Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Parts

Come when you've got everything squared away. It has probably been more or less so for main winter festivities since we used mammoth tusks for tent poles. Squared away, as in a presentable abode and comestibles arrayed an hour or hopefully more before a brood of family and friends arrive for a party. In our case for Christmas Eve, and as the duck said in the movie 'Babe,' Christmas means carnage.

However achieved, the best parts come when you find yourself relaxing and reflecting on good fortune. There's that point where you think, "It is done. Ready. Chaos lurks, but let not perfection be the enemy of the good. Disapprove of the downstairs bathroom disarray as you will. Screaming children, all you crazed little wanting machines and rug-rats, come and do your worst."

Foods are best simple, easily wolfed down. The freshest finest bagels available can serve as vehicles for a commanding centerpiece of fat and salt, for example cream cheese Grandma mixed with Grandpa's toothsome smoked salmon. Chips of both kinds (potato and tortilla), salsas and dips, veggies crackers basic wines and beers fill out a conveniently accessed table. Prime rib is fine, but nobody really expects or requires more than peasantries, those foods which first tend to dance in the imagination if cruel circumstance ever conspires to make us prisoners. Speaking of which, guests unaccustomed to hard liquors need not be entrapped nor enticed. Good people and the smell of oranges and cloves suffice.

After the kids are in bed and the presents are all done up (or after the UPS truck delivered them pre-wrapped), there's another of those moments, the closest thing to ritual remaining to most of us religion-free types. The evergreens, the mistletoe and lights are ancient symbols of coming Spring and eternal life; an Egyptian from 3,000 years ago would recognize a Christmas tree's purpose instantly.

Yes, there is pervasive commercialism just this side of mind control,
the distracted drivers running stoplights, the twisted and counter-twisted wires, facile vengeance of Chinese slave labor, maddeningly secure toys to cardboards. There are tiny screws, assemblies, plastics, packaging, disposal of same. There was having the house clean a grand total of 4 hours. But there is at least as much solstice as there is Santa, and there is having to wait until next year.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama's West Point Speech and Karl Rove's Congratulations

I am the government's unwilling mule hit with IRS kicks and satrap whips as they drive me up through one last 13,000 foot high pass sucking the biting air in through my helpfully slit nostrils and the atrophied ass of my imagination. I bring strapped to my back explosives down at dawn into another hidden valley to the people hibernating there who when they cry out as loud as human throats can throw sounds of pain and mourning will be muffled in our angels' hierarchies.

When phosphorus bombs were raining down on Tokyo in the Good War to start a firestorm the rice farmer said to the shopkeeper don't worry friend it's only politics. Our man-designate went to West Point again this week in blackface to sing and dance the golden oldies of Al Jolson crooning my Mammy because even the great-hearted become small-minded when faced with the prospect of wild Indians all smart enough to press plastic buttons duct-taped to wires rigged to hypothetical nukes. Myths are far more potent than realities and somewhere there are people who still remember if Zeus slew Uranus or Uranus slew Zeus and super-sized are the fears that gnaw on our comfortably guilty imperial innards.

The War is homeowner's insurance for Uncle Sam and of course it's not meant to be won. The enemies don't even qualify as enemies just as tragically paid extras in gruesome comedies and when all this is gone they'll still be there and victories over cockroaches aren't possible nor do they matter. It's the victories over concepts which are key thus the wars must continue and flow into each other and death to reality as molten ores flow into the forms of shining cities on hills. The thirst for retribution remains and bring me the head of Osama bin Laden speaking of myths may he rest in peace and attentions turn to the next object of collective ire.

The speech was the past and no different speech could be given. Our way of corporation which is to say profit and self-embodiment depends upon the gray pulverized dust of the Hindu Kush so invasion is withdrawal a puppet is a nation and self-determination is occupation. As hierarchies crumble they rely increasingly on lies ably abetted by cupidity base stupidity and meanness but this is simply how it must be done and look look pay attention to the stagecraft and flourish. There's recognition behind the blackface that it can't keep going although it must keep going it will keep we are the noble experiment anointed by the hand of god. Now give us more money and if not just remember how found our embodiment is of saying well if they all hate us anyhow let's drop the big one now. Boom goes London. Boom Paree. More room for you and more room for me.

I am a little toiling mule not invited to parties by the only important party called the Property Party which has politely devolved into arms dealers drug lords and jailors. Its parliament of whores and two right wings plan to keep the poor the black the anti-imperialists and malcontents like me divided and entertained with videos of cats flushing toilets. When you're born into this world you get a ticket to the freak show just like George Carlin said and when you're born in America you get a front-row seat. A
brittle democracy's lost moral imperative may occur to us at any time our burritos are on the line and the war is on all as Bismarck said it's business by other means.

I catch artisanal bread and my wife can get us backstage to the Cirque de Soleil. I feel the ship of state's skin stretching and buckling hear John Wayne's rivets popping bulkheads bitching Elvis is gyrating history is ending and I remember when Rome was the biggest game in town and it went down because they hollowed it from the center and reneged on their veterans' pay. The Senators took their mistresses to their villas and families waiting in Spain and the south of France. They think we're easier to be played on than a pipe and their plan will work until it doesn't and when it doesn't it's going to not work in a very big way.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Some nice, calming footage of The Other Dark Meat strolling around unsuspectingly on their organic farm.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, Priced Per Ounce of Gold

The fascinating chart above provides a thought-provoking alternative scope for viewing US economic history as its its assets became more publicly traded.

The Great Crash of 1929 looks like a minor bobble in a steeplechase. The broad-based post-WWII economic expansion capped by the Go-G0 '60s began to falter congruently with US fortunes in Vietnam, then was followed by a steep crash brought on by the conflict's huge debt overhang. As the US went off the gold standard at Bretton Woods II and printed money to pay those debts, the Dow/gold ratio touched its century-long low in the late '70s as the Fed raised interest rates to century-long highs in order to stanch hyperinflation.

Finally, the Dow-gold multiple scaled a cliff wall in the '90s as simultaneous housing and dot-com bubbles rapidly filled in the mid-'90s, with a decade-long decline which shows no technical or fundamental sign of abating, and which at @10:1 is still at least twice the previous century's non-bubble baseline. Physical gold and other industrial metals are compelling portfolio investments in that context.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month, the Guns Fell Silent

Am commemorating Veteran's Day by waiting in an internet cafe at the airport, aware that many have been sacrificed for the privilege of my doing so. The above Black Adder clip, while comedic, might as well be a real transcript of low-level British commanders steeling themselves with black humour before embarking on a suicidal attack in the Great War. Here's Hugh Laurie of "House M.D." fame playing the Leftenant who greets a glum Captain Darling, sent down by a general to join the deadly fanfaronnade:
Laurie: "Well this is splendid comradely news! Together we'll fight for king and country and we'll be sucking down sausages in Berlin by tea-time!"

Darling: "...rather hoped I'd get through the whole show. Go back to work at Pratt & Sons...keep wicket for the Croydon Gentlemen...marry Dorothy. Made a note in my diary on the way simply says, 'Bugger.'"

(Credits to "WTF is it now?")

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Afghanistan Updates

Abdullah Abdullah, presidential challenger to Hamid Karzai, announced that he was quitting the runoff election. In a choked-up voice he cited concerns about increased violence in Afghanistan and outrage at the fraudulent election process. The election was canceled and Karzai was declared president.

More U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in October than in any month since that war began eight years ago. A suicide bombing by Taliban militants killed six U.N. staff, and Major General Mike Flynn, director of intelligence for General Stanley McChrystal's headquarters in Kabul, warned that the number of insurgents in Afghanistan (many of whom were from other countries) was now between 19,000 and 27,000, a ten-fold increase since 2004. "I wouldn't say it's out of control right now," Flynn explained, "but this is a California wildfire and we're having to bring in firemen from New York." President Barack Obama caved to pressure from Congress and military contractors and passed a $680,000,000,000 defense bill.

Nuristan, a province on the Pakistani border, essentially fell to the Taliban after the U.S. withdrew its forces from four key bases. Similarly in Khost, another eastern province bordering Pakistan where U.S. forces once registered much-publicized gains (and which Richard Holbrooke, now President Obama's special envoy to the region, termed "an American success story"), the Taliban is largely in control. It is, according to Yochi Dreazen and Anand Gopal of the Wall Street Journal, now "one of the most dangerous provinces" in the country. Similarly, the Taliban insurgency, once largely restricted to the Pashtun south, has recently spread fiercely to the west and north. At the same time, neighboring Pakistan is an increasingly destabilized country amid war in its tribal borderlands, a terror campaign spreading throughout the country, escalating American drone attacks, and increasingly testy relations between American officials and the Pakistani government and military.

Meanwhile, the U.S. command in Afghanistan is considering a strategy that involves pulling back from the countryside and focusing on protecting more heavily populated areas (which might be called, with the first U.S. Afghan War of the 1980s in mind, the Soviet strategy). The underpopulated parts of the countryside would then undoubtedly be left to Hellfire missile-armed American drone aircraft. In the last week, three U.S. helicopters -- the only practical way to get around a mountainous country with a crude, heavily mined system of roads -- went down under questionable circumstances (another potential sign of an impending Soviet-style disaster). Across the country, Taliban attacks are up; deadly roadside bombs or IEDs are fast on the rise (a 350% jump since 2007); U.S. deaths are at a record high and the numbers of wounded are rising rapidly; European allies are ever less willing to send more troops; and Taliban raids in the capital, Kabul, are on the increase. All this despite a theoretical 12-1 edge U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops have over the Taliban insurgents and their allies.

Finally, the New York Times revealed that the President's alleged drug-kingpin brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, whom American officials regularly and piously denounce, is, in fact, a long-term paid agent of the CIA and its literal landlord in the southern city of Kandahar. If you were a Taliban propagandist, you couldn't make this stuff up.

(Adapted from Harper's and TomDispatch news updates.)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

White House Moderates Position On Protected News Sources

Call it the Judith Miller Law, but here's a first tangible move toward re-charging a First Amendment effectively trashed by perpetual Fake War footing and the threat of reporters going to jail while protecting confidential sources. The impending compromise gives more discretion to individual judges in deciding when it is in the public's interest to protect source identity.

It doesn't take a genius to predict that a flurry of appealed Supreme Court-bound cases will surely ensue, but the implications for increased transparency are positive. Whistle-blowers won't have to risk as much, so the flow of information to reporters will open up a bit. Not to expect Edward R. Murrow to resurrect or anything, but it's the first bright spot for traditional news reporting in a long time.
It could even have commercial benefits--the news media seldom ruminate on how we The People might be buying less because they're putting out crappy, weakly-reported product.

The White House had been holding the hard-line status quo, and
President "Make Me" Obama deserves an attaboy for giving some ground:
“We expect this proposal to move forward with bipartisan support, and the president looks forward to signing it into law,” said Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, who noted that the Obama administration was “the first administration in history to support media shield legislation.”

The protection would apply not only against subpoenas for reporters’ testimony or information but also against investigative efforts to obtain phone and Internet records to find out who had been talking with them.

Under the agreement, the scope of protection for reporters seeking to shield the identities of confidential sources would vary according to the nature of the case: civil, criminal or national security.

In civil cases, the litigants seeking to force reporters to testify would first have to exhaust all other means of obtaining the information. Even then, the judge would apply a “balancing test,” and the burden would be on the information seekers to show by a “preponderance of the evidence” why their need for the testimony outweighed the public’s interest in news gathering.
Full article at the New York Times.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

South Carolina Legislature Rethinks Socialism, Taps Stimulus $$

The state legislature in South Carolina acted Wednesday to send millions of dollars in benefits to the unemployed, reports Yvonne Wenger of the Post and Courier. The state legislature acted to correct an "oversight" that prevented the use of stimulus funds, Wenger reports, extending benefits for five months. About 113,000 residents have exhausted their benefits so far this year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dispatch from the Unserious Empire

On the White House's chess game with the military, I've really got to hand it to them. Their "credible partner" position is a well-constructed ruse for buying some time.

Upside, the position calls out the elephant in the room, i.e., Hamid Karzai's highly in-credible government. It waits to see the outcome of the predicted-here November run-off election between him and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Does anyone seriously think Karzai, having fixed 30% of the votes in the prior election, isn't going to run the same play again? When he wins, the White House can pen the Pentagon and coup d'etat Republicans in by saying, "Look, you've got a fine plan for nation-building there, but you yourselves have said it requires a credible partner to work. Which we unfortunately don't have. What's military theory say have to say about this new situation?"

Downside is, the White House's position is a lawlerly, even pharisaical ploy unlikely to achieve much else. It was just a political punt, and puts off the hard decisions of reallocation. Or as history will call it, withdrawal, defeat, ignomy. Worse, if the challenger is somehow elected, Afghanistan will remain a country with a puppet government everyone hates, one which will continue to generate a major insurgency. Unlikely as it may be, the military could point to an Abdullah Outcome and say, "Look, here's your credible partner. Ante up."

Wheels within wheels, but the net-net is we're still left with a war and an exceptionalist mindset which are together responsible for not having universal health care domestically, for an increasingly patronage-based economy, and for generating motivation for well-deserved vengeance on US civilians across much of the world.

For a more professional take, check out Frontline’s interview with former Col. Andrew Bacevich, author of the bestseller 'The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.' The interviewer and Bacevich discuss the short tours of duty Marines have in Afghanistan and how that's contrary to basic principles of counterinsurgency doctrine. They have this exchange:
Bacevich: “A serious imperial country is a country that is willing to send its young men, and now young women, to these far-off places and leave them there indefinitely. That's not what I would hope we would do. But if indeed you're serious about fixing a place like Afghanistan, that's the level of commitment that probably would be required.”

Interviewer: “We're a reluctant empire?”

Bacevich: “We're not a reluctant empire. We're an unserious empire."
For all their sins, China, Russia, Holland, Spain, England, these weren't fly-by-night operations. America has been, turning on its partners as soon as the price in Rome got right. As T. Boone Pickens bitterly complained, the Iraqis are going to let Chinese companies drill in the most desirable oil fields left on earth; I remain fervently against the Iraq invasion and detest oil companies, that's sheer lunacy. Every person killed and maimed in the effort to bring Iraq and its resources into the United States' orbit is mocked.

Bacevich points out in his book that the failure is systemic, and can't simply be hung on the NeoCons, who are far from the only Americans who believe in preemptively managing history with illusion. Military service, once civic function, has transformed into an economic enterprise, one directly and indirectly employing a large fraction of Americans. I and my partners were once again asked to be in the pay of that effort today, times have been tough, and it has given us reason for personal pause.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Psyche's News Roundup

14 Americans Killed In 2 Afghan Helicopter Crashes
Fareed Zakaria - Zakaria: Obama should weigh troop level carefully - -Think Before Surge
The 'benefit' of Somalia's pirates - Channel 4 News Now | the fishermen are able to catch up to £200 worth of fish per day in an area where the average daily earnings are less than £5

Saudi journalist, Rozanna al-Yami, faces lash over sex talk | The Australian A Saudi court has sentenced a journalist to 60 lashes after she was charged with involvement in a TV show in which a Saudi man talked about sex.
BBC NEWS | Europe | German on trial for Muslim murder
Iraq Ministries Targeted in Car Bombings; Over 130 Dead -

Reid: "The Public Option With An Opt-Out Is The One That's Fair" (let the South opt-out; Rhobama not thrilled with public option but will go along)
Schumer: We Prevailed On White House That Public Option Was The Way To Go | TPMDC (Obama favored Queen Olympia Snowe's plan?)
Scott Berman - Health care reform is moral battle for the soul of a nation --

Healthcare system wastes up to $800 billion a year | U.S. | Reuters ("For one example, a paper-based system that discourages sharing of medical records accounts for 6 percent of annual overspending")
Dems push for benefits to start by 2010 - Carrie Budoff Brown -
Obama's Pointless Pursuit of Olympia Snowe | Newsweek Voices - Howard Fineman | Obama's pointless bipartisanship (a lightbulb grows in Fineman)

Calculated Risk: SF Fed: Recent Developments in Mortgage Finance
Trying to Rein In ‘Too Big to Fail’ Institutions -
How the U.S. Blew Trillion-Dollar Trade of Century: Mark Fisher - (print the money)

McDonald’s Closes in Iceland as Crisis Makes Chain Unprofitable -
We attacked the bankers, but took our eyes off the whole rotten system | Gary Younge | Comment is free | The Guardian
Detroit house auction flops for urban wasteland | Special Coverage | Reuters

Forget the rush on that H1N1 swine flu vaccine; 62% of Americans have no intention of getting it anyway | Top of the Ticket | Los Angeles Times
Asteroids should be next small step for man in space, panel tells President Barack Obama - Telegraph
Beliefs - Changes in Religion All Over the Map, Report Shows - 6 out of 10 Americans pray one or more times each day; high percentages report feeling close to God, experiencing God’s presence or guidance on most days

Don't Feed the Animals: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Sexual Biology (Couples Edition)
Emily Howell, the virtual composer making waves in the computer world - Times Online
Circulation drops at U.S. newspapers as readers turn to online news sources --
Internet set for change with non-English addresses

Hasta la Vista, baby: Ars reviews Windows 7 - Ars Technica
Every Windows 7 Keyboard Shortcut You'll Ever Need - Windows 7 shortcuts - Gizmodo

Friday, October 23, 2009

Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his impact the lives of untold numbers of Americans.

His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny. William Wayne Justice was a Federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right,he was "Justice Justice." And he spent a distinguished legal career making sure that everyone - no matter their color or income or class - got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week, "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him."

Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice who ordered Texas to integrate its public schools in 1971 - 17 years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision made separate schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional. Texas resisted doing the right thing for as long as it could. Many of its segregated schools for African-American children were so poor they still had outhouses instead of indoor plumbing.

This small town lawyer appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered Texas to open its public housing to everyone, regardless of their skin color. He looked at the state's "truly shocking conditions" in its juvenile detention system and said, repair it. He struck down state law that permitted public schools to charge as much as a thousand dollars tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

And Justice demanded a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas prisons, some of the most brutal and corrupt in the nation. He even held the state in contempt of court when he thought it was dragging its feet cleaning up a system where thousands of inmates slept on the dirty bare floors of their cellblocks and often went without medical care. The late, great Molly Ivins said, "He brought the United States Constitution to Texas."

Some say that justice stings. William Wayne Justice certainly did - and his detractors stung back with death threats and hate mail. Carpenters refused to repair his house, beauty parlors denied service to his wife. There were cross burnings and constant calls for his impeachment.

After he desegregated the schools he was offered armed guards for protection. He turned them down and instead took lessons in self-defense.
The rest here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Has The US Housing Market Bottomed?

Lord Wife and I drove back yesterday AM from dropping Running Boy (age 5-1/2) and Mr. Grunt-n-Grab (age 11 months) at their respective stations. We were listening to National Public Radio since it was finally being safe to go back. NPR recently directed its longest-ever local fund drive, ending it only after resorting to stories like "How My Cello Wound Up in Poland."

While we crossed under the freeway, a young reporter quoted a disappointing housing starts report from September. She then invited a Subject Matter Expert from Columbia University onto her segment, and it went like this:
NPR Reporter asks the Expert questions, he fluently rattles off data, we draw closer to home. Reporter asks another question, Expert begins to deliver a matter-of-fact, dismal interpretation of housing market prospects. NPR Reporter suddenly interrupts to say, "I'm sorry--I have to cut you off now."
Lord Wife and I looked at each other with arched brows. Rookie reporter surprised by a vet producer, and-or a "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella" reporting policy becoming painfully obvious? Not 100% sure, but in context it seemed like an openly Pravda Moment on NPR.

The Main Stream Media has by consensus already called the bottom on the real estate market, often citing a stabilization or drop in the rate of foreclosures. On the surface, that's very comforting data. As a homeowner, I certainly don't want to see more of my remaining equity go up in smoke. But...I also have to face facts, which involves objectively thinking about whether there is cause for being perky, and if so, what it is. This in turn means remembering how bankers think, which is to say, they greatly prefer not to.

In short, at some point banks stop foreclosing on properties in hard-hit locales, so I strongly suspect a lowering foreclosure rate is a false-positive indicator. This local tendency may have become a national reality. Either way, aggregate stabilization is being impacted by banks not wanting to take on properties that won't find buyers quickly. Apart from further driving down a bank's on-hand portfolio value, foreclosure costs and hassle factors are high. From the lender's perspective, a property must re-sell in a reasonable time. It must be appealing enough that someone will bid significant cash for it at a sheriff's auction.

There's an unspoken truth here that banks and real estate professionals are keenly aware of: houses do not go up in value. Unless maintained and updated, their value goes down. This is far more true for a McMansion 5 miles from Microsoft than for a grimy hovel in Detroit: if the McMansion sits unoccupied for two years without regular (and to the bank, bothersome) maintenance, its value plummets. The Detroit hovel is a walk-away, and for the attractive McMansion, everything hinges on how fast it can be re-sold. The bulk of properties are in between those extremes, but they're still subject to the same pressures. The more properties that sit empty, the more reluctant banks are to take on more.

A much stronger indicator for measuring "the bottom" would be to track the number of foreclosure filings compared to the number later sold at auction, observing percentage, time to sale, and foreclosure/auction price ratios. But that data isn't tracked officially. Even that data would fail to measure when someone walks away and the bank simply doesn't bother to file foreclosure. Walk-aways by both borrower and lender have already become common in some of the most depressed markets, as described in this local article from Dayton, Ohio:

In some instances, lenders don’t even bother to file a foreclosure. Figures by RealtyTrac released this week show foreclosure filings in the greater Dayton area are down almost 21 percent.

John Carter, housing inspector with the city of Dayton, finds the decline in foreclosures “very scary,” because houses are continuing to go vacant.

For every 100 houses that he orders boarded up, he said, 40 to 50 properties have a mortgage but no foreclosure filed. When he contacts the banks, they sometimes tell him they have no plans to foreclose.

“That makes it look like the foreclosure numbers are going down, but in actuality the banks are not even starting foreclosure,” Carter said. “So there’s no number to track now.”

I'm not trying to stop anyone from buying or selling a home, rather have pointed out basic problems with the Party Line's reasoning. At best, there are wide blind spots in the metrics being used by top prognosticators, the market really has bottomed, and we got lucky. Yet it seems more likely it has not, and officials are trying to talk the market up while looking through their binoculars backwards. These are mostly the same folks who told everybody you can't get hurt buying a home.

Calling the bottom is generally less important than having cash to put on a porch rail. Just as with previous Recession/Depressions, there are major opportunities for people willing to convert paper into property, and it's hard to think of a safer long-term investment in this environment than free and clear ownership of real estate.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Unaware Of Their Own Irony

I'll sneak in one more drive-by post.

In the first government analysis of the Stimulus Bill, the Southern states, after throwing partisan shit-fits against it, are receiving the majority of its benefits. This is ironic, but typical, and has been the case since FDR's New Deal. They're all bluster and bombast, full of hortatory pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps sermons in the front of the building, then they're constant crybabies in the alley out back. Maybe we should look at it as war reparations.

Money Well Spent?
The health care sector has spent $263 million this year lobbying Congress for changes to reform plans, a government watchdog group estimates.
That works out to roughly $500,000 per Congressman and Senator just this year, quite a bit higher for many key committee members and none for people like Russ Feingold, Dennis Kucinich, Marcy Kaptur, Ron Paul, et al. (Hopefully et al.)
If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You Might Not Get There

A week or so back a story came out in the WSJ reporting the president had just finished reading Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.

The book's narrative arc concerns a White House "being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead," urged on by a hyperbolic Pentagon that saw commies under coffee tables while committing unbelievably basic mistakes on the ground. As the story goes, Tom Donilon (a long-time Biden ally), the deputy national security advisor, gave Rahm Emanuel a copy of 'Lessons,' then Rahm went to pass it on the prez but learned he was already reading it, so he loaned it to David Axelrod. Obama passed his own copy on to Biden, whereupon it became required reading for all of Washington and sold out of bookstores. It still must be back-ordered on Amazon.

The Pentagon, now hyperventilating about islamo-fascists under coffee tables, prefers a different narrative arc, one conveyed in A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam. This work has the US military finally figuring out how to apply COIN principles and win, which it was manifestly starting to do by 1971-72, only to have its plug pulled after 8 previous years of patient learning and sacrifice, all wasted by a White House too focused on political gain. Various generals have been pressing the book on their subordinate chains of command since 2005, the WSJ article relates, and it is currently sold out at Amazon.

The broad lines of debate are exposed. Regular readers (Jon in particular) might expect me to dump on the military's choice of exemplar, but not in this case. Creighton Abrams took over Vietnam's command from William Westmoreland in 1968 and promptly switched the strategic focus to protecting villages from incursion and training a truly effective indigenous army (ARVN). Abrams was one of the best military minds in the 20th century in both combat and command, and given a couple more years' head start and 500,000 men, he probably would have succeeded in at least partitioning Vietnam's narrow isthmus. The book is an excellent choice on which to base an argument of COIN and see-it-through.

The White House's book is similarly well-chosen, in that its focus is on McGeorge Bundy, one of the so-called "best and brightest" or "wise men" in the Kennedy Administration, in which he served as National Security Advisor. Having been born to one of Boston's elite families and pledging as member #322 of the Skull and Bones society while at Yale, he was tapped at age 30 to serve on the Council of Foreign Relations while the Marshall Plan was being implemented in Europe as an anti-communist firewall. From there he went to serve as Harvard's youngest ever Dean of Faculty. In the Kennedy Administration, he was an outspoken hawk for escalation, but was first of the early hawks to change his mind and advocate cutting the losses. Like the current think-tankers paid to wind up generals, airwaves and representatives, Bundy knew nothing about war's conduct. He had never studied it.

The arcs don't apply particularly well because Afghanistan is far larger, less stable, more permeable, hostile, and diverse than Vietnam. Afghanistan is a failed state starting from a point of near-zero cohesion, whereas Vietnam had two systems of governance, each entertaining useful thralls of competing ideologies, each on the cusp of establishing a post-Colonial national identity. In Kabul, no one collects the garbage, the Karzai government huddles behind sandbags collecting drug money while it piles higher, and every time the author of a strategic plan relieves themselves on a toilet in the US embassy and flushes, they literally shit on the city's residents. The city's sewage system is its streets.

The Obama Administration's only strategic goal in Afghanistan is to simply contain al-Qaeda, which has already been accomplished. They're re-fighting Vietnam while al-Qaeda openly blossoms orange and red in Pakistan, and it seems that Vietnam is aiming too high.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"You Can't Take The High Horse, And Then Claim The Low Road"

Ohh, but yes, you can. Just for old time's sake and some perspective after the first Nobel Prize ever given to a US President for merely restoring dignity and respect for protocol, I looked up some old Dubya bloopers. The main problem was choice overload, of course, but the compilation above is a good selection. The clip below is instructive, too, because Bush's pre-recorded speech to an international audience is being fed through his earpiece at a volume high enough to be picked up by his podium's microphones. His answers to the reporters' pre-submitted questions are all pre-recorded as well, and are fed through the Telepreznit's magic earpiece. Maybe Obama deserves the Prize after all.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Bright Shining Showdown

Give the picture above a close look; it's the first time the President of the US and the commander of his ground forces in Afghanistan met 1-1. Today is the Year Eight of the war they're conferring over, and their body language is telling. Obama's posture is patient, explanatory, verging on remonstrative; Stanley McChrystal's is taut, defensive, and tilting to one side. The general looks like he might be struggling to maintain his composure while thinking, "I could spatter his head like a bug."

Obama's intellectual training was primarily by Socratic method, which emphasizes dialectical questions designed to get one party in a debate to tellingly contradict themselves, strengthening the inquirer's point. I have been very critical of the President for asking for a report he knew would, in a word, suck. In his defense, maybe he didn't know it would suck this badly, and didn't expect it to collapse so easily upon an amateur's inquiries. For example, BHO may have asked self-contradicting questions like these:
"Are you telling me that 40,000 more troops are enough to decisively defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, once and for all?"

"How will these new troops limit al-Qaeda's continuing growth in Pakistan, where we know it's becoming a deadlier domestic and international threat?"

Stanley A. McChrystal is a Crusader, a third-gen Military Industrial Complex product deeply in the pocket of the NeoCons, and Fred Kagan, who authored the bribe-the-Sunni-insurgents-and-leave plan known as The Surge in Iraq, is his strategy advisor. He has gone on 60 minutes to tout his plan. He has given a speech to an international crowd in London. His allies, one would hope not his own office, leaked his classified troop request report to the press. His disdain for Obama, his commander-in-chief, is visible, quotable, and wholly insubordinate. Obama is likely too smart to fire him, and McChrystal is probably too dumb to resign. I suspect McC's superior, Gen. David Petraeus, has masterfully set up a good soldier to take a fall for him.

When it comes to making war or anything else, Fred Kagan and the NeoCons are turds in a picnic cooler. One must assume the questions, simple questions above were put to their report, and no good answers were blurted. Obama today announced, as expected, that there will be no withdrawal. That sounds bland and depressing enough, but he also set no timeline on a decision for escalation, no numbers on additional troops at all. In other words, it is the omission which speaks loudest, and he's breaking the news to the NeoCons softly. Refer again to the body language in the picture above.

In D.C. Newspeak, Obama's announcement today signifies No Buildup. There may be a token compromise (a.k.a. Operation Kevlar Chandelier), but bottom line, this is an infuriating hog-tying for the NeoCons and their Generals, and they're off in basements and bars this evening uttering vile oaths, making pacts and desperately sharpening knives. Having been brilliantly stalemated, the best they can do is cry, "leisurely," and "too deliberate!" For once since his election, I stand in admiration and applaud: Barack Hussein Obama didn't give them the satisfaction of a clear "No."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

California Screamin'

I'm heading towards Hollywood and Vine to close down an un-airconditioned office a few stories above the walk of fame for a client. I'm waiting out tough times underneath a palm tree, waiting for the stop light and economic shoots to turn green as a cunningly bleached blonde sits up high in an onyx Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV. She crosses our path in front and dawdles to turn left while a little white dog nestles on her breast looking down at me and nervously at the cars, the kind of dog that's not good for much but luxuriating or tossing up in the air to punt over a fence.

The girl's wearing goggle-sized sunglasses and maybe she'll turn 20 years old while she waits for oncoming traffic to clear and my friend, an L.A. resident, who has been fielding my questions about the Governator's budget crisis follows up with, "They just announced they're cutting summer school and child care programs for migrant workers." "Oh, yeah," I sigh. "Now that makes a hell of a lot of sense. That's really cutting the fat out of a budget! Bold leadership. Political courage!"

To my right, a sun-baked caucasian man, fiftyish, drags down the sidewalk like a grimy, dessicated crustacean with about an hour to live, trailing a torn t-shirt devoid of color, dust in his hair sticking up in the air ike free beauty parlor product, greasy gray jeans hanging off him obscenely. No one at the bus stop sees him, he's magic, he's an invisible man. So I'm sitting there thinking, look pal, it's right here, the future is being spelled out in front of your face on a big mind-reading neon sign just like with Steve Martin in LA Story. Stop for a minute and read.

California's got it all. It's the #1 Death Factory and
it's the #1 Dream Factory in the US and the world. Tops in arms production and entertainment. 8th biggest economy on the planet, huge wine producer, agribusiness, no slouch in the ganja department. Companies like Apple, Google, Disney, Miramax, and YoYodyne are all in California. It is the most fungible entity imaginable.

Yet it's bankrupt, its bonds are junk, it is now paying state worker in scrip and its population is shrinking for the first time since the conquistadores brought the plague.
Now, I'm thinking at the stoplight, we must be suffering from a philosophical conundrum. A triumph or failure of Reaganomics, of scientology, of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, trickle down Wysocki, trickle down. If you can keep your income inequality when all around you are losing theirs then you will be a man my son.

America has never viewed its working classes through the sentimental fug of an Edwardian music hall, but when treated well one time they promptly payed back with the greatest explosion of prosperity and technology in known history. But that's a bygone era, constantly memorialized and milked for every last drop of hope in repeating a Greatest Generation. California, particularly its coastal southern cities, provides a juxtaposition of glittering got-it-made success and violent squalor, with pernicious polarizing influences and taxes that keep regressing. It's the Big vs. the Little Lebowskis, and it's actually hard to tell who's winning--half the time the plot's entertaining, half the time it's frightening, and half the time it's disastrous. Because it's California, the halves add up.

But uh-oh. Cali's attached. It's kind of attached to the US like a skull, in fact. Am I looking at the future of my entire country? Well, it was America's bellwether state of the 20th century, so yes, it would seem so. Reading Will California become America's first failed state?, a competently researched and interviewed article in the Guardian, triggered the above memory of a recent trip to L.A., and the upshot of it is that public services will be shut down to reduce the budget gap, that's not going to be enough, and people will think of something because Californians are innovative.

Metaphorically, to take California's lead, the United States has a case of brain cancer, and it's not ready to start dealing with it in any serious way. Delusion is the order of the day. The recession is over, I'm sure you've heard. Tide's still up, sky's still blue and the myth of the California Dream is going to die hard, like a butthole surfer screaming "whooaaa, duuuude," as he bashes up repeatedly against the stony crags of Monterey.

To end on a glass half full, as required, California dreamers hang it out innately, they don't know any different, which means America's problems tend to crop up first and most prevalently in that state. Presumably, so will solutions.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Finally An Attack Democrat For Health Care Reform

Here's how it's done. Rep Alan Grayson (D-FL) goes on the offensive with guns blazing at precisely the right time. Grayson stood up in Congress and said that the Republicans are a bunch of Neanderthals who don't even have a health care plan: "What their plan amounts to is, 'Don't get sick, of if you do--die quickly." You can imagine the swinging that ensued on the monkey bars after that one, to which Grayson replied, in paraphrase: "Tough shit. I meant exactly what I said. You losers have no plan."

Here's some nice dining room talking point ammo he shoots in the above interview:
122 Americans die every single day because they don't have health care
Simple. Clean. If anybody wants to argue with that statement, they expose themselves as either not very interested in the benefits of being an American citizen or just mouthing someone else's shit-stirring.

Everybody from people who are happy with their Medicare to somebody looking for another cardboard box to sleep in knows that the medical industry is in need of a proper beating and has generally stopped making sense. The far left and far right should at least be able to agree on that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saying No To The Long War For One Brief Week

Let's see, now...what unfortunate coincidence befell the last sitting President who said "No" to the Pentagon? Hmm. Wish I had a better memory. Anyhow, Obama's annoying re-consideration of his decision this Spring to expand troop levels in Afghanistan, which I had discussed in a recent prescriptive post (A Solution for Afghanistan: Changing the Mission to Observe and Contain) was sure to generate swift repercussions from the military industrial complex crowd. And they came, mild openers such as these:
1) Republicans are telling Congressional Democrats that if B.O. withdraws, they'll personally be blamed for slaughtered virgins raining from Afghanistan's skies;

2) General Stan McChrystal has preemptively threatened to resign if he doesn't get his 40,000 more troops;

3) Impetus is gathering for congressional hearings about O's mishandling of the Afghanistan war, with a parade of generals and policy analysts. Mutiny, in other words, is afoot;

4) The Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, went on CNN Sunday and appeared to contradict his boss, saying an exit strategy would be a "strategic mistake;"

5) General David Petraeus, more on him later, again denied that he's thinking about a presidential run in 2012.
These wails aren't keening over nuke-bearing Russkies and these breasts aren't being beaten over invading Chinese hordes, but over the prospect of disillusioned donut salesmen trying to figure out how to mix acetone and peroxide together and hurt other people as well. The Complex will turn up the heat on a recalcitrant White House, and the most likely political response will be re-emphasizing al-Qaeda and de-emphasizing the Taliban.

This switch of framework can be easily packaged for public consumption by explaining that al-Qaeda is offensive in nature and the Taliban is defensive, therefore a troop buildup to chase the Taliban in Afghanistan doesn't make sense--but, for the sake of the populace in the areas we've made promises, withdrawal must be very gradual and we Will Not Abandon Them. This political solution will please few other than politicians, is almost as bad operationally as a build-up, and will probably result in a creeping expansion anyway. In the spirit of the times, I hereby take the liberty of christening it Operation Kevlar Chandelier.

While it's possible B.O. will have the political courage to put his head on the line and withdraw from his Dumb War in accord with what we already do against aQ on the cheap in places like the Sudan, it's a much longer shot than any Mr. Oswald took from the Book Depository. Thankfully, a commenter named VietnamVet on Sic Semper Tyrannis (link on right) repeats myself for me:

"The Long War is a losing proposition; it will break the bank and break the force.”

I have long been a proponent of containment. The only force that works to pacify an insurrection is a native police. If an empire is going to occupy a foreign country it has to work the ethnic divisions and build a native state that can police itself. This worked more or less until WWII. However, the AK-47, IED, cell phones, internet, and excess oil money make it impossible for a Jewish or a Christian country to occupy and pacify the Muslim people.

Containment and Energy Independence are the only strategy that will work for Western Civilization. These are the only schemes that won’t bankrupt the Middle Class. Unfortunately for America’s future, all the government Stakeholders have a game to play and wedge politics has neutered the Middle Class voter.

The infuriating fact that we're certain to lose doesn't matter. Rory Stewart, who knows the area better than any talk show analyst, recently put it so:
"...basically the policy decision is made. What they would like is a little advice on some small bit. I mean, the analogy that one of my colleagues used recently is this: “We’re planning to drive our car off a cliff. Do we wear a seatbelt or not?” And we say, “Don’t drive your car off the cliff.” And they say, “No, no, no. That decision’s already made. The question is should we wear our seatbelts?” And you say, “Why by all means wear a seatbelt.” And they say, “Okay, we consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart."
Post-Kennedy US foreign policy starts coming together once you realize the United States Middle Class is viewed in certain circles as an accident which should never have happened. Any straps extending underneath that class are now introduced as entitlements. Geopolitics were once games of chance to the inbred hemophiliac royals who had their private parties and scorecards and something like it is happening again. Senseless wastes and gambles begin making sense against that backdrop and the drama of tawdry and conveniently far-off places works as well as Western movies. The Apaches are out there, planting IEDs.

Thus we play the fools with time, and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds and mock us. But there is still an ember, there is still a glimmer, and I still blow.

"If The Democrats Can Grow A Backbone..."

Jon used that phrase in the comments section of the last post, and yes, I am taking him waaay out of context, but it prompted me to think of the gelatinous mass above. Welcome to my mental image of the Democratic Party. There are still a few useful parts...I think the fang hanging on the right side of its mouth is Russ Feingold, the vestigial flippers are Kucinich and Leahy, Waxman is maybe the nose.

Update: Why yes, failure is their preferred option: Senate panel rejects gov't-run insurance plan

Monday, September 28, 2009

Someone Else Sees What I'm Seeing

Julian Robertson sees the pink elephant, and publicly called out the 2008 fiasco. Now he can't figure out how the US and several other countries will avoid triggering hyperinflation with the amount of money they're printing (I can't either). He's noticed that no one is buying long bonds (who would?) and buyers for short ones have dwindled to a few usual suspects. This guy, pun intended, bears watching. He has placed big bets on shorting treasuries and appeared on CNBC to help talk them down:
The US is too dependent on Japan and China buying up the country's debt and could face severe economic problems if that stops, Tiger Management founder and chairman Julian Robertson told CNBC.

"It's almost Armageddon if the Japanese and Chinese don't buy our debt,” Robertson said in an interview. "I don't know where we could get the money. I think we've let ourselves get in a terrible situation and I think we ought to try and get out of it."

Robertson said inflation is a big risk if foreign countries were to stop buying bonds.

“If the Chinese and Japanese stop buying our bonds, we could easily see [inflation] go to 15 to 20 percent,” he said. “It's not a question of the economy. It's a question of who will lend us the money if they don't. Imagine us getting ourselves in a situation where we're totally dependent on those two countries. It's crazy.”

Robertson said while he doesn’t think the Chinese will stop buying US bonds, the Japanese may eventually be forced to sell some of their long-term bonds.

“That's much worse than not buying,” he said. “The other thing is, they're buying almost exclusively short-term debt. And that's what we are offering, because we can't sell the long-term debt. And you know, the history has been that people who borrow short term really get burned.”

A clever person concerned about hyperinflation and wanting to make a financial killing would use exchange-traded funds to go long on 2-year Treasuries and short on 10-year Treasuries, which is probably something like what Julian Robertson is doing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Solution for Afghanistan: Changing the Mission to Observe and Contain

Obama appears to be re-considering his earlier Afghanistan strategy and is bridling at the military's public blackmailing for yet more troops. The politician in him is rearing, nostrils flared and smelling quagmire. As a statesman, Obama seems smart enough to know he's dealing with a buffer zone, one which should be pragmatically set within a framework of limited goals. Unfortunately, he was sold a much wider bill of goods by self-serving interests, military and commercial, which won't pick up the tab for failure.

Those interests are not used to hearing "No," which is why Obama was stupid enough to start down a full-blown nation-building counter-insurgency path; and so, too, have many others before him. Perhaps it's a combination of natural human optimism, the allure of scientific rationalism, and the colossal rocky boulliabaise of cock-up which is Afghanistan, long known as "the Graveyard of Empire." A remaining Everest and K2 of foreign policy circles, it must inspire military planners and wonks to sharpen up their models and say, "I shall tread triumphant where all others have failed, I shall gain my rightful place on Meet the Press."

So many others. England, for its part, apparently suffers from some pathologically driven need to occupy Kabul and Kandahar at least once every century, then leave in disgust and frustration, erecting some cryptic statue to their loss. The Dr. Watson of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's imagination was a wounded survivor of the quite factual Battle of Maiwan, having been carried out of the massacre by his orderly. It's all right there in the opening of 'A Study in Scarlet,' and perhaps the British public supported this last occupation on a purely sentimental basis.
The bother of conquering and holding the region goes all the way back to Alexander the Great, who was nearly killed in the Swat Valley after taking a dart in the shoulder. He executed trusted Macedonian lieutenants and soldiers when they mutinied following a victory they felt was too precarious and far from home. In terms relative to megalomania, it was a markedly low point in his career.

The stated military logic, tenuous as it may have been, for occupying Afghanistan was to deny the takfiri jihad (al Qaeda) a base of operations. If we don't occupy, the argument went, we allow a vacuum to exist which draws in terrorists, who then have a safe haven in which to train and mount another 9/11-style event. Deriding the presumption and ridiculousness of this reasoning would be satisfying but illusory. It's worth noting that even at the highest levels, the systems which produce good strategic decision-making in this country have failed or have been completely blocked. Allow me to explain why.

By flipping it on its head, the flaw in the military's opening logic above is easily exposed and solved: if you allow Afghanistan to become a vacuum, and terrorists move in and make bases, all you have to do is watch them with your expensive satellites and predator drones, then move your special forces up close enough to observe and confirm bad guy status while coordinating with local security forces, and eliminate the terrorist threats. This solution is so obvious and executable precisely because the stability of Afghanistan has absolutely no correlation with the security of the United States; it doesn't matter if we risk destabilizing it with bombing strikes on varying numbers of its citizens who we believe plan to attack us.

An Observe and Contain mission can be run in Afghanistan and the borderlands of Pakistan so long as security agreements are maintained with its governments. Withdrawing ground troops from the region will strengthen diplomatic goodwill, reduce domestic taxpayer burden, and enhance the security footing of the United States. President Obama is showing multiple signs of questioning America's overall foreign policy course, and is hopefully on the verge of making the choice not to escalate troop levels in Afghanistan, but to draw them down.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oh, For the Days of Separate But Equal (Says Rush Limbaugh)

I've been waiting for the moment when a major anti-Obama personage finally let their cloak fall so you could see the word RACIST tattoed across their chest. A rough equivalent to when, during Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention in 1991, College Republicans in the crowd started giving the Nazi salute and nobody stopped them before the camera cut away. I've been waiting for something like this:

LIMBAUGH: I think the guy’s wrong. I think not only it was racism, it was justifiable racism. [referring to an interracial fist-fight on a schoolbus] I mean, that’s the lesson we’re being taught here today. Kid shouldn’t have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses — it was invading space and stuff. This is Obama’s America.

Yes, Rush, the cracker barrel just isn't the same anymore, what with the darkies shoppin' in the general store and usin' real greenbacks just like everybody else. How will we protect the women-folk? Some days I can only wonder if the South will ever rise again...

(Note: the snark tag to the above is set on "Stun.")

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Interesting Events, And Good

A few bright spots today, each of which will resound.

First, Newsweek reports that the White House has been briefed that Iran has not been actively developing nuclear weapons for at least the last 6 years. The report must have seriously undermined Israeli claims to the contrary, and cast doubt upon its persistently urgent calls for preventive bombing. The fact that it was finally given at all signals that control of the agency intelligence estimate apparatus has been wrested back, at least temporarily.

Next, and likely connected with the above, President Obama scrapped the Bush/Cheney Poland-based missile shield plan. The "shield," ostensibly intended to defend from future incoming Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles, enraged Russia and many of the members of its former Union. At minimum, the move is a rational de-escalation, and may factor into preparation for upcoming talks with Iran. Which is precisely how Israel will interpret it.

Finally, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, one of the good guys, introduced legislation that will re-work some privacy rights and due process for average Americans back into the FISA and Patriot Acts. Not that we actually needed privacy when speaking on the phone or sending email or anything, the government would be bored to tears by all our conversations, but it's nice that an elected Senator takes time out of their busy fundraising day and thinks of these things.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Canadians Talk Funny

But they have a single-payer health care system. Here they are talking about it themselves, often expressing pity and concern in those endearing, Depression-era accents for their neighbors to the south.

Health Plan, Short Take

Drum roll, and grains of salt to day jobs. The Baucus "bipartisan" plan would require every American to purchase health insurance from a private company. That's referred to as an "individual mandate." While there appears to be a limit on pre-existing denials, there also appears to be no cap on rate hikes whatsoever.

Net-net, the insurance companies would pick up 30-50 million new customers and set rates at will with no accountability except to each other. Fortunately, this P.O.S. won't make it out of committee. It and the Democrats will be eviscerated by Republicans, and rightly so. Then something worse will ensue.

We have established what you are, sirs and madames, and there was not much haggling over price.
Party Differences & Driving Influences

Bush one hour before his TARP speech:
In the theater, the president was clearly confused about how the government would buy these securities. He repeated his belief that the government was going to “buy low and sell high,” and he still didn’t understand why we hadn’t put that into the speech like he’d asked us to. When it was explained to him that his concept of the bailout proposal wasn’t correct, the president was momentarily speechless. He threw up his hands in frustration.

“Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he asked.
Excerpted from Matt Latimer's upcoming "insider" book about the Bush presidency.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Roots of Anti-Communist Hysteria in the United States... deep, and are inter-joined in our stump with others. Whenever a leader sets about directing our energies away from hunting down menacing Injuns outside to building up public commons within, hysteria recurs. I wonder when or if we can ever recognize we're no longer a frontier nation putting the last touches on its Manifest Destiny. The tendency is reflexive.

Contrast the myriad recent freak-outs with a Vanity Fair article by Sam Kashner on how William Manchester’s book on John F. Kennedy’s assassination came to be describes the morning of Nov. 22, 1963:

“In that third year of the Kennedy presidency,” Manchester wrote, “a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars.” A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as “the Democrat flag.” A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing “this man is Wanted” for—among other things—“turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations” and appointing “anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists” to federal offices. And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, “Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”

Fortunately, in the ensuing 46 years our political discourse has improved greatly. (h/t to Blog on the Run)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Financial Blowback & "W"-Shaped Recession

When President Obama announced economic recovery is here, it was time to call bullshit. It'd be great if B.O.'s right, of course, but fundamentals have actually deteriorated, with hot money pumped direct from the state running even faster through the veins, chasing higher yields and P/E ratios. Insider stock sales, a classic buy-sell benchmark, are currently running at a rate of 31 to 1, sell-heavy. In the still very much deregulated financial industry, the side bets which caused banks to fail have not been taken off. Every month another bank or two goes down because the cancerous transactions were not un-wound, and in return for a bail-out or heist of approximately one year's worth of total US gross domestic product, no meaningful change was forced in regulation or culture.

But it's ok. Right now Wall Street is collectively thinking, "Let the good times roll, baby. We can get away with absolutely anything." While all known historical data say that's a good time to duck, what do I know? What's to duck from, exactly?
To me, the US-led global financial system looks like an enormous black pulsating blob. It makes groans, whoops, satisfied sounds. It emits an alarming howl every now and again over the gurglings and gushings which accompany its usual to and fro. Periodically a maw creaks open from a manifold cleft and some be-tentacled larval outgrowth emerges and it thrives while words like "collateralized debt obligations" ring dutifully out.

I certainly don't know what the Blob's going to do next, or when, and it seems to be demonstrably unknowable in the aggregate by any personage or group, inside or out. This is, in fact, its very problem, because financial systems ultimately operate on faith. This Thing inspires the opposite. Its complexity, vastness, and opacity warrant looking for the quiet exit, but that usually involves building your own exit door with spare lumber and cable because that's just how big the Blob has gotten. The other exit doors have drawn their own crowds already, with their own problems.

As if that were not enough, a well-placed few blob-masters were recently given the chance to legally award kingly amounts of blob-extract to themselves and apportion more to their vassals in the name of saving us from a Second Great Depression. They're currently basking with amazing modesty in accolades since it has been announced that Recovery is At Hand. The Blob is smiling; all will be well. There was no need to alter our former beliefs, we just needed some "stimulus," and a bold will to fast action.

People like Joe Stiglitz and the blog Seeking Alpha say, "Not so fast. What you call stimulus, I call sleight of hand. All those fork lifts that loaded containers onto the trucks, where did they go? Where are the containers now?" A rigged system so sly and newly faithful of itself will simply pull its hidden levers yet lower and harder, so maybe there are worse things than double-dip recessions:
The Double Dip Recession, or the “W” shaped recovery that a minority of economists, such as Joseph Stiglitz, is now stating as a strong possible outcome of this current rally, should not be discussed in the realm of economics but rather in the more apropos realm of financial fraud. The fact that the upleg of the “W” shaped recovery that is occurring now will inevitably crumble in spectacular fashion will not be a result of any free market principle, but rather the direct consequence of a fraudulent scheme executed by an elite global financial oligarchy, otherwise known as Central Banks.

If the mission of this current manufactured leg-up in Western stock markets was to fool the world into believing that global economies are recovering, then clearly, up until this point, the mission has been a resounding success. For those unfamiliar with the term “blowback”, it’s a CIA term that was first used in March 1954 to describe the unintended consequences of US government international activities kept secret from the American people.

Though this term has primarily been used to describe the consequences of covert military operations, “blowback” is an appropriate term to use to describe the coming consequences of banking fraud because the US government, US Federal Reserve, Wall Street, the US Treasury, and the Exchange Stabilization Fund have all engaged in domestic and international financial and monetary transactions that have been kept secret from the world, and that will have severe and negative consequences in the not so distant future.

In fact, I predict that the blowback of these activities will not only exceed, but far exceed, the fallout the world experienced in 2008 at the prior apex of this current crisis. Most people today can not even fathom how bad the situation will become primarily because of all the secrecy that the banksters have engaged in – in US Treasury markets, the gold markets, the US dollar markets, agriculture commodities, stock markets, and financial markets – in hiding reality from the people.