JUN
20
2008
Driving Like Jehu

What drives oil prices? Everyone has a theory that suits their ideological niche—Democrats blame lack of regulation, Republicans blame too much regulation, and the rest of us wonder why prices aren’t higher than they are already. Earlier this month, Congress got an earful from a variety of oil experts on both sides of the ideological divide (and on a variety of paychecks), and the upshot is—it’s all of those things, and more.

Really, what can and should politicians do about high gas prices in the U.S.? We’ve had plenty of Congressional hearings, firmly establishing the facts that a) much, but not all of oil’s price can be ascribed to unregulated ‘speculation,’ and b) the larger point is that global demand is going to keep rising. The UN’s International Energy Agency estimated recently that China and India will account for up to 70 percent of new demand from now until 2030, when the IEA projects the need for Asia’s new power-players to import 20 million barrels’ worth of oil a day between the two.

Karl Rove was on Fox News the other day saying that he knew people in the oil industry and they had told him that only a small part of the price of oil’s increase was due to speculation, but really it was about supply and demand. Congressional hearings, on the other hand, say that the so-called “Enron loophole” which allows unregulated trading in energy markets contributes 25-50% of the current record price increases. But all the speculation in the world won’t change the basic fact that global demand keeps growing, which of course is why people are speculating in the first place. It used to be that gold was considered an inflation hedge—nowadays, it’s a better bet to put your money into oil instead. (By the way, small investors, the minimum amount of crude oil you can buy at a time is 1000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, so start saving those pennies.)

Merely saying “supply and demand” doesn’t cover the whole of it—American gas demand is actually down and supply is actually up, and prices continue to rise, past $4 a gallon at the pump. As we learned in the 1970′s, when our domestic production peaked, the United States no longer controls the price of oil. And because even the crude we pump out of American soil is priced according to the global market, it doesn’t matter if Americans curb their consumption, which is actually what we’ve been doing for the past year. This is a great deal for oil companies with vertical monopolies, because they just pass the high global cost of oil onto consumers without having to buy their own crude on the open market. That’s why, even though the cost of extracting oil is definitely going up, the speculative rise in price lead to record oil company profits.

Now that we created the globalized world, we have to live in it, and that means facing up to the reality that cheap oil is gone. As I wrote almost exactly three years ago, the point about ‘peak oil’ is not that oil will run out, but that it will become increasingly more expensive to extract in terms of both money and energy. And now that crude prices are never going below $100 a barrel, all sorts of ‘unconventional deposits’ are becoming economically (if not environmentally) feasible, such as all that shale oil extraction which is ruining everything it touches near Fort McMurray in Alberta.

Is there a responsible way to stave off $5 gas at the pump come September?

There is, sort of. If you look at the news coverage of crude oil increases, there are always two things cited as contributing factors: growing global demand and political instability threatening supply. It’s no coincidence that an energy-intensive lifestyle and war are two of our major exports. Let’s look at how demand is structured first.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the major factors in the increase of demand is the rapid industrialization of countries like China and India, whose depressed labor markets have become newly available (thanks to globalization) to make large amounts of stuff for export, which takes even more oil to get to the industrialized countries which used to make the same products. And as I’ve said before, the price of oil will continue to climb as long as Americans drive their SUVs to Wal-Mart.

Break down the chain of events implied by this example—driving an SUV or minivan necessitates a certain amount of refined gasoline, of course, and Wal-Marts tend to be located in suburban towns (made possible by the Federal Highways Act and oil company subsidies), or exurban, smaller communities which are rapidly losing their manufacturing base to factories in China and India. Wal-Mart itself is largely responsible for this phenomenon. A memorable scene from CNBC’s documentary about the world’s largest retailer, “The High Cost of a Low Price” shows the buyers explaining to an entrepreneurial couple who came down to Bentonville to hawk their latest tchatchkeh that there is simply no way they can sell their item at Wal-Mart stores if the insist on manufacturing it in the United States (there are price targets which must be met). Of course, most of the items sold in Wal-Mart are actually made from oil in whole or part, from all the plastic to various industrial solvents and chemical process components. Not to mention the raw oil has to be moved from refining stage to processing stage to factory to consumer, all of which involve the consumption of even more oil as fuel. Even the agricultural products you can buy at a Super Wal-Mart invovle petroleum-based fertilizers and diesel-powered machinery, thanks to the Green Revolution in the 1970′s, which saved the world’s food supply at the cost of installing agriculture’s dependence on plentiful oil (the Rockefeller Foundation, itself built on windfall oil profits, bankrolled that research). Transportation only accounts for two-thirds of our petroleum usage—and only 19.5 of 42 gallons in each barrel of crude end up as regular gasoline; 9.2 gallons become diesel.

China’s exports, for example, have increased tenfold from 1992-2005. There are no available figures (please let me know if you have any) for exactly how much oil is involved in America’s burgeoning trade deficits like the one we’ve been accruing with China, but I can say with certainty that they are a major factor in the rising global demand for oil. It’s no coincidence that the Clintons have a long history with Wal-Mart and that Hillary (a former Wal-Mart board member) became the health-care industry’s darling by stealing Mitt Romney’s corporate health care plan. Whether or not you think the Democrats who were pushing it were betraying their constituency at the time, the promises of globalization (or at least as it was sold to the working class Democratic base) have certainly been exposed as folly. Not only are jobs, but entire industries are leaving, and they aren’t being replaced. And underpinning all of this is a dependence on advances in transportation, which makes cheap labor affordable in the larger scheme of things by letting developing countries export back to developed countries. But some analysts are wondering whether fuel costs are challenging the structure of globalization, which, like everything else the United States has built, relies not only on petroleum, but cheap petroleum.

Globalization is designed to address those market inefficiencies which have made the middle class possible. Let’s start with labor costs: the wages and job security which made America the envy of the world in the post WWII boom years were unsustainable in a globalized world, in two important ways: a) taxes were much, much higher for rich people back then, and b) organized labor and the industrialization required by World War II enjoyed a brief and fruitful affair. Workers got higher wages, health coverage, pension plans, and the promise of a career. To be fair, I don’t think corporations should be handling any of these things, because look how they’ve screwed up wages (stagnant, while productivity has soared), health coverage, pension plans, and job security. The problem, of course, is that the so-called ‘golden straightjacket’ of globalization, the neo-liberal regime imposed on developing countries, is to have the government privatize these functions and leave everything to the market. “When America sneezes,” they used to say, “the rest of the world gets a cold.” Through the World Bank and the IMF, we’ve elevated our Reaganite ‘pro-market’ policies to (what used to be called) a social disease.

Post-war America (and correspondingly, the American-built global marketplace) was built on the assumption that we could rely on extracting cheap domestic oil indefinitely. European drivers pay twice what we pay for gas, so they have smaller cars and avail themselves of government-built public transportation. Which, as we all understand, is totally un-American. We need to have highways and suburbs and three-car families and two hour commutes and cheap plastic knick-knacks because these are God-given rights. That’s why we consume so much oil (and everything else) per capita—it’s not just because we can, it’s a matter of national pride. Recognizing the consequences and costs of our lifestyle, however, is probably more un-American than taking a national rail service to a soccer match. This is the land not only of Manifest Destiny, but of white flight. America doesn’t like to deal with problems directly; we’d rather just get in a fast car and keep moving until we lose them in the rear-view mirror. And for a long time, it worked for many people.

Conservatives seem to think that no matter how much demand grows, we should be able to keep extracting more and more oil from the earth in order to preserve our way of life. Unfortunately, even if we increased our domestic oil production, we’d still need to import large amounts of oil because our production peaked over thirty years ago. Take, for example the folly of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Any day now, Jon McCain will flip-flop and declare that he is for oil exploration in ANWR, the same way he just came out for off-shore drilling. In many ways the ANWR issue is a bellweather for your concept of America, because allowing companies to go in there today would mean Americans would see the oil start flowing in 2013 and hit a peak of just under 900,000 barrels per day (about 5% of our current daily consumption) somewhere around 2025. The question is, do you want to put America in the position of needing 900,000 more barrels of oil a day in 2025, no matter the cost to the environment?

Of course, the dynamics of demand are only half the story. Global demand has certainly risen greatly in the last ten years, but that isn’t what’s been fueling the sharpest upturns in the price of oil. Demand has been rising arithmetically worldwide, according to the IEA’s web site:

But prices rose exponentially:

This rise in demand is totally fueled by globalization; demand in developed countries is actually shrinking. Supply is up, too:

So if supply is increasing and our consumption is shrinking, why are Americans paying $4 and more at the pump? It’s simple: war is the answer. We export conflict; much as real and projected increases in global demand for oil drive speculation, real and projected disruptions in the flow of oil come to bear on prices as well. This phenomenon is concentrated in three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria. You’ll notice that the price of crude drops during the beginning of the Iraq war by about $7 during the month of March 2003, when it seemed as though Bush’s plan for $20 gasoline through sheer force of personality (and depleted uranium) might actually work. But soon after it became clear that “Mission Accomplished” was a bit premature, crude began its inexorable climb.

When it comes to Iran, which sits atop the world’s second-largest proven reserves, U.S. policy, though less violent, is just as much responsible for driving up the price of oil. But our embargoing and sabre-rattling are always directly quoted as causes for any jump in the price of oil, even when we do it by proxy. Consider this snippet from earlier this month, when the price of oil sustained its largest single-day increase in history:

“It’s Iran — all Iran,” said Bernard Picchi, a senior managing director at Wall Street Access. “Iran is the bête noire of the Bush administration, the last remaining member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ that has not been militarily or diplomatically neutralized,” Picchi said in emailed comments. Comments from Israel’s transport minister, reportedly a close adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that an attack on Iranian nuclear sites looked “unavoidable” has driven buying to a fever pitch, according to Michael Fitzpatrick, an analyst at MF Global. Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz* was quoted by Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as saying that if Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, Israel will attack.

By the way, Shaul Mofaz is actually Persian himself, one of the few ‘Oriental’ Jews in Israel’s power elite.

And Nigeria? The oil companies have been engaged in a “low-intensity conflict” with Nigerians for many years; lately even these multinational corporations’ white-collar Nigerian workers are ready to strike, not to mention the rebels who want their Nigeria’s oil to actually, you know help Nigeria. Last year, Chevron (who, with Shell, represent the western oil interests in Nigeria) were dragged into U.S. court for some of their routine murders of Nigerians in the name of petroleum extraction:

United States (US) District Court Judge in San Francisco, Susan Illston, ruled that Chevron was directly involved in the alleged attacks by acting in consonance with Nigerian government security forces, paving the way for a trial which the company had made spirited attempts to avoid for eight years. The lawsuit was brought against Chevron eight years ago in San Francisco Federal Court by nine Nigerian plaintiffs for alleged deaths and other abuses in the two incidents in 1998 and 1999. The plaintiffs assert claims ranging from torture to wrongful death.

According to information made available to THISDAY, Judge Illston “found evidence that CNL [Chevron Nigeria Limited] personnel were directly involved in the attacks; CNL transported the GSF [Nigerian government security forces], CNL paid the GSF; and CNL knew that GSF were prone to use excessive force.”

Of course, there’s one more component to how our foreign policy has raised the price of oil—the massive debts and global ill-will incurred by Bush’s war-mongering have driven the dollar into a downward spiral. Now, it is entirely possible, that if we stop threatening Iranian democracy, withdraw troops from Iraq, make Chevron and Shell pay for their crimes in Nigeria, enact a real alternative transportation energy policy, start drilling in North Dakota, and rebuild our railway system, we could get through this oil crisis. Or, there may actually be an oil speculation bubble to burst (although I think it’s pretty unburstable, barring some major advance in alternative fuels). Let’s see what Obama actually does in office.

NOV
06
2007
Why I Am A Pacifist

I missed the anti-war rally last weekend. I’d call it a peace rally, but nobody’s really for ‘peace’ anymore; the majority of the country still thinks the war in Afghanistan was justified, and they’re even receptive to bombing Iran. Even the majority of the country who is now against the Iraq war isn’t really against it for the right reasons (as I see them), but because the terrorists are on track to kill up to 4,000 American soldiers by years’ end.

I used to be a big believer in rallies. I remember marching against Newt Gingrich and the “Contract on America” when I was 14. But as I got older and continued my study of politics, I realized that mass protests weren’t as effective as people used to think they were. Sure, if we had a responsive democratic government, there might be an impact, but unfortunately, we Americans live in the worst democracy money can buy.

If you believe in the war, and are able-bodied, the only moral course is to volunteer. At the same time, the only moral course of action for any soldier asked to kill or help kill is desertion. I know these sound like opposing concepts, but see if you can keep them both in your head at the same time while I explain.

Who is responsible for war? Everybody has their favorite culprit—Mel Gibson and his family blames me and mine, conservatives blame foreigners, liberals blame conservatives, charismatic Christians blame the Devil, and so forth.

The War in Iraq, which happened while the whole world was watching, gets pinned on all kinds of people. It’s a terrible chicken-and-egg problem—it’s deceptively easy to blame George W. Bush, because he was nominally in charge of the war. But those who live to delve a bit deeper have unearthed a treasure trove of culprits, from Dick Cheney to Curveball to the Project for a New American Century to Hillary Clinton to Bill Clinton.

There are all kinds of interesting philosophical questions about where the buck stops, because in this case, it isn’t necessarily what you did that caused (or helped cause) the war, but who you were and when you did it. When Hilary and Edwards falsely tied Saddam to Al-Qaeda, it was forgivable in the eyes of the protestors, but when Bush and Cheney did it, it’s totally unforgivable. When Bill Clinton bombed Iraq, it was prudent; when Bush bombs Iraq, it’s genocide, never mind that roughly equal numbers of Iraqi civilians were killed under both presidents. Conversely, when Barack Obama says he was against the war from the beginning, it gets discounted because he wasn’t really in a position to do anything about it as a state senator. And no one will ever really be taken to task for continuing to fund the war even though defunding it is the only way to stop the war legally.

Usually, when it comes to morality, the distinctions are a bit clearer; if you commit act X, you are responsible for its consequences. So, in the end, who is ultimately responsible for war?

The truth is so simple, it hurts. War is the fault of the soldiers. Soldiers on both sides. I figured this out using the “but-for” test, which I learned in a class on the Philosophy of Law; if it hadn’t been for a certain action, the result would never have happened. In the causal chain of events, the but-for test helps you figure out the last moment something (usually an injury of some kind) could have been averted.

As I’ve said before, war is a game cowards play with other people’s lives. Today wars are giant abstract board games, from the view of the commanders. The modern military keeps abstracting commanders further and further from he troops they command, reducing them to marks on a chalkboard or dots on a computer screen; and the politicians who engineer war are even more insulated from the reality of war.

But at the most basic level, war is impossible without soldiers. If there were no combatants, politicians would be revealed for what they are—loudmouthed invalids who would rather see you die in uniform than live up to the ideal of the public trust. Without soldiers, Bush can say anything he wants and have no less capacity to kill people with a word than the next citizen. Without soldiers, elites on both sides are can scream at each other all they want without piling up corpses.

It’s true that war didn’t always work this way; back when organized violence was more of a cottage industry, leaders used to actually lead their troops into battle. I’m reminded of the Genesis song “One for the Vine” which starts:

Fifty thousand men were sent to do the will of one.
His claim was phrased quite simply, though he never voiced it loud,
I am he, the chosen one.

In his name they could slaughter, for his name they could die.
Though many there were believed in him, still more were sure he lied,
But they’ll fight the battle on.

Often people will accuse one another of situational ethics, which means that they view the morality of an act based on its context rather than on principle. War is the ultimate case of situational ethics;murder is wrong unless someone in a uniform tells you to do it. And because the state is telling you to kill, it won’t hold you responsible for that killing—they’ll probably give you a medal for killing enough people. On the other hand, if you get captured by another state, all bets are off and you may be held accountable for the deaths you caused in any number of ways, from being held as a POW to being summarily executed.

As a pacifist and a conscientious objector, I refuse to make a distinction between the battlefield and civilian life, for the simple reason that there is no place on earth exclusively reserved for war. Even if you’re in uniform, you’re still waking through someone else’s town or field or community.

The crux of war is the act of killing. Anyone who demands death but doesn’t do the killing themselves is at best a pansy and at worst a deserter. Call me an AWOL wallflower, but that is the uncompromised truth. This is why, for example, the machismo surrounding 9/11 drives me crazy. Susan Faludi, whose recent book examined the impact of 9/11 on gender in America, The Terror Dream, notes how a search for father-figures and manly men like firefighters and soliders created a new wave of misogynistic backlash against the recent cultural gains of feminism. It always mystified me how an ineffectual preppy like GW Bush was suddenly revered as a strong, manly leader—Laura Bush has literally killed more people than her husband if you look at the world in terms of proximal causes. If the President doesn’t lead the charge up San Juan Hill anymore, what’s the difference if they’re macho or not?

As I’ve mentioned before, putting a woman in charge doesn’t cause peace—just ask Maggie Thatcher or Golda Meir. And neither do apparently limp-wristed men; I have it on good authority that Vladimir Putin, who is killing people left and right, was beaten up and teased by the people he was assigned to intimidate as a KGB agent. Napoleon was short and had gynecomastia. Richard the Lion-Hearted was rumored to be homosexual.

I don’t bring up these examples or characterizations to be sexist or homophobic—on the contrary, I mention these things because this ridiculous fiction that projecting strength will bring about peace (or war) is killing people. Elites play at war because they can, no matter what they look like.

You can’t be a puppet-master without puppets. I can rail about how person X should be killed, but unless I have influence over someone with the means to do so, it doesn’t matter. In the perverse logic of war, killing someone in cold blood based on what they’re wearing isn’t just acceptable, it’s demanded.

I’ve mentioned before that my cause is averting civilian deaths; people with guns can shoot each other in the head for all I care. I know that sounds flip—and most of the people serving in the world’s armed and irregular forces are my generation, in some cases even my former schoolmates. And while that makes it hard to blame the soldiers, it doesn’t lessen their fault. It’s the simplest categorical imperative—if everyone refused to kill, there’d be no way to force them, and no war.

The complement to the willingness to kill for your country is the willingness to die for it (if all you want to do is kill, you’re just a garden—variety sociopath). And so, there will never be peace until the last person willing to die for their country is killed.

We’re constantly admonished to “support the troops,” who in turn are in uniform because they’re “protecting our freedom.” Neither statement makes sense. If you were really supporting the troops, you’d be one; if getting into uniform had anything to do with protecting freedom, you wouldn’t be compelled to kill. Killing Iraqis only makes us less safe, and machismo is hardly a requirement for war-mongering.

To blame the war on the gum-flappers, the elites for whom war is a game, dishonors both the soldier who does the actual dirty work and the conscientious objector for whom killing is abhorrent. At the moment of death, all that truly matters is whose finger was literally on the trigger.

Politicians don’t kill people, guns don’t kill people. Killers kill people. Let the buck stop there and the chips fall where they may.

OCT
13
2007
Fall Behind

Dear readers, you may be wondering what I’ve been up to, since lately dispatches are few and I never call anymore. Well, I’ve been working on a book. If you want a copy of the proposal, e-mail me and I’ll send it to you. For the purposes of this website, the proposal is to be distributed under the terms of the Godfather Intellectual Property License: If you want to take a look at the book proposal I’ve spent the last three years working on, you may do so free of charge as long as it never redistributed in an incomplete form (i.e., without my name on it). However, in return, know that someday—and that day may never come —I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.

If that’s too much for you, you may enjoy this little video clip I did for MediaChannel a few weeks ago (during this blog’s autumn vacation):

Did I mention I hate what the web does to video? No? Never mind. Let’s just say that as an editor, I deeply resent the reduced frame rate of web video, because all that time I spend making sure the cuts are exact within a thirtieth of a second is essentially wasted. Sigh.

Good For the Gander!

Remember how I used to complain about torture? Well, I have put those fears to rest. The President himself has assured me that the United States does not torture. We merely apply psychological or physical pressure, nothing that leaves marks (never mind that these exact techniques rendered Jose Padilla unfit to stand trial).

Donald Hebb—who worked my old alma mater—helped the CIA figure out that basically, you can drive anybody crazy with a bare minimum of equipment:

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led a secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with costs that reached a billion dollars a year. Many have heard about the most outlandish and least successful aspect of this research — the testing of LSD on unsuspecting subjects and the tragic death of a CIA employee, Dr. Frank Olson, who jumped to his death from a New York hotel after a dose of this drug. This Agency drug testing, the focus of countless sensational press accounts and a half-dozen major books, led nowhere. But obscure CIA-funded behavioral experiments, outsourced to the country’s leading universities, produced two key findings, both duly and dully reported in scientific journals, that contributed to the discovery of a distinctly American form of torture: psychological torture. With funding from Canada’s Defense Research Board, famed Canadian psychologist Dr. Donald O. Hebb found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in just 48 hours. What had the doctor done—drugs, hypnosis, electroshock? No, none of the above.

For two days, student volunteers at McGill University, where Dr. Hebb was chair of Psychology, simply sat in comfortable cubicles deprived of sensory stimulation by goggles, gloves, and ear muffs.

Ironically, Hebb was the one pioneered research into the physical manifestations of thought patterns in the brain, but as Dana Perino said, “The bottom line is, we don’t torture.” Principally because torture, as we are now defining it, isn’t supposed to leave marks.

And whom do we torture er, ‘legally and successfully interrogate,’ again? Only the most important suspects are tortured in the name of national security, as the television keeps reminding us. We’re talking high value targets here, the Justice Department assures us. Which brings me to point here: if these techniques are truly legal and effective, the next Attorney General really needs to use them on Alberto Gonzalez.

You’re probably thinking, who’s Alberto Gonzalez, and what’s his connection to Bin Laden? Well, in keeping with the ‘eat your own dog food’ principle, it’s important for Gonzalez, if he truly steered the United States government away from committing war crimes (i.e., torture) on a systematic level as he claims, ought to be able to let those same safe, effective techniques help him jog his memory. You may recall the countless (OK, 64) times he said he didn’t recall things during Congressional testimony. What he needs is a little help from his friends, and afterwards, he can testify to Congress about those techniques as part of their ongoing torture investigation. I mean, don’t you think his testimony will be enhanced by a little real world experience?

They Love That Dirty Water

The comic book villain potential of Erik Prince is truly awesome, as noted by the Daily Show—a wealthy, secretive ex-Marine who runs a wildly corrupt mercenary outfit above the law. But while it’s easy to blame Blackwater for the awful things that they do (routinely), let’s look at why Bush needs Blackwater so much in the first place.

Private contractors are needed to protect high-value targets, like American State department employees or drive fuel trucks from Kuwait. Now, Iraqis, including lawmakers and police, get killed all the time. But private contractors—mercenaries— who occupy the kind of legal grey zone that lets you shoot first and ask questions later.

When you can’t distinguish between civilians and assailants, you have to get aggressive, otherwise, you’ll get hit. And we can’t afford that kind of PR. When a Congressional delegation visits Iraq, you need the kind of security detail that plays offense as defense, no matter how many civilians you kill. The Iraq body count website is full of civilians who got shot travelling too close to Americans on the highway.

Running an occupation requires a certain amount of brutality, because the citizens there are never going to view your troops as legitimate. In fact, the only time you get suicide bombers is when you have a foreign military presence. And the kind of targets Blackwater protects are huge gets for an insurgency, because it makes foreign higher-ups wary of visiting the troops.

If you want to wage war, you have to kill as many people as possible—that’s why soldiers make bad peacekeepers. An occupation like the one we’re running in Iraq requires war crimes. And that is just one more reason we need to leave.

Not So Noble

Videos like this one make me ashamed of our side of the global warming debate:

First of all, I appreciate using a chart and all, but this guy needs to stop talking to people who agree with him, because it’s affecting his ability to make an argument.

The biggest flaw in the argument is the assumption that whatever measures we take will work. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible for us to curb or almost stop global warming. After all, the Montreal Protocol was able to repair the damage to the ozone layer within a relatively short time. However, it is apparent that Al Gore is in fact a pollyanna who’s sugarcoating the situation.

I say this because Al Gore, Nobel and all, is not calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas production. He’s not even calling for a freeze in greenhouse gas production. He’s calling for a reduction in the amount of projected emissions growth. In other words, he believes that the planet can absorb much more carbon without catastrophic effect.

But the range of scientific projections for global climate change scenarios include all sorts of catastrophies, and we’re discovering new ways global warming is going to fuck us every day. I saw a documentary on volcanoes which posited that the 300% increase in volcanic eruptions in the Ring of Fire (home to the majority of the world’s volcanoes, actually) in the past few hundred years may be connected to sea level increases, which put greater pressure on the underground magma chambers causing more eruptions.

If it were truly a moral issue, as simple folk like the guy in this video want us to believe, the answer is simple: stop using gas. I don’t have a car myself for exactly this reason. However, all kind of things I purchase use gas, from transportation to plastic extrusion. The most obnoxious parts of An Inconvenient Truth by the way, re the ones with Gore looking pensive while being chauffeurred around in a stretch limousine.

The reason we don’t get off gas, as the president says, is because we’re addicted, and he should know. The Bush family oil company, Zapata, literally put the “Z” in “Pennzoil” when they merged with Penn Oil. We could raise the CAFE miles-per-gallon standards from the thirties to the thousands (effectively banning gasoline-powered cars)—I just saw a Chevy commercial for a fully electric vehicle, and BMW has ads for a hydrogen-powered car, too. We could even bring back American automobile jobs by following the German model, requiring in-country conversions for all gasoline-powered engines to renewable fuels within a certain time-frame. But then again, transportation only accounts for about 60% of petroleum consumption in developed countries and is actually the minority of petrol use in developing countries, according the Department of Energy’s “Outlook 2000” projections.

When Gore buys “carbon offsets” from a solar plant in India to ‘make up’ for his jet-fuel usage, he isn’t being as clever as he thinks. Then again, neither is his audience; scientists have basically been convinced already. Over the last 20 years, I’ve watched scientific opposition to the threat of global warming wane to the point that the few remaining holdouts have shifted so far from their original position on the issue you can tell they’re just being obstinate.

I’ve watched global warming skepticism (which is important to have, by the way) move from “there is no global warming” to “there may be global warming, but it isn’t human-caused” to “there may be human caused global warming, but it’s insignificant” to “there may be significant human-caused global warming, but let’s wait another generation before we act.” As more data is uncovered (starting with the ice-core samples from Antarctica) the connection between human activity and climate changes since the Industrial Revolution becomes less and less ambiguous.

If Gore is serious about maintaining greenhouse gas emission levels, which is what cap-and-trade is supposed to do, then he should really start talking more about adapting to a world scarred by global climate change instead of pretending we can stop it by flying around the world “raising awareness.”

And this brings me to my second point: let’s grant the other side the benefit of the doubt and pretend that taking action to solve global warming through government expenditure will be bad for the economy (which is patently ridiculous). If regulation is supposed to cause a massive worldwide depression, why is it assumed by the idiot in the above video that taking the same measures while actually saving the planet won’t lead to the same thing anyway? For free-market zealots, it doesn’t matter if government programs work, they’re illegitimate and should therefore be opposed prima facie. (Cf. Bush’s SCHIP veto.)

So you’re not going to peddle this outside of those who have already bought it beforehand, buddy.

Speaking of people who aren’t scientists but pretend they’re just as smart; I’d like to address those people who have glommed onto the fact that the sun has a sunspot cycle which has an effect on the global temperature. Please note—sunspots are not the same as human-caused global warming. They are a separate cofactor in a large and complex system. Climate scientists already know about sunspots. It’s not like there are IPCC researchers who caught the Fox News global-warming-is-a-hoax show and said, “Oh my god! We forgot about sunspots! Erase all the equations from the chalkboard—we have to start again from square one!”

“Forcings,” as scientists refer to them, mean that there are inputs which push a system toward a certain outcome. That’s why the worst of all possible worlds is one where the sunspot-fueled skeptics and the human climate change proponents are both right, and both factors contribute to our suffering. If humans force a natural process to go off the rails, it’s not necessarily a safe assumption to think that we can right the process by contributing as much repair as harm caused. The curve has been irreparably changed.

If you want to talk about the issue with global warming skeptics, you need to talk about the strategic value of renewable energy. I wonder sometimes if Germany is leading renewables research because they remember the Axis was finally brought down by a gasoline blockade. Fossil fuels are strategic resources. Renewables are even more strategic. Everyone has much easier access to them than to oil or natural gas, which, as I’ve pointed out here before, is a major cause behind wars. Even giving our enemies renewable energy helps us, as we are no longer an oil exporter.

Save Arts Education

Has it occurred to these people who are flogging all this increased math and science education spending that the real, enduring legacy of America is cultural—the domain of the liberal arts majors? Even when the DVDs are made in China, they’re still of Hollywood movies. Our culture is the ultimate export. Al-Qaeda sends its video dispatches using American-made software on former Defense Department networks. Can’t we just be satisfied with that and call it a day on all sides?

No, we need to ramp up our math and science programs because lead exposure and television are lowering the collective IQ of American youth.

Now, I didn’t go to college in the U.S., but Elephant is always telling me it’s America’s last real stronghold, our university system. It has become the model for the rest of the world (at least, in terms of secular education). We’ve kind of mortgaged everything else—we’re not the strongest, richest, smartest etc. anymore. Being on top is tough that way, because unipolarity in a system as large as the entire world is very difficult to maintain in the long term. Harvard University, on the other hand, was here before the United States and will probably be here after it, too.

Back to our moron brood—wouldn’t you rather live in a country with more defective three-chord country songs and angsty poems than defective bridges and automobiles? Think of the future, people. Think of the children, so they won’t have to.

R.I.P., Dean Johnson

Dean Johnson, lead singer of the New York band The Velvet Mafia died in Washington last week. It isn’t clear what the immediate cause of death was, but Dean was HIV positive; I don’t know whether his death was a direct consequence.

In high school, my friend was a trumpet player in the Velvet Mafia’s “Mormon horn section,” which was code for the fact that the horn players wee mostly straight, while rest of the band was gay. Dean himself was a giant drag queen who would come out onstage in six-inch heels and sing sort of retroish NEw Wave rock songs about David Geffen and picking up boys on the PATH train.

My friends and I would go see him at CBGB’s a lot. We’d be in the front row; I’d be yelling at Dean—”Dean, have my love child!” or “Freebird!” or something else in drunken teenager, and my other friend, who was literally joining the John Birch Society, would hoot and cheer along. We were the band’s most dedicated groupies—not that we were gay or really had much contact with Dean for that matter, but we were very supportive.

It’s so strange to think that CB’s went only a few months before its legendary owner, Hilly Kristal, and then a few weeks later Dean went, too. The New York of my youth is dying out. The Lower East Side where my new, out-of-towner friends drink is so different from the place where I hung out as a handily-mustachioed underage drinker, even though they share the same latitudes and longitudes. No more Second Avenue Deli, no more Rocky Horror at the Village Cinemas, no more squatters and most of all, no more cheap anything.

Dean is gone and we’ll never get him back. And so, in some ways, is New York City.

AUG
20
2007
Everyone But Thee And Me

Welcome to another edition of actual casual asides, seasoned as usual with gotchas and I-told-you-sos.

Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls…

The United States and our allies have no rational interest in disclosing how many people we’ve killed in Iraq and Afghanistan if that number is inclusive of civilians. “We don’t do body counts,” said General Franks. We may publish figures of enemy killed and captured (we actually don’t take prisoners anymore for the most part), in order to show how effective and accurate our troops are in combat.

But every once in a while, some secondary evidence turns up. According to the latest reports from all around the country:

Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are firing more than 1 billion bullets a year, contributing to ammunition shortages at police departments nationwide and preventing some officers from training with the weapons they carry on patrol.

More than 1,000,000,000 bullets a year, to the point where it literally puts the squeeze on so-called “homeland security.”

How many people can you kill with a billion bullets a year? Let’s run some projections:

The Jack Bauer all-time low (2.57 shots per death): 389 million (more than the populations of the U.S. and Canada combined)

The Amadou Diallo standard (41 shots per death): 24.4 million (comparable to the whole Iraqi population)

The A-Team standard (infinite shots fired with no casualties): 0 deaths, billions of fools pitied.

The practical upshot of all this analysis is that B. A. Baracus may well have been the latest incarnation of the Buddha.

Who Would Jesus Go Down On?

The essential friction of theocracy is that nobody can live up to all that bullshit all the time. Theocracies are, in fact, the ultimate expression of religion’s desire to normalize its social conventions and taboos. We’d like tot hink that there are some concepts which are universal, but in reality, each religion and ideology merely has different standards for who is allowed to break that taboo and when.

Murder is taboo unless you’re killing an unbeliever or for revenge; homosexuality is inexcusable for laity but tolerated among priests; it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven, unless that man is a televangelist.

So another bunch of Christian Patriots are caught same-sex canoodling, which isn’t so shocking, but in these two cases, the public found out because Florida GOP congressman Bob Allen and Indiana Young Republican Glenn Murphy managed to involve the police in the debacle.

Bob Allen’s arrest for solicitation is one thing, because it allegedly involved what he thought were two consenting adults… and a $20 payment from Allen so that he might perform oral sex on an undercover cop. But Glenn Murphy allegedly raped a guy in his sleep after a YR party where the victim’s sister bade the Murphy to stay over after drinking too much.

The best part of these scandals is the inevitable excuse proffered by the newly fallen Republican angels:

Allen: Those strapping buck negroes made me do it out of fear!
Glenn Murphy: It was totally consensual. The dude begged me to suck his dick in his sleep!
Pastor Ted Haggard: I like meth, massages, and male prostitutes, but not gay sex with male prostitutes on meth after massages!
Paul Barnes: I prayed to God to cure me and he never answered my prayers!
Mark Foley: I was molested by a priest! Years later, I got drunk!
Ed Schrock: I work out religiously, can assure you. I’m just looking to get together with a guy, we could play with one another, go down on one another, just to have some fun with, nothing hardcore.
Abraham Lincoln: I’m dead and you’ll never prove a thing!

Now Karl Rove resigns ‘to spend more time with his family.’ The whole country is wondering why he’s leaving now, and nobody can figure it out… or can we?

The Fighting 69th

The ever-despicable Mark Noonan of Blogs for Bush on gay pride marches:

Proud of being gay? Am I supposed to have a Guys Under 5’8″ Pride Parade? How can one be proud of one’s genetics? We’re firmly assured that gay people are born that way – being proud of it is as silly as being proud of your hair color. So, what gives? What, exactly, are they being proud of? Their ability to engage in lewd behaviour without being arrested? Their ability to strong arm the political establishment into helping them seem mainstream? Pride goeth before the fall, good people – you might want to think on that a bit between now and the next pride parade – especially as things like this are going to turn more and more people hostile to public displays of homosexuality.

I submitted the following comment under the pseudonym “Martin Luther” which I was surprised to see approved by the blog’s moderator:

Exactly! It's like those damn Irish with their so-called St. Patrick's Day Parades. You didn't choose to be Irish, so stop blocking traffic! Who do they think they are? Honestly, the Irish weren't even considered 'white' until a few dozen years ago. These palefaced Papists' pathetic attempt to convince mainstream Protestant America that they're the same as everybody else is so transparent it makes me want to vomit green.

Have you seen these parades? I've seen them in New York and Boston. Talk about lewd displays of public indecency! Drunkenness, lasciviousness, brawling, and public urination! And the worst part is, since the Irish seem to have infiltrated the police and firehouses, they just stand idly by while Europe's red-headed step-children run amok!

Selfless Act of the Year

When it comes to Darfur, I don’t think any American can top this. I hope we try, though.

US actress Mia Farrow has offered her freedom in exchange for that of a respected rebel figure in Sudan. Suleiman Jamous, a co-ordinator for Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), has been confined to a UN peacekeeping base near Darfur for more than 13 months.

Although he needs urgent surgery, the 62-year-old faces arrest if he leaves.

In a letter to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Ms Farrow has offered to take his place, saying his continued absence was an “impediment” to peace.

“Before his seizure, Mr Jamous played a crucial role in bringing the SLA to the negotiating table and in seeking reconciliation between its divided rival factions,” she said.

“I am therefore offering to take Mr Jamous’s place, to exchange my freedom for his in the knowledge of his importance to the civilians of Darfur and in the conviction that he will apply his energies toward creating the just and lasting peace.”

War is a game cowards play with other people’s lives. Making peace is truly courageous.

JUL
31
2007
The World Would Swing, If I Were King

The foreign policy spat between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been scripted better for the mainstream media. It’s also the reason why watching politics in America drives me crazy. The great triangulation has begun. Lyndon Johnson had the Texas two-step, and the Clintons have the Sister Souljah moment. It’s one of their ways of letting the Reagan Democrats know that even though they’re voting Democratic, it won’t be for a real progressive.

Some have speculated that the first female president or prime minister must be even more hawkish than her male predecessors; look at the examples of Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, or Boudicca. And so Hillary continues in this tradition, eager to send other people’s sons and daughters to die, in part to show that they have equal mettle to the the monsters of the patriarchy. But let’s not pretend that the other front-runners, Obama and Edwards, are that much better.

Of course, if you actually have diplomatic experience, your viewpoint is automatically invalidated. Sorry, Bill Richardson, but as your YouTube video demonstrated, you are overqualified to lead America’s fantasy charge to regain unipolar geopolitical power. How dare you have a valid point about foreign policy? You think that just because you are the only candidate besides Biden with actual foreign policy experience that you can expect to be taken seriously?

According to the Hillary Clinton theory of electable foreign policy, people don’t want a diplomat who has actually had real and fruitful negotiations with dictators by practicing that long-forgotten tool—statecraft. People want idle threats, unilateralism not only in military strikes but in diplomacy. Recently Hillary ridiculed Obama for saying he would meet dictators without preconditions, which is accepted diplomatic practice, something Richardson knows and has always maintained.

The reason Hillary Clinton is so dangerous is that she doesn’t get why the rest of the world hates the US. It’s not because we torture people or don’t have a fair wage for workers. It’s because we push our weight around. From a New York Times Interview where she talked about Iraq:

[T]he choices that one would face are neither good nor unlimited. We’re in a very difficult situation that has been made worse by the failures of the administration. So what will be inherited is not completely clear, but likely to be: Continuing sectarian violence; no real resolution of the political disagreements on the ground among the Iraqis; an unsettled if not unstable region, trying to figure out what the roles they want to play in regard to Iraq might be; a beachhead of Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives; the Turks being concerned about what is happening among the Kurds.

There’s a long litany of very difficult challenges. What I’m hoping is that with the slight change in policy that I am detecting in the Bush administration, that perhaps some progress could be made over the next nearly two years. Certainly, the willingness to engage Iran and Syria could possibly lead to some changes that would be beneficial to the overall structure of the situation we confront.

The surge, which is ongoing, and obviously if we’re going to do it we hope it is more successful than perhaps I think it could be.

I’m going to root for it if it has any chance of success, but I think it’s more likely that the anti-American violence and sectarian violence just moves from place to place to place like the old Whac a Mole. Clear some neighborhoods in Baghdad, then face Ramadi. Clear Ramadi, then maybe it’s back in Fallujah. It’s just difficult without a consensus on the part of the Iraqis, that they’re going to deal with it in some concerted effort, that we will have any long-lasting impact on the level of sectarian violence.

So come January of 2009, of course, a lot of it depends on what is actually happening on the ground.

At the same time she acknowledges these challenges, she is actively proposing two things as part of her Iraq plan: for there to be large-scale troop-withdrawal, and for the U.S. Army to continue fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) while training the Iraqi military. Sounds like the same mission with better photo ops, but less personnel to carry out the missions.

Either you believe in the mission or you don’t. Because if you make a half-hearted commitment to a strategic goal, you’re basically sacrificing the resources you’ve decided to donate to a lost cause. As the Democratic party’s second-staunchest Iraq hawk behind Lieberman, I think she never really lost the faith in some sense. She just thinks she can get away with conveniently crafted promises doomed to failure.

The problem with having it both ways is that you end up with the worst of both worlds—a commitment to force to project power, continuing a troop presence but reducing the force-protection for those troops. If we scale back U.S. troop presence, the remaining troops will have an even bigger target on their backs—the occupiers are almost gone, Iraqis will say, let us drive them out on helicopters like in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City. How many casualties will it take before ‘the generals’ Democrats boast about consulting request additional troops?

Only Biden has the guts to specify a number of troops he thinks should be left behind—20,000—but let’s use percentiles instead. If there are currently 162,000 troops in country, Biden’s plan allows 12% to remain there. But let’s look at it this way: even the most pacifist candidate would agree to leaving behind Marines to guard the diplomatic missions in Iraq. So we can establish a baseline: security personnel for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, to be the largest embassy in the world once construction is finished. A fully functional Death Star Embassy is said to employ 1,000 diplomatic staff.

If we use the combat to supply ratio for the surge analysis by GlobalSecurity.org, which is a ratio of 3:1 combat to supply personnel, we can start pricing our options.

A Marine bodyguard for each diplomatic mission member in the Baghdad embassy alone might mean 1,333 troops guarding a truck-bomb proof compound, or less than 1%. Season as necessary with increased civilian or military personnel to taste. But on the other hand, we have 14 ‘enduring’ bases in Iraq. Not permanent bases. No administration member has ever called them permanent. Our Base at Guantanamo bay isn’t permanent, either. None of our bases are, officially. If we maintain these bases only as diplomatic missions, let’s say, how many troops might that require?

The military doesn’t publish stats about this stuff, but from the closing of Camp Doha in Kuwait, we can estimate a camp large enough to inconvenience the local population is 3,000-5,000 soldiers’ worth. 14 camps means between 42,000 and 70,000 soldiers, an overall troop reduction of 74% to 57%.

Are hawks in the Democratic party calculating that reducing the number of troops by three-quarters is enough to placate the American public, which has only recently turned against the war en masse? My guess is yes, considering the rhetoric of the liberal interventionist hawks.

Her interview continues:

I think we have remaining vital national security interests in Iraq, and I’ve spoken about that on many different occasions. I think it really does matter whether you have a failed province or a region that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda. It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel’s interests.

So I think we have a remaining military as well as political mission, trying to contain the extremists.

Here’s the heart of the matter. Liberal interventionalism (which isn’t quite neo-conservativism, but not far either) holds that since democratic capitalism needs the lebensraum, liberal capitalist states reserve the right to intervene in the internal affairs of any non-liberal-democratic state as they see fit, militarily or otherwise.

If we want to look at benchmarks for hawkishness, why don’t we start with comparing Mrs. Clinton and the rest of the candidates to her husband’s regime?

As the election grows slightly nearer, people have begun to pick apart the candidates’ actual foreign policy proposals, and it turns out that as we had feared, most of them are not interested in leaving Iraq. It’s the classic problem of internal inconsistency for the purpose of pandering to idiots.

As I’ve written here before, it was only ten years ago that the Democrats had Republicans over the barrel when it came to terrorism. All this criticism about how Clinton managed the threat from al-Qaeda (at which he did a better job than the Presidents Bush, but not by much) seems to gloss over his actual successes in the War on Terror, namely the targeting and containment of right-wing militias after the Oklahoma City bombing.

How did the Clinton administration do it? To hear Hillary tell it, they should have sent in the Army to clear out nests of terrorists, bombing training camps and secluded compounds in Michigan’s breakaway Upper Peninsula.

So what changed? Mainly, the skin color of the perpetrators, which gave the issue to Republicans. Why? Because the Republican party is a well-known haven for (white) racists. Americans know that Republicans want to hurt brown people and they’re not going to let some namby-pamby notion of equality or multiculturalism get in the way of KILLING US SOME GODDAMN RAGHEADS! U!S!A! U!S!A!

Honestly, I wish these people would just return to fucking their siblings and/or pets and leave foreign policy to people who understand it. Because when the great wave of reactionary knee-jerk armchair murderers go to the polls, they’re shopping for vengeance, not viability.

At any rate, today we’re going to look at the recent pair of articles in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy: Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney!

Far from a bare-knuckles brawl, Romney’s multilateral vision sounds like the kind of speech Hillary might give if the country was still 50-50 on the war in Iraq. His policy suggestions actually sound better than Obama’s—and the reason for that is the Romney knows that we need to repair the damage the Iraq war has generated worldwide. He’s just not willing to abandon the mission in Iraq (or Guantanamo, most disturbingly).

When reading Obama’s piece, it strikes me that for all his rhetoric about being the 21st century incarnate, his actual foreign policy as detailed in the essay seems awfully 20th. when he talks about ‘renewing Americas leadership’, it seems like he’s just talking about a chrome job: “a new vision of leadership in the 21st century—a vision that draws from the past but is not bound by outdated thinking.”

Obama’s self-identified foreign-policy heroes are FDR, Truman and JFK. “Kennedy modernized our military doctrine,” he notes proudly. It makes you wonder—where will Obama’s Bay of Pigs be? Who gets to be interned this time around? And of course, who gets the bomb dropped on their cities this century?

Although it’s well-practiced and mostly rational, Obama’s argument is supported by some grade-A liberal interventionalist bullshit. The most egregious example is the following statement:

“[W]e must lead the world by deed and example.”

A fine sentiment, and one I stand behind entirely. It’s too bad Obama doesn’t. there’s an easy way to prove him wrong, and it’s called the substitution game.

Would America allow foreign military bases on its own soil? Shouldn’t China be able to set up a base on San Nicholas so they can maintain control of the vital shipping lanes into Los Angeles and to check potential American military aggression? Would he let Raul Castro bomb Miami if a Cuban exile paramilitary group was planning a coup in a Dade County training complex?

Last year, Obama, Clinton, Dodd and Biden all voted to unilaterally violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by giving ‘dual-use’ nuclear technology to India, a non-signatory who is known to have offensive nuclear weapons. You’ll notice that Obama is always careful in his rhetoric about the NPT, calling for it to be ‘updated.’ I sincerely hope he doesn’t mean that it should be retroactively changed to whitewash his actions.

If we’re going to lead by example, shouldn’t we welcome UN nuclear inspectors to our uranium-enrichment facilities and start dismantling our nuclear weapons program?

To be fair, Obama has said, and I think it is actually very brave and laudatory, that he would rule out the offensive use of nuclear weapons.

Americans know that we have one big bad-ass army and by dint of our superior military power, we have become the world’s cop. Both Romney and Obama pay lip service to multilateralism while reserving the right to act unilaterally.

Speaking of which, let’s look a little more closely at Obama’s Iraq plan:

The best chance to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political soution. And the only effective way to apply this pressure is to begin a phased withdrawal of U. S. forces, with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008—a date consistent with the goal set by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. This redeployment could be temporarily suspended is the Iraq government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed. But we realize that, in the end, only Iraqi leaders can bring eace and stability to their country. At the same time, we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq, prevent its spread, and limit the suffering of the Iraqi people. To gain credibility in this effort, we must make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We should leave behind only a minimal over-the-horizon military force in the region to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda.

The rhetoric apes the Bush Administration’s with a dove-friendly changes in phrasing, but the rhetoric is fine. The concrete proposals, however, stick out like a sore thumb. As I’ve pointed out before, the whole benchmark nonsense combines the worst of all possible incentives and outcomes. The only way to ‘broker peace’ and delegitimize al-Qaeda is to use our withdrawal as a bargaining chip. Unilateral withdrawal doesn’t help as much as you’d think in promoting political progress.

Of course, if you consider what we have done to Iraq in the past twenty-five years, you’d understand a) that Bush has already “made it clear” rhetoric-wise that we don’t seek permanent bases in Iraq, and b) we have no credibility either way. when you say you wan to leave troops behind to do the exact same thing they’re supposedly doing now but with less support, you’ve put yourself into the “Iraq was just mismanaged” camp, right along with Hillary Clinton.

Here’s an idea: you don’t need to be in Iraq to train the Iraqi military. Of course, because the ranks of the new armed forces and police are full of terrorist and Islamofascists, training them anywhere is somewhat risky, but why don’t we train them SOMEWHERE ELSE, like one of our dozens of military bases, and withdraw to the U.S. embassy?

Obama’s project goals for the new American century sound awfully familiar—he just apes Rumsfeld’s rhetoric abut updating the armed forces, and demands that we expand the military. Romney’s article says almost exactly the same thing; Obama, however, says ne need to recruit 92,000 more soldiers, and Romney says we need 100,000 more. Do 8,000 troops define the momentous differences between neoconservatism and neoliberalism?

As we all know, talk is cheap. But that’s all we have to go on at this point. Politicians don’t live up to their promises, but analyzing what they’re promising can a least tell us towards which group this particular round of pandering is directed.

Obama’s far from finished with the textbook foreign policy bullshit:

When we send our men and women into harm’s way, I will clearly define the mission, seek out the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and insure that our troops have the resources and support that they need.

Great. WHAT ABOUT AN EXIT STRATEGY? Every president has handed us the same lines preceding every military incursion.

At the heart of the battle over America’s foreign policy are a few really tough questions: Can America do anything it sets its mind and armed forces to? Is America allowed to break international law because might makes right, or should America be permanently excepted from the international legal obligations we expect of any other country? Is there any justifiable excuse for opposing America’s unilateralism—and what can other countries do about it?

There are some candidates for president who do want to join the world community as an equal. But because jingoism is more popular than religion or ideology in American politics, these people can make a case for a moral foreign policy all they like, but they’ll never be judged ‘electable’ by the media.

There are two excellent reasons Obama called Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy “Bush-Cheney lite.” First of all, it’s true—she and Biden are the ‘neoliberal’ hawks on the Democratic ballot, the ones who find themselves largely aligned with the principles of the Project for the New American Century. The second and more interesting reason is that Barack Obama is, in foreign policy terms, Bill Clinton-lite.

But that’s a hell of a lot better than what Clinton, Romney, or Bush would do.



telegrams lost
 
ASTOR PL OPERA HOUSE RIOTS MARK FIRST TIME ARMY CALLED TO CULL CITY\'S WHEAT FROM LOW-BRED DRUNKEN FILTHY IGNORANT SHAKESPEARE-LOVING CHAFF

NOTICED @DalaiLama HAS OVER ONE MILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS BUT DOESN\'T FOLLOW ANYBODY BACK STOP HEY EVER HEARD OF A LITTLE THING CALLED KARMA

@KeithOlbermann IDEA: RETURN TO AIR WITH HEARTFELT APOLOGY INDICTING @FoxNews AND HAVE BEN AFFLECK DELIVER IT AS YOU

WHEN WE FOUND GRANDPA MISSING WE FEARED WORST STOP THEN FOUND SILVERWARE AND LIQUOR MISSING STOP AT LEAST HE\'S COMPOS MENTIS

@MoRocca: HIPSTERS ON A PLANE STOP THE HORROR STOP THE HORROR

♺ @MoRocca: So many identical MacBooks on airpt sec conveyer belt. Waiting 4 Mac mix-up romantic comedy w/ Justin Long. Title?

@ZODIAC_MF SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON

RT @ZODIAC_MF: POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP

@EmilyEDickinson WHY CAN EVERYTHING YOU WRITE BE SUNG TO THE TUNE OF GILLIGAN\'S ISLAND STOP WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL US

DADDY WENT AND LOST HIS LEG STOP THE POOR INVALID IS A TERRIBLE POKER PLAYER


 
AUG
22
2012
Something That’s Been Bothering Me For a Few Years Now…

Christine O’Donnell went on TV with her usual claptrap about how Obama is a Marxist and Soledad O’Brien (who is on a huge streak of calling Republicans out in exasperation lately) rolled her eyes. In the clip, we don’t see the subject get pressed too much further, but this has been annoying me for a […]

SEP
30
2011
The Revenge of Icarus

In the summer of 2008, I wrote a short story that was intended to be a comment on what I thought was a coming depression, where overvalued assets would ruin the wealthy and force all those paper millionaires into destitution. I got some positive feedback from a literary agent, who thought I could turn it […]

JUL
18
2011
Are Marginal Academics Going Crazy?

The Wall Street Journal’s most popular article today was an editorial by one Professor Michael J. Boskin entitled, “Get Ready for a 70% Marginal Tax Rate,” and it was a doozy. It hearkened back to bygone days at university, when we carelessly tossed haphazardly written bullshit under the professor’s door a minute after the deadline, […]

MAY
12
2011
Protected: ZKY Teaser

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

MAY
06
2011
Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

I’ve decided to resurrect my dear old blog, now a rambunctious and neglected eight-year old–today! On May 6th in 2003, I decided to start a blog instead of sending my friends links to stuff via Instant Messenger. Back, then, I had to carry these posts uphill both ways; I built my own blog software and […]

SEP
22
2009
This Ought To Be A Healthy Debate

So the President unveiled his health plan(s) to what I thought was an incredible display of bravery on the Republicans’ part, and I’m jealous. I remember what it felt like to torture the substitute teacher from the back of class, yelling out “you lie!” and holding up signs and so forth. These people are really […]

AUG
20
2009
According To My Careful Prosthesis

Like you, I was very concerned about the well-being of crazy right-wingers this summer. Their favorite party out of office, a Democratic super-majority in the Senate, the stock market dragging its feet—how were we, as a nation, going to keep these people off the streets? By staging a gigantic nation-wide debate about healthcare, that’s how. […]

MAY
06
2009
Web 2.1

Usually I talk about politics here, with slight detours into science or arts or things like that, but on the sixth anniversary of Casual Asides, I’ve decided to turn to the foundational element of this blog: technology—specifically, the World Wide Web. Six years is a long time on the Internet, and even longer in the […]

MAY
04
2009
Why Doesn’t Somebody Pull Out A .45 And–Bang!–Settle It?

A modest proposal for extreme and Constitutional gun control: The right is losing a considerable amount of ground in the culture wars—every poll released in the last year shows America lurching to the left on traditional issues for conservatives from gay marriage to economic regulation to opening relations with Cuba. But there is one issue […]

APR
05
2009
The Democracy of Racism

Later this month in Geneva, the United Nations will be holding what it calls the Durban Review Conference (a.k.a. “Durban II”) to “evaluate progress towards the goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.” Part of the agenda at Durban II will be […]

OCT
27
2008
How Can America Break Free Of The Two-Party System?

The economic turmoil of the past year hasn’t just thrown Wall Street into disarray—it’s causing ideological havoc in Washington. The two major parties are just as confused by the crisis as the rest of America, and party lines are becoming blurred just at the point where the Democrats seem poised to steamroll the Republicans on […]

OCT
08
2008
If You Plant Ice, You’re Gonna Harvest Wind

A few years ago, I bet a friend that the Dow Jones Industrial Average, an index of the leading American companies’ stock prices and one of the most celebrated economic indicators on Wall Street, would dip below 10,000 ‘points’ as a result of the oncoming credit crisis. Today I called him at work and said, […]

SEP
16
2008
Drill Up, Stupid

The component of the price of oil due to speculation was always kind of an unknown quantity. At the height of the oil bubble this summer, with prices at $150, someone suggested to Congress that up to a third of the price was actually due to market manipulation (a.k.a. “speculation”) by financial institutions, many of […]

JUN
21
2008
Top Ten Myths About Ecology

Since I spent most of my last appearance on Sirius’ Blog Bunker and all of the previous post talking about oil without too much emphasis on the greenhouse gas part of the equation, I think it behooves us all on the left side of the political spectrum to deal with the fallacies of global warming […]

JUN
20
2008
Driving Like Jehu

What drives oil prices? Everyone has a theory that suits their ideological niche—Democrats blame lack of regulation, Republicans blame too much regulation, and the rest of us wonder why prices aren’t higher than they are already. Earlier this month, Congress got an earful from a variety of oil experts on both sides of the ideological […]

JUN
01
2008
I Don’t Believe In Bullshit

In 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther, began a new era in Christianity by declaring his independence from what he saw as the excesses and iniquities of the Roman Catholic Church. Having kicked off the Reformation by nailing an itemized list of complaints to a church door, Luther challenged not only the orthodoxy of […]

MAY
06
2008
Knock On Wood

It’s Casual Asides’ 5th anniversary. Consider (with the new word count feature at the bottom of each post) that at this point, I’ve written about 260-odd posts and hundreds of thousands of words, enough to fill a decent sized book. That’s gotta be worth something, right? I pause here to consider that although I like […]

MAY
03
2008
Bulls in the China Shop

It’s hard to watch the news lately, because it’s just an interminable vivisection and slow broil of the Democratic candidates, thanks to Hillary’s stalwart refusal to do the math. C’mon, folks, it’s all on CNN’s delegate counter game, which has helpfully added a feature which lets you see exactly why Clinton needs a 66% margin […]

MAR
09
2008
Any Minute Now, Amos ‘n’ Andy Broadcasts Will Reach Planet X!

Dear readers, exciting things are happening. Here’s a quick review of the past few months. That Book I’m Always Talking About For the last two years, I’ve been writing a non-fiction book—it’s what I’m doing when I’m not posting here. When people ask me what the book is about, I usualy say something like, “it’s […]

DEC
05
2007
Casual Policy Suggestions

It’s time for me to tell you what’s good for you, besides the obvious—cod liver oil, plenty of sunshine, and switching to a ‘light’ cigarette. Start Snitching The greatest thing about the immigration debate today is that everyone involved in debating it in the media is totally full of shit. You have your Lou Dobbses, […]

NOV
06
2007
Why I Am A Pacifist

I missed the anti-war rally last weekend. I’d call it a peace rally, but nobody’s really for ‘peace’ anymore; the majority of the country still thinks the war in Afghanistan was justified, and they’re even receptive to bombing Iran. Even the majority of the country who is now against the Iraq war isn’t really against […]

OCT
13
2007
Fall Behind

Dear readers, you may be wondering what I’ve been up to, since lately dispatches are few and I never call anymore. Well, I’ve been working on a book. If you want a copy of the proposal, e-mail me and I’ll send it to you. For the purposes of this website, the proposal is to be […]

AUG
29
2007
The Rotting Corpse of King Croesus

Now that News Corp has all purchased the Wall Street Journal and late capitalism is experiencing yet another paroxysm—er, market correction—I think it behooves us all to consider the fate of the lowly Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. You see, way back in the 1920′s the market was booming—everybody was getting rich speculating in the market […]

AUG
20
2007
Everyone But Thee And Me

Welcome to another edition of actual casual asides, seasoned as usual with gotchas and I-told-you-sos. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls… The United States and our allies have no rational interest in disclosing how many people we’ve killed in Iraq and Afghanistan if that number is inclusive of civilians. “We don’t do body counts,” […]

JUL
31
2007
The World Would Swing, If I Were King

The foreign policy spat between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been scripted better for the mainstream media. It’s also the reason why watching politics in America drives me crazy. The great triangulation has begun. Lyndon Johnson had the Texas two-step, and the Clintons have the Sister Souljah moment. It’s one of their ways […]

JUL
17
2007
Is Virginia As Lost As Anbar?

Sometimes, it’s too easy. What kind of idiot protests that the surge is working? “AJStrata,” for one, who wrote this charming piece of tripe which I cannot help but “fisk.” So, let’s get into it: The signs abound that Iraq is stabilizing. The massacres of Muslims that al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Malitia [sic] inflict are […]

JUL
12
2007
A Rose By Any Other Name

Sometimes I wonder how many times I can restate essentially the same points about Iraq. I’ve been doing it for over four years now. I suppose I should derive some satisfaction from the fact that the majority of Americans are now against the war. Unfortunately, that’s like the majority of Americans being against the Big […]

JUL
05
2007
Oh, Pobrecito!

When will Americans learn that prison just isn’t fit for rich people? Apparently, it was these last few weeks. First there’s the Paris Hilton in-and-out again with the overcrowded California correctional system. When asked why Hilton was being released a second time before her setnece had been served, an official mumbled somehing about ‘health concerns’ […]

JUN
29
2007
Homework Over Summer Vacation

There’s been so much stuff going on in the past month, both in the world and my own life, that I feel like I fell behind in the news somewhere around the beginning of June. Hence, no posts; I’ve been working on some other things. But There are some things I’d like to address, briefly: […]

MAY
28
2007
They’ve Plucked, They’ve Sown, They’ve Hollowed Him In

The thrashing of Iraq continues. Today is Memorial Day, when America traditionally celebrates the deaths of its military men and women by going to the beach and wearing funereal shades of white and so forth. Speaking of symbolic dates, I propose a new slogan for the anti-war marchers for the summer season: “Out By September […]

MAY
18
2007
Change A Light Bulb, Save Darfur

I can’t quite put my finger on why I’ve singled Republican Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter out as my bête noire, but I have, so deal with it. Hunter isn’t as dangerous to civil rights as, say, Sam Brownback, or as connivingly amoral as Rudy Giuliani, but there’s something about him that just rubs me the […]

MAY
10
2007
If The Hoods Don’t Get You, The Monoxide Will

As I mentioned earlier, the Democrats don’t have enough backbone to do.. well, nothing, and let the Iraq war end in 180 days. So, they’re going to continue to fund the war in some fashion, likely by insisting on “benchmarks,” which is now the catchphrase du jour . As with everything else about the American […]

MAY
06
2007
Four More Years

Today is this blog’s fourth birthday, and as you can see, I’ve done a bit of a redesign. The old design was intentionally cluttered, because that’s how my desk looks. But I figured that, as I say at the bottom of all my e-mails, “non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitam,” which means not to multiply […]

MAY
03
2007
Ask the Cop in The Woodpile

Yesterday as I was watching Fox News, I heard a small but sharp explosion and the clatter of plastic shrapnel. The batteries in my VCR remote, which I last remember replacing sometime in college, decided that they’d had enough. A cursory examination of the debris showed the batteries were supposed to expire in 2012, with […]

APR
26
2007
Cannon Fodder

C-SPAN is getting better and better with the Democrats putting the investigations front and center. I have to say it’s thrilling to watch Republicans squirm after years of this bullshit going the other way. Kucinich, bless him, is even going after Dick Cheney with articles of impeachment. I am a big fan of this approach, […]

APR
14
2007
Gender Divides

There are a few topics I try to avoid on this blog; Israel, monetary policy, cats. But I suppose the most glaring omissions are feminist concerns (closely followed by Darfur, a topic about which I have long struggled to write without much success). I’m not going to offer some lame excuse like “I just don’t […]

APR
11
2007
Barbarians at the Logic Gates

Let me state at the outset that I am a huge, huge fan of both Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales. I own several O’Reilly books, and obviously I use wikipedia all the time. I respect them immensely, and we should all bow before their superior technological wisdom. Except in this case: A widely forwarded New […]

APR
10
2007
Ultimately, The Buck Stops Nowhere

Four years into the occupation in Iraq and it's still going on, despite the mounting frustrations of all involved. My writing on the subject has begun to resemble a post-mortem on a still-living body. I felt like I was beating a dead horse in 2005

APR
10
2007
Round and Round

Being philosophically-self aware is a very special kind of hell. The simpler your thinking, the more complicated your life becomes. While other people have no problems with the inherently self-contradictory, people like me get stuck on little details like how the entire world has obviously gone totally batshit. I had this problem with the war […]

APR
08
2007
Start The Selective Outrage Machine

I know I’ve ragged on Pope Benedict before for being a Nazi, but I do feel compelled to quote his Easter speech yesterday morning: How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. … I am thinking […]

APR
05
2007
Kill Your Idols

Oh, Christopher Hitchens. I used to be your biggest fan. I hate Mother Theresa and Bill Clinton just like you. I even forgave your support of the war in the early days of the invasion, because I knew you sympathize with the plight of Kurdistan. But you don’t return my e-mails or call. And then […]

MAR
30
2007
An Unpublished Hermit's Letters, Vol. 4

I'm in the middle of this really long, drawn out criticism of Christopher Hitchens' "I wasn't right, but I wasn't wrong" piece on Slate from last week, but it's taking way too long to pen and you, dear readers, are probably wondering what the hell is going on. So, I substitute a letter I wrote […]

MAR
15
2007
When You Hit 18, Stick to Civilian Life

I'm back from the valley of the shadow of blog death with an old favorite

JAN
16
2007
The Way To Win At Gambling Is To Leave When You're Ahead

Right off the bat, I'm going to make an embarrassing admission–several, actually. Earlier, I quoted Clausewitz as saying block|Clausewitz also said, the best way to attack a powerful enemy is to attack the weakness in their greatest strength.|block Clausewitz did not say this. Al Ries and Jack Trout said it. "Who?" I hear you cry. […]

JAN
09
2007
Dashing The Troops Against Iraq With Surging Tides

So the President is planning a surge, is he? All the warning signs are there–Dad’s friends on the Iraq Study Group embarrassed him, and he knows he has to announce some kind of change, so why not go for broke and double down on America’s military future? So The SurgeTM gets floated in some neoconservative […]

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