MIDDLE EAST: Iran's drilling company on sale February 20

Iran's North Drilling Company Managing Director Asghar Rafiei announced that the selling of the NDC shares would start in Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) as of February 20.

The NDC chief told PIN that the company was among the
privatization-bound centers and it was trying to have a strong presence in the TSE.

"Everything is ready for ceding the company to the private sector and we are waiting for calculation of its capital by responsible officials," he added.

The National Iranian Oil Company's (NIOC) Article 44 Headquarters said early December the shares of four giant oil companies would be offered by high tender in the TSE in the near future.

Ali Kardor added that Petropars Company, Petroiran Company, South Engineering Services and Turbine Industrial Equipment Company, and North Drilling Company are the privatization-bound corporations.

Iranian Privatization Organization (IPO) is mulling over the shares' prices. According to the Fourth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2005-2010).

Via: Islamic Republic News Agency

NUCLEAR: Opposition stirring against new reactors

NUCLEAR: Opposition stirring against new reactors
Texas anti-nuclear activists are rallying their forces to challenge the so-called nuclear renaissance that could see the state become home to the country's first new nuclear power plant project in nearly 30 years.

On Friday a coalition of groups said it will intervene in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review of NRG Energy's application to build two new reactors in Matagorda County, next to the existing South Texas Project nuclear plant.

The commission filed notice this week that a 60-day public comment period is now open for groups to intervene in the review for the joint construction and operation permit.

Austin-based officials with the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition said they don't yet know if they will intervene in the review separately or under one name. But they don't plan on sitting on their hands.

"We need to draw a line in the sand here in Texas and create a new nuclear resistance movement to say no to the nuclear regurgitation," said Karen Hadden, director of SEED.

Princeton, N.J.-based NRG, which already owns a 44 percent stake in the two existing reactors, filed the application in September.

CPS Energy, San Antonio's public utility, owns 40 percent of the existing project and said it plans to participate in the new one. Austin Energy, which owns 16 percent of STP, has not yet decided if it will take part in the new project.

Several other companies have expressed interest in either expanding existing plants around the country or building new facilities. Dallas-based Luminant, a part of the former TXU Corp., said it may expand its Comanche Peak nuclear plant in North Texas, while Chicago-based Exelon said it may file an application for a plant near Victoria.

NRG spokesman David Knox said building new nuclear plants like the one his company is planning will be major steps toward battling global warming.

"Nuclear is clean, safe and secure and will be critical to help meet rising electrical demand without contributing to global climate change," Knox said.

The environmental groups are challenging the project on several fronts in addition to the long-standing complaints about the dangers of storing nuclear waste indefinitely and the role it may play in nuclear weapons proliferation.

The groups point to the industry's last round of construction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when projects regularly ran over budget and schedule, as proof new projects will also be costly.

They also criticize the industry's reliance on government incentives and subsidies — including $2 billion in risk insurance, billions in construction loan guarantees and a production tax credit for power generated in the first eight years of a project.

The groups also raise security and equipment safety issues. South Texas was the subject of a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2006, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group, that alleged there were problems such as security guards failing to properly search vehicles and broken surveillance cameras and radio equipment.

Officials with the plant have told the Chronicle they had addressed the concerns raised in the report.

Neil Carman, director of the clean air program for the Sierra Club in Texas, said the state's environmental community hasn't addressed nuclear energy for many years. In Texas organizers spent a lot of time and effort in the past two years fighting TXU's plans to build nearly a dozen new coal-fired power plants.

"But it's been quite amazing to see a lot of people coming out of the woodwork and wanting to work on this," Carman said. "I think you will see a very strong anti-nuclear movement in Texas."

Via: Houston Chronicle|By TOM FOWLER

AFRICA: Uranium rush gets under way in Zambia

Resurgent global interest in nuclear power has made Zambia, a country better known for its vast copper reserves, into a hotbed of uranium exploration.

The search for uranium in Zambia is part of a larger wave of uranium exploration and mining across mineral-rich Southern Africa that is raising hopes of new jobs and tax revenue, but also sparking debate over safety and security.

Radiation exposure is low in open cut mining, and can be further lessened by enforcing strict hygiene regulations on miners using uranium oxide concentrate, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Many countries are looking for cleaner and less-costly alternatives to oil and coal power, and uranium prices are high after a decades-long slump.

African Energy Resources, an Australian-owned mining outfit, is drilling on the southern border with Zimbabwe. Equinox, a Canadian-owned company, said in November that there was high-grade uranium in the Lumwana open pit copper mine in northwestern Zambia; it hopes to begin stockpiling it next year.

Zambia's government is now completing new regulations to cover the mining, processing and export of uranium products, said Maxwell Mwale, Zambia's deputy minister of mines and mineral development for large scale mining projects.

"We are assured of a market in the sense that demand for nuclear power is increasing," Mwale said. "Now there are these global warming concerns and issues of reducing carbon emissions, so nuclear power is attractive." Mwale added, "We had to put in place regulations that conformed to International Atomic Energy Agency standards."

Elsewhere in Africa, exploration is ramping up across the border in Botswana. Namibia's uranium exporting industry has seen a revival, with a $112 million expansion of the long-running Rossing open mine and the opening of a new mine in 2006 by Paladin Energy in Australia.

African Energy Resources has poured $8 million into its exploration project with Albidon Mining in southern Zambia over the past three years. The exploration is the "biggest push on uranium exploration since the late '70s," said Alasdair Cooke, executive chairman of African Energy. With the global energy market coming under so much pressure from new economies, "uranium has become part of the mix."

Faced with domestic energy shortages, the government of South Africa released a draft nuclear energy policy in August pledging a rebirth in the country's uranium mining, processing and enrichment industries, and the construction of new nuclear reactors over the next decade. The region's economic powerhouse, South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons program following the end of apartheid in the 1990s, but still has two nuclear reactors that produce 6 percent of the country's power.

The scramble for uranium marks a stark turnaround after an industry slump brought on by the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl that made nuclear power a dirty phrase, and by the end of the nuclear arms race of the Cold War.

Concerns over climate change and pollution created by coal, along with high oil prices, have sent uranium prices from less than $10 a pound at the start of the decade to a current price of $88 a pound.

Many countries, including the United States, are planning to build new nuclear reactors, and China is looking to imported uranium for the many nuclear reactors it will use to help propel its rapid economic growth.

Mining companies are looking to countries across Africa. in Western Africa is a leading uranium supplier and produced 3,434 metric tons in 2006.

In Southern Africa, the search focuses on the uranium-enriched crust of what geologists call the Karoo Basin. Namibia and South Africa are believed to hold 6 percent and 7 percent, respectively, of the world's recoverable uranium resources, trailing only Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada and the United States, according to the World Nuclear Association, a nuclear power industry advocacy group.

Up-to-date estimates of Zambia's potential are hard to pin down. Here, long-standing uranium exploration started by Italian and Japanese investors ground to a halt in the 1980s.

"With the price increase we've seen in the last couple of years, the uranium resource is now quite economical" to mine, said Harry Michael, chief operating officer of Equinox Minerals, an Australian and Canadian venture that is running Lumwana Mine, along Zambia's border with Congo. At Lumwana, uranium deposits mingle with copper, and will be mined as part of the same process.

Uranium mining could create valuable jobs in mining, transportation and other sectors in a country where about 20 percent of the work force is formally employed, Mwale, the deputy minister in Zambia, said.

Other than more developed South Africa, most nations in the region will remain, for the moment, suppliers of uranium rather than users of it. How much those countries will benefit from their exports will be a crucial question for policy makers.

The issue is sure get attention in Zambia, where the government has been promising for more than a year to increase taxes on foreign copper mining companies that secured minuscule tax rates early in the decade when copper prices were low, and are now reaping huge profits.

Even though nuclear power is seen by many as the environmentally friendly energy source of the future, industry officials still face opposition from some environmental groups and other skeptics.

Just east of Zambia, in Malawi, the government's grant of a uranium mining license to Paladin sparked complaints from the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation. The Malawian government has a 15 percent stake in the project.

While the group acknowledged that the almost $200 million mining project could create jobs and profits, in a recent press statement it questioned its effect on the environment and whether "the economic benefits to Malawi through the introduction of uranium mining operations outweigh the social concerns and hazards associated with them."

Experts in the industry say that while radon gas emitted by uranium presents some radiation risks, modern technology makes them negligible to workers and the public.

Radiation exposure is low in open cut mining, and can be further lessened by enforcing strict hygiene regulations on miners using uranium oxide concentrate, according to the World Nuclear Association.

In an underground mine, modern ventilation systems are needed to keep miners safe, the association said.

In some regions, the increased demand for uranium has prompted security concerns, especially amid reports of illegal uranium mining across the border in Congo - the same area that produced some of the uranium used in the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Counterterrorism experts worry about extremists getting radiation materials through a black market for nuclear components that operates despite attempts to tighten security. Growth in mining and processing could make security even more crucial.

Mwale, of the Zambia mining ministry, said that Zambia was being cautious.

"We are very particular, as a country, that there will be no lapses at any stage of the handling of the uranium product," he said.

Via: The Associated Press|By Joseph J. Schatz

CALIFORNIA: No product yet, but lots of buzz. Chevron

The Chevrolet Volt is slowly consuming Lyle Dennis' life.
A year after casually launching a blog devoted to General Motors Corp.'s ambitious efforts to build a battery-powered Chevy, Dennis, a neurologist from Suffern, N.Y., has become an online celebrity of sorts.

"I just wanted to do anything I could to make it happen, and I thought it might be fun to have a blog," Dennis said. "I didn't expect all this. It can be challenging."

His Web site, www.GM-Volt.com, gets about 100,000 visitors a month, he said. More than 7,400 people have signed a waiting list he's compiling that he says he'll send to the company to convince it that there's a market for the product.

The car, which is still years and some significant scientific advancements away from becoming reality, is developing a quirky, cultlike following in cyberspace. The Volt is also showing up on other Web sites, forums and social networking pages such as www.Facebook.com.

Discouraging pre-orders
One site even claims to be taking pre-orders for the vehicle, though the operation has no link to GM or its dealers. Since GM hasn't even started building the car, paying someone for a spot on any waiting list is a bad idea. GM spokesman Rob Peterson said the automaker is aware of that site and looking into it to ensure that would-be buyers aren't cheated out of money.

The spotlight on Volt adds another dimension to the already intense pressure on GM to deliver the vehicle the automaker has billed as this country's best solution to dependence on foreign oil.

GM has said it's shooting for a 2010 production date and hopes to have early test vehicles ready next spring.

The automaker, fighting an image of environmental apathy in the era of green, announced at last year's Detroit auto show its intention to build the Volt. GM thought it needed a breakthrough product to compete with Toyota Motor Corp.'s wildly successful Prius hybrid.

Depends on the battery
Whether the Volt becomes reality, however, hinges on whether GM can develop a lithium-ion battery capable of powering a mass-market car. A battery would drive the Volt's powertrain, and an onboard fueling system would recharge the battery while on the road. GM is trying to develop fueling systems that would run on gasoline, diesel fuel and hydrogen fuel cells.

Dennis, who said he was fascinated by the possibility of a car powered by batteries that could reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, said he thought GM's efforts to make the Volt a mass-market vehicle could be helped by pooling a large number of would-be buyers before the vehicle enters its production phase.

"It just resonated with me that this vehicle would revolutionize the auto industry," he said.

GM has taken notice.
Blogger's perk
The Detroit automaker arranged for Dennis to meet the Volt team and Vice Chairman Bob Lutz earlier this year, and it provides access and news to Dennis much like it does to the mainstream media.

Dennis now spends his already limited free time — evenings, weekends and breaks between neurology patients — keeping the site fresh with the latest Volt-related news.

The Web site draws mostly supporters but also its share of critics.

Dozens of online debates are ongoing and in many cases drawing hundreds of posts from people arguing about everything from the vehicle's design to whether GM is taking the right approach to battery technology.

'Regular people' excited
Either way, that buzz is what GM was looking for when it introduced the Volt.

"You hear from regular people who are so excited to know when it's coming — it makes you feel good about the company and the future," GM spokesman Scott Fosgard said. "We're in the court of public opinion now."

Blog is devoted to Chevrolet Volt, which is still in development
Via: Detroit News|By SHARON TERLEP

EUROPEAN UNION: French Regulator Criticizes New Rules on Natural-Gas Prices

The French energy regulator said new government rules on natural-gas pricing may be unfair because they don't apply to all distributors, including Gaz de France SA.

The rules, published online today in the government's official bulletin, will only affect some natural-gas distributors, such as Total SA's Total Energie Gaz, and other local suppliers. They won't apply to Gaz de France, the state-controlled utility that supplies 11 million customers in France.

Prices will be modified to reflect changes in the cost of natural-gas supply as well as the costs of using transport networks and storage sites, the government said in the bulletin. The cost of supply will be determined using a basket of oil-product prices and foreign-exchange rates. The new prices will be calculated every three months beginning Jan. 1 through the end of 2010.

``The absence of detailed rules setting rates at Gaz de France goes against the proper functioning of France's natural-gas market,'' the energy regulator wrote separately in the bulletin. ``The lack of visibility is a risk and therefore a barrier to new entrants.''

Earlier this month, the country's highest court overturned three government decisions to freeze rising gas prices, saying the rates didn't cover supply costs. The government announced plans two days ago to allow a price increase of as much as 4 percent for household gas prices from Jan. 1, a level considered too low by some analysts.

The regulator was notified of the government's plan to introduce new rules on Dec. 12 and said that didn't give it enough time to probe the project. The country's system of setting gas and electricity prices is under investigation by the European Commission.

Via: Bloomberg|By Tara Patel

ITALY: Eni May Cancel 9 per 100 of Its Stock

Sees Kashagan Settlement Soon
Eni SpA, Italy's biggest oil company, may cancel 9 percent of its own stock and begin a new share buyback program, Chief Executive Officer Paolo Scaroni said.

Scaroni also said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev called a Jan. 11 meeting with executives of Eni and the heads of five other foreign oil companies, signaling a potential breakthrough in the dispute over development of the Kashagan oil field. Eni spokesman Gianni di Giovanni confirmed to Bloomberg News today the comments Scaroni made in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

A final agreement with Kazakhstan may include the foreign oil companies making a cash payment to the Kazakh government and selling a portion of their stakes to Kazakhstan's state- controlled oil company, KazMunaiGaz National Co. Scaroni estimated that the settlement will cost the foreign oil companies between $3 billion and $4 billion, Di Giovanni said.

Eni, Exxon Mobil Corp., Total SA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc each hold 18.5 percent of Kashagan, while ConocoPhillips has 9.3 percent. Japan's Inpex Corp. and KazMunaiGaz each own 8.3 percent.

The dispute will delay the start of production at the field, one of the biggest oil discoveries in three decades, to 2011 from 2010, Scaroni told the Journal.

Eni shares rose 5 cents, or 0.2 percent, to 25.05 euros in Milan trading yesterday. The stock finished 2007 down 1.7 percent, leaving the company with a market value of 100 billion euros ($147 billion), making Eni the biggest company in Italy by that measure.

Eni has 4 billion shares outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company owns about 9 percent of the stock itself in its treasury, Di Giovanni said.

Via: Bloomberg|Adam Freeman and Andrew Davis


WESTERN HEMISPHERE: StatoilHydro sells GoM shallow-water operations

WESTERN HEMISPHERE: StatoilHydro sells GoM shallow-water operationsStatoilHydro has entered into an agreement to sell all of the former Spinnaker assets in the shallow water of the US Gulf of Mexico to Mariner Energy, Inc. for a cash consideration of USD 243 million.

The sale will be accomplished through the sale of its wholly owned subsidiary Hydro Gulf of Mexico, LLC. The sale comprises production of approximately 9,600 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) with proven reserves of 8.3 million barrels oil equivalent.

StatoilHydro wishes to focus its strategy, operations, people and capital in the deepwater acreage where our technology and skills as the world’s largest operator of deepwater fields are most advantageous to us,” says Øivind Reinersten, senior vice president of StatoilHydro’s North American region.

“We will keep all deepwater leases that were associated with Spinnaker and maintain our position as the fourth largest leaseholder in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico,” he adds.

StatoilHydro’s book value of the sold assets indicates that the sale will generate a minor accounting loss.

The sale is expected to be closed in the first quarter of 2008.

Via: ScandOiL

ASIA: Oil official calls his talks with Turkmen officials 'positive'

Iran's deputy oil minister called his talks with Turkmen officials positive and said the Turkmen side presented good proposals for cooperation with Iran.

Ali Kordan in Ashkhabad airport told IRNA that he had good negotiations with Turkmenistan vice-president in oil and gas affairs as well as ministers of oil and foreign affairs.

However, he said that for getting better outcome, it has been scheduled that a high ranking delegation from Turkmenistan visit Iran in near future.

He added, "Turkmenistan believes that Iran should participate in future programs of developing plans of oil and gas in that country." Kordan said Iranian companies are active in the fields of oil, gas and road construction projects here, but they need to expand their activities in Turkmenistan.

Kordan, heading a high ranking economic delegation arrived in Ashkhabad on Wednesday for a 3-day visit and met with Turkmen vice-president as well as ministers of oil and foreign affairs.

Considering ways of developing cooperation in oil and gas sectors as well as Iranian companies participation in Turkmen economic plans, especially in the field of energy were among main subjects of negotiations.

Tehran and Ashkhabad have a wide range of cooperation in the fields of oil and gas and Iran imports 8 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan annually.

Via: Islamic Republic News Agency

GEOPOLITIC: Global Gas Battle Opens New Front

A new front, the Algerian one, has opened in the global struggle for energy supply diversification. That became absolutely clear after The Wall Street Journal reported with reference to Sonatrach president Mohamed Meziane that the cooperation pact signed by Sonatrach and Gazprom in August 2006 has expired.

A little earlier, Algeria emitted, accidentally or not, leakages that it is dissatisfied with the quality of military equipment supplied from Russia. Most surprisingly, the criticism was coming not from the immediate customers in the Algerian armed forces, who seemed to be satisfied, but from President Bouteflika’s civilian associates.

These events are obviously interlinked. Especially if taking into account the high stakes in the strategic partnership between Algeria and Russia. Due to their natural resources, these two countries would have been able to control up to 40 percent of natural gas supplies to the EU, had they made joint efforts. So, European consumers decided to stake on Algeria and Libya in an attempt at neutralizing Gazprom’s growing pressure. The struggle for energy supply diversification, initiated by the EU so eagerly, makes Gazprom’s presence in those countries unacceptable for the gas consumers. The U.S. feels similar anxiety: it hopes to keep bringing its own, and not Russian, gas from Algeria.

So, the anti-Russia consensus among Algeria’s chief Western patrons, the EU and the U.S., has become inevitable. Things got even worse for Russia when the outer pressure on Algeria was complicated by the clan struggle between different influence groups inside the country. Here again, energy resources are to blame. The end of war and growing oil and gas export revenues led to rapid redistribution of political weight from the ‘army elite’ to the ‘energy lobby’. Bouteflika, staying neutral for several years, eventually sided with the energy officials, which brought him a positive approval by Western partners, the U.S. first of all.

This repartition of influence could not help affecting the cooperation with Russia, especially in the military equipment sphere. The army and power agencies were gradually edged out from the economy, then from the domestic policy-making, and from the foreign policy at last. Meanwhile, Russia’s politics in Algeria has been built on confidential relations with the most influential power officials, who are now moved to the background. That is why Russia should not expect good news from the Algerian front now.

Still, Gazprom-Sonatrach relations are not completely ruined. Although Russia and Algeria are far from mutual understanding yet, and the ‘gas cartel’ was termed as utopia, Sonatrach and Gazprom have become working well for each other.

Despite everything, both monopolies are slowly but steadily moving towards a common aim: towards increasing the role and the share of exporter countries in the international gas market.

Andrei Maslov, director of the RosAfroExpertiza Center
Via: Kommersant

ASIA: Russia Delivered 2nd Consignment of Nuclear Fuel to Iran

Iran has received the second consignment of nuclear fuel from Russia, said Ahmad Fayyazbakhsh, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. The fuel was supplied to Bushehr Nuclear Plant that Russia’s experts construct in Iran under the IAEA control.

The second consignment of nuclear fuel arrived in Iran today, Ahmad Fayyazbakhsh said as quoted by IRNA.

Russia set to supplying the nuclear fuel to Bushehr facility December 16, 2007. The deliveries are made in conformity with Russia’s-Iranian intergovernmental agreement on constructing the plant under IAEA control.

The fuel to Bushehr is being supplied six months before the technological need, as it is in line with Russia’s technological standards and enables Iran to timely provide the information to IAEA. The deliveries are due to end till February 2008.

It is Atomstroiexport that actually constructs the first nuclear plant in Iran. Under the contract of January 1995, Atomstroiexport is to complete the project launched by German Kraftwerk Union A.G. (Siemens/KWU). Atomstroiexport has been working on the site since 1998.

The Bushehr plant won’t be put into operation till the end of 2008, Atomstroiexport President Sergei Shmatko announced December 20, 2007.

Via: Kommersant

AUSTRALIA: New Guinea Energy falls after ASX debut

Oil and gas explorer and producer New Guinea Energy Ltd (NGE) made a disappointing debut on the Australian stock exchange today, following a $17.3 million float.

The Sydney-based company, which has not given forecasts for the 2008 financial year, had offered 80 million shares at 25 cents each under its initial public offer (IPO).

Its shares began trading at 17 cents, down 32 per cent, and soon marked a low of 16 cents before closing at 19 cents, down six cents or 24 per cent.

But the listing did take place in an overall weaker session for the local bourse, which fell in line with global markets following the shock assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

NGE said its IPO was "well supported" with more than 50 per cent of the shares subscribed by local and international institutions and the remainder by local investors.

NGE, which was formed in 2005, plans to use the capital raised to progress its six exploration tenements covering more than 52,000 square kilometres in Papua New Guinea, onshore of the Papuan basin.

"NGE has been approached by large companies interested in farming into its acreage and will now pursue a multi-pronged program, preparing for key field operations and accelerate discussions to select appropriate partners for future large scale exploration programs," it said.

NGE managing director Jeremy Towner said the company is ready to embark on the next stage of its development.

"This capital raising moves NGE field operations in PNG to the next stage to have the appraisal and exploration acreage portfolio tested with well drilling," Mr Towner said.

"Areas adjacent to NGE's licences in that basin already have discoveries of over one billion barrels of oil and 15 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas."

Mr Towner said NGE's technical team has mapped six drillable prospects and 53 leads with an average size of over 60 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe) of in-place petroleum resource potential.

"So we have a long future for exploration and potential discovery and development ahead of us," he said.

Via: The Age

UNITED KINGDOM: Energy boost utilities and miners

Energy groups and utility companies kept the UK market in positive territory as investors sought safe havens after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan yesterday.

News of the killing sent oil prices higher, boosted precious metals such as gold and platinum, and gave a lift to the euro. Oil had already been trading strongly during the morning after reports of escalating tension between Turkey and Kurds in northern Iraq, but the events in Pakistan saw it edge closer to $97 a barrel. On top of the geopolitical worries came data showing US oil inventories fell last week to their lowest level since January 2005.

Benefiting from the oil price increases was Cairn Energy, one of this week's newcomers to the FTSE 100. It closed 175p higher at £30, with a smattering of takeover talk helping sentiment.

BP was 4.5p better at 621.5p, while Royal Dutch Shell rose 25p to £21.29 and BG added 29p to £11.42.

Defensive stocks such as United Utilities, up 18p at 767.5p, were also wanted. And predictions of a cold snap lifted Scottish & Southern Energy, 38p better at £16.59, and British Energy, 10.5p higher at 528.5p and National Grid, 23.5p ahead at 845.5p.

So the FTSE 100 ended 18.5 points higher at 6497.8, shrugging off an opening slump on Wall Street, albeit with fairly thin trading volumes. The Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 100 points by the time London closed on a mixture of Bhutto, oil, and weaker-than-expected consumer durables figures. A suggestion from Goldman Sachs analyst William Tanona that Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase might have to write off another $33bn this quarter related to the credit crunch did not help sentiment across the Atlantic.

Nearer home, most of the miners moved ahead on higher metals prices and continuing hopes of further sector bids in the wake of the proposed offer from BHP Billiton for Rio Tinto. Xstrata, widely tipped to take part in any consolidation, added 23p to £36.26 and Rio rose 7p to £53.82. But BHP slipped 17p to £15.61.

The oil price strength was not good news for everyone. Transport firms fell on concerns that higher fuel costs would hit margins, with the cruise group Carnival 52p lower at £22.18 and British Airways down 5.75p at 309.25p.

Weak mortgage lending figures hit housebuilder Persimmon, down 5.5p at 790.5p, and also helped push DIY group Kingfisher 3.9p lower at 144.7p.

Apart from Cairn, other newly promoted companies had mixed fortunes. The security group G4S, which joined the 100 index, fell 2.5p to 241.5p, while the funeral group Dignity, now a member of the FTSE 250, succumbed to profit-taking and dipped 23p to 716p.

The medical equipment group Gyrus added 24p to 620p as the proposed offer from the US group Olympus Corporation received American regulatory approval. European authorities are still reviewing the deal.

The publishing group Emap slipped 17.5p to 921p on fading hopes of a counter-offer after joint bidders Guardian Media Group - publisher of the Guardian newspaper - and private equity group Apax Partners each bought 9.7% of their target's shares.

Elsewhere, the bingo and casinos group Rank rose 1.25p to 91.25p on revived hopes of a possible bid from the US group Harrah's and separate speculation that the private equity group Duke Street Capital could be interested in its Mecca bingo clubs.

Game Group gained 8.5% to 228.5p as Goldman Sachs edged up its stake in the computer games retailer, while the racecourse owner Arena Leisure slipped 0.25p to 49p. The company has denied a report it is involved in negotiations for a commercial alternative to the betting levy, which funds the racing industry.

Lower down the market, the Crosby Capital climbed 7p to 26.75p as shares in the oil and gas group IB Daiwa, where it owns 20%, avoided being delisted from the Japanese stock exchange and resumed normal trading.

The North Sea oil developer Xcite Energy was 2p better at 67.5p. It issued an upbeat report on progress at its Bentley field, where it said testing should be completed before the end of January. Analysts at Mirabaud recently started coverage of the company with a buy recommendation and a target price of 190p. They said: "Xcite is significantly less expensive than Nautical Petroleum, the only other independent heavy oil pure play operating in the UK."

The technology consultancy group Sagentia added 1p to 3.63p after this week's news that Turf Trax, the betting technology group in which it has an 8% stake, planned to join Aim.

Character Group, the toy licensee, regained some of the ground it lost when it warned this month that Christmas trading was not going as well as expected. The news knocked nearly 40% off its share price but yesterday it added 1.75p to 93.25p.

On the way down was Entertainment Rights, which dipped 0.5p to 15p on profit taking. The company announced last week that it had been commissioned by the BBC to update Swap Shop, the children's Saturday morning show. Instead of Noel Edmonds, the presenter is lined up to be Entertainment Rights' popular character Basil Brush.

By Nick Fletcher | Read more | Digg story

OiL PRICES: Sector fails to hold early gains from $97 crude

Energy stocks fell back into negative territory Thursday, dragged down by a 192-point decline in the broader equities market that overwhelmed an early rally built on crude-oil's surge past $97 a barrel.

At the close, the Amex Oil Index (XOI:1,566.09, -10.76, -0.7%) was down 0.7% at 1,566 points while the Philadelphia Oil Service Index ($OSX:304.89, -3.32, -1.1%) fell 1.1% to 304.9 points and the Amex Natural Gas Index (XNG:575.44, -4.50, -0.8%) index dropped 0.8% to 575 points.

News of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's assassination at a political rally in Rawalpindi jolted the market. While Pakistan is not an oil exporter, Bhutto's death raises major concerns over the political fallout in this volatile region of the world.

The sector also got an early lift on a bullish report from Energy Information Administration data that showed U.S. crude-oil inventories fell 3.3 million barrels last week, about twice what the market was expecting. The supply data and Bhutto's death pushed crude-oil for February delivery well past the $97-a-barrel mark on the New York Mercantile Exchange. But the contract gave fell back at the close to settle at $96.62, up 65 cents for the day.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI:13,359.61, -192.08, -1.4%) tumbled 192 points, or 1.4%, at 13,359.61 points, rattled by the news from Pakistan and a disappointing batch of U.S. economic data.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:93.67, -1.14, -1.2%) , part of the Dow Jones Industrials, fell 1.2% to $93.67 a share, giving up slim early-session gains. No. 2 U.S. oil giant Chevron Corp. (CVX:93.75, -1.09, -1.1%) fell nearly 1.2% to $93.75 while No. 3 ConocoPhillips (COP:88.65, -0.32, -0.4%) slipped 0.4% to $88.65.

Oil stocks fall with broad marketProfit-taking caught up with Hess Corp. (HES: 102.33, -2.07, -2.0%) , which led percentage decliners in the group with a 2% drop to $102.33, snapping the stock's three-day winning streak. Today's setback aside, Hess shares are up a whopping 110% for the year, with over half of that gain seen in the past month.

Shares of European oil giants fared better. Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA:84.41, +0.61, +0.7%) led the few percentage gainers in the group, up 0.7% at $84.41. The company announced it was taking a 55% stake in a coalbed methane venture in China's Shanxi Province.

London-based BP Plc (BP:74.03, +0.37, +0.5%) also managed to post a gain, up 0.5% at $74.03, and France's Total S.A. (TOT:82.08, +0.24, +0.3%) rose 0.3% to $82.08.

Via: MarketWatch|by Jim Jelter| read more | digg story

ASIA: Shell taps into coal methane in China

Shell has expanded its interests in China by taking control of a pioneering project to meet some of the country's burgeoning demand for energy using methane gas from underground coal seams.

Verona, BP, Methane,Shell,Canada , North Shilou project, China, PetroChina

The Anglo-Dutch group has bought a 55% equity stake from Verona Development CorporationNorth Shilou project, 150km south-east of Changbei gas field, where Shell is also active in a conventional gas production scheme with PetroChina.

Methane is a highly flammable greenhouse gas, which is 10 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming if released into the atmosphere. But Shell will join a small group of companies that believe China's extensive coal reserves can be used as a source of relatively clean new energy that has a proven track-record in the US.

Lim Haw-Kuang, executive chairman of Shell companies in China, said: "The North Shilou production-sharing agreement is another important step for the Shell group in developing a significant and long-term business in China and globally. We are confident that our upstream technologies and expertise can unblock the vast potential of coal-bed methane in the country."

A spokesman at Shell's head office in The Hague said there was still much challenging work to be undertaken to ensure that the scheme was technically and commercially feasible. "This is a highly sophisticated project and one only possible in a high [oil and gas] price environment," he added.

While BP has been at the forefront of producing gas from coal-bed methane in the United States, Shell has yet to develop an operational scheme, though it has long been trying to develop a similar project in the Klappan region of British Columbia in Canada.

The oil company drilled three exploratory wells there in 2004, only to shelve operations after running into opposition from the local Tahltan Tribal Council. The Shell spokesman said talks were still going on to restart the scheme. BP has also run into opposition in Canada from those who fear its plans for coal-bed methane will degrade the environment.

Shell hopes to start its first activities in China early next year with a programme of seismic surveys followed by experimental drilling. If all goes well, the oil company, in partnership with China United Coalbed Methane Corporation, will undertake exploration until the end of 2010, followed by five years of development and 20 years of gas production.

The use of methane as a power source has been recognised for some time. Companies are drawing methane from landfill waste sites around Britain.
and will operate the

read more | digg story|The Guardian by Terry Macalister

MIDDLE EAST: Deputy Oil Minister in Ashkhabad

Iran's Deputy Oil Minister Ali Kordan, heading a high-ranking delegation, arrived in Ashkhabad Wednesday.

Kordan and his entourage are to confer with senior Turkmen officials on expansion of mutual cooperation in the oil and gas sectors. The two sides are also to discuss Iranian companies' partnership in Turkmen oil and gas projects.

Deputy Foreign Minister for the Asia-Pacific and the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs Mehdi Safari is among the entourage.

Via: Islamic Republic News Agency

ASIA: BP-Azerbaijan and Rolls-Royce sign contract on £120M

Rolls-Royce and BP-Azerbaijan have signed a contract on £120 million, sources from Rolls-Royce reported.

In line with the signed document, Rolls-Royce will render technical services and works for provision of 28 RB211 gas turbines onshore and offshore.

Moreover, the term of the TotalCare contract, existing between the companies, will be prolonged until 2016.

Via: Today Azerbaijan

ASIA: China warns of increased coal usage

China promised Wednesday to develop renewable energy for its fast-growing economy but warned that coal consumption will grow dramatically and avoided embracing binding limits on its greenhouse gas emissions.

In a report on its energy plans, the government announced no new initiatives but said it wants to curb reliance on oil and gas to drive an economy that is the world's second-biggest energy consumer after the United States.

""China gives top priority to developing renewable energy,"" said the 44-page report released by the Cabinet's press office.

The report said Beijing will promote hydroelectric, nuclear, solar and wind energy, as well natural gas extracted from garbage dumps and coal mines.

ASIA: China warns of increased coal usage

China's economic boom has sharply increased its need for imported oil and gas. That has prompted complaints that Chinese demand is driving record-high world crude prices and led to diplomatic strains as Beijing builds closer ties with oil-rich pariah states such as Sudan and Iran.

Communist leaders worry about the mounting damage to China's battered environment from fossil fuel use and see mounting reliance on imported energy as a strategic weakness.

The share of renewable sources and nuclear power in China's energy consumption rose from 4 percent in 1980 to 7.2 percent last year, the report said.

""China will pay more attention to the clean utilization of energy resources, especially coal, and make it a focus of environmental protection,"" the report said.

It said China takes greenhouse gases seriously and some of its measures would reduce its emissions. But there was no mention of whether Beijing might agree to demands by Washington to sign up to binding limits.

Beijing has rejected such limits, arguing that developing countries such as China are not to blame for current pollution levels and need to increase energy production to fight poverty.

The report said China will expand measures to exploit its abundant coal reserves — a step that will help to reduce reliance on imported fuel but could sharply raise greenhouse gas outputs.

""China will step up its efforts in prospecting coal resources,"" the report said. It said Beijing would reorganize its coal industry by closing smaller, less efficient mines while creating conglomerates with bigger production capacity.

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IRAN: Nabucco pipeline project impossible without Iran

Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari here Wednesday assured that it would not be possible to put Nabucco gas pipeline into operation without Iran, dismissing it as uneconomical.

“If Nabucco pipeline comes on stream, Iran will be the sole option for supplying its gas as the country is the world’s second-largest holder of natural gas,” said the minister, however adding other companies could also provide some part of the project’s gas.

National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company (NIORDC) Managing Director Mohammadreza Ne’matzadeh had already announced that Europe had no way out but to satisfy its energy needs by transferring Iran’s gas via Turkey’s Nabucco pipeline.

“Europe’s need in Iran’s gas supplies through Nabucco pipeline which passes through Turkey is inevitable,” he said, adding European countries needed Iran’s gas while Iran, for its turn, was in need of the EU market, stressing that such a trade deal would yield many political and economic fruits for both sides.

“That’s why the new Nabucco pipeline which was proposed by Turkey for transferring gas supplies of Central Asia and Iran to Europe was welcomed by the energy ministers of Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey itself and that’s why the said energy ministers in a recent meeting have each taken up a 20% share for the establishment of the pipeline.”

Turkey and Iran are expected soon to complete the agreement to build some 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of gas pipelines to transport up to 40 billion cubic meters (1.4 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually to Europe through Turkey.

Nabucco pipeline aims to reduce Europe’s dependency on gas from Russia, which has proved to be an unreliable energy supplier in recent years. European Union is lagging behind in implementing the project and has not made headway yet. A reason is that Europe has not found a proper alternative for Russian gas.

It seems Nabucco project cannot be economically viable unless it transfers Iran’s gas to energy-hungry European countries via Turkey’s gas could be transferred via the pipeline by 2017.

The United States, in continuation of its hostile stance on Iran since the Islamic Revolution, has so far exerted pressure to impede Iran’s participation in the project.

However, whether the U.S. and its allies like it or not, Iran is the most reliable and best partner for the project.

The latest EU report on the project said that it would start in 2013 and EU coordinator in Nabucco project predicted that Iran

The project faces two major obstacles; Russian concerns about possible participation of Central Asian countries and transfer of required technologies to Iran to control its high gas consumption.

Independent gas transit deals signed between Moscow and former Soviet Union states and Russia’s contracts with Germany and Italy for laying gas pipelines will weaken the possibility of Central Asian countries in the project.

Partners in the Nabucco project, whose name is taken from the Babylonian king Nabucco, famously known as Nebuchadnezzar, which expelled the Jews from Babylon, have set up their dreams to ensure energy security for Europe. They should know that their dream will not be materialized without peace and security in region traversed by the pipeline.

read more | digg story

INTERVIEW: Embedded with power, Pepe Escobar

Pepe Escobar is a Brazilian born journalist and writer. He has reported from many different countries and conflicts over his career so far, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, the U.S. and China.

He is a contributor to The Real News Network, a non-profit news and documentary network financed by its members; leaving it free from the pressures imposed by advertising, government and corporate funding. In his current role as the ‘Roving Eye’ of Asia Times Online, he is well placed to discuss world events and the ways in which they are interpreted and reported by international media.

Escobar has written in detail on the continuing conflict in Iraq and has been a continued source of unsanitized reality on the subject. In 2005, while many in the Irish media worshiped at the feet of U.S. imposed ‘democracy’ in Iraq -- ‘Poll success eclipses past blunders for U.S.’ (Conor O’Clery, The Irish Times, February 1 2005) -- Escobar pointed out the absurdity of what was happening: ‘History will salute it in kind: the US administration of George W Bush, parts 1 and 2, has introduced to the world the concept of election at gunpoint.’

Pepe Escobar is also author of the highly recommended ‘Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving Into Liquid War’, and most recently, ‘Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge’.

  1. PE -- Pepe Escobar,
  2. MB -- MediaBite, David Manning and Miriam Cotton

MB -- In your opinion where does the major pressure influencing journalism come from? E.g. ownership, time and space restrictions, ideology, concepts of balance and impartiality, corporate pressures, PR agencies etc. And how does it manifest itself?

PE -- Journalism is tremendously influenced by all these factors -- and, to the detriment of independently minded journalists, they tend to overlap.

Ownership -- Corporations, as we all know, rule most of the world’s media. Investigative journalism is the antithesis of shady mega-profits or corridors of power mega-deals. When ultra right-wing Murdochs and Berlusconis proliferate, there’s not much space left for critical thinking. The same goes in the developing world -- from the Edwards family in Chile (who supported Pinochet) to the Marinho family in Brazil (who supported the military dictatorship). I have friends in some of Europe’s big papers in an utter state of despair -- facing relentless tabloidization, some even refuse to write and just stick to sub-editing agency copy.

Time and space -- “Efficient” journalism now means a newsroom filled with young people, still inexperienced, loaded with multitasking, facing merciless deadlines, working sometimes 12 or 14 hours a day, and on top of it getting meager salaries. Under these circumstances there’s no room for critical thinking, for researching and investing in a story long-term, for escaping what the French call “la pensée unique”. In TV newsrooms journalists are overwhelmingly reduced to cut and pasting feed from Associated Press or Reuters and adding a vapid voice over. Exceptions at the top of the food chain are some “clean” faces promoted by corporate management to star anchor status: the clearest example is “glamorous” poster boy Anderson Cooper at CNN, the butt of endless jokes among hardcore journos everywhere.

Ideology -- This is essentially tied up with corporate pressure. Corporate ideology, except in very few cases, has nothing to do with social justice -- as any reader of the U.S. mainstream press will attest. Time Warner or News Corporation will never sacrifice their privileged ties with branches of the U.S. government to break a major story. The best example is the blitzkrieg before the war on Iraq; some writers and editors knew the Bush administration was lying all along, but the New York Times, for instance, preferred to print crap provided by Ahmad Chalabi to Judith Miller on the front page virtually every day. When I was a foreign correspondent for a major national paper, every time I met the owner he was more interested in checking the Dow Jones index every five minutes than asking about what was going on in the world.

Balance and impartiality -- Take a simple test: the Western coverage of the Iran – U.S. nuclear row. Take virtually any copy by Associated Press or Reuters -- translated and printed verbatim by all the major papers in the world. The premise is always that Iran is lying and the U.S. is just trying to get to the “truth”. Whatever is dished out by the White House, State Dept. or Pentagon is treated with reverence. Whatever comes from Iran is a “threat”.

There’s virtually no balance and impartiality whenever corporate Western media treats contentious issues regarding the developing world. It’s an “us and them” mentality -- not to mention a superiority complex -- inbuilt in the copy itself, if not by the reporter certainly by his/her editor. During the Asian financial crisis in 1997 I remember thick American reporters with no understanding of Asia whatsoever crucifying then Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad like he was the Anti-Christ -- after all he dared to defy the Washington Consensus. Mahathir in the end turned out to be right -- but the Western corporate press never admitted it.

MB -- Hugo Chavez is a divisive character, sustaining almost constant criticism from certain Western powers. The recent defeat of his proposal to, among many other things, abolish presidential term limits, a move that would probably be welcomed by the U.S. in Columbia, is already being framed as a defeat of dictatorship as opposed a success of democratic process, how can readers and media activists challenge this biased framing?

We don’t intend to say that a defeat for Chavez was necessarily a ‘success of democratic process’, but that it simply evidences the continued success of the process there and ridicules the cries of ‘dictatorship’. Unfortunately, if Chavez had won, the cries would no doubt be louder.

PE -- Chavez is the perfect bogeyman for Western neo-liberal -- or neo-con -- elites and for their comprador classes in the developing world. He wants steady progress towards a socialist system -- a real Third Way (not the Blair variety). And he is a mestizo -- we must never underestimate the racism factor when white elites have to deal with supposedly “inferior” natives. There were no less than 69 proposals at the recent referendum, but the right and the extreme right, in Venezuela and in the West, zeroed in on him taking power for eternity. The result of the referendum, according to some sharp Venezuelan analysts, turned out to be a blessing; it was indeed a victory for democracy, and Chavez once again proved he was a true democrat (compare with U.S. supported Middle East dictators or autocrats; citizens in these countries have done it, and no wonder “Chavez of Arabia” enjoys tremendous street credibility).

The reaction of mainstream/corporate media everywhere, from South to North America and Europe, was muted -- graphically enhancing the double standards. Since Chavez had lost, and gracefully accepted the result, he could not be damned as a dictator. But if he had won, dictator he would be, for life. What people can do to offset this kind of prejudice is to get informed. For instance, the website Venezuela Analysis, in English, offers a wealth of info on all aspects of the Bolivarian revolution, and it is duly critical when necessary.

MB -- One of the interesting things you wrote in your latest piece, ‘Beat the (Red) Devil’, was that the majority of students in Venezuela support Chavez. This is not something that comes across in the mainstream media, where the anti-Chavez student demonstrations are wielded as evidence of the ‘intellectual left’s’ disdain for the ‘populist’ and certainly the fact they receive substantial support from the U.S. is rarely if ever mentioned. This is particularly ironic when you consider the reception similar student protests would no doubt receive in the U.S. Is it that the pro-Chavez students are not vocal, or that the media is simply not vocal in reporting their existence?

PE -- The way Western mainstream/corporate media played up student protests in Venezuela looked like the whole university establishment was anti-Chavez. It was impossible to read anywhere that these students came from elite, private universities, were more interested in fleeing the country after graduation to snatch a MBA in the U.S., and were a minority. The majority studies in public schools, and they are chavistas with widely varied degrees of fervor. As for the intellectual left’s disdain for Chavez as a “populist”, this is a phenomenon observed all over South America. For Brazilian intellectuals who consider themselves social-democrats -- starting with former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a close friend of Tony Blair’s -- Chavez is nothing but a populist. Comprador elites in South America reason in block: whenever a charismatic politician strives for social justice, he’s derided as a “populist”. Wealth redistribution is the utmost nightmare of arrogant, corrupt, predatory South American elites.

MB -- More generally, why is the Western media so interested in ‘Hugo Chavez’? Are there not more immediate concerns in Latin America?

PE -- We come back to the “perfect bogeyman” theme -- the ideal successor to El Comandante Fidel, former favorite Latin American Cold War bogeyman. The menu in the Middle East is much more diversified -- we have had everyone and his neighbor playing the role, from Khadafi to Arafat to Saddam. Coverage of Latin America by English-speaking media is in most cases abysmal. In the U.S. is minimalist. In Britain it’s basically disasters or deforestation of the Amazon. France, Spain or Italy dedicates more space to Latin America -- but in many cases with an unbearable paternalistic strain, as in Spain. France offers a little more insight -- but in the case of Chavez and Morales in Bolivia, for instance, it’s as if one’s reading a White House or State Dept. press release. There are endless crucial concerns in Latin America -- but they don’t register, especially for hegemonic English-language media. There’s a language barrier -- and there’s a lack of knowledgeable correspondents working on site. The BBC coverage of Latin America is pitiful -- considering their resources. CNN in Spanish makes you want to shoot every talking head on screen.

MB -- Noam Chomsky, I believe, has suggested that it is sometimes instructive for readers to consider news reports in reverse, i.e. that important contextual information is often ‘tacked’ on loosely to the end of pieces. Would you have any advice for readers wishing to become more discerning or critical consumers?

PE -- If you read the mainstream/corporate press, that’s exactly the case: the crucial info most of the time is in the next to last paragraph, and the story is buried in the bottom half of page A-21. News agency copy is required to provide contextual info -- but it’s usually superficial and in many cases (e.g. Iran, Palestine, Russia) heavily biased. Papers always need to fill up blank space. That leads to papers in the Middle East, for instance, publishing agency copy -- or conservative syndicated columns -- that totally contradict their own reporting.

My suggestion is that readers forget about reading serious news on mainstream/corporate media: stick to the sports and entertainment pages. At least you can’t politicize infotainment to death -- like Sarkozy having an affair with Carla Bruni (well, the Times of India put it on the front page, like it was a major political story…). In the case of weeklies, stick to the actual reporting and forget about editorials (well sometimes even that is impossible; in Time magazine ideology drips from every report). The Wall Street Journal or The Economist may carry excellent reportage, but frankly no one has to swallow as fact Wall Street and the City of London’s wishful thinking.

For politics/economics, the real info is on the net. The problem for most people is how to fish for info on the net. You need a lot of time, a lot of patience and a lot of discipline to cut through the ideological fog, the lunatic ravings, the hardcore propaganda and tons of disinformation. Plus you have to keep it all up on a daily basis.

But it is possible. Websites like Global Research, based in Canada, Information Clearing House, based in southern California, or rebelion.org in Spanish, provide an excellent analytical digest of top themes in one go. On TV it’s a Sisyphean task. Al-Jazeera used to sharply criticize U.S. imperial designs on the Middle East, but now that the House of Saud and the Emir of Qatar have decided to become cozy with each other, all the critical edge is gone. CNN is a (bad) joke -- a tsunami of press releases from the State Dept. and the Pentagon read by bubbleheads. Problem is when you are in a hotel anywhere you simply cannot escape it. I stick to local TV networks even if I don’t understand the language.

MB -- If we are to believe the hawks, the pacification of Iraq is impending, but does this really constituent a ‘win’ for the home teams? How have the PR machines been so successful in continually re-branding what ‘success’ would mean?

PE -- As far as the PR machines are concerned, congratulations: you have done a “heck of a job”, as the Little Emperor would say. “Success” in Iraq has been rebranded so many times that by now the whole country should look like Dubai, and not like the set of a huge disaster movie. When great swathes of American public opinion can be completely manipulated, or easily swallow tsunamis of disinformation -- we’re back to our theme of the death of journalism by corporate interests -- you provoke untold death and devastation, declare it “victory”, and get away with it. At least now, mostly thanks to the net, millions of Americans have started to see Iraq for what it is.

Mainstream/corporate media cannot tell it like it really is because they would instantly lose privileged access to The White House, the Pentagon, the State Dept., etc. Furthermore, the U.S. government -- and none more than the Bush administration -- acts to defend the interests of major corporations, including the ones who own mainstream media. Fox News, for instance, is no more than the media arm of the Republican Party. The only thing that matters to Rupert Murdoch is to solidify his empire -- so he needs to keep his government connections intact.

MB -- Balance is a complicated concept for journalists to aim for. In some cases applying ‘balance’ can simply skew the story away from the verifiable facts. For instance, for months now the mainstream media have been qualifying IAEA findings by framing them in terms of the United States’ well known political ‘concerns’. However, now that the latest NIE report has dispelled all credibility from the apocalyptic talk of World War 3 will the media begin to question their previous unchecked regurgitation of Washington’s rhetoric, or will this represent just an instantaneous glitch in the PR siege?

PE -- “Balance” has long disappeared from mainstream/corporate media. Everything and everyone that goes against the hegemonic system -- from Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sadrists or the Islamic Republic of Iran to Chavez, Morales or Putin -- has to be demonized. But “our” “dictators” are exempt -- from Mubarak to... King Abdullah in Jordan, from the House of Saud to the Persian Gulf monarchies. Even the ghastly Burmese dictatorship got away with their recent bloody repression campaign: Western “pressure” was pathetic. As far as most of the developing world is concerned -- especially in terms of plundering of national resources -- this is how it works: it if profits Western elites, it is allowed. If it embodies nationalist aspirations somewhere, it’s a “destabilizing factor”.

Iran once again is a classic case. Everyone who follows the Iranian dossier knew the IAEA had not found any evidence whatsoever of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Those of us who spent time working in Iran also knew there was no “invisible” WMD: what they wanted, as Rafsanjani told a visiting American delegation in 2005, was to master the nuclear fuel cycle and enrich uranium by themselves for civilian purposes -- as any country who subscribes to the NPT is entitled to.

Now, after the NIE, don’t expect mainstream/corporate media to perform even a half-hearted mea culpa. Washington’s PR campaign overdrive still stands -- and in fact is being re-packaged to “alert” the world that Iran may restart its “military” nuclear program any time it deems fit, especially now that it has started to receive enriched uranium from Russia. You simply can’t win against Western propaganda if you are a “problem” developing country -- or nationalist movement. The Chinese of course have long ago discovered the best way to deal with it: they simply don’t give a damn to whatever the West is complaining about.

This all reflects a major theme: U.S. -- and Western -- elites are simply terrified that a brand new multipolar order is emerging. China is an unstoppable juggernaut. South America has ditched the IMF and the World Bank with the Bank of the South -- and the next move towards integration will be, in the next few years, a common currency, just like the euro.

Russia reasserted itself as the Gazprom nation. Iran is inescapably the key regional power in the Middle East. I have heard from a few investment bankers what their wet dream is all about -- it’s the Bush administration’s dream, for that matter: the world as a Green Zone guarded by Blackwater types, everything privatized, provided Halliburton-style, and “out there” a Mad Max Red Zone. In this sense Baghdad is a living metaphor of the future. That’s what the Bush administration accomplished. So in this sense they are “winning” the war on Iraq.

They get a key node in the worldwide empire of military bases, thus fulfilling “national security interests”. The invasion, occupation and fake “reconstruction” was a huge privatized bash -- bound to be replicated further -- and created with public funds, Mafia racket-style. Now they need “just” an icing on the cake: the Iraqi oil law -- which any Iraqi government would accept at the price of endless civil war. None of this, of course, fits into the mainstream/corporate media officially sanctioned narrative, with its avalanche of “benchmarks” measuring “success”.

MB -- How is it that the context of current U.S. pressure on Iran is kept almost completely separate from that of Iraq? It is as if the U.S. has been given a clean slate, a fresh historical starting point. Up until the release of the NIE summary few journalists chose to frame the ‘concerns’ and ‘beliefs’ of the U.S. towards Iran in the context of the illegal invasion of its neighbor. Since the release of the document the mainstream media, which for the most part sold the fabrications of WMDs in Iraq, is now questioning this new intelligence on the basis of Iraq’s intelligence ‘mistakes’. In your opinion is this coincidental conversion with powerful rhetoric borne out of faithful concern?

PE – Iran and Iraq cannot be covered as separate stories. The disaster perpetrated by the Bush administration in Iraq worked to the benefit of Iran. There’s no possibility of an Iraqi government… not enjoying very close relations with Iran…

Before the NIE estimate the U.S. mainstream/corporate media was all out bent on war, uncritically accepting even torpid variations of the demonization campaign, such as “Iranian weapons” killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. I could bet a case of sublime Bordeaux that post-NIE, the U.S. corporate media will accept any other excuse the neocons may come up with to once again demonize Iran. Because the ultimate goal has nothing to do with the nuclear issue: it’s about regime change. The neocons are so desperate that they would go for a false flag operation, or a Gulf of Tonkin gambit, to get their war. Corporate media also loves wars. The 1991 (Persian) Gulf War made CNN. The Bush administration still has enough time to wreak havoc -- and provoke a new war, or at least a new civil war. That’s what they do best. They did it in Iraq, in Gaza, in Somalia, and the next is Lebanon. They are trying in Iran -– by financing the PJAK, the sister arm of the Kurdish PKK. And they won’t stop trying. As for mainstream/corporate media, forget it. It simply cannot speak truth to power because it’s embedded with power.

read more | digg story|by David Manning and Miriam Cotton (MediaBite)