Weekend Reading: Oil, Iran, and Greener Capitalism

Sun, Jun 29, 2008 | Jared Woodard

Economy, More to Life, Politics

Here are some articles of interest we found this weekend.  Subscribers, make sure you’re logged in and check out our weekend portfolio update. Also, warning: information and ruminations dealing with ethics, justice, and good governance ahead, so stop reading if you are allergic to any of those things.

  • Michael Greenberger is the most cogent defender of the view that the recent parabolic move in oil prices is due largely to structural factors enabling manipulative speculation.  In this episode of The Disciplined Investor podcast, he explains his position.  Video of Greenberger’s testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.
  • Andrew Horowitz follows up with some comments of his own, noting that the Enron Loophole (the purported enabler of this price manipulation) was opened in 2000 by then Senator Phil Gramm.  Gramm has also been linked to the late 1990s round of banking deregulation that made the subprime crisis possible, and then as a vice-chairman at UBS used his political contacts to roll back restrictions on predatory lending.  Gramm now serves as the general co-chairman of one of the current presidential campaigns.  Still.  Even after all of these revelations have come out.
  • Seymour Hersh, one of the greatest investigative journalists alive today, has an extremely important piece about ongoing American intelligence and destabilization efforts in Iran.  One of the most disturbing revelations here is that the CIA is funding and supporting radical groups with links to al Qaeda:

    The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists. [our emphasis]

  • Let’s pause for a quick syllogism.  Call it a reductio ad absurdum of contemporary US national security policy, on two counts.

    (1) If a government actively supports al Qaeda, the United States should depose that government by force. (premise, per the “Bush doctrine”)
    (2) In 2003, Iraq was actively supporting al Qaeda. (premise, per smoke and mirrors)
    (3) Therefore, the United States should have deposed the government of Iraq. (1, 2, modus ponens)

    As problematic as it may be, let’s grant (1) for the moment. Now, we know that this argument is unsound, since (2) was always false. But we can replace (2) and run the argument again:

    (1) If a government actively supports al Qaeda, the United States should depose that government by force. (premise, per Bush doctrine)
    (4) In 2008, the government of the United States is actively supporting al Qaeda. (premise, per Hersh)
    (5) Therefore, the United States should depose the government of the United States. (1, 4, modus ponens)

    The two counts, in case it isn’t clear, are a) that “al Qaeda” is and always was an ambiguous term, such that basing military invasions on connections with the same is/was a weird idea; b) the US should quit supporting fundamentalists in its bid to quash fundamentalists.  You’d think we would’ve learned our lesson in Afghanistan.

  • James Gustave Speth in Barron’s offers some ideas for evolving a less environmentally destructive version of capitalism.  He concedes that this would entail slower or no growth, but rejects the implicit premise that GDP = human well being (as we have discussed previously), which means that an economy focused on improving human society, rather than just infinite meaningless expansion, might not be a bad thing at all.

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Jared Woodard specializes in trading volatility as an asset class. With over a decade of experience trading options and other volatility products ... Read More


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