Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who profits from Afghanistan's Opium?

A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan described the open production of opium, open manufacture into heroin, and open export from the country.

That is about the only good thing you can say about the Taliban; there are plenty of very bad things to say about them. But their suppression of the opium trade and the drug barons is undeniable fact.

Now we are occupying the country, that has changed. According to the United Nations, 2006 was the biggest opium harvest in history, smashing the previous record by 60 per cent. This year will be even bigger.

Our economic achievement in Afghanistan goes well beyond the simple production of raw opium. In fact Afghanistan no longer exports much raw opium at all. It has succeeded in what our international aid efforts urge every developing country to do. Afghanistan has gone into manufacturing and 'value-added' operations.

It now exports not opium, but heroin. Opium is converted into heroin on an industrial scale, not in kitchens but in factories. Millions of gallons of the chemicals needed for this process are shipped into Afghanistan by tanker. The tankers and bulk opium lorries on the way to the factories share the roads, improved by American aid, with Nato troops.

What are the chances that the assholes on Wall Street are using this drug money as a way to cover their bad bets or simply out of greed as was the case when they were caught with their hands in the drug money and terrorist cookie jar of BCCI?

That one involved former senators, congressmen, and cabinet secretaries as the final Senate Foreign Relations Conmmittee Report on BCCI included Brent Scowcroft, Clarke Clifford, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Henry Kissinger's firm among others.

If our Congress was doing it's job, they would investigate which banks are profiting from the billions in drug money that have to be laundered from a drug trade as large and out in the open as Afghanistan's, but they are unlikely to do that since it will undoubtedly lead back to the malignant cancers on Wall Street who outsourced our jobs, destroyed our economy, foreclosed our houses, and blackmailed us for trillions in bailouts.

Those cancers own our government, which means our troops will die guarding drug dealers and oil pipelines to ensure that the descendants of today's spoiled trust fund babies won't have to get a job for ten generations instead of nine.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gen. Petraeus's comments subtext: Israel vs. OIL

The story about General David Petraeus saying Israel's treatment of Palestinians endangers our troops is not remarkable for its insight, people from Noam Chomsky to neocon Fareed Zakaria have said this since 9/11 and even before, but what is remarkable is that someone in Petraeus position SAID it and it was publicly acknowledged.

I don't doubt Petraeus' concern for our troops, but generals work for elected civilians, which means the civilians may have realized the limits of seizing oil and pipeline routes with naked force.

Recall that when Bush invaded Iraq, Cheney's energy task force had been pouring over maps of Iraqi oil fields and foreign suitors who wanted contracts to drill their (and US companies weren't on the list), Condaleeza Rice's memo about merging the seemingly unrelated objectives of fighting terrorism and seizing oil fields, and the US written Hydrocarbon Law that Bush tried to force the Iraqis to pass that would have given 88% of their oil income to foreign oil companies (ours).

The Iraqi parliament refused to pass that bill in spite of offers of millions in bribes to each member because they knew if they voted for it, they were signing their death warrants. The one popular thing Saddam did was nationalize their oil, to keep most of the profits in the country, and the politicians who undid that would be literally torn to shreds by their own people, not to mention they would never win a fair election again.

The result is that the contracts Iraqis have given out pay out far less than the oil companies wanted as the people of Iraq naturally prefer, and many those contracts have gone to non-American companies despite our troops being a literal gun to Iraq's head. Our oil companies probably could have gotten the same deals from Saddam when the sanctions were lifted if we HADN'T invaded.

Likewise in Afghanistan, though we installed a pliant puppet government with a former Unocal consultant as president to oversee the pipeline route and his heroin dealer brother to shepherd that income to Wall Street, our military presence there has not quelled the Taliban and created the peace along the pipeline route necessary to pump natural gas from Turkmenistan through Pakistan to India.

Worse, client state Pakistan has made a deal for a competing pipeline from Iran that reduces the value of "our" pipeline route. So far, our reaction has been to suddenly notice the terrorists in Pakistan who have been there all along and even funded by their government.

But that is at best a holding maneuver.

Somewhere in the corporate board rooms of the oil and gas cartels, they must be realizing that brute force is not working. The natives are not cooperating with the pillage and rape of their own country's oil, gas, and pipeline income.

So what to do? They can't simply walk away from the greatest source of the world's dwindling, easily accessible oil and gas.


What they are doing is what they should have done in the first place: offer the natives better deals as occurred in Iraq, and minimize any political offense that would prevent their government from making deals with American companies.

Which circles back to Israel.

In countries where the leaders have to be somewhat responsive to public opinion, doing business with us means tacitly condoning our ally Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the occupied territories. Their leaders can hardly afford to be seen on the front page of their newspapers signing a deal with Exxon or Chevron when the photo next to it is a dead Palestinian child or a bulldozed Palestinian home.

Likewise, even countries our oil companies already have deals with like Saudi, Kuwait, and the various Emirates must react to public opinion when it reaches a certain peak of outrage as happened during the oil embargo during the 70's.

At that point, it is no longer a matter of just padding oil companies profits, but of strategic access to the fuel that runs the world.

After the debacle of Iraq, longstanding plans to invade Saudi Arabia if the royal family is overthrown or another embargo occurred suddenly look less practical.

The only way to keep the oil flowing is to remove the political offense. Make the Israelis behave, pull back to the 1967 borders, give the Palestinians their state and stop the invasions of Lebanon. The Arab governments have said they will recognize Israel in exchange for this and polls of Arab citizens shown the same.

When those conditions are met, we will be in no danger of having the oil tap turned off.

Our foray into 19th century, British style colonialism in Asia has failed, and now the masters of the universe on Wall Street must swallow their pride and deal with the people of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia as equals and get some of their oil wealth or keep pretending they are inferior races to be herded and exterminated until we are chased out of their countries and get none of the oil money at all.

I think I know which side they'll take, and if it comes to a fight between the Israel Lobby and the Oil Industry, with trillions of dollars in oil income in jeopardy, there is no doubt who will drink whose milkshake.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Are Democrats pulling a Jedi mind trick on Health Care Reform?

Are Democrats about to dramatically improve and pass what so far has looked like a deeply flawed and corrupt bill by adding a strong public option or Medicare buy in?

Think about it: only an idiot would really think the Republicans would support real health care reform that took money out of the pockets of insurance companies, and if the debate started with single payer, a public option, or opening medicare to all, enough Blue Dogs and DLCers would have joined the GOP to sustain a filibuster and kill the bill. Likewise, the media would not have been kind to such a bill and would have parroted the GOP talking points about the evils of socialism.

So what do you do? Get over the initial hurdles with a bill that is nearly identical to one signed into law by a Republican governor. Republicans will protest it anyway, but swing voters might notice their hypocrisy, which would limit the effectiveness of GOP protests.

Once the bill got past the procedural hurdles to the point that it could be done with reconciliation, it still does no good to telegraph the punch, but it does help to get the public to visibly ''twist their arms'' with ever growing demands for a public option.

Then if they substitute a strong public option, Medicare buy in, or hell, even single payer at the last second, the protests of the right and their parrots in the media won't matter. The public will get it, and thank the Democrats for it at the polls in November.

It would have a side benefit as far as all the money insurance companies threw at Democrats to sway their vote. The Democrats would get to keep that money, and what could the insurance companies say? That they expected a quid pro quo? A second benefit would be that Democrats could honestly say their vote on this could not be bought in spite of all the money that was showered on them and it could reset the relationship between pols and lobbyists.

This scenario would require a lot of coordination and discipline, which the Democrats as a party rarely demonstrated apart from voting for the worst excrement of the Bush administration, and maybe the current talk of a public option is just shining us on until they pass a corporate give away--but maybe, just maybe, these aren't the droids you're looking for.

Move along.

Move along.

UPDATE: I was wrong.
March 29, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Democrats use Osama-Saddam bait & switch on health care

I have often complained that the Democrats have failed to learn the right lessons from the GOP's superior mastery of propaganda and PR. In the health care reform debate, they have misapplied the GOP methods again, using bait and switch, with hope and platitudes about health care replacing the GOP fear of terrorist bogeymen.

The GOP used an Osama-Saddam bait and switch. They got everybody mad at Osama, associate him with Saddam, then dropped Osama out of the equation.

With health care reform, Democrats got everybody excited about a public option, associate it with mandated private insurance, then drop the public option, which will be kept in a freezer in a cave with Osama until needed again.

The big difference is people bought the Osaddama lie for long enough to get the war started. By contrast, no one seems to be fooled by substituting slavery to private insurance companies for the kind of public insurance system every other industrialized country has that is less costly and more effective than ours (except at lining the pockets of the already wealthy).

But the Democrats don't seem to care that they haven't fooled anyone and are going ahead with legislation written by and for the criminals who have killed and bankrupted so many Americans with their epic greed.

Good luck in that fall election, Democrats.

You'll need it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Time to call bullshit on the Bipartisan War on Public Education

Both Barack Obama and his secretary of education have praised a Rhode Island district for firing all their teachers to supposedly help the school's performance.

But in what other endeavor in life is wholesale firing of the frontline troops considered the solution to the problem?

When Abraham Lincoln had a general who wouldn't pursue the enemy, did he tell him to discharge all his troops and assemble a new army?

When American car companies lost market share to Japan for decades, could they have turned that around by firing all the workers?

When we lost the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Alexander the Great lost Afghanistan, was it because each empire needed to fire their troops and recruit fresh ones to win?

In the first two cases, the problem was clearly incompetence at the top: a general who refused to do his job, and executives who didn't think their primary job was building the best cars on the market but instead, maximizing profits by cutting corners on quality.

In the case of Vietnam and Afghanistan where multiple generals and empires failed equally, it was clearly not a failure of the generals but of the enterprise itself: occupying people who didn't want to be occupied.

The problem with public education is at the top. Politicians, tax cut advocates, and privatizers who have no interest in seeing schools succeed are setting the agenda.

First taxes were cut or kept from growing with the need to fund our schools, then that was used as an excuse to cut the enrichment programs like art and music that might have kept some marginal students engaged and class sizes increased just as more and more students were coming to school with chaotic home lives that don't prepare them for the discipline of school.

Then we allowed politicians to micromanage curriculum down to what lesson teachers will do on which day and exactly which words and exercises they will use, robbing teachers of the ability create lessons that will engage their students. Most teachers create their own materials and lessons anyway, but at the risk of their job if they have a particularly authoritarian and bureaucratic principal.

Then we let testing companies sell our politicians on endless testing instead of once or twice a year, which enriches the test companies but helps our kids no more than a doctor would who took your temperature every ten minutes but did nothing with the information except tell you how quickly you're dying.

Finally, private education companies and real estate moguls pay politicians to privatize public education under the euphemism ''charter schools,'' which skim off the students with engaged parents and oddly don't have to follow all the same rules as regular public schools, accelerating the death spiral of public education. And we all know from the Blackwater, Halliburton, and KBR examples that there are NEVER costs overruns or failure, or such close connections to certain elected officials who get campaign donations and lobbyist or CEO jobs when they leave office, which gives them incentives to overlook any failings.

And to the extent that those charter schools do work, the rewards will go to the stockholders and executives, not the teachers who are usually not unionized.

and that union business is the only other time I can think of mass firings being used, like when Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers rather than negotiating with them even though it put the flying public at risk as military air traffic controllers tried to step in handle much busier and more complex civilian traffic.

Is there any chance that's what this is about? Giving unionized workers who have some measure of control of their work environment and some foothold in a middle class income a beat down, to send a message to other unionized public workers?

Would you take a job that required a college degree but people with no training in your field could dictate exactly how you do your job, measure your success, and fire you because the teachers in other classrooms might not be doing as good a job as you? Don't we usually require college degrees for jobs that require some creativity and initiative rather than just reciting a script like a tour guide?

This is rot and corruption at the top, strip mining our kids futures for profit.

Here in LA, in addition to turning some schools over to charter companies, some have been given to teachers to run with less top down and more cooperative management, with teachers even making decisions about hiring and firing on equal terms with other stakeholders like parents instead of being treated like day laborers.

I will be curious to see how that turns out, though I suspect it's a token bone thrown to teachers, that will eventually be taken away regardless of the outcome.