Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Singing the gasoline blues

Cross-posted to Daily Kos and Freedom Democrats

Gasoline prices rise every summer, but this year they are even higher than last year. As if the high prices weren't annoying enough, we can look forward to massive displays of ignorant indignation from many of our countrymen. These theatrics typically come from those who can't be bothered to even read an economics blog, yet still prescribe decisive economic intervention on every issue imaginable.

I am pleased to find some reasonable pundits who appreciate of how markets work even more than corporate apologists do. It's even better when these pundits promote productive conversation about important issues. This stands in stark contrast to the knee-jerk legislation that just passed the House, attempting to start a massive diplomatic and economic dispute with OPEC.

Unfortunately, it's times like this that people call for a decrease in the gasoline tax, even though gasoline taxes may be the best tool that we have to manage our relationship with OPEC. Opponents of the gas-tax also seem to ignore the fact that there soon will be no money to build new highways (which may actually be a good thing), not to mention the gas tax's role in recovering pollution costs. Furthermore, a short-term reduction in the gas tax would transfer a good chunk of those lost tax revenues into oil-company pockets: prices may stay high if suppliers are unable to produce additional gasoline on short notice, and they wouldn't fall the full amount if decreases in prices discourage conservation by consumers.

If any SUV-driving suburbanite whines about the cost of gasoline and tries to make it into a political issue, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Ride a bike(again, good discussion)
  2. If you don't like the market, leave it!
There is no reason (at the moment) to believe that anything unfair is going on, except in the collection of economic rent (from oil deposits or grandfathered pollution rights at oil refineries)

In related news: Iranian motorists start paying 25 percent more for fuel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Siege of Iraq

I am sick.

I am sick of the righteous indignation of the right-wing militarists, proudly on display in last night's Republican debates. "America is innocent!", they cry ("Israel is innocent!" is the companion cry). They should study a little bit of Christian theology--none are innocent. We are all sinners. They claim that "America is the victim"; that there is no good reason for anyone to dislike us; that there is nothing that we could have done to reduce anyone's desire to harm us.

They are full of shit, and it's making me nauseous. Sean Hannity dismisses the suffering of the Iraqi people during the 1990s by invoking our "moral obligation" to drive the Iraqi army from Kuwait and then lay siege to Iraq. Hannity implies that we have a moral obligation to use violence: we never have a moral obligation to use violence. We sometimes have the right to use violence, but even that is questionable if our violence will engulf non-aggressors.

If there is any chance that you are buying into the (American) militarist myth that we only fight wars against "evil despots" and never against the subjugated people, then you need to refresh your memory about the Siege of Iraq. From 1991 to 2003, the USA blockaded and bombed Iraq. By the time we were done, the society had collapsed. It's hard to say that the people themselves were simply collateral damage in this strategy--just like strategic bombing in WWII (culminating the the atomic bombing of Japan), this strategy is designed to destroy the society's ability (or will) to field a military by destroying the entire economy of that society. The people are the target, just as much as they were on September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The threat of partisan paramilitary forces

Cross posted to Daily Kos and Freedom Democrats.

Naiomi Wolf's Fascist America, in 10 easy steps provides an interesting evaluation of America's situation with respect to the experience of societies that have succumbed to totalitarian ideologies (i.e. fascism). I thought that the most interesting "step" was the third--Develop a thug caste--both because it is the weakest link in her argument that America is on the brink of totalitarianism, and because if such a caste really exists, it is the single most telling sign that we are on the brink.



Wolf seems to be concerned about "groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers" who caused a ruckus during the Florida vote recount of 2000. While I'm not too concerned about those guys, I am a bit worried about the other group that she identified: the "security contractors" (a.k.a. mercenaries)who are providing firepower in Iraq without the accountability that real soldiers have.



While these organizations have their own command structure that seems to be aligned with the current government, and they have been called upon for domestic duty during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, I hope that most of the employees would think of America as the place where they relax and have a life, and be unwilling to take up arms for combat within the United Sates. However, if we ever have riots, mass demonstrations, or a general strike in the USA while the National Guard is deployed overseas, I wouldn't be surprized if state and federal governments call upon these organizations to bust a few heads. I'm afraid that these guys would have even less restraint than the National Guard -- remember Kent State?



The striking thing about the two groups that Wolf listed is that they don't fit the mold of the prototypical thug castes: the Nazi Stormtroopers and Fascist Blackshirts. While those organizations were largely composed of proletariat street-fighters, Wolf's prospective thug castes seem to be made of middle-class political activists and professional soldiers.



However, there's a third prospective thug caste, which Wolf didn't mention, but fits the mold better than the other two. This prospective thug caste is best represented by the Gathering of Eagles, a supposedly impromptu organization dedicated to staging "counter demonstrations" against anti-war protesters.



They've been promoted by the likes of Michelle Malkin, and are clearly cut from the cloth of American right-wing militarism. They claim to be a defensive group, but have a very broad idea of what "defense" means:

What the Eagles will not stand for, however, are “violence, vandalism, physical or verbal assaults on our veterans, and the destruction or desecration of our memorials. By defending and honoring these sacred places, we defend and honor those whose blood gave all of us the right to speak as freely as our minds think.”

This raises the question: What constitutes verbal assault or desecration of a memorial, and what are they going to do about it? By some accounts, they interpret those words rather liberally, such that they will resort to physical intimidation and property destruction in order to silence the political opposition.



Disgruntled veterans made up a substantial portion of the the Fascists and Nazi thug castes, and that seems to be the same for the Gathering of Eagles. These "disgruntled veterans" are people who believe that their country lost a war primarily because their countrymen failed to provide the necessary support...if only we had fought a little bit longer and a little bit harder, we would have won. This is one of the most frightening side effects of waging foolish wars--our society generates large numbers of men with military experience who feel that they have been jerked around and abused. This is the path to tyranny.