Twitter accounts of political giants (Michael Ignatieff has had some nice fish!)

Twitter, eh?  Helps us relate to the great and good like never before.  In times past, I would have spent the day vexed by the impossibility of knowing if Michael Ignatieff had anything nice to eat recently.  No longer!

Just ate some of the best salmon I’ve ever tasted: Atkin salmon, a jewel of the region at l’Auberge Beausejour.

And I could not have known that Shashi Tharoor was feeling peeky…

battling a cold and cough so will call it a night. No reason to suspect swine flu, though! Media-led panic is unnecessary&disruptive

…though that doesn’t stop him feeling pretty good about his day’s work:

addressed an overflowing audience at St Stephen’s on Why Foreign Policy Matters. Impassioned plea to young to care about international relns

I bet it was!  Let’s hope they tweet about it…

Obama to woo world with massive poker tournament

Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice gave a rather good speech at NYU on the Obama administration’s multilateral agenda.  The NYT has a good summary here.  But the prize for journalistic analysis goes too… Casino Gambling Web, “the top online casino gambling news reporting association” (there’s more than one?).

The Obama Administration has made it known that he does not want the US to be viewed as troublemakers anymore throughout the world. On Wednesday, Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations made it know that the US will work with the UN.

That is a completely opposite stance than the Bush Administration had, one in which they spurned any UN global efforts. The announcement Wednesday has many people in the online gambling industry believing that the move is another step towards legalized Internet gambling in the US.

Already, the US is in hot water with the European Commission over their online gambling laws. The EC has done an investigation and found that the US is in violation of European Union trade laws. They have given the US a grace period to come into compliance or risk a problem with the World Trade Organization.

The US and EC have been in contact, and they have said they are attempting to resolve the dispute. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama has addressed problems that other countries have had with the US, as opposed to simply turning their back on these countries.

The desire of Obama to reach out is what has people believing that he will eventually oversee the changing of online gambling laws. There have been two proposals offered in regards to online gambling in the past several months.

Wednesday was a day of hope for anyone in the US who enjoys online casinos. There have been many of these days in the past six months, but with every clue that the US is trying to mend foreign relation ties, comes another wave of enthusiasm.

Um, yes, absolutely, I see your logic there. But hold it (or hold ‘em), there may be something to this after all. As the New Yorker revealed in February 2008, Barack Obama was known as one of the best poker players in the Senate:

Obama never played for high stakes. Only on a very bad night could a player drop two hundred dollars in these games, typical wins and losses being closer to twenty-five bucks. Obama was a “calculating” cardplayer, avoiding long-shot draws and patiently waiting for strong starting hands. “When Barack stayed in, you pretty much figured he’s got a good hand,” former Senator Larry Walsh once told a reporter, neglecting to note that maintaining that sort of rock-solid image made it easier for Obama to bluff.

So perhaps the President wants to lull other countries into a massive game of online poker… and take all their money. Recession over!

Peak oil’s entry into mainstream discourse: now complete

The Independent had an interview with International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol a week ago, in which Birol was unequivocal about peak oil. He said:

The UK Government, along with many other governments, has believed that peak oil will not occur until well into the 21st Century, at least not until after 2030. The International Energy Agency believes peak oil will come perhaps by 2020. But it also believes that we are heading for an even earlier “oil crunch” because demand after 2010 is likely to exceed dwindling supplies.

More on the prospect of a near term oil price crunch here, here and here. In other news, Will Whitehorn and Jeremy Leggett had an op-ed on peak oil in the FT yesterday, querying why the UK government’s recent Wicks review of energy security made next to mention of peak oil.  This passage was a beautifully crafted broadside:

The Wicks review mentions peak oil only once. The relevant passage concludes: “Few authors advocating an imminent peak take account of factors such as the role of prices in stimulating exploration, investment, technological development and changes in consumer behaviour.”

If we imagine a review of financial security in 2006, the equivalent of the cursory dismissal of peak oil in the Wicks review might have read as follows: “Few authors advocating the toxicity of derivatives take into account factors such as the investment banking industry’s sophisticated treatment of risk, and the extent of the due diligence involved in awarding triple-A investment grading.”

There go the supply chains

The FT has a big splash this morning on how concerns about future climate policy and the global downturn are both driving a move away from global supply chains and towards more regional ones.

Companies are increasingly looking closer to home for their components, meaning that for their US or European operations they are more likely to use Mexico and eastern Europe than China, as previously. “A future where energy is more expensive and less plentifully available will lead to more regional supply chains,” Gerard Kleisterlee, chief executive of Philips, one of Europe’s biggest companies, told the Financial Times.

Mr Kleisterlee said businesses needed to find ways to build an economy on a sustainable basis ahead of the Copenhagen summit on climate change later this year, with “a review of global logistics and transport” one of the important steps. He said that until now cheap transport costs had meant “Mexico wasn’t competitive with China for supplying the US”. But he now forecasts that companies such as Philips will use countries such as Ukraine for supplying Europe rather than Asia.

Nor are climate regulation and the downturn the only drivers towards a more regional world – there’s also the prospect of a return to very expensive oil in the near future. If you’re wondering what that means for global supply chains, look no further than what started to happen during 2007:

…competitiveness in steel had already shifted away from Chinese exports and back to North American producers. Soaring transport costs – first on importing iron ore to China from Australia or from halfway around the world in Brazil, and then on exporting finished steel overseas to North America – added as much as an additional $90 onto the cost of what was then $600 per ton of hot rolled steel. That more than offset the Chinese wage advantage on what, thanks to technological change, had become as little as an hour and a half of labor time for that ton of steel.

For the first time in over a decade, made-in-America steel had become cheaper than Chinese imports in the US marketplace. Long before the recession blew up the US steel market, Chinese exports to the US fell 20% between July 2007 and March 2008 – and US steel production was up 10% over the same period. All of a sudden American steel producers were winning back their home market. Who would have thought that tripil digit oil prices could breathe new life into America’s rust belt?

That’s Jeff Rubin, in his very highly recommended new book on what peak oil will mean for globalisation (regular readers will remember his CIBC World Markets research paper on Could Soaring Transport Costs Reverse Globalisation a little over a year ago) – go buy it.

If I were the Chinese government, I’d be worried. First you see your export sector getting hammered by triple digit oil prices.  Then even when they crash to less than half of their pre-spike levels (though n.b. still way above their pre-2000 average of 10 or 20 dollars a barrel, even in the biggest recession since 1929), you find that the downturn’s still driving a shift towards regionalisation in trade.

Time to start investing heavily in a more endogenous growth model, perhaps…

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