Sunday, March 27, 2011
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 2:50 PM
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Here are my opening two cents on the complicated situation in Libya:
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 10:32 AM
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Winter/Spring of 2011 will go down in history for two major events. Both of them will end up having a huge impact on how Americans view energy sources in the future. I’m referring, of course, to the latest round of unrest in the Middle East and to the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear power plant crisis in Japan.
I’ll discuss the Middle East first. So far, authoritarian regimes in two non-oil exporting states in the region have been overthrown and replaced by transition governments pledging to oversee a move to a more democratic and open regime. It remains to be seen what will happen in Yemen, another non-oil exporting state, as it teeters on the brink of failed state status. The regimes in the oil exporting states seem to all be willing to use massive amounts of force against any demonstrators. Libya’s Qaddafi seems poised to reconquer the eastern provinces of that country. The Saudis have already cracked down on their own population and are in the midst of a crackdown on Bahrain’s population. The unrest itself is making oil prices spike in the short run. If this period of unrest becomes a longer term problem of continued instability (a fairly likely outcome if you ask me), then we can expect periodic disruptions to the oil supply from the Middle East. There is a lot of talk about the Straights of Hormuz being a choke point for oil exports from the Persian Gulf states. But Gulf of Aden (between Yemen and Somalia) is just as important. If Yemen becomes a full fledged failed state, that water way would become even more plagued by piracy than it already is. This could force oil tankers on their way to the US and Europe to run a gauntlet of pirates and political instability all the way from Basra to the Suez Canal. I doubt this would lead to a cutting of the oil supply lines but it would make it more costly to transport the stuff and I have every confidence that the Big Oil companies would figure out how to pass those additional costs onto consumers. Rising and consistently high oil prices will increase political support for any alternative to imported oil. The Republicans will try to make this into a justification for “drill baby drill” but we all know that domestic oil reserves are simply incapable of making a dent in the price let alone significantly reducing our dependence on imported oil. In the final analysis, the only alternative to imported oil is something other than oil. It might mean a shift to natural gas but even that will need to be largely imported. That means that a long term solution to our energy needs will have to depend on some combination of wind power, solar power, biofuels, hydroelectric and nuclear energy which leads us to …
The tragic situation in Japan. The Fukushima plant seems on the verge of a meltdown. US authorities are openly second guessing the reserved reports from the Japanese. I’ve seen comments from US experts to the effect that the Japanese should just give up on saving any of the plant at all and get to work on a cement “sarcophagus” to entomb the ruined and toxic fuel rods as soon as possible. This is part and parcel with an ongoing drum beat in the US news media that is largely serving to spread the idea that the situation in Japan proves that nuclear power is fundamentally unsafe. I’m no physicist but it seems to me that much of this criticism of nuclear energy as a hole is exaggerated and unjustified (perhaps Dr. Strangelove would care to elaborate on these issues in the comments). Certainly putting nuclear power plants in earthquake and tsunami prone areas is a bad idea but if the Fukushima plant had been in the American Midwest and suffered a direct hit from an F5 tornado, I doubt we’d be talking about a meltdown. In any case, this is largely irrelevant in the short term because the political environment for nuclear power just got A LOT worse in the US.
All this adds up to a potential “I told you so” moment for President Obama. A key part of Obama’s agenda has long been investment in future technologies, especially alternative energy and infrastructure upgrades such as “smart grid” technology. In 2009, Republicans often scoffed that it was a waste of money and their criticism often stuck in people’s minds because oil prices were temporarily low due to the global recession. But now, with oil prices rising again, investments in anything but oil are looking like a pretty smart thing to have advocated. The Republicans will be left to criticize Obama for agreeing with them that nuclear power should be part of the future mix and renewing their chant of “drill baby drill.” But both of these Republican strategies have no real substance behind them. On nuclear power, Obama has two obvious ways out of the Republican accusations. First, he can say Republicans are even bigger fans of nuclear energy than he ever was. Second, he can offer a reasonable sounding compromise by reviewing any nuclear power plant in an earthquake zone and dare the Republicans to demand an outright moratorium on nuclear energy. On “drill baby drill” Obama also has two obvious responses. First, the BP oil spill in the gulf was not only a traumatic demonstration of the dangers of unrestricted oil drilling in the US, it made for good TV making it ready made for political ads in 2012. After all of that all that is left if Obama’s original agenda of increased government support for research in alternative energy technology and infrastructure upgrades. It should be clear to any thinking person that sooner rather than later, our country will not be nearly as dependent on fossil fuel technologies as it is today. We have a choice, not between the status quo and a fossil fuel free future but between a future of our own making or one that we will have to buy from China. Obama is 100% right to push hard to invest in alternative energy sources and he should use the events of this winter to underscore his advantage on the issue.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 2:56 PM
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan are rightly dominating the news broadcasts these days. It’s even largely knocked the civil war in Libya and the increasing instability in places like Bahrain off the top of the news agenda. Most of the coverage is focusing on the immediate tragedy of the devastation and the following nuclear crisis. It’s reasonable that this should be focus of the 24 hour news crowd. But every now and again, they will bring up the economic consequences of this disaster – usually with a “what will this mean for the US economy” emphasis. What’s not being discussed is the politics of Japan’s response to the tsunami both in the short term and in the medium term.
Adding to this economic misery, Japanese public debt as a percentage of their GDP as of 2010 was over 225%. That makes them #2 in the world in debt to GDP ratio. To put this in perspective, Greek and Irish public debt as a percentage of GDP are 144% and 94% of GDP respectively (as of 2010, the USA is at 58%). Japan may find it difficult to borrow the money to finance the rebuilding of a large part of their country.
Japanese politics is currently dominated by two major parties. The party that governed Japan for most of the post WWII period is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP set up a managed a protectionist, corporatist state that has been struggling for a long time. LDP officials dominated the politics of the country both legislatively and administratively. For decades, the civil service was hired, fired and promoted at the whim of the senior leadership of the LDP. They had cozy relations with big business and used their dominance of the courts and regulators to protect their corporate allies. There have been allusions to a scandal some time ago involving falsified inspection reports for the nuclear power plant currently in crisis in Fukushima.
The party in government at the moment is the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). This is a reformist, centrist party that grew out of the merger of a number of center-left parties and break away factions from the LPD in 1998. They finally won a majority in the Japanese lower house in 2009.
To manage the crisis, the government will have to establish the trust of the people and authority over private interests that may seek to take advantage of the crisis or escape responsibility for mismanagement (for example TEPCO's and their nuclear power plant). The long history of cozy and often corrupt relations between Japanese civil servants and corporate big shots may hinder this on two fronts. First, the Japanese civil service may still, after just two years, reflect the influence of 6 decades of LDP dominance. Many of these government bureaucrats may have more affinity with the executives at TEPCO than they do with their own elected superiors. I've heard comments from American media that various ministries in Tokyo are starting to give the press the run around - for example the science ministry refusing to discuss the Fukushima situation and referring all questions to the Prime Minister's office. This may be what the PM wants but it may also be unwillingness by the government officials with the most knowledge and responsibility to be forthright about what TEPCO is doing. Second, as the government appears to only release information once the story has already broken, it will lose the trust of the population and may not survive the next election.
To rebuild, Japan will have to either generate economic growth or borrow to finance government recovery projects. Japan is not in the best position to do either. We may be witnessing the event that marks the final transfer of regional leadership from Japan to China and South Korea.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 4:18 PM
Friday, March 11, 2011
I think it's been mentioned on this blog recently before (I think by US West) that the union voters in Wisconsin who are now the arch enemies of that state's Republican party are exactly the demographic that the Republicans have depended on to undermine Democratic candidates. These are the so called "Reagan Democrats" who vote Republican for the nationalism and the odd tax cut here and there. But this attack by the Wisconsin Republican Party (and other Republican legislatures in other states) have laid bare the extent to which these people have been voting against their own self interest all this time. At the very least, even if this group has not completely defected to the GOP, they have largely stayed at home and not come out to vote for Democrats.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 1:50 PM
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
With all the news about Libya, it’s easy to forget that there two other countries in protest- both of which are very important to U.S. security, Bahrain and Yemen. The catch is, they are also very important to Iran.
In Yemen, Protesters are calling for the resignation of President Salih. His term ends in 2013, but there are concerns that he may change the laws to allow himself another run. For updates on protests on Yemen, go to Aljazeera English.
In Bahrain, a constitutional monarchy, protesters are calling for the royal family to implement reforms that would open up more benefits for the majority Shia population. At the moment, most of the social benefits run to the Sunni elite. For more see the Christian Science Monitor.
Protests are being planned in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well.
See this map.
Notice the strategic locations both of these nations possess. Both are located on important trade routes for oil and natural gas. The Gulf of Aden has suffered in importance as of late because of Somali pirates. But it is still important for shipping.
Iran is watching all of this unrest in Yemen and Bahrain with great interest, I am sure. With the U.S. scheduled to leave Iraq in December, the Iranians are biding their time. Unless the Iranian opposition is successful (highly unlikely, I am afraid- moderate Hashemi Rafsanjani has been forced to step down from his post as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, signaling the tighter grip of hardliners), the Iranian government is sure to take advantage of the instability in Iraq. In fact, I’d speculate that they are covertly contributing to it by providing funding to opposition groups and clerics. They would also like to see Saudi Arabia destabilized. One way to do this is to covertly stir the pot in places like Yemen and Bahrain.
Iran wants to be a regional power. At the moment, it has to do little to achieve that goal. Since it has the Western World wrapped up in its nuclear game, it can play quietly on the side, sowing dissension. So, we should be watching these two nations more closely than we are Libya. Libya is all about internal forces whereas Yemen and Bahrain potentially involve external forces. Getting involved in Libya would be unwise as it would divert even more attention and resources from the bigger kettle that is simmering further south. The potential risk to US security would be much greater there than Libya.
UPDATE: March 14th
Saudi Arabia, along with other nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council are sending troops into Bahrain to quell protests. Saudi sent 1000 troops on Sunday, March 13. Secretary Gates was in Bahrain March 12th. According to reports from STRATFOR, Gates encouraged the Bahrainis to speed up implementation of reforms, warning that Iranian interference would become a greater possibility if Bahrain fails to do so.
Barhaini Shiites are now split into two factions. The Wafa and Haq blocs have formed a coalition with the Haq bloc headed by Iranian supported Hassan Mushaima. The Al Wefaq movement is the other side and has been trying to negotiate with the regime for reforms.
For Full story at www.stratfor.com: http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20110314-saudi-intervention-bahrain?utm_source=redalert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=110314&utm_content=readmore&elq=c7a52d0c9b5442b0886d1d5eca569692
Posted by USWest at 9:54 AM
Saturday, March 05, 2011
I was looking around the web the other day and ran across this story on the political blog, The Monkey Cage. It’s an analysis by a University of Wisconsin political science professor, Kathrine Cramer Walsh, about what is going on in Wisconsin politically. Dr. Walsh happens to be in the middle of field research in Wisconsin about regional differences in public opinion. Her analysis focused on the conflict between rural and small town Wisconsinites from northern parts of the state and the more urbanized Wisconsinites from Madison and Milwaukee. One quote from her interviews around the state stuck with me. One of her northern subjects expressed his resentment of public employees, and teachers in particular, this way…
“Sam: I think a school teacher -- I know it can be hard. But they got great benefits. Tremendous benefits. And if you've been there for 15, 20 years, you're making 50 grand a year. There's nobody in town other than them making 50 grand a year. The guys in the [local] mill makes 20 thousand.”
Dr. Walsh’s intent was to present the dimensions of conflict driving the political scene in Wisconsin for the governor’s supporters. She was not seeking to engage their views or do anything other than present solidly objective political science. But I’d like to address the politics (as opposed to the political science) of her subject’s views.
He seems to think that someone making $50,000 after 15 or 20 years in a career is unusually and unfairly privileged. From the other comments in Walsh’s report, Sam and his neighbors have the view that they pay taxes on their small salaries to pay for high salaries and benefits that are not justified. They love seeing Walker stick it to those lazy public employees. This observation by Walsh seems very intuitive to me. It certainly seems to be my experience of how small town Midwesterners think of urban Midwesterners. But how does $50,000 really stack up to a teacher’s private sector peers?
According to teacherportal.com, teachers in Wisconsin start at about $25,000/year. The average teacher in Wisconsin makes about $46,000/year (close to the $50k figure referenced by “Sam”). But according to “Payscale.com”, the average starting salary for a graduate of the largest public university in the state, the University of Wisconsin – Madison is $47,900/year and the “mid career” salary is $87,400. The same numbers for graduates of UW-Oshkosh (a smaller, less prestigious branch campus of the UW system) are $38,900 and $67,800. Since all teachers have to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, deciding to become a teacher upon graduating from college means making a massive sacrifice in pay. The gap is probably biggest for math and science teachers. Taken as a group overall, teachers make about half as much as their private sector counter parts throughout their careers. I know that teachers often get good health care and retirement benefits. But there is no benefits package I can imagine a teacher getting that's worth $40,000 a year.
What’s more, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average salary in 2008 of a male with a high school diploma was $32,000 (women average $25,000). So it is possible that a new high school teacher could congratulate her graduating students and watch them earn more than she does with nowhere near the same investment in education and training. If anyone should be resentful, it's the teachers.
This source also points out that the real value of the salaries of high school grads has dropped quite a lot in the last 30 years. No doubt, this perception of declining living standards drives the resentment that people like “Sam” feel towards teachers and other public employees. But I argue that Sam’s resentment is horribly misplaced. Over the same period, college graduates’ salaries have more or less flat lined (even including the private sector). If Sam and his neighbors want to find out where their share of the national economic pie went, teachers are not the place to look. They should look at Wall Street. But the Republican party has successfully convinced Sam and his friends that their real enemies are the people are managing to tread water while Wall Street pushes Sam and his friends under water.
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 12:33 PM
Friday, March 04, 2011
Finally, we have some defense in the mainline media for Federal workers.
From Thomas A. Kochan , professor of management at MIT's Sloan School of Management:
But let's be clear about the stakes: Wisconsin's governor is attacking a fundamental human right, the freedom of association and the right to have an independent voice at work. This is not only unacceptable; I hope we will have the courage to call it un-American.
In case anyone is interested, most public employees don't have the right to strike. So all they can do is collectively bargain or protest in their free time.
The problem is scandals like that in Bell, California confuse people. Scandals like that are NOT because of unions and they are NOT typical of public employees. Scandals like that are simply corrupted officials.
In interviews with people in Egypt, many cited corruption among their public officials. They had to pay bribes for everything from getting birth certificates to passports. This is what happens when governments fail to pay their civil servants living wages. I work with people from all over the world, many of them from very corrupt places. They marvel at the trust and honesty of most Americans. We do not know what it is in this country to pay a bribe to get a birth certificate, building permit, or stamps at the post office. We pay our public servants a living wage, and for professionals a competitive wage because the American people deserve the very best service and quality from its public servants. If that argument can be used to defend the over-sized salaries of bankers, why is it not legitimate for use when talking about public servants?
According to Transparency International the United States ranks 22 out of 178 countries for corruption. This, by the way, is the first year since the index started that the United States has fallen out of the top 20. Why? Was it because of unions and the public sector? NO! It was because of the financial collapse and the various banking scandals caused by Wall Street as well as by weakened government oversight.
Why is government oversight weak? One word: Deregulation. There aren't enough civil servants to do the hard work of monitoring food quality, building and environmental safety, tax compliance, banking rule compliance, etc. And that has been a Republican tactic: Bleed the system dry through cuts to everything and everyone EXCEPT the very wealthy and their supporters.
Nancy Boswell, president of Transparency International U.S.A, refers to an "Integrity Deficit."
We're not talking about corruption in the sense of breaking the law. We're talking about a sense that the system is corrupted by these practices. There's an integrity deficit.
"These practices" refers to loose lending in the subprime crisis, the disclosure of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, rows over political funding,various financial scandals at state and city level, etc.
And when I made arguments about Democracy or the lack thereof, my co-bloggers were correct to say that we do have a Democracy. My problem is that the type of sophisticated, white collar corruption that we have witnessed in this country for too long undermines faith in the system. And so much of our success as a nation has been because of the faith we've placed in it. Without faith, you end up in revolution.
Posted by USWest at 8:14 AM
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Over the weekend, Secretary Gates told a group of West Point cadets that they will be entering a very different military from that of their predecessors. He pointed out that financial and human resources are necessarily dwindling and that any president who thinks a ground war in Asia is a good idea needs "his head examined".
I am a big fan of Secretary Gates. And considering that Rumsfeld is out promoting his book claiming that Iraq was NOT a mistake, Gates offers a reasoned view that is very much grounded in reality. He gets it!
George Freidman writing for STRATFOR has put together a very good article on why Gates is correct in his analysis. The short version is that the US military faces three problems in Asia. 1) long supply lines that require huge human resources for logistics and 2) an inability to field a large enough fighting force (i.e so many human resources are taken up by logistics, little is left over for the actual fighting force) 3) the populations in Asia are disproportionately large compared to the size of US forces.
The one thing this article doesn't mention, but is becoming more an more discussed is the role of mercenary insurgents. It is more and more evident that many nations keep a stock of mercenaries available to fight anything from wars to suppressing uprising. That will be the next fad in military analysis if it hasn't already started.
To respect all copyright laws: Never Fight a Land War in Asia is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
Posted by USWest at 9:32 AM