Saturday, April 18, 2009

US State Dept on Durban Review Conference

Durban Review Conference. By Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
US State Dept, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC, April 18, 2009

The United States is profoundly committed to ending racism and racial discrimination. This abiding commitment to the fight against racism and all forms of discrimination arises from the most painful pages of our history, and the most cherished values of our nation. We believe that people of every color and creed are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that equality and nondiscrimination are fundamental principles of international law.

The United States will work with all people and nations to build greater resolve and enduring political will to halt racism and discrimination wherever it occurs.

The United States is deeply grateful to the many country delegations, including Russia as chair, and senior United Nations officials who have worked steadfastly to improve the review conference outcome document and to re-focus the Durban Review Conference squarely on racism and discrimination. We applaud the progress that has been made. The current document is significantly improved compared with prior versions, which is an accomplishment for all who aim to build a world free of every form of discrimination.

However, the text still contains language that reaffirms in toto the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) from 2001, which the United States has long said it is unable to support. Its inclusion in the review conference document has the same effect as inserting that original text into the current document and re-adopting it. The DDPA singles out one particular conflict and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. The United States also has serious concerns with relatively new additions to the text regarding “incitement,” that run counter to the U.S. commitment to unfettered free speech.

Unfortunately, it now seems certain these remaining concerns will not be addressed in the document to be adopted by the conference next week. Therefore, with regret, the United States will not join the review conference. The United States remains fully committed to upholding the human rights of all individuals and to fighting racial discrimination of every form in every context. We will continue to work assiduously in all United Nations fora and with all nations to combat bigotry and end discrimination.

WaPo: Stem Cell Sense - NIH research guidelines avoid some moral minefields

Stem Cell Sense. WaPo Editorial
NIH research guidelines avoid some moral minefields.
WaPo, Saturday, April 18, 2009

BY LIMITING federal funding to research on stem cells derived from embryos that were created for reproductive purposes and that were slated for disposal, the National Institutes of Health's draft guidelines, issued yesterday, offer an intelligent solution to an issue that demanded great sensitivity. While a decision with such deep moral and ethical considerations shouldn't have been left to scientists alone, the NIH outcome is a good one.

President Obama issued an executive order last month that lifted the ban on federal funding of research on stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001, and he instructed the NIH to develop guidelines for the research. Because stem cells can be transformed into different kinds of cells, scientists (and quite a few hopeful patients and their loved ones) believe them to hold the key to cures for a host of debilitating diseases and conditions, such as Parkinson's. But because stem cell lines are grown from human embryos, many people have ethical or religious objections to their use. President George W. Bush proposed a compromise that limited federal funding to a set of existing stem cell lines. But they proved too few, limiting potential research.

The draft guidelines hew closely to those at other entities, such as the National Academy of Sciences. Would-be parents who go to clinics for in vitro fertilization generally create more embryos than will be implanted, and embryos not used are destroyed or kept frozen. The guidelines would allow couples to donate embryos for research, as long as they are not paid and are fully informed of their options. Federal money still wouldn't be used to create the stem cell lines from such embryos, but if that work is done with private money, federally funded research could make use of those stem cells. Above all, federal funds wouldn't be used to create embryos for use in research. After a public comment period, final guidelines will be issued by July 7.

The NIH apparently based its decision partly on scientific considerations -- that the new limitations wouldn't unduly restrict research -- and partly on other considerations. Pointing out that there is "broad public and scientific support for stem cell research" on lines derived from embryos created for reproductive purposes, the NIH's acting director, Raynard S. Kington, said that there isn't support for stem cells derived "from other sources." That political assessment really is a job for the White House. But delegation -- or abdication, depending on your point of view -- in this case produced a sensible result.

J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon on the lessons of Fan and Fred

'The Largest Failure'. WSJ Editorial
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon on the lessons of Fan and Fred.
WSJ, Apr 18, 2009

'Perhaps the largest regulatory failure of all time." That's how J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon describes the "inadequate regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" in his annual shareholder letter, released this week.

Mr. Dimon devotes nearly a quarter of the 28-page letter to analyzing what caused the panic of 2008, and he hands out plenty of blame all around. But he calls it "amazing" that Fannie and Freddie were allowed to grow "larger than the Federal Reserve" thanks to Uncle Sam's implicit guarantee of their obligations.

Mr. Dimon gets obviousness points for observing that Fan and Fred's regulator "clearly was not up to the task," but he's too polite, or cautious, to say why: For years, the two mortgage giants twisted arms on Capitol Hill to keep that regulator weak, and Fan and Fred's Beltway friends obliged. Today, of course, all those same enablers claim that they really did want better regulation, and it was the "other guys" who stood in the way. But that wasn't the tune that Barney Frank, for example, was singing when he advocated "rolling the dice" on Fan and Fred's "safety and soundness" in exchange for more money for affordable housing.

In his letter, Mr. Dimon raises a cry of "never again." But as we move toward creating a "systemic risk regulator" that supposedly will bring to heel two dozen of the largest and most politically savvy financial institutions in the world, the lessons of Fannie, Freddie and their hapless regulator remain all too relevant.

WaPo: Justice for the Uighurs - Chinese Muslim detainees should be welcomed into the US

Justice for the Uighurs. WaPo Editorial
Chinese Muslim detainees should be welcomed into the United States.
WaPo, Saturday, April 18, 2009

FOR THE PAST seven years, 17 men have been held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees who the U.S. government acknowledges should never have been there. They are not enemies of the United States or its allies and have not engaged in violence against U.S. or other interests. Yet these men -- ethnic Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs -- continue to be prisoners of years-old mistakes, ancient hostilities and modern-day diplomatic failures.

The United States cannot return the men to China for fear that they will be mistreated or even tortured; the Chinese government considers them part of a terrorist group and has itself detained or abused Uighurs even when there was no evidence that they engaged in violence. The Bush administration tried for years to find the Uighurs a home in a third country, but to no avail; the Chinese government has threatened to retaliate politically against any nation that offers the Uighurs a haven.

Efforts to free the Uighurs through court proceedings have fared no better. Last fall, a D.C. federal judge ordered the United States to release the men into this country, but the order was overturned in February by an appeals court that reached the legally defensible conclusion that the judge overstepped his bounds because only the executive branch and Congress have the right to admit people into the country. This month, lawyers for the Uighurs appealed to the Supreme Court. Even if the court accepts the case, a decision would be unlikely to come until next year. In the meantime, 17 innocent men will continue to be confined on an island naval base ringed by barbed wire.

We have previously urged the administration to accept one or two of the detainees as a show of good faith and in an effort to spur ambivalent allies to take in the others. But the time has come for the United States to accept full responsibility for wrongly holding the Uighurs and to act boldly to rectify this miscarriage of justice. President Obama should grant asylum to all of the Uighur detainees, subject to confirmation that they have not engaged in any acts of violence. The International Uighur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, a well-regarded organization based in Washington, has promised to provide housing and other support for the men if they are welcomed into the country.

This may prove a delicate proposition for Mr. Obama. After all, releasing the men to foreign countries is one thing; inviting them to live next door to Americans is quite another. But the risks of allowing the Uighurs into the country are offset by evidence that they never held any animus toward the United States or its citizens and never engaged in acts of violence against the United States or its allies. So concluded the Bush administration, which determined that the men were not enemy combatants. Allowing them into the country would be a small but important step to make up for seven years of unjust and unjustifiable incarceration.

The Ethanol Bubble Pops in Iowa - More evidence the fuel makes little economic sense

The Ethanol Bubble Pops in Iowa, by Max Schulz
More evidence the fuel makes little economic sense.
Manhattan Institute, Apr 18,. 2009

Dyersville, Iowa

In September, ethanol giant VeraSun Energy opened a refinery on the outskirts of this eastern Iowa community. Among the largest biofuels facilities in the country, the Dyersville plant could process 39 million bushels of corn and produce 110 million gallons of ethanol annually. VeraSun boasted the plant could run 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the demand for home-grown energy.

But the only thing happening 24-7 at the Dyersville plant these days is nothing at all. Its doors are shut and corn deliveries are turned away. Touring the facility recently, I saw dozens of rail cars sitting idle. They've been there through the long, bleak winter. Two months after Dyersville opened, VeraSun filed for bankruptcy, closing many of its 14 plants and laying off hundreds of employees. VeraSun lost $476 million in the third quarter last year.

A town of 4,000, Dyersville is best known as the location of the 1989 film "Field of Dreams." In the film, a voice urges Kevin Costner to create a baseball diamond in a cornfield and the ghosts of baseball past emerge from the ether to play ball. Audiences suspended disbelief as they were charmed by a story that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality.

That's pretty much the story of ethanol. Consumers were asked to suspend disbelief as policy makers blurred the lines between economic reality and a business model built on fantasies of a better environment and energy independence through ethanol. Notwithstanding federal subsidies and mandates that force-feed the biofuel to the driving public, ethanol is proving to be a bust.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, Aventine Renewable Energy, a large ethanol producer, lost $37 million despite selling a company record 278 million gallons of the biofuel. Last week it filed for bankruptcy. California's Pacific Ethanol lost $146 million last year and has defaulted on $250 million in loans. It recently told regulators that it will likely run out of cash by April 30.
How could this be? The federal government gives ethanol producers a generous 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit and mandates that a massive amount of their fuel be blended into the nation's gasoline supplies. And those mandates increase every year. This year the mandate is 11 billion gallons and is on its way to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

To meet this political demand, VeraSun, Pacific Ethanol, Aventine Renewable Energy and others rushed to build ethanol mills. The industry produced just four billion gallons of ethanol in 2005, so it had to add a lot of capacity in a short period of time.

Three years ago, ethanol producers made $2.30 per gallon. But with the global economic slowdown, along with a glut of ethanol on the market, by the end of 2008 ethanol producers were making a mere 25 cents per gallon. That drop forced Dyersville and other facilities to be shuttered. The industry cut more than 20% of its capacity in a few months last year.
What's more, as ethanol producers sucked in a vast amount of corn, prices of milk, eggs and other foods soared. The price of corn shot up, as did the price of products from animals -- chickens and cows -- that eat feed corn.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry reacted by standing with the cattlemen in his state to ask the Environmental Protection Agency last year to suspend part of the ethanol mandates (which it has the power to do under the 2007 energy bill). The EPA turned him down flat. The Consumer Price Index later revealed that retail food prices in 2008 were up 10% over 2006. In Mexico, rising prices led to riots over the cost of tortillas in 2007. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and other international organizations issued reports last year criticizing biofuels for a spike in food prices.

Ethanol is also bad for the environment. Science magazine published an article last year by Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University, among others, that concluded that biofuels cause deforestation, which speeds climate change. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration noted in July 2007 that the ethanol boom rapidly increased the amount of fertilizer polluting the Mississippi River. And this week, University of Minnesota researchers Yi-Wen Chiu, Sangwon Suh and Brian Walseth released a study showing that in California -- a state with a water shortage -- it can take more than 1,000 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol. They warned that "energy security is being secured at the expense of water security."

For all the pain ethanol has caused, it displaced a mere 3% of our oil usage last year. Even if we plowed under all other crops and dedicated the country's 300 million acres of cropland to ethanol, James Jordan and James Powell of the Polytechnic University of New York estimate we would displace just 15% of our oil demand with biofuels.

But President Barack Obama, an ethanol fan, is leaving current policy in place and has set $6 billion aside in his stimulus package for federal loan guarantees for companies developing innovative energy technologies, including biofuels. It's part of his push to create "green jobs." Archer Daniels Midland and oil refiner Valero are already scavenging the husks of shuttered ethanol plants, looking for facilities on the cheap. One such facility may be the plant in Dyersville, which is for sale. Before we're through, we'll likely see another ethanol bubble.

Mr. Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.