Petro-Authoritarianism: Friedman on Oiling the Democratic Process
September 27, 2006
Fill ’Er Up With Dictators
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Are you having fun yet?
What’s a matter? No sense of humor? You didn’t enjoy watching Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez addressing the U.N. General Assembly and saying of President Bush: “The devil came here yesterday, right here. It smells of sulfur still today.” Many U.N. delegates roared with laughter.
Oh well then, you must have enjoyed watching Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad breezing through New York City, lecturing everyone from the U.N. to the Council on Foreign Relations on the evils of American power and how the Holocaust was just a myth.
C’mon then, you had to at least have gotten a chuckle out of China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, trying to block a U.N. resolution calling for the deployment of peacekeeping troops to Sudan to halt the genocide in Darfur. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the China National Petroleum Corporation owns 40 percent of the Sudan consortium that pumps over 300,000 barrels of oil a day from Sudanese wells.
No? You’re not having fun? Well, you’d better start seeing the humor in all this, because what all these stories have in common is today’s most infectious geopolitical disease: petro-authoritarianism.
Yes, we thought that the fall of the Berlin Wall was going to unleash an unstoppable wave of free markets and free people, and it did for about a decade, when oil prices were low. But as oil has moved to $60 to $70 a barrel, it has fostered a counterwave — a wave of authoritarian leaders who are not only able to ensconce themselves in power because of huge oil profits but also to use their oil wealth to poison the global system — to get it to look the other way at genocide, or ignore an Iranian leader who says from one side of his mouth that the Holocaust is a myth and from the other that Iran would never dream of developing nuclear weapons, or to indulge a buffoon like Chávez, who uses Venezuela’s oil riches to try to sway democratic elections in Latin America and promote an economic populism that will eventually lead his country into a ditch.
For a lot of reasons — some cyclical, some technical and some having to do with the emergence of alternative fuels and conservation — the price of crude oil has fallen lately to around $60 a barrel. Yes, in the long run, we want the global price of oil to go down. But we don’t want the price of gasoline to go down in America just when $3 a gallon has started to stimulate large investments in alternative energies. That is exactly what OPEC wants — let the price fall for a while, kill the alternatives, and then bring it up again.
For now, we still need to make sure, either with a gasoline tax or a tariff on imported oil, that we keep the price at the pump at $3 or more — to stimulate various alternative energy programs, more conservation and a structural shift by car buyers and makers to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“If Bush were the leader he claims to be, he would impose an import fee right now to keep gasoline prices high, and reduce the tax rate on Social Security for low-income workers, so they would get an offsetting increase in income,” argued Philip Verleger Jr., the veteran energy economist.
That is how we can permanently break our oil addiction, and OPEC, and free ourselves from having to listen to these petro-authoritarians, who are all so smug — not because they are educating their people or building competitive modern economies, but because they happen to sit on oil.
According to Bloomberg.com, in 2005 Iran earned $44.6 billion from crude oil exports, its main source of income. In the same year, the mullahs spent $25 billion on subsidies to buy off the population. Bring the price of oil down to $30 and guess what happens: All of Iran’s income goes to subsidies. That would put a terrible strain on Ahmadinejad, who would have to reach out to the world for investment. Trust me, at $30 a barrel, the Holocaust isn’t a myth anymore.
But right now, Chávez, Ahmadinejad and all their petrolist pals think we are weak and will never bite the bullet. They have our number. They know that Mr. Bush is a phony — that he always presents himself as this guy ready to make the “tough” calls, but in reality he has not asked his party, the Congress, the people, or U.S. industry to do one single hard thing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Mr. Bush prattles on about spreading democracy and freedom, but history will actually remember the Bush years as the moment when petro-authoritarianism — not freedom and democracy — spread like a wildfire and he did nothing serious to stop it.
Politics & News & j'accuse
27 Sep 2006 07:11 am
Pre-election manipulation of gasoline market?
From Sam Smith’s blog, undernews, a very interesting catch from Monday’s Wall Street Journal;
In yesterday’s WSJ in Section C there is a very, very interesting item in the article, Some Investors Lose Their Zest For Commodities. The article notes that over that past few months, commodity funds have been liquidating commodity holdings. But here’s the stunner: “Consider the Goldman Sachs commodity index, one of the most popular vehicles for betting on raw materials. In July, Goldman Sachs tweaked the index’s content by cutting its exposure to gasoline. Investors tracking the index had to adjust their portfolios accordingly â€“ which sent gasoline futures prices tumbling.” Prior to Goldman’s July GSCI revision, unleaded gas accounted for 8.45% of the GSCI. Now unleaded gas is only 2.30%. This means commodity funds had to sell 73% of its gasoline futures to conform to the reformulated GSCI. . .
As Smith notes, it lends credence to the theory that the current well-publicized commodities decline is just a well-timed, well-orchestrated head fake to benefit the incumbents in the run up to the midterm elections.
Green Institute Hosts Meeting on the Middle East
The Green Institute hosted a conference on US policy in the Middle East entitled Surviving Victory: A New Definition of National Security last Wednesday. The conference foreign policy analysts from both liberal and conservative perspectives, all of whom have become alarmed by Bush administration policies in the Middle East.
“This is really an effort to assess where we are right now in the wake of the catastrophe with Iraq and Afghanistan,” panelist Roger Morris, senior fellow with the Green Institute, said. “We want, above all, to point the way out. We want to ask: what are the alternatives here?”
“It’s an example of people coming together who agree on one thing and are willing to engage in healthy discussion even though they may not agree on other issues,” panelist Charles Pena said. Peña is a senior fellow of the Independent Institute and an adviser to the Status Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. “We are fueling hatred in the Muslim world against us,” he said.
The panelists agreed that the situation in Iraq was now so chaotic and the prospects there so grim that no “fix” was possible, and that the United States had to choose the least bad of a series of bad options. Staying the course meant the war would continue in the Middle East for decades and it would drain the U.S. budget while paving the way for more serious terrorist acts.
“Maybe the current situation is elevated to the point that it’s headed straight for disaster,” said panelist Winslow Wheeler, director of the CDI’s Straus Military Reform Project. America must leave, but it must be sensitive to its allies’ concerns in a practical way, he concluded. “We can’t leave in a manner like we came in.”
The broad range of political viewpoints at the meeting demonstrated a growing fear of the counsequences of Bush administration policies across the political spectrum in Washington. The lessons of Iraq are going to haunt foreign policy analysts for years.
Dumb as We Wanna Be–Green Energy vs. Green Space in Brazil vs. US Tariffs
Provided as a service. Another one from Friedman.
September 20, 2006
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
São Paulo, Brazil
I asked Dr. José Goldemberg, secretary for the environment for São Paulo State and a pioneer of Brazil’s ethanol industry, the obvious question: Is the fact that the U.S. has imposed a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff to prevent Americans from importing sugar ethanol from Brazil “just stupid or really stupid.”
Thanks to pressure from Midwest farmers and agribusinesses, who want to protect the U.S. corn ethanol industry from competition from Brazilian sugar ethanol, we have imposed a stiff tariff to keep it out. We do this even though Brazilian sugar ethanol provides eight times the energy of the fossil fuel used to make it, while American corn ethanol provides only 1.3 times the energy of the fossil fuel used to make it. We do this even though sugar ethanol reduces greenhouses gases more than corn ethanol. And we do this even though sugar cane ethanol can easily be grown in poor tropical countries in Africa or the Caribbean, and could actually help alleviate their poverty.
Yes, you read all this right. We tax imported sugar ethanol, which could finance our poor friends, but we don’t tax imported crude oil, which definitely finances our rich enemies. We’d rather power anti-Americans with our energy purchases than promote antipoverty.
“It’s really stupid,” answered Dr. Goldemberg.
If I seem upset about this, I am. Development and environmental experts have long searched for environmentally sustainable ways to alleviate rural poverty — especially for people who live in places like Brazil, where there is a constant temptation to log the Amazon. Sure, ecotourism and rain forest soap are nice, but they never really scale. As a result, rural people in Brazil are always tempted go back to logging or farming sensitive areas.
Ethanol from sugar cane could be a scalable, sustainable alternative — if we are smart and get rid of silly tariffs, and if Brazil is smart and starts thinking right now about how to expand its sugar cane biofuel industry without harming the environment.
The good news is that sugar cane doesn’t require irrigation and can’t grow in much of the Amazon, because it is too wet. So if the Brazilian sugar industry does realize its plan to grow from 15 million to 25 million acres over the next few years, it need not threaten the Amazon.
However, sugar cane farms are located mostly in south-central Brazil, around São Paulo, and along the northeast coast, on land that was carved out of drier areas of the Atlantic rain forest, which has more different species of plants and animals per acre than the Amazon. Less than 7 percent of the total Atlantic rain forest remains — thanks to sugar, coffee, orange plantations and cattle grazing.
I flew in a helicopter over the region near São Paulo, and what I saw was not pretty: mansions being carved from forested hillsides near the city, rivers that have silted because of logging right down to the banks, and wide swaths of forest that have been cleared and will never return.
“It makes you weep,” said Gustavo Fonseca, my traveling companion, a Brazilian and the executive vice president of Conservation International. “What I see here is a totally human dominated system in which most of the biodiversity is gone.”
As demand for sugar ethanol rises — and that is a good thing for Brazil and the developing world, said Fonseca, “we have to make sure that the expansion is done in a planned way.”
Over the past five years, the Amazon has lost 7,700 square miles a year, most of it for cattle grazing, soybean farming and palm oil. A similar expansion for sugar ethanol could destroy the cerrado, the Brazilian savannah, another incredibly species-rich area, and the best place in Brazil to grow more sugar.
A proposal is floating around the Brazilian government for a major expansion of the sugar industry, far beyond even the industry’s plans. No wonder environmental activists are holding a conference in Germany this fall about the impact of biofuels. I could see some groups one day calling for an ethanol boycott — à la genetically modified foods — if they feel biofuels are raping the environment.
We have the tools to resolve these conflicts. We can map the lands that need protection for their biodiversity or the environmental benefits they provide rural communities. But sugar farmers, governments and environmentalists need to sit down early — like now — to identify those lands and commit the money needed to protect them. Otherwise, we will have a fight over every acre, and sugar ethanol will never realize its potential. That would be really, really stupid.
Support Your Candidates. Part 2. Governor
There are 14 Green Party campaigns for governor this year. There would have been more except for some prohibitive ballot access laws.
Let’s get behind our candidates. Visit their sites. Donate something. Let the candidates start seeing $10, $15, $25 coming in from out of state. If 100 people donate it could make a real difference to a campaign.
California: Peter Miguel Camejo
Connecticut: Cliff Thorton
Illinois: Richard Whitney
Maine: Patricia LaMarche
Maryland: Ed Boyd
Massachusetts: Grace Ross
Michigan: Douglas Campbell
Minnesota: Ken Pentel
Nevada: Craig Bergland
New York: Malachy McCourt
Ohio: Bob Fitrakis
Tennessee: Howard Switzer
Vermont: Jim Hogue
Wisconsin: Nelson Eisman
GP USA & Politics & News
17 Sep 2006 07:56 pm
Support our candidates! Part 1. Senate
It’s time to get a little internet buzz going! Time to shift the Green blogospeher into high gear. Here’s a list of Green candidates for U.S. Senate. We have 14 candidates for Senate this year–an all time high.
The voters need a true choice for peace, a true choice for change. But they won’t get the chance without your support.
Look at their webpages, give some money, some time … some money ….
We can’t make a difference without everyone’s help! If every registered Green gave $1 to each campaign, it would be $14 out of your pocket but $300,000 for each of these campaigns.
Please help make a difference!
California: Todd Chretien
Conecticut: Ralph Ferrucci
District of Columbia: Joyce Robinson-Paul
Florida: Brian Moore
Maryland: Kevin Zeese
Michigan: David Sole
Minnesota: Michael Cavlan
Missouri: Lydia Lewis
New York: Howie Hawkins
Pennsylvania: Carl Romanelli
Tennessee: Chris Lugo
Utah: Julian Hatch
Washington: Aaron Dixon
Wiconsin: Rae Vogeler
The World Is Changing in Ways Big and Small
Climate change has become a global phenomenon.
Barley is growing in Greenland for the first time since the Middle Ages. Warmer waters have brought jellyfish in record numbers to Europe’s shores.
Holland, recognizing the inevitable, will strategically flood 500,000 hectares and the people living there will be moved to floating homes.
Last summer Spain and Portugal experienced record tempuratures and searing drought; this year that drought expanded into central and Northern Europe.
In the Horn of Africa droughts have culled theregion’s wildlife and disrupted the migrations across the Masa Mara and the Serengeti. Herdsmen in Kenya have been driven to war over the few cattle that have survived the drought.
Alaska has suffered millions of dollars of damage to buildings and roads caused by permafrost melting. Rising sea levels have forced the relocation of Intuit villages, while the region has seen the world’s largest outbreak of spruce bark beatles, normally confined to warmer climates.
Most distubing of all may be the record drought in the Amazon basin. Last year the Amazon was reduced to a tricle by unprecedented drought. The Amazon’s rain forests, the world’s largest carbon sink, are in danger.
In Asia, rivers are disappearing from drought and overuse. In the Himalayas, melting glaciers threaten to dry up major rivers as far away as China, India and Vietnam.
Climate changes is here, now. We have precious little time to do anything about it.
Who owns the public space?
As the primary season draws to a close in Maryland, there’s been a lot of talk about who should be included in debates and while it is a tough question with no easy answer (if you include everyone who files in the primary season than you’ll have a debate that isn’t substantive, but when you start to narrow the field it gets arbitrary), it gets tougher when a semi-public entity supported by taxes, in this case Maryland Public Television, is making the decision.
Allan Lichtman’s supporters put up a couple of videos of his recent arrest while trying to get into a debate between the two “leading” Senate candidates. Amidst all of the rhetoric, tension, and even action (between 1:20 and 2:20 is where things get energized and Lichtman gets arrested), the most interesting question isn’t really explored. You know this will be a question we get into in the general.
The real question is, who controls the public space, both literally and figuratively? What happens when public television staff decide who gets to be on tv? And what happens when security staffers keep Lichtman or really anyone out of a particular publicly funded and controlled (i.e. by your tax dollars) space, namely the MPT studio? Lichtman asks under what authority they are trying to drive him out and then, under what authority they are arresting him. He asks what laws were violated, what right they have to arrest him. And it’s a good question.
Who decides who can come on public property and what they can do there? And is it just the fact that they are government employees that the police can arrest someone? I don’t think so. Lichtman’s letter from jail and the presence of Kevin Zeese outside the studio (yes, he’s on camera), suggests we need to grapple with this. How far will some go with power if we don’t question them?
I write a blog and organize a generally progressive, collaborative Maryland politics and policy blog (that is looking for more progressive voices).
Politics & News
07 Sep 2006 09:03 pm
Your Congress Hard at “Work”
Congress is back from it’s August recess; with less than a score of working days scheduled for the rest of the year. Most budget bills have not been passed. Immigration legislation appears dead. Rescuing Medicare and Social Security will not be addressed. Iraq is in flames. New guidelines for the treatment of teroriest detainees seem out of reach.
But Congress does expect to pass one crucial piece of legislation this week–legislation that would ban the butchering of horses for human consumption.
The vote is expected to be close, with more than 200 lawmakers already signing on in support of the ban, and both sides close to claiming victory.
“We’re very optimistic about what our prospects are going to be,” said Brent Dolen, spokesman for Rep. Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., sponsor of the bill.
“We’re cautiously optimistic we’re going to defeat the legislation,” said meat-industry lobbyist Charles Stenholm, a former Texas congressman who heads the coalition fighting the measure.
Two factories in Texas and one in Illinois slaughter an estimated 90,000 horses a year and sell the meat to Japan, France, Belgium and other nations. The horses are bought at auction, usually for less than $500.
We certainly can take comfort that, in the face of an uncertain and changing world, one thing remains constant–the ability of Congress to avoid any and all critical issues.
Politics & News
06 Sep 2006 04:14 pm
Pakistan Makes Peace with the Taliban
In another blow to the war on terror, U.S. “ally” Pakistan has come to a peace settlement with the Taliban militants in the province of “North Waziristan.
The agreement offers an implicit amnesty to foreign militants who hide out in the province and cross over to launch ever increasing numbers of attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.
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