Thursday, February 12, 2009

Daily Sources 2/12

1. Rebecca Wilder reports that the US Census Bureau's release today shows that world demand for US exports is shrinking dramatically, and includes a graph demonstrating the decline in the top 12 US export markets:

"This chart illustrates monthly goods (not including services) shipped to the US' top twelve export markets spanning Jan 2000 to December 2008. The obvious export plunge is underway across the US primary export markets. The top six export markets by share are Canada (20% in December), Mexico (11.3%), and China (5.4%), Japan (5.06%), the UK (4.3%), while next six biggest export markets by share are France (2.03% in December), Singapore (2.31%), Belgium (2.35%), Brazil (2.36%), the Netherlands (2.84%), Republic of Korea (2.92%), and Germany (4.25%)."
Worth a look.

2. Salman Masood at the New York Times reports that Rehman Malik, the senior security official in Pakistan's Interior Ministry, gave a televised news briefing today in which he said, "Part of the conspiracy was done in Pakistan ... and I want to assure our nation, I want to assure the international community, that we mean business." Malik indicated that six new suspects had been arrested, including "the main operator," presumably meaning the mastermind or logistical coordinator.

3. David Morgan at Reuters reports that the US is moving military "assets," including naval vessels, into areas near North Korea. This is apparently in response to Pyongyang's possible decision to test-fire another of it missiles. (h/t Galrahn at Information Dissemination.) Meanwhile, State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood in the daily press briefing yesterday seemed to suggest that deliberations over how best to negotiate with Pyongyang regarding the situation would take place via the Six Party framework meeting hosted in Moscow Thursday-Friday next week:
"MR. WOOD: I’d have to refer you to the Russians because they are chair of this Six-Party working group on – I think it’s peace and security in North Asia. But I believe it’s supposed to take place February 19 and 20, but I – we’ll be sending a team.

QUESTION: Do you know who is going to represent the U.S.?

MR. WOOD: Let me see if I’ve got anything on this. Looks like we’re sending Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Arvizu, who will lead – it’s an interagency delegation. And that’s all I have.

QUESTION: And what’s on the agenda?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I’ll refer you to the Russian Government. But again, it has to do with the Six-Party framework."
The Six Parties are the United States, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and North Korea.

4. Marlise Simons and Neil MacFarquhar at the New York Times report that the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of the president of Sudan--Omar Hassan al-Bashir. This is the first time the court has ordered the arrest of a sitting head of state. The question, of course, is who, exactly, will carry out the arrest? Although the move will likely be greeted by many as a step forward for justice for the people of southern Sudan being genocided by the Janjaweed, I have to wonder about the efficacy of such a move. Clearly, al-Bashir will remain a welcome visitor to, for example, Beijing. Efforts to negotiate a working long term peace agreement between the fighting parties in Sudan will likely be complicated. That said, apparently a majority of UN Security Council members (who could order the court to suspend its proceedings) think al-Bashir is such a disingenuous interlocutor that there is little point in pursuing a negotiated solution to the ongoing conflict.

5. Jose de Cordoba at the Wall Street Journal reports that a panel of former presidents of Mexico--Ernesto Zedillo, Colombia--César Gaviria, and Brazil--Fernando Henrique Cardos--released a study which argues that the US "drug war" is pushing Latin and South American societies to the breaking point.
"The report warned that the US-style antidrug strategy was putting the region's fragile democratic institutions at risk and corrupting 'judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces.'

The report comes as drug violence is engulfing Mexico, which has become the key transit point for cocaine traffic to the US."
The panel made a series of recommendations including the decriminalization of marijuana. Obviously the second great Prohibition has been an abject failure and in effect exports instability globally. What the report does not appear to address are the constituents who benefit so hugely from the current drug policy, including, for example, the prison industry just as much as criminal cartels. Politically, ending the drug war would be a very, very big job.

6. Juan Forero at the Washington Post reports that Chávez supporters have destroyed the offices of municipal and regional offices the opposition won in recent elections, as part of an effort to thwart, apparently, their exercise of the authority of those offices. This news comes as Chávez's referendum which would allow him to run for president indefinitely is scheduled to come for a vote again this Sunday.
"In November's elections, for the first time since Chávez took power, opposition candidates scored wins in populous, economically key states and cities. In the days that followed, they began to pay the price.

In the western border state of Tachira, the government-controlled assembly refused to swear in the governor-elect, César Pérez Vivas, for two months. He has since taken office but still does not have control of the police. In Miranda state, the new governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski, saw oversight of hospitals transferred to the state.

No one, though, has faced as many obstacles as [newly elected Mayor of Greater Caracas Antonio] Ledezma, who oversees a $1.2 billion budget and four large municipal districts. Among the frustrated officials is Ángel Rangel, who oversees civil protection operations in Caracas. He said he and his staff found city vehicles, paperwork and computer files missing. And then they were ousted from their offices.

'They destroyed the building, all the contents inside. They destroyed the previous information for the last four years,' he said."
Chris Hawley at USA Today reports that goods are becoming sparse in Caracas markets--probably not due, as Hawley suggests, to a reduction in oil revenues, but perhaps as political punishment for choosing the wrong candidate.

7. Platts reports that Petrobras issued a statement today saying that it would spend $47.8 billion by 2013 on downstream projects as part of its five year plan's budget of $174.7 billion. The plan calls for the construction of six new refineries plus upgrades. The statement also said that its $1.5 10 year bond issue completed yesterday was three times oversubscribed. "The notes, which have a yield of 8.125%, were distributed to over 230 investors."

8. Muklis Ali at Reuters reports that the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, urged today the national oil company, Pertamina, to build refineries to cut imports of petroleum products. There have been many reports of various national and international oil firms partnering with Pertamina to build refineries, including Iran, China, and--most recently in the news--Royal Dutch Shell via an Indonesian offer made to the Dutch Prime Minister during a visit to Jakarta.

9. Bob Willis at Bloomberg reports that retails sales went up 1% in the month of January.

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