Monday, June 30, 2008

Newsbusters Loses Its Mind

Don't make a habit of reading Newsbusters too often, but I comb it every now and again to see how the librul media has been brainwashing me into thinking rapid inflation is a bad thing, or lots of people dying is undesirable, or any other crazy mantra the dreaded mainstream media has thrust upon an unsuspecting world.

Every so often, I stumble upon something truly fantastic, like this gem about a Google conspiracy to censor any anti-Obama website on the Blogger platform.

Yes, it sure seems that Google has begun to go through its many thousands of blogs to lock out the owners of anti-Obama blogs so that the noObama message is effectively squelched. Thus far, Google has terminated the access by blog owners to 7 such sites and the list may be growing. Boy, it must be nice for Barack Obama to have an ally powerful enough to silence his opponents like that!

Wow. That's possible. Alternatively, some joker could have gone through and simply clicked the "Flag Blog" button like the one you see at the top of your screen now and the automated system then shut the blogs down temporarily. But hey, who needs reason when you've got a good conspiracy theory going?

Has Obama achieved cult status? Absolutely. Is one of the leading online companies so blinded by love for him that they would begin censoring even the most mundane of criticism? Doubtful.

After a while, it seems someone tapped the author on the shoulder and he tried to backtrack or save face a bit, but even then can't quite commit.

Apparently, this campaign merely took advantage of Google/Blogger's flawed system of finding spam blogs. So, it looks like what we have here is an Obama dirty trick to shut down political opposition.

Getting warmer, but still no. You're confusing the actions of an over-zealous fan with those of the actual campaign. I'm no Obama groupie [yes, 'hope' sounds cute, but is virtually meaningless], but I must admit I haven't seen the fellas on the right frothing at the mouth this much in quite some time. He's knocked them clear of their marbles, and it's extremely entertaining.

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Miami Arms Dealer Had a Checkered History

Back in April, I wrote about the 22-year old arms dealer who was granted a $300 million contract to supply arms to Afghan forces and ended up dealing damaged and aged Soviet-era ammo which didn't work. Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing aimed at determining how such a bungle was possible.

A Congressional committee revealed Tuesday that by the time the Army awarded the bid, State and Defense Department officials had canceled or delayed at least six earlier contracts with the company, AEY Inc., for poor quality or late deliveries.

But that record, including a botched $5.6 million order for 10,000 Beretta pistols for Iraq’s security forces, was either ignored or omitted from databases that American military contracting officials have used to weed out companies suspected of involvement in suspect arms deals.

You see, the State and Defense Departments have a database of contractors with poor past results, but AEY's past was either "ignored or omitted." AEY was awarded the contract, which had as many as ten companies contesting, despite failing the government several times before and being included on a list of contractors believed to be engaged in illegal arms sales. AEY also had help from within the government, in the form of Ambassador to Albania John Withers II, in covering up the illegal Chinese origins of the defective ammo it was supplying to US allies in Afghanistan.

In a startling example of government incompetence, the contract appears to have been superfluous from the start.

Congressional investigators also determined that the Afghanistan ammunition contract, which the company is also accused of mishandling, may have been unnecessary: Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Albania, the Eastern European countries from which AEY bought its ammunition, had offered to donate the type of Soviet-style rifle and machine-gun cartridges that the Afghan Army and police forces use.

The mind reels.

US: Hey, we need some arms for our Afghani friends.

Eastern Europe: Sure, take these.

US: No, thanks, we'd rather buy them through a third party. Good thought, though.


AEY bungles contract
, April 15

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Gun Bans and Slaying a Liberal Sacred Cow

Gun control has always gained the support of the same people who most zealously defend every other Constitutional right. Inexplicably, those decrying the death of the Fourth Amendment, rightfully in my opinion, over the new FISA bill do not see any logical dissonance by simultaneously opposing the upholding of the Second.

Sure, they'll quote a lot of statistics showing that guns are dangerous, and no one could honestly disagree, but they hold no such reservations about potential pitfalls of other Constitutional rights, so why on this particular issue? Either you support the Bill of Rights or you don't.

The usual sticking point is the "militia" clause in the Amendment, but, again, they cease to be such sticklers on the topic of abortion, a right which never makes an appearance in the founding document. This isn't a post about abortion, but if you can pull a "right to privacy" argument from the text of the Constitution, you can't then demand that full weight be given to a single, outdated word.

From a practical perspective, the gun ban had absolutely no effect on the murder rate in the District of Columbia during its lifetime. It would seem that someone willing to murder another human being may not have many scruples about defying a ban. Who knew?

The Second Amendment battle provides a nice capsule of our beloved two-party nightmare, as neither party allows for the support of all of the Constitution. The be a true Democrat, you must support the document in all instances save for gun ownership, despite the clear language. If you're Republican, you have to defend to the death the Second while dedicating your life to preventing the application of nearly every other right within.

Is there a rational party? Sign me up.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

US Steps Up Covert Action Against Iran

With the aid of Congressional Democrats, the Bush administration has received funding for covert action within Iran, with the aim of gathering intelligence on its nuclear program and destabilizing the regime.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

In order to have funding diverted to the operations, the Executive branch must submit a Presidential Finding to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House, Senate, and both Intelligence committees, which means that the Democratic leadership, while outwardly pretending to enforce the mandate given to it in the 2006 elections, have instead been complicit in allowing the brinksmanship to continue. This is part-and-parcel of the false foreign policy spectrum I detailed last week.

United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

The Bush administration going well beyond the scope of Congressional authorization is nothing new, as it remains committed to the idea, within the scope of the Unitary Executive theory, that there is absolutely nothing in the power of Congress to prevent the President from directing the military to do anything in the field. That the framers could not possibly have had that it mind when writing the Constitution should be evident, but nonetheless it is a tact the administration has taken since its inauguration. Taking the Unitary Executive to its logical conclusion, however, would stipulate that should the President direct US forces to assassinate a foreign official, it would acceptable despite the law against such actions.

In this instance, the Bush administration has claimed that any operations undertaken by the JSOC, rather than the CIA, need not be included in the Finding submitted to Congress, and is thus immune from any oversight or required approval. Again, there is nothing inherent in that principle which would prohibit the JSOC from carrying out assassinations or other illegal activities. Indeed, one Congressman sent a letter to President Bush insisting that lethal action was prohibited, but the White House has not seen fit to answer.

In order to bypass military officers who object to the preconceived objective of a war with Iran, the administration has created an atmosphere in which the decision-making for these operations is handed instead to civilians. Civilians, one would assume, more slaves to ideology than military pragmatism, making them obvious allies for Bush and Cheney.

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” [John] Sheehan [former commander of US Atlantic Command] said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”
The covert action within Iran is merely a continuation of two running themes: one, the Bush administration invoking Executive Privilege to engage in any action it wants, legality be damned, and two, the Democrats in Congress more than willing to offer no obstacles.

More than simply frustrating, the shear incompetence of the Democratic leadership to prevent any of the administration's efforts is a clear dereliction of duty. Bush likes to say that he listens to his commanders in the field, but the line of military officers opposing an attack of Iran is growing by the day, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and of course Admiral Fallon, who was forced out as commander of CENTCOM for his insolence on the issue.

Unlike the officers, though, Democrats in Congress control funding, and could put a halt to any of Bush's operations, but continue to be steamrolled by the fancy packaging and refuse to uphold the clear will of the voters, who overwhelmingly want the US out of Iraq and oppose a war with Iran.

Perhaps most glaring, though, is the large historical elephant in the room in the form of Afghanistan. We've seen the result of this kind of covert action before: the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the destruction of the World Trade Center. As part of the operations, the US is cooperating with Sunni dissident groups who, apart from being closely tied to al Qaeda--enemy number one--are believed to have "operated against American interests in the past."

The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

Another fine friend is the Jundallah, described as "a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists" by Vali Nasr of Tufts University, who continues to suggest that the group has ties to both al Qaeda and the drug trade.

The US has also provided funds and intelligence to the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), a group which has been on the State Department's terrorist list for more than a decade. This relationship, by definition, makes the US a sponsor of terrorism. If the MEK are terrorists, and the US is sponsoring them, there is only one possible logical conclusion. So, while the US decries Iran's cross-border activity in Iraq, it continues to engage in its own meddling. Yet one is wrong and one is right? One doubts President Bush will call for the freezing of the assets flowing to that particular known terrorist group.

More likely than not, the real plan here is to provoke Iran into an action which would justify military activity within the short time Bush has in office. The likelihood of any of these groups achieving a regime change or destabilization they haven't in the past decade of trying is not large, but the chances of Iran finding signs of American weapons on any captured militants are not all that small. Such findings could invoke Iranian action, and deliver Cheney his war.

John Bolton has already floated the idea that Bush will attack if McCain loses the election, and it seems he is indeed laying the framework for what is sure to be yet another foreign policy disaster as we speak. History only serves as a lesson to those who pay attention to it.


North Korea contrasted with Iran, June 28
False choices in foreign policy, June 26
Ignoring history's lessons, May 19

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Administration Halts Solar Energy to....Wait For It....Study Possible Environmental Harm

In what is possibly the most transparent move in the history of the Executive Branch, the Bush administration has called for a two-year moratorium on new solar projects on federal lands while it studies the environmental impact.

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

But the decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.

After spending the last 7 years obstructing the EPA, the administration would have the public swallow with complete credulity the idea that it is now deeply concerned about the effect of energy plants on the environment.

The move could not be any more transparent, as it coincides precisely with the same administration's call for renewed offshore drilling, declaring that now is not the time to worry about environmental harm which may stem from the drilling. Although solar energy is a microscopic portion of the total domestic energy picture, the elimination of even the possibility of alternative forms of energy is just one more way for the administration to push the nation further toward the cliff of fatal oil dependency.

Bush, in public statements, recognizes the need for alternative energy, but in practice he has done everything in his power, sometimes beyond it, to prevent the EPA from preventing oil exploration. Yet, now his environmental conscience won't allow him to witness solar energy proceeding without two years of study.


Erroneous Responses to Oil Prices, June 21

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David Vitter and Larry Craig: Adventures in Irony

Proving that truth always trumps fiction, Senators David Vitter, frequenter of prostitutes, and Larry Craig, denizen of men's rooms, are leading the charge to insert regressive clauses into any and all legislation involving reproduction or STDs. Their efforts prove once again that the letter next to the name means more than actions, allowing the poster children of sexual decadence to thrust their sexual mores on the rest of the world without a hint of self-awareness or irony.

Before, both Senators have been at the fore on the attack on PEPFAR, which provides AIDS relief to poor Africans. Not content merely to help others, Vitter and Craig have pushed for the inclusion of several clauses which inhibit the disbursement of aid. Vitter shows his cahones by voting in favor of a "prostitution pledge," which seeks to prohibit aid from reaching sex workers, a trade with which Vitter is intimately familiar.

Both Senators are also champions of the abstinence-only rule which designates a third of the PEPFAR aid for abstinence-only education and aims at treatment rather than prevention. In the hypocritical worldview of Craig and Vitter, it is more desirable that Africans acquire AIDS than admit of the existence of a society in which their regressive Christian values are not the norm.

More recently, Vitter has emerged as the only Senator opposing the removal of the HIV travel ban, which prohibits HIV-positive non-citizens from entering the US. For perspective, the US is now one of only 12 nations with such a ban, placing it in the company of Sudan, Russia, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Common sense would dictate that a law hatch in the 80s under a climate of fear would be erased once the spread of the disease became more clear, but common sense isn't necessary when you have convictions. HIV is the only disease upon which such a restriction exists, but it is not even a airborne disease, making it more than clear that Vitter's opposition to removing the ban is based purely in his contrived morality and has nothing to do with the biological traits of the disease. One should be cautioned, however, against expecting the application of such a morality to Vitter's own actions.

Finally, both Craig and Vitter have signed on to co-sponsor a same-sex marriage ban (SJ Res. 43), again placing the two Senators most destructive to their own marriages in a position to dictate to the rest of the country what does or does not constitute a sacred contracts. The hypocrisy is blinding. Craig, of all people, is in no position to fight against same-sex relations of any kind, having been caught not only soliciting prostitution, but with another man.

All this points once again to the tragedy of the two-party system, which vaults the letter next to the name above that of conscience, honesty, or logical consistency. To prove your worth to the followers of Falwell and Dobson, one need not practice what you preach, as the mere preaching has become enough.


Vitter Chastises Spitzer, March 18

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Appeasement in North Korea

When President Bush addressed members of the Knesset on May 15, he compared those that seek a diplomatic tact to foreign policy to Neville Chamberlain and Nazi appeasers.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Yet, a little more than a month later, Bush stood outside the White House to announce his administration's success in appeasing the third member of the 'Axis of Evil' regarding its nuclear ambitions.

First, I'm issuing a proclamation that lifts the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to North Korea.

And secondly, I am notifying Congress of my intent to rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days. The next 45 days will be an important period for North Korea to show its seriousness of its cooperation. We will work through the six-party talks to develop a comprehensive and rigorous verification protocol. And during this period, the United States will carefully observe North Korea's actions -- and act accordingly.

Only a political system in which party affiliation trumps logical consistency could such an agreement be met with any reaction other than indignation at the glaring hypocrisy. In addition to portraying the Democrats asking for discussions with Iran prior to bombing the Islamic republic as appeasers, Republicans have made a career of mocking the Clinton administration's negotiations with the very same North Korea in the mid-90s. Colin Powell was once forced to apologize for suggesting that the Clinton negotiations were a good start, although unsuccessful. One would be hard-pressed to find many differences between those two negotiations, but Stephen Hadley did his best to dissemble.

This has been a pretty ongoing process. Let me say a little bit about the -- this is the '94 framework agreement under the prior administration. I would say that was a good-faith effort to deal with this problem, and -- but it went awry. And unbeknownst to that administration, while they were moving forward under the framework agreement to deal with North Korea's plutonium program we discovered North Korea was pursuing a uranium enrichment program, which is one of two paths to get the nuclear material you need for a bomb, either through the plutonium path, uranium enrichment.

He continues to detail some of the differences between the negotiations, but in doing so admits that the efforts to negotiate were a good effort despite the fact that "the North Koreans did not want them to succeed." Such a statement, of course, is prefaced on the idea that this time around, the North Koreans have abandoned all attempts to obfuscate the true level of its cooperation, something any trace of cynicism would not allow.

The only safety net the Bush administration has given itself is the 45 days between now and Korea's removal from the state sponsor list, but one assumes that the sham republic could stay straight for a month and a half, regardless of its true intentions.

Even the recent declarations by North Korea, the impetus to the moves, fall well short of 'forthright' and 'open.' Besides coming six months after the December 31 deadline established last October, the declaration still fails to acknowledge Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program. This program was the same program that Hadley pointed to as part of the breakdown of the Clinton-era agreements, which should at least instill some caution regarding the most recent developments.

Regardless of the outcome, the looming question still remains. Namely, how can a President decry diplomacy in no uncertain terms in May and then blissfully detail the outcome of his own diplomacy in June? If his central suggestion in Israel was that agreements are often made disingenuously by one party, then there is nothing about his own concessions which suggest that same criterion does not apply, especially given the same party--North Korea--has shown a propensity for backing out of previous deals, deals which Bush's own administration has decried as failed diplomacy and "the false comfort of appeasement." The only difference I can discern? The 'R' next to the name.

Of course, not all administration officials were pleased with the developments, especially Diplomat-in-Chief Dick Cheney, a point which may have more import than a first glance would indicate. On Thursday's Countdown, former NSC staffer Hillary Mann Leverett floated the idea that apart from the concessions with North Korea, the Bush administration may have to make some within its own ranks.

Internally, inside the U.S. government, my concern is, that the—for lack of a better word, hard-liners epitomized, I think, by Vice President Cheney, they don‘t ever give away nothing, something for nothing.

I think in terms of their agreeing with this deal on North Korea today, we could very well see and my concern is, that we could very well see a more militaristic push on dealing with the Iranians.

In other words, despite pushing the North Korea deal as the successful end to diplomacy over militarism, the Bush administration will still pursue, possibly with even more force, a militaristic angle to Iran in a quid pro quo for its own officials. It can be safely assumed, I think, that this level of logical inconsistency will be met with limp credulity, as most hypocritical elements of American politics are.

There are stark differences, though, the most glaring of which being that North Korea actually possesses nuclear weapons capability while Iran does not. While the IAEA has expressed concern over the forthrightness of the Iranian regime, it has given no indication that it believes the Iranians are pursuing weaponization, despite claims to the contrary by surrogates and spokesman such as Sean Hannity, who apparently is privy to classified information no one else is. The most recent NIE released by the State Department declared that Iran hasn't been pursuing such a program for years, but such troubling realities can never be allowed to stand in the way of a good war.


Proof President Bush Has a Sense of Irony, June 7
Israel Engages in Appeasement, May 21

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Foreign Policy Redux

Earlier, I questioned the traditional narrative on national security, but there is more I'd like to delve into on the subject. Namely, the false diversity provided by the decrepit, doddering two-party political system of the United States.

One need only look at Barack Obama's suckling at the AIPAC teat to see the fallacy in full bloom.

Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us. Israel always faced these threats on the front lines.

And I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel's security. That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage.


We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything.

Here we see false dichotomy in all its imperialist glory. There are only two acceptable positions in American foreign policy discussion: one, promise the obliteration of all who dare question the moral authority of the US, or, two, promise cursory discussions, concurrent sanctions which harm the innocent population more than the leaders, and then obliteration of said parties.

Any position which questions America's moral authority to dictate to the world what its obligations to America are, what its rights to pursue energy programs are, and with whom they may ally themselves is off the table entirely. Not only is any utterance of such thoughts quickly portrayed as radical, but aside from the occasional peep, the very existence of such a kooky theory is ignored entirely.

Only in this atmosphere could two parties which differ only on the specifics of America's right of dictatorial powers over the globe be presented as the opposite extremes of the rational thought spectrum. Even the Democrats' cursory nods to diplomacy are treated as cowardice, though any examination of Clinton's foreign policy would reveal that he was no stranger to bombing the rest of the world back into its rightful place.

We scoff at Robert Mugabe's claims to be divinely anointed to continue running Zimbabwe into the ground, but we cannot question in polite company the United States' right to allow some Middle Eastern nations to build nuclear arsenals, supplying them the technology and know-how along the way, while promising destruction to others. The only lesson that can be gleaned from the choice of which countries are worthy is that only friends of the US are allowed such transgressions. Consider Saudi Arabia, one of the most regressive, tyrannical regimes in contemporary times, yet provided by the US the tools to build a nuclear arsenal.

Iran, on the other hand, is no friend of the US, and it thus becomes implied with nary a second thought that they will be wiped out before even a hint of their developing weapons becomes available. Bear in mind that for all the bluster of Bush, McCain, and Presidential-candidate-version Obama, there has not been one inspection or intelligence paper which suggests that Iran is capable of weaponizing uranium. It is this unquestioned moral authority which allows the discussion over attacking Iran to proceed with the proof of its errant nature only five years in the rear-view mirror to proceed without guttural laughter.

The case of Saudi Arabia has more parallels to that of Iran than it may seem at first glance. Before the revolution in 1979, the US was in the process of a similar agreement with the US-allied Shah. Given more time, the possibility remains that the change of power could have occurred after the acquisition of a working nuclear program in Iran which would have then been in the hands of the ayatollahs. Yet 30 years later, the US is prepared again to assume that the current regime in Saudi Arabia will always be in power and a friend of the US, and it is not the least bit concerned that the nuclear program it denies others as if it has the right but provides to the Eden of terrorism will never change hands to an overt enemy. McCain has spoken of a League of Democracies, but one imagines his commitment to that ideal would not extend to the House of Saud.

The November election, then, provides the voters with the false choice of just how many months down the road they want an unprovoked attack on Iran to happen. The question of 'if' will not be addressed, only the duration of the run-up to zero hour. What voters will not see on the ballot is a checkbox which offers a foreign policy that allows the citizens of other countries which have not attacked us, and do not currently possess the capability to do so, to live free from the fear of US humanitarianism. Americans love the idea of humanitarian intervention, which is why the invasion of Iraq was portrayed as such, but to the denizens of the Middle East, bombs dropped in the name of goodwill explode just the same.


The Fallacious Nature of Conventional Wisdom on National Security
, June 25
Changing the Rules of the Game, April 1

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The Fallacious Nature of Conventional Wisdom on National Security

When Charlie Black gave his interview to Fortune in which he implied another terrorist attack on US soil would be beneficial to the McCain campaign, the backlash centered on the idea that he was in fact hoping for such an occurrence. While even I am not cynical enough to believe he could wish for such a thing, the underlying point he was trying to make still instills deep frustrations.

That idea--that Republicans are inherently more capable in the area of national security--is one that has been thoroughly debunked by all available evidence of the past 7-plus years, yet it lingers. Despite demonstrable proof that the world is less stable than when George Bush took office, the existence of an al Qaeda stronghold in the mountains of Pakistan, the creation of a new haven for unrest in Iraq, an emboldened North Korea, and a strategic windfall for Iran, conventional wisdom still holds that should terrorism return to American shores, the public would want a Republican in charge.

Apart from what should be obvious--that conventional wisdom is almost invariably wrong--there is ample proof that it is especially so in this particular case. In examining the reasons for this persistence, there seems a dearth of legitimate ones. The most glaring supposition is that the public, or the media personalities who pretend to speak for them, juxtapose positive results with strong posturing.

At nearly every turn, Bush has taken a strong rhetorical stand against terrorism, but all attempts to follow through on his threats has met with disaster and failure. After promising to "smoke 'em out of their holes," he has allowed, via a deviation of resources, al Qaeda to grow even stronger on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and concurrently the Taliban to begin to reassert itself in Kandahar and elsewhere.

Iraq is perhaps the most prescient example of valuing bluster over substance, as Bush employed bullying tactics with both Saddam Hussein, Congress, and the American public before proving his argument to be entirely devoid of veracity. Nonetheless, conventional wisdom holds. What matters is not that the US created a new terrorism nexus or handed Iran the greatest strategic windfall it could have dreamed of, but that Bush talked tough. By appearing strong in the face of a challenge, the utter failure of the follow-through is granted. Only under these circumstances could the President and his surrogates now undertake preparations for an attack of Iran under nearly identical conditions as the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. The narrative is a carbon copy, yet the failure of the previous foray does not factor into the analysis.

Why this is so is not so easy to ascertain. Liberals think it's a sign of a conservative press, but I'm more apt to think of the media as lazy, inept, and overly deferential to power. Journalists are a mouthpiece for the administration, due mainly to the lack of motivation for actual investigation, but I don't believe this will change should a Democrat take office. The press will still write articles made up entirely of quotes from public officials, and the conservatives will have even more reason to cry about a liberal press.

The second factor is that the press is afraid, journalistic integrity be damned, to be labeled un-American. Facts no longer matter. What matters is that the government is supported in its endeavors, regardless of how inept or counter-productive they are. The majority of the public has neither the time nor the initiative to follow through on the end game of the policies, so they are beholden to the superficial coverage of the American media, which eats at the trough of trivialities and conventional wisdom fallacies.

Why, then, are we to presume that McCain would be better in office than Obama? If the implication is that McCain will be an extension of Bush's stance on terror, then shouldn't the opposite conclusion be reached? How does an examination of the results of the past 7 years not lead to seeking a different angle? The policies are clearly failing, as any objective analysis would illustrate. al Qaeda is stronger. The Taliban is back. Iran is stronger. Iraq is now an unstable terrorism boon. Success cannot be found anywhere, yet still we are supposed to buy into the Bush-McCain policies.

There is only one explanation for such a position: Facts no longer matter. Results are immaterial to the argument. Words matter. He who talks the toughest wins, and if the country ends up less safe, so be it. Conventional wisdom is nearly impossible to slay. Credibility's a different animal.


Changing the Rules of the Game, April 1

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

More Erroneous Responses to High Oil Prices

The recent precipitous rise of domestic gasoline prices and the concurrent rise of oil prices in general has given way to both parties proposing solutions which fall well short of addressing the issue in any tangible way. On the left, Barack Obama is proposing his pet project of a windfall profits tax on oil companies, assuming, it seems, that said companies would simply take the hit without increasing their revenue to offset the losses.

On the right, the new cause celebre is renewed offshore drilling by way of elimination of a 19-year moratorium. As I wrote last week, the oil companies have at their disposal more than 65 million acres of land on which to drill, and that only covers the land they've already leased but have refrained from drilling on. Much more land, including some acreage on the OCS, is available for lease, but has not yet been purchased. The Arctic Shelf region in Alaska, for instance, includes 91 million acres available for lease, but only 11 million have been leased for drilling. All told, of the lands already leased, oil companies are drilling 27% on land and 24% offshore.

Given those facts, the implication that simply opening up more land to drilling is the solution becomes clearly erroneous. As it is, the oil companies have no incentive to significantly boost production, as they have no desire to see a large drop in prices. To them, the oil is much more valuable in the ground than out of it. This isn't a partisan opinion, it's just simple economics. They boost their price by limiting availability of their commodity.

Even working under the assumption that increased drilling will have the desired impact, what no one disagrees with is that its impact is about 10 years down the road, which obviously fails to address the current prices. Nonetheless, Bush and McCain gloss over that pesky reality on their way to promising they've found the solution to current levels, and most journalists are loathe to question just how they plan to eliminate the ten-year lead time from drilling to market.

Juan Cole reports that "if all the known offshore fields were drilled and panned out, the lower 48's oil production would be increased by 7%. That would be 300,000 barrels a day." This would affect gas prices by a few pennies if it could be sent to market immediately, but again that isn't feasible. Not to mention the Saudis just promised to increase production by 500,000 barrels a day and prices were not affected to any noticeable degree.

What is certainly true of the proposal to eliminate the ban on offshore drilling is that it indicates a continued dedication to allow the US energy markets to be held hostage by Middle East insecurity. By all accounts, renewed drilling will not even approach a level which would eliminate or even lower significantly US dependence on foreign oil, and would require the country to remain forever tied to a medieval, tyrannical regime and subject to regional insecurity for its oil supply.

Rather than taking the opportunity to find sources of energy which are more stable and more capable of eliminating reliance on unstable world markets, the Republicans choose to offer a solution which does nothing to quell that reliance and ignores the entire decade in between renewed drilling and production.

John McCain understood this for much of his tenure in the Senate, and it is only now, in his continuing effort to prove his Republican bona fides to the base that he has altered his tune. But what was true a year ago is true today. The oil companies have plenty of land on which to drill, but have chosen not to. Even after the ten-year lead time for new drilling to make it to market, its effect would be nothing more than a stalling tactic preventing the US from finding sources of energy independence.

Domestic drilling is hailed as serving that purpose, but no analysis of the possibilities of domestic production has suggested that as a feasible outcome, despite the wishful rhetoric.


Pure Speculation, June 12

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FISA and the Death of the Constitution

After months without much movement, the House on Friday approved a new FISA bill that grants the telecoms a free pass for their cooperation in the Bush administration's bid to gut the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment. Presented as a compromise and an exercise in 'bipartisanship' (read: capitulation), the deal as written is anything but.

The bill requires only two stipulations to have civil suits thrown out: a, if the phone company was assisting the government in its surveillance program or, b, if the company received a letter from the government assuring them their action was legal.

The effective result of this language is make the written language of the Constitution second to the whims of the Executive branch in determining legality, clearly a chilling precedent to set. On inauguration day, the President swears to uphold and defend the Constitution, not to rewrite it as he sees fit.

There are a few things about the debate that need to be established, as they have been conspicuously absent from public discourse concerning the issue. First, the debate was never, at any point, about national security. It was always centered on granting immunity. In all public statements in support of the immunity deal, proponents invoked images of an intelligence community hampered by outdated and outmoded laws that left the country in peril. But the evidence that such statements were red herrings and inaccurate was overwhelming.

For instance, foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through US networks were held up as a reason to pass the bill, but no member of Congress would have rejected such a bill, making it clear that it was immunity for the phone companies that was the real target. The Attorney General at one point even fabricated a story about the US not being able to spy on a phone call made from a safe house in Afghanistan (until he changed countries as he squirmed under scrutiny), hoping no one would catch on that such a call would have been fair game even under the original FISA statute.

At every opportunity, the debate over the FISA bill was brought full circle to an accusation that anyone who didn't support immunity was somehow in bed with terrorists. That every member of Congress would have been willing to grant the intelligence community every single tool they needed, sans immunity, is invariably left out. That the argument is allowed to continue without the slightest question raised is infuriating, as one would hope that anyone of functional intelligence would be capable of discerning the glaring logical inconsistencies inherent in the argument.

For an idea of just how restrictive the FISA court has been since its conception, consider that between 1973 and 2007, the court rejected a total of 9 applications while approving 25,360. That's an incredible 0.035 percent failure rate. The court is nothing but a rubber stamp, but apparently that's still too big an obstacle for the Executive branch to uphold the Constitution.

As with the debate over habeas corpus, the proponents of immunity toss around the idea that the US should be able to spy on foreign agents and terrorists while simultaneously attempting to bypass the very apparatus used to establish that point. Again, and it can't be stressed enough, the issue is not whether such individuals should be spied on. The only thing at stake is whether in a Constitutional republic the rule of the founding documents should take precedence over the fleeting whims of a rogue Executive branch. That anyone is considering the latter over the former is intriguing. That the entire legislative branch, presumably a large portion of which are lawyers, defies credulity.

Indeed, upholding the Constitution has somehow become a partisan issue, a curiosity of American political history.

Much has been made since the House vote of the capitulation of the Democrats, but anyone surprised by the action wasn't paying much attention. Liberals like to pretend that the Democrats are free from corporate influence and believe them to be more like the populist campaign image than the same, tired Washington players they are in the space between. If history hasn't dispelled this notion by now, there can be no hope of a revelatory moment anytime soon.


Sunset (Il)logic, February 24
Capitulation on Telecom Immunity, June 15
John McCain and the Telecoms, June 9

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bush Holds Midwest Flood Victims as Hostages of War Funding

President Bush's commitment to flood victims is legendary, which makes it all the more surprising that he has chosen to hold the flood victims in the Midwest hostage of his military pursuits.

We've got what we called a Disaster Relief Fund. There's enough money in that fund to take care of this disaster. But what we're concerned about is future disasters this year. And therefore, we're going to work with the Congress. Jim Nussle is going to go up to work with Congress to get enough money in the upcoming supplemental to make sure that fund is -- has got enough money to deal with a potential disaster, another disaster this year.

Congress doesn't need to worry about working with the White House on this, because we think the supplemental is the way to go. What they do need to worry about is making sure that there is enough but not too much money in the fund, so we can say we have done our job.

The audacity necessary to make a statement like that could only be found in our fearless leader, as others might be hampered in the effort by a sense of self awareness or tact. Consider the implication here. First, Bush declares outright the money to deal with the situation is available, but he has decided to save it for a rainy day, perhaps millennial floods instead of yawners such as 500-year ones.

But, what is worse, is that he has decided to utilize the opportunity to tie more funding--superfluous by his own admission--to the war supplemental bill. The reason for that is obvious: he is forcing Congress' hand by making a vote against funding the Iraqi occupation a vote against the flood victims, and thus political suicide.

Interior disasters have no bearing on foreign occupations, and that Bush is willing to tie the two together to suit his personal ambitions is beyond the pale, even for a man of his capacity for shallow thinking.

Technorati Tags: ,

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Habeas Corpus: How Protecting a Written Guarantee Becomes 'Activism'

Last week's decision by the Supreme Court to uphold habeas corpus for Guantanamo Bay detainees has set off a predictable firestorm riddled with precarious assumptions and outright falsehoods. Coverage of the decision has given plenty of time to these presumptuous hypotheticals, but been lax in examining their shaky foundations.

The easiest tenet of the opposition's argument to put down is that which supports the Executive branch's ability of eliminate habeas corpus outright. The ability to challenge detention is not culled from context or some obscure jurisprudence facet of Constitutional law, it is guaranteed explicitly in Article 1, Section 9:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

As the US is neither in a state of rebellion or invasion, there is no legal justification for suspension of the writ, and no amount of semantic two-step can work around the clear, succinct language of the founding document. Proponents of Bush's policy often point to Lincoln's suspension of habeas during the Civil War, but as that was a rebellion, it was supported by the Constitutional provision. That is not the case in this instance, and the example is clearly erroneous, though its veracity is rarely questioned despite its false pretense. The text of the Constitution could not possibly be any clearer on this point.

The only question then, was whether or not the rule of law applies in what is officially Cuban territory. But, despite Cuba's nominal dominion over Guantanamo, it is obvious that the US is in actual jurisdiction over the base. Even were it not so, the implication of allowing that line of reasoning to pass--that Guantanamo is completely insulated from Constitutional governance--is that the government could ship anyone, including citizens, to the base and be exempt from the law. It should remain without question that pockets of immunity would not have been endorsed by the writers of the Constitution.

All that is left is to examine the presumptive nature of the opposition to the ruling. John Yoo, that distinguished Constitution-phile, provides a nice bulleted rundown of the fallacies in today's Wall Street Journal.

Under the writ of habeas corpus, Americans (and aliens on our territory) can challenge the legality of their detentions before a federal judge. Until Boumediene, the Supreme Court had never allowed an alien who was captured fighting against the U.S. to use our courts to challenge his detention.

The whole idea of habeas corpus is to establish that the detainees were indeed fighting the US. Yoo, though, presumes that is the case even as he fights against the statute which would be used to establish such a presumption.

In fact, many detainees were not doing anything of the sort when captured. Many have been detained because they were rounded up and turned up by people wanting to profit off of the bounties promised by the US. Others were simply pointed out by others to settle old scores. This was commonplace in Iraq as well, as devoid of a centralized government stamping out sectarian conflict, neighbors sold out neighbors to settle old grudges. Many were simply picked up off the street. Whatever the case, stating categorically that every detainee was captured battling US forces is blatantly false.

Yoo also addresses German POWs during WWII, but again Nazi soldiers were captured on the battlefield and were uniformed members of an enemy force. At the end of the war, they were no longer POWs. The War on Terror is a different animal. By definition, it continues ad infinitum, thus allowing under the MCA indefinite detention of prisoners. Clearly the two cases are not parallel.

In his oped, Yoo returns to his favorite crutch of the President's position as Commander-in-Chief. But the title makes him the top general of the armed forces, and does not grant carte blanche to eliminate provisions of the Constitution outright. To fill a room with 5 lawyers who believed that was the founders' intent would be nearly impossible.

It is the continuing attempt to apply the rules of finite wars such as WWII or the Korean War to the interminable War on Terror that is the most frustrating. By constantly pointing to examples, however ill-applied, from those wars, people like Yoo continue to obfuscate the fact that the US is fighting against an idea--terrorism--and not a defined enemy. The same pretext cannot possibly be applied to both situations.

Predictably, Yoo refers to the Court's decision as yet another example of judicial activism, the sacred cow of the right when confronted with the frustration of its recurrent attempts to eliminate Constitutionally-guaranteed rights. Yoo pretends that the 5 justices in the majority somehow pulled habeas out of whole cloth, when in fact it is written clear as day in plain text. Activism, in this case, would be to declare that certain inconvenient phrases from the document can simply be whitewashed at will.

The debate over the decision invariably regresses to 'support' or 'don't support' the War on Terror, but that is a false argument. The decision made by the Court was not whether or not the US was allowed to detain dangerous individuals. The Court decided that the President, even with Congressional subservience, is not allowed to unilaterally declare the Constitution null and void as the mood suits him.


Tortured Logic
, April 14
Trickle-Down Responsibility, May 9

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

When a Guest Becomes a Squatter

In what should come as no surprise, the negotiation of the status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States have reached an impasse. What is surprising, however, is the posturing of Nouri al Maliki, who is dependent on Washington sponsorship for his position, as his approval ratings among Sunnis stands a 8 percent and Shia 52 percent.

"Iraq has another option that it may use," Maliki said during a visit to Amman, Jordan. "The Iraqi government, if it wants, has the right to demand that the U.N. terminate the presence of international forces on Iraqi sovereign soil."

This is almost surely merely for effect, as it is nearly impossible for me to believe that Maliki in private has as much confidence in the ISF as he does in public. But, still, the implications of such a statement are worth examining. For one thing, asking the US to leave would call Bush's bluff on his promise to comply with such a request.

We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

If the US, absent a UN mandate and a negotiated SOFA, were to stay, it would in fact be illegally occupying a sovereign company, a situation which surely goes well beyond the well-worn talking points of the current domestic debate.

Already, though, the US has made concessions on the agreement, though not nearly enough to fully bring Iraq back to the table. One of the more egregious affronts to Iraqi sovereignty was a "U.S. demand that would have effectively handed over to the United States the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq." That purpose of that clause is not difficult to discern, as it clearly paves the way for the US to go to war against Iran under the pretext of protecting Iraq and without the consult of either the Iraqi government or the US Congress. One wonders how an attack on Iran would affect the mutual defense pact signed between Iran and Iraq last week. [That agreement was conspicuously absent from US media, lest they ruin a perfectly good, if not accurate, running narrative of Iran thwarting the will of the Iraqi government.]

Other concessions include "allowing Iraq to prosecute private contractors for violations of Iraqi law and requiring U.S. forces to turn over to Iraqi authorities Iraqis that the Americans detain."

While it is inconceivable that Maliki would follow through on his statement, it does signal the extent of the impasse over the deliberations regarding the SOFA. Bush will surely find a way to disregard the US Congress, but Maliki will have no such luck with his MPs. All of which makes the four-plus years of hiding its real intentions was a good strategic decision for the Bush administration.

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Capitulation on Telecom Immunity

In February, the fear mongering over renewing the Protect America Act with a clause granting retroactive immunity for participants in the illegal NSA wiretapping program was front-and-center, with obfuscation of the facts and promises of the end of days should immunity not be included. Yet, despite these promises of doom if the act expired, Republicans were unwilling to even vote to extend the PAA to allow for further debate, and instead chose to let it lapse. Just the very fact that they let it lapse is a clear indication that even they didn't believe what they were saying.

Four months later, out of view thanks to incessant superficial coverage of the horse race, Congress is again preparing to grant immunity, only this time in the form of a compromise. But, as EFF reports, such a bargain would be a compromise in name only. In practice, it would grant clemency to the phone companies and keep hidden forever the full extent of Bush's spying program by keeping the details out of court.

Under the guise of a compromise, the legislation is designed to ensure that the only issue the courts will review is whether or not the President told the telecoms that their conduct was legal, but not whether the conduct actually was legal.

Essentially, the new bill would ensure that the question of the legality of the program would never be addressed, as it still hinges on the premise that if the Executive branch unilaterally determines something legal, it becomes so. This judiciary element of the branch is of course nowhere in the text of the Constitution, and to allow it to stand without challenge would do irreparable harm to the founding document.

The passing of a bill granting retroactive immunity would be a vindication and validation of the dangerous Unitary Executive Theory, a conception of unbridled Executive privilege which blossomed in the Nixon administration--of which Dick Cheney was a part--and has appeared in full bloom and bearing fruit in the current regime. In practice, the theory basically means that anything the Executive does cannot, by definition, be illegal by virtue of the fact that he does it. In Nixon's words, "if the President does it, it's not illegal."

The danger of that kind of circular logic should be apparent, yet is conspicuously absent from any public debate. It is quite clearly a perversion of the Constitution's establishment of the separation of powers, belief in which requires either illiteracy or a blatant erasure of significant passages from the document.

Central to debate, and essential for its success from the immunity proponents' perspective, is ritual obfuscation of the reality of the FISA statutes and often outright lies to instill fear in the American public, a task which the lazy media is all too happy to assist with.

Glenn Greenwald has been at the fore on the immunity negotiations, and one of the few people to consistently itemize the falsehoods enveloping the debate. The debate--and I use the term loosely--has always been at the root an effort to grant phone companies immunity. But next to nothing of the fear-inspiring words tossed into the fray deal with the topic at all. Instead, false pretenses and promises of imminent doom are thrown out as if the issues can't be addressed in any bill that doesn't grant immunity.

But things such as foreign-to-foreign communications have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not anyone can be held responsible for past actions.

The whole issue of "foreign-to-foreign" communications is a complete red herring. It's irrelevant in considering whether to enact the Rockefeller/Cheney Senate bill or anything close to it. Even the most stalwart civil libertarians in the Congress -- such as Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd -- have been willing from the start to amend FISA to exclude foreign-to-foreign communications from the warrant requirements.

If the President agreed to sign it, Congress could pass a law amending FISA in one day to fix that particular "problem," and then virtually every scary threat Lichtblau's article describes would instantaneously disappear. All of the supposed fears and dangers Lichtblau's article cites are an absolute sideshow because virtually every member of Congress is willing right this minute to pass a law to amend FISA to eliminate the cause of those supposed dangers -- i.e., the requirement that warrants be obtained to eavesdrop on foreign-to-foreign calls. Pointing to the "dangers" from that requirement in order to justify passing the Rockefeller/Cheney bill is exactly the same as pointing to the threat posed by Al Qaeda in order to justify invading Iraq; one has nothing to do with the other.

What this passage illustrates is that the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, for all of the hype, are not the least bit worried about the actual dangers stemming from a failure to pass a new FISA bill. As Greenwald states, no member of Congress thinks that the US should not be able to eavesdrop on foreign-to-foreign communications, even if they pass through US networks, and a bill to allow such spying could be passed in a single day. But, of course, that's not really the issue at hand, immunity is. It should blatantly obvious that granting immunity for past transgressions has absolutely nothing to do with the US's ability to track such communications, yet the debate is allowed to proceed as if that is the case. Not that the 24-hour news cycle has any room left for actual discussion of substantive topics. After all, Britney Spears may be moving hospital beds.

Another favorite talking point of immunity proponents is to declare the FISA laws outmoded, as they were fashioned decades ago when communications were not nearly as advanced as they are today. But this is another red herring. The statutes have been revised over the years, and again, no member of Congress would deny the government the ability to spy on foreign agents using methods of communication unavailable in the 70s. Nevertheless, that falsehood is promoted as another reason that immunity must be granted immediately.

Perhaps the most damning example of the obfuscation surrounding the debate is the unwillingness of the Republicans and Blue Dogs to sign extensions of the PAA. If the dangers posed by not doing so were really what they said they were, would they not then be responsible for anything that happens as a result? Republicans are held up as strong on national security, which makes it even more inconceivable that they would allow a state of (what they say) clear and present danger to persist merely to eliminate accountability for AT&T and Verizon. If they dangers are what they claim, then by extension they are willing to put Americans in danger. Why, then, do Republicans still have a monopoly on "strong on national security?"

The Democrats in Congress are more than willing to grant the intelligence community all the tools it needs for espionage. It is the Republicans who are preventing that from happening.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pure Speculation

It is a long standing belief of mine--founded on nothing but mere observation--that the economic comprehension of Americans begins and ends with gas prices. A loose association to be sure, but it goes a long way toward paving the road for hours of discussion per day on the subject without ever addressing the core issues. Sure, cable news is rife with self-evident tips to save money on fuel--'drive less;' who knew?--and coinage of meaningless phrases like 'staycation,' but absolutely no examination of the root cause of the prices.

It is this environment which allows the fallacy that the prices are purely a reflection of supply and demand to be perpetuated by people like the Fed Chairman and oil executives. At this point, it is beyond all doubt that a healthy percentage of the price of a barrel of oil is based on speculation alone, based on artificial shortages created on paper in the futures market rather than physical shortages, and yet feeding the public a line that pretends gas prices are held to the same laws as widgets in a elementary economics textbook is enough to throw them off the scent. And given the current pathetic state of American media, they're not enthused about putting in any more effort than simply reporting the statements without qualifiers of any kind.

In order to establish any such simple relationship, however, it seems that one would need to be able to point to either a decrease in supply or an increase in demand that outpaces production capacity. Neither apply.

A quick toggle through the OPEC production levels over the past decade show that quarter 1 production in 2008 has been on pace, if not beyond that of the previous years. That leaves out any significant foreign production capacity issues, so we turn to home. Domestic production has been down slightly, true, but the Republican mantra of making more land available for drilling is simply well off the mark.

The cause celebre is ANWR, which is presented by the talking heads and on the Senate floor as the only available piece of land for new drilling. Even assuming that was the case, the EIA analysis of the likely production capabilities of the area doesn't point to a significant boost to domestic production or affect gas prices in any meaningful way.

With respect to the world oil price impact, projected ANWR oil production constitutes between 0.4 and 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030 [assuming leasing had gone forward in the 90s], based on the low and high resource cases, respectively. Consequently, ANWR oil production is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices. Relative to the AEO2008 reference case, ANWR oil production is projected to have its largest oil price reduction impacts as follows: a reduction in low-sulfur, light (LSL) crude oil prices of $0.41 per barrel (2006 dollars) in 2026 in the low oil resource case, $0.75 per barrel in 2025 in the mean oil resource case, and $1.44 per barrel in 2027 in the high oil resource case. Assuming that world oil markets continue to work as they do today, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could neutralize any potential price impact of ANWR oil production by reducing its oil exports by an equal amount.

But, of course, ANWR isn't the only land in the US available for drilling, as this Committee on Natural Resources report illustrates quite clearly.

Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for development of public lands increased by more than 361%, yet gasoline prices have also risen dramatically contradicting the argument that more drilling means lower gasoline prices. There is simply no correlation between the two.

Even if increased domestic drilling activity could affect the price of gasoline, there is yet no justification to open additional federal lands because oil and gas companies have shown that they cannot keep pace with the rate of drilling permits that the federal government is handing out.

In the last four years, the Bureau of Land Management has issued 28,776 permits to drill on public land; yet, in that same time, 18,954 wells were actually drilled. That means that companies have stockpiled nearly 10,000 extra permits to drill that they are not using to increase domestic production.

Hence, ANWR has been held up, not as the last great hope for domestic drilling, but as a 'want-what-I-can't-have' prospect that ignores the availability of immense amounts of other land on which to drill. Oil companies are only drilling on 27% of the federal lands leased to them and 24% of the offshore acres, leaving the companies with 68 million acres of leased acreage on which they are not producing oil or gas. From this it becomes clear that the problem is not the availability of land on which to drill, but the ability of the oil companies to produce on the land that they've already leased.

As it stands, there's even plenty more land for lease to oil companies in Alaska's Arctic region, 91 million acres to be precise, of which only 11.8 have been leased. The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska also presents 22 million available acres, of which 3 million have been leased. Seemingly, focus on a small area of less than 20 acres has prevented the usage of several times that many in the same region. To hold up ANWR as the last possibility in domestic production is fallacious and disingenuous.

As for demand in the US, the first quarter saw lower demand from the same period a year ago.

All this leads to speculation as the root cause of the steep increase in oil prices, not some simplistic supply-and-demand relationship which doesn't fit reality. A 2006 Senate report indicated that as much as 60% of the price of a barrel of crude was pure speculation, due to unregulated commodities trading made possible by the Enron Loophole slipped onto the end of an 11,000-page appropriations bill by Phil Gramm, among others.

Commodities trading, now free of the watchful eye of the CFTC, can lead to unfettered market manipulation and the creation of paper shortages. In other words, opaque trading practices make it appear as if there is a supply issue when in fact there is none.

The 2000 deregulation is more than a simple poor policy choice, it led directly and quickly to market manipulation, yet has not been altered.

In 2001, [sic] certain Wall Street executives [used] the media to sell the public on stocks in order to bid up the price – so their firm could divest of its shares without taking a beating. Meanwhile, other trusted advisers pushed stocks that were fundamentally worthless, because their affiliated banks had large loan agreements with those companies.

The year before Enron had been caught manipulating the California energy market, even forcing rolling blackouts across the northern part of their state apparently just for effect – to support their claim that there just wasn’t enough electricity to go around. Again, we now know that claim was untrue. It was Enron shutting down certain power generation plants, while placing bets on their unregulated energy futures market. The net cost to California consumers was almost $8 billion.

It didn’t end there. Amaranth Advisors, a hedge fund, literally was cornering the market on natural gas futures, to make it appear that there was a shortage of natural gas, when the Commodities Futures Trading Commission told Amaranth to liquidate its position on the NYMEX because its bidding had already moved natural gas prices far beyond the reasonable limits of supply and demand. Now, remember this name: ICE, short for Intercontinental Exchange – the "dark futures lookalike market."

Once the CFTC told it to back off its natural gas futures contracts, Amaranth simply shifted gears, got out of the NYMEX, placed its massive bets outside of government regulation in ICE and managed to drive natural gas futures to $8.50 per MBtu.

As the Senate investigation into the manipulation of the energy markets showed, "Amaranth – the day before they failed, natural gas was about $8.50; the day after it failed, it went to $4.46 MBtu." That’s right, one major hedge fund managed to double the price of natural gas simply by loading up on futures contracts; when the government told them their bets were unwarranted, they simply moved their monies to a futures exchange that was unregulated. Only when Amaranth failed did natural gas prices fall back to what was considered normal for supply and demand.

Sadly, like oil today, when this was happening we were being told that natural gas supplies were tight worldwide. That statement simply wasn’t true.

Yet, for the mountain of evidence available just since the deregulation of the markets, the same false premise of a supply/demand market price is allowed to be perpetuated without question. Nothing could be more evident based on every available metric and on recent history of energy commodities, be it electricity, natural gas, or oil.

There is no shortage of oil. The only thing lacking is honesty.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

John McCain and the Telecoms

It's been a while since I've addressed the issue of telecom immunity, as not much headway has been made in either direction, aside from the occasional wind-testing proposal tied to the starter's block. The contention, however, is beginning to bubble again, if only slightly, because of John McCain's public wavering on the issue.

Although previously on record as saying the President is not above the law, McCain and his advisers have backtracked in the past week.

A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

In a letter posted online by National Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

McCain, as with every other about face he's made in the process of this campaign, denies he's changed his stance. But McCain said this to Charlie Savage six months ago:

There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.

It strains credulity to imagine what, if any, Constitutional power would grant the President the power to ignore written law. In saying so, McCain shows an increasing attraction into the orbit of President Bush's flawed legal justification of the NSA program, a justification a wide array of legal experts have declared "fails to offer a plausible legal defense of the NSA domestic spying program." Indeed, it appears an insurmountable task to find a lawyer of any import outside of the current administration who can find any legal backing for the program.

An examination of McCain's advisory team, however, leaves little want of an explanation for the waffling. The list of advisers reads like a telecom dream team, with more than a third of the 66 lobbyists on McCain's team having lobbied for the telecom industry in the past decade, with many, such as chief political adviser Charlie Black, fighting until very recently for ratroactive immunity. Three leading lobbyists for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint listed in a September Newsweek article are now members of McCain's campaign. EFF continues to list and expand upon numerous other lobbyists involved with the Arizona Senator, eliminating any mystery surrounding the sudden shift in position.

[Note: The 66 lobbyists is a dated number from a March USA today article. As the number is inexact and fluctuates, the numbers above are meant as an anecdotal estimate giving a general perspective, not an exact statistic. At one point, McCainSource had listed as many as 134 lobbyists involved. Again, those numbers shouldn't be taken as precise.]

Whatever you think about John McCain, the only thing that has become exceedingly evident in the process of the campaign is that however principled he has been imagined throughout his career, he has ceased to be. He has changed course on nearly every significant issue except the Iraqi occupation, be it taxes, Roe v. Wade, or telecom immunity. Sure, he still throws in the occasional token environmental reference, but the only thing 'maverick' about John McCain these days is his staunch commitment to a thoroughly-reviled status quo.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Maliki Assures Iran SOFA Not a Threat

Despite of the image propagated by the Bush administration and its media stenographers, the Iraq-Iran relationship is a mutual alliance and not merely one-sided meddling, with Iran aiding assorted rabble allied against the US occupation. It is little surprise, then, that Nouri al Maliki traveled to Tehran this week to assuage Iranian fears of a permanent US presence in Iraq spurred by news of the looming status of forces agreement.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed Iran on Sunday to back off its fierce opposition to a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, promising Iranian leaders that Iraq will not be a launching pad for any attack on their country.

The agreement has become a center of contention as Baghdad tries to balance its close ties to Washington and Tehran. Iran fiercely opposes the deal, fearing it will lead to permanent U.S bases on its doorstep in Iraq amid fears of an eventual American attack.

The Iranian fears seem well-founded if current events are any guide, especially given that the proposed SOFA includes freedom of movement for US forces both within Iraq and across its borders. Neither would require the knowledge or consent of the sovereign-in-name-only Iraqi government. It is ludicrous to believe that the US, in the event of an attack on Iran, would hesitate to use some of its 50-base windfall as a launching pad.

The question, then, becomes how can Maliki make any such guarantee to the Iranians? The Bush administration has been eerily silent on the meetings, and the promise. Ostensibly, by refusing to ever acknowledge the cozy relationship between Maliki and Ahmadinejad it can continue to play up the 'special groups' angle, despite its demonstrably farcical premise. If the SOFA were signed 'as is,' Maliki would be helpless in backing up his promise, leaving a parliamentary opposition strong enough to elicit major changes in the terms.

Maliki, however, must side with Washington while still appearing to protect Iraqi sovereignty, a task becoming more difficult daily as his Da'wa Party frays beneath him. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has formed a splinter group, taking MPs with him along the way. Together, they are forming a broad nationalist coalition which will virulently oppose any deal with permanent US bases or freedom of operations for US forces.

Whatever his ability to follow through, Maliki's commitment to Iran is in stark contrast to the picture painted by President Bush.

"Iraq, today, does not represent a threat as it was during the former regime because it has become a constitutional country based on the rule of law," a statement released by his Baghdad office quoted him as saying.

"Iraq is working on developing its relations with the countries of the region on the basis of mutual understanding and cooperation," it added.


Al-Maliki also appeared to signal that Tehran would not be squeezed out by any agreement, saying Iraq's "development and stability will be provided through more bilateral cooperation" with Iran.

For its part, the US again illustrates a brilliant lack of foreign policy comprehension, unwilling to accept that Iraqis would disapprove of a deal making their country a playground for Americans devoid of Iranian influence.

U.S. officials increasingly see the criticism against the security deal as driven by Iran — particularly through al-Sadr.

"The U.S.-Iraqi negotiations (on the pact) concern the American and the Iraqi sides. As we have noticed, the Iranian contribution again is not positive regarding this," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo told journalists Sunday in Baghdad.

While Sadr surely opposes the relationship, Maliki allies (or non-enemies, maybe) al Sistani and al Hakim have spoken out as well. IHT also reports that the Iraqi National Security Council rejected several drafts of the agreement because of blatant infringements on Iraqi sovereignty. To paint Iran as the only catalyst for opposition fits only one purpose, and it's not "description of reality."

The US has thus far engaged in a little willful ignorance on the role of Iran. By refusing to acknowledge the close relationship with the Maliki government, it can continue to play up the destructive aspects and meddling. But eventually, the reality of the Iraq-Iran ties will have to figure in to foreign policy calculations.

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People Smarter Than Me

Here's a random collection of writing I found interesting this past week:

Chris Floyd: Uranium Enrichment: The Bushes, The Saudis and The Bomb

Foreign Policy Watch: What's Behind "All Option on the Table"

FPW: Italy's hard right turn

TomDispatch: Is the Monroe Doctrine Dead?

All are fairly long, but well worth the read if you have the time.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

US Holding Iraqi Funds Hostage Over SOFA

On Thursday, I wrote about Patrick Cockburn's reporting on the pending status of force agreement between Iraq and the US, one that would include US leases of 50 bases, control of Iraqi airspace, and freedom of operations and immunity for US forces and civilian contractors. The deal was clearly an infringement on Iraqi sovereignty and extremely unpopular with the Iraqi populace--and, by extension, the Iraqi parliament--so President Bush is trying to push it through as a deal between Nouri al Maliki and he.

Part of this strategy, incredibly, includes a threat to Iraq's $50 billion foreign reserves.

The US is holding hostage some $50bn (£25bn) of Iraq's money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement seen by many Iraqis as prolonging the US occupation indefinitely, according to information leaked to The Independent.

US negotiators are using the existence of $20bn in outstanding court judgments against Iraq in the US, to pressure their Iraqi counterparts into accepting the terms of the military deal, details of which were reported for the first time in this newspaper yesterday.

Iraq's foreign reserves are currently protected by a presidential order giving them immunity from judicial attachment but the US side in the talks has suggested that if the UN mandate, under which the money is held, lapses and is not replaced by the new agreement, then Iraq's funds would lose this immunity. The cost to Iraq of this happening would be the immediate loss of $20bn.

Because Iraq is technically still listed as a danger to world stability under UN chapter 7, a Saddam hangover, the US is bribing its new friend by establishing the price of losing that stigma as signing the SOFA as is, and granting US forces free reign within the sovereign state. That the US would expect any independent state to allow its forces the right to conduct operations and arrests its citizens all with full immunity is incredible in itself, but to force through the agreement as if it's getting Johnny Fontane a contract defies credulity.

The US has already cost the Iraqi government around $5 billion dollars through the Treasury Department's handling of the funds, held in the Bank of New York.

Iraqi officials say that, last year, they wanted to diversify their holdings out of the dollar, as it depreciated, into other assets, such as the euro, more likely to hold their value. This was vetoed by the US Treasury because American officials feared it would show lack of confidence in the dollar.

Iraqi officials say the consequence of the American action was to lose Iraq the equivalent of $5bn.

In spite of the US attempts to strong-arm the Iraqis into accepting the deal verbatim, snags are already appearing, as Iraqi officials are speaking out against the SOFA's affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraq said on Friday it would not grant U.S. troops freedom of movement for military operations in a new agreement being negotiated on extending the presence of American troops on its soil.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the United States wanted its forces to operate with no restrictions, but this was not acceptable to Iraq.

Tension particularly arises when considering al Maliki's precarious position within his own government, a position which just got even more shaky. Maliki knows the deal will be unpopular, but also knows he is dependent upon the US for both military backing and legitimacy. The US, of course, knows this as well, which is why it's in a position to threaten Iraq. Grand Ayatollah al Sistani and al Hakim, the leaders most supportive of the central government, have not come out fully against the deal, but have stated that no deal which allows the Americans free reign would be acceptable. Maintaining their support is vital to the success of any long term alliance between the two nations.

Already Maliki's hold on stability is faltering however, as Juan Cole reports his Da'wa Party has "decisively split."

The new branch, Da'wa- National Reform, has been formed by former PM Ibrahim Jaafari, and the local leadership of Islamic Mission political offices in many cities, including in Najaf, has defected to it.


These 90 MPs oppose the soft partition of Iraq and generally have a strong Iraqi nationalist orientation. Several have expressed opposition to the US-Iraqi security agreement now being negotiated.

Of those 90 MPs, 30 are Sadrists. While Maliki is supposed to hold the country together, he is being forced at gunpoint into a wildly-unpopular alliance on one side and facing the crumbling of his own political party on the other.

Apparently, al-Maliki has been maneuvered by the Bush administration into a position where he has virtually no popular or party support, and is left with Washington has his only anchor.

Which makes Bush three-for-three on backing unpopular leaders, as he continues to push his relationship with Musharraf despite his plummeting import among Pakistanis.

An overview of the tempest surrounding the SOFA is not hard to ascertain. President Bush, knowing the unpopularity of such a deal, is trying desperately to keep both congresses out of it, forcing Maliki's hand by holding funds hostage and forcing him into a position that may very well turn out to be politically untenable. Maliki is dependent on the US for support, but should he sign a unilateral deal which signs away Iraqi sovereignty he will forfeit nearly all popular support.

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