Sunday, March 31, 2013

Austerity Italian Style

Spain’s unemployment rate hovers over 25%, so Italy’s 11.7% is relatively modest. Peel back the onion skin, however, and the news is much, much worse. Unemployment among youth is 38.7%. In a $2 trillion annual economy, 2012 saw an average of 1,000 small-to-midsized businesses going belly-up every day. This slow erosion of the lower value-creating segment – the biggest part of the Italian economy – is likely to impose long-term damage on this vulnerable job-producing market segment.
The most recent election produced a government unlikely to be able to form a sustainable coalition to govern, probably necessitating new elections in the very near term. Despite his constant legal embarrassments (including a recent conviction that is on appeal) and questionable behavior, media mogul Sylvio Berlusconi generated surprising large poll results, and a stand-up comic in newly-formed party stunned the electorate. The social safety net that defines life in Italy is rapidly losing the financial capacity to sustain itself, and too many of the nation’s most wealthy mavens make tax evasion seem like a national sport. The government itself seems to be a “slow pay” or a “no pay” to its own vendors, with a staggering $100 billion or so of unpaid bills to the private sector.
Italy’s political quagmire might not roil global financial markets right away,” [former IMF economist and Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff notes]. But it raises the specter of the European crisis ‘grinding on and on,’ he said, and would certainly make it harder for European leaders to cut deals ‘on the big-picture things that are needed to stabilize Europe.’… The afflictions of Italy’s economy, one of Europe’s largest, are not necessarily new, of course: a lumbering bureaucracy, stifling labor regulations and a heavy reliance on companies with 50 or fewer employees that are struggling to compete in the global marketplace…  As the 17-nation euro currency union’s economy was expanding an average of 1 percent for much of the last decade, Italy grew at only half that rate, according to the International Monetary Fund.” New York Times, March 11th.
The subtext is that the European crisis is no longer just a “debt crisis.” Much larger than any of the other under-performing Euro-economies, Italy symbolizes the growth crisis that has infected so much of the world, made infinitely worse by the German-mandated debt-reduction austerity program. The blend of highly divergent economic sovereigns – each with profoundly differing cultural views of labor and economics – seems almost irretrievable in these harsh continuing times. As the UK has maintained its own currency while the eurozone is mired in its euroblend, it is the UK that is showing signs of life while its euro neighbors seem completely unable to solve their most basic economic issues. Italy is the poster child for failure; its economy contracted 2.4% last year as its own recession threatens to deepen further.
While larger industrial units Italy are rising slightly, the backbone of Italian output is slowly strangling the rest of the country. “[I]t is businesses … with fewer than 50 workers, which constitute the vast majority of Italy’s economy and long provided much of its vitality — that are buckling as banks halt lending and taxes rise. Credit issued by Italian banks fell in 2012 to the lowest level in more than a decade.” NY Times. The European Union, particularly the eurozone, seems like an experiment that is on track to unravel, compounding the problem unless, somehow, EU leaders figure out how to reignite growth and stem rising social unrest. And if the EU falls apart, the consequences for the global economy during the period of readjustment will be dire.
I’m Peter Dekom, and whether we like it or not, our own economic recovery is in significantly dependent on Europe’s fate… Europe’s hopes ride in significant part on what happens in Italy.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mercury Rising

More than 16,000 pigs were recently found floating down the Huangpu River in tributaries just outside of Shanghai. The shocking discovery came just a few days before 1,000 dead ducks were found floating down the Nahne River in the Sichuan Province on [March 25th]. Both incidents come in the wake of the first significant recognition of the country's water pollution problem by the Chinese government.”, March 26th. On January 13th, the Wall Street Journal reported on the industrial seepage of significant doses of carcinogens into a river connecting two northern Chinese provinces, sufficiently dangerous to require officials to require locals to stop using their tap water for a while. “China’s water sources are amongst the most polluted in the world. A World Bank study found that 13 of the 15 major cities (including Shanghai) along the 7 main water source rivers in China are affected by severely polluted water.” Ewwww!
And while those in the PRC who can afford bottled water clearly don’t drink the tap stuff, it is clear that some chemical pollutants are absorbed through the skin, making even showering toxic! The new Chinese administration has sent a strong signal that pollution issues will be high priorities in the coming years, but pressures for continued growth could easily undermine those intentions.
The cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product — three times that in 2004, in local currency terms, an official Chinese news report [released at the end of March noted]. The statistic came from a study by the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning, which is part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.” New York Times, March 29th. You have to feel for those impacted in the PRC… and in regions all over the world where such issues define daily life. But before we feel bad about “them,” let’s ask some serious questions about “us.”
I’ve already blogged about the mystery chemicals used in fracking, a process that uses lots of chemically enhanced water (with specific statutory exemptions from EPA rules and regulations), to force various fossil fuels (like natural gas and petroleum) to the surface. You’ve seen fire from water taps already and know that ground water has absorbed way too many of these effluents.
But what I’d like to focus on today is the quality of water in America’s rivers. “The Environmental Protection Agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009 — from rivers as large as the Mississippi River to streams small enough for wading. The study found more than 55 percent of them in poor condition, 23 percent in fair shape, and 21 percent in good biological health.” Washington Post, March 26th. The EPA’s report was issued on March 26th and determined that more than half of our nation’s rivers and streams were “in poor biological health, unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects and other creatures.” The Post.
40 percent of our waterways show significant phosphorus pollution, typical from runoff of fertilizers and detergents. As land is cleared, forests cut back and urbanization creeps in, runoff accelerates. “In 9 percent of rivers and streams, bacteria exceeded thresholds protective of human health. And mercury, which is toxic, was found in fish tissue along 13,000 miles of streams at levels exceeding health-based standards. Mercury occurs naturally but also can enter the environment from coal-burning power plants and from burning hazardous wastes.” The Post.
70 percent of the waterways in the eastern part of the United States (from New Jersey to Texas) suffer from excess pollution, while the mountain streams in the West are in the best shape. Only 26 percent of western waterways are in poor health. Bad air and bad water inevitably impact both our quality of life as well as our longevity. Businesses rail against regulation; containing and stopping pollution costs money and often reduces profits. How, argue business leaders, are American firms to compete with overseas manufacturers free from such regulatory burdens? Good argument, right? Are you willing to give up a few years of life to let them make a few more bucks?
I’m Peter Dekom, and if you pollute your own lands, exactly where do you and your children really want to live?

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Kim Who’s Not a Kardashian!

In the last few weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has disavowed the Armistice that halted the Korean War over half a century ago, declared a readiness to launch a pre-emptive strike (including nuclear warheads delivered by long-range missiles) against the South and the United States, resumed globally-condemned nuclear testing and issued rather provocative online videos showing North Korean weapons system decimating U.S. forces and blowing up the American Capitol and White House. Even his normally-staunch supporters from the Peoples Republic of China have supported additional UN sanctions against this rogue dictator. The U.S. and South Korean response has been to stage joint military exercises, which in turn has escalated Kim’s vitriol and threat-posture.
Yet for all the nastiness pouring from the North, does anyone really believe that North Korean forces will soon pour through the demilitarized zone, crashing towards Seoul a scant 25 miles away? Do we really believe that Kim will launch missiles with nuclear weapons against either the South or, assuming his missiles even have this capability, against the United States? The North’s Taepodong-2 rocket has a theoretical range that could reach as far as Australia, parts of the Middle East and even Alaska. More recent tests of upgraded rockets, however, seem to suggest that even the US mainland might be reachable by Korea’s rockets. Okay, it’s pretty theoretical, and even under their own “specs,” their longest range rocket isn’t really capable of delivering much of a payload… yet.
American missile defense systems would probably stop such an attack, and clearly, the American nuclear arsenal is such that it would only take minutes for the North to cease to exist, but will this even be a reality? Exchanges of cyber-attacks have crashed television networks and communications systems on both sides of the 38th parallel separating North from South. A cyber- attack seemingly coming from the North disrupted operations at several broadcasters and six banks in the South, slamming into approximately 32,000 computers. Tensions are rising fast.
The North’s KCNA state news agency issued a statement on March 25th informing the world that North Korea has placed its armed forces on high alert over the above-noted joint US-Seoul military exercises: “From this moment, the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army will be putting in combat duty posture No 1 all field artillery units including long-range artillery units and strategic rocket units that will target all enemy objects in US invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam.” Is Kim building the stakes to draw concessions in some unscheduled future peace conference? Does he really expect to launch? Or is this mass of threats and actions just aimed for local consumption?
“While many observers dismiss the rhetoric as bluster, others warn of ‘the tyranny of low expectations’ when it comes to understanding North Korea, because there have been a number of serious regional confrontations… If you follow North Korean media you constantly see bellicose language directed against the US and South Korea and occasionally Japan is thrown in there, and it’s hard to know what to take seriously. But then when you look at occasions where something really did happen, such as the artillery attack on a South Korean island in 2010, you see there were very clear warnings," Professor John Delury at South Korea's Yonsei university told the BBC.”, March 8th. If a nuclear attack would be suicidal, some argue, a clash with the South using conventional weapons may not be out of the question. Northern forces could be poised to release an overwhelming force across the DMZ as they did in June of 1950.
There have been myriad incidents over the years, and the number of recent clashes shows how volatile this region is. Yet as a few escapees have testified, life in the North is abysmal. Prison camps and slave labor are epidemic, and notwithstanding the strange images of former NBA star Dennis Rodman with leader-Kim, there is little joy in this dark, heavily polluted and backwards land. Malnourishment and out-and-out starvation seem to be everywhere.
On March 28-9th, the North raised its troop and missile alert level even higher, and Kim told the world that it was time to “settle accounts” with the United States. Photoshop-enhanced pictures of North Korean landing craft practicing beach landings flooded the Web. As U.S. stealth bombers joined the joint military exercises with South Korea, the American Secretary of Defense responded: “The North Koreans have to understand that what they’re doing is very dangerous… We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that.” Russian and Chinese officials expressed extreme concern over the escalating tensions. The Russians particularly believe that flying such U.S. bombers as part of such joint exercises was unnecessarily provocative.
Escalation on March 30th from the North’s official KCNA New Agency: “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.” Is a preemptive attack imminent? A show for the locals? Or is this merely an attempt to enhance the North’s position in bargaining with the West (particularly the U.S.) for food and other economic aid, promises of respecting their national security, even diplomatic recognition or perhaps allowing them to continue with their military experiments? Is this a ploy to force the West and Japan back to the bargaining table? The fact that trucks are still carrying components into the a special economic zone about five miles north of the DMZ for assembly and back into the South – a source of millions hard U.S. dollars (paid in cash) – without pause should tell you something. Such monies support Kim’s rather lavish lifestyle.
Slowly, word of a better life “out there” seems to have filtered into the North Korean people. So to justify the harshness and obvious repression, perhaps the Kim Jong-un has built up visions of an external threat to bear the blame for the misery of his regime. His call to arms seems intended to resonate with the locals’ patriotism, invoking their sacrifice, and “scaring” Japan and the West into negotiations. But nothing shows how bleak life is for those in the North than a satellite photograph of the entire Korean Peninsula (above). It’s a black and white reality.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the cruelty of repressive regimes who believe that they have a right to decimate the lives of millions never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Twisted Logic

Here’s the underlying fact pattern: “In 2011, the United States saw its second-deadliest tornado season in history: Nearly 1,700 tornadoes killed 553 people. The Joplin, Mo., twister was the single deadliest in American history, killing 158 people and causing $2.8 billion in damage… The following year, 2012, started even earlier and even busier. Through April there were twice as many tornadoes as normal. Then the twisters suddenly disappeared. Tornado activity from May to August of that year was the lowest in 60 years of record-keeping, said Harold Brooks, a top researcher at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla… Meanwhile, Canada saw an unusual number of tornadoes in 2012; Saskatchewan had three times the normal number.” Huffington Post on the Ides of March.

Here’s the question: is the above acceleration of dynamically destructive weather patterns a result of climate change? And the answer is… no one is really sure. Statistically, you certainly can make a case for it. But scientists haven’t really found a clear provable link. Heat alone isn’t the cause, since these twisters accumulate more in spring and tend to reduce as the summer heat intensifies. Is global warming pushing spring to earlier months? The lesser number of tornadoes in drought-claimed areas (absence of water) is also a factor. How about the increasing movement, north and south, of the Gulf Stream? Global warming?

“Tornado record-keepers tally things like the most and least tornadoes in a month. Records for that category have been set 24 times over the past 60 years. Ten of those records have been set in the past decade – six for the fewest tornadoes and four for the most, Brooks said. Also, the three earliest starts of tornado season and the four latest have all occurred since 1997, he said…

“A new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society looks at all sorts of extreme weather, how it is changing because of global warming and how things are predicted to change in the future. The study says tornadoes and the severe thunderstorms that spawn them are the hardest to predict…Public opinion polls show Americans blame global warming for bad tornado outbreaks, but climate scientists say that’s not quite right.

“One reason scientists can't figure out how global warming might affect tornadoes is that twisters are usually small weather events that aren't easily simulated in large computer models. And records of tornadoes may not have been accurate over the years as twisters twirled unnoticed around unpopulated areas.” Huffington Post.

So today, the emphasis is less on prediction but on understanding what happens to flying debris and funnel movement once a storm hits. Trying to ascertain where people near a building tornado (or one that is striking hard) must be warned or protected. This is particularly relevant where you have a toxic debris sucked up into the vortex flying to “who knows where” to be deposited with obviously harmful results. By examining debris dispersion, scientists are beginning to understand the phenomenon better. In the end, global warming could easily be a factor but perhaps not a cause? We just don’t know, but asking these questions and exploring the answers is simply good science.

I’m Peter Dekom, and the complex interplay of natural barriers is both fascinating… and potentially deadly.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tankless Task

Can we really live in a world with substantially fewer greenhouse gasses? Really cut our consumption and usage of fossil fuels without destroying our economy and growth potential? Or are we just kidding ourselves? We create economic structures that let us feel good about “doing something,” like the “cap and trade” mythology described below, but without the participation of “everybody,” can we accomplish our overall environmental goals? I’ve blogged about the need for the biggest polluter, China (which seems to be choking many of its citizens to death), to get with the program, but are we so far past the tipping point that we should just gird for the worst? Should we look at China, shrug our shoulders, and prepare for disaster?
“Cap and trade” sounds good and pragmatic. It sets an overall limit on greenhouse emissions but allows those who still exceed limits to “buy” the under-regulatory-limits compliance units from companies who are significantly below their set caps… and continue to pollute. This seems to create an economic disincentive to exceed limits and an economic incentive to comply. The problem with the theory is that the ease of buying these compliance units may or may not be significant hits to the bottom line of the polluting company. It is often much cheaper for many companies to continue to pollute than to consider fixing the problem. Just allowing companies to buy their way out of compliance often prevents a solution rather than mandating it.
But there are many other solutions involving improved technologies, greater consciousness in environment waste, continuing to mandate stricter mileage requirements for all kinds of vehicles, encouragement and incentives for alternative energy and general regulation of stationary polluters across the board. Does this form of regulation curtail growth or create new jobs to meet the challenges? Of course, there are no simple answers to any of this, and of course, there will be economic opportunity and economic displacement. The penalty for non-compliance may well be economic, human and social disaster with costs that dwarf the hard economic costs of compliance.
But can we really accomplish the goal? At least in the United States? “A National Research Council report released [in mid-March] concluded that the United States could halve by 2030 the oil used in cars and trucks compared with 2005 levels by improving the efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles and by relying more on cars that use alternative power sources, like electric batteries and biofuels… Just days earlier a team of Stanford engineers published a proposal showing how New York State — not windy like the Great Plains, nor sunny like Arizona — could easily produce the power it needs from wind, solar and water power by 2030. In fact there was so much potential power, the researchers found, that renewable power could also fuel our cars.
“‘It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil — we think it’s a myth,’ said Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the main author of the study, published in the journal Energy Policy. ‘You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint. The biggest obstacles are social and political — what you need is the will to do it.’ … Other countries have made far more concerted efforts to reduce fossil fuel use than the United States and have some impressive numbers to show for it. Of the countries that rely most heavily on renewable electricity, some, like Norway, rely on that old renewable, hydroelectric power. But others, like Denmark, Portugal and Germany, have created financial incentives to promote newer technologies like wind and solar energy.
“People convinced that America ‘needs’ the oil that would flow south from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline might be surprised to learn that Canada produced 63.4 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2011, largely from hydropower and a bit of wind. (Maybe that is why Canada has all that oil to sell.) The United States got only 12.3 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2011. Still, many experts say that aggressively rebalancing the United States’ mix of fossil fuel and renewable energy to reduce its carbon footprint may well be impractical and unwise for now.” New York Times, March 23rd.  
Forcing companies and governments to install scrubbers and more efficient technologies that do not increase profitability or stimulate immediately measurable growth is a tough ask. Many point to the fact that we compete with foreign manufacturers who don’t have such compliance costs under their local laws. Maybe we succeed, maybe we fail, maybe we wind up in the middle… but exactly what do we owe to future generations in terms of safe air and clean water?
I’m Peter Dekom, and the sin has to be in not even trying!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hard to Swallow

The global trade in foodstuffs is obviously critically important for developed nations to eat and for developing nations to generate import revenues. The mega-huge, multinational companies that control the supply chain and trading movement set quality standards, have powerful influence on pricing (based on their manipulation of supply and demand) and literally control the fate not only of major agribusiness corporate farms but of those marginal farmers at the edge of surviving able to export a portion of their output for cash. The power of these “companies without borders” is staggering
According to the Fairtrade Foundation, three companies now control over 40 per cent of the world’s coffee sales, eight companies have cornered the supply of cocoa and chocolate, seven account for 85 per cent of tea production, five have rounded-up 75 per cent of the world banana trade, and the largest six sugar traders control approximately two-thirds of that commodity. While local farming and local consumption is by far the largest segment of global food production and consumption – much of this at the subsistence level – once the crops make their way into the international food chain, these multinationals pretty much control this entire sector. Some of these biggies you might know, like Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, while other mega-huge players are not part of our daily lexicon, like ConAgra or Cargill.
For those who envision a happy farmer selling organic produce directly to regional wholesalers and retailers, think again. These big entities are all over the “organic” space as well. “Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Healthy Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup…
“Why this has happened is obvious. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with the concept of the ‘grocery store’ is aware, products labeled as ‘organic’ carry a premium. Organic fruits and vegetables are always more expensive than their non-organic counterparts; organic packaged foods even more so. For a major corporation that’s already in the business of selling food, that mark-up is hard to resist. As is the fact that the organic market is one of the fastest growing in food sales, one of the few spots in a mature marketplace where that’s the case.”
For the little desperate farmers all over the world, their only access to the global marketplace is through these conglomerates, perhaps through local cooperatives but more likely through local corrupt officials who hive off desperately needed cash to line their own pockets before moving these commodities into the food chain. According to Oxfam International (a seventeen nation non-profit, headquartered in Oxford, England, targeting poverty and injustice), up to 80% of the global population considered ‘chronically hungry’ are farmers. The conglomerates could tackle that local corruption and improve the lot of the impoverished, but most of their efforts are token gestures aimed at generating a better public image… but at the subsistence level, nothing has changed.
Like most corporations, these companies are focused on profitability, not the well-being of their consumers. “In an international analysis of involvement by so-called ‘unhealthy commodity’ companies in health policy-making, researchers from Australia, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere said … that through the aggressive marketing of ultra-processed food and drink, multinational companies were now major drivers of the world’s growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.”, February 27th. Obesity in many Western nations, particularly the United States, has become epidemic as a result. Animals kept in despicable conditions are routine parts of this food chain as well, but how these critters are raised is of little concern to the conglomerates that really don’t care, even if such harsh conditions also require that these animals be feed antibiotics and other chemicals to enhance their commercial viability.
With so much at stake, these companies have armies of lobbyists and expediters to minimize the impact of governments trying to rein in their excess, control those chemical additives and require truth in labeling. “Writing in [the prestigious UK] The Lancet medical journal, the researchers cited industry documents they said revealed how companies seek to shape health legislation and avoid regulation This is done by building financial and institutional relations’ with health professionals, non-governmental organizations and health agencies, distorting research findings, and lobbying politicians to oppose health reforms, they said. [… Lancet researchers] cited analysis of published research which found systematic bias from industry funding: articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies were between four and eight times more likely to have conclusions that favored the companies than those not sponsored by them.
The battles over labeling and controlling the sale of unhealthy sugar and fat-laden junk food, particularly to our children, can get downright vicious. Genetically engineered food scares some people, but establishing exactly how much of something needs to be an ingredient in a blend to get the right label is often some heavily negotiated fraction less than 100%. In truth, we often do not know what we really are eating or where it came from. And then there is the occasional scandal, like the horsemeat-as-beef debacle that gripped Europe recently, that illustrates how greed can massively influence the market in less-than-legal ways. Hey, America, don’t feel bad, government budget cuts will not remove too many USDA food inspectors to check what we eat. To my friends, Gary and Sarah Legon, Americans retired to France and watching the horsemeat fly by, thank you for inspiring this piece.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if I am what I eat, I suspect I have some very real reasons to be concerned.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Messing with Others

With the exception of territorial claims in its own backyard, China has disavowed military interference in the political systems in other nations. Dictatorships, majority mob rule, anarchy, civil war… it doesn’t matter. China, which rests roughly at the 100 spot in per capital income with well over 100 million people making under $2/day, still tells the world that it is not ready to assume a greater role in multinational military solutions. She has joined with Russia, for example, in vetoing UN military efforts to unseat the brutal incumbent Syrian regime.
With a powerful colonial history, France and England have no such hesitancy. Recent French involvement in Mali, and the UK’s general involvement in Iraq and other Middle Eastern conflicts illustrate this rather well. Occasionally, you will see regional powers – the involvement of many Middle Eastern forces to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War – apply such military solutions.
Sanctions form the next level of interference with the internal policies of other nations. Iran and North Korea are the main recipients of such general pressures. Interestingly, of late, China has approved sanctions against the growing belligerency and saber-rattling from Kin Jong-Un, who believes that long-range rocket and nuclear weapons testing, pulling out of armistice treaties and showing videos of the White House and the Capitol being blown up make for good showmanship for the home crowd. But typically, China votes for a sanction but really is lax about enforcing the ban.
The fact remains that injustice, violence against women, repression, discrimination, brutal war lords and military dictatorships, crushing theocracies, murderous civil wars and religiously based murders, recruitment of children soldiers, forced and child labor, torture (sometimes inflicted by US forces on orders from above!) and random ultra-violent acts of terrorism are massively present all over the world. The same Taliban who put a bullet in the head of a little Pakistani girl who fought for the right of girls to receive an education are the folks who ruled Afghanistan before our post-9/11 attacks. They are also the largest single force in Afghanistan, mostly likely to prevail as the strongest military presence in the country. Perhaps there will be smaller areas where local war lords control their land, but our departure from Afghanistan will most likely result in the repressive Taliban resuming power and control.
While these extremists are likely to prevail as the post-NATO invasion government, they are hardly adored by the local people. In the hotbed of searing violence, southeastern Afghanistan (which borders Pakistan’s Tribal District), the Taliban and NATO forces clash with great frequency. Poor farmers and villagers are caught in the middle. Ideally, they would simply like to be left alone. The Taliban would like the world to think that they are the political power of choice for the Afghanis, but while the locals would accept any government that would allow them just to live their lives in peace, the Taliban are definitely not the solution they remotely want.
“An uprising against the Taliban that began last month in this southern Afghan village has now spread through dozens of others, according to residents and Afghan and American officials, in the most significant popular turning against the Islamist insurgents in recent years… Since early February, when villagers joined with police forces to begin ousting Taliban fighters from this region of rich vineyards and orchards southwest of Kandahar City, hundreds of residents have rallied to support the government. Nearly 100 village elders vowed at a public meeting [March 19th] to keep the Taliban out as the new fighting season sets in, and Afghan flags are flying from rooftops in the villages, residents said.
“Isolated uprisings against the Taliban have been reported in several different parts of Afghanistan over the past 18 months. But the revolt in Panjwai is considered significant because it is the first in southern Afghanistan, in the spiritual heartland of the Taliban movement, where the group’s influence had endured despite repeated operations by American and NATO forces.” New York Times, March 20th.
Americans hate repressive regimes. Our massive military is routinely requested and deployed to aid locals seeking freedom and justice. Look at the Syrian rebels screaming for our assistance. And while we prefer interfering in nations with natural resources we need, our efforts in Serbia and Croatia and the attack on Grenada show that we are often deployed for other reasons. As President Obama’s visit to Israel illustrates, we are also bound to military solutions by treaty and emotional ties to other nations.
Unfortunately for us, even when we are invited to help, if we stay “longer than minimal periods,” our presence moves from welcome to the hatred of a foreign invader. Global resentment of the big American bully clearly and vastly overshadows the gratitude of those we have gone in to help. Visions of Abu Graib and Gitmo, pictures of humiliation and torture, the sacrilegious treatment of the holy books/bodies of others undo the benefits that we might have generated otherwise. Our use of drones across international boundaries is deeply resented, even though we would retaliate if, for example, Mexico elected to use drone strikes across its northern border to kill cartel leaders running for shelter into the United States.
Foreign policies with a strong military to enforce our whims are a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to know we can deploy massive force when necessary, but we have been cursed with massive deficits and global resentment for most of such efforts. We have become the target of rage for so many nations around the world, and foreign politicians have made great headway in elections by adopting a strong anti-American/bully stance. By having such a high profile, we have identified Americans and American businesses, even within our own homeland, as targets for angry young men and women hell-bent on making their mark on the world and to enhance their religious and political beliefs. Instead of making our nation safer by such military exploits, we have in fact place an increasing number of Americans, even living here in the States, in harm’s way.
So in an analysis of budgetary limitations, how exactly do we build a military for the future? Do we maintain massive forces and accept global resentment when we use them or do we construct a force that is more appropriate for our actual best interests? Just having such a massive force pretty much insures we are going to use it, but what do we really need to protect our legitimate interests without making us a global target? And does the spread of military bases and vendors into most Congressional districts make a reasonable and appropriate military budget an impossible dream? Will we continue to sacrifice education, infrastructure, environment and research to pay for a military way beyond our greatest needs? Are we the global policeman? What is our role in global matters? How exactly should we be using our military? 
I’m Peter Dekom, and no matter what politicians may say, there is no way for anything near our current military commitment to remain in effect without seriously degrading the balance of our national priorities… no way!