An interpretation of the Surge

Juan Cole takes a nuanced, balanced approach to analyzing the effects of the troop surge in Iraq:

For the first six months of the troop escalation, high rates of violence continued unabated. That is suspicious. What exactly were US troops doing differently last September than they were doing in May, such that there was such a big change? The answer to that question is simply not clear. Note that the troop escalation only brought US force strength up to what it had been in late 2005. In a country of 27 million, 30,000 extra US troops are highly unlikely to have had a really major impact, when they had not before.

Too bad the majority of the electorate won’t. Also some good comments over there.

It makes sense if you think about it

Democrats didn’t stop 9/11, and they won’t stop it again:

A controversial billboard in Orange County has a picture of the burning World Trade Center and the message, “Please Don’t Vote for a Democrat.” The man who paid for the ad says he’s trying to help Republicans, but officials with both political parties are calling the billboard inappropriate.

Brought to you by this guy. Dont miss the video! And do make sure you click that thumbnail for the fully-offensive version.

Just what Osama wanted

Fears, Again, of Oil Supplies at Risk – New York Times

”If bin Laden takes over and becomes king of Saudi Arabia, he’d turn off the tap,” said Roger Diwan, a managing director of the Petroleum Finance Company, a consulting firm in Washington. ”He said at one point that he wants oil to be $144 a barrel” — about six times what it sells for now.

That was written in 2001. Things are really going bin Laden’s way, it seems. I wonder how different things would be if we had taken a more measured, thoughtful approach in our response to the attacks of September 11; say, if Al Gore had been elected. When I imagine such a scenario, it makes me realize how every decision has consequences, that caring about politics isn’t a waste of time.

(Thanks to Austinist for the link.)

Obama and Ethanol

Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol – NYTimes.com

Not long after arriving in the Senate, Mr. Obama himself briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland, which is the nation’s largest ethanol producer and is based in his home state.

No big surprise he won Iowa. E85 as a solution to our fuel crisis is a red herring. If Obama hasn’t heard this yet, it’s because he has corn-money stuffed in his hears. If he’s elected, keep an eye on his energy policy to see if he’s making good decisions free from political influence. Our food prices and environment depend on E85 getting shot down, as it should.

Immunization bribes

In the UK, Prime Minister Brown has pledged £200 grants in exchange for participating in health and social programs:

Ten pilot projects in low-income neighbourhoods will trial the one-off grants as part of a £125 million three-year drive announced in the Budget to find innovative solutions to child poverty.

Based on schemes in the US, where parents are rewarded for things like making sure their children attend health check-ups and receive immunisation jabs, the grants are targeted at the most hard-to-reach parents who currently do not take up services offered by children’s centres.

The pilots will test whether offering cash incentives can encourage socially-excluded parents to participate in agreed programmes of action to improve their children’s well-being.

I’m actually not aware of programs like that here in the US, but I think they’re a great idea. It’s a small price to pay for healthy kids and a little boost to social mobility.

Stagflation!

U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben BernankeFor some reason, whenever the economy has come up in the last couple of years, my typical response has been to enthusiastically shout “stagflation!” Like economist Jeffrey Sachs, I’ve been seeing a few similarities:

The similarities with the first half of the 1970s are eerie. Then as now, the world economy was growing rapidly, around 5% per year, in the lead-up to surging commodities prices. Then as now, the United States was engaged in a costly, unpopular, and unsuccessful war (Vietnam), financed by large budget deficits and foreign borrowing. The Middle East, as now, was racked by turmoil and war, notably the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The dollar was in free fall, pushed off its strong-currency pedestal by overly expansionary U.S. monetary policy. And then as now, the surge in commodity prices was dramatic. Oil markets turned extremely tight in the early 1970s, not mainly because of the Arab oil boycott following the 1973 war, but because mounting global demand hit a limited supply. Oil prices quadrupled. Food prices also soared, fueled by strong world demand, surging fertilizer prices, and massive climate shocks, especially a powerful El Niño in 1972.

He also draws another connection:

Then as now, Dick Cheney was close to the helm. Whats more, the erroneous lessons he took away from the 1970s contribute to the problems that haunt us today. Cheney was Gerald Fords chief of staff in 1976, when soaring oil prices helped doom Fords reelection campaign. Cheney became obsessed with the fight to control the flow of Middle Eastern oil. That obsession, which by many accounts contributed to Cheneys urge to launch the Iraq war, has made the United States much more vulnerable in terms of energy, not only by tying the United States down in a disastrous military effort but also by diverting attention from a more coherent energy strategy.

It’s an interesting piece, and he does offer a suggestion or two for how we can avoid the mistakes of our last stagflation recovery. If you’re going to be influencing monetary policy for a large governing body, I highly recommend you read it. If you’re Ben Bernanke, hopefully you’re taking all of this in.

Zakaria’s ‘The Post-American World’

I meant to post this thought-provoking article yesterday, but just remembered it now. It’s an interesting and insightful look into how America fits into the world – and how that has changed a lot over the last few years. While Americans still consider much of the rest of the world to be “anti-American,” in reality, they’re “post-American” – they’re just, like, totally over us.

Excerpt: Zakaria’s ‘The Post-American World’ | Newsweek International | Newsweek.com

Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

The article’s not all doom and gloom; he points out the positive aspects of this global shift:

The post-American world is naturally an unsettling prospect for Americans, but it should not be. This will not be a world defined by the decline of America but rather the rise of everyone else. It is the result of a series of positive trends that have been progressing over the last 20 years, trends that have created an international climate of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

I know. That’s not the world that people perceive. We are told that we live in dark, dangerous times. Terrorism, rogue states, nuclear proliferation, financial panics, recession, outsourcing, and illegal immigrants all loom large in the national discourse. Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia are all threats in some way or another. But just how violent is today’s world, really?

Obama attacks Clinton over Iran

clintonBBC NEWS | Americas | Obama attacks Clinton over Iran

Speaking in Indiana, Mrs Clinton said she had no regrets about promising to “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons – a scenario that was put to her two weeks ago.

“Why would I have any regrets?” she asked on ABC television.

Oh good lord. Where’s my dark horse independent?

Our next President will most likely be stupid

Orac has a nice rejoinder to David Kirby’s recent article, which contained the following disheartening, if not unsurprising news:

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionnaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

(Note: The Washington Post reports that when Obama said “this person,” he pointed to someone who had asked an autism question).

Orac contends (and I agree) that the problem isn’t the answers themselves, but rather that they answered at all (his notes and links, not mine):

In essence, both candidates accepted some of the major pillars of the mercury militia’s fantasies as being true. These include claims that:

  • there is an autism “epidemic.” (Arguably, there is very likely not.)
  • there is a scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism. (There really isn’t; it’s a so-called manufactured controversy. There is no good evidence that vaccines cause autism, David Kirby’s bloviations and pontifications otherwise notwithstanding. Multiple large epidemiological studies have failed to find even a hint of a convincing link, and the publicizing of the Hannah Poling case as some sort of “smoking gun” by antivaccinationists is nothing more than a rebranding of autism and more evidence of the incredibly shrinking vaccine claim.)
  • that vaccines are somehow unsafe or that children are “overvaccinated” and eceive too many vaccines. (Again, there is no good evidence that either of these is the case.)

And of course, John McCain is even worse.