November 29, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

A Low Peak

Not too long ago, everyone was talking about peak oil – the tipping point where rapacious humans would finally run out of carbon-based fuels to operate their polluting cars and power plants unless they embarked on a wholesale shift to solar, wind and other sustainable energy.

But now the reverse is the problem, Bloomberg wrote Monday.

Advancements in clean energy, plateauing global trade, international efforts to fight climate change, efficient technologies and tensions between producers like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States have birthed a new challenge: peak demand.

In other words, people need less oil these days. But there’s still plenty underground.

The resulting oil glut will be at the top of the agenda when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, and Russia meet Wednesday in Vienna to discuss cutting production to push prices upward.

Decreasing oil revenues are causing chaos around the world: Saudi Arabia has made unprecedented cuts to public services, Russia is raiding its reserves and Venezuela’s regime is teetering on the brink of collapse as its citizens starve.

The low price of oil – hovering at around half as much as two years ago – has led Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to seek production curbs. They’ve asked Russia – the biggest oil producer in the world but not a member of OPEC – to export less, too.

USA Today quoted analysts who expected a modest cut that would lift the price of oil by a few dollars.

But OPEC’s plan is iffy.

Conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran have scuttled agreements at other recent OPEC meetings. Now Russia could potentially be a spoiler Wednesday, siding with Tehran over Riyadh, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The United States is also a headache for producers seeking to curtail supplies to up prices.

In the past two years, Saudi Arabia has purposely hiked production to drive American drillers out of business. Fracking, remember, created a boom in North Dakota despite the recession and put the US on track to becoming an energy superpower until the price of oil fell and drillers couldn’t make money.

MarketWatch noted that American oil companies are poised to hire and start pumping once the price of oil rises. That will in turn dump more oil into global markets and suppress prices once again.

Fresh off an election where he vowed to give working class Americans high-paying jobs, President-elect Donald Trump recently released a YouTube video where he promised to eliminate restrictions on energy production, potentially further lowering the price point for US drillers.

OPEC is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Americans who remember the long gas lines of the 1970s can be forgiven if they smile just a little bit.

Holiday Promo

WANT TO KNOW

‘Madness’

Ugandan forces conducted extrajudicial killings as they put down a rebellion in the Rwenzori Mountains in the eastern part of the country, Reuters reported Monday.

“In a shocking display of heavy-handedness, many people appear to have been summarily shot dead and their bodies dumped,” the news service wrote, quoting Amnesty International.

The alleged human rights violations occurred over the weekend after Ugandan troops and police clashed with the royal guards of a tribal king who supported the opposition in a recent contested election that resulted in the reelection of President Yoweri Museveni.

Museveni has been in office for 30 years.

Ugandan officials didn’t respond to Amnesty International’s claims, but said they discovered “machetes, spears and petrol bombs” in the king’s palace in Kasese, a provincial center near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Reuters reported that 62 people died in the fighting. A local opposition leader said the king’s guards weren’t armed, calling the government’s action “madness” stemming from Museveni’s desire to punish his detractors.

No Way Out

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, mired in scandal over influence-peddling, appealed to parliament Tuesday to organize her descent from power as it sees fit.

“I will step down from my position according to the law once a way is formed to pass on the administration in a stable manner that will also minimize political unrest,” Park said.

Demonstrators have been calling for Park’s impeachment after accusations surfaced that she inappropriately lobbied big business to funnel money into foundations to support her own initiatives.

While Park has admitted poor judgement in the matter, she’s yet to indicate her intent to resign on her own accord, a move which would nullify her diplomatic immunity and leave her open to prosecution.

“She is handing the ball to parliament when she could simply step down,” Park Kwang-on, a lawmaker with the opposition Democratic Party, told Reuters.

The opposition has said it would continue efforts to bring impeachment proceedings to vote as soon as Friday. Were that to take place, an election would need to be held within 60 days to nominate a new president.

Fading Finances

That the Taliban currently holds more territory in war-torn Afghanistan than at any other point since 2001 is sometimes taken as a sign of the group’s resurging strength.

But despite successes on the battlefield, the Taliban are in an increasingly precarious financial situation – the group faces a serious cash crunch, according to the Guardian.

The Taliban has long courted wealthy Afghan and Arab businessmen for donations. But many of these donors are now unwilling to fund an insurgency that targets civilians over foreign troops, said Taliban officials.

“These people who give money don’t want to spend it on mines that kill children,” said Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, a former diplomat of the Taliban regime.

The movement’s finances have become so dire – tax revenues in Taliban-controlled areas have also plummeted thanks to infighting – that its injured fighters are no longer welcome at Pakistan’s private hospitals because they cannot pay up.

There may be a silver lining to these difficulties, however: Kakazada says senior Taliban figures widely agree that a truce must be worked out with the Afghan government.

DISCOVERIES

Bad Hair Gene

Next time you find yourself at wit’s end with unruly hair, don’t blame your styling products – just blame your genes.

New research has pinpointed the genetic mutation that makes some people’s hair characteristically pale, dry, frizzy or shiny.

It’s been aptly named “uncombable hair syndrome.”

Whereas the root and strands of curly or straight hair appear somewhat round when analyzed under a microscope, uncombable hair looks heart-shaped, triangular and grooved.

Three genes in particular cause the mutation, according to the report published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. A malfunction by any one of the genes could leave your hair knotted and mangled.

“From the mutations found, a huge amount can be learned about the mechanisms involved in forming healthy hair, and why disorders sometimes occur,” says Regina Betz, a specialist for rare heredity hair disorders at the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Bonn.

But if you fit the syndrome’s bill, don’t book an appointment with your local geneticist just yet.

Only about 100 cases have been documented worldwide, and symptoms, more pronounced in childhood, tend to fade with the passing of time.

Correction: On Monday, we said in our “Legalize It” item that Iraq’s parliament voted to legalize Shiite militias in a move opposition leaders said proved that the majority Sunni government was a dictatorship in the guise of democracy. It is in fact a majority Shiite government. We apologize for the error.