Friday, January 30, 2009

Exxon Mobil 4th Quarter Profit Drops By A Third

Houston Chronicle reports:

Exxon Mobil again broke its own record for highest annual profits ever by a U.S. company, pulling in $45.2 billion in 2008, an 11 percent jump over 2007’s $40.6 billion.

But the Irving-based oil giant’s lower fourth-quartery profits reflected how lower demand and plummeting oil and gas prices in the last three months of 2008 amid the global recession have siphoned the industry’s record-breaking streak, which became almost routine as crude rose to all-time highs.

In the quarter, the company earned $7.8 billion, down 33 percent from $11.6 billion in the last three months of 2007 and barely half its all-time quarterly record of $14.8 billion in the third quarter last year, when oil prices were still in triple digits.

However, Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, said capital spending rose 25 percent last year to $26.1 billion and the world’s largest publicly traded oil company will stay its disciplined course through the tough economic times.

“Exxon Mobil’s financial strength continued to support its disciplined capital investment approach in the midst of a growing global economic downturn,” Tillerson said in a statement. “Through these investments we continued to demonstrate our long-term focus throughout the business cycle.”

Chevron, which also unveiled financial results today, bucked the quarterly trend. The San Ramon, Calif.-based company’s annual income rose 28 percent to $23.9 billion from $18.7 billion in 2007, and its quarterly profit rose slightly to $4.89 billion from $4.87 billion. The quarterly increase stemmed from lower costs of raw materials used in refining that increased margins on sales of gasoline and other products, Chevron Chief Executive Officer Dave O’Reilly said.

Like Tillerson, O’Reilly emphasized the oil major’s muscle and discipline amid the recession.

“We enter 2009 with the financial strength to meet the challenges of a difficult economy and with a continued focus on cost management and capital stewardship,” he said.

Exxon’s annual results included a one-time gain of $1.6 billion from the sale of a natural gas transmission business in Germany and a charge of $460 million related to litigation stemming from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Excluding those items, the company still surpassed its record with annual earnings of $44 billion.

Exxon attributed its lower quarterly earnings to weaker crude prices, higher operating expenses, lower chemical volumes and impacts of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Ike prompted shutdowns and repairs at two of Exxon’s major refineries in Baytown—the nation’s largest—and Beaumont.

Per share, including the one-time items, Exxon earned $8.69 in 2008 compared to $7.28 in 2007. In the quarter, per-share income was $1.55, down 27 percent from $2.13 in the October-December period of 2007. Revenue for the year was $477.35 billion, up from $404.5 billion. In the quarter, revenue fell to $84.7 billion from $116.6 billion.

Exxon also continued its trend of lower production. In the quarter, production fell 3 percent, largely because of lower entitlement volumes, divestments and effects of cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Excluding those effects, production fell 1 percent. Increased oil production from projects in west Africa and the North Sea more than offset field declines, but natural gas production declines surpassed increased volumes and project additions in the North Sea, Qatar and Malaysia, the company said.

Exxon also said exploration and production income fell $2.6 billion to $5.6 billion in the quarter because of lower oil prices. Refining income suffered from hurricane-related repairs and higher operating costs, but higher margins increased earnings by $147 million to $2.4 billion.

Chevron’s production also fell in the quarter, to 2.54 million barrels of oil equivalent per day from 2.6 million barrels. The company said its decline largely stemmed from shutdowns and damage caused to production facilities by the hurricanes.

Per share for the year, Chevron earned $11.67, up from $8.77. In the quarter, per-share earnings were $2.44, up from $2.32. Revenue for the year rose to $273 billion from $220.9 billion, but quarterly revenue fell to $45.2 billion from $61.4 billion.

Chevron’s exploration and production income fell to $3.15 billion from $4.8 billion, while refining and marketing earnings rose to $2 billion from $204 million in the quarter, the company said.

Her Mother's Daughter, Her Father's Inspiration?

At, Zac Frank writes, "What a 1988 college thesis by the former vice president's daughter tells us about the Bush presidency":

When I worked at the library at Colorado College, I quickly discovered the job had few perks. The free book loans on demand were little better than subprime mortgages when you realized anyone could get them. The only "exclusive" benefit was the chance to keep manuscripts the library threw out. Usually, I had a limited selection of titles, like Proceedings From the Third Workshop on Genetics of Bark Beetles and Associated Micro-Organisms. But occasionally I stumbled across a gem. Rummaging through a bin of discarded books one day, I saw an unusual spine: "CHENEY The Evolution of Presidential War Powers 1988."

In 1988, while Dick Cheney was Wyoming's sole representative in the House of Representatives, his daughter's senior thesis was quietly published in Colorado Springs. The 125-page treatise argued that, constitutionally and historically, presidents have virtually unchecked powers in war. Thirteen years before her father became vice president, she had symbolically authored the first legal memorandum of the Bush administration, laying out the same arguments that would eventually justify Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, wiretapping of American citizens, and, broadly, the unitary theory of the executive that shaped the Bush presidency.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building may be bereft of Dick Cheney, but his steadfast efforts to consolidate power around the president have left the scales of power tipped toward the executive. Then there is the force of Cheney's grim, blunt personality, felt even as he attended the inauguration in a wheelchair: His name will stand for the ideas he promoted well into the future, and his daughter's thesis offers an eerily prescient image of the presidency as Cheney believed it should be.

Though less known to the public than her sister, Mary, arguably the most prominent gay Republican, Elizabeth is the elder daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney. After graduating from Colorado College, she took a job in the State Department before going to law school, and was eventually appointed as one of the chief diplomats for the Middle East in 2002.

Elizabeth Cheney begins her survey at the Constitutional Convention. Contrary to today's middle-school mythology, she tells us, fear of enabling a tyrannical monarch was not foremost in the Founding Fathers' minds. Rather, they did not want to repeat the failure of the Continental Congress' attempts to manage the war for independence. Our constitutional architects, she argues, believed they could not "foresee every possible future use of American armed forces" and, as a result, wanted a commander in chief endowed with great latitude in wartime.

For Cheney, Thomas Jefferson established the path presidents would and should take when dealing with Congress. In engaging American warships against Barbary pirates, Jefferson "chose to inform Congress of his actions at his own convenience." When he did, he fabricated an attack on an American ship to secure their support.

Cheney sides with the president whenever he clashes with Congress over war powers. Following an escalation in the Vietnam War ordered by Lyndon Johnson, she notes, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, based on questionable information, to provide cover for the president. Nevertheless, both he and Richard Nixon after him believed that the resolution provided no "legal basis for their action because they presumed all the authorization they needed was in the Commander and Chief [sic] clause."

Time and again, Cheney contends that in times of war, presidents since Washington have justifiably redefined their authority to preserve the country, and she is scornful of any who challenge that authority. As Congress challenged presidential authority toward the end of Vietnam, she casts them as scapegoating the executive. "As public support dwindled so did congressional willingness to accept responsibility," she writes, "Congress set about to blame the only two men who couldn't escape responsibility." For someone who has vested so much faith in executive wisdom, she is surprisingly unwilling to hold it accountable.

From beginning to end, it's clear that Cheney looks upon the model of the powerful executive approvingly. Her most forceful conclusion is that the Founders "certainly did not intend, nor does history substantiate, the idea that Congress should legislate specific limits on the President's power." To ensure American security, it needs to recognize that the "nature of military and foreign policy demand the 'unity of a singular Executive.'"

One cannot help but see echoes of this conclusion in the administration in which her father was so influential. The Bush White House repeatedly embraced the philosophy of acting first and asking for approval later, especially on issues that involved the power of the purse. They embraced a position that Cheney found repeatedly in history: "The president's duty to protect national security sometimes come before his responsibility to keep Congress informed."

This crusade against oversight was not new to Dick Cheney. In November of 1987, just six months before Elizabeth submitted her thesis, a report he commissioned following the Iran-Contra affair argued that "[c]ongressional actions to limit the president in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism."

For Cheney, apparently, the Constitution and rule of law are no more of a check on this unitary power than Congress. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and imposition of military tribunals present no legal dilemma to her. "To assert that the Constitution is a shield of protection 'for all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances,' " she writes, "is to deny the nation the right of self-preservation. There have been and will be times in the experience of the country when constitutional provisions will of necessity be suspended to guarantee the survival of our democracy." The Supreme Court's chief justice was wrong in declaring his actions illegal in Ex Parte Merryman because his power "was actually an assertion of the power of the people."* How he divined that will of the people, Cheney does not explain.

On the first page of her paper, above a neat signature in blue ink, she attests, "On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this thesis." Her father may not have written her thesis, but before and after its publication, he held unwaveringly to its ideas. As a report on an exit interview the outgoing vice president gave with CBS notes:

While Cheney could not say whether any action by a president in wartime should be considered "legal," he pointed to historic precedents for presidents taking extra-legal measures in order, he said, to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

That statement could well have been printed on the cover of his daughter's thesis.

Correction, Jan. 30, 2009: This article originally referred to Ex Parte Merryman as a Supreme Court case. It was a circuit court order written by Roger Taney, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who was sitting on the circuit court at the time. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's National Pie Day!

According to the American Pie Council:
Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about it through the Greeks. These pies were sometimes made in "reeds" which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.

The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century. The first pie recipe was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

The early pies were predominately meat pies. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as "coffyn". There was actually more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) where probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.

Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them "coffins" like the crust in England. As in the Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten, but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffyn.

Over the years, pie has evolved to become what it is today "the most traditional American dessert". Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years, that we now commonly use the term "as American as apple pie."

Who makes the best pies in America? They do, so says the American Pie Council.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obama's Mighty Lean For All The Bread He's Been Breaking Lately

The secret dinner with Obama you haven't heard about

At a quiet dinner meeting late last week in Washington's Ronald Reagan Building, President-elect Obama reached out to outside foreign-policy experts, trying to resist the presidential bubble that is rapidly closing around him.

Late afternoon last Thursday Jan.8, scholars and staff at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars noticed an unusual upgrade in the security of the top floors of their building, which also houses USAID, the EPA, a public food court, and some foreign television stations. The Wilson Center hosts high-level people all the time, but this security detail was of a different order, sources said.

And indeed, some suspected that Obama was coming to dine in the 8th-floor offices of Lee Hamilton, the quasi-governmental think tank's president -- a hunch they confirmed the next day.

Hamilton, the longtime House member from Indiana who cochaired the Iraq Study Group, the 9/11 Commission, and numerous others over the years, has become a kind of wise-man mentor to Obama. Last Thursday, the Wilson Center president assembled a small collection of scholars on the Middle East and South Asia for a meeting that stretched through dinner for hours into the night.

Among those who attended the off-the-record dinner: Iran scholar Haleh Esfandiari; Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid (who had flown in from Lahore); Obama friend and foreign-policy advisor Samantha Power of Harvard University (who accompanied PEOTUS to the meeting); incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel; and a few others. Obama told the group, none of whom reached would discuss the details, that he already felt in the bubble and was trying his best to meet with independent experts.

Scholars at the center noted the group leaned toward experts on the Middle East and South Asia. "They talked mostly about what was going on in the world, from Gaza to the financial crisis and its implications," one source summarized.

"It's clear from the nine or 10 people included that the meeting was mostly focused on Middle East issues," said one scholar who witnessed the security goings-on but did not attend the meeting. "It's part of the process that I think Obama wants to do to connect" given the demise of his Blackberry. "It was held here [at the Wilson Center], but from now on, I suspect such things will be held at the White House."

Contacted about the meeting, Wilson Center Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller declined to comment, saying he couldn't help on this one. Esfandiari, who was imprisoned last year by the Iranian regime, directed questions about the meeting to the Wilson Center's press officer. An executive assistant to Hamilton said her boss was getting on a plane in California to fly back to Washington, and couldn't be reached today.

A source close to Hamilton explained that he had a long relationship with Obama, and noted that many former Hamilton staffers had gone on to be key staffers and foreign policy advisors to Obama.

Among them: Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes, who wrote speeches and was a policy advisor for Hamilton for several years; Obama's top foreign-policy advisor Denis McDonough; who worked for Hamilton on the staff of the House International Relations Committee, Obama Mideast advisor Daniel Shapiro, who worked for Hamilton as his professional staff member on the Middle East when Hamilton was chairman of the then-House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 103rd Congress (1993-94); Dan Restrepo, a top Obama Latin America advisor now with the Center for American Progress who worked for Hamilton on the Hill; and Mara Rudman, who worked for Hamilton on the Hill and is now a member of the formal Obama transition team.

"Ben Rhodes (the [President-Elect's] national security speechwriter) and I both are very close to Lee," McDonough said in an e-mail. "Ben wrote for Lee for a couple years, through the 9-11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group. Lee has been an indispensable ally to the P-E, offering wise counsel and hosting the P-E for discussions and a couple speeches during the campaign. He is a frequent sounding board for the P-E and the team."

"From what I understand, the president-elect wants to be able to have access to different ideas and opinions," said one Wilson Center associate. "What better person than Lee [Hamilton]? ... Lee was always tasked whenever there was anything to do with ethics. For instance, Iran-contra" [Hamilton was one of congressional chairs of Iran contra investigation]. "They went to Lee because he has the ability to transcend party lines. ... He's very congenial, very decent, he's willing to listen to everybody, ... he treats everybody with dignity and respect. And that comes through. He listens. He assesses. And that is what Hamilton said he likes about Senator Obama. Obama listens. He goes around the table. Lee has been in numerous meetings with him, and Obama listens to what people have to say. Hamilton has a great deal of respect for him."

The source said that Obama and Hamilton have met several times and that Hamilton's former law partner in Chicago early on introduced the Wilson Center president to this "amazing" young Obama years ago, long before Obama entered national politics.

Noting that Hamilton was the longtime chair in the 1990s of the House International Relations committee, one Hill source said, "Hamilton had access to the 'best and the brightest.' It's not a surprise that Obama is drawing on people from that staff.

"The more interesting point to me," the Hill source added, "Is that it shows that since Obama came onto the national scene in 2004, Obama seeks out these older, moderate members of the establishment. And seeks to curry their favor. It's been documented how he's done so with [Sen. Richard] Lugar [R-Indiana]. He seems to have done the same thing with Hamilton."

Also of note: the significance of Obama bringing Samantha Power along to the meeting. A veteran Washington foreign-policy hand says Power is likely to get a job in the Obama administration, probably in the NSC, but would not divulge what position. (Power's husband Cass Sunstein was named last week to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget.) Power did not respond to an e-mail query.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"If we told you (where the bailout money is going)..."

"...they would stop taking the bailout money."

Fed Vice Chair Donald Kohn testified before the Financial Services Committee today, along with John Bovenzi of the FDIC. The Fed's balance sheet has expanded by $1.2 trillion since September 1. Where did the money go? Kohn wouldn't say.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Greening of Restaurants

On this week of getting back to work after a holiday season of heavy eating on the heels of a campaign of unprecedent nervous eating that packed on the pounds (even the Food Channel is cooking light and healthy this week), it seems fitting that I get with the program, too, and ease into changing eating habits.

From the Associated Press:
The vibe at Germany's first carbon-neutral restaurant is more hip than hippie.

Minimalism is the mantra at Foodorama, with its cobalt-gray walls, soft lighting and single stem daisies perched atop gleaming blond maple tables, all nestled among the boutiques and stately balconies in Berlin's fashionable west Kreuzberg district.

Corporations such as Dell and Google have embraced the carbon-neutral ethos, but not many restaurants have followed suit.

Foodorama was dreamed up by German branding agency Lab One to sell environmentalism to foodies.
For every ton of carbon dioxide produced by the all-organic cafe, its owners say they will buy carbon certificates for a Kyoto-standard wind park in Karnataka, India.

The restaurant, which opened in September and seats 100 inside (and another 120 outside) marks a departure from Lab One's typical projects, which entail creating promotional material for clients such as rock bands and movie studios.

Agency director Ozan Sinan says Lab One is composed of "hedonistic people who asked each other what can we do besides our core business? We are afraid of what's happening in the world. We want to start something ourselves."

The menu is a combined effort to be both pure and break the rules, says Sinan, resulting in selections such as yakitori schnitzel and a gourmet version of the Berlin classic currywurst, with herb mayonnaise and homemade ketchup.

Though Sinan's childhood meals bore little resemblance to Foodorama's posh cuisine, his mother's economical and seasonal cooking neverless shares much philosophical ground with Foodorama's offerings.

"Many of the things we try to do here -- conserve energy, eat local, reduce waste -- are the things that I learned from my parents," he says. "I was raised with a natural sense for conservation precisely because it wasn't a luxury environment."

Lab One worked with Climate Partner, a Munich-based environmental consulting firm, to devise a checklist of eco-friendly measures in creating Foodorama. These included using bio gas, derived from agricultural byproducts and produced in gas plants outside Berlin, and zero-emission electricity, created from renewable energy sources.

In both cases, Foodorama pays extra for the green alternatives. Other strategies, such as insisting employees bike or take public transportation to work, and investing in state-of-the-art insulation, also shrank emission estimates.

Climate Partner project manager Kai Gilhorn said he and his colleagues even calculated the amount of emissions required to produce each dish on the menu, and considered putting the figures on the menus.

"But that might make people feel guilty for ordering beef instead of vegetables, which may not be what the restaurant wants," he says.

Despite the global financial crisis, Sinan believes the restaurant still can make a profit, even after the emission certificates are purchased at as much as $3,000 a year.

Though some organic French wines run around $120, most items on the Foodorama menu cost about $16, considered steep for the neighborhood but a bargain relative to many gourmet eateries.

Bernd Mueller, 64, munching on a salad, gave a more measured response, calling the food good but not exceptional -- and said he was largely attracted to the restaurant by its organic guarantee.

"Organic tastes different. I cook about 90 percent organic at home, and there aren't that many other organic restaurants in Berlin," said the retired lawyer who lives around the corner and already has become a regular.

I'm going to be dealing with 'green-eating' more in the coming weeks, but for now, it's time for a glass of carrot juice.