Saturday, May 31, 2008

Abiding Arrogance

Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark (Onion), complained bitterly this week about Juan Cole, a Michigan Professor who authors "Informed Comment" at Cole had the audacity to point out that the Shiites of Al Sadr, as well as most poor Shiites in general, have no interest in a permanent US military presence in Iraq.

The central objections of the Iraqi ethnic majority are that any permanent presence should be negotiated with the next administration, that they simply oppose any occupation, that immunity for contractors or US soldiers is obscene, and that the role US troops can play - without Iraqi approval - must be limited or halted altogether.

When Cole has had the gaul to point this sort of thing out, Berg's reply is that he was "An anti-semite who's writing (Berg) wouldn't wipe his (rear) with."

Now, Cole certainly pays a great deal of attention to the Arab world, as opposed to Isreal, but I've never seen even the faintest hint of any anti-Jewish comment from him. Berg, and others like him, claim that reporting on only one side of an issue doesn't represent bigotry or bias, but claim that Cole doing the exact same thing IS in fact, bigotry. What's worse, Berg, became incenced when someone (guess who) suggested he just might have a little bit of bigotry too - the commenter said we all do - and demanded an apology - which the commenter (ok - me) provided.

One wonders when Berg will apologize to Cole? (well, not really, double-standards are Berg's calling card, his 'raison d' etre' as they might say in France, or Senegal)

In more evidence of his cultural depth , the self-proclaimed paragon of of multi-culturalism, who denounced being linked to racially insensitive terms for arabs by pointing out his knowledge of Mali and Senegal - neither of which of course are countries populated by arabs. (though, to be fair, both are muslim). Berg was responding to claims of anti-muslim bais - however, it was he who brought in the term 'Ay Rab' into the discussion - so it seems he just confused two non-Arab nations as defense - perhaps because he can't name an Arab nation he admires, or perhaps because he just didn't have an adequate defense, or perhaps because he just forgot Qutar. I suppose only he knows.

But that's not all of course, Berg then went on to claim (as he has done so often) that he can't vote for a pro-Iraqi withdrawal candidate. This is the ultimate point - Berg, a supposed defender of muslim moderacy, and self-proclaimed champion of the Al Maliki government, does not even consider that the question of our withdrawal from Iraq is only partly our decision. In his typical neo-con arrogance, HE has decided (along with the rest of the neo-cons) that our continued presence is really and fundamentally on our plate to decide. I think he probably understands that the Iraqis have a say, but he has made the assumption that we can convince them our troops are both necessary AND right to be there.

The reality is that people like Cole have it right - the Shiites absolutely oppose a permanent US presence. Al Maliki's government is weak, and probably cannot garner support for a permanent presence resolution prior to Bush's departure from office. Even should McCain win, the prospects for a US presence are slim at best AND must come with things Bush refused to consider for years - specifically, legal culpability and Iraqi soveriegnty (what a concept!!).

Berg, and his peers, don't even consider such complexities because they abhore nuance - like the President said, neo-cons "Don't do nuance." They fail to recognize that our conduct and presence has been bitterly opposed by the dominant ethnic majority for five years, and since our presence in part prevents their ascendency, it will almost certainly ALWAYS be opposed, unless we become tools of a repressive government in exchange for oil and strategic access (and we know THAT's never happened -cough Saudi Arabia - cough). The truth is Berg, and others like him, have bitterly opposed holding US citiziens soldiers OR contractors culpable - in fact never once has Berg made even the slightest reference to the obscenity that is the total immunity granted US contractors. He's repeatedly opposed holding US troops accountable in world courts, and would presumably oppose holding them accountable in Iraqi courts, and of course - "we can't have foriegners telling our troops what (not) to do" now can we? I don't think it's at all a stretch to say that the Scaifenet crew, of which Berg is 4th mate, adamantly opposed and would oppose those terms, and therefore opposes giving the Iraqis both soveriegnty, i.e. their rightful say in the conduct of foriengners within their borders, and more importantly do not support a permanent presence in Iraq under those conditions. Which means that Berg believes we should both stay in knowing objection to the majority and will of the Iraqis, and have the right and ARE right to do so. Paternalism, thy name is Berg.

Even if he would agree (which is extroardinarily dubious) - if the Iraqis demand we leave, based on our past conduct, what exactly would Berg say.. "Ok, let's go?" Almost certainly not. But fundamentally, the point still is that he is deciding this question essentially solely from the lens of the decision of the US President's authority. He has never even hinted at the point that the Iraqis hold the majority of votes on this point, that our presence is at the will and whim of the Iraqi government, and the decision of our continuing to stay is theirs.

Clearly, if the next Presidet says 'we're leaving', then what the Iraqi government decides will be moot - but no one, not Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton, has said we'd refuse to keep any troops there if asked. Obama has said he opposes a permanent military presence - but he's also been pretty clear he's open to discussion - unlike McCain - on a host of subjects. Obama's point about not having a military presence there is a reference to denying the right-wing of our own government a 'big stick' with which to intimidate the Middle East, and about denying them the opportunity to threaten the Iraqi government with our own military should that government ever threaten our access to Iraq's vast oil supplies. McCain (and Berg) would make that discussion about our presence moot, they will cajole the Iraqis into accepting our presence if they can, no matter what the Iraqis may ultimately want. Probably the most telling question you could ask a neo-con (or McCain) is this "What happens if or when the Iraqis say 'you have to leave now'" as is pretty likely to happen?

So the arrogance of the right, that we can just dictate terms, is easily the most paternalistic and condescending message out there. It implies a group out of touch with the political realities on the ground - but then again, given McClellan's reinforcement of what we've already heard about how 'rose colored' all of the pre-war estimates and planning were - is it really surprising that they continue to be deluded by their own vision that they can 'shape reality'?

This invasion was about three things, first, Bush saw getting rid of Hussien as a vehicle to accomplishing two things his Dad didn't, getting rid of Hussien, and a second term. Second, to securing basing rights on the ground outside of Saudi Arabia - with sufficient and more access than Kuwait - thereby relieving political pressure on the Saud family, and last, but most important projecting power in the Middle East to intimidate recalcitrant governments. It has never been about a 'Wilsonian' view - except in the wistful 'hope fors' of Bush's mind - they would have LIKED it if it could have happened, but it was always secondary. Their (lack of) respect for the will of the people has never been more starkly on display than in this key question for the future of Iraq. What the Iraqis want really isn't a question they've considered, and one they sure as hell don't intend to ask or care about the answer, unless forced to.

Talk about cultural arrogance, Mr. Berg - you are the epitome' of it this week. Perhaps neo-cons need to take a moment to read more than just Rush Limbaugh's talking points - Limbaugh, who is the king of condescension, ugliness and smear. Oh, and Mitch, Islamo-Facism is as culturally insensitive and bigotted a term as I've seen in twenty plus years - it lumps ALL Muslims of all types into one pot, and implies all acts of any type are part of a pan-national groundswell with one single aim, conveniently defining any resistance as terrorism, and any and all movements, as linked. Wahabism is certanily pan-national, Iran has no part in it - yet you casually lump them all together. If you aren't looking to look like a bigot, perhaps you shouldn't use the phrasing of bigots, like Limbaugh.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Age Double-Standards

I read today in CBS Online that critics of McCain are making age an issue. Any who are, shame on you. At 71, he is certainly capable enough to serve four years, and frankly, if the people favor him, unless some degenerative process affects his capacity to think, his age makes no difference - unless he's not 34 in which case he can't be elected - but I think he's slightly older than that.

It is funny, however, that our founding fathers thought age was an issue, that wisdom matters - by putting a minimum age requirement on the Presidency. I don't think any of us are about to elect Justin Timberlake President, but when those folks out there who start hand-wringing over bias, start thinking - perhaps they can grasp that our forefathers actually had an age bias. Put it this way, they saw wisdom as required, I'm not sure why we need to get quite so sanctimonious for thinking that the risk of loss of faculty is a taboo subject - it shouldn't be. Were McCain 91, I think it'd be a fair question. Age descriminition is rightly against the law (except for the Presidency it seems) - but capacity is capacity, not discrimination.

The question for the voter should be, has McCain's stance on topics been what the voter supports. Yesterday, McCain berated Obama over Obama's lack of military service. Yet McCain certainly didn't vote for John Kerry over Bush, or take to task the SmearBoaters. Indeed, the Republicans by and large said Kerry's service, and Bush's incomplete on his own service, didn't matter. Beyond that, and of course FAR more important, Bush's track record on Veteran's affairs - which is what started the flare-up over military experience - is abysmal, and McCain has rubber-stamped it. McCain used near infantile logic - that Obama hadn't served and therefore wasn't qualified to comment - to deflect Obama's correct and well justified criticism. McCain's judgement on Veteran's affairs is what's in question, not Obama's service jacket (or lack thereof). If this is the kind of judgement we should expect from McCain - if this is the kind of service to policy and tactic of debate, then while his age isn't the issue, his capability most certainly is. Or shall we simply have George Bush - with whom McCain has marched in lock-step for 6 long, painful years - painful for Veterans most of all - shall we have George Bush appear at the Republican Convention, salute us all and say "Reporting for Duty!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Black Gold

Yesterday, the heads of 5 of most of the world’s largest oil companies appeared before the Senate. Patrick Leahy, among others, asked some seemingly pointed questions, including asking the head of Exxon what his compensation was last year.

“12.7 Million Dollars,” replied the CEO, J Stephen Simon.

Wow – compelling stuff. The brave Senators went on to berate the oil executives for the ‘victim’ mentality with which the executives defended their corporate largesse, and basically, the Senators said “oh, sure (sigh)” and that’s about all.

While I approve of asking some pointed questions, I have to laugh at the woeful approach and application. Where was the question “12.7 Million? Really, including options?” which, while of little use, would have at least solicited a meaningful response. But more, where was the question “You claim oil prices are simply at the mercy of supply and demand, ok, so tell me, has oil demand spiked by 33% this year or the combination of supply dwindled and demand increased by that amount (33%), because oil prices have risen 33% this year” or “Supply huh? Wow, that’s kind of odd, because oil went up $9 per barrel when a couple of speed boats made threatening gestures – that’s not a supply problem, that’s a perception management problem.”

The truth is oil prices are rigged in the favor of the oil producers. Any slight hint of problem drives the spot market they created up, up and up, and it takes a long time for it to drop, even if the spike was over something dubious. The oil suppliers work in concert with the OPEC nations to build wells, refineries, and pumping facilities, and to find and employ cheap labor to work at them once built – in short, they are in lockstep with the people selling them the oil, and created virtual vertical monopolies on price. They are PLENTY happy with the state of affairs, a state of affairs they manufactured. They are no more victims than the name brand auto dealer, they know the market and help to dictate the delivery.

For those of you who have drunk the company kool-aid on refining capacity (from a couple of years ago), I have two responses, which sum up how completely that lie has been debunked:

1. Chevron's Robertson said the issue wasn't really one of refining, and more just the price of crude. We are investing all we can [in finding new oil] given the limitations of access and our own human capacity," he said. "We have adequate refined capacity, inventories are at an all time high. The issue is the price of crude." (from CNN Money Online)
2. Refining capacity in the US is up 25 % since 1984, and demand has NO WHERE NEAR climbed at that rate.

Further, in 2003, the then head of the US Petroleum Manufacturers said point blank that this issue isn’t about refining capacity, that lack of tax incentives, or EPA restrictions, didn’t in any way keep oil companies from building more refineries on shore. The simple fact is, in the oil companies estimation, US demand, over the long-term, was likely to decline as baby-boomers retired, and could be met by increased capacity at existing facilities. Thus, there was no cost incentive to build new refineries which wouldn’t be needed in 20 years.

Now of course, there is a new mantra, lack of supply, created (of course) by regulation and prevention of on-shore exploration – funny how that wasn’t the problem 2 years ago, or 10. In short, the oil companies didn’t really ask for access in anything like vociferous tones, tones of potential disaster looming without such access – and I wonder why not $$$$$.

The group which should be more ashamed I suppose than just the average Senator (who should be damned well ashamed), are the Republican Senators on the committee who went way beyond grand-standing to outright disinformation – suggesting that opening offshore oil drilling, or drilling in the Rockies shelf, would have any long term or meaningful affect.

First of course is the fact that even if reasonable supplies existed – and some do off the coasts – they are shoal-oil, extraordinarily hard to pump – the world’s easily accessed oil supplies have been tapped. So much for the “Oil regenerates itself and we’ll never run out theory.” We may not run out, but we are clearly running out of ready accessed oil. Offshore supplies at this point are of limited value

Second, getting that supply to market will take a decade or more. It will have no impact on current prices. If they had wanted to avoid this crisis, they knew the supply vs. demand projections, probably a decade ago, yet where were the dire warnings…. So much for the oil companies being ‘assets’ as one executive suggested that Congress should see them as. They helped create a crisis of supply with full knowledge.

Third, the overall capacity of the world to pump oil is projected to cap out in 2012 at 110 M/bbls per day – no matter what – and little investment is being done by the oil companies to change that, despite huge tax cuts, windfall real dollar profits. Once CEO opined that we shouldn’t cut those tax breaks or tax the profits because it might provide disincentive to oil companies to invest.. my reply what investment are you doing now?! – by the way – the answer is damned little. Just as they made a conscious decision to NOT increase refining capacity, they have made a conscious decision to create a supply crisis. The decisions about pumping capacity, about refining capacity, are all situations THEY dictated to the market, and these cries of ‘victim’ are smoke. They aren’t the only culprits, but they sure are on the list of usual suspects – and for good reason. In the end though, the real blame again falls to us, in believing that cheap oil would last forever, in accepting vertical monopolies, and in accepting politicians who’ve been for sale for 20 plus years doing nothing about a looming catastrophe to not only our economy, but the world’s. The ‘market’ worked exactly as expected – for the benefit of the seller.

But that’s not really the point. Companies will pursue profits in any and every way possible. If we allow vertical monopolies by companies in collusion with dictatorial regimes – then we get what we deserve. The real point is that these Senators, including Sen’s Obama, McCain, and Clinton, sat idley by while Rome burned. Rather than having the strength of character to demand higher fuel standards, to require real investment in alternative fuel sources or vehicles (beyond ethanol), they took campaign contributions from oil company PACs, or approved huge tax breaks which we, the consumer pay for in the form of ever deeper debt. In short, they’ve failed to lead for the 35 years since the oil embargo, but hey, a few questions which have nothing at all to do with getting at the truth, yep, that’ll help. You want to expose the reality, have the executives describe how the spot market works, how they collaborate with OPEC nations to produce and regulate supply – with far more influence than the President of the United States could ever hope for. Then maybe the US people will fully grasp that the fix has been in for a long, long time – ever since American Oil Company (you’d know them as Amoco if you’re older than 12) – leased it’s first pumps in Saudi Arabia in the 1940’s.

The shame is on the Senators for this sham spectacle dressed up like it meant something. They asked no meaningful questions, got no meaningful answers, and provided no meaningful insight. It was further salve on a festering problem, and it was much sound and fury amounting to nothing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The World and Everything After

This is my first post on what I hope will be a regular series of musings which will hopefully be interesting to the readers, and I'll use it to set a parameter or two.

A couple of rules - we are here to actually have debate leading toward agreement and suggestion. Flame wars and trolls will be warned, and then, will be banned. Flame blogs are the province of ego-centric bloggers and their apple-polishing followers - I don't have an interest in any such a place. If you chose to conduct yourself that way, well, you've been warned.

The other point is that I'll draw from other sources. I don't steal ideas, content, or credit. I also don't get my talking points from anywhere, coordinate my ideas with anyone. I've worked on a few political campaigns as a volunteer, but don't currently and will disclose any such associations should they arise.

A bit about me:

  • I live in Minnesota, attended and earned a degree in Technology Management from Concordia University - and have a PMP designation from the Project Management Institute.
  • I work as a project leader in financial services, have worked as a health claim auditor and divisional manager, an IT leader, business analyst, and served 12 years in the Army and Army Reserves. I did so for money for school, but consider it one of the real highlights of my life.
  • In my professional career, I've had the opportunity to do a lot of things, and so have picked up a bit in a lot of areas - and that experience guides my life and obviously therefore, what I'll write.
  • I'm a centrist, hopefully somewhat learned, political junkie. I see points local and global that I hope will provide some insight toward discussion of problems, if not soluton. With that, I normally will comment from my perspective on a wide range of issues, but always, with the understanding that my experience is hardly the place from which policy must flow.

    And so, let us begin - as Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," whether for weal or woe only time can tell.