The Shale Oil Revolution

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After years of dire warnings about the rapid depletion of proven oil reserves and a decade of turmoil and resource wars in the Middle East, a quiet revolution is occurring which may radically change the dynamics of the global market for crude oil. New technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are making oil extraction possible in regions where it was long considered too expensive to occur and opening up huge new reserves in countries which have long relied heavily on imported oil from abroad.

That there are massive oil deposits embedded in shale and chalk formations at sites around the world has long been known, but only with relatively recent developments in extraction technology have they become economically viable sources of crude for the world market. Additionally, these reserves are not spread in traditional patterns and are dispersed widely around the world. Russia, which is a non-OPEC oil exporters has a large supply of reserves, but so do traditionally import reliant countries such as China and the United States. The latter has already identified at least eight massive potential reserves and has begun drilling in earnest and ramping up its domestic oil production. It is estimated that by the end of 2012 the U.S. will be producing 720,000 barrels of crude per day from such sources, accounting for roughly 12% of domestic oil needs. As Conoco Phillips CEO Ryan Lance told an audience of OPEC ministers recently in Vienna:

“In 1990, North American reserves and production were falling but thanks to unconventionals (shale, chalk, and tar sands extraction), proven reserves have risen 68 percent since then..…there is the increasing potential North America could become self-sufficient in oil as well as gas by 2025″

Indeed, the rapid increases in oil production in the United States and elsewhere have already succeeded in driving down oil prices and are believed to be a potential force for softening the effects of the continued global economic slowdown. Whether the United States attains the goal of becoming fully energy self-sufficient by 2025 is beside the point; it is a near certainty that it is going to increase its oil production by a significant amount in the coming years and thereby greatly reduce its present level of dependence on foreign oil. A recent Harvard study suggested that the Bakken/Three Forks shale oil deposit shared between North Dakota and Montana contains enough potential barrels of crude to be economically equivalent to “a large Persian Gulf oil producing country”; right within the United States. This is no minor development, and the Bakken/Three Forks site is but one of many discovered reserves. Exploration continues at sites in the U.S. and around the world, and it is expected that countless more such massive deposits of shale oil are still to be found.

These developments are important not just economically but from political and environmental standpoints as well. On the one hand, the present degree of leverage possessed by OPEC nations over the global economy will inevitably be reduced. In response to these projections Kuwaiti Oil Minister Hani Hussein asserted that “oil from the Middle East will always find a home” – surely true, but less significant when Middle Eastern oil is no longer the only major player in the game. The ability of the present crop of major oil producers to manipulate prices will be greatly reduced as will their commensurate political clout. There is the potential today for major OPEC producers to increase capacity to drive down prices and thus slow the economic motivation for further investments in shale in the short term, but indications have been that there is little political will to do this in any meaningful capacity. In addition, the idea that OPEC heavyweights would exert pressure to reduce prices past the $60/barrel threshold (where shale often ceases to be profitable) over a sustained period of time seems belongs in the realm of fantasy given present political realities.

There is another more insidious aspect to the development of these newly economically viable sources of crude oil; the undercutting of the hoped for “green revolution” in energy production. The economic imperative for developing cheap and renewable sources of energy largely evaporates once you are suddenly awash in a wealth of oil, but the environmental hazards remain and in many cases worsen. Shale belongs to the same family of “tight oil” products as the notoriously environmentally destructive Alberta tar sands, which are famously believed to contain within them more carbon dioxide than has until now been emitted in all of human history. Extraction on a large scale can be expected to exacerbate existing problems with CO2emissions and climate change with potentially disastrous effects. With a new abundance of shale-based crude oil, the fiscal urgency to develop “green” sources of power will be gone and investment capital will flow back into more business-as-usual forms of energy production. While this may be good in the short-term for the economic and political fortunes of countries with major shale reserves, it may be devastating for the planet itself in the long-term. The shale oil boom promises to fundamentally realign the global oil market and shift political power away from its present equilibrium; but while this promises to create new winners and losers geopolitically it may end up being looked back upon as lose-lose for the world at large if it ultimately aborts the movement towards clean and renewable power and makes crude oil the prime energy source of the foreseeable future.

As production of shale oil and other crude “alternatives” ramps up around the world and as greater deposits continue to be discovered in the territory of current net-importers, the global oil market stands at a something of a precipice. While OPEC has heretofore been dismissive towards the potential of shale oil to undercut its market power, statistics which show meteoric projected increases in both reserves and output in countries such as the U.S. suggest that current oil producers may be acting with dangerous complacence. As technology continues to develop and improve the economic viability of extracting shale and other “tight oil” products, OPEC countries need to make tough decisions about exercising their production muscle to reduce prices and thus postpone the immediate imperative to develop shale oil sources; or conversely risk rolling the dice and allowing their market dominance to be challenged. This will end up being a potentially momentous decision not just politically and economically but for the potential long-term health of the planet as well.

Why Pakistan is Not a Failed State

Why Pakistan is Not a Failed State

The characterization of Pakistan as a failed state is one which has become so ingrained in popular discourse that its mention is often taken as a given and barely raises an eyebrow. That the 5th most populous country in world and one of the small handful of nations which possesses nuclear weapons is deemed to have “failed” and put into the same category of anarchic lawlessness as countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan is no trivial matter; yet as much as this is repeated to be the case in the media even a cursory survey of the country would show this assumption to be false. While Pakistan is wracked with problems of militancy, social inequality, environmental degradation and bureaucratic incompetence, it is still in most parts a functioning society where millions of people manage to live, work and raise families with a reliable degree of stability and security.

Despite suffering through a civil war and callous fiscal mismanagement, the number of Pakistanis living in poverty fell by almost half between 1999 and 2008, to about 17% of the population. This economic growth was largely driven by exports and remittances from Pakistanis working abroad and contributed to several years in the intervening period where the economy grew at a rate near 8%, on par at the time with the fastest growing economies in the world. Little of this information typically reaches the Western media where Pakistan has been portrayed as a quintessentially hopeless country oscillating between extremism and simple destitution, yet it is still reality. While this economic growth has been inefficiently managed and unequally distributed across society, it is still indicative of the continued functioning of Pakistani society and would be utterly impossible in a state which has “failed”. Pakistan is home to major textile and manufacturing industries which contribute to nearly a third of GDP, but also has a fast growing technology sector as well. Pakistan’s IT industry is estimated at $2.8 billion by AT Kearney, and between the years 2007 to 2009 improved from 30th place to 20th most favourable place in the world for IT offshoring. The telecommunications industry has grown fourteen-fold since 2000; Pakistan has 91 million people plugged into its mobile networks and has one of the highest mobile teledensities in the world. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index ranked Pakistan 85th in the world in 2009, ahead of even China (88th) and India (133 th) in having liberal policies and an investment climate favourable to FDI. The Pakistani banking system also weathered the 2008-2009 financial crisis exceptionally well, and has turned profits of an average of $1.1bn per year in the intervening years. The country is ranked 33rd in the world in terms of access and availability to capital; a not-insignificant standing. Citing these figures is not an apologia for the failure of the Pakistani government to harness the economic potential of the country and alleviate the crushing poverty experienced by a huge number of Pakistanis, but to merely point out the existence economic phenomena which would be impossible in an anarchic “failed state”. Indicative of at least some governmental will to address this, the PPP government to its great credit in 2009 implemented economic policies to redistribute a greater share of income to the Pakistan’s poorer provinces; again a sign of a state which still manages when pressed to function in its own interest, despite its shortcomings.

Pakistan also possesses an independent, frankly activist, judiciary which for better or for worse (depending on your political allegiances) is something that would not be possible in a state which has ceased to operate. The Pakistani Lawyers Movement in 2008 helped removed the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf from power after holding him and his regime to account for the disappearances of hundreds of Pakistani citizens held in military custody over the war on terror – significant of a judicial branch which is capable, however imperfectly at times, of protecting the legal rights of its citizens even in the face of power. Again, no such civil society exists in any other states popularly characterized as “failed”; and while Pakistan in sum is certainly not a model of predictable and impartial law and order it is also certainly not a land of utter lawlessness and chaos. The Supreme Court acts in what it perceives to be the citizens interest and uses the rule of law to accomplish this, this is not in dispute and again something which would not be possible in a failed society.

Foreign policy is the realm where Pakistan is most often depicted as a free-for-all where it is incapable of acting in its own self-interest. The most prominent example given for this is the supposedly irrational duplicity of Pakistan in relation to its U.S. ally in the war on Afghanistan. To the contrary, however antagonistic Pakistan’s actions have been to the U.S. in this war, the Pakistani state itself has acted in perfect alignment with its interests and in fact is grudgingly conceded by many within the American security establishment to have played its cards well in a difficult situation. The United States will be leaving Afghanistan soon in a situation which is almost universally believed will shortly result in civil war. Pakistan’s prime strategic concern is India, and specifically the fear that India may use its strategic depth in Afghanistan to “encircle” Pakistan, giving them the advantage of being able to wage a two front war if the countries ever came again to open hostilities. To this end, Pakistan has not sacrificed its shock troops for the coming civil war (the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taleban) and has kept them in pocket while continuing to extract payments from the United States to kill and pursue Al Qaeda members, which it undeniably has done in earnest, however incompletely and imperfectly. Not only is this rational, even if it is understandably irritating to its American “allies”, but it is in line with Pakistani public sentiment which is overwhelmingly sympathetic with the Afghan Taleban (though not the Pakistani iteration), and views their war as a legitimate resistance against foreign occupation in the vein of the resistance to the Soviets in the 1980’s. Again, this is rational and self-interested behaviour more characteristic of a functional state than a failed one, despite the hostility such policies will necessarily generate among those whose interests it opposes. The killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil on the other hand is indicative of one of two things; either a faction within its security establishment which offered him a measure of protection or an ill-fated the decision by the Pakistani government to hold onto him until an advantageous moment arose to turn him over and “play their card”. Regardless it was certainly a deservedly black mark on the country and a failure of administration and leadership, but by no means necessarily a failure of the state itself.

While Pakistan’s dysfunctions are well documented, it also possesses certain innate strengths which have allowed it to survive an incredibly tumultuous and painful decade. Pakistan has been overwhelmed with refugees from the war in Afghanistan and has seen its own social fabric torn apart by extremists radicalized (by their own description) in response to that conflict. It was inundated by a devastating flood in 2010 which submerged over 20% of its total landmass and which many predicted would be the knockout blow to the Pakistani state, yet it remained stoic and recovered to the surprise of many doomsayers. It has weathered blow after blow and continued to function though it has undoubtedly failed its citizens in many places as well. While it may be a weakened and conflicted state, no one who has been to its cities and towns can say it has “failed”. Pakistan has persisted to stay on its feet despite a decade of incredible misfortune, and by this time one should take eager predictions of its imminent collapse with a necessary grain of salt. Whatever ones perception of it, Pakistan is undeniably a hugely consequential country in the world. In the geopolitical sense it is indeed “too big to fail” and if it were to fail it would not be a matter of debate or ambiguity, the world would be impacted in a major way. Noting this, it is time cast aside the facile and inaccurate description of Pakistan as a failed state while maintaining vigilant that if its internal dilemmas are not competently addressed it could indeed fail, with disastrous consequences. Despite the turmoil which undoubtedly exists in the country, there are still signs of world-class progress and development in the country, from skyscraper complexes in Karachi to solar power fields in Islamabad, Pakistan continues to amble along in its development, however unevenly.

In the long-term, real salvation for Pakistan lies in addressing its problems with environmental degradation, securing reliable energy supplies, and mending its adversarial relationship with its immediate neighbours; specifically India. The last point is key, for while the Afghan war will inevitably wind down, and with it will the primary driver of militant unrest be gone, Pakistan’s future hope of being a prosperous and well-regarded country lies in good relations and mutually beneficial commerce with its economically ascendant Indian neighbour. Most of India’s most industrialized areas in fact border Pakistan, and free trade between the two economies offers an incredible opportunity to revitalize Pakistan as a country. Indeed, many within the Pakistani establishment have come around to this realization, however belatedly, and are working to repair and rehabilitate this often fraught relationship. To this end Pakistan has recently granted Most Favoured Nation status to India as a trading partner and bilateral trade between the two countries is forecasted to nearly quadruple within two years. A significant and hopeful sign; and one more reflective of a functioning if deeply flawed state, as opposed to a failed one mired in anarchy and incapable of acting in its own interest.

Bill C-31, an Assault on Refugee Rights and Canadian Values

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How do you feel about your tax dollars being used to pay for cancer treatment and wheelchairs for a refugee? If you believe, as generations of Canadians before have, that compassion and respect are fundamental national values; you probably feel pretty good about it. Canada is after all a country which (with the exception of First Nations peoples) was built by immigrants and refugees fleeing oppression and deprivation in their home countries in search of a better life.

Without compassion and a sense of fundamental humanity shown towards the original Canadian refugees, this country likely would not exist as it does today as one of the most affluent and stable countries in the world. It might not even have continued to exist at all, riven by internal divisions and without a tolerant and inclusive national identity, it may have been swallowed up by its larger and more aggressive Southern neighbour.

Care and compassion towards new Canadians is a national strength and a source of moral pride, but new legislation by the federal Conservative government poses a direct threat to this admirable Canadian legacy.

Bill C-31, which passed through Parliament and is now in front of Senate represents a fundamental attack on the basic human rights of refugees in Canada

Bill C-31, which passed through Parliament and is now in front of Senate represents a fundamental attack on the basic human rights of refugees in Canada. The bill cuts all extended-care health benefits to refugees and asylum seekers, including access to prescription drugs, vision and dental care, and physical mobility devices such as crutches and wheelchairs. Only those refugees with diseases which may be considered infectious will receive medical care, a policy which in effect says “we don’t care if you get ill or die, unless your illness may catch onto us”. Such a callous, “shut the door behind you” attitude is not representative of the values that make Canada great nor does it represent the type of moral country Canada should aspire to be.

At the forefront of the growing protests against this cut to vital health services to refugees have been doctors, the ones who have experiential knowledge of the circumstances and needs of Canada’s refugee community and the ones who would be forced to deny refugees lifesaving medical care if they appealed to them. As Dr. Mark Tyndall, the head of the infectious disease treatment center at Ottawa Hospital put it, “We are launching into an uncontrolled, disastrous, human health experience by arbitrarily denying life-saving medical care to some of the most vulnerable and traumatized people in the whole world.”

The counter argument by the government and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is that refugees will now simply be receiving the same level of free medical care as the rest of Canadians. As Kenney put it, refugees will now have access to the same level of care as low and middle income Canadians also adding “I wonder why these doctors aren’t raising the same questions about [the medical benefits] taxpaying Canadians receive.”

His comments at a glance seem to be a crude attempt to pit Canadians against refugees by suggesting they are receiving a free ride on their expense, while drawing a false equivalency between the circumstances of established income-earning Canadians and oftentimes destitute refugees starting from scratch in a new country.

This policy will effectively condemn people with serious illnesses to death, regardless if they are women or children or if their disease would be easily treatable with the correct medication

The fact is that not providing these healthcare services to established Canadians has minimal effect, as most Canadians receive health benefits through their employers and otherwise have the means to afford them, whereas denying them to refugees is catastrophic as they often lack the legal status to work as well as the base of financial resources to pay for healthcare emergencies. This policy will effectively condemn people with serious illnesses to death, regardless if they are women or children or if their disease would be easily treatable with the correct medication.

Despite being among the most vulnerable and suffering people on the planet, in the new Canada if refugees can’t pay they will die even if help is readily available for them. As healthcare worker Mado Mushimiyamana put it, if refugees will consciously be denied lifesaving care “You should let them die where they are rather than come to be killed silently in this country.”

What does this type of policy say about the future of Canada and the kind of country it wants to be in the 21st century? The hard-earned reputation of this country as a tolerant and humane place is potentially threatened by this type of callous and cruel policy targeted towards the most vulnerable people in society. To the credit of Canadians everywhere there have been large protests throughout the country led primarily by medical professionals decrying the federal government’s assault on the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to turn back the tide. Canadians need to take a stand and make clear that their country is better than this.

Bill C-31 should not only be an issue of concern to refugees and their advocates, but to all Canadians who care about their national identity

This country was built in large part by the efforts of refugees fleeing famine, war and disease in their homelands and we would not be what we are today if previous generations had not helped these new arrivals with a leg-up instead of exploiting them and pushing them to the margins of society when they were in need. Bill C-31 should not only be an issue of concern to refugees and their advocates, but to all Canadians who care about their national identity and who sincerely believe in the values which made this country what it is today.

Published at: http://prism-magazine.com/2012/06/bill-c-31-an-assault-on-refugee-rights-and-canadian-values/

Painting over history in Tahrir Square

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Cairo, Egypt - In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, ground zero of the democratic uprising which overthrew the brutal 42-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, the history of the 2011 revolution is literally drawn on the walls. Down Mohamed Mahmoud Street, along the sides of the American University of Cairo (AUC) compound and all around the Square there are stunning and oft-emotional testaments to the historic events which led to the fall of the Mubarak regime and which galvanised the attention of the world.

Pharaohnic imagery, written messages of inspiration, artistic depictions of soldiers, politicians, protestors and the ordinary Egyptians from all walks of life who came into the streets to finally lift the heavy weight of dictatorship from their nation – all these are painted on the walls around Tahrir in recognition of the transcendent events which took place there only so recently. In addition, what are painted are tributes to those young and old who gave their lives to the cause of bringing freedom to Egypt. Depictions of the martyrs of Tahrir Square with angel wings and words of commemoration adorn the walls, and it is these historic images, among others, that the Egyptian military came this week to wipe away.

Continue reading at Al Jazeera…

Astroturf Muslim Leaders

In the wake of revelations that the NYPD had been engaged in anunprecedented campaign of spying on the lives of average Muslim Americansin the New York and New Jersey areas, a campaign which was not based on any specific suspicion of wrongdoing. The campaign consisted of meticulously documenting every Muslim owned school and business in the NY-NJ area, and even went as far as infiltrating a whitewater rafting trip and recording the number of times each one of the rafters prayed.

A few lone voices from the Muslim community came out in support of the NYPD’s efforts. At a sparsely attended March rally, a little over a dozen purported “leaders” of the American Muslim community came out to make known their support for the NYPD’s violation of their community’s constitutional rights. Chief among these individuals was Zuhdi Jasser, head of an organization called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) who said of the rally, “We are not here to criticize the NYPD” and “We just want the media reports to finally show balance, that there’s diversity, that some Muslims don’t have a problem with this.” The only problem with this proclamation is that the supposed diversity of opinion among Muslims on whether they are entitled to live without unconstitutional surveillance of their daily lives is nonexistent.

Read the full article at: http://prism-magazine.com/2012/05/the-astroturf-muslim-leaders/

Propaganda Thinly Masked as Evidence

In the aftermath of the journalistic failures that helped facilitate the unmitigated disaster which was the Iraq War, one would think that the same publications responsible for publishing gross innuendo and propaganda as objective fact would have learnt their lesson for the future. An article released by AP and published in the Washington Post (among other mainstream outlets) today provides a stark and frankly disgusting reminder that most of our tireless media watchdogs have learnt no such lesson and are fully intending to take whatever information they can to promote the fear-mongering hype over Iran which may lead to another, far more disastrous conflict. An AP exclusive story released today shows a drawing of what is purported to be an “explosive containment chamber” present at an Iranian military site. The existence of such a chamber would ostensibly provide evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and could thus potentially constitute a smoking gun to those seeking to make the case that they are. However to make this extremely consequential case (which the media has in depressingly typical fashion rushed to trumpet), the sole evidence that Iran does possess such equipment constitutes this extremely crude drawing created by an unknown source, and several completely anonymous quotes supposedly verifying its authenticity. Behind the fear-inducing headlines and the cynical manipulation of the public, the actual shoddiness of the journalism must be witnessed to be believed:

“The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it. That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant. The official comes from an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran’s assertions that its nuclear activities are peaceful and asserts they are a springboard for making atomic arms.”

“A former senior IAEA official said he believes the drawing is accurate. Olli Heinonen, until last year the U.N. nuclear agency’s deputy director general in charge of the Iran file, said it was “very similar” to a photo he recently saw that he believes to be the pressure chamber the IAEA suspects is at Parchin… he had but declined to go into the origins of the photo to protect his source.”

Beneath the layers of incendiary hype, what you have here is basically nothing. Taking the assumption that this is a democracy and not a totalitarian country and that there are thus minimum standards for evidence and journalistic integrity, it should be noted that the serious accusations being made here are based completely on anonymous sources, many of whom are acknowledged to be openly hostile and belligerent towards Iran. A few simple questions come to mind; such as, who made this drawing? On what basis is their information verifiable? How can their credibility be judged when they are completely anonymous? Who is their (again, completely anonymous) “source” who gave them this information? Who is the former IAEA official who has given their opinion the drawing is authentic, and on what basis has their opinion been formed?

This is not nitpicking, these are all absolutely basic and necessary questions that any news outlet should immediately ask before publishing information that may have massive consequences not only for their own credibility but for the lives of millions of people. If the drawing had been made by Benjamin Netanyahu, which for all one knows based on the dearth of available information it might have been, that would impact its perceived value and its effectiveness as a tool for furthering the cause of beginning a war with Iran. Stacking anonymous source upon anonymous source and ultimately pulling out a crude sketch of something claimed to be a threat to civilization is not anything resembling journalism, its crude propaganda. This type of sensationalist, utterly hollow drivel had no place being in the pages of the Washington Post or any of the other major publications where it ran today; but remarkably it was there.

Those with an avowed agenda to campaign for war against Iran have uncritically and enthusiastically used this story to help further their cause, regardless of how embarrassing the “evidence” itself is. This type of thing does real harm to those who are legitimately interested in knowing and acting upon the truth and making decisions based on fact, rather than anonymously authored cartoons leaked by equally anonymous “officials” of an anonymous state. Those who tirelessly campaigned for the war in Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands and created millions of refugees are using the same crude tactics they did to engineer that catastrophe. Colin Powell famously showed sketches of Saddam Hussein’s supposed mobile bio-weapons factories, providing pseudo-evidence in lieu of actual evidence but achieving his goal of terrorizing and cowing the populace and the international community into going along with the neoconservative agenda. We all know now that those mobile weapons factories never existed, and yet the very same individuals who manipulated the world using such tactics are attempting to do the same today with Iran. It perhaps can be expected from neoconservative ideologues whose commitment is not to the objective truth but rather to their own narrow interests that this “story” would have gotten attention, but it is incumbent upon those with an interest in seeing a peaceful resolution to this conflict that such blatant propaganda not be allowed to poison the public discourse.

America’s forgotten POW: Bowe Bergdahl

The decision to send young men and women to kill and die in foreign lands is one which is often taken without much real thought for the welfare of these individuals, often barely past the age of adulthood, despite the massive amount of rhetoric and jingoism which surrounds their deployments. Soldiers are killed and maimed with depressing regularity, registering as a brief news story and then in most cases disappearing from the public consciousness forever. Perhaps even more painful psychologically is the plight of soldiers in conflict who disappear into the hands of those they have been sent to fight, continuing to exist in a state of living death, often mistreated and without means of contacting their loved ones or a clear prospect of when, or if, they may ever safely return home again. During the years of his detention in the Gaza Strip, captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit became a symbolic figure in his country whose name was known to every citizen. Through his suffering he became an iconic figure in Israel, where concern about his fate was almost universal and public pressure eventually forced the government to make his status a priority in its policy decisions. Similarly, most every Palestinian knows the plight of their own prisoners languishing behind enemy lines and popular opinion ensures that their fates are front and centre in every political negotiation carried out by their leaders.

http://www.salon.com/2012/04/11/americas_forgotten_p_o_w_bowe_bergdahl/

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