The Dernogalizer

March 19, 2009

Lieberman and McCain on Afghanistan

Filed under: National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 3:56 pm
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Time for a post on a topic other than energy/environmental issues.  I read an interesting Op-Ed today on US strategy moving forward in Afghanistan by John McCain and Joe Lieberman in the Washington Post.  There were a couple of aspects of the article I agreed with, such as the fact that our focus can’t be “sporatic counterinsurgency strikes”, but a dedication to the Afghan people, because like in Iraq you have to win over the population.  Ultimately, the Afghan people have to take ownership and stand with US troops to fight for their own country, but first they must be able to trust the US commitment to them.  I also don’t think a minimalist approach gets us anywhere.

However, I felt but I felt as though they neglected two things.  One was the fact that unlike Iraq which technologically and institutionally was maybe half a century behind the US, Afghanistan outside of Kabul is like 400 AD.  President Karzai is essentially the Mayor of Kabul, and outside of that the rest of Afghanistan is largely lawless and without electricity or running water.  It’s a very different country from Iraq.  Therefore, what we would consider a stable Iraq shouldn’t be the litmus test for a stable Afghanistan.  Additionally, addressing the issue of Pakistan and their role in providing a safe haven for the Taliban wasn’t mentioned at all.  The strategy for dealing with that issue is very tricky and sticky, but ultimately you aren’t going to have a stable Afghanistan if the Taliban can just march in across the border and kill people when they feel like it.

I did a lot of research last fall on the situation in Pakistan and how it relates to Afghanistan.  I checked my computer, but I could only find an incomplete draft of the paper because I wrote it with a partner, and I only have my half of the information on my computer.  However, if you would like a bit more background on why Pakistan is harboring terrorists and how this impacts the effort in Afghanistan, read below.

With the election of a new president, the Iraq War nearly 6 years running, and the war in Afghanistan uncertain, the United States has a lot of choices to make in how to continue the War on Terror.  Pakistan will undoubtedly play a key role in both this war as well as American foreign policy going forward.  Therefore, it’s important to examine what the history of Pakistan from the US relationship with them, to the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, the Soviet-Afghan War, and post September 11th.

The relationship between the United States has been a complicated one since it’s inception in 1955.  The basis for the alliance has been the mutual interest of protection for Pakistan, but with a fear of different threats.  While the United States has given aid to Pakistan as a means of preventing Soviet expansionism, Pakistan has sought protection from India.  Present day, president elect Barack Obama made news headlines in early 2008 when as a candidate he declared that Pakistan was harboring terrorists within it’s borders, and if the country didn’t act to take them out, he would.  This should raise a lot of questions, namely why Pakistan is a host to terrorists, whether they are incapable or unwilling to take them out, and whether Obama’s rhetoric is justified.

Pakistan turned to fundamentalism with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s.  Taking a step back though, the real jump-starter was in 1977 when General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq seized power in Pakistan in a coup, becoming president.  The US responded by ceasing all aid to Pakistan, and this caused Zia to rule cautiously to try to win foreign approval.  However, in 1980 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the US began aiding Pakistan again, which allowed Zia to rule how he wished without fear of losing the aid money.  He passed pro-Islamic legislation, introduced Islamic banking systems, and created Islamic courts.  This helped him consolidate his power.  He also created tens of thousands of madrassas, which are Islamic religious boarding schools.  These schools stemmed the uprise of many of the future Islamic militants over the following decades.  Another key change was that military personnel were promoted based on how devoted to Islam they were.  This opened the door for radical Islam to spread into the military, and some extreme factions gained influence in the army.  This created a culture of Jihad that remains in Pakistan to this day.

Tying into how fundamentalism grew due to Pakistani leadership during the Afghan-Soviet war, the role the war played on the mind set of the Pakistani people complemented the effects of Zia’s policies.  Pakistan became one of the largest arms markets in the world, with over 4.5 billion dollars of US smuggled goods passing through it’s borders.  This was facilitated largely by a close relationship between jihadi groups linked to mainstream Islamic parties that had outstanding support of the state.  Even today, these groups remain commonplace in much of Pakistan,  especially along the border with Afghanistan, as well as Kashmir.  One strong factor to the strengthening of these groups is they were also supported by Western counties.  For example, Ronald Reagan called the Afghan mujahideen “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers”.  Jihadi groups in Pakistan became very compelling to the majority of Muslims in the country, with a very strong upswing in religious nationalism, partially due to the President’s policies, but also because the Soviet Union was depicted as “godless”.  This widespread public support for Jihad against the Soviets is an explanation for the relentless expansion of Jihadi culture in Pakistan. Especially in the Paktun areas that border Afghanistan.  Even following the fall of Zia, these relationships and links between the state, Islamic parties, and the jihadis wavered very little.

During the Afghan war with the Soviet Union, Osama Bin Laden took up residence in Peshawar, which is a town in Pakistan which borders Afghanistan.  Here he, he ran a smuggling operation to funnel money, arms, and fighters, and built up a lot of relationships with Pakistan’s Intelligence agency, and warlords.  Bin Laden’s alliances with these people has also remained strong over the years.  Many of the same rebels that fought in the war which Osama Bin Laden befriended have taken up residence in the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This history contributes considerable explanation for the events that followed the September 11th attack, and the relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

Looking forward, president elect Obama has outlined three options to addressing Pakistan and the terrorists that reside on the border.  One possibility is using the aid that the United States is giving to Pakistan at leverage.  This could mean altering what the money can be used for, or taking away part or all of the aid unless Pakistan makes significant efforts to root out the Taliban on the border.  Another idea Obama has mentioned, but hasn’t elaborated much on is strengthening and encouraging Pakistan’s level of Democracy.  The logic behind this is that a major problem with the previous President Musharraf was that his rule did not encourage Democracy.  This suppression of the voices of the Pakistani people caused them to be more sympathetic to the viewpoint of the Taliban and the rebels on the border than to the government.  Since the United States supports and relies on the Pakistani government, this is a problem.  In order to root out the Taliban, the people need to view the government more favorably, and a good way to do that is to make it more responsive and accountable to people.  Finally, as previously mentioned, Obama has stated that if Pakistan did not go after the terrorists within it’s borders that he would carry out attacks on the Taliban that were in Pakistan.

Our opinion is that Obama should exhaust options one and two before reverting to attacking.  There are a few reasons why we feel this is the best way to proceed.  For starters, we’ve already seen the mistake from the Iraq War in not exhausting all diplomatic options between going to war.   The fact of the matter is that our relationship with Pakistan is very important, and it could be tarnished if we violate their sovereignty.  Therefore, we should only do so if it’s absolutely justified.  Additionally, by exhausting diplomacy, we would have more credibility with our allies.  This way, if push came to shove and we had to attack within Pakistan, we could have support, and go in as a coalition rather than unilaterally.

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October 26, 2008

Arizona Poll Indicates Toss-up

Filed under: National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 6:55 pm
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I keep hearing from the McCain campaign and Fox News about how the race between Obama and McCain is tightening. Perhaps they’re looking at the wrong states. Recent polls in Georgia are showing that Obama is only 4 points back, and very much within striking distance.

But what really is incredible is that Arizona, which is supposed to be solid for the Republicans just had a poll come out with McCain only having a 2 point lead over Obama. Within the margin of error. Now I’m not one to take a single poll too seriously, I’d like to see more to see if this is an outlier or if there actually is a trend. However, the fact that any poll has shown Arizona within the margin of error, and that Georgia is in play.. just shows in which direction this race is actually moving.

October 21, 2008

Nuclear Power

So I broke down the free market economics of nuclear power today. You can read my column at the link, or what I pasted below.

http://media.www.diamondbackonline.com/media/storage/paper873/news/2008/10/21/Opinion/Nuclear.Power.Turn.To.Better.Alternatives-3496543.shtml?reffeature=recentlycommentedstoriestab

For as long as I can remember, allegedly rational people have been pushing for the most overhyped energy source there is – nuclear power. Just look at Maryland – we’re on the verge of adding a third reactor to our Calvert Cliffs Plant as a way to address our rising energy demand. Nationally, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is on his way to glowing green, as a major part of his energy plan consists of building 45 new nuclear reactors by the year 2030. Where do I begin?

Nuclear power plants take a long time to build. Take the Calvert Cliffs reactor, for instance. Under the best-case scenario, it will be up and running by 2015. Consider that against the fact that Maryland may be experiencing rolling blackouts in 2011. Maybe we should build a time machine while we’re at it?

Imagine trying to build 45 of these by 2030. Assuming we started in 2010, that would be an average of two-and-a-half nuclear reactors every single year. It’d be like trying to write a term paper the night before it’s due and starting at midnight. You’d need very fast fingers, a lot of coffee, divine intervention and … can somebody get me that time machine?

Nuclear plants need to be located near a water source for cooling, and there simply aren’t enough locations in the U.S. that are safe from natural disasters or drought. A few of our reactors are in danger of being shut down because of the water shortages we’ve been facing in the Southeast due to drought.

This ties into another critical problem with nuclear power, which is that the cost of building and operating a nuclear power plant actually increases as you build more plants. You’ve got limited space to put them, and with fewer choices, the bidding for remaining spaces goes up. Cost also rises because the increased demand for uranium, used as nuclear fuel, causes its price to go up. These rising costs would be passed directly on to the consumer’s energy bill, just as we’ve seen happen with coal and natural gas.

It’s a sharp contrast with alternative sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, which get cheaper as you buy more. This is a key reason why in 2007 renewables got $71 billion of private investment, while nuclear got none. Subsidies for nuclear power are now approaching and, in some cases even exceeding, its costs. Guess who pays for those subsidies? The taxpayer; I’m surprised to hear McCain pushing an agenda that requires so much government support.

How much of an impact would 45 new nuclear reactors have? They would supply 1.2 percent of our energy needs in 2030. Oh, and the Calvert Cliffs reactor we’re building is projected to cost between $7.2 and $9.6 billion. Assuming the low end of these projections, the 45 reactors we’re building to meet 1.2 percent of our energy needs will carry construction costs of $270 billion, most of which is going to come from government subsidies.

I always hear politicians talk about supporting an “all of the above” energy policy. Why? That means you’re for all of our good ideas, and all of our bad ideas. How about the smart, cost-effective energy policy with the right priorities? Nuclear should be at the bottom of the list, not the top. McCain’s silver bullet is a blank.

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at mdernoga@umd.edu.

October 9, 2008

Healthcare and Taxes

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 2:49 am
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My Plan...(or not)

My Plan...(or not)

I ordinarily wouldn’t have much to say about Healthcare. However, the topic seemed to be a high point of contest during last night’s debate, and it got me thinking into which candidate’s plan would be more effective, and which would be more expensive. The independent Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center has looked over both candidate’s tax plans which include the healthcare programs. Here’s the link: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/UploadedPDF/411750_updated_candidates_summary.pdf

McCain’s program is estimated to cover 5 million of the uninsured and increase the deficit by 1.3 trillion dollars over 10 years. Obama’s will increase the deficit by 1.6 trillion and cover 34 million uninsured. I consider Obama’s plan under these very simple standards to be far more effective.

However, theres something else you should notice from not only the healthcare plans, but from the tax proposals of both candidates. Both tax plans put us much further into the red. Trillions of dollars further! Interestingly, for all the flack Obama gets about his plan, McCain’s plan actually puts us even further in debt. But, the point is, both tax plans are clearly wrong. Both are bad. Both will increase our debt. I’m not an expert on taxes and on all of our government spending, but I see simple glaring problems with both.

Obama’s middle class tax cut, while it sounds nice and people would like it, just isn’t affordable. All we’re doing is borrowing from our children that way, cause that’s who is paying for that “tax cut”.

It’s easy to see why McCain puts us further in debt than Obama. We’re already greatly increasing our deficit, yet McCain wants to give out more tax cuts to corporations, businesses, etc. It’s hard to fix the budget when all you’re going to do is give out taxes. His solution is to reduce the 18 billion we spend on earmarks? I don’t need to calculator to cry foul. The idea of a spending freeze, while extreme sounds interesting until McCain follows it with “except for this, this, this, and other high priorities”.

So how do you fix our gigantic deficit. A few of my ideas quite frankly are straight-talk that if either if these candidates spoke of, it would NOT go over well. But then again that’s why we’re in the hole that we’re in. Because people can’t stand to make the necessary cuts to bail us out of our problem.

So I know after my rant I should problem go back to my area of expertise, energy and environmental issues. But I’ll embarrass myself further. We can’t afford either Obama’s middle class tax cut, or McCain’s tax cuts for anything and everyone. That’s hundreds of billions of dollars that we DON’T have. Cut Iraq, really at this point, I think we’ve got Iraq in the bag, and certainly a troop draw down in 16 months is plausible. 10 billion a month in Iraq is 120 billion a year. Our economy is in ruin right now, we need that 120 billion here whether you like it or not.

And I can finally jump on stuff I know very well.

Obviously everyone by now knows we spend 700 billion dollars a year on foreign oil. Uhhh, then quit buying SUVS geniuses. But look, people who complain about our economy being tanked by dependence on foreign oil and then burning as much of it as they can are just plain hypocrites who don’t get it, or don’t want to get it. I’m not going to point fingers at anyone who has the car they have, and can’t afford to buy a new one. I’m talking about people who go and buy a new car and buy a Hummer or an F-150, or any SUV. I don’t want their poor choices bringing down my country and our economy.

So say to our automakers “okay we bailed your dumbasses out, now we mandating that you can’t make anymore SUVS or trucks”. 2009 was the last model, too bad for you. Funny thing is, we’d be doing them a favor by solving the problem that get them into their ruin in the first place. So say, from now on, all cars are either 30 mpg or higher, or you’re putting out hybrids. That right there would cut down on the money leaving our economy by billions of dollars within years. These head in the sand companies would also perform better by selling quality fuel economy cars.

Think I’m being crazy? Hell I say take some of that 700 billion dollars for our bailout, and pump it into massive tax credits for hybrids. The whole bailout involving seizing all these assets is socialist anyways, so quit crying foul. I like capitalism too, but since we’re throwing that notion out with the window with the bailout, might as well do it right. Pump billions into tax credits for hybrids and massive overhauls in energy efficiency of buildings. Especially ones owned by all these financial institutions we’re bailing out. This would significantly lower costs to business and consumer, and pump more many back into our economy because of the energy savings.

While you’re at it, impose a carbon tax, and lower the income tax accordingly. Tax what you burn not what you earn.

Okay you know what, explaining a carbon tax takes too long, so thats for another post, so forget I mentioned that. I stand by the rest of my rant. If we want to get serious about our economy, make serious investments and serious overhauls. None of the wimpy bs I’m seeing. Not with these jokes that my candidates call tax plans.

September 28, 2008

Obama and McCain Debate

Filed under: National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 7:02 pm
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So I along with many others watched the debate between Obama and McCain and Friday, and I must say that I liked that Isaw. There are just a few observations I would like to make. The first is that in the part of the debate that focused on the economy, Obama fared very well because he mentioned numerous times tax cuts for the middle class, making sure that the average American was getting a fair shot, and quit frankly taxing the rich just sounds better to a lot of Americans right now because people are upset about the “fatcats on wallstreet” that we are bailing out. McCain bogged Obama down a little when it came to earmark spending, that was his one strongsuit, but Obama was able to work his way around that attack numerous times. McCain never mentioned the middle class or made reference to ordinary working Americans. He talked about the capital gains tax, but once again he didn’t specify anything about small businesses, he just called it “the business tax”. Right now people are not in the mood for providing tax breaks to “businesses” which really means corporations. At the end of the day, when it comes to economic policy and economic philosophy, McCain does in fact identify with the very strategy that Bush has applied during his tenure. Try telling people that all we need to do to fix our economic problems is “more of that”.

Then we move onto foreign policy. I felt that Obama held his own here, and this was exactly what he needed to do. McCain constantly tried to belittle Obama, make him seem naive and inexperienced, and unable to protect the country. In my opinion, what has made the polls so close hasn’t been Obama’s ideas or his philosophy, people are drawn to that. However, since he has limited experience on the national stage, voters are wary of his knowledge on foreign policy. By simply demonstrating that he was very coherent and confident when it came to international issues, this shored up a lot of doubt in the undecideds. That alone is what Obama has needed to do, and what he did. Believe me, Obama isn’t losing because people are more drawn to the Republican ticket, right now they want a change to more progressive policies. People are simply afraid of Obama. If he can alleviate that fear, he’ll pull away, and he did a good deal of it with the foreign policy debate.

Over the next few days we’ll see the lasting effect if any from the debate. Today however, it appears things are moving in Obama’s favor. Check out these statistics, where not only is Obama widening his margin in the national polls, but he has a larger percentage of people who think he won the debate.

Now I think that Obama is extraordinarily intelligent, has great judgement, is a good person, and has the right ideas to be President. However, in this election, he only needs to be an average Democrat. He just needs people to trust him more, and he’ll win.

September 12, 2008

Obama vs McCain on Energy and Environment

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:48 am
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I wrote this comparing Barack Obama and John McCain when it comes to energy and the environment. Here is a very good Op-Ed highlighting why if you care about these issues, Obama is the man, not McCain.

There is a misconception put forth by the McCain campaign and propagated through the media to misguide voters. It’s a lie that Obama and McCain are identical when it comes to global warming, renewable energy, and the environment. The fact of the matter is that Barack Obama’s energy plan is easily the best that has ever been put forth from either party. It has so much depth and detail to it that I can only scratch the surface here, I will follow up with more on it in future posts. First and foremost, Barack Obama’s climate change policy actually meets what the science demands. It will be nice to have an administration that believes in science. The plan calls for the implementation of an economy-wide cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, and to 1990 levels by 2020. He also wants to invest $150 billion over the next decade to develop climate friendly energy sources and create millions of green jobs. There is a goal of a 10% renewable electricity standard by 2012 and a 25% standard by 2025, and extending the production tax credits for renewable sources for 5 years.

Energy efficiency is a vital aspect of any energy plan, and Obama doesn’t dissapoint. He will implement aggressive energy efficiency program which will reduce consumer energy usage 15% below the Dept. of Energy’s projected levels by 2020, at the same time saving consumers $130 billion. He wants to overhaul Federal efficiency standards , invest in improving our electricity grid, and will set a goal to make all new buildings carbon neutral by 2030. He’s also going to flip utility incentives so that they are rewarded for reducing energy consumption, rather than for increasing it.

We’d all like to drive cars that burn cleaner fuel and go further on a gallon of gas. Obama has a goal of increasing CAFE standards by 4% each year while putting 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road that get 150 mpg by 2015. He will mandate that all new vehicles be flex fuel, and institute a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard which requires fuel suppliers to reduce the amount of carbon in their fuels 5% within 5 years starting in 2010, and 10% after 10 years. Last but not least there will be a $7,000 tax credit for people who buy or convert advanced technology vehicles.

One look at Obama’s past record on these issues tells us that he will keep his promises. One year in the Illinois State Senate Obama received a 100% environmental score, and his lifetime score in the US senate is 86%. John McCain’s lifetime score is a robust 27%.

In the winter of 2007, a crucial vote came on a bill before the US Senate. The renewable energy production tax credits for wind and solar are set to expire at the end of 2008. Not extending these credits could devastate the momentum that renewable sources of energy have, and continue our dependence on dirty nonrenewable fossil fuels. The bill that would have lengthened the credits was turned down in a Senate vote of 59-40, where 60 were needed for it to advance. One of the Senators couldn’t be bothered to turn up to cast the deciding vote. It was John McCain.

This is but one example in a disturbing trend since 2005, where John McCain seems to disappear off the face of the Earth every time there is a vote on renewable energy. Remember the economic stimulus package the government gave out? There was an amendment to include clean energy incentives in the bill. John McCain once again was missing from action. With wind turbines, solar panels, and talk of renewable energy in his campaign commercials, John McCain talks a big game on energy. But the straight talk express doesn’t seem to walk a straight line.

It’s unfortunate, this could have been an election with two green presidents. In 2000 it may have been, but John McCain is no longer the Maverick he once was. Now, John McCain is a sidekick. Along with George Bush, John McCain supports offshore drilling in environmentally sensitive areas even though Bush’s down Dept. of Energy says it wouldn’t lower the price of gas. Along with Bush, McCain supports the billions of dollars in tax breaks that are being given to the oil companies. Bush promised before his election that he would cap greenhouse gas emissions. Will McCain stand by his predecessor here as well?

McCain is so obsessed with the idea of nuclear power, it’s a testament to his campaign staff that he isn’t glowing a bright green. He doesn’t seem to understand that building nuclear power plants are unreasonably expensive and very time consuming. There’s a reason that there has been billions of dollars of investment into wind and solar, but zilch in to nuclear. The free market rejects it.

Now it’s time for the free will of the American people to reject John McCain, and elect Barack Obama. A secure energy future without catastrophic climate change is at stake.

Like I said, I’ll be having many more posts on this issue, but the point of it all is to make sure you know that I am DEAD CERTAIN that if you elect Obama, we can solve our energy crisis and combat climate change. If you elect McCain, you reap what you sow.

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