Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Friday, October 15, 2004

Winning the war on terror

I think we've lost it already. I say "lost" not in any military sense, that our troops have somehow lost control of the battlefield. I say "lost" in the sense that we have let the fear of terrorism goad us into sacrificing rights and liberties without a fight. We have let the fear of terrorism push us into creating a whole string of programs for homeland security that leave huge gaps for opportunitic attacks. We have let color coded terror alerts send us into paroxysms of fear with no clear sense of what we are fearing.

We just surrendered to terror and cower in fear. We take the flimsiest rumor of a threat to wallow in dread and hysteria at the same time we take the flimsiest security program as a shield to protect us from that threat.

Maybe I'm overdoing this a bit, but I'm pretty tired of hearing about "the war on terror" and all the weeping and wailing that goes along with it. It seems like a bunch of scare talk to me with very little action to back it up.

It's not that I don't realize that the world is a dangerous place. I've never had to wield a gun to protect myself or my family, but I do very much know what it is like to hide from gunfire. I know that there are threats of all kinds, and not merely the kinds that come from bullets or bugs. And I know that there are a whole heap of folks out there who really, really don't like Americans and/or U.S. foreign policy.

But we aren't fighting a war. Not a war on terror anyway.

How can I say that? For one thing, there's nothing that the American people are doing to fight this war--other than being afraid pretty much on demand. If it were a real war, we'd be looking at where our defenses were weak and producing some serious weaponry, and every American would be involved in the effort to defeat the enemy.

Consider this. Most (but not all) of those who use terrorism as a tactic against the U.S. and its allies are based in the Middle East, which sits on a largish pool of oil. We place our economy in jeopardy when we depend on the Middle East for this resource. Yet there has been no serious call for Americans to begin the serious work of reducing dependence on foreign oil. Ours is a petroleum-based economy, so doing that would certainly begin to create some dislocations among those with interests in petroleum-based products. Nonetheless, it is in the interest of national security that we start making the changes that will allow us more energy self-sufficiency. Our leaders do not ask us to conserve. Our leaders do not insist on more fuel efficient vehicles. Our leaders are not scouring the statutes and regulations that encourage wastefulness to reverse that trend. And the progress toward alternative fuels is all too slow.

Consider this. When the U.S. has been attacked, there has been a lack of intelligence to provide adequate warning of impending attack. Even now, there are thousands of pages of documents and computer records that cannot be analyzed. Whatever the failures in communication between the various intelligence agencies, there is still the central fact that too few people in these agencies have the foreign language skills to be of any use in providing intelligence. And yet none of our leaders have said that foreign language education needs a major boost in this country. Way back in the bad old days of the Cold War, we had a better idea of what was needed, and several educational programs were specifically labelled national defense programs. These included grants for people to study obscure and not-so-popular languages. If we were building those language skills, we'd have a better chance of having people who could get closer to the source of some of those threats. (And it's not as if learning a foreign language is really going to hurt someone in this very small world of ours.)

If this were really a war on terror, we'd be looking at where the terrorists get their weapons and try to cut them off at the source. We would be scrambling pretty damned fast to corral the nuclear materials--and personnel--in Russia and make sure that everything was locked down but good. We'd go back to all those ammo dumps in Iraq that we searched for weapons of mass destruction, and this time we'd blow the damned things up instead of leaving them open for one and all to pilfer--and use against us. We'd be looking really hard at the nations that manufacture weapons and sell them to terrorists and do some serious jawboning about how (a) that's not such a good idea and (b) there are some real consequences for doing it.

If this were really a war on terror, we'd be looking at where the terrorists are getting their recruits and work really hard to counter with our own propaganda. We'd look at what motivates the recruits and try not to be the motivation. We'd look at what the recruits really need and see if we couldn't offer them a better deal.

If this really were a war on terror--and our leaders really were afraid--there'd be some real concern that business as usual is not cutting it. Zero tolerance for turf battles among agencies. Careful use of the weapon of terror (fear!) against our own people. A serious look at priorities and risks for security while developing security consciousness in the populace.

Nah. This isn't a war. But we've lost it anyway. Pleasure and greed and comfort are more important than the nation's security, except on those occasions when we are really afraid. Then, we surrender all over again. Anything but fight. Let someone else do that.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Who has the energy for this?

The story from USA Today that sparked this post is several days old, so the link may be dead. It had to do with the "near record" price of oil and the inadequacy of either presidential candidate's plan for solving our energy problem.
Republicans. Their $18 billion plan is little more than a grab bag of tax breaks and subsidies to boost production. But even if they could achieve their long-sought goal of tapping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they would barely alter the energy equation. The 1 million barrels per day it could produce are less than 5% of current consumption, and equals the amount that consumption has grown just in the past five years.

Democrats. Kerry would increase fuel-efficiency standards and offer tax incentives for people to buy more fuel-efficient cars, among other things. These might achieve some savings. But he relies on consumers' willingness to buy smaller cars, something they have been loath to do in an affluent era.

I think that's a fair enough assessment. The article mentions a big gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48 and hydrogen for cars. And then:

But more is needed. A bold plan would be on the scale of the Apollo program and would seek to make hydrogen- and electric-powered cars as common as gasoline-powered ones are today. Bush and Kerry have plans to promote hydrogen, but not nearly on the scale or timetable necessary. [emphasis added]

This is what's been weighing on my mind these past few weeks, as we've seen the price of gasoline climb and stay at high levels. Our whole economy relies on petroleum. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource that is becoming scarce and ever more expensive. Near-record prices have become record-breaking prices. I keep wondering what will happen when the prices go up even further.

We already see some ripples in the economy because of increased transportation costs. Will we need locking gas caps? Will the lines at service stations get longer? Will people start taking the bus and looking for more mass transit options? What about consumer goods? Will we become less of a consumer society?

I'm not so sure that I am as alarmed by all of this as I am totally irked. Irked with our culture of consuming and wasting and wanting more, that is. I'm starting to get rather tired of the shop, shop, shop mentality. The intrusions on our computers from spam and pop-ups and spyware are all part of the push to consume. It's almost futile to watch network television any more; the commercials seem to take up more time than the actual programs. But it's not just the constant barrage of advertising that is annoying.

It's the greed. The corporate greed. The individual greed. The national greed. Why should the U.S. have 5 percent of the world's population and consume 25 percent of its energy?

There is something corrupting about the comfort and ease of our lives. We do not realize that the food and clothes and shelter that are basic to our survival are (a) that and (b) derived from significant expenditure of energy. We don't think about the possibility that even they could be threatened, both in quality and in quantity, if our nation begins to see energy prices double yet again.

Yet for all of my unease about this situation, I cannot envision what the alternative might be. There is certainly no vision coming from the presidential candidates. They offer piecemeal solutions. Kerry's I like more than Bush's, yes, but neither is thinking--or at least talking--about the huge changes that we need to make in this country as we face the imminence of peak oil.