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Friday, June 24, 2005

Living on a Chinese Rock?

Well I'm semi-settled again, catching brief glimses of television, just enough to know that I must be missing much more in blogtopia. Did see the Spurs beat the Pistons, Ted Kennedy whip Donald Rumsfeld, and Ron Reagan deliver a long-overdue smackdown to Monica Crowley this morning, telling her that unlike George Bush, neither Richard Nixon nor his father ever deceived the American people to lead them into war. Monica damn near fell off her Nurse Ratched stool. Ron should be on the lookout for sharp objects in the near future.

Michael Duran sent me an article on the Chinese bid for Unocal:
But even before the communist nation formally announced a rival to Chevron Corp.'s $16.6 billion offer, reports that the bid was in the works prompted members of Congress to send President Bush a letter last week warning him of the threats posed by China's "pursuit of world energy resources."

"Such an acquisition raises many concerns about U.S. jobs, energy production and energy security," Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said in their letter.


CNOOC said the acquisition would more than double its production and estimated that 85 percent of the combined reserves of both companies are located in Asia and the Caspian Sea region.

Indeed, China's hunger for the oil and natural gas needed to fuel its economic expansion will likely result in huge investments to expand the combined company's production around the globe, which will help alleviate existing supply constraints that have helped push prices to $60 a barrel, analysts said.

"Anyone willing to invest in finding supply is doing the world a favor," said Goldstein.
It seems to be making politicans nervous and oil analysts happy. As someone who is pretty firmly convinced that the war in Iraq was launched (among other things) as a pre-emptive move to secure oil for the US as China's demands increase, it will be interesting to see how the administration responds. I haven't been able to spend enough time reading up on the matter to weigh all the pros and cons, so I'll throw it out there -- what do you think? Is it only fair that the sale be allowed, a small acquisition of no import, or is it a strategic move in a looming battle of great political significance?


Sunday, June 19, 2005

On the Road Again

Gord points us to a review of the new Toyota Highlander hybrid in the WaPo. The review itself is pretty jive, and seems to judge the car negatively because the price is $7,000 more than the gas-only Highlander. Which completely misses the point, as far as I'm concerned -- as Gord points out, cars like this are "in the forefront of a sea change in American attitudes toward oil conservation and the environment." And GM couldn't see this coming years ago? My dogs would do a better job running that company.

As someone whose lease is up in 2007, this is the first car I've seen that might meet my needs for a fuel efficient dog-hauler. The review notes that since hybrids actually get better mileage in stop-and-go city traffic than they do on the highway (didn't know that, but it makes sense), the Highlander got 28 mpg in wilting city heat with the air conditioner blasting. It handily beats even the best rated gas-only SUV on the market, the Toyota RAV-4 which the EPA rates at 22-24 mpg in the city, but that mileage probably goes way down once you pump up an air conditioner the way the WaPo evidently did the Highlander. And it's pretty cute. We like cute.

The dogs and I are going to be on the road for the next few days in our fuel efficient non-SUV, so I will be checking in as time and the WiFi capability of dog friendly motels allow. In the mean time my brother-in-law Loren is going to be doing some guest blogging, and he is much smarter than me so enjoy.


Keeping Those Gas Tanks Full

(Promoted from the comments -- Michael Duran wrote what I think is a very smart and quite comprehensive rundown of the real reasons the Bush Administration made the decision to go to war in Iraq):

Given that the plan to invade Iraq was made in full before 9/11/01, and given that parts of those plans had been on the drawing board for more than a decade before that in various incarnations, I think that the war planners had more than one clear goal in mind. In fact, I think that such profiteering was planned, as was the oil grab, as were military bases to secure the middle east in our name (esp Saudi Arabia) and Iran was considered next. That's why they wanted the war so bad, why they pushed for it so hard to the extent that they lied to the public, congress, fabricated "intelligence," the whole lot.

In fact, I would say that one could categorize the various intentions for the Iraq war and their beneficiaries as:

1) Halliburton, etc., and the "Insiders" circle of Big Dick and the people on his Rolodex.

2) Oil companies, and their officers, on the Rolodex of the Bush/Cheney families.

3) Oil availability from Iraq, for the members of the outer circle of US government, i.e. most of congress, who would have implicitly understood the first problem with invading Iraq : money. But they would "understand" that oil prices could be manipulated better by us (instead of the Cartel) and with more homeland preference after an American war than they were even during the sanctions, and that this would therefore offset expense for the war (which we know it hasn't )

4) Iraq as a backdoor to Saudi Arabia. The Buskin circle knows very well how much oil there is left in the world, and that Saudi has most of it and is extremely unstable. Regime change in Saudi would be a mess for us and the world economy. We've known this since the 1940's (when Truman set up alliances with them after having won WWII largely on petroleum supply strategies) through the so-called Carter Doctrine where Carter promised military force to keep our access to Saudi oil secure; through the end of the cold war, which had a lot to do with our cutting off of energy access for the Soviets and how that affected their economy; to our military presence in Saudi since 1990 which has pissed off people like Bin Laden so much. The importance of Saudi stability is so important, and is no secret to the members of government, that this imperative was surely on the minds of many voting for the Iraq war.

5) Iraq as a staging ground for war on Iran and Syria; again oil reserves, as well as pipeline routes (ala Afghanistan) from the Caspian area to the Persian Gulf, as well as to secure shipping routes through the gulf for Saudi and other oil, which could well be threatened. This again benefits the American way of life (lets it continue) as well as financially benefits the inner circle and their stockholders, those who resell the oil, and therefore would have its direct and indirect supporters.

6) Securing oil from competitors, such as China and Russia, and why not Europe too if need be. That is at least one reason why Europe did not support our war. Again an implicit benefit surely in the minds of many supporters who know their stuff.

7) It will benefit the Iraqis. The only reason this was important to the planners is that it should have made the endeavor easier, they thought, and therefore successful despite our other intentions above. The administration members are hardly ignorant of the tremendous suffering and mass death the people within the borders of Iraq had taken under Hussein; just as they knew that most of the American as well as Iraqi public was ignorant of the fact that Hussein was literally kept in power and supported with money, weapons, and rhetoric by America, almost from the beginning, through his torture and assinations, through his chemical warfare experiments, through the UN sanctions which the US spearheaded in the UN which killed > million, up to the eve of war. The administration thought that we would be welcomed with open arms for putting an end to what we had perpetuated. Well, it worked in this country. Until a relative few Americans died, then maybe we didn't like the idea so much.

The public of this country falls into a few general categories on the war: 1) those who are educated in history and politics a bit, and know what control in the middle east means to our way of life regardless of any suffering born by the brown people far away in barbarian land. These people drive Suburbans and say things like "white man's burdern, Lloyd, white man's burden. 2) The vast majority who are raised on sitcoms, fast food, and cheery fantasies about America's role in the world and their own futures. For these people, Machiavelli and Leo Strauss have a plan. 3) The rest of us.

In other words, they wanted this war so bad because success promised everything: to increase the wealth of the planners; to do what is "right" for the American standard of life; and, oh yeah, help out some brown people, whatever.


Halliburton Stock Prices and Dick Durbin

from CBS Marketwatch

In 2002 Halliburton stock prices were in the tank, way off the highs they had experienced during the dot com boom. In the wake of the war with Iraq, Halliburton stock prices have surged nearly 450%.

Through Kellog, Brown & Root, its corruption-plagued subsidiary, Halliburton was just granted the $30 million contract to spiff up Guantanamo Bay. According to the Financial Times, the full contract could be worth up to $500 million to Halliburton.

Dick Durbin has always been a good guy, the conscience of the Senate, a man who voted against the bankruptcy bill when others acquiesced for the sake of political expedience. He isn't one to take the temperature of public sentiment before speaking, he says what needs to be said. He has also been the prime mover behind the push to re-convene the Truman Commission on War Profiteering, and Karl Rove has had him in the crosshairs for just this very reason for quite some time. If the right is successful in silencing and neutering Durbin, you can kiss any investigation goodbye. At that time the smart money would say buy Halliburton. I'd rather have my money in something less morally objectionable and soaked in blood myself -- maybe internet porn.


Dear Prudence

In Tom Jones, Henry Fielding once wrote: "Indeed, I have observed (though it may seem unaccountable to the reader) that this guard of prudence, like the trained bands, is always readiest to go on duty where there is the least danger."

The "trained bands" in 18th century England were a sort of military reserve of local citizenry, and Fielding notes that they were often criticized for incompetence and cowardice. Which brings to mind the Virgin Ben, who is smarting this week in his Clown Hall column from TBogg's tidy summation of his own prudence ("some people choose celibacy, while others have it thrust upon them. Poor Ben. He no more chose abstinence than Clarence Thomas chose to be black.") But Ben is proud of the moral superiority his immaculate condition confers, which somehow lends him the expertise needed to pen his new tome entitled Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting Our Future.

Says Ben:
Such heated, inarticulate and unreasoned hatred for moral standards should not be shocking. Social liberalism seeks to promote a "live and let live" society wherein all types of deviant behavior is tolerated and accepted.


By discarding traditional morality in favor of amoralism, we have catered to the lowest common denominator. Social liberals have taken control of our culture through music, film, television and other mass media. R-rated films today often include soft-core pornography; television shows like "Friends" promote a fun-filled, promiscuous lifestyle with no consequences; rap music is misogynistic, glorifying its own degradation; pop music holds aloft cultural wrecking balls like Madonna as empowered feminist heroes.
Although his previous works have been pockmarked with factual errors, Ben is still quite smugly Better Than All That. In proudly trumpeting his own purity and measuring the decline of western civilization by using himself as a yardstick, Ben joins a long tradition of patronizing, intolerant right-wing kooks who practice bigotry and hypocrisy for fun and profit.

He writes a book called Porn Generation, for starters. Not Low SAT Score or High Triglyceride Generation. It's called Porn Generation, for which he tells us he interviewed many porn stars. Nice. Ben gets to stare unblinkingly at this most popular of past times without ever taking responsibility for it. In this he is much like the agents for the New York Society for Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), who used to show up at Minsky's burlesque house in the 30s and "tisk-tisk" as they counted the number of bosoms that appeared each evening. It's a neat trick if you can manage it -- you get to take a bath in the so-called "depravity" even as you're railing against it, and in Ben's case, capitalize on a sexy title to make a fast buck.

The NYSSV was the bastard child of Anthony Comstock, who like Ben appointed himself arbiter of public morality with no more than the dubious qualification of a hairy palm. He managed to get Walt Whitman fired from the Department of the Interior for writing Leaves of Grass, campaigned against birth control, cried out against George Bernard Shaw for his "smutty" plays, and directed the burning of 120 tons of literature -- including works by Dos Passos and Hemmingway. Comstock was downright dangerous. So far the Virgin Ben is just an annoying, grubby little opportunist.

In her excellent book Striptease: The Untold History Of The Girlie Show,Rachael Shteir notes that the early crusaders against burlesque like Comstock and Sumner were basically promoting themselves as civic leaders by playing into class and ethnic bigotry. The broad physical comedy and risque dancing found at the burlesque halls were the entertainment of working class patrons, who were often immigrants and enjoyed a show whose appreciation did not depend on tremendous cultural sophistication. When Fiorello LaGuardia finally closed the burlesque halls in New York in 1939, it is telling that the ban on nudity did not apply to the high-brow shows put on at the time just down the street by Flo Ziegfeld, where long legged beauties regularly posed bare-ass naked for the enjoyment of the upper classes at a much higher price. Likewise, Ben picks his pop-culture targets with care. It is the common man who cannot be trusted with his own penis.

When Mary Carey made her trip to Washington to profess her love for George Bush, at least she was honest about her intentions -- she has a flair for self-promotion and the desire to make a buck. But Ben cannot lay claim to either the honesty or the self-awareness of a Bush-loving porn star. His imminent dread that she will corrupt him and (God forbid) others like him is, quite frankly, unneccessary.