Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Crocodile Tears from a $nake

SilentPatriot at Crooks and Liars has the video, and Gleen Greenwald does the pointwise takedown of Michael Mukasey's tearful appeal to let Bu$hCo be bygones and continue their oversightless warrantless spying on the American public.

...Michael Mukasey has conclusively proven himself to be an exact replica of Alberto Gonzales -- slavishly loyal to every presidential whim and unbound by even the most minimal constraints of truth while serving those whims. Speaking in San Francisco this week, Mukasey demanded that the President be given new warrantless eavesdropping powers and that lawbreaking telecoms be granted amnesty. To make his case, Mukasey teared up while exploiting the 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11 and said this:

Officials "shouldn't need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that's the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that's the call that we didn't know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."These are multiple falsehoods here, and independently, this whole claim makes no sense. There is also a pretty startling new revelation here about the Bush administration's pre-9/11 failure that requires a good amount of attention.

Even under the "old" FISA, no warrants are required where the targeted person is outside the U.S. (Afghanistan) and calls into the U.S. Thus, if it's really true, as Mukasey now claims, that the Bush administration knew about a Terrorist in an Afghan safe house making Terrorist-planning calls into the U.S., then they could have -- and should have -- eavesdropped on that call and didn't need a warrant to do so. So why didn't they? Mukasey's new claim that FISA's warrant requirements prevented discovery of the 9/11 attacks and caused the deaths of 3,000 Americans is disgusting and reckless, because it's all based on the lie that FISA required a warrant for targeting the "Afghan safe house." It just didn't. Nor does the House FISA bill require individual warrants when targeting a non-U.S. person outside the U.S.

Independently, even if there had been a warrant requirement for that call -- and there unquestionably was not -- why didn't the Bush administration obtain a FISA warrant to listen in on 9/11-planning calls from this "safe house"? Independently, why didn't the administration invoke FISA's 72-hour emergency warrantless window to listen in on those calls? If what Muskasey said this week is true -- and that's a big "if" -- his revelation about this Afghan call that the administration knew about but didn't intercept really amounts to one of the most potent indictments yet about the Bush administration's failure to detect the plot in action. Contrary to his false claims, FISA -- for multiple reasons -- did not prevent eavesdropping on that call...

That's funny. So why didn't the 9/11 Commission ever hear about this call? They heard from multiple FBI agents who were raising Hell about the Saudi nationals planning to hijack airliners and fly them into buildings. They heard about the CIA trying to warn Bu$hie in August 2001 only to be told "You've covered your ass now".

But nothing about any phone calls from Afghanistan.

The Master Thespian Award does not go to Michael Mukasey.

Not because he's not acting, but because his performance is amazing implausible and poorly executed.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Key to a Successful $urge: Keep it Moving in Volume

After all, it doesn't matter who ends up using the products of General Dynamics and the Company, or whom they get used on, as long as the cash keeps flowing and production stays where they want it.

As Juan Cole points out, as the US Air Force targets more civilian areas around Basra, and Iran tells everyone to cool it, the Iraqi army continues to turn over its weapons to Sadr's Mahdi.

Chris Floyd points out the real likely cause of the friction: oil.

In addition, another motive behind the attack on the oil port of Basra has emerged. As noted in the Guardian by Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer persecuted and driven into exile by Saddam Hussein, the escalation of the civil war is also designed to crush the oil workers' union in Basra, which adamantly opposes the "oil laws" now being pushed by Bush and al-Maliki: measures which will consign the nation's oil wealth to the long-term control and domination of Western oil giants. Ramadani also notes that the brutal operation is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's violent repression of "insurgents" in the same area in 1991 -- while U.S. forces sat by and watched. Ramadani:

Maliki declared on Thursday that there will be no negotiations and that he was leading the Iraqi forces in a battle to the finish. An elated George Bush gave Maliki his full support - the "kiss of death", as one Baghdad resident put it. Maliki and British officers strove to portray the Basra operation as the independent decision of the Iraqi government. That was quickly proved to be wishful thinking as US planes flew to the rescue of government forces. Bombing missions included Basra, Hilla, Nassiriya and Baghdad. Hundreds, and, some report, thousands, of people are believed to have been killed or injured.....

A trade union leader in Basra reminded me this week that March was the month in 1991 when Saddam launched his infamous campaign to crush an uprising, which began in Basra and spread to most of the country. This week's attacks, he said, were much more ferocious that those 17 years ago. There are other disturbing echoes: Saddam's forces were being observed by US and British planes, which were in full control of Iraqi air space as the March uprising was so brutally crushed....

Many Iraqis are linking what they regard as a premeditated and unprovoked attack on a relatively peaceful city with Cheney's visit and Washington's insistence that the US-trained Iraqi armed forces should do more of the ground-fighting, while the occupation forces resort to air attacks and emergency support.

They are also linking it to the fact that oil and dock workers' unions, declared illegal, are in full control of the ports and the major oil fields. These unions are strongly opposed to the US-backed oil law to privatise the Iraqi industry and allow the major oil companies to control production and marketing. The law is also opposed by the Sadr movement, which was expected to win a decisive victories in forthcoming elections.

Once again, the occupiers have miscalculated the depth of resentment in Iraq. And once again, the occupation is seen by many Iraqis as a divisive force, the root of the bulk of the violence. For most Iraqis, it is the occupation which threatens to ignite civil war. Only an end to the occupation and complete withdrawal can put Iraq on the long and tortuous path of rebuilding its tormented lands.

This is really too easy for Sith Lord Cheneyburton. Keep the Unions cowed, keep the flow of oil down to a minimum to keep the price up, keep the turnover of weapons high in Iraq, and implicate the Iranians. Business for the Company is positively booming.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chaos Makes Money

For some, it's quite lucrative:

...Nobody wins when a home enters foreclosure — neither the borrower, who is evicted, nor the lender, who takes a loss when the home is resold. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway.

The reality is very different. Behind the scenes in these dramas, a small army of law firms and default servicing companies, who represent mortgage lenders, have been raking in mounting profits. These little-known firms assess legal fees and a host of other charges, calculate what the borrowers owe and draw up the documents required to remove them from their homes.

As the subprime mortgage crisis has spread, the volume of the business has soared, and firms that handle loan defaults have been the primary beneficiaries. Law firms, paid by the number of motions filed in foreclosure cases, have sometimes issued a flurry of claims without regard for the requirements of bankruptcy law, several judges say.

Much as Wall Street’s mortgage securitization machinery helped to fuel questionable lending across the United States, default, or foreclosure, servicing operations have been compounding the woes of troubled borrowers. Court documents say that some of the largest firms in the industry have repeatedly submitted erroneous affidavits when moving to seize homes and levied improper fees that make it harder for homeowners to get back on track with payments. Consumer lawyers call these operations “foreclosure mills.”

“They get paid by the volume and speed with which they process these foreclosures,” said Mal Maynard, director of the Financial Protection Law Center, a nonprofit firm in Wilmington, N.C.

John and Robin Atchley of Waleska, Ga., have experienced dubious foreclosure practices at first hand. Twice during a four-month period in 2006, the Atchleys were almost forced from their home when Countrywide Home Loans, part of Countrywide Financial, and the law firm representing it said they were delinquent on their mortgage. Countrywide’s lawyers withdrew their motions to seize the Atchleys’ home only after the couple proved them wrong in court...

But pity the poor Congresscritters. Seems like they'll get no votes in November if they don't try to re-regulate the mortgage industry, and no money from their financial ba$e if they do. Now there's a case of being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea of constituents.

The new Federal Agency being drawn up to have oversight over the underground economy of hedge funds and mortgage speculators is conspicuous for it's stress on non-regulation and heavy on bully boy powers.

It's classical Bu$hie doctrine: you're either with 'im [and contributing nicely to the Cause, no doubt] or a rogue element against him.

...Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. is taking a stand against supporters of stricter regulations...

...Although the proposal would impose the first regulation of hedge funds and private equity funds, that oversight would have a light touch, enabling the government to do little beyond collecting information — except in times of crisis.

The regulatory umbrella created in the 1930s would grow wider, with power concentrated in fewer agencies. But that authority would be limited, doing virtually nothing to regulate the many new financial products whose unwise use has been a culprit in the current financial crisis.

The plan hands vast new authority to the Federal Reserve, essentially formalizing what has been an improvised process over the last three weeks. But some fear that the central bank’s role in creating the current mess will undercut its ability to clean it up...

And as far as the Preznitial Candidates are concerned? Its Chicago School Rulez, baby. You have just begun to smell the blood of economic predation in the name of policy.

If you can get out of the water, do it now, because the big fins are doing the feeding frenzy thing, and the small fish get eaten first.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rats and the Sinking Ship

myiq2xu speaks of the troll campaign to set Democrat against Democrat.

Go read it.

Dave Johnson concurs.

...My main concern in the primaries is winning in November. I can't support taking self-interest over the interests of the party in November. When you run a scorched-earth primary campaign you reduce the chances of keeping people motivated. You also give tremendous ammunition to the opposition. In California we had a scorched-earth primary campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor between Westly and Angeledes. Then, during the general election all Schwarzenegger had to do was run ads with the same scripts that Westly had used and coast to victory. The result is that now we have a huge budget deficit and the school budget is going to be cut 10%. And the health budget. And everything else. Thanks guys.

The same thing is happening now between Obama and Clinton.

Hillary says John McCain is qualified to be President but Obama is not. How does that help Democrats win?

Then a top Obama aide calls Hillary a "monster." How does that help Democrats win?

And then there are the comment trolls who are disrupting the blogs. My criticism on this one goes almost entirely to the Obama trolls, who are threatening and intimidating anyone who dares suggest Obama is not the progressive essiah. Yesterday, for example, Kos had a post about how there are too few women in high-level office. Obama supporters were actually complaining that a post like this gives Hillary an advantage, that women shouldn't be in office, etc. I know better than to determine whether a candidate should be nominated based on comments that supporters leave at blogs, but the Obama trolls have been disrupting so many sites ... You pretty much can't read the comments at DailyKos anymore, for example. How does this help Democrats win?

I'm not even sure that some of these are not Republican operatives being sent in to stir up trouble inside the Democratic party. In fact, I suspect that this is happening.

I think that both candidates have an obligation at this point to ask their supporters to back off, chill, lighten up, whatever. Tensions are running high and a real leader would be working to unite the party, and bring people back together. Neither candidate is doing this today and neither candidate gets my endorsement until they do.

I have said this before: the candidate I want has the instinct to jump in and defend other progressives.

Now with that in mind, I want to address one particular meme that is circulating. Obama supporters accuse the Clinton campaign of "using race." I am so sick of this divisive, false accusation. It is not true and it divides Democrats. It is destructive to all of us. The same COULD be said of the Obama campaign and misogyny, by the way, if you applied the same standards - someone loosely associated with the campaign saying something that COULD be interpreted as such-and-such. At least, if you consider the word "bitch" and associated characterizations as misogynist. I haven't seen the "N" word used anywhere, but I HAVE seen the "B" word used.

People being stupid and saying stupid things is NOT a campaign strategy. People who support a candidate are not "the campaign." And everyone knows that racism and misogyny are not going to win over the base in Democratic primaries.

We are all in this together. There is really no substantive difference between Obama's and Clinton's policies. They are both solid progressives and either would be a great President. OUR goal must be to get the conservative movement out of the White House and Congress and start restoring our traditions of democracy...

Let's make it clear, the rats aren't Clinton supporters. Nor Obama supporters.

The rats are war pigs. The rats support the rule of the robber barons. The rats support John Mc$ame and whoever his Vice-Preznitial fourth branch of guvmint pick is.

Not that Mc$ame will pick him. Or her, if Secretary Supertanker gets the job. The Company will take care of that,

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Re $urgence

Looks like the $urge is succeeding beyond the D.o'D.'s wildest dreams:

...Local residents said the southern sections of Basra, mostly poor and heavily populated, were still controlled by the Mahdi Army on Wednesday night. One Mahdi commander bragged by telephone that after Iraqi armored vehicles failed to gain access to his neighborhood, the Army units fled and his fighters spray-painted Koranic slogans on the vehicles. The claim could not be independently verified.

Both Mahdi and Iraqi Army officers agreed that some of the heaviest fighting took place in the western Basra neighborhood of Hayaniya, where fighters attacked the Iraqi forces and then retreated into the neighborhood.

Col. Abbas al-Tamimi, media officer for the 14th Iraqi Army Division operating in the city, said he expected the fighting to escalate. “The gunmen have heavier and more sophisticated weapons than we have,” he said...

I wonder if anyone kept track of all that hardware we gave them to go after Al Qaeda?

...Abu Iman barely flinched when the Iraqi Government ordered his unit of special police to move against al-Mahdi Army fighters in Basra.

His response, while swift, was not what British and US military trainers who have spent the past five years schooling the Iraqi security forces would have hoped for. He and 15 of his comrades took off their uniforms, kept their government-issued rifles and went over to the other side without a second thought...

So let me know if the al-Mahdi Army puts the new FEL megawatt laser cannon in the field before we do.

With all that oil money, the Iraqis- or their Company managers- can probably pay more reliably for top seekrit weapons from the contractors than the D.o'D. can.

Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again

It's one definition of insanity.

Digby points to Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill:

...Many...say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: We'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices--from MoveOn.org to the magazine we write for, The Nation--have gone this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.

This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway U. S. policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders...

Obama has come the closest to actively opposing the war, but the reality is he's adopted one Clinton tactic of not trying to antagonize Bu$hie's Ba$e.

This is an incredible mistake. Meanwhile, the Company trolls with a minimal amount of work have turned both campaigns into mutual hate-fests, which is exactly what the Company and McSame want. The energy good people should be expending fighting the War and the great unraveling of our republic by the Republicans is spent vilifying the party opposition.

Which is just what the Company wants.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feed-forward Process

Dear Leader may have muzzled the NOAA, but it seems the ESA still has satellites.

A chunk three times the size of Manhattan just fell off Antarctica, and another the size of Connecticut is ready to go.

The summer in Southern hemisphere just ended, but like the North, there's a couple of weeks before the deep freeze starts building ice again.

On the other hand, now that winter's over in Iraq, things are heating up again. The Mouthpiece of Sauron tells us this presents all sorts of opportunites. This is while Sauron himself assures us the continued War in Iraq is just as essential as pardoning Dick Nixon.

Which "everybody thinks" was a good idea.

I couldn't agree more.

Because, obviously, if anyone thinks any differently, they aren't Real Amerikans as far as the Right People are concerned.

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Sweet Transhumanist from Transylvania

...its just a hop to the left...

I'll see your transhumanism and raise you Chaos.

Transhumanism is an Utopian idea. But a reality-based nightmare.

Reality in the multiverse is an entirely different matter than the best laid plans.

Random genetic recombination is the response of life to a natural universe that throws just about every imaginable stress on living systems.

Since transhumanism depends on a finite human mind- or worse yet, a robot mind imperfectly designed in mockery of a human's- to plan for an indefinite future, it's bound to fail in transmission.

Of course, that doesn't mean Darth Cheney won't give orders to Skynet to nuke the human race when his heartbeat stops. It only means Liz and the little Cheney clones are likely to get ashed as well if he does.

But bear in mind relatively sapient primate species have come and gone on this planet for the last 10 million years. Of course, therapod dinosaurs came and went for 120 million. Birds remain, and quite wonderful beasts they are at that.

Believe it or not, genetically and by the fossil record , those critters are and remain the latest thing in the dinosaur evolutionary line .

Your mission if you decide to accept it is make the next generation better.

Whether you do anything or not it will be different.

The Chicago School and the D.o’D. and the latest incarnation of the Holy Roman Empire want to reinstall technological neofeudalism (a.k.a. Transhumanism) or Apocalypse, whichever is more profitable.

Many of us have no intention of letting humane humanity become extinct, no matter how cool they think it is over at DARPA.

We’re doing our best to evolve the intellectual equivalent of wings, and propagate the meme song.

Recombination is nature’s solution to chaos.

The Chicago School Clutches Its Pearls

The Saints, Strauss, Friedman, and Greenspan ["...but he's not dead yet" "He will be"] are spinning in their graves.

The pearl-clutching has begun.

The dirty word that starts with the letter "R", from Dr. Krugman himself:

...America came out of the Great Depression with a pretty effective financial safety net, based on a fundamental quid pro quo: the government stood ready to rescue banks if they got in trouble, but only on the condition that those banks accept regulation of the risks they were allowed to take.

Over time, however, many of the roles traditionally filled by regulated banks were taken over by unregulated institutions — the “shadow banking system,” which relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass those safety regulations.

Now, the shadow banking system is facing the 21st-century equivalent of the wave of bank runs that swept America in the early 1930s. And the government is rushing in to help, with hundreds of billions from the Federal Reserve, and hundreds of billions more from government-sponsored institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Given the risks to the economy if the financial system melts down, this rescue mission is justified. But you don’t have to be an economic radical, or even a vocal reformer like Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to see that what’s happening now is the quid without the quo.

Last week Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, declared that Mr. Frank is right about the need for expanded regulation. Mr. Rubin put it clearly: If Wall Street companies can count on being rescued like banks, then they need to be regulated like banks.

But will that logic prevail politically?

Not if Mr. McCain makes it to the White House. His chief economic adviser is former Senator Phil Gramm, a fervent advocate of financial deregulation. In fact, I’d argue that aside from Alan Greenspan, nobody did as much as Mr. Gramm to make this crisis possible.

Both Democrats, by contrast, are running more or less populist campaigns. But at least so far, neither Democrat has made a clear commitment to financial reform.

Is that simply an omission? Or is it an ominous omen? Recent history offers reason to worry.

In retrospect, it’s clear that the Clinton administration went along too easily with moves to deregulate the financial industry. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that big contributions from Wall Street helped grease the rails.

Last year, there was no question at all about the way Wall Street’s financial contributions to the new Democratic majority in Congress helped preserve, at least for now, the tax loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Now, the securities and investment industry is pouring money into both Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s coffers. And these donors surely believe that they’re buying something in return.

Let’s hope they’re wrong.

Because no matter how many hundreds of billions- eventually trillions- of dollars the government hands to the hedgehogs and loansharks, the confidence issues won't resolve themselves. Because you can not trust a predator to do anything other than kill.

You see, economic regulation, and the government creating public service jobs, are socialism.

Using the taxes of 99% of the American public to allow the other 1% to place it on the wheel at Vegas isn't. Using the Treasury for a hot night on the town for people with the Right Stuff isn't. It is part of the Grand Tradition of Wall Street.

It's piracy.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Caveat Content

Go read Frank Rich today:

...The day before Barack Obama gave The Speech, Hillary Clinton gave a big speech of her own, billed by her campaign as a “major policy address on the war in Iraq.” What, you didn’t hear about it?

...intentionally or not, the press did Mrs. Clinton a favor. Every time she opens her mouth about Iraq, she reminds voters of how she enabled the catastrophe that has devoured American lives and treasure for five years.

...Mrs. Clinton is fond of mocking her adversary for offering “just words.” But words can matter, and Mrs. Clinton’s tragedy is that she never realized they could have mattered for her, too. You have to wonder if her Iraq speech would have been greeted with the same shrug if she had tossed away her usual talking points and seized the opportunity to address the war in the same adult way that Mr. Obama addressed race. Mrs. Clinton might have reconnected with the half of her party that has tuned her out.

She is no less bright than Mr. Obama and no less dedicated to public service. It’s not her fault that she doesn’t have his verbal gifts — who does? But her real problem isn’t her speaking style. It’s the content. Mrs. Clinton needn’t have Mr. Obama’s poetry or pearly oratorical tones to deliver a game-changing speech. She just needs the audacity of candor. Yet she seems incapable of revisiting her history on Iraq (or much else) with the directness that Mr. Obama brought to his reappraisal of his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

On Monday she once again pretended her own record didn’t exist while misrepresenting her opponent’s. “I’ve been working day in and day out in the Senate to provide leadership to end this war,” she said, once more implying he’s all words and she’s all action. But Mrs. Clinton didn’t ratchet up her criticisms of the war until she wrote a letter expressing her misgivings to her constituents in late 2005, two and a half years after Shock and Awe. By then, she was not leading but following — not just Mr. Obama, who publicly called for an Iraq exit strategy a week before the release of her letter, but John Murtha, the once-hawkish Pennsylvania congressman who called for a prompt withdrawal a few days earlier still.

What if Mrs. Clinton had come clean Monday, admitting that she had made a mistake in her original vote and highlighting her efforts to make amends since? John Edwards, arguably a more strident proponent of invading Iraq in 2003 than Mrs. Clinton, did exactly that also in the weeks before her 2005 letter. He succeeded in lifting the cloud, even among those on the left of his party.

Instead Mrs. Clinton darkened that cloud by claiming that she was fooled by the prewar intelligence that didn’t dupe nearly half her Democratic Senate colleagues, including Bob Graham, Teddy Kennedy and Carl Levin. Even worse, she repeatedly pretends that she didn’t know President Bush would regard a bill titled “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” as an authorization to go to war. No one believes this spin for the simple reason that no one believes Mrs. Clinton is an idiot. Her patently bogus explanations for her vote have in the end done far more damage to her credibility than the vote itself.

That she has never given a forthright speech on Iraq is what can happen when your chief campaign strategist is a pollster. Focus groups no doubt say it would be hara-kiri for her to admit such a failing. But surely many Americans would have applauded her for confessing to mistakes and saying what she learned from them. As her husband could have told her, that’s best done sooner rather than later.

It’s too late now, and so the Democratic stars are rapidly aligning for disaster. Mrs. Clinton is no longer trying to overcome Mr. Obama’s lead in the popular vote and among pledged delegates by making bold statements about Iraq or any other issue. Instead of enhancing her own case for the presidency, she’s going to tear him down. As Adam Nagourney of The New York Times delicately put it last week, she is “looking for some development to shake confidence in Mr. Obama” so that she can win over superdelegates in covert 3 a.m. phone calls. If Mr. Wright doesn’t do it, she’ll seek another weapon. Mr. Obama, who is, after all, a politician and not a deity, could well respond in kind.

For Republicans, the prospect of marathon Democratic trench warfare is an Easter miracle. Saddled with the legacy of both Iraq and a cratering economy, the G.O.P. can only rejoice at its opponents’ talent for self-destruction. The Republicans can also count on the help of a political press that, whatever its supposed tilt toward Mr. Obama, remains most benevolent toward John McCain.

This was strikingly apparent last week, when Mr. McCain’s calamitous behavior was relegated to sideshow status by many, if not most, news media. At a time of serious peril for America, the G.O.P.’s presumptive presidential nominee revealed himself to be alarmingly out of touch on both of the most pressing issues roiling the country.

Never mind that Bear Stearns was disposed of in a fire sale, the dollar was collapsing, job losses hit a five-year low, and the price of oil hit an all-time high. Mr. McCain, arriving in Iraq, went AWOL on capitalism’s meltdown, delegating his economic adviser to release an anodyne two-sentence statement of confidence in Ben Bernanke.

This is consistent with Mr. McCain’s laissez-faire approach to economic matters. In January he proposed tasking any problems to “a committee headed by Alan Greenspan, whether he’s alive or dead.” This witty salvo must be very comforting to the large share of Americans — the largest since the Great Depression — who now owe more on their homes than they’re worth.

In Iraq, Mr. McCain did not repeat his April 2007 mistake of touring a “safe” market while protected by a small army. (CNN tried to revisit that market last week, but the idea was vetoed as too risky by the network’s security advisers.) Instead he made a bigger mistake. As if to emulate Dick Cheney, who arrived in Baghdad a day behind him, he embraced the vice president’s habit of manufacturing false links in the war on terror: Mr. McCain told reporters that Iran is training Al Qaeda operatives and sending them into Iraq.

His Sancho Panza, Joe Lieberman, whispered in his ear that a correction was in order. But this wasn’t a one-time slip, like Gerald Ford’s debate gaffe about Poland in 1976. Mr. McCain has said this repeatedly. Troubling as it is that he conflates Shiite Iran with Sunni terrorists, it’s even more bizarre that he doesn’t acknowledge the identity of Iran’s actual ally in Iraq — the American-sponsored Shiite government led by Nuri al-Maliki. Only two weeks before the Iraqi prime minister welcomed Mr. McCain to Baghdad, he played host to a bubbly state visit by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Whatever Mrs. Clinton’s or Mr. Obama’s inconsistencies about how to wind down the war, they are both models of coherence next to Mr. McCain. He keeps saying the surge is a “success,” but he can’t explain why that success keeps us trapped in Iraq indefinitely. He never says precisely what constitutes that “victory” he keeps seeing around the corner. His repeated declaration that he will only bring home the troops “with honor” is a Vietnam acid flashback recycled as a non sequitur. Our troops have already piled up more than enough honor in their five years of service under horrific circumstances. Meanwhile, as Al Qaeda proliferates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a survey by Foreign Policy magazine of 3,400 active and retired American officers finds that 88 percent believe that the Iraq war has “stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin.”

But as violence flares up again in Iraq and the American economy skids, the issues consuming the Democrats are Mr. Wright and Geraldine Ferraro, race and gender, unsanctioned primaries and unaccountable superdelegates. Unless Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton find a way to come together for the good of their country as well as their party, no speech by either of them may prevent Mr. McCain from making his second unlikely resurrection in a single political year.

If HHHillary had done what Edwards did, and repudiated the War and her support of it, she could have taken a lot of the wind from Obama's sails many moons ago. For that matter, she still could do it. But I disagree with Rich: it isn't just her pollsters that keep her wheels locked on the road to disaster.

Look who her main contributors are: the big banks of the military-industrial complex. Who also support John McCain, and to a lesser but significant extent Barack Obama.

None of the three will actually end the war. But Obama thought it was a bad idea to begin with and is less willing to give it lip service. He needs the majority of Americans that are against the war. He's willing to lie for it, but knows it's a mistake.

HHHillary is dismissive of us. McCain hardly knows we exist.

It's 1968 all over again, with Tet building up, visible to everyone except the Beltway, and those who would rule it.

But Rich is right here. If Obama enters the Convention with the greatest number of delegates, but doesn't lead the ticket, HHHillary will have done a great disservice to the Nation by subverting democracy. If the Oborg stay away from the general $election as a result of it, they will also be guilty of a great error.

It's an error the Rethuglicans are counting on to enable their theft this year.

Their Company insiders are doing their best to keep the firing squad circular.

This is what the Company has to do to beat the Democrats, because on Super Tuesday 80% of those voting in Democrat primaries would support either candidate over the Rethuglicans.

The popular perception must be manipulated to sow discord, because if people really do come together, something might actually get done to improve the situation.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Homage to Eostre

In the honor of the Green Force, of life and new growth, some superior album-quality links to Yes before it became a tired pop band:

Siberian Khatru

South Side of the Sky

Heart of the Sunrise

Perpetual Change

Now I generally don't truck with Gods or Goddesses, but Forces are a different matter.

When the sun reaches this part of its orbit, in the North of the World the Green Force gathers and breaks the Winter.

The Romans had accomodate Christianity to deal with it. They tried to co-opt the old Goddess, but She had 3 billion years of life behind Her. The content exceeds the specification.

So look at the moon tonight, and remember there are some things older than the dreams of humans, that will live after we're one with the wind and the sky again.

Greystone Reincarnation

Faced with limits in Iraq, and the political slap its stalking horse Mitt Romney got, the evil of the world's largest private military organization attempts to take a new shape and grow again with even greater ambitions.

Jim Booth in a link rich post you should read in its original form:

...After the debacle of last September’s murder of Iraqi civilians, many Americans held out hope that Blackwater, former Navy Seal and right wing evangelical Erik Prince’s guns-for-hire to the Busheviks operation located in the Great Dismal Swamp of eastern North Carolina had been exposed and might be forced into decline and eventual disenfranchisement.

A new article in Mother Jones warns us not to be sanguine - or naive about such a happy possibility occurring. Like Phillip Morris, Blackwater has simply devised another name and plans to continue business - and, like Altria (not to be confused with nutria, although such plagues abound all around us, it seems), that business will be same as it ever was.

Blackwater has now set up a new front er, subsidiary, headquartered in the Barbados (that haven for businesses seeking to evade taxes because, after all, we wouldn’t want Blackwater to pay taxes on the money it gets from American taxpayers through sole source contracts with DOD, State, and OHS) called Greystone. This new company has taken over many of the operations that old Blackwater did - but in a more corporate, low profile manner...

While all of Prince’s and Greystone’s machinations are too complex to recount here (I strongly recommend the MJ article to you), we should note two important elements of Blackwater’s Greystone’s new corporate strategy. The first is finding new revenue streams for his companies...

Erik Prince has aspirations to privatize the military operations of the United Nations. He’s not content to be the private army security service of record for the US government - he wants to rule serve governments around the world...

Given that Prince sees an important role for Blackwater in the US in times of “national disaster” (as evinced by Blackwater’s role in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina), we may well see foreign mercenaries in our streets at some point in the future. If so, it may be that Americans will finally recall their ancestors’ response to Hessians brought in by the British in Revolutionary times - and respond appropriately...

Yes, and while our revolutionary elves are hiding behind the trees shooting at the Hessians, they'll be microwaving the trees- and the revolutionaries- into charcoal.

Why do think the $upreme Court doesn't care if we're armed to the teeth with all the firearms we want?

Or how about facing a line of robotic "riot police" with orders to leave no one standing, with extreme prejudice?

Or a UAV with orders to take out a specific holder of a specific phone number, which it locates using the GPS chip in the phone. Nothing personal, of course.

The sad news is taking up arms is outdated. All we can do is shoot each other. They won't touch a merc's body armor.

The crackers have delusions of being bad-asses when in reality they're just a bunch of saltines for the real thing.

Fighting this evil won't be done by arms. It will have to be done by brains. Which means we're in real trouble.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Fourth Branch of Government and the Shadow Banking System

Krugman distills a lot of what's gone wrong over the last few years:

...Banks exist because they help reconcile the conflicting desires of savers and borrowers. Savers want freedom — access to their money on short notice. Borrowers want commitment: they don’t want to risk facing sudden demands for repayment.

Normally, banks satisfy both desires: depositors have access to their funds whenever they want, yet most of the money placed in a bank’s care is used to make long-term loans. The reason this works is that withdrawals are usually more or less matched by new deposits, so that a bank only needs a modest cash reserve to make good on its promises.

But sometimes — often based on nothing more than a rumor — banks face runs, in which many people try to withdraw their money at the same time. And a bank that faces a run by depositors, lacking the cash to meet their demands, may go bust even if the rumor was false.

Worse yet, bank runs can be contagious. If depositors at one bank lose their money, depositors at other banks are likely to get nervous, too, setting off a chain reaction. And there can be wider economic effects: as the surviving banks try to raise cash by calling in loans, there can be a vicious circle in which bank runs cause a credit crunch, which leads to more business failures, which leads to more financial troubles at banks, and so on.

That, in brief, is what happened in 1930-1931, making the Great Depression the disaster it was. So Congress tried to make sure it would never happen again by creating a system of regulations and guarantees that provided a safety net for the financial system.

And we all lived happily for a while — but not for ever after.

Wall Street chafed at regulations that limited risk, but also limited potential profits. And little by little it wriggled free — partly by persuading politicians to relax the rules, but mainly by creating a “shadow banking system” that relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass regulations designed to ensure that banking was safe.

For example, in the old system, savers had federally insured deposits in tightly regulated savings banks, and banks used that money to make home loans. Over time, however, this was partly replaced by a system in which savers put their money in funds that bought asset-backed commercial paper from special investment vehicles that bought collateralized debt obligations created from securitized mortgages — with nary a regulator in sight.

As the years went by, the shadow banking system took over more and more of the banking business, because the unregulated players in this system seemed to offer better deals than conventional banks. Meanwhile, those who worried about the fact that this brave new world of finance lacked a safety net were dismissed as hopelessly old-fashioned.

In fact, however, we were partying like it was 1929 — and now it’s 1930.

The financial crisis currently under way is basically an updated version of the wave of bank runs that swept the nation three generations ago. People aren’t pulling cash out of banks to put it in their mattresses — but they’re doing the modern equivalent, pulling their money out of the shadow banking system and putting it into Treasury bills. And the result, now as then, is a vicious circle of financial contraction.

Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed are doing all they can to end that vicious circle. We can only hope that they succeed. Otherwise, the next few years will be very unpleasant — not another Great Depression, hopefully, but surely the worst slump we’ve seen in decades.

Even if Mr. Bernanke pulls it off, however, this is no way to run an economy. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1930s, and get the financial system back under control.

Or so you'd think.

But unregulated cash flows are hard to follow, and the man who likes to leave no tracks likes that.

We get letters in Michigan, and some of us reply

Dear NULL,

There has been a lot of discussion lately about seating Michigan's delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

I am working with other Michigan Democratic leaders to seek a way to ensure that Michigan delegates are seated without a divisive fight at the Convention's Credentialing Committee or on the Convention floor.

I thought you might be interested in an op-ed DNC member Debbie Dingell and I wrote in the New York Times earlier this week.


Carl Levin

Whoever thought up to put the NULL acronym in a letter from a Party head disenfranchising the voters of Michigan needs their own head examined.

Senator Levin's note had this attachment, an op-ed piece he had Debbie Dingell write for The New York Pravda:

Political leaders in Michigan and elsewhere have long questioned the stranglehold Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential nominating process. In most election years, the candidates seem to spend more time in those two states than in all the others put together. The early states usually pick the party nominees, leaving the large majority of states with little influence in this critical national decision.

This year looks different: we're seeing one of the most inclusive nominating contests ever, with voters in every state having a real say in the outcome.
[Except for, you know, in Michigan & Florida] But 2008 is the exception that proves the rule: the system remains deeply flawed. The story behind the Democratic National Committee's decision not to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates shows why.

Back in 2004, Michigan Democrats considered taking the Iowa-New Hampshire issue to the party's national convention, but we agreed instead to the creation of the Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling to examine the process. After a year of study and public hearings, the commission expressed "serious concerns that Iowa and New Hampshire are not fully reflective of the Democratic electorate or the national electorate generally - and therefore do not place Democratic candidates before a representative range of voters in the critical early weeks of the process."

A crucial change was recommended: that additional states join Iowa and New Hampshire in holding early primaries and caucuses, and that New Hampshire's primary be the third or fourth contest.

In 2006, the Democratic National Committee adopted a rule providing that four states - Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina - could hold their presidential primary or caucus in January, with the rest of the states following. The rule dictated that the early states hold their contests in a specific order - with New Hampshire coming third - and no earlier than designated dates between Jan. 14 and Jan. 29.

While Michigan Democrats were disappointed that our state was not selected for one of the four early contests, we appreciated the new rule for adding a bit of much-needed diversity to the early nominating process, and as a first step toward breaking the Iowa-New Hampshire lock. We announced that we would abide by the new calendar provided that other states did the same.

But last August, the New Hampshire secretary of state indicated he was going to schedule his state's primary before the date specified, clearly defying the sequence and timing the party had set. Michigan Democratic leaders repeatedly asked the Democratic National Committee if it intended to penalize New Hampshire for this violation, but the committee refused to act.

Rather than allow this broken system to persist, we challenged it by deciding to apportion our delegates according to the results of a primary scheduled by the Michigan Legislature for Jan. 15.

The Democratic National Committee proceeded to selectively enforce its calendar rule. It gave New Hampshire a waiver to move from third to second place in the sequence. But Michigan and Florida, which had also moved up the date of its primary, were denied waivers. When Howard Dean, the party chairman, says that states should not be allowed to violate the rules, he ignores the fact that when the committee itself decided not to follow the rules and granted a waiver to New Hampshire, it set the stage for the present impasse.

Under pressure from New Hampshire and the other early states, the Democratic presidential candidates did not campaign in Michigan or Florida. Senator Barack Obama and three other candidates withdrew their names from the Michigan primary ballot. Senator Hillary Clinton and three others did not. The committee has so far refused to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations to the national convention.

Together with other Michigan Democrats, we are working to make sure our state's voters are not disenfranchised by unfair enforcement of the rules. We are looking for a practical, secure and fair way to redo our primary vote. It is in everyone's interest that the Michigan and Florida delegates be seated without a convention floor fight. But we are ready to take our strong case to the convention if need be.

We have not endorsed any presidential candidate; we only want to ensure that the Michigan delegates are seated at the convention and that the nominating process is reformed for future elections. Fairness and rationality in our nominating process are far too important to sweep under the rug for yet another election cycle.

[sound of no hands clapping]

My reply?

Dear Senator Levin

As a Michigan Democrat, I would like to thank you for your concern for the voters of this state.

I have, and will continue to vote for you over any Republican. Likewise, I intend to support whoever the Democrats nominate for President in 2008 over any Republican. The issues are too pressing, and Republicans have proven time and again their main desire is to game the system to enrich themselves and their supporters.

But one has to wonder about your priorities.

At a time when we are fighting a War against the wrong enemy, when the economy is showing the results of 7 years of Republican waste, mismanagement, and deregulation, when the very Constitution is being shredded, and the ship of state is sinking, you argue about provincial matters, and waste the primary election of the State of Michigan, endangering our delegates' voice in the electoral process.

Sir, you are shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, arguing about who gets the first seat on the lifeboat, while the water is up to your constituents' waists.

If there was a better Democrat, I certainly would not vote for you.


kelley b.
multiverse traveller

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Surgin' Surge Creditors

...when in reality it was $10 a day pay-off to 80,000 Sunni fighters. That being $800,000 a day for "protection" against Al-Qaeda.

Or would be, if Uncle Sugar ever actually paid it.:

...The success of the US "surge" strategy in Iraq may be under threat as Sunni militia employed by the US to fight al-Qaida are warning of a national strike because they are not being paid regularly.

Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous areas and then abandoning them.

A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening to go on strike and two already have.

Improved security in Iraq in recent months has been attributed to a combination of the surge, the truce observed by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, and the effectiveness and commitment of the councils, which are drawn from Sunni Arabs and probably the most significant factor, according to most analysts.

In his speech marking the fifth anniversary of the war George Bush highlighted the significance of what he called "the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden". Iraq, he said, "has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al-Qaida out."

...because it's winter, and Uncle Sugar offered to pay the heating bill. Or rather, promised to but seems to have forgotten about it...

But dozens of phone calls to Sahwa leaders reveal bitterness and anger. "We know the Americans are using us to do their dirty work and kill off the resistance for them and then we get nothing for it," said Abu Abdul-Aziz, the head of the council in Abu Ghraib, where 500 men have already quit.

"The Americans got what they wanted. We purged al-Qaida for them and now people are saying why should we have any more deaths for the Americans. They have given us nothing."

In Dora, a southern suburb of Baghdad, the leaders of a Sahwa group of 2,400 men said they were considering strike action because none of the 2,000 applicants they had put forward for jobs with the police and military had been accepted.

The Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki has found jobs for only a handful of the Sahwa fighters.

"We need to get all the Sahwas in the country together and organise a national strike," said Ahah al-Zubadi, leader of 35 Sahwa councils, the largest group in Iraq. "When the areas started to cool down and the situation began to get better the Americans really cooled to us."

In the area south of Baghdad where more US troops have been killed than anywhere else in the country the Sahwa forces have formed the backbone of the surge. The councils first appeared in Anbar province a year ago when tribal leaders turned against al-Qaida and were tempted by offers of cash and jobs from the Americans, attracting many former insurgents to their ranks. Anbar today is one of Iraq's safest provinces.

But the movement's driving force, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed in September. In Diyala province al-Qaida delivered videos of beheaded Sahwa members to their families to try and stop others working with the Americans.

That's 80,000 pissed Sunni families, likely otherwise unemployed because they were Ba'athists, who might be re-evaluating their values in the light of paychecks that never were delivered.

Are You Experienced?

Yes, I am...

But to be fair, she would have done a helluva lot better than the besotted and corrupt General, that inventor of Shock and Awe as Policy, U.S. Grant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Casualty of War

Chris Floyd talks about what will really die if Cheneyburton and Dear Leader manage to feed enough Terra to the mainStream.

...They had parliamentary elections in Iran last week. It was not good news for the cause of peace. Why? Because reform candidates did unexpectedly well, while hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw a deep split in the conservative majority, with many in his own faction rejecting his Bush-like belligerence and incompetence. This might sound like glad tidings at first glance – but it actually makes an attack more likely. It undermines the carefully crafted cartoon image of Iran as a monolithic, maniacal horde of barbarians intent on senseless destruction. If a truer picture of Iranian society is allowed to take hold, it would pose a serious threat to the agenda of the Crawford Caligula and his militarist handlers.

After all, they fought long and hard to get rid of the moderate government of former president Mohammed Khatami – spurning Tehran's extraordinary offer in 2003 of complete cooperation on nuclear safeguards, helping establish security in Iraq, ending armed support for Palestinian militias, cooperating against terrorism, and recognizing Israel. Instead, the Bushists hoped for a more demonizable figure whom they could use to "justify" their goal of establishing a pliable client state in the oil-rich, strategically located land. And just as with their openly stated wish in 2000 for a "new Pearl Harbor" that would "catalyze" the American public into supporting their radical imperialist program, they got lucky again with the election of Ahmadinejad – a sinister clown made to order for scaremongering propaganda, even though his actual powers are quite limited. Any development that complicates the cartoon, such as the recent elections, is bad for business.

And make no mistake, the Bush faction's predatory designs on Iran are business – big business. The entire "War on Terror" is an engine for crony profiteering on a monstrous scale – and the greatest transfer of public wealth into private hands the world has ever seen. Those who believe that the Bushists would hold back from striking Iran because it is too "risky" don't understand the stakes these warmongers are playing for. As they will never suffer personally or financially from even the worst outcome of their policies, the game is well worth the candle for them. Others will do the dying. Others will face the ruin. Others will weep with pain and grief.

But who will be killed in the attack on Iran, and the subsequent, inevitable escalation?

...These are the people who will die – innocent, young, hopeful, human – in any attempt to extend the militarists' empire of corruption and domination ever deeper into the oil lands.

So Cheneyburton's beginning another round of saber rattling, hoping the main$tream has completely forgotten the recent NIE, and counting that what the IAEA said is history, too.

The Sith Lord's basic strategy is to deny facts at home or abroad. Blood and souls for Arioch , and all that.

McCain is right there with him. He talks like he slithers, as straight as any other serpent.

Borg Bugs

No, I am not kidding. And you wonder where that $4000 a second is going.

More here [ a darpa.mil site, so be ready to wipe your cookies]:

...The HI-MEMS program is aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis. These early stages include the caterpillar and the pupae stages. Since a majority of the tissue development in insects occurs in the later stages of metamorphosis, the renewed tissue growth around the MEMS will tend to heal, and form a reliable and stable tissue-machine interface. The goal of the MEMS, inside the insects, will be to control the locomotion by obtaining motion trajectories either from GPS coordinates, or using RF, optical, ultrasonic signals based remote control. The control of locomotion will be investigated using several approaches. These include direct electrical muscle excitation, electrical stimulation of neurons, projection of ultrasonic pulses simulating bats, projection of pheromones, electromechanical stimulation of insect sensory cells, and presentation of optical cues with micro-optical visual presentation. The intimate control of insects with embedded microsystems will enable insect cyborgs, which could carry one or more sensors, such as a microphone or a gas sensor, to relay back information gathered from the target destination.

HI-MEMS derived technologies will enable many robotic capabilities at low cost, impacting the development of future autonomous defense systems. The realization of cyborgs with most of the machine component inside the insect body will provide stealthy robots that use muscle actuators which have been developed over millions of years of evolution. The basic technology developed in this program could also be used as a biological tool to understand and control insect development opening vistas in our understanding of tissue development, and provide new technological pathways to harness the natural sensors and power generation from insects.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Keep it in perspective


Your candidate still sucks, but let's remember the Republicans have chosen a deranged fossil who wants everyone to die in eternal war, doesn't understand or care about the economy or healthcare, and can't tell his pruny old ass from Iran or Al Qaeda. Oh, and who for utterly cynical political reasons cavorts with religious maniacs who hate gays and Catholics and are openly cheering for the end of the world.

Just sayin'.

Sing, bird of prey

Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956.

Dead? What is this death you speak of? Karellen knows better, and envys Clarke's fate.

Swat the Gadflies and Drain the Swamp

One from Eschaton:

A speech. Obama's right here. Race is a distraction, one of many, for everybody while the real bad guys make off with the money. Again.

And via Digby, a little indignation for those who'd much rather you talked about race vs. feminism vs. fightin' Terra as the deciding issues:

Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy.

The Wall Street titans have turned into a bunch of welfare clients. They are desperate to be bailed out by government from their own incompetence, and from the deregulatory regime for which they lobbied so hard. They have lost "confidence" in each other, you see, because none of these oh-so-wise captains of the universe have any idea what kinds of devalued securities sit in one another's portfolios.

So they have stopped investing. The biggest, most respected investment firms threaten to come crashing down. You can't have that. It's just fine to make it harder for the average Joe to file for bankruptcy, as did that wretched bankruptcy bill passed by Congress in 2005 at the request of the credit card industry. But the big guys are "too big to fail," because they could bring us all down with them.

Enter the federal government, the institution to which the wealthy are not supposed to pay capital gains or inheritance taxes. Good God, you don't expect these people to trade in their BMWs for Saturns, do you?

As the Faithful would say, Heaven forbid, especially when there's a nice source of capital offering to keep the Faithful of Bu$hie's ba$e in their BMWs for awhile longer:

...Mr. Paulson and the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, have been hounding financial companies to raise more equity. In the first round of write-downs, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley raised tens of billions of dollars from cash-rich foreign governments, including Abu Dhabi, China, Kuwait and South Korea.

It’s clear that the Bush administration and Mr. Bernanke would welcome greater ownership of the nation’s financial institutions by foreign governments. That’s an effective short-term fix, and could conveniently avert a financial meltdown on their watch. But it also means a long-term transfer of a chunk of the future revenues of the American financial system to foreign governments.

Many of those governments have complex, often tense, relationships with the United States, and many are secretive about their holdings, their objectives and the strategies by which their portfolios are managed. Among the most opaque are the funds of Dubai, Qatar, China, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. Secrecy does not mean that the governments will necessarily be bad actors, but it is a big mistake to do such serious business with an opaque counterparty.

Yet the administration is encouraging more investments, no questions asked. Administration officials have tried — and failed to date — to get various government investors to agree even to voluntary transparency standards. Attempts to establish rules governing levels of ownership by foreign governments and reciprocity for American investors in other countries, essential to secure and fair dealing, have also gone nowhere.

This week several Wall Street firms will release their latest results, and they will probably be ugly. The drive to raise capital will very likely get more intense. So the Bush administration should work with Congress now to prepare the taxpayer-financed bailout that seems all but inevitable. If Washington stopped acting as if it had no role to play, it might seem less desperate to foreign investors, and Mr. Bush might have another chance to persuade them to provide more transparency.

The administration and federal regulators are largely to blame for getting the country in this mess by turning a blind eye to reckless lending and investing. They must not compound the error by turning a blind eye to what may be waiting just down the road.

But for whom? Halliburton has all those nice new towers in Dubai, where the wimmin keep their place for their explanted Houston masters. And where they'll continue to, until the Sheiks gain total mastery, and all that's left for Texas oilmen, and the Nation they sold into slavery, won't be the swamp.

It will be the burning desert sand.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Wave Grows

If you get the feeling the Game's beginning to get a bit out of hand for many of the big playahs, read The Dark Wraith's Prelude to Finale.

Now, go back and read this from Stirling Newberry, in 2004:

... the path to constitutional crisis runs through financial crisis...

The Game is getting out of hand for many.

For others, χαος ειναι το σχεδιο.

If you want a total revison elimination of the Constitution, make it seem quaint, out of date, and totally irrelevant to the consensual reality of the former citizens of the State who now only are consumers of the market.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Private Profit, Certainly Not Socialized Losses

The Pirate's Code isn't so much a rule book as a set of guidelines...

...On Friday, the Federal Reserve seemed to toss out the rule book altogether when it assumed the role of white knight, temporarily bailing out Bear Stearns, one of Wall Street’s biggest firms, with a short-term loan to help avoid a collapse that might send other dominoes falling.

That move came just days after the Fed announced a $200 billion lending program for investment banks and a $100 billion credit line for banks and thrifts. In a move that would have been unthinkable until recently, the central bank agreed to accept potentially risky mortgage-backed securities as collateral.

On Tuesday, the central bank is expected to reduce short-term interest rates for the sixth time since September. The Fed has already lowered its benchmark federal funds rate to 3 percent from 5.25 percent, and investors are betting that it will cut the rate to just 2.25 percent on Tuesday...

Via the man in the gray turtleneck:

......non-banks institutions don't have access - based on the Federal Reserve Act - to the lender of last resort support of the Fed unless a very special and unusual procedure and vote is taken. So for the first time in decades - possibly since the Great Depression - the Fed had to rely on this exceptional rule to bail out a non-bank financial institution. So what is next? Bailing out hedge funds, bailing out money market funds, bailing out SIVs? When is enough enough? This when the Fed has already committed this week to swap 60% ($ 400 bn) of its balance sheet of Treasuries for mortgage backed securities of dubious quality and value.

And Bear is only the first broker dealer to go belly up. Rumors had been circulating in the market for days that the exposure of Lehman to toxic ABS/MBS securities is as bad as that of Bear: according to Fitch at the beginning of the turmoil Bear Stearns had the highest toxic waste ("residual balance") exposure as percent of adjusted equity on balance sheet; the exposure of Bear was 54.5% while that of Lehman was only marginally smaller at 53.3%; that of Goldman Sachs was only 21%. And guess what? Today Lehman received a $2 billion unsecured credit line from 40 lenders. Here is another massively leveraged broker dealer that mismanaged its liquidity risk, had massive amount of toxic waste on its books and is now in trouble. Again here we have not only a situation of illiquidity but serious credit problems and losses given the reckless exposure of this second broker dealer to toxic investments.

We will leave aside for today the fact that a growing number of members of the "shadow financial system" have gone belly up in the last month alone: the entire SIV scheme is being wound down and brought back on balance sheet; a few hedge funds are now closing shops (for details see the web site The Hedge Fund Impode-O-Meter) ); a few money market funds that had exposure to toxic MBS have experienced runs and had to be bailed out; a highly leveraged private equity bond fund has gone belly up; a major near prime mortgage lender is bankrupt. In all these cases a poisonous combination of liquidity risk and credit risk was exacerbated by reckless leverage.

So the question is: if Bear Stearns screwed up big time - as it did - with huge leverage, reckless investments, lousy risk management and massive underestimation of liquidity risk why should the US taxpayer bail out this firm and its shareholders? First fully wipe out those shareholders, then fire all the senior management and have the government take over such a bankrupt institution before a penny of public money is wasted in bailing it out. Instead now the use of public money to bail out financial institutions is spreading from banking ones to non banking ones. The Fed should at least give a clear and public explanation of why such extremely exceptional - and almost never used - intervention was justified.

Unless public money is used on a very temporary basis to achieve an orderly wind-down or merger of Bear Stearns this is another case where profits are privatized and losses are socialized...

What, you mean there's a function for government that keeps a good Republican from drowning it in the bathtub? And perish the thought, a socialized function? But let's not be silly, this isn't socialism.

What is this?

It be piracy of the Treasury, me hearties.

Via Snow Moon via Lambert via Greg Palast:

...The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and its variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chunk of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 monthly payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. The Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called “securitization.”

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinning’s, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into “tranches” of bonds which were stamped “AAA” - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).

When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

But there were rumblings that the party would soon be over. Angry regulators, burned investors and the weight of millions of homes about to be boarded up were causing the sharks to sink. Countrywide’s stock was down 50%, and Citigroup was off 38%, not pleasing to the Gulf sheiks who now control its biggest share blocks.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, “Take him down today!” Naw, that’s not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was “Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer” - made clear to Bush’s enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn’t Bin Laden.

It was the night of February 13 when Spitzer made the bone-headed choice to order take-out in his Washington Hotel room. He had just finished signing these words for the Washington Post about predatory loans:

“Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.”

Bush, Spitzer said right in the headline, was the “Predator Lenders’ Partner in Crime.” The President, said Spitzer, was a fugitive from justice. And Spitzer was in Washington to launch a campaign to take on the Bush regime and the biggest financial powers on the planet.

Spitzer wrote, “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners the Bush administration will not be judged favorably.”

But now, the Administration can rest assured that this love story – of Bush and his bankers - will not be told by history at all – now that the Sheriff of Wall Street has fallen on his own gun...

In a socialized system, all of society bears the losses, and gains the benefits of policy.

Here, the economically top 0.1% gains the profit- and everyone else bears the loss.

The Aura of Inevitability

Meanwhile, Dear Leader keeps singin' in the rain:

... “I’m coming to you as an optimistic fellow,” he told the Economic Club of New York on Friday. His manner — chortling and joshing — was in odd juxtaposition to the Fed’s bailing out the imploding Bear Stearns and his own acknowledgment that “our economy obviously is going through a tough time,” that gas prices are spiking, and that folks “are concerned about making their bills.”

He began by laughingly calling the latest news on the economic meltdown “a interesting moment” and ended by saying that “our energy policy has not been very wise” and that there was “no quick fix” on gasp-inducing gas prices...

In on-the-record sessions with reporters — and more candid off-the-record ones — he has seemed goofily happy in recent weeks, prickly no more but strangely liberated and ebullient.

Even though he ordinarily hates being kept waiting, he made light of it while cooling his heels for John McCain, and did a soft shoe for the White House press. Wearing a cowboy hat, he warbled a comic Western ditty at the Gridiron Dinner a week ago — alluding to Scooter Libby’s conviction, Saudis getting richer from our oil-guzzling, Brownie’s dismal Katrina performance, and Dick Cheney’s winsome habit of withholding documents.

At a dinner on Wednesday, the man who is persona non grata on the campaign trail (except for closed fund-raisers) told morose Republican members of Congress that he was totally confident that “we can retake the House” and “hold the White House.”

“I think 2008 is going to be a fabulous year for the Republican Party!” he said, sounding like Rachel Ray sprinkling paprika on goulash. That must have been news to House Republicans, who have no money, just lost the seat held by their former speaker, and are hemorrhaging incumbents as they head into a campaign marked by an incipient recession and an unpopular war.

If only they could see things as the president does. Bush, who used his family connections to avoid Vietnam, told troops serving in Afghanistan on Thursday that he is “a little envious” of their adventure there, saying it was “in some ways romantic.”

Afghanistan is still roiling, as is Iraq, but W. is serene. “Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever...”

W. bragged to Republicans about his “considered judgment” in sending more troops to Iraq and again presented himself as an untroubled instrument of divine will. “I believe there’s an Almighty,” he said, “and I believe a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child is freedom.”

Although the president belittled the Democrats for their policy of “retreat,” his surge has been a temporary and expensive place-holder for what Americans want: a policy to get us out of Iraq.

“Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started?” Michael Kinsley wrote recently. “The answer is no.” Gen. David Petraeus told The Washington Post last week that no one in the U.S. and Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.”

Maybe the president is just putting on a good face to keep up American morale, the way Herbert Hoover did after the crash of ’29, when he continued to dress in a tuxedo for dinner.

Or maybe the old Andover cheerleader really believes his own cheers, and that prosperity will turn up any time now, just like the W.M.D. in Iraq.

Or perhaps it’s a Freudian trip. Now that he’s mucked up the world and the country, he can finally stop rebelling against his dad and relax in the certainty that the Bush name will forever be associated with crash-and-burn presidencies...

Or maybe it's the glee of a man to whom chaos is the plan, who realizes that those coming afterwards, regardless of Party, have a vested interest in making sure he gets away with it all, and whose strategery has succeeded stunningly.

As far as the economy goes, the thermite was placed in the building’s supports some time ago.

The impact of the subprimes on the tower of money provides a nice cover, as America becomes the 2nd largest econmy in the world, soon to fall further.

Once the top floors go, it’s to be detonated sequentially, giving an apparently “spontaneous” but actually controlled demolition.

Chaos is the plan, still.

After the dust settles here- or maybe even before- the newest tallest buildings in the world are to be with the global Halliburton headquarters in Dubai.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Surpassed by the Chocolate-Making Countries

We're #2:

PARIS (Reuters) - The U.S. economy lost the title of "world's biggest" to the euro zone this week as the value of the dollar slumped in currency markets.

Taking the gross domestic product of both economies in 2007, the combined GDP of the 15 countries which use the euro overtook that of the United States when the European currency surged to a record high of more than $1.56 per euro.

"The curious outcome of breaching this latest milestone is that the size of the euro zone's annual output has now exceeded that of the U.S.," the economics department of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank, said in a note to clients.

Taking official estimates of 2007 GDP -- $13,843,800 billion for the United States and 8,847,889.1 billion euros for the euro zone -- the economy of the latter passed the United States once converted into dollars, shortly after the euro topped $1.56...


-Tom Tomorrow

Meanwhile, Ted Rall spots a demographic sure to vote Republican:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Days of Future History Passed

In Britain, the Ministry of Defense tries to force the Ministry of Education to re-write the textbooks:

Britain's biggest teachers' union has accused the Ministry of Defence of breaking the law over a lesson plan drawn up to teach pupils about the Iraq war. The National Union of Teachers claims it breaches the 1996 Education Act, which aims to ensure all political issues are treated in a balanced way.

Teachers will threaten to boycott military involvement in schools at the union's annual conference next weekend, claiming the lesson plan is a "propaganda" exercise and makes no mention of any civilian casualties as a result of the war.

They believe the instructions, designed for use during classroom discussions in general studies or personal, social and health education (PSE) lessons, are arguably an attempt to rewrite the history of the Iraq invasion just as the world prepares to mark its fifth anniversary...

In a "Students' Worksheet" which accompanies the lesson plan, it stresses the "reconstruction" of Iraq, noting that 5,000 schools and 20 hospitals have been rebuilt. But there is no mention of civilian casualties.

In the "Teacher Notes" section, it talks about how the "invasion was necessary to allow the opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein" but it fails to mention the lack of United Nations backing for the war. The notes also use the American spelling of "program".

Addressing whether the MoD should be providing materials for schools, Mr Sinnott said that he did not object, as long as the material was accurate, presented responsibly and contained a balanced view of opinions...

What the MoD's guide says... and what it omits

* "Iraq was invaded early 2003 by a United States coalition. Twenty-nine other countries, including the UK, also provided troops... Iraq had not abandoned its nuclear and chemical weapons development program". After the first Gulf War, "Iraq did not honour the cease-fire agreement by surrendering weapons of mass destruction..."
The reality: The WMD allegation, central to the case for war, proved to be bogus. David Kay, appointed by the Bush administration to search for such weapons after the invasion, found no evidence of a serious programme or stockpiling of WMDs. The "coalition of the willing" was the rather grand title of a rag-tag group of countries which included Eritrea, El Salvador and Macedonia.

* "The invasion was also necessary to allow the opportunity to remove Saddam, an oppressive dictator, from power, and bring democracy to Iraq".
The reality: Regime change was not the reason given in the run-up to the invasion – the US and UK governments had been advised it would be against international law. Saddam was regarded as an ally of the West while he was carrying out some of the worst of his atrocities. As for democracy, elections were held in Iraq during the occupation and have led to a sectarian Shia government. Attempts by the US to persuade the government to be more inclusive towards minorities have failed.

* "Over 7,000 British troops remain in Iraq... to contribute to reconstruction, training Iraqi security forces... They continue to fight against a strong militant Iraqi insurgency."
The reality: The number of British troops in Iraq is now under 5,000. They withdrew from their last base inside Basra city in September and are now confined to the airport where they do not take part in direct combat operations.

America has over 166,000 active troops as of February '08, and apparently an equal number of mercenaries private contractors. Just sayin'. Mercenaries would be against the Geneva Conventions, now wouldn't they?

* "The cost of UK military operations in Iraq for 2005/06 was £958m."
The reality: The cost of military operations in Iraq has risen by 72 per cent in the past 12 months and the estimated cost for this year is £1.648bn. The House of Commons defence committee said it was "surprised" by the amount of money needed considering the slowing down of the tempo of operations.

The real cost? Um, that's hard to estimate... it goes constantly upwards.

I've heard estimates of $3 trillion. Not that effects our economy or anything.

* "Over 312,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped (Police, Army and Navy)."
The reality: The Iraqi security forces have been accused, among others by the American military, of running death squads targeting Sunnis. In Basra, the police became heavily infiltrated by Shia militias and British troops had to carry out several operations against them. On one occasion British troops had to smash their way into a police station to rescue two UK special forces soldiers who had been seized by the police.

* "A total of 132 UK military personnel have been killed in Iraq."
The reality: The figure is 175 since the invasion of 2003. A British airman died in a rocket attack at the airport two weeks ago despite British troops not going into Basra city on operations. Conservative estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the beginning of the invasion stand at around 85,000.

Other estimates of the Iraqi civilian dead are a wee bit higher. 1,185,800 or so.

Just sayin'. Fair & balanced & all that.

* "From hospitals to schools to wastewater treatment plants, the presence of coalition troops is aiding the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq."
The reality: Five years after "liberation", Baghdad still only has a few hours of intermittent power a day. Children are kidnapped from schools for ransom and families of patients undergoing surgery at hospitals are advised to buy and bring in blood from sellers who congregate outside.

Deframing the Framers

Digby quotes from the guerilla leader of the Romulan insurgency:

I decided that the only way to have an impact on the charade of the "market place of ideas" was to go to the only people they really listen to, the ones who paid them. The advertisers.

This is the "real world" and it is the ultimate of rejecting their premise.

I reject the entire premise of their show. The fake participation, the stacked deck with loving callers. I reject their rhetorical tricks that are used on people who do get through occasionally who they destroy with their high school debating tricks and shouting. (Hannity especially)

People like Rush, Hannity, Grover Norquist, Bill O' Reilly and Coulter are the ones who create these kind of rhetorical games. They think up the frame. They then give them to their listeners who repeat them for their co-workers and family. My mom regularly uses the rhetorical tricks that Rush uses on the one person in the family who disagrees with her. But because this person doesn't want to attack my mom she thinks she has "won the conversation". Personally I hate having to have these conversations with people because I really don't like confrontation. Especially if my goal it really to persuade and change someone's mind rather than WIN the conversation...

What do I gain if I "win" a conversation on talk radio? Even if I had a segment where they didn't control my volume and my on button, if I "won" the argument the second I'm off the air they will mock me. They never modify their opinion with the correct information. See how often they bring back Zombie facts. As Monty nicely put it, it's NOT about an "honest inquiry or debate." It's about entertainment, stirring the pot or creating the media's standard "X vs. Y" controversy story.

When I went after the talk radio hosts I chose to change the venue, work on them from outside their frame and even from outside the venue they control. And it had an impact.

The financial impact on the station was big, but the bigger picture method was bigger. They listened to the money people because even if they say, "We had great ratings!" the money people say, "We don't care, we only like great ratings if they give us more money..."

Spocko grokked an essential point in fullness that we should all take to heart.

Namely, when you fight a vicious and overwhelming enemy, you never fight them on their terms.

You never even approach their battlefield.

You consider what they require to oppose you. You think about what they can not defend. That's where you hit them. Hard.

I wish there where more in the progressive blogsphere that would take this lesson to heart.

Don't play the Enemy's game. Ever.