Oil and Survival
Eight months ago when Cindy Sheehan put George Bush into check in Crawford, Texas, the US public generally were about equally divided on the performance and virtues of the American president. They had been that way for several months before the great non-confrontation.
Since then, it's been downhill all the way for the president. I thought, correctly, that Sheehan's initiative was going to break the public opinion logjam and produce a flood of negatives for Mr Bush. Although most other commentators may disagree about Sheehan's responsibility, I have no doubt that her action touched a deep chord in the American psyche, recalling people to consciousness and waking them from a PR-induced trance.
Somehow, I believe, Cindy Sheehan's camping out on the president's doorstep and his refusal to meet her challenged American values at a very deep level. I sense that the American sense of propriety, of genteel obligation, received a severe blow from the president's unchivalrous behaviour.
Whatever people said about his lying, his capacity for self-deception, his oilman separation from the ordinary folks, his bad manners broke a last connecting link between him and people who wanted to believe in his essential goodness and sense of honour.
The military death rate has resumed its climb and the White House is racked by the scandal of the Plame leak and the Abramoff connection and the DeLay scandal and a host of other large and small crimes and misdemeanours which seem somehow, to be connected to the White House and the Republican Party.
Along came JonesI keep remembering the chorus of a song from the 1950s, mocking the American B-movie cliff-hanger heroics in which some unfortunate damsel was foully betrayed and in danger of unspeakable death or other horror, only to be rescued in the nick of time and the final reel by Our Hero.
In the song, the heroine is captured by the mustachioed, patent-haired villain, tied up and left on the railway tracks to be deconstructed by the next train "Salty Sam was a tryin' to stuff Sweet Sue in a burlap sack
He said if you don't give me the deed to your ranch
I'm gonna throw you on the railroad track
And then he grabbed her .and then. he tied her up . and then.
A train started coming .and then, and then .He! He! . and then, AND THEN, AND THEN. along came Jones tall, thin Jones, slow-walkin' Jones, slow-talkin' Jones, Along came long-legged, lanky Jones." who in the nick of time, would cut the grateful heroine loose and all would suddenly be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Mr Bush's version of "The perils of Pauline" could do with a Jones right now. In fact, it could do with two or three Joneses, but there are, alas, none in sight and none hiding anywhere.
Bush is, as they say, 'up the crick withouten a paddle' and even some of his stoutest defenders have adopted a discreet, if uncomfortable silence. Others, like Francis Fukuyama (The End of History) are in full headlong, retreat.
Meanwhile, critics who Republicans believe should be preserving a decent reticence, senior military officers, among them Generals, have been calling for the head of Generalissimo Donald "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld.
Mr Bush's own favourite 'turd-blossom', Karl Rove, is like Peril-prone Pauline, clinging by his fingernails to the White House cliffs, widely expected to be indicted - like his former associate 'Scooter Libby' - for lying to a grand jury.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, the US is building a stadium-sized so-called Embassy, from which it is intended that the future of the Middle East shall, in the future, be directed.
The alleged Ahmad al Zarqawi has finally shown a face, threatening dire consequences to the Americans while Osama bin Laden has been content with an audio tape "mocking the Americans".
Because the situation in Iraq and elsewhere is so dire, it is not too crazy to imagine that instead of Rumsfeld's head on a platter, the refrigerated remains of bin Laden and Zarqawi may turn up in the nick of time to provide Mr Bush with his Jones. But even if that happened, I cannot imagine that it will cause anything but another small dead-cat bounce in a presidency from which all inspiration, all honour and all life have departed.
The CIA has just fired a senior manager ostensibly for leaking classified information about the agency's international law-breaking in the extraordinary rendition, torture and illegal imprisonment and murder of an unknown number of people, many of them citizens of other countries. There is a nice legal point here.
If the fired CIA officer had in fact leaked the news, she would in fact be doing her duty, in exposing high crimes and misdemeanours. To be fired for that exposes the depths of amorality to which the Bush administration has descended.
Three days ago, the European Union's special inquiry revealed that the CIA had carried out at least 1,000 illegal flights into and out of Europe, transporting the nameless victims of its worldwide policy of 'scraping-up' suspects and then torturing them until they confessed to something.
Some are undoubtedly guilty of something but others are equally clearly innocent of any wrongdoing. It appears to me that the CIA cannot release many of these people because their mental condition would reveal instantly, the corruption, violence and wickedness of the system which entrapped them.
The Bush presidency is the first US administration in my memory which it is possible to imagine bumbling into war by accident. They seem to have no sense of proportion; they start any argument by brandishing the big stick, leaving their opponents no choice but to put on the full armour and panoply of war.
The North Koreans and now the Iranians have sussed out these tactics and have turned to their own version of brinkmanship. When Mr Dulles was employing his brinksmanship, he could proceed, knowing that his opponents were rational men and unwilling to risk everything on the throw of the nuclear dice. The Iranians do not have this assurance, and their posturing, however justified, has the potential to bring the world closer to war than any crisis since the Berlin airlift.
Global warming, Hot Air and GasoleneA petard is a small bomb, and to be hoisted by your own petard is to blow yourself up like some of the Nihilists in Imperial Russia who had the unfortunate tendency to blow themselves up in their attempts to bring down the government. Mr Bush is an oilman, or at least, a pretend oilman; he talks like an oilman, walks like an oilman and selected another oilman to be his vice-president.
It is my opinion that the notorious and still secret energy policy consultations held by Mr Cheney at the start of the Bush presidency were, in fact, all about the coming Iraq war, which would have, he thought, secured energy sufficiency for the United States for the next century or so.
Unfortunately, Messrs Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld and Company reckoned without the possibility of Iraqi resistance, but even more crucially, they forgot about China and her voraciously growing appetite for oil.
Most countries - outside of the oil-producers - have been calculating for several years, that there will come a time, sooner rather than later, when there will either be no oil available, or that it will be so expensive that they needed to find alternative sources of energy.
Even countries like Norway, the world's largest gas exporter, and Iran, the number three exporter of petroleum, have been planning for the day when 'water more than flour'. That is the motive behind Iran's nuclear research. The US has, however, chosen to treat Iran as it treated Iraq - as a totally untrustworthy, dishonourable entity, incapable of telling the truth and with a mindless, implacable hatred for Israel. The hatred is a fact, but there do seem to be rational leaders in Iran who have no intention of destroying their world by attempting to destroy Israel.
The problem with Israel is that the United States, its patron, has signed on to the Israeli belief that nothing short of unconditional surrender by the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world will satisfy Israel's demand for lebensraum. At no point since Sadat's journey to Jerusalem 30 years ago have the 'west' and Israel been willing to deal with the Palestinians as if they had any rights worth noticing.
In such a scenario, a reasonable onlooker would be hard-pressed to decide that the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim recalcitrance is totally unjustified. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States, and possibly Israel, are the only countries which still have the capacity and the will to try to make their rhetoric into reality.
In the meantime, as we were forcibly reminded 30 years ago, the Arabs and other oil producers have, in the ground, a potent answer to aggression. The petroleum situation is becoming less and less fluid - as the economists say.
China is busy signing supply contracts with Nigeria and any other oil producer in sight. Saudi Arabia, once a reliable bastion of US support, is a shaky kingdom, almost entirely dependent on American military force to guarantee the regime in power.
Iraq, once ruled by the pragmatist Saddam, is about to become an intellectual protectorate of Iran; and Iran, whose people tend to admire the United States, also tend to value their independence more. Venezuela is busy signing gas distribution agreements with Brazil and Argentina and the world market in oil, if there ever was such a thing, is becoming even more restricted.
This controlled market explains why Exxon (Esso) has been able to make a profit of more than US$8 billion in the first quarter of this year and is well on the way to exceeding its record profits of last year. Exxon's profit last year exceeded the Gross National Income of Nigeria, one of the world's largest oil producers.
This year, like last year, the oil companies will probably make as high profits in the first nine months of the year as they made in the whole of the previous year. Last October, the New York Times reported the outrage of US politicians at the prospects of higher prices. The Republican leader of the senate, Dr Bill Frist, said: "If there are those who abuse the free enterprise system to advantage themselves and their businesses at the expense of all Americans, they ought to be exposed, and they ought to be ashamed."
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, was even more heated: "Big Oil behemoths are making out like bandits, while the average American family is getting killed by high gas prices, and soon-to-be-record heating oil prices."
What they feared then has happened. The head bandit, Mr Lee Raymond of Exxon, has got a retirement benefit of US$400 million. Dr Frist is very quiet, having just signed off on a budget granting the oil companies US$7 billion in 'incentives'.
Meanwhile, television is showing Americans pawning precious possessions to buy gas. Their country was built by General Motors and Ford and depends on cars as no other in the world. Even the unemployed need cars. With gas at over US$3 per gallon, life is getting more interesting for those who thought this time last year, that they would be voting for Republicans this year.
Here in Jamaica, we are clearly immune to such things as petroleum prices. Those of us who said, five years ago, that the Milennium Highway would never be able to pay its way because of the rising cost of petroleum get little satisfaction out of saying we told you so. What is more painful is that 50 years from now when the idiots and bandits responsible for our Doomsday Highway are long dead, our grandchildren and their grandchildren will still be paying for this misbegotten monstrosity.
Meanwhile, Mr Paulwell speaks of selling off our remaining publicly owned assets, which were accumulated by good sense and conservative economics employed mainly by people who called themselves socialists. Like the man pawning his watch to drive his Jaguar, we are on the road to bankruptcy.
We do have the means to avoid total wreck. If we get out of sugar and turn the factories over to the production of ethanol, we can use sugar cane, elephant grass and all kinds of other biomass, which grow wild in Jamaica, to rescue ourselves from the Lee Raymonds of this world.
We can develop wind-power to supplement and eventually supplant all the thermally generated power we consume. We can set up any number of industries to exploit solar energy and the skills of small producers.
We can actually make Jamaica work again by abandoning the stupid, heavy metal policies of the recent past and by understanding that we can develop fastest by developing our people. "Infrastructure" produces nothing; it is people who produce.