Friday, August 29, 2008

Old Enemies Are The Best Enemies

I thought Russia was a toothless tiger? Well, it was until the developing world dumped all of its cash in Russia for oil and gas. Now Russia is growing its weak military and expanding its influence as far as it can.

Russian giant Gazprom is the largest extractor of natural gas in the world and is second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves. Russia, in an effort to gain tight control over the energy business, seized Gazprom with a token and undervalued purchase of shares in 2005. Now it appears that the company is open to all investors and is technically no longer “owned” by the Russian Government. But is the damage already done?

Oil and gas tax revenues account for a large percentage of Russia’s “working capital”. So would that make Russia a one trick pony? Yes, but with $31 Billion in Gazprom sales and 16% of all the worlds natural gas production… that is one hell of a trick! All of this spells out that Russia has the money to expand its influence. It is expanding that influence in Georgia right now. Russia is frightened that the US and the NATO are gaining many foot holds in former Soviet republics. And, we are. Poland, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine have all been romanced by NATO and the US. If the Russians were to enter Poland we would be obligated to send troops and force them out.

Is this a return to the Cold War? No, maybe the “Chilly Conflict” but not a “Cold War.” The US has just retained permission from Poland to park defensive missile batteries in Russia’s back yard. The Czech Republic and the Ukraine are considering and have considered similar deals. This makes Russia nervous and in their eyes this recalculates the formula for MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction. Thus their entry into Georgia to do a little flexing and saber rattling.

What? I thought we didn’t have to worry about nuclear war any more?

When did we stop? As long as one country possesses a nuclear device we will have to worry about it being used. This is why we have parked defensive measures in Eastern Europe, to defend ourselves against the threat that most of us have forgotten about. A very real threat that has never gone away. In fact, even though the US and Russia have enjoyed a de-escalation over the past 20ish years the world has seen an escalation in or proliferation in the number of countries that have nuke capabilities.

When Russian and the former republics were dirt poor in the 90s trading in nuclear secrets was all the rage and a good way to earn some money. Information and material was traded all over the world. Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and many more have enjoyed the fire-sale discount of nuclear know-how thanks to Russia’s lean years. As previously stated those “lean” years are a memory and Russia enjoys top billing as an energy giant.

So what next? Will Russia go too far? History says yes. Russia will over extend itself adventuring into former republics. It will re-take its role as the traditional bad-guy that the US has had to play for the past 10 years and it will over state its potential and underestimate its rivals. I see only one change -bigger pocket books to dwindle.

So dust off that copy of “Red Dawn” or “The Hunt for Red October”. Our favorite villain is back with deep pockets and wayward ambitions!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Question "The Ben".

Since I have been writing this column for the Progressive Journal I have received a great deal of feedback and pleasant criticism. No matter who I encounter when it comes to this column folks all have one critique in common, “Do you think anyone in Pageland knows what you are talking about” or “Don’t you think you are talking over the heads of most people in Pageland?” Even if these observations are true, that is not the point.

Because I have been given this wonderful soapbox on which to bloviate I want to raise the level of debate by informing my readers of their obligation to be informed and when informed, engaged. This above all is my goal. There is no way for me to accomplish this goal if I speak from a least common denominator position. Or, in words and concepts that all of us can easily understand. If I “dumb-down” my opinions to make them more accessible I do damage to the truths I wish to ruminate on. Many of the issues of our day are NOT accessible. Rather these issues are complicated and require more than basic understanding. Such is our world and it appears that it will only become more complex as time passes.

If I were to take on the lie perpetuated by the Right-Wing political hit-squads that Barrack Obama is a Muslim, I would have to give you not just his correct history but also a brief history of Islam. I would have to touch on issues of religion, conflict and how there is a long history of the fear of different religions being used to control the masses. I could do this in simple language and remove any information that might be difficult to understand or believe, but I would then be playing fast-and-loose with the truth and using fear and emotion to convince you rather than facts. I would rather have you read the correct and often lengthy truth rather than read a summarized version that appeals to the masses because it reads easy and only touches our baser instincts.

I think the people of Pageland are a very smart and savvy bunch and I think they should expect more from their information sources, politicians and each other. Yes, there are those folks that think that Russia just invaded the Georgia to our Southwest. And that the South Ossetians must be a misprint for South Atlantians. But, those folks do not dominate our community. Perhaps one day my column might even inspire someone to pick up an atlas or Google a term I have used. Perhaps one day at Beth’s Country Kitchen or Plyler’s Bar and Grill I will be asked if I think the use of measured force in Iraq and the largest diplomatic effort since the Marshall Plan constitute Smart-Power, and if so, does that then disprove the idea that both Hard and Soft Power are needed to be most effective in International Relations. Perhaps.

Until that day I will continue to give it to you “between the eyes” rather than sugar coated. I will use colloquialisms and foreign concepts that many will have to look up online or in a dictionary. I use these in the hopes that am coaxing you into being better informed and in turn more engaged. Less American Idol and more Less Evening News and more of your own original research. Less reacting to what your politicians are doing to you, and more influencing your own life.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Take a look!

Bad Ass!


I apologize to my regular readers for going so long without a post. As many of you know I have opened a gun store and that has made me very busy! So to make up for it I have posted three updates!!!

Thall Shall Not Question "The One"

The Presidential race is now in high gear. Vice Presidential announcements are just days away. The conventions are around the corner and each candidates spin machines are running strong. Right now we are only allowed to see scheduled very rehearsed moments. Last week, Obama encountered an unrehearsed moment. How did he do? He failed.

Obama was confronted by a Las Vegas TV man about his flip flop on energy policy. Jon Ralston: "You were against drilling and tapping the petroleum reserve, but you've reversed on that. Now you're for both. You want to compromise on energy. So you don't really favor drilling, but for political reasons you're going to change your position. This is change that we can believe in, Senator?" Never mind that Obama’s current stance on drilling (the stance McCain has always had) is the only sane stance, on to his answer when cornered!

Obama responded, “What I said is that we can't drill our way out of the problem, and that's what I've said from the start. Uh, what I've also said is that we've got to focus on alternative energy. What I've also said, uh, is that there's room for domestic production in the overall energy mix. I'm not going to be dogmatic about it. That's not being political. That's common sense, Jon, to give relief to the American people, but more importantly to set ourselves on a path of energy efficiency over the long term.”

So why Senator where you ever against more drilling? What has changed in the past few weeks? Are you only now aware of the energy situation in this country? Or have your political advisors warned you that continuing the Liberal Democrat party line on drilling will do damage to your campaign?

It goes on, Jon Ralston: "Well, there's a story out today about how you [Obama] supported the Dick Cheney bill, the energy bill 2005." [Interestingly Obama voted for the 2005 bill and McCain did not!] "That bill gave subsidies to the oil and gas companies. McCain opposed it, saying that those are tax breaks for the oil companies, but Barack Obama favored it."

OBAMA: “Hold on a second. Uh, eh, er, you know, Jon, I, uh, er -- I -- I thought I was, de -- uh -- taking to you as opposed to debating John McCain but I'm happy to let you, uh, serve as his proxy. Uh, the, eh, uhh, we -- The fact of the matter is that I supported that energy bill, uh, saying at the time that those tax breaks were wrong, but also recognizing that this was the largest investment in alternative energy in history and that it was important for us for the solar industry, uh, to get off the ground in places like Nevada, for wind to get kicked off the ground, that that was something that we had to do.”

Actually, I applaud Obama for supporting this bill for the exact reason he did. Solar does need more funding. But the story here is his treatment of the reporter that DARED ask a difficult and necessary question. How dare this person question “The One” aka Obama. When put in a corner Obama accuses Jon Ralston of being a McCain operative.


This is laughable. 99% of all media is completely in the tank for Obama. It is obvious. And the one guy out of hundreds that have recently interviewed “The One” and dared confront him is accused of being a McCain “proxy”. Too funny! So Obama gets a taste of his own medicine and how does he react? As expected he makes a rookie mistake and in the process reveals himself to be immature and unready to lead.

This political season promises to be a lively one. Look for the media to circle the wagons around Obama in the face of any criticism. Look for Obama’s camp to accuse anyone who dares question “The One” of being a McCain supporter, ignorant or worse a racist.

Wake the kids and call the neighbors!!! It’s politics time in America again!!!

Nice Try John Spratt

I recently received a mailer for Representative John Spratt, our democratic congressman from 5th district (14 counties in all). At first glance you would think that John Spratt and I don’t differ too much on the issues. It even took a “trained” political contrarian like me a second reading to catch that Rep. Spratt was not like me at all; rather the mailer was just a “least common denominator” representation of his views. Or in other words, John Spratt paid someone good money to create a mailer that watered down his actual stances and voting record to a point to where it would appear to be acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

Nice Try.

It starts with an innocuous introduction about his offices and background. He says that he is “accessible” or at least his offices are in Rock Hill, Sumter and Darlington and that his staff has helped “hundreds of folks” receive a “fair shake out of the federal government”. The reverse of the letter states his “positions on a few key issues.” These issues are listed within quotations so these are the words of Rep. John Spratt from the 5th Congressional District, a Democrat, a Liberal. He says he is for more drilling if it lowers gas prices; in fact he is “for anything responsible that will bring down prices.” Fair enough, strange to hear that talk coming from the side of the aisle that has made access to oil so expensive. Everyone knows that Democrats are the party of the environmentalists. Perhaps Mr. Spratt should ponder the responsibility of ZERO new atomic energy facilities in the US in 40 years more than half of that time Spratt has been in office (25 years). Perhaps Spratt should ponder the responsibility of us sending $700,000,000,000 (700 Billion) over seas for our energy needs when a large chunk of that could stay home or at least in North America.

Spratt confuses the issue by going on about how many permits and acres the oil companies already have to drill on, suggesting that other places like the Gulf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) shouldn’t be explored or drilled. The number of permits and acreage available is immaterial Rep. Spratt if your investment-to-return ratios are better elsewhere. If I could drill in Mudville and get 10 Barrels a day but drill in Ruby and get 25 barrels a day for the same investment, where would I drill first? Or if I only have money to plant one field with melons and one of my two fields cost twice as much to prepare and to harvest which field do I choose? These are the dilemmas facing the oil producers. Spratt tows the party line using the silly talking points issued to him by Democrats much more powerful than he and tries to turn it in to something palatable for all of us.

On Iraq he says he has “traveled to Iraq four times” suggesting the trip makes him more expert. Hardly. It would be what he did with his time there that made him more expert. I have traveled to Phoenix more than four times to change flights, but have never stayed, am I now an expert on Phoenix? Mr. Spratt, tell us more about your conversations with the troops on the ground. What are you hearing from the Generals and Colonels? The problem is, the Democrat Representative from the 5th District can’t do that. Because to do that would betray his party. A party that has invested in defeat. A party that has made the mission in Iraq harder and more dangerous by giving indirect aid and direct comfort to our enemies. If he discussed what he has seen and what he is hearing from those who know and are expert on Iraq and are in a position of power in the country of Iraq he would have to confess that his party’s positions on Iraq and his own behavior/vote/positions, either by act or omission are and have been less than helpful and often close to Treason. John Spratt will find NO QUARTER with me on this issue. His positions and his party are irresponsible. They have taken up with the blame-America-first and the anti-war crowd rather than do what nations do in a time of war, you pull together. As a son of the South Spratt was no-doubt raised better. He his partially protected in Washington because his party keeps him from the microphones and cameras on these tough issues? As well the media is either so inept that they don’t know to ask the tough question or so biased as to keep tough questions about the war for Republicans only. Shame on you Rep. Spratt.

On Health Care he starts with a dangerous premise that “…every American [has] affordable medical care.” Can you point to that in the Constitution Mr. Spratt? Does that fall under “necessary and proper” or interstate commerce? The Federal Government has no charter to provide health-care nor monkey with its affordability. It certainly doesn’t have the right to tell States that they MUST pay for 20% of a Federal program!!!

On the Budget Rep. John Spratt goes on about his work balancing the budget in the 90’s, before the dot-com bubble burst, before 9/11, before Katrina, before the war on Terror and the War for Energy Security (Iraq). Well, whoop-tee-doo! If I was Bill Gates I bet I could balance my check book with a bit more ease and security. But, I am not, so it is often difficult for me when times get tough. The heady days of the 90’s are gone and we are paying the price for it now. I no more expected John Spratt to be clairvoyant enough to predict our situation today than I expected George W. Bush. But now that the causes of our economic situation are clear, I at least expect honesty. Seems I get none from Democrat Representative John Spratt from the 5th Congressional District. Honesty would admit that the globalized nature of our economy has given us our current situation and a temporary negative budget might be a necessity for the short term. A balanced budget should be the norm of course and we have gone too long in the “Red”, but let’s be clear headed about the situation.

How could a Democrat be a Democrat without talking about education? As with health-care, please point to the passage in the US Constitution that gives the Federal Government the right or obligation to deal in education and to dictate to States how we should educate our children? Increasing Federal spending on education has never worked. Yet we keep spending. Spratt’s mailer is even targeted towards me, it suggests a decrease in loan repayment interest rates and more money for need based grants and loans that I have taken advantage of in the past for college. Why don’t we let states handle the education, we can still have Pell Grants and Student Loans but lets do it on a State by State and community by community basis. In Ireland part of your local taxes goes to paying for local kids to go to college. The benefit for this kind of taxing and spending is obvious. Who knows best how much to tax and where to spend your money, John Spratt, a man who you can’t even pick up the phone and contact, or someone in your community? Federal interference in education has been a complete failure. Shame on John Spratt and all that support it.

Finally, Spratt has two sentences on taxes. In these two short sentences he manages to clandestinely promote his party line that the “rich” should be taxed more and are not paying their fair share. Well Sir, lets do some research.

Percentage of Federal Personal Income Tax Paid (2006)

(Folks that make over: ) (Percentage of total taxes paid to the Feds)

Top 1% $388,806 39.89

Top 5% $153,542 60.14

Top 10% $108,904 70.79

Top 25% $64,702 86.27

Top 50% $31,987 97.01

Bottom 50% <$31,987 2.99

Source: Internal Revenue Service (via

This means that those that make over $100,000 dollars are paying over 70% of the taxes. Those that make over $31,000 are paying 97 percent of the taxes. 97%!!!!!!!

Let me translate a bit more. 40% of the taxes are paid by the so called “rich”. 20% of the taxes are paid by the “well off”. 10% of the taxes are paid by the “upper middle class”. 25% of the taxes are paid by the “middle class”. Less than 5% of taxes are paid by the people who use the programs the taxes pay for. If you think all your money is going to Iraq, you are VERY WRONG. The majority goes into Federal Funded Entitlement Programs!!!

How about a mailer that shows these numbers Representative John Spratt from South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District?

Remember Terrrorism?

To most of us Terrorism is 9/11, or roadside bombs in Iraq, or Palestinian Suicide Bombers. How many of us are directly affected by a terrorist attack? How many of us have ever been the immediate target of primary target? How many of us even know what the difference is between “ordinary” political violence and terrorism?

Terrorism, the term, has only been meaningful to most Americans post-9/11 and since that time so few of us have advanced our understanding of what “terrorism” is and how to prevent and defend against it. This includes elected officials and those on the supposed front lines.

Terrorism 101, Violence as Theatre

The passengers of the planes and victims in the buildings on September 11th were the “immediate victims” of the terrorists but were not the “primary victims/targets”. The primary target and aspired-to victim was you and I. The spectacular attacks were merely theatrics designed to facilitate the real damage, the terrorizing of millions. The act of blowing up planes and buildings without any media coverage would only result in a few 100,000 people being actually affected. But, when broadcasted world wide it then can affect billions of people. If no one goes to see the movie or play can it have much effect? If you never heard of it do you even know that you are missing it? The same for terrorism, it is only effective if it is known.

Because of this fact the Media, some times wittingly sometimes not, plays a necessary role in terrorism. And, the more free and democratic a society, with little to no government controls on media, the larger the potential for effective terrorist attacks.

Terrorism 101, Three Ways Terrorists Win: Over React, Under React and Under Estimate

Terrorism works when the primary victim, say… America, over reacts to an attack by either retaliating against too broad a target or retaliating against the wrong target. This over reaction then lands right into the Propaganda wheel-house of a proficient terrorist organization. The improper actions are turned into recruiting material and new generations of terrorists are more easily spawned. (Important to remember that terrorists “spawn” without us contributing to their propaganda, over reactions act as an accelerant, not a necessary catalyst.)

Terrorism works when the primary victim, say… America, under reacts to an attack by retaliating too late, against the wrong target, or not at all. Bill Clinton pulled our troops out of Mogadishu after the “Black Hawk Down” incident. Ronald Reagan pulled us out of Lebanon after two bombings. Both of these under reactions to terrorism emboldened our terrorist enemies, giving them confidence to strike us. Osama Bin Laden in his “Declaration of War” (on America and the West) speech invoked both Beirut, Lebanon and Mogadishu,Somalia as signs of American weakness:

“We say to the Defence Secretary that his talk can induce a grieving
mother to laughter! and shows the fears that had enshrined you all.
Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut
took place on 1983 CE (1403 A.H). You were turned into scattered
pits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly marines solders were killed.
And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made
you to leave Aden in less than twenty four hours!
But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where after
vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold
war leadership of the new world order you moved tens of
thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands
American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your
solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was
dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying
disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you.
Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and
promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for
withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew;
the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It
was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the
"chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic
cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu”

Terrorism works when the primary victim, say…America, under estimates terrorist capabilities, psychological and personal make up and motivations. Many of us think of terrorists as insane or cowards. Both of these characterizations are normal reactions to being terrorized; call it the “who could do such a thing syndrome”. Many of us think of terrorists as Muslim or Arab or “brown” people. I am fairly certain that Timothy McVeigh was neither Muslim, nor Arab nor brown. Terrorism is not a mental abnormality nor is it a tool of cowards. It is important to note that by most definitions of terrorism that Francis Marion would have been a top rate terrorist from the viewpoint of his enemies.

Many of us consider terrorists capabilities to be limited to large sensational attacks in locations like New York or L.A. We only think of the large attack rather than the small systematic one. By minimizing what we assume a terrorist capability to be and by misjudging capacity and mischaracterizing terrorists we under estimate who can be a terrorist, a terrorist’s means and where they might attack.

Terrorism 101, In your back yard.

Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed and Youssef Samir Megahed were arrested in Goose Creek, South Carolina on explosives charges last year, the two University of South Florida students were supposedly on their way to Myrtle Beach with a box of 22 rifle ammunition, a 5 gallon can of gasoline, homemade “fireworks” packed into a pipe and 25 feet of safety fuse. After further investigation a video was found on a laptop in the car that showed how to turn a toy remote control car in to a detonator. The narrative of the video suggests it is directed to suicide bombers and had been previously posted on YouTube.

In Fort Bragg, NC Ali Mahamed worked for the US Special Forces (Green Berets) and from time to time with the CIA. Mahamed was also working for Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda. Mahamed infiltrated and spied on the United States for years before being caught. One FBI agent suggested that Mahamed has actually taught both Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden in terrorist tactics.

Terrorism 101, Our Apathy and Misunderstanding Fuel Terrorism

Terrorism requires our reaction to the primary terrorist incident. For our purposes the terrorist “tree” in the woods does NOT make a sound if we are not there to hear it. You may still have political violence but it is our reaction to it that makes it terrorism. When we react to terrorism with Apathy and Misunderstanding we make the effects of terrorism worse. By not understanding the grievances of terrorists and not seeking out its roots and causes we doom ourselves to more terrorist attacks in number and greater attacks in affect. When we don’t concern ourselves with what our politicians are doing to detect, deter, and defend us from terrorism we doom ourselves to over reactions, under reactions and “mis-underestimations”. When we don’t understand the nuances of terrorism we allow our media outlets to sensationalize terrorism and there-by act as a terrorist force-multiplier worsening the effects and hampering the detection, deterrence and defense.

I hope this handy terrorism synopsis is useful. If you think you are many times removed from the front lines of terrorism you would be wrong. Your proximity to the ballot box puts you smack-dab on the front line with major responsibilities for our nation now and in the future. An ignorant vote is as bad as no vote, maybe worse. Accept your responsibility and inform yourself about these issues and vote accordingly.

Benjamin Cook
Right-Wing Propagandist and Local Arms Dealer