Sunday, March 30, 2008

Where is the outrage?

Via Atrios The US has spent **at least** $22 billion in training an Iraqi army that will not be ready till 2012 to 2018.

Compare that figure to defense budgets of various countries who manage to have competent armies within that range. It is not that the Iraqi cannot be taught to be a soldier. It is the vast stupidity and corruption of the American establishment. Where is the American citizens' outrage? It isn't there because it will be their grandchildren who pay for it. Stick the ungrateful brats with the bill.

Strange Alliances

(via dkos)

Mukasey, meet Truth. Truth, meet Mukasey.

US Attorney General Michael Mukasey said this, the other day:

Officials "shouldn't need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that's the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that's the call that we didn't know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."

The law governing these things in force at the time was FISA.

1. The FISA law did not require a warrant for this situation.
2. Even if it did, why did not the Bush administration apply for one?
3. FISA also provides for a "wiretap now, get warrant later". If there was some misunderstanding about points 1 & 2, why did not point 3 apply?

Either the Attorney General is lying or Bush & Co demonstrated frightening incompetence at stopping the 9/11 plot. If the Attorney General is speaking the truth, then the 9/11 Commission and its report are a joke.

To quote Glenn Greenwald:
Mukasey's new claim that FISA's warrant requirements prevented discovery of the 9/11 attacks and caused the deaths of 3,000 Americans is disgusting and reckless, because it's all based on the lie that FISA required a warrant for targeting the "Afghan safe house." It just didn't. Nor does the House FISA bill require individual warrants when targeting a non-U.S. person outside the U.S.

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

PS: Mukasey is the one who despite a hundred years of precedent, could not answer at his confirmation hearing whether water-boarding constitutes torture. His nomination to AG would have been held up but for the two great Democratic Senators, Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer.

But what should really give people pause is that there are hundreds if not thousands of such people in high positions available to be nominated to the highest posts in government. People with not a scintilla of integrity. Like plaque in the arteries that cannot be removed, such folks slowly but surely kill the nation.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Israel's Quagmire

As per this story in The New York Times, first Israel took over private Palestinian land in the occupied territories to build Highway 443, an access road to Jerusalem. In the 1980s, when the road was built, this went all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court, which permitted the taking of property, because the road was for the benefit of the Palestinians, so the Israeli Army certified. Yeah, right, we take your land to build roads for you.

Now, because of security reasons, Palestinians are barred from using Highway 443. And the Israeli Supreme Court has asked for separate but equal roads for the Palestinians.

The whole thing seems rather obscene. IMO, Israelis should be barred from using the road if it is not secure. Anyway, such is the quagmire Israel has built for itself. It will not be able to escape the karmic consequences; my main fear is that they will drag the whole world down too.

David Kretzmer, an emeritus professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote in an op-ed article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz of what he called the “judicial hypocrisy” of Israel’s reign over the territories manifest in this case.

He said that while the changed security circumstances of recent years may have forced a change in the road’s mixed use, “the unavoidable conclusion is that, as unfortunate as this may be, Israelis should not be allowed to travel on the road that was built, let’s not forget, for the benefit of the local population.

“But the military government has, of course, decided otherwise: Israelis will be allowed to travel on the road, while Palestinians — for whom, the court’s ruling says, the road was paved — cannot use it, and access to the road from local Palestinian villages will be blocked.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Justice in the US of A

The talks by both men were simply amazing. They both eventually got to the fact that over 97 percent of the cases in our town are settled by plea bargain. Both had stories of men who pleaded guilty to avoid trial even though they were innocent. These stories would immediately get the attention of the children, "why would someone say they were guilty when they were not"?

The answer has to do with the awesome power of the prosecutor's office and the idea of piling criminal counts on top of other criminal counts until any matter could net one untold years in jail. We in America would charge a horse thief with theft, but not with conspiracy to steal horses, willful evasion of taxes on stolen horses, cruelty to animals and diminishing the civil rights of horse owners; but this is no longer true.

We were told that it is a fiction that the government will not retaliate against you if you demand your constitutional right to a jury trail in a criminal case. That was the most shocking statement of the day to my young charges.

The class and I were left with the distinct impression that the courts were rigged to fill jails and that justice was not on the agenda.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Digby speaks

An excerpt from an important essay by Digby:

The fact is that faced with circumstances that make the prospect of a victory easier than they could usually expect, Democrats have used that opportunity to break through some long standing barriers to blacks and women in spite of the fact that it would lessen their advantage. This is an unusual and counterintuitive step for a party out of power to take --- generally they go the safe route after being beaten two elections in a row and nominate the most mainstream candidate they can find. So, good for the Democrats for using their advantage to do more than just win an election. ( And truthfully, when else could they possibly do it? When the Republicans are on a roll?)

As a liberal who's been watching all this take place over the course of half a century now, I am thrilled at the prospect of crossing those boundaries with an African American or female president. But the sexism and racism we've seen in the campaign so far is a reminder that these things don't happen by magic or positive thinking. (Look at the racial make up of the prison population or the gender pay gap for illustration.) They happen because people are always out there fighting for it, over time, vigilantly manning the barricades against the conservative aristocrats (there aren't any other kind) and the people they purposefully manipulate with fear to keep full equality and true liberty from coming to fruition.

And sadly, those who do that fighting are often considered to be "unamerican" and "unpatriotic" because by demanding that America change, they are making a case that America is not perfect. For the chauvinist, nationalist, exceptionalist right, (and the mindbogglingly provincial thinkers in the of the village) that is something you are not allowed to admit.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Worshipper of Ares

William Polk explains just how close Bush is to leading the US into war against Iran.

Arthur Silber asks us why we are silent.

Slaughter personified waits restlessly for the new offerings.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pelosi & Co do ethics

Read about it here.
This is what the House of Representatives has proved by at last creating an outside panel to hear complaints of ethical wrongdoing by its members. ...

Thank you, Pelosi & Congress!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The God King

Tom Engelhardt:
And here's the thing: In our world, there is a chasm that can never be breached between, say, a Sunni extremist clothed in a suicide vest who walks into a market in Baghdad with the barbaric intent of killing as many Shiite civilians as possible, and an air or missile attack, done in the name of American "security" and aimed at a "known terrorist," that just happens to – repeatedly – kill innocent civilians. And yet, what if you know before you launch your attack, as American planners certainly must, that the odds are innocents (and probably no one else) will die?

Not so long ago in the United States, presidentially sanctioned assassinations abroad were illegal. But that was then, this is so now. Nonetheless, it's a fact that the "right" to missile, bomb, shell, "decapitate," or assassinate those we declare to be our enemies, without regard to borders or sovereignty, is based on nothing more than the power to do it. This is simply the "right" of force (and of technology). If the tables were turned, any American would recognize such acts for the barbarism they represent.

Remember back in the 1990s, when the glories of an economically borderless world were being limned? Just after September 11, 2001, the Bush administration proudly declared us to be in a far darker world without borders (except, of course, when it came to our own). In this new world, whether we knew it or not, whether we cared or not, we granted our highest officials – specifically our military and intelligence services – the full powers of prosecutor, defense counsel, judge, jury, and executioner, as well as the right to report on such events only to the extent, and as, they wished. This was the sort of power that monotheistic religions normally granted to an all-powerful god, that kingdoms generally left to absolute rulers, and that dictators have always tried to take for themselves (though just, of course, in the domains under their control).

This aspect of the Bush Doctrine, of what the President likes to call staying "on the offensive," when mixed with a couple of decades of "advances" in air warfare, including the development of sophisticated, missile-armed drones, "smart bombs," "precision-guided munitions," and the like, has resulted in a lethal globalizing brew of assassination and destruction. It recognizes neither boundaries, nor sovereignty across much of the planet. With all its "actionable" possibilities, it will surely be with us long after George W. Bush has left office.

Of course, those few nameless dead or wounded Somali civilians – swatted like so many flies and forgotten as quickly as flies would be – don't faintly match up against the "dozens" of Iraqi civilian deaths that, according to Human Rights Watch, were caused by 50 decapitation strikes launched against the top officials of Saddam Hussein's regime back in March 2003. (Not a single official was harmed.) Nor do they quite make it into the company of the "Afghan elders" being taken to President Hamid Karzai's inauguration back in 2001, who were mistaken "for a Taliban group" and bombed, with 20 killed; nor the 30 or more guests at an Afghan wedding party back in 2002 blown away by 2,000-pound bombs after celebratory gunfire was evidently mistaken for an attack (no apologies offered); nor that wedding party in the Western desert of Iraq near the Syrian border wiped out in 2004 with 42 deaths, including 27 in one extended family, 14 children in all. They were, of course, taken for terrorists. (As U.S. Major General James Mathis put the matter in offering an explanation: "How many people go to the middle of the desert... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?") And these are just a few prominent cases, not including the civilians killed in periodic Predator and other strikes in Pakistani border areas, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere whom no fuss is ever made about – not here, anyway.

After all, there's always going to be "collateral damage" when you keep your eye – and your 2,000-pound bomb or Hellfire missile – focused on the prize.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Big Bailout

There is every reason to believe that the spectacular collapse of Bear Stearns is only the beginning and a huge bailout of the US financial system is going to be needed, underwritten, of course, by the US taxpayer.

As to how this came about, Krugman writes in today's NYT:

Between 2002 and 2007, false beliefs in the private sector — the belief that home prices only go up, that financial innovation had made risk go away, that a triple-A rating really meant that an investment was safe — led to an epidemic of bad lending. Meanwhile, false beliefs in the political arena — the belief of Alan Greenspan and his friends in the Bush administration that the market is always right and regulation always a bad thing — led Washington to ignore the warning signs....

The result of all that bad lending was an unholy financial mess that will cause trillions of dollars in losses. A large chunk of these losses will fall on financial institutions: commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and so on.

Readers may note that Bear Stearns was one-third employee-owned. Greed however overrides any sense of responsibility, even from employee shareholders.

Krugman tells us:
...Bear has a particularly nasty reputation. As Gretchen Morgenson of The New York Times reminds us, Bear “has often operated in the gray areas of Wall Street and with an aggressive, brass-knuckles approach.”

Bear was a major promoter of the most questionable subprime lenders. It lured customers into two of its own hedge funds that were among the first to go bust in the current crisis. And it’s a bad financial citizen: the last time the Fed tried to contain a financial crisis, after the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, Bear refused to participate in the rescue operation.

Bear, in other words, deserved to be allowed to fail — both on the merits and to teach Wall Street not to expect someone else to clean up its messes.

But the Fed rode to Bear’s rescue anyway...

...because those b**tards could take all the rest of us down as well.

Gretchen Morgenson explained it in Sunday's NYT:

If Bear Stearns failed, for example, it would result in a wholesale dumping of mortgage securities and other assets onto a market that is frozen and where buyers are in hiding. This fire sale would force surviving institutions carrying the same types of securities on their books to mark down their positions, generating more margin calls and creating more failures.

As of last Nov. 30, Bear Stearns had on its books approximately $46 billion of mortgages, mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities. Jettisoning such a portfolio onto a mortgage market that is not operative would, it is plain to see, be a disaster.

But, who knows what those mortgages are really worth? According to Bear Stearns’s annual report, $29 billion of them were valued using computer models “derived from” or “supported by” some kind of observable market data. The value of the remaining $17 billion is an estimate based on “internally developed models or methodologies utilizing significant inputs that are generally less readily observable.”

In other words, your guess is as good as mine.
Since Bear Stearns sold for $250 million, less than the $1 billion or so that its office building is worth, we know the answer now - its portfolio is a net liability.

And this is **after** the Federal Reserve chipped in upto $30 billion:

In addition to the financing the Federal Reserve ordinarily provides through its Discount Window, the Fed will provide special financing in connection with this transaction. The Fed has agreed to fund up to $30 billion of Bear Stearns’ less liquid assets.


Final thought, from Morgensen's article:

“For the government to print money at the expense of taxpayers as opposed to requiring or going about a receivership and wind-down of any insolvent institutions should be troubling to taxpayers and regulators alike,” said Josh Rosner, an analyst at Graham Fisher & Company and an expert on mortgage securities. “The Fed has now crossed the line in a very clear way on ‘moral hazard,’ because they have opened the door to the view that they are required to save almost any institution through non-recourse loans — except the government doesn’t have the money and it destroys the U.S.’s reputation as the broadest, deepest, most transparent and properly regulated capital market in the world.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Amazing Collapse of Bear Stearns

(via Atrios) March 13:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bear Stearns Cos (BSC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) Chief Executive Alan Schwartz on Wednesday dismissed recurring speculation that the investment bank faces a cash crunch, saying it has hefty cash reserves that have remained little changed this year.

Schwartz, in a televised interview on CNBC, also said he is comfortable with the range of analysts' earnings estimates for the fiscal first quarter ended Feb. 29. Results for the quarter are due next week.

"We don't see any pressure on our liquidity, let alone a liquidity crisis," he said.

Bear finished fiscal 2007 with $17 billion of cash sitting at the parent company level as a "liquidity cushion," he said.

"That cushion has been virtually unchanged. We have $17 billion or so excess cash on the balance sheet," he said.

(via Atrios) March 14:
On the verge of a collapse that could have shaken the very foundations of the U.S. financial system, investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. was bailed out Friday by a rival and the federal government. The near-miss raised new alarm about the credit crisis -- and whether other big firms might be in jeopardy.

The rescue came from JPMorgan Chase & Co. and, in an extraordinary step, the Federal Reserve, both rushing to pump new money into the venerable Wall Street firm after its financial state deteriorated so much in a 24-hour period that it threatened to fail.

Bear Stearns stock lost nearly half its market value, about $5.7 billion, in a matter of minutes

(via Atrios) March 16:
Bear Stearns Cos. reached an agreement to sell itself to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., as worries grew that failing to find a buyer for the beleaguered investment bank could cause the crisis of confidence gripping Wall Street to worsen.

The deal calls for J.P. Morgan to pay $2 a share in a stock-swap transaction, with J.P. Morgan Chase exchanging 0.05473 share of its common stock for each Bear Stearns share. Both companies' boards have approved the transaction, which values Bear Stearns at just $236 million based on the number of shares outstanding as of Feb. 16. At Friday's close, Bear Stearns's stock-market value was about $3.54 billion. It finished at $30 a share in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Friday.

Bear Stearns, facing collapse because of the mortgage crisis, agreed Sunday evening to be bought by JPMorgan Chase for a bargain-basement price of less than $250 million, the two companies announced.

That is ridiculous. The Wall Street Journal was reporting a sale for $2.1 billion just hours ago. $250 million is less than one quarter of the value of Bear Stearns' freaking office building. They should have just sold it for $1 and gotten it over with. In Wall Street terms, selling an entire financial services firm like Bear Stearns for $250 million is not much different than selling it for $1.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Legislative manuevers

You may not fully appreciate this if you weren't following the FISA fight from the beginning, but nevertheless the elaborate legislative choreography outlined in this story is delightful.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Philadelphia Flower Show

From the Philadelphia Flower Show:

Philadelphia Flower Show

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Lawless States of America

Worse, he said, "these days not even a judge is required for the U.S. government to censor online materials."

From here, (via Atrios).

Steve Marshall is a British travel agent. He lives in Spain, and he sells trips to Europeans who want to go to sunny places, including Cuba. In October, about 80 of his Web sites stopped working because of the U.S. government.

It turned out, though, that Marshall's Web sites had been put on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist and, as a consequence, his domain name registrar, eNom, which is based in the United States, had disabled them. Marshall said eNom told him it did so after a call from the Treasury Department; the company says it learned that the sites were on the blacklist through a blog.

Either way, there is no dispute that eNom shut down Marshall's sites without notifying him and has refused to release the domain names to him. In effect, Marshall said, eNom has taken his property and interfered with his business. He has slowly rebuilt his Web business over the past several months, and now many of the same sites operate with the suffix .net rather than .com, through a European registrar. His servers, he said, have been in the Bahamas all along.

Marshall said he did not understand "how Web sites owned by a British national operating via a Spanish travel agency can be affected by U.S. law." Worse, he said, "these days not even a judge is required for the U.S. government to censor online materials."


Peter Fitzgerald, a law professor at Stetson University in Florida who has studied the blacklist, said its operation was quite mysterious. "There really is no explanation or standard," he said, "for why someone gets on the list."

Susan Crawford, a visiting law professor at Yale and a leading authority on Internet law, said the fact that many large domain name registrars are based in the United States gives the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, control "over a great deal of speech - none of which may be actually hosted in the U.S., about the U.S. or conflicting with any U.S. rights."

"OFAC apparently has the power to order that this speech disappear," Crawford said.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Worth a look!

via miaculpa, great picture.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bird Brain

Via Bee in the comments,  this photograph in Spiegel Online; they don't say how the photographer managed to get this shot.