Backtalk July 26, 2004

Daily Show with George Bush

I must say I have several things in which I disagree with the Bush administration, just as I had several things I disagreed with when Pres. Clinton was in office. I am 58-years-old, follow politics on a regular basis, have watched our country make mistakes under both Democrats and Republicans, but I like to think that I can disagree, even challenge what I perceive as foolish and dangerous ideas, without resorting to the kind of name-calling that pervades today’s political writers.

I thought name-calling was a playground game that we outgrew at some point. The President of the United States, no matter who he is, is not a moron. He may be wrong, and often they are, but no moron has ever held that office. Respect for the office requires us to at least be civil towards the officeholder, or so it would seem to me.

Conservative talk-radio has gone overboard with name-calling, and now the liberal talkers have joined in the fray. I am afraid all of us are going to be the losers for this. How can we teach our children to have respect for those that think differently than they do if all we have for examples are intelligent adult commentators who compete for the meanest names to call their opponents?

I am sorry, I agree with many of your ideas, but your format and presentation make me worry about how compassionate your party would be to me if they were in power.

~ Larry Dotson

Paul Craig Roberts replies:

I am not a liberal. I held a presidential appointment in the Reagan administration. Bush is clearly, without any doubt, a moron. It is an open and shut case. He invaded a country based on false information. He has not accepted responsibility. He has not fired the people who gave him wrong information that has produced thousands of American casualties and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties, produced recruits for terrorist ranks, and caused the entire world to lose confidence in, and respect for, the US.

Maybe Nostradamus was right when he said there would be a unifier in the Muslim world and a great war before Peace finally came to the world. Only problem seems to be, he didn’t recognize that unifier as President of the U.S. How can he possibly even have a smattering of a thought of a military confrontation of any sort with Iran (or anyone else for that matter) at this time. Our military can’t handle any more unless you are going to go for total annihilation, … which would really do wonders for our popularity around the world.

~ R. Ziegler

Paul Craig Roberts replies:

The neocons hope to bring back the draft.

The New Credibility Gap

Thank you, Justin Raimondo, for your timely and pleasantly cynical assessment of the gay marriage controversy! I’ve been wondering when someone would question the issue – or non-issue – of gay marriage from a gay perspective. As the author of The Anarchist’s Wedding Guide I have long looked to my gay sisters and brothers to LEAD, not merely to follow us breeders into wherever that goat is taking the herd.

First of all, most essential benefits of the married state – the visiting rights, the health insurance, whatever – could be acquired (now that you have got our attention) by a simplified civil contract, lacking only the word “marriage” … and the necessity of the expensive device of divorce to dissolve in a civil manner. It might even be good for us breeders. I certainly don’t want to deny anyone the right to visit a dying paramour or to bestow on a beloved partner the benefits of medical insurance.

In spite of all the impassioned arguments made for the right to “real” marriage, the current institution of marriage is in fact a civil contract, cleverly concealed under 35 yards of ivory tulle, and I can prove it. No matter what soulful and saccharine oaths a couple takes, in a gold-encrusted cathedral or homely wooden church, before God, Shiva, or the holy goat, the only terms they will ultimately be legally bound by are the ones the state enforces. And those are subject to vast change on little or no notice. The state’s contract is not negotiable and it is not sacred; it is the legal instrument expressing the moral standards or biases or toxins of the day.

For those who insist that only the law can make them whole, a great deal of furious flap could be skirted without putting those right-wing Christians’ knickers in a twist. If a cheaper, more flexible, and reasonable contract were given legal weight, most of the bureaucratic needs of any couple could be accommodated. And NOTHING could stop them from throwing their own nuptial bash in whatever holy place or country club their consciences or social aspirations demand.

God help me, I never want to be guilty of standing in the way of a great party.

~ Adrien Rain Burke

The Movie Moore Should Have Made

It’s all about oil and the control of it in the Middle East. Blaming a couple of right-wing hawks when left-wing hawks like Kerry and Clinton also support the war makes no sense. You are in denial about the evils of fascist capitalism.

~ Thomas R. Mauel

Michael Ewens replies:

Capitalism is defined simply as the voluntary interactions of individuals to buy and exchange. As Mises said:

“The fundamental principle of capitalism (the market economy) is mass production to supply the masses. It is the patronage of the masses that makes enterprises grow into bigness. The common man is supreme in the market economy. He is the customer ‘who is always right.’

Nowhere in its definition are coercion, States and politics. Halliburton isn’t capitalism. Fascist capitalism = socialism.

No film will make the linkage of Iraq-neocons-Israel. Were one to do so, it would not be distributed. Consider this the next time someone says it’s anti-Semitic to say that Jews have disproportionate media influence.

~ M. Johnson

Michael Ewens replies:

Don’t equate someone being Jewish with someone who supports the state of Israel. That is the important distinction that makes when we discuss it: criticizing the state of Israel is not equivalent to criticizing Judaism. Those who claim they are one and the same are mistaken and those that acquiesce to such complaints are being intellectual cowards.

Peak Oil backtalk

Chris Nelder (Blogger, GetRealList): You have argued away the ‘crisis’ by noting that rising prices would increase incentives for funding conservation and non-petroleum fuel technologies. But have you run the numbers to demonstrate this? I don’t think it pans out that way. Yes, conservation will increase, substantially I think, as it is the low-hanging fruit here, and non-petroleum sources will gain some ground, but neither of them are going to approach the level required to fill in the gap caused by decreased production. Non-petroleum sources could potentially displace maybe 10% of demand. The potential for conservation is the real X factor. But it’s unlikely that those two will actually lower the price of fuel; the gains just won’t be that substantial, given where the demand curve will be by that time. Best case, it will allow prices to stabilize – at whatever price they’re at by that time. And of course we must allow for a lot of time for that to happen, probably more than the time we have to adjust. Matthew Simmons sees crude going to $180/barrel within 25 years, to the best of my recall.

In any case, there will undoubtedly be a lot of pain and transition between here and whatever point we want to identify as the “crisis” point. It’s going to feel more like the gradual tightening of thumbscrews than a sword in the ribs. So averting “crisis” is rather beside the point.

The price mechanism can only work to regulate the markets insofar as the market has good feedback loops. The markets for oil and gas, however, are extremely distorted and almost utterly lacking in feedback, from futures speculation, to false numbers about stated reserves, to massive governmental investment (such as cleaning up oil spills, or military intervention in Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela, Columbia, etc.) that constitutes a hidden subsidy to the oil and gas markets. The price mechanism is extremely limited in what it can actually achieve here. In fact, the airlines are a perfect example of this. Due to rising fuel costs (and reduced ridership), the airlines are losing money now, but they are lowering prices. This is largely made possible by continuing governmental bailouts. Where’s the price mechanism in this picture? It’s been rendered irrelevant. The same can be said for oil and gas markets. If you removed all the hidden subsidies, and removed OPEC’s price controls, and all the rest of the factors that distort the oil and gas markets, a barrel of crude would cost several times more than it actually does today.

Sam Koritz: I agree that the petroleum market is distorted by government ownership and cartelization, and that this could make a shortage of oil more painful. For example, some experts believe that the low price of oil in the (post-Gulf War I) ’90s was due to the OPEC cartel’s declining ability to control prices. If the cartel-manipulated oil prices in the ’80s were enormously higher than free market prices would have been and then, in the ’90s, OPEC lost some of its cartel power, prices could have fallen even if oil was becoming somewhat scarcer.

I disagree, though, that a free market in petroleum would raise prices. Much of what the US government and its influence-peddling contractors do in the Middle East, for example, is unnecessary, counterproductive, and/or wasteful. Regardless, money spent by governments to lower oil prices is still money spent; making petroleum producers pay the full cost of production would improve the economy’s efficiency, not exacerbate or cause a crisis. The classic function of a cartel is to raise prices. In a free market oil would most likely be cheaper and economic growth more rapid, especially in the Middle East, where capital would be diverted from funding palaces, arms, American bureaucrats and Sunni extremists.

CN: Yes, we have, on the whole, transitioned from solids to liquids to gases. But that’s not relevant, because our next big plan, as directed by the Cheney energy plan, is massive investment in solids (coal again, and to a lesser extent, tar sands and shale oil and so on), with all of its attendant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Which brings us back to “D’oh!”

SK: I didn’t comment on environmental issues. I agree that if greenhouse gases are causing (or will cause) significant environmental damage then it is a serious economic (and other) problem: the beneficiaries of the emissions are failing to pay for the damage their actions are causing (or will cause). The libertarian economist David R. Henderson has suggested that just as “the invention of barbed-wire fences made it practicable to own and manage cows and land on the wide-open range” future technology could identify polluters and charge them for the damage they’ve caused. Until then, though, there is a “negative externalities” problem (at least potentially).

CN: Your chart of fuel efficiency starts conveniently in 1966 – just about the apex of the age of the muscle car. But let’s go back further. According to the Sierra Club as quoted in Wired the Model T got 25 mpg, while Ford averaged 22 mpg in 2004. In fact, for various physical reasons, it’s unlikely that a conventional IC engine will ever get much more than 25-30 mpg. Only a different technology, like a hybrid, can take you well beyond that. So that’s not terribly relevant either.

SK: Good point. Car manufacturers benefit from manufacturing cars more efficiently, not necessarily from manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars. I don’t have a breakdown of energy consumed per car manufactured but I do have a chart of energy consumed per (inflation-adjusted) dollar of wealth created (gdp) in the United States – and it demonstrates a clear trend: you guessed it, we’re consuming significantly less energy per dollar of wealth created.

CN: You note that “Oil consumption (demand) has been in a clear up-trend so if supplies of easily harvested oil really were declining prices should also have tended to trend higher.” Again, that’s not relevant, because we haven’t reached the point of peak production quite yet! So looking backward at prices isn’t going to tell you anything. Unless, as Hubbert and Campbell have done, you’re looking backward at oil discovery, and extrapolating from that the anticipated production. Then you might be onto something real.

SK: You admit that the decline of oil production has not yet begun (“we haven’t reached the point of peak production quite yet”); I would add that Iraq’s oil has been under-exploited for more than a decade, Caspian oil is essentially unexploited and largely unexplored, and proponents of shortage crisis theories in the developed world have dismal track records (as economic theory would suggest). The burden of proof is on the doomsayers.

Oil prices spur exploration” by Norberto Svarzman is a must-read for anyone interested in this subject. I can’t help but quote the following:

In 1977, in the midst of the oil crisis, U.S. President Jimmy Carter warned that “we may use up all known oil reserves by the end of the next decade.” However, the level of known reserves has grown in spite of increased consumption, and the estimated reserves found outside of the Middle East are larger than three decades ago.

A recent study by M.A. Adelman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shows the difficulty of predicting future volume. In 1971, the study said, nations that were not members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had tested reserves of 20 billion barrels. Thirty years later, the study said, those countries have produced 46 billion barrels and have 20.9 billion barrels in reserves.

Higher petroleum prices are driving the exploration and discovery of new oil fields and the development of those old ones that had previously been deemed unexploitable, where new technologies may make oil extraction possible. …

In an article published in June in National Geographic, Tim Appenzeller said that Alberta’s sands, soaked with heavy crude oil, “contain the equivalent of 1.6 trillion barrels of oil, a quantity which could be greater than all of the world oil reserves combined.”

Power and Justice

I‘m sorry to have to disabuse both Mr. Malic and your readers, but NATO was NOT established as a defensive alliance against the perceived treat from the Soviet Union.

His piece today has otherwise been recommended to me as excellent.

It was established for just this purpose: attacks on and the conquest and subjugation of Central and Eastern Europe.

These plans are by no means new, and especially with regard to Yugoslavia.

Originally the European “partners” would provide bases for nuclear and strategic bomber attacks on these areas to force a surrender, followed up by relatively small numbers of US troops, who could similarly use Western European bases as transit camps.

Altogether “Plan A” seems identical to what did eventually happen.

The reason was that by 1944-45 policy-makers in Washington had decided it was strategically crucial to control Central Europe. See NSC memorandum 20/1.

Why was this? Because Council on Foreign Relations study group papers, particularly on Territorial Questions from 1937-41 had become policy between 1942-45, the Council entirely controlling policy formation.

This is the origin of “The Empire,” Nebojsa. Why? Because of their obsession with Geopolitical Theory. “Whosoever controls East Europe controls the Heartland, Whosoever controls the heartland controls the World Island, Whosoever controls the World Island controls the world,” runs its mantra.

We know this as the New World Order but as we see it’s not new.

~ Richard Roper

Nebojsa Malic replies:

Thank you for clarifying that. I’ve long harbored doubts about NATO’s character, and much of what you noted here is familiar to me. I suppose I should have been more clear, and noted that the original justification for NATO’s establishment is as bogus as the rationale for its post-Cold War continuation.

Worthless Words

I read your article “Worthless Words” with great interest and would like to know which books you do recommend? What aspects did you appreciate in those books?

~ ZoƩ Woodward

Nebojsa Malic replies:

I‘ve actually done a column about good books, right after “Worthless Words” (see “The Worthy Balkans Booklist“). Just as there are many more bad books that I haven’t mentioned, there are also more good ones. I plan to do a column about them in the near future.

The Honest Case for War

There are some fatal flaws in this article.

“In keeping with Article 1, Section 8…”

Congress has willfully given up its duty to declare and has put that burden on the President to clear itself of responsibility. This is not the fault of the President, but of previous Congresses and current Congress to reverse it.

“I will not conduct a war of choice without the informed consent of the people.”

This is not how our country works. “Consent of the people” comes from our choice to elect people to represent us and make these decisions for us. What you are implying that any choice for war should be handled as if we were a direct Democracy, something our founders were utterly against. See Federalist Papers #15.

We have consented to having the current Congress in office as well as the President. Congress has never chosen to reverse the War Powers Act and the current one gave our President full authorization to conduct this war.

“I said the Founders of our great country believed wars should only be fought in self-defense. With all due respect to Washington, Jefferson, and company, however, the United States has long since abandoned this principle.”

A lot has changed since 1787. Our founders could have never imagined what we are facing now.

There were a few founders that thought there should be a national religion. Not every opinion the Founders had would have become great in practice.

I do not think Hamilton, Adams, or Washington would be opposed to the policy of preemption.

To lump “the Founders” into a single entity that would agree in unity on anything is misleading at best. Anyone that has studied them knows that they rarely agreed on anything and their opinions now might shock those that wish to believe that what they thought our actions should be facing the situations 228 years ago should stay they same today.

~ Scott Clark

Matthew Barganier replies:

A nice, occasionally well-reasoned letter. Thank you. As to your first point, I’d be the last to call Congress (the current one or the institution generally) blameless for American warmongering. A boy can dream of a government that at least follows its own charter, though, can’t he? Did I misconstrue Article I, Section 8?

Point 2: I obviously wasn’t talking about direct democracy; I was talking about an informed public executing the duties of good citizenship – y’know, republicanism. I’ll lay aside more arcane – and less generally accepted – libertarian objections to your belief in the social contract, but if you’d care to know them, read some Lysander Spooner.

Point 3 breaks down into:

a. Things are much different than they were in 1787 (the eternal refrain of socialists, gun-banners, and, of course, interventionists);

b. The Founders were wrong about a lot of things (see above), but

c. They would have supported preemption (which is not exactly the point – would they support scrapping the method they devised for declaring war?) (also, where’s your evidence for this?);

d. The Founders were not unanimous on much. (Again beside the point. What does their Constitution say about the procedure for waging war? Would we be in Iraq now had that procedure been followed, with due attention to the republican virtues of honest government and an informed citizenry?)

Justin Raimondo’s reply to Jenn Brice’s backtalk

“…I am saying that a new ideology, neoconservatism, developed out of Trotskyism. This ideology, in turn, owes much to the Left.”

And what, pray tell, does the neocon ideology owe to the Left, or to its Trotskyist “origins,” for that matter? They hold opposite views on just about every conceivable issue, and the only “link” you’ve been able to establish is that both leftists and neocons wish to spread their ideals across national borders – but this is an aspect shared by hundreds of different ideologies, philosophies and even religions. The link between the Left and the neocons is no greater than the link between neocons and militant Islam (since Islamists, too, want to spread their ideals across borders).

… The Cult of Power doesn’t have its roots in the Left, or the Right for that matter. The Left and the Right are political orientations that have appeared and developed over the past 200 years. The Cult of Power is much, MUCH older than that – as old as human civilization itself.

~ Tudor M.

Previous Backtalk

Read more by Backtalk