Category Archives: Middle East

Questions about oil, OPEC and fracking

People tend to think about the price they spend per gallon on gas as a given far out of the control of mere mortals. Oil suppliers rule the day as does the futures market;  despite political rhetoric from all sides, government rarely if ever tackles the issue. The policy is ad hoc, and renewal sources (wind and solar) suffer when petroleum prices are low.1280px-West_Texas_Pumpjack

Here are some questions and answers [Aided by a primer written by the Economist in December.]. Oil price was $70 per barrel then, and may be forced down close to $10 per barrel.

Q: Why is the price of oil and gasoline plummeting?

OPEC is leading the way, especially Saudi Arabia. “…the Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price. They could curb production sharply, but the main benefits would go to countries they detest such as Iran and Russia.”

Q: Why would they do that?

In part, to reassert OPEC dominance in the oil market. Petroleum is power. “Saudi Arabia can tolerate lower oil prices quite easily. It has $900 billion in reserves. Its own oil costs very little (around $5-6 per barrel) to get out of the ground.” The United States and other oil consumers tend to tread lightly on negotiating oil price with Saudi Arabia and OPEC.

Q: Who loses?

Countries such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela and other troubled economies highly dependent on oil revenue. But the U.S. fracking industry also suffers, which can’t expand and grow when extraction prices dip below $60-$70 per barrel. Fracking involves pulverizing the earth with high pressure water to release the natural gas held in abundant oil shale supplies. It is a booming industry, the 21st century equivalent of a Gold Rush.

Q: What’s good about fracking?

Theoretically, it is a step toward U.S. energy independence. It produces major economic changes in the areas where oil shale supplies are plentiful.

Q: What’s bad about fracking. Environmental issues

Two interesting headlines from the news recently:

FROM TEXAS:
“After 11 quakes in the last two days – with one registering at a 3.6 – Irving, Texas’ sudden onset tremor problem might be the fracking industry’s nightmare.
There’s a monster lurking under Texas, beneath the sand and oil and cowboy bones, and it’s getting a little restless after a 15 million year nap.”

FROM OHIO:

“Not long after two mild earthquakes jolted the normally steady terrain outside Youngstown, Ohio, last March, geologists quickly decided that hydraulic fracturing operations at new oil-and-gas wells in the area had set off the tremors.” Now a detailed study has concluded that the earthquakes were not isolated events, but merely the largest of scores of quakes that rattled the area around the wells for more than a week.”

Q: Name the world’s largest oil producer.

The United States outstripped Saudi Arabia in 2014 as the world’s largest oil producer. The United States has been the world’s largest natural gas producer since 2010.

Q: What are the components of gasoline price:

About two thirds of the price is based on crude oil prices. As of November, according to government statistics:

in percentages:  (rounding slightly less than 100 percent)

crude oil:        62.4

taxes                  14.6

refining              5.5

retailing          17.4

 

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Before Bombing Syria, Read “The Italian Letter”

Posted on September 4, 2013 by Laurie Garrettcover1 copy

          As Congress debates whether President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent use of sarin gas to kill some 1,400 fellow-Syrians merits retaliatory American military action, many are recalling the “weapons of mass destruction” rationale used to justify U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
         Though Secretary of State John Kerry has been at pains in recent days to underscore the caliber of intelligence supporting the Obama administration’s claims of Assad genocidal use of nerve gas, there is public doubt.
      We’ve been here before, and Americans are weary not only of war, but also of con artists in positions of power.      Much of the language used to describe the Syrian situation is reminiscent of phrases and claims utilized by the George W. Bush administration to garner intervention backing from the United Nations Security Council, a long list of allies, and the United States Congress.

         So it is inevitable that nine years later, amid chatter of U.S. cruise missile launches to take out Syrian government military stockpiles I should revisit the sorry history of Bush’s drumbeats of war. 

          The Italian Letter is my choice for a brilliantly researched, jaw-dropping book that ought to be on every politician’s reading list this week.  READ ENTIRE POST

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A Vision Test on Iraq and the Media. Choose A or B

Here are two competing visions of the media handling of the war in Iraq

This is the way it works at the eye doctor. He holds letters in front of your eyes and asks you to choose. The answer gets better and better, hopefully vision more and more clear.

Choose A….

This is a piece by Greg Mitchell, substantially published by The Nation, after being spiked by the Washington Post

For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry.  The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll.  Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.

But wait.  Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”?  Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other–and blowing up our soldiers?  And where were those WMDs, bio-chem labs, and nuclear materials?  Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas–it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”

or B

A story by Paul Fahri published on the Opinion Pages

There’s no doubt that many news organizations, including this one, missed important stories, underplayed others that were skeptical of the administration’s case and acted too deferentially to those in power. A few instances — such as the New York Times’ September 2002 report hyping Iraq’s aluminum tubes as evidence of a reconstituted nuclear program — have become infamous. The Times and The Washington Post have publicly examinedand admitted their shortcomings.

But “failure” grossly oversimplifies what the media did and didn’t do before the war, and it ignores important reasons the reporting turned out the way it did. As new threats loom, from Iran to North Korea, better understanding these circumstances can help us assess what happened and whether we’re better positioned today.

Can they both be right? I don’t think so. Somebody will need new glasses.

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What Constitutes Victory for Israel: A review of “The Gatekeepers”

Advance billing makes it known ahead of time that The Gatekeepers is a stark critique of Israeli policy from within. The film features unprecedented interviews with six former bosses of Shin Bet, Israel’s super-secret domestic intelligence agency.

Experiencing The Gatekeepers, however, exceeds all expectations. This is a bold film that systematically and coldly analyzes decades of Israeli security policy in dealing with Palestinians and the enemies that surround Israel.

The Shin Bet bosses use steely, unsentimental logic: whatever the justifications of the past and the present—Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is a failure.

They may have their hard-line critics in Israel and the United States, but these particular men are hard to dispute. They are deeply committed to Israel, hardened veterans of battle, and unassailable in their logic.

Together, the men – Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin– represent three decades of successes and failures in the Israeli war on terrorism. All have realized that even their successes have been a failure.

In the end we are left with deep questions about morality, the Israeli psyche and extremism on all sides.

The Shin Bet bosses by no means excuse Palestinian terror – although one of the former leaders switches from Hebrew to English to characterize the Palestinian view of Israeli security forces with the old saying: One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter.

Success, in any case, is a strange commodity. As one of the men realized after a chance conversation during peace talks with a Palestinian psychiatrist: for the Palestinians, “victory is to see you suffer.”

They realize that there has been and can be no end to the morass of the Middle East under current circumstances. Israeli actions, the Shin Bet leaders say, amount to  “no strategy, all tactics.”

The Gatekeepers portrays the horrors exacted by extremism on both sides. While there is a hopelessness in the generations of unending cycles of death, I still found myself uplifted by the fact that the movie exists at all. These men face forward and speak truths and the filmmaker, Dror Moreh, has the guts to tell the story.

The way out is spoken clearly by the oldest and perhaps the toughest of them all – Avraham Shalom, at 86, a veteran of the Palmach underground fighters that battled and killed British soldiers in the Israeli war for independence after World War II. His answer is a call for negotiations:

“Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely. So that includes even Ahmadinejad, [Islamic Jihad, Hamas], whoever. I’m always for it. In the State of Israel, it’s too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies…Even if [the] response is insolent, I’m in favor of continuing. There is no alternative. It’s in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That’s how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn’t eat glass and he sees that I don’t drink oil.”

Israeli is the democracy that has allowed the filmmaker Moreh to make this film, even though the Israeli government is outraged and calls on Israeli filmmakers to practice self-censorship.

(By the way, as for the Oscars, I loved the film, Searching for Sugar Man, which won for best documentary against The Gatekeepers and another Israel political film, 5 Broken Cameras. Awards are awards but The Gatekeepers is unsurpassable in its strength and merits.)

Are there enough Israelis to listen and respond to the pragmatic reality that brought The Gatekeepers out of the shadows to the stage? I don’t know.

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Iran and Argentina: Such a (bizarre) deal.

The Argentine government, under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has signed an odd accord with Iran to conduct a so-called “truth commission” that would investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died and hundreds were wounded in the attack.Atentado_AMIA

In 2007, Argentine won Interpol indictments of six suspects in the case. Members of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, and the Iranian government were among the suspects.

The new Argentine-Iranian deal appears to abandon that. As an Argentine journalist, FABIÁN BOSOER, and a New School professor,   FEDERICO FINCHELSTEIN, warn in the New York Times, the truth commission has no teeth:

The problem is that any recommendations by the commission would be nonbinding; moreover, some of the suspects in the attack are now high-ranking Iranian officials — including the sitting defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi — and therefore untouchable. Indeed, Iran has repeatedly refused to cooperate with Argentine investigators and ignored international warrants for the arrest of senior Iranian officials believed to have taken part in planning the bombing.

Two ironies in the story come to mind:

  • Nestor Kirchner, Kirchner’s late husband and former president, became emotional when I asked him about the AMIA investigation shortly after he came to office in 2003. Argentina, he said, would never rest until the culprits were found. He recalled his own past, having been himself a victim of human rights abuses himself during Argentina’s dirty war. 
  • The principal Argentine official responsible for the Iran deal is Hector Timerman, the foreign minister. Timerman, a veteran journalist, is the son of Jacobo Timerman. The elder Timerman, who died in 1999, was also a victim of abuse at the hands of the right-wing Argentine military.

The younger Timerman once said:

“If we don’t solve the problem of the AMIA — who placed the bomb, the
local connection and if there was a political cover-up — people will think
that Argentina is a place where we don’t punish those who commit horrendous
crimes and it will open the door to new attacks.”

Will the new deal with Iran help determine culprits and punishment? Not likely.

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Truths and Lies in the Senate

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Libya, a Tea Party Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, used indirect language to blame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the killing of four American diplomats in Benghazi last year. Paul described their deaths as the worst tragedy involving Americans since 9/11. Partisan politics, ignorance and nonsense.

A newly elected senator answered him strongly:

“I think if some people on this committee want to call the tragedy in Benghazi the worst since 9/11, it misunderstands the nature of 4,000 Americans plus lost over ten years of war in Iraq fought under false pretenses,” newly elected Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in response.

Under a Republican president, George W. Bush, the United States went to war using lies about U.S. intelligence information. To this hour, a number of Americans — perhaps the same number that voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election — think that President Bush invaded Iraq based on “the best available intelligence” at the time. That has been proven to be a lie, as I wrote with my colleague, Knut Royce, in the book, The Italian Letter. I also wrote about it in the Washington Post.

President Bush has not stood before the Senate to answer that serious charge. It is fairly certain that he never will.

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Opinion on Chuck Hagel–not all critics are extremists

Chuck Hagel

President Obama appears to be moving toward nominating former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. Unfounded charges from the right link him to the fringy, false notion that President Obama does not support Israel.

The cries and whispers about Hagel — a moderate Republican — are not surprising. For a large segment of pundits and those who listen to them, moderation is not a good quality.

It is important to remember that diversity of opinion extends to Israel, where as in the United States, there are moderates and patriots who, while they may not support neo-conservative policies, are not traitors.

Case in point: Chemi Shalev and his opinion piece in the Jerusalem newspaper, Haaretz. Shalev has a nuanced opinion of Hagel, and does not endorse him, but says:

…whatever one’s objections to Hagel, one wonders what he has done to deserve the vile and venomous campaign of vilification that he has been subjected to in the past few days. From a widely respected former senator from Nebraska, known for his integrity and non-conformism, he has been turned virtually overnight into an inept, sadistic, gay-bashing anti-Israel appeaser who reeks of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, some mainstream Jewish leaders have been dragged into this mud as well.

American Jews often talk about “what’s good for Israel.” Here’s a vote for moderation and democratic choice, not character assassination.

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