National / International News
Next week, Texas is slated to execute Scott Panetti for murder. He has a long history of mental illness but was allowed to defend himself at trial, where he insisted he was a movie character.
Following the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, Ferguson residents are hoping to take this Thanksgiving to grow and heal their community — and give thanks to one another.
OPEC meets Thursday to set production levels, without much for its member countries to be thankful for. Oil prices have fallen quickly. And a new big rival is on the block: U.S. production of oil from fracking. Some analysts are already proclaiming “Move Over OPEC” and declaring “a new oil order.”
We’ll ask it this way: Are OPEC’s best days behind it?
Analyst Bob McNally, founder and president of the Rapidan Group, has argued for a while that OPEC is on the wane. In his view, it would be the third cartel-type oil group in history to peak and decline. The first:
“John Rockefeller and Standard Oil in the late 1800's,” McNally says, “who came along and thoroughly, some would say brutally, organized and controlled the pipelines, the refineries and the upstreams. And he brought stability to what was in the beginning wildly gyrating prices.”
Of course, trustbusters broke up Rockefeller’s company. Then came cartel 2.0: the Texas Railroad Commission. Starting in the 1930s, it pulled various levers to control prices.
The key was retaining so-called spare capacity. When prices rose and threatened to turn away consumers, the commission arranged to bring more oil to market and soften prices.
But by 1972, the North American supply tailed off. There was no spare left.
“What that meant was we were losing our ability to control the global oil price and to stabilize the market,” Rapidan says. “And that signified the transfer in power over to OPEC.”
Click below for more from Bob McNally:
OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, formed in 1960 to counter the power of multinational oil companies. Now it controlled elements of supply and prices. In 1973, OPEC’s Arab members cut off supply to the U.S. for political purposes.
Global crude analyst Jamie Webster at IHS Energy says a big moment recently for OPEC came in 2008: The group artificially withheld more than 2 million barrels of oil a day from the market. Oil prices revived.
Still, Webster says the world has changed. For one, embargoes may be history.
“The oil market has turned into a real, truly global interconnected market,’ Webster says. “You can’t just pick a country and say ‘We’re not going to deliver there.’ Somebody else will.”
Click below for more from Jamie Webster:
And, many OPEC members today drill less oil than before. In the meantime, a supply competitor has shown up. Fracking in America coaxes oil from shale rock.
Shale oil has helped push today’s prices down. And the more they fall, the more likely shale could tail off and bounce prices back up. In other words, the U.S. may be the new price-controller.
“This massively undermines the ability of the OPEC nations,” says Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group global consultancy.
In this low-price environment, Bremmer says OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia struggle fiscally. They rely heavily on selling expensive oil.
“The Saudis are trying to fund places like Egypt and Jordan to maintain stability in the region,” Bremmer says. “So they can’t really afford to try to drive prices down to compete with American producers. And so that means the United States is in the driver’s seat, right?”
Click below for more from Ian Bremmer:
Right? Perhaps, though outside the U.S. some analysts are calling hyperbole.
“I don’t think we need to talk about anything like a new pricing order,” says Robin Mills at Manaar Energy Consulting in Dubai, and author of “The Myth of the Oil Crisis.”
“There’s certainly no grand scheme behind this. It’s the simple working of the market and economics.”
As he sees it, this is just another bout of low prices, one that key OPEC countries can weather.
“They still have enormous sovereign wealth holdings that they can draw on for years to come to prop up a deficit,” Mills says. “And of course they can borrow. There’s nothing magical about borrowing.”
And perhaps nothing new about a new supplier on the block. Veteran OPEC watchers have seen this before.
“For example, in the North Sea and Norway and the U.K.,” says London energy economist Leo Drollas, who spent two decades at a think tank run by an ex-Saudi oil minister. “We’ve seen the great surge in Russian production in Kazakhstan. In a sense, the natural state of the oil business is one of imbalance.”
But, how imbalanced is it today? How high and how long can the upstart U.S. shale story go? That is a key question for OPEC, tomorrow and beyond.
American honey importers say they've noticed an odd surge in cheap honey from Turkey. They think some of that honey really came from China, which is subject to U.S. trade restrictions.
Wilson's descriptions of Michael Brown reminded some people of negative depictions of African-Americans in history. Recent studies suggest these perceptions have deeper psychological roots.
Starbucks has released its first new seasonal beverage in five years – the chestnut praline latte.
Formulating the drink took two years of research and development, says Starbucks spokeswoman Linda Mills.
The flavor was the one customers liked best during taste-testing. While it does not feature chestnuts, the drink does contain smoky chestnut flavoring. That, along with caffeine, sugar and fat, make for a holiday mix that packs a whole lot of nostalgia.
“It really is reminiscent of, you know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” Mills says.
Cue the music.
“Food marketing people are trying to take advantage of those warm fuzzy feelings, and they have been very successful,” says MaryAnne Drake, a food scientist at North Carolina State University.
It's not just clever marketing. There's some science behind our attraction to these flavors.
The secret, says Drake, is in the scent.
The aromas in these holiday products are crafted to trigger emotions and feelings, she says. In the last five years, scientists have made huge steps in understanding how scents affect us neurologically. And the feelings aroused aren't always warm, fuzzy ones.
“There was a study," Drake says, "where they actually – forgive me for being indelicate – hooked up men and their private parts and then had them smell particular things to see which evoked the best response from their private parts. And pumpkin pie spice had a really strong response."
Pumpkin kicked off this modern holiday flavor craze about a decade ago, Drake says. Starbucks, for example, has sold over 200 million pumpkin spice lattes since releasing the drink in 2003.
And then there's Trader Joe's.
Come October, its stores offer products like pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin ale, pumpkin rooibos tea, pumpkin cereal, and even salad with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin croutons and pumpkin vinaigrette. At a San Francisco store, a shelf stocker said that at one point the store featured 67 items with pumpkin flavor. Halloween, he says, has really just become pumpkin season.
Pumpkin is pretty much over now that it's late November. Companies are signaling the coming of winter with a whole new series of flavors. Market analyst Robert Eckard says some of the big ones this year are salted caramel, pecan pie, peppermint patty, sugar cookie and dark chocolate cognac. There are also some more surprising flavor trends this year, like mescal and smoke.
Companies have been playing with seasonal flavors for decades, Eckard says, but now chain corporations can afford to hire specialized flavorists who concoct powerful and addictive tastes. Flavoring has grown into a $2.7 billion industry, and seasonal drinks are a big part of it.
Eckard likes to call them “liquid deserts, or holiday in a glass.”
While corporations can giveth, they can also taketh away. Starbucks was going to stop serving its eggnog latte at certain locations this year but rethought the move after the company was flooded with letters. Customers complained that Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without it.”
So we have a new tradition: the commercially-developed, scientifically flavored, holiday beverage.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to take up a case challenging limits on toxins found in emissions from coal-fired power plants, on the grounds that industry believed the Environmental Protection Agency should have taken the costs of regulation into account earlier.
On Wednesday, the EPA proposed a rule to lower the amount of smog-causing ozone allowed in the air. The rule was slated for 2011, but delayed by President Obama on grounds that it was important to reduce "regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover."
So how does the EPA weigh costs and benefits?
The agency is actually forbidden from taking costs into account when writing rules such as the limit on ozone, but EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says the health benefits nonetheless exceed the costs of compliance. The American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group, comes to a very different conclusion in its analysis.
Richard Revesz , a New York University law professor and author of "Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environment and our Health" says the EPA has generally underestimated, not overestimated, costs. But the whole argument over costs and benefits is largely about convincing the public and the politicians.