Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Electric vehicles have no impact on emissions

January 22, 2014

If electric vehicles are to succeed they will have to provide the consumer with some real benefits by way of cost or convenience which are more than for feeling good. That in turn depends upon the further development of battery technology and increasing the range of the vehicle on a single charge. The cost of the vehicle and the speed of charging are other key factors.

The supposed environmental benefits are largely illusory since they merely shift the source of power generation (combustion from the internal combustion engine in a vehicle) to a power plant. In the United States this power generation is most likely to be fossil fired (coal or shale gas). A new study shows that even if electric vehicles made up more than 40% of all vehicles, emissions would be largely unchanged. As of 2012 electric vehicles made up about 0.5% of new vehicle sales and about 0.06% (170,000 of 254 million) of all vehicles on the road in the US.

(Phys.org)A new study from North Carolina State University indicates that even a sharp increase in the use of electric drive passenger vehicles (EDVs) by 2050 would not significantly reduce emissions of high-profile air pollutants carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. … The researchers ran 108 different scenarios in a powerful energy systems model to determine the impact of EDV use on emissions between now and 2050. They found that, even if EDVs made up 42 percent of passenger vehicles in the U.S., there would be little or no reduction in the emission of key air pollutants. …..

The energy systems model also showed that key factors in encouraging use of EDVs are oil price and battery cost. If batteries are cheap and oil is expensive, EDVs become more attractive to consumers.

“How Much Do Electric Drive Vehicles Matter to Future U.S. Emissions?” Published: online January 2014 in Environmental Science & Technology pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es4045677

Abstract Image

Energy System Model

Abstract
Hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles—known collectively as electric drive vehicles (EDVs)—may represent a clean and affordable option to meet growing U.S. light duty vehicle (LDV) demand. The goal of this study is twofold: identify the conditions under which EDVs achieve high LDV market penetration in the U.S. and quantify the associated change in CO2, SO2, and NOX emissions through mid-century. We employ the Integrated MARKAL-EFOM System (TIMES), a bottom-up energy system model, along with a U.S. dataset developed for this analysis. To characterize EDV deployment through 2050, varying assumptions related to crude oil and natural gas prices, a CO2 policy, a federal renewable portfolio standard, and vehicle battery cost were combined to form 108 different scenarios. Across these scenarios, oil prices and battery cost have the biggest effect on EDV deployment. The model results do not demonstrate a clear and consistent trend towards lower system-wide emissions as EDV deployment increases. In addition to the tradeoff between lower tailpipe and higher electric sector emissions associated with plug-in vehicles, the scenarios produce system-wide emissions effects that often mask the effect of EDV deployment.

This “lulu” is a “lemon”

January 13, 2014

I had never heard of Lululemon till today. Yoga and black, transparent stretch pants are just not me.

image from racked.com

image from racked.com

Apparently they specialise in yoga clothes and are (or were) “upscale and very trendy” (which suggests to me that their products are/were unnecessary and extremely pricey). Their black stretch pants ($98) turned out to be transparent when stretched and had to be recalled. Their “outgoing chairman and founder Chip Wilson said in early November that some women’s body shapes “just actually don’t work” for Lululemon’s yoga pants, prompting a backlash from some customers”.

  • “lulu”Informal – one that is remarkable or wonderful
  • “lemon” – Informal. a person or thing that proves to be defective, imperfect, or unsatisfactory; dud: Our car turned out to be a lemon.

With a name like that I suppose today’s news report was inevitable.

Reuters:Upscale yogawear retailer Lululemon Athletica Inc (LULU.O) cut its quarterly forecast as the company struggles with the lingering effects of an embarrassing recall and controversial comments by its founder, sending its shares down 15 percent.

Lululemon has been under pressure since March after it recalled some of its signature black pants that proved too see-through. …. Vancouver-based Lululemon warned last month that weaker sales would hit the crucial fourth quarter ending February 2. …… 

Troubles at the company have been compounded by complaints about product quality and comments by outgoing chairman and founder Chip Wilson.

He said in early November that some women’s body shapes “just actually don’t work” for Lululemon’s yoga pants, prompting a backlash from some customers. … Lululemon shares were trading at $51.60 before the bell, after closing at $59.60 on the Nasdaq on Friday. They have fallen about 11 percent since the recall in March.

Chip Wilson founded the company in 1998. He chose the name Lululemon because “It was thought that a Japanese marketing firm would not try to create a North American sounding brand with the letter “L” because the sound does not exist in Japanese phonetics. By including an “L” in the name it was thought the Japanese consumer would find the name innately North American and authentic.” Rururemon would not be a threat clearly. 

There are a number of weird stories about him and his company. He apparently blames birth control pills and smoking for high divorce rates, approves of child labour, believes that illness is a choice and that “Health attracts health, Sickness attracts sickness.” 

But I suspect that Mr. Wilson having completed his $327 million IPO in 2007 and now having resigned as Chairman is not particularly concerned.

Still with a name like that, it was only a matter of time before the “lulu” would turn out to be a “lemon”.

Jaguar Land Rover now the jewel in the Tata Motors crown

January 12, 2014

When the Tata Group acquired Jaguar Land Rover from Ford Motors in 2008 there were many voices in the UK which were highly sceptical. Shareholders in India were concerned that group debt would be too high. They were scared that managing JLR from India could be too big a mouthful and would jeopardise the growth of Tata Motors and its core business in India. In the UK there were fears that the British automotive tradition and history would be threatened.

But five years on, this acquisition has been a resounding success. So much so that it is JLR and its growth which is now providing the bulk of the revenue (72%) and the profit (88%) for Tata Motors and which has more than compensated for the Indian operations which are stagnating in the current downturn.

It is JLR which is now truly the jewel in the Tata Motors crown.

The all-aluminum F-TYPE Coupe range will deliver, in production form, the uncompromised design vision of the Jaguar C-X16 concept, and will complement the existing  F-TYPE Convertible, winner of the 2013 ‘World Car Design of the Year’ award.

The all-aluminum F-TYPE Coupe range will deliver, in production form, the uncompromised design vision of the Jaguar C-X16 concept, and will complement the existing F-TYPE Convertible, winner of the 2013 ‘World Car Design of the Year’ award.

Bloomberg: 

Jaguar Land Rover, the luxury-vehicle division of India’s Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT), reported record global sales last year, driven by growth in the Asia Pacific and China region.

Jaguar Land Rover’s total worldwide sales rose 19 percent last year to 425,006 vehicles, according to an e-mailed statement. Jaguar brand sales jumped 42% to 76,668 vehicles, the most since 2005, while Land Rover increased 15% for an annual record of 348,338 vehicles, the company said.

Jaguar Land Rover, which Mumbai-based Tata Motors bought from Ford Motor Co. in 2008 for $2.5 billion, accounted for 72 percent of group revenue and 88 percent of operating profit for the year ended March 31. In the quarter ended in September, Tata Motors posted profit that beat analyst estimates as rising Jaguar Land Rover sales outweighed a loss at the parent company’s Indian business. …… 

…. Sales in Asia Pacific and the China region jumped 30 percent during 2013, North America rose 21 percent, the U.K. grew 14 percent, Europe 6 percent and other overseas markets increased 23 percent, according to the statement. 

Under Tata, Jaguar and Land Rover have targeted emerging markets such as China and Russia for growth. In 2013, Jaguar Land Rover had record sales in 38 markets, including Russia, Brazil, Korea and Canada.

The sales growth in 2013 was driven by Jaguar’s F-Type convertible and Land Rover’s Range Rover and Range Rover Evoque models, it said. The F-Type began shipping in May.

It was “a great year in which we have seen some incredibly exciting new models launched to customers across the world,” Andy Goss, Jaguar Land Rover Group sales operations director, said in the statement. “The Range Rover Sport, F-Type, new engines and drivetrains, and a number of 14 Model Year enhancements to our existing lineup have seen Jaguar Land Rover continue to build strong sales momentum in every global region.”

My top 10 investment and disinvestment areas for 2014

January 2, 2014

I am relatively new to the world of personal investments and these are just based on my personal gut-feel:

  1. Oil and Gas companies – but only if they also have – or acquire – fracking reserves. I am staying away from those  gas producers who are overly dependent on “conventional” natural gas and have not embraced shale gas. If the economic recovery (globally) is confirned by Q2 then the “blue chip” oil companies become attractive again.
  2. I shall get out of wind and solar energy developers. Subsidies are declining and developers and plant operators are going to be hard pushed to retain their advantages. On the other hand manufacturers of unconventional energy equipment (off-shore wind, fuel cells, batteries, geothermal ….) and who are really spending their own money on R & D (as opposed to spending government grants) are attractive in the long term.
  3. Even with a solid economic recovery, there will be a time lag before the demand for special steels and other metals picks up. Metals and mining may becoming interesting again but only at the end of the year. Australian mining becomes attractive if the “green” burdens are lifted.
  4. Cement and bulk steels will respond first and manufacturers well established in Asia and Africa seem particularly interesting. I like cement in India for the second half of 2014.
  5. Rare earths will remain in short supply and economic recovery will give prices which justify development of new mines and new resources. Investing in China has its own risk profile though. Japanese rare earth development companies could be of interest.
  6. Big Pharma’s evergreen and predatory patenting will come under further attack not only from India and China but also from Indonesia and Africa. The whole IPR model is flawed which makes for uncertainty. I shall avoid new investment but hold what I have.
  7. Social media monopoly positions will be weakened and new media will grow. I haven’t the faintest idea of how to pick any winners from the newcomers here. There has to be a backlash against intrusive advertising and I think this will cap revenue growth.
  8. There is a battle brewing between tablets and mobile devices. A single device which is as small as a mobile and which can expand to the size of a large tablet (perhaps even as large as a desk-top through glasses) would be a winner.
  9. Large retailers are due for a boom in the second half of 2014 and especially those with positions in the developing world.
  10. There are going to be new winners from Africa and Brazil but I don’t know how to pick them and therefore must wait and see.

2013 report card – the year some alarmist bubbles burst

December 31, 2013
  • The global warming fantasy is falling apart
  • Fossil fuels have no significant part to play in climate
  • There is no over-population crisis as fertility rates decrease globally (but there may be a population decline by 2100)
  • There is no food crisis 
  • Poverty levels have decreased globally and are continuing to decrease
  • Infant mortality rates have decreased globally and are continuing to decrease
  • Nuclear power policy is beginning to recognise that fears about safety (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima not withstanding) are grossly exaggerated
  • Shale gas and methane hydrates have delayed any energy crisis by about 1,000 years
  • Fossil fuels and nuclear power are recognised as being critical in withstanding a Little Ice Age or a new glaciation
  • There is no resource crisis (whether for fuels or rare earths or trace metals), and finding new sources or alternatives responds to need and demand
  • There is no crisis of culture as Occidental decadence and Oriental thrift are combining to rejuvenate a global culture
  • Longevity is increasing
  • The crisis of religious fanaticism continues and will remain till religion becomes obsolete
  • The days of the nation states and their tensions are not yet over
  • The conflict between individuals and authoritarian societies continues (irrespective of type of political system they exist in)
  • Parents are increasingly abdicating their responsibilities for their children and passing them on to society
  • “Fact” is being increasingly determined by majority opinion
  • “Consensus” of belief rather than evidence is being taken as proof of scientific hypotheses
  • Aging is increasing but the elderly are underused
  • Democracies are getting less democratic
  • “Democracy” is over-rated

Will buying “likes” on Facebook and Twitter translate into votes?

November 29, 2013

Perception can be reality. And fake “likes” are being used to generate fake perceptions of popularity and goodness. Whether humans are dumb enough to be taken in by fake perceptions and whether perceptions can be converted into real voters and customers remains to be seen.

The assumption within the public relations and advertising industry is that  buying “likes” on social media actually leads to some advantage for the person/thing/company being liked. Clearly some companies perceive “likes” as being an effective – if unproven -advertising form. There seems to be no shortage of people offering ways of buying and boosting “likes”. Offers are readily available to arrange “2000 Facebook likes for only $17, or 5000 for $35 or 100,000 for $500″. Carlo De Micheli and Andrea Stroppa have been looking at Twitter and the underground market

De Micheli and Stroppa

De Micheli and Stroppa

 

We estimated fake accounts make up for 4% of Twitter’s user base

Does this make sense?

  • Facebook makes it harder to create fake accounts yet openly declares: “As of June 30, 2012, we estimate user-misclassified accounts may have represented approximately 2.4% of our worldwide MAUs and undesirable accounts may have represented approximately 1.5% of our worldwide MAUs. 
  • Every account can follow up to 2000 people. 
  • By statistically excluding overlapping fake accounts, just on the 12 main marketplaces (Fiverr, SeoClerks, InterTwitter, FanMeNow, LikedSocial, SocialPresence, SocializeUk,  ViralMediaBoost), it turns out there are around 20M fake followers on sale right now. 
  • Followers are sold at an average price of $18/1000 followers (barracudalabs). 
  • Sellers can make between $2 and $36 per fake account 
  • Multiplying it out definitely shows a multi-million-dollar market

Apart from entertainment figures wanting to boost their apparent popularity, the buying of “likes” has now become a routine matter for politicians facing elections. They are relying on the herd mentality to lead  to an increase of votes in their favour. The risk they take is that humans – when acting as a mob or a herd – don’t like acknowledging or being accused of acting like dumb animals. But the risk of this backlash is being taken as being small. Politicians in India are now all rushing to buy “likes” – as just another legitimate advertising ploy. They have been paying for favourable articles about themselves and negative articles about their opponents in the print media for many years. But even the most socially illiterate politicians – who wouldn’t know a tweet from a twit – are spending a great deal of money to be able to show huge numbers of “likes”!

What part fake likes and dislikes are going to have in the Delhi elections next week and the national elections next year, remains to be seen. It could be quite effective in a city like Delhi where the penetration of social media among the new urban population is high  but among whom political awareness is still relatively new.

FirstPostIn a new sting operation, Cobrapost has revealed how certain IT companies in India are working to manipulate social media campaigns by buying fake FB likes and followers on Twitter, and running negative campaigns against rivals of their clients and also engaging in creating panic among minority groups. The report states that the most of these companies are working on the behest of BJP and Modi, but also work for Congress sometimes, and in addition manage campaigns for multinational firms, corporations etc as well. …….  In a statement to Firstpost, Facebook said that where fake likes and profiles are concerned, “It’s a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity, and we encourage people to report anyone they think is doing this.

CobrapostOperation Blue Virus also makes certain stunning revelations. If the claims of the companies exposed are to be believed, among political parties, BJP is at the forefront in social media campaign, so is its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, with scores of companies working overtime for him. This puts a question mark on the claims of the BJP leadership that there is a wind blowing in favour of their party and Narendra Modi. The larger-than-life-image that Team Modi has assiduously carved out for Modi over the past one decade may not be that real, rather invented, and is reminiscent of the Goebbellian propaganda, to sway the opinion of gullible public. It is no surprise then that even a milder criticism of the BJP’s star campaigner invites scathing attacks from his followers on social media, claimed to be in millions in count. 

Paul Joseph Goebbels would have been in his element.

 

Hollande’s France is dragging down the Eurozone and the world

November 15, 2013
Photo - AFP

Photo – AFP

Francois Hollande is a socialist of the old school and about a century behind the times. Fundamentally he has few new ideas beyond tax the rich and create more public sector jobs. He is not even very popular at home just now – but the French have only themselves and Sarkozy’s excesses to blame for having him there. Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual excesses also helped. He makes impossible promises with a straight face. He promises to cut state spending without reducing public sector jobs. He will improve competitiveness without  reducing state subsidies. And he has promised to reduce unemployment by the end of this year. Nonsense promises are not doing much for his credibility.

France’s credit rating is falling and even The Guardian has little good to say about his administration:

The GuardianFrance’s second credit-rating downgrade by Standard & Poor’s in less than two years is as damaging politically for the socialist François Hollande as it was for his rightwing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who lost the election shortly after France lost its AAA rating in January 2012.

S&P directly attacked Hollande’s economic policy, questioning the socialist government’s capacity to repair Paris’s stuttering economic motor. It said the problem with France was that the government’s tentative reforms were not enough to lift growth in the eurozone’s second largest economy.

Hollande, recently found to be the most unpopular French president on record in a poll by BVA, was already struggling to sell his economic measures to the nation. “The recovery is here,” Hollande declared in August after a small rebound in growth following months of stagnation. But real, sustained growth is expected to be slow in returning. …… 

And now the economy of France, along with that of Italy, is actually shrinking. The global recovery needs Europe  – and not just Germany – to do its bit. Instead, Hollande’s schoolboy economics are not just threatening the Eurozone recovery but actually threatening to postpone the recovery.

ReutersThe euro zone economy all but stagnated in the third quarter of the year with France’s recovery fizzling out and growth in Germany slowing. The 9.5 trillion euro economy pulled out of its longest recession in the previous quarter but record unemployment, lack of consumer confidence and anaemic bank lending continue to prevent a more solid rebound.

In the three months to September, the combined economy of the 17 countries sharing the euro grew by a slower than expected 0.1 percent. In the previous quarter it rose 0.3 percent – the first expansion in 18 months. The euro fell to a session low in response.

The French economy contracted by 0.1 percent, snuffing out signs of revival in the previous three months. It had been expected to post quarterly growth of 0.1 percent and has now shrunk in three of the last four quarters. ……. 

Unemployment is still increasing even though the number of French seeking jobs outside the country is also increasing. The rich have been fleeing Hollande’s swingeing taxes in droves.

The Telegraph: 

France’s economy has buckled once again amid official warnings of an explosive political mood across the nation that threatens to spin out of control.

French output fell by 0.1pc in the third quarter and Italy remained trapped in recession, dashing hopes of a sustained recovery in Europe. “It is no longer a question of whether the eurozone can achieve ‘escape velocity’, but whether it can grow at all,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro.

The latest data show a continued erosion of France’s industrial base and export share. It risks shattering the credibility of President François Hollande, who has been talking up recovery for months. A YouGov poll showed his approval ratings have dropped to 15pc, the lowest recorded for a French leader in modern times.

While the risk of a eurozone bond crisis has greatly receded since the European Central Bank agreed to act as a lender of last resort in July 2012, this has been replaced by slow economic attrition. It resembles the mid-1930s slump under the Gold Standard and is fuelling political crises in a string of countries.

Le Figaro said loss of confidence in the French government is turning dangerous, citing a confidential report based on surveys by “prefects” in each of the 101 departments. “All across the country, the prefects described the same picture of a society that is angry, exasperated and on edge. A mix of latent discontent and resignation is being expressed through sudden eruptions of fury, almost spontaneously,” said the document. The report warned that people were no longer venting their feelings within normal social structures. Increasing numbers are questioning the “legitimacy” of taxes. …… 

But there is no sign that Hollande will change from his classic policies of more taxes to support a profligate state sector and a bloated welfare system. Regulated austerity is called for but Hollande’s approach will only lead to an unregulated, painful and enforced austerity as in Greece and Spain.

I still believe in Europe and in many French firms but I have taken the precaution of shifting some of my (small) savings out of French stocks. France has not reached its bottom yet!

Afghan opium harvest reaches record high and Western troops prepare to withdraw – after a job well done?

November 13, 2013

This Afghan war started on 7th October 2001. Ostensibly the US, NATO and Western allies invaded to dismantle the Al Qaida infrastructure, remove the Taliban from power and to eradicate their support base by winning hearts and minds.

Twelve years on, about 10,000 Afghan security forces and about 5,000 allied forces (including contractors) have been killed. The numbers of Taliban and other Islamic fighters killed is believed to be many more than the 15,000 allied losses – perhaps as many as 30,000. Around 18,000 civilians have also lost their lives. The Taliban are still around and apparently gaining strength. I am not sure whether the intention was to destroy the drug trade or whether it was secretly to secure drug supplies. In any event the opium harvest has never been as high before.

History will have to tell us if this was a job well done or something else.

Reuters: Afghan opium crop hits record high ahead of Western withdrawal

Afghan opium cultivation has hit a record high as international forces prepare to leave the country, the United Nations said on Wednesday, with concern that profits will go to warlords jockeying for power ahead of a presidential election next year. The expansion of poppy to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres), will embarrass Afghanistan’s aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency. …..

The area under poppy is 36 percent higher than in 2012, and eclipses the previous record set in 2007, when 193,000 hectares (477,000 acres) were cultivated, the U.N. anti-drugs agency said in a report. Total output is estimated at 5,500 tonnes of opium, up 49 percent from 3,700 tonnes in 2012. Farm-gate profits are expected to approach $1 billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product. Some of those profits will be funneled off by the Taliban to fuel their insurgency. …… 

A kg of opium costs some $200 at the farm-gate. This produces about 100 g of pure heroin. The street price of heroin is about $170 per gram (2012 prices) for typically 40% pure heroin (75% is considered high). The $200 dollars for the 1 kg of opium is thus marked-up to about $40,000 as street-heroin. If the profits at the farm-gates are $1 billion, it can be expected that the profits on the streets from the processed drugs must be of the order of 50 – 100 times greater.

A steady profit stream of $50 – 100 billion per year clearly will – and does –  cause many to salivate.

The Spoils of War:

Each kg. of opium produces 100 grams of pure heroin. The US retail prices for heroin (with a low level of purity) is, according to UNODC of the order of $172 a gram. The price per gram of pure heroin is substantially higher.

The profits are largely reaped at the level of the international wholesale and retail markets of heroin as well as in the process of money laundering in Western banking institutions. 

The revenues derived from the global trade in heroin constitute a multibillion dollar bonanza for financial institutions and organized crime.

France does Israel’s bidding and “spoils” nuclear deal with Iran

November 10, 2013

The French – Israeli nuclear cooperation goes back a long way to 1956. That Israel’s “secret” Nuclear Weapon’s programme has long been assisted and enabled by the French is also one of those open secrets that is never officially acknowledged.

HaaretzMay 9, 2007

Israel and France once made a secret deal to produce a nuclear bomb together, according to a new biography of Vice Premier Shimon Peres. The deal was later cancelled, but the disclosure in the book by historian Michael Bar-Zohar sheds new light on the depth of France’s involvement in Israel’s nuclear program.

Bar-Zohar told Reuters his information came from recently released documents from Israeli and French government archives relating to the key role Peres, now 83, played in launching Israel’s nuclear project more than half a century ago. The book divulges new details of how Peres served as a behind-the-scenes architect of Israel’s military might, securing weapons secretly and buying an atomic reactor from France. …

Experts believe Israel has used the Dimona reactor it built with French help in the 1960s to produce as many as 200 nuclear warheads. Israel neither confirms nor denies it has atomic weapons, saying only it will not be the first country to introduce them to the Middle East. …..

The most significant, experts say, is a secret agreement Peres signed in 1957 with then French Prime Minister Maurice Bourges-Maunoury in Paris, several months after the deal for the reactor was concluded. “It stated in so many words that the two nations would cooperate in research and production of nuclear weapons,” the book says.

France ultimately scrapped that agreement several years later under the weight of enormous United States diplomatic pressure for it to cease its nuclear cooperation with Israel.

The so-called formal scrapping of the deal has long been recognised as a public relations gesture which has little to do with actual cooperation on the ground. Now Israel probably has something in excess of 100 and maybe up to 200 nuclear warheads.

Federation of American ScientistsIn the fall of 1956, France agreed to provide Israel with an 18 MWt research reactor. However, the onset of the Suez Crisis a few weeks later changed the situation dramatically. Following Egypt’s closure of the Suez Canal in July, France and Britain had agreed with Israel that the latter should provoke a war with Egypt to provide the European nations with the pretext to send in their troops as peacekeepers to occupy and reopen the canal zone. In the wake of the Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union made a thinly veiled threat against the three nations. This episode not only enhanced the Israeli view that an independent nuclear capability was needed to prevent reliance on potentially unreliable allies, but also led to a sense of debt among French leaders that they had failed to fulfill commitments made to a partner. French premier Guy Mollet is even quoted as saying privately that France “owed” the bomb to Israel.

On 3 October 1957, France and Israel signed a revised agreement calling for France to build a 24 MWt reactor (although the cooling systems and waste facilities were designed to handle three times that power) and, in protocols that were not committed to paper, a chemical reprocessing plant. This complex was constructed in secret, and outside the IAEA inspection regime, by French and Israeli technicians at Dimona, in the Negev desert under the leadership of Col. Manes Pratt of the IDF Ordinance Corps.

That Israel is not happy that Iran may reach a deal with the West and get sanctions lifted and be able to continue with the bulk of their nuclear program is only to be expected. That Israel would turn to France to be the spoiler in the discussions with Iran is also not surprising. And it is patently obvious that France is doing Israel’s bidding and is being intransigient at the Geneva discussions.

But how long can or will France be ready to continue in their “spoiler” role? Francois Hollande has enough troubles of his own not to also wish to be seen as Netanyahu’s poodle.

Perhaps a year?

The GuardianSunday 10 November 2013

Three gruelling days of high-level and high-stakes diplomacy came to an end in Geneva with no agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, after France blocked a stopgap deal aimed at defusing tensions and buying more time for negotiations. …

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also sought to play down the disagreements that had surfaced with France, and the divisions between the six-nation group, known as the P5+1. ….

….. other diplomats at the talks were furious with the role of the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, whom they accused of breaking ranks by revealing details of the negotiations as soon as he arrived in Geneva on Saturday morning, and then breaking protocol again by declaring the results to the press before Ashton and Zarif had arrived at the final press conference.

But there is also a purely commercial aspect to the French “spoiling”. The animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not to be underestimated and the the French desire for being Saudi’s preferred supplier is almost without limit. Upsetting Iran gains them brownie points with Saudi. They are on much safer ground here since Saudi does not have the capability of running its own nuclear programme in any foreseeable future. Nuclear power plant in Saudi supplied by France would not pose any great threat to Israel.

But one day – when the balances are different –  Saudi  may well have enough money to buy a few warheads and I would not be surprised if France is then at the front of the pack of potential vendors.

Saudi GazetteOctober 03, 2013

French companies AREVA and EDF hosted a number of Saudi business and industry representatives at their Second Suppliers Day event held in Jeddah on Tuesday to take part in the framework of the sustainable energy program suggested by King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) focused on nuclear and renewable energy sources. …. 

Speaking to the Saudi Gazette, the French Ambassador to the Kingdom said “the aim of this meeting is very clear, France has been the first country to sign government to government agreement on nuclear and energy because we do think that taking it into account the huge program the Saudi government wants to implement in the nuclear field and France has a lot to bring in terms of the best nuclear technology in the world.”

Besancenot added that Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of France in the region and the bilateral relationship is of paramount importance in the economic field as “we are seeing that bilateral trade has doubled over the last five years.” He stressed that France is ready to be Saudi Arabia’s strategic partner in the field of nuclear and renewable energy. He also highlighted the competencies of France’s nuclear energy industry and its ability to support the Kingdom goal.

A Jewish Divorce – New Jersey (Sopranos) Style

October 11, 2013

Enterprising rabbis – like enterprising scientists – are also subject to “normal” human behaviour. Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark planned coercion and torture to effect a divorce for simple financial gain. These rabbi’s probably watched too much of The Sopranos (or perhaps The Sopranos was inspired in part by these enterprising rabbis?). “They did it for money, They didn’t do it out of religious conviction.” 

If their price for facilitating a divorce was over $50,000, one wonders what their price would have been for a more “permanent settlement”?

BBC: 

Two New Jersey rabbis have been arrested and charged with plotting to kidnap and torture a man to force him to grant a traditional Jewish divorce.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark asked for more than $50,000 (£32,000) to hire “tough guys” to attack a recalcitrant husband with cattle prods, authorities said.

The men and eight other suspects appeared in federal court on Thursday.

Under Orthodox Jewish belief, a husband must grant permission for a divorce. The permission comes in the form of a document known as a get. In some Orthodox communities a woman who has not obtained a get may not marry again even if a civil divorce is finalised. She may sue in rabbinical court, but some men ignore an unfavourable ruling, even if it means being estranged from the religious community.

The FBI investigation took place in Ocean and Middlesex counties in New Jersey and Rockland County in New York, and involved raids in both states, according to agency officials.

Two undercover FBI agents posing as a woman seeking a divorce and her brother called Rabbi Wolmark for help, and he connected them to Rabbi Epstein, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New Jersey.

The undercover agents videotaped their meeting.

“Basically, what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the get,” Rabbi Epstein is quoted as saying during the conversation, according to the complaint. He added that the “tough guys” would use electric cattle prods and handcuffs and place a plastic bag over the man’s head, according to the complaint. 

Rabbi Epstein also allegedly told the undercover agents that such instruments were unlikely to leave a mark, avoiding attention from authorities. “Basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him then, uh, is there some Jewish crazy affair here, they don’t want to get involved,” he said, according to the criminal complaint.

The FBI said the price was more than $50,000, including $10,000 for a rabbinical court to approve the action. They had wired $20,000 to the accused before the arrests.

“They did it for money,” Assistant US Attorney Joseph Gribko said during a hearing on Thursday.

“They didn’t do it out of religious conviction.”


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