Friday, December 22, 2006

Jack Valenti doesn't get it

In an op-ed piece in Thursday's USAToday, Jack Valenti decries the lack of appreciation that the younger generation possesses for the sacrifices of our soldiers in battle. He says, "watching [Flags of Our Fathers, the new Iwo Jima movie by Clint Eastwood], watching ordinary young men performing extraordinary feats of heroism, broke my heart. They put to hazard their own lives not to win medals, but because their country was in danger. Why, then, a casual indifference to this story by so many young people? Maybe it's because we have been so benumbed by war, particularly this Iraq war, and because so few youngsters have worn a uniform. A movie about a battle a half a century ago carries no umbilical connection to them. That's understandable. But it ought not to be."

Jack's lamentation that the younger generation lives with this indifference is in a crucial application of the words he chose: "their country was in danger." Yes, in WWII, the USA was in danger from the Axis powers, threatened by both the Nazis from the Atlantic and the rising Japan empire at the Pacific. However, there is nothing dangerous about the wars we wage today. Iraq did not pose a danger to the United States. The UN inspectors found nothing in the way of weapons of mass destruction, and despite occupying the country for over three years now, we similarly have found no evidence to suggest Sadam was an imminent threat to our country's survival and prosperity.

Thus, to pour billions of dollars, thousands of deaths of our service men and women, and all the diplomatic shame that this war has incurred upon us, is it any wonder that the average 20-something American doubts the valor of battlefield feats? This was not a war in which we can look to and be proud of our involvement, which is a key distinction between Gulf War II and WWII. We had reason to be proud of our actions in Europe and Asia. We were securing our future, while liberating allies who were at the mercy of a Fascist who wanted to rule the world. Those were noble goals. Iraq was removing a second-rate despot, and then plunging the country into confusion and rebellion.

There should always be respect paid to those people who lay down their lives in the line of service, even if we disagree with why they are there in the first place. And there is no doubt that the feats performed by the generations who fought in the world wars deserve a place of honor and respect in our hearts, for they worked to preserve liberty at home and abroad. But with the quagmire that we are finding ourselves in with respect to Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan), it should prove no suprise that impressionable people are having their glasses tinted in a way that strikes against the gung-ho military viewpoint carried by some previous generations. That is not to say we don't respect people in service. Far from it. It means we demand more from our armed forces than rushing into a situation guns blazing. Modern warfare, especially at the outset, requires planning, reconstruction, diplomacy. This is not the 40s, this is the 21st century. Update our military accordingly.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Creating jobs from Smart Energy Policy

Some choice pieces from an opinion piece by Carl Pope.

At the moment, America lacks any real plan for bringing smart energy solutions into the mainstream, and it's missing out on major job opportunities as a result. Consider the manufacturing of wind turbines as just one telling example. Iron ore mined in northern Minnesota gets shipped abroad to make steel. Danish, German, and Spanish companies then use that steel to make wind turbines. These turbines are then shipped back to the United States on boats through the Great Lakes to Duluth, where they are placed on trucks and hauled to Iowa and other states with great wind resources. America provides the raw material and pays for the finished product but gets almost none of the economic benefit, foregoing increasingly dear manufacturing jobs. As if that isn't enough, NASA invented the technology itself.
Hmm, strange how capitalism can come back and bite you in the ass, eh? Free markets can indeed strip the championing nation of its wealth. But if we were to embrace the future of energy rather than hide behind the slick curtain that will prevent us from maintaining our leadership in the world, then we are only to blame.

America does not have a national plan that requires utilities to produce any power with renewable energy, but it could. And there's no reason why the United States couldn't decide to power 10 million homes with solar roofing. To be most effective, such policies ought to be matched with incentives and publicly assisted financing to get domestic manufacturers on their feet. In fact, there are many, many things this country could be doing to create a home-grown, renewable energy economy. It's been too busy giving subsidies to oil companies to do most of them.
I would second the call placed by Carl to generally plan for our nation's energy future. Do so, and invest the money here, in research and development, manufacturing, sales, and maintenance, and you will create a hybrid industry from the energy/engineering/environmental sectors which will have a market niche and room to grow. There are some states that have already started playing this game.

It's no coincidence that California has set a goal of producing 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has an ambitious initiative aimed at putting solar power on a million roofs in the Golden State in the next 10 years. The state also makes a point of investing its state pension funds in companies that push the green envelope. Earlier this year, Nanosolar, which has seed money from Google executives, announced that it would build the world's largest solar manufacturing facility near San Francisco, creating several hundred new jobs in the process.
If only the rest of the nation could be on board. As a whole, the federal government could wield a huge power, should they chose to, and spark this green revolution off in a positive direction. Here's hoping the tide turns soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Carbon Offset

A disturbing trend is developing in the industrial world: that of the business of carbon offset. In theory, you pay a company a certain amount of money, who then invest it in areas where carbon is conserved (like wind farms, buying forest reserves, supporting solar panel technology). The amount you pay is calculated based on how much "carbon" you waste each year, taking into account the car you drive, your heating and air conditioning bill, and other environmental factors. This is a growing business, according to NPR, who highlighted it on their morning talk show.

However, this brings up several issues regarding our consumption in modern society. Perhaps investing in wind farms helps to offset our SUV driving, but does it really encourage saving and conservation, which should be at the head of any greenhouse gas emission solution? I don't think so. One of the people that Matrin Kaste interviewed for his report hit it right on the head: it is very much akin to the indulgences sold by the Church before the Reformation. The theory goes, "pay up for your sins, and you'll be guaranteed a clean slate."
It is easy to pay off $80 or so a year and drive your Ford Excursion like there was no tomorrow. But that is not the point of trying to be a better consumer and global citizen. While it might prompt some people to think about their "eco-footprint," it also has the danger of giving leeway to those who should be thinking about it the most. Being able to pay off your carbon debt, so to speak, could encourage you to be more carless about your consumption patterns, with the expectation that you can just pay it off later and be free and clear. That is dangerous thinking.

And the effect is small, very local. Kaste notes that it would take close to $10billion a year for the US to get to 1990 levels of carbon emissions. People are just not shelling out that amount of money, and there is also a limit to how many forests you can buy and protect, how many wind farms can be created in one year (or over a particular area). And it is one thing to invest in wind farms, but people or businesses also have to sign up to use the greener energy that the farms are producing. Buying into the farm is only half of the equation; without someone using it, it is a futile gesture.

While this is an ingenious way of approaching the problem, and this sort of outside-the-box thinking should be encouraged, it should not delude us from the real goal of this movement: to reduce our consumption in order to ensure a healthier planet for the future. There is no buying our way out of that one, it only comes via hard work.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

John Glen said what?

I received an email recently recounting some statements regarding Iraq and the War on Terror (btw, always put Terror in capitals... otherwise the Terrorists win). They were reported to come from John Glen, US Senator and former NASA astronaut and pilot. Whether or not they are actually from him, I found the quotes hilariously wrong in a number of ways. They represented an obtuse point of view that so often is perpetuated without critical thought. Some of my rebuttals are posted here, along with the comments in thier entirety. The original comment is in italics; my thoughts are in regular text.

When some claim that President Bush shouldn't have started this war, state the following:
a. FDR led us into World War II.
b. Germany never attacked us; Japan did. From 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost, an average of 112,500 per year.
-->There is substantial evidence that the two sides, Japan and Germany, were collaborating on how to divide the world between them. There was a fair amount of communication going on, even if there was no explicit cooperation. And while Germany never formally declared war on the USA, before our entrance into the war there were numerous attacks on civilian ships and supply vessels in the Atlantic that today would garner the term “terrorist.” These attacks were against the United States, and it is wrong to say that Germany never attacked us.

1939 - Sept 3 . Submarine U-30 torpedoes British passenger liner Athenia without warning in the belief that she is an armed merchant cruiser; 28 American citizens are among the dead.
Sep 10. U.S. freighter Wacosta, bound from Scotland to New York is stopped by German submarine for three hours.
1941 - Jan 30. Germany announces that ships of any nationality bringing aid to Great Britain will be torpedoed.
May 21. Unarmed U.S. freighter Robin Moor, en route to South Africa and Mozambique, is stopped and sunk by German submarine U-69 (torpedo and gunfire) about 700 miles off the west coast of Africa. First American merchantman sunk by a U-boat in World War II. Crew given food and directions by submarine.
Sep 7 . SS Steel Seafarer bombed and sunk in Red Sea.
Oct 17. Kearney (DD-432) escorting a convoy was attacked by U-boat off the coast of Iceland with 11 killed.
Oct 19. Unarmed U.S. freighter Lehigh is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-126 off Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Oct 28. Oiler Salinas (AO-19), in convoy ON 28, is torpedoed by German submarine U-106 about 700 miles east of Newfoundland.
Oct 31. Reuben James (DD-245), an older destroyer on convoy duty west of Iceland, was sunk by U-boat with loss of 115 men.
Oct 31. DuPont (DD-152) is attacked by U-boat, but missed.
Dec 2 . German submarine U-43 torpedoes and sinks unarmed U.S. tanker Astral and her 37 man crew.
Dec 3 . Unarmed U.S. freighter Sagadahoc is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-124 in South Atlantic.

c. Truman finished that war and started one in Korea. North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost an average of 18,334 per year.
d John F. Kennedy started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us.
e. Johnson turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost, an average of 5,800 per year.
-->The whole of the Cold War can be summed up in one word: mistake. Our strategy was mistaken, our motivation was incorrect, our reasoning flawed. The projections we created never panned out. I think it is a common belief now that our involvement in Vietnam was not warranted, undesired by the Vietnamese, and ultimately was a waste of time.

f. Clinton went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent. Bosnia never attacked us.
-->There was genocide happening on a rather large scale. It was evident that this needed to be done to help pacify the situation. (As we should be considering doing in Darfur, Sudan right now.) The UN swiftly came into the situation, as did NATO, to help negotiate a long-standing peace-keeping mission. I don’t see NATO or the UN offering to come in and aid in “peace-keeping” in Iraq. Also, Bush 41 was very hesitant to help the Kurds out, when the gassing was going on. If we had gone in then, with that clearly defined mission of helping stop a genocide, we would have garnered more support around the world. A decade late does not help your image.

He was offered Osama bin Laden's head on a platter three times by Sudan and did nothing. Osama has attacked us on multiple occasions.
-->The history of Osama bin Laden is large and varied. Yes, Clinton missed an opportunity to get him early on. But then again, it was the Reagan era that first trained and equipped this man (not entirely unlike Hussein himself), so there is plenty of blame to go around.

g. In the years since terrorists attacked us , President Bush has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled al-Qaida, put nuclear inspectors in Libya, Iran, and, North
Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people.
-->"Liberated" is such a loose term. Afghanistan is still without some basic necessities, and there are substantiated reports that the Taliban is becoming stronger, bolder in the South and Eastern provinces. The chaos that is engulfing Iraq would hardly be called a “liberated” area of the world. The inspectors, while a good step forward, have hardly been able to arrest the progress that Iran and N. Korea have made in their nuclear programs. Bush lamblasted UN inspectors in 2002 and 2003 when making the decision to invade Iraq. Does he hope now that they will be more effective in even more extreme countries?

Here are links to very recent articles detailing the increase in attacks by Taliban.

The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking. But It took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51-day operation.
-->Yes, however you must also take into account the severity of casualties that have resulted from each decision. The Branch Davidian compound was a stand-off, where the lives of 27 children were weighed against the benefits of running in, guns blazing. There was a large effort to try and negotiate a way out of that situation before resorting to combat methods. It was not war. The US went into Iraq without the regard for the Iraqi army or civilians that the FBI displayed when trying to release the Davidians at the compound. The FBI ended up killing 76 Davidian members, including their leader. Since January 2005, over 19,000 Iraqi civilians have died. The comparison is erroneous.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Good news on Planet: Forestation

There is a spot of bright news on the horizon. A recent report put out by the US National Academy of Sciences mentions that forests are actually being maintained in many parts of the world, if not actually increasing. In the last 15 years, the United States and China have shown the greatest gain in forest coverage. Even moreso, it shows a general trend of countries around the world of transitioning to reforestation rather than deforestation.

Below is a picture from the article. The red line shows a neutral area+density forest volume; countries above that line are gaining forest volume and mass; those below are losing it.

This is definitely positive news. However, i would counsel that there remains an issue with logging large, old-growth forest. These venerable trees form the backbone of an ecosystem; they harbor the most water, possess the greatest surface area for CO2 reductions, and anchor the soil the greatest against erosion and other degredation. These trees still need protection from deforestation.

But, allow yourself a smile at this good news, which is so rare in the arena of environmental protection.

Here is an article at Planet Ark about the report.
Here is the report in its entirety from PNAS.

Monday, November 13, 2006


There has been a lot of discussion about the ineffectiveness of the UN. That is the primary criticism coming from conservatives, that the UN talks and talks and makes resolutions and does not have the backbone to enforce them, instead relying on member states to provide the muscle for any operation the UN has resolved is necessary. There is an easy way to get around that. Introducing: The United Nations Strike Force.

The United Nations Strike Force (UNSF) would be responsible for the "first response" of any UN legislation that requires military action. In such areas as Darfur, Bosnia, and anywhere around the world where the UN has decided it necessary to step in and take a side for world peace and prosperity. It is a small, elite military unit (comparable to the Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Barets, etc.) that operate under the expressed juristiction of the UN. It is a small but well-equiped unit, with all the latest in warfare technology. A hybrid force of aerial, sea-based, and land forces that could work together in a fast-paced, high risk environment. The actual size of the unit would depend on the mission involved and the particulars of the creation of the unit by the UN, but I would imagine somewhere on the order of 10,000-20,000. Obviously some parts of a military would have to be foregone (aircraft carriers, for instance, require too many personnel to be operated effectively), but they could be surmounted by innovations in technology and planning (using the Joint Strike Fighter would enable vertical take-offs, putting these jets on smaller ships without the usual crew needed on a carrier).

The personnel involved would come from the member nations' militaries. However, they would be on a multi-year loan from their country to the UN. While they are serving the UN, they are UN Soldiers, not American/Canadian/French/etc. soldiers helping with a UN effort. Their loyalties lie with protecting the UN Charter and the decisions of the Security Council. They are UN Soldiers while they are there. The council would, of course, do their best to avoid sending troops to areas of the world where there would be a conflict of interest. So, any Muslim troops would not have been forced to fight against Saddam Hussein (but if they wanted to, no problem).

This force would not be the size of a regular standing army, and once they had cleared the way, removed major obstacles, then regular, member-sponsored peacekeepers would take their place. This would be a dangerous position to hold, as the soldiers would be working in some very hostile environments against a myriad of enemies. But they would be defending global peace, freedom, and rights, and that certainly is a just cause to be working towards.

Perhaps the most important part of this is that it would force countries to think twice before defying the UN's resolutions in the future. No longer could they scoff at sanctions, demands for cessation of activities, requests for entry to genocidal areas. For the UN would have a powerful muscle to strike with, and force them to capitulate to the UN. Used correctly, this could be a good tool to wrangle with despots the world over, who know that they can blow off the UN and not have to face serious consequences. That would change, and we could work quickly and effectively towards limiting conflict and establishing peace across the globe.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Midterms for all

It is quite amazing how these elections can reverberate around the world, and it reinforces how important American politics and policies are to the rest of the global population. With the take-back of the House (and perhaps the Senate... still seeing how a couple races end), the Democrats have offered a lot of hope to a great number of people.

In the Middle East, where in pro-Western Jordan, a newspaper editor said many Arabs "are delighted that the American voters have at least disassociated themselves from [President Bush's] dangerous policies."

At the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), some of the participants at a climate conference pointed to the midterm elections as a sign that positive changes might come about in the U.S.'s environmental attitude. "President Bush still has two more years in office so it's very unlikely that the U.S. negotiating posture will change," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He added that the fact that Democrats, many of whom support emissions caps, took control of the House means climate and energy issues will be prominent in the 2008 presidential campaign.

It also has highlighted the need for a strong bipartisan (damn I hate that word; it just sounds like politician-speak for elections) work to keep the influence of America strong. Some around the globe worry that a rift in the power scheme of our legislature, coupled with a lame-duck second-term president might stall progress on international issues by weakening much-needed American influence. In other parts of the world:

"We hope American foreign policy will change and that living conditions in Iraq will improve," said 48-year-old engineer Suheil Jabar, a Shiite Muslim in Baghdad.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, 35-year-old Jens Langfeldt said he did not know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush's values. He referred to the president as "that cowboy."

In Sri Lanka, some said they hoped the rebuke would force Bush to abandon a unilateral approach to global issues.

Only time will tell if the Dems can capitalize on their success and translate it into real domestic and international policy development. They have been given a chance to prove that they are different, along with a time-line: 2 years to show something, or forget about the Presidency in 2008. Time to get moving.

apologize for the delay

Hey everyone, I'm sorry for the lengthy delay in new postings. My personal life has taken some complicated turns, with the possibility of a return to academic life via graduate school, a lot of time has been spent prepping applications and the like. But never fear, I will do my best to keep on with this site, as there are tons of ideas that have been floating through my head and I want to get them down.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Green CEOs

Steven Milloy of wants you to believe that being a CEO in favor of green business is bad for business. In his most recent column, he gives three "examples" of how CEOs of major companies, by trying to move in a greener route, have sparked a decline in their own company's future value. He picks the specious cases of Ford, British Petroleum, and the upcoming "crisis" in General Electric. However, if you read what he has to write, he is simply not making any sense.

Ford's choice of CEO may have not been the wisest choice in the world, but the 5-year reign of Bill Ford did not have the disasterous effect that Millor wants you to believe. His reasoning is that, since Bill actively sought to turn his company down a greener road, the 2/3 loss of stock value that the company has endured is his fault. Instead, it was a company's reliance on trucks and SUVS - which consume huge amounts of gas - that dragged them down, and their unwillingness to change. Look at Ford's compatriot, General Motors. A company similarly laden down with the same burdens, has not had an environmentalist at the helm but still has managed to shed the majority of its value. In stark contrast, Toyota got on board the green vehicle bus very early, and is currently reaping in the benefits from it (note: here in California the waiting list for a Prius was, at one point, 7 months... how many cars would you willingly pay for in advance, and then wait 7 months for it to be delivered? not many). Honda is also there, and they have a good corner on the solar panel manufacturring market to bolster them up. So it was not these last 5 years that have doomed Ford, it has been decades of negligence and unwillingness to act or recognize changes down the road.

Negligence reminds me of Milloy's comments about BP's CEO Lord John Browne. Milloy states that, while Browne is trying to turn a new leaf in the company's long and sometimes turbid history, he has neglected "core business needs and has
given the company a black-eye." What is evidence for this accusation? "A March 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery complex killed 15 workers and injured many more. Poor maintenance at BP’s Alaskan oil pipeline caused the largest-ever oil spill on the North Slope in March 2006. A BP oil rig damaged by Hurricane Katrina still leaks one year later." Now the pipeline corrosion is a condition that builds up over years, if not decades, making recent decisions by the CEO hardly relevant. Even more important, the pipeline is soon to be back online,by BP's estimates. Explosions and hurricanes, while unfortunate, happen, at great cost to lives, money, and the environment. But these are pitfalls in any company, and freak acts like those do not necessarily reflect upon the CEO in question. Instad, trying to push BP into a new generation of companies working with alternative fuels, helping California's governor work with a new global-warming initiative, and work with partners like Greenpeace are constructive steps that more companies should take.

The truth of the matter is that green companies are starting to turn a profit, and make a lot of sense. Forbes magazine opines, "
Evidence is mounting that what is good for the environment is also good for the price of a company's stock. Contrary to the widely accepted belief that environmental regulations are a drain on profitability, research demonstrates that being environmentally effective can add value to a company, and potentially benefit its shareholders. By taking advantage of environmental opportunities, companies can gain a competitive advantage over their peers through cost reductions, quality improvements, increased profitability and access to new and growing markets. Environmentally responsible companies also have less risk of environmental liability, which could have a major impact on future stock prices." And that was two years ago, before a lot of green businesses that exist today are even in place.

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, "
More than 70 percent of the world's largest 500 companies (FT 500) are now addressing climate change in their corporate reporting, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project. In addition, 90 percent of those companies flagged climate change as posing commercial risks and/or opportunities to their business." Toyota's hybrid cars have certainly been a boost for that company, as mentioned above. Portfolio 21's top 10 green companies for 2005 returned anywhere from 52% to 120%, hardly shabby growth by any metric.

Milloy's comments are not merely obtuse, but blatantly misleading. He chooses such abominable examples to base his case around that it could be hardly considered journalism. As I have shown, most of his accusations are not the result of one man's actions, as those take longer to matriculate in a large corporate atmosphere. Instead, CEOs who think green and act green should be encouraged to continue what they are doing, for it will benefit their shareholders, their customers, and society in general. Milloy should stop pandering and slandering and write about something about which he actually understands.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Rag Rant

How destructive, the petty diversions of our life. Americans are being destroyed by consumption, and not the Violetta type. Our TV watching is approaching a third of our lives (up to an average of 8.2 hours/day/household, according to Time Magazine), and we continually fill our waking existence with intellectual tripe. Celebrity marriages, star gossip, fashion obsession. Are these items that will help you improve your lives? Will knowing that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' baby looks like (even getting a glimpse of her bronzed shit) help you in your own marriage? Improve your work life? Become healthier, wiser, a more active citizen in this country?

No, they will not. Instead, these trivialities are distractions from your life. While entertainment is certainly not looked down upon, to spend hours of television programming, newspaper print space, and vast amounts of time in your own life ingesting, memorizing, prioritizing these tidbits is unconscionable. Why do we care? What relevance does this have to our own selves? Nada. Rather, we use these pieces of pop culture to remove us from our own reality, to escape from the difficult thoughts that lie with our own lives and the decisions that need to be made regarding our future. It is easier to think about Brangelina than about the impeding death of Social Security; Jessica Simpson's new fling is more fun to contemplate than trade deficits or poor education or the illegal immigrant debacle.

Hollywood will not be denied; and in their cunning they have isolated ourselves from our own rational brains, fractionated off a portion of it in order to serve no particular useful purpose. And we have swallowed, as a society, hook, line, and sinker. We buy trashy magazines, watch the tabloid shows, participate in useless water-cooler tirades and gossip trading, rather than trying to use those neurons, use that time, use those contacts to try and actually do something constructive. Heaven forbid that we attempt to improve our lives, indulge in our own artistic side, try to construct a more perfect union. We face serious issues, and to sit around diddling our lives away on such star-studded bullshit is beyond me, and should be beyond us. Put down People. It is not about you, it is not for you, it exists merely to waste your money and time.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And while you’re at it, you might want to look under your bed too…

There is nothing worse than playing boogey-man politics. And, unfortunately, September 11, 2001 gave this administration the greatest boogey-man imaginable: secretive, exotic, filled with unmitigated hate, powerful, able to strike and disappear in a second, only to reappear months or years later. With the joint attacks on that day, the united states launched its “war on terrorism” to safeguard America in this vast, chaotic world we live in. And if you listen to this administration, they would trumpet the fact that there has been so significant repeat of the terrorist acts since 9/11. However, they fail to mention that in the 200 years before that infamous date there had also been no significant terrorist attack. Quite a track record they’re developing.

But they do not want you to know that. They do not want you to focus on where your jobs are going, why your children are not as educated as Chinese children, why our environment is degrading, why we’re in debt, fat, overworked and underpaid. No, no, no, those are questions for another time. BUT LOOK!! The evil terrorists are at it again! You must vote for us because only we can keep you safe! And if we are not super, 1000% vigilant (damn fuzzy math), then they will get us. We need to “fight them there, or we fight them in the supermarkets and streets here,” according to Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) on CNN.

This is not to discount the fact that there are terrorists out there, bad ones (speaking of the war on terror, how is Bin Laden doing?). But they are hyperboleed up to the highest level as if our very next breath is tainted with their chemicals, their microbes, unless our valiant Republican party is at the helm to stop them.

very time they are worried that they will lose an election (and you know who I mean when I say “they”), they pull out their supposed trump card of terrorism. Ratcheting it up to scare us and make our hands shake at the ballot box, clicking “Republican so-and-so” just so we feel reassured that we’re safe again, with them in power. Puhhhlease. I can only hope that we are not as easily deluded as they think we are. We outgrew monsters in our closets when we were 8 years old.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I cannot believe...

It never ceases to amaze me how people can behave like Neanderthals sometimes. This story out of Maryland demonstrates that principle clearly. A man, deciding to protest a Muslim candidate to the state’s House of Delegates, has staged a one-man “protest” outside of the candidate’s home, wearing a shirt that says, “Islam Sucks.” His reasoning for his protest? “I had heard that Muslims were generally intolerant of views other than their own, and so I thought I would put it to the test.” By insulting the person? By insulting his personal religion? Who would not be tempted to strike back, talk back, against such statements? The man has been warned of being prosecuted for trespassing. However, if this man were to happen to have a sign saying “Judaism Sucks” in front of a Jewish candidate’s house, you had better believe he’d be slapped with more than just trespassing. Hate crimes, bigotry, all sorts of labels would be associated with him. But since it is a Muslim candidate, then he’s only trespassing. To his credit, the candidate has not dignified the man with a response, saying there is nothing constructive about his dialogue. What true words!

The double-standard that is appearing, and the whole culture which resides behind this single man’s attitude is sickening. What sweeping ignorance has paved his path to arrive at this candidate’s front door. Such wide, blunt brushes he paints other cultures with. We paint cultures with. I thought as a nation we had progressed beyond such thing. We should be ashamed that this happens here in our country of the free. And do not bring to me the argument that it is free speech. The man himself defends his actions, saying they are not hateful, merely expressing an opinion. But the cultural connotations of his words transcend mere opinions into the realm of hate-driven expressions.

If I had chose a person I’d want as a neighbor, a fellow citizen, my decision would rest solely with the Muslim, rather than allow such a blunt-minded hypocrite to share my country with. This man repulses me to my core.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Adieu, Les Pommes Frites de la Liberté – Et Bonjour aux Pommes Frites “Françaises”

It was with little fanfare recently that the “Freedom Fries” at the cafeteria of Congress reverted to their more familiar name, “French Fries.” This marked the end of a curious era for the lovable potatoes, and settled a good amount of the identity problems they had been going through.

In all seriousness though, the whole Freedom/French Fry thing might be a broader signal of the change of politics we can only hope is coming to our nation’s capital. The changing of the name was ridiculous at best, giving many a chance to – rather than poke fun at the French – ridicule our Congress, who should have better things to do than to try to influence what people call their deep-fried potatoes. It was a rash act, one that has now been rectified.

But rash acts were a symbol of this administration for a long time, full of bravado and brash statements, and in the end very little content. The “war” in Afghanistan, which is still plodding along amongst rumors of increased Taliban activities, as well as enormously large opium crops (didn’t we wipe that out when we “won” the war in 2001/2002?) is only one example. The total list is beyond this server’s capacity to upload.

Along with these positions goes with the unilateral feeling of the administration, lampooning allies when they weren’t totally with us, while forging relationships with foreign powers we were soon to try and reverse (gee, that doesn’t sound familiar, does it? See: Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Osama bin Laden for more information). So, haraunge the French when they opposed our war in Iraq, but now we realize they might be crucial to any sort of peace talk in Lebanon, not to mention the Darfur region.

So perhaps we are seeing a more multi-lateral form of politics emerging, a spirit of contrition and willingness to work with others, rather than just stick it alone. That would be a big change in policy from our “decider” President. Talk about flip-flopping on issues. Fries are just the beginning.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Not a Passing Mark

The debate over the California exit exams continues to rage, now making its way up the court levels to another appeal. At the heart of the matter is whether or not 20,000 students who flunked the exam, but otherwise fulfilled graduation requirements, should be awarded diplomas. The plaintiffs say the case is unfair, and not all students had an equal chance at learning the material necessary to pass.

This is definitely a sticky subject, as it touches on some fundamental problems in our educational system, especially in good ole California. However, the thought of exams to help assess our children’s academic acuity is appealing to me, especially as there are gross differences in the “grades” that different schools hand out. As such, and as much as people will claim there are biases and differences, I think the results should stand and the people should fail.

These tests have been coming for years now. There has been ample time for schools, and students, to prepare for them. For several years these tests were taken, but not mandatory for graduation. This is the first year it is required to graduate. The students knew it was coming; this was not a last-minute pop quiz given to them. If they felt they were behind, and their school wasn’t cutting it, they should have sought help elsewhere. That is what students have been doing for eons – you need help, you find a tutor.

Secondly, this is a state curriculum mandate. The board has said you need to know xyz to be considered graduated from high school. Yes there are inequalities associated with it. That happens with all things, and it is an indication for the schools to improve. You could make a similar argument with college acceptances. All students are not equally prepared to apply to Harvard, and they don’t have the same chances to get in. Does this mean therefore that all students should be accepted to Harvard carte blanche? No. While schools should be prepared to improve, to offer more services to their students, to better prepare and educate them, the fact is that there is a set of standards now set before the students, and they did not pass the test. Literally.

And they should hold themselves accountable for that in some part. That may sound harsh, but it is their responsibility to pass the test, just like it is ultimately their responsibility to go to school, apply to college, get a job, etc. If they don’t have what it takes, it is not the fault of the test to point out their deficiencies. It is not 100% fair, and it should be remedied for the future, but these students need to realize they don’t have what it takes. We need qualified students moving into our businesses, our government, and our colleges. It is the quality of this education that keeps us going as a country, and this is a dire sign we need to improve. But for the future of American sciences, economics, and our status as an innovative society, they should fail.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Divestment Rewards?

There is a reason why there is antitrust legislation on the books of our nation’s laws. Many decades ago, as the industrial revolution was peaking, there was a lot of wealth and power concentrated in few people. This is the era of huge fortunes and names like Rockefeller, Getty, Carnegie, and Morgan. It was creating a monopoly of power in key United States industries, like steel, oil, transportation, and communications. So the government, in a magnanimous sign of socialism, enacted these laws in order to help keep the American dream alive for the majority of the people. Some people have claimed that it merely puts capital into inefficient hands, thus hampering the progress of an industrial nation, but I would argue that by lifting up the bottom of the economic sectors, we can only better ourselves in the long run. That is still up to debate.

Fast forward nearly 70 years, to the 1984 divestment of AT&T, aka Ma Bell. At the order of the government seven spin-offs were generated to handle local telephone service. They included Pacific Bell, Bellsouth, Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, USWest, Ameritech, and Southwestern Bell. AT&T held on to its long-distance services, which were immediately faced with competition from companies like Sprint and MC
I. Good for competition, right? But the wheels of capitalism move in much more subtle ways. Over the years, the “baby bells” have been slowly merging, re-grouping, enlarging their holdings. In the late 1990s, Southwest Bell purchases Pacific Telesis (PacBell), Southern New England Telecommunications and then Ameritech. Under the name SBC, the group now consists of 3 of the original 7 spin-offs. Then SBC joins cellular plans with BellSouth in a 60/40 split. By 2004 it has merged with AT&T Wireless into one unit. It is not done yet. In 2005, SBC reaches an agreement to merge with AT&T, its former parent company. It is approved, and rebrands to AT&T for unity sake.

And now we come to the present. It was announced today that BellSouth shareholders ok a merger with AT&T (the one-time SBC). Should the SEC approve the merger, this would mean that the wireless company would finally come home to roost under one management structure. And it would mean that 4 of the 7 baby bells have regrouped with the parent company and added the major wireless network to its holdings. All in under 24 years. What was the original divestment for, if it was only to buy two decades of “competition” before allowing them to consolidate once more? Talk about inefficiency in economics.

Should the merger go through, AT&T (blue) would be merged with BellSouth (yellow). Image courtesy of

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The World with US Blinders

The war on terrorism that the United States has been waging since September 11, 2001 has taken a great many guises. The multinational invasion and “liberation” of Afghanistan in late 2001/2002, the unilateral “pre-emptive” strike against Saddam Hussein in 2003, new priorities in both domestic and foreign relation programs in the United States. However, one wonders if we have strayed too far in that direction. After all, while the loss of life was regrettable and abhorrent, and there certainly is at least one faction of radicals in the world who are determined to see the United States fall by any means necessary, there are far more pressing, and relevant, issues at hand in the world today. And the United States, by making the war on terror our #1 utmost priority, we have given way in many other areas, and one could make the case that we are losing our dominant edge in the influence over the future direction of the world.

The examples are evident enough. It was reported in this blog in May 2006 of the movements of many Latin American countries to the socialist left, headed by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. While Peru and (for now) Mexico have stalled his agenda, it remains that he is a strong, central influence in the regions politics and economies. This is a region the United States spent decades, and billions of dollars, to help grow to its own desire, as some bonsai that needed constant pruning, shaping, and feeding. It didn’t work out as we had planned, as the repressive tactics that were utilized merely succeeded in spreading corruption and a widening poverty disparity. Coupled with our new apathy towards the region, as it is not a hotbed of terrorism, the people have responded by veering in a new direction, completely independent of America’s recommendations.

The same sort of independence is being seen in Asia. As our collective vision lies elsewhere, China, Russia, and India look to create a regional dominance in politics and economics, becoming the major influences in that part of the world. China and Russia have already asserted themselves in the cases of North Korea and Iran, two arguments that the United States wishes it had more solidarity on. The United States has been the dominant power in that region since the conclusion of WWII, and is now slipping in the face of new self-confident giants of regional policy.

While this is not inherently a bad thing, as the United States makes up a small portion of the world, it is certainly something to take note of. We would do well to build strong, multi-governmental bodies where we can work as a part of a team to help direct policies in these regions of the world. Not as a majority voice, nor as a major deciding factor, but playing as one of the team. That has not always been our strongest suit as a nation, and it would not be easy now to shift from strong-man in the group to team player. But this kind of shift is becoming increasingly necessary as we are so distracted in our own pursuit of physical stability against these “terrorists.” We have sought strictly bilateral agreements with select partners, in lieu of other stronger, more central treaties. A prime example is our vacillation over the nuclear proliferation with India versus with other nations, most notably the more unstable, but also “strategic” partner of Pakistan. A more inclusive solution, which might also help foster better relations between the two, would have been a preferred solution. But we chose not to.

We are not popular in the world, not by any means. Our policies, mostly generated by this administration, but not exclusively, have set a tone that many of the world perceives as unilateral, super-capitalist, and uncaring of more social concerns. If more regional bodies begin to exclude the United States out of negotiations, trade agreements, political disputes, then one can only wonder where the United States will lie in the final judgment. Would American businesses be cut out of the loop of new trade agreements? Could we stop a war when our voice is not considered relevant to the argument or region at hand? Would we be asked to help in times of need, or congratulated in times of prosperity? Life with the blinders on, as we have pursued recently, has its consequences. The beginning of which is only now starting to play out.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Good to Remember

Today, a brief selection from Thomas Jefferson's inagural address on March 1, 1801. Consider how these quotes relate to our own political reality today, both in a positive and negative sense.

"We have passed through a hard year of bitter struggle between two political parties. We have shown the world that in America all can speak, write, and think freely. The debate is over. The people have decided. Now is the time for all of us to unite for the good of all. The majority of the people have won the contest. But we must always remember that there is a minority. True, the majority must rule. But the rule of the majority must be just. The rights of the minority are equal to the rights of the majority, and must be protected with equal laws."

"The rights of man will be of the highest importance in this government. Information, knowledge, and opinions must move easily and swiftly. We will support freedom of religion...freedom of the press...freedom of the person protected by the habeas corpus...and the right to trial by juries that are chosen fairly. These are the freedoms that brought us through a revolution and that made this nation. Our wise men wrote these freedoms. Our heroes gave their lives for these freedoms. They are the stones on which our political philosophy must be built. If we make the mistake of forgetting them, let us return to them quickly. For only these rights of man can bring us peace, liberty, and safety."

"I know that I shall make mistakes. And, even when I am right, there will be men who will say that I am wrong. I ask you to forgive my mistakes which, I promise, will at least be honest mistakes. And I ask you to support me when I am right against the attacks of those who are wrong. Always, my purpose will be to strengthen the happiness and freedom of all Americans . . . those who do not agree with me, as well as those who do. I need you. I go to my work as president of the United States, ready to leave that position when you and the American people decide that there is a better man for it. May the power that leads the universe tell us what is best, and bring to you peace and happiness."

Such prescient words, from one of our foremost patriots and leaders. As relevant today as they were 200 years ago, perhaps even more relevant, as our country is no longer a decade old. Take a moment to reflect upon them, what they mean to you as a person, to you as a citizen, to us as a nation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Warren’s Gift

An interesting, positive news article out today. Capitalism is often seen as a heartless enterprise, and the men who run it are quite frequently vilified as people who do not care about their fellow men, who pursue the dollar over everything and everyone else. With a lot of people, this comparison is not entirely unjustified. Capitalism can make a slave out of a person, beholden to shareholder profits and the bottom line. And most people are happy keeping that money for themselves, to be sorted away however they best see fit, or left to their inheritance.

Which is why it is so refreshing to see the two most powerful men in the world partner up to help out. The Gates Foundation has been well-established as a global leader in aiding health and educational concerns across the globe. But now, Warren Buffet, the second wealthiest man in the world (right behind Gates himself), has stated that he is going to donate $31billion, of his $44billion fortune, to the Gates Foundation. That is unprecedented in terms of scale of donation. It is huge. The Gates’ were ecstatically humble, Melinda stating, “Bill and I are absolutely honored and humbled by Warren's gift. It is unprecedented in terms of what we can do to do good in this world. It is something we take very seriously. We have an incredible responsibility. To give away your own wealth is one thing but to give away the body of some body else's work is something else.” Warren himself tried to play off the charity as a business decision, but inevitably it comes down to good deeds, and his is a big one.

Warren should stand as a shining example, as Gates does already, as to how one should use his or her wealth in the world. People who have gained so much through their own hard work and determination, are now prepared to give something back to this world. That sort of generosity is enlightening, and something everyone should strive for. Now, not everyone has $15billion that they can live off of and donate the rest. That is understood. But there are people out there who are better off than most, quite a few of you. You know who you are, those who have luxury items and money burning in the bank. And even if they did raise themselves up by their own bootstraps, they should take time and recognize for what they are using their excess money. Is it frittering away in a bank? Put it to use. Not political contributions, not stock options, but true benefits that are tangible and attainable.

We all stand to learn something from this example, of how even the most stereotypical capitalists is at heart socially conscious and caring. Of how one of the biggest money men of our day, like Getty, Kellogg, and Ford of the past, still aspires to make the world a better place, and is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's a Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

It seems, as though Americans are becoming more lonely by the decade. In this report by researchers at Duke University, more and more people are without close friends who they can rely upon, talk to, relieve stress with, or just have fun. In fact, nearly 25% of people said they had "zero" close friends. While the whys of this rather sudden drop in friends (in 1985, most respondents reported having three friends they described as close) were not probed, it seemed fairly certain that America's circle of friends is closing down.

So what? you may ask. Why does this matter? I have some friends, or I don't need friends. Whatever your response, you should be concerned. Having stable social networks is a key, in my mind, to a healthy functioning society. And the possible list of factors that are causing this isolation (working longer, marrying later, longer commutes, the internet) are all factors also have a hand in creating an unhappy society. No matter how big the GDP is, regardless how prosperous financially or materially a nation is, if you neglect your social interactions, then eventually you will collapse. Why? Because you stop caring for one another, it becomes a "me-versus-the world" attitude, life degenerates into unhealthy competition between people. Remember, we are a social animal, like it or not.

This touches on a broader scope of points I would like to investigate, looking at a renewed social outlook of our nation, our politics, and our direction. But in order for any social program to work the citizens must care about what happens to one another. And a good way to start that is by having close friends.

So go out and hug your friend today, or make a new friend, or even say hi to a neighbor or a stranger on a bus. Make today, and every day, Won't You Be My Neighbor Day.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Total Non-Issue

You've got to hand it to our President, King of Smoke and Mirrors. He has proven yet again that his political acumen has developed serious glaucoma and has no clue as what to do about it.

This Monday the President formally reassumes his position behind an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that bans same-sex marriage. His exact words were, "The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution. For ages, in every culture, human beings have understood that marriage is critical to the well-being of families. And because families pass along values and shape character, marriage is also critical to the health of society. Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure. America is a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. In this country, people are free to choose how they live their lives."

First of all, some bouts with his words. If people are free to choose how they live their lives, why can't they choose to commit to another partner that they love and respect and want to share their life with? And a society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens? Puh-lease. How does interjecting the government into a personal issue like this limit their influence in our lives? If you read his whole speech, you'll find holes galore that I won't waste time with now, from activist judges to treating citizens with respect and dignity. But as exemplified by the passage above, what a waste of oxygen those sentences were.

The President, in making this vague, short-sighted appeal to gut-reaction conservative politics, has successfully ignored or glossed over issues that truly are "critical to the health of society." You want to help our society? Great. Then let's talk about poverty-reduction, the war in Iraq, debt reduction for both the nation and our citizens' personal finances. Immigration reform, public health, even terrorism deserve to be the recipient of such lengthy discussion and support from our primary leader. But instead, he wastes his political capital, already so diluted, on this issue which is hardly critical to the future of the United States as a society. If you truly desire to solve the critical problems, Mr. President, it's time to focus on real issues, not pander to your mutinous political base. This grandstanding display of pseudo-authority is not fooling anyone.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Shame on you GM

What a sham! On the way to work, the news reported that General Motors was offering qualified buyers a cap on the gasoline they buy. The models that are eligible, and must be bought between may 25 and July 5, are some of the largest, most gas-guzzling models GM currently offers. Included in that bunch is the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the Hummer H2 and H3, the GMC Yukon, and more. The rebates apply only to those buyers in California or Florida and are also contingent on purchasing the OnStar diagnostic system.

Thank you, GM, for continually lowering the bar on helping to rid ourselves of oil dependence and working to preserve the environment. While nearly all other major auto manufacturers have worked to develop cleaner burning, lower emission, higher mileage vehicles, you create this. This is what happens when a stagnant auto maker, seeing the numbers falling on their beloved SUVs as people wisen up to the costs - both social, environmental, and financial - of owning such hulking monstrosities, decides that, rather than adapt to the market and improve their autos, they're going to jam their fingers in the dam and hope to hell that staves off disaster. Ford didn't follow this example; they introduced a hybrid vehicle. VW has improved their diesel offerings. Only you are sitting here pining away on the glory days of SUV bumper crops. It's time to face the facts GM and get with the program. I hope your rebate program goes no where.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How Green is my Basket?

It is too bad that the American people are so oblivious to their own power. Beyond their political voices, which are usually under-represented in the polls every November, Americans are able to “vote with their dollars” to quote the now-trite phrase. And while that concept is thrown around a lot, few understand the power that it can direct towards changing our society, and even our government. The cases where it has been applied we can see positive results emerging, usually in sectors where the government has proven too sterile in effecting the changes that people – judging from their fiscal “voting” – desire. Traditionally, these areas are environmentally-friendly products and/or services and consumption choices that positively augment the position of people around the world.

One of the nice qualities of these movements is they are usually grassroots, which has generally been associated with a popular movement growing up and gaining strength. It shows mass popularity for something to grow from the small end of the spectrum. Smaller businesses are easier to be “green” or “organic” or whatever eco- or social-friendly moniker you desire to ascribe to them. Large businesses have a sort of economic momentum due to their size and corporate culture which imposes barriers to such changes. They are also not inherently socially conscious, focused upon profits and shareholders as opposed to workers or the environment. It is not to say that these companies are inherently evil, it is just their nature within a large capitalist market. Smaller businesses are able to adapt to changing consumer patterns rather quickly, and it is in these small stores and markets that such concepts as fair trade certification, organically grown crops, recycled packaging, shade grown foods, and other socially conscious developments emerge. (Plus, and it is important to note, that these stores have a clientele that is able to afford the higher prices that accompany the initial costs associated with not only developing a product in this manner, but also having it certified by a recognized international oversight organization. This is almost a crucial aspect to the success of such movements, and thus can be best executed in first world nations.)

This is a curious precipitation from strict, traditional capitalism: the people’s will to see and affect a change in the world around them that does not, initially or intuitively, grant them a benefit. And as these movements – based in small stores, farmers markets, co-ops, and other niche retailers – grows, it builds more and more momentum. It is a good reward for those who take the time to adopt such products into their stores, as well as the consumers who choose to consciously make these purchases due to the social and environmental implications they carry. The momentum can carry these new tenets of business practices all the way to the “big boys.” It is heartening to see when big companies adopt these products or practices, a successful apex to each grassroots beginning. And they have been, spurred on by the dollar votes of consumers. The examples are almost limitless:

There are numerous debates on how large companies and organizations can still maintain the ideals and spirit of the measures they have adopted, and that is a valid concern. But what is most striking is that these large businesses and organizations even thought along these lines. And all of that translates directly into the power of consumers, whether they are people buying lattes or students paying for an education, to shift the paradigms that rule businesses.

One would think that with this record of success in deploying these initiatives among businesses it would become a more standard procedure to attack problems from a fiscal perspective. However, this is sadly not the case. The overriding reason, I believe, is that implementation of these solutions from the ground-up takes too long to manifest itself; only the most careful of planning and execution can pull off these coups. But victory is possible. And there is no shortage of social ills that one could apply this methodology towards.

I see oil consumption as the next major battle to be waged and won through financial means. The government has regularly shown its incompetence towards achieving a viable solution to the problem of our fossil fuel “addiction” as our President put it. This is not a condemnation of either side of the aisle, but of the government as a whole. Tax rebates, ANWR drilling, protectionist mergers are all as equally useless as they are clouding to the debate. But the people are speaking. Toyota was one of the first to bring an assembly-line hybrid vehicle to the market, a car which provides substantially higher gas mileage than normal cars (55mpg per Toyota’s testing versus 27.5 for the American fleet average). Instantly the demand flew through the roof. There were reports that there existed a 7-month wait period merely to purchase one of these technological wonders. Detroit must have been scratching their heads, wondering why no one would patiently wait seven months for a new Ford or Chevy. And it grew. Honda quickly caught up with their own hybrids, Toyota expanded their line up. Ford got on board by leasing Honda’s technology. Most car manufacturers are set to introduce hybrid vehicles within the next year if they haven’t already. And since transportation still consumes the majority of America’s oil, this is a good place to start. Other solutions include bio-diesel, ethanol (General Motor’s E85 program is growing) and liquid natural gas (LNG) vehicles. This is a much better solution than what Washington is providing, and more effective than the lamely-introduced “boycotts” of oil companies that periodically surface yet never work. The gears are in motion.

Americans need to wake up to the fact that using their buying power wisely and effectively can mean bringing about the changes that we desire to see in our nation. As much as buying power can be used for positive reinforcement (consumers buying from a certain company because they provide the desired products/services), it can also be negative punitive measures when companies do things that the citizens/consumers of this country dislike. Boycotts, when organized effectively, can highlight public awareness, visibly display disapproval of a certain organizations’ actions, and serve to, through financial burdens, and force a change for the better. I wrote of this back in April within the environmental movement , but it can apply to whichever cause you desire to augment with your efforts. That, and a little personal sacrifice which is a whole other issue. In capitalism, the ultimate weapon, ruler, and metric of a people is the dollar. Learning to wield those dollars in wise ways could go far to cut through current problems we face and unveil new and innovative solutions from which all global citizens’ benefit.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Red Scare or Red Herring?

With the energy crisis that is rapidly speeding towards America, indeed the whole world, there is a rush to politicize fossil fuels, as well as mounting international competition for those resources. Energy security and energy politics are the new buzzwords for governments everywhere. Russia was recently accused by Vice President Cheney of using their energy reserves as “tools of manipulation or blackmail.” Evo Morales, Bolivia’s new President, decided to nationalize their natural gas reserves, calling it, “a historic day in which Bolivia retakes absolute control of [Bolivia’s] natural resources.” For the United States, however, there is a single, primary competitor in the world of energy resources. The world’s largest fossil fuel user, it seems, is entering a direct confrontation with China, the world’s fastest-growing fossil fuel user. This competition is setting the stage for energy policies for decades to come, and unfortunately there exists a blindness associated with this duel that makes for bad politics, grandstanding, and a deflection from some of the real issues and solutions. Politicians have used China’s recent energy-gathering measures as a kind of new scare of Communist domination, when 1) China is merely playing the US’s game, and winning; and 2) there are more important solutions to be focused upon for our energy issues.

The first salvo fired in the energy wars between the two behemoths occurred last year, when the Chinese firm CNOOC Ltd. put in a bid for an American oil company, Unocal Corp. The bid, in good capitalist fashion, beat out a competitive offer from Chevron Corp. by over $2 billion. However, the deal was squashed. Why? Pressure from American politicians, worrying about the implications that China may be consolidating oil futures for itself, construed the take-over bid as a hostile maneuver against American national security. It drew immediate fire from politicians of all sorts, even prompting a threat of an investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a secretive committee designed to investigate whether or not foreign takeovers and investments constitutes a threat to our national security. This would have been the first time CFIUS would be reviewing a natural resource company. Skeptics wondered about the true threat the bid posed. James Lewis, a technology transfer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said “From a security perspective, it’s as much of a threat as when the Japanese purchased [New York’s] Rockefeller Center.” There was nothing untoward about the deal from the Chinese company (which was ultimately withdrawn in the face of such pressure). In reality, it was just good capitalism that was squashed by protective political maneuvers. This is not such new news for the United States, as protectivism has been documented in this administration towards the Vietnamese fishing industry, international steel industry, and others.

The rhetoric escalated this past week when Cuba announced that it was opening up a portion of its territory on the Florida Straits to offshore drilling – with China being one of the main bidders to attract the contract. China was not the only country negotiating the leases to drill off of Cuba’s coast; India, Spain, and Canada were also represented in the company’s agreements. This land is thought to hold a fair amount of oil and natural gas, commodities that are undoubtedly important given the instability in the Middle East, decreased American domestic production of oil, and rising demand worldwide. Politicians in the United States were quick to jump on the anti-China protectionist bandwagon. Senator Larry E. Craig, R-ID, even made a compliment which smacks of Cold War fear-mongering, saying “Red China should not be left to drill for oil within spitting distance of our own shores without competition from US industries.” Red China? Excuse me? Are we still stuck in the 70s here?

The rising concerns over energy, its availability and its pricing, has led politicians to use this as a new weapon to attack other governments, especially China. Yet nothing that China is doing is so unlike what other nations, the United States included, has done in the past to secure energy futures. Britain spent decades trying to subvert efforts for Iran to become a free nation with U.S. assistance. The companies of the United States hold oil development land rights across the globe, including Libya (not exactly the most U.S.-friendly nation), Venezuela, Australia, and more. China is asserting itself on the global scale now; they are stepping up and trying to secure their energy to ensure their future development. To use such trite phrases to intimidate them, or to spur anti-competitive action, is childish at best.

No, these observations are inherently counterproductive to developing a cohesive national energy policy. The anti-competitive statements merely prejudice our public and shift their attention away from viable solutions, of which protectivism is not one. Trying to bully China away from drilling in Cuba will not save the US from our energy woes either. Indeed, trying to form some anti-Chinese competition by drilling our own Florida Straits region is an equally undesirable answer. There is not enough oil residing there to last the U.S. more than 15 years, most likely in the range of a dozen; are we willing to allow their political grandstanding to set us back a decade or more in energy development and management, at which time we will have no reserves left and an even larger energy demand?

Fostering these sentiments and creating this antagonism is very easy politically for it requires no major input or sacrifice by the public, merely stirring up protectivist and nationalistic fervor among the public. But it doesn’t solve the underlying issues at hand. To achieve that, America needs to look at the more difficult, but entirely plausible, solutions of alternative fuels, conservation, and higher efficiency. These solutions are available to us; look at the new GM plan of the E85 standard, which uses a blend of 85% ethanol with 15% regular gasoline. Imagine cutting our transportation fuel usage by 85%. The world would be dumbstruck. Or the hybrid line of fuels which is gaining in popularity. Another efficient, gas and cost saving measure. CAFE standards are another option, used by Carter in the 70s to great positive effect, could be resurrected to help force the changes we all want to see. Smarter urban planning which allows for improved public transportation (or even non-motorized transportations, like walking or biking [gasp!]). These options are here for us to utilize, if only the politicians, our leaders, would get behind them and breathe life into them for a truly positive change in this country. The benefits are beyond comprehension. Instead, they seem to be focused merely on blowing a lot of hot air around. I hope there’s a change in the winds soon.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Biker’s Manifesto

[a change from the political-based stories I usually share... but something important nonetheless]

Having lived life as both a driver of a car and as a biker (an actual commuter, in-the-streets-everyday biker, not an “I love using my $2,000 bike after Sunday brunch” biker), I feel it is time to give some tips to both sides of the wheeled traffic universe as to how to better get along and not kill one another. There is an inherent antagonism between these two species of transportation, each stubbornly clinging to their own ideals and beliefs while thinking the other side is either, a) tree-hugging hippies; or b) gas-guzzling capitalists. The truth lies somewhere in between.

To Cars
: Your innate momentum and inertia gives you a certain feeling of supremacy over others on the road ((until you run into that 18-wheeler), and it tends to dilute your thought processes and perspective of others on the road. To you, I say the following:

  • Don’t squeeze us out. Bikers have as much a right to the road as you do; don’t try to run us off onto the curb or onto the sidewalk. Since we are smaller, we usually leave the majority of the lane to you so you can pass if necessary and so we do not take up a lot of room, since we know we are smaller and slower. But, when you approach a red light and know a biker is coming up soon, do not slide as far to the right as you can to prevent them from scooting up to the front. That just annoys us and makes us more likely to scratch your car. Likewise, do not shout at us to get off the road or other such nonsense. Bikes do not belong on sidewalks, and don’t try to relocate them there by force (Bikers, see below for your own admonishments).
  • Signal. For the love of all things holy, making sudden turns without signaling is dangerous, and very, very rude. Even when turning right, give us a signal so we know to slow down or swerve to avoid you, since bikes usually are traveling to the right of your front door. And when you do turn, do not speed up in order to beat us to the light. Most likely you will have to slow down to make the turn, and that has led to many an accident with a bike plowing into your passenger side doors. Just sit back, be patient, and
  • Relax. Bikers do not have your acceleration or stability; sometimes they wobble, and it takes us a little longer to start up from a stand-still. So if we’re in the left-turn lane and it clears, don’t honk or get annoyed while we get up from 0mph to cruising speed. The extra two seconds it takes us is not worth losing your head over. Remember, you’re faster than us. You can make up the time.
To Bikers: You have taken on the ideas that you are some sort of privileged pedestrian pedaling through the streets; this must stop. Sharing the road with cars has great advantages, and is mandated by law, but also by that law you must obey.
  • Obey traffic signs. If there is a red light, do not assume you can “jay-bike” across and everything’s cool. I have nearly hit bikes who did not see me and ventured into an intersection against a red light. If it is red, stop and wait for the light to change. It aggravates drivers to no end when you dart away, weaving through cars and busing lights. Similarly, if there is traffic and you approach a stop sign, YOU ARE REQUIRED TO STOP. Do not roll through like some bougie pedestrian. You’re part of traffic. Get with the program.
  • Signal. Just like cars, make sure you signal when you are turning. Especially when turning left, bikes tend to wobble in the intersection while waiting for a clearance in traffic, and that makes drivers nervous. Giving them a sign as to your intentions will help ease the strain on both sides.
  • Stay off the sidewalks. You are a part of wheeled traffic when you are on your bike. You are not a pedestrian; you move to fast and cannot stop as easily. Thus, do not ride your bikes on the sidewalk. Not only is it illegal, it is against common courtesy. Stay in the street where you belong.
If all of us could heed these suggestions, we’d be much better off as a transportative society. Be respectful and considerate of your fellow travelers; they share the same road with you and are facing the same set of problems and frustrations. Don’t hate; be at peace with one another, and you will all get to your destination on time and unfrazzled. Safe commuting!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil

I know I am going to catch hell for this, but oh well. I found some quotes the other day tucked in a report authored by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt and released by the John F. Kennedy School of Government, of Harvard University. The report, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, takes aim at a lot of the issues brought about by the United States’ seemingly unconditional support of Israel, since its inception. They also go further, looking at the pro-Israeli lobby that helps to foster such support within our government. It is a fascinating article, a real eye-opener to some of the positions we have taken, and the political power that this lobby wields over our Congress and President.

But the quotes I mentioned are interesting, in my humble opinion, regarding the perception of Israelis towards the Palestinian movements. It is more interesting to note that they arise from prominent Israeli politicians, some of whom were the most Zionist in their approach to a Jewish state. The quotes seem to indicate an understanding of the Palestinian cause and root of the conflict. It also implicates the Israeli people as being complicit, even accepting, of terrorism as a means to get what a group wants (this is no new news; the Zionist movement used terrorism extensively in their fight against colonial Britain). Thus, how can the state of Israel as a whole denounce the Palestinians’ motives and methods, when they are rooted in the Israeli’s own history and collective psyche? Seems a bit hypocritical to me, but I will leave you with these things to ponder on a Friday afternoon.

David Ben-Gurion: “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country…. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and that is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”[1]

Ehud Barak: “[had I been born a Palestinian, I] would have joined a terrorist organization.”[2]

Yitzhak Shamir: “Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.”[3]

1 - Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox, trans. Steve Cox (NY: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978), p.99.

2 - Bill Maxwell, “U.S. Should Reconsider Aid to Israel,” St. Petersburg Times, December 16, 2001.

3 - Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999), pp.485-486.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Is America Falling to the Left?

It is unmistakable the swing to the left that Latin American politics has taken of late. Beginning roughly eight years ago with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, leftist leaders have popped up in a variety of countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and recently Morales’ election in Bolivia. And with elections in Peru, Mexico, and Nicaragua, even more Latin American countries could fall under leftist sway.

The large question is how did this come to pass? Not making any judgments on the merits or detractions of left governments in place in Latin America, but merely how did a segment of the political spectrum that the United States spent decades arduously striving to keep out of power return so confidently and abruptly? The United States used a multi-faceted campaign in Latin America to keep leftists, who were suspected of joining Cuba or the USSR, from coming to power. For example, the Chile Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1976) details the interference perpetrated by the United States in Chile from 1963 to 1973. Included in its findings, the United States spent millions on covert intervention in Chilean politics from 1970-1973. The money financed such operations as planted “news” stories in Chilean magazines and newspapers; propaganda; and political activities among workers, students, women’s groups and other civic organizations. President Nixon, with Henry Kissinger, even developed and executed a highly secretive coup to prevent Salvador Allende, Chile’s Marxist leader, from ascending to power after the 1970 elections. The coup failed, so the US used various economic and propaganda methods to discredit Allende and foster hostility against him. These included cutting off access to international loans and stimulating local capital flight; feeding misinformation to Chilean military officers to engender fear of Cuban subversives working in Chile; and financing opposition groups, including terrorist right-wing movements. This method of approach was not unique to Chile either; America spent a great deal of money and energy to keeping leftist movements under the rug in Latin America. So why have we seemingly surrendered so easily now?

One could make the argument that, not that the Cold War is over, there is little to no threat of leftist governments making deals with Communists to become a “danger” to America. This is largely true. While Castro remains in power, Cuba’s Communist threat pales in comparison to the USSR of yesteryears. However, this lack of ideological enemy does nothing to diminish the fact that there is a lot at stake in this for America, indeed all of the Americas.

Latin America’s shift to the left has been precipitated from decades of mismanagement, interference, and neglect by the West, most centrally the United States. The emergence of Communist Cuba brought the US to abandon the Monroe Doctrine and actively begin direct and indirect interference in Latin American politics and economies. What arose from decades of such intervention was a mutant form of US-bred capitalism. This system consolidated power into the hands of right-wing governments and perpetrated the spread of rampant cronyism. The majority of the populace did not see an up tick in their relative stations in life, nor was there an improvement in basic governmental services. The result? Distrust for the American way of doing politics and economics.

These rebellions against American hegemony have become increasingly visible. The Summit of the Americas last fall is a perfect example, with major demonstrations against the United States, and the election of a non-US-backed candidate to the Organization of American States. Venezuela’s nationalizing of its oil programs has led Bolivia’s president-elect to begin nationalizing his country’s natural gas resources. The list goes on and on.

What does that mean for us as a country? Plenty. If the socialist agendas espoused by these new leftist leaders begins to succeed, and it brings up the majority of impoverished peoples in terms of their quality of life, then the American methodology of economics as a model to the rest of the world is compromised. Countries have a viable alternative that excludes the United States completely. While it is not necessary for everyone to follow the US’s method of development, it has been a doctrine, enforced by our capitalist business method, that we have enforced for decades, and has helped make us a very profitable nation. Thus, this could also shut out American business interests, as these countries would be more likely to work with other socialist countries or countries that are merely not the United States. And since American business has depended on developing nations to provide labor, land, and materials for so long, their loss of VIP status in such regions of the world could have drastic repercussions in the American economy.

There are other areas where we could fall as well. Politically, we would be undermined by this ideology of social equality and justice, should it succeed where our efforts to extinguish it have failed. We lose face, and also compromise the ability to have an effective input into the decisions of other regional leaders. Isolated. And, taken to an extreme, the socialist movement could find its way back to our own soil. Last winter, Venezuela’s president decided to subsidize heating oil to the poorer residents of New England, a move that was wise politically for him, as it also bolstered his image in the United States. However, it also gives some segment of the US population a taste of what socialism might hold for us. It is not a perfect system; not by any means. But there has not been a large socialist movement since the early part of the last century. If it were to gain momentum, due to partly the actions of these neighbor governments, there could be some major policy changes, both domestically and internationally, for the United States.

And not let us forget the drug war, that pest of American foreign policy. I have been against the war since I was old enough to make up my mind about it. But it has been a cornerstone of america’s foreign policy, particularly in regards to Latin America. But the left’s ascendancy has the potential to recreate our allies and stances on the war. Morales in Bolivia recently promised to legalize coca, the main plant used in forming cocaine, and Mexico’s government recently legalized the possession of small amounts of a variety of drugs, from marijuana to ecstasy. These changes, so openly in contrast to American desires, flaunts the left’s newfound power, and might force some reckoning by the United States to arrive at a compromise.

Now a lot of this is speculation, some of it far-fetched. But it represents a possibility of what can happen if the United States remains apathetic to the changes that are transpiring around us. These are the dangers that lie in being too complacent over what is happening to our neighbors. I would not advocate for a second moving back to the contras and coups which defined our policy towards Latin America for a long time. However, there are great implications that could arise from what is taking place down south in its drive to the left. And I hope these countries succeed; I would not wish destitution on any nation, and socialism has a great deal of advantages to it; some of which we would be wise to heed for our own citizens. But this is a warning to our own country that our policies are not as powerful, as embraced, as they once were (or as we hoped), and their fall, without an alternative, could prove disastrous to this country. America would do well not to interfere, but to listen to what these countries are saying, acknowledge their messages, and work together to form a better future for all of us.