TCS Daily


Energy Empire

By Richard Weitz - June 2, 2006 12:00 AM

Vice President Richard Cheney warned Russia against using oil and gas sales as "tools of intimidation or blackmail" in that strongly worded speech in Vilnius. Since then, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials have affirmed that Cheney's remarks represent the Bush administration's consensus view. Although this newly confrontational approach has provoked the expected hostile response in Russia, it might eventually engender greater international energy cooperation.

The rest of the world would benefit from additional Russian energy production. More Russian oil and gas would help curb rising global energy prices and further diversify international supply sources. Increased production would also generate extra revenue that the Russian government could use for social welfare, economic development, and other priorities.

Yet, Russia cannot substantially increase its oil and natural gas production without implementing major changes in government policies and private practices. Russia has the world's largest reserves of natural gas, and at least the fourth largest oil reserves. Many of these deposits, however, are located in remote areas with challenging geophysical characteristics. Russia needs foreign capital and technologies to exploit these fields and upgrade its aging energy transportation infrastructure.

Attracting the necessary foreign investment will require the Russian government overcome outsiders' perception that political factors determine its energy policies. Moscow has repeatedly exploited Russia's status as the dominant corridor for almost all Eurasian energy transit routes by cutting exports and imports of oil and gas from governments that pursue independent economic and political policies. Most prominently, Moscow's abrupt suspension of natural gas deliveries to Ukraine immediately before that country's parliamentary elections earlier this year has reinforced the appearance that Russian officials wield energy as a political instrument. Attempts to gain control over energy pipelines in Belarus and other countries also undermine foreign confidence in Russia as a reliable energy supplier.

At home, the Putin government's efforts to retain absolute control over national energy assets dampen foreign interest in developing Russia's energy resources. Pledges to allow opportunities for private actors, whether Russian or foreign, to own energy fields and pipelines remain unfulfilled. Attracting substantial foreign capital to modernize and expand Russia's energy transportation infrastructure will require the Putin administration to end Transneft's and Gazprom's monopoly ownerships of Russia's oil and gas pipelines. Policies that discriminate among investors, undermine property rights, and sustain corrupt practices also discourage foreign direct investment.

To gain the confidence of Western investors, Russian energy companies must make their ownership and pricing decisions more transparent. The influence of these firms on Russian energy policy is immense. Gazprom already is the world's largest natural gas producer. Many current and former members of the Putin administration sit on its corporate board and those of other Russian energy firms. These owners and managers too often appear preoccupied with redistributing existing income and assets. Instead, they should devote more attention to expanding Russia's energy exports through increased production and conservation.

As the main markets for Russian energy exports and the most important sources of investment and technology, Western countries enjoy some influence over Russian policies. Western leaders must highlight to Russian officials the negative consequences of their counterproductive behavior. They also should discourage their own energy firms from tolerating illiberal Russian practices in the hopes of receiving special treatment.

Some Russians rejoice at their newfound status as an energy superpower. They see oil and gas as replacing the army and navy as the key pillars of Russian foreign policy. More far-sighted Russians recognize that energy wealth alone will not transform Russia into a strong, technologically advanced economy that is better integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Additional revenue from oil and gas exports will not ensure that Russia becomes a liberal democracy underpinned by free market principles. Nor will most Russians prosper if their country becomes an energy empire dominated by an oligarchy of wealthy business leaders and their political allies.

Richard Weitz is a Senior Fellow and Associate Director, Center for Future Security Strategies, Hudson Institute.

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39 Comments

Scarcity determines value
Why would Russia want to increase gas and oil production now, when supplies are more plentiful than they will ever be in the future, and prices are low?

Why not just wait another twenty or thirty years, and then be the king of the market when other sources of fossil fuel are nearing exhaustion? Putin doesn't look like a dumb guy. Maybe he has figured this out.

Putin's Stupidity
Putin isn't all that bright --- except for his own self-interests. He's focused on power and the return on many of the old ways. "You can take the boy out of the KGB, but you can't take the KGB out of the boy." The Russians I know that have come to the United States, many of which have started companies that deal in the old Soviet republics, are afraid of what Putin will do and angered by the way he has stunted both democracy and economic growth in Russia. All have family members still in Russia.

While some people may say that by maintaining scarcity of these resources Putin is helping to keep prices high and thereby keep the profits on Russian oil/gas high, they are wrong. Like the Arabs of the 1970s, they never got beyond Economics 101. Eventually, this will result in an economic downturn that will hurt the whole world --- and Russia worse than anybody because it's economy is so fragile and undiversified. And Russia fails to have the significant, strong small-business base of other countries.

IF Putin is wise enough, he would not be focused on the profit motives. Given his political bent, he MIGHT be hoping for that downturn and use it as an excuse to extend his power, extend his term-in-office and return to the old communist, authoritarian ways. The Russians I know are already wondering what crisis Putin will concoct in order to void the Russian constitution and extend his presidency beyond the two-term limit.

Putin has already moved to reduce freedoms, notably freedom of the press. He has stifled dissent and turned the radio/TV and press into government-controlled entities. When criticized for Putin's human rights stance, Russie's internal minister stated that the Russian government will determine what human rights are for the Russian people. Great reasoning!!

Putin has used his political power to murder his own people in order to exacerbate the Chechen issue by blaming these deaths on Chechens. He nationalized the nation's oil and gas production --- and did it in a sneaky way --- by having them acquired by another company, which happened to be controlled by the Russian government.

Putin is supporting Iran in the old Middle-East politics of the USSR versus the USA. Why? Supporting Iran can give Russia nothing but what was seen as a defense against a security threat from the US on the USSR's southern underbelly. That threat no longer exists. But Putin is exacerbating the instability of that region and will be using it as a further excuse to change things back to what they were before 1991.

RUSSIA's best interests rest in dealing with the USA and other European countries in terms of exploitation of its energy resources. We have the technology to work in siberia, where many of these resources are. Russia does not --- but it does have the resources. China has long had its eye on those resources. Moreover, Russia no longer has the military strength to deal with a Chinese invasion of Siberia. The time is not yet right for China --- but it will be. The location of US and other NATO assets in Siberia could be a deterrent to Chinese aggression. It would be one thing for them to excite the world's disdain by attacking Siberia. The Chinese don't give a rat's ass about anybody but themselves anyway. (Example: Their position on human rights and intransigency in the face of world opinion.) It would be another thing to threaten NATO countries' assets.

Putin may be smart in terms of feathering his own nest at the moment. He does not, however, see the long-term implications of his actions for the Russian people. Or, maybe he does and just doesn't care. He's made his fortune in how many Swiss bank accounts?

No Subject
Because Putin will be dead and he has major problems now. One is his desire to assert power, but he's a relatively poor country and so needs rubles to do so (see Hugo Chavez). Second is present value. Its not at all certain that the oil will be worth more on a PV basis if he waits. He needs to move Russia back to player status as soon as possible.

time cost of money
money made now, is worth more than money that will be made in future, or might never be made.

The assumption that oil will cost more in the future is also not certain.

I wouldn't think so
Your first argument would be beside the point of Putin is that sort of person we don't see any more in the US-- a patriot with the best interests of his country at heart. I see nothing in his track record to demonstrate that this is not the case. Therefore I must admit that it is a possibility. And for a patriot, keeping the oil in the ground right now would be the very best long term strategy.

Russia's not that poor a country at the moment. At least not poor to the point where they have to kill the cow this year. And re your contention that Russia needs to be a "player"... why, exactly? They're doing okay right where they are now. I think you're imposing the kind of develop-or-die thinking that reigns in this country on other countries-- and that's probably not wise.

As for your second point, I'm unfamiliar with your jargon "on a PV basis". But it is certain as anything can be that oil will cost more in ten years than it does now-- relative to the price of anything else. And that it will cost even more in twenty years, and so forth. Oil prices are on a one way trip into the forseeable future.

Nothing is certain
Back in the 80's people like you were claiming that oil would be $100 a barrel in 10 years. Instead the price collapsed by half, and more.

That oil will be going up is far from guarenteed.

interesting
I find it very interesting that roy praises Putin, a man who is willing to suspend civil rights, throw adversaries in jail on trumped up charges. Willing to allow civilians to be killed. Willing to let his military kill anyone who Putin believes threatens the interests of the nation.

Now compare roy's attitude towards Putin, with his attitudes towards Bush.

I guess the difference is that Putin is an avowed communist.

These ex commie washouts are just stealing now to drop the risk on their folks later.
These ex-commie pinkos are simply stealing assets now while the prices are high. In the future when prices drop, and commodity prices always do, these folks will no longer be in office or simply find other scapegoats for their theivery.

A better idea is to sell all the national assets to local and foreign investors. Then these folks will more efficiently manage the business and make future investments without public risk.

One thing is certain
You'll just say anything that comes into your head, won't you? Doesn't have to be true, hell... it doesn't even have to be plausible.

Back in the 1980's there was NO ONE saying oil would go to $100 a barrel in ten years. No one. However in 2003 every expert was telling us oil would probably stay stable in the $30-40 range for the next several years.

Supply is now running nearly flat out, while world consumption is taking off for a wild ride. Are you telling me there won't be hundreds of millions more cars on the road in the next several years?

Oh god... more Markist philosophy
1) Putin is not an avowed communist.

2) Your comment is a remarkable illustration of how badly your brain is miswired. I make an emotionally neutral statement to the effect that Putin is intelligent. You respond, not with comments that might point to his alleged stupidity, but just more crap from your grab bag of value judgments.

Putin suspends civil rights. Putin jails his opponents. Putin lets civilians be killed. I could add to this list. These are some of the many things I don't like about the methods he uses to maintain power, same as you. But none of this has the slightest thing to do with the man's intelligence.

He came to power during an extremely unstable political period and has successfully consolidated a power base centered on his person-- not on the liberal bloc, nor on the nationalist bloc, nor on the communist bloc. That's a real achievement.

The guy is bright. And my impression is that in his own way he is a true Russian patriot, doing what he thinks is best for his country.

PS a majority of Russians agree with him.

What do they have in common?
What do Communists, National Socialists, modern liberals, and Islamosfascists have in common? They all want to control you and me.

I would like to see the USA and western world dump all muslim nation oil suppliers.........
and switch to intensifying supplies from Russia. Russia does spill more, waste more, and steal more than Saudi Arabia pumps out at maximum capacity. The problem with Russia for now is that they need to bring their full capacity to the world markets. Moscow is a full decade behind in building new pipelines to Europe, China, and Japan. The first Russian supertanker docked in Texas 3 years ago and we should all hope they manage to dock in the USA every week. The middle east is unreliable, manipulative, and prone to turn the screws on the west whenever it suits their political demands. In addition, the USA should be dealing more with Colombia, Canada, and tapping our own reserves in Alaska to the point where we can be fully independent from Saudi Arabia and Iran. I believe Putin and Moscow are smarter to realize their long-term future and well-being depends on a profitable relationship with the west. Sure, Moscow can sell some weapons to the theocratic regimes in the middle east, but that will never pay the bills on the scale Russia's economy requires. I do hope that Putin and the west realize that they need each other, more than they need the muslims of the east. The Great Power Games begin again, but today there is much more at risk.

some elementary facts about oil production and prices
The notion that it makes sense for Russia (or any other country) to purposely hoard it's oil in the ground so as to get higher prices in the future is based on the assumption that a country can quickly pump out all of it's oil and then have no more. But that isn't how it works. It takes time and nvestment to begin oil production and then it takes a very long time to deplete or use up an oil resource base.

The U.S. is an excellent example because it probably has the most mature and fully exploited oil fields in the world. In 1950 the U.S produced about 2 Billion Barrels of oil per year at an averate value of about $4 per barrel. Total value of oil produced in 1950 was about $8 Billion. In the year 2006, after 56 intensive years of production the U.S. is still produced over 1 Billion barrels per year at an average value of about $60 per barrel. Total value of oil produced in 2006 will be at least $60 Billion.

During those 56 years the U.S. has increased it's gross national product per capita enormously in both absolute and inflation adjusted terms. It would not have been logical 56 years ago for the U.S. to limit oil production in order to "save oil for the future" andit is not logical for Russia to limit oil production in order to save oil for the future.

This does not, of course, mean that Russia will not be foolish enough to do that. Countries, like people, are capable of all sorts of foolishness.

any foreigner who buys shares or invests in Russian oil deserves what he gets
The Russian government recently jailed the chief executive and basically seized the assets of Yukos after a few years of fanfare about free enterprise. Investing for the long term in Russia is a very foolish thing, about as logical as forming a joint venture with Vito Corleone.

I have no doubt that some companies will do it, and they will no doubt show good results on paper for a period of time, but in the long run they will be shorn like the sheep they are to the Russian government.

the best policy would be to limit reliance on any one source of supply
I'm not a big fan of regulation, but this is an area where government should act to limit reliance on any one source of oil so that we maintain a reasonable level of infrastructure for importing oil from many varied sources.

This is also an area where I hate to admit it but the Democrats have been (occasionally) right for a while during those times when they haven't been taking cheap poilitical shots about high gasoline and energy prices. We should impose a significant and steadily growing tariff on imported oil and imported products (like plastics) which are basically just oil converted to another form. That would be the most efficient way to encourage more energy efficiency and also the development of long range substitutes.

Events in Iraq have proven that we are not suited to behave like an imperial power or a world policeman. Hence we must begin to put ourselves in position to behave more like a citadel. Trade with the world but do not trust the world or take responsibility for it. They have oil. We have food, technology and a system well adapted to produce more of the same. I think they will trade.

Two kinds of people
There are, of course, people who think that if you have a tree, naturally you should cut it down. You can sell the wood and spend the money. Then you will have... what, exactly?

Then there are other people who don't see things that way. Perhaps they are less desperately in need of money. Or perhaps they think about things more carefully.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think there will be a year 2100? Will there still be people living on earth then? Or is this just some needless abstraction to you?

In the old days a conservative was a person who conserved what the earth had to bestow upon us, so that he could pass it along intact to his children, and to his children's children. If that person diminished his patrimony he felt like he had squandered his inheritance, and done a grave disservice to his line.

What ever happened to that kind of thinking?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
The general understanding in Russia is that Khodorkovsky was one of the wolves. He challenged Putin politically, not being content to remain an instant billionaire after the privatisation gold rush in which he was the principal winner.

But Putin was another wolf. And Putin won. There can only be one wolf in charge.

I don't doubt that Khodorovsky was also a predator. . .
The substance of my message was/is that an investor in Russian companies is a fool since he will be unarmed among the wolves who obey only the law of the jungle.

Don't get me wrong, as an energy user I hope there will be many fools who invest in Russian oil because that will expand world production capacity and lower the equilibrium price. The Russian wolves can steal the revenue, but they will still need to sell the oil to get it.

An answer to your question
I think there will be a year 2100 and I think we and our children will have done a reasonable job of preserving the world for their children. I think that industrial progress and rising productivity aid in achieving that aim more than luddism.

By then I think fossil fuel oil will be an exotic old fashioned industrial substance little used, perhaps mostly as a base for synthesization of other compounds - something like pine tar is today. It will still be valuable, but it will not be as valuable as it is today in terms of purchasing power.

Oil in the ground is not comparable to a tree if you are speaking for instance of a fruit tree which provides value each year, or even a shade tree which moderates the brightness on your deck. It can be compared to a mature tree which has ceased to grow at a productive rate, is not on its downside toward death and which is not located in a recreation area where forest primeval is the desired state of things.

As it turns out the wife and I purchased and own a lot more trees and natural land than the vast majority of people. We preserve that land as a sort of semi-private park for ourselves, our neighbors and pretty much anyone who wants to quietly use it without recourse to noisy contraptions. No one had to force us to do that. On the other hand the threatened passage a few years ago of a state law which would have made it illegal to cut down trees over 100 years old without a permit caused me to survey the property with our son and note the location of trees approaching that age. Thankfully the legislature pulled back from that law, but I'm wary since the evil notion that spawned it is still abroad in the world and growing in this country. The day that passage of such a law becomes probable those trees come down.

By the logic of your definition of conservative and your notion about always keeping and never using natural resources the European governments would have clamped down and prevented travel across the oceans to preserve North and South America as a park inhabited only by indigenous peoples in a state of nature.

Bringing cash into Russia
Right. Investing in Russian energy-- or Russian anything-- is for the professionals only. People with bodyguards and a lifetime's experience in mafia tactics. It's a rigged game, with the government on top.

I doubt that they or anyone else possessing oil for sale will have any trouble finding buyers. They can sell it to Europe, or to China.

It will be interesting to see what happens in 2008, when Putin steps down.

Extrapolating from the local to the global
That's nice that you're preserving a little patch of paradise-- I mean that sincerely. I have every confidence that you'll be preserving some wealth for your kids, and that you've brought them up to do well by their kids. But i don't quite get the leap from there to the global situation.

We're now about 6-1/2 billion people going on nine billion. We'll be testing the carrying capacity of the planet. Let's take a look at Brazil, which is possibly a more typical pattern of use than your little piece of the country.

They're trying to be self-sustaining without using that oil in the ground (they don't have any). So to do that they have to cut down the tropical forest and plant soy and tobacco for dollars and sugar cane and other crops for bioenergy. They also need to put up some of it in food crops, for them and for the beef trade.

When you cut down the forest you no longer have the sponge that soaks up the rain. So the land dries out. Then you pull up fossil water from the aquifers. When that's dry, then what?

Look at anyplace lots of people used to live thousands of years ago. What do these places look like today? We are creating deserts by our overuse of lands like India. It's unfashionable to say so today, but we need far fewer people if anyone is to be doing well into the 2100's.

To every thing there is a season. In 1700 Europe was full of people and short on promise. They needed the exansion room. And if we had a fresh planet to move into today we could use the extra space ourselves. But the frontiers are now closed, and we need to switch gears and start preserving the lands that are now at their best and highest use, and reclaiming lands that aren't being properly used so we can convert them. Even so, there won't be nearly enough room to hold the infrastructure that keeps us rich. We need to divide a finite pie among fewer people.

My own state is rapidly filling up, with the wild places along the coast now almost fully converted to millionaire beach developments and the spaces along the inner coastal waterways now being rapidly filled in. It's becoming harder every year to find anyplace within reach of the water that isn't private property. Ultimately we have to think about where we're going to be growing our food, and how we're going to be bringing water to the fields. This kind of thinking has nothing to do with Ludditism.

We're in a different world now, with not many wide open spaces left. We need to think about writing the manual for its maintenance and care. It's going to have to last us for a long, long time.

You need to examine the contradictions in your positions
This week you decry population increase and the filling up of your state. Last week you were arguing strenuously for unlimited and uncontrolled immigration.

In you preceding post you decried the use of oil in the ground to supply energy needs. This post you are decrying use of the land to grow crops to substitute for the energy.

Re population there is a simple solution for anyone who believes the world would be better off with fewer people. They should not have kids. If they believe abstinence from reproduction isn't enough they should consider suicide. Like it or not the world of 2001 will belong to those who reproduce.

I'm a somewhat unusual conservative because I personally favor abortion and think it should be subsidized and promoted. No one should be too poor or too ill informed to get an abortion if they don't want a kid. Most liberals favor the same policies I do - but I think I may be more honest with myself about my motives. I think that anyone who doesn't want to reproduce should be assisted in every way possible to achieve their aims.

Actually though I think that population increase is yesterdays problem. The affluent world is undergoing demographic transition, so it will stabilize its own population. At the same time the elites of the affluent world are working to discredit all absolute moral codes and conveniently raising up a generation which believes all morality is relative and personal. That generation or its successors will have no problem finding justifications for handling population pressures in the non-affluent parts of the world if those should threaten what they have or want.

If, after all, homo sapiens is merely a species among other species equally worthy of existence in the world then it is quite logical to manage his numbers as one manages the numbers of deer or mosquitos for one's own convenience.

But enough gloom. Eat, drink, and make merry, for all of this is mere philosophizing in any event. If man should irreversibly wreck the world, as did the first oxygen producing green plants, his successor will eventually arise and make something of it before wrecking it once again.

It will be interested to see IF Putin steps down
One of the problems with saddling and riding a tiger is that the ride is exhilirating, and it can be very dangerous to dismount.

Maybe not riding a tiger but training lions
You're right, there's no way to say for certain until it happens. However I would be kind of surprised to see Putin succumb to the lure of power and change the rules of the game to stay in place.

The only scenario I could imagine where this would happen would be Russia in the grip of some crisis, and no one around capable of handling it. This is just opinion, but I think Mr P identifies with Russia, and wants to do what he thinks is best for the country. By comparison, many countries are run by dumb guys who just want power for themselves and their clique-- say Zimbabwe or Myanmar, for example.

Putin has no clique. For him the soloviki (the old security apparatchiks) are just another special interest group he has to placate a little, threaten a little and get them to sit on their stool-- like the lion tamer he essentially is.

I used to work in the circus, briefly, and liked watching the lion guy work on his act every morning. His thing was to get seven young, impulsive and barely trained lions all in a small cage and intimidate them, setting one off against the other until they were all buffaloed. Then he'd goad them into sitting on their stools. It was a masterful act, really a juggling act with big cats, and reminds me very strongly of how Putin controls all the ungovernable factions in Russian politics.

Russian Energy Politics
While it is true that the world would benefit from increased production by Russia in the oil and gas markets, there is one heavy qualification: That Russia comes to the table as an open trading partner, and not just an aggressive oil-producing country. Because the last thing the world needs at this point is a nation with vast oil reserves using them to blackmail smaller countries. Russia has shown its willingness and desire to control the areas surronding it once again, as evidenced in the recent involvement in the Ukrainain election.

My internal contradictions
Funny, but I don't see a real contradiction in my feeling that the world has more people than its carrying capacity and the notion that some of them are moving to NC in search of work. It's not like we're creating more of them, they're just moving around some.

And if those who are coming here, I'm of the personal opinion that the Mexicans I know are more congenial and less intrusive neighbors than the people buying up $600,000 beach villas. They're the ones making our formerly public beaches over into gated communities. And the dredging necessary to create their pleasure boat berths and wide sandy beaches is wrecking the spawning beds the fishing industry relies on.

I know... it's progress. We should be glad to have our taxes increased to pay for the newcomers' kids to go to new schools.

I'm out of the running in the race for the commons. I chose not to have children, and late in life married a woman who had had four. So we even out at two per.

I would have been pleased if our president hadn't de-funded the women's health clinics in Africa unless they promised not to teach anyone about birth control or abortion. But I guess he needs the votes of those of us who are just waiting a round for the Second Coming.

You can be blithe about the world "undergoing a demographic transition" if you like. I'm less so, since I realize the path we will take from Level A to Level B will go through global resource wars bloodier and on a greater scale than anything the planet has seen before. It won't be pretty, but I agree at some point in the not distant future we will forcibly trim our numbers by several billion souls.

Meanwhile "the elites of the affluent world are working to discredit all absolute moral codes", so I guess I should just take your advice, pop a couple of valium and cheer up. That would be one way of looking at it.

I think the real contradiction is between my internals and my externals.

Dare I conflate the two threads
Your trust in Putin's good faith and good intentions is touching. Coming from a more cynical position I would say it's not his good intentions that matter but his good policies. On this score he is clearly failing the test against the success of the economic policies of both China and India. Tens of millions of Russians are suffering relatively as a result. Real suffering, the kind expressed in terms of significantly shorter life spans.

Not that I think China and India are paradigms or certain continued success stories. I think both are heading toward a 10 or 20 year stagnation period like what Japan did from 1990 to 2005. Governing through a period like that will test both countries forms of governance.

But I have to call you on an issue that bothers me about the left - the reflexive need to make a demon of George Bush. You grant Putin a pass on his pandering to interest groups, but then you write "I would have been pleased if our president hadn't de-funded the women's health clinics in Africa unless they promised not to teach anyone about birth control or abortion. But I guess he needs the votes of those of us who are just waiting a round for the Second Coming."

Women's health clinics in Africa are complicated for me because I think nations should deal exclusively in self interest and leave charity to the decisions of private citizens. As it happens most useful charity is private in any event, and most so called government charity is actually a cynical but not very effective exercise.

On the other had, there is literally nothing more effective we can do to relieve Africa's problems than reducing it's future popul.ation by helping it's women prevent pregnancy and unwanted births.

I'm sorry your memory is so faulty
Supply is not running flat out. There have been several major new finds that will be online in a few years. Oil companies are running flat out looking for, and finding new oil, and new ways to extract existing oil.

This is reality. To bad you can't handle basic reality.

There's nothing roy loves more than a communist who kills his opponents

roy's trust
roy reflexively trusts anyone who opposes the US.

Major new discoveries
I would contest your comment about major new finds. There have been a lot of new fields scoped out, in odd places like the Gulf of Guinea, the Caspian Basin and a number of offshore shelves. But all are in what I would call the medium small range. Certainly there are no more Arabian Gulfs out there.

Then there are the low grade fields, like the tar sands in Alberta and Venezuela. Lots of oil there, technically. But it's energy intensive to squeeze it out of the matrix. So it's a little like all the coal we have. Turning it into fuel costs half as much in therms as you can get from it, mostly from natural gas. And it gives off beaucoups of CO2.

Of course I guess the CO2 is good for us, right? Makes the plants grow. :)

Kills his opponents?
I'm sorry-- I don't seem to be able to read the names you cited. Other than a lot of Chechens, which opponents has Putin killed?

Yes, you could dare
I'm not just flapping my gums about Putin. I do read the Moscow Times, and they publish a refreshingly wide range of opinion on the Russian economy, Putin and kindred subjects. The picture I get is that a strong majority of Russians think he's doing things right. So who am I to bicker with that?

I would offer that the Russian people have a lot of problems they had long before Putin put himself in charge. This is a nation with no talent for making money. Problem drinking and other health related issues are endemic, they all smoke, they have no work habits and they've lost the ability to do much besides rely on the state for relief from their own sloth. Also, I hate to sound racist but if they hadn't retained a handful of industrious Jews, there would be no economy at all.

The guy can work wonders, but not miracles. Malcolm Forbes couldn't do any better with this kind of material to work with.

If you don't like my mention of George Bush, ascribe his health policies to whoever is his Surgeon General, or Commissar of Religious Doctrine, or whoever's in charge of the promulgation of Abstinence Only. The plain fact is that one of his first deeds in office (2001) was to pull the plug on African women's clinics that didn't toe the line. For years they had been teaching the ABC's re AIDS, with excellent results (Abstinence, Be faithful, use a Condom). Since they've had to trim the message down to just Abstinence, AIDS is rampant again among married women whose husbands bring it home.

It's telling that you think public health should be left to "charity" to pick up, and that it's of no concern to governments. This just blows my mind. Women's clinics in Africa have been a tremendous success story-- one you apparently have missed. Now that their funding has been hobbled, things are again getting worse.

Does it just aggravate you that public money used to be spent on improving the quality of human life, before the current crowd got into power? Bono can't do it all single handedly. He needs help on a job this size.

New finds
Gulf of Mexico, Sea of Japan, ANWR.

Let's see. We have people who spend their lives researching oil, who are spending their own money, by the billions, to look for oil.

On the other hand, we have roy, who's been wrong about every time he posts.

Who should I believe?

As to the CO2, there's no evidence it's hurting us, and plenty of evidence that it's helping us.

there's also
the china sea, nigeria, several sites in S. America.

ah yes
a state owned newspaper in a country that has a history (recent at that) of jailing reporters and editors who print things Putin doesn't like.

But we can trust them, because roy's gut tells us Putin is an honest guy.

It aggravates me that you write of . . .
Roy - you asked: "Does it just aggravate you that public money used to be spent. . ,"

It aggravates me that folks don't understand that there is no such thing as "public money." Every penny of money spent by government is privately earned money which has been extracted from someone by force.

So yes it aggravates me when folks decide to "do good" with other people's money.

As it turns out George Bush aggravates me as much for the money he over spends than for the money that you insist he has cut back on. Your attitude simply proves the case for electing a real conservative rather than a fake conservative like Bush. Spending on your sort of mushy causes has increased faster under Bush than under Clinton, yet you still hate him.

The Moscow Times
What utter crap, Mark. Maybe you could at least glance at it before coming up with an opinion on it.

The Moscow Times isn't a newspaper, it's a web site. It isn't state run, but run by the liberal faction that's very visible in business there, although very much out of pwer politically. It's highly critical of Putin.

As for Putin's "honesty", that's a poorly chosen word. "Competence" would be a better choice. He's a very bright guy, and from all available evidence he's not pursuing a path of self interest.

Of course you wouldn't know any of that. Since you already know everything there is to know, you never have to read anything.

Public vs private money
You might want to reexamine the roots of the system. The government prints the money all the capitalists use to keep their place in the game. It is a convenience provided by them so that commerce can be expedited. Therefore they get to publish the rules surrounding its use.

If you don't want to live in a place that taxes individuals please feel free to move elsewhere. Perhaps you can find a nation that is able to provide the full services a capitalist society requires to keep order without using taxation as a means of paying for them.

BTW you are incorrect that social spending has increased under Bush. Programs for the poor have been cut back severely, while subsidies to industry, agriculture and above all military contracting have been responsible for the sharp increase in public spending.

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