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Iraq’s Oil Law: Robbery As Usual

Woody Guthrie had a line: “Some men’ll rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The Cheney Administration has realized that it’s not an either-or proposition. “We can do both!” they said.

About 20% of Iraq’s huge oil reserves are currently producing. The other four fifths are in known and potential reserves. (The boffins seem to be rather confident about the potential reserves, because I haven’t seen much dispute about these proportions.)

The oil law says that the revenues from currently producing fields are to be split equally among various Iraqi groups. This is the part that gets the publicity. It’s very nice. It also refers to a mere fifth of the country’s oil wealth.

The other four fifths of Iraq’s oil will be “opened” to investment by foreign oil companies. This is supposedly necessary because of all the cash needed to bring the fields into production.

Funny. I’d noticed that about the oil industry too. It’s so hard to make any money in it that investors with bottomless pockets are essential. They can wait years to turn a profit. There’d be no way for the Iraqis to sell their own oil and make enough money to build infrastructure.

Apparently these investments are structured so that the company keeps all the profits until its costs have been recovered. Judging by the spirit of the thing, the company probably decides when that point has been reached. After that, the company keeps some portion of the profits, such as more than half, for the life of the contract (which typically runs for decades). I’d bet the terms Iraq gives its (fallen) angel investors will be favorable even by industry standards.

I keep thinking the Cheney Administration has sunk so low they’ve hit bottom. And then they keep proving to me that I lack imagination.

(The details of the new oil law above are from Richard Behan in Counterpunch. I haven’t tried to find original sources, since they’re still hidden in specialist publications where the foot of the average schmoe like me hath not trod. This law is currently somewhere in the process of passage. The cabinet has approved a draft, and it is now waiting for parliament. That may be a long wait, since much of Iraq’s parliament spends its time in relative safety outside of Iraq.

Previous posts suspecting this very outcome here and here.)

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Which way is Up

There’s a New Yorker cartoon of two gormless hikers lost in the desert and looking at a map. One is pointing at the sun and saying, “Well, there’s the sun so that way is up.”

described in text

They’re way ahead of some of us here in the good old U. S. of A. There are people here who need to have it explained to them why it is wrong to use the legal system for persecution.

“Whaddya mean, the President can’t fire prosecutors investigating corruption in his party? Why not? It stops the investigation. That’s what he’s trying to achieve. What’s wrong with trying to achieve your goals?”

I am not making this stuff up. I wish I was. See, for instance, responses from Josh Marshall, TalkingPointsMemo, and Glenn Greenwald to these loonies, some of them highly placed. Might has been so successfully conflated with right that boatloads of people can no longer tell the difference. I guess, it’ll only become clear to them once they find themselves at the wrong end of the gun.

Greenwald makes the point that media elites are protecting their own privileges by “degrad[ing] the public discourse with their petty, pompous, shallow, vapid chatter that transforms every important political matter into a stupid gossipy joke.” That’s been said repeatedly, and can’t be said often enough.

However, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really the whole story. After all, if these people feel that might makes right then the only point of interest for them is who’s on top and who is not. Huge issues of democracy versus dictatorship are reduced to a horse race “story” not only because that supposedly pulls in viewers, but also because that really is the way these people view the world.

Consider the first — and biggest — of the life-of-the-Republic issues: the US government policy of using torture. The US, as a state, was found to be committing crimes against humanity. The day after the evidence surfaced, the tide of outrage should have led to the end of a criminal Administration. Instead there was some embarrassed mumbling, and some discussion about whether being anti-torture meant being weak on terrorism. The lethal wrongness of it all disappeared into us-versus-them. who’s strong, who’s weak, and the whole hoodlum-level morass of might making right.

The second issue is denial of habeas corpus. It met the same fate. The third issue is illegal wiretapping. Government surveillance of civilians to enforce political orthodoxy is yet another classic feature of dictatorships. But there was no mainstream discussion (that I saw) about what we’d become. It was all framed in issues of weakness and strength. And now, the most recent blow has been the perversion of law to persecute opponents. Stalin would have been proud. And yet, as Greenwald’s clip shows, the discussion is all about who’s up and who’s down, who’s hot and who’s not.

(Today’s update via Crooks and Liars and Atrios: ‘Broder seems to believe Dems shouldn’t pursue the [US Attorney] scandal seriously because it’s unlikely that the party’s lawmakers can “help themselves” by investigating wrongdoing.’ Same thing again: the agenda is to be on top, not to do what’s right.)

Maybe, self-interest among media elites is just a contributing factor to their inability to criticize the powers that be. Maybe the real problem is that they live in a world where the king can do no wrong.

Maybe we have to stop deluding ourselves that it’s just a small problem of grubbing for money or privilege. We need to start pointing out that the rules of the jungle kill the rule of law. And that people who can’t see anything except the jungle subvert the rule of law. And that there’s a simple name for them. It’s “criminals.”

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Slavery’s Damage

The BBC is running a good series on slavery, current and historic. Heartbreaking, but good. One of the headings caught my eye, though, and made me think about the pervasive notion that the damage of slavery is limited to slaves. The evidence doesn’t seem to bear that out. Slaves suffer one of the worst crimes against humanity that it’s possible to commit, but the damage on the other side is like cancer. There’s no obvious pain early on, which is actually a bad sign.

The heading was, “Is slavery still relevant to the lives of young black British people?” I suspect the short answer is, “no.” It’s certainly important, but that’s different. What’s relevant is discrimination now. There’s enough trouble without going back over a hundred years to look for it.

The real question should be, “Is slavery still relevant to white people?” The answer has to be yes, because otherwise young black people wouldn’t have to be worrying about discrimination now.

It’s not even hard to trace the relevance.

Nobody wants to feel like a ratbag. Therefore, when people do hideous things, they convince themselves the victims caused it. That excuse is the counterintuitive, and yet logical consequence of the desperate need to believe in a just world. It’s a well-trodden shortcut to justice: instead of changing actions to be fair, facts are twisted to justify what’s done.

The result is that one’s sense of justice and injustice have to be inverted into a lie. The moral DNA has to be recoded into a different pattern, a pattern that makes it impossible to understand what’s really right and what’s wrong. Slavery is the slave’s fault for being ignorant, depraved, or black. Or, to update it for modern times when 80% of slaves are female or underage, it’s their “culture,” or their weakness, or their docility, or whatever.

Maintaining a lie is a lot more work than taking what reality gives you. Lies require constant repetition to maintain self-hypnosis. They’re not just held, they’re insisted on. It’s the visible manifestation of the moral tumor.

Misunderstanding right and wrong has consequences, and not just that one could fail an ethics class or go to jail. Right and wrong are shorthand for “downstream consequences.” Right actions, even when initially more difficult, yield dividends as time goes by. Life becomes less effortful, happier, and more rewarding. When nobody steals, for instance, everybody can leave their doors unlocked and be spared the worry and expense that comes with burglar bars and triple deadbolt locks. The only real cost is that everybody has to give up the potential short term gain of ripping off other people.

Wrong actions have the opposite effect. Their downstream consequences lead to more difficulty and more fear in a self-reinforcing spiral to hell. Individuals can try to convince themselves that the general rule doesn’t apply to them. However, socially there’s a multiplier effect, and whole societies never seem to escape the consequences of rampant injustice. And that is the real cost of miscasting the meaning of right and wrong.

The big example in my mind is the US South. The Southern whites held slaves. They held slaves after everyone else had gotten it through their thick heads that this was a Really Bad Idea. They insisted on what a good idea it was. That meant they had to make a big deal out of what lazy, shiftless bums the slaves were. (Amazing, after all, that someone who’s been enslaved is not an enthusiastic worker.) In contrast, of course, their own position was due to copious hard work. (I guess getting slaves to slave is hard work.)

(The funniest instance I saw of the mindset was in the rural South, in a spot which will remain nameless. I was talking to a very nice lady whose family owned ranchland with a herd of cattle on it. She was proud of her independence, of making a living by the hard work of ranching, and not too happy about “all these people” who “live on government handouts.” As I talked to her, I heard that she also drove a school bus (government paycheck), and her husband had a Navy pension (government paycheck). The whole village had about five families in it. One of those families had the county mail carrier (government paycheck), another one had a schoolteacher (government paycheck), and the main money in ranching came from conservation easements (government checks). “The feedlots won’t pay nothin these days,” she said. “Can barely pay for the hay for what we make on the cattle.” Needless to say, a subsequent look showed that this county full of sturdy individualists took in a lot more taxpayer dollars than it paid out. In proportion to actual non-government income, the main net taxpayers were the “lazy” agricultural laborers. By their own metric, the whole place should have been closed down for costing more than they brought in.)

Generations have gone by, and the attitudes persist loudly. “I don’t take nothing from nobody.” “Why should those goddamn freeloaders help themselves to my hard-earned taxes?” Don’t help poor mothers because they’re all just slutty welfare queens who have to be stopped from breeding kids. Stop the horror of “socialized medicine” (aka “national health insurance” in the rest of the world) which wastes good money on hypochondriacs who want nose jobs. Meanwhile, quite aside from horror stories about small children dying from abcessed teeth, whole industries (full of hard workers) head into bankruptcy from medical costs. Meanwhile, ten times the cost of prevention is spent on prisons in the modern version of whipping slaves for not playing by the rules. All this is better than admitting there might be something wrong with the idea that everyone deserves what they get.

Now, I’m not trying to say that past slaveholding is the only cause of irrational, counterproductive attitudes. There are obviously other factors. But slaveholding does look like one of the contributing factors, at least based on the similarity of excuses used by slaveholders and those used by their spiritual heirs now. My point is that the echoes of that wrong continue to this day in a thousand mean, small-minded ways. Racism is only one of them. The moral cancer has multiplied into new areas, socially and geographically. The inability to understand what’s wrong means the country keeps doing more and other bad things, which then also have to be insisted on and justified, so the moral sense grows even more perverted, so more bad is done. And so on.

And here we are.

Hell, yes, slavery is relevant. It’ll remain dreadfully relevant — to whites — until they recover their understanding of right and wrong, and see which side they’re standing on.

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Homosexuality, Morality, and Revulsion

I think I’ll step into a hornets’ nest. I think we need to get a couple of things clear regarding feelings about homosexuality.

The debate flared up again recently because Perfect Peter (aka General Peter Pace) said it was immoral. (The substance of that statement is hardly worth addressing. We’ve been floating along, letting immorality be defined as whatever anyone says it is, and now we have wingnuts calling a vaccine against a lethal disease “immoral.” So, just to define my own terms, immoral actions hurt someone, carelessly or on purpose, for no reason that the sufferer wants. Surgery is not immoral. Torture is. Since homosexuality hurts nobody, always assuming it’s taking place between consenting equals, it’s obviously not immoral.)

The reaction of the tolerance crowd (which, I hope, includes me) to statements like Pace’s is to bring accusations of bigotry. So far, so good. It is bigotry. But then there’s also the objection to expressing any dislike of homosexuality. That, I think, is where we go off the rails.

It is counterproductive to tell people how to feel. There is no point telling someone that their feelings about God don’t exist (as Dawkins is trying to do), or that it’s stupid to admire celebrities, or that they don’t actually like the taste of coffee but they’ve learned the habit. The only result of trying to tell people how they feel is a yes-no shouting match. Unless you’re telepathic, it is impossible to know another person’s feelings directly. Only the person involved has direct knowledge, and anyone else does not, and therefore has no business making pronouncements on something that they cannot know.

So there is no point telling people that they shouldn’t be put off by homosexuality. They are. Instead of denying how they feel about it, I think it would be much more helpful if they had the right context for those feelings.

Now, admittedly, a large segment of homobigots are simply anti-sex or else, when male, seem to have some kind of insecurity about masculinity. (I always feel, as a biologist, I should tell those guys that the various bits are firmly attached and won’t fall off if they don’t drive a truck.) I’m not talking about those attitudes here, since they go way beyond being put off.

Among the people who are put off, without a lot of added baggage, they assume that feeling is based on the wrongness of homosexuality. Since there is nothing actually wrong with it–and the more honest among them will admit that if pressed–what are they feeling?

I think we’re up against some very simple biology.

Look at our attitudes toward biological functions in general, not just sex. We all like to eat. We all get revolted at watching somebody else chew with their mouth open. We don’t feel bad taking care of personal hygiene issues, but we get very huffy if someone else doesn’t do that in private. There really isn’t any biological function you can visibly perform, except breathing, without causing comment. Breathing is probably exempt only because it’s invisible.

What I’m saying is that it’s in the nature of biological functions to gross us out unless we happen to be doing them ourselves. The more familiar we are with these functions, the less we freak out about them. New parents have more initial reserve, shall we say, about dealing with diapers than experienced ones.

Attitudes to sex follow the same pattern. Doing sex is great. Unexpectedly having to watch somebody else do sex is liable to get the couple involved arrested. It’s the same pattern: watching somebody else performing biological functions we’re not involved in tends to lead to avert-your-eyes situations.

Add to that the fact that homosexuality is less familiar to most straight people than heterosexuality, and there’s a double dose of feeling put off.

That’s all very well and good, you’re probably saying, but the problem isn’t gay people rolling around in the town square, doing their thing. The problem is that others don’t want them to do their thing anywhere.

Indeed. And I think that’s because talk of gay sex makes people think about gay sex, and that grosses them out. Then they leap to the conclusion that, of course, the disgust is based on the awful immorality of the situation.

No, the disgust is based on the same feelings we have about lots of other biology. It has exactly NOTHING to do with morality.

If that distinction could be more widely appreciated, people might realize that even though they’re put off that doesn’t mean they have to do anything about it. All they have to do is keep out of it. It’s not immoral and it requires no action except minding your own business.

I think the people who would like to see more tolerance don’t help matters by insisting that there’s no place for disgust. We conflate disgust and morality as much as the bigots, only in the other direction. We’d all be a lot further ahead if we provided context instead of denial.

We shouldn’t deny the revulsion that some people feel. They just need to understand what the revulsion means. It doesn’t mean any more than the same feeling about lots of other biological things. Thinking about people having sex, if you’re not attracted to them, is always vaguely, or even hugely, off-putting. (I mean, just think about your parents . . . no, don’t think about it. But it would be very unwise to start agitating against parents having sex, just because the thought was so gross.)

So let’s stop attacking people for feeling disgusted. I once saw a guy in a gay pride parade carrying a sign that read, “I don’t understand your sexuality either.” Where he’s a step ahead is that he knows that doesn’t mean he has to race out and do something about it. There are lots of people, straight people, whose sexuality I’d rather not think about. That’s okay. They can do their thing and I can do mine.

And that is the big take-home message: Biology is not morality. Feelings about biology are not morality. Morality is morality. And everything else is nobody’s business but your own.

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Libby means little

It’s good he was convicted. It’s about time somebody in our kleptocracy faced some kind of responsibility for SOMEthing. But, let’s face it, Libby is the smallest of potatoes.

Walk it back: There was a cover up. The cover up was about who made known the name of a CIA agent. The name was made known for revenge on her husband. The husband’s crime was pointing out that Niger was not selling the raw materials for nuclear bombs to Saddam Hussein. There were documents, but the documents were childishly fake. Whoever had forged them had apparently not even bothered to get the right seal on the stationery.

And that’s where the story has sat. It seems to me that the burning question is who forged the damn documents? That should lead straight to the answer we really need, which is why?

Boring version: some two-bit secret agent wanted to make some money by selling the things to gullible journalist(s). It was a convenient story for the Cheney Administration, so they took it and ran with it. If this is the right version, why was Berlusconi’s government (on whose watch the forgeries happened) so obstructionist about finding the culprit?

Staggering version: a real investigation would trace the forgeries back to an interested government, who wanted something suitable for scaring people into war. The amateurish nature of the forgeries argues against this. But the energy with which governments are not looking for the answer argues for it.

Fabricating evidence in a rush to war goes far beyond lying about it.

You see why Scooter and the pathetic cover up is barely a fingernail scratch on the surface.

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Real Dodos are Beautiful

For some reason, the New Yorker has this only online. There are six of these surreal drawings by Harri Kallio are on their site.

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Cheney is Out of the Closet

It’s not as if we didn’t know this, but now even the Administration has stopped pretending. Official: Cheney does the job. Bush leads the cheers.

Compare two headlines from Feb. 26. The first screenshot is from the BBC on Feb. 26. The second is the top story from WhiteHouse.gov on the same day. I went there to find out what the POTUS was up to since the ordinary news organizations (BBC, CNN, Reuters) were silent on the subject.

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