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On Hole Cards, Or, “Drill, Baby, Drill”? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand? May 25, 2011

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up?

To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Consider the inexorable logic of the Big Lie. If a man has a consuming love for cats and dedicates himself to the protection of cats, you have only to accuse him of killing and mistreating cats. Your lie will have the unmistakable ring of truth, whereas his outraged denials will reek of falsehood and evasion.

–From the book Ghost of Chance, by William S. Burroughs

So here’s the thing: we produce a surprising amount of our own oil right here in the USA (in fact, we’re the world’s third-largest oil producer), but we don’t produce enough to cover our current use, and that’s why we import about half of the roughly 19 million barrels of oil we use daily. The vast majority of that is used in vehicles or for heating; almost none is used to generate electricity.

Our largest suppliers of oil, despite what you might think, are not all from the Middle East: instead, it’s Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela, in that order.

(Perhaps you’re thinking: “Canada? Oil?” Yes. Canada and Oil. They provide us with more than twice as much as Saudi Arabia from huge “oil sand” resources, primarily in Alberta; the exploitation of those resources has created a huge environmental controversy.)

Now if you ask me, an ideal situation would be one where we decided to get out of the business of using oil altogether – and to help make my point, we have some helpful numbers from a guy that you pay every day to figure this stuff out: Mark Doms; he’s the Chief Economist for the US Department of Commerce, and, to paraphrase Little Feat, he’s always handy with a chart.

According to Doms, 60% of our 2010 trade deficit (about $265 billion) represents the cost of imported petroleum products, and if things continue through December as they did the first three months of this year, in 2011 every American, man, woman, and child, will pay a “tax” of about $1000 to import all that petroleum.

Do you know what we, individually, spend on gas? In March of this year, the average household spent just over $300 on that month’s gasoline; 5 months ago that number was $56 lower. The way it works out, every time gas goes up 10¢ a gallon, it costs the average household another $7 a month.

And that’s not all: less than half of the total cost of imported oil is paid at the pump: about 44% of imported oil is used by businesses; another 15% is used by governments across the USA, and that means almost 60% of the cost of imported petroleum is “folded into” the price of everything else.

(A quick author’s note: you’ve seen the words “oil” and “petroleum” used liberally in this story; the exact literal reality is that in each instance we should really be referring to “petroleum products”, and that’s because we import and export not just crude oil, but a variety of other petroleum products. I get tired of using the phrase “petroleum products” over and over, and I’m probably using “oil” and “petroleum” more interchangeably than I should.)

So get this: if we were out of the importing oil business, we’d save about $300 billion a year – and as it turns out, over a 10-year period we could actually convert the entire US auto fleet to electric cars powered by windmills by providing $15,000 cash “buy-outs” for today’s 135,000,000 gasoline cars and building the wind generation and “smart grid” we’d need to support the effort…and doing all that would cost…wait for it…about $250 billion a year.

If I get the math right, 20 years after we first started building windmills and subsidizing cars, everything would be paid off; and every year after that the US economy would generate a $300 billion “profit” on our investment – unless the price of a barrel of oil goes up. If it does, the amount of money coming back to our wallets every single year from then on, obviously, also goes up.

And if we were out of the “using oil for driving” business, once everything was paid off we could put almost $4000 a year (in today’s dollars) right back in the pocketbooks of every family in this country – which, if you ask me, represents a pretty good “tax cut”.

Let’s also keep in mind that any new oil drilled on our public lands might not necessarily end up in the US; that’s because even if oil companies were 100% free to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in our waters to their hearts’ content…they’d also be perfectly free to sell as much of that same oil, anywhere in the world, to whatever entity might end up being the highest bidder – and today, our friends in places like India and China are desperate to be that high bidder.

Put all of this together, and you get back to the question I posed at the top of the story: why in the world would we be in a hurry to “Drill, Baby, Drill”, when we could, instead, put all our efforts into getting out of oil, which would save us so much money that the conversion pays for itself?

Then, when oil’s running $400 a barrel or so, let’s use our oil to pay China back the trillion dollars we owe ‘em…which, at current production rates, would only take about 400 days, assuming it were possible to divert all our production for that purpose.

To state it a bit more ironically, it may be that the smartest thing we can do right now is to conserve every possible drop of oil we have…until we don’t need it any more, and it becomes a sort of Strategic Cash Reserve that can help strengthen the dollar and reduce the national debt in the years to come, both at the same time.

Or to put it another way, the next time someone tells you they want to “Drill, Baby, Drill”…you can step right up, look them square in the eye, and ask: “Why do you hate America?”

And won’t that be fun?

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On Fear: The Islam Edition, Or, Do You Know My Friend Wa’el? September 22, 2010

We last got together about ten days ago, when I put up a story that hoped to explain to the Islamic world that, Qur’an burning aside, we don’t really hate either them, or our own Constitution.

I pointed out that, just like everywhere else, about 20% of our population are idiots, that this means about 60,000,000 of us might, at any time, be inclined to burst into fits of random stupidity, such as the desire to burn Qur’ans to make some sort of statement, and that the same First Amendment that protects the freedom of stupid speech also protects the rights of Islamic folks to freely build mosques…and finally, that this apparent “paradox of freedom” is exactly why the US is the kind of country that many Islamic folks the world over wish they lived in as well.

I then went off to enjoy my Godson’s wedding, and I ignored the posting until the next Monday.

On the two dozen sites where it could be found, this was apparently considered to be a fairly innocuous message…with one giant exception, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

Long story short, some portion of this country’s population has some bizarre ideas about Islamic folks…but maybe if they knew my friend Wa’el, they might see things a bit differently.

This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those that feel

Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, in a letter, August, 1776

So all of this took place at Newsvine…and if you’re not familiar with how things work there, users may “seed” a story that they find of interest, so that it may attract the interest of others. What happens is that the user reposts a shortened version of the original story, along with a link back to the source.

My original posting on the site had fewer than ten comments, but by Monday Newsvine user btco’s seeded version of my story had about 300 comments; today there are more than 625.

Those who were not liking the story basically came down to one of a few categories of responders; here’s one example…

…I live a few minutes from Dearbornistan in Michigan and I can tell you that, as a place with a great deal of Muslims, they barely speak out against the Islamofacists that kill. There is outrage; however, but that outrage is aimed at America instead of the Islamofacists that should be the target of the aforementioned outrage. In fact, Dearborn has seen Muslims verbally attack Christians and forbid them for handing out Christian pamphlets, their 1st amendment right to do so, as this goes against the @!$%#ed up Sharia Law. Until Dearbornistan demands that they will abide willingly with the constitution and ignore the racist and misogynic crap that is Sharia law, then Dearbornistan Muslims side with the enemy and that enemy is Islam.

…and here’s another:

Christianity underwent reformation and was tamed by enlightenment period (during which, BTW, was harshly criticized).

Islam is in its original forms, claws and all.

And people like you, who for some dubious reason think it should be allowed to be what it is are doing great disservice for Muslims whose minds are set for the reforms and who want to live like normal, 21 century people, but are forced to “submit” to medieval dogma.

The idea that all Islamic folks worship a Moon God, that neither democracy nor any other religion can co-exist alongside Islam, that after beating them, all Islamic men send their four wives out to distribute “terror tomatoes” among the infidel population, and that, for adherents of Islam, both the Bible and the Constitution are immoral and corrupt all seems to be accepted wisdom for a bunch of the commenters (except for the “terror tomato” part, which I made up myself); it all seems to come from an apparently long-circulating email that was posted in the comments over and over that purports to prove that Muslims can’t be good Americans.

So is all this true?

Well…let’s start with the question of whether Islamic people can co-exist with democracy…and to help answer that question, let me introduce you to my friend Wa’el.

Wa’el Nawara has been trying to advance the interests of democracy in Egyptian politics for many years now, in the form of his work for the El-Ghad Party, in the face of an Egyptian Government that has been ruled, since the end of King Farouk’s reign, by just one political party, the (secular) NDP. The founder of El-Ghad, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned and tortured for basically getting 8% of the vote in a 2005 Presidential election against the current President, Hosni Mubarak.

To prevent this from happening again, it is also alleged that the Egyptian Government helped to orchestrate a temporarily successful “takeover” of the party from within. (This is not uncommon; the Egyptians security apparatus has acted against numerous parties, including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.)

Shortly after Wa’el and I became acquainted (I had been researching a series of stories about Egyptian politics when we were introduced) he was inside the offices of his own Party, which were burned by a mob that was allegedly associated with Egyptian State Security (an event that was recorded, live, by people across the street). Afterwards Wa’el, along with many of the 30 other people who were in the building, were arrested and detained for…you guessed it…suspicion of arson.

It’s not just Wa’el, or the other members of his Party…nor the other members of other Parties, either.

If were to take the time, you’d find out there’s a Center for Democracy in Lebanon, you’d discover that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia have all held recent local elections, and you’d find out there’s even a debate in the UAE as to whether adopting democratic reforms might be appropriate.

Outside the Gulf, India’s current President is their third Muslim President, Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, elects their Presidents (even as they struggle with sectarian violence)…and all of that tells me that anyone who thinks Islam and democracy are incompatible should do some more reading.

Can Islam accept the presence of other religions?

One answer can be found in what is today’s Spain, but what used to be Andalucía (or Al-Andalus, if you prefer Arabic), where Moors ruled for centuries over Jews with far more compassion and respect than they ever received under Christian dominion; another, in today’s Egypt, where Christian Copts and Muslims have lived together for thousands of years, even as tensions have increased recently between the two groups.

Does Wa’el beat his four wives?

Not as far as I can tell—and if his one wife ever found out he had three other wives…I’m guessing that wouldn’t go so well for Wa’el.

Is the Bible corrupt to those who follow Islam?

Those who follow “mainstream” Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that He was crucified. Is that corruption? I don’t know, and I guess you’ll have to decide that one for yourself.

Now we need to be fair here, and acknowledge that one branch of Islam does indeed represent much of what my most conservative friends are afraid of: Wahhabi Ikhban. Here’s what the Library of Congress has to say about the sect:

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement’s influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God’s laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God’s laws and live in conformity to them.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we learned that there is a community of Americans out there who are profoundly afraid of Islam, or anything connected with it, and the odds are that they know very little about the religion, other than what they’ve seen and copied and pasted, over and over, in a particularly ignorant email.

My friend Wa’el, on the other hand, lives a life that disproves those myths: in addition to being the target of a mob, he’s been jailed, along with many of his friends and associates, for trying to create a more democratic Egypt, he has just the one wife, who lives as an equal in their house, and his own country, Egypt, is one of numerous Islamic countries that have other religions well-established within their borders.

We also learned that numerous countries with Islamic populations are countries with varying degrees of representative democracy…and that the world’s largest democracy just inaugurated their third Muslim President.

Now the question that we’re addressing today is whether Muslims can be good Americans—and the fact is that Wa’el and his family would make great Americans…even though they’re not…and if I can point to Muslims who would make great Americans and live halfway around the world…how much you wanna bet we can find tens of thousands more in the heart of Dearbornistan?

 

On The Futility Of War, Part One, Or, Snow Becomes A Lethal Weapon December 13, 2009

We have another one of those “amazing history” stories for you today—and this one’s a real doozy.

We’re going to spend the better part of four years in the Italian Alps (or, to be more accurate, what was intended to be the Italian Alps), and by the time we’re done, nearly 400,000 soldiers will have been killed—and 60,000 of those will have died as a result of avalanches that were set by one side or the other.

In the middle of the story: a mountaineer and soldier who was so highly regarded that even those who fought against him accorded him the highest honors they could muster, creating a legend that lives on to this very day.

And even though a young Captain Erwin Rommel fought in these battles…it’s not him.

Oh, by the way: did I mention that there are also some handy object lessons for anyone who might be thinking about fighting a war in Afghanistan?

Well, there are, Gentle Reader, so follow along, and let’s all learn something today.

“Coming back from a long weekend in the desert, traffic is lousy. Next to the highway, an electric billboard proclaims ONLY 24 SUNSETS UNTIL CHRISTMAS and I am stuck beside it long enough to watch it change to 23—get ‘em while they’re hot, apocalypse coming soon, reserve your sunsets now while supplies last.”

–Gabriel Wrye, Straight Time

Let’s begin the setup for this story by checking out some prime European real estate:

Italy, as you know, is that “boot” protruding into the Mediterranean—and if the top of the boot had really cool trim and a big buckle, the trim would run from Nice, France (formerly Nice, Italy), on the west, touching Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria, and then past Bratislava, Slovakia and on into the Hungarian plain. The trim would also veer south, and that portion of our metaphorical “carnival decoration” would encompass Ljubljana, Slovenia (which is about 100 miles south of Salzburg), eventually rolling out into the suburbs of Zagreb, Croatia.

Other notable nearby cities include Marseilles, Grenoble, every city in Switzerland, Strasbourg, Munich, Venice, Bologna, Milan, Turin, and Genoa, all of which are 100 miles or less from the boot’s appliqué.

This is the Alps, and, in 1910, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire all have borders that snake through the area. The last three were all relatively new countries, none having gone more than 50 years since their most recent versions of “unification”—and that buckle we spoke of earlier? That would be roughly where the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian borders meet today, near the Stelvio Pass…which is part of an area known as the Tyrol.

Switzerland’s Matterhorn (part of the Pennine Alps) is one of numerous mountains that are all above 10,000 feet over on the west side of the region; the highest peak of the equally spectacular Tre Cime di Lavaredo (known in German as the “Drei Zinnen”) is located about 10,000 feet up in the air, a couple of hundred miles or so to the east in the Dolomite Range.

Just like in my part of the world (Washington’s Cascade Mountains) you can get a lot of snow up there, and the combination of extreme snow and weather, high altitudes, and nearly vertical climbs created, by necessity, residents with unique mountaineering skills (the techniques that led to the use of pitons, carabiners, and rope ascents and descents were all developed here)…skills that became quite valuable to the military authorities in those five countries.

By the start of the 20th Century, troops like the Italian Alpini (who, to this day, still serve in the Italian Army), the French Chasseurs Alpines (who are also still serving and have a recruiting pitch that’s way past “Be All You Can Be”), the Austrian Landesschützen (who also have a modern presence in today’s Austrian Armed Forces as the 6th Jägerbrigade and the Österreichs Gebirgsbrigade, mountain infantry and “mountain combat engineers”, respectively), and the “Standschutzen“, who were essentially the Austrian military’s Alpine “farm team”, were all stood up to protect the various national interests that were present in the mountains.

All of the armies and militias involved had access to the best hunters and mountain guides that could be found—and since smuggling and poaching was part of mountain life, a lot of people knew a lot of paths, knew how to bag game with the fewest shots possible—and knew how to use those skills while keeping out of sight of the flatlanders and tourists—and “revenooers”—who might be venturing into the neighborhood.

Among all those mountain dwellers, perhaps the most skilled of the hunters and guides was Sepp Innerkofler. As the new century began, he had built his decade-old guide business into a hotel business—presumably learning better “customer service” that that practiced by his equally famous uncle Michael, who would apparently leave customers on ledges to wait for him to finish a climb if they couldn’t keep up. (Michael died in 1888, the victim of an ice bridge collapse.)

One measure of Sepp’s skill: he had to his credit the “first ascent” up more than 50 of the most difficult peaks in the Alps—which wasn’t that easy, considering that Michael had something like 10 times that number under his belt.

”…only a few of the hundreds of walkers who leave the Longéres pass for the Lavaredo pass every day in summer and autumn realise [sic] that they are moving in an environment which was made sacred by events in the Great War…”

–Tito and Camillo Berti, Guerra in Ampezzo e in Cadore

I could tell you an entire additional story about Italy and the relationship with Austria (and later Austro-Hungary, both ruled by the Hapsburg Dynasty), but what you need to know today is that over the centuries there had been a long-simmering conflict between the Italians and the Austrians (and the Ladins, a third ethnic group that inhabits the Tyrol).

At the time of the American Civil War Austria’s territory extended a bit south of the Alps; and part of the beginning of Italian unification history (the Risorgimento) was the effort to reduce Austrian influence in the north of today’s Italy and in the Italian Tyrol.

As Europe was stumbling its way into World War I, much of Italy’s population wanted to stay neutral (which, for the moment, was official Government policy), and some did not, seeking, instead, an alliance between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Opposing the Empire was the Rebel Alliance…no, wait, that was “Star Wars”.

The actual opponents, Russia, France, and Great Britain, were known as the “Triple Entente”, which was the side the United States later joined. Germany eventually declared war against everyone in Europe, except the “neutral” countries and the other “Central Powers” (Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire—which, like the show Cats, was just about to close after a very successful 600-year run), who they joined.

By the time it was all over, more than 50 declarations of war were issued by the various combatant nations.

It’s now 1915, and despite the fact that Italian policy tilts toward neutrality, Sepp Innerkofler has been seeing a lot of new activity in his neighborhood…and the alp-glow notwithstanding, he was pretty sure that it wasn’t the mythical King Laurin.

You cannot sustain an army in the mountains without a lot of infrastructure in place, especially a large one, and what Innerkofler was seeing was indeed the beginning of Italian military preparations—preparations that were being countered, as best as possible, by the Austrian military:

“The Italian Alpinis, as well as their Austrian counterparts…occupied every hill and mountain top and began to carve whole cities out of the rocks and even drilled tunnels and living quarters deep into the ice of glaciers like the Marmolada. Guns were dragged by hundreds of troops on Mountains up to 3 890 m (12,760 feet) high. Streets, cable cars, mountain railways and walkways through the steepest of walls were built.”

–From the article “Tyrol”, courtesy of the Embassy of Austria

And as it turns out, the Italians were going to need every bit of army they could get…because for a piece of the action, including some Alpen territories, the Italians had agreed, in the until now secret Treaty of London, to fight on the side of the Triple Entente powers—but in order to win the Tyrol…well, they were going to have to win the Tyrol; a task which will require the Italian Army to fight their way through either the Dolomites, on the one side, or the Julian Alps on the other…or both.

Hannibal had accomplished a similar task on the eastern side of the Alps—2200 years before—but to do it he left a huge portion of his Carthaginian forces dead in those mountains; victims of both the ancient angry mountain soldiers (the forebears of the same mountain folk Innerkofler lived among in 1915) and the brutal winter conditions.

The Italian commander, General Luigi Cadorna, had 875,000 troops at his disposal on May 23, 1915 (the day the Italians declared an end to their neutrality); against him the Austrians could only field about 300,000 troops—but many of those troops were natives defending their own real estate…and for the moment, they held the strategic real estate on the tops of the mountains.

Remember the description we gave in the beginning about the boot’s appliqué?

The smart thing to do, if you’re commanding 875,000 troops trying to go north, is to get around the right edge of the fringe on that boot (the mountains are somewhat lower on that side) and get your people onto the Hungarian plain…which is nice and flat and provides lots of room to maneuver.

The problem is, if you get too committed to that plan, you may end up with Austrian troops in Milan, attacking you from the rear. To prevent such an occurrence, Cadorna attacked on an offensive line that stretched from the “buckle” of our boot, way up in the Alps, to the city of Gorizia, which is all the way over to the top and right, if you were looking at a modern Italian map—and which just happens to be on the way to the nearby Adriatic port city of Trieste.

If you then follow the route of today’s A1 and A2 highways you get to Zagreb…and that’s the way to the Hungarian Plain.

If you can succeed in advancing uphill past Lake Garda (the Lago di Garda, in Italian, and the first part of the route up to the buckle), then you can cut off the railroad from Trentino north to Innsbruck; this would prevent the Austrians from moving any troops into northern Italy.

It’s time for us to stop for today: we have a lot of story to go, this is a natural point to take a break, and, to be completely honest, 4,000 words is too much even if you’re trapped in your car on the New York Thruway with nothing but a Snuggie, a laptop, and a mobile Internet service provider.

When we come back tomorrow we’ll get to the story of what happened when Italy deployed their newly enlarged Army, which is a story that, in some ways, is still being told; additionally, the idea that there is a lesson here for those who are being tasked with executing a war strategy in Afghanistan will be explored.

Harmony and balance matter in life, so go watch some Johnny Bravo or something, clear your head of all of this, and we’ll all meet back here tomorrow for Part Two.

 

On Being A Government DJ, Or, “Torture? You Call That Torture?” October 25, 2009

It’s become more or less common knowledge that US forces have been using music as an operational tool for some time now, and I’ve begun seeing lists of the songs that are being used either to inflict pain, to demoralize, or to just generally disorient various people in various sorts of situations.

There are others, wiser than I, who will opine as to the questions of efficacy and the moral issues surrounding these kinds of operations; I will opine, instead, as to the quality of the songs used.

Frankly, had anyone asked, I could have put the torturers onto much better musical choices, just by selecting from my own “My Music” folder–which left me thinking: “hey, it’s the weekend…why not do exactly that?”

Got any psychological warfare mission planned for the weekend? Expecting to have to direct amplified sound at an angry mob in a defensive maneuver Saturday night? Planning a Halloween haunted house that goes a bit…fuurther?

Come along with me then, soldier, and I’ll provide you a playlist that should do the trick in almost any foreseeable emergency.

vistrola.jpg

Before we go any further, a word of warning: some of the links in this story will lead to material that is extraordinarily offensive and, in some cases, exceptionally distressing in nature.

If you are reading this, and you’re, say, eleven years old, go get your parents and make them read this with you so that they can also learn about some sweet death metal; later on you can all listen to better music in the car on family outings.

What’s On Guantanamo’s iPod?

So the obvious first question: what songs are the government using?

If the lists that I’ve been seeing can be believed, there is a fair collection of songs being used to create “environmental manipulation“, including songs like Eminem’s “White America” and Kim, the obvious choices like Born in the USA, songs from the super-patriotic county song genre like that “boot in your ass” song, sexually suggestive songs like Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty (which has a waaaay dirtier video than lyrics…), and a heavy diet of heavy metal. (According to Justine Sharrock’s reporting at Mother Jones, MPs on duty in the detention facilities would often be making the choices about what detainees would hear.)

“The healthy man does not torture others — generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.”

Carl Jung

The odd thing about the metal: most of the songs seem to be far more tame than what they could have found–and a lot of the songs are actually among my “Rocktober” favorites…although at least one song was new to me, and I liked it, too.

Examples included Nine Inch Nail’s March of the Pigs, AC~DC’s Hell’s Bells, Drowning Pool’s Bodies, Mettalica’s Enter Sandman, and a song by Deicide that I had never heard before…but, to borrow from “American Bandstand”, it had a great death metal beat and you could mosh to it.

Now if it had been me in there, I would have suggested, for starters, some good old New Orleans Goatwhore, like Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult, or maybe some delightful Cannibal Corpse (Barbaric Bludgeonings being a good place to start), or perhaps something that draws from Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” concept, like Upper Decker, by The Red Chord.

One of my friends suggested I consider a Norwegian Black Metal band (which is a good choice due to the Satanic messages that are literally at the core of the music); and you can’t go wrong with either Gorgoroth’s most excellent Carving a Giant or a selection from Emperor’s The Nightside Eclipse (which should also be mandatory for any haunted house soundtrack anywhere).

Did You Say Sex?

Songs with gay-oriented themes work in both PsyOps and “friendly” haunted house environments; my suggestions would include two long-time favorites: The Mike Flowers Pops’ rendition of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina (which actually manages to be amazingly perky, unabashedly “pop”, samples “The Macarena”, and, despite all that, doesn’t suck), or, when you’re ready for the big guns, the Keta-Men’s super-masculine, give-it-a-beat, four-part-harmony reworking of Sheryl Crow’s Strong Enough; which should be effective, as I said, for any PsyOps you may have planned–or any friendly haunting.

As for other songs with a sexual connection: well, you could do a lot better than Christina Aguilera. How about, just to get things rolling, 20 Fingers and Gilette’s Short Dick Man …and then, after midnight, you gotta dig up the impotent sea snakes’ Kangaroos (Up the Butt) (which is, indeed, about an Australian lifestyle choice gone horribly, horribly, wrong).

maxell.jpg

Apparently songs like “Wind Beneath My Wings”, “Mandy”, Air Supply’s Lost in Love, the entire Celine Dion catalog, and Morris Albert’s unforgettable Feelings (unforgettable? After you hear it, you wish you could forget it…) did not make the list (although the public record is incomplete, and that may yet prove to be incorrect). The “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack apparently did make the cut, which confirms some theories I’ve had about the Brothers Gibb and torture that date back to the 1970s…but that’s a subject for another day.

It also appears that no one went for the industrial/dance bands, and as far as I’m concerned, no serious haunted house (or PsyOps mission) is complete until the Negativland comes out to play–but there’s a lot of other top-quality disorienting and jarring music available, including music from :wumpscut: and ohGr and Einstürzende Neubauten…or even Twink’s Pussy Cat.

Finally, a few words about what might be the cruelest songs to make it on the list.

The theme from the Meow Mix commercials made the list.

The Sesame Street theme song made the list.

And, finally, in what might be the most barbaric act ever perpetrated by the American Government…Barney the purple dinosaur’s I Love You, a song you always said was torture to have to listen to, has now actually been used to soften up detainees for interrogation at Guantanamo Bay.

Amazingly, the song that might be the worst ever to have deployed against you in any PsyOps operation–or any haunted house, for that matter–is not on any list I’ve seen so far: the theme from the Disney ride “It’s a Small World“. I can testify to this personally: as a kid at Disneyland I was stuck on the ride, one summer day, for about an hour-and-a-half.

All I can say…is that it changes you.

Check out the link. It’s almost 11 minutes long, and I challenge you to sit through the whole thing. If you do make it, I challenge you to get that song out of your head…ever…again. Good luck.

 

On Looking Deeper, Or, Things About Iran You Might Not Know June 24, 2009

It has been an amazing week in Iran, and you are no doubt seeing images that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

For most of us, Iran has been a country about which we know very little…which, obviously, makes it tough to put the limited news we’re getting into a proper context.

The goal of today’s conversation is to give you a bit more of an “insider look” at today’s news; and to do that we’ll describe some of the risks Iranian bloggers face as they go about their business, we’ll meet a blogging Iranian cleric, we’ll address the issue of what tools the Iranians use for Internet censorship and the companies that could potentially be helping it along, and then we’ll examine Internet traffic patterns into and out of Iran.

Finally, a few words about, of all things, how certain computer games might be useful as tools of revolution.

The first task for today…let’s talk about blogging:

It turns out that bloggers in Iran risk running afoul of the Press Law of 1986, which, in addition to requiring the licensing of media outlets, reads in part:

Article 6: The print media are permitted to publish news items except in cases when they violate Islamic principles and codes and public rights as outlined in this chapter…

…5. Encouraging and instigating individuals and groups to act against the security, dignity and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran within or outside the country…
…7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents);
8. Publishing libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or caricatures; and
9. Committing plagiarism or quoting articles from the deviant press, parties and groups which oppose Islam (inside and outside the country) in such a manner as to propagate such ideas (the limits of such offenses shall be defined by the executive by-law)…

… Article 25: If a person, through the press, expressly and overtly instigates and encourages people to commit crimes against the domestic security or foreign policies of the state, as specified in the public penal code, and should his/her action bear adverse consequences, he/she shall be prosecuted and condemned as an accomplice in that crime. However, if no evidence is found on such consequences he/she shall be subject to a decision of the religious judge according to Islamic penal code.

Article 26: Whoever insults Islam and its sanctities through the press and his/her guilt amounts to apostasy, shall be sentenced as an apostate and should his/her offense fall short of apostasy he/she shall be subject to the Islamic penal code.

Article 27: Should a publication insult the Leader or Council of Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran or senior religious authorities (top Islamic jurisprudents), the license of the publication shall be revoked and its managing director and the writer of the insulting article shall be referred to competent courts for punishment.

(In Iran, the penalty for apostasy is death.)

Those bloggers who are not licensed can still be prosecuted under the Penal Code, as the OpenNet Initiative reports in an excellent article they’ve just posted on the subject.

In 2008 the Iranian parliament passed a law which provides for the death penalty for bloggers who engage in non-permitted activities, a situation faced today by Yaghub Mehrnahad, who publishes the Mehrnahad blog.

(Interestingly, this blog can be reached in Persian, but an attempt to access the same URL with Google Translate returns this message:

“You are not authorized to view this page

The Web server you are attempting to reach has a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the Web site, and the IP address of your browsing computer is on this list.”

More about that later.)

There is also the risk of torture: a problem noted by the BBC at least as far back as 2005.

Ironically, Mohammad Ali Abtabi, a cleric and former Vice-President of Iran whom you may have recently seen on “The Daily Show” maintains a blog in which he does criticize Iranian society on a regular basis, including his assessment of the recent election as “a huge swindling”…which has now caused the authorities to place him under arrest.

So how does Iran manage to control Internet access?

What they aren’t doing is employing the simplest method possible: cutting off all access. This is presumably because of the negative impact on the Iranian economy that would be caused by business being unable to do what they need to do online.

There are several methods being employed, including a requirement that all Internet Service Providers in the country connect to the state-owned Data communication Company of Iran (DCI) for international access, that all ISPs put in place “filtering” and monitoring technologies, and that households be blocked from having access to high-speed Internet connections.

As of this writing the fastest Internet connection now available for an Iranian household is 128k, about double the speed of a dial-up connection…and as you might guess, not fast enough to allow Iranians to use such services as YouTube. A 6MB cable Internet connection, not uncommon in the US, would be roughly 50 times faster. Because of this the total capacity of Iran’s international Internet connections are roughly 12GB per second. Normal traffic is about 5GB per second, which, we are told, is about the same as a mid-size American city.

OpenNet reports that after an initial period of reliance upon foreign monitoring software, the government decided to create an “in-house” capability, and as a result there are locally developed software packages designed to allow access to the actual data packets in messages—meaning that authorities can read such things as e-mails and instant messages after they are sent and before they pass through the DCI “gateway”.

There has been a conversation regarding the role of Western equipment suppliers in all of this; and it is alleged that a Nokia/Siemens joint venture (Nokia/Siemens Networks) has sold to the Iranians equipment that is used to monitor the Internet use of Iranian citizens. The company denies this, however.

They also want you to know that the joint venture has been sold to a third party, and that, as their press release tells us: “providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate ultimately benefits societies and brings greater prosperity”.

Another method of blocking access is to deny connections to certain sets of IP addresses, and this is why, presumably, I could not access the translated version of the “Mehrnahad” blog. This method would also allow the Iranians to block access to and from inside the country to sites like the BBC, Google, and Blogspot.

There is a way around “address blocking” which involves setting up “relays” and “bridges” that can be accessed by people in Iran—and this is something you yourself can do that can be of considerable benefit to Iranians trying to reach out to the rest of us.

The Iranian Government is also trying to locate and isolate those with Twitter accounts that are set to the Tehran time zone…and you can help make that process tougher by either setting up a Twitter account and setting the time zone to Tehran, or changing your existing account’s time zone.

The next few minutes are going to get a bit geeky, and for this I apologize in advance.

In order for your computer to use certain services that involve communicating with other computers the operating system utilizes a series of “ports” (this is all in the software, so don’t bother looking at the back of the machine to find them).

Some quick examples: the TCP/IP connection your computer is using to access the Internet is through Port 80 and the FTP service runs on Port 21.

There are two kinds of ports—TCP and UDP—and there is no reason to explain here why or how they differ.

There are thousands of ports, the ports used are usually specific to a particular service, and there are giant lists of assigned ports that everyone can access. A service can (and usually does) use more than one port for two-way communication with a computer, which is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency Information System uses TCP Port 1777 and UDP Port 1777.

The routing data that packets of information display as they travel through the Internet includes the port that the packet is seeking to access…and that data is accessible to all routers…and if you controlled the gateway through which all inbound and outbound Internet traffic was passing through you could block packets that seek to utilize certain ports.

Experts are suggesting that this is exactly what is happening today in Iran, with more than 80% of traffic bound for ports using the Adobe Flash Player being blocked, nearly 75% of the POP Service (e-mail) traffic being blocked, and roughly 70% of traffic bound for ports used by “proxy servers” being intercepted. (Proxy servers, by the way, are the same type of connections we discussed earlier that you can set up at home to help Iranians trying to reach the Internet.)

Voice over IP (VoIP), the Internet “telephone” service, is proving to be a troublesome issue for censors, as it has legitimate business purposes and is difficult to censor without either having someone listening on the other end of the line or installing a monitoring system worthy of the National Security Agency.

Interestingly, with the exception of the few hours immediately following the vote, the amount of Internet blockage, overall, seems to be fairly close to what it was just before the voting. However, the amount of “instability” has been highly variable, suggesting that certain blocks of IP addresses have been temporarily “withdrawn” from the Internet’s address structure, for want of a better term, and then once again made known to that same addressing infrastructure.

It is suggested that this may be because the Iranian Government has been able to institute a sufficient level of monitoring on those address blocks so as to make them comfortable with again allowing the users of those addresses access to the Internet.

In one of the oddest developments I’ve heard so far, there are reports that certain communications protocols used by some games are not being blocked. We will not go into specifics here, but it seems strange indeed that the video game your mother didn’t want you playing all day might actually be a tool for surreptitious communication.

And with all that said, let’s wrap it up for today.

Here’s what we’ve learned: it is indeed hazardous to be a blogger in Iran.

Despite the fact that it can get you tortured or get you the death penalty, there are those who take the risk—including a former Vice-President who now finds himself under arrest.

We can help Iranian citizens by installing software on our own computers that helps them obtain uncensored Internet access, and about 1/3 of that traffic is getting through.

The regime is not attempting to permanently shut down all Internet traffic—and in fact, that would be a cure that might be as bad as the disease.

The Iranian Government, instead, is developing and operating a sophisticated system of Internet blocking, but it is not perfect…and there are odd connections that could be used that most people would never think of as useful for the purpose.

Finally, a Western company is accused of selling equipment to Iran that could be used for Internet monitoring, but the company in question denies that the gear they sold Iran can perform the tasks the accusers say it can.

It is rare indeed to be able to see two revolutions taking place at the same time–but as you’re watching the news from the newest Iranian Revolution…keep an eye on the news of the Internet Revolution as well.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected…with an announcement due this week…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On Assessing Risk, Or, Swine Flu: Is It Time To Panic? April 30, 2009

We are going to be talking a lot about swine flu over the next few weeks.

The conversation about the politics of the thing is already well underway, engulfing those who sought to remove funding for infectious disease control out of the “stimulus” bill.

We are lacking, however, an examination of the science of the thing, and that’s the point of today’s conversation.

How dangerous is this infection?
Why is it killing people in Mexico but not here?
Exactly what is a pandemic?
Do those facemasks really serve any purpose?
And what about closing the border?

They’re all good questions; and they are all questions we’ll try to answer today.

“I’ve always been a hypochondriac.
As a little boy, I’d eat my M & M’s one by one with a glass of water.”

Richard Lewis

Why don’t we define a pandemic first, then move on to the “what we knows”?

A pandemic is a global event characterized by the emergence of a new virus that readily spreads from human to human. When humans are exposed to new viruses, the lack of previously developed antibodies means we lack biological defenses, making new viruses the most dangerous to human health.

(Vaccines are designed to safely expose humans to diseases. The body makes antibodies based on that exposure, making it better prepared for the next exposure.)

So here’s what we know: a swine flu outbreak that seems to have begun in Mexico has claimed more than 150 lives and sent more than 2000 to the hospital in that country as of Tuesday morning.

As of Wednesday, there are 91 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, with 81 of them occurring in New York, California, and Texas. There has been one confirmed death in the US as of Wednesday, a child who had come to the US from Mexico to be treated for this infection.

In an ordinary year, the CDC reports, about 36,000 people die from influenza in the United States (during the 1990s, the number varied from 17,000 to 52,000).

There are a smaller number of infected individuals in numerous other countries.

The World Health Organization had, early this week, declared a Phase 4 alert, meaning that we have:

“…verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza…virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic…Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.”

As of Wednesday that has been raised to a Phase 5 alert, which:

“…is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”

We also have suspicions about a number of things.

We suspect that a pig farm near La Gloria, Mexico was the source of the outbreak.

We suspect (with very high confidence) that the number of confirmed infections will grow substantially as labs are able to complete the testing that changes probable and suspected cases to confirmed ones.

We suspect there will be additional deaths in the United States from this infection beyond the one that has already been confirmed.

Because at least 45 of the confirmed cases in the US are associated with a group of spring breakers just back from Cancún, we are suspicious that they might be the group responsible for introducing the virus into the country….however…the CDC reports that cases were first seen in San Antonio, Texas, and in Southern California in late March and early April.

Because the health authorities in Mexico might not have been tracking minor infections, it is suspected that the very high death rate currently associated with this infection in that country is overstated.

There is, as you might imagine, an entire list of things we cannot as yet explain.

The question of why young and presumably healthy Mexicans are dying at an alarming rate while citizens of other countries are not is first on that list. There are several possible explanations besides the potential statistical problems we note above, and one of those is the question of air quality in Mexico City.

The amazing level of air pollution in Mexico’s capitol city has created a childhood asthma problem of such long standing that it has now also become an adult asthma problem. It is known that people with compromised respiratory systems are predisposed to become victims of opportunistic respiratory infections, lending credence to this supposition.

It is possible that nutritionally compromised individuals in Mexico are becoming targets for more severe infections than individuals in the US who are getting sick but have more robust overall health due to better nutrition.

There is confusion due to an inability to accurately track the infection in Mexico. It is possible that new infections are still occurring, that the virus is in regression, that it is has mutated in new ways, or that another, as yet unidentified virus is now circulating; but due to a lack of reliable information it is impossible to tell which, if any, of these events are actually taking place.

The US public health authorities seem to be better able to respond to this health event than Mexican authorities have been. For example, there are reports, confirmed by Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordoba, that people who had close contact with individuals who have died from swine flu have not had access to medical or epidemiological follow-up…or access to antiviral drugs.

There have been questions as to whether border screening should be intensified to prevent infected persons entering from Mexico. In testimony before Congress Tuesday it was pointed out to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that infected persons might not show any symptoms while crossing the border, rendering such screening techniques as temperature monitoring ineffective.

Now let’s talk about this virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, in the same hearing room, gave us a lot to worry about. He points out that this is an almost unique virus, in that it has, within its structure, genes from bird, pig, and human influenza viruses (the process of these genes combining themselves in new ways is called “reassortment”); and seeing a “triple reassortment” is highly unusual.

The H1N1 virus that is the basis of this new virus is inherently capable of human-to-human transmission, he tells us, which is particularly problematic.

We will talk about what drugs might be effective in a moment…but first, a word or two on uncertainty.

There is no way to know if the virus we are dealing with today will mutate into new forms, nor can we predict if the virus will become relatively more dangerous if and when new populations are exposed. (It is also possible that the virus might mutate into a less harmful form).

We have no way to predict whether this virus will return, even stronger, in the fall, which would not be uncommon.

We cannot predict what other influenza viruses might appear, or if the two other currently circulating “seasonal” viruses might mutate in ways that cause greater concern.

We cannot predict the potential for further reassortment caused by the current seasonal flu viruses that had been circulating before the emergence of swine flu interacting with this new virus.

We cannot predict where the virus (and its antecedents) will crop up.

We cannot say for certain that the virus will not develop resistance to currently effective antiviral drugs.

These are problems associated with influenza management every flu season, and they are not particular to this virus.

“Excessive calm…may be a symptom of swine flu.”

Stephen Colbert

Because things can change on literally a day-by-day basis, some of our comments on drugs will be correct as of today, but not necessarily correct in the future.

There are four antiviral drugs available, and two of them are rather ineffective in dealing with certain strains of influenza due to the fact that those strains have developed resistance to those drugs.

That leaves two useful drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza.

When deciding what drug to prescribe for someone who shows up at the doctor’s office, the doctor needs to have an idea what kind of flu you have. If you show up with swine flu, today, a doctor might be inclined to offer you Tamiflu…but if you showed up with an infection caused by the “seasonal” Type A H1N1 virus from 2007-2008, Tamiflu would be the wrong choice, as that virus is resistant to Tamiflu.

Why not just dose the entire US population with Tamiflu or Relenza right now, you might ask?

It’s partly a question of side effects and the damage they can cause, multiplied by 300,000,000 patients.

In the case of Relenza, there are significant side effects for those with respiratory diseases, and the drug is not normally recommended for those patients. The FDA recommends that patients who do use this drug have ready access to a fast-acting inhaled bronchodilator at the time it is administered. Some patients have experienced “transient neuropsychiatric events” (specifically self-injury or delirium) after using the drug.

Roughly 10% of Tamiflu users experience vomiting, and there are also patient reports of transient neuropsychiatric events with this drug (“confusion, paranoia, anxiety attack, nightmares” were among the listed symptoms). The use of this drug by children under one year of age is not normally advised, but on Wednesday an Emergency Use Authorization was issued for such use.

It’s also, to some extent, a question of uncertainty about this flu: will this virus turn out to be less harmful than the impact of those side effects? Will it, in other words, “just fade away”?

Beyond that, to try to prevent these viruses from developing resistance, we need to use these drugs as sparingly as possible; with that in mind, if we can avoid mass administration of these drugs it would be to our advantage.

The preferred approach would be to vaccinate…and it is hoped that by this fall a vaccine will be available…and it is hoped that the virus that is in circulation this fall will be roughly the same virus that was “designed into” the vaccine between now and summer.

Now a quick word on facemasks and respirators:

The CDC recommends facemasks for those in crowded settings…but they strongly suggest limiting the time in which you are in those settings more than they do the use of facemasks. They also strongly emphasize handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough, and washing hands after shaking hands.

It is also noted that airborne droplets can get around the edges of facemasks, rendering them fairly ineffective.

Respirators, on the other hand, can be effective, and are currently recommended for people who cannot avoid contact with infected persons. The “all-day” use of these respirators, however, is a challenge simply because of the increased effort involved in breathing while wearing such a device.

An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings on display at that time.

“I have good news and bad news” the owner replied. “The good news is that a gentleman inquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would, he bought all 15 of your paintings.”

“That’s wonderful!” the artist exclaimed. “What’s the bad news?”

“The man was your doctor.”

–From Doctor Jokes at “Resources for Attorneys”

So what good news, if any, is there to tell?

As of right now we have no reason to believe that this flu is more likely to cause fatalities than the seasonal influenzas that we would normally see. (Keep in mind, however, that this could quickly change.)

If the pattern we have seen so far were to continue (and there is no particular reason to say it will or it won’t) we could end up with a virus that is widely transmitted but no more dangerous than what we are used to seeing in normal years.

Ironically, the virus’ wide dissemination would itself be good news; as it would expose more of us to this new virus, enabling us to develop antibodies to the infection even before a vaccine is developed for the fall.

We have covered a lot of ground today, so let’s wrap it up:

An influenza caused by a nearly unique virus is moving through the population of Mexico, that infection has spread to several other countries, and so far the number of fatalities worldwide has not exceeded 200. (We expect more than 35,000 deaths annually from influenza in the United States, by way of comparison.)

Because it is a virus to which humans have not been previously exposed, there is heightened concern among The Experts.

There is no reason, at this moment, to believe this influenza will be more lethal than the seasonal influenzas currently circulating among the US population.

This flu can currently be controlled by administration of either of two readily available antivirals. (By the way, don’t forget all that handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough…and handwashing….is pretty helpful as well.)

This type of virus (H1N1) is generically known for its ability to transmit readily from person to person, and not for its inherent lethality. (It is not yet certain, however, if this specific virus will follow that pattern.)

It is possible that a useful vaccine will be available for fall—and it is also possible that this virus will have morphed into a form that will be resistant to the newly developed vaccine.

Closing the borders isn’t logical, facemasks don’t really work, respirators do, but they’re not the sort of “all-day” accessory that a lot of us will enjoy…and avoiding crowded places is what the CDC today feels will work best.

There are a host of unknowns that could change all of this, and there are no predictive tools that can reliably give us reasons to be either sanguine…or scared to death.

All of this can and will change rapidly—sometimes on a day-to-day basis. In the time I spent putting all this together, the WHO raised the alert to Phase 4, then Phase 5, the number of US cases doubled, and the CDC has changed their recommendations for antiviral drug administration twice.

Put it all together, and at the moment things are nowhere near as bad as they could be, with a whole lot of uncertainty ahead.

Warning—commercial message ahead: I’m competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I could use your support. Just head on over to the Democracy for America website, click on the “Add your support” link under “Grassroots Supporters”, and offer a word or two…and with that, thanks very much, and we return you to your regular programming.

 

On Winning The Mexican Drug War, Or, “Fighting For Peace Is Like…” March 28, 2009

The AIG Bonus Scandal having been disposed of for the moment, Congress is all a-flitter, all of a sudden, about the new “Greatest Threat To The American Way Of Life In All Of World History Of The Week”…and this week the threat is The Mexican Drug War.

The Mexican Drug Cartels, Senator Joe Lieberman told us in a March 25th hearing, are the number one organized crime threat we face in America today.

The violence, we are told, is beginning to affect America’s National Security…and unless I’m mistaken, Congress is looking to spin up for some sort of action that might range from sending thousands of troops to the US Southwest—and beyond—to going after users in the US “by any means necessary” to perhaps even getting all “Jack Bauer” on some Mexicans who would, presumably, have some useful information.

Although no one’s discussed it yet, we will probably hear someone even propose sending cartel leaders to Guantanamo (Michelle Bachman…I’m thinking of you…).

However, there is another way to disarm these dangerous cartels…and history tells us it works.

So Congress, before you go passing some “warrantless wiretapping for drugs” 4th Amendment exception, allow me to suggest that instead of a drug war, what we really need…is a drug peace.

I certainly do not drink all the time.
I have to sleep you know.

W.C. Fields

If you really want to understand today’s War On Drugs from the mind of a Mexican Drug Cartel “senior manager”, imagine the America of about 1929.

Alcohol was only available from you and your friends—or it was available from your enemies, who you were trying to kill with all the ingenuity you could muster.

Your enemies were, of course, also trying to kill you; so every day at work you needed to be looking over your shoulder…and to be willing to shoot first and ask questions later.

The police, the Courts, and the various elected officials were, at worst, a “business expense”.

Corporate America had embraced the concept of “vertical integration”; and in Detroit Henry Ford’s River Rouge Complex combined all of the elements of car manufacture, all in one place: a steel mill, a glass factory, a tire plant…and all of it ending in an assembly line.

Criminal America had seen the same light, which was why The Purple Gang, also based in Detroit, was engaged in liquor smuggling, liquor distribution (they were reported to be Al Capone’s largest supplier), and, naturally, the extortion of money from the speakeasies—not to mention robbing or kidnapping the occasional high-roller speakeasy customer.

The Purple Gang even allied themselves with the Sugar House Gang to ensure vertical integration was more efficient. Because of Prohibition, the availability of products used to make alcohol was suddenly restricted; meaning whoever controlled the distribution of corn sugar controlled who would be manufacturing liquor.

The Sugar House Gang (named after the product they controlled and the place they sold it) would tell The Purple Gang who had been buying corn syrup. Once the customer had distilled the liquor, The Purple Gang would rob them…and then sell the goods to Capone, or another customer…and then vertical integration was complete!

The Purple Gang was so tied in to the bootlegger-on-bootlegger violence of the era that they even have a tangential connection with the Valentine’s Day Massacre; which seems to have been related to a dispute among rival liquor distributors “Bugs” Moran and Al Capone (who, as everyone knows, was in Florida at the time…so he couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it).

It was estimated The Purple Gang might have been responsible for as many as 500 murders before they were targeted by Federal officials.

Murders, kidnapping, bootlegging, extortion, public corruption, rotgut liquor that could cause blindness–or even death–the invention of the “drive-by” shooting…all of it was part and parcel of daily life in 1920s Prohibition America.

In fact, Prohibition had created “drug cartels” so dangerous to National Security that President Herbert Hoover had named Al Capone “Public Enemy Number One”.

(Of course, some might argue that Hoover’s real Public Enemy Number One was the Great Depression…but we’ll address that question another day.)

Under great public pressure, Prohibition ended in 1933, having lasted roughly 14 years.

This discussion began with an examination of the question of how you might reduce the power of the Mexican Drug Cartels, you’ll recall; so let’s end this conversation by posing some questions that tie the whole thing together:

–When’s the last time you heard of three carfuls of guys from Jack Daniels using their Tommy guns to first shoot up, and then burn, Jim Beam’s distillery so that they could take over their turf?

–Mexican Drug Cartels make billions of dollars annually importing virtually every drug you might want: they import the reefer, I’m told, and the cocaine, the heroin, the meth, the ecstasy…and probably Viagra, to boot.

You know what the one drug is that Mexican Drug Cartels don’t import?

Tequila.

–So if liquor has become a legal business…and Jack Daniel’s sees no business imperative in a raid on Jim Beam…and Mexican Drug Cartels aren’t making money smuggling tequila (at least not since the 1930s, anyway)…and the last drive-by shooting that involved the liquor business was sometime in 1932 or early 1933…and every single “Mafia Liquor Cartel” was basically out of business the moment Prohibition ended…you think maybe it’s time that we thought about making some of the other drugs a legal business, too?

I’m pretty sure I know who won’t like the idea…and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the suddenly much less powerful Mexican Drug Cartels.