I just found this treasure at a local used bookstore: The Petroleum Dictionary, by Lalia Phipps Boone.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.  

The Last BarrelWell, the heyday of Texas-Oklahoma well drilling is over, although you can still drive by and find those workhorse pumps attempting to get that last drop out of the oil sands below the prairie.  Mature oil fields: but back in the day, the oil patch developed its own Americanized language, which took from the world of cowboys and machinists, and then gave the language back again.  It is a language of common sense, sweat, and romance: people in love with their jobs and the way of life it represented.  And you’d have to be in love with it: it was loud, dangerous, and dirty work, in every sense of the word.

One tradition that I think derives from cowboys is the contempt for farmers: farmer’s oil, for instance, is ‘a worthless black substance resembling oil that comes from blue shale’ and farmer’s sand, is “the productive sand which allegedly would have been reached if a dry hole had been drilled further.  No doubt those farmers contemplating oil leases would have preferred those Texas oilmen to drill all the way to China.  Heck, I think today that all of the U.S. would be inclined to agree with the farmers, given that 20/20 hindsight. 

Miss Rita of BeaumontGusherMs. Lalia even mentions one pimp and two madams in her book: the gentleman is named Ben Hogan of Pennsylvania, the “Wickedest Man in the World”; the ladies, “French Kate” (of course, French) but also “Lizzie Toppling”.  So you can just imagine what she left out–in particular, the madams of Texas and Oklahoma.  I wonder who the wickedest man in Texas was?

However, you can find other sources:  for instance, this deathless oil painting decorated the Dixie Hotel in Beaumont–an establishment run by Miss Rita of Beaumont, as a matter of fact.  The painting is by Aaron Arion, and combines the 1880’s with a small nod to the flatness and vistas of Depression era muralists such as Tom Lea and Thomas Hart Benton: Spindletop Viewing Her Gusher

We don’t allow this kind of thing these days: gushers, I mean.  Once the sign of success, we have now decided that it Wastes the Product.  We don’t allow human trafficking either, but somehow that’s been harder to change with advanced technology.

Here are some excerpts from the Foreword:

To spud in, which originally meant to indicate initial drilling operations, has undergone extension to designate the beginning of any activity.  If one is starting a meal, a job, a game, or a drink, he is spudding in.

Now you also have to think that this term was a joke about planting potatoes at one point.  Sort of a way to contrast the Drill and the Shovel in the scale of human enterprise.

The nouns roustabout and bird dog have also undergone generalization.  Originally roustabout was the name applied to the laborer who assisted in the loading and unloading of river craft in the United States.  In the oil field the term is applied to several different kinds of workers.  . . .   In drilling, he may be either an unskilled laborer or a skilled one.   . . .   Needless to say, he aspires to be a tool dresser or a roughneck.  The activity of any roustabout is roustabouting.

A bird dog is a field geologist: the person who can smell out the oil and point those roughnecks in the right direction.  Nowadays, we use technology. 

What I’d love to hear, from others: what’s the slang in other languages and other states?

Fiction about the American Oil Patch:
♦ Honor at Daybreak a Western by Elmer Kelton, about Central Texas, the spudding of wells, the fights, and the human trafficking during the not-so-great Depression
♦ Mean Spirit, by Linda Hogan, about oil, fraud, and the Osage tribe in Oklahoma, set in the Harding Years of the U.S.


Well, gotta love this:

Some faction of the Kurds have revealed their own strategic goal by dissassociating themselves from it.  That is, some diaspora groups are protesting in the United States that Turkey wants to invade Kurdistan for Kirkuk.  It doesn’t have anything to do with PKK depredations on their soil, of course–or the incipient threat of destabilization throughout Iraq, spreading north, and compromising Turkey’s security in general.  Oh, no, it’s that oil again.

Let’s go for that conspiracy scenario, just long enough to kill it For Ever:
1. Turkey, with, uh, WAY MORE military capability than the U.S., has decided that they could conduct war with Iraq in a far more efficient fashion than the U.S. ever could. 

Nah.  The paranoids may have a point with that efficiency thing: on the other hand, seeing that the U.S. actually has the capability, and can’t guarantee security, it seems past ridiculous to think that Turkey would go flying, marching, and tanking on in to the same revenue-threatening and life-threatening black hole of Iraq in order to take on a town that is primed for resentment and strife.

2.  One protester stated that Turkey is not afraid of the PKK, but rather afraid of a Kurdish state.  And of course this makes, yes, perfect sense. 

Nope: The PKK wants to bomb Turkish towns and resorts, killing innocent people and being sneaky about it, disrupt the economy and create conflict and strife.  The Kurdish state wants to ship oil through Turkey and get on with making money.  Uh, I know Turkey is completely unfavorable to the idea of generating income, preferring instead to foment domestic instability and gleefully hailing each incident of lost infrastructure.  It’s just this attitude that makes Turkey a force for good in the international system–

Personally, I believe that Kurdish-Americans would go a lot further by deprecating the PKK and trying to help Turkey provide goods and services for its own ethnic Kurdish residents.  Oh, and building partnerships to keep those pipelines in northern Iraq in good order: for the good of Iraq, Kurdistan, and Turkey–heck, the world at large.  Hope you’ll think about it–and then do something constructive. 

Kirkuk is a mess, but not Turkey’s mess:
Consider the machinations, forced importations and deportations that have been occurring in Kirkuk: the blame doesn’t rest with Turkey: a history of forced Kurdish deportations from the Kirkuk area has been rectified with new human rights violations–forced non-Kurdish deportations from Kirkuk. 

The stratagems may be based upon history, but history has not taught compassion.  Right now, the paranoia of the non-Kurdish Kirkuk residents is the justifiable paranoia: because they’ve been had.  It’s a bad business, and Turkey’s got nothing to do with it.

Everything but Iraq, since this troubled state got its own post earlier.

♦ Almost like sports scores with the trade wars: China is now finding small nematodes in U.S. wooden crating.  Something undisclosed was wrong with some U.S.-origin frozen potatoes (no French fries today), and some vitamins and fish oil were guilty of false advertising.  As far as the ick factor in the product du jour goes, we’ve had melamine, lead, fugitive weeds, dirt, worms, and steroids.  Things to look out for next: spit, arachnids, cockroaches, slime molds, and stem cells, depending upon which side of the Pacific you’re on.
♦ Talks between U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and DPRK Ambassador Kim Kye-gan went well in Geneva.  This coming Wednesday, Mongolia hosts the next chapter in the Six-Party Talks with diplomats from North Korea and Japan attending.
♦ The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum is in Sydney this week, with tons of security and a kick-off on climate change issuesAllan Gyngell at The Australian Age has a great backgrounder on the history of the organization, its sometimes sagging progress, and real achievements.
Australia’s contribution to Pacific stability at The Strategist.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ At, Ben Paarman looks at possible changes in Central Asia’s relations to great powers via the tired metaphor of the Great Game.  A great read  for Central Asia watchers.
♦ Get up-to-date on the new problems in the Caspian/Kazakhstan oil at the Kashagan field, at FPA Central Asia.
♦ Russia is going to put missiles in Belarus, if NATO is going to put them in Poland.
♦ Anna Politovskaya, the brave, committed, and murdered Russian journalist, would have been 49 this past week.  Robert Amsterdam documents the investigation as driven by political agendas rather than a desire for justice.

Latin America:
♦ Mr. Obama, U.S. Presidential candidate, said during his campaign that the U.S. should consider diplomacy with Cuba and opening up remittance payments, and the LA Times explains why.  H/T: Boz.   Then Professor Weeks sums up the anti-Castro backlash as diplomatic amateur hour in two paragraphs. 
♦ In a move to be imitated by world leaders everywhere, Lula declines a third presidential term.
Grief and destruction from Peru’s earthquake.

Middle East: and North Africa:
A call for unity within Islam, and the adoption of a social agenda, with a look at what makes Hizb ut-Tahrir compelling, at
Aquoul has a three part series on Moroccan elections, which is a very interesting beginning on learning the politics of the state.  Part 1 discusses the role of the King in Morocco’s democracy; Part 2, the situation for a free media; and Part 3, on interior security and political parties.  It’s referenced and the comments are good, too.

Taken in part from The Afghanistan Aggregator at FPA Central Asia, which has more:
♦ David Rohde on the Taliban v. Afghanistan’s police: the new tactics of the Taliban, including 102 suicide bombings, IEDs–against a police force which is rife with corruption and under-trained, under-equipped, etc, at the NYT.
♦ The last 19 South Korean hostages were freed over the past two days, in small groups at various collection points.  Of 23 hostages from the ROK kidnapped July 17th, two male hostages had been killed, and two previously released.  The South Korean goverment had to agree to withdraw their troops (as previously planned) by the end of the year.  They also had to agree to respect Taliban isolationism, including no missionaries (no surprise) but no visitors of any kind.  An undisclosed ransom has also likely been paid.
♦ Now that the hostages are freed, a backlash against the alleged reckless endangerment of missionaries by Church societies will begin.
♦ A Taliban spokesman has reportedly vowed that the Taliban will continue their kidnapping activities.  And so it seems: the Taliban possibly captured as many as 100 Pakistani soldiers this week.  And Mayor Shah is still missing from last week.  German hostages are still missing. 

♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad says Iran has met its centrifuge goal: 3,000 in 164 cascades.  However, this is disputed by analysts in Europe, who say that Iran’s activity has actually lessened, which is disputed by Iran.
♦ So is this deterrence?  The U.S.-planned 1200 military targets in a three-day swipe over Iran, if necessary.
♦ After the U.S. was threatening to list the Quds force as a terrorist organization, Iran replaced its leader.  The new leader is: Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Jafari, replacing General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who has been its leader for the past decade. 
♦ Iran plans to build two new refineries in its southern region/Bandar Abbas.  Also, a new oil dock is being designed for incipient construction.

Energy Issues:
Prices as per August 31, 2007: Brent crude, USD 72.38 per barrel; West Texas Intermediate, USD 73.87.
See also Kashagan field in FSU above, and Iran’s refineries, in Iran above.

Happy Labor Day Norteamericanos, doing no labor–unless, of course, you are in a service industry.  For those of you in the service field, I hope your next day off is very nice.


♦ I don’t usually cover Africa in the RI, but this article about Darfur cannot be passed by.  As usual, Dan Graeber hits the essentials in this brutal, piteous world.

♦ The China-U.S. trade quality war Escalates again: now it is U.S. soybeans, with considerable dirt, pesticide, and weeds.  The latter conditions would allow for perhaps large changes in Chinese biomes–sort of like the kudzu vine that took over the South.  Also U.S. oil-seed.  Best-case scenario? All of this ends up increasing quality in the long term.  In the short term: heck, no.  In the meantime, the toy-and-dog-biscuit inspections in the U.S. proceed apace.
♦ The increasing importance of relations between India and Japan.  India’s maritime might, now and in the future.
♦ Australia’s military defense strategies and the debate over economic v. military security at The Strategist.
♦ In India’s Hyderabad, 34 people die because of bombing. 

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Italy’s ENI is re-negotiating in Kazakhstan over delayed extraction and environmental issues.
♦ Little beef-kiev-cake for ya.  Holy Samovar!!
♦ Mr. Saakashvili of Georgia on living next to Russia at Robert Amsterdam.  Russia denies all.
♦ Russia’s LUKoil cuts supplies to Germany by 30% over the last two months.

Latin America:
♦ Hurricane Dean in Mexico: at least 26 have died from the storm.
♦ Peru’s earthquake: at least 510 are dead, with more casualties being found.  Quisiera expresar mis condolencias al gente de las dos paises.
♦ The FEALAC symposium met this week this week in Brasilia, as reported by Boz. According to AFP, the Forum for East Asian-Latin American Cooperation includes: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and from Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
♦ Venezuela–now cutting bus fares for the indigent in London.  Now buying 98 Ilyushin aircraft from Russia, for cargo or passengers . . . or, not.
♦ According to an extract provided from this post, Castro is in no way dead.  So there you are.
♦ Pollution from blue jeans in Mexico.

Middle East:
♦ Afghanistan:  Just three out of many from FPA Central Asia’s Afghanistan Aggregator, plus one update:
◊ Afghanistanica has a great post on Afghanistan scholars to watch, read, and study.
◊ Another article on the mystery of not-enough translators for Afghanistan, also at Afghanistanica.
◊ Mr. Foust at on basic flaws in reconstruction aid .  A good start on the issue, with links for more.
◊ Friendly fire (what a term) from U.S. aerial bombardment kills 3 British soldiers and injures two more in Helmand Province. 
◊ New in-the-works U.S. intelligence report is pessimistic about Iran, as reported by AP.  More nukes, no overthrow of Ahmadinejad, more weapons traffic. . .
◊ Iran plans to continue developing a 2,000 pound ‘smart bomb’.  Great.
♦ Iraq:
◊ Iraq’s elites are still leaving as fast as possible. 
◊ A Berlin study says Iraq will disintegrate soon.  The new U.S. NIE  on Iraq is not hopeful. 
◊ The Brits are leaving Basra any day now.

Iraq / U.S. Politics:  I tried to cover this in the op-ed war posts that I wrote yesterday.  Here is one post on Mr. Allawi, and here is one on a must-read editorial from staff officer veterans of Iraq.

♦ Storm damage notwithstanding, Pemex is back in business, bringing oil to the U.S.
♦ Storm damages notwithstanding, Energy Prices a little more stable overall.  As of August 23rd: Brent crude, USD 69.58; West Texas intermediate, USD 69.68. 
♦ Rounding out the North American picture on U.S. energy imports, The Oil Drum has started a series on oil sands extraction, which does not look attractive. 

Overall, the message this week to me is two-fold: we need to plan international endeavours so carefully, in terms of both physical and energy security. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Sorry I scamped out on you last week.   I missed you all, and I hope to do bettah.

♦ China suffers another product recall, and the WSJ says it is at least partly a design flaw that has nothing to do with China.  I have already blogged that it is partly a management failure that has nothing to do with China.  But now it’s also baby bibs.
♦ Highly contagious swine virus in China, international community on alert.
♦ One thing I missed last week and is beautiful for covering a region we don’t know well: The Strategist keeps on with some in-depth study of Melanesia, this time resource wars.
♦ Kevin Rudd on Australia’s campaign trail.  I heard Mr. Rudd speak at Brookings Institution this past April and I wish him well. 
♦ The ADB again announces inroads against extreme poverty in Asia, but a widening income gap.
♦ Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Jakarta is well-attended.
♦ A large amount of my attention this week has been the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek and military games in Xinjiang & Chelyabinsk.  Check out the FPA Central Asia blog for the latest.  This is all so important, whether you are a Central-Asia watcher or not.  To wit, next entry:

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Russia’s new military budget: fat–means Russia’s new military might: formidable.  More on buzzing NATO.  More on Russia bombing Georgia.  More
♦ Kazakhstan has Parliamentary elections Saturday, August 18th.

Latin America:
♦ Peru’s earthquake has killed hundreds.
♦ Venezuela, the new Central Asia: Mr. Chavez wants to be perpetually re-elected.   Umm, can’t he find anyone in Venezuela who thinks like he does?
♦ Venezuela buys AK-47s . . . and we want to know why.
♦ Help for Argentina in procuring energy resources.
♦ Boz covers the stuffed suitcase that is getting attention everywhere better than anyone. . . in Bags o’ Cash series, 4 parts, easy read, gracious!

Middle East:
♦ Two respected foreign policy professors expand a controversial article into a soon-to-be controversial book about U.S.-Israeli relations.  This NYT article has links to the original piece and some background.  Whatever you might think of their opinion, one has to admire the courage of their convictions.  I’m glad that they have brought this to examination: everything important deserves scrutiny.
♦ FPA War Crimes reports on the verdict in the Padilla detention/terrorism case.  For more background, you can stay with that blog, because Daniel’s been covering it thoroughly.  The Conjecturer also analyzes it, by taking a look at the limits and mandates of the DIA in re: Padilla.

Afghanistan: [ edited down from FPA Central Asia ]
♦ Now that Britain is pulling out of Iraq, they plan to focus more on Afghanistan.
♦ An AP article that titularly is about Barack Obama is actually a report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  Though the U.S. or NATO does not keep figures on civilian deaths (either a mistruth or a mistake) AP does: 231 civilians were killed by militants; 286 by troops; and 20 in crossfire, unattributable to either party. 
♦ On August 15th, a New offensive started against the Taliban in Tora Bora. 
♦ Two S. Korean hostages released.  That means there’s 19 left.
♦ New Counternarcotics strategies sound the same as old counternarcotics strategies.  This is a must-read article by Mr. Weitz over at World Politics Review, complete with maps, and, new UNODC figures estimating another rise in opium production, this time by 15%.
♦ U.S. would certainly take out al-Q targets in Pakistan, but not in a way that would make Pakistan angry.  But Pakistan seems to be already upset at the prospect: a highly literate editorial at Pakistan Daily.
Australia’s work in Uruzgan, at My State Failure blog.

♦ Is it semantically correct? I don’t know, but the Quds Force is going to be designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. of A.
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad in Turkmenistan and Bishkek for SCO meetings.

♦ Targeting the Yazidi sect in Nineveh near Mosul.  Four hundred are dead.  Do we call this genocide?  As Iraq increasingly settles in sectarian patterns, every bombing will be a kind of genocide or sect-killing; yet Yazidis have been a deliberate target since at least April.  al-Q is blamed immediately, but the reasons haven’t been divulged.
♦ Abu Aardvark’s Marc Lynch reports that the last-ditch political rapprochement for September’s Benchmark Report and ultimately for Iraq’s political viability is dead in the dirt.  h/t: FP Passport. RFE/RL has a slightly different take, citing Mr. Talibani: “Sunni are welcome to join our coalition.” It ends up the same, however: Sunni have not joined the coalition.  In my newsletter this month, I’ve discussed the way Sunni concerns have been sidelined. . . in the oil law. . .
Iraq-Iran pipeline deal signed.
♦ Iraq Slogger special report on the Bridges of Baghdad.

U.S. Politics:
♦ Mr. Rove waltzes on out of the White House, ostensibly to avoid Congressional investigation.  No doubt he will write a book that exculpates him from all wrong decisions, minimizes his impact on poor outcomes, and maximizes his genius in those extraordinary outcomes, and dishes against all those who tried to block his progress.  uh, sure.  . . Can’t wait.  They store a lot of extra, non-partisan, all-purpose whitewash in the White House, and I’m sure he took a bucket of it with him.
♦ Candidate Romney says the way his sons support U.S. efforts in Iraq is by campaigning for Dad.  Oh, Bleah.  Vanity to the max.
♦ U.S. military suicides are running very high.  Twenty-eight soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan this year.  Such deaths denote despair, and that despair radiates outward into the military community: their close associates, who also must deal.  ♦ Related to my many comments on the U.S. Farm Bill: CARE International is finding USDA aid too much trouble, too expensive, and way counterproductive in meeting famine in poverty-stricken countries. 

Political Economy:
Selling to Islam at the Public Sector Development blog.

♦ Oil prices: USD 69.84 for Brent crude, USD 71.76 for West Texas Intermediate, as of August 16th. 
♦ The EBRD pulls out of Sakhalin-2 investment.

I write a free monthly newsletter called The Pipeline, on oil and political economy, which I e-mail to interested parties.

The August issue is now complete: for those of you who are interested, drop me a line.  I’ll add your e-mail to my mailing list. 

Editorial slant:
I don’t believe in blaming oil companies for every crappy thing that happens on this planet, and especially I do not believe in a Vast World-wide Oil Conspiracy, whether on the part of OPEC, oil cartels, or anyone else.  I believe in looking at these things from the standpoint of a political economy, where states interfere (sometimes rightly, more often foolishly) in the global market transactions of this most strategic and liquid commodity.  Most people that know me call me a liberal, that’s not quite right: it usually works out that I am uneasy with whatever the received opinion is in the room.  The real truth is that I am against any self-referential, reductive point-of-view, especially when said received opinion is delivered with some unholy joy or complacent, self-satisfied attitude. 

I think that makes me a rebel or a contrarian rather than a liberal, but I don’t care: the main thing is that in this newsletter you should not expect me to pass lightly over unnecessary/gratuitous negative externalities such as a lack of environmental care. Nor will I ever approve any stupid ways to stick it to world enterprises.

So The Pipeline is my polite attempt to educate readers in navigating the tricky but fascinating shoals of public discourse in regard to energy matters.

August issue:
This month’s issue covers the U.S. Benchmarks for Iraq (which I pretty much studied and figured out right here in this blog), and goes on to talk about the Oil Law, the situation in Basra, and the situation in Kirkuk.  The Iraq Oil Law and Benchmarks Issue, 6 pages.  Usually it’s four pages long . . . usually it includes a book review . . . but not this time.

I’m fairly sure I can get your e-mail from the comments function of the blog software, so you don’t have to put it in publicly.  If you do, I’ll just note the address and then remove it from your comment for security’s sake.

I’m running a little late this weekend: computer problems. . .
You know, most of these entries are really U.S. politics-based this week:  I suppose that’s generally true, but seems especially prominent this week.

♦ China is still working through the graft by petty officials: after issuing a month-long amnesty in the wake of slavery cases and product adulteration cases, 1800 officials have stepped up and confessed. Here is a link to the Chinese-language only Incorruptible Fighter Web site: just so you know it’s out there.
♦ The IAEA sends a delegation to: Japan–in order to investigate nuclear plants damaged by earthquakes first, and scandal second. 
♦ Cambodian tribunal will try former Khmer Rouge prison administrator.
♦ World Hizb-ut-Tahrir Conference starts this coming week in Indonesia.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Belarus under the pincers: in the face of mounting debt for energy, Gazprom threatens to cut supplies by 30%.  It was going to be 50%, but Belarus paid USD 190 million out of the USD 456.16 million that they owed so far this year.
Russian Sub♦ Drop a flag and USD 4 million, gain a continent: I don’t think so.  But it does create complications in international law.
♦ U.S. declines to renew the START treaty.
♦ Turkmenistan’s president consolidates power through trials we never heard about.

Latin America:
♦ Almost every time Cuba has come up in U.S. presidential politicking so far, it’s been as a dirty word associated with “socialized medicine”.  Now, a new post with Great Comments at Two Week’s Notice talks about potential U.S. agricultural trade ties with Cuba. 
♦ Another dirty word: “immigrant.”  Uh, this issue is very complicated, but it seems the U.S. has forgotten that the use of this word in such a way tends to denigrate the experience of ancestors of most U.S. citizens: my great-grandparents for one.  Let’s get a reasonable policy without inciting (or incurring) contempt.
♦ Professor Weeks has another great post on “The Wall” currently being boon-doggled (excuse me: built) at the U.S.-Mexico border, and how it becomes a rallying point for international discourse between Latin American States. 
♦ Last of all, and also related to U.S.-Latin American relations, the CAFTA agreement is still being hotly debated within Latin America.  Costa Rica votes on the referendum October 7th.  Good luck with that wall, Arizona . . .
♦ Mexico’s EPR guerrilla group has bombed again: last time, oil pipelines; this time, a store.
♦ Venezuela is purchasing more Argentine bonds (already have purchased 4.2 billion worth): this has to do with high energy prices, and a volatile, insecure bond market.

Middle East:
♦ Israel launches an air raid in Gaza: two Islamic Jihad members escape; two killed, 15 wounded.
Lebanon votes to replace two assassinated officials: turnout, about 45%. Waleed Eido, a Member of Parliament, was assassinated in June of this year; and Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet Minister, had been assassinated last November.  The opposition is proclaiming victory–votes still being counted.
♦ Hamas sponsors some weddings by providing celebrations and economic help to newlyweds.  Now this is an important post at The Arabist–at the core of Hamas’ capabilities, a personal approach that continually confound institutional-based efforts at developing friends in the Middle East.

Afghanistan: (partly cross-posted at FPA Central Asia)
♦ Focus on the UK’s Operation Chakush in Helmand.
♦ UNAMA discovers mass graves in Afghanistan.
♦ Hostage news: Four of Afghanistan’s judges were taken hostage two weeks ago in Ghazni province; their bodies were found on Wednesday this week.  The hostage from Germany, one of two German hostages kidnapped last month, had been previously reported in the news as dead from a heart attack.  News recently released indicates that he died of gunshot wounds.  A second South Korean hostage was killed of the 22 first seized on July 19th.  So far the U.S. and ISAF forces have agreed not to attempt freeing the hostages by force.
♦ Dateline, Camp David: President Karzai is due for an informal summit with Mr. Bush on August 5th and 6th.
In Transit to Afghanistan has made one solid post after another this week.  In this post, the blog discusses dangers in Waziristan and the most-likely strategies that the U.S. should take against the terrorist havens in the region.  Another post points us to terrorist expert Peter Bergen’s newest analysis on Afghanistan’s burgeoning insurgency.
♦ Now swapping oil with Nicaragua: no doubt through Mr. Chavez de Venezuela’s agency. 
♦ Now building its own fighter jets.
♦ The oil law still confuses us: on August 3, a senior member of the Dawa party has said: no oil law under occupation.   But on August 2, the Oil Minister of Kurdistan said that the oil law was proceeding–for the Kurdistan region.   In other words, Kurdistan continues to deal, and the Federals have not yet caught up. 
♦ They won’t, either, for the next month: the Sunni delegation decamped, and the Council of Representatives has begun its August break–or, August to September break.  Not boding well for the U.S. benchmark report in September.
The UN General Assembly will probably pass an increased mandate for the UN in Iraq.  Expected Vote date: perhaps this upcoming week.

U.S. Politics:
It's the Point.♦ My earmark makes more sense than your earmark: I listened to the proceedings on C-Span radio, but here is the NYT article on “single-source” contracts that are defined as necessary and appropriate by the U.S. House of Representatives, and were attached to the military spending bill.  I’m pretty sure it was Representative Flake who satirized earmarks by calling a ball-point pen in military spending jargon (paraphrase) a “polymer-based, multi-purpose portable communication facilitating mechanism”, which was truly my favorite part of the debate.  Language is a beautiful thing, and scarcely more creative than in use by scoundrels with something to hide.  However, as the NYT pointed out, this is less pork than usual for the dominant party, and they didn’t look ashamed, either.
♦ U.S. Energy bill passed: and it requires the U.S. to use renewable energy sources for 15% of utilities. 
♦ U.S. Congress passes  a 6-month long interim eavesdropping bill to catch terrorists, or private citizens, depending upon one’s point of view: and increase security or reduce privacy, again depending upon one’s point of view.
🙂 In case you’re wondering at all this activity: Congress is trying to go on vacation.

♦ Oil prices: Brent crude, USD 75.11; West Texas Intermediate, USD 76.13 per barrel: after a large speculative rise this week, the price calmed a little back down.
♦ The National Petroleum Council is talking sense: they noted the difference between national Energy Security and national Energy Independence.  The first is possible; energy independence is not.  Energy security will be a combination of a. moderating demand, b. expanded/diversified energy supplies (I would include alternate energy here) and c. strengthening global trade.  Just a note: U.S. demand is expected to go up 50-60% by 2030.   China and India might need more oil, but the biggest consumer remains the United States.

Have a great week.

Note: Last week, I examined each of the eighteen benchmarks which document the effectiveness of The Surge. I then wrote an overview (part I) of the July Benchmark Report.  This post covers Six Benchmarks: numbers 1 and 2; 4 through 6; and 16.  Links for fast access to this Iraq Primer (should open in new window for reference):  Benchmarks 1-6Benchmarks 13-18

What follows is a look at July’s status on Economic Benchmarks, or, more properly, two Political-Economic Benchmarks.  I try to analyze what we should consider ‘significant progress’ in September’s report, based upon close reading and constant attention to the subject.  Quotes by Stanislaw Lec, who lived during World War II, are only meant to provide some humor and perspective.

Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.                                                           –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

The Oil Law, Benchmark Number 3:
As noted in the July Benchmark report, the oil law has made ‘unsatisfactory progress’ despite continued focus and considerable effort on the part of Iraq’s Council of Ministers.  Once it leaves this Council, (after the substantial negotiation toward an agreed format) it is submitted to the Council of Representatives.  The intricacy of the negotiations, also as noted by the report, remains somewhat opaque to onlookers, including U.S. advisors and consultants most directly involved. 

Three camps negotiating the law, two camps observing
The received opinion about passing the oil law generally falls into two extreme and irreconcilable camps.   The first, which includes the Iraq Study Group, maintains that the oil law is essential to Iraq’s progress; and a second camp believes that the U.S. should back off of this process. 

The essentialists are correct in that the oil law is  Iraq’s budget-maker; it will fund all government activities.  Oil is expected to make up 93% of Iraq’s state budget, and therefore all programs for reconstruction, social services, education, and so forth hinge upon this keynote bill for the budget.  Until this bill is passed, semi-autonomous regions, provincial governments, and even the state at large cannot plan or fund future government functions.  Furthermore, once it is passed, it sets up the conditions for future interest in the state by development banks, outside investors, and foreign states. 

Yet “the backing off” contingent has some points.  First, Iraq has money to fund programs now (that’s Benchmark 17–see below), and it is better to get this law right than to pass just any law. 

Three strikes, Sunnis out
The way this law is being discussed and framed obviates many of the roads to national unity; in particular, it fails to meet any Sunni faction demands.  1. Western Iraq, without oil, is predominantly Sunni.  2. Abolishing the national oil company removes what once was a primarily Ba’athist/Sunni institution.  3. Abolishing the oil union also removes a formerly Ba’athist/Sunni institution. 

Under the current arguments, there is little offered to the Sunni minority population (who also has the most experience in oil development).  Therefore, the oil law needs to be backed by a completed Benchmark No. 2, reform of de-Ba’athification law, which will specify who will be able to participate in oil economics; and a completed Benchmark No. 1 (constitutional reform) including Benchmark No. 16 (minority rights equal to everyone’s rights) before this can be settled with the (understandably) obstreperous Sunni legislative contingent.

Following a more natural step-progression
I would further suggest that its placement in the benchmark scheme is out of order.  Until provincial and regional governance structures are achieved (Benchmarks 4 and 5), the advocacy for this bill continues to be amorphous and theoretical in design.  Local projects are managed by local governments, and there are, as yet, no governments to administer these theoretical budgets.  That does not contradict the reality of a raging parochialism in negotiations: Kurdistan ripe with new discoveries; Southern Iraq filled with mismanaged and underinvested older fields; and thus far, no resources found in Western Iraq.  But this is again a theoretical parochialism, of a “wish list” variety, uninformed by local assessments.  While a group of provincial governors will certainly add more voices to the law’s discussion, if handled properly this will be a means to greater local representation and therefore, local satisfaction.  Provision of services and oil income around the state of Iraq will add to state unity, and the precedents and procedures for these services are best taken from the shape of Benchmarks 1, 2, 4, 5, and 16.

As far as national oil companies go, I fail to understand why the U.S. is against the formation of an Iraqi national oil company.  Virtually every supplier state on the planet has a NOC, and it does not stop oil extraction or distribution.  It complicates that activity, but it is a standard operating condition in most oil commerce around the world.

Role of U.S. consultation is unclear
Yet the “backing off” contingent fails to realize that third-party consultation or intervention in this bill is to some degree necessary in order to inject some non-sectarian ice into the flaming controversy that appears to be taking place behind closed doors.  If the U.S. was getting all that it wanted, this bill would be done by now.  Some mediation is required, and since this bill has the potential to unleash further sectarian resentment, de-stabilize the national government, and fund the future of the country, it would be irresponsible not to consult.

However, consultation should promote, rather than a U.S. commercial wish list (no national oil companies, no unions, or whatever else the U.S. is advocating) some benchmarks for a. transparency, that oil revenues are audited regularly by outside auditors, and that the funds are publicly managed; and b. that some of those funds are earmarked for future development, in education, for instance, which increases national self-help in the long term.

I would not expect this law to be in effect by September or even January.  Significant progress toward an oil bill (which is the same as a budget bill) would require that local needs be assessed and a pattern of national distribution informed by the relationship of pressing needs of each locality.   To me, progress on this bill hinges upon the completion of the other major legislative benchmarks, and a settled, meaningful policy of de-Ba’athification reform.  Progress on this bill also requires that the U.S. both stay in the process but not to the extent of driving the kinds of institutions enabled–just their transparent and unifying character.

Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest one.
                                                                       –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Reconstruction, Benchmark Number 17:
Many of the statements above about the oil law also relate to reconstruction, but with one difference: this needs to be carried out now.  No reconciliation (Benchmark 6) or reduction in violence (Benchmarks 7, etc) can be obtained as long as the state is not carrying out some functions of economic security. 

A main problem with the July Benchmark Report is that it is another large benchmark with no staged implementation set in the benchmark framework.  The main problem for reconstruction is that all of it is undertaken under poor security conditions.  A lot of back-breaking work has been done to achieve utility service, enterprise development, and other features of economic reconstruction.  Most of this work continues to be subverted or destroyed, a dangerous, sometimes corrupt, and always disheartening and expensive result.  To just shout for reconstruction without acknowledging past efforts and current difficulties is unrealistic, and frankly, rude.  It is past time, however, to ask for staged planning within this benchmark goal.

There are clues in the Benchmark Report about what kinds of economic revitalization are working: cellular phone investment, for instance, has taken off and prospered.  And this is the clue for limitations of effectiveness as well: deciding what kinds of reconstruction will have immediate and lasting effect under current conditions.

If one looks at the character of cellular telephony, one can see the reasons that this essential service has prospered: a, it promotes security and access to information; b, it has minimal infrastructure; c, it is portable and moveable;  d, phones are easily replaceable; and e. has immediate personal use.  The task for reconstruction in this security environment then becomes, a matter of tailoring as many other required services as possible to this model.

1. The Iraqi government should create a program that allows it to disburse its long-held funds into a service provision that has an irregular locational and temporal distribution process, including to refugee populations.  2. In the meantime, they should solicit bids for other major work in areas currently less-wracked by violence, and advertise those bids.  3. Reconstruction funds should be disbursed to aid refugees in camps and set up services to non-official refugee camps in order to provide minimal services to the displaced.

However, like the oil law, reconstruction is complicated by a lack of regional and provincial officials to undertake a more nuanced assessment and program of providing social services, advertising for bids, or arranging a regular or irregular demonstration of services.  I predict that the reconstruction benchmark will still show ‘unsatisfactory progress’ in September, as security conditions will not allow the kind of distribution of reconstruction services required, and, 

because institutional methods of providing reconstruction do not answer in the security environment under which Iraq currently exists.

Progress on these two benchmarks is contingent upon the previously-examined political benchmarks, and the security benchmarks.

Next: Security benchmarks and public relations related to security

Further reading:
al-Jazeera, July 30: Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty
Reuters, July 30: UN asks for education aid for Iraq refugees

♦ In Australia, the charges against Dr. Haneef have been dropped in connection with the UK car bombings; his prosecutors were shown to have lied, possibly in order to enhance pre-election anti-terrorist credentials.
♦ China continues to crack down on governmental corruption, this time in Shanghai.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Thanks to Robert Amsterdam blog for bringing forward some new papers on EU-Russia relations.  First: an article by Mr. Lynn at Bloomberg  suggests that the EU cease trading Russian stocks when the Russian Federation expropriates assets from EU companies investing in Russia.  This tit-for-tat on the editorial side is matched by an policy analysis from the Centre for European Reform, which concludes that there are no “strategic partnerships” between the EU and Russia based on “common values” .  What with disputes over gas & oil,  missiles, and oh, yeah, plutonium and extradition, it has been kind of tough lately . . .  🙂 
♦ Yukos assets–Lot 19, worth USD 1.2 billion, is up for auction.  Starting bid: USD 300 million.  What a bargain!  But it looks like Rosneft will get the goods.  In the meantime, more claims against Yukos’ post-bankruptcy assets, these filed from a ruling in a London Court.  Uh-huh. 
♦ The U.S., always somewhat ambivalent about its strategic interests in Central Asia, is signalling more pull-out from the region.  In the meantime, more trouble at Ganci AFB in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.  Ganci relations have never been handled correctly. The Latest: the air traffic controllers are threatening a strike.

Latin America:
♦ Energy news: Mexico announced USD 76.5 million in new investment to shore up their failing oil reserves.  Their top-producing Cantarell Field offshore has hit its peak, and new investment is required.  This also has an effect on Mexico’s budget for the short-term at least: PeMex profits have paid for Mexico’s social services for years.
What U.S. Company?Boz takes a look at the double standard in Colombian-U.S. relations: accusations of aid to terrorists in Colombia by U.S. companies–not investigated by the Justice Department, and More.  Hint on the company: They must be bananas to do such a thing.  (Drawing: from VivirLatino).
♦ The IMF’s Managing Director Rodrigo Rato is on a world tour to re-establish or renew relations with member countries, with Latin American states one high priority–one issue will be giving Brazil, for instance, more voting share commensurate with their economy.  Also, Mr. Rato’s likely successor, Mr. Straus-Kahn, has started a world tour in Africa, but will swing through Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil on his way around the world.  This is all upcoming and highly important: Latin American states rejected IMF reports as inaccurate this last April, which means they also reject methods proposed by IMF based upon those reports.

Middle East:
♦ Saudi Arabia may receive up to USD 20 billion in weapons from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia gets dissed for its destabilizing influence in Iraq.  The weapons systems are to help aid Saudi Arabia as well as other Persian Gulf states who will get military enhancement a chance to counter Iran nuclear capability.  In the meantime, Secretaries Rice and Gates are making another pitch to the Saudis to aid Iraq’s government.
♦ Afghanistan: Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are reportedly weakening their commitment to ISAF, following casualties and the likelihood of more.
◊ One of the South Korean hostages has been killed.  Negotiations continue for the other 22 hostages.
◊ Some timeless principles of counter-insurgency-including individual talent-at Afghanistanica.
◊ Reuters builds a Timeline of Hostage Incidents in Afghanistan
◊ Carl Robichaud at Afghanistan Watch talks about strengthening the capabilities of the Afghanistan Police: what needs to happen and what is happening.  A must-read.

Iraq:  If you’ve stopped here at all this week, you’ll have seen a lot of analysis of the July Benchmark Report to the U.S. Congress.   First, RG has featured the benchmarks themselves, their purpose and importance, in the Iraq Primer series of posts.  Right now this blog is about halfway through an analysis of the report itself: already complete, one overview of the report’s organization, and one post on amnesty and political benchmarks.  Please keep checking back: in this effort, my own personal benchmark is to inform the debate, not choose a side.  Whoever we are and whatever we believe, we have to be ready for September’s report, with better than one-note analyses to aid us.
◊ Joshua Foust at The Conjecturer writes on the Scott Thompson debate, where a soldier recounts the sick/mean/gallows humor of the troops and the resulting firestorm, and then segues into what I would call the must-view portion: slave labor emplyed by contractors constructing the U.S. Embassy to Iraq.  The testimony on video is very convincing-and disheartening. 
◊ Biggest corruption case ever in Iraq being investigated, Major Cockerham accepts USD 9.6 billion in bribes from contractors, and the scandal is likely to radiate outward.
◊ PTSD: 116 official U.S. troop suicides reported amid Iraq-stationed troops, not counting the dozens still under investigation, and not counting the ones back home.

♦ Oil prices this week ended up, but not with the meteoric rises of the last two weeks.  Brent crude, USD 77.28; West Texas Intermediate, 76.88.  The gap between the Brent and WTx price is decreasing–no predictions here though.
♦ Shell announces 18% profit for the quarter.  That does not mean that their long-term picture looks so rosy-sweet: still Sakhalin Island problems continue to obtrude.  Shell lost half its share earlier this year, after years of investment–ostensibly for ecological infractions.  Now that Gazprom has taken those shares, the pipeline is being shut down again–for ecological infractions.
♦ Conoco lost 94 percent of its profit in second quarter due to Venezuelan expropriation of its production.

♦ Ostensibly this post at Xinjiang Watch is about Chinese education policy, but its real function is to make you aware of the way that news is manufactured at specific distribution points.  One decision at Associated Press shapes the cultural expectations of the rest of the world.  So, okay, China’s rough on females.  That’s all we need to know, right? 
♦ They found Slave labor at Shanxi brickworks.  The pictures tell it all.
♦ At the G-8, China agrees with climate change measures, with reservations, calling better environmental standards a “development issue”.  I wouldn’t focus as much on China’s small steps as U.S. failure to walk that walk at all: the two are directly related.

Former Soviet Union
♦ At the G-8, they wanted to talk about Africa, Climate Change, and HIV/AIDS.  Well, maybe they wanted to talk about energy, too; and someone wanted to discuss new missile defense arrangements:  Putin weighs in on NATO missile defense systems–a joint effort in Azerbaijan?  The latest: put them in Iraq.  I know that’s where I would like them to be.

Middle East
♦ The British Academics’ University and College Union (UCU) is boycotting Israeli academics.  That’s definitely who we should pick on over in Israel. 
♦ Apparently air power is more egregious than the suicide bomb:  The Taliban has decided to take the moral high ground as well as the Afghanistan countryside, denouncing ISAF forces for civilian casualties and calling for an international investigation.  All hypocrisy aside, we need to consider the use of air power as the predominant cause of Afghanistan’s civilian antipathy to NATO efforts.
♦ Iran gets more sanctions from the G-8 over the N-capability. but the UN Security Council isn’t united over the state’s condemnation.  Five U.S. citizens now in captivity in Iran. . . . 
♦ Turkey shells Dohuk Province in Iraq, who protested.  June 8: Fifty died, in separate attacks.  The real news is that every day the headline is the same, whether al-Jazeera or the Washington Post: only the numbers change.  But defeat is a bad idea.  Certainly no one can say it is a good idea?  Well, apparently. . .

U.S. Foreign Policy
♦ FPA War Crimes features ghost detainees, from a report compiled by 6 different human rights groups.  It’s not as long as you’d think it would be–because–it was damned difficult for them to get as much information as they did.  Most chilling: people who drop off the threat list without explanation.  And the children who are being detained in order to betray their parents.  This is not what we do in this country–no, unfortunately, it is now what we do.  To whom do we speak about the rule of law now?  What children’s advocate are we now?
♦ General Casualties:  Newest changes: General Pace has not been recommended by Secretary Gates to continue on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because Congress would get to re-visit our bright shining moments in Iraq.  Approvals will then be sought for Admiral Mullen–and currently–Lieutenant General Lute will be the new “war czar”, pending Congressional approval.  Since he has primary oversight over Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, plus a lot of military advice, some people are wondering why we need a Joint Chiefs of Staff–or National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. 

♦ Oil prices per barrel, June 8, 2007: Brent Crude, USD 70.83; West Texas Intermediate, USD 66.56.  Up from last week due to: forecasted summer consumption; cyclone Gonu over Oman, Iran; continued lack of resolution in Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, and increased tension in Venezuela.  Oh yeah.
♦ The Energy Blog discusses all sorts of fuels in great detail.  For instance: Brazil’s going to beat us all on development of cellulosic ethanol.  Oh, and the new wireless technology at MIT–that’s the laptop I want.

Cultural Rambling:
Elkhoury Photo♦ Time Magazine’s feature on the world’s food choices/resources for a week.
♦ The Venice Biennale opens today.  Something nice: Lebanon has a pavilion for the first time in the Biennale’s 112 year history, featuring five of that country’s artists: Lamia Joreige; Fouad Elkoury; Walid Sadek; Akram Zaatari; and Mounira Al Solh.  Featured here: Mr. Elkoury.

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