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Showing posts from January 21, 2014

Surveillance and Scandal -Time Tested Weapons for U.S. Global Power

By Alfred McCoy

January 20, 2014 - For more than six months, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) have been pouring out from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and Brazil’s O Globo, among other places. Yet no one has pointed out the combination of factors that made the NSA’s expanding programs to monitor the world seem like such a slam-dunk development in Washington. The answer is remarkably simple. For an imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA’s latest technological breakthroughs look like a bargain basement deal when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line -- like, in fact, the steal of the century. Even when disaster turned out to be attached to them, the NSA’s surveillance programs have come with such a discounted price tag that no Washington elite was going to reject them.

For well over a century, from the pacification o…

North America's Railways as an Energy Solution

The American and Canadian energy industries have transformed so quickly that pipelines connecting producing regions with consumption centers are now overwhelmed. Bottlenecks have even led to discounted prices for benchmark crudes such as West Texas Intermediate and Western Canada Select, a prospect that could threaten future investment. (Benchmark crudes serve as a reference price for oil buyers and sellers.) With pipeline projects facing political scrutiny, oil producers have turned to North America's unrivaled railway network. In 2013 alone, rail transport rose by 70 percent. And even though it costs roughly $10 more per barrel to ship it that way than by pipeline, railways offer several advantages. First, they can adapt to increased production volumes because the infrastructure is already in place. Second, they can carry any type of crude, so they have fewer restrictions on where they can take their cargo. For example, light sweet crude extracted from North Dakota's Bakken …

Russia's Growing Regional Debts Threaten Stability


Editor's Note: The following is the first installment of a three-part series on growing debt for Russia's regional governments.

Since the 2009 financial crisis, the Kremlin has allowed Russia's regions to take the brunt of the country's economic decline in order to keep the federal government seemingly healthy, with a nominally small budget deficit and large currency reserves. But now most of Russia's regional governments' debt is so high, it is becoming dangerous for the federal government and big banks and could soon become unmanageable.


Russia is so large that the Kremlin lacks the resources to run each region of the country directly. Currently Russia is split into 83 regions of all shapes and sizes, which fall into categories of oblasts, republics, krais, federal cities and autonomous okrugs. Historically, the Kremlin has given regional leaders (mayors, governors, heads or republic presidents) the power to run their own regions and ensure lo…

Russia and Norway Compete Over the Barents Sea Region

A derelict fishing village on the Russian coast along the Barents Sea in 2010. (PIERRE-HENRY DESHAYES/AFP/Getty Images)


As the geopolitical importance of the Barents Sea region grows over time, so too will the potential for economic disputes between the primary players in the region, Norway and Russia. The countries' foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Borge Brende of Norway, met Jan. 20 in Russia and discussed, among other things, collaboration in the Barents region. The stakes are high given the area's natural resources and potential growth in maritime traffic, and tensions will likely grow as Russia tries to strengthen its influence in the region.


The Barents Sea region spans across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and northwestern Russia. Although the region is roughly the size of Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain combined, it is home to only about 5.2 million people. Most of the population and territory is Russian, as a…