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Politics and Economics

Energy bill OKd in raucous vote
GOP measure scrapes by after hard lobbying on House floor

Zachary Coile, SF Chronicle
Washington — The House of Representatives descended into bedlam Friday as Republican leaders kept a five-minute vote open for more than 40 minutes — and arm-twisted two of their members to switch their votes — to pass a new energy bill.

The bill, which would offer incentives for oil companies to build new refineries, sparked angry accusations by Democrats that GOP leaders were abusing House rules to squeeze through the controversial measure.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, asked at one point: “Doesn’t this make the House a banana republic?”

Democrats chanted “shame! shame!” as the presiding speaker announced that the measure, in response to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, had passed on a 212-210 vote.

…The bill that passed Friday, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, would streamline the permitting process for refineries and require the president to designate federal land — including former military bases — as sites for new refineries. The bill would reduce the number of gasoline and diesel fuels refiners have to produce from 17 to six.

The measure also would outlaw price-gouging, encourage carpooling and allow a city or region to petition for more time to meet Clean Air Act standards if it can show the pollution came from another area.
(8 October 2005)
Related NY Times article: Refinery Construction Bill Is Drawing Broad Criticism.

Inside the secretive Bilderberg Group

Bill Hayton, BBC
How much influence do private networks of the rich and powerful have on government policies and international relations? One group, the Bilderberg, has often attracted speculation that it forms a shadowy global government. As part of the BBC’s Who Runs Your World? series, Bill Hayton tries to find out more.

In his office, on a private floor above the Brussels office of the Suez conglomerate lined with political cartoons of himself, he told me what he thought of allegations that Bilderberg is a global conspiracy secretly ruling the world.

“It is unavoidable and it doesn’t matter,” he says. “There will always be people who believe in conspiracies but things happen in a much more incoherent fashion.”

In an extremely rare interview, he played down the importance of Bilderberg in setting the international agenda. “What can come out of our meetings is that it is wrong not to try to deal with a problem. But a real consensus, an action plan containing points 1, 2 and 3? The answer is no. People are much too sensible to believe they can do that.”

There need to be places where these people can think about the main challenges ahead, co-ordinate where policies should be going, and find out where there could be a consensus
Professor Kees van der Pijl

Every year since 1954, a small network of rich and powerful people have held a discussion meeting about the state of the trans-Atlantic alliance and the problems facing Europe and the US.

Organised by a steering committee of two people from each of about 18 countries, the Bilderberg Group (named after the Dutch hotel in which it held its first meeting) brings together about 120 leading business people and politicians.

At this year’s meeting in Germany, the audience included the heads of the World Bank and European Central Bank, Chairmen or Chief Executives from Nokia, BP, Unilever, DaimlerChrysler and Pepsi – among other multi-national corporations, editors from five major newspapers, members of parliament, ministers, European commissioners, the crown prince of Belgium and the queen of the Netherlands.

“I don’t think (we are) a global ruling class because I don’t think a global ruling class exists. I simply think it’s people who have influence interested to speak to other people who have influence,” Viscount Davignon says.
(29 September 2005)
The Bilderberg group figures prominently in conspiracy theories about Peak Oil. This is one of the few articles about the group that’s appeared in the mainstream press.

Japan vows action against China if oil line in disputed zone confirmed; Gas row escalates

Associated Press via Arab Times
TOKYO (AP): Japan’s trade minister warned Friday that Tokyo would take “bold action” if it confirms that China is building a pipeline in disputed gas exploration sites in the East China Sea. Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said that Japan has detected a Chinese vessel carrying a massive load of pipes headed for the region, and Beijing has not responded to its requests for an explanation
(8 October 2005)

Boom times await new powers

Peter Day, BBC
Brazil, Russia, India and China, the so-called Brics, are predicted to emerge as major world players by 2050. In this, the second of a four-part World Service series called Brics: The Changing Face of Global Power, the BBC’s Peter Day examines how the tables are turning.

Some of the brightest minds in the normally dismal science of economics agree that great big upheaval is on the way.

“We’re already seeing the dispersal of economic power and influence, I think, in the world, in the early stages,” says Michael Spence, a Nobel prize-winning economist from Stanford University in California.

“Because of the growth of these [Bric] economies, you can see them acting in the WTO and in other places in a way that’s much more influential than they used to be, say, 25 or 30 years ago.”
(4 October 2005)
Although energy isn’t explicitly discussed here, the emerging BRIC countries are frequently mentioned in articles about tensions over energy supplies.

Fool shortage? Unfortunately, not in Georgia

Jay Bookman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Common Dreams
To conserve energy, President Bush asked Americans to cancel travel that isn’t really necessary or important.

In Georgia, that meant canceling school for two days.

Because really, who needs school anyway? We may bounce around the bottom in SAT scores, and almost half of our kids may leave school without a diploma, but hey, what’s really important is saving enough gas to run our SUVs, right?

Sorry, I just can’t get over the stupidity of that move. Forget the inconvenience to parents caused by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s sudden announcement. Forget its utter futility in terms of energy saved. Think instead about the symbolism of it — to our children, to their teachers, to businesses thinking of locating here.

When things get just a little bit tough, when it’s time to separate the necessary from the frivolous, what do our leaders instinctively offer up for sacrifice? Education.
(3 October 2005)

Revving up the China threat

Michael Klare, The Nation
Ever since taking office, the Bush Administration has struggled to define its stance on the most critical long-term strategic issue facing the United States: whether to view China as a future military adversary, and plan accordingly, or to see it as a rival player in the global capitalist system. Representatives of both perspectives are nestled in top Administration circles, and there have been periodic swings of the pendulum toward one side or the other. But after a four-year period in which neither outlook appeared dominant, the pendulum has now swung conspicuously toward the anti-Chinese, prepare-for-war position. Three events signal this altered stance.

…While much of this was going on, the American public and mass media were preoccupied with another source of tension between the United States and China: the attempted purchase of the California-based Unocal Corporation by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). This attempt received far greater attention in the media than did the events described above, yet it will have a far less significant impact on US-Chinese relations than will the Pentagon’s shift to a more belligerent, anti-Chinese stance–one that greatly increases the likelihood of a debilitating and dangerous military competition between the United States and China.
(6 October 2005)

Chavez says Venezuela has “strong oil card” to play against US

Xinhuanet (China)
BUENOS AIRES — Venezuela has a “strong oil card” to play on the world geopolitical stage and against the United States, said President Hugo Chavez in an interview published on Sunday.

“It is a card we will use in a tough game against the toughest rival in the world — the United States. But our actions will be governed by transparency and respect,” Chavez told the Argentine daily Clarin. He said the card will be even more powerful if other Latin American countries join it in a regional economic alliance.

At the first meeting of the South American Community of Nationsin Brasilia last week, Venezuelan state-run petroleum firm PDVSA struck a deal with its Brazilian counterpart Petrobras on jointly building an oil refinery with a total investment of 2.5 billion US dollars. The companies also agreed to extend their cooperation in the energy sector.

Chavez believed that “the energy agreements have an intrinsic might” and “will influence the region’s economic recovery.”

“The entire world has the smell of oil. We are facing an energycrisis to which we have to pay utmost attention: we’ve reached thetop of the world petroleum production and the price is rising,” he cautioned.

Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world and a key crude supplier to the United States, providing the latter with1.5 million barrels of crude per day.
(2 October 2005)
The interview with Chavez mentioned in this article is available online in Spanish.

High Oil Prices Met With Anger Worldwide
Both Rich and Poor Countries Make Moves To Appease Citizens

Paul Blustein and Craig Timberg, Washington Post
Rising fuel prices are stoking popular anger around the world, throwing politicians on the defensive and forcing governments to resort to price freezes, tax cuts and other measures to soothe voter resentment.

The latest example came this weekend in Nigeria, where President Olusegun Obasanjo promised in a nationally televised Independence Day speech that the cost of gasoline would not increase further until the end of 2006, no matter what happened in global oil markets. He acted after furious demonstrations shut down whole sections of major cities around the country over the past several weeks.

Antagonism over the strains inflicted by escalating energy costs is a phenomenon that stretches from rich nations in Western Europe, where filling up a minivan costs upward of $100, to poor countries in Asia and Africa, where rising oil prices have driven up the cost of bus rides and kerosene used for cooking.
(3 October 2005)
Long article.

Pombo proposes lifting offshore drilling moratorium

Zachary Coile, SF Chronicle
Washington — New legislation moving through Congress would end the quarter-century-old moratorium on drilling off the coast of California and other states, and shift the power to block development in coastal waters from Congress to governors and state legislatures.

The proposal by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, also adds a sweetener to boost offshore oil and gas production: States that allow drilling off their coasts would gain a greater share of royalty payments from energy companies, which usually go to the federal government.
(7 October 2005)