Getting the Most Security for What We Spend

From security expert Bruce Schneier:

As Americans, and as citizens of the world, we need to think of ourselves as security consumers. Just as a smart consumer looks for the best value for his dollar, we need to do the same. Many of the countermeasures being proposed and implemented cost billions. Others cost in other ways: convenience, privacy, civil liberties, fundamental freedoms, greater danger of other threats. As consumers, we need to get the most security we can for what we spend.

The invasion of Iraq, for example, is presented as an important move for national security. It may be true, but it’s only half of the argument. Invading Iraq has cost the United States enormously. The monetary bill is more than $100 billion, and the cost is still rising. The cost in American lives is more than 600, and the number is still rising. The cost in world opinion is considerable. There’s a question that needs to be addressed: “Was this the best way to spend all of that? As security consumers, did we get the most security we could have for that $100 billion, those lives, and those other things?”

If it was, then we did the right thing. But if it wasn’t, then we made a mistake. Even though a free Iraq is a good thing in the abstract, we would have been smarter spending our money, and lives and good will, in the world elsewhere.

Crypto-Gram: May 15, 2004

We Are Becoming Israel

Al Qaeda does have a strategy for this phase of its war with the US. It’s called “superpower baiting.” This strategy works on the simple premise that the US over responds to humiliation.

Our over response to humiliating attacks usually takes the form of conventional military force: invasions, bombings, sieges, and search/destroy missions. These conventional attacks are easy and provide immediate gratification, however, everytime we do respond in this manner, the US becomes more isolated.

Isolated from our allies and each other. Isolated from our real objectives based on the facts available to us. Isolated from our morals and codes of conduct. In the end, when we are fully isolated, we become Israel.

If this is al Qaeda’s strategy — to goad the US to transform itself into Israel — then the beheading of Nick Berg makes sense. This act of humiliation serves to steel our resolve to stay in Iraq, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib debacle. It keeps us in place to continue the process of isolation.

via Global Guerrillas

A Time for Truth – by Pat Buchanan

The neoconservative hour is over. All the blather about “empire,” our “unipolar moment,” “Pax Americana” and “benevolent global hegemony” will be quietly put on a shelf and forgotten as infantile prattle.

America is not going to fight a five- or 10-year war in Iraq. Nor will we be launching any new invasions soon. The retreat of American empire, begun at Fallujah, is underway.

With a $500 billion deficit, we do not have the money for new wars. With an Army of 480,000 stretched thin, we do not have the troops. With April-May costing us a battalion of dead and wounded, we are not going to pay the price. With the squalid photos from Abu Ghraib, we no longer have the moral authority to impose our “values” on Iraq.

Bush’s “world democratic revolution” is history.

Link to article

Via Ken Novak

Taxpayers Losing Millions as Feds OK Logging in Roadless Forests

The Tongass and Chugach National Forests contain some of the largest remaining stands of roadless ancient temperate rainforest in the U.S. They hug the coast of southeast Alaska, providing habitat for numerous wildlife species—river otters, grizzly bears, bald eagles, mountain goats, wolves, salmon, and more. Vital local industries, including commercial fishing and tourism, depend upon the health of the Tongass and Chugach. [1]

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, enacted in January 2001, protects areas like these from commercial logging. It also protects against oil and gas drilling, as well as extensive off-road vehicle use. [2] In May 2001, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman expressed support for the Roadless Rule, calling it “the right thing to do.” [3]

But when the state of Alaska filed a lawsuit in 2001 the Bush administration chose not defend the rule. [4] Instead, last June it proposed exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule’s protection.
During the 45-day public comment period, about a quarter of a million citizens sent in comments. Laurie Cooper, manager of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, told BushGreenwatch that “99 percent of these were in favor of keeping protections on both the Tongass and the Chugach. The public is very much in support of protecting our last wild forests.”

Nonetheless, last December the Bush Administration announced the exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. [5] According to Cooper, the indefinite, supposedly temporary, exemption of the Tongass opens up 9.3 million acres of ancient forest for road development and timber sales. If extended to the 5 million eligible acres of the Chugach, a quarter of the land originally covered by the Roadless Rule will be unprotected….

Link to article

During the 45-day public comment period, about a quarter of a million citizens sent in comments. Laurie Cooper, manager of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, told BushGreenwatch that “99 percent of these were in favor of keeping protections on both the Tongass and the Chugach. The public is very much in support of protecting our last wild forests.”

Nonetheless, last December the Bush Administration announced the exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. [5] According to Cooper, the indefinite, supposedly temporary, exemption of the Tongass opens up 9.3 million acres of ancient forest for road development and timber sales. If extended to the 5 million eligible acres of the Chugach, a quarter of the land originally covered by the Roadless Rule will be unprotected.

Cooper sees no economic justification for this level of logging. “Despite what the Forest Service or the Bush administration would like to portray, the decline of the timber industry is not due to the protection of these wild roadless areas,” she says. “There was a series of pulp mill closures, as well as an increase in supply from other regions of the world that made it uneconomical to log in the Tongass.”

Logging in the Tongass actually costs American taxpayers millions of dollars. According to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, “A recent analysis by the Southeastern Alaska Conservation Council estimates that U.S. taxpayers spent $170,000 for every direct timber job created by logging in the Tongass National Forest in 2002–an amount equal to more than four times the average U.S. household income ($42,409) for the same year.” The timber program could lose up to $30 million a year through non-competitive and under-valued timber sales. Plus, there is a $900 million backlog of deferred maintenance and capitol improvements to existing Tongass roads. [6]

“For 2001, spending on the planning process, as well as road construction, cost $36 million,” says Cooper. “And in return, receipts were $1.2 million. It’s a federal subsidy to keep the timber industry operating in the Tongass.”

The Bush administration wants to make the Tongass and Chugach exemptions permanent. It may use them to gut the Roadless Rule, which also protects some 44 million acres of forest in the lower 48 states. The administration is said to be preparing an extensive revision of the rule to give governors options to apply for exemptions in their states. [7]

As Cooper noted, Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey was previously a top lobbyist for the timber industry.


Tell Congress to protect the roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest , and end taxpayer-subsidized logging, with Alaska Rainforest Campaign’s free fax form.

Should We Expect Iraq To Embrace Democracy?

From the book Orientalism by Edward Said, published in 1978.

What American leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, so that “we” might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow. It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar. But this has often happened with the “orient”, that semi-mythical construct which since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century has been made and remade countless times. In the process the uncountable sediments of history, a dizzying variety of peoples, languages, experiences, and cultures, are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sandheap along with the treasures ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of Baghdad.

Edward Said was a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University and was a well known Palestinian scholar who died in 2003.

Via Joichi Ito

America’s Dirtiest Power Plants: Plugged into the Bush Administration

America’s Dirtiest Power Plants: Plugged into the Bush Administration ranks the top 50 polluting power plants for three pollutants: sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and mercury. While these top polluters represent only a fraction of their industry, they account for far more than their share of pollution.

Environmental Integrity Prjoject • 919 18th Street, NW, Suite 975, Washington, DC 20006

Link: America’s Dirtiest Power Plants

Campaign Contributions and Fundraisers

Since 1999, the 30 biggest utility companies that own plants on the three “Dirtiest” lists have poured $6.6 million into the coffers of the Bush presidential campaigns and the Republican National Committee (RNC), whose chief mission is to elect the party’s presidential nominee. This level of contributions places electric utilities among the industries that have given the most to support Bush’s campaigns – comparable to such major givers as drug manufacturers and HMOs. The electric utilities and their trade associatio n, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), have produced 10 “Rangers” and “Pioneers,” the Bush campaign’s super- fundraisers who collect at least $200,000 or $100,000, respectively, in earmarked contributions.

These Rangers and Pioneers, despite being limited by law to maximum individual donations of $2,000, raised at least $1.5 million using the Bush campaign’s sophisticated “bundling” system – by which corporate executives, lobbyists and other insiders pool together large numbers of contributions to maximize their political influence. The contributions are credited to the bundlers using tracking numbers assigned to them by the campaign. So far in the 2004 election cycle, the campaign has recruited two Rangers and five Pioneers from the electric utility industry, compared with six Pioneers in 2000 (when there was no Ranger category).

National Leadership and Short-Sightedness

Two examples of leadership without vision from Jared Diamond, author of the book Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies.

Guns arrived in Japan around 1543 with two Portuguese adventurers who stepped ashore, pulled out a gun, and shot a duck on the wings. A Japanese nobleman happened to be there, was very impressed, bought these two guns for $10,000, and had his sword-maker imitate them. Within a decade, Japan had more guns per capita than any other country in the world, and by the year 1600 Japan had the best guns of any country in the world. And then, over the course of the next century, Japan gradually abandoned guns.

What happened was that the Samurai, the warrior class in Japan, had been used to fighting by standing up in front of their armies and making a graceful speech, the other opposing Samurai made an answering graceful speech, and then they had one-on-one combat. The Samurai discovered that the peasants with their guns would shoot the Samurai while the Samurai were making their graceful speeches. So the Samurai realized that guns were a danger because they were such an equalizer. The Samurai first restricted the licensing of gun factories to a hundred factories, and then they licensed fewer factories, and then they said that only three factories could repair guns, and then they said that those three factories could make only a hundred guns a year, then ten guns a year, then three guns a year, until by the 1840s when Commodore Perry came to Japan, Japan no longer had any guns.

China: China led the world in innovation and technology in the early Renaissance. Chinese inventions include canal lock gates, cast iron, compasses, deep drilling, gun powder, kites, paper, porcelain, printing, stern-post rudders, and wheelbarrows — all of those innovations are Chinese innovations. So the real question is, why did Renaissance China lose its enormous technological lead to late-starter Europe?

We can get insight by seeing why China lost its lead in ocean-going ships. As of the year 1400, China had by far the best, the biggest, and the largest number of, ocean-going ships in the world. Between 1405 and 1432 the Chinese sent 7 ocean-going fleets, the so-called treasure fleets, out from China. Those fleets comprised hundreds of ships; they had total crews of 20,000 men; each of those ships dwarfed the tiny ships of Columbus; and those gigantic fleets sailed from China to Indonesia, to India, to Arabia, to the east coast of Africa, and down the east coast of Africa. It looked as if the Chinese were on the verge of rounding the Cape of Good Hope, coming up the west side of Africa, and colonizing Europe.

Well, China’s tremendous fleets came to an end through a typical episode of isolationism, such as one finds in the histories of many countries. There was a new emperor in China in 1432. In China there had been a Navy faction and an anti-Navy faction. In 1432, with the new emperor, the anti-Navy faction gained ascendancy. The new emperor decided that spending all this money on ships is a waste of money.

In the examples above, Japan and China became weak and vulnerable to attack due short-sighted leadership. Is the United States going to be weakened by failing to develop an alternative to oil for its huge appetite for energy? If terrorists are able to significantly reduce the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and all the unstable oil-producing countries, we are going to find out.

Educational Differences

Now a Berkeley anthropologist, John Ogbu, has published Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement. It’s the result of a nine-month ethnographic study in Shaker Heights, an affluent Cleveland suburb where one third of the population and half the public school students are black. Black parents invited Ogbu to explain why whites average a 3.45 Grade Point Average; blacks average a 1.9.

Ogbu, who grew up in Nigeria, says suburban black kids aren’t working very hard. He discussed Low Effort Syndrome with the East Bay Express: [Ogbu] concluded that there was a culture among black students to reject behaviors perceived to be "white," which included making good grades, speaking Standard English, being overly involved in class, and enrolling in honors or advanced-placement courses.

The students told Ogbu that engaging in these behaviors suggested one was renouncing his or her black identity. Ogbu concluded that the African-American peer culture, by and large, put pressure on students not to do well in school, as if it were an affront to blackness.

Middle-class and upper-class black parents didn’t combat this culture, Ogbu found. Parents had an odd doublethink about their children’s success: They saw the schools as white institutions that can’t be trusted to respect black students. Yet black parents delegated responsibility for their children’s success to the schools, assuming that they’d fulfilled their role by moving to Shaker Heights. Black parents care about their children’s grades, but are less likely than others to keep track of their children’s homework or participate in school activities, Ogbu found. In their view, if Jamal goofs off, it’s his teacher’s fault for not nurturing him and motivating him to work harder. Ogbu found Shaker Heights teachers expect less of black students. But he told the Express that was natural. "Week after week the kids don’t turn in their homework. What do you expect teachers to do?"

Thomas Friedman Shoots Straight … Again

Excerpt from “Hummers Here, Hummers There“, NY Times, May 25, 2003

We never talk straight to Saudi Arabia, because we are addicted to its oil. Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

If we were telling the Saudis the truth, we would tell them that their antimodern and antipluralist brand of Islam — known as Wahhabism — combined with their oil wealth has become a destabilizing force in the world. By financing mosques and schools that foster the least tolerant version of Islam, they are breeding the very extremists who are trying to burn down their house and ours.

But we also need to tell ourselves the truth. We constantly complain about the blank checks the Saudis write to buy off their extremists. But who writes the blank checks to the Saudis? We do — with our gluttonous energy habits, renewed addiction to big cars, and our president who has made “conservation” a dirty word.

In the wake of the Iraq war, the E.P.A. announced that the average fuel economy of America’s cars and trucks fell to its lowest level in 22 years, with the 2002 model year. That is a travesty. No wonder foreigners think we sent our U.S. Army Humvees to control Iraq, just so we could drive more G.M. Hummers over here. When our president insists that we can have it all ? big cars, big oil, lower taxes, with no sacrifices or conservation ? why shouldn’t the world believe that all we are about is protecting our right to binge?

And so the circle is complete: President Bush won’t tell Americans the truth, so we won’t tell Saudis the truth, so they won’t tell their extremists the truth, so they can go on pumping intolerance and we can go on guzzling gas. Someday, our kids will condemn us for all of this.