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Escaping George Bush’s Future

Jeffrey SachsJeffrey Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Through Project Syndicate he is a regular contributor to Webdiary. His last piece was Peace Now.

by Jeffrey Sachs

It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain’s navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars in the supposed "great game" of energy resources. But the game is almost over, because the old approaches are obviously failing.

Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.

Whatever we are worrying about in 50 years, this will surely be near the bottom of the list. Even if it were closer to the top, overthrowing Saddam Hussein to ensure oil supplies in 50 years ranks as the least plausible of strategies. Yet we know from a range of evidence that this is what was on Bush’s mind when his government shifted its focus from the search for Osama bin Laden to fighting a war in Iraq.

The overthrow of Saddam was the longstanding pet idea of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, which was already arguing in the 1990’s that Saddam was likely to achieve a stranglehold over "a significant proportion of the world’s oil supplies." Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated these fears in the run-up to the Iraq War, claiming that Saddam Hussein was building a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to "take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies."

Cheney’s facts were obviously wrong, but so was his logic. Dictators like Saddam make their living by selling their oil, not by holding it in the ground. Perhaps, though, Saddam was too eager to sell oil concessions to French, Russian, and Italian companies rather than British and US companies.

In any event, the war in Iraq will not protect the world’s energy supplies in 50 years. If anything, the war will threaten those supplies by stoking the very radicalism it claims to be fighting. Genuine energy security will come not by invading and occupying the Middle East, or by attempting to impose pliant governments in the region, but by recognizing certain deeper truths about global energy.

First, energy strategy must satisfy three objectives: low cost, diverse supply, and drastically reduced carbon dioxide emissions. This will require massive investments in new technologies and resources, not a "fight to the finish" over Middle East oil. Important energy technologies will include conversion of coal to liquids (such as gasoline), use of tar sands and oil shale, and growth in non-fossil-fuel energy sources.

Indeed, there is excellent potential for low-cost solar power, zero-emitting coal-based technologies, and safe and reliable nuclear power. Solar radiation equals roughly 10,000 times our current energy use. We tap that solar power in many fundamental ways – food production, wind power, hydroelectric power, solar heating, solar-thermal electricity, solar panels – but the possibilities for greatly increased use of inexpensive, widely available, and environmentally friendly solar power are huge.

Coal, like solar energy, is widely available. It is already inexpensive, but it is a solid rather than a liquid, a major pollutant, and a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet all of these problems can be solved, especially if we make the needed investments in research and development. Gasification of coal allows for the removal of dangerous pollutants, and coal can already be converted to gasoline at low cost; a South African company is beginning to bring that technology to China on a large scale.

Nuclear power, both fission-based and fusion-based, is yet another possibility for vast, reliable, secure, and environmentally safe primary energy. Here, too, there are technological obstacles, but they seem surmountable. Of course, there are also major political, regulatory, and security considerations, all of which need to be addressed properly.

It is ironic that an administration fixated on the risks of Middle East oil has chosen to spend hundreds of billions—potentially trillions—of dollars to pursue unsuccessful military approaches to problems that can and should be solved at vastly lower cost, through R&D, regulation, and market incentives. The biggest energy crisis of all, it seems, involves the misdirected energy of a US foreign policy built on war rather than scientific discovery and technological progress.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006

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A cheer for the ratbag fringe

From a paper at Cato Institute, The Libertarian Vote:

The libertarian vote is in play. At some 13 percent of the electorate, it is sizable enough to swing elections. Pollsters, political strategists, candidates, and the media should take note of it. 

And may it be so in Oz. If only the disorganised rabble could agree on one thing for poll day - aim a collective (errrg!) boot at John Howard's overblown noggin, at Downer's puckered freckle and at Costello's sanctimonious smirk.

But, watch out! Danger! That sly dog Gerard Henderson dragged a dead Death Adder across Beazley's track, during his weekly Friday morning offering for ABC RN. He said Labor had two good points for swinging voters - industrial relations and Iraq. Don't listen, Kev. Labor has everything to lose by making doorstop pronouncements about future policy on our military presence in Iraq.

Who knows what effect the DPRK direction will have on the Middle East? From Kim Jong-il’s Suicide Watch:

Naturally enough, the North Koreans’ race theory, like that of the Japanese fascists, actuates a blithe indifference to international law. A uniquely virtuous people has no reason to obey its moral inferiors, be they allies or enemies.

You couldn't get a Tally Ho between Kim Jong-Il and Shoko Asahara. And, still on doomsday cults, there isn't much between these examples, and the cult of the red heifer.

A final cheer to Dennis Glover: Marxism in the unlikeliest places:

OK, so I've had a bit of fun here, but I have a serious point. If you try too hard, it's possible sometimes to end up resembling the thing you oppose. If Marxism is worth opposing, then the form - ruthless cultural struggle - as well as the substance - class warfare - should be deposited in Trotsky's trash can of history. It's the same lesson for the Left. Simply replacing one set of cultural commissars with another isn't the answer.

Not laughing here, Dennis. An oldie from the Good Book states "All our literature and art are for the masses of the people, and in the first place for the workers, peasants and soldiers; they are created for the workers, peasants and soldiers and are for their use." Must rush, though ... time for my weekly chat with Rupert.

Some Good News

According to Olbermann Exclusive: Dissecting new Book: Tempting Faith:

When cufflinks weren't enough, the White House played the Jesus card, reminding Christian leaders that, quote, “they knew the president's faith” and begging for patience.

And the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives?

According to Kuo, “White House staff didn't want to have anything to do with the Faith-Based Initiative because they didn't understand it any more than did congressional Republicans . They didn't lie awake at night trying to kill it. They simply didn 't care."

That's a great relief. It means the cynics and hypocrites at the White House are able to see through flim-flam of the Evangelical Right. They must have an Aussie adviser on the team.


Project For The New Russian Century

See Russia sets the pace in energy race:
Speaking at a conference under the rubric "Summit on Energy Security" at West Lafayette, Indiana, this month, the powerful chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, characterized Venezuela, Iran and Russia as "adversarial regimes" that were using energy supplies as "leverage" in foreign policy.

Lugar said: "We are used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare between nations, but energy is becoming a weapon of choice for those who possess it."


Lugar underlined the crucial importance of a formal coordination of the US energy diplomacy with China and India at a juncture when 77% of the world's oil supply was controlled by "foreign governments"; when the US paid 17% more for its energy in 2005 than the year before; when energy costs accounted for a third of the US trade deficit; and when the US was bracing for a whopping US$320 billion bill for its oil imports in the current year.

Beijing was quick to respond to Lugar's kite-flying. Writing in the People's Daily on April 11, an expert from China's Institute of Contemporary International Relations, Su Jingxiang, signaled that if only Washington were savvy enough to "revalue the tremendous market potential" in China and "abate unnecessary doubts toward China", closer cooperation between Beijing and Washington on international energy issues could be realized.

Su rendered some practical advice to Washington's policymakers in this connection. He questioned the efficacy of past US policies that involved "seizing resources" through military intervention and expansion aimed at "safeguarding the oil supply". He pointed out that gunboat diplomacy was no longer workable either in the Middle East or Latin America as it produced only terrorism and resistance. At the same time, Su acknowledged that growing dependence of energy imports "weakened the competitiveness and injured the economic security of the US".

Teatowel remote....

My mate Noel tells me of his aunt.

Back in the days of the 21" Astor (rosewood veneer), it seems there were no remote controls (they lived a very spartan existence). Aunty had a teatowel pinned to the top of the TV, which was rolled up in readyness.

Whenever Billy Snedden appeared on the news to haunt her, she would abandon the roast and unroll the teatowel to cover the offending visage.

They don't make aunts like that any more.

I Think I'm In Love

Chris, Noel's aunt was (still is I hope) a formidable intellect pushed to the brink of madness by the pedestrian face of worldly power.

Definitely my kind of woman. 


Roger, much must be forgiven a man who elects to depart in his peculiar circumstances (so to speak).

Curiouser and Curiouser

Shades of John Major, Fiona?

Orl right, lets 'ave a cuppa

Gruss Gott, Phil. Nostalgia is an older man's refuge. I yearn for the days when news came by radio and newspaper. When, the world was infinitesmally smaller and the lies of the bastards were hidden from view and came to light decades later.

Today, we go to bed with the lies piled on, a new one being added hourly or daily. If I see the detestable face of that weaselly midget at another funeral, sporting event or baby arse-kissing competition, I am going to take the mattock to the TV (though only after the footy season of course).

What a curse that smarmy face has become on Australian television. Is there no where that he won't go to get another (free) publicity shot. My wife shakes her head as I go apoplectic once again because....there the bastard is, AGAIN.


Irfun rightly points out in his latest piece Aussie Islam & Howard's cultural minstrels what an appalling piece of work this right-hand man of Bush the lesser, is.



Sachs is simply stating what a number of commentators have been saying since 2002. The real problem with allowing self determination in the Middle East is not radicalization, but development. At present, for every dollar of petrol, the Middle East gets about 10c, and our government gets 50c. With even a modicum of capitalist shrewdness, the Middle East would become the world’s dominant economic power. They are not going to spend it on radicalism/terrorism. This would damage foreign economies, and they have too much invested in these very same economies. What they are likely to do is the same thing the British Empire did. Persuade people by funding schools and charities. However, Islam is likely to follow the same path to maturation as Christianity. Yes, there will be some extreme and possibly violent groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, but the majority of people will view religion as a useful social and cultural tool, but to be seasoned with a healthy dose of salt.  


The problem George Bush has is that he is a born-again Christian, a person who truly believes in the white man’s burden. His world is collapsing. China is awakening. South America is shaking off its shackles. India is finally getting its act together. Japan and South East Asia are recovering from their crashes. The US has still to find its feet. Australia is doing quite well, but this is because we are busy selling off our assets.


Australia’s hope for success in the world 50 years from now lies in multiculturalism. Australia embracing multiculturalism isn’t sufficient. We need to persuade relatively insular societies such as China and the Middle East to embrace multiculturalism. We will not succeed if we try to teach it to them. Rather we need to say, “we are learners on a journey, would you like to share our bread and perhaps walk some way with us”.

Can You See The Hand Up The Back

Like a ventriloquist's dummy, the words of George Bush are out of someone else's mouth. Speechwriters, analysts, personal adviser's and of course the leaders of the most powerful companies on earth. He IS their man.

I don't fault him for that. Every political leader is beholden to a myriad interests but can only serve a few and therefore  the most powerful are having their say through the little Bush persona.

I have had a change of heart. I don't fault him at all. Instead, I reserve my disgust for those ordinary citizens who believe the lies of every political campaign of every political persuasion.

Shame on all of us.

[dog] helps those...

.. who help themselves.

Re: "[dog] help us all" (JW) ...because nothing will save bloody liars.

On a slightly different (and more pleasant) tack, Grüezi to Roger Fedyk, who [reserves his] "disgust for those ordinary citizens who believe the lies of every political campaign of every political persuasion." Roger, you refer - of course - to the sheople; I share your disgust (and would add my contempt, except that there is no proper choice, neither for the sheople nor for us), also: that I myself believe next-to-none of the political liars (which is almost all, with their filthy apologists), and have hardly - tending to absolutely not - believed any of them, at least since the Whitlam government was forced to go 'toes-up' on 11Nov'75[1], now sooo horribly long ago.

"Shame on all of us." Yes, but: surely we've been deceived, more than we've deceived ourselves? How can we improve the choice?

I thank Roger once again, for his insight into business[2].

My question is then: with a) utterly crooked businesses, b) their crooked political stooges and horrid apologists, c) a crooked MSM (incl. big bits'a th'AusBC) and d) a great, ugly mob'a sheople dozing irresponsibly before their surround-sound, flat-panel etc TVs, what's to be done?

As I have previously suggested, we (the sheople: 50%+1 thereof) could affect a toadally® bloodless - but also toadally effective revolution, simply by preferentially voting the Lib/Lab ugly twins last and 2nd last (in your own preferred order, natch). This would guarantee the 'return' of a parliament full of almost random and largely amateur odds'n sods - IMHO, to be infinitely preferred over the current (crooked & criminal!) status quo. Hmmm? How about it?

Only problem, again of course, is waking up those 50%+1.

Hey, you! Wake up! (And turn that eff'n TV off.)

Sadly, two chances: Buckley's and none.


PS Here's a good accompaniment from Richard Neville in The Age: Poor, poor pitiful Oz.

And since I'm drafting this (with special dispensation) on a Sunday, the music to end this piece is Nicolò Paganini, Concerto-V&O op.7 Lon.Phil, Charles Dutoit.

PPS I've just read Roger's Q: 'Is [dog] Trustworthy?' on 'Making Globalization Work'_1640. (A: Not a question; IMHO, no deity [dog] does exist.) I'm largely in agreement with the post, but on the FTA, I wasn't fooled at all, not for the smallest part of a pico-nano-sec.


[1] Well May We Say [dog] Save The [detested English monarch] - "...because nothing will save the Governor-General." This is a video clip of Whitlam's famous words, during the speech where he also described Fraser as "Kerr's Cur" and urged his supporters to "maintain the rage and enthusiasm".

[2] "Firstly, regarding your use of the term 'fair profit', there is no such business axiom as a 'fair profit'. If you are in business to generate a 'fair profit' your business will go broke quickly. Businesses take an enormous amount of energy and resources to establish. The last thing that a business owner wants is competitors and people to share his profits with.

The only way to live with competitors is to form a cartel. That is the purpose and point of having industry associations, namely to get every one singing off the same page. However, even within business cartels the operative by-word is 'trust no one' and if the opportunity presents itself to kill a competitor, do so quickly and brutally.

Business owners are the ultimate gladiators. Today you drink and eat with your associates and tomorrow you destroy them or they destroy you."

[Roger Fedyk on July 1, 2006 - 12:25am]

What Roger omits from this sad and immoral story is the drastic, even astounding rip-off that is the 'resource-rent' scam in the mining (incl. oil) industry. How many people know just how much (actually how little) we, the sheople actually see of our so-called 'mineral-boom?' I'll hazard a guess: next-to-none, nor of the breathless magnitude of the rip-off. We do have a hint from the 90's 'special (investment-encouraging) deal' for Venezuela, getting all of 1% royalties; how much do the (mostly US-owned) mining companies leave us with? I reckon (always 'only' IMHO!) it's extremely likely, that we is bein' daylight-robbed! An' just how fair is that, I ask y's all?

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