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Something Had to Give
How Oil Burst the American Bubble

Michael T. Klare, Tomdispatch
The economic bubble that lifted the stock market to dizzying heights was sustained as much by cheap oil as by cheap (often fraudulent) mortgages. Likewise, the collapse of the bubble was caused as much by costly (often imported) oil as by record defaults on those improvident mortgages. Oil, in fact, has played a critical, if little commented upon, role in America’s current economic enfeeblement — and it will continue to drain the economy of wealth and vigor for years to come.

The great economic mega-bubble arose in the late 1990s, when oil was cheap, times were good, and millions of middle-class families aspired to realize the “American dream” by buying a three (or more) bedroom house on a decent piece of property in a nice, safe suburb with good schools and various other amenities. The hitch: Few such affordable homes were available for sale — or being built — within easy commuting range of major metropolitan areas or near public transportation. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example, the median sale price of existing homes rose from $290,000 in 2002 to $446,400 in 2004; similar increases were posted in other major cities and in their older, more desirable suburbs.

…These acquisitions are just a small indication of a massive, irreversible shift in wealth and power from the United States to the petro-states of the Middle East and energy-rich Russia. These countries, notes the International Monetary Fund, are believed to have raked in $750 billion in 2007 and are expected to do even better this year — and each year thereafter. What this means is not just the continuing enfeeblement of the American economy, but an accompanying decline in global political leverage.

Nothing better captures the debilitating nature of America’s dependence on imported oil than President Bush’s humiliating recent performance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He quite literally begged Saudi King Abdullah to increase the kingdom’s output of crude oil in order to lower the domestic price of gasoline. “My point to His Majesty is going to be, when consumers have less purchasing power because of high prices of gasoline — in other words, when it affects their families, it could cause this economy to slow down,” he told an interviewer before his royal audience. “If the economy slows down, there will be less barrels of [Saudi] oil purchased.”

Needless to say, the Saudi leadership dismissed this implied threat for the pathetic bathos it was. The Saudis, indicated Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, would raise production only “when the market justifies it.” With that, they made clear what the whole world now knows: The American bubble has burst — and it was oil that popped it. Thus are those with an “oil addiction” (as President Bush once termed it) forced to grovel before the select few who can supply the needed fix.

Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. His newest book, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, will be published by Metropolitan Books in April 2008.
(31 January 2008)
The original has an introduction by Tom Engelhardt. Also at Common Dreams and Znet.

‘Muzzle’ Placed On Federal Scientists

Margaret Munro, Canwest News Service
Environment Canada policy meant to control media message
Environment Canada has “muzzled” its scientists, ordering them to refer all media queries to Ottawa where communications officers will help them respond with “approved lines.”

The new policy, which went into force in recent weeks and sent a chill through the department research divisions, is designed to control the department’s media message and ensure there are no “surprises” for Environment Minister John Baird and senior management when they open the newspaper or turn on the television, according to documents obtained by Canwest News Service.

“Just as we have ‘one department, one website’ we should have ‘one department, one voice’,” says a PowerPoint presentation from Environment Canada’s executive management committee that’s been sent to department staff.
(1 February 2008)
The above quote above from Environment Canada is unfortunate, with its echo of
the Nazi political slogan: “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” – ‘One People, One Empire, One Leader’.

It would seem that in a democratic country, policy should be aligned with scientific reality and the good of the people, rather than be designed to protect ministers from unpleasant surprises in the newspaper.

Wars Dwarf Warming in U.S. Budget

Jim Lobe, IPS News
Despite growing recognition in the Pentagon and the intelligence community that global warming poses serious national security threats to the United States, Washington is spending 88 dollars on the military for every dollar it spends this year on climate-related programmes, according to a new study released here Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies.

The study, entitled “Military vs. Climate Security”, found that the government has budgeted 647.5 billion dollars for the defence budget in 2008 — more than the defence budgets of the rest of the world’s nations combined — compared to 7.37 billion dollars for climate-related programmes.

Of the latter total, moreover, only 212 million dollars is devoted to helping poor countries obtain clean, renewable energy sources that do not contribute to global warming — less than what U.S. military forces in Iraq spend each day on operations there.

“While we spare no expense to wage war, we seem to have no money to spare on averting climate disaster,” said Miriam Pemberton, the report’s author. “The increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists make clear that changing these federal spending priorities can’t wait.”
(31 January 2008)
Also at Common Dreams A PDF of the report The Budget Compared: Military vs. Climate Security. is online.