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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Military spending, again

Robert Dreyfuss of The Nation recently had another excellent article about the need to reduce US military spending. Total spending is enormous:
According to figures [Center for Defense Information's Winslow] Wheeler compiled for The Pentagon Labyrinth, the military's base budget of $549 billion in 2011 is just the starting point for calculating military dollars. Adding in war spending ($159 billion), homeland defense ($44 billion), Veterans Affairs ($122 billion), interest on defense-related debt ($48 billion) and other items pushes the total to more than "$1 trillion a year. In constant dollars, adjusted for inflation, the regular military budget, not including the add-ons, has doubled from a low of about $360 billion in 1998 to more than $739 billion in 2011.
Sometimes, it's easier to make the case for reduced US defense spending by making some comparisons to other states. Dreyfuss offers these as well: the Bipartisan Policy report points out, by 2009 US spending on military research and development alone, about $80 billion, surpassed China's entire military budget by more than $10 billion. The budget for the US Special Forces alone is greater than the total military spending of nearly 100 countries; overall, the United States spends about as much on defense as the rest of the world combined.
Obviously, ending the war in Afghanistan would go a long way towards reducing US defense spending. Bob Woodward keeps saying that President Obama is trying to do that. Perhaps the new Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, with his budgeting background, will be able to help recommend genuine cuts.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wedding Gold

Food for thought as you watch tomorrow's royal wedding:
The No Dirty Gold campaign has estimated that producing the gold used to make one wedding band generates on average 20 tons of waste. This estimate is for an 18-karat gold ring weighing one-third of an ounce. It is based on publicly available data obtained from sources such as the US Geological Survey and on data that mining companies report to their shareholders.

Gold-to-waste ratios can vary significantly depending on the type of mine (underground or open-pit) and type of ore deposit. The 20 tons statistic is a global average based on data from mines around the world.
Keith Slack, now of Oxfam America, elaborated on the risks in a 2008 interview with Spiegel:
Slack: Enormous quantities of poisonous chemicals are used, particularly cyanide, which separates the gold from the stone. It is estimated that gold mines worldwide use 182,000 tons of cyanide each year -- a gigantic amount.

SPIEGEL: Cyanide is highly toxic. What are the consequences for the environment?

Slack: It gets into rivers as well as groundwater and can kill fish. The water is no longer drinkable or usable for agricultural irrigation. Sometimes even minimal standards are lacking. In Indonesia, the toxic mining waste is simply dumped into the ocean...

SPIEGEL: How much waste is produced to extract enough gold for a wedding ring?

Slack: That produces 20 tons of waste.

SPIEGEL: Is this only loose rock that can be pushed somewhere, or is it poisonous waste?

Slack: The problem is that cyanide treated rock, when exposed to air, will give off sulphuric acids, like those contained in car batteries. This process continues forever and can permanently contaminate the groundwater. Even mines the Romans operated in what is today France still exude these substances.
Provides an entirely new meaning to this question, eh?

Apparently, the royal newlyweds are using a piece of gold mined in Wales, so these statistics don't necessarily apply to their jewelry.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

David Stockman on the Deficit

Ronald Reagan's Budget Director, David Stockman, certainly doesn't think much of the current Republican party's policies on taxation and spending. In an interview with Mother Jones, Stockman condemned "the simplistic and reckless idea that the way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes anytime, anywhere, for any reason... It has become a religion, it has become a catechism. It's become a mindless incantation."

In the interview, Stockman points out that Reagan raised taxes in 1982, 1983 and 1984, which "recovered" 40% of the revenues lost from the 1981 cuts.

Stockman did not support the stimulus and is a self-described small-government conservative, but he really bashes the current GOP -- by saying they are failing to follow Ronald Reagan's policies:
[Current] Republicans' taxes bad/tax cuts good mantra is disingenuous. "I don't think those kinds of propositions are appropriate, and you could call them a lie if you really wanted to use rhetoric," he says. "They can't say government is too big if they're saying hands off defense. It's not responsible to say government is the problem when you've embraced 95 percent of the dollars.

"It's very dismaying," he adds, "to see that 30-year descent into the kind of nihilism, know-nothingism that is represented by the Republican Party today." It's not the Gipper's GOP anymore.
Last December, Stockman was on Colbert calling for defense cuts and for the expiration of the Bush (now Obama) tax cuts on the wealthy.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 Louisville Sluggers

If you are really bored, I suppose the natural followup to yesterday's post on the 2011 Bolts from the Blue of the Hardy House League is a post about the 2011 Louisville Sluggers of the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League.

The OBFLB crowns champions for both the "A" first half and "B" second half of the baseball season, divided by the All Star game. For obvious reason, I can only report results of the draft in preparation for the first half season. As I describe the team, keep in mind that the OBFLB is a 24 team head-to-head fantasy baseball league using 10 categories: HR, SB, batting average, runs produced average, plate appearances, innings pitched, wins, saves, ERA and "ratio."

Here are the 2011 Sluggers (players in red were retained from 2010). Since I retained 14 players, I started the draft in round 15:

C: John Jaso (19th round)
1B: Joey Votto (CIN)
2B: Gordon Beckham (CHX)
3B: Chipper Jones (ATL) (16th round)
SS: Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
OF: Peter Bourjos (LAA)
OF: Michael Brantley (CLE) (15th round)
OF: David DeJesus (OAK) (18th round)
DH: Billy Butler (KC)

SP: Tim Lincecum (SF)
SP: Josh Beckett (BOS)
SP: Brandon Morrow (TOR) (obtained in pre-draft trade)
SP: Ricky Nolasco (FLA)
SP: Jonathan Sanchez (SF)
RP: Chris Perez (CLE)
RP: Joel Hanrahan (PIT)
RP: Jesse Crain (MIN) (27th round)

C: Ramon Castro (28th round)
2B Jason Kipnis (CLE) (23rd round)
3B: Anthony Rendon (Rice University) (25th round)
IF: Ramon Santiago (DET) (26th round)
UT: Mark Teahan (CHX) (24th round)
OF: Chris Carter (OAK) (17th round) (AAA)
OF: Pat Burrell (20th round)

SP: Wade Davis (TB)
SP: Jonathan Niese (NYM)
SP John Lamb (KC) (21st round) (AA)
RP: Bobby Jenks (BOS) (22nd round)

The Kipnis, Rendon and Lamb picks indicate the premium my league puts on talented young prospects, especially at skill positions (2B/3B and pitcher in this case). In other words, I was drafting for the even longer-term future -- or perhaps for a mid-year trade in case I have an injury.

You may wonder why I have 7 starting pitchings retained in a league that uses only 5 per week. Basically, I couldn't get any value in trade talks for Wade Davis, Ricky Nolasco, or Jonathan Niese and traded for Brandon Morrow because I believe he's a breakout candidate.

I'll probably be looking to move one of my starting pitchers and the prospects before the second half season begins. My greatest needs are at catcher and perhaps outfielder.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011 Bolts from the Blue

For some years, I've been posting the roster of my entry in the Hardy House fantasy baseball league. On Saturday, April 2, in Oak Park, IL, I attended my 23rd consecutive auction draft. Three owners had to participate by phone, but the rest of us enjoyed the draft, the food of Greektown, some college hoops, and camaraderie.

As previously discussed here, my 2010 squad won the league championship -- the team's first such success since 1998. I was not especially hopeful going into this season's auction because I traded away a number of discount-priced players in order to win last year. Other owners retained many of those guys. Unfortunately, I had few good alternative choices, so I kept a couple of overpriced star-level players who promise to produce a lot of value.

As a reminder: the league has 12 teams and uses American League players exclusively to accumulate statistics in various hitting and pitching categories. For 22 years, we tabulated results in the traditional 8 categories (HR, RBI, SBs, BA, Wins, Saves, ERA and WHIP), but this off-season we voted to dump BA in favor of OBA. Also, we added runs scored (R) for hitters and strikeouts (K) for pitchers.

Note also one roster quirk now in its fourth year: we added a 10th pitcher and subtracted an outfielder. We continue to believe that this better reflects roster management decisions that real baseball teams have made over the past 20 years. This year, we also reduced the maximum size of our reserve roster from 8 to 5 players, ended the 3-player reserve draft, and allowed the purchase of any player on the 40 man roster. After the auction, only players on 25 man active rosters or the major league DL could be obtained.

The 2011 Bolts from the Blue (7 retained players in blue)

C Mike Napoli (TEX) $16
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (BOS) $6
1B Derrek Lee (BAL) $19
2B Robinson Cano (NYY) $33
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (OAK) $13
SS Orlando Cabrera (CLE) $3
MI Gordon Beckham (CHX) $19
CR Brent Morel (CHX) $10
OF Vernon Wells (Tor) $19
OF J.D. Drew (BOS) $13
OF Torii Hunter (LAA) $18
OF Ben Revere (MIN) $1 (AAA)
DH Travis Hafner (CLE) $5
Hitting $175 (up $1 from last season)

P Felix Hernandez (SEA) $33
P Jered Weaver (LAA) $20
P Jeff Niemann (TB) $5 (acquired in pre-draft trade for P Jon Lester BOS)
P Jeff Francis (KC) $3
P Chris Tillman (BAL) $1
P Rafael Soriano (NYY) $9
P Brian Fuentes (OAK) $7
P Joaquin Benoit (DET) $3
P Juan Cruz (TB) $1
P J.P. Howell (TB) $1 (DL)
Pitching $83 ($2 less than last year)

I left $2 on the table, but I had reserved some extra cash to find steals or saves. That largely failed and I'm going to need them, eventually, if this team is to compete. I tried to buy steals, but they were very costly and one team ended up buying surplus.

Since losing expensive Toronto closer B.J. Ryan to injury hours after the auction ended in 2007, I have avoided paying for saves on draft day. So, where may I find saves? Oakland's bullpen has been hit with injuries and Fuentes has nearly 200 career saves. Tampa does not have a healthy "proven" closer, but Howell had 17 saves in 2009 and is supposedly on the road to recovery. NYY's Mariano Rivera is 41 years old and will suffer injuries and/or face retirement eventually. Soriano was one of the top closers in the league last year and should get some random saves when Rivera has already pitched in multiple games in a row. Thus, I targeted those bullpens and players. Notably, closers were a little cheaper this year as we moved from 4x4 to 5x5.

Saltalamacchia was on my 2010 team and I bought him again for a lower salary.

To replace Revere and Howell on my active roster, I bought OF Mike Cameron (BOS) for $2 and P Adam Russell (TB) for $1. I also nabbed P Jake Arrieta (BAL) for $3 so that I can juggle my rotation regularly -- we moved to daily transactions this year too.

Clearly, I believe in drafting some players John Hunt used to call "post-hype." Those are guys who are still young, but their disappointing performance to-date has caused their value to decline a little.  Beckham, Tillman, and Saltalamacchia are my main post-hype picks, though Beckham was not especially cheap in this league that originated in Chicago.

Too many of my guys are deep into their 30s and I worry about OBA. I should be OK in R/RBI and HR, plus ERA/WHIP and K, and perhaps wins if that works out. If I can put myself into a position to compete later in the year, I can trade for steals and saves.

You can find posts about the 2005, 2007 , 2008, 2009 and 2010 drafts elsewhere on this blog.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Real Thing

These are the Coca-Cola marketing slogans I recall from my childhood:
# 1963 - Things go better with Coke.
# 1966 - Coke ... after Coke ... after Coke.
# 1969 - It's the real thing.
# 1971 - I'd like to buy the world a Coke.
Fareed Zakaria explains that the company's early global impulses have now flowered. The world has returned the favor and now buys a lot of Coke:
The companies on the S&P 500 generate 46% of their profits outside the U.S., and for many of the biggest American names, the proportion is much higher. You might think of Coca-Cola as the quintessentially American company. In fact it is a vast global enterprise, operating in 206 countries. "We have a factory in Ramallah that employs 2,000 people. We have a factory in Afghanistan. We have factories everywhere," explains Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coke. Nearly 80% of Coca-Cola's revenue comes from outside the U.S., and an even greater percentage of its employees are in foreign countries. "We are a global company that happens to be headquartered in Atlanta," says Kent.
Lots of "American" companies are creating far more jobs abroad than domestically in the current recovery.

I'm not sure what this says about sales of Mecca Cola.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nuclear nightmares with strange bedfellows

The Fukushima nuclear "event" in Japan has now been categorized as a Level 7 accident on the INES scale. The only other instance for this rating was the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Many engineers, however, do not believe the latest accident will be as devastating as Chernobyl because of the specific circumstances surrounding the different accidents. The BBC story I linked explains the rationale.

In any event, anti-nuclear analysts have been referencing Chernobyl a great deal in the past month -- and the implications of their arguments are disturbing.

Noted lefty climate skeptic Alexander Cockburn offers the most frightening summary:
In 2009 the New York Academy of Sciences published Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, a 327-page volume by three scientists, Alexey Yablokov and Vassily and Alexey Nesterenko. It is the definitive study to date.

In the summary of his chapter 'Mortality After the Chernobyl Catastrophe', Yablokov says flatly: "A detailed study reveals that 3.8–4.0 per cent of all deaths in the contaminated territories of Ukraine and Russia from 1990 to 2004 were caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe...

"Since 1990, mortality among the clean-up teams has exceeded the mortality rate in corresponding population groups. From 112,000 to 125,000 liquidators [members of clean-up crews] died before 2005 - that is, some 15 per cent of the 830,000 members of the Chernobyl clean-up teams.

"The calculations suggest that the Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories affected by the fallout."
Long-time anti-nuclear crusader, Dr. Helen Caldicott, has likewise referenced this report in her recent writings about the Japanese accident.

However, environmental journalist George Monbiot has been attacking Caldicott for sloppy use of scientific evidence -- including reference to the study cited also by Cockburn. He quotes other comprehensive studies and reviews of studies, including one completed by UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear), which he calls "the equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."
Of the workers who tried to contain the emergency at Chernobyl, 134 suffered acute radiation syndrome; 28 died soon afterwards. Nineteen others died later, but generally not from diseases associated with radiation(6). The remaining 87 have suffered other complications, included four cases of solid cancer and two of leukaemia. In the rest of the population, there have been 6,848 cases of thyroid cancer among young children, arising “almost entirely” from the Soviet Union’s failure to prevent people from drinking milk contaminated with iodine 131(7). Otherwise, “there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population that can be attributed to radiation exposure.”(8) People living in the countries affected today “need not live in fear of serious health consequences from the Chernobyl accident.”(9)
Those parenthetical numbers in the text are citations to original sources, which I have included below.

Monbiot points to a published "devastating" review of the Yablokov, Nesterenko, and Nesterenko study, authored by Monty W. Charles of University of Birmingham. I cannot gain access to the full review, but Monbiot writes that
"the book achieves its figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the accident(15). There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease(16).
Monbiot also says that the New York Academy of Sciences published the book without peer review, which is certainly odd if true.

I found the first page of the Charles review on-line, and it does note that the literature on Chernobyl includes a vast rage of findings about the harms. "This book," he writes, "covers the high cancer mortality tail of the distribution of predictions of health effects from Chernobyl." Moreover, Charles says that the range of findings makes it difficult even for scholars in the field to have a good feel for the evidence: "how can professional scientists—such as most readers of this review—arrive at an informed opinion on the radiation-related adverse health effects from the Chernobyl accident? The answer is with great difficulty!"

Monbiot does not quote from a somewhat more sympathetic review by Ian Fairlie of the same research published in the same issue of the journal. Nonetheless, even Fairlie finds some troubling flaws in the book's methodology:
However, one major difficulty in interpreting Chernobyl mortality studies is the large recent decrease in average male life spans in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine in all areas not just contaminated ones: this deserves more attention in eastern studies.

....Also greater efforts should be made in reconstructing doses (and resources be made available for this), and in estimating individual and collective doses and discussing their implications for both eastern and western Europe.
Based on the physical evidence he has reviewed, Fairlie has argued elsewhere that the deaths attributed to Chernobyl are significantly underestimated by many scientists. For example Fairlie and David Sumner found that "about 30,000 to 60,000 excess cancer deaths are predicted, 7 to 15 times greater than the figure of 4,000 in the IAEA press release."

Obviously, even 60,000 cancer deaths would be only a fraction of 900,000 as estimated by the Yablokov et al study.

I am not 100% sure what to make of this debate, but it does seem clear that official estimates of Chernobyl's effects may be on the low end of the continuum -- and that high end estimates may have some serious methodological flaws. An environmentalist like Monbiot seems to be dismissing radiation threats tied to the nuclear industry (at least in part out of concerns for global warming), while lefty writer Cockburn is extremely worried about nuclear radiation -- but is quite skeptical about global warming. In fact, he's a denialist who sees conspiracy.

Whatever the truth, I suspect that nuclear power will have a difficult time politically for the foreseeable future and it will thus not be a viable near-term solution to climate change.

Appendix: Monbiot's sources.
6. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 2011. Volume II, Annex D: Health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident. This is the latest section of the 2008 report Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation: Report to the General Assembly. See Paragraph 2, page 1 and Figure VII and paragraph 63, page 14.

7. Para 33, page 8 and para 4, page one. As above.

8. Para 99, page 19. As above.

9. Para 100, page 19. As above.

15. MW Charles, 2010. Review of Chernobyl: consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment. Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010) 141(1): 101-104. doi: 10.1093/rpd/ncq185.

16. The authors announce that they reject this method in the introduction to the book. Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko, as above, page 2

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tech check

Obviously, these past few weeks and months, members of the media have filed numerous stories about the important role of Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, and other technologies in empowering democratic activists around the world.

This is not fundamentally new. I've been in meetings about the Grawemeyer Award when serious people suggested and discussed the prospect of Twitter (its founders, I suppose) winning the prize because it was such a useful tool during the (failed) Iranian Green uprising. Similarly, a number of former students have contacted me electronically during the past few months to discuss the role of technology in coordinating demonstrations in Egypt and other middle eastern states.

This is a topic I've been thinking, writing, and teaching about for many years. In many respects, I have been a technological optimist and my former students recall the pre-9/11 discussions we had about information technologies and the Chiapas rebellion in Mexico in 1994 (remember Subcomandante Marcos?) and the democratic movement in Indonesia in 1998.

However, it now seems obvious that information technology can be used effectively by non-progressive forces as well. As Chris Lehman wrote recently in The Nation:
plenty of equally unsavory nonstate actors have also adapted to the new networked web—most notoriously in the cellphone-enabled Mumbai terrorist attacks, in which jihadists used Google maps to identify their targets. Mexican crime gangs have used Facebook to compile lists of kidnapping targets, while Indonesians can use a Craigslist-style service to arrange the sale of children’s organs. While Kenya has played host to a vital and influential site called Ushahidi, which helped modernize accurate citizen reporting of violence during the disputed 2007 elections, in that same episode ethnic leaders on both sides of the dispute used text messaging to spread violent attacks on their enemies.
Lehman also discusses the ability of governments to censor the internet and the willingness of western corporations to help them deny access to their populations.

Other pundits are also taking this position. This week, for instance, Harvard's Niall Ferguson's Newsweek piece argues that social networks can "empower the enemies of freedom." "Our most dangerous foes," he writes "are the Islamists who understand how to post fatwas on Facebook, email the holy Quran, and tweet the call to jihad.:

While critics and skeptics like Lehman and Ferguson make some good points, I continue to argue that decentralized information technology is bound to have progressive consequences. Wikileaks demonstrates that it is very difficult even for a powerful national security state to censor sensitive information. Useful technologies are cheap and getting cheaper, making them quite widely available around the globe. Given that participation in open discussion is a recipe for democracy in the public sphere, I do not see how some undesirable users can outweigh the communicative potential of everyone else. Sure, criminals and terrorists can foment hate in their niches of the world wide web, but that's certainly no reason to censor the rest of us. What's Ferguson's take home point?

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

2011 Grawemeyer Week

This is Grawemeyer week at University of Louisville. The 2011 World Order winner, Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves, will be speaking Monday April 11 at 2 pm in the Floyd Theater in the Swain Student Activities Center.

Several months ago, I blogged about Bales on the Duck of Minerva. The title of his talk reflects his subject matter: “Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves.”

Update: Bales taped this interview Monday morning:

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Elites rule

Chris Hayes of The Nation recently highlighted some political science research that suggests an explanation for the latest budget deal. By his analysis, it is no surprise at all that US political leaders agree to cut social spending that helps the general public rather than pursue funds from corporate tax evaders:
...our system is responsive only to voices at the top of the social pyramid—the bankers and businessmen who are raking in record bonuses and the professional upper middle class, which is recovering much faster than the nation as a whole. In a 2007 paper titled “Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness in the United States,” Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens analyzed 2,000 survey questions from 1981 to 2002, looking for the relationship between public opinion and policy outcomes. He found that “when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear little relationship to the preferences of poor or middle income Americans.”
This echoes the point I quoted yesterday from Fareed Zakaria.

In my freshman political science class in fall 1979, our primary text was Dye and Zeigler's Irony of Democracy. I don't teach Intro American classes, but I do not think I have ever seen this book in my building...

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Friday, April 08, 2011

America's Political Corruption and Taxes

Late Friday night, Republicans and Democrats in the Congress compromised and a government shutdown was avoided. The White House, many members of the news media, and elected officials from both political parties are celebrating nearly $40 billion in spending cuts:
The agreement cuts about $38 billion in spending for the fiscal year that ends on September 30, a decrease that the parties call the biggest annual spending cut in history.
Despite the celebration of "bipartisanship" at work, many top economists say that this is bad public policy. The U.S. needs more economic stimulus rather than reduced spending. Government spending foments demand that can help spark the economy.

In Britain, ordinary people opposed to their government's spending cuts organized and conducted high profile protests to highlight the fact that deficits could be addressed by taxing corporations. Specifically, UK Uncut points out that many very profitable businesses pay little to no taxes. A couple of weeks ago, they achieved a political victory -- a public inquiry into corporate tax avoidance.

The US has not yet had many protests aimed at corporate tax evasion, but the Wisconsin rallies signal the potential for mass unrest caused by government cutbacks. And the US is a prime target for US Uncut. As their new website points out, General Electric paid $0 in taxes on over $5 billion in profits. Bank of America, Verizon, and Citigroup likewise have lower tax burdens than the average American household, get billions in refunds from the government, or pay no taxes (despite getting bailouts as well).

Fareed Zakaria explains the problem, politically:
The American tax code is a monstrosity, cumbersome and inefficient. It is 16,000 pages long and riddled with exemptions and loopholes, specific favors to special interests. As such, it represents the deep, institutionalized corruption at the heart of the American political process, in which it is now considered routine to buy a member of Congress's support for a particular, narrow provision that will be advantageous for your business.
Instead of celebrating billions in spending reductions during difficult economic times, the U.S. could be collecting revenues from businesses that pay little to nothing in taxes.

And then, the government could go after government subsidies that encourage ecologically undesirable activity -- oil, mineral rights, etc. The libertarian right agrees that "corporate welfare" is anathema; thus, this could be a great area for bipartisan cooperation.

As I've blogged before, libertarians also agree with progressives that Pentagon spending should be in for a major correction. They might not agree to buy more butter, but they certainly favor fewer guns.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Debunking the Dominant Iraq Narrative

I've occasionally blogged about the power of "the surge" narrative. Both the Bush administration, for obvious reasons, and the Obama administration (because of Afghanistan) have a strong political interest in embracing the alleged success in Iraq.

Time magazine intern Nate Rawlings, formerly of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division and now a student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, returned briefly to Iraq last fall and addressed this powerful framing of events. The following analysis appeared just before the November 2010 elections, though Iraq was NOT a significant issue in the campaign:
RAWLINGS: According to the American narrative, enlightened U.S. military commanders co-opted the insurgents, persuading them to point their guns away from us and toward al-Qaeda. But the story is told differently here: Sheik Abdel Jabbar al-Feydawi, leader of the Albu Fahed tribe, rallied his people against al-Qaeda because the terrorists murdered his brother. He did it with little assistance from the Americans and took none of their reconstruction money.
What is perhaps most interesting about this is that Rawlings is not really debunking "the surge" narrative related to increasing manpower. Rather, he is challenging the Anbar Awakening and, at least indirectly, the effectiveness of U.S. COIN strategy.

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