Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You Lie!

The hell with Joe Wilson and his attention-grabbing antics during Obama's healthcare speech last September, this is me lobbing the accusation at the White House, regarding the present hemming and hawing on withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan.

Seems like the stalemate that has been predicted by virtually everyone with a functioning brain who has studied history, has crystallized tensions within the government over the viability of President Obama's plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out by July 2011.

From the New York Times: For now, the White House has decided to wait until a review, already scheduled for December, to assess whether the target date can still work. But officials are emphasizing that the July 2011 withdrawal start will be based on conditions in the country, and that the president has yet to decide how quickly troops will be pulled out.

Even if some troops do begin coming home then, the officials said that it may be a small number at first. Given that he has tripled the overall force since taking office, Mr. Obama could still end his term with more forces in Afghanistan than when he began it.

“Things are not looking good,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a regional specialist at the Brookings Institution who helped formulate the administration’s first Afghan strategy in early 2009. “There’s not much sign of the turnaround that people were hoping for.”

Add to the clusterfuck that is Afghanistan the recent news that the war has surpassed the longevity of the clusterfuck that was Vietnam, and...

...but wait. Hold the horses and the carts brothers. Seems the United States has "suddenly" discovered a veritable treasure of nearly $1 trillion of un-tapped mineral deposits in the land of poppies and public stonings in soccer stadiums. We can't possibly leave now, right? Not with all that booty of iron, copper, gold, and lithium (your iPods/iPhones/iPads/iEyes are made from this sought-after alkali) waiting to be extracted.

This is complete and utter rubbish, and I expect a hell of a lot more from this administration, but time and time again it's disappointed beyond belief and in this particular case it's acting much like its predecessor. Knowledge of this "suddenly-discovered" treasure chest by the U.S. military has been floating around concretely since the Soviets stuck their fat Commie fingers into Afghanistan in the late 70s. You see, it wasn't just an ideological conversion the boys in the Politburo were after; the old hags knew very well what laid buried beneath that dusty, crusty (and aptly-named) lithosphere.

Despite the staggering news yesterday that the vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was just recently discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists and that the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, there is published evidence that the government has known about this for at least three years.

A 2007 United States geological report indicated that Afghanistan may very well be the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," reported the New York Times.

But, as a (sometimes disputed) literate, interested person in our long, convoluted history and subversive political and military meddling into Afghanistan, I call bullshit even on that timeline. If the Soviets knew about this booty in the late 70s, you better goddamn well believe Langley and the NSA were on top of this.

And so it goes. Orwell's prophetic words from 1948 ring true at almost every step, throughout almost every decade. War is indeed peace.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter III of "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" by Emmanuel Goldstein, the book that Winston Smith reads in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" before being arrested. If someone wants to know where the current idea of a never ending war (in this case against terrorism) comes from, the answer is here: a lucid analysis of the function of war and why war (and terrorism) will forever be with us unless we deal with and dispose of state and super-state power once for all.

All of the disputed territories contain valuable minerals, and some of them yield important vegetable products such as rubber which in colder climates it is necessary to synthesize by comparatively expensive methods. But above all they contain a bottomless reserve of cheap labour. Whichever power controls equatorial Africa, or the countries of the Middle East, or Southern India, or the Indonesian Archipelago, disposes also of the bodies of scores or hundreds of millions of ill-paid and hard-working coolies. The inhabitants of these areas, reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves, pass continually from conqueror to conqueror, and are expended like so much coal or oil in the race to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, to control more labour power, to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, and so on indefinitely. It should be noted that the fighting never really moves beyond the edges of the disputed areas. The frontiers of Eurasia flow back and forth between the basin of the Congo and the northern shore of the Mediterranean; the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are constantly being captured and recaptured by Oceania or by Eastasia; in Mongolia the dividing line between Eurasia and Eastasia is never stable; round the Pole all three powers lay claim to enormous territories which in fact are largely uninhabited and unexplored: but the balance of power always remains roughly even, and the territory which forms the heartland of each super-state always remains inviolate. Moreover, the labour of the exploited peoples round the Equator is not really necessary to the world's economy. They add nothing to the wealth of the world, since whatever they produce is used for purposes of war, and the object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. By their labour the slave populations allow the tempo of continuous warfare to be speeded up. But if they did not exist, the structure of world society, and the process by which it maintains itself, would not be essentially different.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Am Part Of The Problem


When it comes to the environment I really do go out of my way to be good to the earth, for someone who lives in the modern world. I take cloth bags with me to the grocery store, I don't put my produce in those plastic produce bags (I never understand why anyone does, and I've seen people put a single apple in a bag. What the fuck?!!?), I buy organic local as much as I can, I look for bulk bins so I can avoid small plastic bags. The downtown farmers market has a bin of black beans from a farm within 100 miles and I can scoop them right in to a paper bag, thus avoiding both plastic bags and tin cans while buying a product from nearby instead of from California or Mexico.

I also get to the store by foot or public transportation, how I get around in my daily life. I put my kid in the stroller, throw my bags underneath and come home lugging sometimes three full bags of groceries. I haven't owned a car in 18 years and I'm really proud of that fact. Yes, my life would be easier with one, and there are days when I'm going home with heavy groceries, pushing the stroller and getting rained on that I really question that choice. But I'm glad I do it. The world would be a better place with a lot less cars in it.

We, my wife and I, even spend a little more money to use an environmentally-friendly diaper system that involves reusable pants and liners stuffed with biodegradable inserts that collect all the pee and poop. No plastic goes in to the landfills from our diapers. We also use cornstarch garbage bags to limit the amount of plastic we throw out so we can avoid adding to the continent made of plastic swirling around in the Pacific.

And I recycle like crazy.

But there is a good chance that all of this good I try to do for the earth is negated by how much I travel. See, even though I really can't stand to fly I do it a lot. And you want to talk about how many pounds of carbon per passenger mile a jetliner puts out? Ooh boy, no other mode of transportation even comes close. And it puts the stuff a hell of a lot farther up in the atmosphere, as to maximize the damage.

And in the next four months alone I will be taking at least four round trip flights. All from Chicago; two to the East Coast, one to the West Coast and one to Europe. That doesn't even get us to the holidays so who knows how many I might have by the end of the year? And we already know we are going to France next summer.

I certainly do well once I'm in my destination. I'm a master at getting around public transportation around the world. It is very rare that I need to rent a car. It is just the getting there that I'm helping to pump the air full of CO2. Granted, I'm better than someone who drives an SUV in their everyday life and also travels as much as me. But still.

I love to travel. I love it more than I love doing just about anything else. I talk to other people that like to travel and they always mention that, even though they love traveling so much, they are always happy to get home. Not me. Whenever I'm in line at U.S. Immigration after getting off a plane form overseas I'm always thinking to myself, "Fuck, I'm home."

I certainly would fly less if given the chance. I think a lot of people would. If they could get a real high speed train going between Chicago and New York, ones that can go 200+ mph like ones in Europe, that trip could take as little as six hours or less. Even if it got cut to eight hours I would choose that over the plane. But when it takes an overnight 18-hour trip it is hard to pull off when a person has only a certain amount of time. If it wasn't for our laughable vacation time in America it might be possible. My wife gets four weeks, which everyone considers a lot, but would be a reason to go on strike in many European countries.

A train that could go that fast could put air routes between many cities, like Chicago-NYC, out of business. And the environmental impact difference would be amazing. Especially if those trains ran on renewable electricity. If I could get around my own country on just trains and only have to fly when going overseas I would feel a lot better about it.

But for now I know not what to do. I have an insatiable and incurable wanderlust. (To the point where it can drive my wife mad. I started talking to her the other night about thinking where we wanted to move next. This is after we just moved less than ten months ago for her to start a new job. I'm pretty sure she wanted to smack me in the head.) I want to see as much of the world as I can before I die.

I can't imagine giving up travel, even though I know the environmental toll. It would kill me.

I'd like to think I'm better than that asshole driving around Manhattan, the place with the best public transit in the country, in an SUV. But maybe I'm not, after all?

Gaza, Israel, etc. Follow Up

Great essay by Rich Cohen in this morning's Salon selections, that I believe serves as a great continuation of the discussion established by Deni last week.

I don't know enough if the history of the region to say whether or not the solutions offered by Cohen have any merit, but the introspection and tailored writing are most welcome.