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Message 576473 - Posted: 27 May 2007, 5:17:12 UTC

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Message 576476 - Posted: 27 May 2007, 5:25:22 UTC

DRUDGE REPORT
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Message 576896 - Posted: 27 May 2007, 18:43:50 UTC

U.S., Iran suspicious entering talks

DAVID IGNATIUS
THE WASHINGTON POST

May 27, 2007

As U.S. and Iranian diplomats prepare for a crucial meeting in Baghdad tomorrow, what's on Tehran's mind? The normal reportorial techniques aren't much help, since the Iranians aren't talking publicly. But we can get a sense of what they're thinking by using the columnist's ancient art of mind reading.

Tehran fears the same thing it has since 1979: an American plot to undermine the Islamic revolution. This suspicion of foreign conspiracies animates every Iranian decision. The Americans say they support Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, but Tehran doesn't fully believe it. Why would America create a friendly Shiite government in Iraq and thus give Iran more power in the region?

Tehran asks: What is Bush's real game? America's friends the Saudis favor a coup in Baghdad by Ayad Allawi, the former Iraqi interim prime minister who was trained by the master of all secret conspiracies, the British spy service MI-6. The American conspirator in chief, Vice President Dick Cheney, went to Riyadh this month and told the Saudis to support Iran's ally, al-Maliki. The Iranians are perplexed. If the Bush administration really does support al-Maliki, the Iranians want to hear it from Ambassador Ryan Crocker tomorrow in Baghdad.

In Tehran's mind, there looms the larger American conspiracy of regime change. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disavowed this goal in a recent interview with The Financial Times, but she didn't halt spending from the $75 million fund created last year to broadcast pro-democracy messages to Iran and help Iranian NGOs. Tehran believes this money is really aimed at encouraging a “soft revolution” in Iran, on the model of the recent color revolutions in Lebanon, Georgia and Ukraine.

That's why the Iranians arrested Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American who works for the Woodrow Wilson Center. They know she's no spy – Iran's own counterintelligence service concluded that she had no espionage role. But the country's leaders want to send a message that they will imprison even a harmless grandmother to intimidate activists. The mullahs may be opening a dialogue with Washington, but they don't want ordinary Iranians to think that they, too, can consort with the Great Satan.

Iran hates negotiations. That's another truth that mind readers can discern. Tehran was so uncertain about who should meet with Crocker that its ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, had to return home for consultations. The Iranians don't like having to take positions before there is a consensus within the ruling elite, and on the question of dealing with America, there is still a battle raging. Pragmatists in Tehran quote former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about shared U.S. and Iranian national interests. But hard-liners associated with the Revolutionary Guard insist that any dialogue with America is a potential trap.

For Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the overriding task is to preserve the legitimacy of the revolution – not an easy task in a country where the clerical rulers are unpopular. Khamenei wants a U.S.-Iranian dialogue about Iraq that generates enough domestic support so he can sign his name to it. In that sense, he is a follower more than a leader. Khamenei fears American attempts to play factional politics – to play off pragmatists against hard-liners – which will make his job as keeper of consensus more difficult. The Tehran rumor mill has it that Khamenei is very ill. That's another reason not to expect any bold breakthroughs from the Baghdad meeting. It's a moment for small steps, not giant leaps. For now, both countries would rather avoid the big intractable issue of Iran's nuclear program.

Iranian national pride is as fragile as the regime's sense of legitimacy. For that reason Iranians will bristle if the United States uses the Baghdad meeting to lecture them, dictate terms or make accusations. When Crocker asks Iran to stop sending deadly projectile IEDs to Iraq, the Iranians will deny doing so in the first place – and then, if they choose, halt future shipments.

This is a dialogue founded on mutual mistrust. That isn't necessarily fatal – detente between America and the Soviet Union was also accompanied by deep suspicion. Iranian pragmatists would like to explore a wider agenda with a high-level American emissary – someone like former Secretary of State James A. Baker – but keep it secret, please. Tehran doesn't want to risk embarrassment until it has a clearer sense of America's intentions.

And what statement would Iran like to hear tomorrow from Crocker, and perhaps later from a more senior emissary? Something like this: “The United States is ready to deal with Iran in mutual respect, about issues of mutual concern.” That sentence could begin a diplomatic dance that, at once, intrigues and frightens Iran.
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Message 576897 - Posted: 27 May 2007, 18:44:41 UTC
Last modified: 27 May 2007, 18:45:48 UTC

How big a pay raise for our military?

DAVID S. BRODER
THE WASHINGTON POST

May 27, 2007

On this Memorial Day weekend when Americans pause to think about their debt to the men and women who fight our wars, a battle of a different kind is going on – a struggle between the White House and Congress over pay for the armed forces.

The difference seems small. President Bush proposed a 3 percent, across-the-board increase for all ranks. The House has passed a 3.5 percent increase, and the Senate, also under Democratic control, seems inclined to go along with the higher figure.

In a May 16 memo outlining a series of objections to the House version of the defense authorization bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget termed the 3.5 percent increase “unnecessary.” It said that, “when combined with the overall military benefit package, the president's proposal provides a good quality of life for service members and their families.”

That came as news to Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a freshman Democrat from New Hampshire. She told her colleagues in the House that when her husband was an Army officer during the Vietnam War, “I was a military spouse, and I lived on military pay. It is very difficult to do that. But we do that with honor and with gratitude for the chance to serve this country.”

But Shea-Porter said she had to wonder at the values of a president who supports billions of dollars in tax cuts but balks at adequately raising the pay of the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. “How much does this really mean?” she asked. Not that much for many in the ranks. “For an E-4 (a corporal) it means $200 a year – $200 a year!”

The White House does not see it as Shea-Porter does. A spokesman for the president told me that military pay has increased 28 percent since 2000 – more than in a comparable period during the Clinton presidency.

Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who is spearheading the fight for the higher figure on his side of the Capitol, pointed out in an interview that Congress in 1999 established the principle that military pay should increase each year by one-half of 1 percent above the Employment Cost Index – a measure of civilian pay standards. But the administration says that requirement expired two years ago, and since then, Kerry said, that standard has not been met; last year, the raise was only 2.2 percent, the lowest since 1994. The administration says the long-term pay goal has been met; Kerry insists a catch-up raise is still needed.

The fight, like so many others in Washington, has become partisan, with such high-profile Democrats as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Rahm Emanuel joining Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate. Their statements are plainly designed to carry the message that Democrats care more about the well-being of the troops than do their Republican rivals – a counter to the GOP's traditional affinity for the military.

“Whatever we offered, the Democrats would go higher,” the White House spokesman said. He also pointed to the cost of the additional half-percent increase – $265 million next year, and $7.3 billion during the following five. Those are significant sums, but a tiny percentage of the military budget.

The other side of the story is best told in the words of an anonymous service member who recently sent The Military Times readers' forum the following message:

“If there is someone in the administration that feels that we, the hard-working American soldiers, don't need additional pay raises, then maybe they should get from behind their desk and pick up a gun and vest and go stand guard at the entry control points in Iraq. And while they are out there, let's take away their six-figure income and give them $3.50 per day on top of anywhere from $15K-$45K per year.

“For all that we give to keep our country safe, the administration should at least want to help us eliminate any burden we may have financially. No, I'm not saying make us rich, and no one who enters the armed services expects to ever be rich. But we don't expect to have to take out loans just to put food on the table for our families either.”

Whatever Congress finally decides to pay the men and women in uniform, we owe them that much – and more.
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Message 577173 - Posted: 28 May 2007, 3:43:59 UTC
Last modified: 28 May 2007, 3:44:34 UTC

I don't think soldiers and their families ever get close to the pay they deserve..in a lot of countries. Sometimes, because of their service and their known loyalty, they get a foot in the door afterwards to some good jobs that others would never even get a crack at. I hope that happens often because the pay is crap.
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Message 577207 - Posted: 28 May 2007, 4:38:30 UTC

You should see the pension schemes of those in high office, like congress...they take care of their own...the rest is lip service.
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Message 577713 - Posted: 29 May 2007, 5:09:50 UTC

Dealing with an emboldened Russia

JIM HOAGLAND
THE WASHINGTON POST

May 28, 2007

“Murder is murder.” – A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Russia's refusal to extradite the prime suspect in the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London last November reveals the essential amorality of the Putin regime and its false narrative of recent history. That narrative increasingly undermines the Kremlin's relations with Europe and the United States.

Stalin is credited with the view that one man's death is a tragedy, a million a statistic. President Vladimir Putin seems not to grasp his predecessor's point. Britain drives it home by focusing on Litvinenko's death as a straightforward murder investigation driven by rules of evidence and elemental police work rather than an international casus belli.

Mysteries still surround the elimination of Litvinenko, a former KGB security officer and Putin critic who existed on the fringes of London's shadowy world of spies, ex-spies and dissidents. Where did the radioactive poison that he ingested originate? How was it administered? What were the exact motives in his killing? These questions remain publicly unanswered.

But a murder case, especially when it is investigated by Scotland Yard, rivets and illuminates public attention. The brazenness demonstrated in the Litvinenko affair means that Russia “has again become unpredictable, controlled by a narrow clique with a false view of the world and of Russia,” writes French strategist Therese Delpeche in the new English-language edition of “Savage Century,” her penetrating look at the ideological and political confusion that has followed the Cold War.

Much of the grief in trans-Atlantic relations of the past decade has stemmed from the conflicting narratives that the United States and Europe wove about the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a new Russia.

Triumphal Americans – the Bush administration has been overstocked with them – celebrated Ronald Reagan's defense spending and confrontational strategy as the keys to Western “victory.” European leaders, led by Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and France's Jacques Chirac, gave all the credit to the Helsinki peace process and other diplomatic maneuvers that allegedly enshrined reason as the arbiter of Russian and international politics.

Both narratives obscured the reality of the internal collapse of an overextended empire – and left Russian reformers and gangsters to battle each other for control of a wildly lurching ship of state. In the confusion, the personalization of power replaced consistent policy prescriptions for the Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 administrations.

“As long as they got along” with Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin or Putin, Western leaders “saw no reason to worry,” Delpeche writes. “We can now observe the results of that policy. Western influence on Russia is nonexistent.”

Putin offers his own narrative to muddy the waters even more. It is a narrative of his regime rescuing the country from a chaos that was deliberately injected, like a virus, into Mother Russia by the West. His regime has turned its oil and gas reserves and its role as a monopoly energy supplier for much of Europe into real power that makes Russia invulnerable and gives it commanding status over a weakening West. It is in the name of Russia that his regime treats with open contempt Britain's extradition demands or Germany's attempts to negotiate a “strategic framework.”

But that harsh narrative is beginning to backfire, as Blair's firm stand on the Litvinenko case suggests. So does the surprisingly sharp direct criticism of Putin at the May 18 European Union-Russia summit, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly dressed Putin down for suppressing dissent at home.

Merkel comes to her suspicion of Putin naturally. She grew up in the communist East German state where the Russian leader served as a spy. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian aristocrat who fled communist rule, has replaced Chirac as president. Gordon Brown will inherit Blair's concern and resentment about the Litvinenko affair. Personal relations and experiences pull Europe's big three countries away from – not toward – Moscow now.

This presents an opportunity to close the trans-Atlantic narrative gap and for Europe and North America to deal with Russia on a new, more realistic basis. We should work with Putin where possible and necessary, without ever paying the price of soft-pedaling his excesses or abuses at home and abroad.

“Americans have had a tendency to rely too much on hard power, and Europeans too much on soft power,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on a visit to Washington last week. “It is time for each of us to borrow from the other and for both to become more effective, working together.”
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Message 577714 - Posted: 29 May 2007, 5:11:55 UTC

The politics of personal resentment

BY JOHN DIAZ
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

May 28, 2007

Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards was once a skilled trial lawyer, so he knows something about the adage: If the evidence works against you, make it personal. So it goes in American politics these days, where “discredit the messenger” seems to be the favored tactic against those bearing inconvenient truths.

Edwards received a swift boatload of ridicule, especially on talk radio and at Republican gatherings, after it was revealed that he spent $400 in campaign funds on a haircut.

“There's two Americas – one where you can get a $400 haircut and then there's everybody else's,” former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential wannabe Mitt Romney quipped on the Jay Leno show. At a recent GOP presidential debate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee joked that Congress had spent money “like John Edwards at a beauty shop.”

Just this past week, the dreaded h-word of politics (hypocrisy) was again applied to Edwards after it was revealed that he collected a $55,000 fee for speaking at the University of California Davis about . . . poverty. Students were charged $17 apiece to hear a multimillionaire preach about the unfairness in society.

Edwards may be an imperfect messenger, but his “two Americas” message is important – and it is one that other politicians with thinner hair and leaner bank accounts prefer to ignore, to the long-term peril of this nation.

Perhaps it's strategically wise that Romney and Huckabee want voters to resent Edwards as a preening elitist instead of focusing on issues such as their support for repeal of an estate tax that will benefit just 3 out of every 1,000 American estates when the married-couple exemption rises to $7 million in 2009. Repeal of the estate tax would cost the U.S. treasury $1 trillion from 2012 to 2022, not to mention the hit on charities that now benefit from contributions from wealthy philanthropists.

Those who mock Edwards' $400 haircut and five-figure speaking fees have one thing in common: None is taking up the cause of the 37 million Americans who live in poverty and the many millions more who are feeling the insecurity of a shifting economy and a political system that runs on special-interest donations.

Edwards may be wealthy and ambitious – and a little too impeccably coiffed for some tastes – but give him credit for raising unsettling issues that should be on the 2008 agenda.

Meanwhile, Al Gore is getting thicker and more rumpled by the day, but he is also feeling the politics of personal resentment – for running up a $30,000 annual utility bill on his 20-room suburban Nashville home at the same time his “Inconvenient Truth” documentary was dramatically moving the national debate on the dangers of climate change. Again, the h-word. And, again, a common aim of his critics: To discredit the message by mocking the messenger.

Republicans have also been subjected to this personalized politics. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still gets chided for his collection of gas-guzzling Hummers, even after reducing his fleet to four, converting two to biofuels – and, most significantly, signing a landmark bill to put California in the forefront of reducing greenhouse gases. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been taking heat from what one evangelical leader called a “divorce on steroids” that openly strained his relations with his two children. Giuliani's response about the difficulty of “blended families” certainly resonates in the many American homes that have experienced the pain and complexity of divorce.

We all might prefer a world of humble public servants who get their hair done at Supercuts, ride the public buses, hug their kids when the cameras aren't around, put solar panels on their bungalows and have a Prius in the garage.

Then again, our president for the past seven years has been a self-deprecating family man who goes home to a Texas ranch with a relatively modest-sized and passive-solar house that captures rainwater for irrigation. And his administration has spent the last seven years churning out policies that are all but in denial about global warming and the growing opportunity gap in this nation.

Yes, it would be nice if all politicians led by example. But at this point, we may have to settle for those who are willing to confront powerful special interests – and the inevitable personal vilification that comes with it – to take the lead on the pressing issues of our time.
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Message 578276 - Posted: 30 May 2007, 1:32:46 UTC

The Google threat
Needed: a guaranteed private search engine


San Diego Union-Tribune editorial

May 29, 2007

Google's emergence as one of the scariest companies on the planet continues with a story in the Financial Times describing the Silicon Valley firm's goal of maximizing and cataloging personal information gleaned from every user's every use of its vastly popular search engine. Google described its plan to amass detailed dossiers on billions of people – correlating every search by computer ID numbers – in the most benign fashion possible. Chief executive Eric Schmidt spoke of a day when Google could help users find more satisfying jobs or come up with good things to do on days off.

But of course the real reason Google gathers all this data is to goose its advertising revenue. The more it knows about individual users, the more it can charge advertisers of products those users might be interested in.

This makes economic sense for Google, but should mortify Google's users – because the company has never come close to adequately acknowledging the vast privacy concerns raised by its already massive database. The potential for government snooping, harassment, financial manipulation, blackmail and all sorts of online crime is stunning.

The only good news here is the likelihood that at some point an entrepreneur will see the opportunity presented by a new search engine with this pitch: “Guaranteed private searches! We'll permanently delete your search terms as soon as you're done!” Such a search engine would be used by millions from day one – and would only grow in popularity as awareness of Google's sinister ways became more common.

Attention, ambitious computer scientists: Here's your big chance. Get rich – while performing a public service.
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Message 578278 - Posted: 30 May 2007, 1:40:42 UTC


Schoolgirl 'threatened to shoot students'

By Matthew Schulz

A SCHOOLGIRL threatened to shoot students at a large school assembly at a private Victorian college and outlined her plan on the internet.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman confirmed today that "there was a threat made on the internet relating to (a) shooting at Loreto College in Ballarat".

While details are still sketchy about the plot, Ballarat detectives are investigating claims that the girl planned to shoot classmates at a school assembly planned for May 17 or 18.

"How much damage and who she wanted to shoot we don't know,'' a police spokesman has told the Geelong Advertiser.

It also reported the College had postponed another school event because of the threat.

But the school is refusing to discuss the threat, despite confirming a student had been forced to study off-campus after lodging a message on a Internet site.

Parents collect student

So far, no charges appear to have been laid over the threat.

"The message was placed on a website not associated with Loreto College,'' a spokeswoman said on behalf of the principal Judith Potter, in a response to the Geelong Advertiser.

"Immediate action was taken to investigate this issue and, as a result of that, the student's family was notified and one of her parents collected her from school. The school community was notified.

"Loreto College takes this matter very seriously. (We have) undertaken a number of steps involving relevant authorities and we will work with them to resolve this matter.''

The Ballarat Catholic Education Office described the threat as a "welfare issue" and would not discuss the matter, except to say the school and Catholic authority was trying to keep "as low key as possible" about the incident.

Loreto College is a Catholic secondary school for girls, founded in 1875 by the Loreto Order.

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Message 578279 - Posted: 30 May 2007, 1:45:34 UTC - in response to Message 578278.

Red, has there been as much of this going on in Australia as in the US?
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Message 578295 - Posted: 30 May 2007, 2:17:43 UTC

there has been cases of threats posted, but no actual violence.
I would say a lot is not reported.
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Message 578296 - Posted: 30 May 2007, 2:21:15 UTC - in response to Message 578295.

there has been cases of threats posted, but no actual violence.
I would say a lot is not reported.

Perhaps. That's a shame. It's bad enough what we have happening in the US and one would like to hope little to none of it occurs elsewhere. :(
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Message 578298 - Posted: 30 May 2007, 2:25:29 UTC - in response to Message 578296.

there has been cases of threats posted, but no actual violence.
I would say a lot is not reported.

Perhaps. That's a shame. It's bad enough what we have happening in the US and one would like to hope little to none of it occurs elsewhere. :(

I hope schools everywhere start to take Internet postings seriously.
I know a lot of people talk rubbish online, but if its reported to someone it should be acted upon
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Message 578909 - Posted: 31 May 2007, 2:49:35 UTC

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Message 578910 - Posted: 31 May 2007, 2:50:22 UTC

U.S. could be starting a brain drain

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
THE MIAMI HERALD

May 30, 2007

The massive immigration reform bill being debated in Congress would make it easier for foreign doctors, engineers and other professionals to become permanent U.S. residents. The bad news is that it would also worsen the brain drain from the developing world.

Under the White House-backed bipartisan immigration bill, which could be approved by the Senate in early June, most of the 12 million undocumented workers in the United States would be considered for permanent residency. But the highly educated ones would enjoy a head start.

The bill establishes a merit-based evaluation system, under which immigrants seeking permanent residency would be judged according to their score on a 100-point scale. Immigrants with advanced degrees who speak English would get by far the most points.

While foreign medical doctors, scientists and other professionals with post-graduate degrees would automatically earn 28 points, immigrants without high school diplomas would get only five points. In addition, English-speaking foreigners would automatically earn 15 points, while those who pass a basic English test would get only six points.

In other words, if you are an English-speaking scientist, you start out with 43 points. If you don't have a high school diploma or lack proficiency in English, you would start out with 11 points.

There is nothing wrong with the United States trying to draw the brightest minds in the world, especially in much-needed professions. And it's unfair to blame foreign doctors and engineers for seeking a better life, or greater professional opportunities, in America.

But Washington should be aware that the proposed immigration changes could unintentionally accelerate a race among rich nations for the smartest minds of the developing world.

“This increases the pull-factor for skilled workers,” Paul Ladd, a United Nations Development Program expert on migration, told me. “If you got a master's degree from the University of Nairobi, you know that you will be higher up in the pecking order to apply for residency in the United States.”

According to a new report by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, growing numbers of developed countries are adopting merit-based point systems that give preference to highly educated immigrants.

Canada started a merit-based admissions system in 1967, Australia in 1989, New Zealand in 1991 and Great Britain in 2001. The 27-member European Union is considering adopting a point-based system in September.

But at the same time, United Nations studies show that 83 percent of Guyana's university graduates and more than 60 percent of university graduates from Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago live in industrialized countries. In Ghana and Zambia, there is a huge shortage of nurses because most have moved abroad.

Granted, recent studies also show that in some cases, poverty-ridden countries enjoy a “brain gain” when their most educated people move to richer nations.

India, Taiwan and several Eastern European countries owe much of their high-tech success to the fact that their scientists and engineers moved to the United States, started businesses there and later either moved back or started joint operations in their native countries.

Many Latin American countries are benefiting enormously from the $65 billion in family remittances from their expatriates in the United States.

The higher education their emigres have, the better jobs they get in the United States and the more money they send back home.

Still, development experts are worried. Poor countries that produce good scientists and engineers may benefit from a “brain gain,” but those that are seeing a mass exodus of nurses or entrepreneurs may suffer a growing “brain drain,” they say.

My opinion: In an increasingly competitive global economy, nothing will stop rich countries from giving preference to the most educated immigrants, or the latter from seeking a better life abroad.

But Washington should also contemplate the other side of the coin, and instead of cutting foreign aid, as it has been doing in recent decades, increase assistance to developing countries' education systems.

Otherwise, private U.S. and European firms will increasingly scout the world for highly educated workers, which in the long run could worsen conditions in some developing countries and increase the very migration flows that the proposed policies are supposed to bring under control.
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Message 578912 - Posted: 31 May 2007, 2:50:54 UTC

The illogic of low gasoline prices

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON
NEWSWEEK

May 30, 2007

It's one of those delicious moments when Washington's hypocrisy is on full and unembarrassed display. On the one hand, some of America's leading politicians condemn high gasoline prices and contend that they stem from “gouging” by oil companies. On the other, many of the same politicians warn against global warming and implore us to curb our use of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

Guess what: These crowd-pleasing proclamations are contradictory. Anyone fearful of global warming should cheer higher gasoline prices, because much higher prices represent precisely the sort of powerful incentive needed to push consumers toward more fuel-efficient vehicles and to persuade the auto industry to produce them in large numbers. Bravo for higher prices!

Perish the thought.

In late May, gasoline prices hit a national average of $3.22 a gallon, which, after correcting for inflation, is roughly as high as in early 1981, the recent peak. This elicited the usual expressions of outrage. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested breaking up big oil companies, which he says may be to blame for “the sky-high gas prices.” By a 284-141 vote, the House passed the “Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act,” which would make it illegal during an “energy emergency” (to be declared by the president) to sell gasoline at a price that is “unconscionably excessive.”

The legislation, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, would “punish those who are cheating America's families by artificially inflating the price of gasoline.”

It's always fun to blame unpopular occurrences on corporate greed. Schumer's notion, for example, is that the recent wave of giant oil mergers (among others: BP/Arco, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco) has so concentrated U.S. refinery capacity that companies can constrict supply and create artificial scarcities by refusing to build new refineries. It's a plausible-sounding theory whose major defect is the absence of supporting evidence.

Whenever gasoline prices surge unexpectedly, Congress routinely vents its anger by ordering the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the oil industry for collusive practices. Invariably, the studies exonerate the industry.

Testifying last week before the congressional Joint Economic Committee, FTC economist Michael Salinger said that the industry's concentration levels remain “low to moderate.” According to JEC figures, ConocoPhillips is the biggest U.S. refiner with 13 percent of capacity; the six largest have 61 percent of capacity. The oil industry is less concentrated than the auto industry, which is considered intensely competitive. As for the absence of new refineries, that problem preceded the merger wave by many years; the last major U.S. refinery was constructed in 1976. There must be some other explanation (environmental restrictions, past low profitability).

Today's higher gasoline prices mostly reflect supply and demand. “Holiday travelers ignoring fuel costs,” headlined USA Today before the Memorial Day weekend. In 2007, gasoline demand is up nearly 2 percent from 2006 levels. Meanwhile, gasoline supplies have tightened. More refineries than usual shut this spring for repairs – some outages planned, some not (from accidents or dangerous conditions). In April and May, refineries normally operate well above 90 percent of capacity; in 2007, the operating rate was about 89 percent. Imports also declined for many reasons: higher demand in Europe; refinery problems in Venezuela; more gasoline demand from Nigeria.

It's true that oil companies will reap eye-popping profits from high prices. Still, the logic that steep prices, imposed by the market or by taxes, will encourage energy conservation is irrefutable. At the least, high prices would curb the growth of greenhouse gases and oil imports. Congressional Democrats especially have targeted global warming. “We hold our children's future in our hands,” Pelosi said early this year. “As the most adaptable creatures on the planet, it is time for us to adapt.”

Energy prices apparently are the huge exception to this moral imperative. It is not necessary to adapt to them. The way that Pelosi and others navigate around this illogic is to assume painless improvements in energy efficiency. Congress will order car companies to make more efficient vehicles. It will mandate more renewable energy. It will impose stricter efficiency standards on appliances. Presto, everything's solved. No voter must suffer any inconvenience or cost.

But if fuel prices aren't high, people won't want to buy fuel-efficient cars, which will be more expensive, smaller or both. People will also drive more – offsetting efficiency gains – because it's cheaper. In 2005, the average car traveled 12,375 miles, up 1,871 miles since 1990. Given expanding populations of people and cars, massive gains in efficiency are needed merely to hold total fuel use constant. All this applies equally to buildings and appliances; higher electricity prices are an essential catalyst.

Americans want to stop global warming. They want to cut oil imports. They want cheaper energy. Who will tell them that they can't have it all? Not our “leaders.”
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Message 579117 - Posted: 31 May 2007, 12:04:55 UTC
Last modified: 31 May 2007, 12:06:01 UTC

New Al Qaeda Attacks Ultimatum Issued by Adam Gadahn.

American renegade Adam Gadahn , now a senior Al Queda operative believed to be in Pakistan, released a video warning to President Bush of new and worse attacks on America than 9/11 unless an ultimatum is met. The terms include withdrawal from all muslim lands and the release of all prisoners.

Question: If such an attack should occur, would that not sweep the Republicans back into power? And if that is likely, why would Al Qaeda favor the Republicans over the Democrats?


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Message 579146 - Posted: 31 May 2007, 12:45:27 UTC - in response to Message 578298.

there has been cases of threats posted, but no actual violence.
I would say a lot is not reported.

Perhaps. That's a shame. It's bad enough what we have happening in the US and one would like to hope little to none of it occurs elsewhere. :(

I hope schools everywhere start to take Internet postings seriously.
I know a lot of people talk rubbish online, but if its reported to someone it should be acted upon

I know from own experience that lifes have been saved because postings were taken seriously. But this happens too seldom.
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Message 579181 - Posted: 31 May 2007, 14:12:07 UTC - in response to Message 579117.

New Al Qaeda Attacks Ultimatum Issued by Adam Gadahn.

American renegade Adam Gadahn , now a senior Al Queda operative believed to be in Pakistan, released a video warning to President Bush of new and worse attacks on America than 9/11 unless an ultimatum is met. The terms include withdrawal from all muslim lands and the release of all prisoners.

Question: If such an attack should occur, would that not sweep the Republicans back into power? And if that is likely, why would Al Qaeda favor the Republicans over the Democrats?



Who would actually benefit from it? Makes you stop and go... Hmmm!

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