The Bush administration has been about "the Greater Middle East" (including Central Asia). It has been about basing rights in those areas. It says it is fighting a "war on terror" that is unlike past wars and may go on for decades. It has been about rounding up and torturing large numbers of Iraqis, Afghans and others. This region has most of the world's proven oil and gas reserves.
Why is the Bush administration so attached to torturing people that it would pressure a supine Congress into raping the US constitution by explicitly permitting some torture techniques and abolishing habeas corpus for certain categories of prisoners?
Boys and girls, it is because torture is what provides evidence for large important networks of terrorists where there aren't really any, or aren't very many, or aren't enough to justify 800 military bases and a $500 billion military budget.
I was at the conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society the last couple of days. Saturday evening, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray addressed us. He served in Tashkent 2002 through 2004. Murray was providing copies of his new book, "Murder in Samarkand," which unfortunately is not yet available in the United States.
Murray raised the curtain on the Bush-Blair "War on Terror." He does not deny that there are small groups of persons intent on harming the West. But he does not think that most of what the Bush administration has done in Central Asia is about that threat.
He explained what is really behind the new "lily pad" doctrine of US bases, whereby the US is seeking to encompass the "Greater Middle East" with small bases, each with 1,000 to 3,000 personnel. In emergencies, these bases could quickly swell to 40,000. Like a lily pad, they can "open up" and accommodate a landing frog. Murray said that the US documents are quite open as to why they are seeking the network of lily pad bases around the Middle East. It is because that is where the oil and gas are. If you include the Caspian region, Tengiz, and the gas reserves in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan along with what is in the Persian Gulf, the vast majority of proven oil and gas reserves are in this circle of crisis.
With the economic rise of China and India, such that both giants (over a billion in population each) are now using more and more gas and oil, there is going to be increasing pressure on fuel supplies and prices in the next decades. Europe also lacks much energy of its own and is a major importer. The US fields are rapidly declining. Washington wants access to that fuel, and wants to be able to protect its access militarily.
In essence, I understand Murray to argue that the Bush administration hyped the al-Qaeda threat in order to have a pretext for the lily pad strategy of oil security. Murray did not say so, but this strategy would then logically underlie the conquest and military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well.
Rick is a midlevel manager in a financial services company in New York City. Each day he commutes from Weehawken, New Jersey, a suburb only a stone's throw from the Big Apple, where he lives with his wife, Donna, and his teenage son, Steven. A late baby boomer, Rick just missed the Vietnam era's antiwar protests, but he's been against the war in Iraq from the beginning. He thinks the Pentagon is out of control and considers the military-industrial complex a danger to the country. If you asked him, it's a subject on which he would rate himself as knowledgeable. He puts effort into educating himself on such matters. He reads liberal websites, subscribes to progressive-minded magazines, and is a devotee of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
In fact, he has no idea just how deep the Pentagon rabbit hole goes or how far down it his family already is.
Rick believes that, despite its long reach, the military-industrial complex is a discrete entity far removed from his everyday life. Now, if this were 1961, when outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about the "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex" and the "large arms industry" already firmly entrenched in the United States, Rick might be right. After all, he doesn't work for one of the Pentagon's corporate partners, like arms maker Lockheed Martin. He isn't in the Army Reserve. He's never attended a performance of the Marine Corps band (not to mention the Army's, Navy's, or Air Force's music groups). But today's geared-up, high-tech Complex is nothing like the olive-drab outfit of Eisenhower's day: It reaches deeper into American lives and the American psyche than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. The truth is that, at every turn, in countless, not-so-visible ways Rick's life is wrapped up with the military.
So wake up with Rick and sample a single spring morning as the alarm on his Sony (Department of Defense contractor) clock interrupts his final dream of the night. Donna is already up and dressed in fitness apparel by Danskin (a Pentagon supplier that received more than $780,000 in DoD dollars in 2004 and another $456,000 in 2005) and Hanes Her Way (made by defense contractor and cake seller Sara Lee Corporation, which took in more than $68 million from the DoD in 2006). Committed to a healthy lifestyle, she's wearing sneakers from (DoD contractor) New Balance and briskly jogging on a treadmill made by (DoD contractor) True Fitness Technology.
Rick drags himself to the bathroom (fixtures by Pentagon contractor Kohler, purchased at defense contractor Home Depot). There, he squeezes the Charmin, brushes with Crest toothpaste, washes his face with Noxzema; then, hopping into the shower, he lathers up with Zest and chooses Donna's Herbal Essences over Head & Shoulders -- "What the hell," he mutters, "I deserve an organic experience." (The manufacturer of each of these products, Procter & Gamble, is among the top 100 defense contractors and raked in a cool $362,461,808 from the Pentagon in 2006.)
In go his (DoD supplier) Bausch and Lomb contact lenses and down goes a Zantac (from DoD contractor GlaxoSmithKline) for his ulcer. Heading back to the bedroom, he finds Donna finished with her workout and making the bed -- with the TV news on -- and lends her a hand. (Their headboard was purchased from Thomasville Furniture, the mattress from Sears, the pillows were made by Harris Pillow Supply, all Pentagon contractors.) They exchange grim glances as, on their Samsung set (another DoD contractor) the Today Show chronicles the latest in chaos in Iraq. "Thank god we never supported this war," Rick says, thinking of the antiwar rally Donna and he attended even before the invasion was launched. NBC, which produces the Today Show, is owned by General Electric, the 14th-largest defense contractor in the United States, to the tune of $2.3 billion from the DoD in 2006, and has worked on such weapons systems as the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and F/A-18 Hornet multimission fighter/attack aircraft, both in use in Iraq.
Could there be a more perfect image of the catastrophic self-inflicted rout suffered by U.S. Middle East policy under President George W. Bush? This week, the President will party with Israel’s leaders celebrating their country’s 60th anniversary — and champion a phony peace process whose explicit aim is to produce an agreement to go on the shelf — with Bush curiously choosing the moment to honor the legend of the mass infanticide and suicide of the Jewish Jihadists at Masada. Meanwhile, across the border in Lebanon, Hizballah are riding high on the tectonic shifts in the Middle East’s political substructure, making clear that the “new Middle East” memorably (if grotesquely) inaugurated by Condi Rice in Beirut in 2006 is nothing like that imagined or pursued by the Bush Administration. On the contrary, the Bush Administration has managed to weaken its friends and allies and empower its enemies to an almost unprecedented degree.
The collapse and humiliation of the U.S.-backed Lebanese government after it had foolishly threatened to curb Hizballah’s ability to fight Israel was simply the latest example of a failed U.S. policy of cajoling allies into confrontations with politically popular radical movements that the U.S. and its allies simply can’t win. And picking fights that you can’t win is not exactly adaptive behavior. Indeed, as I noted earlier this week, recovering alcoholics in America are taught the adage that repeating the same behavior and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity — but by measure of what we’ve seen in Gaza, Basra, Sadr City, that’s one lesson that appears to have eluded this particular administration. The Lebanese showdown was initiated by Washington’s closest allies threatening to close down Hizballah’s internal communication network, and it’s hard not to suspect that such a provocative move could only have been taken with Washington’s encouragement. And to put it unkindly, paper tigers should not play with matches.
The result was predictable, because in terms of popular support, organization, and arms in the field, the militias backing the U.S.-backed government are no match for Hizballah, which quickly seized control of Beirut, and also of other key locations. But Hizballah made abundantly clear that it had no intention of taking over the country, it was simply underlining its intention to maintain its capacity to fight Israel — and to resist any attempt to trim that capacity, regardless of whether such trimming is required by UN Security Council resolutions. That’s why it took control over key Druze-controlled towns in the Chouf — because they’re strategically valuable in any confrontation with the Israelis.
President Bush sounded like a man lost in his own fantasies when he vowed, in response, to “beef up” the Lebanese army to help it disarm Hizballah. The Lebanese Army, Bush appears not to have noticed, enjoys the trust of Hizballah, which is why the Shi’ite militia immediately handed over areas it captured to the Army. And the reason the Army enjoys Hizballah’s trust is its scrupulous neutrality in the civil conflict between the government and the Hizballah-led opposition (i.e. in the clash between the U.S.-Saudi backed bloc and the Syrian-Iranian backed bloc) — the Lebanese Army has no intention of disarming Hizballah. On the contrary, it appears willing to cooperate with the movement’s efforts to steel itself for a new battle with the Israelis. [...]
Crooke sees in this inability by the Bush-led Western alliance to grasp the reality of the changes that have occurred in the Middle East a growing likelihood of war:
The dynamic of waning western power to shape events as the West would like, is that sooner or later, the risk of a clash between the polarised forces of the West with some part of the ‘axis-of-resistance’ becomes much greater. When Annapolis, Iraq and the current Israeli overtures to take Syria out from the ‘axis’ fail; when western options narrow; and when its ‘peace initiatives’ come-up empty, logic argues that a frustrated West is likely to resort to military means to weaken or break the ‘resistance’.
Syria and the Lebanese understand that they are in the frontline in this event — as much as Iran; and all are mentally stiffening themselves against this prospect. The region is not ‘desperate’ for peace: It would welcome it, of course; but much of it is also preparing and judiciously expecting the worst. It is the West’s lack of recognition of the strength and rigour of this new psychology of resilience towards prospective conflict, and of lack of understanding why western policies are seen as so dangerously inadequate and misconceived, that pushes many in the region to believe that a West, sunk in deep denial, carries with it the probability of conflict — whether inadvertent or deliberate. Unless it is understood that it is this strategic focus that preoccupies Iran, Syria, Hesballah and Hamas, their thinking cannot begin to be judged accurately — and grave mistakes may occur.
Crooke’s description of a hardening in preparation for war, to my mind, offer the best explanation for what drove Hizballah’s handling of the most recent crisis. If the choice facing the punch-drunk Bush Administration is between responding sensibly and creatively to the changed reality — as Rami Khouri suggests they ought to — and lashing out militarily in the hope of reversing the new balance of forces, as Alastair Crooke suggests they will, I’m afraid my money is on the Bush Administration maintaining its dismal record.
About 10 months have passed since the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River during afternoon rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Construction of the bridge’s $234 million replacement may be finished in mid-September, three months ahead of schedule, earning builders a $20 million bonus. The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have agreed on a $38 million state fund to help compensate the victims of the Aug. 1 disaster.
All’s well, eh? Perhaps for this bridge in this city. But nationwide, all is not well. Road, bridge and other important public-works infrastructure continue to age and deteriorate as Congress dithers elsewhere. Only disasters move our representatives to act — and in an election year, even those actions seem spotty at best and disingenuous at worst.
The United States has much more than failing bridges to find, fund and fix. The proposals of the remaining presidential candidates do little to inspire faith that they understand the breadth of the problem or have the political skill, will and courage to address it forthrightly.
In December, a commission established by Congress in 2005 under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provided the sobering statistics. The United States needs to spend $225 billion annually — more than twice what it does now — for the next 50 years. That’s more than $11 trillion worth of fix-ups on surface transportation systems alone.
But at the moment, the only bill of significance floating through Congress is the National Infrastructure Bank Act written by Sens. Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel. It’s backed by the American Society of Civil Engineers because it “would establish an independent entity of the federal government to evaluate and finance ‘capacity-building’ infrastructure projects of substantial regional and national significance [emphasis added] …” The word “local” is absent from the bill, so those potholes ruining your car’s suspension will just have to wait. (The bill has other problems as well.)
He finally solved the mystery of removing the top. Most TLRs have the mirror assembly as part of the body. I think the late model Flexarets are unique in making the mirror assemble part of the top focussing screen assembly. Rick notes how to get loose screws out because two of the screws holding the top assembly had fallen inside. I think I may have been responsible for that. He even got the grid on the old screen right. The small rectangle in the middle of the old screen is for 35mm, which can be used in this camera with an adapter. The focusing screen Rick put on my Ricoh Diacord didn't improve the brightness significantly (I got it for the split image focusing) but the brightness increase should be noticable on the Flexaret. It has all the leather off but I will shoot it that way for the time being until I can measure it for a new set of leathers.
I also have a new portable word processor on the way that includes it's own printer and doesn't need electricity.
I've been looking at typewriters for some time and finally bought one. The Hermes 3000 is one of the finest portables ever made. (Brokeback Mountain was written on a Hermes 3000.) I had my eye on the early 1960s round top but then a late 1960s boxy version became available. It looked very clean and went for less than the round tops. I got it for $36. I actually have a use for it. I want to write letters. Certainly the fine computer I use could do the same but I want my letters to be more personal. I could hand write my letters but my handwriting becomes pretty illegible after about the second paragraph. The type on the typewritten page is put there by the touch of the typewriter user. And why not just send email? When I went through my mother's stuff when she moved into an assisted living home I found a stash of old letters. How many emails are saved? I want to start off writing letters to my grandkids. I think a letter arriving addressed to them would be a lot more special than an email viewed on a screen or printed out. I could include a Polaroid taken at the time of writing the letter. I would hope it would be something saved. I will report back on how this works out. I was inspired by a blog that is often typecast (blog entries done from scanned typewriter copy): Strikethru. I look forward to the sound of a typewriter, the clack of the keys and the ringing of the bell. You don't know what the bell is for? Get thee to a typewriter!
When the history of this era is finally written, based on the Tai Chi Principle, Osama bin Laden and his scattering of followers may be credited for goading the fundamentalist leaders of the United States into using the power in their grasp so -- not to put a fine point on it -- stupidly and profligately as to send the planet's "sole superpower" into decline. Above all, bin Laden and his crew of fanatics will have ensured one thing: that the real security problems of our age were ignored in Washington until far too late in favor of mad dreams and dark phantoms. In this lies a bleak but epic tale of folly worthy of a great American novelist (wherever she is).
In the meantime, consider the following little list -- 15 numbers that offer an indication of just what the Tai Chi Principle meant in action these last years; just where American energies did and did not flow; and, in the end, just how much less safe we are now than we were in January 2001, when George W. Bush entered the Oval Office:
536,000,000,000: the number of dollars the Pentagon is requesting for the 2009 military budget. This represents an increase of almost 70% over the Pentagon's 2001 budget of $316 billion -- and that's without factoring in "supplementary" requests to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the President's Global War on Terror. Add in those soaring sums and military spending has more than doubled in the Bush era. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2001, funding for "defense and related programs... has jumped at an annual average rate of 8%... -- four times faster than the average rate of growth for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (2%), and 27 times faster than the average rate for growth for domestic discretionary programs (0.3%)."
1,390,000: the number of subprime foreclosures over the next two years, as estimated by Credit Suisse analysts. They also predict that, by the end of 2012, 12.7% of all residential borrowers may be out of their homes as part of a housing crisis that caught the Bush administration totally off-guard.
1,000,000: the number of "missions" or "sorties" the U.S. Air Force proudly claims to have flown in the Global War on Terror since 9/11, more than one-third of them (about 353,000) in what it still likes to call Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a good measure of where American energies (and oil purchases) have gone these last years.
509,000: the number of names found in 2007 on a "terrorist watch list" compiled by the FBI. No longer, in George Bush's America, is a 10 Most Wanted list adequate. According to ABC News, "U.S. lawmakers and their spouses have been detained because their names were on the watch list" and Saddam Hussein was on the list even when in U.S. custody. By February 2008, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the names on the same FBI list had ballooned to 900,000.
We are off to visit Zoe's mom this afternoon. Last week was not a good visit. It was Sunday (the weekenders leave Sunday afternoon) and Mother's Day and a long line at the ferry. It was a three boat wait. It took 1 1/2 hours waiting in the ferry line. If it hadn't been Mother's Day we would have gone another day. We knew there would be a line since we had been checking the Ferry Cam. We got down to Western State Hospital late. Gerry was definitely off. It's hard to tell whether it was her Alzheimer's or that she hadn't any sleep the night before and it was catching up with her. Zoe was pretty upset. Zoe has more here.
I want to underline something very significant about the multiple crises now simmering in the Contested (once 'Fertile') Crescent that stretches from Egypt through Israel/Palestine, to a lesser extent Syria, and then finishes strongly in Iraq. That is that right now you have considerably heightened political tensions in that crescent, revolving principally around the question of whether US-Israeli power is to be succumbed to or resisted, that come on top of rapidly worsening economic conditions.
It is this combination-- plus of course, Pres. Bush's singularly ill-timed, and Israel-centered visit to the region this coming week-- that make the crises potentially more serious than any of the other internal crises of governance this region has seen in recent years.
Thus we have seen:
In Egypt, on May 4, the Muslim Brotherhood, which in terms of both economic and social policy is fundamentally very conservative, threw its weight behind the anti-price-rise stoppage called by non-MB networks of social-issues activists. That, after the MB notably stood aside from engagement in previous economics-focused public actions.
In Lebanon, we should recall the confrontations of recent days started with a nationwide protest against price hikes.
In Gaza and the West Bank, Israel's policy of tightly linking economic issues to issues of political control and domination has continued for so long, and with such viciousness, that it is now just about impossible to disentangle the two. But the economic-political combination there is particularly combustible right now.
In Iraq, the failure of the US occupation force to allow the rebuilding of a working, livelihoods-focused economy-- or indeed, we could say the decisions it took at so many levels to block the re-emergence of a functioning national economy-- has contributed hugely, and for more than five years now, to the occupation power losing its political legitimacy in the eyes of Iraq's citizens. Most recently, and most acutely, the economic/anti-humane suffering inflicted through the occupation power's aggressive pursuit of plans of military control and quadrillage in Sadr City have forced the whole situation there to a crisis.
What you have in all those parts of the now-Contested Crescent is a US-Israeli-dominated political order that has failed to meet even the most basic economic (let alone political) needs of local citizens.
You could describe this as a small subset of the global economic-political order, which is also to some extent US-dominated, though in the Contested Crescent the political, and therefore also the economic, domination is particularly extensive and all-encompassing.
Around the world, there have been signs of considerable pushback against US policies regarding, in particular, the very basic issue of very basic foodstuffs: policies that in recent months have helped to drive many parts of the low-income world toward starvation.
Even for Americans, constitutionally convinced that there will always be a second act, and a third, and a do-over after that, and, if necessary, a little public repentance and forgiveness and a Brand New Start -- even for us, the world looks a little Terminal right now.
It's not just the economy. We've gone through swoons before. It's that gas at $4 a gallon means we're running out, at least of the cheap stuff that built our sprawling society. It's that when we try to turn corn into gas, it sends the price of a loaf of bread shooting upwards and starts food riots on three continents. It's that everything is so inextricably tied together. It's that, all of a sudden, those grim Club of Rome types who, way back in the 1970s, went on and on about the "limits to growth" suddenly seem… how best to put it, right.
All of a sudden it isn't morning in America, it's dusk on planet Earth.
There's a number -- a new number -- that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
A few weeks ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA's Jim Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several co-authors. The abstract attached to it argued -- and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper -- "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points -- massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them -- that we'll pass if we don't get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer's insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.
So it's a tough diagnosis. It's like the doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high and, if you don't bring it down right away, you're going to have a stroke. So you take the pill, you swear off the cheese, and, if you're lucky, you get back into the safety zone before the coronary. It's like watching the tachometer edge into the red zone and knowing that you need to take your foot off the gas before you hear that clunk up front.
I think I finally solved my photo printer problem. I came across a very good deal on a used HP B 9180 over at Large Format Forum. It will be mine! All mine! More on this later.
That's my Meopta Flexaret Va sitting on Rick Oleson's workbench Thursday night with one of his bright, shiny focusing screens installed. He finally got the screen assembly off of the camera and was able to install the new screen. It wasn't easy. He will be adding one of his sketches to his Tech Notes showing how he got the top off. Once I get it back I will run a roll of film through it to make sure it all works and then I will work on measuring it for a new covering. This will be my black and white TLR since I seem to have a complete set of black and white filters for it. The Diacord will be loaded with color.
Quite a few people believe that if there is a decline in oil production, we can make up much of the difference by increasing our use of electricity--more nuclear, wind, solar voltaic, geothermal or even coal. The problem with this model is that it assumes that our electric grid will be working well enough for this to happen. It seems to me that there is substantial doubt that this will be the case.
From what I have learned in researching this topic, I expect that in the years ahead, we in the United States will have more and more problems with our electric grid. This is likely to result in electrical outages of greater and greater durations.
The primary reason for the likely problems is the fact that in the last few decades, the electric power industry has moved from being a regulated monopoly to an industry following more of a free market, competitive model. With this financing model, electricity is transported over long distances, as electricity is bought and sold by different providers. Furthermore, some of the electricity that is bought and sold is variable in supply, like wind and solar voltaic. A substantial upgrade to the electrical grid is needed to support all of these activities, but our existing financing models make it very difficult to fund such an upgrade.
If frequent electrical outages become common, these problems are likely to spill over into the oil and natural gas sectors. One reason this may happen is because electricity is used to move oil and natural gas through the pipelines. In addition, gas stations use electricity when pumping gasoline, and homeowners often have natural gas water heaters and furnaces with electric ignition. These too are likely to be disrupted by electrical power outages.
Deregulation of electricity will prove to be a disaster. It's only because of Federal regulation that the electric utilities were forced to electrify rural America starting in the 1930s. That wasn't completed until the 1950s. Short term market greed is turning us into a third world country.
We are off to see Zoe's mom, Gerry, this afternoon. (She has Alzheimer's and is hospitalized.) It's been almost 2 weeks since we visited. Last week Zoe wasn't feeling well and we had to call the trip off at the last minute. When we saw her last Gerry was more coherent and alive. That is a double edged sword. When she is more active she is also more intrusive with the other patients, which is not a good thing. She thinks she is in charge and starts yelling when those around her when they don't respond to her, which, of course, they are incapable of doing. It is good to see her smiling and teasing. Zoe has a post on the visit. It's hard to tell what Gerry thinks of her surroundings in a ward of mental patients. I suppose what she percieves is a moving target. Zoe has a short post that gives some insight to this. It's Mother's Day and we hope to visit my mom on the way back.