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Archive for the ‘Oil’ Category

May God watch over Eli Israel; and if we cannot summon God, then let us watch over him ourselves.

The US.-led invasion into Iraq and the occupation that continues to ensue in its wake constitute international crimes of war. This truth is widely known and accepted, supporting evidence abounds, and counterarguments have steadily diminished in strength; there is nothing left of meaningful, emotion-neutral dialogue

…and still the cannons blaze.

It is for want of willful action on the part of the people, not for insufficient knowledge or awareness, that the prominent decision makers responsible for this horrible conflict are still able to enjoy their privileges and prestige without fear of reprisal for the evil they have committed and the suffering they have caused. Innocent blood saturates the sands of the Middle East, replenished daily as every yesterdays’ victims fade into the searing heat, and survivors of the lost can be confident they’ll be soon to follow. This uninterrupted cycle of violence and injustice is enabled by the masses who suppress their sympathy and refuse their intervention, those who instead mouth empty platitudes of patriotism and allegiance to a war-loving god. There may be no hope in these masses.

The hope for justice, for the return to peace, rests solely in the potential and the willingness of men and women to act, to resist the repugnant but seductive leadership practices, and the cultural norms they seed, of a government that openly detests and deters foreign states’ right to self-determination and self-governance on their own terms.

We are fortunate, as citizens of a free democracy, to have such an opportunity for action; I am fortunate to write the things I write without fear for my own personal safety. I need fear nothing but the frustration that accompanies the exercise of free speech unmet by a forum of concerned citizens.

But not all are so lucky. Eli Israel, a soldier currently deployed in Iraq with the Kentucky National Guard, has discontinued his involvement in a conflict he believes is illegal and unjustified. This is the sort of precedent that can reestablish a global order of peace, recover global norms of nonintervention upon which stability is based, and at long last restore honor to the American identity. But without support, it cannot do any of these things. The precedent will wither and die if not taken up collectively and sustained by the people, by us.

People of comfort, such as ourselves, can do much to protect those brave few who have the strength and courage to boldly act on the front lines. Opportunities to act on the popular but abstract adage “Support our Troops” have never been clearer.

“Please rally whoever you can, call whoever you can, bring as much attention to this as you can. I have no doubt that the military will bury me and hide the whole situation if they can. I’m in big trouble. I’m in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by people who are not on my side. Please help me. Please contact whoever you can, and tell them who I am, so I don’t ‘disappear’”– Eli Israel

Post written by Daniel Black

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Sustainability science at a glance, borrowed from the journal

Returning to the issue of alternative energy sources, a few noteworthy facts about ethanol and AAAS’s endorsement of it remain unaddressed. Consider ethanol in the context of another lucrative avenue for profit- generation touted by corporate tycoons as our culture’s salvation from oil- dependency; it has no realistic potential for providing a sustainable solution to our energy crisis. Whatever observable short-term gains we may acquire from its pursuit and achievement, we can be confident that the crisis will resurface. It is disheartening to observe that the traditional American approach to problem solving, “solution-via-consumption”, has been selected to rescue the natural world from peril. If this is the only model we’ve got, then perhaps we should cannibalize it. We must appreciate all that is at stake and proceed thoughtfully. Central to the issue of alternative energy is, as with any issue, the inherent interconnectedness and codependency of progressive causes.

Eradicating world poverty, ensuring universal access to quality health care, establishing peace and stability in conflict-ridden regions of the world, implementing social/political/economic models that protecting equality and fundamental human rights; these sorts of humanitarian endeavors do not succeed or fail in isolation, rather they influence one another intensely. This is why our commitment to these causes must be socially conscious and mutually intertwined on multiple fronts. Growing corn on unprecedented scales for the sole purpose of extracting its energy content is a self-defeating solution inasmuch as it is obscenely indifferent to the prevalence of persistent hunger in developing countries and the Third World, and in the arena of sustainable energy, this incontrovertible truth is significant.

Maybe you feel that allocating agricultural resources in this manner is acceptable, that thousands of children dying each day of starvation are making reasonable sacrifices for a new method of powering your car. If these egregious imbalances in human rights don’t bother you, then pursuing further discussion on the subject is pointless.

What ought to bother you, in any case, is the evidence that images such as corn escaping a gas pump on the wall of AAAS passively avoid but render painfully clear: that this direction, this technological azimuth if you will, is the one that our society shall take and that its support shall be generated through advertising.

These two precedents, though deep beneath the surface of the energy crisis, must be addressed openly in dialogue; people must be informed and conscious. While the aforementioned social issue, that of world hunger, may only concern one side of the debate, the greater issue of environmental preservation concerns all creatures universally. Environmental issues are not merely the poster subjects of far-left hippies that suffer as subjects of barroom jokes; they are the interest of all who have parented children and would like to see those kids someday raise a healthy brood of their own. They should concern all people who depend, daily, on the availability of clean drinking water, breathable air, and sufficient crop yields to sustain their existence.

Those individuals to whom these criteria do not apply may reasonably argue on the opposing side. It’s really just that simple; there can be no less partisan issue. Global sustainability is essentially the campaign to continue our species’ presence in our world’s ecological communities for all generations to come; it is the scientific equivalent to hope. Those who oppose it -whether for economic ideological disparity, corporate loyalty, deregulatory “free-market” interest, political affiliation, or the general liberal-bashing that lately seems to be in vogue- should be recognized for what they are: obstacles to the very preservation of our kind. What political camp advocates causes more important or urgent than the continuance of humanity?

– -Daniel Black

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For all the reasons to de-prioritize ethanol as an alternative source of energy (see An Unusual Sight, an Unexpected Choice), there is one solid truth that would explain why it might be pursued over the others in scientific research, the last disconcerting truth that piques my skepticism,

…ethanol, which already accounts for two percent of what’s mixed into our transportation fuels, promises growth for agribusiness that any stakeholder of any industry would die for, that is, if it becomes the alternative fuel of choice to replace oil.

This may be the deciduous factor between ethanol and all the others: a powerful lobby behind it. (Keep your eye on Presidential Candidate Barack Obama; Illinois stands to gain or lose a fortune on this issue).

Wealthy constituencies (and their handsomely-paid congressional representation) proceeding with their agendas independent of public health or environmental preservation concerns is commonplace, but to observe symptoms of such behavior in the American Association for the Advancement of Science is alarming. The organization is the largest society dedicated to the public advancement of science understanding in the world. It is not-for-profit, autonomous from government, and in addition to advancing science, it is (by self-report) dedicated to serving international society. From the minutes of its first ever meeting, now nearly 160 years ago, the organization committed its endeavor “not exclusively for the benefit of any nation or age.”

Within this large organization are numerous initiatives that reflect their commitment. Progressive programs to further the causes of human rights and social justice account for a great deal of what AAAS does. Specifically focusing on developing the public understanding and appreciation of science, especially among the world’s poorest, AAAS charters projects that ensure all people of the international community, independent of ethic or racial origin, geographic location, or political/ideological background, will be prepared for changes that accompany advances in technology and civilization. With an eye to our natural habitat, other projects focus on “sustainability“, and AAAS provides abundant scholarly resources, an international forum on sustainability science, research and project opportunities, and encouragement for widespread education and pro-environmental action.

For all these accomplishments, the AAAS has my admiration, but for endorsing ethanol, they cause me bewilderment. What of the billions of people in the developing world –cited on the AAAS website– that live in abject poverty? Shall we grow staple crops for their potential to power cars, not for their potential to feed the world’s poor? Are sustainable sources of energy less appealing than those that are profitable? Are these two issues, the issue of poverty and the issue of the environment, unrelated?

– -Daniel Black

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Bike-riding down H street NW toward our nation’s capitol every morning, I frequently see an ear of corn, picked and shucked, protruding from a gas pump.  Intriguing, I suppose it must be, to the unfamiliar eye; captions underneath this unusual image invite the observer to learn more about alternative energy on the advertised website.  More specifically, the alternative energy ethanol on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The creative rendition appears on the south-facing wall of AAAS’s office building on New York Avenue, Washington D.C.

AAAS Building, Washington D.C.  With many initiatives underway to find an energy source that reduces dependency on foreign markets, decreases negative environmental ramifications, is renewable and sustainable, and carries few harmful side-effects on public health, this organization chose ethanol.  Several disconcerting truths pique my skepticism.  To name a few,

…ethanol provides a small amount of energy relative to the energy expenditures necessary to acquire and harness it.  The ratio is unfavorable and it is unlikely that science can significantly improve it;

…while appealing in that it will ameliorate our foreign dependency, there is scant hope for a long-term continuous supply of this energy source; a host of intervening variables impinge on its reliability that simply don’t affect the petroleum industry’s to say nothing of the fact that global warming effects and agricultural performance are most undesirably but undeniably intertwined;

…although substantially cleaner than fossil fuels, the combustion of ethanol is still combustion, and no doubt carries untold consequences if burned on the colossal scale that oil is today.  (easily dismissed as baseless, this perspective should be considered with an open mind; the best scientists a hundred years ago couldn’t have foreseen our current environmental turmoil from observing the running of a single gas-powered vehicle.  We should demand of ourselves and our representation this sort of forward-thinking)

Why would AAAS espouse this energy source, specifically and exclusively, on its wall?  Why does it seek support through the medium of street advertising?

– – Daniel Black

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This spring break (in the snow), I discovered Mosaic. This Peabody Award winnig show is only available on LinkTV or via a free video podcast; its relative anonymity, however, should not detract astute news consumers. Mosaic presents a collage of video clips from various Middle Eastern news sources and offers a Middle Eastern viewpoint on world events. Mosaic also publishes a weekly intelligence report. The document, itself a collection of opinion pieces and news stories relating to the Middle East, is available free of charge and by email subscription on the show’s website.

Since American media systematically excludes the opinions of Middle Easterners, Mosaic offers Americans a rare glimpse into regional Middle Eastern politics and an opportunity to witness the effects of American foreign policy on Middle Easterners. Relying on alternative news sources, the intelligence report and the TV show broaden the spectrum of news sources and opinion. This week’s edition of the intelligence report, for instance, included a story about a new University of Maryland/Zogby International 2006 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey which found that most Middle Easterners “do not see Iran as a major threat to the region.”

When asked to identify two countries that pose the biggest threat to them, 85 percent of respondents said Israel and 72 percent said the United States. In contrast, only 11 percent identified Iran. Furthermore, a majority of respondents were supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, even though more than half also believe that Iran has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. According to the survey, 61 percent believe that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, with only 24 percent agreeing that Tehran should be pressured to stop it.

Interestingly, two-thirds of those surveyed in the UAE and just over half in Saudi Arabia agree that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, despite the issue’s sensitivity among Gulf Arab monarchies. While broadly approving of Iran’s nuclear program, just over half — 51 percent — of those surveyed believe Iran has ambitions to achieve weapons capability, with only 27 percent believing that Iran is intent on using its program for civilian purposes.Of the world leaders admired most by respondents, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was first, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came in third, despite the fact both are Shia Muslims and the latter is not Arab. French President Jacques Chirac and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came in second and fourth respectively.

Conversely, U.S. President George W. Bush, former and current Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were identified as the four most disliked world leaders. Respondents also view Hezbollah more favorably since the July-August 2006 war against Israel. More than two-thirds — or 68 percent — of those surveyed said they had a more positive attitude toward Hezbollah after last year’s war; including 58 percent and 50 percent respectively in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As much as the dire situation in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the political standoff in Lebanon, have opened up fissures between Arab Sunnis and Shias across the region, the University of Maryland/Zogby International poll shows that fundamental attitudes towards the role of the United States in the region are overwhelmingly negative. Furthermore, Sunni Arab regimes’ fears of an Iranian ascendancy are not shared by those they rule.

“The public of the Arab world is not looking at the important issues through the Sunni-Shiite divide,” Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy who conducted the poll, told Inter Press Service. “They see them rather through the lens of Israeli-Palestinian issues and anger with U.S. policy. Most Sunni Arabs take the side of the Shiites on the important issues.”Indeed the Bush administration has a job ahead of it to win over hearts and minds in the region. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed stated they had unfavorable attitudes — 57 very unfavorable and 21 percent unfavorable — towards the United States. More than two-thirds of those surveyed, or 70 percent, said their attitudes towards America were based on U.S. policy, while only 11 percent said they was based on American values.

Despite the fact that Middle East democracy promotion forms the core of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, 65 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe democracy is a real U.S. objective in the region. In fact when asked what they considered to be motivating U.S. policy in the Middle East, “controlling oil” (83 percent), “protecting Israel” (75 percent), “weakening the Muslim world” (69 percent), and “desire to dominate the region” (68 percent) were identified as extremely important factors.

When asked what steps the United States could take to improve its regional standing, 62 percent identified brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on 1967 borders. A significant minority of respondents identified withdrawal from Iraq (33 percent), and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula (22 percent) as well. More than half (52 percent) ranked U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict as “extremely important.” When asked to identify their biggest concern about the consequences of the Iraq War, just under half (49 percent) feared that Iraq may be divided, 42 percent feared Iraq remaining a destabilizing factor for the region, while 42 percent cited a continued U.S. dominance of the country as their biggest concern. Only 15 percent highlighted Iran becoming a more powerful state as a major concern. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration expected that cultivating a Shiite-led pro-Western democracy in Baghdad would weaken Iran’s theocratic republic and erode Hezbollah’s influence. A new and powerful Iraqi ally would also enable the United States to ease its strategic dependence on Saudi Arabia, an ally which became less trusted after 9/11, the administration’s thinking went.

But Iran has been able to exercise influence in Iraq and Iraq’s Shiites have cooperated with the United States on their own terms, dashing hopes of politically overhauling the Middle East through empowering Shiites. Last year’s Israel-Hezbollah war compelled the Bush administration to reverse this position and return to seeking an alliance with pro-Western Sunni regimes in an effort to contain Iran. While this latest strategy brings the Bush administration closer to the political leadership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the Sunni Arab populace in these countries does not see things the same way as their leaders.

In fact the Maryland/Zogby poll reveals that skepticism of the United States’ role in the region, resentment at lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and affinity for regional figures who are seen to be standing up to America and/or Israel are still widespread. And despite the sectarian conflict in Iraq and simmering tensions in Lebanon, Iran is not seen as the bogeyman of the region. Perhaps the Islamic Republic is more popular in the broader Middle East than it is within its own borders.

America’s policy in the Middle East cannot ignore Arab history, perception and opinion. If we wish to reduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ or Islamic religious extremism, we must pursue a symbtiotic relationship; American policy cannot undermine the needs and desires of Middle Easterners—such an approach generates resistance and terrorism. If we want to reduce so-called anti-Americanism then we must secede, in some respects, to the demands of the region. We must pull out of Iraq, abandon our blind support for Israeli policy towards the Palestinians (not the state of Israel), allow Iraqis to control their own natural resources, and negotiate with the regional powers.

Our current policy (to extend American hegemony and influence across the Middle East and allow American corporations to control the region’s natural resources) undermines Middle Eastern sovereignty and democracy. In crafting a new approach, we must consider the needs and viewpoints of Middle Easterners– and that’s what Mosaic is all about.

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Since the invasion of Iraq, I’ve argued that the Bush doctrine, specifically the invasion of Iraq, has radicalized Muslim extremists and increased America’s vulnerability to terrorism. What’s even more damning, still, is this administration’s willingness to risk the lives of millions of Americans to gain strategic influence in the Middle East and control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Prior to the invasion, the Bush administration knew that a military action against Iraq would spark a Jihadist Renaissance; they ignored this threat.

Moreover, bellicose rhetoric or action against Iran will have the same effect there, as the 9/11 attacks had here. After the attack on America, Americans united around Bush. If half of us didn’t support Bush before 9/11, the attacks forced us to rally around our President; after all, he was all we had. We trusted President Bush to protect us from the threat of terror. Who else could we have turned to? Many Americans enlisted in the army and our government promised to avenge the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans.

The invasion of Iraq, like the conflict in Afghanistan before it, has had the same effect on extremist Muslims around the world. Thus it comes as no surprise when Mother Jones Magazine reports that “the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third…the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the Al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea.”

If we ever hope to reduce or even eliminate terror we must, as Noam Chomsky has argued, stop participating in it. We have to pull out of Iraq. We have to negotiate with Iran and Syria. We have to reassess our blind support for Israel. We have to place the security of our people ahead of economic or strategic ambition.

— Igor Volsky

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Most Americans consider the argument that the Bush administration invaded Iraq to control its oil and exert influence over the greater Middle East conspiratorial; but in Iraq, “in one of the first studies of Iraqi public opinion after the US-led invasion of March 2003, the polling firm Gallup asked Iraqis their thoughts on the Bush administration’s motives for going to war. One percent of Iraqis said they believed the motive was to establish democracy. Slightly more – five percent – said to assist the Iraqi people. But far in the lead was the answer that got 43 percent – “to rob Iraq’s oil.”

Here at Writings by the Hudson we’ve syndicated Democracy Now! stories about America’s attempts to gain control over the second largest oil reserves in the world. On today’s program, Raed Jarrar, Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange and Antonia Juhasz, author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time” discussed a draft copy of a proposed Iraqi oil law which gives American (or other foreign) corporations a great deal of control over Iraq’s most profitable natural resource. Here are the basics:

The proposed legislation legalizes long term contracts between foreign companies and the Iraqi National Oil Company and will allow vast profits to leave the country.

The law establishes the Federal Oil and Gas Council. The Council will include representitives from the Iraqi National Oil Company as well as representatives from foreign oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. This board will be responsible for approving Iraqi oil contracts but will treat Iraq’s national company as “just another oil company among lots of other companies, including US oil companies. And this council, the new oil and gas council, is going to be the decision making body to determine what kind of contract the Iraqis can sign.”

The law allows regional provinces to sign oil contracts, without the approval of the federal government (which could only veto a contract). This provision “may open the doors for splitting Iraq into three regions or even maybe three states in the very near future.”

The new foreign-controlled council is the product of the Baker-Hamilton Commission (in fact, this may be the only recommendation the Bush administration adopted). But most Americans will never hear of it; the mainstream media will never report it. The Iraqis, on the other hand, given their history, will most certainly resent the intrusion. Greater violence and instability may ensue but the Bush administration will be able to convince Americans that the insurgency is trying to stifle Iraqi democracy. Maybe he will choke on the irony, maybe not. Either way, he’ll be willing to spill more blood for oil.

— Igor Volsky

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