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MONDAY and TUESDAY, February 27 and 28, 2006
"The following selection is a counter-weight to the book noted yesterday regarding impending and prolonged energy emergencies facing America."
Two Visions of Energy in the Americas
By Roger F. Noriega
Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2006
LATIN AMERICAN OUTLOOK
Publication Date: February 23, 2006
“America is addicted to oil,” President George W. Bush told the nation in his January 31 State of the Union address, “which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.” Spelling out a plan for using technology “to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources,” the president set a worthy goal to “make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.” Although the president’s long-term vision is of a country less dependent on petroleum, a near-term solution for being less reliant on “unstable” sources of energy can be found in encouraging resource-rich nations in the Western Hemisphere to adopt sound policies for developing their oil and gas industries. Without a concerted effort right now engaging government and industry, however, we may witness some countries with vast potential embrace statist models that squander their natural resources and make them less reliable and less stable partners.
Today, the United States is the largest consumer of global energy resources, making secure access to energy at market terms a strategic imperative. Given the current climate--characterized by the economic maturation of China, India, and other developing nations; rising energy prices affected by short-term shocks including recent hurricanes and refining bottlenecks; and continued insecurity with our energy partners in the Middle East--building constructive, cooperative approaches to energy along with our neighbors in the Americas should be a priority for the United States.
The entire Western Hemisphere stands to gain if countries adopt rational strategies for energy sector development that respect market forces and build public-private collaboration. Governments must strike a delicate balance: on one hand, they must generate vast amounts of foreign capital; on the other hand, they must reassure their people that they are protecting their nation’s sovereignty and precious patrimony. Countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the island states of the Caribbean, and others are weighing energy development models that suit them. Some countries have fostered market-driven reforms and have demonstrated that attracting capital and serving the national interest are not mutually exclusive. Other countries, however, appear tempted by statist models, which may actually threaten the economic viability of their markets and stunt the growth of an industry that could be the engine of development. The task at hand is very clear: energy companies and governments can and should work together to foster genuine growth and development in the hemisphere that serves both the bottom line and the moral imperative of helping raise millions out of poverty through the sound stewardship of natural resources.
Increasing Demand in Search of New Suppliers
Notwithstanding President Bush’s bold new energy initiative, significant domestic conservation efforts are unlikely to yield sufficient results. U.S. energy consumption is expected to grow steadily through 2025 at 1.4 percent per year--equivalent to nearly half the rate of total expected U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth for that period. Increased net energy imports will have to meet this demand, even if the country is successful in increasing domestic production. Imports are expected to increase from 27 percent of total U.S. energy consumption to 38 percent in 2025.
Fossil fuels are the leading energy source for the United States, led by oil and natural gas. Two of our top three oil suppliers are on our border, and Venezuela provides approximately 14 percent of total oil imports. Demand for natural gas is expected to rise at an even higher rate--by about 20 percent by 2030--and our largest gas provider, Canada, is expected to steadily reduce its exports due to depletion and growing domestic demand. Because prosperity and access to energy are intrinsically linked, fostering energy partnerships must be a top priority for the United States.
The United States does not have to look far to find an alternative to the “unstable” Middle East: Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean states are blessed with abundant energy resources. If current investment trends continue, the hemisphere (excluding the United States) can expect to be a net energy exporter through 2025. This situation stands to benefit both the United States and its suppliers: if developed properly, energy production can serve as a viable motor for regional development while contributing to the global competitiveness of the entire hemisphere. In fact, advances in exploration and production technologies will allow the Western Hemisphere’s net oil import/export balance to grow from 5.5 million barrels per day in 2004 to just over 8 million barrels per day by 2025. This promise, however, relies upon the assumption that the hemisphere moves forward with a market-based, public-private approach to energy sector development.
Roadblocks to Energy Sector Partnership
Two important factors shed some light on why energy sector development has lagged in Latin America and the Caribbean. Energy development is a capital-intensive industry, and as such requires massive amounts of investment. The industry is concerned with production, but also with exploration, transportation, and refining--none of which can stand alone and all of which require a major commitment on the part of energy companies. It is not enough that the reserves exist: countries must have positive investment climates to reassure investors who have opportunities around the world from which to choose. When investors fear risks caused by uncertainty in regulations, tax regimes, personal security, corruption, or unfair dispute resolution, they tend to look elsewhere.
Political considerations have historically played a fundamental role in energy sector decisions in Latin America and the Caribbean. National sovereignty concerns figure prominently in governmental decisions involving the exploitation of natural resources by foreign interests. History has taught many countries a bitter lesson when foreign governments have exploited their resources, leaving many with the sentiment that mineral wealth is part of the national patrimony that must be jealously guarded. However valid these political and cultural sensitivities may be, they frequently undermine confidence on all sides of a potential deal and complicate commercial transactions. Also, most governments and state-owned enterprises have made political decisions to limit private participation in energy production and to direct the bulk of profits into domestic spending. Although such social spending can produce immediate, tangible, and positive results, it also bleeds essential capital away from the energy sector and undermines the ability to maximize recovery rates, as countries such as Mexico have come to recognize.
Of course, concerns about protecting the environment and respecting indigenous communities and cultural values are among the other variables that must be considered by those looking to do business in Latin America today. These political and social considerations have a place in government and private company discussions, but they can be addressed without entangling energy development. Various energy projects in the hemisphere have served up “best practices” for managing all of these interests.
Oil Does Not Have to Be a Curse
“Oil is a curse” is a truism often contemplated by those concerned with the stable, equitable growth of developing countries rich with natural resources. Although estimates vary, underdeveloped countries with petroleum resources historically grow a half to a full percentage point below those without them. Although much of this failure has been attributed to foreign exploitation, homegrown corruption and mismanagement are to blame as well.
It does not have to be that way. Governments and oil companies alike can choose how they do business in a Western Hemisphere that understands the challenge of being more competitive for global capital. Some countries are quite comfortable with a free-market model, while others are tempted by a statist vision that promises more control over development. A string of events in the hemisphere just last month made abundantly clear these very different approaches.
• On January 11, a report by CIBC World Markets forecast that the Canadian oil sands will become the single biggest contributor to incremental global supply by 2010, outstripping Saudi Arabia.
• On January 12, Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo joined Hunt Oil Company president Ray L. Hunt and dozens of community and political leaders to inaugurate phase II of the Camisea Natural Gas Project. In public comments at the event, Toledo projected that the project, which attracted US$1.6 billion in external financing and is hailed by the Inter-American Development Bank as a model energy deal, will generate 35,000 jobs for Peruvians as it lowers energy costs and generates long-term growth.
• On January 13, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, of oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, bluntly warned his Caribbean neighbors that the Venezuela-sponsored PetroCaribe initiative is a statist approach that could leave island states high and dry if private companies abandoned the region.
• On January 24, Bolivian president Evo Morales and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez signed a series of economic accords, including a plan to swap Venezuelan petroleum products for Bolivian farm goods and an agreement to provide Venezuelan advice to Bolivia’s state-run oil firm Yacimientos Petroliferos y Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB).
• On January 26, the Spanish energy firm Repsol YPF announced a significant reduction in its proven gas reserves, due mostly to political uncertainty in Bolivia.
These news briefs present two very different visions of energy production: a model that balances free-market principles with national considerations versus a statist approach championed by Venezuela’s Chávez. As the news items suggest, Canada and Peru--among other countries--stand out as model countries in the region for their commitment to free-market principles and for creating a positive investment climate for the energy sector. Venezuela still respects an arrangement at home where foreign companies do business side-by-side with the government-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA); under Chávez, however, the state has stepped up controls on foreign operators incrementally and has steered energy sector profits to foreign as well as domestic priorities.
It is important to note that foreign energy companies are doing very well in Venezuela, and they regard any ideological judgments about their Venezuelan partner as a potential threat to their bottom line. They are right to continue to do business with Venezuela: it is their money--their capital--at stake, and they are, after all, American companies bringing home a valuable commodity. U.S. companies are claiming the lion’s share of an extraordinarily profitable trade because Venezuela’s state-owned oil company is in such disrepair. And, compared with the rogue states (and worse) they are accustomed to dealing with in the Middle East, Russia, and other countries of the former Soviet Union, Chávez’s Venezuela is downright hospitable.
Regardless of their choice to do business with Venezuela, U.S. energy companies have every reason to try to bolster the free-market energy model that is taking hold in other countries in the Americas. Rather than have to accommodate roguish characters, they can have partners in the Americas who are democratic, accountable to the law, respond to reason, run stable countries because they govern justly, and do not change the rules of the game for political purposes--in short, partners who respect the market.
Canada’s Oil Sands: A Model from the North
The sheer size of Canada’s vast oil sands (currently providing 1 million barrels of oil per day, with nearly 180 billion barrels in proven reserves) is not its only significance. Canada has led the way in creating a positive investment climate, and domestic and international investors have responded. Our northern neighbor serves as a model because it has been able to balance private exploration and national sovereignty over natural resources.
Canada is not unlike many of our southern neighbors in that its constitution establishes energy as national patrimony and places restrictions on its development. Energy policy responsibility is divided between the provincial and federal governments. The provincial governments own the natural resources, and as owners they are responsible for regulation and development within their territories. The federal government has other responsibilities, including harmonizing energy policy at the national level; promoting regional economic development; and establishing policies concerning frontier lands, offshore development, interprovincial facilities, and international and interprovincial trade.
Although Canada has the advantage of an unquestioned commitment to democracy and the rule of law, it has enacted several reforms and policies to further promote its energy sector. Federal energy policy underwent a major reform in the mid-1980s with the goal of making the sector more market-oriented. As a country, Canada has further demonstrated its commitment to a market-based energy sector through ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (remember that the United States is its largest energy partner) and through eliminating foreign ownership restrictions for production licenses on frontier lands.
Alberta’s example proves that national sovereignty and market-oriented policies are compatible. Recognizing the high technological and capital costs involved in developing its oil sands, the province has applied a competitive royalty regime to make investment attractive to private investors. In the last five years alone, the private sector has plowed 25 billion Canadian dollars into technology and infrastructure to exploit this resource, which was recently valued at 1.4 trillion Canadian dollars. Private companies bid in a transparent (Internet-based) auction to obtain the temporary rights to explore and develop particular tracts of crown land; they pay rent and market-based royalties to the government.
As a result of this privately financed development, exploitation of this resource from the years 2000 to 2020 is expected to generate 123 billion Canadian dollars in government revenue, with 41 percent going to Canada’s federal government. About 240,000 new jobs will be created in Canada by the oil sands development by 2008. As for the “nationalization” debate that has caused such a furor in Bolivia recently, the oil sands and all the rest of Canada’s mineral wealth is understood unquestionably to be the property of the crown and the Canadian state.
Camisea: Peru’s Success Story
The Camisea Natural Gas Project is the most ambitious energy project in Peru’s history and offers many positive lessons for its South American neighbors. These fields (about 500 miles due east of Lima) are thought to contain 13 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Just over US$1.6 billion in private capital will fund the three-phrase project to explore and develop the fields and build a fractionation plant and marine terminal, and to build a 460-mile natural gas pipeline from the fields to a site near Lima, as well as a distribution network in Lima and nearby Callao.
Camisea also provides interesting challenges to exploration in that the project is located in an area of unique biodiversity and indigenous communities. As such, multilateral organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Andean Corporation for Investment are key contributors to the pipeline project and monitor the environmental and other conditions for the financing. From its early stages in development, the project has combined erosion control and re-vegetation initiatives with measures to prevent migration and colonization so as to balance regional and national interests with free-market considerations.
The Camisea Project will make Peru an important exporter of natural gas and makes clear that ample private financing and advanced technology are readily available to help a country exploit its natural resources for the social development of all its people. U.S. oil entrepreneur Ray L. Hunt noted the importance of political stability and rational energy policies in attracting private capital, saying at the January 12, 2006, Camisea ceremony, “Peru has been blessed in terms of having a political system which is very much aware of its responsibilities to the people of Peru both today and for many generations to come.” President Toledo noted that the Camisea Project will generate about 35,000 direct and indirect jobs and US$200 million per year in royalties and taxes for his successor’s government. The project is also expected to account for a full 1 percent in additional GDP growth in Peru. Peruvians will save over US$4 billion in energy costs over a thirty-year period, noting that the marginal costs of power generation will be reduced by about 30 percent.
Venezuela and PetroCaribe: Debt and Dependence
Venezuela has made several political decisions concerning its oil production also stemming from the concept of oil as national patrimony as well as a foreign policy tool, an interesting example of which is its PetroCaribe initiative. Launched in June 2005, PetroCaribe represents an offer by Venezuela to its Caribbean neighbors of substantial savings in oil costs. The terms and conditions are important: PetroCaribe partners would purchase oil from Venezuela at a temporary discount of 30 to 40 percent (depending on the prevailing cost of oil), but the difference between the market price and the discounted price would be financed by Venezuela at 1 to 2 percent interest over fifteen to twenty-five years. Also, the Caribbean countries would be expected to replace privately run storage and distribution facilities with a state-run counter-part for the Venezuelan-owned PDVSA. Because most of the oil consumed in the Caribbean today is supplied by U.S. companies, Chávez’s apparent aim is to replace the U.S. commercial ties with dependence on a single Venezuelan supplier.
In his statement last month, Prime Minister Manning of Trinidad and Tobago (a country that remains out of the deal) was clear in his understanding of the obvious effects of the initiative: far from being a boon for the Caribbean, the approach inherent in the PetroCaribe scheme represents a retreat from the market principles that are central to Caribbean economic integration. Moreover, much of the oil consumed by Caribbean states today comes from Trinidad and Tobago. Those opting for the Venezuelan model may lose access to alternative sources of oil, Manning notes, leaving them vulnerable if PetroCaribe were to fail. “It is a question of cutting your own throat, if you are not careful,” Manning told reporters gathered in the CARICOM headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana.
Another concern is the impact on indebtedness. All fourteen of the CARICOM member states rank among the thirty most indebted emerging market countries in the world, comprising seven of the top ten. Just as the Caribbean states appeal to the international community for debt relief, the PetroCaribe arrangement requires these small economies to incur millions of dollars in additional debt to finance consumption.
It is clear that the PetroCaribe initiative was conceived in Caracas to buy influence with needy neighbors. It is ironic that, as one of OPEC’s chief price hawks, Chávez has advocated historically high oil prices since taking power in 1999. So the largesse he is using as political leverage comes in part from the poorest countries that are more susceptible than ever to this “charitable” scheme. While desperate Caribbean governments might be forgiven for grasping at almost any opportunity to deal with soaring energy costs, the long-term consequences of this decision may come at a much higher price than these fiercely independent leaders have calculated. And, as Prime Minister Manning makes clear, it is a serious setback for market principles.
Bolivia: When the Partner Becomes the Master
While Bolivia’s new president Evo Morales aimed his comment that Bolivia “needs partners, not masters” at the United States, he could well have been referring to his domineering friend in Caracas. After being sworn in, Morales signed agreements with Chávez that appear to put Bolivia firmly in Venezuela’s economic and political orbit.
One of the January 24 accords swaps 200,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude, diesel, and liquefied petroleum gas per month in exchange for 200,000 tons of Bolivian soy and 20,000 tons of poultry. Bolivia also accepted an offer from Venezuela’s PDVSA to provide technical assistance to exploit its vast natural gas reserves and to renovate its virtually moribund energy firm YPFB.
The barter deal smacks of the oil-for-sugar swaps between the Soviet Union and Cuba. One wonders why Bolivia could not find a ready market and a fair price for its agricultural goods among its traditional trade partners and instead must turn to an artificial arrangement. And, the only reason Bolivia would come to depend on Venezuela for energy is if Morales takes too much advice from the inexperienced political loyalists running PDVSA today.
Chávez clearly hopes that Bolivia will come to depend on Venezuela for more than advice. Bolivia is in need of billions of dollars in technology and infrastructure to tap its natural gas and carry it to markets. Even before Morales took power, the Bolivian Congress rewrote a hydrocarbons law in May 2005, declaring gas a strategic resource, making hydrocarbons state property held by YPFB, imposing new taxes on production, and ordering the renegotiation of previous shared-risk contacts. Needless to say, the law sent capital fleeing. Only those companies with a stake in the US$3.5 billion invested in Bolivia today have no choice but to roll with the punches, but few of them are eager to throw good money after bad. A dose of President Chávez’s advice on energy markets should frighten off the remaining intrepid investors still tempted by Bolivia’s potential. That may render Bolivia totally dependent for capital on Venezuela--its chief natural gas competitor in Latin America. The “partner” becomes the “master.”
The final bit of news from January shows the consequences of bad policy, as the Spanish energy giant Repsol YPF was forced to cut its proven reserve estimates by 25 percent. Fully half of the forfeited reserves are attributable to the political uncertainty and shifting commercial ground in Bolivia. According to Repsol’s statement, the May 2005 Bolivian hydrocarbons law that intends to vitiate binding contracts and raise combined tax and royalty rates to 50 percent renders future production in some Bolivian fields “no longer commercially viable.”
The latest signals from Bolivia point to a challenging environment for countries seeking to do business there. President Morales’ new energy minister, Andrés Soliz Rada, recently said that foreign firms could not count Bolivian oil and gas reserves as theirs because they actually belong to YPFB. New YPFB chief Jorge Alvarado has said that Bolivia would begin to acquire refineries now belonging to the Brazilian firm Petrobras. Several foreign oil companies, which have invested US$3.5 billion in the last decade, have declared their willingness to renegotiate the terms of their existing contracts with the new Morales team.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The Canada and Camisea experiences have served up fresh, compelling evidence that market-driven decisions in the energy sector pay dividends in every sense of the word. The statist model being foisted by Chávez on his neighbors is fraught with political and economic risks. Nevertheless, some governments may be tempted to seek facile answers, so the private companies with a stake in market-based approaches have every reason to make their case in this debate.
Western energy companies would be wise to use their capital and technical expertise as levers to encourage countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to adopt clear and fair policies that make investments safe and sound. Quite contrary to the rhetoric on the other side, rational energy policy grounded firmly in the marketplace is the only thing that will save the poorest countries from those who know a lot more about spending energy wealth than they do about generating it.
The Council of Americas’ Recommendations for Fostering a Hemispheric Energy Partnership
The Council of the Americas released a report titled Energy in the Americas: Building a Lasting Partnership for Security and Prosperity that served in many ways as the inspiration for this Outlook. The report highlighted several recommendations for the development of lasting energy partnerships in the Americas that are replicated with permission here.
To join the Partnership, governments take the following steps:
• Energy is a strategic matter for the United States, and support for increasing partnership in hemispheric energy must be a priority. For energy producing nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, energy offers a significant potential engine of growth and development. Such long-term, mutual interests should form the basis of regional partnership.
• Increasing energy production in Latin America and the Caribbean requires massive new investment, drawing from a limited pool of global capital. As a result, increased attention must be paid to overall investment climate matters generally, and energy investment specifically. Conditions must be proactively created to draw the amounts of investment required. Among them: improved education rates, regulatory certainty, non-discriminatory and stable tax regimes, effective personal security, anti-corruption [regulations], and effective dispute resolution.
• Long-term investors in all sectors are reassured when laws are respected and regulations are clear and fair. In a competitive global environment, nations that seek healthy investment inflows in their respective energy sectors must abide by contractual obligations as mutually agreed. When disputes arise, they must also be willing to implement the rulings of international arbiters in good faith.
• Energy in the Americas is traditionally viewed as part of the national patrimony, but it is also a commodity. Governments must do a better job of communicating the long-term benefits of energy projects to the broad spectrum of their citizens, while ensuring that such benefits are widely and visibly distributed. Beyond such benefits, reducing the cost of energy generally will also improve consumer well-being and improve competitiveness across the entire production chain. Both countries and companies should ensure a robust consultative process with environmental and indigenous communities during the development of new projects and be willing to listen to legitimate concerns.
• In the North American context, trilateral energy coordination focused on regulatory and harmonization standards, improved infrastructure, and increased Mexican energy production is fundamental to strengthen regional security and competitiveness.
• Greater integration requires the standardization of regional and sub-regional laws, taxes, royalties, and transmission rates. Nations should consider linking their energy sectors more closely together based on a high-standards, best practices approach in order to enhance market efficiencies and economic development.
• Energy diversification would lessen the impact of supply shocks, while increasingly utilizing alternative resources of significance in the Americas. Creative means should be found in trade policy and elsewhere whereby the use of such alternative fuels is encouraged or, at a minimum, not discouraged, understanding that alternative fuels will not represent a large percentage of the regional energy profile for many years. More generally, the sustained application of new technologies can deliver solutions to supply, efficiency, and environmental challenges that currently vex regional markets.
• Finally, multilateral organizations should continue to prioritize support for infrastructure development projects in the Americas, particularly those focused on energy. Enhanced project support and guarantees would encourage the rapid development of the energy sector in the Americas. Regional partnership should be encouraged.
AEI research assistant Megan Davy contributed to this article. AEI editor Scott R. Palmer worked with the author to edit and produce this Latin American Outlook.
1. President George W. Bush, “State of the Union Address,” Office of the White House Press Secretary (Washington, D.C.: January 31, 2006), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/.
2. Unless otherwise cited, most of the information in this section is taken from Council of the Americas’ Energy Action Group, Energy in the Americas: Building a Lasting Partnership for Security and Prosperity (Washington, D.C.: Council of the Americas, October 2005), 6–8.
3. David Luhnow, “Mexico’s Oil Output May Decline Sharply,” Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2006.
4. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy recently coordinated a private-public dialogue to identify for the Colombian government measures--which it has since taken--to make it more attractive to foreign capital.
5. For a summary of studies quantifying growth trends, see Martin E. Sandbu, “Taxable Resource Revenue Distributions: A Proposal for Alleviating the Natural Resource Curse,” (working paper, Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, August 2004), available at http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/cgsd/documents/sandbu_distribution_000.pdf.
6. “Canada’s Oil Supply Could Top Saudi Arabia: Report,” Canadian Broadcasting Company News, January 11, 2006, available at http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/01/11/canadian-oil060111.html.
7. “Manning Warns Caribbean against PetroCaribe,” Jamaica Observer, January 13, 2006, available at http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/Business/html/20060112T210000-0500_96451_OBS_MANNING_WARNS_CARIBBEAN_AGAINST_PETROCARIBE.asp.
8. David Biller, “Morales, Chávez Sign Energy Integration Accords,” Business News Americas, January 25, 2006, available at http://www.bnamericas.com/story.jsp?sector=9&idioma=I¬icia=342321.
9. “Repsol YPF to Cut Reserves 25%,” Business News Americas, January 26, 2006, available at http://www.bnamericas.com/story.jsp?sector=9&idioma=I¬icia=342524.
10. Council of the Americas’ Energy Action Group, Energy in the Americas, 11.
11. Alberta Department of Energy, “Oil Sands,” Government of Alberta, available at http://www.energy.gov.ab.ca/89.asp; Dave Ebner, “Canada Oil Sands Worth $1.4 Trillion,” Globe and Mail, September 29, 2005.
12. Report cited in Canada Association of Petroleum Producers, “Oil Sands Economic Impacts across Canada–CERI Report,” (CAPP backgrounder, September 2005), available at http://www.capp.ca/raw.asp?x=1&dt=NTV&e=PDF&dn=92079.
13. Athabasca Regional Issues Working Group, “Canada’s Oil Sands,” fact sheet, June 2005, available at http://www.oilsands.cc/pdfs/June%202005%20Oil%20Sands%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.
14. “Peru LNG Holds Official Signing and Site Dedication with President Toledo,” Rigzone.com, January 12, 2006, available at http://www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=28504.
15. “Manning Warns Caribbean against PetroCaribe.”
16. Ratna Sahay, “Stabilization, Debt, and Fiscal Policy in the Caribbean,” (IMF working paper, June 8, 2004), available at http://www.imf.org/external/np/seminars/eng/2004/carib/pdf/sahay.pdf.
17. “Repsol YPF to Cut Reserves 25%.”
18. Santiago Perez and Bernd Radowitz, “Petrobras Begins Talks With Bolivian Government,” LatinPetroleum.com, January 27, 2006, available at http://www.latinpetroleum.com/article_5201.shtml; and Alan Clendenning, “Repsol YPF Said Willing to Re-Negotiate,” LatinPetroleum.com, January 27, 2006, available at http://www.latinpetroleum.com/article_ 5202.shtml.
SUNDAY, February 26, 2006
The Torino Olympics, finally over - almost. A pretty good medal count. But I hope that the world was noting the American good, and not the bad and the ugly, as reported in today's NYTimes and The Day. We Americans, and not only Bode Miller, should all remember that arrogance and adolescence will get us only so far. (See "Miller's Last Olympic Stumble Is Final Blow To U.S. Swagger", by Bill Pennington, NYTimes today, pA1). Bird Flu. It is possible that this could become another "big one". Are we prepared? Probably not, if the Katrina and Rita debacles are any measure. For example, very little is discussed about a large cohort of people out there who would be both more susceptible to the ravages of infection and who would also act as contageous carriers for a longer period of time: those who have become immunosupressed as a result of receipt of anti-cancer agents. We can only hope that health and public safety planning includes that problem. Milan clothing design shows: Anorexia on Parade. Is anybody trying to help these girls? U.S.Representative Charles Rangel has trouble making a point without including a poison pill or two. He correctly proposes re-instating the draft...and then includes all Americans from ages 18-42, including his fellow lawmakers. Then he continues, by injecting both the class and the race cards as justification. By age 75, and after 18 terms, when will he become a statesman? We read today that nurses' unions are considering going national and joining the AFL-CIO. Watch out! Look at what happened to teachers...and to their trusting wards over the last 25 years. Arab Democracy is not an oxymoron. Once again, David Brooks offers the right perspective on the bigger picture. See "Keeping The Faith In Democracy", NYTimes today, Op-Ed, pWK 13. Here's another possible scenario for the future, a counter-weight to "The Singularity is Near" reviewed above, and no less anxiety-producing: "The Long Emergency: Surviving the converging catastrophes of the twenty-first century", by Howard Kunstler (Atlantic Monthlty Press). The problems here are the progressive unavailability and unaffordability of oil, and the consequent implosion of both our commercial and suburban life-styles. Are any of our leaders actually acting on these probabilities? Editorial Page Editor Morgan McGinley of The Day presents today a cogent argument for New London, Ct. changing to a powerful mayoral form of municipal government. (Perspective, pE1). But Morgan, this might give you cause for pause: I might run for that office.
SATURDAY, February 25, 2006
The following is my review of a book, in this case something for which I am totally unqualified. But will that stop me? The book is "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology", by Ray Kurzweil (Viking / The Penguin Group, New York, New York, 2005). The information, analyses and projections presented here are both highly provocative and anxiety-producing. In offering this review, I will use brief excerpts under the Fair Use Doctrine of copyright law.
"What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during
which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so
deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although
neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that
we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the
cycle of human life, including death itself...The key idea underlying the
impending Singularity is that the pace of change of our human-created technology
is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace." (pp5,6).
Thus the twentieth century was gradually speeding up to today's rate of progress; its achievements, therefore, were equivalent to about twenty years of progress at the rate in 2000. We'll make another twenty years of progress in just fourteen (by 2014), and then do the same again in only seven years...But because we're doubling the rate of progress every decade, we'll see the equivalent of a century of progress - at today's rate - in only twenty-five calendar years." (p11).
"In mathmatics a singularity is a value that is beyond any limit - in essence, infinity...The Singularity, as we have discussed it in this book, does not achieve infinite levels of computation, memory, or any other measurable attribute. But it certainly achieves vast levels of all of these qualities, including intelligence. With the reverse engineering of the human brain we will be able to apply the parallel, self-organizing, chaotic algorithms of human intelligence to enormously powerful computational substrates. This intelligence will then be in a position to improve its own design, both hardware and software, in a rapidly accelerating iterative process." (p485).
And there's the rub. Kurzweil infers that by about the year 2040 technology will have outstriped the best of human biology and intelligence, however much amplified in the intervening years; and that thereafter technology may achieve control of humanity. He describes this as happening through an explosion in the fields of Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics ("GNR"), all involved in expanding Artificial Intelligence. He addresses this aspect in the chapter entitled "The Deeply Intertwined Promise and Peril of GNR."
Even before that milestone arrives, the author foresees vast changes in Biology and Medicine. "Biotechnology will extend biology and correct its obvious flaws...Human life expectancy is itself growing steadily and will accelerate rapidly, now that we are in the early stages of reverse engineering the information processes underlying life and disease. Robert Freitas estimates that eliminating a specific list comprising 50 per-cent of medically preventable conditions would extend human life expectancy to over 150 years. By preventing 90 percent of medical problems, life expectancdy grows to over five hundred years. At 99 percent, we'd be over one thousand years. We can expect that the full realization of the biotechnology and nanotechnology revolutions will enable us to eliiminate virtually all medical causes of death."
A suggestion for navigating this book, at least on water-skis if not with scuba. The following chapters should definitely be perused: "Prologue; The Six Epochs; The Impact; Response to Criticism; Epilogue."
In my opinion, the author is probably right in his projections about
the future of technology. But he is much too sanguine about the implications
of all that for human society and for human nature. However, I have
one personal fail-safe position with which to weather this impending storm.
God made us in His image and likeness and, most importantly, gave is the
great gift of Free Will. In no way do I see Him allowing His creation
to have that Free Will taken from it, by accident or by design. If
- and when - that is in prospect, He will intervene. You can count
FRIDAY, February 24, 2006
Maybe it's my reaction to a long winter, but: ONLY GOOD NEWS TODAY.
As an antidote to the troubling news coming out of Iraq this week, read Eliot A. Cohen's article in today's WSJ entitled "Will We Persevere?" (Opinion, pA12). This is not spin, but extensive first-hand observation that supports optimism. "We may succeed in Iraq; we may also fail. Whether we do, however, depends partly on our skillful intervention, more on the attitudes and behavior of the Iraqis themselves, and even in the best case, on our willingness to persevere." Or, as President Bush put it today, "this is the moment of choosing". After the recent wrong-headed adverse decision by the Florida Supreme Court with reference to successful education choice programs, action which Gov. Jeb Bush has promised to circumvent with legislation, we read today about Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle finally approving a 33% increase in students who can be enrolled in that State's highly successful Parental Choice Program. Of course, any victories in this arena are achieved despite the best efforts of the teachers' unions and their "wholly owned subsidiary", the Democratic Party. "DESPITE APPEARANCES, SCIENCE DOESN'T DENY THE EXISTENCE OF GOD." (by Sharon Begley, WSJ Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, Marketplace, pB1). The Vatican itself recently came out with a statement that "Intelligent Design" should not be injected into the realm of Science. Nature and nurture have achieved a new and much more intimate degree of interactivity and relevance to the human product with studies of genetic pre-dispositions and how their expression can be moderated by parental and social surroundings. See "Parents Can Counteract 'Environments' Created By Children's Genes", by Sharon Begley, WSJ today, Marketplace, pB1. "That is a fundamentally hopeful message, because it suggests that genes are not destiny." NEWS FLASH: ALGORE LOST THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. See "Gore's Shameful Words", by Cal Thomas, The Day Monday, Feb. 20, 2006, Commentary, pA7. Finally, an informed reply to the fiction of "The DaVinci Code".
Dissecting "The Da Vinci Code"
Interview With Apologist Mark Shea
SEATTLE, Washington, FEB. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Millions have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many are expected to see the movie version when it is released May 19.
That is why Mark Shea and Ted Sri -- an apologist and theology professor, respectively -- have co-authored "The Da Vinci Deception" (Ascension), a guide that reveals the fact and fiction behind "The Da Vinci Code."
Shea shared with ZENIT the main inaccuracies in the "Code" book, and why they threaten the faith of Christians.
Q: What compelled the writing of this book?
Shea: The short answer is that tens of millions of people have read "The Da Vinci Code" and many have had their faith in Christ and the Catholic Church shaken. This blasphemous book has become a major cultural phenomenon, largely by attacking the very person and mission of Jesus Christ. It must be addressed.
The longer answer is that "The Da Vinci Code" has become the source for what I call "pseudo-knowledge" about the Christian faith.
Pseudo-knowledge is that stuff "everybody knows," such as the "fact" that Humphrey Bogart said "Play it again, Sam" -- except he didn't. Pseudo-knowledge doesn't matter much when the issue is the script of "Casablanca."
It matters greatly when it adversely affects the most sacred beliefs of a billion people, and when it levels the charge that the Catholic Church is essentially a vast "Murder Incorporated" network founded on maintaining the lie of Jesus' divinity and resurrection.
When that happens, very nasty genies get let out of bottles, as when the lies recorded by 19th-century czarist secret police forgers in the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" became the basis for what "everybody knew" about the Jews in the terrible anti-Semitic persecutions of the 20th century.
"The Da Vinci Code" has sold close to 30 million copies. In May, it will appear as a major film and will acquire even more unquestioned authority among millions of historically and theologically illiterate viewers -- unless Christians state the facts and help viewers recognize just how badly they've been had.
The Da Vinci Outreach initiative, led by Catholic Exchange and Ascension Press, will equip Catholics and all people of good will with resources to help them respond to this movie.
Those who say, "It's just a story," simply do not understand that this deception is part of the book's power. People often receive through fiction what they would be on guard against in reasoned debate.
And this is particularly true as Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code," has actually stated he would not change any of his basic assertions if he were writing nonfiction. Brown means for us to understand that his claims about the origins are Christianity are true.
Q: What are the main inaccuracies found in the "The Da Vinci Code"?
Shea: Let me count the ways. Blunders include factual errors and outright lies, large and small, about practically every subject Brown addresses in art, history and theology. He purports that bogus documents that even his questionable sources repudiate are factual.
He claims Leonardo Da Vinci doesn't give Jesus a chalice in his painting "The Last Supper" in order to hint that Mary Magdalene is the true chalice who held the "blood of Jesus" -- i.e., his child -- despite the fact there are 13 cups in the painting.
He chatters about the meaning of an Aramaic word in the Gnostic gospel of Philip, oblivious to the fact it's written in Coptic.
He calls Mary Magdalene the victim of a Catholic smear campaign without pausing to wonder why she's a Catholic saint.
He blames "the Vatican" for various plots and conspiracies that are alleged to have taken place centuries before there was any Vatican to plot them.
And, of course, in the biggest lie of them all, he declares that nobody before the year A.D. 325 thought of Jesus as anything other than a "mortal prophet" until Constantine muscled the Council of Nicaea into declaring him God "by a relatively close vote."
Of course, he does not stop to ask why, if Jesus was just a "mortal prophet," he bothered founding a Church at all -- nor what the Church was about for the first 300 years if nobody was worshipping Jesus as God.
Q: How do these inaccuracies challenge the Church, her teachings and the person of Jesus Christ?
Shea: Brown is attempting to establish a neo-pagan feminist creation myth. The basic myth is: Jesus was actually a feminist, agog for neo-paganism. The Church supposedly covered up all this with lies about his divinity. Brown's point here is: Let's get back to goddess worship as Jesus intended.
This laughably baseless claim is, of course, utterly contrary to the facts about Jesus. But many in our overly credulous and historically illiterate culture believe it. So Catholics must undertake to catechize not just themselves but their families, friends and neighbors, or they can expect this dangerous myth to continue spreading.
Q: Why is there a concern about Catholics -- and everyone else, for that matter -- viewing "The Da Vinci Code" movie without a discerning eye and solid background information?
Shea: Because it's written with the express intention of destroying faith in Jesus Christ and replacing it with neo-pagan goddess worship.
The problem is the average reader does not know "The Da Vinci Code" actually makes you more stupid about art, history, theology and comparative religion.
"The Da Vinci Deception" and Da Vinci Outreach are there to educate readers on the quite deliberate falsehoods -- as well as ignorant blunders -- that fill the story. We are also including a resource aimed at educating high school students and helping them to tune their "bunk detectors" to Brown's wavelength.
Q: The recent backlash by Muslims against cartoons on Mohammed seems to signal rising tensions between religion and society. What do you think of the timing of this movie?
Shea: Undoubtedly, the promoters of the movie will attempt to characterize Catholic complaints about "The Da Vinci Code's" assassination of the facts as identical to radical Islamist threats to free speech.
The problem with this claim, of course, is that the Church does not condone burning down buildings or threatening people with death, even when they lie about Christ. We simply and politely request that the creators of "The Da Vinci Code" to not palm off scurrilous lies as fact.
Western manufacturers of culture are always braver about smearing the Church than in confronting radical Islam because, as they know perfectly well, the Vatican does not issue "fatwas" or death threats.
Q: How do you hope this book informs those who plan on going to the film "The Da Vinci Code"?
Shea: "The Da Vinci Deception" breaks down in simple terms the basic pattern of lies Brown deploys in "The Da Vinci Code" so that the reader can clearly see the clockwork going on behind this novel.
The book is broken into 100 questions -- as was our previous book, "A Guide to the Passion" -- that walk the reader through the skillful weave of Brown's very artful falsehoods and show you why it's such a scam. Once you understand Brown's game, you start to realize that it is Brown -- not the Catholic faith -- that is taking people for a ride.
We are confident enough in our book that we would, in fact, urge people to go to the film after having read it -- the better to help deluded family members, friends and neighbors see through the scam.
Q: Why are people taking Dan Brown's novels so seriously? In Rome there are even guided tours retracing the places covered in his book "Angels and Demons."
Shea: "The Da Vinci Code" is yet another manifestation of what I call "the latest Real Jesus"; every generation tends to discover the latest Real Jesus.
A hundred years ago, Albert Schweitzer discovered that the Real Jesus was a Social Gospel Protestant. In the booming 1920s, people found that Jesus was actually a poster boy for salesmanship. In the 1930s, the Nazis discovered a Real Jesus who was Aryan, not Jewish, while the Communists discovered a Jesus who was actually the first Marxist.
In the 1960s, the Real Jesus was found to be a flower child in "Godspell" and a devotee of hallucinogenic mushrooms -- which explains all the visions and miracles nicely. In the 1970s, the Real Jesus was found to be a "superstar" as per the diktats of rock culture.
In the 1980s, he appeared on the scene to promise health and wealth and to heal your inner child -- that's when he wasn't suffering existential crises, grappling with his libido and riddled by self-doubt, rather like a self-absorbed baby boomer, in "The Last Temptation of Christ."
In the 1990s, he was suddenly discovered to be an enthusiastic homosexual in the blasphemous play "Corpus Christi."
Today, we live in a culture obsessed with the sex lives of the rich and famous, credulous about vast conspiracy theories, brimming with half-baked notions about paganism and feminism, and hostile to traditional notions of both reason and authority.
By some unfathomable coincidence, Dan Brown has discovered a Real Jesus who perfectly reflects this broad cultural mood. And when people believe things based on such a mood, particularly evil things, this is dangerous to their faith.
"The Da Vinci Deception" is designed precisely to help people stop taking "The Da Vinci Code" so seriously. Happily, Dan Brown and company have made things easy for us in that department.
His book is so laughably bad, its claims so easily and demonstrably false, the whole thing so silly, that debunking takes on a rather gleeful quality -- which is, I think, only fitting. The best cure for "The Da Vinci Code" is, in the end, hearty gales of well-informed laughter.
THURSDAY, February 23, 2006
With one exception, today's offerings are of the macro- or global variety. Such is the nature of the news this week. Incidentally, please understand my non-use of the "royal 'we'" in my comments. There's nobody else here: "what you see is what you git".
In recent days we have seen two articles, both in The Day, which I believe are related. On one day we read of concerns about charging alleged criminals from the age of 16 as adults. And today, we read about the poor "victims" of rampant binge drinking on our college campuses. Our society - and by that I mean mostly the parents - has long since "emancipated" its youth with too much permissiveness in spendable money, casual sex, drugs and generally irresponsible behavior. And now some want to give them another four (or five, or six) years of college as life deferred or delayed. Enough. At some point...at least by age 16...actions must have consequences. That means being charged and punished as an adult (although segregation from career criminals would be helpful). That means suspension or expulsion for irresponsible alcohol use or for any illicit drug use (although seminars and especially close contact with responsible adults would be helpful). Enough. Grow up! The following is a good summary of what is really going on regarding the port security furor.
Port Security Humbug
Wednesday, February 22, 2006; Page A14
YOU KNOW THERE'S something suspicious going on when multiple members of Congress -- House, Senate, Democrat, Republican, future presidential candidates of all stripes -- spontaneously unite around an issue that none of them had known existed a week earlier. That appears to be what happened last weekend after politicians awoke to the fairly stale news that the London-based P&O navigation company, which has long managed the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia, had been taken over by Dubai Ports World, a company based in the United Arab Emirates. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) called the deal "tone-deaf politically at this point in our history." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called for the White House to put a hold on the purchase. Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) seconded him, implying that Arab owners posed a major security threat -- as did everyone from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
At stake -- in theory -- is the question of whether we should "outsource major port security to a foreign-based company," in the words of Mr. Graham. But those words, like that of almost all of the others, sound, well, tone-deaf to us. For one, the deal cannot "outsource major port security," because management companies that run ports do not control security. The U.S. Coast Guard controls the physical security of our ports. The U.S. Customs Service controls container security. That doesn't change, no matter who runs the business operations. Nor is it clear why Mr. Graham or anybody else should be worried about "foreign-based" companies managing U.S. ports, since P&O is a British company. And Britain, as events of the last year have illustrated, is no less likely to harbor radical Islamic terrorists than Dubai.
None of the U.S. politicians huffing and puffing seem to be aware that this deal was long in the making, that it had been reported on extensively in the financial press, and that it went through normal security clearance procedures, including approval from a foreign investment committee that contains officials from the departments of Treasury, Commerce, State and Homeland Security, among other agencies. Even more disturbing is the apparent difficulty of members of Congress in distinguishing among Arab countries. We'd like to remind them, as they've apparently forgotten, that the United Arab Emirates is a U.S. ally that has cooperated extensively with U.S. security operations in the war on terrorism, that supplied troops to the U.S.-led coalition during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and that sends humanitarian aid to Iraq. U.S. troops move freely in and out of Dubai on their way to Iraq now.
Finally, we're wondering if perhaps American politicians are having trouble understanding some of the most basic goals of contemporary U.S. foreign policy. A goal of "democracy promotion" in the Middle East, after all, is to encourage Arab countries to become economically and politically integrated with the rest of the world. What better way to do so than by encouraging Arab companies to invest in the United States? Clearly, Congress doesn't understand that basic principle, since its members prefer instead to spread prejudice and misinformation.
The cartoon violence. The escalating Iraqi Shiite vs Sunni violence. The continuing stupidity in action - reaction - and counter-reaction between Israel and Palestine. The Nigerian and other terrorist activities. What to do? The following offering gives some useful insights regarding America's plans for its future conduct of WW III. Meanwhile, calling all moderate Muslims to earn their own freedom, their own democracy, and soon. Our soldiers will not continue walking that dangerous beat with a target painted on their backs. Nor will we completely leave the region unless you achieve long-term stability. We will protect our interests in the area, with you or without you.
February 21, 2006
Send In the State Department
By ROBERT D. KAPLAN
Korat Royal Air Force Base, Thailand
WHATEVER the future holds for Iraq, within a year or two there will be far
fewer American troops there, and the debate over whether our military is
overstretched may subside. Yet because of a bloody counterinsurgency that no
one in the military wants to repeat, Iraq has profoundly affected the
Pentagon's deployment strategies as it shifts toward a greater emphasis on
the Pacific Rim while still facing a profusion of terrorist-related threats
not just in the Middle East but also in Africa and elsewhere.
"After Iraq," one officer in the Pentagon told me, "we hope not to be
invading a big country for a long time, so we'll be reduced to low-profile
raiding, which the military has a very long and venerable tradition of, from
the 19th and early 20th centuries." This is one aspect of what the
Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review means when it speaks of the "long
The military wants to increasingly manage the world through quiet
cooperation on one hand, and the use of host-country proxies on the other.
At the forefront of this strategy is a combination of training missions with
other countries conducted by marines and Army Special Forces, humanitarian
efforts by Army civil affairs units, and discreet raids on terrorists in
places removed from the headlines. For the military, this is "soft power,"
because for the most part the methods used are indirect. And when they are
direct, few tend to notice, as when our surveillance planes assist local
forces in sub-Saharan Africa in the hunting and killing of Salafist
The long war, if smartly executed, can prevent a big war. In spending the
last few years embedded with Army, Navy and Marine units, I have learned
that the smaller the American military footprint and the less notice it
draws, the more effective is the operation. A few hundred Green Berets going
after narcoterrorists or Islamic extremists, as I have seen in Colombia and
the Philippines, can be effective force multipliers. Ten or twenty thousand
troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 135,000, as in Iraq,
constitute a mess.
The goal from now on is to get into a place fast, before a problem begins to
fester, when there is leeway to experiment and thus to make mistakes without
suffering a loss of prestige. The way to avoid quagmires is to be engaged in
more places, not fewer. Even if Iraq were to dissolve in chaos, this would
not lead to a new era of isolationism, at least as far as the American
military is concerned,
Take the Horn of Africa, a low-profile theater where small American military
teams comb a large region and engage in military training and civil affairs
projects with local forces as a way to build relationships in advance of a
major crisis. Never again should we be in the situation that we were in on
the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where there were no intelligence assets on
9/11 because we had closed all our networks the decade before, following the
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Thus the quadrennial review calls for an increase in Army Special Forces of
at least 15 percent. The growing emphasis on the Special Operations Command,
to which the Marine Corps will for the first time send a detachment later
this month, is less the brainchild of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld than
a product of his forceful articulation of a bipartisan ideal, supported
vigorously over the years by Democrats like former Senator Sam Nunn and John
Kerry. There are even plans to go beyond merely training local forces to
actually embedding small numbers of Special Forces and Marine advisers with
foreign troops on select combat missions.
While this is all good planning, there is still a major omission: the
civilian — or non-Defense Department — piece of it is entirely missing. The
longer the war, the less decisive is military technology and what the Army
calls "doctrine." The struggle against Al Qaeda and its offshoots will go on
for many years after a troop drawdown in Iraq, and in this worldwide
struggle the civilian piece associated with the State Department will be a
vital, unconventional asset.
There is precedent here: the British Colonial Office was, in effect, an
interagency office, overseeing not just the military aspects of empire but
also civil service, education and the like. No matter how vehemently people
deride 19th-century imperialism, the same people often ask why the Americans
can't be as smart in the field as the British.
To wit: a recent month-long visit to Iraq demonstrated to me that the
progress the American military has made there in reducing chaos over the
past two years is being jeopardized by the absence of public works projects
of the kind that soak up male youth unemployment.
Young Army and Marine officers have become expert at small-scale projects:
setting up neighborhood garbage collection, fixing generators and the like,
but such efforts make little dent in the long list of needs in sprawling
Iraqi cities. American battalion commanders hear litanies of complaints
about the lack of electricity and working sewers and often have no answers
except to refer the complainants to the new Iraqi agencies, which barely
function. As I saw one village elder tell an Army lieutenant colonel in the
Tigris River valley: "All we ask is that you restore services to the level
they were under the previous regime."
But the military's humanitarian activities around the world generally have
to do with immediate relief of natural disasters, and temporary good-will
gestures like holding daylong medical clinics, an unstated aim of which is
to gather intelligence. Repairing the roads and electrical grid and hospital
system of a large country is simply out of its domain. The military in Iraq
is near the point where it has done all that it can be expected to do. The
years of financial and organizational neglect at the State Department and
Agency for International Development is now fundamentally apparent in
shot-to-hell cityscapes like Mosul.
I am not arguing for an emphasis on the State Department over the Pentagon.
I am saying that for a worldwide fight against terrorism to be effective,
the State Department must become not only as bureaucratically dynamic as the
American military, but also as fully integrated with it down to the small
unit level. In other words, Agency for International Development officials
must work alongside Green Beret teams on the humanitarian side of
It is no accident that Special Operations Command gets its budget not from
the Pentagon, but directly from Congress, and that its bureaucratic
flowchart is numbing in its interagency complexity. It was always meant to
work organically with the State Department as well as the Pentagon. But this
goal has been insufficiently realized beyond PowerPoint briefings at its
headquarters in Tampa.
The long war envisaged by the Quadrennial Defense Review is not a sinister
vision but a reflection of reality. Even in the Pacific, where the American
military must be prepared for conflicts in Korea and Taiwan, the Chinese are
more likely to seek dominance through a growing web of trade and military
alliances with longtime allies like Thailand and the Philippines, as well as
through terrorist splinter groups in Southeast Asia and its archipelagos,
stretching all the way to Oceania.
The defense review's emphasis on Special Forces is correct; so is its
admission that technology is not always the answer. As for integrating a
newly robust State Department into this strategy, it is less the Pentagon's
responsibility than that of the White House and Congress.
Robert D. Kaplan is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and
the author of "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground."
MONDAY through WEDNESDAY, February 20 through 22, 2006
If there is, out there in cyberspace, a person who might be called a regular visitor to this site, you will have noticed by now that there are generally slim pickins from Mondays to Wednesdays. That tracks the busy part of my work week. During that period, I continue to note timely topics for "rapid response". However, one result is that I often get scooped by the Wall Street Journal during the early part of each week. I'm not complaining, mind you, since we often agree anyway.
Has Larry King decided to become the new, old Geraldo Rivera? His offerings have become much less substantive than in the past. A particularly disappointing offering took place a few days ago, when he marched out Woodward and Bernstein for a comparison between Nixon-Watergate and the alleged Bush penchant for "secrecy". Another sign of Democratic desperation. This week's "furor du jour": management of American ports. Based upon original information, I thought that the Bush administration's recent action was fool-hardy: they could never prove that they were right; and even a minor incident would be their complete un-doing. But armed with many more facts about the management of our ports for many years and regarding who is responsible for their security (however insecure), I now see this as another "stupid political tricks" game...this time with many spooked Republicans joining in. Nevertheless, the President should go before the American people right away to lay out those facts and his rationale. In politics and anytime when dealing with people, perceptions are more important than facts - and the current perceptions are bad. Hollywood is on a roll...with politically perspired movies...and we're not talking Michael Moore here. "Brokeback Mountain" wouldn't be so bad as a flic about two cowboys under the same blanket. But why did these manly men have to have wives and kids to be unfaithful to? Gratuitous, shameful. And what's all this about "humanizing" bestial terrorists who target thousands of innocent people to make a point? I'm referring to Spielberg's "Munich", and to "Paradise Now". This is just propaganda, and a waste of the positive role that Hollywood could play - and has played in the past. "Partial Birth Abomination" (not a spelling error) will have another day in court, the USSC, next Fall. In fact, this promises to be an active year for discussion on the real un-American practice...not Guantanamo or "torture" or the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to the handling of terrorists. So, pro-abortionists, please don't lecture me about "lost American values". You lost them long ago. Could it be that all the Olympic limelight shed on American athletes before they had performed blinded them and contributed to all those pratfalls? And what about the other 2,500 athletes from the other 84 countries? Aren't they doing anything interesting? The news out of Detroit and the recent strike at Connecticut's Sikorsky Works points up a major problem and a major solution. The problem: the massive health insurance costs that industry foolishly took upon itself since the 1970's; and the opportunity to shift an important part of that cost to the only possible gate-keeper that society will current allow: the patient / consumer. Of course, workers will have to get more money in their pay envelope with which to cope with this major - but long-overdue -economic shift. Health Savings Accounts can be an excellent vehicle for this. This has always been the only way to keep health care costs under control while maintaining quality. Employers finally realize that. Will the unions, always tilting toward socialistic security, see the benefit to all? Stay tuned. But this is the time to change course to a much healthier direction. Ethics and Law should never be at odds. We know how many times that has occurred in History. But let's avoid that here and now. Example: anesthesiologists rightly refusing to participate in an execution in California. Example:some States trying to legislate a requirement for Catholic hospitals to prescribe the "morning after pill" (ie, another form of abortion). Example: some States trying to force individual pharmacists in the same direction, on pain of losing their license. This is wrong...in Ethics and in Law.
SUNDAY, February 19, 2006
Does the name "Bill White" mean anything to you? It should. Mayor Bill White has been distinguishing himself as the leader of Houston, Texas who has been effectively and charitably helping over 300,000 refugees from Katrina, of whom over 150,000 are still there. This man is impressive. We will see more of him at higher governmental levels in the future. Meanwhile, FEMA remains AWOL, there and elsewhere. The world's reliance on oil, not only by the West but also now by awakened Asian giants like India and China, makes the ever - increasing evidence about global warming more alarming. We learn, from experts in the field and from today's Dilbert cartoon, that "oil is fungible". Curing oursenves of our "addiction to oil" will not suffice if we do not deter the Third World from needing it in order to enter the 20th and 21st centuries. The only viable solution to this problem is the broad provision of nuclear power for civilian use, on pain of pre-emptive destruction of efforts to use it for military or terrorist purposes. To this end, this administration's efforts towards peaceful nuclear power for India, already a nuclear military power, represent a necessary flexibility for such a policy. Of course, Iran has nothing to "grandfather in". Despite paying some attention to political realities in Africa, including an interesting article in The Day today that discusses private entrepreneurial and Non-Governmental Organization initiatives there, that remains a Dark Continent to me. Sorry, no comments...still learning. Locally, there are disturbing reports of alleged sexual harrassment in the Coast Guard Academy Corps of Cadets. Living here in New London, Ct., and personally knowing members, graduates and leaders of the Academy, I continue to believe and hope that this military academy has and will continue to distinguish itself from the shame that has visited the other academies. The Day (www.theday.com), through some of its editorials and in its recurring choice of inane political cartoons, continues to repeat its hard tacks to port, making it all the more difficult for many of us readers to avoiding falling overboard to starboard. What is it about the Left that makes it more comfortable with a moistened finger than with a firm fist held into the wind?
FRIDAY and SATURDAY, February 17 and 18, 2006
The following offering from a friend is entirely in keeping with the comments that introduce "The Involved Citizen" on this web-site. The complete speech is reproduced in that Category here.
One of my favorite speeches of all times, the speech by our 26th President before a distinguished gathering at the Sorbonne in Paris in April 1910, is a must read for all who consider themselves citizens of our Republic...THURSDAY, February 16, 2006Yet there are certain failings against which it is especially incumbent that both men of trained and cultivated intellect, and men of inherited wealth and position should especially guard themselves, because to these failings they are especially liable; and if yielded to, their- your- chances of useful service are at an end. Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities - all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Now back to real news, after the panic of the Paparazzi...those journalists who believe that they have a God-given or at least constitutional right to every bit of every person's life...and in timely fashion. Their real goal has been revealed today by NYTimes columnist Bob Herbert: "Mr. Vice President, It's Time To Go" (Op-Ed, pA33). Meanwhile, people like former Senator Alan Simpson (on Larry King this week), Mary Matalin (setting Katie Couric straight today on the Today show) and David Brooks of the NYTimes today got it right. (See "Places, Everyone. Action!", Op-Ed, pA33: "We have, when you put it all together, created a political climate impeccably sterilized of spontaneity and normal human response. We have our roles, dear audience. Ours is not to feel and think. Ours is but to spin or die.")
Meanwhile, the demonstrated implosion of the Department of Homeland Security during and since Katrina should raise the spectre of another elephant in the room. What is really going on with the highly-vaunted plans to coordinate the efforts and effectiveness of the CIA, the FBI, the DIA, the NSA, and the twenty-odd other intelligence agencies that served us so poorly before 9/11? My guess: nothing much, as Federal bureaucracies continue to do what they do best...protect their turf and CYA. That is why the abstract lecture offered today by George Will on the requirements of constitutional government in the face of the wire-tap issue fall flat...until his last two paragraphs: "Immediately after 9/11, the president rightly did what he thought the emergency required, and rightly thought that the 1978 law was inadequate to new threats posed by a new kind of enemy using new technologies of communication. Arguably he should have begun surveillance of domestic-to-domestic calls - the kind the 9/11 terrorists made. But 53 months later, Congress should make all necessary actions lawful by authorizing the president to take those actions, with suitable supervision. It should do so with language that does not stigmatize what he has been doing, but that implicitly refutes the doctrine that the authorization is superfluous." Besides, it will probably be the USSC that determines whether the President's actions are constitutional...and whether the 1978 Act is itself constitutional. Until then, the perils of this WW lll will require swift and unambiguous action at the highest level to protect America from another 9/11...and much worse. While all this is going on, we are fortunate to have at Foggy Bottom the clear head and stamina of Sec. Condoleezza Rice. Not one to be paralyzed by the "Alfonse and Gastone" antics of prior Secretaries in their deference to our European "allies", she is effectively implementing the current requirements of American foreign policy. "You go, girl!"
TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, February 14 and 15, 2006
"Res Ipsa Loquitur": "The thing speaks for itself". And so, I have just a three word comment regarding the millions of words and thousands of minutes the media have devoted to an unfortunate accident that took place during a private party in Texas: STUPIDO! STUPIDO! STUPIDO!
MONDAY, February 13, 2006
A recent story from the Internet:
The Sneeze:SATURDAY and SUNDAY, February 11 and 12, 2006They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-two students filing into the already ready crowded auditorium. With rich maroon gowns flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt.
Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and Moms freely brushed away tears. This class would not pray during the commencements ----- not by choice but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families. The speeches were nice, but they were routine......until the final speech, received a standing ovation.
A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened. All 92 students, every single one of them, suddenly SNEEZED!!!!
The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said, "GOD BLESS YOU", each and every one of you!" And he walked off stage... The audience exploded into applause. The graduating class found a
Unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.
This is a true story, just having happened at the University of Maryland.
The stars are in alignment: I have a lot to say, and the Nor'easter of Feb. '06 is in progress outdoors. So, here goes....
It is understandable, but Israel is taking an unproductive stance regarding Hamas, most recently expressed in its objection to Russia's pending dialogue with Hamas. Hamas won a fair and democratic election among the Palestinians on a platform stressing elimination of fraud and on the ability to accomplish things for the people - not on terrorism or on its stance against Israel. This is a different role for them. They should be judged by their future actions, if that part of the world has any hope for peace. Furthermore, Russia can have much more influence over their actions than Israel or even the US. can have. The increasing concern over the welfare of pets (dogs, cats...) would have more traction and less hypocracy if similar concerns were expressed over the welfare of aborted babies. South Dakota's law declaring that a human being exists from the moment of conception is about to be joined by a similar law in Indiana. More legislation is being acted upon relating to the perception of pain by babies being aborted. Of great importance is the recent medical report: "Extremely Low-Birth Infants Do Well As Adults", by Saroj Saigal, M.D, and colleagues at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and reported in the Feb. 8 issue of the JAMA. These researches found that a substantial majority of children who weighed between 501 and 1000 grams at birth were able to overcome early physical and developmental challenges and to become fully functioning adults. Together with the great advances made in neonatal intensive care units in the care of smaller and smaller babies, where does this put the "viability" discussed in Roe v Wade? In fact, the never legitimate claim of "pro-choice" while ignoring the other human being is now bankrupt. Today we learned that a tutor program offered by the No Child Left Behind Act for the students of failing public schools is being grossly underutilized. I wonder why. Could it be that the teachers' unions and their political hacks in the Democratic Party, "a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers' unions", are behind this? Am I cynical...or just experienced? A rare story, amidst the usual reports of gang violence and other atrocities in our prison system, involves a local Superior Court judge who reduced part of the long sentence given years ago to a then-teenager who had participated in the murder of a gay man. It seems that the criminal has been a model prisoner in the interim...and that the judge believes in the role of rehabilitation during prison terms. If there is such a role for prison life, our entire prison system needs to be modified and augmented. A good idea, so long as "punishment" does not get lost in a wave of feel-good efforts. Could it be? A connection between Olympic lobbyist Abramhoff and that Senate scold Harry Reid has been reported? Mothers who kill their already-born children are either professionally certifiable psychotics...or murderers. Everywhere we turn, there are strident allegations of "liar" thrust at this sitting President and his administration. The accusers certainly have not proven their cases...but they have presented a "prima facie" case that requires the issues to be tried and decided in courts of competent jurisdiction. President Bush, address these issues frontally and promptly. Or, the allegations will stick. Locally in New London, Ct., we read that the State Legislature is ready to take up "reform" of Eminent Domain. Just remember that the U.S. Constitution prohibits "ex post facto" laws that might otherwise affect the situation at Fort Trumbull. That existing situation must be resolved by the City of New London and the State of Connecticut on the basis of existing laws and on the recent decision of the USSC in the case of "Kelo v City of New London" Meanwhile, a few stubborn and mis-led people are making the most of their 15 minutes of fame which is turning to infamy and bad faith. They ignore the decision of our highest Court. They ignore the fact their actions subsequent to that decision are saddling all New Londoners with high taxes, including theirs, while they delay redevelopment in that blighted area of the city. And they don't even want to talk about compromise, as recently suggested by Mayor Sabilia. People are asking "how do we move this issue forward?" My answer: a bulldozer! Then, "let's talk".
FRIDAY, February 10, 2006
The funeral service of a patriot, Coretta Scott King, was debased by political cheap shots. What a shame. Especially shameful was the spectacle of Jimmy Carter berating the President at that place and time. Former President George H. W. Bush called it "ugly". That, too. As a result, Mr. Carter has vacated my Pantheon of good former Presidents and has regressed with age back through Governor and naval officer to just plain Georgia peanut farmer. And when will the Black community demand and get good leadership, instead of these clowns? On the Religion beat, two articles caught my attention in The Day today (Beliefs, pC6). The liberal 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 margin, "upheld New York City's policy on school holiday displays, which allows symbols of Jewish and Muslim holidays but prohibits Christian nativity scenes." And, right next to this: "'Vagina Monologues' splits Catholic Schools", referring in part to the University of Notre Dame! What split? What's the issue? At a Catholic institution, a moral climate and moral teaching must, where necessary, trump "academic freedom", whatever that is on today's radicalized campuses. Or, shall we re-name Notre Dame "You go, Girl University"? By contrast, a fitting Catholic position on a vital current subject is presented by Catholic League Chairman Bill Donohue...
February 9, 2006
FEAR GUIDES MEDIA RESPONSE TO CARTOONS
Catholic League president Bill Donohue commented today on the controversy over the Danish cartoons that lampoon Muhammad:
"The decision of most mainstream media outlets not to reprint or show the controversial cartoons is the right one: the Catholic League sides with the U.S., Britain and the Vatican in denouncing the inflammatory cartoons. Regrettably, the decision by the media not to offend Muslims is motivated by fear, not ethics. Worse than this by far is the violent reaction, and calls for violence, that have sprung up all over the Muslim world. This is pure barbarism.
"Whenever the Catholic League criticizes a work of art, cartoon, movie or TV show, we are told that (a) we're the intolerant ones (b) what is offensive is in the eye of the beholder (c) art is supposed to make people uncomfortable (d) no one can criticize anything until they have seen it (e) protests have a 'chilling effect' on free speech (f) it's not real anyway, and (g) get over it. So why have Muslims been spared this lecture? Because the extremists in their ranks-and they are not a tiny minority-have shown they may respond with beheadings.
"Why, according to the Washington Post, did European newspapers reprint the cartoons? It was 'not their love of freedom but their insensitivity-or hostility-to the growing diversity of their own societies.' The Los Angeles Times says it won't reprint 'these insensitive images.' The Miami Herald boasts that it 'must take great care not to offend.' The New York Times says it is wrong to publish 'gratuitous assaults on religious symbols.' The San Francisco Chronicle says 'insulting or hurting certain groups' is wrong. Both CBS and NBC say it isn't necessary to show the cartoons in order to report on them. CNN even went so far as to say that it 'has chosen not to show the cartoons out of respect for Islam.' Now if Catholicism were treated with such sensitivity and respect, we would have to shut down the Catholic League.
"Ethics, not fear, should guide the media. As for Muslims offended by the cartoons, they should learn what a civilized response entails."
THURSDAY, February 9, 2006
From ACFR NewsGroup No. 668, Friday, February 10, 2006
ITEM 3: Washington Post Editorial: The Uses of CartoonsMONDAY through WEDNESDAY, February 6 through 8, 2006
The Uses of Cartoons
Wednesday, February 8, 2006; Page A18
EXTREMISTS AND political opportunists across the Muslim world are rushing to exploit the controversy over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Late to the game but conspicuous in its crudeness is the Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which yesterday oversaw a second day of demonstrations outside European embassies while a newspaper it controls announced a contest for Holocaust cartoons. The Taliban is probably behind violent demonstrations in Afghanistan, including one directed at the largest U.S. military base in the country. And the Bush administration has rightly fingered the secular but cynical government of Syria for orchestrating the burning of embassies in Damascus and Beirut.
A clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West is the fondest ambition of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, from Britain to Indonesia. But it also is a convenient refuge for authoritarian regimes hoping to resist the rising pressure for political liberalization in the Middle East. That explains why Muslim outrage over the original publication of the cartoons in Denmark was patiently cultivated not by Osama bin Laden but by the Egyptian and Saudi governments. According to an account in the Wall Street Journal, Egypt's ambassador in Denmark worked with local Islamic clerics as they prepared an inflammatory propaganda campaign about the cartoons for dissemination through the Middle East last fall. In December a delegation of the Danish militants was received by senior clerics and government officials in Cairo, where the manufactured outrage contrasts with the quotidian persecution of a Christian minority and publication of anti-Semitic libels in the government-controlled press.
Europeans, too, have participated in the stoking of passions, if for different reasons. The cartoons, whose vulgarity and offensiveness are beyond question, were published as a calculated insult last September by a right-wing newspaper in a country where bigotry toward the minority Muslim population is a major, if frequently unacknowledged, problem. The Danish government depends for support in Parliament on a far-right populist party with an anti-immigrant agenda: Maybe that's why Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrogantly refused to meet with ambassadors from Muslim countries last fall, when the controversy might have been defused.
Last week, as protests escalated in the Middle East, European newspapers in Spain, France and Germany rushed to republish the cartoons, claiming they were defending freedom of speech. But there is no threat to freedom of speech in Europe -- no newspaper was prevented from publishing the cartoons, and demands by Muslims that European governments impose such censorship were quickly dismissed. In reprinting the drawings the European papers demonstrated not their love of freedom but their insensitivity -- or hostility -- to the growing diversity of their own societies. It is just such attitudes, more than any insult to Islam, that have inspired much of the Muslim resentment toward the West, and the growing anger of Muslims who live in Europe.
The few heroes in this sordid episode reside not in continental newsrooms but in the Middle East. In Jordan, where freedom of speech really is at issue, two editors bravely republished the offensive cartoons; they now face prosecution. In Iraq, the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned the Muslim inciters. It's not an accident that these Arab voices of reason are also leading proponents of democracy: They, more than anyone, are the ones deserving of the West's support.
Muslim riots over cartoons of their Prophet. Where were the adults at the Danish newspaper? And especially at the newspapers that decided to print those cartoons after Muslim rioting had begun? What were their motives? Where was their common sense...and any sense of propriety? It was said long ago in a decision by the USSC that freedom of speech does not include "the right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theater". And another wise jurist reminded us long ago that freedom is mainly the right to discipline ourselves.
In addition to the obvious manipulation of desperate young adults to desperate deeds for desperate goals, this is the spectacle of an entire culture in crisis. The Islamic world studiously avoided the entire Renaissance and the following centuries. It now is coming to realize that it cannot avoid the modern world. The result is the many manifestations of panic, by those both high and low on the food chain of the Muslim world. This is a drama whose main players must be Muslims themselves: moderates and extremists; secularists and religious fundamentalists; young and old. Only they can emerge from this period of their history: united or divided; peacefully or through civil wars; prosperously or as beggars. The role of the non-Muslim world is to contain the drama on its own stage...and not to let it spill throughout the audience...however strong our good will regarding the outcome for our billion + neighbors. This will take much more ingenuity than was needed to implement MAD during the Cold War decades. But the stakes are no less high.
SUNDAY, February 5, 2006
Angela Merkel is returning Germany to meaningful friendship with the U.S. after a dalliance with France. Her recent comments about the "primacy" of NATO in the international role of a united Europe is welcome to anyone who values Western unity in this dangerous time. Tim Russert conducted two important interviews this morning. Rep. John Boehner, the new House Majority Leader, presented himself as a self-assured man with clear ideas and with nothing to hide. And he committed himself to ethics reform of the House of Representatives. Senator Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rehabilitated himself further in my eyes (after his even-handed conduct of the Alito hearings) in his discussion regarding the iminent Judiciary Comittee hearings on "domestic surveillance". This is ultimately an issue of intrepretation of Article ll of the U.S. Constitution, notwithstanding the federal law signed in 1978 by then-President Carter. Even with the signing of that act, Carter described application of the law to surveillance "...in this country" The surveillance under debate is of international comunications. This introduces to the debate the importance of Presidential "findings", or comments (?) that Presidents submit as messages attached to their law-signings. Bottom line: the 800 lb. gorilla at the USSC will have to clarify it. We have in recent weeks read several reports of interviews with U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman and U.S. Representative Rob Simmons on a range of issues, especially having to do with national security and our related efforts in Iraq. Clear, informed and committed. Contrast that with the emanations of one former Governor Lowell P. Weicker. Alright, I'll stifle myself...
SATURDAY, February 4, 2006
From the occasional venting of my spleen (whatever that means) regardingThe Day, our regional newspaper that keeps getting high awards among the newspapers of New England, one might think that I didn't appreciate it. Not so. The Day is a fine newspaper with great writers and editors. They just need a dose of salts occasionally to purge them of the liberalism endemic to most journalists. What is it: Nature, or Nurture? And they also often have good taste in their selection of guest commentators...as in today's publication, which highlights articles by David Brooks, by Thomas Friedman, and by Charles Krauthammer. Not too shabby for our little corner of the world. Thanks, folks.
FRIDAY, February 3, 2006
Another one of those potpourri days.
The long-planned completion of Route 11 to the coast in Southeastern Ct.: another "BIG DIG"? Spare us! Connecticut has many higher priorities. Alright. Then-EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman was carried away by her own wishful thinking when she suggested that people living in the 9/11 World Trade Towers neighborhood could immediately return to their homes and work without health consequences. And a Federal judge has just held her accountable for that statement. But doesn't the people's common sense have a role here too? Unfortunately, those many thousands of Americans knew or should have known that they were making a choice between breathing and eating. All of that is why we're not going to sit by and take it any more. Politics on parade...again. Democrats like Senators Carl Levin and Jay Rockefeller were unfazed by the clear testimony of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and CIA Director Porter Goss regarding the severe threats to this country and regarding the tools we need to address them. That's one reason why, together with considerations of separation of powers, this Administration declines to cooperate with nearly half of this Congress in its demands and tactics. Or, to use the name of the restaurant opened by two partners...one Japanese and one Jewish...SOSUME! Some more local issues. 1) The Day (www.theday.com) should finally dump Toles political cartoons, a parade of grotesqueries culminating in today's offering, published elsewhere, exploiting a double amputee soldier to make his childish point. "Have you no shame?" 2) David Collins is right on target in his article in today's The Day, commenting on recent New London City Council ruminations about selling off City Hall, among other things: "Have They Gone Completely Crazy?", Daybreak, pC1. It's one thing to "brainstorm"; its another to "brain....". It's one thing to have a 'stroke of genius"; its another to just have a stroke. IT'S THE DOWNTOWN, FOLKS! And while you're at, KEEPA YO HANDSA OFFA OCEANA BEACH PARK! The recent developments regarding the Fisher's Island Ferry District operator, the action of the Court, and the District Board's comments all give credence to the developing contempt of the rule of law in some quarters of our society today. But maybe the Coast Guard will come to the rescue.
THURSDAY, February 2, 2006
The State of the Union Message: other views. Just read today's The Day (theday.com). to get the views of liberals (the Editorial), a moderate (Chris Powell), and a conservative (George Will) (ppA10,11). But all their complaints...and they are uniform in that...seem to have one basis: the message was given by President George and not King George. He can't accomplish too much without the help of some feckless Republicans and many cynical and traumatized Democrats. But, as a good leader, he is pointing the way and offering a target...including himself. This is more than we've had from many Presidents, including the last two. Meanwhile, last evening my wife and I attended a seminar sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Ct. One of a series of lectures on Homeland Security Law, this one was entitled "Detainees in the Global War on Terror: Guantanamo Bay and Beyond." Participants included Professors David Caron of Berkeley and David Kennedy of Harvard (presenting the liberal position), and Todd Gazaino and David Rifkin (conservatives). All made points familiar to us all regarding the opposite sides of these questions. But some points of dispute stood out: 1) Are we at war at all? 2) Regardless of the answer to that question, should we not always follow the rules of law, national and international, without modification or exception? And do our national laws always trump international laws...or do they not? 3) Regarding "torture" can we only "know it when we see it"? 4) Should there be a class of the enemy called "unlawfuf combatants" who by their actions have placed themselves outside the Geneva Conventions, outside of the rules of war and beyond the safeguards of society's criminal justice system? Discounting the "bloviating" from one side and the stridor from the other side, these are good questions whose answers will continue to determine America's actions...so they must be addressed deliberately. "Come. Let Us Reason Together." On the issues of civil liberties and the requirements of homeland security, nothing in play now compares with actions taken in similar times of war under Presidents Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, and F.D.R. This is not to express an opinion on those actions. But, as U.S. Representative Rob Simmons of Connecticut recently said: "Civil liberties are incredibly important, but not if you're dead; dead people have no civil liberties."
TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, January 31 and February 1, 2006
THE STATE OF THE UNION MESSAGE."A hopeful society". The message of a leader, willing to argue and fight for his proposed solutions to America's problems and challenges. No "malaise" here. No vacuum here for political mischief to flourish. Some themes:
There were specific recommendations regarding Health Care, Energy ("America is addicted to oil!"), and the signs of erosion of the moral underpinnings of this country.
Justice and Peace require freedom for all. We promote democracy for our own safety. We are at war with Radical Islam, which is the perversion of a noble Faith. We take the terrorists' intentions seriously; and we will not allow the violent to inherit the earth. There is neither peace nor honor in retreat. We will not surrender to evil. We have adjusted our idealism to the realities on the ground. And we are winning. Hindsight is not wisdom. Second-guessing is not a strategy. Isolationism will not work. We will not dis-engage from the world. Democracy is the right and the hope of all humanity; and we want to help. We need tools like the Patriot Act and surveillance of international communications. We will not sit back and wait to be hit again! We seek the support of our allies for this, which will be a long war. For the U.S. to prosper, we must avoid protectionism and centralization and higher taxes. We also need immigrants, admitted in an orderly and secure manner. We cannot engage in economic retreat. On the domestic front, 60% of our national budget is controlled by Social Security, Medicare and Welfare. The related problems must be solved; they will not go away; and delaying a solution will only leave us with terrible choices in the near future. (Here, the ever-cynical, ever nasty, ever un-helpful Democratic side of the aisle rose and gave a collective Bronx Cheer. Very nice).
This was an assertive, even aggressive presentation...a challenge to the nay-sayers. Because this is "a point of choosing" for America.