September 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Burning Ice: The Next Energy Boom? : Oil companies and governments around the world are examining how to uncage huge amounts of methane gas locked up in undersea ice. (Bruce Dorminey, 5/19/12, Pacific Standard)

Set a lighter to an icy block of methane hydrate, a naturally frozen combo of methane gas and water, and flames spew forth at random.

However unlikely this fluke of nature may appear -- burning ice -- it could hold the keys to a vast wealth of untapped, clean-burning methane gas thought to exist deep beneath the outer margins of most continental shelves.

Its contribution may be peripheral to the immediate needs of Western Europe and North America, currently drowning in cheap natural gas, but it present a potential lifeline to resource-poor nations like Japan, which already imports more than 90 percent of its fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Copper Surplus Presents Puzzle (CAROLYN CUI, 9/10/12, WSJ)

Standard Chartered analyst Judy Zhu was startled when she made her regular round of China's copper warehouses.

The stacks of copper slabs inside the warehouses in Shanghai last month had grown by 20% since July, she estimated. Some piles had reached the ceiling. So much copper had been sent into storage that the metal was being lined up outside some buildings. The earth beneath some huge piles was beginning to crack under their weight.

"There's much more metal than we had expected," Ms. Zhu said in an interview. Typically, copper stocks fall over the summer due to a seasonal peak of demand from air-conditioner makers and power-grid builders. 

Not all that puzzling.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


Oregon town angers China with controversial mural (Teresa Carson, September 10, 2012, Reuters)

A vivid mural in an Oregon town that depicts a Tibetan monk's immolation and promotes independence for Taiwan has created a dust-up with China, whose consular officials have asked the city to take "effective measures" to stop such advocacy.

The mayor of the town of Corvallis, where a Taiwanese-American businessman installed the downtown mural to express his political views, responded by telling consular officials free speech laws barred the town from taking any action.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


We've Always Been Deadbeats : Debt is not a new American way (Scott Reynolds Nelson, 9/10/12, The Chronicle Review

Since the days when I watched those repossessions, I have learned more about depressions, particularly in the United States. I now know that America has seen numerous periods of financial decline and panic where consumer debt was the most important failed asset.

Panics are not just about the financial health of borrowers. Panics have always been about debt and doubt. America's first panic in 1792 had everything to do with foreign lenders' doubts about Americans' ability to subdue Indians who blocked westward expansion. Recovery came when European investors judged New England smugglers to be safer borrowers than French revolutionary assemblies or Saint Domingue slaveholders and put their money back into American banks.

The pattern would continue throughout the 19th century. An economic boom after 1815 was conceived in a British scheme to sell woolen coats to Americans on credit. The panic came in 1819 when trade negotiations between America and Britain failed, smashing the market that borrowers used to pay back lenders. In the 1830s, British banks with too much cash bet on a speculative bubble in American cotton plantations; British and American banks went bust when the Bank of England doubted slave owners' ability to pay. The panic of 1857 resulted from English doubts about whether American railroads had clear title to Western lands and whether cash-strapped farmers on railroad property would pay off their mortgages.

And while cheap exports from American farmers contributed to the international panic of 1873, the crash started in Vienna and sloshed onto American shores when the Bank of England raised interest rates. The panic of 1893 was largely a byproduct of a sudden drop in sugar-tax revenues from Cuba, and it climaxed when Europeans doubted if American borrowers would repay their debts in gold. Finally, in 1928, Americans' doubts about dollar loans to consumers in Germany and Latin America seized up international bond markets and laid the groundwork for the crash of 1929 and the depression that followed.

In each case, lenders had created complex financial instruments to protect themselves from defaulters like the ones I watched from the car. And in each case, the very complexity of the chain of institutions linking borrowers and lenders made it impossible for those lenders to distinguish good loans from bad.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Paul Ryan on Chicago Teachers' Strike: 'We Stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel' (Shushannah Walshe, 9/10/12, ABC News)

Paul Ryan crossed party lines and voiced support for one of President Obama's biggest backers today, saying, "We stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel" in his fight with Chicago's teachers, which led the union to call the city's first teachers' strike in 25 years.

"If you turned on the TV this morning or sometime today, you probably saw something about the Chicago teacher's union strike," Ryan said at fundraiser at the Governor Hotel here. "I've known Rahm Emanuel for years. He's a former colleague of mine. Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues, but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teacher's union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Dispatches from the Democratic National Convention : An Interview with John Heilemann, Columnist, National Political Correspondent,  Co-Author of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (Kelly Candaele, September 6th, 2012, LA Review of Books)

KC: You say that Obama doesn't like needing people. Other than a normal feeling that many people have of not liking to ask for things, what is that about?

JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something -- not to mention the Presidency --in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don't like people. And two, they don't like politics.

KC: Obama doesn't like people?

JH: I don't think he doesn't like people. I know he doesn't like people. He's not an extrovert; he's an introvert. I've known the guy since 1988. He's not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He's not a backslapper and he's not an arm-twister. He's a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He's incredibly intelligent, but he's not a guy who's ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He's not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs. People say about Obama that it's a mistake that he hasn't reached out more to Republicans on Capitol Hill. I say that may be a mistake, but he also hasn't reached out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. If you walk around [the convention] and button-hole any Democratic Senator you find on the street and ask them how many times they have received a call [from the President] to talk about politics, to talk about legislative strategy, I guarantee you won't find a lot of people who have gotten one phone call in the last two and a half years. And many of them have never been called.

I'm not a psychologist, so I don't know what the root of that is. People have theories about it. But I know in practice he is a guy who likes to operate with a very tight circle around him, trusts very few people easily or entirely. He ran his campaign that way in 2008, he runs his White House that way, and he's running his campaign that way in 2012. President Obama just doesn't talk to too many people.

If it looks like an abyss, talks like an abyss....
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Sir Terry Pratchett: "I thought my Alzheimer's would be a lot worse than this by now" (Elizabeth Grice, 10 Sep 2012, The Telegraph)

So persistent and alarming have been the advance warnings of Sir Terry Pratchett's impending mental decline that the oddest thing about meeting him is his apparent normality. It is five years since the comic fantasy fiction author announced his "embuggeration" , a very Pratchetty way of describing a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. By now, you fear, he will be slowing up, imagination fogged, creative powers shrivelled as a walnut.

Instead of that, the little man in black is a delightful affront to medical science, looking wizardly well in his black fedora with a jaunty feather in the trim. His handshake is firm, his eyes piercingly bright. He talks for 90 minutes with great fluency - although it does occur to me after a while that his habit of answering questions with an anecdote, or another question, may be a way of playing for time.

A new book is out, one of three he is working on this year. Since the diagnosis, he has made two television documentaries, continued his international book promotion tours and become an industrious ambassador for assisted dying. Is this one miraculous burst of defiance before the dying of the light, or did they somehow get it wrong?

"I have to tell you that I thought I'd be a lot worse than this by now," he says. "And so did my specialist. At the moment, it's the fact that I'm well into my sixties [he is 64] that's the problem. All the minor things that flesh is heir to. This knee is giving me a bit of gyp. That sort of thing. And I'm well into the time of life when a man knows he has a prostate. By the time you've reached your sixties you do know that one day you will die and knowing that is at least the beginning of wisdom."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


The Chicago teachers strike in an era of accountability (The Monitor's Editorial Board, September 10, 2012)

Among other things, the striking teachers oppose plans to hold them accountable for what their students learn in the classroom. Given that the centerpiece of the Obama administration's education reform strategy is teacher evaluation, the strike marks a major pushback against a national movement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


China's Presumptive New Leader Is Mysteriously Absent (IAN JOHNSON, September 10, 2012, NY Times)

 The strange disappearance from public view of China's presumptive new leader is turning a year that was supposed to showcase the Communist Party's stability into something of an annus horribilis.

Over the past week, the new leader, Xi Jinping, has missed at least three scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last Wednesday and the prime minister of Denmark on Monday. Speculation that his health, either physical or political, has prevented him from making public appearances is rife on the Chinese Internet, but there has been no official explanation for his absence.

While some people with ties to the party elite say they suspect that Mr. Xi's ailments are not serious, his unexplained absences are especially conspicuous on the eve of what is supposed to be China's once-in-a-decade transfer of power. It also adds to a litany of woes that have disrupted the Communist Party's hopes that a seamless political transition would send a signal of strength to the Chinese people and the world at large.

The PRC'S future is not stability.
Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Sun Peeks Through in Solar : Overseas Suppliers Trounce U.S. Panel Makers but Installations Are Soaring (RYAN TRACY And CASSANDRA SWEET, 9/09/12, WSJ)

The U.S. is on pace to install as much solar power this year as it did in this century's entire first decade: at least 2,500 megawatts, the equivalent of more than two nuclear-power plants. The U.S. added about 742 megawatts of solar capacity in the second quarter, or enough to power about 150,000 homes, the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a report scheduled for release Monday.

The price gap with traditional power sources is shrinking fast. When President Jimmy Carter installed a solar-powered water-heating system at the White House in the late 1970s, solar panels cost about $15 per watt of electricity generated, or about $50 in current dollars, according to GTM Research, a consulting firm that co-wrote the new report. Now they average about 84 cents a watt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Canadian the only illegal alien caught in U.S. fake-voter dragnet (PAUL KORING, 9/10/12,  The Globe and Mail)

For months, Florida Republicans have been trying to clamp down on illegal aliens improperly included on on voting lists.

It's part of a massive - and politically controversial - Republican effort to impose tough voter-identification measures. Democrats regard them as thinly disguised efforts to disproportionately disenfranchise the poor, African-Americans and Hispanics. Other Republican-controlled states are conducting similar culls.

But after months of searching, only one alien falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen has been caught, charged and convicted in Florida. It turns out he is a Canadian, a man who registered and voted in at least two presidential elections while masquerading as a citizen so he could also buy and "bear arms," that other right cherished by many Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


A Referendum on Europe : It's Time to Ask the People What They Think (Dirk Kurbjuweit, 9/10/12, Der Spiegel)

German democracy is suffering under Europe, while Europe is suffering under the national interests of the member states and the lack of a sensible political structure. That is the current state of democracy and Europe, the foundations of postwar Germany. What direction should we take now? Does democracy take priority over Europe? Or does Europe take priority over democracy?

There is a way to avoid this conflict. The Germans can reconcile their democracy with European integration. To do that, they would need to be asked.

Fundamentally, it is a good thing that we have a representative democracy where people go to the polls and politicians make decisions between elections. They have the expertise and the time to consider how society should best be organized. But sometimes we have to decide on the really big issues -- and then it is time to ask the people. The current crisis involves a really big question: Is the population prepared to transfer sovereignty to Europe so that effective euro policies are possible?

This doesn't mean that we have to rewrite the German constitution. It doesn't mean that we have to create a United States of Europe. For the time being, it's enough just to clarify the issue. From a legal perspective, it's not very easy, but it's possible. Where there's a will, there's a way.

The debate that would be held in the run-up to such a referendum would already be valuable in itself. Although the focus is fiscal policy, Germany would have to engage in a broader debate over what kind of Europe it wants and what its own role should be. The politicians would first have to make up their minds and then, assuming they make the right decision, campaign for greater integration. But this time they would use modern arguments in favor of Europe, such as a large shared culture, a greater say in global politics and favorable conditions for German exports.

If the politicians manage to convince the majority of the population, the German government would have a mandate to campaign in Europe for greater integration in terms of fiscal policy, in exchange for relinquishing sovereignty. It would then have a strong legitimization, a strong mandate for pro-integration policies. That would be the better scenario.
The worse scenario, of course, would also be possible -- but it wouldn't spell the end of Europe. The EU has already survived a French referendum that rejected the proposed European constitution. The German government could continue to work to help debt-stricken countries. This would be done in accordance with German budgetary law, which would not be weakened.

No matter what happens, democracy is the winner in such a referendum. The cause of European integration could win, but it could also suffer a setback. But this way the proper checks and balances are in place. After all, when push comes to shove, democracy ultimately has to come first.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


Treasury to Reduce A.I.G. Stake Below 50% (MICHAEL J. DE LA MERCED, 9/09/12, NY Times)

The Treasury Department said on Sunday that it was planning its biggest sale of shares in the American International Group to date, making the federal government a minority shareholder in the bailed-out insurer for the first time since it took control of the company four years ago.

With the sale of at least $18 billion worth of shares in A.I.G., a number that could grow to $20.7 billion if investors prove enthusiastic, the Treasury Department could reduce its holdings to as little as 15 percent from 53 percent. [...]

[T]he rescue plan was initially denounced by some critics as likely to cost the government billions, while also leading to a breakup of the company.

Four years later, the company has turned around. It has reported several consecutive quarterly profits, while seeing its stock rise more than 10 percent since the government began selling its holdings in May of last year.

The company's shares closed on Friday at $33.99, above the government's break-even price of about $28.73.