Friday, December 11, 2009

climate change, peak oil, limits to growth - belief systems

The Oil Drum | Many of the issues discussed on this bandwidth are large, long term, and threatening. Consider the three primary society-wide topics of analysis and discourse: climate, energy and the economy. It is my belief these 3 are linked by an underlying cultural growth/debt imperative running into a planet with finite sources and sinks. But within each category you have, still, despite the same access to facts and considerable passage of time, widely disparate and strongly held opinions. E.g. climate change is largely anthropogenic/climate change is largely naturally forced; peak oil is past/ peak oil is decades away; the financial crisis is passed/ government handouts have made the financial peril even greater etc. If you find yourself in a debate about any of these issues you'll find apathy or you'll find cognitive biases underlying a polarized opinion.

This post will address some social and psychological reasons why the urgency of our resource situation may not be being addressed on an individual level and only at a snails pace on the governmental level. Among the phenomena we will explore are a) why we have beliefs and how they are changed, b) our propensity to believe in authority figures, c) our penchant for optimism, d) cognitive load theory, e) relative fitness, f) the recency effect, and several others.

not in the labor force

ASPO | Some of us think America is in Big Trouble. The often sarcastic way I cast doubt on government unemployment statistics today may strike you as negative in the extreme, and in a way it is. But the real dilemma we face is simple: are we going to address deep structural problems in our economy? Or are we going to keep lying to ourselves about those problems? How long are we going to pretend they don’t exist?

President Obama has proposed another band-aid stimulus to create jobs. Rather than level with the American people about the extraordinary difficulties we will have in getting people back to work over the next decade, the President would rather pretend that throwing another dollop of borrowed money at the jobs problem will somehow fix it.

I believe Americans have to own up to the difficulties they face to have any chance of fixing them. Bear this in mind as I reveal the extraordinary lengths we go to to put an optimistic spin on a truly ugly jobs situation. Looking on the bright side, I don’t think we have to worry about a resurgence of oil demand in the United States for a very, very long time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

copenhagen - prelude to extinction?

FCNP | As the Copenhagen meeting on climate change opens, we are getting mixed signals. At one extreme are the "disbelievers," who say that serious consequences from global warming, if it is really happening, are still decades away so why should people be saddled with higher energy costs now. If the polls are correct the disbelievers now constitute a majority of the American electorate.

At the other extreme are the climate scientists who are telling every media outlet that will listen that the proposals being discussed at Copenhagen are nowhere near enough to save mankind from destruction. Some are saying that a five degree Centigrade increase in the average global temperature may be enough to do in mankind. Food will no longer grow in sufficient quantity to keep all 8 billion of us fed. Rising sea levels and more violent storms will make coastal cities - even Washington - largely uninhabitable. A recent survey of 3,000 climate scientists indicates that 82 percent agree that human activity is making a significant contribution to global warming. Of the 77 climate scientists who are actively studying and publishing about global warming, 97 percent say that human activity is involved.

The message here is simple. If the scientists watching this are right, and there is no reason to believe they are not, in 100 or 200 years there will not be many (or any) people left. We already have precedents for higher forms of life on earth being wiped out by meteors and really big volcanoes. Remember the dinosaurs?

Unlike the previous extinctions, it seems that the next one will be caused by people, not Mother Nature. We understand the problem (too much carbon going into the air) and how to solve it (stop putting so much carbon into the air). The problem is that for most of the world current lifestyles and prospects for a better life all involve using more fossil fuels. Nobody wants to give up what they have or the prospects for a better future. The situation is further complicated by the huge disparities in the per capita consumption of fossil fuels and populations.

While the richer European countries can see their way to major reductions in fossil fuel consumption, very few other developed countries can. In the United States which has until very recently enjoyed 300 years of nearly continuous economic prosperity, giving up our current lifestyle is unthinkable for many (perhaps most). Thus they prefer to listen to false prophets who tell them all will be well.

america without a middle-class?

AlterNet | America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?

Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.

Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed.

The crisis facing the middle class started more than a generation ago. Even as productivity rose, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s.

u.n.'s future scenarios for climate are pure fantasy

Aleklett | In the year 2000, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published 40 different future scenarios in which emissions from oil, natural gas and coal were specified. In the past 9 years these scenarios have been the guiding star for the world’s climate researchers. The IPCC has described why these researchers should follow them. The scenarios “are built as descriptions of possible, rather than preferred, developments. They represent pertinent, plausible, alternative futures”. Despite the fact that emissions from fossil fuels vary widely between the scenarios, the IPCC regarded all the scenarios as equally likely.

Among these scenarios exist the future horror stories that people such as Al Gore have warned us about. These go by the name of “Business As Usual”. Climate calculations that are based on these emission levels give an average temperature increase of 3.5 °C above 1990 levels by 2100. Some of these scenarios exceed +6 °C.

Globally, human activity generates greenhouse gasses and emissions increase at the same rate as the population increases. Today, 57% of greenhouse gasses come from fossil fuel. The big issue in Copenhagen is future emissions from these fossil fuels. I have a different view of the situation than the IPCC and my view is based on scientific publications from the Global Energy Systems research group at Uppsala University, Sweden. We can now show that almost all of the IPCC emissions scenarios are improbable and that those scenarios described as “Business as Usual” are completely unrealistic. (Ten publications relevant to this article can be accessed from the home page of Global Energy Systems,

In May 2007 the Debate column of Dagens Nyheter [Sweden’s most widely read broadsheet newspaper] published my article on climate titled, “Severe climate change unlikely before we run out of fossil fuel”. An article with the title, “The Peak of the Oil Age” has recently been published in the scientific journal Energy Policy. From the research reported in that paper we can now state that there will be insufficient oil in future since production will decline. Therefore, emissions from use of oil will decline by at least 10% by 2030. This reduction will be even greater if the global economy is negatively affected.

The climate change negotiators main question should therefore be, “How will we use coal in the future?”.

Today’s coal production – hard coal and brown coal – is approximately 3000 million “tonne of oil equivalent” (toe). For the “Business as Usual” scenarios coal production must increase seven-fold by 2100. That is an increase of 600%. In the last 20 years, global coal reserves have been revised downwards by 25%. The most recent case was India that halved its declared reserves. The USA is the “Saudi Arabia of coal” with 29% of global reserves. The former Soviet Union has 27%, China 14%, Australia 9%, India 7% and South Africa 4% of global reserves. That means that 90% of the fossil coal reserves exist in these six nations. We can also assert that the same six nations today produce 86% of the world’s coal.

If emissions from coal are to increase by 600 percent this cannot occur without the USA – that has the world’s largest coal finds – increasing its coal production by the same amount. In an article published in May 2009 in the International Journal of Coal Geology we have studied the historical trends and future possible production of coal in the USA. The production of high-grade anthracite is decreasing while the production of brown coal in Wyoming is increasing. Future coal production is completely dependent on new coal mining in the state of Montana. According to the constitution of the USA, federal authorities cannot force Montana to produce coal. In Montana they do not want to produce coal since the mining will destroy the environment and large areas of agricultural land. If the constitution is changed and mining of coal in Montana does occur it is possible for the USA to increase its coal production by 40% but not by 100%. An increase of 600% is pure fantasy.

Today, the world’s largest coal producer is China. Its reserves of coal are half the size of the USA’s and China has no possibility of increasing its coal production by 100%. A 600% increase there is also pure fantasy. Russia, with the world’s second largest coal reserves, can increase its production significantly but the untouched Russian coal reserves lie in central Siberia in an area without infrastructure. Russia is not dependent on this coal for its own energy needs but if mining did begin there some time after 2050 it could only ever be equivalent to a small fraction of today’s global production. Therefore, it is impossible for global coal production to increase by 100% and 600% is, once again, pure fantasy.

In the spring of 2008 I discussed the climate question with the USA’s then ambassador to Sweden Michael Wood who was interested in our research. My suggestion for a partial solution was that the presidents of the USA and Russia should sign a bilateral treaty in which they guarantee that half of the remaining reserves of coal in each nation would remain unused. The people in Montana would celebrate and Russia’s future would not be affected. The agreement would mean that 25% of possible future emissions of carbon dioxide from coal would disappear.

Our conclusion is that the assumptions of coal use that the IPCC recommended that climate researchers refer to in calculating their future horror scenarios are completely unrealistic. The question is why at all these gigantic volumes of carbon dioxide emission are to be found among the possible scenarios. The IPCC bears a great responsibility for the fact that thousands of climate researchers around the world have dedicated years of research to calculating temperature increases for scenarios that are completely unrealistic. The consequence is that very large research resources have been wasted to little benefit for us all.

That fossil fuel reserves are insufficient to support the IPCC’s horror scenarios may alleviate somewhat our concerns about future climate. On the other hand, we must be even more concerned about future resource shortages. The shortage of oil can, for example, place even greater pressure on the rainforests through increased production of biodiesel from palm oil. The fact that the fossil fuel energy required until 2100 for the “Business as Usual” scenarios does not exist means that the world’s growing population needs a global crisis package to create new energy solutions. We must now – and with immediate effect – change the global energy system.

we live in revolutionary times

Land Institute | Central to the problems we face is our reluctance to see them as anything more than temporary downturns in the usual up and down cycles of economics and climate. They are not. World production of oil in the past three years has remained steady—85 million barrels per day— while the price has more than doubled in that time, and in early July had reached as high as $145 per barrel. A human slave, on the other hand—of which there are now approximately 27 million in the world, more than at any other time in history—can be purchased for a mere $40. Add another 3 billion people to the planet in 40 years while simultaneously trying to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent. Find livelihoods, food, fresh water and shelter, as well as education, health care and stable governments for these numbers without causing species extinction, soil degradation, civil wars, nuclear wars and mass migrations. Try running any of the world’s major cities—their subways, waste water plants, transportation, lighting and heating—for even a few days on low density solar and wind power.

...We live in revolutionary times brought by substantial and sustained failures of current worldviews and global systems to provide everyday people with lives of health and freedom from want and fear, and with prospect of similar lives for their children. These failures are the self-evident truths of our time: that billions were promised improved lives only to see them degraded; mass extinctions of species; overheated climate; and unprecedented running down of the ecosphere on which all life depends.

The worldviews and systems responsible for these failures go by many names: individualism, capitalism, scientism, materialism, corporatism and globalism, to name a few. What they are called is not important. Important is that they share two bedrock beliefs that have become the intellectual DNA of our modern minds: first, that the natural world is without limit in energy and materials, and its sinks for wastes and pollution; and second, that the human intellect is sufficient to understand, control and operate Earth as a luxury-machine for the exclusive material happiness of human beings, again, without limit.

It is now necessary to overturn these false and dangerous beliefs, to limit the power of their many adherents, and to usher in a new way of thinking and living in the world. This is our revolutionary moment...

...To state unequivocally, “These are revolutionary times!” is recognition that the world is changing in ways that we would not necessarily choose; that it must change even if it goes against what we would otherwise choose; and that we can no longer choose to resist it.

It is so much easier to hope for a miracle. But our best and most realistic hope lies in embracing the revolution before us. With vigor and creativity we must help create the conceptual scaffolding necessary to build a new worldview—in the words of the American founder John Adams, “to start some new thinking that will surprise the world.” Every category of human thought needs reorientation to recognize the boundaries of our sun-powered ecosphere. We need ecospheric science, spirituality and economics, ecospheric politics, education and technology, ecospheric justice, history and architecture, ecospheric engineering, agriculture and philosophy, and ecospheric conceptions of rights, property and happiness.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

potus' lip poked out...,

The Hill | President Barack Obama recently called Rep. John Conyers Jr. to express his frustrations with the Judiciary Committee chairman’s criticism.

In an interview with The Hill, Conyers said his opinions of Obama’s policies on healthcare reform and the war in Afghanistan have not sat well with the president.

According to the lawmaker, the president picked up the phone several weeks ago to find out why Conyers was “demeaning” him.

Obama’s decision to challenge Conyers highlights a sensitivity to criticism the president has taken on the left. Conyers’s critical remarks, many of which have been reported on the liberal-leaning Huffington Post, appear to have irritated the president, known for his calm demeanor.

Conyers, the second-longest-serving member of the House, said, “[Obama] called me and told me that he heard that I was demeaning him and I had to explain to him that it wasn’t anything personal, it was an honest difference on the issues. And he said, ‘Well, let’s talk about it.’”

Sitting in the Judiciary Committee’s conference room two days after Obama delivered his speech on Afghanistan, the 23-term lawmaker said he wasn’t in the mood to “chat.”

Obama’s move to send in 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by the summer of 2010 has clearly disappointed Conyers.

He said he intends to press his case in writing soon.

“I want something so serious that he has to respond in writing, like I am responding in writing to him,” he said.

“Calling in generals and admirals to discuss troop strength is like me taking my youngest to McDonald’s to ask if he likes french fries,” Conyers said.

Many on the left have argued that military leaders routinely respond to crises by calling for more troops.

“I’ve been saying I don’t agree with him on Afghanistan, I think he screwed up on healthcare reform, on Guantánamo and kicking Greg off,” Conyers said, referring to the departure of former White House counsel Greg Craig.

Craig was a leading proponent in the White House of closing the terrorist detention center at Guantánamo Bay and releasing photos of detainees undergoing torture. Closing the military prison has proven to be politically difficult, and Obama reversed field on the photos, opting not to make them publicly available.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

The liberal Conyers has been an outspoken proponent of a single-payer healthcare system and a critic of U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He has also been at odds with White House policy on extending expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, crafting legislation that is to the left of the Senate’s version.

Obama and Conyers have a complicated and nuanced relationship.

time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss

TED | Photographer James Balog shares new image sequences from the Extreme Ice Survey, a network of time-lapse cameras recording glaciers receding at an alarming rate, some of the most vivid evidence yet of climate change.

why there's no sign of a climate conspiracy in hacked emails

NewScientist | The leaking of emails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, UK, has led to a media and political storm. The affair is being portrayed as a scandal that undermines the science behind climate change. It is no such thing, and here's why.

We can be 100 per cent sure the world is getting warmer

Forget about the temperature records compiled by researchers such as those whose emails were hacked. Next spring, go out into your garden or the nearby countryside and note when the leaves unfold, when flowers bloom, when migrating birds arrive and so on. Compare your findings with historical records, where available, and you'll probably find spring is coming days, even weeks earlier than a few decades ago.

You can't fake spring coming earlier, or trees growing higher up on mountains, or glaciers retreating for kilometres up valleys, or shrinking ice cover in the Arctic, or birds changing their migration times, or permafrost melting in Alaska, or the tropics expanding, or ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula breaking up, or peak river flow occurring earlier in summer because of earlier snowmelt, or sea level rising faster and faster, or any of the thousands of similar examples.

None of these observations by themselves prove the world is warming; they could simply be regional effects, for instance. But put all the data from around the world together, and you have overwhelming evidence of a long-term warming trend.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

a beginners guide to evolutionary religious studies

Binghamton | Here are some quick answers to questions that are frequently asked about evolutionary theory in relation to religion and other aspects of human behavior.

Why is the field of evolutionary religious studies so new?
From the very beginning, Darwin and his colleagues were keenly interested in studying all aspects of humanity from an evolutionary perspective, including religion. However, this inquiry led in directions that can be recognized as false in retrospect. Cultural evolution was envisioned as a linear progression from “savagery” to “civilization,” with European societies most advanced. Herbert Spencer and others used evolution to justify a hierarchical society (“Social Darwinism”). Janet Browne’s magnificent 2-volume biography of Darwin and his times (Voyaging and The Power of Place) suggest that these views were inevitable against the background of Victorian culture. Instead of challenging the support that evolutionary theory lent to these views, the theory as a whole became off-limits for many human-related disciplines during most of the 20th century. The controversy surrounding the publication of E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology in 1975 illustrates the tenor of the times. The modern study of humans from an evolutionary perspective represents a “fresh start” that is based on a much more sophisticated body of theory and knowledge from the biological sciences and bears almost no resemblance to earlier “evolutionary” theories. The field of evolutionary religious studies is part of this broader trend.

How can something as cultural as religion be studied from an evolutionary perspective?
It is typical to portray terms such as “culture” and “learning” as alternatives to terms such as “evolution” and “biology.” According to this formulation, evolutionary theory can explain other species and certain aspects of humans, such as our desire to eat and mate, but not other aspects, such as our rich cultural diversity. This formulation makes little sense from a modern evolutionary perspective. Culture and learning are manifestly important in our species, but they need to be understood from an evolutionary perspective rather than being regarded as an alternative. The capacities for learning and culture require an elaborate architecture that evolved by genetic evolution. Moreover, learning and cultural change can be regarded as fast-paced evolutionary processes in their own right. The bottom line is that evolutionary theory provides a framework for understanding cultural diversity in addition to biological diversity.

If cultural evolution refers to any kind of cultural change, doesn’t it explain nothing by explaining everything?
Consider an analogy with genetic evolution, which is defined as any kind of genetic change, whether by mutation, selection, drift, linkage disequilibrium, and so on. It is important for the definition to include everything to provide a complete accounting system for genetic change. The definition is not empty because specific categories of change are determined on a case-by-case. Thus, we might decide that guppy spots (and their associated genes) evolve primarily by selection, that mitochondrial genes evolve primarily by drift, and so on. Similarly, it is important for the definition of cultural evolution to be all-inclusive to provide a complete accounting system. What saves it from being empty is a number of meaningful sub-categories that can be determined on a case-by-case basis.

What is the relationship between evolutionary theory and other theoretical perspectives, such as Marxism, rational choice theory, or functionalism?
Most scholars and scientists who study religion are not young-earth creationists. They expect religion to be natural phenomenon that can be explained without invoking supernatural agents. They fully accept the theory of evolution, including humans as a product of evolution. Thus, they implicitly assume that their particular theoretical framework is consistent with evolutionary theory, without requiring much knowledge about evolutionary theory. For example, rational choice theory assumes that human behavior can be explained in terms of individual utility maximization. When pressed for an explanation, a rational choice theorist would presumably say that utility maximization evolved as a genetic or cultural adaptation—those who failed to maximize their utilities were not among our ancestors. In this fashion, when the axioms of any given naturalistic perspective are questioned, they involve assumptions about evolution. Unsurprisingly (at least in retrospect) these assumptions can be improved by a sophisticated knowledge of current evolutionary theory. In this fashion, other theoretical perspectives become integrated into evolutionary theory rather than providing an alternative. Virtually all naturalistic theories of religion that were developed without using the E-word can be given a formulation within evolutionary theory, enabling them to be compared with each other more productively than before.

epa says greenhouse gases imperil health

NYTimes | The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday issued a final ruling that greenhouse gases posed a danger to human health and the environment, paving the way for regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, power plants, factories, refineries and other major sources.

The announcement was timed to coincide with the opening of the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen, strengthening President Obama’s hand as more than 190 nations struggle to reach a global accord.

The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said that a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court required the agency to weigh whether carbon dioxide and five other climate-altering gases threatened human health and welfare and, if so, to take steps to regulate them.

She said Monday that the finding was driven by the weight of scientific evidence that the planet was warming and that human activity was largely responsible.

“There have and continue to be debates about how and how quickly climate change will happen if we fail to act,” Ms. Jackson said at a news conference at the E.P.A.’s headquarters. “But the overwhelming amounts of scientific study show that the threat is real.”

Industry groups quickly criticized the decision, saying that the regulation of carbon dioxide, a near-ubiquitous substance, would be legally and technically complex and would impose huge costs across the economy.

from the mind of apple daily....,

Monday, December 07, 2009

americans waste 40% of available food supply

LiveScience | U.S. residents are wasting food like never before. While many Americans feast on turkey and all the fixings, a new study finds food waste per person has shot up 50 percent since 1974. Some 1,400 calories worth of food is discarded per person each day, which adds up to 150 trillion calories a year.

The study finds that about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States is tossed out.

Meanwhile, while some have plenty of food to spare, a recent report by the Department of Agriculture finds the number of U.S. homes lacking "food security," meaning their eating habits were disrupted for lack of money, rose from 4.7 million in 2007 to 6.7 million last year.

About 1 billion people worldwide don't have enough to eat, according to the World Food Program.

Growing problem
The new estimate of food waste, published in the journal PLoS ONE, is a relatively straightforward calculation: It's the difference between the U.S. food supply and what's actually eaten, which was estimated by using a model of human metabolism and known body weights.

The result, from Kevin Hall and colleagues at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, is about 25 percent higher than similar estimates made in recent years.

Last year, an international group estimated that up to 30 percent of food — worth about $48.3 billion — is wasted each year in the United States. That report concluded that despite food shortages in many countries, plenty of food is available to feed the world, it just doesn't get where it needs to go.

Previous calculations were typically based on interviews with people and inspections of garbage, which Hall's team figures underestimates the waste.

reserves are bunk

ResourceInsights |The claims that the United States has 100 years of recoverable natural gas as a result of the newly accessible shale basins has no meaning without attaching a price to it. The fact that major shale gas producers have trimmed their active drilling fleets to a fraction of what they were during the 2008 boom in natural gas prices proves that price is a critical factor in determining whether to drill. And, where there is no drilling, there are no additions to reserves. The natural gas market has shown itself to be highly volatile which has not surprisingly led to wide swings in natural gas drilling. The notion that somehow there will be a consistent accretion of natural gas reserves from year to year or that all discoveries from previous years will still be considered reserves in a low-price environment is pure bunkum. The same logic applies to oil discoveries. But these days no one is claiming the United States has enough oil left to supply the entire country for 100 years. And, so hype about oil reserves is less of an issue.

The upshot is that expected cash flow determines what areas will be drilled, not the size of potential reserves. Most companies won't drill a prospect unless they believe they can get their money back within two to three years, Doyle says. If it takes four or five years, the prospect is not very attractive. Cash flow is king.

It turns out that the NPV of the first three years of cash flow from my hypothetical well mentioned above is $1,556,112, only about half of the initial investment. Most companies would or should pass on such a prospect, and it would therefore never become part of anyone's reserves, he explains. Part of the hype over shale gas has to do with the claim that the wells may be very long-lived, he adds. Even if that turns out to be true--not a certainty as of now--the low flow rates expected after the initial burst of production and the distant payoffs would actually work against any decision to drill such wells. No wells, no reserves.

Doyle says that given modern technology, oil and natural gas are easier to find than ever before. But he doesn't believe that in North America at least, there is that much more to find. He thinks that shale gas in North America my indeed prove to be plentiful. But it will not be both plentiful and cheap.

And, of course, if we succeed at expanding natural gas production to meet the needs of a new natural gas-powered vehicle fleet--an idea advocated by one of the leading producers of shale gas--and expand other current uses such as the generation of electricity, we can expect that natural gas prices will soar. That may provide the necessary incentive (i.e. cash flow) to extract the shale gas that lies below the American landscape. But it will also certainly mean that the 100 years of supply that has been so frequently touted in the media will rapidly shrink to perhaps 30 or 40, and that the peak in production will come much sooner.

A peak in natural gas production in, say, 20 years would not exactly be a useful talking point for those advocating the wholesale conversion of key parts of the U. S. economy to run on natural gas. Just as we would be finishing such a conversion, we could find ourselves on the downslope of the natural gas production curve and faced with the urgent need to adapt our costly and newly completed natural gas infrastructure to run on some other energy source.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

police tapped sprint gps data 8 million times this year

TPM | Under a new system set up by Sprint, law enforcement agencies have gotten GPS data from the company about its wireless customers 8 million times in about a year, raising a host of questions about consumer privacy, transparency, and oversight of how police obtain location data.

What this means -- and what many wireless customers no doubt do not realize -- is that with a few keystrokes, police can determine in real time the location of a cell phone user through automated systems set up by the phone companies.

And while a Sprint spokesman told us customers can shield themselves from surveillance by simply switching off the GPS function of their phones, one expert told TPM that the company and other carriers almost certainly have the power to remotely switch the function back on.

To be clear, you can think of there being two types of GPS (global positioning system). One is the handy software on your mobile device that tells you where you are and helps give driving directions. But there's also GPS capability in all cell phones sold today, required by a federal regulation so if you dial 911 from an unknown location, authorities can find you.

Sprint says the 8 million requests represent "thousands" of individual customers -- it won't say how many exactly -- and that the company follows the law. It's not clear, however, if warrants are always needed, or whether they have been obtained by police for all the cases.

that climate change email

NYTimes | The theft of thousands of private e-mail messages and files from computer servers at a leading British climate research center has been a political windfall for skeptics who claim the documents prove that mainstream scientists have conspired to overstate the case for human influence on climate change.

They are using the e-mail to blast the Obama administration’s climate policies. And they clearly hope that the e-mail will undermine negotiations for a new climate change treaty that begin in Copenhagen this week.

No one should be misled by all the noise. The e-mail messages represent years’ worth of exchanges among prominent American and British climatologists. Some are mean-spirited, others intemperate. But they don’t change the underlying scientific facts about climate change.

One describes climate skeptics as “idiots,” another describes papers written by climate contrarians as “garbage” and “fraud.” Still another suggests that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose 2007 report concluded that humans were the dominant force behind global warming, should pay no attention to contrarian opinions.

Another quotes an exasperated Phil Jones — director of the climate center at the University of East Anglia, from which the e-mail was stolen — as expressing the hope that climate change would occur “regardless of the consequences” so “the science could be proved right.”

However, most of the e-mail messages — judging by those that have seen the light of day — appear to deal with the painstaking and difficult task of reconstructing historical temperatures, and the problems scientists encounter along the way. Despite what the skeptics say, they demonstrate just how rigorously scientists have worked to figure out whether global warming is real and the true role that human activities play.

The controversy isn’t over. James Inhofe, the Senate’s leading skeptic, has asked for an inquiry into what some are calling “Climategate.” And on Friday, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel, announced that he would conduct his own investigation.

It is important that scientists behave professionally and openly. It is also important not to let one set of purloined e-mail messages undermine the science and the clear case for action, in Washington and in Copenhagen.

jared diamond disappoints....,

NYTimes | THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.

But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.

As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.

What’s my evidence for this? Here are a few examples involving three corporations — Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron — that many critics of business love to hate, in my opinion, unjustly.

the rise and fall of myspace

FT | To say MySpace was a hot property back in 2005 is something of an understatement. Its rapidly expanding tribe of users had attracted the attention of other potential buyers. Viacom, for one, a rival media conglomerate that owns companies such as Paramount Pictures and Comedy Central, was eyeing it as a vehicle to revive its flagging MTV channel, a similarly youth-oriented brand.

But Murdoch got there first and the resulting $580m deal transformed his image at a stroke. The curmudgeonly media baron, whose achievements included breaking the Fleet Street printing unions and launching the conservative Fox News cable channel, had re-invented himself as a 21st-century internet hipster. It took Wall Street a few months to appreciate the magnitude of the deal but the purchase slowly began to imbue News Corp with an almost priceless commodity it had lacked: cool.

Millions of teenagers across the world adored MySpace, spending hours every day connecting with each other online and fine-tuning ­personal profile pages that reflected their tastes and personalities. News Corp had new-found cultural cachet thanks to them – and to the popularity of MySpace with new filmmakers and musicians such as the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen, who became sensations on the site, releasing songs to fans before their first albums appeared.

Months after the acquisition, Murdoch had another reason to feel pleased: MySpace signed a three-year advertising contract with Google worth $900m – effectively paying for News Corp’s purchase. Google bought the right to become a fixture within the MySpace site, enabling it to display its text adverts to the network’s millions of users. This prize was highly contested, with Yahoo and Microsoft falling over themselves to win the business before Google triumphed. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the ­founders of the search engine, flew in by helicopter to seal the deal at a starry News Corp retreat at Pebble Beach where the guests included Bono and Tony Blair.

"they" call it pollution, "we" call it life...,

RawStory | A group promoting skepticism over widely-accredited climate change science has a web of connections to influential oil giant Exxon-Mobil, Raw Story has found.

The organization is called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), apparently named after the UN coalition International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). An investigation into the group reveals its numerous links to Exxon-Mobil, a vehement opponent of climate legislation and notorious among scientists for funding global warming skeptics.

"Exxon-Mobil essentially funds people to lie," Joseph Romm, lauded climate expert and author of the blog Climate Progress, told Raw Story. "It's important for people to understand that they pay off the overwhelming majority of groups in the area of junk science."

The NIPCC's signature report, "Climate Change Reconsidered," disputes the notion that global warming is human-caused, insisting in its policy summary that "Nature, not human activity, rules the planet." Many of its assertions have been challenged by, among others, the scientists' blog RealClimate.

The report was released and promoted this summer by the Heartland Institute, a think tank that claims to support "common-sense environmentalism" as opposed to "more extreme environmental activism." It alleges that "Global warming is a prime example of the alarmism that characterizes much of the environmental movement."
One hopes that trial lawyers will finally penetrate big oil's vulnerabilities much as they managed to do with big tobacco......,

Saturday, December 05, 2009

the story of cap and trade

The Story of Cap & Trade is a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate solution being discussed at Copenhagen and on Capitol Hill. Host Annie Leonard introduces the energy traders and Wall Street financiers at the heart of this scheme and reveals the "devils in the details" in current cap and trade proposals: free permits to big polluters, fake offsets and distraction from whats really required to tackle the climate crisis. If youve heard about Cap & Trade, but arent sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you.

fossil fuel equivalence...,

BBC | How much electricity does the average British family of four use in a day?

To find out, BBC's Bang Goes the Theory attempts to power a house for an entire day solely through human pedal power, while an unsuspecting family inside go about their normal Sunday routine.

in e-mails, science of warming is hot debate

WaPo | It began with an anonymous Internet posting, and a link to a wonky set of e-mails and files. Stolen, apparently, from a research center in Britain, the files showed the leaders of climate-change science discussing flaws in their own data, and seemingly scheming to muzzle their critics.

Now it has mushroomed into what is being called "Climate-gate," a scandal that has done what many slide shows and public-service ads could not: focus public attention on the science of a warming planet.

Except now, much of that attention is focused on the science's flaws. Leaked just before international climate talks begin in Copenhagen -- the culmination of years of work by scientists to raise alarms about greenhouse-gas emissions -- the e-mails have cast those scientists in a political light and given new energy to others who think the issue of climate change is all overblown.

The e-mails don't say that: They don't provide proof that human-caused climate change is a lie or a swindle.

But they do raise hard questions. In an effort to control what the public hears, did prominent scientists who link climate change to human behavior try to squelch a back-and-forth that is central to the scientific method? Is the science of global warming messier than they have admitted?

The stolen electronic files include more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents, all taken from servers at the Climatic Research Unit, a world-famous center at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

Phil Jones, the unit's director, wrote a colleague that he would "hide" a problem with data from Siberian tree rings with more accurate local air temperature measurements. In another message, Jones talks about keeping research he disagrees with out of a U.N. report, "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

Since then, Jones has stepped down temporarily. And Pennsylvania State University is exploring whether the e-mails, some of which were written by one of its professors, Michael Mann, warrant an investigation. In an interview, Mann said he is confident that neither he nor any of the other researchers whose e-mails were pirated "did anything improper."

But recent debate -- some scientists say the Earth hasn't warmed as predicted over the past 10 years -- show that climate science is still science, with researchers drawing different lessons from the same data. The problem is that it plays out before an audience that won't wait for certainty.

Friday, December 04, 2009

cia authorized to expand use of drones in pakistan

NYTimes | Two weeks ago in Pakistan, Central Intelligence Agency sharpshooters killed eight people suspected of being militants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and wounded two others in a compound that was said to be used for terrorist training.

Then, the job in North Waziristan done, the C.I.A. officers could head home from the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters, facing only the hazards of the area’s famously snarled suburban traffic.

It was only the latest strike by the agency’s covert program to kill operatives of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies using Hellfire missiles fired from Predator aircraft controlled from half a world away.

The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.

By increasing covert pressure on Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, while ground forces push back the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan, American officials hope to eliminate any haven for militants in the region.

One of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, the drone program is quietly hailed by counterterrorism officials as a resounding success, eliminating key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray. But despite close cooperation from Pakistani intelligence, the program has generated public anger in Pakistan, and some counterinsurgency experts wonder whether it does more harm than good.

hamid mir on the war in pakistan

are american drone attacks counterproductive?

Der Spiegel | SPIEGEL: Since you are already letting the US carry out its drone attacks against militants on Pakistani territory along the border with Afghanistan, why don't you let them help you with soldiers on Pakistani territory?

Part 2: We Need Huge Public Support to Combat Terrorism
Gilani: We haven't stopped them from helping us. In fact, we have a multi-dimensional cooperation with the United States, including defense and intelligence, but also economics, trade, development, health education and even in cultural affairs. But these drone attacks are counterproductive.

SPIEGEL: Really? The leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by an American drone. Don't you call this a success?

Gilani: The political and the military leadership have been very successful in isolating the militants from the local tribes. But once there is a drone attack in their home region, they get united again. This is a dangerous trend, and it is my concern and the concern of the army. It is also counterproductive in the sense that it is creating a lot of anti-American sentiment all over the country. But in order to fight the militants in Waziristan, we have to carry the public with us. One cannot go into any war without the support of the masses. We need huge public support to combat terrorism. But we do not get that if there is American interference, which we do not ask for.

SPIEGEL: But no matter what the Americans do, there will always be anti-American sentiment.

Gilani: Right now, the whole nation is supporting our military action because they feel that terrorism is a menace.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

arming goldman with pistols against the public

Bloomberg | “I just wrote my first reference for a gun permit,” said a friend, who told me of swearing to the good character of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who applied to the local police for a permit to buy a pistol. The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.

I called Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag to ask whether it’s true that Goldman partners feel they need handguns to protect themselves from the angry proletariat. He didn’t call me back. The New York Police Department has told me that “as a preliminary matter” it believes some of the bankers I inquired about do have pistol permits. The NYPD also said it will be a while before it can name names.

While we wait, Goldman has wrapped itself in the flag of Warren Buffett, with whom it will jointly donate $500 million, part of an effort to burnish its image -- and gain new Goldman clients. Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein also reversed himself after having previously called Goldman’s greed “God’s work” and apologized earlier this month for having participated in things that were “clearly wrong.”

Has it really come to this? Imagine what emotions must be billowing through the halls of Goldman Sachs to provoke the firm into an apology. Talk that Goldman bankers might have armed themselves in self-defense would sound ludicrous, were it not so apt a metaphor for the way that the most successful people on Wall Street have become a target for public rage.

Pistol Ready

Common sense tells you a handgun is probably not even all that useful. Suppose an intruder sneaks past the doorman or jumps the security fence at night. By the time you pull the pistol out of your wife’s jewelry safe, find the ammunition, and load your weapon, Fifi the Pomeranian has already been taken hostage and the gun won’t do you any good. As for carrying a loaded pistol when you venture outside, dream on. Concealed gun permits are almost impossible for ordinary citizens to obtain in New York or nearby states.

In other words, a little humility and contrition are probably the better route.

worse than enron?

Common Dreams | Enron was the financial scandal that kicked off the decade: a giant energy trading company that appeared to be doing brilliantly-until we finally noticed that it wasn't. It's largely been forgotten given the wreckage that followed, and that's too bad: we may be repeating those mistakes, on a far larger scale.

Specifically, as the largest Wall Street banks return to profitability-in some cases, breaking records-they say everything is rosy. They're lining up to pay back their TARP money and asking Washington to back off. But why are they doing so well? Remember that Enron got away with their illegalities so long because their financials were so complicated that not even the analysts paid to monitor the Houston-based trading giant could cogently explain how they were making so much money.

After two weeks sifting through over one thousand pages of SEC filings for the largest banks, I have the same concerns. While Washington ponders what to do, or not do, about reforming Wall Street, the nation's biggest banks, plumped up on government capital and risk-infused trading profits, have been moving stuff around their balance sheets like a multi-billion dollar musical chairs game.

I was trying to answer the simple question that you'd think regulators should want to know: how much of each bank's revenue is derived from trading (taking risk) vs. other businesses? And how can you compare it across the industry-so you can contain all that systemic risk? Only, there's no uniformity across books. And, given the complexity of these mega-merged firms, those questions aren't easy to answer.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, for example, altered their year-end reporting dates, orphaning the month of December, thus making comparison to past quarterly statements more difficult. In the cases of Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, the preferred tactic is re-classification and opaqueness. These moves make it virtually impossible to get an accurate, or consistent picture of banks ‘real money' (from commercial or customer services) vs. their ‘play money' (used for trading purposes, and most risky to the overall financial system, particularly since much of the required trading capital was federally subsidized).

Trading profitability, albeit inconsistent and volatile, is the quickest way back to the illusion of financial health, as these banks continue to take hits from their consumer-oriented businesses. But, appearance doesn't equal stability, or necessarily, reality. Here's how BofA, Citi and Wells Fargo play the game:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

dubai and abu dhabi

NYTimes | Dubai is seen as the brash, secular upstart of the seven emirates, and Abu Dhabi is known as the religious and conservative big brother. Tensions between the two are common, but when reporters questioned Sheik Mohammed of Dubai about problems last week, he told them to “shut up.”

Nevertheless, the debt crisis of the last few days has fed the speculation that Abu Dhabi would impose conditions for any bailout, including a stake in prominent Dubai enterprises like Emirates Airlines. Officials of the federation have rejected those rumors.

The United Arab Emirates’ central bank said in a statement Sunday that it would stand behind foreign and domestic banks operating in the emirates. It did not mention Dubai World, which is $59 billion in debt.

Analysts said the statement would not be enough to allay fears that the Dubai government could default on part of its sovereign debt.

Still, as fear from Dubai’s debt crisis circled the globe, an unaccustomed quiet settled here at the center of the storm.

Foreign bankers and other professionals here are simmering in anxiety as the world talks about Dubai like a bad seed of the global economy.

“A lot of people are pretty freaked out,” said one American businessman with long experience in the region, who spoke on condition he not be identified for fear of repercussions. “They’re all watching CNN and going: ‘Is Dubai going to default?’ ”

Many in Dubai have a different perspective.

“Dubai is a victim of media distortion,” wrote one reader to a Web forum of one of the emirates’ most popular newspapers. “All the Western countries have ganged up on Dubai. Why? Because it has succeeded.”

Another reader wrote, “This is all because of jealousy from the Western world,” adding that “Dubai has been at the forefront of development in the Arab world.”

Many Dubai citizens seem inclined to dismiss all talk of tension among the emirates, saying that they are not worried about their country’s future.

“Only a few decades ago, this country was nothing, just a desert,” said Thani al-Falaasi, a 31-year-old Emirati businessman who was shopping Sunday with a friend in the Dubai Mall. Referring to Dubai’s leader, Sheik Mohammed, he said: “He built it up. Even if there is a crisis, he can solve it. We have great confidence in him.”

inequality as u.s. policy since 1979

Post Autistic Economics Review | Since the end of the 1970s, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in economic inequality. While the United States has long been among the most unequal of the world’s rich economies, the economic and social upheaval that began in the 1970s was a striking departure from the movement toward greater equality that began in the Great Depression, continued through World War II, and was a central feature of the first 30 years of the postwar period.

Despite the magnitude of the rise in inequality, the political discourse in the United States refers only obliquely to these developments. The public debate generally acknowledges neither the scale of the increase in inequality nor, except in the most superficial way, the causes of this sudden and sustained turn of events.

This short essay seeks to provide an alternative view of the postwar period in the United States, particularly of the last three decades. My argument is that the high and rising inequality in the United States is the direct result of a set of policies designed first and foremost to increase inequality. These policies, in turn, have their roots in a significant shift in political power against workers and in favor of their employers, a shift that began in the 1970s and continues through today.

The first section of the paper briefly documents the size of the rise in U.S. inequality and puts this change into historical context. The second section sketches an explanation for rising inequality, one that differs from the deeply rooted, but poorly articulated vision that lurks just below the surface of polite political discourse in the United States. The final section focuses on an important part of inequality in the United States that does not receive the attention it deserves.

addicted to happy endings...,

Bloomberg | Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH is banking on sex really being all in women’s heads.

The German drugmaker is putting the finishing touches on a pill designed to reawaken desire by blunting female inhibitions. Unlike Viagra, which targets the mechanics of sex by boosting blood flow to the penis, this drug works on the brain.

The desire drug, the focus of a meeting on sexual disorders in Lyon next week, has the potential to revolutionize sexual medicine much as Pfizer Inc.’s blue pill did a decade ago. That could put family-owned Boehringer at the center of a debate about whether the medicine is a chemical shortcut around a complex dysfunction involving body and mind -- or whether disinterest in sex is a legitimate medical condition.

“This drug has the potential to finally open the door to acceptance of the idea that decreased desire can be something that involves a dysfunctional way the brain works, and not only a bad partner,” said Jim Pfaus, a neurologist at Concordia University in Montreal, who conducted early tests of the drug in rats. “Of course it’s in your head.”

The U.S. market for medicines to rekindle female libido could be bigger than the $2 billion a year in U.S. sales for erectile dysfunction treatments because more women report sexual problems, BioSante Pharmaceuticals Inc. Chief Executive Officer Stephen Simes estimated last year.

global commons and common sense

Post Autistic Economics Review | Globalisation is the result of economic growth and technical progress. Production systems have attained global reach. However, the rules and institutions that regulate the systems’ relations of production and exchange are still mostly national. Furthermore, national regulation systems have been drastically eroded in the past three decades of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation. The present global economic crisis is clearly the result of this inconsistency or contradiction.

We could say with Marx in the famous Preface to the Contribution that the global ‘material productive forces of society [have] come into conflict with the existing relations of production […] From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.’

The reach of the productive force of technology is paralleled by the reach of its destructive power. The real possibility of MAD (mutual assured destruction) gives testimony to that. The maintenance of global peace and security is also an area in which the logic of the commons can suggest possible ways of progress.

As in the case of MAD, competition for common limited resources has sometimes been described as a game of ‘Chicken,’ in which two drivers head against each other from opposite directions — the first to swerve is the loser. In the race for world resources, those who most voraciously exploit and deplete them are the momentary winners of the suicidal game. To avoid mutual destruction, the logic of conflict suggests the formation of a ‘social norm’ to be collectively followed. An ancient social norm, found in most ethical traditions, is the rule of reciprocity, which applied to the utilisation of a common exhaustible resource gives the norm of equal rights for all. Standard utilitarianism also would conclude that aggregate utility is maximised by equal distribution.

The argument applies to other natural resources such as mineral and oil deposits, which also give rise to differential rents. The fact that in most countries oil is a collectively owned resource and underground resources in general are prima facie considered as belonging to the commonwealth, suggests that mineral resources are naturally seen as the common property of the commonwealth. What is not reflected in most natural resource legislations is the legal consequence of collective ownership, namely the equal allocation of dividends, a question that is central to the global redistributive mechanisms discussed here.

However, the question still hovers around who belongs to the commonwealth. Who composes the commonwealth? Wich commonwealth is relevant? Which commonwealth is the legitimate owner of the natural resources? These questions will acquire increasing relevance with rising expected rents accruing from rapidly increasing scarcity, and the resulting wars for the control of resources. Many wars, and perhaps most current and planned wars, are about the control of resources — oil in particular. The unfortunate fact is that there is no factually legitimate form of exclusive/exclusionary ownership. All forms of privately or nationally restricted forms of property are contestable, and in fact often contested. The only stable, uncontestable form of resource ownership is collective ownership by the global society, according to clear and effective rules of use, acceptable to all. And again, the often avoided question of the equal distribution of dividends must be considered simultaneously.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

addicted to nonsense..,

TruthDig | What really matters in our lives—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady deterioration of the dollar, the mounting foreclosures, the climbing unemployment, the melting of the polar ice caps and the awful reality that once the billions in stimulus money run out next year we will be bereft and broke—doesn’t fit into the cheerful happy talk that we mainline into our brains. We are enraptured by the revels of a dying civilization. Once reality shatters the airy edifice, we will scream and yell like petulant children to be rescued, saved and restored to comfort and complacency. There will be no shortage of demagogues, including buffoons like Sarah Palin, who will oblige. We will either wake up to face our stark new limitations, to retreat from imperial projects and discover a new simplicity, as well as a new humility, or we will stumble blindly toward catastrophe and neofeudalism.

Celebrity worship has banished the real from public discourse. And the adulation of celebrity is pervasive. The frenzy around political messiahs, or the devotion of millions of viewers to Oprah, is all part of the yearning to see ourselves in those we worship. We seek to be like them. We seek to make them like us. If Jesus and “The Purpose Driven Life” won’t make us a celebrity, then Tony Robbins or positive psychologists or reality television will. We are waiting for our cue to walk onstage and be admired and envied, to become known and celebrated. Nothing else in life counts.

We yearn to stand before the camera, to be noticed and admired. We build pages on social networking sites devoted to presenting our image to the world. We seek to control how others think of us. We define our worth solely by our visibility. We live in a world where not to be seen, in some sense, is to not exist. We pay lifestyle advisers to help us look and feel like celebrities, to build around us the set for the movie of our own life. Martha Stewart constructed her financial empire, when she wasn’t engaged in insider trading, telling women how to create a set design for the perfect home. The realities within the home, the actual family relationships, are never addressed. Appearances make everything whole. Plastic surgeons, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life coaches, interior designers and fashion consultants all, in essence, promise to make us happy, to make us celebrities. And happiness comes, we are assured, with how we look, with the acquisition of wealth and power, or at least the appearance of it. Glossy magazines like Town & Country cater to the absurd pretensions of the very rich to be celebrities. They are photographed in expensive designer clothing inside the lavishly decorated set pieces that are their homes. The route to happiness is bound up in how skillfully we present ourselves to the world. We not only have to conform to the dictates of this manufactured vision, but we also have to project an unrelenting optimism and happiness. Hedonism and wealth are openly worshiped on Wall Street as well as on shows such as “The Hills,” “Gossip Girl,” “Sex and the City,” “My Super Sweet 16” and “The Real Housewives of (whatever bourgeois burg happens to be in vogue).”

The American oligarchy—1 percent of whom control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined—are the characters we most envy and watch on television. They live and play in multimillion-dollar mansions. They marry models or professional athletes. They are chauffeured in stretch limos. They rush from fashion shows to movie premieres to fabulous resorts. They have surgically enhanced, perfect bodies and are draped in designer clothes that cost more than some people make in a year. This glittering life is held before us like a beacon. This life, we are told, is the most desirable, the most gratifying. And this is the life we want. Greed is good, we believe, because one day through our acquisitions we will become the elite. So let the rest of the bastards suffer.

american oil in iraq

NYTimes | Iraq’s first stab at opening its oil industry to foreign investment ended in disappointment at an auction in June in which most companies declined to bid. But last month many of those same companies — including Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum, the first American companies to reach production agreements with Baghdad since the 2003 invasion — signed deals at much the same terms they rejected over the summer.

Analysts say the deals on three of the country’s top fields show that Iraq, after an embarrassing start, may be on a path to joining the world’s major oil-producing nations, which could in turn upset the equilibrium in OPEC and increase tensions with the neighboring oil giants Iran and Saudi Arabia. Adding to those strains, development rights to 10 other Iraqi oil fields will be offered to foreign companies at a public auction in Baghdad on Dec. 11.

However, the auction and the contracts come at an awkward time: just months before national elections that could provoke renewed violence or sweep in a new government that could disown the deals.

In the recent deals, the major oil companies have agreed to accept service contracts, in which they earn a fee for each barrel of oil produced. Yet they vastly prefer production-sharing agreements, in which they gain an equity stake in the oil itself. Such deals are far more lucrative to oil companies, but for Iraqis they are reminiscent of the colonial era, when foreign companies controlled the country’s oil wealth. “We have shown that we can attract international companies to invest in Iraq and boost production through service contracts,” Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq’s oil minister, said recently. “They will not have a share of Iraqi oil, and our country will have total control over production.”

But Iraq has also been forced to acknowledge that it cannot hope to revive its decrepit oil industry without the money and the technical expertise of the major companies. Despite strong anti-American sentiments among the Iraqi public, few officials want to refuse American cash.