February 24th, 2009
S&P has released December’s Case-Schiller housing price numbers.Ã‚Â Worst monthly decline ever, beating record set … the month before.
See Floyd Norris’s over-all assessment last month.
The dithering of Obama-Geithner this first month in office is indefensible.
Geithner has been there all along.Ã‚Â To report (as the Wash Post apologia speaking for his team did last week) that he came into office and was shocked, shocked by the mess he found and had to drop his best ideas and go back to the drawing board …
Ludicrous.Ã‚Â Indeed, I don’t believe it.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â The Times expose the week before seems the more plausible picture:Ã‚Â division and discord between Geithner and his team (all from the Clinton White House) and Obama’s inner circle.Ã‚Â Resulting in squat.
And that’s Obama’s fault. For appointing Geithner.Ã‚Â The Lincolnesque notion of stocking a cabinet with one’s ideological and even political opponents is not something anyone in today’s Washington can survive.Ã‚Â True Ingenue.
Lincoln did not survive it himself, and spent two years dithering, which cost a lot of lives and treasure.
February 20th, 2009
Ed Note: This thread covers August 2008 through Obama’s inauguration, during which time the Americans commenced their Strike-from-Afar war in/on Pakistan.
Then follow the comments below to follow events into April, when Prez Obama, trying to sell the Gates-Mullen Surge to his NATO partners, found Strasbourg on fire about his ears — thru August, when the Paki government finally said Yankees Go Home and Afghans went to the polls — into September, when the new American ground commander said the strategy was not attuned to the problems and the President told the Sunday talk shows that, before sending more troops, “The first question is, are we doing the right thing?”
One wishes he had taken this tack during the campaign with McCain. But was it possible to do so and be elected? However that may be … When in a hole, stop digging?
FIRST SOME HOUSEKEEPING:
We’ve been following the American attacks in/on Pakistan since they started in late August — 2008 — in four threads:
1.Â To begin near the beginning, recall former CIAist Robert Baer’s stormcrow piece about the National Security Apparat’s intentions. ThenÂ follow updates through the comments to the post.
2.Â That thread of comments ends with a link to September 20 — when we find Paki terrorists blowing up the Islamabad Marriott during a nearby reception for the new Paki president an hour after he’d endorsed Uncle Sam’s War on Terror in his first speech to parliament. Negative feedback. Bad press. Not the best start.
3.Â Those comments then lead up to to September 25 — when we find G.I. Joes in a fire fight with Paki Army troops — ourÂ allies, scorecard sez — at the Afghan-Paki border, which the Americans had thought to cross on foot instead of merely by sky.
Comments in this thread record the developing, mass murderous American missile campaign, the Brit Commander in Afghanistan telling the world the western forces cannot win, Obama’s election and his bloody interregnum. Clearly the new prez will inherit a chaotic mess.
4. With the Strike-from-Afar terror war well underway, reasons arose to think about why both Obama and McCain from the outset of the presidential campaign were on the same page so perfectly about Surging in Afghanistan and making war on/in Pakistan.Â Apparently they’d been briefed and signed off on the new Surge — disagreeing in debates only as to how much one should say about such things in public.
Tenured brains seized the question:Â Afghanization or Escalation? I.e., pull out of Afghanistan after decent efforts to set the government (who? where?) on its feet — or Surge?
Several comments in this thread focused on CIA director Michael Hayden’s rare, shocking and belligerent speech of December, in which he succinctly declared war on Pakistan. Must read. Then they stumbled upon an epiphany:
May the otherwise inexplicable (qua US national interest) Afghan escalation be the staging for a more dangerous ground war in Pakistan, the root — if DCI Hayden wasn’t fibbing — of all islamic terrorism?
Assume we launch such a war and enjoy some initial success, cleaning out the Pashtun insurgentsÂ and their foreign guests (angry Arabs). Mission Accomplished.Â Would Russia, China and Iran tolerate such advances and the permanent bases the Pentagon trails wherever it goes?
Thus, small-time declared victory in the War on Terror here may set off a geopolitical bomb — one of the things worried about here on behalf of our new president soon after his election.
(The worry in brief:Â The Bay of Pigs raid was an attempt by its CIA and Pentagon planners not to conquer Castro’s Cuba, but to provoke President Kennedy (less than three months in office) into doing so with Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.Â He was sharp enough to refuse the gambit.
Then again:Â JFK inherited a Pentagon intent upon provoking China (first in Laos, then Vietnam) back into the war that Eisenhower had stalled in Korea; memos to the new President laid out the scenario that would lead from provocation to first strikes with nukes on Chinese cities.Â The President concluded the brassy authors were “nuts,” stopped inviting them to meetings and for three and a half tense years evaded their Vietnam gambit. The Pentagon didn’t make it to Vietnam until 1965.
One hopes the new President is apprised of the Kennedy lessons and on his toes, especially during his early months, when most vulnerable to manipulation by the briefers of the Apparat.)
5. Finally, a fifth post noted with surprise soon into the transition that Obama’s foreign policy team, the SoS aside, would consist entirely of Pentagon brass — the most heavily weighted that way since Dubya Dubya Two.
PS: However, it turned out that Hayden (a career Pentagonian despite his tour at Langley) would not be staying on at CIA.Â So among the guys running Obama’s world with scrambled eggs on their shoulders will be Hillary and one other civilian. Assuming Leon Panetta (the CIA nominee) pays his taxes.
AND SO …
All threads now lead here, where we will watch and continue to wonder what in Blazes the new President thinks we can win in the wastes of Pakghanistan. Where no one has ever won anything.
That all our allies Over There are packing it in and moving out seems not to dissuade the american Apparat’s leaders.
General David Petraeus, supposed Savior of the Surge in Iraq and the new regional commander (CENTCOM) for Pakghanistan, deigned the day after Obama’s inauguration to sit in on the President’s first meeting with the brass.
Our leaders seem to think the community policing that Petraeus applied with some success, so far, in Iraq’s cities (but what’s going to happen when we retreat?) will work with the widespread nations and tribes of Afghanistan, for whom skirmishing with each other is a way of life rooted in centuries.
I.e., our leaders seem nuts — or at least as nuttily dangerous as OSS-CIAist (and when colors suited “General”) Edward Geary Lansdale was about Vietnam, where he inspired our march into the quagmire spouting culturally sensitive but backfiring schemes.
Petraeus, one might hazard, is shaping up as the geopoliticosophical son of Lansdale — whose image one finds in The Ugly American‘s earnest Colonel Hillendale and The Quiet American‘s earnest CIAist Pyle. Both characters wind up doing no good.
In particular, Petraeus’s plans for Afghanistan evoke eerily the Stategic Hamlet program, which used carrots and covert sticks (mass murderous false flag provocations) to engage the apolitical farmers of South Vietnam but failed to win their hearts and minds to the puppet government’s cause; instead they were provoked by the turmoil and violence into becoming active allies of the Viet Cong and the North’s government.
(Farmers were herded, sometimes with false flag machine gun fire, from their lands into artificial villages — reminiscent of early Soviet programs to collect independent farmers and, in some cases, convert them into industrial proles …)
Lesson of Vietnam No. 35.6167/FART/7:Â Attempting to dispose people en masse in one’s favor by redesigning their socioeconomic life tends to beget not cooperation but disdain and hatred.Â Petraeus seems to think he can herd the many tribes of the Pashtun — 40 million people all told! — into ranks and files loyal to the government in Kabul, which might as well (for the targeted hearts and minds) be in Iowa. And the Pashtun comprise only one slice of Afghanistan’s diverse demographic pie.
In short: There is no sociological basis for a centrally-governed state over there.Â Decentralized tribalism is the way the land enclosed by Afghanistan’s border works.
What are the Pentagon’s war aims over there?Â I see no one in Congress or the press bothering to ask.
Eradicate the Taliban? Â This recent mind-boggling heart-breaking Guardian piece roots high and low, reporting along the way as certainly given that G.I. Joe will be fighting in Pakghanistan in 2017 (when Obama if lucky will leave the White House) — but reports notÂ a whiff as to why.
The reporter is good to report however that the Taliban hardly exists as an organization capable of being dismantled by Pentagon machinery, but is ratherÂ “a shifting alliance of insurgents.”
Meaning tribesmen. Unallied (as always) to the distant central government. Shifting as always like sand and dunes with the wind.Â Shall you destroy even the sand, Sahib, you who strike from afar?
Win the War on Terror?With mass-murderous missiles falling on huts from the blue?Â But that’s … terrorism.
The world learned in dozens of 20th century wars that when you kill people indiscriminately pursuing an oblique cause you create more resistance than you remove. Terrorism cannot be defeated with guns and bombs.
It defeats itself, typically, running out of steam and foot soldiers. Or, as in the Holy Lands, 1948 to the present, it steadily endures with its provacateurs, as a means of war against a technologically advanced foe.
Terrorism lives and can be fought effectively between people’s ears. In Palestine, a real settlement with Israel would deprive dyed-in-the-wool jihadists of most of their constituency and foot soldiers — a basic change that constitutes Israel’s best chance for peace.
But in Afghanistan … I see no action or structure that would reconcile the diverse tribal so-called warlords to the Kabul government. And we see this in the coded chit-chat of the american political advisors over there (prominent among them since Obama’s election, Steve Cohen, Likud Lobbyist) — who are now saying in public that their plans under Bush-Cheney for democratization have proven inapt.
But Terence this is all old hat. What’s news?
Today the Pentagon acknowledged that an American attack earlier this week killed without intending to 13 Afghan civilians:
The civilians killed included three children, six women and four men in the Gozara district of Herat Province, in addition to three people suspected of being Taliban fighters, according to an aide to the provincial governor.
“We expressed our deepest condolences to the survivors of the noncombatants who were killed during this operation,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Ryan, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
And today’s Times has a feature piece arguing that the targets of the attacks in Pakistan executed under the aegis of Obama indicate that the campaign has broadened. Right on schedule.Â Toot toot. All aboard.
Perhaps in a safe somewhere inside the Beltway sits a sleeve of secrets that substantiate beyond reasonable doubt the national interests and strategic plan that justify escalating our desultory but minor Afghan war.Â In public view there is nothing at all.
Maybe Peking will put its foot down and stop footing the bill, ruining what’s left of the US economy in the process.
Until then, the December speech by General Hayden is the American map and manifesto.Â It seems not to matter what the new president may think.Â The Apparat is in charge here.
Dr Strangelove, I presume?
Who’s the gadfly?
February 20th, 2009
See Paul Krugman’s discussion of the depressed minutes of the last Fed Open Market Committee meeting.
The title of his column:Ã‚Â Who’ll Stop the Pain?
In sympathy the Murdoch (formerly Dow) Industrials broke thru their crisis-lows from this past November (roughly 7400) and closed at 7365.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â The all-time high from October 2007 was about 14,121, if memory serves.
Every dark thing I imagined in August 2007 has already come to pass.Ã‚Â Whatever lies ahead is virgin territory.
The dithering of Obama-Geithner in the month since the inauguration is (despite this tepid defense) indefensible.Ã‚Â Geithner, with his vague scattershot presentation last week, seems stricken with ADD at a time when leaders with the steely focus of the Terminator are needed.
Not that Arnold is doing well out West.Ã‚Â I don’t mean we need more Arnolds. (But not that I’veÃ‚Â followed his work as governor.)Ã‚Â Rather, we need more Chainsaw Bills.
Again I think back to the day Obama declared his candidacy.Ã‚Â Barely a breath of this disaster in the air.Ã‚Â It seems he took office with his head still somewhat in the clouds of that day’s dreams. That was then.
What a shame, if this disaster swallows and digests him whole.
Which resurfaces old thoughts — that Hillary was the better candidate a year ago to face this storm. She was ready to fight, and it seems he was not. A Hillary presidency, however badly buffeted, even broken, would have left Obama intact to continue leading the party thereafter.
A Good Leader is a Terrible Thing to Waste.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â And the current configuration — with Clinton at State and Obama at the rudder of a ship that may sink — threatens to waste them both.Ã‚Â Leaving what?
A far-right rebound in four years?Ã‚Â Romney. Palin.Ã‚Â (Rick Santelli …?!?)Ã‚Â Ã‚Â What’s the Vegas line that cities will not be burning by the time of the party conventions in summer 2012?
If Arnold & co. don’t pick up steam, we may see cities burning before Memorial Day.
February 19th, 2009
Click for full pic.Ã‚Â Rated R.
And here for grisly story about Bill’s tendency — difficult to control when times are hard — to sieze Zombie banks and cut off their heads, purge their innards and re-privatize what’s left.
And the Living Dead may Never be the Same.
William Seidman, Bill Seidman, zombie banks, nationalize banks, nationalise banks, nationalization of banks, nationalisation of banks, mortgage bonds, asset-backed securities, paulson plan, TARP, troubled asset relief program, geithner
February 19th, 2009
Some nice tidbits in Mo Dowd this mornin’ re a Broadway comedy about the recently departed leader of the free world.Â Funny how dictators become objects of fun. The Eastern Europe experience of the late 80s, early 90s, now come to these shores.
All in good fun.Ã‚Â But I’ve got a bottle of bubbly in the fridge with Cheney’s name on it.Ã‚Â (No kidding)Ã‚Â Waitin’ on a dream …
February 19th, 2009
UBS. “You and Us.”Ã‚Â Biggest bank in Switzerland (and maybe the world, memory suggests).Ã‚Â As part of settlement in tax evasion spat with Uncle Sam, is going to break tradition stretching back to roots of modernity by giving USG account holder names.
You and US indeed.
In aid of tax fraud, on its face.Ã‚Â But perhaps something to do with Bernie Madoff’s misadventures?Ã‚Â Or, even, an angle re terrorism?Ã‚Â The world spins …
February 17th, 2009
Ed Note: See comments below to follow the horrible story of escalating veteran suicides into 2011.
From the Times:
“The American Army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army.
General Freakley went on to unveil a new citizenship program that fast-tracks foreigners who speak particular languages. Green Card to Passport in six months.
Seem to recall some Caeser doing something like this.
Guess they must be running out of peeps — oh. Oh my.
Still, a bit odd. Army Recruitment handing out passports. Thought the State Department did that. And Immigration the whole naturalization thing …
And I seem to recall Secretary of State Clinton making a particular point, during her first address from Foggy Bottom, of reclaiming turf and powers lost across recent years to the Pentag–
Hey! You can’t –!Â Where are my Switzers?! Stop that! General Freakley, who’s in charge here?! You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!!!
Dr Strangelove, I presume?Â
Who’s the gadfly?
Who’s who …
February 16th, 2009
An airline pilot chats about the last (and first) 30 seconds:
“Nobody suffered in this crash … It takes longer to describe it than the whole incident occurred. Pitch up, pitch down, roll, roll, pitch up, roll and it’s done, that quick.”
February 16th, 2009
From Murdoch’s new Wall St Journal:
A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he was a foreign correspondent for 11 years in the Middle East and wrote feature articles on countless subjects for the Dallas Morning News. One year, the paper nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize.
Now he has a new job: running a strip club. “I feel lucky,” he says.
February 15th, 2009
A quick despairing reading of a long piece in the Guardian rounding up the first tour of Richard Holbrooke (Obama’s envoy to Pakghanistan).
Read, at least, the Guardian piece.Ã‚Â Then weep or get drunk.
February 13th, 2009
Time for the President to heed sage advice and
– See here, sir! — cut the Gordian Knot.
Click link above to read.Ã‚Â Then lodge comments here below (or click link to do so at end of the piece.)
February 12th, 2009
Ed Note:Ã‚Â See comments below to follow developments.
A good piece by an Egyptian writer — Alaa Al Aswany, author of the 2007 novel Chicago — in the Times:Ã‚Â “Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama.”
“We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.)
“We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza. We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.
“But Mr. Obama has been silent. So his brilliantly written Inaugural Speech did not leave a big impression on Egyptians. We had already begun to tune out.
“We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law.”
The new president, as a wet-behind-the-ears senator in 2006, loudly supported Israel’s attack on Lebanon. This, recall, was sold as an attack on the Army of God (Hezballah), but in fact on its first day destroyed the power plant supplying Beirut, and within days had destroyed every bridge into Beirut.
It was an attack on the heart of the new Lebanon, which has been spiralling back toward the chaos of 70s and 80s since, after years of painful but productive rebuilding.
The assault on Gaza City has been similarly sold and miscast in the press as an attack on terrorists.Ã‚Â Over a thousand people have been killed, and it seems the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu will now carry the Israeli elections next week — and that the even farther-right party of Avigdor Lieberman will overtake the leading Leftist party (Labor) in the Knesset, on a tide of youthful Israeli pride.
This attack on Gaza comes at the end of a policy pursued from day one of Bush-Cheney that has (i) undermined the centrist Fatah Palestinian party, leaving Hamas in the driver’s seat, (ii) junked the notion of curbing West Bank settlement (Netanyahu is pledging more) and (iii) shed a new generation of blood that leaves a permanent political solution again a distant dream.
A friend who follows these matters suggests that the militant Israeli right considers it a condition of Israel’s existence not only that the lands conquered in 1967 be permanently possessed, but also that an Arab democracy — a self-sustaining state that the US would support — never takes shape in the Levant.Ã‚Â Hence the attacks on Beirut and Gaza City.
The new US administration’s plate is certainly full, and Obama’s words and acts so far in general re the mideast have been positive.
But is his silence on Gaza the significant detail that tells?
Dunno. For now, his silence here gets thrown into the basket of all the other odd,Ã‚Â unproductive and anti-political things he has done and not done since taking office.
Maybe he just wants Israelis and Palestinians to be friends. And considers their bickering one of those “childish things” that he urged us all to leave behind during his inaugural address.
Maybe he truly is above politics, and, like Silent Cal Coolidge, will wind upÃ‚Â doing pretty much nothing in the White House.
February 11th, 2009
Ed Note:Ã‚Â First posted Feb 7.Ã‚Â Bumped up to follow up (see comments below) and for some tunes.
There’s a warning sign on the road ahead …
1. This report by Floyd Norris that the S&P 500 has just completed its worst ten years ever brings to mind this observation by Walter Benjamin from 1928 and the dissolving Weimar Republic.
Stable conditions need by no means be
pleasant conditions …
Click on pics to enlarge
2.Ã‚Â The much ballyhooed bank plan, rumored to be announced this coming Monday at noon, is now (friday evening) being leaked to the press and looks a disorganized mess, the product more than anything of an inability to agree on big moves.
Headed by Geithner, who has been there all along, this looks nothing like Change We Need.
Indeed, it seems the bulk of the second half of the TARP $700 billion will be — like the first — given to the banks with few strings. Will not be using the cash to buy the wounded assets or banks holding them; rather, will be “encouraging” private sector investors to do so.
I.e., Geithner has run thru the same cycle that Paulson did, bumping into the same obstacles, and backing down.Ã‚Â The banks have said get lost, and the new administration seems to lack the will to enforce whatever other ideas may lay between the president’s or Geithner’s ears.
Brings (again) to mind Walter Benjamin:
“Again and again it has been shown that society’s attachment to its familiar and long since forfeited life is so rigid as to nullify the genuinely human application of intellect and forethought — even in dire peril.”
It’s astounding how poorly prepared the new prez seems to have been on inauguration day, given the Change anthem of his campaign.
There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shuffling their feet
People sleeping in their shoes
But there’s a warning sign on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people saying we’d be better off dead
The stock market had rallied this week on the hope of a decisive bank plan. I would now look for a turnaround, back down to test the lows of November. Those soft areas have been tested before, and such things tend to weaken with each probe. Perhaps, finally discouraged re Change, this time they will give way.
If so, look out below: Dow 4000. Keep on rockin’ in the Free World.
There must be some way out of here …
February 9th, 2009
It will be interesting to see if the steel skeleton of this 34-floor tower entirely engulfed by flames suffers or collapses in anything like the fashion of the Twin Towers or WTC 7 on September 11, 2001.
And the answer is …?
No. Not even close. Nothing like.Ã‚Â (The kink in the building was there by design.)Ã‚Â More photos.
The steel neither melted nor weakened sufficiently to cause collapse of any sort — just like all the other burnt steel skyscrapers in history, except the three that collapsed neatly on 9/11/01.
One report says a big explosion also rocked the building — captured in this photo, perhaps.
Let’s see what the experts say …
February 9th, 2009
Ed Note:Ã‚Â Been whining and yammering here about mark-to-market accounting since August 2007.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
For the best succinct discussion on the topic in these here parts see this section and that section in a profile of Bill Seidman the Zombie Slayer.
The current below was first posted Feb 9, 2009, day before Young Tim Geithner gathered his loins like a wrestler and went before cameras to pee his pants.Ã‚Â See comments below to follow thru time since — in purticlar takin’ notice of Ben Bernanke’s signal-laden comments of March 10.
1.Ã‚Â Vince Farrel, something of a grizzled eminence on Wall Street, suggests today that part of Geithner’s plan (the announcement of which has been delayed til tomorrow) will be to repeal the Financial Accounting Standards Board regulation (passed in late 2007 if memory serves) that requires institutions to “mark” their wounded structured-finance bonds on their books at (non existent) market values.
Institutions would then mark the assets in accord with “models” (spreasheet predictors) based on actual performance and guesstimates of the future — the old fashioned way.
2.Ã‚Â This would be HALF of what I’ve been whining/screaming for since August 2007.
The other half would be to have the feds — not each individual institution — do the modelling and setting the marks for the distressed segments of the s-f universe.
This “price control” regime would bring transparency and level-playing field fairness to the world.Ã‚Â Doubts about what banks hold would vanish.Ã‚Â Most banks would enjoy write-ups (reversing some of the gargantuan paper losses taken in the past 20 months). Ã‚Â Banks would retain the essential risk of the asset, but would no longer be punished for the absence of a market.
Market Fundamentalists would cry havoc.Ã‚Â But they were raised on Age of Reagan television, and it’s time to tell them to shut up.Ã‚Â Markets break.Ã‚Â Markets are often irrational and fail to work properly.Ã‚Â The market is not a fundamental cultural value.
Vinnie’s lips to Geithner’s ears.
February 7th, 2009
Somehow I forgot to mention that I like Cyndi Lauper.
Yow. Wow. Zow. Holy cow.
February 7th, 2009
Biden’s speech at the Munich Security conference is good news.
Clear signal that they will probably scrap the silly central european missile defense shield.
Good honest approach to the Russians — following Putin’s remarkable keynote address at Davos.
February 7th, 2009
This story about how the Pentagon’s new — new — African Command horribly botched an attempt to make foreign policy in the Congo should but probably won’t temper the new president’s enthusiasm for the leaders of the Bush-Cheney Pentagon (both of whom have been kept on).
Also new since 9/11 is the Pentagon’s Northern Command. Governing North America.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US security apparat has focused its attention upon Washington, where, 20 years on, it seems the only healthy power institution left.Ã‚Â The Army that Ate its Government.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â An old story …
Some hope perhaps: The new Secretary of State has loudly signalled an intention to take back from the Pentagon powers and responsibilities formerly seated in Foggy Bottom.Ã‚Â More power to her.
February 6th, 2009
I have a lovely reprint of this article from 1975 in the flesh.Â Gallery Magazine — a girly book.
But here it is on the web. Very much worth reading.