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Christmas protests

Today we will open our presents here in Norway,  while in Russia there will be protests against the fraudulent election earlier this month. I wish the protesters the best of luck. It would be nice if they could open up a democratic Russia when father Christmas comes this year.

I must admit I have my doubts, but this has been a year of surprises and a miracle might still be possible.

The miracle is only possible if the people of Russia takes it into their hands to make this Christmas a time of miracles.  Aleksander Navalny,  one of the most important people in the movement to make the Russian government responsible towards its people, writes on his blog (unofficial english version): Not coming is the same as giving national permission to the Party of Crooks and Thieves to continue cheating and stealing.

I hope many has the courage to attend.

image

Demonstrations on Bolotnaya Square on the 10th of December. Picture borrowed from Wikipedia.

Farewell dear bike engine

Friday my bike engine stopped working. On the way to work with children in the trailer, suddenly everything went black and instead of progress and aid all I got was regenerative braking. The engine settled in the charging mode, so in addition to my own weight, the weight of two kids in the trailer and the weight of the motor and battery I had to overcome the resistance of the engine. Challenging!

I have now clocked in almost a 1000 kilometers on the engine, 1000 kilometers that has given much joy. It has made it possible for me to cycle to work and kindergarten most of the year. Kindergarten is maybe the most important aspect. I have three kids all of them in kindergarten. With two in the trailer and one in the seat on the bike it is heavy to ride. I’m not a lightweight myself, so using the car had probably been the natural choice without assistance on the bike. It would not exactly made me closer to being a sylfide.

I’ve become very fond of my engine. It is a Bion X purchased from the United States. Bicycle engines assists your pedalling. There is no free ride. The engine has two main effects as I see it. It makes it possible to have a heavier load on the bike and you manage to maintain a higher speed over time. Both aspects are helping to make the bike more useful in several situations. I’ve actually come to believe that an electric motor is what it takes to make Norway into a cycling country. We’ll have to realize that going uphill is an effective barrier to bicycle use.

But if the equipment I bought is the standard, there is a bit of work to be done before these engines are common. The electronics are not good enough in my experience. It seems to be to much randomness as to how much power you get out of the engine. It is not always when you need the most help you get the most help. The battery technology also has ways to go, at least when you are using it as I have done. I’ve taken out a significant effect in a short time, because I’ve had so much weight on the bike. I’m also a little unsure of how well the battery has had the winter and salty roads.

In any case, I think it was the battery gave up on my system. So now, I am carefully considering whether I should use the many thousands needed to get a new battery or new engine. The idea of using motor bike is fabulous, but I have doubts about the quality in proportion to the price.

I’d like to hear about your experiences and answer and questions about electric bikemotors if you have some.

The Norwegian elections and the aftermath

The Norwegian election bucked the trend that we are seeing in Europe these days. More and more countries are governed by the Centre-left. It seems like only small countries in the European periphery, like Norway, Portugal and Greece bucks this trend.

The election gave the government a slightly smaller majority than last time, however there were quite substantial changes within the coalition. My party, SV (the Socialist Left) lost four mandates and Labour gained three. This has certainly repercussions. Wednesday, the seventh of October the government released the new platform for the coming four years. This shows a slight move to the right, especially on areas of asylumseekers and immigration.

The debate in Norway and many other European countries has moved to the right over the last years. This is unfortunately mirrored in the new platform. The government intend to raise the bar to get the right to stay in Norway based on humanitarian criteria. I dislike this intensely

On the other hand the new platform is offensive and good especially on climate change and the environment. Here and on equal pay/gender equality and education the platform is quite good. The government states clearly that they want a 40% reduction of climate change gases, which is great but not quite enough and that there should be norms for how many pupils each teacher should be responsible for. On equal pay the government intends to include the labour organisations and the industrial organisations in talks to find ways to ensure that women get equal pay. I they can agree on principles and mechanisms then the government will put up the money.

I am also very glad for many of the things which are stated on international policy. Norway will endeavour to take a leading role in NATO to reduce nuclear weapons. We are open towards reducing our troops in Afghanistan and Norway wil work hard to reduce illegimate debt that third world countries must pay. This is important new steps in the right direction.

On the balance I must say that the platform is OK. SV got more than we could expect with only 6,2% of the votes. There is of course much I would have wanted differently, but in the end the voters decide by which party they support.

What do you think should be the most important choices for Norway in the coming years?

The awfull feeling of being powerless

I watch TV and I read about what is happening in Gaza. And I get this overwhelming feeling of being powerless. Just sitting there watching kids die, watching Israel perpetrating this gross overuse of power. I wish I could be able to do something to make it stop, that my country and the international society together would do something to make Israel stop. Unfortunately Israel seems to be the holy grail of international politics and are allowed to do things we have gone to war to stop in other places. We attacked Serbia after events that were far less damaging than what happens in Gaza.

And, yes I now Hamas has been sending home made rockets into Israel. They are scaring, but the damage is small. Israel’s response is way out of proportion. More important, Israel’s is the occupying force. We may dislike the politics of Hamas, but they won an election and are running a perfect legitimate campaign against the occupier, not much different from what happened in many European countries that were occupied by Nazi-Germany under WWII. Why should the Palestinians have lesser right of resistance than we had?

There is no excuse for what Israel is doing just now, not morally and certainly not legally.

I would like to you a quote from the dailykos:

Like davidminzer, I’m Jewish and descendant of holocaust survivors. Moreover, I’ve been a Zionist all of my life. I went to a Zionist school, I was active in Zionist youth groups. I’ve always been a fervent supporter of Israel as a refuge for Jews around the world who seek a place to exercise their traditions and embrace their identity in peace.

I sang the Israeli anthem in the train rails of Aushwitz-Birkenau and I pledged to fight every day of my life to make sure the savage crimes that had taken place there would never happen again. Every year I pledged: Never Again. Remember and Never forget.

Well, I haven’t forgotten. And so to honor that pledge, to honor the memory of my family members who died in those death camps and because “there comes a time when silence is betrayal”, today I finally and publicly end my support for the state of Israel.

It is sad to see Israel repeating the sins of others.

There is only one way forward towards a lasting peace – as I see it – to states under the borders established in 1967. This means the dismantling of Jewish settlements in occupied territories, and it also means denying millions of Palestinians the right to return to the houses and the land they had to flee from in 1947/48 when Israel was established. It will be traumatising for both nations for sure. And so long Israel has been stopping all possibility of going there through allowing ever more settlements on occupied territory.

We need the world to stand together, we need the US to stand with the world and tell Israel in no uncertain terms that this is the solution the world will accept, and only if Israel empties the settlements will weapons and billions of dollars again flow into the country.

I was luckily able to attend a demonstrations today in support of Gaza. There is a friendship agreement between my city of Tromsø and Gaza. Now Gaza need friends

The Car Industry wins – again

BMW og dei andre tyske bilprodusentane vann fram med kravet om svakare utsleppskrav. Foto anita.trans
BMW and the other German car manufacturers won the battle for lower emission standards. Photo anita.trans

The EUobserver reports that the car industry in Europe yet again have won the battle agains stricter emission rules. The European Union had originally decided that the average car produced in the EU could not emit more tan 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2012. The date is now pushed to 2015, and fines for non-compliance has been reduced.

The EUobserver writes:

In the European Commission’s original car emission reduction proposals, which have been all but gutted, the companies were to have introduced the reductions on all cars sold in the EU by 2012. Instead, there will be a phase-in to allow car companies to adjust.

and

The commission had originally pushed for €95 across the board from 2012, but under the deal, firms will now be fined five euros per car for the first gramme that exceeds the limit, €15 euros for the second gramme and €25 for the third. For four grammes and above, car companies will be fined €95 for each gramme. After 2018, however, the €95 fine will be imposed on the very first gramme that breaches the cut-off.

This change will probably make emissions from new cars in Europe rise slightly in the coming years. From an average of 158 grams per kilometre to 164 grams per kilometre.

The car industry, backed by the major car producing countries has managed to kill a car fuel-efficiency law in Europe for the second time in a decade,” said Jos Dings of Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based environmental group.

It is mainly the German car producers that have lobbied for less strict standards. Generally they produce heavier and more polluting cars than the French and Italian producers. The German government has been involved on the industries side for a long time.  EUbusiness wrote last December:

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the powerful German auto industry slammed a European Commission proposal Wednesday to slap heavy fines on car-makers that fail to meet emissions targets.

So, we know where the power sits. No surprise I guess.

Congratulations Greenland

Yesterday, more than 75 percent of the Greenlanders voted for increased self government. Only one area had a no majority. According to the Norwegian daily, VG, many Greenlanders see this as a step towards full independence. The vote has been welcomed by the Danish Primeminister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. According to Jyllandsposten he says (my translation): – The proposal for greater self government for Greenland has broad political backing on Greenland as well as in Denmark.

Verdas største øy tar eit nytt steg mot sjølvstende. Foto:NASA/Wikipedia
The worlds largest island takes another step towards independence. Photo:NASA/Wikipedia

It will be exciting to see how this develops. An important question will be if Greenland is economically able to support full independence. Today they receive funds from Denmark. Greenland has about 57 000 inhabitants. Independence wil of course be more expensive than todays homerule. Many Greenlanders hope that oil will be found and that will give them the possibility. This is also mirrored in the first comments from Johan Motzfeldt, leader of the social democratic party, Siumut. He said my translation):

The first area we want to take control over are resources. Now we have a mandate to do this.Afterwards we are going to launch a program to exploit this economically for Greenland.

Sermitsiaq writes in an other article that the Scottish company, Cairn Energy PLC is the biggest player in the Greenlandic oil sector. They received two new liscenes off South Greenland just days before the referendum, where the future resource incomes has been the most important theme.

It is the Danish parliament will make the final provisions for what powers should be transfered from the Danish government to Greenland.

You can find individual results from the referendum here.

The EU and the Arctic

The EU takes interest? Photo:NASA
The EU takes interest? Photo:NASA

The EU has for a long time taken slight interest in what has been happening on its northern Arctic periphery. That is set to change. The Commission has just released a communication to the parliament and the council on “The European Union and the Arctic Region”. This could be good news, it could be bad.

A communication like this is often the first step leading to a thorough policy from the Union. The first step is actually quite interesting and , I believe, sets the Union on a right path. Except that is, that this document as so many documents today is schizophrenic. On one hand it makes all the right noises about climate change and the environment. They write beautiful words, such as these:

The vast sea and land spaces of the Arctic region are vital and vulnerable components of the Earth’s environment and climate system. Arctic air temperatures have been increasing twice as much as the global average. Coverage of sea ice, snow cover and permafrost have been decreasing rapidly, triggering strong feed-back mechanisms that accelerate global warming. Accelerated loss from the Greenland ice sheet would raise sea levels rapidly and considerably. In spite of harsh conditions, melting of ice and new technologies will gradually increase access to Arctic living and non-living resources as well as to new navigation routes. Although the Arctic remains one of the most pristine areas on Earth, it will be increasingly at risk from the combined effects of climate change and increased human activity.

It seems that they understand the problem, I thought, for about half a minute. That was the time it took me to reach this paragraph:

Support for the exploitation of Arctic hydrocarbon resources should be provided in full respect of strict environmental standards taking into account the particular vulnerability of the Arctic.

So climate change is extremely important, but we still need to drill for more oil and gas. Somehow that double standard, seen often these days, keeps amazing me. Still I guess it is a step forward the climate change actually is put first in the document. And, truth be told, no other governments are less schizophrenic. I guess there are two good reasons for actually exploiting arctic hydrocarbons. It could possibly make the EU less dependent on Russian natural gas, and natural gas could replace coal fired electricity. I don’t believe either scenario.

However the document contains more than climate change and hydrocarbons. It sets a very interesting path for multilateral cooperation in the Arctic, within the framework of UNCLOS. Even more interesting it ponders the possibilities of setting up new legal frameworks in the Arctic. I think that it would be very good if the parts of the Arctic not under national sovereignty could be handled in the same way as the Antarctic is handled. With a treaty that protects the environment an demilitarizes the polar basin. I have been thinking about this more as a dream, but with the EU warming to the idea it could be a distinct possibility.

They write:

The full implementation of already existing obligations, rather than proposing new legal instruments should be advocated. This however should not preclude work on further developing some of the frameworks, adapting them to new conditions or Arctic specificities.

I tmight still be a dream, but it is a nice one.

Pirates, fish and Somalia

It is a litle bit strange, but fish and pirate has become a pair of words that belong together. We now longer have pirate ships, we have pirate trawlers. The question is, what links the words pirate and fish with Somalia?

Pirate boats alongside the MV Faina. Picture: US Navy og Wikipedia
Pirate boats alongside the MV Faina. Picture: US Navy og Wikipedia

The media has been full of report of pairates off the coast of Somalia. But there has been precious little about fish. Especially heavy coverage was there after pirates seized the ship «Faina», filled with weapons of all kind. Now, we could always where those weapons really were headed, but that is not my theme today. However, in all those media reports, how many really tried to analyse why there are so many pirates in Somalia? Except that is, by calling Somalia a failed state.

According to FAO, the UNs food and agricultural organization around 700 foreign vessels are involved in illegal fishing in Somali waters. This makes it totally impossible to monitor and control the fisheries in any meaningful way. That means that the status of the stocks are unknown. However, I believe we can safely expect the stocks to be in bad shape. Experiences from other places do not give fish stocks that are exploited unchecked good odds. This means that there is litle left for the traditional artisan fisheries of Somalia. These fisheries traditionally employed 30 000 fishermen, and another 60 000 in related industries. These are good boatspeople that now find themselves with litle or no money. OK, what expertise do these people have that can be harnessed in war torn Somalia. Ah, yes, you are right. They can handle boats and the can handle guns. Any career counsellors would see it immediately and counsel you to bring your CV to the nearest pirate establishment.

Of course, lets be clear, loosing your fish does not give you the right to tout guns and kill people, but it goes a long way toward explaining why people would do so. In addition to stealing fish, foreigners, again according to FAO dumped illegal hazardous waste in Somali waters. I can understand that people get angry.

The Chinese paper «Peoples Daily» reported the 21st of February 2006 that:

“Somalia is grateful for recent initiatives taken by the United States Navy aimed at curtailing rampant sea piracy that has been taking place in the territorial waters of Somalia,” said Farah.

“But it will also be pleased if similar action could be taken against illegal fisheries in the Somali territorial waters. The illegal international fishing vessels cause serious damage to Somali marine resources and its environment,” said the minister.

The minister certainly has a good point? Tony Blair had a slogan during an election that I believe would serve us well in this case: «tough on crime, tough on causes of crime». Maybe that should be an international slogan. It would serve us well in more places than Somalia.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the waters off Somalia became an international dump of hazardous waste in the early nineties. They write:

Fishing boats from Italy were reported to have ferried barrels of toxic materials to Somalia’s shores and then returned home laden with illicit catches of fish. Rusting containers of hazardous waste washed up on Somali beaches as recently as 2005, after a powerful tsunami roared through.

But fish poaching has proved far more devastating to Somalis, environmental officials say.

“It’s been like a long gold rush for Thai, European, Yemeni and Korean boats,” said Abdulwali Abdulrahman Gayre, the vice minister of ports and fisheries for Puntland, a dusty, semiautonomous state in northern Somalia that is the bastion of the pirates.

“We have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world,” said Gayre. “Scientists say it is like a rain forest of fish. But our fishermen can’t compete with the foreigners in big ships who come to steal from our waters.”

Many of Somalia’s angry fishermen have picked up rifles and joined the pirate mafias that have seized more than two dozen vessels off the Somali coast so far this year, maritime security experts say.

“It’s almost like a resource swap,” said Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the editor of “Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism.” “Somalis collect up to $100 million a year from pirate ransoms off their coasts. And the Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million a year in fish from Somali waters.”

The most important paragraph is the last. Somali pirates are sophisticated, well trained and smart, but they have only managed to regain one third of what has been stolen or vandalized.

Are we, then, able to say something about how the Somalis themselves look at this business. I have not spoken with any pirates, but the New York Times have. They had a conversation with the spokesman for the pirtes aboard the «Faina». I do not vouch for the spokesman, he might be propagandising, but who would not be? Still he is quoted by NYT:

“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

and

He insisted that the pirates were not interested in the weapons and had no plans to sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia’s weak transitional government. “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons,” he said. “We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.”

Al Jazeera reports that it costs 2,5$ to dump a ton of hazardous waste of Somalia. If you wanted to do it properly, it would cost you a 1000$ or more per ton. That is cost cutitng that matters to the bottom line! In the same article Al Jazeera quotes the UNs envoy to Somalia:

“What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.

Ould-Abdallah declined to name which companies are involved in waste dumping, citing legal reasons.

But he did say the practice helps fuel the 18-year-old civil war in Somalia as companies are paying Somali government ministers to dump their waste, or to secure licences and contracts.

So, there is no doubt that fish, pirates are words that belong together. Still, they belong together in slightly different ways off the coast of Somalia than they do in the Barents Sea.,