Monday, November 30, 2009

Central Asia and US Foreign Policy

Another piece from a SLATE article in 1997 gives us this information about Central Asia (which, by the way, is where Afghanistan lies, in case there's any doubt about at least one of the reasons we're going to keep our troops there):
Meanwhile, back on earth, the Post fronts an interesting piece revealing that "the last great oil rush of the 20th century--targeted at a potential $4 trillion patch in Central Asia's Caspian Sea region--has lured a prestigious group of U.S. prospectors: former high-ranking government officials bent on winning a stake in the bonanza for themselves or their companies." The article's subhead mentions lobbying by former Reagan and Bush national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Bush chief of staff John Sununu, former Bush Secretary of State James Baker, and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. The body of the piece also reveals the similar activities of former Bush Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and former Carter national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. It's not clear why the latter two were left out of the bold type. This is tricky because it's also not clear whether in Washington it's bad to be prominent in articles like this. After all, being certified by the Post as working on something big could be great for business.

The piece mentions that Scowcroft has already made $130,000 from Pennzoil in connection with the Caspian site. Of course, for him, money has nothing to do with it. He tells the Post he's on the case "because the United States has big interests out there." Incidentally, Scowcroft is fresh from a $50,000 one-day paper profit as a result of Lockheed's announcement last week of its intention to purchase Northrop, where (a few Web keystrokes quickly revealed) he is a director holding shares and options worth more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Kissinger, Scowcroft, and the Kuwaitis

One of the more honest and honorable libertarians was Murray Rothbard. He has a devastating article, written in 1991, about Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft (who is well known to be one of Obama's main advisors on foreign policy). One more piece of evidence that the Establishment in Washington doesn't really change, it just takes on different faces and names.

The Blog of Sibel Edmonds

I have found and been reading the blog of Sibel Edmonds, a whistleblower from the FBI, who has been a hero of late to many in the contrarian camp. I'll be posting interesting tidbits from her blog, beginning with this:
I think the best place to start would be the breakthrough article by Carl Bernstein, THE CIA AND THE MEDIA , on how America’s most powerful news media worked hand in glove with the CIA, and why the Church Committee covered it up. The piece was originally published by Rolling Stone in 1977. I know it’s long; very long indeed, but I urge you to take the time and read the entire 16-page piece. It’s worth it. Bernstein revealed that over 400 US journalists, over a twenty-five year period, had been employed by the CIA, as both freelancers and actual under cover CIA officers. Almost every major US news organization had CIA agents on their payroll with the full knowledge and cooperation of top management.
I actually came across that same article several weeks and discussed it here.

Discussing current MSM cooperation with Intelligence agencies, Edmonds writes:
Remember Mark Klein, the AT&T whistleblower on NSA warrantless wiretapping? Here is a relevant excerpt from his CBS appearance: “But after working for two months with LA Times reporter Joe Menn, Klein says he was told the story had been killed at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden. The Los Angeles Times’ decision was made by the paper’s editor at the time, Dean Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times.”

First, LA Times editor, Baquet, had to inform the heads of NSA and DNI, and then get the order, ‘request’, from them to kill it. What kind of relationship did Baquet have with those ‘heads’? Contractual? Courtesy? Mutually dependent? Whether contract or courtesy, it appears it was enough to get him promoted to the New York Times as their new Bureau Chief, ey! After all, it was the New York Times who had killed the main NSA story for over a year; the same New York Times that receives calls and ‘requests’ from the Harmans of congress calling for similar ‘killings.’

Arabs Losing Hope in Obama

If the following is true, it is a major setback:
It's been nearly six months since Barack Obama stirred hearts and raised hopes across much of the Arab world with his much-promoted Cairo address. Many came away from it expecting a new and more vigorous U.S. attempt to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others hoped for more American sympathy and support for liberal reform in countries where free expression, women's rights and democratic elections are blocked by entrenched autocracies.

The peace-process bubble burst two months ago at the United Nations, when Obama's poorly executed attempt to launch final-settlement talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed. Arabs who were led by Obama's rhetoric to believe that the United States would force Israel to make unprecedented unilateral concessions -- like a complete end to all construction in Jerusalem -- were bitterly disappointed.

But they are not the only victims of post-Cairo letdown. Arab reformers, who for most of this decade have been trying to break down the barriers to social and political modernization in the Middle East, have also begun to conclude that the Obama administration is more likely to harm than to help them.

"All Arab countries are craving change -- and many of us believed Obama was a tool for change," says Aseel al- Awadhi, a Kuwaiti member of parliament. "Now we are losing that hope."

Peace Through Strength

The WaPo's David Ignatius says here that informal negotiations with the Taliban are taking place to try and get them to accept some kind of peace deal. One way to look at Obama's war plan for Afghanistan is that it is the only way to get the Taliban to take America seriously and thus move forward to some kind of settlement.

Hope that's the case.

Expanding NATO And Pissing Off the Russians

This is a very enlightening article on how it is that the Russians agreed to pull out of East Germany and let it unify with West Germany in 1990, while at the same time, the U.S. used the opportunity to expand NATO eastward, against Russian wishes. It has been a very sore point for the Russians ever since.

Wasteful Gov'nment Spending

Paul Krugman argues for more direct federal employment:
You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

So it’s time for an emergency jobs program....our best hope now is for a somewhat cheaper program that generates more jobs for the buck. Such a program should shy away from measures, like general tax cuts, that at best lead only indirectly to job creation, with many possible disconnects along the way. Instead, it should consist of measures that more or less directly save or add jobs.

One such measure would be another round of aid to beleaguered state and local governments, which have seen their tax receipts plunge and which, unlike the federal government, can’t borrow to cover a temporary shortfall. More aid would help avoid both a drastic worsening of public services (especially education) and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, the federal government could provide jobs by ... providing jobs. It’s time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment. There would be accusations that the government was creating make-work jobs, but the W.P.A. left many solid achievements in its wake. And the key point is that direct public employment can create a lot of jobs at relatively low cost. In a proposal to be released today, the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, argues that spending $40 billion a year for three years on public-service employment would create a million jobs, which sounds about right.
We spend just under $50 billion on US Intelligence a year. That's good 'public-service' employment, of course, for about 100,000 people, according to Wikipedia, plus some others indirectly.

Perhaps Krugman's proposal makes sense, to pay for something other than military/intelligence.

Nah!!! That would be wasteful government spending!!

The Achilles Heal of Recent Liberalism

Ross Douthet writes today in the NYT about how recessions can lead to trouble for the 'liberal' party:
Recessions, it seems, only benefit liberals when an activist government is perceived to have answers to the crisis. When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don’t seem to be working — or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man — then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets.

Among voters at large, that’s what seems to be happening at the moment. Nothing the government has done across the last 12 months has inspired much public confidence. Of the billions poured out in bailouts and stimulus, a substantial share has gone to privileged insiders and liberal interest groups — Wall Street bankers, auto unions, public-sector employees. Beltway Democrats have spent months laboring on an enormous health care bill that feels irrelevant, at best, to the continuing unemployment crisis. And Obama and his advisers overpromised on the stimulus package, whose economic boost, while real, remains imperceptible to a nation coping with a double-digit jobless rate.

Meanwhile, the regions hardest hit by the current downturn are places where liberals have dominated for generations, and where government is overextended already. (Of the 10 “States in Fiscal Peril” featured in a recent Pew report, nine went for Barack Obama in 2008.) Even if the residents of California or New Jersey or Illinois wanted further expansions of government, there isn’t any revenue to finance them.

So voters are turning rightward instead.

Oshkosh B'Gosh

Oshkosh makes military trucks? I thought they made clothes for kids. Ah yes, the military industrial complex.
Mr. Gates [Secretary of Defense] was in Wisconsin to visit the Oshkosh Corporation, which is making 6,600 trucks to help protect troops from improvised explosive devices, which account for the vast majority of American and NATO casualties in Afghanistan.

The trucks are a second generation of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, used in Iraq, and are called MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs. They are manufactured specifically for the rough terrain of the Hindu Kush and can tear up 30-degree inclines, as Mr. Gates observed during a demonstration at the plant.
My goodness, if we pull out of Afghanistan, then those workers in Wisconsin will be unemployed. We can't do that.

The Greatest Defeat in World History? Or Merely The Biggest Fraud

So, having looked in the previous post at the vast intelligence community we all pay for, we are to suppose that two dozen or so Al-Qaeda members, many of them living in the US for years, (while the leadership remained in tents and stone buildings in Afghanistan?) completely defeated this vast US 'intelligence community' on September 11, 2001 and in the years prior?

If so, that wasn't a conspiracy, it was an Al-Qaeda military triumph that will go down in the annals of world history for its audacity and brilliance. And for the US, it was an intelligence (and military) defeat that should be perhaps the greatest embarrassment in our history.

So where was the intelligence embarrassment? Where was the contrition and restructuring and reform? Instead, all we got was this faux outrage and pledge to retaliate.

This is all a very unlikely scenario. I'm skeptical, as you know. Very skeptical.

U.S. Intelligence

Here are some facts about U.S. intelligence operations:
The U.S. intelligence budget in fiscal year 2009 was $49.8 billion, according to a disclosure required under a recent law implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. This figure is up from $47.5 billion in 2008, and $43.5 billion in 2007.

In a statement on the release of new declassified figures, DNI Mike McConnell said there would be no additional disclosures of classified budget information beyond the overall spending figure because "such disclosures could harm national security." How the money is divided among the 16 intelligence agencies and what it is spent on is classified. It includes salaries for about 100,000 people, multi-billion dollar satellite programs, aircraft, weapons, electronic sensors, intelligence analysis, spies, computers, and software.

The 'intelligence community' consists of 16 members. The Central Intelligence Agency is an independent agency of the United States government. The other 15 elements are offices or bureaus within federal executive departments. The IC is led by the Director of National Intelligence.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AF ISR or AIA)
Army Military Intelligence (MI)
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)
National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)
National Security Agency (NSA)
Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)
US Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI)
US Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)
Coast Guard Intelligence (CGI)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
US Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)
US Department of the Treasury Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI)
I think I am definitely in the wrong line of work.

Symmetrical Collapse?

The unexplained collapse of the three World Trade Center buildings on 9/11 remains the most obvious smoking gun in whole 9/11 mystery. This article is the best thing I've seen on the issue. Here are some excerpts:
In 2006, San Francisco Bay Area architect Richard Gage, AIA, began raising technical questions among his professional colleagues about the destruction of the Twin Towers and 47-story WTC Building 7. Those who take time to look at the facts overwhelmingly agree that vital questions remain unanswered, Gage has found. Today more than 29 structural engineers, experts in what can and cannot bring down buildings, have joined almost 700 other Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth in signing the petition demanding a new investigation.

The symmetry of collapse struck Paul Mason, a structural engineer in Melbourne, Australia, and Dennis Kollar, P.E. (licensed Professional Engineer in Wisconsin). Kollar was troubled by the collapses’ “totality and uniformity” and the fact that the mass of debris remained centered on the building core all the way down. The towers should have fallen “with increasing eccentricity as the collapse progressed,” writes Howard Pasternack, P.E. These systematic collapses required that many structural connections not only fail “nearly simultaneously,” but also “in sequential order,” wrote Frank Cullinan, P.E., who designs bridges in Northern California. That’s
“impossible from asymmetrical impact loading and ... small, short-duration fires.”

The engineers find it difficult to believe the government’s claim scattered fires brought about such an orderly collapse. Failure of heatweakened steel would show “large deflection, asymmetric and local failure, and slow progress,” David Scott told colleagues at the Institution of Structural Engineers in the UK. It’s “a gradual process,” agrees Anders Björkman, and “cannot be simultaneous everywhere.” A Swedish naval architect working in France, Björkman maintains that failures “will always be local and topple the mass above in the direction of the local collapse.”

William Rice, P.E., a Vermont structural engineer, expects fire-induced failures to be “tilting, erratic and twisting.” while Ronald Brookman, S.E., a licensed structural engineer from Novato, California, figures on “a partial collapse to the side.” Symmetrical collapse requires simultaneous failure of all supporting columns, notes Charles Pegelow. “How could all 47 core columns fail at the same instant?” Pegelow has performed design work on offshore oil rigs and tall buildings. His opinion: “Fires could not do that.”

Baffling as the Towers’ “collapses” were, even more perplexing was the destruction of World Trade Center Building 7. “Unprecedented,” says Rice. “Unexplainable,” says Huebner. “No plane hit this building,” points out Graham Inman, a chartered engineer in London.

Few Americans have given any thought to the third World Trade Center high-rise destroyed on September 11th, since it was not repeatedly televised. Kamal Obeid, S.E., ponders it. “A localized failure in a steel-framed building like WTC 7 cannot cause a catastrophic collapse like a house of cards without a simultaneous and patterned loss of several of its columns at key locations within the building.”

Videos show “simultaneous failure of all columns,” wrote Inman, “rather than [the expected] phased approach,” in which undamaged columns would show resistance sequentially.

Though the building housed “offices of the CIA, the Secret Service, and the Department of Defense, among others,” Rice notes, the 9/11 Commission left WTC 7’s collapse out of its report. FEMA’s 2002 inquiry blamed WTC 7’s collapse on fires, though it admits that its “best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence.” Rice notes that the media have “basically kept the collapse of WTC Building #7 hidden from public view.”
Here's the thing. If these "collapses" could not have been "collapses", then the other obvious answer is controlled implosion. And that undercuts the entire theory of Al Quada acting alone, because no one thinks they could have or would have rigged these three buildings for controlled implosion by themselves.

Cui bono? Who benefited from these 'collapses'? Certainly not Al-Quada, who poked a sleeping bear into a ferocious rage and 'brought the building down on themselves.'

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Power Behind the Throne

From the article on Biden, this interesting comment on the power of Dick Cheney:
Biden has five aides who focus on foreign affairs, a large number save in comparison to Cheney, who had more than a dozen. No vice president had ever sought, or gained, the autonomy, or the supremacy over other power centers, that President Bush granted to Cheney. “He was his own separate branch of government,” as Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, puts it. “He took the office of the vice president out of the White House phone directory, and out of the White House budget.”

How Funny Looking

From the NYT Sunday Magazine article on Joe Biden:
When Vice President Biden travels to Iraq, which he does every two months or so, he flies on Air Force Two to an airbase in southern England and then transfers to a cargo plane, a C-17, retrofitted for vice-presidential comfort with an Airstream trailer bolted on to tracks in the center of the hold. With its porthole and shiny rivets and gleaming chrome, this strange conveyance looks like something out of Jules Verne. Captain Biden holds court in a wood-paneled galley just large enough for his half-dozen or so aides to pile into. Unlike Nemo, he is a gregarious knee-squeezer who has to be ordered by his staff to stop talking so he can get some rest.

The Afghanistan Decision

Jim Hoagland in the WaPo does a nice job of relating the behind-the-scenes factors in Obama's Afghanistan decision. Mostly they seem to come across as political in nature, it appears to me. Very little talk of 'why' we're there and what we're trying to accomplish, and more about fending off the various political powers that be, such as the Republicans, the Generals, the lefwing of the Democratic party.

It's funny, Al-Qaeda (I can never spell that right) and the Taliban are not mentioned once, nor is Pakistan. It's like those things aren't even important in the consideration. That of course could simply be Hoagland's focus and nothing else.

It's hard to conceive of a time when Obama might find it possible to begin to draw down in Afghanistan. When will the political considerations be any less than they are now? And I think his hope of somehow bringing the Democratic left along is foolish. They may vote for Obama rather than Romney (or Huckabee or Palin or Petreaus) in 2012, but then again, maybe they won't, if they don't think there's much of a real difference. They may migrate again to people like Ralph Nader in enough numbers to give the election to the Republicans.

Between Afghanistan casualties, high unemployment and foreclosures, and other unpleasantries, 2010-2012 could be a really ugly political time.

A Very Angry Public

David Ignatius has a scary dream, where he sees the economic downturn continuing for years, wrecking havoc in our political life. Speaking of the Feds latest meeting and the report from it, he writes:
It's a genuinely troubling document, as much for its political implications as for its number-crunching. It draws a picture of a nation of unfair and unequal sacrifices, where Wall Street is recovering even as Main Street continues to pay the bills.

If the Fed's projections are right, the public is going to be very angry next year -- at big business and at the elected officials who have spent trillions of dollars without putting the country fully back to work. Lou Dobbs, the voice of populist anger, may become the nation's hottest politician. President Obama, who has struggled to find a centrist consensus for economic policies, may be tossed like a cork on a stormy sea.

The Fed struggled to answer the basic question that is haunting administration policymakers: Why has unemployment remained so high, even as the economy has started to grow again and the stock market has been on a tear? The Fed's answer is that businesses, having been burned by the recession, are wary about adding more workers or making new investments. Like consumers who have just discovered the virtues of saving, their prudence -- however sensible on an individual basis -- is a collective drag on the economy.

Putting the numbers together, the Fed predicts that despite a growing economy, unemployment will be 8.2 to 8.6 percent during 2011, down only about a percentage point from 2010. And here's the scariest line of all in the Fed minutes: "Most participants anticipated that about five or six years would be needed for the economy to converge fully to a longer-run path" and a normal job market.

The politics of rage aren't pretty. But in this case, it's hard to argue that the anger isn't justified. The Fed's analysis shows what we see in the daily stock market summaries. People on the top are recovering their losses; people on the bottom are out of work and out of luck.
Why in the world this could work to the Republican's advantage, who in general support the rich and wealthy against the little guy, is a mystery? But that's probably what's going to happen, since Obama has been seemingly more solicitous of the needs of the bankers than the workers.

What's so sad is the Republicans will not do a thing to truly help the little guy. But the choices in our political system are so narrow, that the GOP will still benefit from the protest and anti-incumbant vote.

We're in for a rough ride, I'm afraid.

Rescuing Muslims?

Tom Friedman gives his take on the murders at Ft. Hood:
Here’s my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”
But then he goes on to say this:
Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.
What a strange thing to say.

Something seems wrong here. I really don't think that one can accurately describe our foreign policy for the past 20 years as "largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims". The biggest three military interventions in the past 20 years were invasions of Muslim countries by American (and other non-Muslim) military forces--Afghanistan and Iraq. The last two were not done with the intention of 'rescuing Muslims', obviously. (And even the first invasion of Iraq was done ostensibly to rescue the wealthy Kuwaiti sheiks who ran the place and owned everything.) Whatever our intentions and goals (revenge, oil, control of the Persian Gulf, etc.) it wasn't that. That's not what American foreign interventions are about.

Listen, we're the big dog in the neighborhood (the world). Our military power dwarfs anyone elses. We have made it our business to be 'the' global hegemon, and as part of that, we have interfered in everyone's business, Muslim and non-Muslim. Our NATO allies were colonialist powers in the Muslim world were many years after WWI, and we have been involved there as well, making sure that we have free access to their oil. We've changed their governments through covert action, sometimes defeating proto-democratic movements in Middle Eastern countries. We propped up many of their dictators, as long as they toed the American line. And in the largest Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia, we were directly involved in helping to overthrow their leader (Sukarno) and installing a very pro-US one (Suharto). I have mentioned our near-total support of Israel during this same time?

We have never been more active in that part of the world than in the last 20 years, in ways that have infuriated many people (most of them Muslim). Why shouldn't they think poorly of us? If I were in their shoes, I would.

Obviously, none of this justified Major Hanan's violence. But at the same time, Friedman's incomprehension as to why they don't appreciate and love us seems crazy to me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


My reading last night on the climate change controversy was very enlightening. Here's a basic summary, along with a personal preface.

In 1998 (the hottest year on record), I was all too aware of the hotter weather, as well as the change in weather patterns from, say, 50 years ago, when it was considerably cooler (according to older friend's recollections). We were living in Highlands, and it was supposed to be cooler up there in the summer (4,000 ft altitutude) such that you didn't need air conditioning. But clearely, we most definitely were uncomfortable in our unairconditioned home, with regular temperatures in the mid-80s.

I had heard of the theory of global warming but really didn't understand it (I kept confusing it with the ozone layer issue). So I got a book or two on the subject of global warming (one by Stephen Schneider, I remember), and when I was done, I literally couldn't sleep for three nights, I was so scared by the predictions of a warming world.

I became a confirmed global warming proponent--so to speak--and have been quite rigorous in my attempts to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and electricity (made largely by coal). Also, I have been distinctly distainful of many of the global warming skeptics, who seemed to me to be nothing but shills for the fossil fuel industry and free-market ideology (many of them are).

This has been my state of mind for the last decade or so. Over that time, I've also found libertarian thinking, as found on websites such as The Daily Reckoning and Lew, to be helpful on such issues as the economy and war. But I've always found their skepticism about global warming to be very irritating.

So now comes this so-called 'climategate' scandal. The emails and documents of a number of leading global warming scientists, such as Phil Jones and Mike Manning, have been stolen and released online by some unknown hacker. And they have generated a firestorm, because they point to a number of quite unsavory actions on the part of their writers, such as trying to destroy the reputation of global warming skeptics, ignoring data which doesn't fit into their models, and harrassing peer-review journals and their editors to keep them from publishing articles that are critical of global warming.

All this has led me to look into some the arguments of the global warming skeptics, and this is what I found.

The actual global temperatures for the last five-ten years or so have been level or in a downward trend, which doesn't fit into the leading global warming models. As a result, global warming advocates have downplayed or ignored the recent data. All this is indisputable and troublesome.

From what I read last night, the ranks of global warming skeptics is growing among scientists. I used to think that it was only cranks, eccentrics and fossil-fuel industry shills who were skeptics. But now it seems that there is a growing number of reputable and truly objective skeptics.

The single most popular theory among skeptics is that the leading driver of global weather and temperature is not atmospheric CO2 but the sun and its variability (such as sunspot activity, magnetic field variation, and orbital changes). This would better account for the changes over time in the earth's climate from ice ages to so-called interglacials.

The sun seems to have gone into a 'quiet period' or 'sleep' over the last number of years, which may well account for the recent cooling of the atmosphere. If this is so, then alarms over CO2 levels may well be unjustified, especially if we are entering a larger cooling period, akin to the little Ice Age which affected the world from about 1300 AD to 1800 AD. In fact, according to these theorists, more CO2 could help to ameliorate the negative effects on agriculture from such a cooling.

Anyway, that's what I found last night. I certainly haven't made up my mind about any of it. Two websites which represent a more skeptical point of view, but also seem quite intelligent and scientific (and not ideological) are The Resilient Earth and Watts Up With That.

I've always said that I would love it if skeptics would prove me and the global warming theory wrong. I still feel that way, because the threat of global warming has been a royal pain in the butt and a source of great anxiety. But I remain skeptical of the skeptics, until further notice.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Cooling Trend?

I'm currently reading abit on all the hubbub about the hacked emails from the Climate Research Center in England, which is proving to be a new scandel dubbed 'Climategate.' I'll try to report back occasionally on what I'm finding.

One of the things I'm reading is of a cooling trend for the last several years that I wasn't aware of (although we did have a very cool summer this year here in NC). Here is a post that talks about it. Here is another. And here is another in the respectable journal New Scientist.

Go figure. This is all a bit disorienting. But given my contrarian nature, I'm always up for new information and ideas.

Alternate-Day Diet

Here's an interesting idea to lose weight:
As all dieters will know, there is nothing more tedious than counting calories or weighing foods for a meal plan. Especially if you then don't lose weight.

But there's now an effective weight-loss regimen that is not only simple, it promises significant health benefits - from easing asthma symptoms and reducing blood sugar levels, to fending off heart disease and breast cancer and protecting brain cells. Apparently, you'll also live longer.

The diet goes under various names - The Alternate-Day Diet, Intermittent Fasting or
The Longevity Diet - but the principle is the same: eat very little one day (50
per cent of your normal intake) and as much as you like the next.

This appears to trigger a 'skinny' gene that encourages the body to burn fat.

Researchers first discovered the benefits of low-calorie eating in the
Thirties. They found that putting a rat - or a worm, or a fruit fly or just
about any animal, as it turned out - on a permanent very low calorie diet helped
the animal live about 30 per cent longer than normal.

The animal had clearer arteries, lower levels of inflammation, better blood sugar control and its brain cells were less likely to get damaged. Meanwhile, rates of diseases linked to ageing all dropped.

But while scientists have known for years that animals on a low-calorie diet were healthier, no human - except a few iron-willed fanatics - could permanently stick to this regime.

The big breakthrough came in 2003 when Dr Mark Mattson, an American neuroscientist,
discovered rats still enjoyed all those health benefits even when their calories
were cut only on alternate days.

In other words, you don't have to starve yourself all the time. The eat-every-other-day-diet seems to offer an easier and more effective option. The results of a ten-week trial of 16 patients [in which] they ate 20 per cent of their normal intake one day and a regular,healthy diet the next: Each lost between 10lb and 30lb; much more than the 5lb or 6lb expected.

Gary North's Version of Defunding the Feds

This comment by Gary North on the Post Office is really libertarianism at its best, it seems to me:
Years ago, my friend Robert Thoburn, the entrepreneur who developed Fairfax Christian School, was standing in line at the Post Office at Christmas time. The line was very long. He turned somebody next to him and said it would sure be better if the system were run by the government. He got an incredulous look; then that person smiled. Thirty years ago, that seemed like a fruitless observation. Yet, as it has turned out, we could lose the Post Office tomorrow and barely feel it. We don't use first-class mail to communicate any longer. We use the Internet. We use Federal Express and UPS and other delivery systems to deliver anything really important that we have to send. The Post Office in effect has gone senile.

We don't sense that it's gone. Yet the reality is this: we have replaced something with things that are better. Therefore, at some point, we will see the Post Office either go out of business or become simply a forgotten memory. Yet the Post Office is part of the Constitutional system. The Post Office has always been a way for the government to control the flow of information. As Robert Nisbet said in an autobiographical essay, in the year he was born, 1913, the only contact that the average American had with the Federal government was the Post Office. How much contact do you have with the Postal Service today? It delivers mostly junk mail to you. We ought to think of the U.S. Postal Service not as snail mail but as junk mail. It is the junk mail service for the junk mail industry. Even this is subsidized. It gets cheaper rates.

We have seen the demise of the Post Office operationally over the last ten years, yet we have paid almost no attention to this. There has not been a revolution in our thinking about the Post Office. There has simply been a kind of forgetfulness. We haven't paid much attention to the fact that we don't need it anymore. This has not taken any kind of an organized political movement.

The Post Office is sacrosanct. It is untouchable. But now it is simply ignored. This is the best way to have a revolution. Create a free-market alternative to a particular government institution, and then refuse to use the boondoggle anymore. At some point, we can simply vote to de-fund it. We can privatize it. Nobody will care, because hardly anybody is using the system any longer.

Freedom Revolution

Gary North is one of those independent, eccentric thinker/writers who is both infuriating and often insightful. I know him mostly from his writing about the economic crisis, which he accurately predicted. In fact, it was him that I first learned about 'derivatives' and their explosive potential.

In this piece, he is thinking big-picture, in terms of political revolution and transformation in the US. Here's a sample from the middle of the essay:
A revolution favoring freedom must involve something like a return to what existed in the days of the Articles of Confederation. If this is not the direction of the revolution, then it will simply be business as usual.

It is not good enough to reform the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve System must be abolished. This is the proper approach of thinking about the revolution. Ron Paul has written a book called The Revolution. He has also written a book called End the Fed. This is the correct approach. We must not try to strengthen the system, or reform the system, or make the system more efficient. We must abolish the system, agency by agency.

Ultimately, this could mean secession. At the very least, it means decentralization back in the direction of what the Articles of Confederation provided. It is no accident that no high school history textbook or college history textbook has ever devoted much space to the Articles of Confederation. There is virtually no discussion of the details of that document. Almost no one, including people who have Ph.D.'s in early American history, has ever sat down and read the Articles of Confederation, let alone a volume of analysis of the articles. This is because the victors write the history books. The anti-Federalists did not win the state ratifying conventions in 1788. The Federalists won, and they and their heirs have written the history textbooks.

The difficulty is this: to reduce the power of the national governments in a period in which the Establishment is attempting to create an international government reduces the ability of locals to resist. So, for any long-term political transformation to be effective, there has got to be a reduction of sovereignty and legitimacy for both the national government and the international government. There has to be a realization that anything that concentrates power at the top is a threat to liberty.

This strategy is not yet understood in conservative circles. It is especially not understood among those traditional conservatives and all neoconservatives who believe the United States government has a moral responsibility to police the world by means of its military. Every time this nation extends the power of the military, it extends the power of the State Department....

Ron Paul is the first politician to get a national audience in favor of limited government since Grover Cleveland. Paul is the first politician to offer a systematic, integrated, Constitutional case for shrinking the Federal government. In the 1950s, Sen. Robert A. Taft and Congressman Howard Buffett of Omaha were articulate defenders of a government somewhat like that which is defended by Ron Paul. But Buffett was unknown, and Taft was a compromiser. Taft's voting record always testified against his ideological defense of freedom. Ron Paul's voting record is consistent with his ideology. That was also true of Howard Buffett, but nobody knew who Howard Buffett was. They know who Ron Paul is.

Compared to where Ron Paul was when I worked for him in 1976, this is a whole new ball game. It is a new ball game because of the Internet. Ron Paul and Matt Drudge are the supreme representatives of the threat posed by the Internet to every Establishment on earth. Matt Drudge was able to get a President impeached. Ron Paul was able to get the slogan "End the Fed" in front of hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of Americans. This could not have been possible without the Internet.

In my view, this is the greatest single irony in the history of big government. The Internet was developed by the U.S. Army in order to decentralize communications because of the threat of an atomic attack. It was the expansion of the military that made possible the development of the technological infrastructure which, more than any other invention in the history of man, now poses a threat to every Establishment in the world. This development has enabled the members of hard-core fringe groups to communicate with each other, and to get out the message that they most love: the incompetence and malevolence of the Establishment. It doesn't matter which Establishment we are talking about; every Establishment now has an unorganized but orderly audience dedicated to its overthrow....

We are on the cusp of a political transformation. The technology is on our side. The communications system is on our side. Articulate and even inarticulate critics of the existing political system have the ability to spread their message of discontent as never before in the history of man. The fundamental political fact of our era is an escalating crisis in legitimacy for the Establishment.


I've not taken the time yet to look into the global warming scandel about the hacked emails, but I intend to. In any case, this is Eugene Robinson's take on the thing:
Here's what happened: Someone hacked into the servers at one of the leading academic centers in the field -- the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England -- and filched a trove of e-mails and documents, which have been posted on numerous Web sites maintained by climate-change skeptics.

Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit, released a statement Wednesday saying, "My colleagues and I accept that some of the published e-mails do not read well." That would be an example of British understatement.

In one message sent to a long list of colleagues, Jones speaks of having completed a "trick" with recent temperature data to "hide the decline." The word "trick" is hardly a smoking gun -- scientists use it to refer to clever but perfectly legitimate ways of handling data. But the "hide the decline" part refers to a real issue among climate researchers called the "divergence problem."

To plot temperatures going back hundreds or thousands of years -- long before anyone was taking measurements -- you need a set of data that can serve as an accurate proxy. The width of tree rings was found to correlate well with temperature readings, and extrapolating that correlation into the past yields the familiar "hockey stick" graph -- fairly level temperatures for eons, followed by a sharp incline beginning around 1900. This is attributed to human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting increase in heat-trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But beginning around 1960, tree-ring data diverge from observed temperatures. Skeptics say this calls into question whether tree-ring data are valid for earlier periods on the flat portion of the hockey stick -- say, 500 or 1,000 years ago. Jones and others acknowledge they don't know what the divergence means, but they point to actual temperatures: It's warmer now than it was 100 years ago.

Another e-mail -- from Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. -- is even more heartening to the skeptics. Trenberth wrote last month of the unusually cool autumn that Colorado was experiencing, and went on: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

He appears to be conceding skeptics' claim that over the past decade there has been no observed warming. In truth, though, that wouldn't be much of a concession. At issue is the long-term trend, and one would expect anomalous blips from time to time.

From my reading, the most damning e-mails are those in which scientists seem to be trying to squelch dissent from climate-change orthodoxy -- threatening to withhold papers from journals if they publish the work of naysayers, vowing to keep skeptical research out of the official U.N.-sponsored report on climate change.
Robinson concludes:
It would be great if this were all a big misunderstanding. But we know carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and we know the planet is hotter than it was a century ago. The skeptics might have convinced one another, but so far they haven't gotten through to the vanishing polar ice.


The First Family really dug in on Thanksgiving:

What does the leader of the free world tuck into on Bird Day?....turkey, honey-baked ham, cornbread and oyster stuffings, greens, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, green-bean casserole, banana cream pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, huckleberry pie, cherry pie – and the president's favorite, sweet-potato pie.

Movement on Climate Change

Richard Wolff reports on new movement in climate change talks between the US, China, and India. If true, it is a very good sign and speaks well of Obama's behind-the-scenes dialogues with other world leaders:
Beyond the photo ops and press statements, Obama was pushing President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the kind of climate deals that eluded him at the G8 summit in Italy in the summer – and have eluded international negotiators for the last decade. China and India have played central roles in blocking past agreements, alongside the US, in a seemingly intractable dispute between fast-developing economies and the older, wealthier polluters.

Now Obama is at the point where he feels on the verge of a breakthrough, based on the kind of talks that don’t get covered by reporters obsessing about state dinners. “He had extensive conversations with President Hu specifically on climate and conversations with the prime minister of India,” said one senior White House aide. “So he has beenbuilding momentum for a political agreement to be brokered at Copenhagen.”

The Tragedy That Is Iran

Roger Cohen writes movingly today in the NYT of his experiences and his friends in, and his concerns for, Iran. He also indicts Obama for not speaking out forcefully enough.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Obama Coolness

Andrew Sullivan puts in his two cents about Obama:
Maureen Dowd's column today hits on something she's been tuning into for a while. Dowd's instincts about human character are foolish to bet against. She has essentially read every recent president correctly from the get-go as types. And she has always seen Obama as a bit of a cold fish, aloof, too unwilling to punch back, too arrogant to explain himself too much. MoDo worried about that in the campaign as the Clintons brought more raw human emotion to the trail and Obama often seemed to coast too cockily only to right himself, usually with some spell-binding speech or shrewd piece of campaign management. I generally trusted Obama's instincts. In the campaign, MoDo was nearly right (Obama did let the Clintons get back off the mat a few too many times) but in the end, wrong (look who got elected). But in government? The coolness has yet to be proven effective - as Kissinger has noted.

You see this in the almost clinical way Obama has assessed the politics of taking on the Bush administration's interrogation, detention and rendition policies. The way in which both Greg Craig and Phil Carter have been dispatched for insisting that Obama live up to his campaign promises (no, I don't believe the personal reasons line) is chilling in its raw political calculation. Ditto Obama's disciplined refusal to fulfill his campaign pledges on civil rights any time soon. And his rhetorical restraint during the Green Revolution. The determination to figure out the very best and most detailed way forward in Afghanistan, even during a war in which allies are waiting and enemies are watching, and to take his time ... well this is also a sign that we are dealing with one very, very cool character here.

Since I've always had a soft spot for cold fish in realpolitik - which high Tory (pun fully intended) doesn't get a frisson from Bismarck or Kissinger? - this impresses me. Since I'm also a red-blooded Irishman, eager for a fight and a little romantic about my ideals, this also angers me at times.

In all this, Obama reminds me of George H W Bush in government, and of Ronald Reagan in campaigning. It's a dream combo in many ways. In theory. It's the practice thing that we're beginning to test. My sense remains the same as in the campaign. He's got this. Americans aren't that crazy. If he avoids major errors (and so far, it appears he has) and if we are not simply entering such a depressed economic era that any president is helpless, then my money is on him.
Bush I and Reagan? That's not what I voted for. I wanted an FDR and Thomas Jefferson (if it is even possible to put those two names together in the same sentence).

Clinton Redivivus

Leon Hadar, libertarian fellow at CATO Institute, reviews a new book, A Bubble in Time, by historian William O'Neill on the 'interwar period' of 1987-2001. After reviewing the Clinton 90's, he concludes with a comment on how Obama fits into this context:
Clinton’s main asset had been the economic and political reality of the 1990s, which included the end of the Cold War, the resultant “peace dividend” at home, the opening of new markets abroad, and the lack of global challenger to the U.S. in a time of the high-tech revolution. This created the conditions for the Clinton Age economic boom, and international peace benefited many sectors and demographic groups who supported the status quo and helped elect and then re-elect Clinton.

O’Neill contends that an important feature of Clinton’s success was the “evil things” that didn’t happen under his watch, though they were seeded during it. “The new age of blood and iron ushered by President Bush II, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the three men of the apocalypse,” didn’t come out of nowhere, he writes. “Beneath the frivolity of the Clinton years dark forces had been gathering their strength, waiting for a chance to slouch towards Bethlehem, the opportunity that 9/11 would give them.” In little-read publications, think tanks, and “other shadowy venues, neoconservatives and their allies plotted to invade Iraq, alienate the rest of the world, and ruining the American economy by means of runway spending, massive tax cuts, and lax regulation—the trifecta of looters.” Or to put it differently, the many disasters of the Bush years were “incubating in the heart of Clinton’s America.”

O’Neill concludes his study without any reference to the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Obama is not even mentioned in the index. But my guess is that he would urge the new Democratic occupant of the White House to resist taking Clinton’s road down the political middle and accommodating Republicans. There are some signs, however, that Obama may be trying to do just that. By selecting leading Wall Street-friendly former Clintonites as his top economic advisers and choosing a veteran Republican figure as the Pentagon chief, Obama has demonstrated that, like Clinton, he has no desire to challenge the status quo in Washington, despite the fact that more and more Americans are becoming disenchanted with the political system. It would not be surprising if O’Neill’s next volume of “informal” history chronicled the many disasters that incubated in the heart of Obama’s America.
That's pretty much my developing view on how Obama is governing (versus how he campaigned), as a triangulating Clintonian Democrat, who ends up hugging the Establishment middle and refusing to push for the big changes that we need in our country and culture.

Bring Them Home

Philip Giraldi, former CIA and DIA agent, with Ph.D. in European history from the University of London, writes in the American Conservative about Obama's apparent Afghanistan decision to expand troop levels there:
President Obama has told visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he will “finish the job” in Afghanistan and wipe out every last lurking terrorist. “Finish the job” is one of those expressions that politicians use a lot when they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. It is widely believed that Obama will approve a 34,000 soldier increase for the conflict when he speaks to the nation next week. US soldiers cost $1 million each per year in Afghanistan, which suggests that it might be cheaper to give the insurgents good jobs working for the post office or something similar to wean them from their brigand ways. How much more surging can we afford, particularly as it doesn’t seem to be working?

I am all for finding and killing GENUINE terrorists (as opposed to farmers or wedding party guests) who threaten the United States but I have to wonder what Obama has been smoking lately. There is no coherency to the policies that he appears to embrace, which are little more than mission creep seeking to rebuild central Asia. There is little or no al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan while the presence in Pakistan appears to be fairly small and largely preoccupied with scurrying from one bolt hole to another. If the US successfully pressures al-Qaeda it will just move somewhere else and continue doing what it is doing, which does not appear to be very much. Is it really worth 100,000 troops on the ground at a cost of $170 billion per year? Not to mention lots of dead American soldiers.

The massive US troop presence in Afghanistan is there to fight the Taliban - which does not threaten the United States in any way, shape, or form - while shoring up Mr. Hundred Per Cent Hamid Karzai and his merry band of cutthroat thieves. Is Obama also telling the Indians wink-wink that he will next turn on the Muslims seeking to liberate Kashmir, who also do not threaten the US? Who’s next after that and where does it all end? If Obama seriously wants to “finish” it in Afghanistan he would gather in all of the country’s neighbors in a latter-day Congress of Vienna to work out a security formula that is acceptable to most of them and then pull out. Bring the troops home by Christmas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Certain To Be Convicted?

Paul Craig Roberts, former conservative Reaganite economist turned radical, plays devil's advocate with regards to the forthcoming NY trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of Sept. 11:

Republicans and American conservatives regard civil liberties as coddling devices for criminals and terrorists. They assume that police and prosecutors are morally pure and, in addition, never make mistakes. An accused person is guilty, or government wouldn’t have accused him. All of my life, I have heard self-described conservatives disparage lawyers who defend criminals. Such “conservatives” live in an ideal, not real, world. They desperately need to read “The Tyranny of Good Intentions.”

Even some of those, such as Stuart Taylor in the National Journal, who defend giving Mohammed a court trial do so on the grounds that there are no risks, as Mohammed is certain to be convicted and that “a civilian trial will show Americans and the rest of the world that our government is sure it can prove the 9/11 defendants guilty in the fairest of all courts.”

Taylor agrees that Mohammed deserves “summary execution,” but that it is a good Machiavellian ploy to try Mohammed in civilian court, while dealing with cases that have “trickier evidentiary problems” in “more flexible military commissions, away from the brightest spotlights.”

In other words, Taylor and the National Journal endorse Mohammed’s trial as a show trial that will prove both America’s honorable respect for fair trials and Muslim guilt for Sept. 11.

If, as Taylor writes, “the government’s evidence is so strong,” why wasn’t Mohammed tried years ago? Why was he held for years and tortured—apparently water-boarded 183 times—in violation of U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions? How can the U.S. government put a defendant on trial when its treatment of him violates U.S. statutory law, international law and every precept of the U.S. legal code? Mohammed has been treated as if he were a captive of Adolf Hitler’s Gestapo or Joseph Stalin’s KGB. And now we are going to finish him off in a show trial.

If the barbaric treatment Mohammed has received during his captivity hasn’t driven him insane, how do we know he hasn’t decided to confess in order to obtain for himself for evermore the glory of the deed? How many people can claim to have outwitted the CIA, the National Security Agency and all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, NORAD, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, airport security (four times on one morning), U.S. air traffic control, the U.S. Air Force, the military joint chiefs of staff, all the neocons, Mossad and even the formidable Dick Cheney?
The price that Mohammed will pay will be small compared to the price we Americans will pay. The outcome of Mohammed’s trial will complete the transformation of the U.S. legal system from a shield of the people into a weapon in the hands of the state. Feige [David Feige in on Nov. 19] writes that Mohammed’s statements obtained by torture will not be suppressed, that witnesses against him will not be produced (”national security”), that documents that compromise the prosecution will be redacted.

At each stage of Mohammed’s appeals process, higher courts will enshrine into legal precedents the denial of the constitutional right to a speedy trial, thus enshrining indefinite detention; the denial of the right against damning pretrial publicity, thus allowing demonization prior to trial; and the denial of the right to have witnesses and documents produced, thus eviscerating a defendant’s rights to exculpatory evidence and to confront adverse witnesses.

The twisted logic necessary to disentangle Mohammed’s torture from his confession will also be upheld and will “provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they’ve been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.”

To Assure Pakistan

Finally, in the New York Times, is some hint of why we might find it really important from a strategic standpoint to stay in Afghanistan:
Pakistan poses a particularly difficult problem. Mr. Obama has been highly attuned to the need to declare that the United States is not in what he recently called “an open-ended commitment” in Afghanistan.

But for years, throughout the Bush administration and into the Obama administration, American officials have been making trips to Pakistan to reassure its government that the United States has no intention of pulling out of Afghanistan as it did 20 years ago, after the Soviets retreated from the country. Inside the Pakistani Army and the intelligence service, which is known as the ISI, it is an article of faith among some officers that the United States is deceiving them, and that it will replay 1989.

If that happens, some Pakistanis argue, India will fill the void in southern Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan surrounded by its longtime enemy. So any talk of exit strategies is bound to reaffirm the belief of some Pakistani officials that they have to maintain their contacts with the Taliban — their hedge against Indian encroachment.

So the United States is stuck, one official said, between not wanting to suggest it will be a military presence in the region forever and showing enough commitment to encourage Pakistan to change its behavior.

So What Is The New Afghan Policy?

According to the WaPo:
What is emerging from White House discussions is a plan favored by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that would deploy between 30,000 and 35,000 additional U.S. troops and call on NATO allies to contribute another 10,000 soldiers. That would bring the total number of new allied troops to about 40,000, the number sought by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. There are currently 68,000 U.S. troops there.

...Gates's proposal has won powerful advocates within the military and the administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It appears to be the most widely supported option, although Obama's advisers say he has yet to make known his final choice.

Some of Obama's most influential civilian advisers, led by Vice President Biden, favor a more narrow counterterrorism strategy that would accelerate the training of Afghan forces and intensify aerial strikes against al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many Congressional Democrats prefer Biden's approach, and Obama has been considering a proposal that would send 10,000 additional U.S. troops.

McChrystal and Eikenberry, a retired general who served in Afghanistan, are at odds over the war strategy, with the ambassador opposing new troops until Karzai moves against corruption in his government and takes steps to strengthen the state.

Congressional Republicans are the chief advocates for sending additional troops to Afghanistan and have been pushing Obama to quickly accept McChrystal's full 40,000-troop request.

Some Democrats who oppose sending additional troops to Afghanistan have raised the possibility of new taxes to pay for the war. In a conference call Tuesday with economists, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said House Democrats would have trouble approving a proposal for additional troops because of the costs and the concerns over its long-term national security implications.
Once again, Obama comes across as more hawkish than Joe Biden. I wouldn't have expected this, given what I thought I knew about them before the election.

What I want to know is, why are we doing this? What is the goal of this policy?

Thoughtful and Cautious, But Not Transformational

In the WaPo today, there is discussion about Obama's decision making process on Afghanistan:
Obama's handling of the Afghanistan conundrum has been a spectacle of deliberation unlike anything seen in the White House in recent memory. The strategic review began in September. Again and again, the war council convened in the Situation Room. The president mulled an array of unappealing options. Next week, finally, he will tell the American public the outcome of all this strategizing.

"He's establishing his decision-making process as being almost diametrically the opposite of the previous administration," says Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's chief of staff. Wilkerson, who teaches national security decision-making at George Washington University, says the Bush-Cheney style was "cowboy-like, typical Texas, typical Wyoming, and extremely secretive."

Stephen Wayne, who teaches about the presidency at Georgetown, said: "He's not an instinctive decision-maker as Bush was. He doesn't go with his gut, he thinks with his head, which I think is desirable." Referring to the Afghanistan decision, Wayne said, "I don't think he is an indecisive person, I just think this is a tough one."

But to his critics, Obama's prolonged Afghanistan review suggests weakness rather than wisdom. Former vice president Richard B. Cheney lobbed the "dithering" accusation last month. Then last week, former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) said on his radio show that Obama has waited so long to decide on an Afghanistan strategy that the war is now lost. "The president does not have the will and determination to do what's necessary to win it. His heart's not in it, and never has been," Thompson said.

Obama's style has been attacked from his left flank as well. Liberals have zinged him as being too cautious, too much of a compromiser. Some of his supporters would like to see him show more fire in the belly and recapture the energy that propelled him to victory last year.

"I think the Obama we've seen as president is a very different Obama than we saw during the campaign. He doesn't seem to be connected, he doesn't seem to have the passion, he doesn't seem to be conveying the grand and inspiring vision," says the progressive historian Allan Lichtman of American University. "If you want to be a transformational president, you've got to take the risks."

Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton, says Obama has suffered from unrealistic expectations among those who put him in office. "They kind of were sold Utopia, and they bought it, and it didn't happen," he says. "People were comparing the candidate to Abraham Lincoln before he served a day of his presidency. Nobody can live up to that."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Lazy Life of a NY Times Columnist

Subtitled: Being limited to 700 words a column leaves so little room for facts!

There are all kinds of lazy problems in David Brooks latest column. I'll highlight a couple of his worst points:
Early in this health care reform process, many of us thought we were in that magical sweet spot. We could extend coverage to the uninsured but also improve the system overall to lower costs.

Would Mr. Brooks like to inform us what this Magical Sweet Spot Plan was? Because I've followed the debate closely, and I have no idea what he is talking about. I suspect neither does he.
Instead of reducing costs, the bills in Congress would probably raise them. They would mean that more of the nation’s wealth would be siphoned off from productive uses and shifted into a still wasteful health care system.

Brooks is using the word "costs" deceitfully here . He is talking only about what health care "costs" the government takes on, while not including the private dollars that you and I spend on health care. But both private and public costs are part of the same health care system that is the most expensive in the world. Brooks ignores the fact that if the government spends more on health care, middle and working class costs can be reduced. For example, Brooks would say a single-payer system "costs" more. And it does cost the government more. But it costs the average person less.
But the general view among independent health care economists is that these changes will not fundamentally bend the cost curve. The system after reform will look as it does today, only bigger and more expensive.

And he quotes the Wall Street Journal. What, was Fox News busy? In fact, many economists do believe it will bend the cost curve, see Ron Brownstein's article. Back to Brooks:
In these bills, the present Congress pledges that future Congresses will impose painful measures to cut Medicare payments and impose efficiencies. Future Congresses rarely live up to these pledges. Somebody screams “Rationing!” and there is a bipartisan rush to kill even the most tepid cost-saving measure. After all, if the current Congress, with pride of authorship, couldn’t reduce costs, why should we expect that future Congresses will?

Wake up David Brooks, you might have missed something! Over to you Ezra Klein:
But Congress has made tough decisions before. The House, for instance, just voted to cut $500 billion from Medicare to reform the health-care system. The Senate is expected to cut a similar amount, and also create a new institution to make future cuts easier. Hard votes often fail, but they occasionally succeed.

Brooks also does not mention that the Senate bill creates a Medicare Commission with strong powers to cut medicare costs. Under this provision of the bill, Congress must each year vote on the Commission's entire package of reforms without getting to tweak it or add pork, with no fillibusters allowed, or Congress has the option of proposing equivalent funding cuts in other areas. That sounds about as airtight a cost-cutting system as there can be! What does Brooks want Congress to do exactly if this is not good enough for him?

Maybe Brooks would answer, "Whatever. Congress will find a way not to make the cuts." You know, Brooksy, at that point.....well, Ezra says it best:
It's possible, of course, that Congress will still reject the ideas. At that point, however, it's pretty much time to give up and go home. If there are no circumstances under which Congress will reform Medicare, there are no circumstances under which the federal government will not go bankrupt.

It seems to me that this health care bill is the best we can expect from a money-larded system in a democracy of 300 million people. And in a lot of ways it is pretty good. But its not perfect, and of course people like David Brooks will use its downfalls to try to kill the bill. But I agree with Ezra--if this bill fails, then we really are screwed. We might as well give up and go home. With the stakes so high, it seems to me a mark of partisan unseriousness to be David Brooks and so lazily and inaccurately write about this bill.

A False Choice

According to David Brooks, the current health care bills in Congress will not significantly restrain health care costs:

But the general view among independent health care economists is that these changes will not fundamentally bend the cost curve. The system after reform will look as it does today, only bigger and more expensive.

As Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the Harvard Medical School, wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week, “In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it.”
Brooks then goes on to make a very valid point:

In these bills, the present Congress pledges that future Congresses will impose painful measures to cut Medicare payments and impose efficiencies. Future Congresses rarely live up to these pledges. Somebody screams “Rationing!” and there is a bipartisan rush to kill even the most tepid cost-saving measure. After all, if the current Congress, with pride of authorship, couldn’t reduce costs, why should we expect that future Congresses will?
But then he then puts the choice before us in a very strange way.
Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.
Decent versus vibrant? Youthful versus aged? Unforgiving versus civilized? Is that what a good health care system entails by way of choosing what kind of society we want to be?

I don't see Canada or France being any less 'youthful' or 'vibrant' because they have a single-payer health care system. Canada's economy, for example, is in far better shape than ours right now. Their banking system was recently recognized as the best, most secure banking system in the world, because it was well regulated and cautious, unlike those in the U.S. Furthermore, they have a more vibrant manufacturing sector because they don't have enormous employer health care costs like we do but a more sensible, government run, taxpayer-based health system that covers everybody.

Brooks presents a very false and unnecessary choice in our health care debate. To allow our current system to continue unchecked and unreformed is a formula for national decline, bankrupcty, and collapse. We have no choice but to reform, in a way that both expands coverage and controls cost. That is task before us. Brooks may be correct that the current efforts don't achieve this, but that doesn't negate the need for real reform.

Bending the Health Care Cost Curve

The Senate health care bill does have some people optimistic about its potential. Check out Ron Brownstein's article in the Atlantic:

"I'm sort of a known skeptic on this stuff," Gruber told me. "My summary is it's really hard to figure out how to bend the cost curve, but I can't think of a thing to try that they didn't try. They really make the best effort anyone has ever made. Everything is in here....I can't think of anything I'd do that they are not doing in the bill. You couldn't have done better than they are doing."

Republicans Will Benefit From the Democrats' Paralysis

I'm in a foul mood politically today, no doubt. Therefore this piece made sense to me. I think the Democrats are headed for a drubbing next November, losing significant seats in both houses of Congress for the reasons listed.

Democrats could go, in two short years, from winning once-in-a-generation majorities in both houses of Congress to something very like the 1994 fiasco which swept them from power. Now, many on the Left discount such dire warnings, thinking complacently: "Democrats are moving slow, true, but there's just no way the public will vote the Republicans back in power, since they're the ones who got us into all these messes." Such thinking ignores two very important constants in American politics: the public has a very short attention span, and likewise a very short memory; and secondly, the public has very little tolerance for politicians not being able to get anything done. If the Democrats have crushing losses next year, we pundits will waste a lot of ink and electrons debating whether it was an anti-Democratic, pro-Republican, or just anti-incumbent "wave" among the populace, but none of it will change the outcome one whit after the fact. Given the duality of our two-party system, if people are annoyed with Democrats for whatever reason, then Republicans are the ones who will benefit. That's the way the game's played in America.
That in turn will force Obama to 'triangulate' even more, akin to what Clinton had to do. And that will mean the end of 'yes we can.' Obama becomes a caretaker President instead of a transformational President he was supposed to be.

Obama's Biggest Mistake

The administration is starting to get more and more static about the unemployment problem from its own Democratic ranks in Congress. Arianna Huffington writes:
But though the alarm bells don't seem to be ringing in the White House, last week showed that there has clearly been a major shift in the tectonic plates on Capitol Hill.

For starters, there is increasing agreement that Obama's economic team is not up to the job of dealing with the unemployment crisis. According to Rep. Peter DeFazio, there is a "growing consensus" in the Congressional Progressive Caucus that Geithner should resign -- and that Summers needs to go, too. "We need a new economic team," DeFazio said on MSNBC. "We may have to sacrifice just two more jobs to get millions back for Americans."

And the next day, DeFazio told HuffPost's Sam Stein: "It is pretty embarrassing for a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress to be identified with total attention to Wall Street and nothing for Main Street and jobs."

This comes just a few weeks after Senator Maria Cantwell told MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan that she was "not sure" why Geithner still has a job.

The House Finance Committee was the site of another indication of how the ground is moving under the administration's feet. An hour before a scheduled final vote on the comprehensive financial regulation reform package sought by the White House, members of the Congressional Black Caucus cornered Chairman Frank and said they would refuse to vote for the bill because of the White House's lack of attention to unemployment. It was, as HuffPost's Ryan Grim reported, intended "as a direct rebuke of the White House."
Many of us have been saying for almost a year now that the Summers/Geithner team was a disaster, economically and politically. That was Obama's biggest mistake.

Recession Over?

On the way into the office this morning, the NPR news break announcer proclaimed the recession over. Happy days are here again, or to arrive shortly!

Oh really?

Mainstream economists and the media are really pathetic. They are living in a dream world of wishful thinking and wide-eyed optimism, totally divorced from reality.

The only people I know of for whom the recession is over are the Goldman Sachs bankers receiving their bonuses for Christmas.

Of course, even the optimists don't really mean we're on the path to recovery, they just mean the economy has bottomed out. Which may or may not be true, given all the uncertainties still looming. But we are by no means starting to recover. If anything, we're just digging ourselves deeper in a hole, having replaced private debt with public debt.

And the worst of it is, nobody is leveling with the people about our true condition. It's too politically unpalatable. The truth is too unpleasant.

Or perhaps they've just deceived themselves. Denial is one of our biggest vices here in the USA.

Monday, November 23, 2009

US Military Buildup in Columbia

Here is an interesting report from the Independent newspaper of Great Britain, on the U.S. military buildup going on in Columbia.
The United States is massively building up its potential for nuclear and non-nuclear strikes in Latin America and the Caribbean by acquiring unprecedented freedom of action in seven new military, naval and air bases in Colombia. The development – and the reaction of Latin American leaders to it – is further exacerbating America's already fractured relationship with much of the continent.

The new US push is part of an effort to counter the loss of influence it has suffered recently at the hands of a new generation of Latin American leaders no longer willing to accept Washington's political and economic tutelage. President Rafael Correa, for instance, has refused to prolong the US armed presence in Ecuador, and US forces have to quit their base at the port of Manta by the end of next month.

So Washington turned to Colombia, which has not gone down well in the region. The country has received military aid worth $4.6bn (£2.8bn) from the US since 2000, despite its poor human rights record. Colombian forces regularly kill the country's indigenous people and other civilians, and last year raided the territory of its southern neighbour, Ecuador, causing at least 17 deaths.

Palanquero, which adjoins the town of Puerto Salgar on the broad Magdalena river north-west of the capital, Bogota, is one of the seven bases that the government of President Alvaro Uribe gave to Washington last month despite howls from many Colombians. Its hangars can take 100 aircraft and there is accommodation for 2,000 personnel. Its main runway was constructed in the 1980s after Colombia bought a force of Israeli Kfir warplanes. At 3,500 metres, it is 500 metres longer than the longest in Britain, the former US base outside Campbeltown, Scotland. The USAF is awaiting Barack Obama's signature on a bill, already passed by the US Congress, to devote $46m to works at the base.

Many Colombians are upset at the agreement between the US and Colombia that governs – or, perhaps more accurately, fails to govern – US use of Palanquero and the other six bases. The Colombian Council of State, a non-partisan constitutional body with the duty to comment on legislation, has said that the agreements are unfair to Colombia since they put the US and not the host country in the driving seat, and that they should be redrafted in accordance with the Colombian constitution.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Power of Imagination

Tom Friedman talks about the power of imagination and its importance to America:
President Obama’s visit to China this week inevitably invites comparisons
between the world’s two leading powers. You know what they say: Britain owned
the 19th century, America owned the 20th century, and, it’s all but certain that
China will own the 21st century. Maybe, but I’m not ready to cede the 21st
century to China just yet.

Why not? It has to do with the fact that we
are moving into a hyperintegrated world in which all aspects of production — raw
materials, design, manufacturing, distribution, fulfillment, financing and
branding — have become commodities that can be accessed from anywhere by anyone.
But there are still two really important things that can’t be commoditized.
Fortunately, America still has one of them: imagination.

What your
citizens imagine now matters more than ever because they can act on their own
imaginations farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before — as
individuals. In such a world, societies that can nurture people with the ability
to imagine and spin off new ideas will thrive. The Apple iPod may be made in
China, but it was dreamed up in America, and that’s where most of the profits
go. America — with its open, free, no-limits, immigrant-friendly society — is
still the world’s greatest dream machine.

LBJ and the Vietnam War

I hear that Bill Moyers is giving up his weekly program on PBS. That is a real shame, because he has some of the best and most informative programs on television.

In any case, last Friday evening Moyers presented excerpts from telephone conversations that President Lyndon Johnson had with a variety of Senators and advisors on the issue of Vietnam. What is so interesting is that so many of the Senators, including the southern ones like Dick Russell and John Stennis, were for pulling out of Vietnam. But Johnson seems determined to not only maintain the force of military advisors until the 64 election, but then 'get in' full force.

What I wasn't aware of before Moyer's program was how hesitant the Senate was to commit combat troops, and how Johnson worked it around to do just that. From other reading I'm doing, it seems clear to me that his many Texas political friends and contributors--many of them standing to gain financially from a war in Vietnam, such as Herman and George Brown, of the now infamous Brown & Root corporation--were urging him to go in, along with the military.

Ah yes, the military-industrial complex and their compliant politicians.

See it here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Obamaism Equals Clintonism

Reread this post by Mike Davis and see if he didn't peg Obama virtually one-hundred percent. Amazing!

Musical Interlude--Eagles--I Can't Tell You Why

9/11 and the Ravages of War

This article by Robert Scheer helps to put the 9/11 tragedy--whoever it was who perpetrated it--into perspective. We forget how much the rest of the world has suffered throughout the last century, many times at our hands.
As assaults on a society go, the 9/11 attacks, which left 3,000 dead and are sure to be described in this anniversary week as being among the greatest of historical outrages, were something less than that, given the world’s experience with the ravages of war. The countless Russians and the 6 million Jews killed by those so finely educated Germans come to mind. The 3.4 million Vietnamese, mostly rice farmers, whom Robert McNamara admitted to having helped kill with his carpet-bombing of their country, are a forgotten footnote. Yet we who have never experienced such carnage on our home front all too easily poke out tens of thousands of eyes for each lost one of our own.

Surely two planes crashing into office buildings and another hitting the Pentagon doesn’t compare to the leveling of every major city in Japan with conventional bombing, capped off by the mass murder of hundreds of thousands more at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In blind and wrathful retaliation for 9/11 we wreaked havoc on Iraq, a nation that our then-president knew had not attacked us, and we continue to slaughter peasants in Afghanistan who aren’t able to find Manhattan on a map.

We, a people whose nation has never suffered a long and widespread occupation, easily gave vent to our most barbaric impulses, assuming the absolute right to arrest and torture anyone anywhere in the world without revealing his identity, let alone respecting a single one of those God-given rights that we claim for ourselves alone. And even when we identify the few we hold responsible for the attacks on our soil, we refuse them public and fair trials even after years of torturing them.

Where's Our Community Organizer?

Robert Sheer asks the question: what happened to the community organizer that we elected?
What’s up with Barack Obama? The candidate for change once promised to take on the powerful banking interests but is now doing their bidding. Finally, a leading Democrat, in this case Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, has a good idea for monitoring the Wall Street fat cats who all but destroyed the American economy, and the Obama administration condemns it.

Dodd wants to take supervisory power from the Federal Reserve, which is controlled by the banks it pretends to monitor, and put it in the hands of a new independent agency. That makes sense given the Fed’s abject failure to properly monitor the financial sector over the past decade as that industry got drunk on greed. As Dodd’s spokeswoman Kirstin Brost put it: “The Federal Reserve flat out failed at supervising the largest, most complex firms.” But White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee frets that taking power from the Fed would cause financial industry “nervousness.” Isn’t that the whole point of government regulation—to make the bandits look over their shoulders before they launch their next destructive scam?

Not so in the view of Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, who blithely insists that the Fed “is the best agency equipped for the task of supervising the largest, most complex firms,” despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. There is some irony in the fact that the largest of those complex firms got to be “too big to fail” because of the radical deregulatory legislation that Wolin drafted during his previous incarnation as the Treasury Department’s general counsel in the Clinton administration. Wolin is now deputy to Timothy Geithner, who as head of the New York Fed in the five years preceding the banking meltdown looked the other way as the disaster began to unfold.

Why is Barack Obama allowing these retreads from the Clinton era who went on to great riches on Wall Street to set economic policy for his administration? The fatal hallmark of this president’s financial policy is that it is being designed by the very people whose previous legislative efforts created the mess that enriched them while impoverishing the nation, and they now want more of the same.

Weimar America

Here's one very pessimistic economic forecast for the next several years, by Martin Hutchison, a contrarian economist:
At some point, probably before the end of 2010, the bubble will burst. The deflationary effect on the U.S. economy of $150 plus oil will overwhelm the modest forces of genuine economic expansion. The Treasury bond market will collapse, overwhelmed by the weight of deficit financing. Once again, the banking system will be in deep trouble. The industrial sector, beyond the largest and most liquid companies and the extractive industries, will in any case have remained in recession – it is notable that, in spite of the Fed's frenzy of activity, bank lending has fallen $600 billion in the last year. Unemployment, which will probably enter the second downturn at around current levels, will spike further upwards. The dollar will probably not collapse, but only because it will have been declining inexorably in the intervening year, to give a euro value of $2 and a yen value of 60 to 65 yen to the dollar.

In the next downturn, the Fed will not be able to cut interest rates, because inflation will be spiraling, as in 1980. Instead it will need to raise them while dealing with a profound crisis in the bond markets. Capital in the U.S. will become still more difficult to come by, and unemployment will approach 15%. The U.S.'s only saving graces will be that the inflation will have prevented much further decline in the nominal prices of houses, while the decline in the dollar will have finally swung the payments deficit towards balance. U.S. real wages will be forced downwards by high unemployment, while banks' relief on the home mortgage front will be balanced by a tsunami of collapsed credit card debt and other consumer debt.

2011 and 2012 will be very unpleasant years, as the Obama administration struggles to get closer to budget balance without pushing up taxes so far as to cause yet a third recession. Stock prices will be at or below their March 2009 lows, and will stay there even as earnings of export-oriented companies will be robust. (Conversely, retailers dealing in cheap imported goods, such as Wal-Mart, will be devastated.) Wages will be generally declining relative to prices, although may show some growth in nominal terms as inflation will be considerable. Foreign goods and services will be inordinately expensive in dollar terms.

The danger in those years will be that Ben Bernanke will attempt yet again to refloat the U.S. economy through inflation, buying government debt to fund the deficit and forcing short term rates well below the inflation rate. This danger is exacerbated by the Obama administration's insouciance about deficits. Ben Bernanke on his own (and his predecessor Alan Greenspan) bears a large share of responsibility for the 2008 crash, but the Bernanke/Obama combination is potentially even more dangerous. If expansionary monetary and fiscal policies are pursued regardless of market signals, the U.S. will head towards Weimar-style trillion-percent inflation. That would make the government's position easier as its mountain of Treasury debt became worthless, but devastate everybody else's savings and impoverish the American people as Weimar impoverished 1920s Germany.

As I said, a train wreck. Probability of arrival: close to 100%. Time of arrival: around the end of 2010, or possibly a bit earlier. And at this stage, there's very little anyone can do about it; the definitive rise of gold above $1,000 marked the point of no return.