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Paris (AFP) – Global oil demand this year is being slightly boosted by recovery of European economies, and new production is building up fast in a rapidly changing oil market, the IEA said on Friday.

But instability in the Middle East and North Africa is keeping prices up, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said in its monthly review of the oil market.

The agency raised its forecast for demand for oil around the world this year by 90,000 barrels per day to 91.0 million barrels per day (mbd).

Demand for oil this year would rise by 1.1 percent or by 1.0 mbd from the level last year, and by 1.1 mbd in 2014 as the overall economic climate improves.

“Signs of improvement in the European economy support the upward revision,” the agency said.

New non-OPEC production is being driven by U.S. shale-energy output, and an agreement between Sudan and South Sudan opens up prospects of new oil coming on stream.

In addition, production has just begun at the huge Kashagan oil field, under the Caspian Sea off Kazakhstan.

Referring to the shale-energy revolution in North America, the agency said that the United States had produced 10 million barrels per day (mbd) of oil in the last two quarters “its highest in decades.”

The place taken by the United States “in the driver’s seat of growth is also a throwback to decades past” it said.

The United States is set to be the biggest producer outside the Organization of Petroleum Countries (OPEC) grouping by the second quarter of next year.

And this would make the United States a bigger producer than Russia, “and that’s not even counting biofuels and refinery gains,” the IEA forecast.

The IEA noted that just as OPEC production fell below 30.0 mbd for the first time for almost two years, non-OPEC production of oil and other liquids and gains in refining “surged by 1.7 mbd in the third quarter of this year from the equivalent figure last year.

This was “the steepest annual growth for any quarter in over 10-years,” the IEA said.
Non-OPEC supply surge sends ‘ripples through the market’

However, in September alone, the global supply of oil dipped by about 625,000 barrels per day from the August level because of the steep fall in OPEC output.

The rise of non-OPEC production, and fall in OPEC output, “is sending all kinds of ripples through the market,” the report said.

But “amid exceptional outages (of production) in Libya and Iraq, this gusher didn’t do much to douse oil markets,” it said.

Prices for oil had rallied during the quarter, taking the price of Brent North Sea oil up to about $117 per barrel. Prices had then settled back but remained high, the IEA said.

In London on Friday, the price of New York crude was down $1.23 to $101.78 per barrel, and Brent oil was down 29 cents to $111.57 per barrel.

The fall was despite hopes of a breakthrough in the US budget deadlock, as dealers took profits and focused on a U.S. supply glut, analysts said. The market also slid on receding tensions in the Middle East.

The IEA said that the rising trend of non-OPEC production looked like just a “preview” of supplies to come.

But this had been offset in part by a plunge of 1.0 mbd in OPEC production because of a collapse in supplies from Libya owing to instability, and maintenance work in Iraq.

“What seems certain is that surging non-OPEC production does not necessarily equate to a supply glut,” in view of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

The IEA said that the global picture of firming economic growth, which raises demand for oil, was clouded by the US budget crisis, by uncertainty over the US debt ceiling, and a recent sharp fall in the value of currencies in many emerging economies.

The agency noted uncertainty about the structure of energy demand in Japan and that “the shutdown of Japan’s entire nuclear power park in early September is expected to affect Japanese oil demand this winter and in 2014 in a big way.”


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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