Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What About the Oil?

In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, some critics of the Bush administration said the real reason for the invasion would be to get American hands on Iraqi oil, the second largest reserve in the world. Administration officials, particularly Dick Cheney, claimed that after the invasion, Iraqi oil revenues would be substantial. Figures they provided to Congress estimated the War cost at $100 billion and the oil revenue in the first couple years to be $50-100 billion, with a tacit implication that the oil revenue might eventually pay the US back for the financial cost of the invasion.

So far the invasion and occupation have cost the American taxpayers over $215 billion with much more expense to come even if some troop withdrawals eventually start. As I pointed out here last year in “Is Iraqi Oil Paying for the War?”, only $8 billion oil revenue was received in 2003, with $15 billion projected for 2004. So what has been happening with the Iraqi oil revenue and what does the future seem to hold?

As the Christian Aid organization reported last year in its paper, “Fuelling Suspicion: the coalition and Iraq’s oil billions”, the US dominated Coalition Provisional Authority stalled and failed to cooperate with UN investigators seeking an accounting for the Iraq oil revenues. The CPA failed in its supervision of the oil program and then abruptly turned over authority to the interim Iraqi government, without an accurate accounting, and the CPA went out of existence before it could be finally called to task by the UN.

This past July, the Christian Science Monitor published “Why Iraqi oil money hasn’t fueled rebuilding”, pointing out that in addition to sabotage by the insurgents, the oil revenue has been depleted by smuggling and theft.

In a mini-history, “Oil in Iraq”, the Global Policy Forum explains that US and UK oil companies were excluded from Iraq in 1972, when the oil fields were nationalized, and they have been trying to get back into play ever since. In the last years of the Saddam regime, oil companies from other nations made deals for Iraqi oil, but the UN sanctions, pushed primarily by the US and UK, kept those deals from going into effect. Following the invasion of Iraq, the new Iraqi Constitution, substantially influenced by the US, includes a provision guaranteeing that foreign companies will be players in the Iraq oil deals, and once the new Iraq elections take place, contracts will be awarded. Imagine how much money oil companies are using to buy influence over who gets elected, in spite of the fact the Iraqi people understandably favor keeping the oil fields nationalized.

There were no WMDs. There was no Al Quaeda connection. Saddam was overthrown and perhaps another flavor of democracy in Iraq will be added to the world collection. But the one reason for the invasion that has survived through it all is that the US and UK oil companies now have the inside track on beating the Iraqi people out of a fair deal on the Iraqi oil [see the just published “Crude Designs: the Rip-off of Iraq’s Oil Wealth”], which they can then turn around and gouge us for at the gas pump.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

As families expand, holiday times get more complicated. We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house Wednesday and all went well. I have much to be thankful for on the personal side, as I hope you do also.

For our country, some thanks are also in order. I just looked at the “Top Ten Concerns of 2004" posted on Sense in January, which addressed the negative feelings following the November election. There are some positives to report on the concerns that were listed. The world community and UN are now being joined by the American people in recognizing the failings of Bush. Much of the media is now doing its job in properly questioning the Bush Administration. The attacks on the environment are being somewhat stalemated. But the Patriot Act is not being seriously challenged, Katrina showed the continuing plight of inner city blacks and “intelligent design” is gaining legs as an issue.

I also revisited the “Good News of 2004" post, which looked for some positive hope, saying, “Good news will be any that shows the country heading back toward the right course after being hijacked by Bush.” All the public opinion polls are showing Americans are ready to take our country back from the hijackers. I am thankful for that this Thanksgiving, but will be especially thankful for it next Thanksgiving, if in the elections the Republicans suffer significant Congressional losses.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Attack the Messenger

I don’t claim to have been aware of who Congressman Jack Murtha is, though the Pennsylvania Democrat has been in Congress for over thirty years and is a powerful member of the House. This decorated veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars has long been acknowledged as a solid hawk on military and defense issues including voting for the Iraq invasion.

But a few days ago, in a powerful speech pointing out the failures of the Bush Administration course in Iraq following the initial military victory, Murtha advocated redeploying our troops out of Iraq and letting the Iraqi people take over their own matters, while we keep sufficient troops nearby, perhaps in Kuwait, in case their use back in Iraq as peacekeepers becomes necessary. Today on Meet the Press, Murtha explained his position further, as shown in the online transcript.

Murtha is not a grandstander. He is a sincere advocate for our troops. He makes weekly visits to the wounded at Walter Reed Hospital. He has the respected attention of our top military brass, who give him their true assessment of the war. He definitely knows what he is talking about and his views deserve to be heard by the American people and properly debated in Congress. But the Bush administration does not operate that way. Instead of addressing the issues, they personally attack anyone who challenges their positions, or more accurately, their slogan, in this case being “stay the course” [addressed in the Sense piece, “Cut and Run”, back in September].

The attacks on Murtha were so outrageous that they went full circle through ludicrous and back again to outrageous. Cheney promptly implied people like Murtha lack backbone, to which Murtha responded, “I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done”. Various House Republicans said Murtha was “surrendering to the terrorists” and “emboldening our enemies”, but the low point came when Neophyte Congresswoman Schmidt of Ohio said, “cowards cut and run”. Outraged Democrats who had been jeering the Republican attacks on the House floor stormed the podium in response to the Schmidt attack, causing the session to be recessed until order was restored and Schmidt apologized and had her remarks stricken from the record.

The neocon strict father George W. Bush first found that his Iraqi children were unappreciatively disobedient, and next that the American public has come to realize that the Bush parental skills are deficient. Now his tyrannical parenting attempt is being challenged by an increasing number of previously submissive Congressional supporters who are starting to stand up to him and his character assassins. Neocons have salivated for a long time over the prospect of serving the American people Iraq as a meal, but now that they have put it on the plate, they are finding the American people have little taste for it.

In a new book, “Attack the Messenger”, Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford writes about how politicians turn the public against the media, an obfuscation tactic he says was first notably turned to advantage by George H. W. Bush in 1988, to deflect media attention from his involvement in the Iran Contra affair.

Two Kinds of Leakers

Now that Bob Woodward has come out of his personal journalistic hideout to admit that he actually had the earliest yet reported knowledge of the Valerie Plame leak, I have some further comments.

As to the substance of the leak investigation itself, prosecutor Fitzgerald is asking for a new grand jury, which I take to mean he will continue to investigate whether charges should be filed against someone for leaking Plame’s identity or for perjury related offenses. Woodward’s leaker informed the prosecutor and authorized Woodward to do the same, but the leaker did not go public or authorize Woodward to go public. The American people are still being kept in the dark as to whom the leakers were besides Libby. We don’t know if the leaker to Novak, who published the identity of Plame, was the same person who leaked to Woodward. If Bush was the strict father the neocons pretend he is, he would take all his White House children behind the wood shed and beat the truth out of them. But while he claims the moral authority to torture anyone else, that prospect does not seem imminent for his own appointees, especially since they were supposedly leaking for his benefit.

As for the journalistic angle, Woodward of course claims he was shielding his source as promised, but he also admits he was intimidated by the prospect of the prosecutor subpoenaing him and threatening jail time for not co-operating. What I find especially insulting to the public, whom journalists are supposed to serve, is that while he kept mum about his own knowledge and involvement in the leaking, Woodward had no problem publicly belittling the importance of the investigation and readily appearing on TV to put it down, even specifically denying any personal knowledge.

Any privilege afforded a reporter to refuse to reveal a source exists for the protection of the source and the benefit of the public, not for the protection or benefit of the reporter. There are two kinds of leakers. The first are the kind involved in the Plame leak, administration officials attempting to stifle legitimate public criticism of the administration while hiding anonymously behind the privilege. The second are whistle blowers, insiders attempting to inform the public about matters the administration is illegitimately keeping secret. Those who leak for the benefit of the administration do not deserve any privilege in a criminal investigation. Whistle blowers do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Radical Neocons

While not writing here for several days, I have been busy with other endeavors, including following the news and thinking about it, particularly with reference to the ideas presented by the politically progressive linguistics professor, George Lakoff, in his book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, which I just finished reading. I mentioned this book in connection with two postings back in January, which remain relevant today: “We’ve Been Framed” and “What Kind of a Father is Best?”.

The Republican party, and the American government to some extent, have been taken over by proponents of a bogus ideology framing itself as conservative with Christian family values. The power and money to push this ideology has been provided for almost 40 years by a wealthy power elite whose domestic and foreign policy are both based on a simple, but hidden, goal - that the members of that elite should amass ever greater wealth and power at the expense of everyone else, both in America and throughout the world.

This global greed is not truly Republican, nor American, conservative, Christian, familial or valuable. It is a radical deviation from what each of these concepts has traditionally meant. Some people have tried to more accurately label the proponents of this deviation as “neocons”, or false conservatives. Economics Professor Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, refers to them as “radcons”, or radical conservatives. I propose to combine the two terms and call them “radical neocons”.

Professor Lakoff points out how the radical neocons use the strict father metaphor to frame all aspects of their agenda. In future pieces discussing current issues here at Sense, I will integrate relevant comments on the position of the radical neocons and how they have been framing the issue under discussion using their strict father metaphor. I will also suggest ways the issue should be more honestly re-framed, using the progressive nurturing parent metaphor as Professor Lakoff suggests.

The strict father metaphor is intended to appeal to the need children have to be protected from evil by a strong father, who proclaims his values as those to be followed by his subservient family who should unquestioningly obey him or suffer the consequences. The strict father who succeeds in protecting his family and in training them to obedience is rewarded with the remunerations of success, financial and otherwise. The God of the Old Testament is his model. Radical neocons cast George W. Bush in this strict father role, with America and all the world intended as his childlike family, but people outside America knew he was miscast from the start. As his performance enters its second half, two thirds of Americans now have realized that Bush was better cast as the Prodigal Son.

Friday, November 04, 2005

What’s the Issue?

With election day on Tuesday, most voters will be facing several ballot issues on which they are entitled to vote. How do you decide which way to vote? Let me tell you how I personally make these decisions.

The progressive reform movement that took hold in America around the turn of the 20th Century, out of concern that elected officials were not being adequately responsive to the needs of the people, spawned three new methods for direct citizen input into government decision making: the initiative, the referendum and the recall. Here is a concise description of these processes from the National Conference of State Legislatures, pointing out some variations from State to State.

Recall elections are the least common. A recent notable example was the removal of Governor Davis in California, a situation which seemed to me motivated more by Republican political opportunism than by some malfeasance or misfeasance on the part of Governor Davis, which is the standard I think should be applied in voting for recall.

In considering an initiative or referendum, the first thing I do is determine why the issue is on the ballot instead of being handled by the government officials we elected to conduct our business. In some cases, the State Constitution requires the issue be placed on the ballot, such as for State Constitutional amendments, in which case I look at the presentations on each side of the issue and decide which makes most sense to me. Sometimes the issue is a hot potato which the Legislature fears, in which case I again have to look for the most sensible side to take, though I wish the ballot gave an option to vote that the Legislature should do what we elected them to do - decide this issue as part of the overall package of issues being faced.

Too often, an initiative is placed on the ballot through the efforts of a group with a personal economic and ideological interest in the vote. Instead of lobbying the Legislators or educating the public on the issue, the interest group hires professional marketers to guide the measure through to passage. I think such marketing of issues is improper and dilutes the value of the legitimate initiative process, so I almost always vote against such issues on general principles.

Another category of issues is the so-called taxpayer revolt, placing limits on certain targeted taxes, often supposedly to “send a message” to the Legislature. These revolts and messages are naive disruptions of the Legislative process of budget making and I usually vote them down.

A final category I will mention is the issues that are sincerely intended to be for the benefit of the general public, but which the Legislature may not be fully considering. Examples could be environmental and animal protections and educational reforms. To me, these are legitimate uses of the initiative process, so I give them special study and try to decide based on what I think is in the best public interest.

A very good book on how these progressive reform processes have come to be abused is “Democracy Derailed” by David S. Broder.