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FEATURE

Myanmar/Burma's Oil Co. Connections





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The dramatic events unfolding in Myanmar/Burma -- the demonstrations by thousands of Buddhist monks now 'disappeared' into their army-occupied monasteries; the ordinary citizens who took to the streets in their support, only to be decimated by bullets and truncheons -- overshadow the question as to why countries like China, and those others who have influence over the repressive regime, are not doing more to stop the oppression.

The answer? Oil:

While Myanmar's military junta cracks down on pro-democracy protests, oil companies are busy jostling for access to the country's largely untapped natural gas and oil fields.

Just last Sunday — as marches led by Buddhist monks drew thousands in the country's biggest cities — Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was in Myanmar's capital for the signing of contracts between state-controlled ONGC Videsh Ltd. and Myanmar's military rulers to explore three offshore blocks. Link.

Myanmar/Burma, for all its extreme poverty (while the families of the regime live in luxury), is an oil producing nation and where there's oil, there are choices being made that don't necessarily include the considerations of the common people.

Who is drilling for oil in Myanmar/Burma?

Here's a partial list:

France - Total SA
Malaysia - Petroliam Nasional Bhd
Thailand - PTT Exploration & Production PLC
South Korea - Daewoo International Corp
China - National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC)
China - Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinope)

And, in an existing investment that is exempt from sanctions as part of its takeover of Unocal:

Chevron -- with its 28% stake in France/Total's Yadana fields.

Chevron's interest in the Yadana project is "a long-term commitment that helps meet the critical energy needs of millions in people in the region," said Nicole Hodgson, corporate media adviser for Asia.

-snip-

Total and former partner Unocal Corp. were accused of being complicit in forcibly relocating people while a pipeline was being built across Myanmar to Thailand in the 1990s...in 2005, prior to being acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a lawsuit brought against it in U.S. courts for the alleged abuses.

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry did call today for an end to the brutal treatment of the monks. But their oil investment continues, as does that of the other companies.

Such complicity with repressive regimes is not uncommon. China's interest in Burma includes a pipeline through its territory that will give oil tankers from the Middle East a Burmese port to offload their fossil fuels. This is along the lines of their involvement with and their protection of the Sudan against resolution of their genocide in Darfur, which is about China's need for the Sudan's oil, as well, as is the reason for our (U.S.) long history with "the Kingdom," Saudi Arabia.

And then there's that war in Iraq.

But the brave monks of Myanmar were not thinking of oil exploration off their waters by Chevron's European partners when they took to the streets. Not while their regime was raising the price of oil and gas to the point where their citizens could not survive. That's why the monks took their stand and why they are now either under armed guard in their monasteries or with the higher power to which the regime has sent them while behind those closed doors.

Meanwhile, the drilling continues.

[Update] Here are two videos here and here from BBC reporters in Burma and a link to the latest BBC report on the fate of the protesting monks.

Floods Inundate 17 African Countries





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Africa has been inundated with floods from its eastern coastal region to the western nations, 17 countries so far, leading the U.N. to call on relief organizations to help the beleaguered continent:
Across Africa, torrential downpours and flash floods have submerged whole towns and washed away bridges, farms and schools. More than a million people have been affected by the rains since the summer, according to the United Nations. At least 200 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced in 17 countries. Link.
Uganda is cited as one of the hardest hit with drinking water contamination posting a risk of cholera and more rain expected in the days ahead.

The UN said humanitarian workers are attempting to reach the flooded areas, but it is a struggle, as roads become impassible and more countries are impacted.
Torrential rains between July and August [have] displaced a quarter of a million, the U.N. said.
More rain is on the way.

The United Nations, working with Relief Web, has launched an urgent appeal for help here.

And here's the link to the USA Today/AP story.

FEATURE

Shanghai Faces Down Typhoon Wipha





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Almost three million people were evacuated from Shanghai in China as Typhoon Wipha made landfall on the country's eastern coast:

A total of 2.7 million people were evacuated from coastal or flooded areas and unsafe housing in Shanghai and other areas affected by the storm, Xinhua said.

The storm destroyed thousands of houses, wrecked fish ponds and disrupted power to more than 100 communities, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and provincial officials reported.

Preliminary estimates put the damage at $638 million. Link.

Nine are known to have died, two that had not left and were electrocuted during landfall. What had not been left to the storm: The two point seven million of its citizens that were evacuated from the path of the winds and the flooding from the foot of rain that had fallen even before the storm had arrived.

This was happening at the same time that the world's religious leaders are gathering in a melting Greenland to pray that they can raise attention to the dangers of climate change.

The residents of Shanghai were likely praying for the same thing.Here's the link to the BBC report and the CNN update.

FEATURE

Kurdistan Hunts for Oil: The Kurds create their own rules





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Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), after passing their own benchmark oil revenue sharing legislation, separate from Baghdad, has just signed their first oil production sharing contract with an outside company:

Texas' Hunt Oil Co. and Kurdistan's regional government said Saturday they've signed a production-sharing contract for petroleum exploration in northern Iraq, the first such deal since the Kurds passed their own oil and gas law in August. Link
According to this press release issued by the KRG, the Hunt Oil Company, working with Impulse Energy Corporation, will start with a geological survey of seismic activity in the Duhok area of Kurdistan, followed by the first exploration well in 2008:
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) together with Hunt Oil Company of the Kurdistan Region, a subsidiary of Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, Texas, and Impulse Energy Corporation (IEC) announced today that they have signed a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) covering petroleum exploration activities in the Duhok area of the Kurdistan Region.
The specifics of the deal were not released, but the existence of the deal, a result of the Kurdish Regional Government's own legislation on oil revenue sharing, is bound to make Baghdad take notice after the KRG spoke out against the al-Maliki government's draft legislation of an oil law in July, 2007. It was this rift that led the KRG to pass their own legislation in August, 2007, legislation now seemingly legitimized by Hunt Oil's Production Sharing Agreement with the KRG.

Which leads to questions about the Bush Administration’s involvement in the deal, given that Ray L. Hunt, the head of Hunt Oil (and one of President Bush’s guests to the May, 2007 State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth II), was appointed to a two two-year terms on President Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, first on October 5, 2001 and again on October 27, 2005 – a board which, according to its webpage, is:
Unique within the government, the PFIAB traditionally has been tasked with providing the President with an independent source of advice on the effectiveness with which the intelligence community is meeting the nation's intelligence needs and the vigor and insight with which the community plans for the future.

Established by Eisenhower in 1956, the PFIAB was formed “as a nonpartisan body offering the President objective, expert advice on the conduct of U.S. foreign intelligence.” The question then becomes, considering the known oil affiliations within the current administration, how objective is that advice and how is information from the board being utilized by its membership?

This is not to say that Hunt Oil itself is an illogical choice for the Kurdish Regional Government in their oil exploration effort. Hunt Oil has been successful in finding oil for regional governments, as evidenced by their similar partnership with Yemen at a time when the rest of the world had assumed that oil had bypassed that country:

In 1981, Hunt Oil Company signed a production sharing agreement with the government of Yemen and began operations. The only active oil company in the region, Hunt discovered a major oil field in 1984. The company subsequently constructed a 423-kilometer (263-mile) pipeline across harsh mountains to the Red Sea, and Yemen joined the ranks of oil exporting countries reaching production levels in excess of 150,000 barrels per day. Large reserves of natural gas, estimated at 10 trillion cubic feet, have also been discovered.
General David Petraeus has described the situation in Iraq, during his testimony before Congress last week, as an “ethno-sectarian competition for power and resources.” He went on to add, during further interviews, that “you can’t win if you don’t play.” But what is the game? If the surge’s purported effort is to buy time for Baghdad to come to a political reconciliation, why has one of Bush’s closest allies, the Hunt Oil Company, gone north to Kurdistan instead of waiting for Baghdad to finalize their own oil revenue sharing law (one of those unmet benchmarks)?

Which leads to the question: What is the newly near-independent Kurdistan’s role in the region as General Petraeus’ “hard lessons” of Iraq unfold? Are they trying their best to survive amidst chaos? Are they securing their alliance with the United States through cooperation with Bush Administration’s corporate allies? Are they turning to an experienced bidder within the oil exploration industry? Are the Kurds hedging against a potential conflict with Turkey, given the presence of the outlawed Turkish Kurdish PKK’s bases on their side of the border, by securing their position as a US ally, since Turkey is a US ally, as well? Are they looking to strengthen their ties to the US as Op-Ed reports of conflict between the Iranian Government and their Kurds, on their eastern border, begin to surface, as well?

Another question: Does this mean that Hunt Oil, Impulse Energy and the other Bush Administration affiliated corporations, as it becomes clear that whatever happens with the ongoing ‘surge’, the Iraqi situation outside of Kurdistan – the resolution of which will require the inclusion of the Sunni factions in the central government and the end of untold amounts of blood feuds that have been initiated by the factional fighting and extreme loss of life -- is not likely to be settled until well after the Bush Administration is voted out of office and, as such, they are cutting their own deals to secure the oil contracts in the one part of Iraq that is not waiting for a central government to resolve their problems?

This is not to imply that the Kurdish Regional Government’s initiative in passing their own oil revenue sharing law was meant to undermine the central government. The Kurds reside in a landlocked region of northern Iraq surrounded by potential enemies and a large population of Kurds that are minorities within those outside governments (Turkey, Iran, Syria). The pressures on the Kurdish Regional Government is likely enormous within the chessboard/hornet’s nest that Iraq has become and their decision to make the Hunt Oil deal while a Bush Administration friendly to them was still in power, along with the possibility that the entire deal was done with, if not the Bush Administration’s blessing, at least their foreknowledge, may have been the only course available to them.

Whether the deal will motivate Baghdad to finalize their own oil and gas revenue sharing law and/or influence world business to see the al-Maliki government as less legitimate is unknown. What is known: The Kurds have provided an opportunity for corporate oil to join the ‘competition for power and resources’ by passing their own revenue sharing law and Texas’ Hunt Oil will now be hunting for Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil in a deal modeled after their own agreement that lead to the establishment of Yemen’s oil and gas industry.

Here's a link to the KRG press release.

To the text of the KRG Oil and Gas Law.

To the Washington Post article on the Hunt/KRG contract.

And more about the Kurds.

FEATURE

Vermont Legal Victory over Auto Pollution





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A Vermont court has rejected the auto industry's argument that U.S. states did not have the right to set their own auto pollution emission standards:
In his ruling, Judge William K. Sessions III said that the auto industry failed to prove that it could not safely meet the tailpipe standards.

A number of environmental groups joined the State of Vermont in defending the case, including us at Environmental Defense, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Link.

This case began in 2002 after California requested a waiver from the EPA, thereby allowing the state to tighten the emission standards beyond federal regulations. The EPA's initial response was that they did not have jurisdiction. That argument made its way to the Supreme Court (Massachusetts, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. - Docket: 05-1120) , who ruled that it was the EPA's jurisdiction. The EPA has yet to declare where they stand on the tighter emission standards proposed by the following petitioners:

Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, American Samoa Government, New York City, Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group).

Against the following respondents:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, National Automobile Dealers Association, Engine Manufacturers Association, Truck Manufacturers Association, CO2 Litigation Group, Utility Air Regulatory Group, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota, Utah, South Dakota, Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, and Ohio.

Just so we know where everyone stands.

The auto industry's response to the Supreme Court decision was to file suit in Vermont, California and Rhode Island, objecting to the higher emission standards. It was the Vermont suit that was decided in favor of the petitioners today. A first and important precedent in these very important proceedings that will strengthen the upcoming case in California.
California is still waiting for EPA's ruling on its waiver, and so are 14 other states who have adopted the same emissions requirements. Environmental Defense has filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA if they do not rule on the California waiver request by November 2007. Link.

Here's a link to the Massachusetts decision.

One to the Environmental Defense Lawyer's statement on the winning Vermont case.

And to the news release from Environmental Defense.

FEATURE

A Wrinkle in Time





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Madeleine L'Engle died today. You may not know her name, but to an entire generation, the world she'd created with her Newbery Medal winning "A Wrinkle in Time," was as important to their lives as J.R.R. Tolkien was to those who loved "The Lord of the Rings."
Author Madeleine L'Engle, whose novel "A Wrinkle in Time" has been enjoyed by generations of schoolchildren and adults since the 1960s, has died, her publicist said Friday. She was 88. Link.

For those who are familiar with her work -- the brave, yet alienated adolescent, Meg Murry, her little brother, the odd genius, Charles Wallace, her friend, Calvin, whose popularity did not interfere with his humanity, the missing scientist father they had to travel across the universe to save while in the company of Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, surely the three most unlikely angels in print, only to find that it was Meg who had to go in alone to face the terrifying representation of totalitarianism called, simply, IT, in order to retrieve her brother who had fallen to the dark side in the mistaken belief of his own invulnerability -- "A Wrinkle in Time" defined the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, courage and fear, judgment and fairness, being defined by one's actions and not by societal preconceptions, the power of love.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote more than sixty books, four of which tracked the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry. They won children's book awards, but to say they were written for children would be incorrect. Not only because Ms. L'Engle never wrote down to children, but because the themes Ms. L'Engle espoused are ageless, universal truths that are needed now more than ever and, although she often wrote with eye toward her deep Christian faith, it was a tolerant influence that allowed all faiths to find common ground in her work.

Good and evil, right and wrong, individualism, not judging by appearance, the impact of totalitarianism on everyday life.

Love.

Madeleine L'Engle will be missed.


[Update] A recommended Madeleine L'Engle Huffington post.


FEATURE

Thoughts on Eco-Spirituality





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Cross-posted at The Huffington Post, Earth911

Native Americans have a tradition of dancing to bring forth rain. Whether their ceremony results in their thirst being quenched depends on which anecdotal story one chooses to believe. But the Rain Dance in its various incarnations or rather its more conventional equivalent -- the expression of prayer by the devout for a higher power to intervene and for the faithful to do their part to bring about resolution-- has been making a reappearance around the globe as the visual and visceral evidence of climate change presents itself in stark and unforgiving ways.


Examples include the Pope's speech at an eco-youth rally, where he said: “A decisive ’yes’ is needed in decisions to safeguard creation as well as a strong commitment to reverse tendencies that risk leading to irreversible situations of degradation."

This prayer for desperately needed rain by Imam Fikret Latifoglu at Ankara's Hacibayram Mosque: "We stand before you, we beg you to answer our prayers, don't leave innocent children and the old, animals who cannot speak for themselves, the trees, the ants and the birds without water. We helplessly beg for Your mercy."

The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, which has been working since the mid-1980's to raise awareness that "our home planet Earth is undergoing rapid and sustained destruction of its eco-systems."

Christian evangelist, Rev. Richard Cizik, whose Creation Care movement represents 45,000 churches, stated that "global warming and global hunger are inescapably linked," (which put him at odds with Ted Haggard’s objections to environmentalism. Cizik's work continues. Haggard's, not so much...).

COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which cites the Midrash as its motivation: "See my works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I created, I created for you. Reflect on this and do not corrupt or desecrate my world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you," for its work with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (the COEJL, the National Council of Churches, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Evangelical Environmental Network) to advocate on global climate change and energy conservation.

There's Eastern Orthodoxy, whose first day of their ecclesiastical calendar (September 1st) has been a declared annual day of prayer for the protection of the environment for 300 million parishioners worldwide since 1989.

And Zoroastrianism, which has as its precept the obligation “to protect nature in all its glory” and celebrates its new year on the spring equinox (called Newroz, it’s evolved into a legend about the overthrow of an ancient tyrant, but is still observed as a spring festival in Iran, by the Parsee of India and by millions of Kurds worldwide).

None of that has stopped global warming skeptics, minimizers and deniers from insisting that environmentalism itself has become a religion and to cite Hollywood as its central church.

It was 109 F degrees in Los Angeles last weekend.


They should visit.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the one-time leader of the Soviet Union (not a religious position) who is now the leader of Global Green, USA, did visit and is working with Brad Pitt, one of those Hollywood 'environmental evangelists', to help rebuild New Orleans.

And then there's Leonardo DiCaprio, another Hollywood environmentalist, whose new film, The 11th Hour, has been receiving positive reviews across the nation.

Oh, and An Inconvenient Truth, of course.

But environmentalism is not a Hollywood intellectual property. While the environment may have become topic du jour for some and a near religious calling for others, it is a religious issue for this Grist list of 15 "green" religious leaders that includes: the Patriarch of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Dalai Lama, an Episcopal Reverend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Pope, the leader of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology, an Australian theologian, the head of the American Rabbis' Committee on the Environment, a Dominican Nun, a member of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, a Unitarian reverend, a Methodist theologian, and Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest who refers to himself as a 'Geologian.'

The comments on the Grist article are worthy of note, as well. They include suggestions for the list from other countries/world religions that are making a significant contribution.

And there's the robust environmental movement of South Asia (India, Nepal...), Harvard's FORE (Forum on Religion and Ecology) research into the environmental traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Indigenous American Indians, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the eco-spiritualism of so many other indigenous cultures on every continent.

Which doesn’t negate the considerations from the other side of the argument. This includes those who interpret the science differently, who focus on which greenhouse gas is more impactful (I’ll trade you twenty carbon credits for a methane credit on Tuesday if you’ll buy me a methane-emitting hamburger today…), the support services who genuinely worry about the impact of environmental regulation on the third-world and more than a few who seem more worried about their corporate bottom line than their impact on planet earth.

But anyone who labels environmentalism as a religion in the hope that it will invalidate the movement is as out of touch with reality as those who cite religion as an obstacle to environmentalism. While there are religious groups who eschew environmentalism, the overall environmental movement is as diverse as humanity itself. It includes the deeply religious, those for whom the environment has become a religion, professionals who keep their religion to themselves as they seek to validate the science and a growing number of ordinary citizens who are beginning to sense that something has gone terribly wrong.

It is a global epiphany.

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