Blogs

Ron Paul: Winning the Black Helicopter Vote

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 12:52 AM EST

Ron Paul's campaign (or is it a crusade?) is trying to engineer another "money bomb"--a one-day intense fundraising drive--on Monday, November 26. The last one, which was detonated on November 5, netted Paul over $4 million--an impressive sum for an outlying candidate who has refused to return a campaign donation from a neo-Nazi. One solicitation for this latest appeal captures the political culture of a slice of Paul's libertarian constituency:

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Note the black helicopters--the symbol of anti-government, paranoid conspiracy theories. Yes, they're coming for you....

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A Glimmer of Optimism on the U.S.-Iran Front?

| Sun Nov. 25, 2007 3:21 PM EST

A veteran of three White House national security teams spanning from Ford through Reagan, Columbia University's Gary Sick is not given to excessive flights of optimism. Experience would favor caution. While serving in the Carter administration, for instance, Sick was working as the principal White House aide on Iran during the 1979 Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, a trauma from which U.S.-Iranian relations has never recovered. But a recent analysis Sick has shared with a private list he runs on Persian Gulf affairs offers a hint of cautious optimism about recent, mostly below-the-radar developments between Washington and Tehran, especially on the Iran-in-Iraq front. Here's an excerpt, shared with permission:

Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran "made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that's the case." Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.
In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. Even more unusual was the fact that the release of these men, now officially labeled of "no continued intelligence value," had been reviewed only a few months earlier and rejected. Stranger still, they were identified as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its special intelligence division, the Qods Brigade, which had just been officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi government announced that a fourth round of direct talks between the United States and Iran would take place in the near future.
So, what is going on here?

Perle Tries to Avoid Blame on Iraq, Says "I Don't Believe I Was Wrong"

| Sun Nov. 25, 2007 3:11 PM EST

Appearing recently on a BBC show, Richard Perle said, "I don't believe I was wrong [about the invasion of Iraq]. Let me be very clear about that. What I think happened is that a successful invasion was turned into an unsuccessful occupation. I didn't favor the occupation strategy. I think the occupation was a mistake."

This is becoming an increasingly common way for the most fervent supporters of the invasion to sidestep blame, but it is fundamentally in error. They cannot separate the invasion from the occupation. If they had the foresight one hopes the advocates of something as serious as war would have had, they would have realized that no invasion comes easy. That's particularly true with Iraq. A country with no history of a civil society and no familiarity with self-rule wasn't going to turn into a functioning democracy in a matter of months. The plan to invade, depose Saddam, and then hand the country over to Ahmad Chalabi or whomever in six months was, to any serious observer, a obvious fallacy. An American occupation was going to be necessary.

But let's give Perle the benefit of the doubt. If you look closely at his words, he doesn't say that he opposed the occupation. He says he opposed the occupation strategy. So he is telling us that he knew an occupation would be necessary, but didn't like the way Bush and Co. ran the one that occurred.

This too is nonsense.

A Ron Paul Supporter Explains the "Liberty Dollar"

| Sat Nov. 24, 2007 11:14 PM EST

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Ed. Note: Earlier this month, the people behind something called the "Liberty Dollar" saw their offices raided by the FBI. The Liberty Dollar bills itself as a "private voluntary barter currency," which I assumed was code for a libertarian scheme designed to bring about the downfall of the Federal Reserve, in the spirit of the fiercely anti-Fed libertarian demigod Ron Paul. (The Liberty Dollar folks have a coin with Ron Paul on it.) I reached out to a libertarian friend who writes the blog The Agnoptimists to get some hard answers. His thoughts are below. —JS

As a libertarian, I like to argue with opponents of my free market views by focusing on outcomes: simply put, the central question is whether centralized government programs are really more attractive than market outcomes.

Anyone who seeks the best solutions to society's dilemmas should embrace experiments that allow direct comparison between government projects and private enterprise. The U.S. Post Office is constantly improving its service due to competition from companies like FedEx and UPS, for example.

The Federal Reserve is a favorite target for libertarian critique, and with good reason. There is no inherent value backing the U.S. dollar; instead, a small group of powerful individuals unilaterally and undemocratically controls our nation's money supply. They are free to redistribute wealth from savers to borrowers, which they do incrementally but consistently by creating new money, and their inability to manage interest rates perfectly is at least partially responsible for the economically destructive boom/bust business cycle and the current housing crisis. Worst of all, U.S. citizens are forced to accept the U.S. dollar—the term "legal tender" means that people cannot refuse the dollar even if inflation renders it worthless. Alan Greenspan was famously skeptical of this deeply flawed system, and Americans should not be content.

A Look Back at John Howard

| Sat Nov. 24, 2007 6:04 PM EST

Today Australian Prime Minister John Howard was ousted by the Labor Party, which easily took back control of Parliament from Howard's party. The defeat was so severe Howard may even lose his own seat.

So, now is a good time to look back at something little-noticed in America: Howard's shameless lying on Iraq.

Howard's most important Iraq speech was delivered to Parliament on February 4, 2003. Here's some of what he said:

Australians Vote Today: A Turning Point for the World?

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 8:18 PM EST

r140170_481726.jpg Want a sneak preview of America-2008? Australians are voting today on 11 years of John Howard's ghastly ungreen rule and Kevin Rudd is predicted to become Australia's leader—a man who's declared the fight against global warming to be his main priority. The Telegraph reports:

The Labour Party leader said that he would immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, describing it as the "number one" priority. "Australia needs new leadership on climate change. Mr. Howard remains in a state of denial," he said. He would personally represent Australia at a United Nations climate change meeting next month in Bali to discuss the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. He also promised that by 2020, a fifth of Australia's energy needs would come from renewable energy sources. Until a partial conversion this year, Mr. Howard has been a climate change skeptic [sound familiar?]. . . the latest poll indicates that Mr. Rudd is set to win with 54 per cent of the vote compared to Mr. Howard's 46 per cent.

If true. Well, halle-bloody-lujah. It will be no small victory. Aussies are the highest per capita greenhouse emitters on the planet. They're our fellow anti-Kyotoers, and likewise suffering hellacious droughts and wildfires. Where they lead, we can follow.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Australians Vote Today: A Turning Point for the World?

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 8:12 PM EST

r140170_481726.jpg Want a sneak preview of America-2008? Australians are voting today on 11 years of John Howard's ghastly ungreen rule and Kevin Rudd is predicted to become Australia's leader—a man who's declared the fight against global warming to be his main priority. The Telegraph reports:

The Labour Party leader said that he would immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, describing it as the "number one" priority. "Australia needs new leadership on climate change. Mr. Howard remains in a state of denial," he said. He would personally represent Australia at a United Nations climate change meeting next month in Bali to discuss the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. He also promised that by 2020, a fifth of Australia's energy needs would come from renewable energy sources. Until a partial conversion this year, Mr. Howard has been a climate change skeptic [sound familiar?]. . . the latest poll indicates that Mr. Rudd is set to win with 54 per cent of the vote compared to Mr. Howard's 46 per cent.

If true. Well, halle-bloody-lujah. It will be no small victory. Aussies are the highest per capita greenhouse emitters on the planet. They're our fellow anti-Kyotoers, and likewise suffering hellacious droughts and wildfires. Where they lead, we can follow.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

China Surges Ahead In Renewable Energy

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 7:32 PM EST

175_lg.jpg Griping about China's exploding fuel consumption? (Who isn't?) Check this out. The Worldwatch Institute reports that ambitious Chinese energy targets, supported by strong government policies and manufacturing prowess, may enable China to leapfrog the rest of the industrialized world in renewable technology in the near future. This even as it conducts breakneck expansion of economy via its reliance on coal.

In Powering China's Development: The Role of Renewable Energy, Eric Martinot and Li Junfeng report that China will likely achieve, and may exceed, its target of 15% energy from renewables by 2020. Furthermore, renewables could provide more than 30 percent of the nation's energy by 2050.

The nations of the world invested more than $50 billion in renewable energy in 2006. China alone is expected to invest more than $10 billion in new renewables in 2007, second only to Germany, and double the amount the US invested in 2006. China's production of wind turbines and solar cells doubled in 2006, and is poised to pass world solar and wind manufacturing leaders in Europe, Japan, and North America in the next three years. China already dominates the markets for solar hot water and small hydropower.

Still not enough. But moving in the right direction. Evidence of understanding. Unlike here at home.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Wal-Mart Sues Brain Damaged Employee As Reward for Giving Her Health Insurance

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 12:58 PM EST

Just when you think that Wal-Mart had already exhausted every last possible strategy for screwing over its employees, here comes this story in the Wall Street Journal. Deborah Shank, a Wal-Mart employee gets into an accident with a semi and ends up permanently brain-damaged a few years back. Her Wal-Mart health insurance paid her medical bills, but she also sued the trucking company for damages. She wins $700,000, which after legal fees and expenses, nets her about $400,000, which was put in a trust to pay the nursing home she now lives in.

But Wal-Mart gets wind of the settlement and turns around and sues Shank for $470,000, the money its insurance company paid for her care from the accident. Now, the woman is reliant on Medicaid and Social Security and Wal-Mart apparently got a much needed windfall.

Wal-Mart isn't alone in such behavior. Insurance companies seizing lawsuit winnings from catastrophically injured Americans is a common practice that gives lie to the notion that anyone gets rich off a personal injury lawsuit these days, as insurance companies often get first dibs on any judgment or settlement in such cases. But Wal-Mart's cruelty, as always, is extreme in this case. Not only is Shenk profoundly disabled, but while her family was fighting off the company in court, her son was killed while fighting the war in Iraq. Not even bad PR like this, apparently, can eke out a drop of compassion from the retail giant.

A Few Things I'll Give Thanks For

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 9:59 PM EST

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Tofurky. According to the Washington Post, the meatless Thanksgiving dinner-in-a-box hit the market twelve years ago, after founder Seth Tibbott endured a nasty holiday bout with a stuffed pumpkin and a rock-hard gluten roast. Well, your suffering was worth it for the rest of us, Seth, because Tofurkey tastes great.

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Thanks to Lloyd Alter at Treehugger for his list of Five Climate Change Events To Be Thankful For:

1. Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Prize. 2. The 1st CAFE standard in 22 years was passed in the Senate. 3. All the democratic presidential front runners have proposed a comprehensive energy plan, asking for large carbon dioxide emission reductions. (but some still love coal) 4. The 4th IPCC Synthesis report was a blunt and urgent call for action. (though it's not pretty) 5. Public Opinion is shifting: 3/4 of Americans would make lifestyle changes or pay energy and carbon taxes.

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Thanks for the fact that Hassan Mashriqui of Louisiana State University, a place intimately familiar with the effects of monster hurricanes, gave Bangladesh emergency officials storm-surge maps 24 hours in advance of Cyclone Sidr. Maps so detailed that local agencies were able to take advance action, saving countless lives.

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Thanks to Plenty for news that the Democratic Republic of Congo is setting aside an 11,800-square-mile reserve for endangered bonobos—our closest relatives in the primate world, sharing an amazing 98.4% of our DNA, found only in the DRC, the only primates to live in a peaceful, matriarchal society. Now suffering from the bushmeat trade. Eat them? Hell, we need to invite them to mentor us.

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A European Space Agency's OSIRIS satellite photo of the Earth at night.

Thanks for the fact that we are still here. We haven't destroyed everything (yet). We might still learn to be a better species and cherish this amazing world we are so incredibly lucky to be part of.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.