A Bloody, Dangerous Game

The Middle East is dangerous, complicated, and generally just plain messed up. You may respond to that statement by saying, “Yeah, and the sun rose this morning,” or something less polite. But for all the turmoil that the region has been through in recent years it’s actually much worse right now.

A combination of shifting alliances, horrific blow-back from past adventures, and an ancient rivalry blowing up fast are converging rapidly into one regional conflict. Who is on whose side? Who might or might not be winning? It’s nearly impossible to tell, and that makes everything far more dangerous than ever.

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Flak Over Frack

There is probably no more contentious issue at the crossroads of politics and technology than hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process, where oil and gas drillers chew up rock deep in the earth, is responsible for the major oil boom that produced so much oil it collapsed into the current bust – with very low oil prices. It also creates a lot of environmental damage and, as a relatively new technology, is remarkably unregulated.

New rules were introduced for fracking on federal land on Friday by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Eagerly awaiting them were the drilling industry and environmentalists, both of which had a big stake in the regulations. If you are a long time follower of these procedures, or simply a cynic, it might come as no surprise that both sides are unhappy.

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Whither, Oil?

There is little more important to the US economy than the price of oil. In the last year, about $500B of gasoline alone was sold at gas stations across the nation, with another $180B in other fuel oil – about 3.9% of total GDP.

Despite its importance, no one is willing to predict where the price of oil will be in the future. The Economist said “If your correspondent could forecast that, he would be on a yacht reading The Economist rather than at a desk writing for it.” Indeed. It seems like a task for an idiot to even try, as Barataria has several times in the last year. We were so wrong about it that it might make sense to bet heavily in the opposite direction.

Low oil prices appear to be here to stay, at least through the year. The implications are worth talking about, even if we can’t be sure what happens after that.

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New Season, Old Stories

If we learned one thing this week in Minnesota, it’s that if you wait long enough something’s gotta give. Spring arrived this week and the air nearly sizzles with wet and warmth and life. As it always is, something had to happen eventually.

Everywhere except Congress, of course.

But aside from the entertainment we get from “leaders”, there are other sources of news. Here are three stories Barataria has been all over which had interesting developments in the last week.

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Grandstanding, not Governing

Unpatriotic! Unconstitutional! Treasonous! Illegal! The reaction to the letter signed by 47 Senators telling Iran that any treaty signed will be un-done in two years was swift and brutal. Some of the harshest condemnation came from those who oppose any agreement with Iran, too, so it wasn’t just Democrats this time. But was it really all those things that have been alleged?

The short answer is that today’s popular media always hyperventilates, so something this unprecedented had to test the limits of hyperbole. Sorry, this blasted through the stratosphere of outrage! But the real problem isn’t this one action, which we can be sure our foreign policy and our democratic-republic will survive. What is more troubling is the new standard set for obstruction and grandstanding that tells us nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to be accomplished in the next two years.

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The Original Source

The internet is a wide, rolling river of information. It can be treacherous and dangerous to wade into if you’re not careful. If you’re looking for a cool drink of truth, the muddy brown of this mighty Mississippi of data often has a harsh stench of bias bubbling along with the waves. What can a reader thirsty for knowledge do?

The answer is to seek the source – the cool, clear stream that feeds into the torment at the headwaters. I call it the “Urquelle”, a German word meaning “original source” favored in the mountains and rolling hills that are the source of so many great rivers in Bavaria and Bohemia. This process of seeking out primary sources is valuable not just for writers, for whom primary sources have long been a staple of good, useful prose. As surely as reading is writing, today’s discerning reader should also seek the Urquelle.
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Iranian Ambition, the Great Chessgame

Netanyahu’s tone was measured and direct, fitting the prestige of the chamber he was addressing. “That deal would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — it would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them,” he told Congress last Tuesday. It was classic Netanyahu in many ways – bold, dire, and ultimately a load of cowpuckey.

Netanyahu can’t claim to know what is happening in the “P5+1” talks to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and if he does know he can’t prove it publicly. These talks have been going on for nine years now and have always hinged on one sticking point – Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons. Any other result would have made the talks much easier and they would have been over by now. But these are important talks for reasons even larger than weapons of mass destruction.

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