 38 for the same time in 2008, which was the lowest number of gunfire deaths since 1956, according to the data.

Over the past decade, small spikes in gunfire deaths have been common, but experts say they are surprised by the number of officers this year who have been specifically targeted by gunmen.

"There's an increasingly desperate population out there," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "Other than in rare cases for ideological reasons, we really haven't seen people taking on the cops head-to-head. Something is amiss. It should be cause for grave concern."

Contributing to this year's spike are cases in which several officers were shot and killed in groups - the four officers last month outside Seattle; the four officers in Oakland, Calif. , in March; three officers in Pittsburgh in April; and two officers in Okaloosa County, Fla., in April. Fist tap Dale.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

farmer obama vs. the cowboys

OpEdNews | Obama, like President John F. Kennedy, has had his first encounters with the permanent warfare establishment, and so far, has been persuaded by their arguments. This book could open his eyes – and ours – to the possibility of another path.

In this eloquent, remarkable book, longtime peace activist and theologian Jim Douglass uses Thomas Merton, a prominent Catholic monk, to elevate the study of Kennedy’s presidency to a spiritual as well as physical battle with the warmongers of his time.

In 1962, as Douglass records in his preface, Merton wrote a friend the following eerily prescient analysis:

“I have little confidence in Kennedy. I think he cannot fully measure up to the magnitude of his task, and lacks creative imagination and the deeper kind of sensitivity that is needed. Too much the Time and Life mentality ….

“What is needed is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don’t have: depth, humanity and a certain totality of self-forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals but for man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe Kennedy will break through into that someday by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination.”

Merton coined the term “the Unspeakable” to describe the forces of evil that seemed to defy description, that took from the planet first Kennedy, then Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, and which tragically escalated the war in Vietnam.

Merton warned that “Those who are at present too eager to be reconciled with the world at any price must take care not to be reconciled with it under this particular aspect: as the nest of the Unspeakable. This is what too few are willing to see.”

The Unspeakable represents not only willful evil but the void of an agenda for good, an amorality that, like a black hole, destroys all that would escape from it.

Douglass defines the Cold War version of the Unspeakable as “the void in our government’s covert-action doctrine of ‘plausible deniability,’” that sanctioned assassinations and coups to protect American business interests in the name of defeating communism.

Douglass traces Kennedy’s confrontation with the Unspeakable and his efforts to escape that trajectory. Kennedy came to understand that peace through war would never bring us true peace, but only a “Pax Americana,” which would foster resentment among the conquered, sowing the seeds of future conflicts, a fear that has proven true over and over in the years following his death.

exxon antes up...,

NYTimes | Over the last decade, a handful of the nation’s small energy companies pulled off a coup. Right under the noses of the industry’s biggest players, they discovered huge amounts of natural gas in fields stretching from Texas to Pennsylvania.

One of these companies, XTO Energy, grew almost unnoticed into the nation’s second-largest gas producer, amassing a substantial portfolio of gas fields, and developing expertise in the complex technology needed to extract the gas from beds of a dark rock called shale.

Now, the biggest energy companies are paying attention.

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas producer, said Monday that it had agreed to buy XTO in an all-stock deal valued at $31 billion, the biggest oil and gas deal in four years.

The purchase allows Exxon to expand in shale gas, an area that has seen tremendous growth, and increase its gas resources by 45 trillion cubic feet, roughly equivalent to two years of domestic demand. The transaction is the company’s biggest since the $81 billion merger of Exxon and Mobil in 1999.

The acquisition extends Exxon’s bet that fossil fuels will remain a critical part of the nation’s energy supply for decades. At the same time, Exxon expects the demand for natural gas, which emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned, will rise as the United States looks to pare its global warming emissions and the world seeks greener sources of energy.

“This is not a near-term decision; this is about the next 10, 20, 30 years,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chairman and chief executive of Exxon, said in a conference call on Monday. “We think there will be significant demand for natural gas in the future.”

the psychology of social status

Scientific American | Nobel Laureate economist, John Harsanyi, said that “apart from economic payoffs, social status seems to be the most important incentive and motivating force of social behavior.” The more noticeable status disparities are, the more concerned with status people become, and the differences between the haves and have-nots have been extremely pronounced during the economic recession of recent years. Barack Obama campaigned directly on the issue of the “dwindling middle class” during his 2008 presidential run and appointed vice-president Joe Biden to lead a middle class task force specifically to bolster this demographic. Despite some recent economic improvement, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont just two months ago cautioned that “the reality is that the middle class today in this country is in desperate shape and the gap between the very very wealthy and everyone else is going to grow wider.” Concerns about status likely will not be leaving the public consciousness any time soon.

Of course, status differences are not simply relevant to economic standing, but they appear to be on our minds at all times. As renowned neuroscientist, Michael Gazzaniga, has noted, “When you get up in the morning, you do not think about triangles and squares and these similes that psychologists have been using for the past 100 years. You think about status. You think about where you are in relation to your peers.” Between CEO and employee, quarterback and wide receiver, husband and wife, status looms large. Recent work by social scientists has tackled the topic, elucidating behavioral differences between low-status and high-status individuals, and the methods by which those at the bottom of the totem pole are most successful at climbing to the top.

Psychologist PJ Henry at DePaul University recently published an article demonstrating that low-status individuals have higher tendencies toward violent behavior, explaining these differences in terms of low-status compensation theory. Henry began this work by observing that murder rates were higher in regions with landscapes conducive to herding compared to regions that are conducive to farming, consistent with prior research showing an association between herding-based economies and violence. The traditional explanation for this pattern, popularized by psychologists Dov Cohen and Richard Nisbett, is that herding cultures have a propensity for maintaining a Culture of Honor. The story goes that because herders from Southern Britain originally settled in the Southern United States (and also established a herding economy on the new land), this left them in an economically precarious position. The possessions of these herdsmen—the most important of which was their livestock—was susceptible to theft, forcing individuals to develop a quick trigger in response to threats, economic or otherwise. In comparison, the farming economy of the North was far more secure, requiring a less aggressive and protective stance toward one’s personal resources.

Monday, December 14, 2009

more american than apple pie...,

NYTimes | This stunning land of crumpled prairie, horse pastures turned tawny in the autumn and sunflower farms is marred by an astonishing number of roadside crosses and gang tags sprayed on houses, stores and abandoned buildings, giving rural Indian communities an inner-city look.

Groups like Wild Boyz, TBZ, Nomads and Indian Mafia draw children from broken, alcohol-ravaged homes, like Mr. Wilson’s, offering brotherhood, an identity drawn from urban gangsta rap and self-protection.

Some groups have more than a hundred members, others just a couple of dozen. Compared with their urban models, they are more likely to fight rivals, usually over some minor slight, with fists or clubs than with semiautomatic pistols.

Mr. Wilson, an unemployed school dropout who lives with assorted siblings and partners in his mother’s ramshackle house, without running water, displayed a scar on his nose and one over his eye. “It’s just like living in a ghetto,” he said. “Someone’s getting beat up every other night.”

The Justice Department distinguishes the home-grown gangs on reservations from the organized drug gangs of urban areas, calling them part of an overall juvenile crime problem in Indian country that is abetted by eroding law enforcement, a paucity of juvenile programs and a suicide rate for Indian youth that is more than three times the national average.

If they lack the reach of the larger gangs after which they style themselves, the Indian gangs have emerged as one more destructive force in some of the country’s poorest and most neglected places

cartel cars

NYTimes | It turns out that much can be learned about the drug traffickers that the Mexican Army is combating by examining the 765 vehicles crowding the military base here awaiting disposition from the courts. If you are what you drive, drug dealers are devious, malicious, extravagant and quite conscious about security.

In some of the impounded vehicles, traffickers have installed hidden compartments, trap doors and fake sidewalls to hide drugs, drug profits and the arms they use to protect them.

“We noticed the screws here weren’t right,” said General Solórzano, pulling off a fake rear bumper from what appeared a garden-variety pickup truck. Hidden inside, he said, were cocaine and guns.

“And look at this,” he said, walking on to a Ford pickup, where he said $3 million in cash was recovered in November 2008.

Many of the vehicles that are seized during drug busts or traffic stops turn out to be armored. While bulletproofing is not illegal, General Solórzano said vehicles that had been sealed with metal and inch-thick glass raised the suspicion of soldiers and prompted them to search more vigorously for contraband.

The devious nature of the traffickers can be seen in some of the weaponry they install, which General Solórzano suspects is done in their own chop shops. Traffickers put a turret in one truck, allowing them to raise a machine gun through the roof while remaining safely inside a bulletproof chamber below.

Traffickers have also added fog machines to the back of their vehicles, allowing them to lose the authorities in a cloud of smoke. Another way they stymie the pursuing federal police is by pulling a lever on the dash and unleashing a cascade of twisted and sharpened nails.

war without borders


NYTimes | The illegal drug market has never been so unsettled, drug enforcement experts say, with small elite killing squads like the one Mr. Rojas-López was running — Mr. Slotter identified three in San Diego alone — operating on both sides of the border. For three years, Mr. Rojas-López’s rogue squad, a mix of United States citizens and Mexicans, used houses in tract developments as roving bases, hunting cartel members and imprisoning their prey along bland residential streets. They secured ransoms worth millions. Payment, however, did not guarantee that the victims survived.

At stake were billions of dollars in profits from tons of smuggled marijuana, and other drugs, and the precious control of Mexican border cities like Ciudad Juárez; Nogales; and Tijuana. Those cities are thoroughfares to the world’s most lucrative drug market: the United States.

The authorities in Kansas City, Mo., and Miami are also investigating the Mr. Rojas-López’s squad for drug trafficking and killings in their cities.

Mr. Rojas-López and eight other members of the squad, called Los Palillos, are now on trial in San Diego, charged with kidnapping 13 men and killing 9 from 2004 to 2007. Seven other co-defendants are fugitives. Since the investigation began, three more fugitive squad members have been killed.

This account of Los Palillos in Tijuana and San Diego, based on more than 6,000 pages of court documents, testimony from 175 witnesses and co-defendants, and interviews with law enforcement officials, offers a window into how Mexico’s drug wars are playing out on American soil.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

mexico's drug cartels siphon liquid gold



WaPo | Drug traffickers employing high-tech drills, miles of rubber hose and a fleet of stolen tanker trucks have siphoned more than $1 billion worth of oil from Mexico's pipelines over the past two years, in a vast and audacious conspiracy that is bleeding the national treasury, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials and the state-run oil company.

Using sophisticated smuggling networks, the traffickers have transported a portion of the pilfered petroleum across the border to sell to U.S. companies, some of which knew that it was stolen, according to court documents and interviews with American officials involved in an expanding investigation of oil services firms in Texas.

The widespread theft of Mexico's most vital national resource by criminal organizations represents a costly new front in President Felipe Calderón's war against the drug cartels, and it shows how the traffickers are rapidly evolving from traditional narcotics smuggling to activities as diverse as oil theft, transport and sales.

Oil theft has been a persistent problem for the state-run Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, but the robbery increased sharply after Calderón launched his war against the cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006. The drug war has claimed more than 16,000 lives and has led the cartels, which rely on drug trafficking for most of their revenue, to branch out into other illegal activities.

Authorities said they have traced much of the oil rustling to the Zetas, a criminal organization founded by former military commandos. Although the Zetas initially served as a protection arm of the powerful Gulf cartel, they now call their own shots and dominate criminal enterprise in the oil-rich states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas.

"The Zetas are a parallel government," said Eduardo Mendoza Arellano, a federal lawmaker who heads a national committee on energy. "They practically own vast stretches of the pipelines, from the highway to the very door of the oil companies."

u.s. firms lag in bids for iraqi oil

WaPo | Chinese, Russian and European companies won the right this weekend to develop major oil fields in Iraq, while U.S. firms made a paltry showing at auctions that represent the first major incursion of foreign oil companies into Iraq in four decades.

The companies that secured 10 contracts in auctions held over the weekend and in June stand to profit handsomely, but they are taking a significant gamble.

Iraq has the third-largest proven crude reserves in the world, but the country remains perilous; it suffers from chronic corruption and acrimonious politics that have prevented the passing of new laws to regulate the sector.

Of the seven U.S. companies that registered for the auctions, only one emerged as the leading partner in a consortium that won a contract. Another U.S. company has a minority stake in a contract.

China's state-owned oil company has a major stake in two contracts. Russian firms are parties in two others.

European firms made a strong showing. Royal Dutch Shell, Italy's Eni, British Petroleum and Norway's Statoil got deals.

Companies from Malaysia and Angola were parties to five winning bids.

Oil analysts say the outcome was surprising, considering that U.S. oil companies have long yearned to work in Iraq.

The analysts said it is ironic that U.S. companies do not appear poised to cash in on the aftermath of a war that many in the United States and the Middle East argued was motivated by a desire to tap into Iraq's oil reserves.

geothermal project in california is shut down

NYTimes | The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.

But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock had given notice this week that “it will not be continuing work at the Geysers” as part of the agency’s geothermal development program.

The project’s apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration’s geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth’s bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source.

The Energy Department referred other questions about the project’s shutdown to AltaRock, a startup company based in Seattle. Reached by telephone, the company’s chief operations officer, James T. Turner, confirmed that the rig had been removed but said he had not been informed of the notice that the company had given the government. Two other senior company officials did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear whether AltaRock might try to restart the project with private money.

In addition to a $6 million grant from the Energy Department, AltaRock had attracted some $30 million in venture capital from high-profile investors like Google, Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

population control called key to climate deal

ChinaDaily | Population and climate change are intertwined but the population issue has remained a blind spot when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming, according to Zhao Baige, vice-minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC) .

"Dealing with climate change is not simply an issue of CO2 emission reduction but a comprehensive challenge involving political, economic, social, cultural and ecological issues, and the population concern fits right into the picture," said Zhao, who is a member of the Chinese government delegation.

Many studies link population growth with emissions and the effect of climate change.

"Calculations of the contribution of population growth to emissions growth globally produce a consistent finding that most of past population growth has been responsible for between 40 per cent and 60 percent of emissions growth," so stated by the 2009 State of World Population, released earlier by the UN Population Fund.

Although China's family planning policy has received criticism over the past three decades, Zhao said that China's population program has made a great historic contribution to the well-being of society.

As a result of the family planning policy, China has seen 400 million fewer births, which has resulted in 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions a year, Zhao said.

The UN report projected that if the global population would remain 8 billion by the year 2050 instead of a little more than 9 billion according to medium-growth scenario, "it might result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions".

Meanwhile, she said studies have also shown that family planning programs are more efficient in helping cut emissions, citing research by Thomas Wire of London School of Economics that states: "Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton" whereas it would cost $13 for reduced deforestation, $24 to use wind technology, $51 for solar power, $93 for introducing hybrid cars and $131 electric vehicles.

poor children likelier to get anti-psychotics..,

NYTimes | New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Those findings, by a team from Rutgers and Columbia, are almost certain to add fuel to a long-running debate. Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?

The questions go beyond the psychological impact on Medicaid children, serious as that may be. Antipsychotic drugs can also have severe physical side effects, causing drastic weight gain and metabolic changes resulting in lifelong physical problems.

On Tuesday, a pediatric advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration met to discuss the health risks for all children who take antipsychotics. The panel will consider recommending new label warnings for the drugs, which are now used by an estimated 300,000 people under age 18 in this country, counting both Medicaid patients and those with private insurance.

Meanwhile, a group of Medicaid medical directors from 16 states, under a project they call Too Many, Too Much, Too Young, has been experimenting with ways to reduce prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs among Medicaid children.

They plan to publish a report early next year. The Rutgers-Columbia study will also be published early next year, in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs. But the findings have already been posted on the Web, setting off discussion among experts who treat and study troubled young people.

Some experts say they are stunned by the disparity in prescribing patterns. But others say it reinforces previous indications, and their own experience, that children with diagnoses of mental or emotional problems in low-income families are more likely to be given drugs than receive family counseling or psychotherapy.