Saturday September 6 2008
oil and politics
Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Bush Administration Checkmated in Georgia
Many Western analysts have chosen to interpret the recent fighting in the Caucasus as the onset of a new Cold War, with a small pro-Western democracy bravely resisting a brutal reincarnation of Stalin's jack-booted Soviet Union. Others have viewed it a throwback to the age-old ethnic politics of southeastern Europe, with assorted minorities using contemporary border disputes to settle ancient scores.
Neither of these explanations is accurate. To fully grasp the recent upheavals in the Caucasus, it is necessary to view the conflict as but a minor skirmish in a far more significant geopolitical struggle between Moscow and Washington over the energy riches of the Caspian Sea basin -- with former Russian President (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin emerging as the reigning Grand Master of geostrategic chess and the Bush team turning out to be middling amateurs, at best.
The ultimate prize in this contest is control over the flow of oil and natural gas from the energy-rich Caspian basin to eager markets in Europe and Asia. According to the most recent tally by oil giant BP, the Caspian's leading energy producers, all former "socialist republics" of the Soviet Union -- notably Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- together possess approximately 48 billion barrels in proven oil reserves (roughly equivalent to those left in the U.S. and Canada) and 268 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (essentially equivalent to what Saudi Arabia possesses).
During the Soviet era, the oil and gas output of these nations was, of course, controlled by officials in Moscow and largely allocated to Russia and other Soviet republics. After the breakup of the USSR in 1991, however, Western oil companies began to participate in the hydrocarbon equivalent of a gold rush to exploit Caspian energy reservoirs, while plans were being made to channel the region's oil and gas to markets across the world.
Michael Wolf: The Transparent City
thanks to wood s lot
The system is the problem, it's rigged
by Joe Bageant
It's things such as you pointed out that chill me to the bone regarding my country. It really makes me want to cry. And I see dozens of such examples social callousness and mean spiritedness as I walk around in everyday America. Most of them are right up there with that of Nazi Germany (actually, Hitler's regime treated Germans better) and the Spartans, who are much admired in America for their war making skills, mostly on the grounds of what the military class was willing to suffer.
What makes it so chilling is that if you point these things out to most Americans, one of two things will happen. Either they will give you a blank look of incomprehension (they see you as weird) or they will leap to the defense of America with some ideological piece of shit that sounds perfectly reasonable to them because of their life-long indoctrination.
I've been stuck in the States for a while now due to business. And I find myself pretty much staying at home, avoiding social gatherings and shopping altogether. Both activities put my ability to keep my mouth shut to the test, and I always fail. Sometimes I pause and doubt my own sanity, just as I did before I left for Belize. After all, man is a mimicking animal and society is basically a consensus based reality. And this sort of social cruelty is the consensus established norm. Despite what the American left believes, we cannot blame politicians and corporations for everything. At some point waaaaay back there it was our human and social responsibility to stand up, throw ourselves "onto the wheels of the machine," as Mario Savio put it forty years ago. And we did not. Instead we allowed and continue to allow the persecution of those who did or still do. And on and on it goes. Forty-five years after Allen Ginsberg wrote "Howl" I am still seeing the best minds of my generation sobbing on the madhouse steps. Seeing them be medicated, lose marriages, rant on the Internet for years, then give up hope. It's like screaming into a vacuum. You mouth moves but the somnambulant crowd passes silently by in oblivion.
I do speaking engagements and radio interviews when I am here. And I find that I must tone down the truth into something that fits into the consensus reality, even when speaking to lefty crowds. I have to pretend more or less that I think it can be fixed, that some politician can be elected who will turn around 200 years of observable social trajectory. People say, "Well, at least some people are trying to fix the problem from within the system. And I want to scream: THE SYSTEM IS THE PROBLEM! IT'S RIGGED, YOU DUMB FUCKERS!
Curb Your Enthusiasm for Obama
We on the left, those who should be out there fighting for universal health care and total and immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, sit like lap dogs on the short leashes of our Democratic (read corporate) masters. We yap now and then, but we have forgotten how to snarl and bite. We have been domesticated. And until we punish the two main parties the way big corporations do, by withdrawing support and funding when our issues are ignored, we will remain irrelevant and impotent. I detest Bill O'Reilly, but he is right on one thing-we liberals are a spineless lot.
Labor unions don't negotiate with corporations on the basis of good will. They negotiate carrying the threat of a strike. What power do we have as long as we cave on every issue we stand for, from opposition to the death penalty to battling back against the military-industrial complex?
It is not about liking or not liking Obama. It is not about race or class or gender. It is not about growing up poor or a member of the working class. There is no shortage of greasy politicians who, once in power, sold out their own. Look at Bill Clinton. It is about fighting back. It is about confronting a system that belittles us, what we stand for and what is best for the majority of Americans. We need to throw our support behind alternative candidates who champion what we care about, whether Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader. Bob Barr's health care plan, like John McCain's, is even worse than Obama's tepid proposal. We need to begin to actively and militantly defy the corporate state, and this means stepping outside of the two-party system. Universal health insurance is one issue. There are others. Nothing we care about will change until we do.
The Democrats, who promise to end the war in Iraq, create jobs and provide universal health care, ignore these promises once election cycles are over. And we never make them pay. They gave us NAFTA, the destruction of welfare and increased military spending, and we gave them our vote. This is the party that took back Congress in 2006 on an anti-war platform and then increased troop levels and funding for the Iraq war. This is a party that talks about the crushing weight of debt carried by Americans and then refuses to cap predatory interest rates as high as 30 percent imposed by credit card companies. This is a party that promises to protect our constitutional rights and then passes the FISA bill to protect the telecommunications companies. The list goes on. These politicians, including Obama, must begin to feel heat. They must learn that there is a cost to be paid for working on behalf of corporations and disempowering citizens.
Moving to the Center of Elite Consensus
Over the last many weeks we have all been subjected to endless news stories about Senator Obama's campaign "Move to the Center". Leaving aside the political illiteracy which underlines this phrase, the use of it reveals important clues about the rhetoric of electoral campaigns, whom they target and what they are trying to communicate.
Put simply, what "Moving to the Center," means is: moving towards power and money.
"Moving to the Center" is not a move to where the center of public opinion is, but it is a move to the center of where elite consensus is. Once the boundaries of that elite consensus are understood, then we can comprehend the limits of our public choices and more importantly what will be allowed within the confines of our electoral system.
It is important to understand that elite consensus itself is not static and can shift in moderate degrees, but it has definitive boundaries of which you can not cross and still be a viable player within the electoral system. These boundaries exist to the left and right within that consensus, but the institutional bias of the system is much harsher towards any moves to the left. This is because in its essence elite opinion is anti-populist and primarily concerned with protecting the fundamentals of the established economic order.
Every national campaign is in fact a dual conversation, one targeting voters while the other is directed towards the political, media, and economic elites. The purpose of the message targeting the first group is to win votes. The messages to the latter group is designed to form elite consensus, first for it not to correlate against you and secondly to have it help you win and eventually govern.
The Limits of Power:
The End of American Exceptionalism
by Andrew Bacevich
This is a must read. From Amazon:
In this caustic critique of the growing American penchant for empire and sense of entitlement, Bacevich (The New American Militarism) examines the citizenry's complicity in the current economic, political, and military crisis. A retired army colonel, the author efficiently pillories the recent performance of the armed forces, decrying it as an expression of domestic dysfunction, with leaders and misguided strategies ushering the nation into a global war of no exits and no deadlines. Arguing that the tendency to blame solely the military or the Bush administration is as illogical as blaming Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression, Bacevich demonstrates how the civilian population is ultimately culpable; in citizens' appetite for unfettered access to resources, they have tacitly condoned the change of military service from a civic function into an economic enterprise. Crisp prose, sweeping historical analysis and searing observations on the roots of American decadence elevate this book from mere scolding to an urgent call for rational thinking and measured action, for citizens to wise up and put their house in order.
Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Lessons of Endless War
To the problem of an overstretched, over-toured military, there is but one answer in Washington. Both presidential candidates (along with just about every other politician in our nation's capital) are on record wanting to significantly expand the Army and the Marines. In his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren't so blinded by the idea of our "global reach," by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission. It's a particularly timely observation to which Bacevich returns in part two of his TomDispatch series, adapted from his new book. (Click here for part one, "Illusions of Victory.")
Unfortunately, the mission looks all-too-ready to expand, no matter who makes it to the White House in January. Just last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, increasingly being mentioned in the media as a possible carry-over appointment for either candidate, endorsed a $20 billion down payment on our future role in Afghanistan -- to be used to double the size of the Afghan army -- and a restructuring of the U.S. and NATO commands in that country. All of this is meant as preparation for a new president's agreement to consign yet more American troops to our war there. This, in a phrase Bacevich has used in another context, is no less "the path to perdition" for the globe's former "sole superpower" than was the decision of a small country in the Caucasus to essentially launch a war, no matter the provocation, against its energy-superpower neighbor. This way to the madhouse, ladies and gentlemen.
Consider, in this context, the immodest lessons our leaders have chosen to learn from the Bush era, and then, with Bacevich, what lessons we might actually learn if we seriously (and far more modestly) considered the real limits of American power. Tom
Is Perpetual War Our Future?
Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Bush Era
By Andrew Bacevich
To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush's legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.
In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush's policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president's Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America's post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.
The Limits of Power: Andrew Bacevich on the End of American Exceptionalism
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by “exceptionalism”?
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, this is not an idea that’s original with me. It’s clear that from the founding of the Anglo-American colonies, from the time that John Winthrop made his famous sermon and declared that “we shall be as a city upon a hill” a light to the world—it’s clear that, from the outset, there has been a strong sense among Americans that we are a special people with a providential mission.
In the twentieth century, probably going back to roughly the time of Woodrow Wilson, certainly since the end of the Cold War, this concept of a providential mission, a responsibility to the world, has translated into a sense of empowerment or prerogative to determine the way the world is supposed to work, what it’s supposed to look like, and also, over the last twenty years or so, an increasing willingness to use military force to cause the world to look the way we want it to look. And I think that that expression of American exceptionalism is one that’s not only utterly false, but is greatly at odds with own interests as a country.
Wednesday September 3 2008
war r us
Bush quietly seeks to make war powers permanent
By declaring indefinite state of war
As the nation focuses on Sen. John McCain's choice of running mate, President Bush has quietly moved to expand the reach of presidential power by ensuring that America remains in a state of permanent war.
Buried in a recent proposal by the Administration is a sentence that has received scant attention -- and was buried itself in the very newspaper that exposed it Saturday. It is an affirmation that the United States remains at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated organizations."
Part of a proposal for Guantanamo Bay legal detainees, the provision before Congress seeks to “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”
'America's Outrageous War Economy!'
Pentagon can't find $2.3 trillion, wasting trillions on 'national defense'
Yes, America's economy is a war economy. Not a "manufacturing" economy. Not an "agricultural" economy. Nor a "service" economy. Not even a "consumer" economy.
Seriously, I looked into your eyes, America, saw deep into your soul. So let's get honest and officially call it "America's Outrageous War Economy." Admit it: we secretly love our war economy. And that's the answer to Jim Grant's thought-provoking question last month in the Wall Street Journal -- "Why No Outrage?"
There really is only one answer: Deep inside we love war. We want war. Need it. Relish it. Thrive on war. War is in our genes, deep in our DNA. War excites our economic brain. War drives our entrepreneurial spirit. War thrills the American soul. Oh just admit it, we have a love affair with war. We love "America's Outrageous War Economy."
thanks to Antiwar.com
I fixed a couple of lens by leaving them on a south facing windowsill for the summer. I had two M42 lenses for my Pentax Spotmatics with radioactive glass. In the 1960s radioactive glass was used in a variety of high end lenses because of its improved refractive properties. The problem with this glass is that it turns yellow with age. I picked up, at a very reasonable cost, a yellowed Pentax Super-Takumar 35mm/f2 and Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm/1.4. Both are very desirable lenses but perhaps lens desirable with a yellow cast unless you like to shoot black and white with a yellow filter. Various forums indicated that copius amounts of UV would remove the yellow. I put them under a UV lamp for 3 weeks. Looking through the lenses it appeared that the yellow was reduced. I put them on my Pentax *ist DL digital SLR.
I compared the 50/1.4 to my Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Macro-Takumar 50mm/f4. The 50/1.4 was still very yellow. At the beginning of summer I put the yellow lenses on a windowsill and left them there until two days ago.
I wonder where the yellow went? Success! Now I have to straighten out the filter ring and it will be as good as new. A great lens. It might be interesting on my Pentax DSLR since, with the 1.5 crop factor, it's equivalent to a 75mm lens. A 75mm f1.4 lens.
I compared the 35/2 to my Pentax Super-Takumar 35mm/f3.5. The 35/2 was even yellower than the 50/1.4.
A summer on the windowsill cleared out the yellow. Now I have two great lenses.
Both these lenses were from Vern's stash he got from a collector friend who died. I went down to his storage and found a couple of interesting cameras.
It's an Olympus Pen EES half-frame 35mm with auto-exposure powered buy a selenium cell. No batteries. Solar powered! Built between 1962 and 1968. A 35mm negative is 24mmx36mm. A half-frame 35mm negative is 24mmx18mm. 72 exposures on a 36 exposure roll. It's a vertical format camera. I've got it loaded with some Fuji 160s.
The other is a Kodak Special Six-20 made between 1937 and 1939. It's the smallest camera shooting 6x9cm negatives that I've seen and the Anastigmat lens is sharp stopped down. I took the lens cells out and cleaned them. I still have to put the shutter back in, respool some 120 roll film on a 620 spool, and I'm ready to take some pictures. I will start out with some Ilford HP5.
And I've rearranged my office which means I'm pretty close to setting up my printer.
The Great Consumer Crash of 2009
“It is easy to ignore the storm if you look at the opposite horizon. When the storm reaches your location there can be no more ignorance.”
I hate to tell you, but the storm has reached your location and it is a Category 5 hurricane. The levees are leaking. Ignore it at your own peril. The 6,000 sq ft McMansion buying, BMW leasing, $5 Starbucks latte drinking, granite countertop upgrading, home equity borrowing days are coming to an end. The American consumer will not go without a fight. For the last seven years the American consumer has carried the weight of the world on its shoulders. This has been a heavy burden, but when you take steroids it doesn’t seem so heavy. The steroid of choice for the American consumer has been debt. We have utilized home equity loans, cash out refinancing, credit card debt, and auto loans to live above our means. It has been a fun ride, but the ride is over. We can’t get steroids from our dealer (banks) anymore.
After examining these charts it is clear to me that the tremendous prosperity that began during the Reagan years of the early 1980’s has been a false prosperity built upon easy credit. Household debt reached $13.8 trillion in 2007, with $10.5 trillion of that mortgage debt. The leading edge of the baby boomers turned 30 years of age in the late 1970’s, just as the usage of debt began to accelerate. Debt took off like a rocket ship after 9/11 with the President urging Americans to spend and Alan Greenspan lowering interest rates to 1%. Only in the bizzaro world of America in the last 7 years, while in the midst of 2 foreign wars, would a President urge his citizens to show their patriotism by buying cars and TVs. When did our priorities become so warped?
In conclusion, the gathering storm has arrived. It will be long, painful and destructive. Those who prepared for the storm by not taking on excessive debt and living above their means, will ride it out unscathed. Those who built their house on sand by leveraging up and living the “good” life, will see their house swept out to sea. The storm will pass and we will rebuild. Our country is resilient. The purging of this massive debt will result in the creative destruction that is the hallmark of American capitalism. New opportunities, new technologies and a new attitude will put us back on course.
There has been and will be resistance to the inevitable deep recession that is coming. The American consumer is not cutting back willingly. They are being dragged kicking and screaming towards the joys of frugality. The “material generation” needs to dematerialize. My biggest concern is that our politician leaders and their cronies running our government will continue to try and reverse the normal capitalistic course of recession and expansion. Companies need to fail, housing needs to find its bottom based on supply, demand and price. Those who gambled must be allowed to lose and suffer the consequences. If the government attempts to shift the losses to those who lived lifestyles of thrift, an angry uprising will ensue. Government intervention in this natural process could lead to a decade long depression. Let’s hope that reasonable heads prevail.
Closing the 'Collapse Gap': the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am not an expert or a scholar or an activist. I am more of an eye-witness. I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and I have tried to put my observations into a concise message. I will leave it up to you to decide just how urgent a message it is.
My talk tonight is about the lack of collapse-preparedness here in the United States. I will compare it with the situation in the Soviet Union, prior to its collapse. The rhetorical device I am going to use is the "Collapse Gap" – to go along with the Nuclear Gap, and the Space Gap, and various other superpower gaps that were fashionable during the Cold War.
Slide  The subject of economic collapse is generally a sad one. But I am an optimistic, cheerful sort of person, and I believe that, with a bit of preparation, such events can be taken in stride. As you can probably surmise, I am actually rather keen on observing economic collapses. Perhaps when I am really old, all collapses will start looking the same to me, but I am not at that point yet.
And this next one certainly has me intrigued. From what I've seen and read, it seems that there is a fair chance that the U.S. economy will collapse sometime within the foreseeable future. It also would seem that we won't be particularly well-prepared for it. As things stand, the U.S. economy is poised to perform something like a disappearing act. And so I am eager to put my observations of the Soviet collapse to good use.
thanks to Joe Bageant
thanks to Neatorama
Abandon 19th Century Fuels and Move Toward 21st Century Reponses (Calif. Dem. Candidate Debbie Cook)
America lost 10 years of potential technological innovation to Europe and Asia arguing about whether Climate Change was man-made or not. As a result we lost our edge in the world, we increased our energy vulnerability, and we seem to have learned nothing from it. We are now arguing over whether drilling the last thimble full of oil is going to keep us rolling merrily along.
Every American needs to understand that the world has now experienced three years of flat oil production and during those three years, another 230 million energy consumers were added to the population of the world. It is obvious to any observer that oil production, for whatever reason, whether geologic or geopolitical in nature, is not going to keep up with demand. Fifty-four of the 65 oil-producing nations have entered irreversible production declines. This is a matter of fact, not opinion. We can either continue to debate and watch opportunities pass us by or develop a sustainable future that reduces world tensions and our energy vulnerability.
Just because oil is found on American soil, does not make it American oil. Unless America is preparing to nationalize its resources, that oil will belong to an oil company. And that oil will go into a world market that we do not control—a market that is subject to the whims of OPEC, terrorists in Nigeria, Russian bullying, China roaring, and our own wasteful energy habits.
The Raindbow Orchid
With Gustav bearing down on the Louisiana coast, lets look at how well New Orleans has recovered from Katrina 3 years ago.
Katrina Pain Index
New Orleans Three Years Later
0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant — compared to 116,708 homeowners.
0. Number of apartments currently being built to replace the 963 public housing apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the St. Bernard Housing Development.
0. Amount of data available to evaluate performance of publicly financed privately run charter schools in New Orleans in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years.
.008. Percentage of the rental homes that were supposed to be repaired and occupied by August 2008 which were actually completed and occupied — a total of 82 finished out of 10,000 projected.
1. Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in percentage of housing vacant or ruined.