Archive for May 16th, 2010
Very interesting post at TruthOut by Stephen Maher:
Many of Israel’s critics blame an "Israel lobby" for the near-total complicity of the US in Israeli annexation, colonization and cleansing programs in the occupied West Bank. This complicity continues to the present, despite the "row" that erupted after the Israeli government humiliated US Vice President Joe Biden by announcing the construction of 1,600 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem while he was visiting the country. Indeed, despite the apparent outrage expressed by top White House officials, the administration has made clear that its criticism of Israel will remain purely symbolic. However, as we shall see, the lobby thesis does little to explain US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Years after Noam Chomsky, Stephen Zunes, Walter Russell Mead and many others published their critiques of the Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer "Israel lobby" thesis, many of the sharpest critics of Israel continue to attribute US foreign policy in the Middle East to the influence of the lobby. Given the prevalence of the Israel lobby argument, and the latest diplomatic confrontation between the US and Israel, it is important to revisit the flaws in the thesis, and properly attribute US behavior to the large concentrations of domestic political and economic power that truly drive US policy.
US foreign policy in the Middle East is similar to that which is carried out elsewhere in the world, in regions free of "the lobby’s" proclaimed corrupting effects. The inflated level of support that the US lends Israel is a rational response to the particular strategic importance of the Middle East, the chief energy-producing region of the world. By building Israel into what Noam Chomsky refers to as an "offshore US military base," it is able to protect its dominance over much of the world’s remaining energy resources, a major lever of global power. As we shall see, those blaming the lobby for US policy once again misunderstand US’s strategic interests in the Middle East, and Israel’s central role in advancing them.
This morning, Fox News anchor Brit Hume scoffed at the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, wondering, “Where is the oil?” Hume followed the lead of Rush Limbaugh and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who have been aggressively downplaying the disaster and bristling at comparisons to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. During the Fox News Sunday roundtable, Hume dismissed the expert analysis that many times more oil have spilled already than the Exxon Valdez disaster, a point raised by fellow panelist Juan Williams:
WILLIAMS: First of all, don’t you think, this spill now is going to be in excess of what happened with Exxon Valdez.
HUME: Let’s see if that happens. There’s a good question today if you are standing on the Gulf, and that is: Where is the oil?
WILLIAMS: “Where is the oil?”
HUME: It’s not on — except for little of chunks of it, you’re not even seeing it on the shore yet.
Independent experts, using both surface and subsea estimates, believe the vast sea of oil gushing from multiple leaks on the seabed surpassed the Exxon Valdez weeks ago. “Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots.” “The millions of gallons of crude, and the introduction of chemicals to disperse it, have thrown this underwater ecosystem into chaos, and scientists have no answer to the question of how this unintended and uncontrolled experiment in marine biology and chemistry will ultimately play out. ”
The slick on the surface of the Gulf is now about 4,922 square miles, larger than Los Angeles County, Delaware, or Rhode Island. On the surface, oil contamination has reached the barrier islands of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
After Hume repeated the “natural seepage” talking point to falsely imply the oil industry’s catastrophic record of spills is unimportant, he then mirrored Rush Limbaugh’s argument that “The ocean will take care of this on its own“:
WILLIAMS: But I think it will damage the environment in the gulf and damage tourism and damage fishing. I don’t think there’s any question this is in excess of anything we’ve previously asked the ocean to absorb.
HUME: We’ll see if it is. We’ll see if it is. The ocean absorbs a lot, Juan, an awful lot. The ocean absorbs a lot.
WILLIAMS: I think Rush Limbaugh went down this road, “The ocean can handle it.” I think we have to take some responsibility for the environment and be responsible to people who live in the area, vacation in that area, fish in that area. It’s just wrong to think, “You know what? Dump it on the ocean and let the ocean handle it.”
HUME: Who said that? Who is saying that? No one’s making that argument.
Nearly two weeks ago, Gulf Coast marine scientists told ThinkProgress they “shudder to think” of the devastation this underwater apocalypse could entail, because “oil is bad for everything” that lives in the ocean.
Last week I was talking to a friend whose son is currently stationed in Afghanistan. He was pretty scathing about how the war is being prosecuted. We’re supposed to be engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign there, he told me, which means getting soldiers out from their camps and into the towns and cities. They should be patrolling continuously, making their presence felt, and engaging with local leaders. But his son reported that none of that was happening.
That’s only one unit, of course, and enlisted men are rarely privy to the bigger picture. Maybe there’s a reason this particular unit is twiddling its thumbs for the moment. Unfortunately, there’s reason to suspect that the problem runs deeper and wider than that. And even more disturbingly, there’s pretty good reason to think that even if the Army steps up its game, it won’t do any good. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is currently planning a make-or-break offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, but a source there who’s a firm believer in counterinsurgency doctrine has recently become profoundly disillusioned. In "A Counterproductive Counterinsurgency," a memo currently wending its way through official channels in Afghanistan, he says:
The idea of “counterinsurgency” appears to be a viable way for success on paper. Military units, along with NGO’s [non-governmental organizations], the Department of State, GIRoA [the Afghanistan government], and other government agencies work together to emplace the clear, hold, build strategy in key areas of the battlefield. Like communism, however, counterinsurgency methods are not proving to be effective in practice.
The history of foreign powers mounting successful counterinsurgencies is bleak. Too little force and you can’t protect the local population. Too much force and you risk enough civilian damage to push them into the hands of the insurgents. It is, in T.E. Lawrence’s famous phrase, like eating soup with a knife, and most practitioners can point to only one significant success in the modern era: the Malayan Emergency of the late 40s and 50s. Plus, of course, Gen. David Petraeus’s famous victory in Iraq in 2007. But even that should give pause for thought. For starters, it’s not clear yet that counterinsurgency has actually worked in Iraq: the government is less stable now than ever and violence is again on the rise. Beyond that, though, the success in Iraq was due not just to Petraeus’s surge, but to what I call the Four Esses. The Surge was one of them, but it wouldn’t have worked without the other three: the Sunni Awakening that turned tribal leaders against al-Qaeda in Iraq; the sectarian cleansing that displaced millions of Iraqis and purged mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad; and Muqtada al-Sadr, who declared a cease fire long before Petraeus arrived and, against all odds, stuck to it.
None of those things is present in Afghanistan, and so far the evidence suggests that without them we have little chance of replicating even the contingent success we had in Iraq. This is something that the Pentagon seems to be belatedly recognizing as it tries to downsize future operations. Counterinsurgency, says Andrew Exum, a fellow with the Center for a New American Security, "is a good way to get out of a situation gone bad," but it’s not the best way to use combat forces. Afghanistan, unfortunately, is starting to look like the graveyard of empires once again.
Thinking about BP and the Gulf: in this old interview, Milton Friedman says that there’s no need for product safety regulation, because corporations know that if they do harm they’ll be sued.
Interviewer: So tort law takes care of a lot of this ..
Friedman: Absolutely, absolutely.
Meanwhile, in the real world:
In the wake of last month’s catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski blocked a bill that would have raised the maximum liability for oil companies after a spill from a paltry $75 million to $10 billion. The Republican lawmaker said the bill, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would have unfairly hurt smaller oil companies by raising the costs of oil production. The legislation is “not where we need to be right now” she said.
And don’t say that we just need better politicians. If libertarianism requires incorruptible politicians to work, it’s not serious.
Very interesting column in the Washington Post by William Galston and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution:
We commend The Post for initiating a forum on polarization, which is indeed the dominant political phenomenon of our time. Consider that for the first time in modern history, in both the House and the Senate, the most conservative Democrat is slightly more liberal than the most liberal Republican. This is more than an interesting scholarly finding; it has consequences for the legislative process. The most conservative Senate Democrat (Ben Nelson) ended up supporting health reform; the most liberal Republican (Olympia Snowe) ended up opposing it. For decades, the operational core of bipartisanship in Congress was the overlap between the parties. Through a long process triggered by the politics of the 1960s, that core has disappeared.
Polarization is not confined to elected officials and political elites. While the American people are not as divided as the parties are, they are more divided than they were a generation ago. As Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz notes in his new book, "The Disappearing Center," the percentage of the electorate that places itself at or near the ideological midpoint of American politics has shrunk from 41 to 28 percent since the mid-1980s, while the left and right extremes have expanded.
In addition, because people increasingly prefer to live near others who share their cultural and political preferences, they are voting with their feet and sorting themselves geographically. Many more states and counties are dominated by one-party supermajorities than in the past. Contrary to widespread belief, reducing the gerrymandering of congressional districts would make only a small dent in the problem. And unfortunately, homogeneous groups tend to reinforce and purify the views that bring them together: Sorting not only reflects polarization but also intensifies it.
What The Post’s editorial missed, however, is that these developments have not produced two mirror-image political parties. We have, instead, asymmetrical polarization. Put simply: More than 70 percent of Republicans in the electorate identify themselves as conservative or very conservative, while only 40 percent of rank-and-file Democrats call themselves liberal or very liberal. It is far easier for congressional Republicans to forge and maintain a united front than it is for Democrats. George W. Bush pushed through his signature tax cuts and Iraq war authorization with substantial Democratic support, while unwavering Republican opposition nearly torpedoed Barack Obama’s health-reform legislation. When Democrats are in the majority, their greater ideological diversity combined with the unified opposition of Republicans induces the party to negotiate within its ranks, producing policies that not long ago would have attracted the support of a dozen Senate Republicans.
Consider the episode that The Post cited as Exhibit A for polarization:
Every now and then I get an issue of New Scientist in which almost every article is fascinating. The most recent is one such issue. I particularly recommend these brief articles:
- Welcome to the family, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis — Is there any reason not to allow the squat, rugged, cold-loving apes into the fold with Homo sapiens?
- Newton’s tree joins list of odd items to fly to space – A fragment of the apple tree that inspired Newton will fly to the International Space Station and back
- Republicans won’t be nudged into cutting home energy — Feedback on energy consumption only seems to have positive effects with liberals – conservatives tend to ignore it
- Stray grey whale navigates the North-West Passage — The whale was hunted to extinction outside the Pacific over 200 years ago – now a 13-metre-long specimen has been spotted in the Mediterranean
- Crumbling labs could clip NASA’s wings – The agency aims to develop new technologies for space flight, but years of neglect have left many of its labs in rough shape, says a new report
- Cancer’s sweet tooth becomes a target — Killing cancer cells by blocking their tendency to guzzle sugar could be a gentler way to fight the disease
- Neanderthals not the only apes humans bred with — A growing body of evidence suggests that our ancestors got it on with extinct hominid species, including Neanderthals and other Homo species [what will racists say? – LG]
- Quantum space monster leaps from a gravity well — Gravity could create a powerful runaway effect in quantum fluctuations in apparently empty space – this might influence the evolution of stars
- Maiden voyage for first true space sail — Next week Japan hopes to demonstrate the first sail to harness the sun for propulsion through space
- Bahamas islands were giant labs for lizard experiment — One of the most ambitious ecological field experiments ever conducted has resolved a long-standing question about the evolution of lizards
- Weed resistance could mean herbicide is futile — More weeds are evolving resistance to glyphosate – aka Roundup – but the problem could have been forestalled by a better understanding of evolution
- Pyramids are the best shape for packing — Tetrahedra – objects with four triangular faces – are the most efficient shape for randomly filling a container
- Bonding hormone helps men recognise emotions — A nasal spray of the hormone vasopressin improves men’s ability to recognise angry and happy faces, but not neutral ones [sounds like just the ticket for those with Asperger's syndrome – LG]
- Hand-washing wipes emotional baggage from decisions — Long a metaphor for the desire to distance oneself from immoral acts, hand-washing does more than just wipe your conscience clean [is this the Spike Lee, working on a doctorate? – LG]
- Infrared cameras could stop road tunnel fires – A new automated system could save lives by spotting overheating components in vehicles before they get into the tunnel
- Rocket-assisted pills pack a punch to the gut — Tiny rocket motors could one day be used to fire drugs into the human gut [can you imagine the consent form for this study? I imagine the investigators spent some time saying, "Those possibilities are very remote. Don't dwell on that." – LG]
- Oil industry failed to heed blowout warnings – The warnings were there a decade ago. Yet little has been done to address the risk of systems failure in deep-sea drilling operations [no surprise: a business will do nothing that will cut into profits unless it is forced to – LG]
- Scramjet with stamina ready for hypersonic test – An aero engine design tipped to make space flight affordable will soon try to set a new record by flying for several minutes at Mach 5 [5 minutes at Mach 5 is over 300 miles – LG]
- Flab rats: Unfit animals are bad for experiments – Biomedical research needs to wake up to the fact that most laboratory rats and mice are not fit for the job, argues Mark Mattso
- Did exploding stars shatter life’s mirror? – The building blocks of life all twist the same way. Is that a quirk of Earthly biology, or have cosmic forces been at work?
- Omega-3: Fishy claims for fish oil – Claims that the famous fatty acids can fix innumerable health problems – and cut murder rates into the bargain – take some swallowing
- Special report: Living in denial – From climate change to vaccines, evolution to flu, denialists are on the march. Why do so many people refuse to accept the evidence?
- Living in denial: When a sceptic isn’t a sceptic – There are clear lines between scepticism and denial, but telling them apart can be tricky in the real world, says Michael Shermer
- Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth – Denialism satisfies deep emotional needs. That makes it easy to encourage and hard to counter, says Debora MacKenzie
- Living in denial: How corporations manufacture doubt – If the truth is inconvenient, put up a smokescreen instead. It works wonders for big business, argues Richard Littlemore
- Living in denial: Unleashing a lie – It’s easy to send a lie flying around the world, and almost impossible to shoot it down, says Jim Giles
- Living in denial: Questioning science isn’t blasphemy – Michael Fitzpatrick argues that calling an opponent a denier is illiberal, intolerant and ineffective
- Living in denial: The truth is our only weapon – We must let denialists be heard, and respond with patience, vigilance and tireless rebuttal, says Michael Shermer
- The ant way to success – Adventures Among Ants by Mark Moffett examines the idea of ants as superorganisms and looks at how much their colonies resemble human societies
The leak I got yesterday from Kandahar expressing skepticism that counterinsurgency can bring the nine-year war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion has inspired another one. This time, a former CIA counterterrorism operative who has served on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq agreed to pass along a memo he has briefed to top military leaders since the fall debate over Afghanistan strategy. It’s crossed desks at the White House, the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command and even Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s command in Afghanistan.
While I can’t go into the sourcing of this memo, it’s penned by someone who began embracing population-centric counterinsurgency to mitigate the deterioration of the Iraq war as far back as 2005 — something that not a lot of CIA operatives bought into, then or today. Despite that pedigree, the CIA operative contends that attempts to protect the population from the insurgency and facilitate the delivery of Afghan government services are fatally undermined by the persistent corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government and its institutions.
His counterproposal, similar to a controversial approach advocated by an Army Special Forces major named Jim Gant, is to use Afghanistan’s various tribes as a proxy for both political legitimacy against the Taliban and a more effective and relevant structure for the provision of governance and economic development. He’s taken to calling it “Tribe-Centric Unconventional Warfare/Foreign Internal Defense.”
“Press reports indicate the Taliban are already making nighttime inroads back into Marjah, and the ‘government in a box‘ promised by Gen. McChrystal in February isn’t materializing,” the ex-CIA operative said. “That our strategy doesn’t work in a remote hamlet is indicative of what we can expect in Kandahar and elsewhere. Accordingly, Taliban confidence is increasing as they perceive having three key requirements of insurgents — unlimited manpower, unlimited time, and a safe haven in Pakistan.”
I won’t reprint the memo in full, because it contains several passages that would reveal this operative’s identity. Instead, I’m going to excerpt the major sections that explain the argument, with some minor edits for clarity. Here goes:
From the Washington Post. Click for full size:
Even as headlines and broadcast news are dominated by BP’s fire-ravaged, sunken offshore rig and the ruptured well gushing a reported 210,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, there’s another important story involving Big Oil and pollution — one that shatters not only the environment but the essential First Amendment right of journalists to tell truth and shame the devil.
(Have you read, by the way, that after the surviving, dazed and frightened workers were evacuated from that burning platform, they were met by lawyers from the drilling giant Transocean with forms to sign stating they had not been injured and had no first-hand knowledge of what had happened?! So much for the corporate soul.)
But our story is about another petrochemical giant — Chevron — and a major threat to independent journalism. In New York last Thursday, Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered documentary producer and director Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron more than 600 hours of raw footage used to create a film titled Crude: The Real Price of Oil.
Released last year, it’s the story of how 30,000 Ecuadorians rose up to challenge the pollution of their bodies, livestock, rivers and wells from Texaco’s drilling for oil there, a rainforest disaster that has been described as the Amazon’s Chernobyl. When Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001 and attempted to dismiss claims that it was now responsible, the indigenous people and their lawyers fought back in court.
Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.
“There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather details about what is happening in the gulf. “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”
The plumes are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists, who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill off much of the sea life near the plumes.
Dr. Joye said the oxygen had already dropped 30 percent near some of the plumes in the month that the broken oil well had been flowing. “If you keep those kinds of rates up, you could draw the oxygen down to very low levels that are dangerous to animals in a couple of months,” she said Saturday. “That is alarming.”
The plumes were discovered by scientists from several universities working aboard the research vessel Pelican, which sailed from Cocodrie, La., on May 3 and has gathered extensive samples and information about the disaster in the gulf.
Scientists studying video of the gushing oil well have tentatively calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day. The latter figure would be 3.4 million gallons a day. But the government, working from satellite images of the ocean surface, has calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels a day.
BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.
The company whose drilling triggered the Gulf of Mexico oil spill also owns a rig that operated with incomplete and inaccurate engineering documents, which one official warned could "lead to catastrophic operator error," records and interviews show.
In February, two months before the Deepwater Horizon spill, 19 members of Congress called on the agency that oversees offshore oil drilling to investigate a whistle-blower’s complaints about the BP-owned Atlantis, which is stationed in 7,070 feet of water more than 150 miles south of New Orleans.
The Associated Press has learned that an independent firm hired by BP substantiated the complaints in 2009 and found that the giant petroleum company was violating its own policies by not having completed engineering documents on board the Atlantis when it began operating in 2007.
Stanley Sporkin, a former federal judge whose firm served as BP’s ombudsman, said that the allegation "was substantiated, and that’s it." The firm was hired by BP in 2006 to act as an independent office to receive and investigate employee complaints.
Engineering documents — covering everything from safety shutdown systems to blowout preventers — are meant to be roadmaps for safely starting and halting production on the huge offshore platform.
Running an oil rig with flawed and missing documentation is like cooking a dinner without a complete recipe, said University of California, Berkeley engineering professor Robert Bea, an oil pipeline expert who has been reviewing the whistle-blower allegations and studied the Gulf blowout.
"This is symptomatic of a sick system. This kind of sloppiness is what leads to disasters," he said. "The sloppiness on the industry side and on the government side. It’s a shared problem."
I guess the Catholic church still has a thing for people who use children as sexual prey: it is fighting to give those people more legal protection. I guess they believe this is the answer to "What would Jesus do?" and I’m sure that in their view Jesus (God) wants them to go to great lengths to protect the wealth of the church, because we know that He valued wealth above all things.
An editorial in the NY Times:
The Catholic Church is working against the interests of child abuse victims in state legislatures around the country. In recent weeks, lobbying by the church has blocked measures in Wisconsin, Arizona and Connecticut intended to widen the legal window for victims to file lawsuits against hidden predators.
We urge the New York State Legislature to rise above intense lobbying by the New York State Catholic Conference and Orthodox Jewish officials and pass the overdue Child Victims Act. Like a similar measure enacted in 2003 by California, it would create a one-time, one-year suspension of the statute of limitations for bringing civil lawsuits over the sexual abuse of children.
Once that window closes, people alleging abuse would have until age 28 to bring a claim. Current law sets the limit at 23 in most circumstances.
The measure recognizes that it typically takes many years before victims are ready to come forward. The measure also recognizes the Catholic Church’s history of intimidating victims and burying abuses in church files, creating a shroud of secrecy that extended in many cases until victims were in their 30s or older, well beyond existing time limits for prosecutions or civil lawsuits.
An earlier version of the bill passed the Assembly in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but the Senate, then under Republican control, refused to consider it. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expresses strong support for the latest bill, amended to cover abuses by both religious and non- religious entities. But he is insistent that the Senate act first before requiring his members to cast another politically sensitive vote on the issue.
The Senate Codes Committee is set to consider the measure by mid-June. The committee’s chairman, Eric Schneiderman, Democrat of Manhattan, should work to ensure passage of the bill, which has safeguards against the filing of bogus claims.
The Catholic Church fears a wave of costly settlements and damage awards like those that followed California’s temporary lifting of the statute of limitations several years ago. Those concerns, and the difficulty of trying to judge decades-old accusations, are outweighed by the need to afford victims a measure of justice, the demands of public safety, and the injustice of rewarding any group for covering up sexual abuse of children.
The Catholic church has strayed far, far away from the teachings of Jesus, hasn’t it?