Monday, 14 December 2009

Catalonia votes for independence

In a first in the 'balkanic' state that is Spain, one of the nations tries its hand at an independence referendum.
The ballot stems from a coalition of Catalan nationalists, comprisinge left-wing parties and former members of the biggest political group in Catalonia, the conservative Convergencia i Unio

Sure, it is an unofficial, non-binding act, but still an harbinger of things to come. Many in Catalonia hope it is the first step towards a formal consultation for a separate state. Many in Euskadi and Galicia are looking at the experience. At present the Spanish constitution does not allow a real referendum on secession.

Results showed almost 95 percent of those who voted wanted Catalonia to leave Spain, to become an "independent state within the European Union". However the turnout was rather low an only about 30%.

Catalonian nationalists should thread carefully, a binding referendum needs a long period of preparation. Failed referenda like in Quebec, may postpone a nation indefinitely!

Flag of Catalonia

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Treaty of Lisbon becomes Law in 2 weeks

Lisbon Treaty signature - Jeronimos monastery cloister

The Czech Republic deposited in Rome on November 2009 its instrument of ratification. The Czech Republic becomes the final member-state of the European Union to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. It will now become law on December 1st.

Good luck Europe!

After the less than dignified ratification process, we wish that fudged national accounts, subservience to Washington and lack of centralized power will be surmountable obstacles.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Ben Ali wins again

Ben Ali and wife - voting
The incumbent president of Tunisia, Ben Ali, got a ticket for another five-year term. The elderly statesman presides over a corrupt system run by himself, his close relatives and a loyal clique of cronies.

Again the election was rigged in Ben Alis favour. Any legitimacy that he could have claimed stemming from the 1987 coup d'état that deposed President Habib Bourguiba is long gone.

His grip to power is only possible thanks to the uber-present security apparatus, in particular to the feared General Directorate of Public Security. Ali's grip on the media and the economy should also be taken into account. No paragraph gets published without censorship approval. No deal is made without the presidential blessing, and obviously a cut for the Ali clan. But further to this, Ali´s power rests on a largely indifferent populace and absent intelligentsia,  for which daily human rights abuses seem to be of no consequence.

Maybe it is all for the best: Tunisia knows only dictatorship and Islam. If Ali's falls, what are the chances democracy will be on the menu?

Monday, 28 September 2009

Rare Earths - closing the tap!

China produces 97% of the rare earth elements, a near global monopoly. These elements are used in batteries for hybrid cars, mobile phones, superconductors, lightweight magnets, wind turbines, radar systems, sophisticated lenses, military hardware and other high-tech and green technology products. As such products become a greater share of people's lives in both the developing and emerging world, the importance of these metals will continue to rise.

It wasn't always the case, see graph, but cost advantages on the Chinese side led to the closing of mines elsewhere, specially in the US where in addition to this environmental infractions led to the closure of Mountain Pass mine, California, the largest deposit of rare earth metals outside of China. 

Rare Earth production - historical data (1000s tonnes)

Deng Xiaoping once remarked that the Mideast had oil, but the PRC had rare earths. 

During the last 3 years China has gradually reduced the amount of Rare Earths it allows its companies to export.

The export quota for 2009 is 12% lower than for 2008 will be (57,000 tonnes... already the equivalent of a single cargo vessel). For 2010 those in the know expect cuts as large as 30%.

These cuts have the double effect of strangling hi-tech industries outside the People's Republic (making many in the Western defense sector nervous) and forcing hi-tech companies to relocate manufacturing to China, where they can easily procure such raw materials. 

Still, They may be called rare earth elements, but they’re not all that rare. They are more abundant then gold or silver. The 'rare' adjective appears results from the fact that they rarely show up in concentrated form in a mineral or deposit.

More significantly: reserves are not concentrated in China either (see chart, data from the USGS), so with price competitive extracting technologies and adequate environmental procedures, the dependence on China can be broken. Furthermore, if the prices are right, reserves are bound to grow as exploration becomes justified. It may also be worth to think a bit out of the box and look at economically viable way of exploring underwater deposits of rare earths.

Rare Earth reserves


Technical note: There are 17 rare earths that belong to the lanthanide family of elements in the periodic table, beginning with lanthanum (atomic no. 57) and ending with lutetium (atomic no. 71). Scandium (atomic no. 21) and yttrium (atomic no. 39) are also grouped with the lanthanide family because of their similar properties. There are 2 categories of rare earth elements - light rare earths and heavy rare earths - based on their atomic weights and location in the periodic table.
  • Light Rare Earths: Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promethium and Samarium (atomic nos. 57-62)
  • Heavy Rare Earths: Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, Lutetium (atomic nos. 63-71)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

4th of July... 1754

Hey, it is 4th of July!
Lets celebrate!

July 4, 1754: a defeated and humiliated George Washington surrenders "Fort Necessity", to the victorious French forces of Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers!
(the battle of was part of the Guerre de la Conquête / French and Indian War, following the ethnic cleansing operations against the Acadians)

Vive la France!

George Washington was made briefly a POW, but the magnanimous French allowed him and his troops to return to Virginia. France did not exercise revenge against Washington, who was responsible for the assassination of Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, after surrendering to George Washington three months earlier (Battle of Jumonville Glen).

George Washington surrenders to Louis Coulon de Villiers at Fort Necessity 

Monday, 8 June 2009

Pogonophobia - a word for this century

It is June 8, we celebrate the anniversary of the death of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah (pbuh), the senior Islamic prophet, who died in 632, Christian Era.

The fear of the actions of the bearded modern followers of the man from Mecca has a good word for it:

Pogonophobia: fear of beards
noun, Etymology: from the old Greek words for beard (pogon) + fear (phobia).
The adjective form can also come handy these days: pogonophobic.

prophet Muhammad - a barbate representation accepted by the Shia 
(Muhammad created Islam when he was about 40. What was the prophet's faith before that event? A Jew? Christian? or simply an Idolater?)
tomb of the prophet Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia - a must for those doing Hajj or Umrah
the prophet Muhammad after a massacre in a conquerred city

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The butcher of Bissau is no more

João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, President of Guinea-Bissau has been shot, and hacked to death in Bissau.

A violent man, in a violent land, he had it coming for a long time.

Further to the many crimes against the people of his own country, he was responsible jointly with Luis Cabral for the mass execution of the African soldiers of the Portuguese Army that decided to remain in Guinea-Bissau following its independence from Portugal.

These thousands of victims were never vindicated by justice anywhere. Nino Vieira lived in Portugal for several years like an exiled king, spending the proceeds of his corrupt regime and supported by dodgy characters like Valentim Loureiro. Portuguese justice never attempted to go after him. Nino Vieira had too many friends in the two main parties, PS and PSD.

Nino Vieira, the butcher of Bissau

African soldiers of the Portuguese Army and General Spinola

Friday, 27 February 2009

Mining: 30% of exploration companies expected to close

Independent research organization the Fraser Institute has released its Survey of Mining Companies 2008/2009, based on the opinions of 658 mining executives and managers worldwide.

Economic slowdown led the vast majority of mining executives to expect a severe contraction in exploration activity, and at least 30 percent of exploration companies going out of business.

Udachnaya pipe open-pit diamond mine, Yakutia, Russia

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Feb 3, 1509: the Indian Ocean becomes a Portuguese Lake

Portuguese fort of Diu
We celebrate 500 years of the battle of Diu (Gujarat, India). On February 3rd 1509, a Portuguese fleet under Dom Francisco de Almeida routs a large armada of Ottoman, Gujarati, Mamluk, Kozhikodi, Venitian and Ragusan forces.

This was a game changing event, the Ottomans were contained. For the next 100 years the Indian Ocean would becomes a Portuguese Lake and for 350 longer an European pond. Diu was eventually lost to the Indians in 1961.

World trade was transformed for ever: the old land routes controlled by the Turks and continuing into the Mediterranean became irrelevant, intercontinental sea trade was born, a true revolution in transportation.
Flor de la Mar - Portuguese Carrack - flagship of D. Francisco de Almeida in the battle of Diu
Dom Francisco de Almeida - Viceroy of India

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Iceland on the Carpet!

It was on the ropes for quite a while, but now it is on the carpet and the countdown is over: after last October ´s Banking system collapse, now the Government resigns amid widespread protests. Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced the resignation of his cabinet, after talks with coalition partners failed. New elections will take place in May.

Local banks, accumulated debt during years of rapid expansion, and now owe about six times the country's annual GDP. Money from all over the world flocked into Icelandic banks chasing interest rates of over 10%.

Iceland enjoyed all the benefits of being of the world´s most prosperous countries until 2007. By 2008 the signs of an impending meltdown were conspicuous. The crisis intensified in the last few days, leading the Government to resign. Iceland’s banks were highly over leveraged and deep in debt, after massive expansion abroad, in particular in the UK.

It is stunning to see a first world country collapse so swiftly!

But this may be just the start of something bigger. Inside the Eurozone, particularly in the peripheral countries, several economies suffer from chronic imbalances, usually blamed on lack of structural reform and debt from excessive state spending.

Detail of 1000 Icelandic Kronur bank note