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why is gas at $4 a gallon? June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in econ, environment, foreign policy, international, politics.
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robert reich’s blog:

Conspiracy theories abound, but the soaring price of crude oil (today around $137 a barrel) is related to four more mundane forces:

(1) growing demand from developing nations, especially China and India. This is the main reason for the price rise over the last six years.

(2) the dropping dollar. As it drops, because of our trade imbalance and overall indebtedness to the rest of the world as well as our slowing economy, everything we buy from abroad — including much of the oil we import — costs more; everything we sell to foreigners — including much of the oil we produce — costs less to them. I attribute half of oil’s price rise since January to this.

(3) Global investors (including, perhaps, your own pension fund) are anxious about the American economy, and looking to hedge their bets against future declines. Oil is one of the commodities that looks like a good bet. Hence, there’s speculation in oil futures. This isn’t a nefarious plot. It’s the way the market works. A bit of a speculative bubble is forming, so beware. I attribute a big part of oil’s price rise over the last few weeks to this.

(4) Instability in the Middle East. Israel’s recent bellicose statements about Iran have generated fears about the continuing capacity and willingness of Middle Eastern oil producers to generate oil (about a third of world oil production). OPEC refuses to produce more. Some of oil’s price rise over the last week is attributable to this.

In other words, a perfect storm. Given the US recession and slowing of European economies, I expect oil to fall to around $125 a barrel but then be pushed up by speculators and the falling dollar to around $135 over the next several weeks. Wall Street investment houses are talking about $150 by July but that’s their way of stoking more speculation (in which they have a financial interest).

Bottom line: The days of cheap energy are over, folks. Gas may go down to $3.50 a gallon by this time next year, but you’d be wise to trade in your SUV for an economy car. And you’d be wise to avoid building that new addition to your home and put the money instead into better insulation.

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what obama should say on iraq June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, foreign policy, international, iraq war, politics, terrorism.
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zakaria in newsweek:

“In six months, on Jan. 20, 2009, we will have a new president. But it is not clear that we will chart a new course in the ongoing war in Iraq. Senator McCain has promised a continuation of the Bush strategy—to stay in Iraq with no horizon in sight, with no benchmarks or metrics that would tell us when American troops can come home. In 2006, when levels of violence were horrifyingly high, President Bush and Senator McCain said that things were going so badly that if we left, the consequences would be tragic. Today they say that things are going so well that if we leave, the consequences would be tragic. Whatever the conditions, the answer is the same—keep doing what we’re doing. How does one say ‘Catch-22’ in Arabic?

“I start from a different premise. I believe that the Iraq War was a major strategic blunder. It diverted us from the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan—the people who launched the attacks of 9/11 and who remain powerful and active today. We face threats in Iraq, but the two greatest ones, as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have testified, are Al Qaeda (which is wounded but not dead) and Iran. Both are a direct consequence of the invasion. There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before 2003, and Iran’s influence has expanded massively since then.

“And then there are the more tangible costs. The war has resulted in over 4,000 U.S. combat deaths, four times as many grievously wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths. Over 2 million Iraqis have fled the country and 2 million more have been displaced within the country. The price tag in dollars has also been staggering. In the last five years, the United States has spent close to $1 trillion on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That is enough money to rebuild every school, bridge and road in America, create universal health care and fund several Manhattan Projects in alternative energy. Whatever benefits the invasion of Iraq might produce, it cannot justify these expenditures in lives and treasure.

when pithy is beautiful June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, foreign policy, international, iraq war, politics, terrorism.
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barack obama, 6/18:

I refuse to be lectured on national security by people who are responsible for the most disastrous set of foreign policy decisions in the recent history of the United States. The other side likes to use 9/11 as a political bludgeon. Well, let’s talk about 9/11.

The people who were responsible for murdering 3,000 Americans on 9/11 have not been brought to justice.”

They are Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and their sponsors – the Taliban. They were in Afghanistan. And yet George Bush and John McCain decided in 2002 that we should take our eye off of Afghanistan so that we could invade and occupy a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. The case for war in Iraq was so thin that George Bush and John McCain had to hype the threat of Saddam Hussein, and make false promises that we’d be greeted as liberators. They misled the American people, and took us into a misguided war.

Here are the results of their policy. Osama bin Laden and his top leadership – the people who murdered 3000 Americans – have a safe-haven in northwest Pakistan, where they operate with such freedom of action that they can still put out hate-filled audiotapes to the outside world. That’s the result of the Bush-McCain approach to the war on terrorism

the post-american world June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in books, foreign policy, international, iraq war, politics, religion, reviews, terrorism, Uncategorized.
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excerpt from fareed zakaria’s new book, the post-american world (nytimes review), which i highly recommend

(also, be sure to check out gps, his new show on cnn…”CNN U.S. chief Jonathan Klein approached Zakaria about a year ago and was told that “the only show I want to do is one that fills in the huge gaping hole in American television, which is 95 percent of the rest of the world,” Zakaria said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday…”):

The split between Sunnis and Shiites is only one of the divisions within the Islamic world. Within that universe are Shiites and Sunnis, Persians and Arabs, Southeast Asians and Middle Easterners, and, importantly, moderates and radicals. Just as the diversity within the communist world ultimately made it less threatening, so do the many varieties of Islam undermine its ability to coalesce into a single, monolithic foe. Some Western leaders speak of a single worldwide Islamic movement – absurdly lumping together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon, and Sunni jihadists in Egypt. In fact, a shrewd strategist would emphasize that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies, and friends. That would rob them of their claim to represent Islam…

A cottage industry of scaremongering has flourished in the West-especially in the United States-since 9/11. Experts extrapolate every trend they don’t like, forgoing any serious study of the data. Many conservative commentators have written about the impending Islamization of Europe (Eurabia, they call it, to make you even more uncomfortable). Except that the best estimates, from U.S. intelligence agencies, indicate that Muslims constitute around 3 percent of Europe’s population now and will rise to between 5 and 8 percent by 2025, after which they will probably plateau. The watchdogs note the musings of every crackpot Imam, search the archives for each reference to the end of days, and record and distribute the late-night TV musings of every nutcase who glorifies martyrdom. They erupt in a fury when a Somali taxi driver somewhere refuses to load a case of liquor into his car, seeing it as the beginning of sharia in the West. But these episodes do not reflect the basic direction of the Muslim world. That world is also modernizing, though more slowly than the rest, and there are those who try to become leaders in rebellion against it. The reactionaries in the world of Islam are more numerious and extreme than those in other cultures-that world does have its dysfunctions. But they remain a tiny minority of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. And neglecting the complicated context in which some of these pseudoreligious statements are made-such as an internal Iranian power struggle among clerics and nonclerics-leads to hair-raising but absurd predictions, like Bernard Lewis’s confident claim that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned to mark an auspicious date on the Islamic calendar (August 22, 2006) by ending the world. (Yes, he actually wrote that.)

The ideological watchdogs have spent so much time with the documents of jihad that they have lost sight of actual Muslim societies. Were they to step back, they would see a frustration with the fundamentalists, a desire for modernity (with some dignity and cultural pride for sure), and a search for practical solutions-not a mass quest for immortality through death. When Muslims travel, they flock by the millions to see the razzle-dazzle of Dubai, not the seminaries of Iran. The minority that wants jihad is real, but it operates within societies where such activites are increasingly unpopular and irrelevant.

excerpt from newsweek:

Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

(more…)

seun kuti and egypt 80 in dakar June 19, 2008

Posted by KG in arts/culture, international, music, politics.
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if you’re in the l.a. area, see them @ grandperformances for free friday night…

the age of nonpolarity April 23, 2008

Posted by KG in econ, foreign policy, international, iraq war, legal, politics, terrorism.
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“the age of nonpolarity” by richard haass:

But even if great-power rivals have not emerged, unipolarity has ended. Three explanations for its demise stand out. The first is historical. States develop; they get better at generating and piecing together the human, financial, and technological resources that lead to productivity and prosperity. The same holds for corporations and other organizations. The rise of these new powers cannot be stopped. The result is an ever larger number of actors able to exert influence regionally or globally.

A second cause is U.S. policy. To paraphrase Walt Kelly’s Pogo, the post-World War II comic hero, we have met the explanation and it is us. By both what it has done and what it has failed to do, the United States has accelerated the emergence of alternative power centers in the world and has weakened its own position relative to them. U.S. energy policy (or the lack thereof) is a driving force behind the end of unipolarity. Since the first oil shocks of the 1970s, U.S. consumption of oil has grown by approximately 20 percent, and, more important, U.S. imports of petroleum products have more than doubled in volume and nearly doubled as a percentage of consumption. This growth in demand for foreign oil has helped drive up the world price of oil from just over $20 a barrel to over $100 a barrel in less than a decade. The result is an enormous transfer of wealth and leverage to those states with energy reserves. In short, U.S. energy policy has helped bring about the emergence of oil and gas producers as major power centers.

U.S. economic policy has played a role as well. President Lyndon Johnson was widely criticized for simultaneously fighting a war in Vietnam and increasing domestic spending. President Bush has fought costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, allowed discretionary spending to increase by an annual rate of eight percent, and cut taxes. As a result, the United States’ fiscal position declined from a surplus of over $100 billion in 2001 to an estimated deficit of approximately $250 billion in 2007. Perhaps more relevant is the ballooning current account deficit, which is now more than six percent of GDP. This places downward pressure on the dollar, stimulates inflation, and contributes to the accumulation of wealth and power elsewhere in the world. Poor regulation of the U.S. mortgage market and and the credit crisis it has spawned have exacerbated these problems.

obama, clinton, and foreign policy in the middle east April 22, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, foreign policy, international, news, politics, religion, terrorism.
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discussion on to the point (segment begins at 8 min with lewis and levine; glick and ben-ami at 24 min):

Listen to/Watch entire show:

Barack Obama’s been criticized as weak in support of Israel and not tough enough on Iran. Hillary Clinton’s talked about “massive retaliation” if Israel is attacked and an “umbrella of deterrence” all over the Middle East. We explore their differences and similarities on a crucial arena of foreign policy. Also, tomorrow’s Pennsylvania primary, and oil, gas—and waivers of environmental protections—in Wyoming’s open spaces.

—————————–

Obama, Clinton and Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Barack Obama says Israel is ” America’s strongest ally in the Middle East,” but skeptics contend he’s soft on the Palestinians and not tough enough on Iran. Hillary Clinton promises “massive retaliation” if Israel’s ever attacked by Iran, and an “umbrella of deterrence” that would go beyond that. These and other differences have been used to suggest that Obama’s support of Israel is insufficient. Does Obama suffer from guilt by association with his church pastor and others? Who are the real advisors to his campaign? Does Clinton really support a two-state solution? What about a pre-emptive attack on Iran?

Guests:
  • Ann Lewis: Senior Advisor, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign
  • Mel Levine: Advisor, Barak Obama’s presidential campaign
  • Caroline Glick: Assistant Foreign Policy Adivsor, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Jeremy Ben-Ami: Executive Director, J-Street

the obama doctrine April 22, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, foreign policy, international, iraq, iraq war, news, politics, terrorism, Uncategorized.
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spencer ackerman in the american prospect:

During Bush’s second term, a strange disconnect has arisen in liberal foreign-policy circles in response to the president’s so-called “freedom agenda.” Some liberals, like Matthew Yglesias in his book Heads In The Sand, note the insincerity of the administration’s stated goal of exporting democracy. Bush, they observe, only targets for democratization countries that challenge American hegemony. Other liberal foreign-policy types, such as Thomas Carothers and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, insist the administration is sincere but too focused on elections without supporting the civil-society institutions that sustain democracy. Still others, like Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, contend that a focus on democracy in the developing world without privileging the protection of civil and political rights is a recipe for a dangerous illiberalism.

What’s typically neglected in these arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. “Look at why the baddies win these elections,” Power says. “It’s because [populations are] living in climates of fear.” U.S. policy, she continues, should be “about meeting people where they’re at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That’s the swamp that needs draining. If we’re to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we’re not [providing].”

This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise — because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. “It’s about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe,” Gration says. “Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I’m concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years.”

(more…)

crazy english April 22, 2008

Posted by AP in international, language.
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the new yorker reports on gearing up for the 2008 summer olympics:

China intends to teach itself as much English as possible by the time the guests arrive, and Li [Yang] has been brought in by the Beijing Organizing Committee to make that happen. He is China’s Elvis of English, perhaps the world’s only language teacher known to bring students to tears of excitement. He has built an empire out of his country’s deepening devotion to a language it once derided as the tongue of barbarians and capitalists. His philosophy, captured by one of his many slogans, is flamboyantly patriotic: “Conquer English to Make China Stronger!”

Li peered at the students and called them to their feet. They were doctors in their thirties and forties, handpicked by the city’s hospitals to work at the Games. If foreign fans and coaches get sick, these are the doctors they will see. But, like millions of English learners in China, the doctors have little confidence speaking this language that they have spent years studying by textbook. Li, who is thirty-eight, has made his name on an E.S.L. technique that one Chinese newspaper called English as a Shouted Language. Shouting, Li argues, is the way to unleash your “international muscles.” Shouting is the foreign-language secret that just might change your life.

Li stood before the students, his right arm raised in the manner of a tent revivalist, and launched them into English at the top of their lungs. “I!” he thundered. “I!” they thundered back.

“Would!”

Would!

“Like!”

Like!

“To!”

To!

“Take!”

Take!

“Your!”

Your!

“Tem! Per! Ture!”

Tem! Per! Ture!

One by one, the doctors tried it out. “I would like to take your temperature!” a woman in stylish black glasses yelled, followed by a man in a military uniform. As Li went around the room, each voice sounded a bit more confident than the one before.

sachs on npr April 10, 2008

Posted by AP in books, econ, international.
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from forum, on npr:

Jeffrey Sachs may be the only economics professor who has his own MTV video — documenting his trip to Africa with Angelina Jolie — and he continues to be a leading voice promoting solutions to global poverty and environmental crises. He joins us to talk about his book, “Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet.” Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals.