Some interesting reading for your weekend

Contents

  1. John McCain’s “100 Years” — putting the controversy to rest“, Moira Whelan, posted at Democracy Arsenal (30 April 2008) —  This gives McCain’s actual words on the war, at various times and places. 
  2. In France, Prisons Filled With Muslims“, Washington Post (29 April 2008) — Another decline of the State special report. 
  3. Bluff and Bloodshed“, Christopher Dickey, Newsweek  (1 May 2008) — “The Persian Gulf is more dangerous than ever. Will the U.S. and Iran go to war at sea?”
  4. Barack in Iraq“, Michael Crowley, The New Republic” (7 May 2008) — “Can he really end the war?” 
  5. At least we know how the US financed its trade deficit in April (and March too)“, Brad Setser, RGE Monitor (2 May 2008) — “Record central bank financing continues.”
  6. Four important new articles about the food crisis, including one about about Wheat Leaf Rust appearing in the US.

Also — The government did not inflect African-Americans with Syphilis in the Tuskegee study.  See the Wikipedia entry for details.  How astonishing that this pernicious lie is so widely believed!

The articles, with excerpts

I.  John McCain’s “100 Years” — putting the controversy to rest“, Moira Whelan, posted at Democracy Arsenal (30 April 2008) —  This gives McCain’s actual words on the war, at various times and places.  McCain would like to stay in Iraq for 100 years so long as there are no American casualities, and appears willing to fight as long as it takes to achieve that situation.  Read his actual words, as their logic is difficult to sumamrize.

II.  In France, Prisons Filled With Muslims“, Washington Post (29 April 2008) — Another decline of the State special report.  Excerpt: 

This prison is majority Muslim — as is virtually every house of incarceration in France. About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country’s prison system are Muslim, according to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country’s population.

On a continent where immigrants and the children of immigrants are disproportionately represented in almost every prison system, the French figures are the most marked, according to researchers, criminologists and Muslim leaders.

“The high percentage of Muslims in prisons is a direct consequence of the failure of the integration of minorities in France,” said Moussa Khedimellah, a sociologist who has spent several years conducting research on Muslims in the French penal system.

In Britain, 11 percent of prisoners are Muslim in contrast to about 3 percent of all inhabitants, according to the Justice Ministry. Research by the Open Society Institute, an advocacy organization, shows that in the Netherlands 20 percent of adult prisoners and 26 percent of all juvenile offenders are Muslim; the country is about 5.5 percent Muslim. In Belgium, Muslims from Morocco and Turkey make up at least 16 percent of the prison population, compared with 2 percent of the general populace, the research found.

III.  Bluff and Bloodshed“, Christopher Dickey, Newsweek  (1 May 2008) — “The Persian Gulf is more dangerous than ever. Will the U.S. and Iran go to war at sea?” Excerpt:

… looking back at the last undeclared war with Iran, who is reminded of what, precisely?  The challenge is to draw the right lessons.For those who’ve forgotten those naval operations with computer-generated names like Earnest Will, Nimble Archer and Praying Mantis … the best history I’ve read is “Inside the Danger Zone: The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf, 1987-1988,” by Harold Lee Wise, which came out last year from the U.S. Naval Institute Press. It’s not only thoroughly researched, it reads like a Tom Clancy thriller-or, rather, better. And Wise too is worried about what’s happening now.

As he sees it, any war with Iran today is going to involve a major naval component. Forty percent of the world’s oil supply passes through the gulf on vulnerable tankers, he points out, and that would come under direct threat.

Wise, in a paper he sent me this week, argues there are three basic lessons to be gleaned from the fight 20 years ago:

  1. Even if outgunned, Iran will not back down from a fight.
  2. Low-tech weapons are effective in naval conflict.
  3. Fight fire with fire.

… as tensions mount, so does the potential for tragic mistakes, including accidental escalation and widening war. This isn’t a prediction, of course. Just a reminder.

IV.  “Barack in Iraq“, Michael Crowley, The New Republic” (7 May 2008) — “Can he really end the war?”  This asks if Obama will withdraw all US forces from Iraq, or leave a 10 – 50 thousand troops.  I think the his supporters are kidding themselves if they expect a full withdrawal.  Perhaps even a large withdrawal is an unrealistic expectation.

V.  At least we know how the US financed its trade deficit in April (and March too)“, Brad Setser, RGE Monitor (2 May 2008) — “Record central bank financing continues.”  How do we intend to pay back this money?  Or do we, deep in our hearts, intend to default?  The answer will reveal much about America.  Excerpt:

The US likely needs to attract a net capital inflow of roughly $65b a month to finance its current account deficit.

… Pick how you want to do the math. $68.3b in average monthly purchases works out to around $820b a year. $17.1b in average weekly purchases (over the last 8 weeks) works out to more like $890b annually. Either way, it is more than enough to finance the (expected) US current account deficit if US investors don’t add to their foreign portfolios and existing foreign investors don’t abandon the US.

Incidentally, the $8.7b in average weekly purchases of Treasuries over the last 8 weeks would – if sustained — be enough to finance a $454b budget deficit without selling a single Treasury bond to private investors. Sometimes I think the US should drop the façade of auctioning off Treasuries and just negotiate private placements with the People’s Bank of China and the Saudi Monetary Agency.

What’s more, all this financing was provided more or less unconditionally, with the United States creditors taking on the risk of future dollar depreciation. Further dollar depreciation against the euro – and, perhaps more importantly, the risk of further dollar depreciation against their own currencies.

VI.  Important new articles about the food crisis.

“The World Bank Group estimates that 33 countries around the world face potential social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices. For these countries, where food comprises from half to three quarters of consumption, there is no margin for survival.  The realities of demography, changing diets, energy prices and biofuels, and climate changes suggest that high — and volatile — food prices will be with us for years to come.”
From “A Challenge of Economic Statecraft“, speech by Robert B. Zoellick, President of The World Bank, at the Center for Global Development (2 April 2008)

“From 2004 to 2007, global maize production increased 51 million tons, biofuel use in the U.S. increased 50 million tons and global consumption for all other uses increased 33 million tons, which caused global stocks to decline by 30 million tons.
From an analysis of public policy options in responce to the food crisis: “Rising food prices: Policy options and World Bank response“, World Bank (April 2008).

The following articles are posted in the  comments of Higher food prices, riots, shortages – what is going on?:

  1. Shortages Threaten Farmers’ Key Tool: Fertilizer“, New York Times  (30 April 2008)
  2. Leaf Rust Poses a Serious Threat in 2008“, Kansas Wheat (29 April 2008) — Wheat leaf rust appears in Kansas.  Not a good time for more crop damage.  This is a different fungus than UG99 stem rust.
  3. Meat vs Fuel: Grain use in the U.S. and China, 1995-2008“, Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest  (April 2008)
  4. Surplus U.S. food supplies dry up“, USA Today  (1 May 2008)

Please share your comments by posting below, relevant and brief please (max 250 words).  Too long comments will be edited down (very long ones might be deleted).  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

One thought on “Some interesting reading for your weekend

  1. NYT:”Now those gains are threatened in many countries by spot shortages and soaring prices for fertilizer, the most essential ingredient of modern agriculture.”

    My opinion based on my very slight knowledge of permaculture is that the NYT has issued a false statement. Any farmer who has a year to spare can make compost with Stone Age technology. Any farmer who has modern technology can make compost in a matter of days. Chemical fertilizer is far from necessary — it is pernicious.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I believe you are mis-interpreting the statement in its context. By fertilizer they mean modern fertilizer, as used in modern agricture. Just as when they speak of an energy shortage, they do mean a lack of mules.
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    Note this quote from the article: “Ms. Nha’s husband, Le Van Son, remembers villagers’ amazement in the 1990s when they learned that a pound of chemical fertilizer contained more of the major nutrients than 100 pounds of manure.” Esp nitrogen.

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