Archive for December, 2006


Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Crude: The Story of Oil, Sonia Shah 2004

This 175 page book is a condensed look at oil, its history and future. It is packed with fact and detail and doesn’t miss much. Sonia Shah has now taken on the Pharmaceuticals in a new book See our previous post

Unholy Trinity (Big Oil Big Auto Big Tire), the Presidents, and the American Consumer

Oil, Auto, and Tire have for more than a century marketed ever larger, more expensive, gas guzzling, unsafe, products to a willing American public. In 1930 they banded together to take over and eliminate electric streetcars from American cities. Once in control, they removed the rails to be sure streetcars would never return. In 1947 GM, Standard, and Firestone were convicted of collusion to remove streetcars and fined $10,000 collectively.

NY Streetcar New York City Streetcar

Around 1969, OPEC raised oil prices fourfold and threatened to limit supplies to the friends of Israel. Nixon wanted to invade the oil producers but was bogged down in Vietnam. Gerald Ford started the program to hoard oil in the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve”. Many Americans followed his example, burying large gas tanks of hoarded gas in their backyards.

A second wave of fear was triggered by the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Carter announced that the U.S. would use any means to secure Gulf oil. American consumers went into full panic, spending hours or even days in gas lines to top up their tanks.

American Presidents, dependent on the Unholy Trinity for campaign money and terrorized by public reaction to the threat of gas shortages, worked overtime to assure an adequate supply of the addictive stuff. Initially the moves were positive with Carter’s “gas guzzler tax” and increased mileage requirements. California led the way to tighter emissions requirements. By the late 1980’s the U.S. was well on its way toward energy self sufficiency.

Hummer Hummer

Then the Unholy Trinity struck again; this time with the SUV. Large vehicles requiring large tires are far more profitable than smaller more efficient vehicles. Somehow the public was convinced that these totally impractical, dangerous, unreliable monsters were “safer” because of their 4 wheel drive and massive size. Self sufficiency went out the window as profits soared for the Unholy Trinity. The SUV falls into a regulatory loophole which allows them to emit 5 times the pollutants of normal vehicles. To get around mileage requirements, big auto built over 1 million dual fuel vehicles which are able to burn ethanol. Since Americans are unable to buy ethanol this was curious. The manufactures were using ethanol fuel to pass EPA mileage standards tests, even though the vehicles using gas would get far lower mileage.

Suez, Valdez, and a Negligent Industry

Suez from Space Suez from Space Valdez Valdez Spill Valdez Bird Oily Bird

In 1956 Nasser seized the Suez canal in Egypt forcing oil to shipped around the horn of Africa. This started a boom in building ever larger single hulled tankers to haul the stuff. (Most ships are double hulled for safety) Then in 1989 the Exxon Valdez hit a reef and spilled 250,000 barrels of oil. The resulting lawsuits and bad publicity caused all big oil to conceal the ownership of their tankers and operate them through foreign flags like Panama, Bahamas, Liberia. The result is no government oversight or inspections, poor or no maintenance and inadequately trained and under-payed crews. The Valdez itself was repaired, renamed, and now operates in the Mediterranean. A few days ago, a court greatly reduced the damages owed by Exxon for the Valdez.

The same negligence is found throughout big oil. Offshore rigs are neglected and continue to collapse or otherwise kill their workers. Pipelines leak, refineries blow up, spills occur.

Piper Piper Disaster Refinery BP Refinery Disaster

Reserves in a Dying Industry

Oil production is in decline in virtually every country in the world. Where production is increasing, it will peak within a few years. Then why does the industry continue to tout its vast reserves to the public? For example, they project Greenland with a reserve of 47 billion barrels, the equivalent of the North Sea reserve, even though not one barrel has been found or is likely to be found in Greenland.
Big Oils internal reserves estimates are secret and available only to the CIA. They undoubtedly show the truth, that oil is fast running out.

The publicity surrounding Caspian Sea oil and Alberta tar sand oil make it sound like our problems are over. The Caspian Sea oil has yet to be found even though pipeline construction continues and the Alberta oil is nearly useless and is plagued by enormous production problems to say nothing of the environmental impact where Alberta stands to lose much of its water and all its trees.

The internal reality is reflected in the fact that no U.S. refinery has been built since 1975 and the entire infrastructure of off shore platforms, pipelines, tankers, etc. is in dismal repair.

Co opting the Universities, Lying about Global Warming

Big oil spends about 3% of revenues on research compared to 20% for typical technology companies. Some of this largess is given as strings attached grants to universities; primarily to the U of Texas, U of Tulsa, and Stanford. The seismic and other research supported by these grants is not shared with the public. Big oil treats the universities as if they were private labs. These grants are important to the universities, of course, and when big oil needed “scientists” to counter the research showing overwhelmingly the fact and implications of CO2 increases on global warming and climate changes, several professors were ready to sell their souls.

Public media has shockingly chosen to treat the conclusions of the entire scientific community against the opinions of a handful of hack academics in the pockets of big oil as equal sides in a serious debate about the reality of global warming. Hence the confusion of the general public mind on the whole question of global warming and its potential impact. See our recent climate change post

The military and Big Oil in the World

The British made the decision to convert all their ships to oil in 1912 even though Britain has no oil. As the worlds preeminent imperial power, Britain had no doubt that they could get all the oil they needed from the Middle East using military force where necessary. In WWII FDR and Churchill divided middle east oil between them with the U.S. taking Saudi Arabia’s oil.

The U.S. military today is the world’s largest consumer of oil. Fuel supply lines form the biggest and most expensive part of modern warfare. A fundamental tenant of warfare is to have permanent bases of operation near any theater of war.

Abrams Tank in Desert Abrams Tank in the Desert

It is no accident that George W’s VP is the former head of Haliburton, and that Condoleeza Rice is the only secretary of state to have an oil tanker named after her. When Saddam Hussein signed oil exploration and drilling contracts with Russia and China it was time for big oil and the U.S. military to move in. The Bush administration first coded their plan Operation Iraq Liberation (OIL) but soon thought better of the name. To this day journalists and media do not talk about permanent military bases and securing oil in the debate about the Iraq war.

Iraq War Scenes from Iraq War Bodies Iraq Pipeline

In the developing world, the discovery of oil has almost always resulted in worsening conditions for the people. The pattern is for big oil to do a deal with a small elite who enrich themselves in return for providing security for oil (killing anyone who gets in the way). When fighting and destruction occur, such as in Nigeria, western media (including the prestigious BBC, Financial Times, Reuters, New York Times, etc. mis portray the events as internal tribal warfare or insurgency, anything but protest against big oil which is destroying homes and livelihoods.

Alternate Energy Sources

A measure of efficiency for energy sources is to compare the ratio of amount of energy produced against the energy required to produce. In the early days, oil had an unbelievable ratio better than 100 to 1. With todays declining reserves, the ratio has fallen to 23 to 1. This still compares favorably to hydro power at 11 to 1; coal 9 to 1; and nuclear power at 4 to 1.

Solar Solar Plant Solar2 Solar Electricity Wind Wind Power

Solar energy has a ratio of 1.9 to 1 reflecting the high cost of producing solar panels. Wind power is about the same. Further research and building large scale production plants could improve the ratios for these renewable sources of energy.

Big Oil seems to look to natural gas for their future survival. Natural gas is cleaner burning but cannot be transported easily or for long distances. Overlooked by big oil in its promotion of natural gas is that any natural gas leaks pour methane gas which is far worse than CO2 into the atmosphere. At 3% leakage (the industry is near this level now), methane equals CO2 in its overall impact on global warming. As natural gas is developed and as existing pipelines and equipment age, we can expect methane to overtake CO2 as the major source of warming.

Natural Gas Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Natural Gas2

Producing Ethanol from corn requires almost as much energy from oil as would be saved and wouldn’t significantly reduce CO2 emissions unless the ethanol plants somehow trapped the CO2. Then there is the question of how and where to store the trapped CO2. Ethanol also requires new pipelines and delivery technology because is mixes itself with water unlike gas. Big oil is clearly not interested in this investment yet they have a monopoly on retail outlets (gas stations).

Centralized hydrogen producing plants similarly require large consumption of energy and the delivery problems are even worse than for ethanol.

The current favored Bush plan, resulting in grants to the big three automakers is to produce vehicles that turn gas directly into hydrogen. These cars would be no more efficient or less polluting than existing hybrid vehicles but the government subsidies seem to assure that they will be built.

hydrogen Honda Gas Hydrogen Honda

Conclusion: Apocalypse?

So are we headed for the end of life as we know it? Certainly. Will we all kill ourselves in the process? Don’t know. At present, in spite of Al Gore’s best efforts, there is little will to change our consuming behavior. Massive changes in our attitudes and behavior is the only way changes will be affected. The power of the Unholy Trinity and the struggle for their very survival will continue to throw enormous forces into the political process and consumer marketing. Only individual consumers by modifying their behavior are in a position to withstand these forces.

The Soong Axis, Forgotten Dynasty

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Soong Sisters
Sisters and Actresses

The notorious Soong family featured four famous American educated siblings. Ai-Ling was the oldest daughter and money loving mastermind of the family. T.V. said of Ai-Ling; had she been born a man, she would have run China. Next was daughter Ching Ling who married Sun Yat-sen, father of China, in a political marriage. Next was oldest son T.V., Harvard educated financier and diplomat, one of the wealthiest men in China. Next was daughter Mei-ling who, after ten years of being courted by numerous young English speaking men in Shanghai, married Chiang Kai-shek in a political marriage brokered by Ai-Ling. (See Chiang’s Shanghai Residence) Under the deal, T.V. became finance minister in the Nationalist government. The three sisters were portrayed in a recent film by Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu: The Soong Sisters

These siblings were the children of a Hakka cabin boy and an aristocratic Christian. Schooled in Georgia as a missionary, Charles returned to Shanghai and married aristocratic Ni Guizhen who traces her ancestry to Xu Guangqi, prime minister during the Ming Dynasty who converted to Catholicism in 1601. Snubbed and discriminated against by fellow missionaries, Soong turned to business where his command of English, education, and understanding of Americans and the West made him a natural go between. He amassed a fortune and began an association with Sun Yat-sen.

Ching Ling (Madame Sun) differentiated herself from her siblings, believing that the Communists were better stewards of her late husband’s three principals than were the Kuomintang. She continued living in Shanghai after the Communist takeover until her death in 1981. Although she never joined the Communist party, she was honored with a period of national mourning and given a full state funeral in Beijing, lying in state for three days in the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square.

FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover depicted the other three Soongs as money mad, engaging in a giant conspiracy to divert Lend-Lease supplies for personal profit. When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, several large anonymous donations from Hong Kong appeared at U.S. schools attended by the Soongs.

Ai-Ling’s three children, David, Louis, and Jeanette Kung ran the China Lobby, spending large sums to influence American congressmen and administrations. The China Lobby had its “finest” hours during the Joseph McCarthy era, providing money and laying much of the groundwork for the Senator’s charges.

In 1968 Chiang Kai-shek sent a suitcase of unmarked dollars to the Nixon Presidential campaign. This campaign contribution has to rank as the most counterproductive attempts to influence policy in the long and corrupt history of American campaign financing. Nixon’s move to recognize the PRC and remove Taiwan from the U.N. Security Council and ultimately from the U.N., entirely isolated Taiwan from the community of nations. (If only the defense, energy, and pharmaceutical industries could have such an influence on policy with their contributions.)

Eleanor Roosevelt and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (Soong Mayling)
Eleanor Roosevelt said of Mei-ling; “She can talk beautifully about democracy. But she does not know how to live democracy.”

Mei-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) was particularly popular among Americans for her command of English. Living in Macon Georgia from the age of nine to fifteen, and in Boston from fifteen to nineteen, gave Mei-ling both a perfect Southern Bell Georgia Peach accent and a perfect clipped Yankee accent. She had an understanding of the racist South and the Puritanical New England Yankee north. Her ten years of various courtships in Shanghai (only with English speakers) perfected her skills of flirtation and coquetry. American men were particularly susceptible to her charms. She may have had affairs with several Westerners and Americans including perennial Presidential candidate Republican Wendell Wilkie.

Mei-ling made two extended trips to the U.S. to attempt to influence policy; first in 1943 at the height of the war with Japan, and again in 1966. On both occasions her lavish lifestyle and imperial manner struck the American public wrong. She traveled with a large entourage of servants, secretaries, public relations personnel, and bodyguards; in 1943 by private train; and in 1966 by chartered jet. She stayed with FDR in the White House but insisted on using her own silk sheets (for a skin condition) at a time when American women were unable to buy silk. Both Mei-ling’s trips coincided with release of story after published story about the actual and horrific conditions in China and Taiwan under the Chiangs and the Nationalists.

Mei-ling managed to snub both the English King and Churchill refusing to meet them. When FDR invited her to a white house dinner with Churchill she turned the invitation down. Even her diplomat brother T.V. could not persuade her to accept.

Mei-ling owned twenty houses in Taiwan and three in New York including a multi-floor 14 room apartment at 10 Gracie Square in Manhattan where she lived with her entourage in the mid 80’s and from the mid 90’s until her death in 2003 (Yes, the chronically ill Mei-ling lived 104-106 years). In 1995 Bob Dole and Paul Simon sponsored a reception for Mei-ling. The reception was ignored by all former Presidents but was tellingly attended by Republicans Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, and Alan Simpson.
For a biography of Mei-ling see Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

The Constant Greedy

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

The Body Hunters, Sonia Shah 2006

Sonia Shah has written a thorough and disturbing history of the pharmaceutical industry that makes John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener (Ebook at) look pretty tame. Le Carre wrote the forward to Shah’s book.

The Body Hunters

Shah’s book focuses on the ethical debate which led to the Nuremberg Code after WWII and to the Declaration of Helsinki in 1975. The pharmaceutical industry including some prominent researchers and supposed regulators continue to insist that testing new drugs against a placebo is the only way to get scientifically valid and meaningful results even though administration of placebos means some subjects get no treatment at all. The Declaration of Helsinki requires that new drugs be tested against the best available treatments.

Pharmaceutical companies need the placebo testing because their new offerings are mostly me-too drugs that are not better than existing approved drugs. Shah documents one case where Eli Lilly wanted to sell Xigris for $7,000 up to $21,000 per treatment of Sepsis, a resistant infestation killing many patients in intensive care. The best available treatment is corticosteroids, old generic drugs costing $50. Eli Lilly knew it couldn’t best the old drug so conducted a group of tests against placebos in developing countries. They then cherry picked the trial with the best results to get approval. One unfortunate trial showed Xigris patients died more often than the placebo patients. These negative results were buried by presenting the results at the conference in Seattle in October 2004 where Viagra was introduced. Eli Lilly was still able to sell $200 million of this wonder drug in 2004. They had been hoping for sales in the billions by aggressive advertising and by intimidating doctors and hospitals. Xigris News

Xigris & Scream

Shah documents a U.S. study where a healthy 19 year old college student was paid $3600 to test a new antidepressant. She was given up to six time the recommended dosage and committed suicide. Her family is suing but is unlikely to prevail.

Shah recommends enforcement of some simple reforms. First, enforce the requirement that new drugs be tested against the best available treatment. Testers currently argue that in developing countries test subjects have no treatment options due to poverty or lack of health care so placebo testing is justified. This simple reform would force pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that are truly better than existing treatments and should result in treatment breakthroughs.

Second, enforce true informed consent by the test subjects. Informed consent requires the the full extent of the risks including all possible side effects be explained to and understood by test subjects. The consent forms in the developing world are written in English and it is clear the verbal explanations are totally misleading. Even in the developed world, informed consent is not enforced.

Third, require the pharmaceutical companies to make continued treatment available to test subjects after the trial. Today, testers in the developing world simply leave the patients with nothing at the end of their trial, even if the treatments are needed to keep the subjects alive.

Climate Change – Evidence from High Altitude

Monday, December 4th, 2006

Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains, Mark Bowen 2005

Melting Glacier from Thin Air

One of the best books on global warming comes thinly disguised as a mountain climbing adventure book. Scientist Lonnie Thompson has spent over thirty years climbing some of the highest mountains in the world to collect fast disappearing ice core samples. In the process he has incidentally set a record for the most time spent over a lifetime in the death zone. To get some idea what this means, see Anatoli Boukreev.

The scientific importance of Thompson’s work is the collection and preservation of ice cores, some possibly as old as 1 million years from places where they are fast disappearing due to the warming.

Thompson finds evidence of global warming and cooling cycles predicted by the earths orbit around the sun. The period of these shifts are related to changes in the tilt of Earth’s rotational axis (41,000 years), changes in the orientation of Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun, called the “precession of the equinoxes” (21,000 years), and to changes in the shape (more round or less round) of the elliptical orbit (96,000 years). We are presently nearing the top of a warming phase where temperature would be expected to rise, but the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is far higher than anything ever experienced in the last million years.
Climate Phases

Thompson noticed in the Andes samples evidence of changes every 400 years or so. When he consulted with anthropologists he discovered that the time of these changes corresponds to the rise and fall of local civilizations throughout Latin America. The falls were usually very quick and sometimes initiated by a catastrophic weather event such as a massively destructive flood. Thompson was able to pinpoint in time and find evidence in the ice cores of these catastrophic events. These changes are believed to be related to changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures and ocean current patterns resulting in American rain belts being turned into desserts and vice versa. Thompson believes this change is currently happening in the American West where snow and ice are fast disappearing from the Cascades and Sierras.

The book talks about the ultimate failure of every large scale irrigation system throughout history when weather patterns change, usually removing the ice and snow that feeds these projects. The California Central Valley may soon become dessert again.
Click on Lonnie Thompson Video

Many of Thompson’s findings are presented in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.