Posts tagged ‘Middle East’

Wow, Thomas Friedman is A Total Joke

I missed this editorial from back in April, but it is a classic.  If you want one of the greatest illustrations of the phrase "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail", here is is.

UNTIL we fully understand what turned two brothers who allegedly perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings into murderers, it is hard to make any policy recommendation other than this: We need to redouble our efforts to make America stronger and healthier so it remains a vibrant counterexample to whatever bigoted ideology may have gripped these young men. With all our warts, we have built a unique society — a country where a black man, whose middle name is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, can run for president and first defeat a woman in his own party and then four years later a Mormon from the opposition, and no one thinks twice about it. With so many societies around the world being torn apart, especially in the Middle East, it is vital that America survives and flourishes as a beacon of pluralism....

So what to do?  We need a more “radical center” — one much more willing to suggest radically new ideas to raise revenues, not the “split-the-difference-between-the-same-old-options center.” And the best place to start is with a carbon tax.

Obama's Total Failure

Forget about the economy -- libertarians expect Democrats to be horrible statists in economic matters.  But we hope to get some protection of civil liberties in exchange.  But Obama has been simply awful in this area as well -- prosecuting marijuana sellers that are legal under state law, claiming assassination powers, the drone war, wiretapping, failure to address gay marriage, etc.

Here is but one example - the Orwellian defense of warrantless wiretapping.  You can't sue us unless we tell you there is a wiretap, and we are not going to tell you.

As part of its concerted campaign to prosecute whistleblowers and to classify state secrets, the Obama administration has taken a position in Clapper that makes the Bush administration pro-secrecy campaign seem pale in comparison: namely, that no one can challenge warrantless surveillance unless the government tells you in advance that you’re being surveilled—which national security interests prevent it from doing. When Bush administration offered milder versions of the same arguments, the civil liberties community rose up in protest. Verrilli, for his part, was met by vigorous skepticism from the Supreme Court’s liberal justices.

It’s unfortunate enough that the administration asked the Court to hear the surveillance case in the first place, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had ruledthat the plaintiffs —lawyers and human rights and media organizations whose work requires them to communicate with clients, sources, and victims of human rights abroad—had legal standing to bring the case. Although they couldn’t be 100 percent sure that their telephone communications were being monitored, the appellate held that there was a “realistic danger” that their telephone communications were being monitored under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), passed by Congress to codify some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. This led the journalists and lawyers to suffer tangible injuries—such as having to fly to the Middle East to communicate with clients rather than talking by telephone, for example, or being more circumspect in talking to Middle Eastern sources, as journalists such as Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges alleged.

In his Supreme Court brief and in the oral argument yesterday, however, Verrilli alleged that these harms were too speculative to create legal standing to challenge the law, since the lawyers and journalists couldn’t be sure they were being surveilled under the FAA rather than under some other warrantless wiretapping authority. Essentially, the Obama administration was arguing that targets of surveillance could only challenge the law after they knew they were being surveilled, though the government would never tell them they were being surveilled before bringing a case against them.

I am sure we would all like a ruling that we cannot be sued unless we give the plaintiff permission to do so, essentially what the Obama Administration is claiming here.

Update:  From the Washington Times:

Bloomberg News reported on October 17 that Attorney General Eric Holder “prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.” :

The Justice Department said that there are established avenues for government employees to follow if they want to report misdeeds. The agency “does not target whistle-blowers in leak cases or any other cases,” Dean Boyd, a department spokesman, said.“An individual in authorized possession of classified information has no authority or right to unilaterally determine that it should be made public or otherwise disclose it,” he said.

However, when leaks to the press benefit the administration, prosecutions from the Jusitce Department are absent. For example, AG Holder was not prosecuting anyone over who leaked information about the killing of Oasma bin Laden. The Justice Department has yet to charge anyone over leaking information regarding the U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran as well as an al Qaida plan to blow up a U.S. bound airplane. In fact, the Justice Department ended up appointing one of two attorneys to the cyberattacks investigation who was an Obama donor.

Part of the problem is that if this (or any other) Administration has its way, information that embarrasses the Administration get's classified, on the dubious logic that embarrassing the Administration embarrasses America.  With this definition, all whistle-blowing becomes "espionage".

Update 2:  More on Wiretapping from the EFF

To the contrary, there’s no indication that the still-active warrantless wiretapping program—which includes a warrantless dragnet on millions of innocent Americans’ communications—has significantly changed from the day Obama took office. With regard to the FISA Amendments Act, the Obama Administration has actively opposed all proposed safeguards in Congress. All the while, his Administration has been even more aggressive than President Bush in trying to prevent warrantless wiretapping victims from having their day in court and hascontinued building the massive national security infrastructure needed to support it. ...

Some have suggested it’s possible when Obama said “safeguards” on the Daily Show, he is referring to some unspecified secret administrative rules he has put into place. Yet if these “safeguards” exist, they have been kept completely secret from the American public, and at the same, the administration is refusing to codify them into the law or create any visible chain of accountability if they are violated. But given the ample evidence of Constitutional violations since Obama took office (see: herehere, and here), these secret safeguards we don’t know exist are clearly inconsequential.

I Like to Hear This

In the past I have been critical of First Solar, like I have most solar companies, for having business models that were almost entirely dependent on huge government subsidies, particularly in Europe.  When these go away, the businesses start to crash.

I have not had time to dig into their financials to look for shenanigans, and to parse out how much is still dependent in some way on either direct subsidies of solar projects or incentives that cause utilities to buy solar electricity at above market rates, but First Solar reversed their large losses to a profit in the last quarter.  I am not sure if this is BS or not, but I like this attitude if true:

The company's cost per watt is the lowest in the industry, but it increased slightly during the quarter, to 72 cents per watt, because of the under utilization of its factories. If the factories had run more, the cost would have gone down, officials said.

Hughes said First Solar is making headway on its plan to target regions of the world with ample sunshine and a need for electricity, where solar power can compete without subsidies that make it cost-effective when compared with traditional energy sources.

Those places include Australia, India, the Middle East and other regions, he said.

That would be terrific.  I would love to see a solar boom driven by real economics and not taxpayer largess.

Israel

I don't write about the Middle East much because its a big muddle that requires a lot more knowledge than I have to comment on seriously.

I will say this about Israel, though:  I too would love to see better civil rights performance at times (just as I would like to see better performance from our own damn country) but it's interesting to hypothesize what the US would do in similar circumstances.  After watching our post-9/11 Constitutional rollback, I wonder what other extreme steps we would be taking if, say, Mexican rockets routinely landed in San Diego or Nogales or El Paso.  One does not have to go too far out on a limb to call the Israeli response "restrained," at least in comparison to what the US would do in parallel circumstances.  Not to mention our reaction if a major foreign leader came to our country and urged us to give back the Gadsden Purchase as a solution.

WTF?

From the Arizona Republic:

Phoenix officials said Monday they remain confident Dubai is still a good place to do business, even after the Middle East emirate's investment arm announced it would not be able to pay creditors on time for some of its nearly $60 billion in debt.

"It's just a matter of when business will pick up again," said Community and Economic Development Director Don Maxwell, who has been bullish on the Middle East and Dubai, one of seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates. "You just don't know what the timing will be, but it will happen."

Seriously, why are we paying Phoenix government officials to opine on stuff like this, and why is it news?

The two cities have exchanged best practices for wastewater management. Dubai imported 80,000 Palo Verde trees from a Phoenix nursery. And Charity Charms, a Phoenix-based maker of charms for nonprofit groups, received a $13,000 order from a Dubai arthritis support group shortly after the agreement was inked.

Oh, I see now.  $13,000 in charms?  Dubai was practically driving our economy.

There Seems To Be A Predictable Lifecycle Here

Like the rise and fall of empires, or the tendency of revolutions to overshoot into excess, there are recognizable patterns to history.  Along these lines, there seems to be a pattern emerging in 60's and 70's era advocacy groups.  First, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore turned on the organization he founded, criticizing it for ignoring science and being anti-human.  Now Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein is criticizing the organization he founded:

I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group's critics"¦.

When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region"¦.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch's Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Something I missed the other day, was this indicator of how far from its principles HRW has drifted:

A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?

No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW's demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations." (Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burkha, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel "human rights" activists"? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.)

This reminds me of when the Innocence Project added Janet Reno to its board (though I still think they do good work).

And a Pony

Jack Tapper of ABC list all of the goodies promised by Obama in just one stump speech.  The list is really staggering, even more so than the usual political BS.  It is way to long to excerpt here.  There are so many outrageous ones, its hard for me to even pick a favorite.  But here are a few good ones:

"eliminate the oil we import from the Middle East in 10 years"

Uh, right.  We are going to completely eliminate half the fuel coming into the economy in 10 years.

"lower premiums" for those who already have health insurance;... "end discrimination by insurance companies to the sick and those who need care the most";

Perfect.  We are going to prevent insurance companies from dong any risk management, we are going to pile on even more "must cover" rules for all kinds of crap from acupuncture to mental health, and by doing so we are going to lower premiums.

This may be my favorite, though:

"reopen old factories, old plants, to build solar panels, and wind turbines"

LOL.  Barack is going to open some of those old GM plants in Flint, Michigan and build solar panels.  Seriously, is this a rhetorical flourish or does he really believe that factories are generic production facilities that can make anything, kind of like those little buildings you make in an RTS?

Update: And if you think that voters just discount all this stuff, don't miss this video of Obama supporters talking about the free gas and house she is going to get.

By the way, none of this will push me to vote for McCain.  McCain promises all kinds of crazy stuff too, its just less compelling stuff to voters.   He is not losing because he is promising less -- I think he is losing because Obama has a better grasp of what expensive shit people want to be promised than does McCain.

The Perfect Political Bludgeon

I am often asked, "why, if the threat of global warming is really so overstated, does the issue have such legs with politicians, media, and activists?"

Answer:  Because it is the perfect political bludgeon.  One of the reasons I felt like high school debate really was broken (I don't know if it has been fixed since) was because every single debate eventually devolved into which side was more likely to cause a nuclear war.  It didn't matter if you were arguing about energy policy or the presidential primary system, no good debate case stopped short of blaming the other side for nuclear war.

Today, with nuclear weapons mostly forgotten (unfortunately not gone), global warming is the new nuclear war. It doesn't matter what you are arguing about:

There was Clare Short, a member of the British Parliament and Secretary
for International Development under Prime Minister Tony Blair until she
resigned in 2003 over the Iraq war. Claiming that Israel is actually
"much worse than the original apartheid state" and accusing it of
"killing (Palestinian) political leaders," Ms. Short charged the Jewish
state with the ultimate crime: Israel "undermines the international
community's reaction to global warming." According to Ms. Short, the
Middle East conflict distracts the world from the real problem:
man-made climate change. If extreme weather will lead to the "end of
the human race," as Ms. Short warned it could, add this to the list of
the crimes of Israel.

Middle East Empires

A cool animated map showing the ebb and flow of empires in the Middle East.  Like watching a Civilization game replay at high speed.

Hat tip:  Mises

Sanction of the Victim

This has been an incredible week in the ongoing culture clash between the western democracies and radical Islam.  In a series of events right out of the Onion or Monty Python, radical Muslims around the world protested the Pope calling them violent with ... waves of violence.  Once his remarks were proven right in such an obvious and public way the Pope reacted by ... apologizing for his remarks.**   

I am tired of apologizing to radical Islam (for some silly, bland cartoons, for god sakes!)  I am tired of bending over backwards into pretzels to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I am extremely tired of being told these folks are just aggrieved and in reality they share my values, because it is very very clear that they don't share my values.  I am tired of being told most Muslims are peaceful --  when these peaceful folks give their sanction and support to the violent ones and accept the most radical as their leaders. 

Radical Islam is, with the downfall of soviet communism and the painfully gradual opening up of China, the most illiberal force in the modern world. By a long shot.  It treats individual life with contempt, has no concept of rights, and in particular treats women far worse than apartheid South Africa ever treated blacks.  The theocracy we fear from certain Republican 700 Club folks is like 3.2 beer compared to full 200 proof Islamic theocratic fascism. 

I don't know why the left in this country has been hesitant to call out illiberal practices in the Middle East as vociferously as they have in other circumstances.  A part of this hesitation is probably opposition to the Iraq war, and fear that denouncing radical Islam for its faults might somehow give the administration a stronger mandate for more military adventures.  A less charitable explanation is that the hesitation is an extension of political correctness and cultural relativism run wild).

Well, I opposed the Iraq war:  The Augean stables are just too dirty to clean up by sending the military from dictator to dictator. I will go further and say I actually think the terrorist threat is exaggerated (and yes I do remember 9/11) in order to keep giving the FBI more powers and help politicians get elected.  Get tough on terrorism is sort of the new get tough on crime election speak.

But I don't think the threat to liberal values posed by Islamic fundamentalism is exaggerated.  And the first step in fighting it is to not give it, as Ayn Rand would say, the sanction of the victim.  People sometimes email me and say "who are we to talk -- America is not clean."  I will agree we have our warts - and much of this blog is taken up with pointing some of them out.  But what I always tell people, and still believe, is the following:

The US does harm when we fail to live up to our values.  Radical Islam does harm when they successfully pursue what they value.

**Postscript:   I don't pretend to understand all the 13th century quotations in the Pope's speech.  I don't think it matters.  If he had simply said "radical Islam preaches too much violence and it has to stop" he would have gotten the same reaction.  By the way, every person in the world seems to say bad things about the US, many of these comments are untrue or apply only to a minority of our leaders and not to myself. I can't remember anyone ever apologizing to me.   This story  that Muslims will do more violence unless the Pope apologizes some more reminds me of Sir Robin in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  "Perhaps if we run away more..."

And here is my message to the right -- I acknowledge that radical Islamic leaders treat apologies, backing-down, etc. as weakness to be exploited rather than preludes to reasonable compromise.   For this reason, I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity.  However, this general fact does NOT automatically justify the Iraq war.  If it did, it would also justify invading any Islamic country we want.  I still don't understand the strategic sense of Iraq and now we are stuck there, because I agree that once in, backing off will only embolden the radicals in the area to further hi-jinx.

Politics Negates Belief

One of the advantages of not being a partisan of either the Democrats or Republicans is that I have more flexibility to actually say what I believe, without worrying that something I am saying might actually give aid and comfort to my political enemies.  I have always felt that it is really, really difficult and rare to become actively political without sacrificing consistency in your deeply held beliefs, particularly since both parties represent such an inconsistent hodge-podge of positions.  The irony of this has been, at least until the advent of blogging, that I could be smug about maintaining my philosophic virginity but I left myself no avenue to make any impact with my strongly held beliefs.

Given this, I was therefore struck by this, from Cathy Young at Reason, writing about Yale's future Taliban student:

One striking aspect of this controversy is the reaction from Yale's liberal
community. Della Sentilles, a Yale senior, recently
wrote a
piece

for the Yale Herald denouncing such manifestations of rampant
misogyny at Yale as the shortage of tenured female professors and poor
childcare options. On her blog, a reader asked Sentilles about the presence
at Yale of a former spokesman for one of the world's most misogynistic
regimes.
Her reply:
"As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements
or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one
culture is more sexist and repressive than another. American feminism is
often linked to and manipulated by the state in order to further its own
imperialist ends."

It appears Ms. Sentilles, beyond having a lot of multi-cultural baggage, is terrified that if she actually criticizes Afghanistan in any way, she is somehow giving aid and comfort to the Bush administration, which feminists have declared enemy #1.  The politics of US presidential elections, in this case, trump criticizing a regime that treated women worse (by far) than the US has at any time in its history.  Which of course is one of the reasons* that women's groups in this country are sliding into irrelevance, putting their support of a broad range of leftish causes above speaking out on what is essentially apartheid-for-women in the Middle East  (I say essentially, because women are actually far worse off in much of the Middle East than blacks ever were in South Africa).  Whereas a decade ago the left was marching in the street to better the lot of blacks in South Africa, they are strangely mum on women in the Middle East. 

As a result, I can lament the condition of women in the Middle East, acknowledge that Saddam was a blight on humanity, but still oppose the war in Iraq as not worth the cost (when "cost" is defined broadly enough to include not must money and men but also opportunity cost).  I can adopt this position because I am not required to put on the Republican happy face or Democratic America-always-sucks face.

* Another reason is that it may be time for women to declare victory.

Bush: The Worst Communicator

ABCNews is running a series on some interesting documents found among released Hussein-era Iraqi government docs.  I am not going to react to them in terms of how they affect the decision to go to war, in part because we have no idea how representative 6 or 7 damning documents are out of thousands that we have not yet been shown (a similar problem the Enron jury will soon face).  Also, for reasons below in the footnote**.

My main reaction to these revelations was "wow, how badly does the Bush administration suck at communication?"  After taking three years of criticism over exactly some of the issues addressed in these documents, and presumably others we have not yet seen, the administration just sat on this stuff and refused to release it?  Clinton's folks would have had one of these presented each morning of every day for a year to the press with a little bow around it.  I am flabbergasted that there are so many conspiracy theorists who think this administration has some special Karl-Rovian-mad-science to orchestrating events.  To me, their PR successes look more like Peter Sellers accidentally avoiding numerous assassins in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

** In the end, I think the Iraq invasion will be looked at as "worth it" historically if its effects resonate beyond Iraq, e.g. it provides a beacon of democracy around which other democratic elements in the middle east coalesce and grow stronger.  If Iraq turns out to be just about Iraq, the world will be well-rid of a nasty dictator but the US will have spent a great deal of its available armed forces and treasure and influence and prestige on a single screwed-up dictatorship, while ignoring tens of others who also brutalize their people and who also support terrorism.  Against this definition of success, the recently revealed documents don't do much for me one way or the other.  They do, however, strongly effect my opinion of Russia.  Why Bush continues to give Putin a pass is beyond me.

Pilot's Union Strangely Silent

Actually, there is no pilots union in the military, perhaps fortunately, because they likely would have opposed the creation of un-manned drone aircraft such as the Predator, which has been wildly successful in Middle East operations.  Current aircraft have both reconnaissance and air-to-ground attack capabilities.  These aircraft are piloted from the ground by ex-fighter pilots, but the next generation will be able to take off and land themselves, obviating the need for even a ground pilot.  Wired has a longer article on these cool drones.  Beyond the obvious reduction in risk to humans, the drones also have the advantage of being substantially less expensive than human piloted fighter craft -- as little as $15 million apiece, even for the next generation tricked up models.

Why Won't Ethanol Just Go Away?

Lynne Kiesling points out that, like swallows returning to Capistrano, a new energy bill debate in Congress has brought out the Ethanol advocates.  Lynne takes several good swipes at this stupidity:

I actually just heard John Thune say that ethanol is a clean fuel that will
lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Spare me. Ethanol is neither clean nor a
silver bullet to make us self-sufficient in energy. Ethanol production is
filthy, just as dirty as other manufacturing processes, particularly when you
take into account the appalling effects of fertilizer runoff killing fish in the
Gulf of Mexico when growing the corn for the ethanol. Why don't the Senators
from Louisiana open up a can of whup ass on this one?

Reducing dependence on foreign oil is a specious objective when you recognize
that oil is traded in integrated world markets and we are not low-cost
producers. So even if we reduce our oil consumption the marginal barrel of oil
will still come from somewhere in the Middle East. That won't change. Reducing
our consumption would be likely to reduce oil prices (but only marginally,
because China's demand is the big price driver right now) and would be good from
a conservation perspective, but it won't change the fact that we import oil from
places we don't think we can trust.

What she does not mention, probably because she is tired of repeating the obvious, that most careful studies show that producing ethanol requires as much or more energy than it provides.  In other words, it takes more than a barrel of oil to make the fertilizer, run tractors, harvest the corn, take it to market, and process it into a enough ethanol to replace a barrel of oil. 

To prove this, I would point to a lot of studies from ethanol opponents, but I will instead use data from an ethanol supporter.  From this biofuel support site:

In the US most ethanol is
made from corn (maize). A US Department of Agriculture study concludes
that ethanol contains 34% [sic, see below] more energy than is used to grow and harvest
the corn and distill it into ethanol.

Here are a couple of observations.  First, 34% is incorrect.  The first paragraph of the study they link says 24%, not 34%.  Second, this is the only study I have ever seen that shows the energy balance positive, which may be because it is from the Department of Agriculture and not the Department of Energy.  Third, to get to even this small positive balance, their number is based on the theoretical best number if every single stage of the agriculture and production process uses best known practices.  Using current practices that are actually in place in the production chain, even this study says the energy balance is probably negative.  Fourth and finally, 24% is pathetic.  Supporters imply that one gallon of ethanol replaces one gallon of oil.  It does not -- using these numbers, and factoring the .8 gallon of oil needed to produce that one gallon of ethanol, then one gallon of ethanol replaces at best only .2 gallons of oil.  This means that if we subsidize ethanol 30 cents per gallon (which is probably low) then the effective subsidy per gallon of gasoline replaced, which is what is relevant, is $1.50!  Ouch! And remember, this is based on ethanol's supporters numbers.  Based on most everyone else's numbers, the subsidy per gallon replaced is infinite.

Ethanol subsidies do nothing to add energy to the US market and just pass tax dollars to Archer Daniels Midland and other similar Ag conglomerates.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  The only thing uglier than these distortions in the energy bill is the scene of Republican and Democratic candidates falling over themselves every four years to support these subsidies in order to compete in the Iowa caucuses.

Before We Argue - Lets See If We Are Living In The Same Universe

Back some years (decades, eek!) ago when I was in college, I used to really burn hot in political arguments. I could not let any statement go from anyone without an argument. And, being a libertarian, I could always find something to disagree with someone about. Since then I have mellowed a lot, and can let a lot of things pass.

Today, its hard to resist arguing about the war in Iraq, but I often find myself in the odd position of opposing the war in Iraq but disagreeing with most of the premises and assumptions of other people I meet who are opposed to the war. Though I oppose the war, I find myself sharing assumptions about the world that are more prevalent among proponents of the war. This might have made me uncomfortable at one point of my life, but as a small-government individual-rights libertarian you get used to this kind of thing, after seeing everyone argue if the government should be in the boardroom (Democrats and increasingly Republicans) or the bedroom (Republicans and some Democrats) or both (Pat Buchanan).

Over time, I have devised a couple of tests to get at these conflicting assumptions. These tests have evolved over time but they seem to retain their power to sort out people who are operating in an alternate reality.

Here are the two tests, in their current form (though longer for this print edition). In each case, choose either A or B, based on which seems more correct to you. Elements of both A and B will have been true from time to time and in isolated incidents. Try to choose which represents the fundamental truth to you.

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