Sunday, February 27, 2005

Arab Election Watch

Following on the heels of Saudi Arabia's first election since 1963, the Kingdom's Prince Faisal has publicly stated that the next round of balloting there will be open to both genders:
Even the commissioner of elections has said that he is going to propose that they vote. So I am assuming that they will vote in the next election, and that is going to be good for the election, because I think women are more sensible voters than men.
As they say, read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, across the Red Sea, Egypt's longtime strongman is pushing an amendment through his rubberstamp parliament to "allow for direct, multiparty elections":
President Hosni Mubarak asked Egypt's Parliament on Saturday to amend the Constitution to allow for direct, multiparty presidential elections this year for the first time in the nation's history.

On the face of it, the unexpected proposal from Mr. Mubarak, a former Air Force general who has ruled Egypt unchallenged since 1981, represents a sea change in a country with a 50-year history of one-party governments.

"The president will be elected through direct, secret balloting, opening the opportunity for political parties to run in the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose from with their own will," Mr. Mubarak said, speaking live on television before an audience at the University of Menoufiya in the Egyptian delta.
It's worth remembering that at this stage, these movements toward democracy are as tentative and reversible as they were unexpected and fortuitous. That said, it's hard not to be optimistic about what increasingly appears to be political support for democracy as pan-Arab as, well, pan-Arabism was forty years ago. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, to say the least.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Yeeaaaargghh!

Well, Howard Dean came up to Ithaca today to talk about his agenda as newly-elected DNC chair. This is the second occasion on which I've heard him speak, and both times I've been struck by how much more comfortable he seems when fielding questions from (and more often than not actively arguing with) an audience member, than when he's delivering some variant on a stump speech.

On more substantive matters, I think Dean and the DNC are deceiving themselves if they think "Democrats shouldn't be afraid of an open dialogue with evangelical Christians" (thats a paraphrase, but it's pretty close to what he said at one point). Dean believes Democrats have a good shot at winning evangelical (and Catholic) votes based on the fact that the Democratic party more closely adheres to Christian nonviolence and charity on a wide range of foreign and domestic issues (readiness to go to war, capital punishment, social spending) than do the Republicans. I'll paraphrase again: "if we were to make a scorecard of all the issues the Bible tells Christians to care about, Republicans would win on gays and abortions, and we'd win on the other 25." According to this line of reasoning, religious voters' predilection for going Republican is largely based on a failure to weigh their religious obligations properly, placing too much emphasis on gays and gynecologists in the process.

I'm not sure this argument is quite apt. If I were a devout Christian (full disclosure: I'm not), I might well be rationally justified in putting the issue of abortion ahead of that laundry list of issues Dean puts in the Democrats' column. After all, for most evangelical Christians abortion isn't just an activity that leads to the death of innocents - abortion by its very nature kills those who epitomize innocence, at least in the Christian sense of absence of sin. In comparison, something like charitable obligations looks positively trivial, and even capital punishment pales in comparison (as death row inmates are generally there for pretty heinous crimes). The number of babies aborted in the United States since Roe v. Wade is a pretty astonishing 43 million - I'd be surprised if the number of criminals executed in that time span surpassed 4,000. Christian morality doesn't have too much to do with utilitarianism, but common sense tells people that 43 million deaths are a lot more serious than 4,000. This number is big enough to trivialize even the number of civilian deaths in America's post-Vietnam wars. If you do the math, I'm not at all convinced there's a rational reason for devout Christian voters to go Democratic over Republican.

Victory of the Commons

Although I'm usually not a huge fan of UNC's newspaper, the Daily Tarheel, I have to give them credit for bringing this story to my attention.
"[North Carolina]'s General Assembly should replicate Maryland legislation that would raise registration fees for super-sized sport utility vehicles."
To be honest, the legislation was news to me. The AP reported the story a week ago. Apparently Maryland drivers already pay an extra $52 ($180 instead of $128) annually to renew registration on cars over 3,700 pounds, targeting larger, gas-guzzling SUV's. Rep. Bronrott's newly proposed legislature would impose an even greater tax on vehicles over 6,000 pounds -- such as the Lincoln Navigator, the Hummer 2, and the Cadillac Escalade ESV. He justifies the increase by saying that these behemoths "pose a highway safety hazard, and they disproportionately beat up our roads and bridges." He also cites the environmental effects of oversized SUV's:
"This bill is not about pickup trucks, vans or your standard SUV," Mr. Bronrott told fellow members of the House Environmental Matters Committee at a hearing yesterday. "It's about the largest, heaviest passenger vehicles that are the least fuel efficient and the most toxic to our air, land and water."
Criticism for the bill is strong from car companies, but I view the bill as an excellent idea. If the additional cost discourages Americans from purchasing enormous SUV's, then I count a small victory for the environment. Unfortunately, I doubt that a tax relatively small compared to the cost of such a vehicle would discourage many consumers. Still, the additional revenue would be welcome relief to the stalling state budget. Even though Bronrott "acknowledged that the bill as written may not survive in the legislature," I hope his idea will be picked up and used in other regions, resulting in a decline of the supersize culture of America.

Elite Seven?

The Dynamic Duo has struck again, brining justice and reason to an otherwise troubled world!

... But seriously, when Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman work together, I listen to what they have to say. If I don't have the time to listen/read the details of their joint work, it's usually a good guess that I'd agree. In the past, they've tried to introduce a gun-control bill (decried by the NRA as an "unworkable 'middle ground' bill") and a climate stewardship act (decried by the Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Energy as a "dangerous bill" saying it would "force most power plants to switch from using coal").

So with the most bi-partisan politicians backing legislation, it's best to listen. Right now, McCain and Lieberman are pushing for the removal of Russia from the Group of Eight. What began in 1975 as the Group of Six was a group of the democratic economic leaders, the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, meeting annually in economic summits. A year later, Canada was added to make the Group of Seven. With Russia opening up under Yeltsin in the late 1990's, Russia was added as a reward for its increasingly democratic policies, making it -- can you guess? -- the Group of Eight. With the current political trajectory in Russia, beginning with the stifling of free speech, it's time to question their membership in a democratic-only society.

It's important to point out that Russia was never a full-fledged member, and has the smallest economy by far out of the elite eight. Also worth noting is that the legislation being proposed has no immediate consequence, it would merely urge President Bush to push for Russia's suspension. However, coming just days before Bush's meeting with Putin, the message could start the political wheels moving to pressure Russian reform, especially coming from two highly respected senators.

While working at the Library of Congress, I got a chance to look at the exhibit of Ann Telnaes's political cartoons. One springs to mind. To quote the Daily Show: And now, your moment of Zen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ChoicePoint: Choose to Lose Your Identity

Last week, news broke that ChoicePoint had been conned into giving up thousands of California citizens' personal financial records including their Social Security numbers along with detailed Credit Reports and other information to ID theft artists in a hugely elaborate scheme defrauding a very large number of people. However, it looks like this outbreak was not solely contained to California. In fact, several thousand residents around D.C. and many more across the nation have been affected.

Identity theft is a horrible, horrible thing to happen to someone. Of course, it can happen to varying degrees with varying levels of cost from mere annoyance to all out financial disaster, but it unfortunately remains extremely profitable for the thieves. It's a lot more prevalent than it really should be, and apparently there's only about a 5% arrest rate-- no wonder it happens so often if the people doing it don't get caught.

The ChoicePoint case illustrates very clearly the problems that can occur when personal information is misued because this information has a direct ability to encroach on people's individual liberties by destroying their financial lives. However, other leaks of information can cause harm in more indirect ways. Social Security numbers are used so widely because they are unique identifiers, which is an extremely useful thing to have when maintaining a database with thousands of John Smiths.

Since ChoicePoint contracted with many Federal agencies (including the FBI), under those contracts they were legally required to protect the privacy of the records they were maintaining, but few actionable laws exist in our country to safegaurd our personal data. Citizens in fact have very little control over the information collected by them that will in turn be used against them. Kevin Drum makes a very good argument that Credit Reports should be just as much the property of consumers as they are of the Credit Reporting agencies.

ChoicePoint is actually a former branch of EquiFax, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies. It collected a multitude of information from a variety of sources about individuals, but EquiFax ultimately decided it wasn't profitable. A couple of months ago, the WaPO did some very good in-depth reporting on ChoicePoint before this scandal broke(Warning: Archive link. Fellow University students: plug the title into an EBSCO or Lexis search to get the full text). Dan Rather also devoted an hour long ABC news special to the company and it's horrifyingly Orwellian practices. I'm not sure how many people truly cared about these reports before this scandal, but I was already horrified that this company was operating with no oversight whatsoever.

Perhaps there is a silver lining to this story: more people might become concerned about the massive amount of data collection and mining that goes on for just about everything that they do once they realize the true potential damage that can occur. ChoicePoint's ENTIRE business revolves around collecting and selling personal information about individuals, but other companies and institutions routinely do so on a much smaller scale as a tangential part of their larger objectives. If ChoicePoint can't handle records properly, how is a smaller company or even a University supposed to be expected to properly safeguard information to make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands? (As I have been sitting here writing this, my dorm phone has rung on two seperate occasions because of calls made by an automated dialing machine. Curious considering I don't give this number out to anyone. Of course this is a mere annoyance but illustrative of the problem I'm speaking of)

This is a theme that I may try to write more about here as time goes on because I took an amazing honors seminar here at the University of Maryland devoted to the issue of privacy. In fact, I have made reference to an article I've been working on recently about privacy problems particular to the University of Maryland. Unfortunately, the student paper here is not being entirely cooperative (they are *very* interested in the story but aren't really interested in letting a non-staff writer have it). I may be forced to use this blog as an independent publishing medium for that, but I'm still holding out hope that I can get it published in our paper. If that happens, I will be sure to link to the article here.

Star Power

Every time I hear news about Russia these days, I think back to that Simpson's episode where the Russian ambassador pushes a button and in effect reveals that Russia has reverted back to communism. Perhaps I'm being too negative, but I'm half expecting that button to be pushed any day now. Al Jazeera picked up an AP story about the Russian Defence Ministry's lauching of Zvezda (Star), a new television channel which, according to the channel's creators, aims to "boost the prestige of the nation's military." Understandably, those who have concerns for what has happened to Russian free speech are not optimistic about the annoucement. As the article explains, "All of Russia's four television channels are either owned or tightly controlled by the government, prompting critics to express doubt over the need for yet another TV channel promoting state views." In response, "Zvezda producers pledged the channel would not only praise, but also air critical coverage of the Russian armed forces. 'But we won't paint the pictures only in black colours as is usually done now - we will tell the true story,' said Alexander Lebedev, head of the Defence Ministry's TV and radio operation."

Well thank goodness the true story will finally be told! I'm sure the state has been having a hard time improving its image when it only controls the entire Russian media. I apologize for the sarcasm, but reading some of this stuff is unreal. There is, of course, another side to the story. As the article explains, the Russian military is trying to boost morale, which has gotten so low that "numerous desertions, suicides and other violent incidents, including vicious hazing by older conscripts" have recently plagued the Russian armed forces. Still, creating a TV station to combat morale problems seems to be an odd solution to a problem that probably has more to do with the conditions the soldiers live in and less to do with how they are perceived by the general public. Why can't the funding that is being put into the TV station be diverted to improving the soldiers' living conditions or salaries? It doesn't make sense that the government would be using the profits generated by the station to fund the military. Seeing that they already control all the TV channels, why would another one generate more ad revenue?

It appears that Russia is backsliding into some version of its former self. The worst part about this is that the United States can't really address it right now because we're so desperate for help in Iraq. Hopefully, the future narrative of the United States will not be that it gets so tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan that it fails to effectively react to emerging threats or problems with North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, leaving itself economically and militarily vunerable in the coming decades. That's being a bit extreme, but I think it would be a much more accurate prediction to say that America will face a worse situation with at least one of those countries because it has become so bogged down in the Middle East. As it stands, little seems to be going right in the former USSR, and we can't do much to stop it.

Too gloomy? I'd be more than glad if you can tell me why.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Peretzian Verdict

Our friend Marty has issued a damning assestment of the current state of liberalism. How damning? His phrases include "bookless," "uninspired," and "patronizing." Liberalism has entered a dark time, one that Peretz likens to conservatism during the 60s. He touches on many issues, ranging from China's growing power to Affirmative Action. His last paragraph, however, makes a very biting statement about liberal internationalism:

You hear the schadenfreude in their voices--you read it in their words--at our troubles in Iraq. For months, liberals have been peddling one disaster scenario after another, one contradictory fact somehow reinforcing another, hoping now against hope that their gloomy visions will come true.

I happen to believe that they won't. This will not curb the liberal complaint. That complaint is not a matter of circumstance. It is a permanent affliction of the liberal mind. It is not a symptom; it is a condition. And it is a condition related to the desperate hopes liberals have vested in the United Nations. That is their lodestone. But the lodestone does not perform. It is not a magnet for the good. It performs the magic of the wicked. It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.

I'm now taking PS-51, or Intro to International Relations, and I am very partial to Kantian Liberalism and trying to build a lasting peace between liberal states (and please keep in mind that I am still new to these ideas, so if I mess something up, be kind). And people often associate a belief in that Liberalism with support for the UN, as the UN is founded on many of the principles of Liberalism. But the problem with the U.N. is not that it does not function in the image of Kant's Liberalism (some would foolishly call it Idealism, but I digress), but counter to it. Kant wrote that liberal states cannot cooperate with non-liberal states. Knowing this, one cannot have an international governing body like the United Nations and expect things like the UN Human Rights Commission to not get hijacked by those very "tyrants and cynics." How can you expect a nation to serve on a human rights commission when it has no concept of human rights? Therein lies the problem of a liberal institution riddled with illiberal member states. We could not have our democratic republic without a popular appreciation for the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, and one cannot have a UN without a similar global acceptance of principles.

Any thoughts? Anyone think I completely contradicted myself or made no sense?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Mars Has Women!

...or possibly just asexual anaerobic bacteria. At least, that's what two NASA scientists seem to think. The evidence? A correlation between water vapor and methane density in the martian atmosphere, indicating perhaps that both come from a commmon souce - underground Martian aquifers. And on Earth, at least, the main emitter of methane is primitive bacteria. In all likelihood, direct confirmation (or disproval) of this is going to require several more exploratory Mars missions. And the depth of the aquifers, as of now a fairly unknown variable, could prove severe enough that purely robotic missions may never be able to penetrate to them.

A couple of days ago (right before this story broke), I was lucky enough to attend a symposium where Steve Squyres presented the findings and history of the two Mars rovers. One quote of his in particular stands out in my mind: "what a human being could do in thirty seconds, it takes our rovers three days to accomplish." Bush's proposals in this area don't seem to have gotten much attention lately, from the administration or from the media, but I think now is a good time to reflect on what a manned mission to Mars would have to offer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

News To Me

In a (subscriber only) article in TNR on Valentine's Day, Gregg Easterbrook takes the media to task for ignoring the Bush Administration's efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Easterbrook writes that a search of "Nexis by New Republic super-intern T.A. Frank, no American newspaper put Bush's methane regulation initiative on the front page when the agreement was announced; most said nothing at all about it." (Lexis Nexis, for those of you who aren't familiar, is basically the online record of print media). Easterbrook argues that the media has been purposely ignoring any positive efforts by the Bush Administration because it would interrupt the narrative they have of the evil White House neglecting the environment in the face of the noble European calls for action. Easterbrook also notes, however, that Bush's energy policy is seriously lacking. This CNN.Com article today on the Kyoto Protocol taking effect seems to confirm Easterbrook's argument.

"The White House has contended that complying with the treaty's requirement could cost millions of jobs, many of them to places like India and China, both signers of Kyoto but exempted from any limits on greenhouse gases.

'We are still learning about the science of climate change,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday.

In the meantime, McClellan said, 'We have made an unprecedented commitment to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in a way that continues to grow our economy.'"


So Easterbrook seems to be pretty on the money. But I have a question: Why isn't the Bush Administration making a bigger deal about its methane gas reduction initiative, "Methane to Markets"? I don't really think they want the word to get out that they're actually on board with climate change, because they're afraid they're going to scare all the workers/company heads who are with them on opposing Kyoto. I mean one problem this White House has not had is getting it's message heard. So although I do think that the media should take some blame for not carrying this story, I question if this is not the way the Administration prefers it.

Any thoughts?

Logistics/Tactics

In an attempt to bring our blog out of what we've begun affectionately calling "The Stone Age," I set aside some time, got a subscription to Atlantic Monthly, and started writing. (Sleep? who needs sleep?)

While individual events are more immediate, the overall tactics of politics is always interesting. Immediately after November 2nd, political commentators began examining and questioning the democratic strategy, all the way down to the foundation of its positions. The Atlantic Monthly recently published an interview with Chuck Todd, author of Clintonism, R.I.P, examining the strategies used so effectively by Clinton - mainly his avoidal of hard stances to appeal to both sides.

"This approach allowed Clinton to dissociate himself (and, by extension, his party) from many of the unpopular liberal policies of the past, steering a course between traditional liberal and conservative positions with bold and often controversial plans for highly charged issues such as race, welfare reform, and free trade, and in the process managing to neutralize many of the old criticisms."

Sound familiar? If it worked so well for Clinton, why didn't it work for Kerry? Part of the blame can be placed on Kerry, that he didn't have Slick Willy's charisma and political talent. On the other hand, blame can also be placed on Karl Rove, the new White House Deputy Chief of Staff. Rumored to keep Machiavelli's Prince (interpreted by most to be a handbook for autocrats) on his bedside table, Rove is an expert at manipulating situations.

"Rove likes to go after his opponents' strengths and turn them into weaknesses. A classic case is the way he twisted Kerry's war record around into a weakness. With his own candidate, he took weaknesses and turned them into strengths. Maybe Bush isn't the most eloquent speaker, and he's not thought of as the smartest guy. But Rove turned that around into the message that at least you know where he stands."
The Atlantic Monthly's Al From published a counterpoint, saying that Clintonism was "the party's most successful formula in presidential elections in six decades." As loathe as I am to say it, I don't think Clintonism can work again. I would love to believe that the Democratic party just needs to find a charismatic candidate and run a middle-of-the-road platform. Unfortunately, I think the political world has shifted, that Rove has 'tainted' the waters. Americans have shown that they no longer vote on the basis of their own personal interest, no longer hold their politicians accountable, and no longer value global friendships. The Democratic party can't count on logical positions to get votes, they need to play the new game, with the new rules.

"They need a big overarching message like, 'The Democratic Party believes that government should work,' or 'believes in individual rights,' or 'in privacy...'"

If most of America wants strong convictions and broad themes, there's no reason the democratic party can't tap into that. While I'd love to see the themes be intellectualism and accountability, I figure that individual rights and economic responsibility would appeal to more of America.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Elections, Elections

This past week voters in Saudi Arabia cast their first ballots since 1963, in a story overshadowed by the afterglow of the Iraqi elections. A victory for the Bush doctrine? Not quite...


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 10 -- Saudi Arabia began its tentative experiment in democracy Thursday as thousands of men filed into schools, government offices and streetside tents to cast what for many were the first votes of their lives.

At stake were half the seats on 38 municipal councils throughout greater Riyadh, politically powerless positions responsible for the nuts and bolts of city government. But the mix of exuberance and solemnity inside many polling places suggested that the unusual act of voting was more important than the results.


Predictably, in Saudi Arabia the concept of the "voter" is a bit more restrictive than in most other countries, as the franchise is limited to male, native-born Saudis (thus excluding the migrant workers who make up 20% of the Saudi population). And, as the Post article says, the offices actually being determined by the election are all positions in local government.

But I can't help feeling that this could be the start of something important. I think the history of Iran in the 90s demonstrates how small concessions to democratic reform can wind up snowballing, even in the most stultifyingly authoritarian societies (although recent Iranian politics has seen a plateauing if not a slight reversal of this trend). I think that the United States is going to have an opportunity to influence the odds of something similar happening in Saudi Arabia in the coming decade, by our ability to pressure the Saudi royal family for further steps along the road of democratization. This will have to be done incrementally - democratizing all functions of local government before demanding popular representation on the national level, for instance.

Of course, Washington may well decide, as it has in the past, that it would rather live with the corrupt Saudi oligarchy than risk giving political Islamists - the likely winners of any elections in the near future, as well as last Thursday's - a say in the government. It's in the context of this worry - fear of fundamentalist political parties - that the Saudi government's decision to democratize solely local government seems particularly apt. The key factor here is that political Islamist movements have shown a real tendency to burn out once they're given an opportunity to enact their domestic agenda. Look at Iran again, and Afghanistan. Once the Islamic Republic and the Taliban were unable to use war as an appeal to nationalism (after the Iran-Iraq war ended, and once the ethnic minority warlords of the Northern Alliance were marginalized in the late 90s), the Islamist governments of these two states plummeted in popularity. Simply put, political parties that want to govern a 21st century country like it's the era of Heraclius and the Sassanids aren't going to endear themselves to people who want economic prosperity. Giving Saudi Islamists the opportunity - but only on a local level - to demonstrate that they can be every bit as corrupt and ineffective as the royal family could very well mute the appeal of political Islam, without the risk of tearing the whole country apart.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Best of Luck

I haven't been very complimentary to the Bush administration as of late but they certainly do deserve some credit for this. The money saved by reducing these subsidies is substantial - $500 million a year - if not large enough to affect the deficit, but more importantly this measure is targeted at large, generally corporate farms. Despite the claims of farm subsidy advocates, it is the largest farms in America - generally also the ones with the largest profit margins - which receive the largest subsidies, not small, struggling family farms. More power to Bush for taking a step in the right direction here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Case for Democracy

Well, I just finished reading our president's new favorite book (Natan Sharansky's "The Case for Democracy," for those who missed the many Times/Post articles describing Bush's endorsement of it).

A couple of things come to mind. Based purely on what I'd heard of it from the Times and the inside cover, I was expecting an almost absolutist defense of democracy - a book pretty much in direct opposition to Fareed Zakaria's view on the dangers of democratic illiberalism. Instead, I found Sharansky to have a surprisingly nuanced tone when it came to the merits of elections as a mechanism. The book states a couple of times (I don't have it on me, so no direct quotations; sorry) that rushing into elections before the framework of a civil society exists in a developing country is foolhardiness that won't lead to real democracy. If Sharansky doesn't sound as skeptical as Zakaria on other topics of democratization - per capita income barriers, for example - I suspect it's more from a lack of polisci experience than any major disagreement.

So why is Sharansky such a big name in Washington these days? A lot of it has to do with his genuinely controversial thesis equating the American national interest with democratization abroad. Needless to say, I'm pretty sympathetic to this view myself. Really my only quibble with Sharansky comes from his failure to address what I would think of as his argument's most obvious caveat: nuclear-armed autocratic states. Bush frequently, and in my mind rightly, comes under fire from the left for not doing more to encourage important Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to liberalize politically. I have yet to hear a compelling defense of Bush's failure to do as Sharansky suggests, and make a portion of our massive foreign aid to Egypt contingent upon modest respect for human rights.

When you get to countries like Pakistan, the situation gets a little thornier. A lot of people like to take cheap shots at Bush for his courtship of Pakistani president Musharraf, but I think that Pakistan's large nuclear arsenal really ties our hands here. And not just in the sense of invasion deterrence. I'd go so far as to question the desirability of an autonomously started, self-sustaining democratic revolution in Pakistan - not because I hate the Pakistani people or because I think their culture renders them unfit for democracy, but because any mismanagement of the ensuing transitional period would make the risk of a nuclear handover to terrorists too great to chance. That Sharansky never discusses this (even to reach a conclusion different from mine) is pretty much the only problem I have with an otherwise good book.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Greens Go Nuclear?

First off, I need to apologize for the recent lack of posting on my part, but things have been a bit busier now that school is back in session. However, I can guarantee that we have not yet gone the way of Andrew Sullivan. Of course, some people might want us to stop blogging as they believe we are in fact worse than convicts (yep, that's right, convicts come after Renaissance Men.) Humorous linking aside, I've also been busy working on a piece for the University of Maryland student paper. I'll withhold details for now until it *hopefully* gets published. Come back here for more information later.

Okay, onto my actual post:
I originally intended to put much of this into our Real State of the Union post, but for the aforementioned reasons I never got around to it.

Shortly after Nick asked his question (and received the only praise from the moderator the entire night-- Score 1 Nick), I asked James Fallows about energy policy in relation to a point he made in his latest piece:
Why has America had a harder time lately pushing its vision of justice? The need for oil drenches America in hypocrisy

I referenced the argument espoused by Gregg Easterbrook in the pages of The New Republic that simple changes such as cutting back on useless and counterproductive horsepower and making modest gains in fuel efficiency in order to rather painlessly eliminate our independence on Gulf State oil in about a decade (see first Easterbrook link for more on this).

Fallows agreed with my point, and also proceeded to clarify his use of the word "justice," and Nick may shortly be doing a post on this somewhat seperate topic. However, linking oil to foreign policy has been a favorite pasttime of first dove-liberals decrying oil as a motivation for the Iraq war, and interestingly enough "green neocons" today. (Of course, I think care needs to be taken with this label. First off Neocon is used to describe just about any kind of conservative nowadays, and just because Iraq Hawks who may have previously made unfounded arguments are embracing intelligent energy policy doesn't necessarily make for any new breed.) While Matthew Yglesias rejects the notion that a reduction in oil dependence should be couched in geopolitical terms, he at least recognizes the environmental imperative.

When Congressman Roscoe Bartlett visited the University of Maryland last semester, he said "My grandfather witnessed the birth of the age of oil. My grandson will witness the death of the age of oil." After all, we are going to probably be running out of sustainable petroleum reserves sometime this century. Bartlett also agrees that our dependence on oil further complicates geopolitical affairs, and he is actually the owner of a hybrid vehicle. Of course even modest gains in hybrid sales can't counterbalance the evil done by SUVs as, Easterbrook has argued. The next logical step past hybrids is of course the much hyped "Hydrogen Economy" which the eventually disappearing petroleum reserves will practically necessitate.

Now, the problem with the Hydrogen Economy is that a great deal of energy is still needed in order to create the zero-emission hydrogen fuel, and burning fossil fuels for this task is very counterproductive to the whole idea. If only there were some method of energy production that were cheap, non-polluting, and with decades of engineering and research, known results and expenses. Well, such a method of production does exist, and it's called Nuclear Power. (Warning: LONG article but well worth the read) Nuclear energy is much safer and more efficient than it was several decades ago as a result of engineering advances made in foreign markets while the U.S. had put a halt to any future production. The Wired article isn't an advocate of the Yucca Mountain solution to spent fuel, but the only reason this argument holds up is because the author is an advocate of reprocessing the spent fuel. Otherwise Yucca is still the only scientifically sound choice.

In fact, nuclear is right now just about the only viable energy option for ever expanding worldwide energy demand and depleting petroleum reserves. Hopefully the Greens, Neocons, and people all around the political spectrum will come to see this reality, and according to the Wired article, a consensus seems to be forming about the great potential for investing in a Nuclear future. Regardless of alleviating geopolitical concerns (which to me seems fairly plausible-- at least to a certain extent), it's a great move for the environment and for the stability of our economy. I don't have the article on hand to link to here, but a few weeks ago I remember reading about how Japan's economy is so much less affected by the international energy market as a result of producing the majority of their energy via nuclear power.