31 May 2006

Solar Power to the Rescue - P. Spencer

The nice thing about imperialism is that it motivates others to defeat it. For now, most countries are still tip-toeing around the U.S.A. because of the nuclear arsenal and due to the destabilizing effect on international economic activity of cutting off the U.S. markets. In one particular, though, the rest of the industrialized world has an anti-imperialist strategy – even Great Britain is in on this one.

Exploitation of renewable energy is the main feature of this strategy – particularly solar-derived power. Ten years ago, largely as a function of government (NASA and military) contracts, the U.S. was the world’s leading producer of photovoltaic generation devices. Now there is no U.S. manufacturer in the top 10, although there are a lot of start-ups and GE is talking a good game. The U.S. ranks third in cumulative, installed capacity; but, if it were not for tax breaks and other incentives in California and New Jersey (of all places), this country would be in a relative holding pattern.

Japan is now number one in installed capacity and in manufacturing output. Germany is number two. Japan has more than three times the installed capacity of the U.S. and produced five times the solar cell capacity in 2005; Germany has double the U.S. numbers in both categories. Four of the top five manufacturers in terms of rated output are Japanese, five of the top 10 are European (including the solar division of British Petroleum).

Germany has rebates and incentives that cut the cost of modules roughly in half. Japan has energy (petroleum-based) prices at an unsubsidized level – the upshot is that their manufacturing output for “solar modules” is sold out for some time to come. Spain, I read recently, has promulgated policy to require new roofs to be constructed with photovoltaic capability. Shanghai has a similar “100,000 roofs” policy.

These are the numbers that are reported by “Western” interests. China, India and Russia all have extensive policy and capacity development projects designed to diminish reliance on hydrocarbon-based energy production. China in particular aims to become the world’s chief solar power producer and purveyor. The Chinese government instituted a policy at the first of this year that includes reducing the cost of solar modules by about 60 percent in the next six years. The Chinese intend to invest $180 billion (billion, not million) in photovoltaics over the next 14 years with a target of 80 percent (45 percent in terms of compound rate) growth in manufacturing and use per year over the next five years, as a starter. Chinese and Japanese technical papers seem now to dominate both the engineering and the scientific conferences, and Indian researchers are just getting warmed up.

One of the myths that the anti-solar (oil-supported, of course) contingent promotes is that the energy cost of solar cell production is more than the cell’s output during its operational lifetime. Research now shows between one and four years of energy payback, depending on the technology. As to cost per se, payback ranges from four to 10 years, depending on local rebates, tax credits, and other subsidies. When China succeeds in cost reduction (and the other big suppliers are forced to price compete), the payback will be two to four years - without applying the price increases that we know are coming in petroleum. The lifetime of most modules is generally rated at about 20 years, but experience with actual installations is showing that this is an underestimate. Do we get the picture?

And these are just the standard, silicon-based solar cells. Interestingly, there are a large number of new developments here in the U.S., too, despite virtually no federal support for research or development. Some of the new approaches are cosmetic to some degree, such as integration with roofing material, window glass, or coatings; but, when you consider that roofs, windows, and outside walls make up a lot of single-purpose surface area, why not expand their functionality?

Much of the improvement is driven by the goal of increasing conversion efficiency. Materials such as gallium arsenide tolerate higher temperatures, which permits the use of relatively cheap light-concentration methods and materials. Some others, such as nitrides of gallium, indium, and copper make use of a wider spectrum of sunlight than the standard silicon material.

Much of the R&D has been done in the U.S. over the last 30-plus years in support of the space program. All of a sudden, however, the rest of the world has apparently all realized at once how they can escape the giant thumb. I don’t know if they whispered this to one another at UN cocktail parties or how this movement arose. I’m guessing, however, that the Japanese figured it out first.

Meantime, the Russians re-federalized their oil and gas industry to finance their re-engagement with science and industry; and the Chinese put together an overall strategy to exploit the U.S. market to raise capital, make nice with the hydrocarbon suppliers for the short-term, and develop renewable energy resources for the long-term.

I know that it’s Pollyanna-ish, but I’m still optimistic. I think that imperialism is finally being seen for the anchor that it is in sectors that tried to play along in the past. And I think that a broad segment of the world is doing something about it. The petro-sector of the U.S. ruling class appears to have overplayed its hand with its hired-hand federal government. One outcome is that the world’s oil producers figured out in a hurry that they could sell to someone else besides U.S. energy companies – even if on credit – while the U.S. was pummelling the southwest Asian tar-baby.

One practically revolutionary strategy for fundamental political change (i.e., diminishing the influence of the petroleum industry) in this country is to push for rapid alternative energy development at every level. Almost nobody will disagree with the purpose of this movement. Before long it must be allied with public power to prevent the usual co-optation, but in the short run it’s radical in its own right.

Paul Spencer

[+/-]

Paris on the Cheap - D. Hamilton

What's cheap? It's relative. If you're living paycheck to paycheck, forget Parisian holidays. Under those circumstances, spending a month on vacation almost anywhere is unlikely and Europe is a bourgeoise indulgence beyond your means. Even on the relative cheap, we expect to spend more than $7,000 for two for a month in Paris, all inclusive. It can be done cheaper, but that is cheap. A young guy with a quality pack and sleeping bag was sacked out in the Place la Republique this morning when we passed by. Back in my army days, I spent a flea-bitten night in the vestibule of the Gare de Austerlitz after having missed the last train back to my base in Orleans. Sleeping in the street is not uncommon and is tolerated, but we are a bit long in the teeth to employ such approaches. If you stayed in the countryside, bike-toured from one campsite to another, bought all your food in grocery stores and cooked over your butane camp stove, that would save a lot. But is that why you came to Europe? Much depends on how hard you want to push the economy plan and whether it's ultimately worth it in terms of your enjoyment. But the simplest key to budget travel in Europe is to avoid, as much as possible, hotels and restaurants.

A major factor is what time of year to go. We recommend "shoulder season," either late spring (May 1 through June 15) or early fall (September 1 through October 15). The weather is likely to be good and the dense throngs of tourists either haven't shown up yet or have already gone back home. The current late spring has been relatively cold in Paris, but I'm enjoying it, knowing the heat that awaits back in Texas. Prices for flights and housing are lower during these periods than in the summer, although not as low as in winter. September is especially nice in the French countryside, with harvesting taking place, particularly of grapes. Provence at this time is the most beautiful harmony of nature with a human contribution I've ever seen.

Getting here really cheap requires a little work. I credit Jim Franklin for the following advice, the airline scam, which I have yet to try. Buy a discount ticket from a travel agent as far in advance as possible. These tickets are much cheaper than anything the airlines will offer you, but they can't be changed without paying a hefty penalty. Book it for a time that will be particularly busy for the airlines, maybe a Friday afternoon departure. You want to be on a flight that will be overbooked. Just before departure, an agent for the airline will announce that they will offer a several hundred dollar incentive for anyone who volunteers to give up their seat until the following day, and they'll give you hotel and food vouchers to cover the wait. Jump on it. It will cost you an extra day of travel, but you may get a round-trip ticket to Europe for les than $500. Actually, if you do it a few days in a row, you might get here free.

The most significant savings can be achieved by staying long enough in one spot to get an apartment instead of a hotel. Since Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world, there are hundreds of short term rental furnished apartments available here. In fact, they are all over Europe and some accept stays of as little as three days. They are all on the Internet. By far the best site we have found for them is Homelidays.com. Last time I looked, it had 13,000 properties offered just in France and more than 21,000 worldwide. When I refined my search to a Paris apartment between 400 and 600 euros a week, I had 700 options. It is not an agency. You deal directly with the property owners. Each listing has very detailed descriptions of the property and all its amenities, usually including several pictures, even the languages the owner speaks. We are paying 1,800 euros (about $2,300 declining dollars) for a one-bedroom apartment in the very center of Paris for a month. The hotel next door is more than 100 euros ($125-plus) a night for less than half as much space with no fully equipped kitchen, no TV/DVD, no stereo, no free telephone service to any landline in the world, no washing machine and no computer, all of which we have and much more, besides the fact our place is cute as hell.

This savings on housing, however, is small compared to the savings on food that can be achieved with an apartment. When in Paris, one must sample French cuisine, but not every meal or even every day. Besides, there are great ingredients available in the local markets and specialty food stores (boulangerie, fromagerie, etc.) and you can make your own French cuisine - especially if you're married to Sally Hamilton. With an apartment, you can cut your food budget by at least half. Then when you go out to eat, you can go for some really good stuff without cringing.

When you eat out, French food is not your cheapest option. The best deals are probably at a "traitoir asiatique," little Asian deli/buffet places - fried rice for one euro per 100 grams, curry chicken for two euro per 100 grams, etc. They're everywhere, but quality varies greatly. Traitoirs with other types of food are also common.

The book "Cheap Eats in Paris" dropped the cheap from it's title. There are about 20,000 places to eat in Paris, restaurants; bistros; brasseries, salons de thé, etc. No comprehensive guide to them is possible and those that may try to cover the cheaper places are taking a shot in the dark. It's best just to go to a neighborhood outside the principal tourist centers and spend 15 minutes walking around making comparisons. All French eating establishments are required by law to display their menu outside. Compare prices, what places are popular and what people are eating. There will almost always be a "menu" or "formule" which offers multiple courses for a price lower than a la carte. Restaurants usually have fixed hours; noon to 2:30 for lunch and 7:00 until 11:00 for dinner. Don't go to one of these places at 2:15 for lunch and expect their best. A 19.6 percent tax and 15 percent for service are almost invariably included in the stated price on the menu. Tipping beyond that is very minimal and really for something extra. Lunch is always a better deal than dinner. If there are tables outside (au terrasse), things may cost more there, especially if you only want drinks.

Eating French food is an essential part of the France experience. But you better be ready for at least $25 per person without wine for anything memorable. Most restaurants offer "pichet de vins," half liter pitchers of "vin ordinaire" for much less than the bottle or glass price.

How you access your money is another potential savings. In Guatemala, travelers checks are the best option. The banks there give better rates to change them than to change cash. And that rate is very close to the bank-to-bank currency market exchange rate. But in Guatemala, you never know exactly what currency exchange and transaction fees are going to be added when you use insert your plastic in an ATM machine. Also, some bank accounts in the US offer the benefit of free travelers checks. In Europe, on the other hand, travelers checks are completely passé. The rates to exchange them are a rip-off and many banks here won't even bother with them, leaving you vulnerable to the not-so-tender mercies of currency exchange storefront operations. The best method here is to get chunks of cash (I get 200 euro at a time) on a debit card at the ATM of a bank that has a corresponding relationship with your US bank. This gives you the best possible exchange rate and the fewest transactions. Then pay your expenses in cash. Using credit cards for each purchase may open you to multiple fees. My experience is that changing currencies anywhere in the US before you leave is done at very poor rates.

Hope this information is helpful and more of you are encouraged to internationalize. A bientot.

David Hamilton

[+/-]

29 May 2006

A Father's Joy and Pride - C. and D. Niemann

The ultimate test of every parent, I believe, is whether our children grow up strong, confident and as happy as anyone can be in this troubled world of ours. With a daughter like Cassi, how could the world not be a better place? This is what family values are all about.

Doyle Niemann

Some of you may already know that last night I had the honor of presenting my father with the 2006 Maryland Equality Out for Equality Award at their annual gala. It was an awesome night that I want to share with you as I am very proud of my father and the work he has done to establish equal rights in my home state of Maryland. It was kind of exciting to be paraded around by my dad and introduced to all kinds of politicians and activists. Since it's an election year, the candidates were out in full force (including my dad who is up for reelection this November and has huge stickers on his car). And it was a bit unnerving that everyone seemed to already know who I was and overly delighted to meet me… seems I have become the "other famous gay daughter," at least in Maryland. Woohoo.

So, we started the evening in the VIP reception where my parents told my brothers and I to get as many free drinks as we could. Of course I was hoarding them, as I was so nervous about my speech. My mom couldn't stop talking about the pink "Equaltini's" she was drinking – thankfully she only got two. The director of Equality Maryland told me that they sold over 500 tickets, which made it a third larger than it was the previous year. My family and I sat at a table with some other politicians and on our seats was the program for the evening's events. Luckily it didn't say who was presenting the award to my dad (didn't want to ruin the surprise), but it did have the following insert about him to explain why he was receiving the award.

Delegate Doyle Niemann (D-Prince George's County)
2006 Out for Equality Award

"I am casting this vote because I believe in family values. I am casting this vote for my daughter who I love dearly who is 25 and is in a committed relationship with another woman and has been for the last year." When these words were spoken by Delegate Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George's County) to his colleagues during a debate in the House of Delegates on the Medical Decision Making Act, every legislator took notice. Days later, he told the Washington Post that he invoked his daughter's name when speaking because "only when homosexuality becomes an abstraction do people seem to lose their sense of tolerance."

Del. Niemann has emerged as a true leader for LGBT rights in Annapolis. He talks privately with colleagues about the folly of supporting a constitutional amendment; serves as an advisor to Equality Maryland's legislative committee; and has emerged as a high profile advocate for marriage equality. Whether he is penning an Op-Ed in the Gazette about his interpretation of God's will with regard to marriage, speaking at a Lobby Day rally before hundreds, walking out of session to protest the shenanigans of Del. Don Dwyer, or offering an impassioned speech on the floor, Del. Niemann has put the strong and proud face of a father who loves his daughter on an issue that needs more people just like him – people who are willing to stand up and be counted.

We tried to keep it a secret that I was presenting the award to my dad so when the comedian (not Suzanne Westenhofer as I had hoped – she was sick – but this guy was funny) introduced me, my father turned to me with this surprised look and I knew he never found out the real reason why I was home this weekend. So, I walked up to the stage in my fancy J-Crew suit, thanks to Shelly, and luckily didn't trip. I was incredibly nervous – as I usually am when I have to speak in front of a crowd – but there was a podium and no one could see me shaking like crazy. The following is what I said:

Good evening. My name is Cassi Niemann and I'm proud to be here tonight to present the 2006 Out for Equality Award to my dad, Delegate Doyle Niemann.

You know, it didn't really come as a surprise that my father would stand up for gay rights on the house floor or even that he would use my life experiences to help support his vote. My parents have always been politically active as well as supportive of my lifestyle. But after he called to tell me about it, I realized how lucky I was to have that support and respect from my family… to know that my father believes in who I am.

But once I saw our names in print on the front page of the Washington Post, which let me say was a bit of a shock – I had to call my grandma – I realized that my father wasn't like so many other fathers. He didn't just love me in that "you're my child and I'll love you no matter what," way. He's PROUD of who I am. And he's willing to put his own reputation on the line to tell people that. It was this act that has me talking to you today. What my dad did made the front page of the newspaper because not enough parents are doing the same thing, even parents with a little more influence than my father. They simply stand up and applaud when their president is stomping on their own daughter's rights.

When I was a kid I would get embarrassed when my parents would brag about me to their friends. I suppose what my dad did on the house floor and all the advocacy he's done since really isn't all that different. But these days, I love my parents, and my entire family, because they don't mind being role models for other families to show that it doesn't have to be so hard to truly love others for who they are. And it doesn't have to take place behind closed doors.

My dad has shown me that if you want to see a change in the world, you have to start it yourself. I've had to accept just how political my life experience may be, but I know now the difference I can make by being proud of it.

So, I'm not only awarding my father for his outstanding work in supporting gay rights but also for his courageous acts as a father. He has given me the strength and the desire to try and make a difference in this world and that truly deserves an award. So, thank you Papa and I love you.

When I was finished, the crowd stood and applauded. A standing ovation. Of course, all the honorees got one throughout the evening, but my dad was the first honoree so you can imagine my smile when I assumed we were getting a standing ovation! I think the best part of my speech was when I was poking at Dick Cheney because the audience starting whooping and applauding and I just remember having this really embarrassed smile on my face and saying "thank you" while having to wait for them to stop cheering to start talking again. But it was AWESOME, I felt witty and powerful in my own way. Maybe I'll get power hungry, drop architecture and become a politician. Ok, maybe not.

Anyways… after the dinner and ceremony was over, I met many more people who congratulated me on the speech and commended my dad's work. They said I looked very comfortable and apparently didn't look nervous at all! Who would have thought!? I met the couples that are suing the state for marriage rights and politicians who are out and proud and then even more activists who are fighting for our rights. It was so encouraging, to be surrounded by like-minded people, who want equal rights and are really doing something about it (people like my parents). I was reminded how lucky I am to be loved and respected by my family and friends. But we have a lot of work to do, so get out there, encourage your friends and family to vote and learn about your candidates. Gay or straight, we must understand that it is not simply a fight for GLBT people, it's a social justice movement and we need to continue our fight until there are equal rights for all human beings.

Cassi Niemann

[+/-]

Memorial Day Thoughts - C. Loving, R. Jehn

I drive down the farm to market roads and see ragged yellow ribbons rotting on the gate posts. The symbol of a boy or a girl that has been sent off to fight in a war, in a place they can't even locate on a map for some cause that a politician has decreed important. They may come back whole but their minds will never be the same. They may come back broken and they will never be able to help dad or grandpa with the cattle or the sheep.

They read a list of names at church this Sunday of those that are serving, Salazar, Martinez, Acosta, Bucholtz, Ramirez, Falcon, Pigueras, and so on; a list of twenty names from the towns of Campwood, Barksdale, and Leakey. Youngsters who I am sure haven't a clue what they are doing or why they are dying.

Pretty soon this war in Iraq will have lasted as long as our involvement in World War II, with absolutely no evidence of any sort of conclusion in sight. Mr Bush says that we are winning, (in a pig's eye).

The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation's wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living. Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq ? or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war ? is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door?

Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for?

There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can't leave Iraq ? We just can't. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war. But what they really mean is that we can't leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people's children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card. Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.

At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control. Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and
tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.

Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to "bring 'em on." But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end. How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it's time to stop? How many dead are

There is no good news coming out of Iraq. Sabrina Tavernise of The Times recently wrote: "In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country."

The middle class is all but panicked at the inability of the Iraqi government or American forces to quell the relentless violence. Ms. Tavernise quoted a businessman who is planning to move to Jordan: "We're like sheep at a slaughter farm."

Iraqis continue to be terrorized by kidnappers, roving death squads and, in a term perhaps coined by Mr. Bush, "suiciders." The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged last week that even at this late date, there are parts of western Iraq that are not controlled by American forces, but rather "are under the control of terrorists and insurgents."

Now we get word that U.S. marines may have murdered two dozen Iraqis in cold blood last November. No one should be surprised that such an atrocity could occur. That's what happens in war. The killing gets out of control, which is yet another reason why it's important to have mature leaders who will do everything possible to avoid war, rather than cavalierly sending the young and the healthy off to combat as if it were no more serious an enterprise than a big-time sporting event.

Nothing new came out of the Bush-Blair press conference. After more than three years these two men are as clueless as ever about what to do in Iraq. Are we doomed to follow the same pointless script for the next three years? And for three years after that?

Leadership does not get more pathetic than this. Once there was F.D.R. and Churchill. Now there's Bush and Blair. Reacting to the allegations about the murder of civilians, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, went to Iraq last week to warn his troops about the danger of becoming "indifferent to the loss of a human life."

Somehow that message needs to be conveyed to the top leaders of this country, and to the public at large. There is no better day than Memorial Day to reflect on it. As we remember the dead, we should consider the living, and stop sending people by the thousands to pointless, unnecessary deaths.

Sorry to be so preachy.

Charlie Loving

It isn't the first time I've felt anger, even rage, about the needless conflict in Iraq. I recall a rant a month or so ago because "U.S. propaganda efforts in Iraq in 2004 cost $24 million, but much of that went for construction of offices and housing for the troops involved, and for radio broadcasts and thousands of leaflets bearing Zarqawi's face." The Rock River Times Right - not only do we fight a senseless war using billions of dollars of taxpayer money, but we also spend another couple of dozen million to lie about what's really going on.

I was reading National Geographic the other day and noticed a letter to the editor that got my blood boiling, again. The writer stated, "I'm angry with your decision to show the picture of the woman injured by the mine lying there with one foot blown off ... is this something that is appropriate for the children that are a large part of your audience?" National Geographic May 2006

That's right - let's ignore the reality of war. That way, we can continue this mindless glorification of it to the detriment of Humanity for yet another millenia or two. That writer is a fool, just as are the men who took the decisions to start this conflict in Iraq. We now have very powerful reasons to believe that those decisions were taken in bad faith, by mental midgets who are in positions of power under exceptionally questionable circumstances.

Let those who object to the reality of war be required to watch not glorious Hollywood versions of battle, but rather the movies that depict its graphic truth. For an example of someone who knows exactly what I mean, see Fight to Survive, where one soldier who served in Iraq isn't afraid to recommend the same for writers like the fellow in National Geographic.

And then there are the accounts of Iraqis who must face this reality daily. For example, read what hnk (the only name she identifies) has to say of her life as a sixteen-year old kid in Mosul. And there are plenty more just like her on the Web now, and they're only hard to find for those who don't want to know the truth.

I, for one, am sick of people who object to seeing the violence of war. If we ceased to hide from the reality, maybe there would finally be a chance that the groundswell of revulsion for war could culminate in a rejection of violence as any useful human behaviour.

Richard Jehn

[+/-]

28 May 2006

Thoughts on Immigration - D. Hamilton, S. Russell, A. Pogue

"Senate Republicans Strike Immigration Deal." (New York Times, April 6, 2006)

"As outlined by Senate Republicans late Wednesday, the compromise would place illegal immigrants in three categories: Those who have lived in the country at least five years would be put on a path toward guaranteed citizenship, provided that they remained employed, paid fines and back taxes, and learned English, a senior Republican aide said. The aide said this group accounted for about 7 million of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be living here. "

Stop right there. There are a few problems already. Although many enterprising individuals will seize this opportunity to become US citizens, they will not come close to the number of new immigrants that show up in the meantime. Furthermore, a big majority of the undocumented population is going to just keep on doing exactly what they are doing now and there is little in the way of a mechanism to cause them to do things differently. They are not going to pay fines or back taxes or learn English (their children will) or remain continuously employed. Most would prefer to make their money here and eventually return to La Patria. But in the process, it will continue to be a wise move for them to have a child while in the US to improve their options. Internationalism at work.

For a change, it's mainly the white men in suits in Washington who are going to work themselves into a sweat over this. But its reality is mostly paper and pork. They will come up with some grand plan that will do little to effect the human tide flowing north. They can build a wall along the border if they can find enough Mexican laborers willing to work in the desert, but it won't do any good. They will throw a lot of money at the issue with negligible results other than further lining the pockets of government contractors and their principal shareholders.

Can you name the city that has the second largest number of Mexicans after Mexico City? The city with the second largest number of El Salvadorians after San Salvador? The second largest number of Guatemalans? Hondurans? Nicaraguans? One answer will suffice. Los Angeles. The human roots are deeply planted on both sides of that imaginary line through the landscape referred to as a political boundary. The influx will not change as long as a person can make a lot more money doing unpleasant jobs in LA than in Tegulcigalpa.

On the other side of the coin, money sent back from the US is an utterly crucial part of the economies of all the countries to the south. In Guatemala, well over half of the nation's foreign currency earnings come from remittances, almost all from the US where over 10% of all Guatemalans live - about 250,000 in LA alone. For Guatemala, remittances from the US are a much bigger source of foreign currency earnings than tourism and all agricultural exports (coffee, bananas, sugar, cotton) combined - 56% of the total for 2004 and growing. For Mexico, only oil and tourism are considered bigger than remittances and that gap is shrinking. What possible incentive could any Latin American president have to stop that process? Their most successful export is their people.

Unless he gets shot beforehand or the election is stolen, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be elected president of Mexico on July 2nd, the first ever successful candidate from the relatively leftist Partido de la Revolución Democratica (PRD). With his principal constituency among the less affluent element of the Mexican population, many with checks in the mail from the US, do you think he'll be more cooperative with restrictive and punitive US border policies?

There is, of course, an obvious way to severely limit "illegal" immigration. Make it a felony to hire them and enforce it. Build new prisons for the entrepreneurs they catch - mostly Mexican-Americans, who function as our translators in multiple ways. But that's a nonstarter for several reasons. One, Mr. Capitalist likes cheap labor and he runs this place. It's in his genes. The Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic church are on the same side of this issue. Two, many of the over 30 million Latin Americans who are now in this country would revolt as their families were criminalized by this legislation. It would at least be on the level with overturning Roe v Wade or reinstituting the draft in terms of political suicide. The specter of 500,000 immigrant rights protesters in the streets of LA caused a prompt revision of the political line by more moderate Republicans, spliting their party. Historically, Latino political power has remained relatively dormant. Why would a Republican want to fire them up by pissing them off?

So the legislative result of this immigration debate is likely to do little beyond creating further means to spend tax money with our favorite corporate vendors of goods and services. This nugget will be concealed under layers of rhetorical obfuscation.

Over the past 25 years, California has gone from a state where most of the statewide office holders were Republicans to one where they are all Democrats - except Arnold. Jeff Jones credits this largely to the growth of the Latin American population. The defeat of John Birch member, "B-1 Bob" Dorman by a woman named Sanchez in ultra-rightwing Orange County was the paradigm. Although Bush did relatively well with Hispanic voters, immigration is a political plus for Democrats (e.g., the most recent mayoral election in LA), a fact that underlies much of the debate. The Rovian Republicans thought that immigration was going to be their wedge for injecting racism into the upcoming congressional elections. That plan seems to have backfired and their prospects for the fall continue to diminish. The only way it helps them is to change the subject away from Iraq.

David Hamilton

Without a doubt the dumbest proposal I have heard is making the border crossing a felony. With I hope a correct sense of my audience, I will not count the ways that is dumb.

I suppose I could be convinced that the US ought to control its borders, even though I can't get very excited about it since I am not among those who see neighborhoods in US cities where Spanish is the main language as a decline of civilization.

Kinky Friedman's proposal has entertainment value, but I still don't like it because the burden of enforcement would still fall on people I do not believe are doing anything wrong. That is, if I was in their shoes, I would do exactly what they are doing.

So here's my proposal, to be announced by Spanish/English leaflets along the border.

Any undocumented worker shall be put on a fast track to citizenship upon producing a credible report against any person (individual or corporate) violating immigration laws, air or water pollution laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act, OSHA, the National Labor Relations Act, etc.

Then either get ready to hire bunch more lawyers or ignore a lot of law breaking.

When I worked for the UFW, it used to chap my ass when labor contractors called La Migra on payday. Wouldn't it be too cool if the workers could make the call and be rewarded with citizenship?

Steve Russell

"American" — let's see, I was born on land that was stolen from Mexico, that in turn was stolen from the indigenous people of the area. Maybe Germany and France had their claims at one time.

Nationalism is nonsense. In addition to that, our "leaders" have no interest in our national interest, if one defines "national interest" as what would be best for the majority of people within our continental borders, but only their narrowly defined corporate interests. In today's New York Times there is an article on the editorial page on Exxon spending millions to promote junk science against the real science of global warming. Exxon is willing to kill everyone and everything for a profit today. Exxon is a larger threat to the whole planet than Iran's "nuke some day." Exxon, and the world oil industry, will kill us all before the nuclear holocaust will.

I don't see this as "our national interest" versus "their national interest," but rather the survival of the planet versus "their selfish interests". "They" being the "industrial/political status quo" everywhere.

Boycott Exxon, buy Citgo (Hugo Chavez gasoline). Forget over-hyped, inefficient, expensive hybrids (VW diesels are more efficient), get a totally electric car if one can (conversions are $8,000). Better mass transit, no toll roads.

Alan Pogue

[+/-]

Sweet Suck City - M. Wizard

To Austin
The Rag, September 14, 1970, Volume 4, Number 40

Sweet Suck City,
You never turned me down,
Except when it mattered.
You always gave me shelter,
Except when I needed it.
You never locked your doors at night –
But how your daytimes devoured me!

I am surfeited
By your table-crumby largesse;
With your casual affairs and one-night stands
In love and revolution.

Austin, you never wanted me to be a poet,
Or anything but your
Symbolic Supergirl,
And as for my Womanhood—
You made me wear a mask to my own parade
And now that the Ball is over you’re
Surprised! That I didn’t have one after all –
Much less two of them…

Austin, you may say that you would have
Followed me into a lion’s den
Maybe so but
What kind of trip is that?

Austin, you
Embarrassed me with your
Middle class hip sophistication
Don’t you know
That what’s gauche for the shoes
Is gauche for the sandals?
Here’s a laugh for you:
I haven’t paid for any weed
For Four Years,
(When will Lee Otis be freed?”
Here’s another:
Eastwoods Park is Doomed.

Doesn’t anything shake your
Fat Smile?
You really Paint It Red, don’t you
With that paint that washes off in your
Morning coffee and flows bloody and
Invisible down your slumside streets…
The tide is rising, Austin,
I am tired
Of our guns and butter rhetoric
And your crutch and concrete reality.

“This doesn’t mean I don’t love you,
I do, that’s forever…”
Sometimes you
Got me off and I
Believed in you and
Called you home and
Kept the faith and
I wouldn’t bother if you were
Just New York.
“I ain’t saying you treated me unkind,
You coulda done better, but I don’t mind,
You just sorta wasted my precious time,
Don’t think twice,”
It would kill you.

This poem has taken six years to speak my mind;
Today is August twenty-sixth, nineteen-seventy;
Today my sisters are on strike
And so am I,

Much love, believe it or not,


[+/-]

Paris - New Tricks - D. Hamilton

Forget that lame rap about old dogs and new tricks. Mere blocks from where I scored my first cannabis product, and 40 years later, I've discovered a new, improved way to smoke hash. In that long ago inaugural event, an army buddy and I procured a gram of a dense dark brown substance reputed to be the real deal from an itinerant Algerian rug vendor in that mecca of debauch, the Place Pigalle. It might actually have been compressed camel dung. With extreme stealth, we returned to our zero star hotel where, in true Euro fashion, we crushed it up, mixed it with tobacco and rolled a joint using the papers of several disemboweled Lucky Strikes. At that time, I did not smoke tobacco. Regardless, said buddy encouraged me to inhale deeply and hold it as long as possible. The result was akin to severe sea sickness in a dingy room that seemed to roll on the waves of my nausea. I tried to hang my head out the window for fresh air relief, but we were several floors up and that attempted remedy only triggered my acrophobia under highly unfavorable circumstances. Somehow, with diligent practice, I was eventually able to put that early disappointment behind me.

Now, another ex-pat in France has introduced me to a personal breakthrough in hash consumption methodology, the champagne glass technique. This can be done with a water glass, but hey, this is France. The drawback to this approach is that it requires a lot of gear to pull off. You need the glass, a straight pin, a wine bottle cork, a mirror, and a straw, plus a cigarette lighter and the product to be burned. Stick the pin through the edge of the cork and into the little brown nugget, being careful not to cause it to crumble. Place this arrangement on the mirror (or other very flat glass) and light. When the flame dies and the smoke begins to rise, cover with the inverted glass and watch the smoke curl around the inside. When full, tilt the glass just enough to put the straw under the edge and inhale. Pure smoke with no paper, charred pipe or butane. It helps to drink all the wine from the bottle where you got the cork somewhere in the process. After several usages, the glass will be lined with resin. At that point, it is recommended that you wash it with a shot of vodka (tequilla in Texas) and toss that down too. We've yet to try the last step. It's a minimal waste process.

Use of this method separates one from the typical Euro rabble who, to this day, prefer the old crushed shit in tobacco technique. Try to imagine the angst of a tobacco hating invererate Austin pothead arriving in Europe without stash and after a couple of weeks deprivation, someone offers you a hash laced cigarette. When this happened to us and we demured, saying we didn't do tobacco, the 20-something Catalunian exclaimed, "oh no! Why not?" Euro smokers can't believe we consume the unadulterated product. They call us "pure smokers", a sobriquette I can live with.

Although I take no responsibility for this observation, there seems to be little reason for this unfortunate situation of deprivation to take place. The 3 most recent times we've arrived in Europe by air (Paris and Madrid) customs has either been entirely absent (try to arrive at lunch time) or highly disinterested. On our most recent arrival, a couple of young customs fellows were leaning on their little counter talking and laughing while everyone passed through the "nothing to declare" door without so much as a sideward glance at them. Despite this apparent lack of concern, France has a reputation for being the toughest country in Western Europe on drugs.

In nearly all of the surrounding countries, pot has been decriminalized and the official policy is tolerance. In Barcelona, we were told, on very good authority, that mere flagrant public use would not succeed in getting us in trouble. Not so in France. So far, I have no explanation for this deviation from the trend toward tolerance, other than that they're control freaks. The newspaper "Liberation" reported yesterday that the Socialist Party was debating a more relaxed approach, but discussions were at an impasse over how far to go. Maybe the gendarmes are hanging on to a useful excuse to screw with the itinerant Algerians.

David Hamilton

[+/-]

French Rudeness - D. Hamilton

Last week the BBC published an article about a recent poll of "6,000 world travelers" who rated the French as the rudest people in the world. Articles on this theme appear periodically, perfect examples of non-news filler that so-called newspapers employ to enhance their entertainment value by appealing to popular stereotypes.

I've been arguing in vain against the notion of French rudeness for decades and developed a repetoire of stories about being treated with wonderful warmth and generousity by French people I hardly knew. For example, on arriving in Paris in 1981 with my ex-wife Sandra and our 2 year old daughter Sara, we were met at the train station by Marie-Helene, a friend of a friend who had spent a few days at our house in Austin while travelling in the US. The first night she gave us her apartment and stayed with her parents. She left us her car to use to drive to Versailles the next day. Then she moved us to an absent friend's spacious and well-equipped apartment in Montmartre for a week - free. She escorted us on a visit to the chateau of Chantilly and afterwards to her parent's house for a fabulous six course dinner with apéritifs, different wines with each course and champagne with dessert. All the while, Sara pranced around the house with diarrhea and a leaky diaper. On our departure, they presented us with a beautiful lace-trimed velvet dress for Sara, a bottle of fine Burgandy (Gervey Chambertin) and a bottle of Moet Chandon champagne. We stood dumbstruck trying to think of new ways to say merci and wondering what we had done to deserve such treatment.

Regardless of several such incidents, I've decided to acquiesce to the widespread conviction that the French are rude. To continue to assert the contrary just because they aren't rude to me is to argue illogically from the particular to the general. I must conclude that this just doesn't happen to me because I speak a little French, wear long scarves and ooze francophilia.

The best way to experience French rudeness is to expect them to automatically speak English while in France. Try to imagine what would happen to a haughty Frenchman who arrived in New York (or Austin) for the first time insisting that every waiter and policeman speak French. I always initiate conversations in my rudimentary French. After a couple of tortured sentences, they usually say, "Wouldn't you rather speak English?" with a slight British accent and an appreciation that I tried.

Most unpleasant incidents of apparent French rudeness occur between non-French speaking tourists and French waiters. What most offended mono-lingual English-speakers fail to appreciate is the often curt relationship between the French themselves and their waiters, for whom an air of mild exasperation is de rigueur. This attitude is likely based on the fact they don't work for tips. Fifteen percent of every restaurant bill is for service, by law included in the original price along with an almost 20% value added tax. Waiters usually get no more additional tip than a few left over centimes. Hence, indifference if not borderline surliness becomes an inherent ocupational hazzard.

An underappreciated facet in French rudeness is that Paris, where it is invariably considered to be the worst; gets 25 million foreign visiters a year, at least 8 times the resident population. Paris is the world's most popular tourist destination. Tourists are a constant feature of the Parisian's reality. Locals know that tourism is a significant portion of their livelihood - 7% of their national economy - and deep down they must be flattered by the attention, but the persistent frictions with tourists ignorant of local customs are bound to get very old. How might Austin waiters react to Austin having 4-5 million foreign visitors a year who didn't speak much English, yet expected to have their every whim catered to with unswerving graciousness?

Several special factors apply to Americans. In the same poll that rated the French the most rude; Americans were rated the least sophisticated and having the worst food. This doesn't deter many Americans from the conviction they are God's chosen people, paragons of taste, saviors of the French and deserving of special deference. This not-uncommon attitude goes over particularly badly with the French who have a lofty regard for their own culture that is very widely acknowleged, even in the US. When confronted by American hubris, they tend to respond by regarding us as bloated barbarians with bulging billfolds.

So, OK, they're rude, perhaps especially to Americans. Their ultimate excuse is that it is self-defense. If they were nice too, they might have 50 million tourists a year with McDonalds and Starbucks proliferating on every street corner, and it wouldn't be Paris anymore.

Wasn't this supposed to be a political blog? Problem with me is that France seems to be sapping my political energy. Everyday we're here seems to make me more complacent. You may have to relegate my musings to the "Lifestyle" section until I get back to the US and regain my normal pissed off frame of mind. There is a political scandal of sorts here, refered to as "Coldstream," but even the French don't seem very interested in it. Our French friends mention a pervasive "malaise". Hung out last night with Billy "Mac" Haile who lived in Austin in the 70's, - danced with Stanley Hall at the Austin Ballet Theater - came to Paris to dance at the Lido in a G-string ("all tits and feathers"), and has lived here over 20 years since. We talked a lot about the digestive problems of his cute little pair of French bulldogs who love company, but fart without restraint.

David Hamilton

[+/-]

Why France? - D. Hamilton

So how does a self-styled revolutionary anarchist justify squandering thousands of dollars to spend a month in Paris? Is this not solid evidence of his being a dilettante and poseur? (only French words fit) Wouldn't sending money to Darfur relief or stockpiling provisions for future barricades be more righteous?

There are infinite easy justifications that don't address the question. French wines and goat cheese are about half as expensive here. Our favorite local commercial radio station plays Billie Holliday and Django Reinhart. Paris doesn't have mosquitoes. We like buildings more than 50 years old. Etc, etc.

My France obsession is entirely mainstream. France is the world's most visited country. It has a population of about 60 million and 75 million foreign visitors a year. The USA has a population of 290 million and 45 million foreign visitors a year. Central Paris has less than 3 million residents and 25 million annual foreign visitors, more than 5 times New York.

Try to imagine the USA with 350 million annual tourists. In August, tourists here may outnumber Parisians who ritually flee the onslaught on their month-long annual paid vacations. (5 weeks a year plus national holidays are mandated by law)

My personal explanations for francophilia are entirely subjective, though deeply rooted. It began when I had the extreme good fortune to be assigned to serve my time in the US Army in Orleans 60 miles south of Paris in the mid-60's. But much of the motivation is push from the other side. Especially under Bush II, whenever I am in the USA, alienation is my constant companion, if not anger. I grind my teeth going to the grocery store. Living on the outskirts of Austin, I feel surrounded by bloated houses, gas-guzzling SUV's and their owners flaunting a completely undeserved attitudes of self-righteous superiority. Capitalism reigns unchallenged and dictates a disposable culture where everything is made to wear out or become unfashionable, necessitating the purchase of another bigger and more expensive one. Most people, believing he who dies with the most toys wins, love the idea of the system if not the results. Our Paris apartment, with rough beam ceiling and parquet floors, is in a building built in 1700. Essentially, the world's most capitalist dominated culture perpetually offends me.

France; of course; is not without it's faults, e.g., Chirac's current efforts to placate Bush by helping challenge Iran's legal nuclear program. But even the right of center Gaullists would be considered socialists in the American political context, far left of the Democratic Party. When the Gaullists recently proposed a minor labor law revision considered favorable to employers, it brought a million people into the streets who forced them to back down and probably wrecked the presidential chances of Prime Minister de Villepin.

French history since 1789 has featured a continual series of popular uprisings. They are like a normal rite of passage for students. The French now have arguably the most deeply ingrained socialist consciousness of any developed country in the world. In the first round of the last presidential election, about a quarter of the voters chose parties to the left of the Socialists. And Paris is more left than the rest of the country. When I arrive and walk down its crowded streets, I feel relatively among comrades, that alienation and anger melting quickly away.

Conversely, in the USA, I feel the embodiment of sedition, typically surrounded by ideological enemies. This attitude makes me next to worthless as an organizer. My sympathies don't lead to saving the USA from the consequences of its crimes or perserving its dominant culture. In the current disgusting excuse for a debate over immigration, Congress just flung an English-only bone to the nativists. Wonder why Americans are so insistent on not learning more than one language?

So why France? It's therapy. It lowers my blood pressure and I plan to claim much of the trip expenses as a medical deduction on my taxes. A bientot.

David Hamilton

[+/-]

Creationist Ecology - M. Wizard

Intelligent Design

for want of a nut, a bolt was lost;

for want of a bolt, a wing was lost;

for want of a wing, a dove was lost;

for want of a dove, a branch was lost;

for want of a branch, the land was lost;

for want of land, the Ark was lost;

for want of the Ark, Noah, his sons, and all the animals were lost;

for want of Noah, his sons, and all the animals, Life As We Know It was lost –

and all for the want of a wing nut!

©mariann g wizard


[+/-]

27 May 2006

The Limits of Free Speech - D. Hamilton, H. Ellinger

"Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace..." from "Imagine" by John Lennon

Everyone knows that there are limits on free speech in the US besides yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater. Leftists in the US should know from their history that exercising too much of it can be dangerous. (Ask MLK, Fred Hampton, Sacco and Vanzetti, Mike Eakin.) We may have chanted "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" in the 60's, but that had serious consequences. (Cointelpro. None of us will ever have a security clearance.) Today, if you stood on a busy corner with a banner praising Osama Bin Laden and defending Al Qaeda, you'd be attacked by your fellow citizens, then arrested for having provoked assault followed by court ordered psychiatric examinations unless you had the excuse of being Muslim.

Limits on free speech principally revolve around two specific sacrosanct concepts: nationalism and Western sky-god religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism.) It's now acceptable to be a Leninist, but not a Lennonist, i.e., you can join a vanguard communist party and be ignored, but don't even think about imagining there is no country.

Being an atheist is grudgingly tolerated, although it effectively isolates one from mainstream Americana, an added benefit. A publicly atheist candidate couldn't seriously run for office anywhere except in a few intellectual enclaves. Going a step further to openly denounce any or all of these religions would invite serious repercussions including problems with the "justice" system. In much of Europe, it's illegal to be anti-Semitic, question the official version of the Holocaust or even be "blasphemous." In much of the Muslim world, it's a serious crime to convert to Christianity. Christians keep mounting Crusades to the Middle East that result in massive Muslim casualties, having transcended for the time-being their tendency to gas Jews and bomb Asians. Israel institutes an exclusionary anti-Muslim ideology as the state religion. Then these various sectarians want to involve everyone else in their testosterone-fueled internecine struggles. You can't just step aside and hope the rapture takes them all away. And if you call them all a bunch of preposterous superstitious fanatics, watch your back - and your front.

The recent "cartoon riots" throughout the Muslim world to protest a drawing depicting Mohammed illustrate the point. Even secular Europe was apologetic for having broken some Muslim rule against "idolatry." Why isn't one allowed to assert the absolute right to ridicule stupid superstitions and flaunt silly religious prohibitions? Doing so would likely result in arrest for having committed a hate crime. Does this mean I have to stop asking Mormons to see their sacred underwear? Where does it say that one must respect these religions or at least shut up and certainly not say disparaging things about them publicly?

Still, being an atheist is at least an established concept. There is a word for it. Some concepts don't have words in English. We know misogyny, but what do you call a women who hates men? Probably justified? Though they may disapprove, at least people have heard of atheism. Who's ever heard of a pan-nationalist or an anti-nationalist or has a good idea what that might mean?

If one shakes off the mantle of nationality, the consequent personal changes are at least equally profound and disorienting as losing faith in a previously held religion, and the hostile reactions from ex-fellow citizens are much more likely. A universally accepted central reference point is removed. All analysis and understanding within a national context becomes an obviously one-sided distortion. Questions of "national interest" become largely irrelevant, if not disreputable to the Earth citizen. You become increasingly aware and disturbed that all information inputs come packaged in this nationalized context. To allow yourself to fall under the sway of the contrarian Lennonism, however, makes you a round peg in a square world.

You aren't allowed to opt out of the nationalist bag. If you throw away your passport, where is one to get the document that they demand whenever you cross the lines on the ground they've drawn to help control us? Nationalist consciousness rules unquestioned despite it being largely an advanced form of primeval tribalism, an arcane macho ideology that cost humanity at least 100 million premature deaths in the 20th century and threatens to break that record in the 21st. If we didn't have it, there would be a lot less "to kill and die for." If human society is to ever to end warfare, it is certain that nationality will have to be transcended by allegiance to a concept of law and justice sustained by a powerful pan-national authority.

David Hamilton

In the long run, nationalism is a flash in the pan. People didn't even use passports until less than 100 years ago, and "globalism" (theirs, not ours) is restoring mobility of capital, goods, and even labor (in spite of an occasional populist backlash). The Empire wants provinces, not nations, especially since in the 20th century those pesky social democrats had some success in using nationalist feeling to get commie ideas like UK's National Health Service or the US's Social Security adopted. Not to mention labor unions.

So nationalism is a two-edged sword. Much of the political difficulty of the left is that the constituencies for which they have been the champions are in the process of making a transition from "(mild) socialism in one country" to internationalism. This is easier for the ruling classes, since rulers have more in common with each other than different cultures do, especially cultures with very different levels of typical wealth. What is needed is a soft landing for this transition, which is why so much current leftist activity is in the intercultural NGOs that are prototypes of world cultural institutions. And in the art/music/film/poems/stories that actually are world cultural institutions.

Internationalism will not prevail until it becomes clear that neither nationalism nor imperialism can deliver the goods. The tribal wiring that makes us vulnerable to us-vs-them rhetoric, especially in hard times, will no doubt still win many battles. But these are Phyrric victories -- Bush is leaving the American Empire much weaker than Clinton handed it over, the WTO is shifting from being the US's enforcer to a nascent (very flawed) world government, and US anti-gay laws have gone from being unquestioned to being an embarrassment.

My hope is that creeping multiculturalism (and the rationalism it nurtures) will evade all attempts to sweep back the tide. I'll carry a few buckets where I can. But we should also be looking ahead to the emerging challenges as well, since many of us may live to see the day when being American is about as relevant as being Texan. Europe is already well down that path.

Hunter Ellinger

[+/-]

25 May 2006

The Politics of Big Oil - A. Pogue, D. Hamilton, P. Spencer

As far as I know, the ethnic part of the conflict in Sudan is kind of like the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda in that there isn't much difference. I think the ethnic division is stressed by those who don't want anyone to pay attention to the oil.

Just like "we" went into Iraq to bring democracy to the benighted savages and our honest leaders really did believe there were WMDs, really they did.

The USAID map of Sudan has the present oil concessions blocked out from central to south but nothing yet designated for the west. No one has paid off the central government for the rights. The Chinese are big and then there is Sweden, Malaysia,

Canada, France (which has Chad wrapped up). I am suspicious about the U.S. interest, could they be through other firms? USAID isn't letting on. I haven't dug that far. The Sudanese I spoke with tell me there is every bit as much oil in the west, Darfur. This is the reason to get all the people off of the soon-to-be oil fields. There are differences to be exploited in the conflicts, but I have yet to see any physiological differences. I think it is mainly that the central government doesn't want to share. They need to go back to kindergarten.

Alan Pogue

Out of Iraq, Into Darfur: Just Saying No to Imperial Intervention in Sudan By GARY LEUPP

I may be mistaken, but I think I have read that far more people have died in the conflict in the eastern Congo in a ongoing struggle that has ethnic — and therefore genocidal — qualities. Up to a couple of million dead and counting by some estimates. How come we hear so much more about Darfur? And there was a similar war in southern Sudan for many years between Arabs and Blacks that aroused almost no attention. What's different about Darfur?

David F. Hamilton

It's "all oil, all the time". The U.S. has been blocking the peace efforts, while at the same time calling for intervention.

This makes perfect sense, because if the southern factions could make peace with the government in Khartoum then the U.S. (U.N., NATO, whoever) would have no reason to intervene, and get the oil under Darfur in the process. People here are being used again. We should remember the bombing of Serbian schools, homes, markets, hospitals, TV stations and railroad passenger cars during that last "humanitarian" intervention.

Just to spell it out one more time: the difference is that now the U.S. wants to get the oil under Darfur before the Chinese get it. John Garang, the leader of the larger rebel faction, had a business degree from a U.S. college and he had gone to the School of the Americas for advanced military training. When he became the vice president of Sudan and peace was within reach he was killed by a U.S. Special Operations team.

The U.S. government has no humanitarian interests. We might as well ask the Mafia to intervene. We should drop the "Arabs and Blacks" thing. I think it is just more psy-ops propaganda aimed at anti-Arab sentiment.

Google Gruang's name and a bunch of stuff will come up. A lot of what I saw was from the Sudan Tribune. The New York Times simply mentioned the crash. No one in the mainstream press is saying he was assassinated. If there was an investigation, nothing has been said officially other than it was an accident; nothing real is revealed.

After Garang's helicopter was missing for awhile there was one story that said he had been found alive, but then that was contradicted. Go figure.

I have a friend who is also a Vietnam vet. He remains close to the cloak and dagger guys. He called me and asked who a hit team would hit in Sudan. I mentioned John Garang and why it would be helpful if he did not succeed in joining the government in Khartoum. I also mentioned the Chinese getting big oil concessions there and that Al Qaeda was recruiting there. Two weeks later Garang conveniently fell out of the sky. So I am making a judgment leap based on a tip something was coming down, high probability and the past actions the U.S. has taken with politicians the U.S. couldn't buy. So no smoking gun.

The person who took Garang's place either cannot or will not press for the implementation of the agreement Garang was able to forge. Garang was head of the Sudanese Liberation Army for 21 years, so he was a heavy hitter. That he became vice president in the ruling government was really something. It would not have brought peace to Darfur, but it would have brought peace to South Sudan and that would have made the Khartoum government stronger in relation to many other government's desires for Sudan. But strife in Sudan helps others take advantage of Sudan, divide and conquer, have them fight among themselves, and then there are many factions that will make small deals rather than one big government that can drive a harder bargain.

Now the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Robert B. Zoellick, is calling the shots in the Darfur negotiations. I don't think the Sudanese elected him. There is an article in the, May New York Times about much of this. But the Times doesn't talk about the oil negotiations going on behind closed doors in Khartoum, where the real action is. No word on the Chinese. What are their desires in relation to Darfur oil since they are big stake holders in southern Sudan?

The NY Times talks like the U.S. is the only player. The USAID site has a map of the current oil concessions.

Alan Pogue

1) Oil has been the reason that imperialistic countries have been messing around inthe Middle East for the last 80 or so years; minus that, nobody cares about the former Fertile Crescent.

2) The various Arabian "countries" are mostly a result of western, imperialist machinations, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Iran is not Arab per se, but it is also a result of western, imperialist intervention.

3) Western — primarily U.S. — oil corporations have a stake in Arab oil from the ground through the refineries, into the tanker ships, etc. The "nationalization" of these oil fields is actually a partnership with western oil companies.

4) Iraq has the second-largest proven reserves after Saudi Arabia. Saudi oil is slowly being infiltrated with seawater, which increases cost of equipment (high-nickel alloys) and of the refinement process. Iraq oil is clean. (By the way, Iraq oil is not currently "nationalized." Iraq oil is up for grabs.)

5) An imperialist power, such as the U.S., has to show that it is up to the task of remote rule ever so often. It's a reminder to the emirs and the whatevers that they, too, can be replaced or permanently removed.

Paul Spencer

Successive U.S. governments always pretend they are bringing democracy and all good things to the blighted heathens. But those voodoo-worshiping heathens keep electing people who won't play ball, so we must chose for them. I'm sorry to see people who are not Republicans falling for the argument that since we broke Iraq, we must fix Iraq. Those people who broke it are going to keep on breaking it as long as they remain in the store.

I shouldn't overlook what I find irrational — the will to power — as a driving force, along with greed. I hardly ever think much about the wacky worldviews of the end-of-timers and the "we are the chosen ones" crowd. I think of these ideas as enabling but not driving forces. I shouldn't discount them so much, because we do constantly find ourselves in these irrational situations where the action isn't getting us what we (or they) say we want.

Did they really believe the Iraqis would welcome a foreign army? Did they really believe that Iraqi oil would offset the cost of the war on Iraq? Do they really believe they are smarter than the Iraqis? What is propaganda and what is insane egoism? I give you Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. They don't care how many U.S. working-class soldiers get blown up, but the oil not making it to the market is a bummer. That no matter how many people die, we must control the oil or the Chinese will.

Dick Cheney wins no matter if the whole USA goes bankrupt over the war. That is their whole position. Nationalism and patriotism are for little people who think of the USA as a sort of football team that they are all somehow a part of. Global corporations think otherwise. In their minds only personal/corporate short term interests that keep them on top are worth pursuing. They think everyone has their price or simply can be threatened into submission. They can't entertain the notion that some people really do want independence and possibly democracy. They think their spies and assassins can handle those pests. "Ah, the Phoenix Program, what fun itwas," says Bobby Inman.

Never forget there are 100 billion barrels of oil under what is now Iraq. Most of the oil is under Kurdish feet in the north and under Shia feet south of Basra. The Sunnis will be the big losers under any partition. No Iraqi wants to join any other governmental entity. The ethnic/religious differences have been exploited/promoted by the U.S.. The U.S. should leave immediately but it won't because Big Oil has invested a trillion dollars of our money (and placed it in their pockets) in controlling the oil. The complete destruction of Iraq is the other goal and that is coming along nicely. From Washington's point of view, Kurdistan owing it's allegiance to the U.S is good and that is the case already. Washington has been working toward that end for years. Turkey has been persecuting the Kurds and blocked a Kurdish state in 1923. Turkey is poised to attack if the Kurds break free. Thus, another "need" for a permanent U.S. base there. The Shia can kill the Sunnis, but a merging with Iran should be the most unwanted outcome.

Jordan has a million exiled Iraqis now. Jordan is a debtor nation and owes its survival to the U.S. and to Israel. Israel has many factories in Jordan using cheap Palestinian labor. Palestinians never gain citizenship in Jordan even if they are born there. I suppose the Iraqis could gain citizenship. In that case the Jordanian aristocracy would be in big trouble — ended. The "original" Jordanians , like the "original" Kuwaitis, jealously guard who gets to be a citizen, since they are outnumbered already. The Israelis would have to worry if there were millions more Iraqis in Jordan. But on the other hand "civil instability creates market stability," so having millions of Iraqis in Jordan would further that end. Israel would need more arms and bigger walls. Israel would have to deploy the neutron bomb landmines they have on their drawing boards. But then the whole chain reaction could be beyond any Washington chess player's ability to direct.

In Jordan, a couple of European -ooking business types asked me where I was from . When I said the U.S., they smiled and said, "So are we. We are Kurds. The 51st state." They seemed really happy about it ,unlike some Puerto Ricans.

I'd say there are multiple objectives, but one large objective was to keep Iraq from becoming a Middle East power. Iraq served its purpose in going to war with Iran in the 1980s. A Pan-Arabic movement could have centered around Iraq. Creating maximum instability in Iraq was one conscious reason for invading. Sectarian rivalry has been promoted by the U.S. on every level of Iraqi society. Our leaders are also nutcases, so knowing how much they saw into the future is difficult to determine. The Kurdish protectorate has to be allied with the U.S. to forestall/survive an attack from Turkey. This much has been planned. I don't know if Washington saw that a marginalized and persecuted Sunni population would seek refuge in Jordan, just as over a million plus Palestinians have, but it wouldn't take much thinking to see that this would have to happen. Many Iraqis have also gone to Syria. The consequences for Jordan are more serious.

Controlling the oil is the big deal, but regional political chaos is part of the deal. The trick, is to be able to control/produce the oil while creating the maximum political chaos at the same time. If the U.S. could have a compliant Iraqi government, like the old Shah Palavi dictatorship in Iran, then all would be well. The largest nightmare would be a secular democracy in Iraqi which pursued Pan Arabism. Even if they sold us all the oil we wanted, which they would, Pan Arabism is the threat. I see Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan as a natural political block. I don't know much about Syria, but I'd put them in the block too. So antagonism must be produced within and among these nations in as many ways as possible.

Alan Pogue

Even if the oil in a particular country has been nationalized, that does not keep the U.S., or others, from functional ownership. In Iraq, U.S. oil companies have been taking out long-term liens on Iraqi oil profits in return for improving the oil infrastructure. The problem for Iraq is that the terms of the deals are extremely bad for Iraq. Iraq could make better deals with Germany, France, Russia or China if it were able to do so.

The U.S. has set up a pseudo government and has spent billions in bribes to implement these deals. The U.S. has carefully produced civil strife so that real accord among Iraqis cannot take place. This is Negroponte's role there. He is reprising his stage-managing of the Contras. Some call it the "El Salvador Option".

The invasion cut off the implementation of a 40 billion dollar trade pact Hussein had made with Russia. When I was in Basra, I had a long pleasant, conversation with an Iraqi who had just become the manager of a Russian-built four star hotel there. China had laid a fiber-optic communications system in Baghdad.

When I was in Baghdad in December of 2002, it was easy to see that Iraq was recovering, in spite of the sanctions/blockade/embargo. The Chinese had given Iraq many red double-decker buses. Asian consumer goods were everywhere. In Basra, I bought knockoff Levis from Cyprus. Internet cafes had opened in Iraq. Restaurants and art galleries had reopened that had been closed for years. There were many new cars on the streets for the first time in 12 years. There were goods in the markets and people had money to buy them.

All of this was a threat to the U.S. policy of containment of Iraq and the forced mpoverishment of Iraqis. The invasion stopped all that. When the invasion took place, the U.S. military was instructed to make sure the Iraqis were not allowed to hold elections of any kind. There was no use having an invasion if the U.S. could not control the government that emerged. Initially unions were not allowed to re-form, but with time they have re-formed. The Iraqi oil workers union has opposed the corrupt money-for-oil infrastructure deals with the U.S.

Alan Pogue

The U.S. State Department, globalization’s Chamber of Commerce, managed to make the largest independent political group in the Darfur region ( otherwise called “rebels”) sign a peace agreement. The other two independent groups did not sign. Until these two groups are enticed or forced to sign there will be no effective peace keeping force sent in because the violence is “necessary” to “pacify” those who refuse to join the State Department’s program. Once there are no more independent political groups then real peace keepers will be sent in and then ExxonMobil will follow.

Meanwhile in Somalia a civil war is being fueled by the U.S.. In 1993 the Marines landed in Somalia and promptly took up residence in the Chevron headquarters in Mogadishu. There is an oil field which runs from south Yemen, under the Gulf of Aden, and under northern Somalia. Chevron and other U.S. oil companies want to drill for that oil. They already have refineries in Yemen. The last time General Adid was too much for the U.S. military. The oil companies have been biding their time. Now the mainstream story is that there are Al Qaeda terrorists in Somalia. Last time the official story was the U.S. was on a humanitarian mission to help the starving Somalians. No more humanitarian missions in Somalia. The U.S. is simply going to kill a lot of people there in the name of anti-terrorism.

200,000 AK47s were picked up by the U.S. in Bosnia at garage sale prices. They were to be shipped to Iraq but nobody knows where they went because the U.S. did not simply put them on U.S. transport planes but instead hired many middlemen to ship the weapons so that they could not be traced. I expect many of them are now in the hands of Somali warlords in the service of Chevron.

As always, the cardinal rule is : “Civil instability creates market stability”.

Alan Pogue

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24 May 2006

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Our Raison d'Être - A. Embree

Originally written on 1 October 2005. rdj

I have loved some of the WRITING lately. Even more, I have enjoyed the THINKING behind the writing. Some of what has been written in the Yahoo group could easily be tweaked into ARTICLES aimed at a general public. What if we tried to do a bloggish Online Rag with occasional volunteer funnels (Thorne, you still afloat?), or coordinators (Alice, Hunter)...

The Rag contained first hand, impassioned, informative, often very fine writing. We have a wealth of impassioned, informed, fine writers among us. We could write about, for example: the March on Washington (Doyle, Cam, Sue); the Houston evacuation (Thorne); the Roe v. Wade panel (Judy, Vic, Barbara); New Orleans (Jeff), the German elections (David M.); the Canadian child care pilot (Vic); Fight or Flee (Dennis, David H., Mariann, and others); unions (Cam, Connie, Alice); reviews of Marilyn's poetry (Mariann), The Hidden Heart (Gavan), Don't Think of an Elephant! (Alice) and much, much, more. And it could be posted in a bloggish sort of way, with links, etc. And we could, of course, do it for free because we believe in it. OK, I'm slightly crazed and it is the month for Libras, so indulge me,

Peace Now!
Alice (Scan Do Kid)

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