FBI Pays Environmentalist $100,000 after Wrongful Arrest

The FBI will issue a rare "letter of regret" and pay environmentalist Josh Connole $100,000 after mistakenly arresting him for domestic terrorism. Agents followed Connole for several days in 2003, after arson-vandalism attacks at four Southern California car dealerships in which gas-guzzlers were spray-painted. His suspicious activities included living communally with fellow vegans, installing solar panels, protesting the Iraq war, and driving an electric car.

via Solar Living Institute

Freedom of Religion and Terrorism in Singapore

Atanu describes how Singapore controls religious bigotry and intolerance. Cable TV must be very different with no preaching!

Source: Atanu Dey on India’s Development ? A Man of Practical Genius.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Singapore but freedom to proselytize is not. Proselytizing essentially says that my religion is better than your religion and that if you don’t accept my god as the One True Savior(TM), you will rot in hell that my god has specially prepared for you. This sows seeds of discord in society and soon the newly converted start asking for special treatment and handouts and in the limiting case, when the bunch grows sufficiently large, ask for a separate state of their own because they cannot bear to live with the other people who are destined to go to hell.

So Singapore is strict about proselytizing. In keeping with their policy of discouraging that anti-social behavior, they caught a meek little Catholic lady who was going door to door peddling her religion and threw her into jail after she was found guilty by the courts. Then they publicized the event. This sent the message to all religious bigots who follow the dictates of their own hearts that bigotry is not ok.

They took care of the mullahs as well. Got them together and told them that if they even make a peep in their weekly religious sermons promoting killing and terrorism, they will have their butts in the sling. Live and let live was the message they got and as rational humans, the mullahs got in line. The last time they had communal unrest was sometime in the late 1960s.

Some oil money is up to no good

Link: USATODAY.com – Some oil money is up to no good.

In case $3-per-gallon gas isn’t depressing enough, consider what your gas money pays for: A bull market in Saudi stocks. Handouts for Fidel Castro. And weapons for anti-American terrorists.

Oil-producing states haven’t seen a windfall like this since the twin price shocks of the 1970s. Persian Gulf countries this year will earn about $291 billion in oil revenue vs. $61 billion in 1998, when oil prices tanked, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF). For every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, Venezuela, the No. 4 source of U.S. imports, reaps almost an additional $1 billion a year.

In several oil-producing countries, soaring oil prices are complicating U.S. foreign policy or blunting commercial opportunities for American companies. Irans’ mullahs, locked in a standoff with the U.S. over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, are bolstered by an oil-rich economy that the International Monetary Fund says will grow 6% this year and next.

  Biggest exporters
Countries that exported the most crude oil to the USA in June, in thousands of barrels per day:
June 2005
Pct. of total
Saudi Arabia
United Kingdom
Total of top 10
Source: Energy Information Administration

Thanks to surging oil revenue, Mexico is able to delay the politically painful step of opening its oil fields to foreign oil companies, says Roger Tissot, country director for the consultancy PFC Energy.

Of course, not every dollar spent at the pump props up a desert autocrat or funds global terror. Norway, a major producer of North Sea crude, uses its oil export earnings to fund its citizens’ retirement program.

The Persian Gulf oil states are investing about half of their increased oil revenue in the region, spurring luxury hotel construction in places such as Dubai and sending shares on the Saudis’ Tadawul All-Shares index up 79.7% this year.

The other half of the windfall is being funneled into international markets, according to Howard Handy, the IIF’s director for the Middle East and Africa. "We estimate $360 billion to $400 billion will be looking for a home outside the region in 2005 and 2006 combined," he says.

That’s a significant sum, but it is being divided among a greater number of destinations than during previous booms. In the 1970s, most foreign investment by gulf states ended up in U.S. markets, which dominated global investing even more than today. Then-secretary of State Henry Kissinger encouraged Saudi investment so that the most influential member of OPEC would be discouraged from damaging the U.S. economy with future oil embargoes, says Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East studies for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Today, though it’s impossible to track specific figures, the Saudis and other Arab states are placing more of their investments in non-U.S. holdings, including euro-dominated securities that didn’t exist at the time of the first oil price shocks. Riyadh also no longer reflexively steers most major contracts to U.S. firms. In January 2004, for example, the Saudis bypassed Chevron and awarded lucrative natural gas exploration contracts to Russian, Chinese and European companies.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Saudis met U.S. demands by ending government support for Islamic charities linked to terrorism. But individuals in the kingdom continue to send cash to groups that support anti-American terrorists.

"We know wealthy Saudis are funding terror. With higher oil prices, they just have more money to do so," Bronson says.

Soaring oil prices also are causing problems closer to U.S. shores. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, flush with record oil revenue, is sending subsidized oil shipments to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and increasing military spending. Earlier this month, Venezuela announced a purchase of long-range surveillance radars from China. The U.S. has accused Chavez of funneling arms to leftist rebels in neighboring Colombia, which he denies.

At home, Chavez has lavished oil money on his constituents in Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods. Through "Mission Mercal," a network of government-run groceries, Chavez provides half-priced food to more than 10 million people.

The social largesse cements the president’s political standing. But economists such as Claudio Loser, former head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, say such spending can’t continue indefinitely. Already, inflation is galloping at 18% annually and is expected to hit 25% next year.

Big oil producers should have learned one lesson from earlier booms: High prices don’t last forever. Oil prices now are around $65 per barrel. But with greater production expected from non-OPEC producers such as Angola, Brazil and Azerbaijan, prices will drop to around $40 per barrel in 2007-08, says Jim Burkhart, director of oil market analysis for Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

That will spell trouble for some oil nations, including Venezuela. "The risk is what happens when oil prices decline and governments have to align their spending with fewer resources," he says.

Despite today’s easy-money atmosphere, there’s no need to envy the oil producers. Many face daunting developmental challenges that have gotten worse since the last oil boom.

Saudi Arabia’s population has exploded from 5.7 million in 1970 to 25 million today. That has driven down per-capita oil export revenue from more than $22,000 in the early 1980s to less than $5,000 today.

"Even with oil at $65 a barrel," says Bronson, "they can’t solve all their economic problems."

via The Kirk Report

Fear of Clean Energy and Loyalty to Fossil Fuels

Fear of change (to clean energy) and some common misperceptions (who would be motivated to promote those?) are keeping the masses from buying in to clean energy. Americans love the smell of petroleum in the morning.

Source: WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: Joel Makower: Clean Energy — It’s Not About the Environment.

Nearly every American, it seems, understands that generating electricity from the sun, the wind, the earth’s heat, or gases generated by rotting waste is good news for everyone — the planet, people’s health, national security, and the economy.

So, what’s the problem? They just don’t think clean energy works.

That’s the finding of a remarkable nonprofit campaign that stands the best chance I’ve seen of changing Americans’ minds about the virtues and value of clean energy and, in the process, accelerating their market uptake.

The goal of Connecticut-based SmartPower is to have 20% of U.S. energy supply come from clean, renewable sources by 2010. To do that, the organization has engaged in a market research and advertising campaign of Madison Avenue proportions.

Armed with nearly $2 million in pooled funding from five foundations, SmartPower partnered with the Clean Energy States Alliance three years ago to better understand public attitudes about clean energy. That’s no mean feat. For the past half-dozen years or so, a succession of opinion polls have consistently demonstrated American’s desire for cleaner fuel sources (here’s one recent example), but the gap with actual clean-energy purchases has remained gargantuan.

Working with Gardner Nelson & Partners, a New York ad agency that represents Southwest Airlines, Chase, and other blue-chip clients, SmartPower conducted focus groups and other research around the U.S. For starters, “We wanted to know what people really think about coal and oil,” SmartPower’s president, Brian Keane, told me recently. “We, like a lot of other people, start with the notion that coal and oil are bad.”

That’s not how most others see fossil fuels, as Keane’s group learned….

Every single respondent knew exactly what clean energy is, and they absolutely want it to work. They could discuss it confidently, without hesitation. Many had heard of fuel cells. They believed it would be a better world if we developed more clean energy. They believed it would be better for their health and their environment.

But the misconceptions or misinformation turned out to be rampant. The researchers found that while most people understood clean energy’s benefits, they thought it would require them to have windmills on their houses, or that the power would go on and off on cloudy or windless days, or that it was ultimately all about trade-offs, like using less heat or air conditioning.

“No one’s talking about it on television,” was another comment Keane recalls hearing. “They could actually live with the fact that no one in their neighborhood has a solar panel. But if they saw it was on TV, they could understand it’s potential. TV is the great validator of the day.”

Keane’s group tested a series of messages, reflecting patriotism, security, jobs, and other themes. The one that overwhelmingly migrated to the top was the one that featured an image of the skyline of Chicago. The caption:

“America already produces enough clean energy to supply all of Chicago’s power requirements. Not to mention New York, L.A., Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, and San Antonio, too. Let’s make more.”

So, it’s not the environment, stupid. Says Keane: “We talked to a lot of environmental groups and learned that pushing this as an environmental issue is not even winning over the environmentalists. They know clean energy is good to the core. They just don’t think it works.”

Keane & Co. have validated their findings through a campaign called SmartPower 20% by 2010, which they launched in Connecticut. The campaign challenges cities and towns, faith communities, educational institutions and businesses to start choosing clean energy — up to 20% by the end of the decade.

The campaign’s tone, like nearly everything else SmartPower is doing, makes perfect sense. By asking participants to gradually ramp up their use to a reasonable level over a reasonable period of time, they’re acknowledging the realities of long-term budgeting and gradual but steady organizational change. Along the way, local clean-energy suppliers can ramp up gradually, too, creating the sustained, orderly market growth that will them to survive and thrive over the long term.

So far, 15 cities and towns have made the pledge, and another 50 are lining up, says Keane. So have more than 4,000 residences that signed up in the campaign’s first four months. “In the world of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, 4,000 is a joke," says Keane. "But in the clean-energy world, that’s phenomenal.” And the campaign is now rolling beyond Connecticut, to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Mexico — and the biggest prize of all, California.

It’s a promising start, and a rare success story in the green marketplace. And it helps explain all those surveys showing that Americans overwhelmingly want environmentally responsible goods and services, but never seem to buy them.

It turns out, they just don’t think they work.

Heat Wave Rant

During this heat wave, I’d like to jump on one of my favorite pedestals. Today it is 88 degrees at 10:30am in the Atlanta area.

The sun hitting the roof of our home is creating heat that makes the house hotter!

We are paying for electricity at peak rates to cool our home!

What is wrong with the picture?

We should have solar cells on our roof to:

  • Generate electricity for cooling our home.
  • Prevent the sun from heating the roof.

The reasons for this waste of resources are numerous and complex, but there is good news. As energy prices rise, smart entrepreneurs and engineers will create solutions. It’s the American way. And perhaps we will be sending less money to the Middle East, which ultimately supports terrorists.

Belonging to a Group

Dave Pollard makes an observation in his blog about the importance of self-esteem regarding the power of belonging to a group:

The need to belong is so strong that if we can’t find healthy, constructive, inclusive places and groups to belong to, we will choose unhealthy, destructive, exclusive ones and pick up their behaviours (gangs, snobs, addicts).

This provides some insight into subcultures with behavioral norms that I do not understand, such as terrorists, gangs, skin heads, fraternities, tribes, etc.

People need to be in a herd!

Are We Too Dependent on Saudi Arabia?

Link: LP: Rethinking the Axis of Oil (Alternative Energy Coalition vs. OPEC Flunkies).

President Bush’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah resulted in a joint statement. The Rocky Mountain Institute and the National Commission on Energy Policy provide analysis on energy security. The Energy Future Coalition organised a letter to Mr Bush arguing against America’s dependence on imported oil. The House of Representatives just passed the energy bill, which is opposed by Taxpayers for Common Sense. Jerry Taylor is an energy expert at the Cato Institute.

That explains why the mood was not so cheerful when Mr Bush met Crown Prince Abdullah, who in effect rules Saudi Arabia, in Texas this week. As petrol prices have gone up, Mr Bush’s popularity ratings have declined. Uncharacteristically, before he met the prince, Mr Bush publicly pointed a finger of blame at the Saudis for the high prices. Much less publicly, the Saudis are still smarting from the “demonisation” of their country since the attacks of September 11th.

The two leaders tried to patch things up in Crawford. The Saudis promised to raise oil output sharply, pledging to spend $50 billion over the next five years to that end. Mr Bush cooed about the special relationship, and the two issued a communiqué pledging “to continue their co-operation, so that the oil supply from Saudi Arabia will be available and secure.”

So all’s well with the Axis of Oil? Not quite. This is because the symbiotic relationship between the world’s largest oil consumer and its largest producer is under attack from a surprising corner. Complaints from greens about cheap oil, Bushphobic wailings from the Michael Moore brigade and neo-conservative worries about Saudi terrorism are all well established. But the axis is now being challenged by an increasing number of pragmatists from the centre-right of American politics.

Several independent groups have strongly urged America to move away from oil. The Rocky Mountain Institute, a think-tank concerned with energy efficiency, argues in a newish study partly funded by the Pentagon that America can end its oil imports with aggressive adoption of biofuels, radically more efficient cars and other related policies. The National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), a bipartisan panel of energy heavyweights, recently made the case for boosting domestic energy sources, and also advocates a clever “cap and trade” approach to tackling greenhouse gases.

The most stinging attack came in a recent letter to Mr Bush signed by two dozen politically influential figures organised by the Energy Future Coalition, a lobbying group. These folk, an odd mix of national-security hawks and die-hard greens, argue that “dependence on imported petroleum poses a risk to our homeland security and economic well-being.” These worthies want to see “clean, domestic petroleum substitutes and increased efficiency in our transport system.”

One of the “geo-greens” (to use the moniker given them by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times) is Boyden Gray, an influential conservative who served as the White House counsel for Mr Bush’s father. “I don’t even like the word green!” he bristles. It is not greenery but post-September 11th fears that led men like him to join hands with the tree-huggers. In a thinly veiled reference to Saudi Arabia, he explains that he worries about “the corrupting influence of oil receipts that end up in terrorist hands”.

Robert McFarlane, who was Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, also signed the letter. He worries about the possibly devastating impact of terrorist attacks on oil infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia. He joined the greens because “we share a common interest in weaning ourselves off foreign oil.”

So is Congress rushing to embrace innovative ideas to kick the oil habit? Certainly not. In fact, the House of Representatives has just done the opposite by passing an energy bill stuffed full of subsidies for the oil-and-gas business. It includes giveaways for ethanol (a pretty ungreen petrol additive popular with corn farmers) and cheap catastrophic insurance for the nuclear industry. Meanwhile, it does nothing to close a loophole that allows sports-utility vehicles and Hummers to escape fuel-economy standards.

This bill is similar to last year’s failed energy bill, which itself was based on the recommendations of the Cheney energy task force of 2001. But the House managed to add so much more pork—including a $2 billion giveaway to oil companies for deep-water research—to the bill that even the White House now criticises it as excessively costly. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, estimates that the full cost could be more than $90 billion (see chart). The bill now goes to the Senate.

Mr Bush’s idea of reform may be a little more sophisticated than Congress’s, but not much. His main priority is simply to get a bill through. He has asked Republican leaders for a final bill by August. On April 27th, he even offered the Senate some new sops to the oil-and-gas lobby in the name of “energy independence”. He wants to help buyers of cars with cleaner-burning diesel engines, utilities building nuclear plants and energy companies building refineries or “liquefied natural gas” facilities (all half-measures or worse).

Some geo-greens think the energy bill will fall apart. That would, in theory, allow the politicians to redraft a better bill—perhaps even one that included sensible provisions on auto-fuel efficiency, mandatory carbon curbs and so on. A few years ago, such reforms would have found scant support. Now they may find unexpected allies. For instance, the farm lobby is getting gradually more eager to plant windmills instead of profitless crops. The energy behemoth may still largely be committed to cheap oil; but there are a growing number of small technology companies looking for alternatives who resent the giveaways to Old Oil.

James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, envisions a geo-green coalition of “tree-huggers, do-gooders, sod busters and cheap hawks” pushing for energy independence. The oddest couple of all—Jerry Taylor of the libertarian Cato Institute and Dan Becker of the deeply verdant Sierra Club—have just issued a joint call for a radically different energy policy: a market-based, “zero subsidy” energy bill. If such coalitions really spring forth, then American energy policy, and the Axis of Oil, would be turned on its ear.

An interview with “geo-green” advocate Thomas Friedman

Below are some excerpts from an interview with New York Times columnist and "geo-green" advocate Thomas Friedman, who is on a book promotion tour for his book  The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.

Source: Grist Magazine | Main Dish | 05 Apr 2005

In January, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times debuted his "geo-green" strategy, a powerful proposal for reframing America’s quest for energy independence to appeal to hawkish neocons and lily-livered tree-huggers alike. By aggressively curbing America’s energy consumption, Friedman argues, the Bush administration could reduce the global price of oil to the point where it would force regimes in the Middle East to diversify their economies, thereby priming them for democratic reform.

Added geo-green benefits would include jumpstarting America’s 21st century clean-energy economy, addressing the global-warming crisis, and allaying international umbrage over the Bush administration’s royal dis on Kyoto.

"We are, quite simply, witnessing one of the greatest examples of misplaced priorities in the history of the U.S. presidency," Friedman proclaimed in a March 27 column. "Look at the opportunities our country is missing — and the risks we are assuming — by having a president and vice president who refuse to … marry geopolitics, energy policy, and environmentalism."

The neocons basically believe in using American military power to drive the democracy agenda in the Middle East, and that, idealistically speaking, was the purpose of the invasion of Iraq. The reality is we do not have the resources to do that again — not in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or anywhere.

ANWR would be better for China than the United States — it’s much easier to get Alaskan crude to China than America. You’d have to take that oil from Alaska down through Panama Canal up to Houston, where the majority of refineries are. This whole notion that it would be a boon to America is absurd.

…when the world goes flat it is a global leveled playing field. When 3 billion people who were out of the game called China, India, and the former Soviet empire walk onto the field with the American dream — of a car, a house, a refrigerator, a toaster, utilities — we are going to smoke up, burn up, or heat up the planet at a rate unlike anything we’ve seen before.

We consume 25 percent of the world’s energy and we’ve got 5 percent of the global population, so what we do matters not only in terms of what we do, but because our strategy will drive innovation and global trends. If we converted our entire auto fleet to hybrid, that would have a huge impact first in the U.S. and then in the rest of the world. As efficient technologies penetrate markets here, they will become the technology of choice and penetrate the markets globally. If we set the example, pioneer alternatives, and improve the energy products we export, it will hugely influence the level of demand created by the countries coming online.

The hallmark of George Bush’s presidency is that he’s never asked Americans, let alone his own base, to do anything hard. And a president like that is going to leave nothing behind. He needs to say, "This is something that is going to drive our reform agenda, pay down our deficit, strengthen our international standing, leave a greener earth for your kids, and make us energy independent." He could bring the whole country around.

But my point to him would be: What are you doing? What would your presidency be remembered for? The deficit? The tax giveaway? A failed attempt to privatize Social Security so we can have no stockbroker left behind? Geo-greenism is smart geopolitics, it’s smart fiscal policy, it’s smart climate policy. But most of all, it’s smart politics! The Republican Party is much greener than George Bush or Dick Cheney. Even evangelicals are increasingly speaking out about the need for us to protect God’s green Earth. If you’re obsessed with the right to life, you have to be obsessed with sustaining the environment — that is also God’s creation. He didn’t create human beings to live in parking lots.

As it is, we have no moral standing to lecture anybody today to conserve energy. There’s immense diplomatic value in removing our dependence on Middle East oil for that reason: Our own energy policy has tied our hands. Our politicians can’t push for democratic reform in that region because our economy hinges on the oil we’re buying from them. A geo-green strategy would buy us political freedom. And imagine how we would embarrass and stimulate the Chinese: "Hey, we’re doing this, you’ve got to do this now too." We’re heading for a colossal global struggle with China over oil, and this would be a way to get the upper hand.

Simplifying the Environmental Message

I believe that the environmental movement needs to communicate its message more effectively to the American people.

The simple message that I recommend is:

Pollution causes cancer

Buying Mid-East oil supports terrorists

Most Americans know someone who has cancer or is dying from cancer. Two people I know died last week from cancer. Most efforts are focused on treating cancer, not preventing it. But why are so many people getting cancer? A growing body of research suggests that the causes are in the air, water, and food that we consume daily.

Thomas Friedman (an expert on the Middle East), in a March 27 column states:

By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadists – and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them – through our gasoline purchases.

The American people are overloaded with information. The Republican party has had great success by focusing on simple, appealing messages. Environmental issues have to be simplified, which is difficult, in order to rise above the overload of marketing messages blasted at consumers all day, every day.

The simple message above ties a number of environment themes to two issues, cancer and terrorism, that are universally regarded as bad.

Nun May Protect Forests Posthumously

Let’s hope faith and courage overcomes greed and violence in the long run.

The murder of an American nun during an Amazon land dispute will serve as a wake up call for Brazil’s authorities to better protect the jungle from developers, Brazil’s president said in his first comments since the Feb. 12 slaying. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday that once those who ordered Dorothy Stang’s murder were behind bars, Brazil will show the world that, "in our government, there is no impunity, that the Amazon is ours and we will take control of our territory."

Stang, 73, a naturalized Brazilian, spent the past 20 years living in Brazil’s lawless Para state, trying to protect the rain forest and peasants from loggers and ranchers vying for the area’s rich natural resources.

Responding to the international outcry over her killing, Silva put nearly 19,900 square miles of Amazon land under federal environmental protection and suspended logging in some hotly disputed areas.

Brazil’s Amazon rain forest covers 1.6 million square miles. Its stands of hardwoods — mahogany, ipe and massaranduba — are coveted by loggers, who often flout laws and cut the timber illegally. The Amazon forest is essential to the success of the Kyoto pact because the vast wilderness absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. By contrast, burning the forest produces more greenhouse gas.

Source: Brazil Leader Vows to Catch Nun’s Killers.