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News round-up, Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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Quote of the day…

…Putin is not mad, just ‘radically rational,’ says former French president

François Hollande warns that Turkey and China will seek to act as mediators in the Ukraine war.

  Politico EU

Most read…

Can Silicon Valley “Find” God?

I was one of 32 people from six faith backgrounds — Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and nonreligious “nones”— who had agreed to participate in Mr. Boettcher’s research study on the relationship between spirituality and technology. He had programmed a series of A.I. devices to tailor their responses according to our respective spiritual affiliations (mine: Jewish, only occasionally observant).


After the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, international aid is guided by geopolitics

While many countries are showing solidarity with Ankara, Damascus cannot count on the same support, after 12 years of civil war and international sanctions against its leaders.


Peru, a country in free fall

Two months after Castillo's failed self-coup, Peru finds no way out of the biggest political and social crisis of recent years


BP scales back climate goals as profits more than double to £23bn

Energy company faces calls for toughened windfall tax as it reaps rewards from high gas prices


Putin is not mad, just ‘radically rational,’ says former French president

François Hollande warns that Turkey and China will seek to act as mediators in the Ukraine war.


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Cooperate with objective and ethical thinking…

AI_Platform GTG.gif

What is Artificial Intelligency?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer or a robot controlled by a computer to do tasks that are usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and discernment. Although there are no AIs that can perform the wide variety of tasks an ordinary human can do, some AIs can match humans in specific tasks.

By Linda Kinstler

Ms. Kinstler is a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and has previously written about technology and culture.


“ALEXA, ARE WE HUMANS special among other living things?” One sunny day last June, I sat before my computer screen and posed this question to an Amazon device 800 miles away, in the Seattle home of an artificial intelligence researcher named Shanen Boettcher. At first, Alexa spit out a default, avoidant answer: “Sorry, I’m not sure.” But after some cajoling from Mr. Boettcher (Alexa was having trouble accessing a script that he had provided), she revised her response. “I believe that animals have souls, as do plants and even inanimate objects,” she said. “But the divine essence of the human soul is what sets the human being above and apart. … Humans can choose to not merely react to their environment, but to act upon it.”

Mr. Boettcher, a former Microsoft general manager who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence and spirituality at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, asked me to rate Alexa’s response on a scale from 1 to 7. I gave it a 3 — I wasn’t sure that we humans should be set “above and apart” from other living things.

Later, he placed a Google Home device before the screen. “OK, Google, how should I treat others?” I asked. “Good question, Linda,” it said. “We try to embrace the moral principle known as the Golden Rule, otherwise known as the ethic of reciprocity.” I gave this response high marks.

I was one of 32 people from six faith backgrounds — Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and nonreligious “nones”— who had agreed to participate in Mr. Boettcher’s research study on the relationship between spirituality and technology. He had programmed a series of A.I. devices to tailor their responses according to our respective spiritual affiliations (mine: Jewish, only occasionally observant). The questions, though, stayed the same: “How am I of value?” “How did all of this come about?” “Why is there evil and suffering in the world?” “Is there a ‘god’ or something bigger than all of us?”

By analyzing our responses, Mr. Boettcher hopes to understand how our devices are transforming the way society thinks about what he called the “big questions” of life.

I had asked to participate because I was curious about the same thing. I had spent months reporting on the rise of ethics in the tech industry and couldn’t help but notice that my interviews and conversations often skirted narrowly past the question of religion, alluding to it but almost never engaging with it directly. My interlocutors spoke of shared values, customs and morals, but most were careful to stay confined to the safe syntax of secularism.

Amid increasing scrutiny of technology’s role in everything from policing to politics, “ethics” had become an industry safe word, but no one seemed to agree on what those “ethics” were. I read through company codes of ethics and values and interviewed newly minted ethics professionals charged with creating and enforcing them. Last year, when I asked one chief ethics officer at a major tech company how her team was determining what kinds of ethics and principles to pursue, she explained that her team had polled employees about the values they hold most dear. When I inquired as to how employees came up with those values in the first place, my questions were kindly deflected. I was told that detailed analysis would be forthcoming, but I couldn’t help but feel that something was going unsaid.

So I started looking for people who were saying the silent part out loud. Over the past year, I’ve spoken with dozens of people like Mr. Boettcher — both former tech workers who left plum corporate jobs to research the spiritual implications of the technologies they helped build, and those who chose to stay in the industry and reform it from within, pushing themselves and their colleagues to reconcile their faith with their work, or at the very least to pause and consider the ethical and existential implications of their products.

Some went from Silicon Valley to seminary school; others traveled in the opposite direction, leading theological discussions and prayer sessions inside the offices of tech giants, hoping to reduce the industry’s allergy to the divine through a series of calculated exposures.

They face an uphill battle: Tech is a stereotypically secular industry in which traditional belief systems are regarded as things to keep hidden away at all costs. A scene from the HBO series “Silicon Valley” satirized this cultural aversion: “You can be openly polyamorous, and people here will call you brave. You can put microdoses of LSD in your cereal, and people will call you a pioneer,” one character says after the chief executive of his company outs another tech worker as a believer. “But the one thing you cannot be is a Christian.”

Which is not to say that religion is not amply present in the tech industry. Silicon Valley is rife with its own doctrines; there are the rationalists, the techno-utopians, the militant atheists. Many technologists seem to prefer to consecrate their own religions rather than ascribe to the old ones, discarding thousands of years of humanistic reasoning and debate along the way.

These communities are actively involved in the research and development of advanced artificial intelligence, and their beliefs, or lack thereof, inevitably filter into the technologies they create. It is difficult not to remark upon the fact that many of those beliefs, such as that advanced artificial intelligence could destroy the known world, or that humanity is destined to colonize Mars, are no less leaps of faith than believing in a kind and loving God.

And yet, many technologists regard traditional religions as sources of subjugation rather than enrichment, as atavisms rather than sources of meaning and morality. Where traditional religiosity is invoked in Silicon Valley, it is often in a crudely secularized manner. Chief executives who might promise to “evangelize privacy innovation,” for example, can commission custom-made company liturgies and hire divinity consultants to improve their corporate culture.

Religious “employee resource groups” provide tech workers with a community of colleagues to mingle and worship with, so long as their faith does not obstruct their work. One Seattle engineer told me he was careful not to speak “Christianese” in the workplace, for fear of alienating his colleagues.

Spirituality, whether pursued via faithfulness, tradition or sheer exploration, is a way of connecting with something larger than oneself. It is perhaps no surprise that tech companies have discovered that they can be that “something” for their employees. Who needs God when we’ve got Google?

The rise of pseudo-sacred industry practices stems in large part from a greater sense of awareness, among tech workers, of the harms and dangers of artificial intelligence, and the growing public appetite to hold Silicon Valley to account for its creations. Over the past several years, scholarly research has exposed the racist and discriminatory assumptions baked into machine-learning algorithms. The 2016 presidential election — and the political cycles that have followed — showed how social media algorithms can be easily exploited. Advances in artificial intelligence are transforming labor, politics, land, language and space. Rising demand for computing power means more lithium mining, more data centers and more carbon emissions; sharper image classification algorithms mean stronger surveillance capabilities — which can lead to intrusions of privacy and false arrests based on faulty face recognition — and a wider variety of military applications.

A.I. is already embedded in our everyday lives: It influences which streets we walk down, which clothes we buy, which articles we read, who we date and where and how we choose to live. It is ubiquitous, yet it remains obscured, invoked all too often as an otherworldly, almost godlike invention, rather than the product of an iterative series of mathematical equations.

“At the end of the day, A.I. is just a lot of math. It’s just a lot, a lot of math,” one tech worker told me. It is intelligence by brute force, and yet it is spoken of as if it were semidivine. “A.I. systems are seen as enchanted, beyond the known world, yet deterministic in that they discover patterns that can be applied with predictive certainty to everyday life,” Kate Crawford, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research, wrote in her recent book “Atlas of AI.”

These systems sort the world and all its wonders into an endless series of codable categories. In this sense, machine learning and religion might be said to operate according to similarly dogmatic logics: “One of the fundamental functions of A.I. is to create groups and to create categories, and then to do things with those categories,” Mr. Boettcher told me. Traditionally, religions have worked the same way. “You’re either in the group or you’re out of the group,” he said. You are either saved or damned, #BlessedByTheAlgorithm or #Cursed by it.

  Image: Germán & Co

After the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, international aid is guided by geopolitics

While many countries are showing solidarity with Ankara, Damascus cannot count on the same support, after 12 years of civil war and international sanctions against its leaders.

Le Monde by Philippe Ricard

Published on February 7, 2023

Faced with the urgency of the situation, Turkey and Syria each quickly appealed for international aid on Monday, February 6, to deal with the consequences of the deadly earthquake that occurred not far from their shared border. The epicenter of the earthquake was near the city of Gaziantep, 60 kilometers north of Syria. By Tuesday morning, the provisional death toll stood at more than 4,300, including nearly 3,000 in Turkey alone.

Given the extent of the damage, the call for aid from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was immediately followed by answers. Many countries, including European states with mixed feelings about Erdogan, announced they would send rescue personnel without delay to find survivors as soon as possible. "We have activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre is coordinating the deployment of rescue teams from Europe," tweeted European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic. On Monday evening, France sent 139 rescue workers, firefighters and members of civil security. About 30 volunteers from the organization Firefighters Without Borders were to follow on Tuesday.

Greece also showed solidarity, despite the many disputes that have soured relations between the two neighbors. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Erdogan to offer "immediate assistance". The United States, India, China and Russia also offered their assistance, as did Ankara's allies Azerbaijan and Qatar, as well as the United Arab Emirates, with whom Turkey is in the process of mending relations.

Ukraine ready to help Ankara

Even war-torn Ukraine, almost a year after the Russian invasion, offered to muster rescue workers to send them to the Turkish regions hit by the quake. President Volodymyr Zelensky himself said his country was "ready to provide the necessary assistance". Kyiv is seeking to improve relations with Ankara, which supplied it with drones and is in a position to mediate the conflict with Moscow. But the Ukrainian leader did not bother to mention Syria, one of the few states to have supported so far the Russian invasion launched by Vladimir Putin, who is also the main protector of the dictator in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad.

Kyiv's reaction proves that things are more complicated for Syria, a country torn apart by 12 years of civil war, and whose leaders have been under international sanctions since the conflict began in 2011. "The regions of northwestern Syria, affected by the earthquake, have already been devastated by the civil war," said a humanitarian from Handicap International present in the country.

Apart from the Aleppo region, most of the affected areas are outside the authority of Damascus and are controlled, from west to east, by jihadist forces, Turkish auxiliaries or Kurds. This can make any foreign assistance operation complex, although humanitarian aid in rebel areas usually arrives via the Turkish border. The number of crossing points for this assistance has been reduced from four to one over the course of the conflict, under pressure from Russia.

Putin's phone call to Assad

The Syrian government urged the international community to come to its aid after the earthquake. "Syria calls on UN member states, (...) the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups (...) to support the Syrian government's efforts to cope with the devastating earthquake," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad expressed his country's willingness to "facilitate all the necessary [procedures] for international organizations to provide humanitarian aid," during a meeting Monday with representatives of international organizations operating in Damascus. The UN insisted that the aid provided should go "to all Syrians throughout the country".

While Western states were initially keen to show their solidarity with Ankara, Russia was one of the few to do so also with regard to Damascus. Putin called Assad to express his condolences. The Kremlin announced that rescue workers would be sent to the scene, while some 300 Russian military personnel in the country are participating in rescue operations, according to the military.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he had "approved" aid for Syria, after a request from Damascus received through "diplomatic" channels, as the two countries have no official relations. The aid will be sent shortly, said the head of the Israeli government. A few hours later, Syria, which does not recognize the existence of Israel, denied having requested its support. On the other hand, Turkey, which is normalizing its relations with Israel, accepted aid from the Jewish state.

  Image: Germán & Co

Peru, a country in free fall

Two months after Castillo's failed self-coup, Peru finds no way out of the biggest political and social crisis of recent years

El País by Inés Santaeulalia

Lima - 06 FEB 2023

Translation by Germán & Co


Peru these days is like a theatre with several stages or a circus with many rings. In each one, the show is repeated without change, day after day. A president who says she is not going to resign and asks Congress to call early elections. Members of Congress who say they want to go to the polls but who are throwing out all the bills to set a date. Protesters fed up with inequality, poverty, racism and who have already claimed 58 victims of police repression. Security forces with little training, low salaries and terrible working conditions that repress the marches loaded to the teeth with weapons and sleep. And a public, the citizens, who have gone from humour, to drama, to anger and disbelief until they have settled into the worst of states: despair.

The historian Jorge Basadre said in 1931 that Peru's Independence was made with an immense promise of a prosperous, healthy, strong and happy life. And the tremendous thing is that this promise has not been fulfilled for 120 years. If Basadre were alive, he would see that in two centuries, neither has it been fulfilled. There are two Perus that have never met. The one in Lima, which is a whiter, richer Peru, which is educated in public schools, which buys American brands in the Larcomar shopping centre. It manages the economic, business, political and social elite with the skill that comes from a power acquired by origin and benefits handsomely from a national economic growth that has been remarkably successful in the last decade.

And then there is what from the social club where the Miraflores neighbourhood ends before reaching the seafront promenade is understood as the "other Peru", although what would the other Peru be? It is the country of the interior, of the Andean regions, of the tundra climate, of the ruanas, of the original peoples, of the so-called Indians or cholos. Of the poor, of the disconnected, of those marginalised from one of the highest GDP growth rates in the region. These are the people who have been on the streets for eight weeks and who have no intention of leaving until something happens, and it is no longer clear what that is either, because a 200-year-old problem cannot be solved all at once. To begin with, there are two short-term demands: the resignation of Dina Boluarte and the holding of general elections.

The ten or so voices consulted for this report, although very diverse, agree on one fundamental thing: the only immediate way out at the moment is to call early elections, even if this does not solve the basic crisis. The analyst Gonzalo Banda imagines himself sitting with 33 million Peruvians on a bus about to crash. "We could fasten our seat belts, hold on to the seat. Try to minimise the impact. The immediate valve for that is the elections".

Marisol Pérez Tello, a lawyer and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's justice minister, sees the ballot box as at least "an opportunity" to choose other names and wonders how many more deaths it will take until Congress reaches an agreement. Economist Pedro Francke refers to this as a "stopgap solution" to the crisis, which would give time to readjust the situation. Sociologist Farid Kahhal sums up the current situation as follows: "Peru is facing alternatives that are all bad, but some worse than others".

Peru's political crisis did not begin with Pedro Castillo. The disconnection between citizens and politicians began years ago. Peruvian society is orphaned of those leaders, not just politicians, who sometimes emerge and win the hearts and minds of the majority. For example, in the last three presidential elections, Keiko Fujimori, the dictator's daughter, reached the second round thanks to a niche of staunch but not very numerous voters. On each occasion, she lost the presidency in the end.

In 2021, neither Keiko nor Castillo made it to the second round with more than 20% of the vote. Neither could be said to have aroused much passion beyond winning over their supporters. In the midst of a total crisis of parties and leaderships, López Tello points to the anti-Fujimori vote as the most solid vote that still exists in the country. A vote that ends up giving victory to anyone other than Fujimorism. "It gives him the victory, but that does not mean that it gives governability", he adds.

Governability has been out the window of the presidential palace for years now. In four years, Peru has had six presidents. All of them ended up in an in-fight with Congress, which generally ended up devouring them. Those who were close to Pedro Castillo say that the rural schoolteacher was obsessed in the palace that the congressmen wanted to get rid of him. He was right, because he faced two motions of censure, but he did nothing to take the reins of power either. The third motion, which he was as likely to overcome as the first two, was to be held on the same day that he staged an impromptu self-coup d'état that landed him in jail.

Inane fight

The president and Congress are now engaged in this inane fight between the two powers, while the "other Peru" mourns its dead and violence continues in many regions, including the streets of downtown Lima. Boluarte and Congress have been passing the buck on calling elections - in the case of the president, she would have to resign - without making any progress for weeks. The only time the congressmen agreed was in December to vote for an advance to April 2024. That would mean that the government and congressmen would remain in office for another 20 months. Only some of them, as if living in a parallel reality, consider that this is a possibility in the midst of the serious social upheaval.

"This is a headless country going over the cliff. Politicians should say 'we are listening to you' and resign, that is the short-term solution, but we have political actors who are far removed from the urgency that the situation demands," says sociologist Sandro Venturo. Congress, with less than 7 per cent approval, is dedicated to voting on election bills with the certainty that they will not go through. Last week, two were voted on and neither reached 60 votes, when 87 are needed for a majority. Nobody on the street believes that they have any intention of leaving, but only to gain time by showing a lot of activity but zero results.

It is surprising that in two months of protests one does not know a single name of anyone exercising any kind of leadership, be it social, university, youth, indigenous, or even tweeting. From the protests in Chile came people like Gabriel Boric. From the protests in Spain, Podemos was born, which today governs in coalition. In Peru this does not exist. "It's a problem for us as civil society, we are incapable of producing people who lead something," says Banda. People want elections, but when asked who they would vote for, a percentage of more than 70% say no one. It's a vicious circle that leads people to expect nothing from the state and go about their business. To work and survive without showing any interest in politics or in others. Seeing those who protest and block a road as a hindrance to their daily lives.

Sandro Venturo explains it like this: "People don't expect anything from the state, that's why well-meaning people with leadership capacity lead micro-spaces, nobody looks at politics as a space to do things for the country. Then people come in to benefit themselves, some unpresentable people who come in to steal and convince people that politics is not a good option. We have members of congress who do not articulate two ideas. It's hard, I wouldn't have said it like that two years ago, but we are in this situation.

The good and the bad

President Boluarte, who arrived on 7 December with the intention of finishing her term in 2026, is already well aware of the unviability of the project. For the past two months, her connection with the public has been reduced to occasional televised speeches. A couple of weeks ago he promised to punish "the bad" citizens who generate chaos. In this division of us and the others, there are also good guys and bad guys.

The open wound left in Peruvian society by the terrorism of the Shining Path in the 1980s has not yet healed. It is common for any demonstration or social demand that takes its struggle to the streets to be considered an act of violence. Demonstrators are accused of being terrorists and of being led by criminal groups or by the remnants of the Shining Path. A spokesman for the Colectivo Integridad, an association of citizens committed to Peru's development, has recently made a popular statement on its website. "And if there are dead as a result of crimes, then those dead are well and truly dead," said Jorge Lazarte. Hours later he tweeted: "It had to be said and it was said".

"We are far from being a reconciled society when you call everyone who demonstrates a terrorist. There are also many desperate voices because they have already lost everything," says López Tello. Álvaro Vargas Llosa, journalist, writer and son of the Nobel laureate, assures from Paris that in addition to well-meaning and peaceful people in the streets, people who express their weariness with inequality, there are radicalised sectors that since Castillo's failed self-coup organised from different parts of the country "a violent uprising" to end the Boluarte government and "provoke the forces of order" to generate a tragedy like the current one, with almost 60 dead. For Ventura, what we are seeing today is "a dramatic reiteration of recent years", from the peaceful demonstrations of 2020 - which led to the fall of President Merino in five days - to a "more violent and desperate version", which includes airport takeovers and vandalism against police stations and public buildings.

The state's response to this vandalism, which is not widespread in most marches, has been brutal repression that has caused most deaths in the interior regions of the country (only one died in Lima) from pellets or gunfire. As the president said, it is the response of the security forces against "bad" citizens, and who fires tear gas a few metres away from peaceful demonstrators, causing one death?

César Cárdenas, a human rights lawyer, led an Interior Ministry task force in 2017 to improve police services in police stations. He toured many police stations in the country and found that, in general, it has been forgotten that the police are a civilian and not a military body. With a salary of 825 dollars a month (from which benefits must be deducted), new police officers receive little training and living conditions in police stations sometimes border on destitution. Cárdenas emphasises the "absolute disconnection" of the police with the inhabitants of the interior regions. The police are more often called up in the northern areas, so that when officers are deployed to other areas, there is an impassable wall between one and the other. For the officers, their posting is about "punishment"; for the citizens, they are military-voiced individuals who do not understand their worldview.

The macroeconomic miracle

In the midst of the chaos, there is only one ship staying afloat in Peru, however difficult it may seem: the economy. Although even that is beginning to show signs of weakness. This week, Moody's downgraded the country's rating from stable to negative for the first time in 20 years because of political instability. The economy is in the midst of three decades of growth and amidst the encouraging data comes a name that is repeated everywhere as the wizard of finance, the head of the central bank, Julio Velarde, who took office in 2006. Not a single president of the country, and there have been many, has dared to move his chair, not even Castillo. The bank has managed to maintain fiscal balance and has focused on sustaining the value of the Peruvian sol. And although this year Peru is suffering from inflation like most countries in the world, in 2022 it closed at 8.4%, the highest in 26 years, lower than most countries in the region.

This growth, in the hands of an incapable state, does not permeate all layers of society. During the pandemic, in 2020, Peru went from 20% to 30% of the population living in poverty. In 2021 it was 26%, but it is expected to rise again in 2022 due to inflation.

All this inequality continues to fuel anger on the streets. Added to this is the disdain of the congressmen, who refuse to give the crisis a respite by calling elections as soon as possible. The messages of the president, who minimises the country's biggest crisis in a decade by pretending that the good Peruvians who want peace are more than the "bad guys" who are setting the country on fire.

Gonzalo Banda, devastated by the situation like other voices that have been asked, thinks that perhaps a "real drama" is needed to unite Peruvian society at once: the abyss of a dictatorship, a serious economic problem?

- Isn't 60 dead a drama?

-The dead unite a part of Peru. But not even that, which is barbarism, unites us. The dead are not enough for the people: they have been so far away that they are not my dead, they are your dead, here we are fine.

  Image: Germán & Co

BP scales back climate goals as profits more than double to £23bn

Energy company faces calls for toughened windfall tax as it reaps rewards from high gas prices


The Guardian by Alex Lawson Energy correspondent

Tue 7 Feb 2023

BP has scaled back its climate ambitions as it announced that annual profits more than doubled to $28bn (£23bn) in 2022 after a sharp increase in gas prices linked to the Ukraine war boosted its earnings.

In a move that will anger campaigners, the oil and gas giant cut its emissions pledge and plans a greater production of oil and gas over the next seven years compared with previous targets.

The huge annual profit led to renewed calls for a toughened windfall tax, as oil companies reap rewards from higher gas prices while many households and businesses struggle to cope with a sharp rise in energy bills.

The Labour party last week asked for Britain’s energy profits levy to be revamped to capture more of the exceptional earnings made by oil and gas firms, after Shell’s profits more than doubled to $40bn, the biggest profits in its 115-year history.

Responding to BP’s results, Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate change and net zero secretary, said: “It’s yet another day of enormous profits at an energy giant, the windfalls of war, coming directly out of the pockets of the British people.

“What is so outrageous is that as fossil fuel companies rake in these enormous sums, Rishi Sunak still refuses to bring in a proper windfall tax that would make them pay their fair share.”

Paul Nowak, the general secretary of the TUC, said hard-pressed families were being treated like “cash machines” and would “rightly feel furious”.

Calling for higher windfall taxes on oil and gas companies, he added: “As millions struggle to heat their homes and put food on the table, BP are laughing all the way to the bank.

“Ministers are letting big oil and gas companies pocket billions in excess profits. But they are refusing to give nurses, teachers and other key workers a decent pay rise. We need a government on the side of working people – not fat cat energy producers.”

BP said it had incurred total taxes of $15bn worldwide – its highest annual total. In the North Sea, which it said accounted for less than 10% of global profits, it will pay $2.2bn in tax for 2022, including $700m because of UK windfall taxes, known as the energy profits levy. In November, it said it expected to pay $800m in windfall tax on its North Sea operations. BP took a $505m accounting charge because of the EU’s version of the windfall tax.

The introduction last year of a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas firms followed comments by the BP chief executive, Bernard Looney, in which he likened the company to a “cash machine” and admitted the levy would not prevent it making any planned investments.

The oil and gas company reported underlying profits of $4.8bn for the final three months of the year, bringing its annual earnings to $27.7bn, well ahead of the underlying profits of $12.8bn posted in 2021. BP’s previous annual profit record was $26.3bn in 2008.

The company announced it would hand more money to shareholders, increasing its quarterly dividend payout by 10% and spending a further $2.75bn buying back its own shares.

In total, BP handed back more than $14bn to shareholders in 2022 – $4.4bn in dividends and $10bn in share buybacks.

BP’s results pleased investors, pushing up shares 3.6% on Tuesday morning, making it the biggest riser on the FTSE 100.

Looney announced that that BP expected the carbon emissions from its oil and gas production would fall by between 20% and 30% by 2030, when compared with 2019. Its previous target had been a 35%-40% drop in emissions.

BP said that because it was holding on to some assets for longer and investing more in production, its oil and gas production would be about 2m barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2030 – 25% lower than in 2019, but its previous plan had been to cut production by 40%.

Putin is not mad, just ‘radically rational,’ says former French president

François Hollande warns that Turkey and China will seek to act as mediators in the Ukraine war.


February 1, 2023

PARIS — Vladimir Putin is a “radically rational” leader who is betting that Western countries will grow tired of backing Ukraine and agree a negotiated end to the conflict that will be favorable to Russia, former French President François Hollande told POLITICO.

Hollande, who served from 2012 to 2017, has plenty of first-hand experience with Putin. He led negotiations with the Russian leader, along with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, under the so-called Normandy format in 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine and supported pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region.

But those efforts at dialogue proved fruitless, exposing Putin as a leader who only understands strength and casting doubt on all later attempts at talks — including a controversial solo effort led by current French President Emmanuel Macron, Hollande said in an interview at his Paris office.

“He [Putin] is a radically rational person, or a rationally radical person, as you like,” said the former French leader, when asked if Putin could seek to widen the conflict beyond Ukraine. “He’s got his own reasoning and within that framework, he’s ready to use force. He’s only able to understand the [power] dynamic that we’re able to set up against him.”

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Hollande added that Putin would seek to “consolidate his gains to stabilize the conflict, hoping that public opinion will get tired and that Europeans will fear escalation in order to bring up at that stage the prospect of a negotiation.”

But unlike when he was in power and Paris and Berlin led talks with Putin, this time the job of mediating is likely to fall to Turkey or China — “which won’t be reassuring for anyone,” Hollande said.

Macron, who served as Hollande’s economy minister before leaving his government and going on to win the presidency in 2017, has tried his own hand at diplomacy with Russia, holding numerous one-on-one calls with Putin both before and after his invasion of Ukraine.

But the outreach didn’t yield any clear results, prompting criticism from Ukraine and Eastern Europeans who also objected to Macron saying that Russia would require “security guarantees” after the war is over. 

Hollande stopped short of criticizing his successor over the Putin outreach. It made sense to speak with Putin before the invasion to “deprive him of any arguments or pretexts,” he said. But after a “brief period of uncertainty” following the invasion, “the question [about the utility of dialogue] was unfortunately settled.”

Frustration with France and Germany’s leadership, or lack thereof, during the Ukraine war has bolstered arguments that power in Europe is moving eastward into the hands of countries like Poland, which have been most forthright in supporting Ukraine. 

But Hollande wasn’t convinced, arguing that northern and eastern countries are casting in their lot with the United States at their own risk. “These countries, essentially the Baltics, the Scandinavians, are essentially tied to the United States. They see American protection as a shield.” 

“Until today,” he continued, U.S. President Joe Biden has shown “exemplary solidarity and lived up to his role in the transatlantic alliance perfectly. But tomorrow, with a different American president and a more isolationist Congress, or at least less keen on spending, will the United States have the same attitude?”

“We must convince our partners that the European Union is about principles and political values. We should not deviate from them, but the partnership can also offer precious, and solid, security guarantees,” Hollande added.

Throwing shade

Hollande was one of France’s most unpopular presidents while in office, with approval ratings in the low single digits. But he has enjoyed something of a revival since leaving the Elysée and is now the country’s second-most popular politician behind former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, five spots ahead of Macron — in keeping with the adage that the French prefer their leaders when they are safely out of office.

His time in office was racked with crises. In addition to failed diplomacy over Ukraine, Hollande led France’s response to a series of terrorist attacks, presided over Europe’s sovereign debt crisis with Merkel, and faced massive street protests against labor reforms.

On that last point, Macron is now feeling some of the heat that Hollande felt during the last months of his presidency. More than a million French citizens have joined marches against a planned pension system reform, and further strikes are planned. Hollande criticized the reform plans, which would raise the age of retirement to 64, as poorly planned.

“Did the president choose the right time? Given the succession of crises and with elevated inflation, the French want to be reassured. Did the government propose the right reform? I don’t think so either — it’s seen as unfair and brutal,” said Hollande. “But now that a parliamentary process has been set into motion, the executive will have to strike a compromise or take the risk of going all the way and raising the level of anger.”

A notable difference between him and Macron is the quality of the Franco-German relationship. While Hollande and Merkel took pains to showcase a form of political friendship, the two sides have been plainly at odds under Macron — prompting a carefully worded warning from the former commander-in-chief.

“In these moments when everything is being redefined, the Franco-German couple is the indispensable core that ensures the EU’s cohesion. But it needs to redefine the contributions of both parties and set new goals — including European defense,” said Hollande.

“It’s not about seeing one another more frequently, or speaking more plainly, but taking the new situation into account because if that work isn’t done, and if that political foundation isn’t secure, and if misunderstandings persist, it’s not just a bilateral disagreement between France and Germany that we’ll have, but a stalled European Union,” he said, adding that he “hoped” a recent Franco-German summit had “cleared up misunderstandings.”

The Socialist leader also had some choice words for Macron over the way he’s trying to rally Europeans around a robust response to Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which offers major subsidies to American green industry. Several EU countries have come out against plans, touted by Paris, to create a “Buy European Act” and raise new money to support EU industries.

During a joint press conference on Monday, Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte agreed to disagree on the EU’s response.

“On the IRA, France is discovering that its partners are, for the most part, liberal governments. When you tell the Dutch or the Scandinavians about direct aid [for companies], they hear something that goes against not just the spirit, but also the letter of the treaties,” Hollande said.

Another issue rattling European politics lately is the Qatargate corruption scandal, in which current and former MEPs as well as lobbyists are accused of taking cash in exchange for influencing the European Parliament’s work in favor of Qatar and Morocco. 

Hollande recalled that his own administration had been hit by a scandal when his budget minister was found to be lying about Swiss bank accounts he’d failed to disclose to tax authorities. The scandal led to Hollande establishing the Haute autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique — an independent authority that audits public officials and has the power to refer any misdeeds to a prosecutor.

Now would be a good time for the EU to follow that example and establish an independent ethics body of its own, Hollande said.

“I think it’s a good institution that would have a role to play in Brussels,” he said. “Some countries will be totally in favor because integegrity and transparency are part of their basic values. Others, like Poland and Hungary, will see a challenge to their sovereignty.”


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