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...

...run 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.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Health Care Reform Officially Dead...The Country May As Well Be...This Will Be A Good Thing, Eventually

Piss in the Cheerios. Just heard it from the suspiciously glazed lips of Senator Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee Chair who has taken $2.9 million from the health care industry this year alone, and whose version of the health care bill is the one which will pass: it won't contain a real public insurance option. (My previous post on a windfall for the insurance industry under a self-servingly sabotaged public option was, in its way, the optimistic outcome.) The way Baucus sounded, it may not even contain a fake one, but might stop at expanding Medicare to some undetermined number of po' folk the states will have to pick up some indeterminable percentage of the tab for.

This would really hang a double-toilet seat around the Democratic Party's neck. It would ignite the Metamucil Swillers' full wrath once they calculate how much their pie slices must shrink, and state guvmints will get shafted at a time when more than half of them are facing budget crises and some have already begun curtailing Medicaid services. The only certain things about the Baucus bill is it will contain a large number of ass-rams for US citizens and more sops to the sacred oxen in the industry.

To me or any cynic with a half-functioning brain, this phenotypically congressional eventuality was obvious in a foregone sense as soon as I realized Obama had wired his trap shut about comparisons to single-payer systems, which was along about March. Why didn't I tell you about it between then and now? Three reasons. 1: Pity. 2: Depression. 3: Chance of a miracle.

Rolling Stone editors foresaw the same and unmuzzled investigative rottie Matt Taibbi, who enumerates what fresh hells will be visited upon us to the benefits of the health "care" industry in the article below. He's in rare form and uncorks a must-read, in that he correctly identifies this summer as the when Americans, progressive, wing-nut, libertarian, democrat, depublican, middle, and independent Americans, realize it's all over:

Just as we have a medical system that is not really designed to care for the sick, we have a government that is not equipped to fix actual crises. What our government is good at is something else entirely: effecting the appearance of action, while leaving the actual reform behind in a diabolical labyrinth of ingenious legislative maneuvers.

Over the course of this summer, those two failed systems have collided in a spectacular crossroads moment in American history. We have an urgent national emergency on the one hand, and on the other, a comfortable majority of ostensibly simpatico Democrats who were elected by an angry population, in large part, specifically to reform health care. When they all sat down in Washington to tackle the problem, it amounted to a referendum on whether or not we actually have a functioning government.

That's right, I said it's all over. Not just as an empire. We're finished as a real country. Right now, America is about as real as the town in Blazing Saddles that Hedley LaMarr ran. Seriously, other than to glide bombs onto mud huts with great precision, exactly what is the Federal government capable of accomplishing? Can it do something good? For I say unto thee, ye shall know the tree by its fruit. The United States no longer has a philosophical or practical primum mobile, or at least not one which makes any sense for humans and humanity. It's all become a mechanical and surreal exercise for enriching elites. In fact, if we are to be honest with ourselves, that's exactly what this Land of Opportunity has always been.

Ask yourself: if an 8.5 Richter Scale earthquake happened tomorrow and flattened your domicile, how long do you think it would be before the Federal government, or anyone, got around to helping you rebuild? (Where we live, no one will sell earthquake insurance, unless they determine you don't need it.) I'm not saying it's going to be bread lines in St. Petersburg with starving grandmas burning Social Security checks for warmth, although there will be elements of that and there already are, I'm saying that the public structures we have are no longer very useful, are becoming observably less so, and are irredeemable in practical and legal senses. Could it be any more obvious that Congress, a thing the Founders made to run the country, no longer runs the country? And the Founders? Please. Those bastards are responsible for this mess.

It's gone, people, it's out of control, and this health care debacle is the final proof. Obama had his chance, and it is definitively blown. It's not him-- although to fumble the ball, it must be said, you at least have to try running with the fucking thing in the first place--it's the entire system. It's hollowed out. It's the Privatized States of America. It's time to start thinking of new solutions, new structures and philosophies that actually have sustaining logic to them. Revolutions have to succeed in the mind and on the page before they succeed in the streets. (Hint: the slogan should neither be "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property," nor "Get rich or die tryin.') It will change. And it will start with health care. Read the Taibbi. It's clear. It's prophetic. And I don't even like the guy.