Cynical Synapse

Wed, 21 Sep 2011

Two-Faced, Schizophrenic Nature of US Foreign Policy

Filed under: Allies, Arab states, Diplomacy, Hypocrits, Israel, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:50 am

schizophrenic

No wonder allies and enemies alike are confused by US foreign policy. We talk a good game, but we often fail to follow through. It seems we’re not very good at walking the talk; we don’t do as we say. Sometimes, in our arrogance, US motives are misperceived.

Consider the similarities and differences between Libya, where the US supported intervention, and Syria, where the US simply huffed and puffed, doing nothing. Syria is largely Arabic and Muslim; Libya is even more so. Syria is in the Middle East while Libya is in Africa. France and England have considerable interests in Libyan oil, but not in Syria. When the rebellion began in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—mostly France and Britain—decided civilians needed protection from the regime’s heavy-handed response to the uprising. I wonder at what point did Libya cease being a sovereign state so such foreign military intervention became legitimate. Not that I’m a Qaddafi supporter, but the rule and application of law is not supposed to be just a matter of convenience.

Syrian police beat protestors

With Syria, the regime also responded with military force against rebelling civilians. The result has been at least 2,700 Syrians killed and probably double that as refugees. From NATO? Sanctions and finger-wagging.

The US praised the Arab Spring, the regime change it brought in Egypt and Libya, and the freedom and democracy it harkens. Why doesn’t this apply to the Palestinians? The US has long supported a two state solution between Israel and Palestine. I’m a slow learner, but recently it dawned on me, why do the Palestinians need Israel’s permission to become a sovereign state? Maybe the Palestinians realized the same thing and that’s why they’re going to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and Security Council.

West Bank settlements

As for Israel’s opposition to Palestine’s bid for statehood, it should be obvious. A sovereign Palestinian state means Israel can’t invade at any whim or fancy, it can’t build settlements wherever, and it the Israeli state has to treat a Palestinian state as an equal. Even if Palestinian statehood is in Israel’s long term interests, it is happy being the dominant party in the ongoing feud.

If When they make their case before the UN Security Council, the Obama Administration intends to veto Palestinian statehood. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about a two-state solution, I have to agree the US official position is on a collision course for disaster.

We are set to squander whatever remaining goodwill we have in the region at a crucial time, while demonstrating at the same time that we are incapable of being even-handed mediators in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As one European diplomat put it the other day “it’s almost as though the U.S. wants to be seen as being isolated with Israel.”

Israeli security check

When you consider Israeli raids, security checks, and property usurpation, it seems to me Israel took its lessons from Nazi Germany. Only paranoid states take national security to totalitarian and arbitrary extremes. And, we wonder why Muslims distrust us.

Previously on Israel and Palestine:

Fri, 16 Sep 2011

Mission Distraction Redux: Train the Libyans

Filed under: Africa, Allies, Arab states, Budget, Global War on Terror, Government, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 9:07 am

Libyan rebels capture another city

I don’t know what the real deal is with Libya, but I’ll tell you “we” (the US/NATO) had no business there from the beginning of the uprising. Say what you want, but intervene not; until everyone looked the other way, Libya was a sovereign state. As for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), they said preventing civilian casualties was their primary purpose. So, why not NATO (or even United Nations) action regarding the thousands of casualties in Syria? A little huffing and puffing by the international community has accomplished nothing.

On the surface, Syria and Libya seem like very similar “Arab Spring” situations. There are distinct differences, however. Key US allies, in particular France and Britain, have substantial stakes in Libyan oil interests while none of the western countries have appreciable involvement in Syrian resources. Ugly as it is, that’s the simple reality of it.

volunteers receive military training in Tripoli

Since the French, especially, and British are the key stakeholders, I say let them train the Libyans in security and defense matters. Except the Brits and French want no part of supporting a new Libyan regime. Unfortunately, because we always have to have our fingers into the pie, US State Department officials are offering US assistance to Libya. From my perspective: what part of Iraq do you not realize was a distraction from the Global War on Terror? Why would you not think Libya is also a distraction?

In the Global War on Terror, which political correctness now calls “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), the Taliban, especially in Afghanistan, has always been the enemy of concern. I believe the war in Iraq distracted us—the US—from the key fight against terrorism and allowed the Taliban to build the insurgency we are now battling. We are paying a price—in lives, dollars, and public support—for failing to keep the focus where it needed to be.

Despite such recent history, my concern is we’re about to repeat the same mistake regarding operations in Afghanistan as we did in 2003. It doesn’t matter if it’s as big as Operation Iraqi Freedom or as small as training teams for Libya. In the likely future of constrained resources, we can’t afford anything taking our eye off the ball. And in my mind, we cannot permit the Taliban, who aided and abetted the 9/11 terrorists, any appreciable powerbase in Afghanistan.
 

Previously on Libya:

Sun, 04 Sep 2011

To Hybrid or Not to Hybrid

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Deceit, Environment, Hypocrits, Life, Oil, Paradoxes, People, Technology — cynicalsynapse @ 12:17 pm

hybrid in front of wind turbines

It depends. The hype with hybrid vehicles is they’ll save you gas money and will help reduce dependence on foriegn oil. The benefits of hybrid technology apply mostly at lower speeds, so if you do a lot of highway driving, a hybrid is probably not for you. In my job, I visit a number of work sites around the state. I have a Ford Fusion hybrid assigned to my office. It averages 36 mpg, largely due to mostly highway driving. I also commute 87 miles to work with 80 of those miles on Interstates. After calculating gas savings, I figured out the break-even point was over 10 years if I were to buy a Chevy Volt compared to a new Hyundai Tucson. Why? Because of the substantially higher cost of the hybrid Volt. Oh, and the Volt’s generator requires premium fuel, which is poor engineering, if you ask me.

Another fallacy of hybrids, especially the plug-in ones, is they use clean energy. Based on data from the US Energy Information Administration, only 14.2% of our electricity comes from clean (wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro) sources. Another 17.6% is generated at nuclear power plants. The rest comes from burning stuff, mostly (42.5%) coal. And, did you know many of the hybrids have idiosyncracies concerning their expensive batteries? Like, if the Chevrolet Tahoe and silverado shut down if you run out of gas. Talk about being stranded.

Thanks to Big Government for putting hybrids on my mind:

Today, in 1957, Ford introduced the Edsel. Think Chevy Volt.

1957 Ford Edsel

Previously on hybrid cars:

Sun, 31 Jul 2011

These Are Not the Oil Profits You’re Looking For

Filed under: Business, Congress, Economy, Gas Prices, Government, Greed, Hypocrits, Oil, Politics, Rants, Taxes — cynicalsynapse @ 2:41 pm

big oil's big gusher

ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil, the five biggest oil companies, reported skyrocketing profits for the second quarter. The profit jumps result from higher oil prices, which seems counterintuitive to me. Obviously the cost is simply passed along to consumers and not absorbed by the oil companies. The top 5 Big Oil companies increased profits almost 10% over second quarter 2010. Their combined profit for second quarter 2011 was $35.1 billion.

Although second quarter profits were up 41% compared to last year, the results are “below expectations.” Investors called BP’s 13% improvement in profit over 2010 “disappointing” at $5.6 billion in the second quarter 2011.

Hoekstra on healthcare

On top of increased, but disappointing profits, Exxon Mobil pays a lower effective tax rate than individuals, at 17.6% compared to 20.4% for individual US Federal taxpayers.

With record profits and low effective tax rates, why do big oil companies get $70+ billion in tax breaks? How about slashing those to reduce the deficit? Silly me, Big Oil owns Congress.

Previously on Oil:

Sat, 26 Mar 2011

Inconsistency, Questionable Morality Mark War in Libya

Filed under: Africa, Allies, Arab states, Budget, Government, Hypocrits, Libyan War, Military, Oil, Opportunists, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 11:40 am

US F-15 crash in Libya

Operation Oddity Dawn might be a better name for US military actions in Libya instead of the Pentagon’s Operation Odyssey Dawn. The Libyan war marks an increase in US military commitment without Congressional approval. There was no message from President Obama to the American people. And yet, US military are engaged in hostile missions over Libya on a daily basis. Never mind where funds are coming from to pay for this major operation by a US fleet in Libya while under a continuing resolution. By definition, continuing resolution means funding at previous year levels and no new programs or expenses.

Beyond domestic politics and policy, why Libya? President Obama says the basis of intervention is preventing a “humanitarian threat.” But how is Libya different from Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, or even Darfur? Certainly there were or still are humanitarian threats in those places. But no international hue and cry and no international intervention. With inconsistent policy and unpredictable actions, we should not be surprised other countries view the US with suspicion and a degree of mistrust.

Qaddafi compound hit by air strike

Last time I checked, Libya was a sovereign state; a full member state of the United Nations. Whether you like Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi or not—and I don’t—he is recognized as head of state. Clearly, the popular uprisings—revolution—is strictly an internal matter. There is no legitimate basis for the UN to sanction military action against the Libyan regime absent some threat to the international community.

At best, the “humanitarian threat” is a selectively applied rationale for attacking Libyan forces. The as-yet nebulous mission morphed from establishing a no-fly zone to attacking Libyan ground forces to regime change. Those are all questionable escalations of force or end state. Consider, also, the disproportionate use of force in attacking ground troops with jet combat aircraft and precision guided munitions.

NATO air strike in Libya

So, why did a western coalition come together so quickly? Simply put, Western Europe has a lot of business interests in Libya and there’s a lot of oil there. And what of the driving force behind the UN resolution on Libya? It seems the Arab League is not actively involved in the no-fly zone. It is more likely using Western forces to its own ends.

Here’s the real question: will Libya be better off without Qaddafi? Will the world?

Mon, 11 Oct 2010

Real Significance of Columbus Day

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day has become controversial in recent years. Careful analysis shows much of that controversy is really attributable to those that followed Christopher Columbus, not the explorer himself. Equally as important, however the world today would not be the same without Columbus’ expedition. Would there be a Latin America without Spain having underwritten Columbus’ expedition and then following in droves to colonize South America? What form would the United States take today without Columbus?

Although there is much anti-American sentiment in the world, the most vociferous is Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Chavez blames US imperialism for holding South America down. Chavez has ruled Venezuela for a decade now. During this time, he’s been solidifying his hold on power and establishing a clearly socialist dictatorship. But average Venezuelans still lack services such as electricity. Civil rights have been abridged and the economy ravaged by alienating foreign capital and too much reliance on oil prices.

Hugo Chavez the pirate

Not satisfied there, Chavez continues his saber rattling, even with neighboring Columbia. Perhaps its the name. Why else would Venezuela feel the need to buy state-of-the-art fighter jets and tanks from Russia. Besides stirring the pot in South America, Chavez is blatantly anti-US and blames Columbus for all the ills and injustices of the western hemisphere. Chavez has set himself on an anti-Columbus crusade.

Columbus Day is more than a holiday. It represents the development of the modern world. And, to me, it means the same as Anti Hugo Chavez Day. Here’s a holiday tradition for you: don’t buy Venezuelan-owned Citgo products on Columbus Day.

Mon, 12 Oct 2009

Columbus Day is Anti-Chavez Day

Filed under: Behavior, Economy, Government, holidays, Hugo Chavez, Oil, Paradoxes, Politics, Rogue states, Uncategorized — cynicalsynapse @ 7:26 am

Although I tend to support the Leif Erikson discovery of America theory, Columbus’ “rediscovery” certainly brought about the modern era for the two continents. There is a wide varIety of experiences as a result of this. It includes the English east coast of North America, the Spanish influence in southern North America and South America, some French influence, and the Portuguese.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez says “Columbus was the spearhead of the biggest invasion and genocide ever seen in the history of humanity.” Never mind that South American culture and economics has its basis in Spanish and Portuguese development of the region. Never mind that much of the so-called genocide has been perpetrated by dictatorial regimes in Central and South America. Columbus isn’t responsible for that. That part is probably not in Chavez’ book.

Chavez doesn’t represent everyone’s view. Still, Chavez, Venezuela’s “duly elected dictator”, seeks to shape South American politics in his own immage. He is trying to reshape Columbus Day as the “Day of Indigenous Resistance“.

Well, screw Chavez! Without Columbus, the Americas would have been backwaters for centuries. Chavez’ issue isn’t with Columbus, it’s with the United states because the US made something of itself. Shame on Chavez for being an apologist.

Sat, 28 Mar 2009

Signs of Spring: Rising Gas Prices

With the appearance of consistently warmer weather, gas prices are inching up. Its as if Big Oil thinks springtime means money time. We hear a lot of different reasons. Demand is going up. Refineries are shut down for maintenance before the summer driving season. We have to switch over to summer formula. (Which really costs more to produce: summer or winter formula? Seems the price goes up with both switchovers.)

Take away the refineries being shut down argument. The vast majority of refineries are operating. What’s shut down accounts for a little over 1.1 million barrels per day. That’s about 7% of capacity.

I was a little surprised to see gas prices in Lansing jump up 20 cents between Tuesday morning and afternoon. Unfortunately, I still had a half-tank and decided to wait a day to fill up. Had I thought to look at the latest gas price predictions, I would have filled up anyway. Right now, the prices are the same in my metro Deroit neighborhood as they are in Lansing.

Conventional thought has it that gas prices will continue to rise into the so-called summer driving season. I’m not convinced folks will want to do that much extra driving this summer, with the economy being what it is. But, we’ll still be told the increased prices are due to supply and demand. While I understand that formula, it’s just hard to accept when oil companies represent 7 of the highest 10 profit makers. Another reason why I’d like to see an end to oil company tax subsidies and loopholes. Seems many of the speculators who had a hand in last year’s outrageous gas prices must have lost their shirts in Wall Street’s implosion, or maybe they were Bernie Madoff customers. Let’s hope the oil market continues its cautious behavior. If you want to sign the MoveOn.org petition linked to on Utah Amicus, fine. If not, how about sending your US Senators and Representative a message telling them to end corporate welfare to companies obviously not in need of such entitlements.

Tue, 06 Jan 2009

Oil and Gas Prices Make No Sense

Filed under: Business, Gas Prices, Hugo Chavez, Life, Oil, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

I understand the concept of supply and demand. I also understand that filling stations need to charge prices based on next week’s requirements. That may partially explain why I paid $1.779 in Lansing MI this morning, but this afternoon the price was up to $1.999. What confuses me is I bought gasoline in Lansing this morning because the price in my northern Detroit suburb was $1.859. So, why is my neighborhood price still $1.859 (cash)?

Frequent readers will know gas prices are one of my “hot buttons.” I just can’t believe there was so much demand to drive prices to $150 or so a barrel and that demand has dropped so precipitously to less than $50 per barrel over the last year. Everyone wanted to go somewhere last spring but now they all want to stay home? There’s $100 difference in the price of a barrel of oil! I’m just not seeing the substantial changes in demand that first brought the high prices and now equate to the low prices. Something smells here, worse than the sulfuric smell of hydrocarbons.

Gas prices in my area had fallen to almost $1.50 per gallon before OPEC decided to cut production. Since then, they have gradually increased. Today, they jumped from $1.779 in Lansing to $1.999. What’s different today? Hugo Chavez said no more free heating oil. While I’m saddened by the additional strain on those truly in need, I take solace in the economic impact Venezuela’s “elected” dictator is feeling. His heating oil aid program for the Northeas program was merely propaganda anyway, an anti-Bush jab. In my mind, this makes Chavez no different than any other politician. Actually, it makes me wonder is this how Chavez is going to build better relations with President Obama in just a few weeks?

Fri, 14 Nov 2008

Kinder and Gentler Chavez

Filed under: Hugo Chavez, Oil, Paradoxes, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:14 pm

Much as I despise Hugo Chavez, he’s taken on a decidedly different approach since the US elections. Two weeks ago, this is the man who blamed everything bad on the “Yanqis.” Today, he’s interested in diplomatic solutions.

Last weekend, US State Department officials expelled 12 Venezuelan diplomats after failing to follow the protocol for relocating the Houston consulate. Personally, this seems like a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense, but I guess that in geopolitical affairs, anything can be strategic. And, in view of strained relations between Venezuela and the US, one would reasonably expect this to be a serious issue.

To give some perspective, this is a situation that has been a technicality since at least early October. No one paid it much mind until the State Department told the Venezuelan diplomats to go home. Since Houston is the Home of Big Oil, and Chavez hates the US anyway, you’d expect quite a diatribe from Venezuela. On the contrary, Chavez fired the Consul for not following the rules. A Venezuelan got sacked for not following US rules?

I still personally hate Hugo and won’t buy Citgo products because it’s Venezuelan owned. But the man’s shown he’s not stupid. He’s hedging his bets to see what happens with the new administration. Maybe the Russians aren’t such great friends after all and the Cold War wasn’t so far off the mark.

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