Published: Monday 24 September 2012
“In every way that they can control, the Obama people have simply been smarter.”


Since this is my version of an election piece, I plan to get the usual stuff out of the way fast.

So yes, the smartest political odds-givers around believe President Obama has a distinct edge over Mitt Romney coming out of the conventions, the Senate is trending Democratic, and who knows about the House.  In fact, it almost seems as if the Republicans put forward the only man in America incapable of defeating an economically wounded and deeply vulnerable president (other than, of course, the roster of candidates he ran against for the nomination).

In every way that they can control, the Obama people have simply been smarter.  Take those conventions: in each of them, the presidential candidate was introduced by a well-known figure who went on stage and ad-libbed.  One was an 82-year-old guy talking to an empty chair (and I still thought he was the best thing the Republicans had to offer, including his shout-out about withdrawing all our troops from Afghanistan) and the other was... well, Bill Clinton.

It wasn’t even a contest.  As for the upcoming debates, if you think Romney can out duel Obama without wandering in among the thorns, I have a Nigerian prince I'd like to introduce you to.  In other words, it should really all be over except for the usual shouting and the gazillions of dollars of attack ads that will turn swing-state TV screens into a mind-numbing blur of lies. Even there, however, some Super PAC and dark-money types may evidently be starting to consider shifting funds from beating up on Obama to beating up on Democratic senatorial candidates.  It's a sign that the moneybags of the Republican ...

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012
“In reality, climate change is actually the biggest thing that’s going on every single day. If we could only see that pattern we’d have a fighting chance.”

The Williams River was so languid and lovely last Saturday morning that it was almost impossible to imagine the violence with which it must have been running on August 28, 2011. And yet the evidence was all around: sand piled high on its banks, trees still scattered as if by a giant’s fist, and most obvious of all, a utilitarian temporary bridge where for 140 years a graceful covered bridge had spanned the water.The YouTube video of that bridge crashing into the raging river was Vermont’s iconic image from its worst disaster in memory, the record flooding that followed Hurricane Irene’s rampage through the state in August 2011. It claimed dozens of lives, as it cut more than a billion-dollar swath of destruction across the eastern United States.

I watched it on TV in Washington just after emerging from jail, having been arrested at the White House during mass protests of the Keystone XL pipeline. Since Vermont’s my home, it took the theoretical -- the ever more turbulent, erratic, and dangerous weather that the tar sands pipeline from Canada would help ensure -- and made it all too concrete. It shook me bad.

And I’m not the only one.

New data released last month by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities show that a lot of Americans are growing far more concerned about climate change, precisely because they’re drawing the links between freaky weather, a climate kicked off-kilter by a fossil-fuel guzzling civilization, and their own lives. After a year with a record number of ...

Published: Wednesday 1 February 2012
“Why Closure of the Strait of Hormuz Could Ignite a War and a Global Depression”

Ever since December 27th, war clouds have been gathering over the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow body of water connecting the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean and the seas beyond.  On that day, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that Tehran would block the strait and create havoc in international oil markets if the West placed new economic sanctions on his country.

“If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports,” Rahimi declared, “then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.”  Claiming that such a move would constitute an assault on America’s vital interests, President Obama reportedly informed Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Washington would use force to keep the strait open.  To back up their threats, both sides have been bolstering their forces in the area and each has conducted a series of provocative military exercises.

All of a sudden, the ...

Published: Tuesday 10 January 2012
“Obama can talk all he wants about turning the page on a decade of war and occupation, but so long as he continues to fight wars and military occupy countries on the other side of the globe, talk is all it is.”

In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer – and poor foreigners abroad – will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.


Speaking January 5 alongside his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president announced a shift in strategy for the American military, one that emphasizes aerial campaigns and proxy wars as opposed to “long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” This, to some pundits and politicians, is considered a tectonic shift.


Indeed, the way some on the left tell it, the strategy marks a radical departure from the imperial status quo. “Obama just repudiated the past decade of forever war policy,” gushed Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, calling the new strategy a “[s]lap in the face to the generals.”


Conservative hawks, meanwhile, predictably declared that the sky is falling. “This is a lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America,” cried hyperventilating California Republican Buck McKeon, chairman the House Armed Services Committee. “This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs.” In McKeon’s world, feeding the war machine is preferable to feeding poor ...

Published: Thursday 5 January 2012
“While there is always a chance for miscalculation in the crowded waters of the Gulf, a clash of words is more useful to Tehran than actual hostilities.”

 The recent escalation in Iranian threats to blockade oil shipments and attack U.S. Navy vessels are meant to push up the price of oil and divert domestic opinion from an economic crisis but are not likely to lead to a war in the Persian Gulf, in the view of Iran experts.

Should Iran retaliate for impending new sanctions against its oil exports, it is more apt to target oil production in its neighbor, Iraq, than foreign tankers in the Gulf. 

"We've seen this movie before," Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at the Eurasia Group, told IPS on Wednesday, referring to Iran's defiant rhetoric and firm U.S. response. "Neither side wants a war. A lot of this rhetoric is overstated." 

While there is always a chance for miscalculation in the crowded waters of the Gulf, a clash of words is more useful to Tehran than actual hostilities. 

On Tuesday, after Iranian armed forces commander Gen. Ataollah Salehi warned that a U.S. aircraft carrier that left the Gulf last week should not return, the price of oil jumped four percent. 

The United States has also benefited from the tensions, recently concluding deals to sell Saudi Arabia 30 billion dollars in advanced weaponry and 3.5 billion dollars in arms to the United Arab Emirates. 

Despite threats last week to close the Strait of Hormuz, the choke point between Iran and Oman for much of the world's tanker-borne oil, Iran is not in a position to keep the waterway closed. 

During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Iran used mines and small boats to attack 190 ships from 31 nations, killing at least 63 sailors, according to David Crist, who wrote a history of naval encounters in the Gulf for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 2009. However, the U.S. and allied navies kept the Gulf open for tanker traffic and Iran suffered significant ...

Published: Wednesday 4 January 2012
Iran finds itself squeezed as never before, with the European Union preparing to sanction Iranian oil and new U.S. congressional sanctions passed late last year threatening to hit its central bank, which handles much of the financing for Iran’s oil transactions.

The possibility of a confrontation between the United States and Iran appeared to rise Tuesday after the Obama administration declared it would disregard an Iranian warning against moving a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group into the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

The potential for a crisis that could disrupt Gulf tanker traffic that carries some 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil sent international petroleum prices soaring more than $4 a barrel, a potential threat to the struggling U.S. and global economies.

The rise in tensions comes as the Iranian economy is beginning to suffer serious impacts from a raft of U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Tehran for rejecting repeated UN demands to halt a nuclear program. Iran is widely believed to be secretly developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran denies the charge.

The Iranian currency, the rial, plunged to a record low against the U.S. dollar, reportedly triggering a run on banks by Iranians anxious to protect their savings by buying the American currency before the exchange rate worsened.


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