Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Logic of Empire

Zbigniew Brzezinski [former National Security Advisor]: "According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujahideen began during 1980s, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul."
Le Nouvel Observateur*: And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?
Zibigniew Brzezinski: "What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Empire? Some agitated Moslems [sic] or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

The United States operates 761 military installations worldwide with a total of over a quarter million personnel in 39 countries (including Osama Bin Laden's homeland of Saudi Arabia) according to the FY2008 DOD Base Structure Report. In July, 1998 the US refused to ratify the treaty establishing an international criminal court with jurisdiction over individuals. The basis for the refusal was that its "unique position" makes its personnel especially vulnerable to spurious charges of war crimes. On the last day of a deadly decade, a federal court judge threw out charges against five Blackwater (renamed Xe) mercenaries for the 2007 deaths of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Baghdad. Prosecutors built their case against the shooters on tainted evidence despite advice to the contrary from senior Department of Justice officials. Iraqis are understandably disillusioned about the dismissal. Said one wounded victim, "There is no justice. I expected the American court would side with the Blackwater security guards who committed a massacre in Nisoor Square." However, the court's written opinion dismissing the case was ninety pages long!

*January 15-21, 1998; Les Révélations d'un Ancien Conseiller de Carter

Monday, December 21, 2009

US PERSON is taking a Christmas break. Come back in the new year for more high impact blog at PERSONA NON GRATA.
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cleaning Up the Mess

Some good news as the Christian holiday approaches: the American Smelting and Refining Company, ASARCO, agreed to a settlement of its pollution liabilities in nineteen states it was announced on December 10th by federal officials. Grupo Mexico, the parent company, is providing $1.79 billion for the bankrupt concern as payment to clean up 80 superfund sites created by the company's mining operations. ASARCO was a venerable name in the mining business, operating for 110 years as a vertically integrated holding company and then as an Arizona based copper mining and refining company. It filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on August 9, 2005. Grupo Mexico purchased the company in bankruptcy proceedings. Two of the more significant superfund sites affected by the settlement are the Tar Creek site in Ottawa County, Oklahoma and the Bunker Hill site in the Coeur d'Alene basin of northern Idaho. The Tar Creek site is highly contaminated by mine tailings deposited in mounds and retention ponds near residential communities and developed areas. Some of the piles are 200 feet high [photo] and contain lead, cadmium and zinc. The Bunker Hill site is on public land used by wildlife and migratory birds as habitat. Land, ground water and surface waters have been contaminated by mining operations. Caring for our planet by restoring damaged land is what Jesus would do.

[photo: courtesy EPA]

Friday, December 18, 2009

'Toontime: From Here Scrooge Looks Good

[credit: Pat Oliphant]
"Americans have grown gloomier about both the economy and the nation’s direction over the past three months even as the U.S. shows signs of moving from recession to recovery. Almost half the people now feel less financially secure than when President Barack Obama took office in January...Fewer than 1 in 3 Americans think the economy will improve in the next six months"-- Bloomberg national poll

Thursday, December 17, 2009

America Looses Without Public Option

US Person is big enough to admit he is not always right. His prediction that the Senate bill would contain a public option when it passed turned out to be incorrect. But so are Senators Lieberman and Nelson. The only reason the public option failed in the Senate is because these two senators did the political equivalent of flipping the finger at the American public and their Democratic Senate colleagues. Nelson is called a "moderate", but has a voting record that belies the label. He is sponsored by the insurance industry, and he is holding out for political favors for his conservative constituency. A political hack's opposition to government health insurance is at least explainable. Who knows what goes on in 'Zion Joe's' head? The man campaigned for Robert Kennedy for pity's sake. Maybe his recalcitrance is simply political payback for Democratic opposition to his reelection or his failed presidential bid as suggested by the Washington press. One thing is certain he is not representing the desires of his state because the Connecticut legislature recently passed a statewide public health health care bill over the Republican governor's veto. The state program includes a public option! Why a Democratic state re-elects a senator that does his level best to derail progressive programs, and vote with the opposition on important policy matters is difficult to explain without considering the overriding importance of money in Washington. If the Senate bill actually requires the establishment of private non-profit insurance options, there is at least some hope that America will eventually get health care right. Emphasis on eventually because the Senate's protection of the insurance industry will not be corrected by what they have fashioned so far. The key to controlling health care costs has always been formulating price competition in a market gamed by the insurance companies. Either a new government insurance plan or extension of Medicare would have been a down payment on reform. Now, both proposals are off the table because just one senator would not put his foot on the alleged "slippery slope". The mendacity at work in Washington is of a level beyond description.

The Senate bill, even without a public option, must survive three cloture votes and the Senate-House conference committee process, the product of which is also subject to filibuster in the Senate by the forces of greed and ignorance. All because the Senate majority's will to act decisively in the interests of the American people has been enfeebled by the money power. Former Democratic party chairman Howard Dean says the Senate bill as it now stands "does more harm than good"; a conclusion starkly supported now that Americans will not only pay more than anyone else for health insurance, but they will be required by law to pay more to achieve near universal coverage. Legislators of courage and integrity have one more opportunity to inject reform into this deeply addicted process at the conference committee. We can only hope they prevail.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Deciding the Fate of Earth in Copenhagen

Besides the spectacle of Danish police bashing protesters, one of the few accomplishments of the global talks in Copenhagen will be the REDD (Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation) agreement. As US Person advised his readers before {10.26.09}, there is widespread agreement among the delegates that preserving forests from total destruction is an effective means of reducing global warming. Forests are prodigious carbon sinks because of transpiration. Details need to be worked out, but major areas of disagreement such as defining the rights of indigenous forest inhabitants like the Penan, have been worked out through compromise. Observers are confident a final agreement will be announced, probably timed for the arrival of Forty-four so he can make another speech claiming progress. Actually, precious little progress has been made on reducing carbon emissions primarily because of US and Chinese intransigence on setting reduction targets. Even the appearance of Al Gore reprising Moses with news of rapidly melting Greenland icecap and rising Atlantic sea levels failed to move negotiations forward. However, REDD will set up a payments scheme for poor countries as incentive for preserving intact forests. In return for contributions, rich countries will be able to claim carbon credits to partially offset their industrial emissions. As a Wilderness Society consultant put it, forests "have become a pot of money or a get out of jail free card". Yes, Virginia, life really is like a Monopoly® board.

Plug-In Hybrids: Too little, too late?

GM has tapped California as the place for rolling out the Chevy Volt in 2011. GM has even commissioned a catchy jingle to educate consumers about the plug-in EV which plays at auto shows were the Volt is on display. The price will not be inexpensive, $40,000, primarily because the car's lithium ion batteries will cost around $14,000. Besides the price tag a new analysis sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Energy may give pause to consumers willing to commit to a greener type of personal mobility. The report says that because of the higher front end costs to consumers--as much as $18,000 per car-- plug-in electric vehicles (PHEV) will not overtake internal combustion vehicles in the US car market for decades. The report estimates that with consumer acceptance there could be as many as 40 million PHEVs on the roads by 2030, but a more realistic number is 13 million. Even with government subsidies and advancements in battery technology bringing the cost down, PHEVs are not expected to impact carbon emissions until 2030. Gas consumption for extended range PHEVs like the Volt are significantly less than (<) current hybrids (55%). But because they are recharged from the electric grid, emissions from generating stations must be accounted for. If drivers are conscientious about charging their EVs a night when the electrical load is reduced, the current ramshackle electric grid could handle the new consumption.

The report assumes no breakthrough advancements in battery technology which could tip the balance in favor of electric vehicles. Nor does the study account for the possibility of charging more for gasoline to reflect the environmental and social cost of fossil fuel consumption. Former GM Vice Chairman and gear head* Bob Lutz thinks that gasoline beyond $4.00 a gallon will be necessary to motivate die-hard internal combustion enthusiasts to switch to electricity. Such an idea is a fiscal godsend for a future of expanding federal deficits, but is political heresy. Lutz is quick to disclaim any advocacy for higher gas prices, and is cautious about demand for his company's new electric car. Total demand by 2015 may only be in the range of 250,000 to 300,000 units. GM plans to introduce 8-10,000 units during the first year of production. The company has been roundly criticized for crushing its first electric car, the EV1, which it also introduced in California. Some commentators see battery prices dropping much more rapidly than the report assumes due to increases in longevity, recycling potential and energy density. Tesla VP Diarmuid O'Connell says his ion battery chemistry is already achieving 8% storage improvement per year which is equivalent to 2x over ten years. Nissan has announced its new Leaf PHEV already has 2x energy density. Owners of the Leaf will lease their batteries, thus reducing the car's purchase price.

*The 77-year-old executive laid down a challenge to owners of four-door sedans to beat his time of 2:56.321 around a wet Monticello Motor Club track set in his US$62,020 Cadillac CTS-V. He was beaten by a 21 year old driving a BMW M3 with a time of 2:50.424.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chart of the Week: 'Bubbles' Bernanke Blows Harder

[charts courtesy Weiss Research]
The charts show the massive increase in the US monetary base. Chairman 'Bubbles' Bernanke has created the most rapid increase of monetary expansion in US history. Milton Friedman would be proud. Before the Lehman Bros. collapse in '08 it took 14 years for the Federal Reserve to double the dollar supply. In less than four months Bernanke's Fed doubled it again. The Obama administration has made a policy decision to stop deflation at the cost of a stable dollar. That is why monetary and fiscal stimulus now amounts to an estimated one third of the GDP, or ten times more than the average post-war recession. Translation: bad for Joe Sixpac, but good for Gold Sacs.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Zion Joe Provokes Democrats

'Zion Joe' Lieberman has been asking for it for so long, that he ought to hang a sign on his back reading "Kick Me". But the men's club known as the US Senate has it rules by god, and Henry Reid is such a nice guy. Joe vowed to join the Republicans and vote against any health care bill the Democrats want to pass. There are several things the party could do to convince him to vote for reform:
  1. finance a viable progressive Democratic challenger in the Connecticut primary. This has been done once before with limited success because the opposition candidate was weak;
  2. strip him of his coveted Homeland Security chairmanship;
  3. use the reconciliation mechanism to pass a reform bill without Joe Lieberman's support.
US Person thinks the leadership should do all three and perhaps more. Because as the Washington Post points out in an opinion piece, "he's willing to directly cause the deaths of hundreds of thousand of people in order to settle an old electoral score". Just a few months ago Zion Joe was advocating expanding Medicare to include 50-65 year olds*. Certainly the leaders have the support of the party's rank and file to take action against a senator that does not negotiate in good faith. 81% think the Majority Leader should take Joe's chairmanship. And 73% think he should use reconciliation which requires only 51 votes to pass a reform bill. 84% want Joe to be challenged in the next primary if he refuses to support reform. Tell the leaders Joe should shape up or ship out.

Hubris in Oslo

Herr Docktor Alfred Nobel owned Bofors, the Swedish armaments manufacturer, and among other things he invented dynamite. So appalled was he by new explosive's destructive power and a dubious legacy to the world, that he funded the Nobel Prizes in his will. So the irony of Forty-four claiming the most recognized award for peacemaking while conducting two wars was somewhat diminished. You do have to give the speechmaker in chief some credit for not laughing out loud. Unable to rationally justify the wars currently being waged as dire necessities of self defense, he brazenly hurled a broadside defending war in general because the world is a fallen place in which evil works. Did the Nobel committee miscalculate? Not pacifist he is. Or does his award explain why Ghandiji was ignored? Forty-four's "just war" rhetoric is just a notch above the Charlatan's jingoist crusade talk. The rhetoric notwithstanding, the stark fact is war is America's business, and as we should know by now the business of America is business. The US has fought five major conflicts in the sixty-five years since VJ day. Don't believe US Person? Then watch this video introduced by the outrageous but always insightful, Max Keiser on his show On the Edge:

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Toontime: From the Boyz @ Gold Sacs w/ ♥

[credit: Tom Toles]
Wackydoodle sez: Blankfein must have read the news from Beijing*!

The Wall Street bank is altering the compensation scheme for its top executives after coming under intense public pressure to stop paying its management committee huge cash bonuses that one senator called "obscene". Instead of cash, the managing executives will receive restricted stock. Some observers think the move has more to do with window dressing of its operating statement because the deferred compensation scheme does not start to vest until next year. Therefore the first charge to expenses will not be until 2010. Gold Sacs has repaid with interest its $10 billion in loans from the Treasury. Despite the need for government support the bank paid employees a near record $16.7 billion in the first nine months of 2009.

*China executed a securities trader convicted of embezzlement on Tuesday. The death sentence is believed to be the first ever in the industry. Sixty-five million of stolen yuan are still missing.

Indigenous People Declare Park

Update: Five Penan communities on the Baram River have sued logging giant Samling for violating their indigenous land rights. They are demanding land titles to 80,000 sq. hectares of rainforest, nullification of four timber licenses plus compensation for damages. In the suit the Penan people will prove their use of the affected forest since before recorded time. They claim the timber operators have wrongfully trespassed on their customary forest with heavy equipment and destroyed a substantial area of forest they use to gather natural products for barter trade as well as fruit trees and crops. A Malaysian government report confirmed allegations by Penan that a number of indigenous girls and women have been sexually molested and raped by logging company employees. For more information on the suit and supporting evidence contact the Bruno Manser Fund in Basel Switzerland.

{First Post 12.5.09}On the island of Borneo [map], seventeen native Penan communities have declared a "Penan Peace Park". The November 17th declaration is destined for controversy because all of the land within the park boundaries has been leased by the Sarawak state government to a giant timber company, Samling. The last remnants of primeval forest on the upper reaches of the Baram River were declared a nature reserve by Penan leaders. The Penan are the last indigenous rain forest hunter-gatherers. They engage in agriculture since the 1950s, but still depend on the forests for food, medicine, and raw material for handicrafts and shelter. Their entire culture is centered on the life-giving forests that surround them. Despite repeated assurances from the Malaysian government to preserve an area for the Penan, logging companies continue to clear the forest. The Peace Park covers an area of about 629 square miles around the Gunung Murud Kecil mountain range on the border with Indonesia, and between national parks on either side of the border. One of the headmen at the ceremony in Long Ajeng village said, "we wish to live peacefully together with neighboring tribes and as fully recognized Malaysian citizens." The dedication was attended by about 200 Penan. A Swiss citizen who lived with Penan in the 80's to help their struggle to preserve their home, Bruno Manser, disappeared into the forest in May 2000 and is presumed dead. A fund was set up in his honor to help indigenous people in Sarawak protect the forest from total destruction. GREEN KUDOS to the Penan!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Last Wild Horse Back from Edge of Extinction

In the November 13 issue of Science journal, a researcher from the University of Vienna School of Veterinary Medicine, says the world's last wild horse*, Przewalski's (Equus ferus prezewalskii) which has survived for millennia almost unchanged in the Gobi desert, has reached a population level necessary to insure its long term survival. The distinctive ancestral horse was confronting near extinction due to habitat loss and competition from domestic animals, mostly goats and sheep, which are notorious for eating every green thing in their path. The last wild herd was sighted in 1967. Efforts to breed the horse in captivity began in zoos and reserves. China started a breeding program in 1985 and after two decades of effort began breeding large numbers of horses. Two reintroduction projects in Mongolian national parks have brought the species back from the brink. Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park has 171 horses living in the wild and Takhin Tal has about 115 horses. The report in Science concluded that 140 individuals would be enough to constitute a robust starting population to insure long term survival. One conservation measure that seems to be working is paying livestock herders to keep their herds off the reserve ranges. The horse is still critically endangered but has been upgraded from "extinct in the wild" by the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

*America's mustang or Australia's brumby are considered feral animals.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Forty-four and the Status Quo

Forty-four's calculation is simple: deliver enough superficial adjustments to the status quo to make a politically defensible argument that he brought "change" to America, thus ensuring his re-election in 2012 against weak opposition from a rump party. It is the same political parlor game his politically successful predecessors have played, earning him the name of just another number in the long line of White House occupants. This strategy can be deduced from the major policy decisions he has recently made. He allows Wall Street banksters, wielding "financial weapons of mass destruction", to lean on his Secretary of Treasury{11.28.09}, and then reappoints a Federal Reserve Chairman considered by experts to be an architect of the bubble economy. He escalates the war in Afghanistan under the fig leaf of a fuzzy withdrawal timeline full of caveats. He abandons the public option for health insurance in order to make a deal with a few intransigent members of his own party, rather than deliver on his campaign promise. And he pursues a private negotiating strategy at the Copenhagen climate summit intended to settle for an unenforceable political promise instead of a binding legal agreement. How do you spell failure?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Israel Attempts to Preempt Jerusalem in Palestine

Developments in the Levant have not been good news for the American administration as its client state, Israel, continues to push annexation of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Last month, Zionists clashed with Palestinians in Sheik Jarrah after a Palestinian family lost its home to a court order for eviction. Three families have been evicted in the predominately Arab neighborhood in the last year. A Jewish settlement association won its legal claim to historic Jewish ownership of the land and has plans to build a large housing complex there. The neighborhood is just north of the Arab Old Quarter. Israel claims sovereignty over all Jerusalem including the eastern sections taken from Jordan in the 1967 war and has maintained a consistent public stance that there will never be "two Jerusalems". The Israeli hard line is encouraged by American fundamentalists who wish to see Jewish control of the Holy City of God, predicted in various Bible passages to occur at the parousia. The United Nations has called the demolitions, evictions and flow of settlers "provocative actions" that "make resuming negotiations and achieving a two-state solution more difficult". Of course stating the obvious does not deter Israel. In 2008 Israel revoked the residency permits of more Palestinians from East Jerusalem than during any other year since the 1967 war. Zionist Avigdor Liberman, the foreign minister in Israel's coalition government, reaffirmed their willingness to continue the absorption of East Jerusalem despite Prime Minister Netanyahu's call for a ten month moratorium on building. Settlers have installed fake foundations in East Jerusalem in an attempt to circumvent the freeze which allows builders to complete construction already in progress.
[photo: Arab resident Rafaq al-Kurd is restrained by his wife, NY Times]

Chart of the Week: U-6 the Real Measure of Unemployment

Last week's corporate media meme was the drop of .2% in the unemployment rate. The rate drop was caused by people becoming detached from the labor market. "Those not in the labor market" increased by 291,000. Nevertheless the news powered a rise in the dollar index and a sharp drop in gold prices. At 10% the official rate is grim enough, but if you look at U-6 [last line], the broadest official measure of no and under employment, the picture is even worse. U-6 counts people with part-time jobs because of economic reasons, people who want a job but are discouraged, and people whose unemployment benefits have stopped and have fallen off the roles. This statistic is much closer to what it feels like to Joe Sixpac. U-6 is at 17.2% and slated to rise into 2011. Hard times are definitely here.

[chart: Mike Shedlock @]

Monday, December 07, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

'Toontime: Nobel Winner With A Plan

[credit: Steve Sack]
Wackydoodle asks: Does that bird have an invitation?

On Sunday the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev released a draft treaty for European security. Mr. Medvedev expressed the belief that a treaty is necessary to dispel lingering Cold War mentality, and put peace and stability primarily in the hands of the United Nations Security Counsel where the principle of undivided security can be implemented with an established mechanism. The President began working on the idea of a European treaty after the border conflict with Georgia, which he believes could have escalated into a large scale war. Western reactions to his circulated draft were predictably cool. The Secretary General of the western military alliance, NATO, said that there will be a response to the Russian president's suggestions.

A related development was the expiration of the START-1 agreement at midnight today without a replacement treaty for further reductions in nuclear arsenals. Negotiations in Switzerland between Russia and the US are hung up on verification details. However, both presidents pledged to keep working toward an agreement in a joint statement released by the Kremlin. The new goal is for an agreement by the end of this year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Chart of the Week: Fed Forever Blowing Bubbles

This compound chart shows the state of play in the world markets. The Fed policy of deflating the US dollar (US$ Index) to inflate a new economic bubble in commodities is having the intended effect. The stock market is up (DJ Industrials Index) as are the commodities markets (DJ Commodities Index) led by a parabolic bull market in gold (spot price over $1200). Short term rates (3month T bill) are headed to zero, thereby encouraging dollar carry trading. But if you measure the stock market gains in hard money (gold) instead of devalued dollars, the rally is an illusion since one Dow share is worth only 8.8 ounces of gold or 12% less than 3 months ago.
[chart: Gary Dorsch @ www.]

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Starving Bears Resort to Cannibalism

Polar bear males are known to kill new cubs in the spring to bring the sows back into estrous. Infanticide is a method of natural selection shared with other large predatory land mammals such as lions. But polar bears living in the Hudson Bay region of Canada may have resorted to cannibalism because sea ice is hardening later each year preventing them from hunting their usual prey--seals. Eight cases of apparent cannibalism by males have been reported to conservation organizations. A retired scientist who studied the Churchill, Canada population for thirty years says that the number of reported cases is large. The bears of Hudson Bay were forced to wait on shore for four months without food until freeze up. The Bay used to freeze in November, now in early December it is still not solid enough for bears to hunt. In 2004 four bears drowned attempting to hunt on unstable ice.

There are also reports of cannibalism from the Beaufort Sea area in Canada's far northwest corner. Some of the discovered carcasses are adult females which is inconsistent with breeding behavior. The timing of the kills in early December is also inconsistent with mating because female polar bears will not be receptive until spring. The first confirmed cannibalistic killing occurred in 2004 when an adult male was observed attacking a female who had just given birth to cubs in her den. The male dragged her carcass away and partially consumed it. The cubs were killed when the den collapsed from the attack. The impact of climate change on the western Hudson Bay population has been significant according to both the USGS and the Canadian Wildlife Service. There has been a 22% decline in the number of bears at Hudson Bay in the last seventeen years. US Person is calling for a few climate change deniers to engage in a practical experiment at Hudson Bay. Their results will be shared with his readers which he believes would be much more probative than some imprudent e-mails betwixt frustrated and concerned scientists.

[photo: National Geographic]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama's War

Forty-four will double down in Afghanistan "preferring not to hand anything off" to the next president, and will tell the American people that they cannot afford to allow a fundamentalist Islamic regime to take power if they want to sleep soundly in their beds at night. He will be guilty of the same conflated rhetoric before a captive audience used by Forty-three to justify the invasion of Iraq. It did not matter to Shrub that Saddam Hussein was not supporting Al Qaeda. Saddam probably considered the Islamic extremist, Osama Bin Laden, a dangerous adventurer who was playing with fire. Similarly, the Taliban is not Al Qaeda. Even the Pentagon admits there are perhaps only 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. The very fact the United States and its NATO allies have been unable to defeat the Taliban after eight years of fighting indicates they have popular support in the country. Such support is entirely understandable given the secular government propped up by the United States is a only a few levels of integrity above a narco-cartel. Forty-four's justification for more troops will overlook the fact that the Taliban is an outgrowth of the mujahadeen supported by the US. They successfully ousted the Soviet Union in a jihad, and went on to win a devastating Tajik-Pashtun civil war from which Afghanistan has never fully recovered. It is typical of American imperial arrogance that the after the Islamic fighters played pawns' role in the Cold War, their fundamentalist fervor fanned by the CIA was largely ignored. If the Pentagon estimates of Al Qaeda strength are anywhere near accurate then the US can credibility claim it has issued sufficient "pay back" to leave in an orderly manner. Forty-four rejects any comparison between the Vietnam and Afghanistan conflicts, but the factors he choses to differentiate them with, while reasonable are superficial, since both conflicts arise from the decades long effort to maintain worldwide US military dominance. Imperial America was viciously attacked, but the man responsible is still at large and hiding in Pakistan.

Osama Bin Laden was in the country when the Taliban took power as a warlord's guest, but one not unreservedly welcomed despite the Pashtun code of hospitality. The xenophobic fundamentalists concluded the pan-Arab Al Qaeda presence a liability, preventing them from achieving international legitimacy. In 2000 the Taliban initiated talks with the EU, facilitated by businessman Kabir Mohabbat, to transfer bin Laden out of the country. The Taliban's offer was transmitted to the US ambassador in Germany. Mohabbat was put on the US payroll from November 2000 to late September 2001 by which time he had been paid $115,000. Despite the attack on the USS Cole the new regime in Washington failed to immediately follow up with Mohabbat's offer from the Taliban. According to Mohabbat, as reported by Counterpunch, Taliban leaders were flown in two C-130s to a meeting with US officials in Quetta shortly after the attacks of September 11th. Mohabbat acted as a translator at the meeting. There the Taliban leaders agreed to three American demands: the immediate handover of bin Laden; extradition of foreigners in Al Qaeda who were wanted by their home countries; and the closing of Al Qaeda bases and training camps. Incredibly, the Charlatan did not capitalize on the opportunity presented to him, literally on a silver platter, to kill or capture the mastermind behind the terror network. After the US had started bombing the stark Afghan countryside from 40,000 feet, Mohabbat relayed a renewed Taliban offer to hand over bin Laden. He was told by a US consulate general in Islamabad, "the train had moved". Eight years later the war is stalemated, and Osama is still at large. So much for change you can believe.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vietnam Looses Its Elephants

A recent opinion article in the Stumptown news argued that if Vietnam is any example, then we should stay the course in Afghanistan. A picture of uniformed workers in a clean, modern Nike shoe factory was thoughtfully provided should any reader wish to doubt the author's claim of Vietnam's unqualified postwar economic success. US Person read another news story that gave him more than enough reason not to want a repeat of the "success" of Vietnam. Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development told workshop attendees that at the end of the war in 1975, an estimated 2,000 Asian elephants still roamed the forests. Now, that number has dropped to 80. There may have been a million elephants living across Asia as late as 1900 [map]. Predictably, deforestation and poaching are the main reasons given by the Ministry for the precipitous drop in population. The Vietnam War took a huge toll on Vietnam's forests which were bombed and defoliated with Agent Orange. Undoubtedly elephants were among the victims of the US campaign against an enemy that used the forests as a stronghold. Human population increases and economic development after the war have also been responsible for rapid loss of elephant habitat. There have been news reports of enraged elephants attacking villagers as their territories shrink. The few elephants remaining in the wild are grouped in the Central Highlands and southern Dong Nai Province. Estimates of illegal wildlife products passing through Vietnam are around 4,000 tons a year, and Vietnamese ivory prices could be the highest in the world with reports of tusks selling for up $1500 a kilogram. Smaller cut pieces are sold for as much as $1863 according to TRAFFIC, an international conservation group that monitors the trade. Selling ivory was outlawed in Vietnam in 1992, but a loophole allows traders to sell the stock in their possession prior to the ban, making law enforcement difficult.

The Fedspan Rule

Former Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan, the man credited with creating the housing bubble by maintaining a near zero discount rate after the .com bubble burst, is also the author of a widely respected rule in public finance. Greenspan and Argentinian Pablo Guidotti published a formula in a 1999 academic paper which states that governments should maintain hard currency reserves equal to at least 100% of short term foreign debt maturing within a year to avoid the possibility of default. PIMCO, the respected fund manager, thinks the Greenspan-Guidotti rule is "perhaps the single concept of reserve adequacy that has the most adherents and empirical support". Judged by that rule, the United States is in for some tough times ahead. Within the next twelve months the Treasury will have to refinance $2 trillion in short term debt, 44% of which is held by foreigners or $800 billion. Uncle Sam's pockets are deep, but not that deep. The US holds oil ($58bn), gold ($300bn) and foreign currency ($136bn) in reserve worth around $500 billion. When added to financing requirements for the current deficit spending, the total bill is $3.5 trillion or 30% of GDP in one year! Foreigners are no longer beating a path to buy US securities given what the Greenspan-Guidotti rule says about vulnerability to default. Uncle Sam will have to turn his digital presses even faster to finance the growing mountain of debt. The Federal Reserve has already "monetized" nearly $2 trillion of Treasury and mortgage debt and will have to buy more. These actions weaken the dollar further, causing foreign investors and countries to buy assets like gold and oil. Russia and India are both buying gold. China has told its huge population to buy gold. Brazil, Korea and Chile are the three largest central banks that own the least amount of gold, less than 1% of their total reserves. According to investment advisor Porter Standsberry, they may be among the next countries to abandon the dollar.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just the Facts, Ma'am

US Person is not going to argue about whether 'Goldbuckets and Bags' was fully hedged or not.* First, he does not have access to the inside information with which to conclusively argue his point. Second, the Office of Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP) has in essence arrived at the same conclusion: the NY Federal Reserve Bank (aka Timmy!) made a very bad deal using taxpayer money to bail out a rapidly sinking AIG:
In other words, the decision to acquire a controlling interest in one of the world’s most complex and most troubled corporations was done with almost no independent consideration of the terms of the transaction or the impact that those terms might have on the future of AIG.
Was it a sweetheart deal to help out Timmy's friends at Goldman? Here is what Neil Barofsky, the special G-Man assigned to investigate had to say in typically guarded bureaucrat-speak on that subject:
Irrespective of their stated intent, however, there is no question that the effect of FRBNY’s decisions —indeed, the very design of the federal assistance to AIG —was that tens of billions of dollars of Government money was funneled inexorably and directly to AIG’s counterparties...Federal Reserve officials provided AIG’s counterparties with tens of billions of dollars they likely would have not otherwise received had AIG gone into bankruptcy.
The AIG bailout was badly handled by the Federal Reserve either because (a) they were outwitted in frantic circumstances by cooler heads on Wall Street; or (b) because they intentionally declined to use their considerable leverage to obtain concessions from AIG's counterparties including Goldman Sachs. The IG report says the answer is (b) because then NY Fed President Geithner's policy decisions led directly to a negotiating strategy that had little chance for success. Geithner did demand concessions from Chrysler and GM for government aid, but then he was already Secretary of the Treasury.

*Goldman told SIGTARP it had purchased additional risk protection against an AIG default. Of the $22.1 billion of credit default swaps outstanding in November 2008, $13.9 billion was resolved with the help of government financing of AIG (Maiden Lane III). Goldman also received $8.4 billion in collateral from AIG. Goldman estimated it was still short $1.2 billion based on its estimated value of AIG swaps held. But it purchased protection from third parties that would have paid it slightly more than $1.2 billion in the event of an AIG default. Thus, Goldman did not consider itself "materially at risk if AIG in fact defaulted." The government countered this embarrassing claim by saying an AIG default would have triggered a systemic collapse making it difficult for Goldman to collect on its third party protection, and devaluing further CDOs that remained on its books listed at $5.5 billion. Barofsky Report at 17.

Friday, November 27, 2009

'Toontime: Doing What They Do Best

[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dubai Suspends Debt Payments

The sheikdom that would be New York of the desert announced on Wednesday that it was suspending debts payments by its largest corporate entity, Dubai World, for six months. Market observers have known for months that Dubai was in trouble because it is a city state built not on sand, but debt. World markets reacted predictably on the news today with stocks slumping and credit default swaps soaring. Nearly $50bn in debt is due in the next three years and the sheiks do not have the money. Standard & Poor's said the suspension could be considered a default, and downgraded a host of Dubai government entities. Dubai could be headed the way of Iceland. Meanwhile gold soared to a new high of $1195.13 after Sri Lanka's central bank said it would purchase IMF gold for sale.

[image: luxury hotels under construction in Dubai]

Progress Made Towards Green Energy Future

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado has released a state by state report showing progress toward renewable energy development in the United States. Renewable resources supplied only 8.5% of total electricity generation in 2007 with a 70% share of that amount attributable to hydroelectric generation. By 2007 24 states were generating at least one gigawatt of renewable electricity from non-hydro sources. California generates the most non-hydro renewable energy. Washington generates the most renewable energy if hydro is included. The greatest growth has been in the wind sector, and because of the abundant wind energy on the Great Plains, South Dakota leads in overall growth of non-hydro renewable energy generation. The pie chart shows that most of America's energy comes from the burning of coal. Clearly, much more clean development needs to occur if proposed carbon emission limits are to be met. Biomass, or the generation of power from waste materials, is expanding and offers an opportunity for further growth in regions without significant hydro, wind or geothermal sources as in the western United States. States which offer net metering to electricity customers and have a renewable energy portfolio mandate showed greater growth in renewable energy generation than states without these policies. The report contains numerous analytical charts and an extensive appendix listing clean energy resources.
[image credit: ENS]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chart of the Week: House Price Declines Since 2007

Wackdoodle sez: "I'll trade ya a poke of tulip bulbs fer your house"
Think that other store of value, your federally insured bank account, is safe? Think again, dear reader. The FDIC is officially broke according to its third quarter reports. Its deposit insurance fund went negative by $8.2 billion. Bank failures have cost FDIC $28 billion so far this year. In the second quarter of 2009 the number of problem banks grew from to 416 from 305 in the first quarter, the highest since the S&L crisis in 1994. Because of increasing commercial real estate losses the agency expects bank failures to cost about $100 billion over the next four years. Yet Forty-four fights on in the "graveyard of empire". It ain't me, babe.

Huntin' & Fishin' Barbie in Eschaton

The new darling of the corporate media is doing it again. In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC, the telegenic small town beauty queen turned politician said that Israel should be allowed to expand settlements into occupied Palestinian territory because "that population of Israel is going to grow as Jewish people flock to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." Apparently she has been rereading the Book of Revelations, since her fundamentalist indoctrination permeates that quote. Mrs Palin is expecting an imminent Armageddon when the forces of heaven descend upon Zion (Jerusalem) to do battle with the forces of Gog and Magog to found the "new Jerusalem":
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison...and muster the troops of Gog and Magog...[He] surrounded the beloved city where God's people were encamped...Then I saw new heaven and a new earth. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God. Revelations 20*
The allegorical passages of Revelation have proven fertile ground for persons having a doctrinal commitment to literalness. The problem becomes more than a theological discussion of angels on pinheads, however, when persons such as Mrs. Palin attempt to effect political policy in conformity with their peculiar weltanshauung. One television mavin recently released from federal prison felt compelled to call Mrs. Palin "confused" and "dangerous", while hard line Israeli leaders considered her comments on illegal settlements "clear and well-intentioned". Proving once again that it all depends on whose ox is at the altar being slaughtered.
*The New American Bible, St. Joseph's Ed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Long and Winding Road

It entirely fitting that Majority Leader Henry Reid invoked the memories of President Harry S. Truman and Senator Edward M. Kennedy in his comments to the press after the historic cloture vote yesterday evening (60-39) allowing floor debate on the Senate's version of health care reform legislation. In 1945 President Truman sent a long message to the 79th Congress advocating a national health insurance plan. Senator Kennedy is recognized as the statesman who dedicated his career to making health care reform a reality. He did not live to see a bill passed, but he knew the goal was in sight before he died. President Truman began his remarks as follows:
Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have the protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection...In the past, the benefits of modern medical science have not been enjoyed by our citizens with any degree of equality. Nor are they today. Nor will they be in the future--unless government is bold enough to do something about it...We should resolve that the health of this Nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the Nation.
The words written over sixty years ago, unfortunately for many Americans, are still true today. But at long last redressing the social inequity to which Senator Kennedy dedicated his public life may be upon us.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Norway and Guyana Save Forest

Climate activists shaking their heads over the unevent that will take place in Copenhagen next month, may take some solace in the unprecedented agreement reached by Norway and former British colony Guyana. Guyana has an intact rain forest larger than England and in return for preserving it, Norway will invest $250 million in the country to development a low carbon economy. Both countries intend the agreement to set an example for other north-south partnerships to save tropical forests worldwide. President Bharrat Jagdeo offered the UK a similar deal in 2007, but the debt ridden British government failed to make any headway on the proposal. The President credited the British newspaper, The Independent [image], with bringing his nation's forest to the forefront of conservation efforts. Small and relatively undeveloped, countries like Guyana lack the financial means to place large tracts of land off limits to development. But it is these remaining tracts of undisturbed forest than mean the difference between an Earth like something from the dystopian film "Blade Runner" or an idyllic Eden hosting technologically advanced and sustainable human cultures*. Under the agreement with Norway, Guyana will halt deforestation and increase efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from forest activities. Tropical deforestation accounts for one-fifth of all carbon emission--more than all of the transport sector including aviation. GREEN KUDOS are in order for Norway and Guyana!
*a recent study released by international researchers says the Earth is on track for a 6℃ rise in temperature by 2100, a catastrophic condition.
[photo credit: www.treehugger. com; Iwokrama Reserve, Guyana]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Creature Feature: Woody Takes a Long Shower

Enquiring minds want to know, is it warm or is it cold?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Senate's Health Care Bill

Like all compromises necessary to garner support from fence sitters in Congress, the Senate health care bill is not as strong as progressives would like, but it does preserve a government health plan as part of the proposed health insurance exchanges. The public option is not as robust as it started out, primarily because the legislation requires reimbursement rates be negotiated with the private health insurance sector, and allows states to drop out of the program by passing their own legislation. All legal residents will be required to have health insurance by 2014 or face fines. Employers with more than 50 employees would have to pay $750 per full-time worker if any of them obtained subsidized coverage through the exchanges. By these mandates and changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the bill intends to cover 94% of Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects that only one out of eight people purchasing coverage through the exchanges will enroll in the public plan. It also estimates, perhaps overly so, that seventeen states will opt out leaving only two-thirds of the population residing in states where the public plan is available. CBO expects premiums for the public plan to be slightly higher than private plans offered in the exchanges since the premiums must cover the cost of claims, administration, and a contingency reserve. The plan will have lower administration costs, but will attract "a less healthy pool of enrollees" due to "less management of utilization" by the Department of Health & Human Services. Progressives can only hope that California opts out and leads the way to a more efficient single payer system in the future. But Senator Henry Reid's version is at least half a loaf better than none. According to the rating by CBO, the plan does save the government money: $130 billion between 2010 to 2019. US Person predicts that a bill close to the Senate plan in content will come out of conference committee minus the unacceptable (and perhaps unconstitutional) limitation on private funding of abortion that House conservatives forced onto its bill as political ransom for passage.

Yes, We Did Torture

A positive development to report from the anti-torture front: Attorney General Holder has announced that the Office of Professional Responsibility report on the role of Department of Justice attorneys in justifying the use of torture in violation of international and federal law should be publicly released by the end of the November. This is only a first step toward holding US officials accountable for their implementation of torture as official US policy in the so-called "Global War on Terror":

The administration also did the right thing by deciding to try major terrorists in federal criminal court in Manhattan and not by military commission in a private chamber of the Guantanamo gulag. The public criminal trial is sine qua non for reestablishing the rule of law after eight years of an installed regime that shredded the Constitution in the name of national security. If Americans are to remain a free people, they cannot afford to be afraid, despite political opinions--no matter how asinine--to the contrary. The US criminal justice system has prosecuted 195 terrorists since the attacks of September 11, 2001 with a 91% conviction rate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

China, the Ugly

Want to know why our biggest trading partner and creditor can produce so many consumer products cheaply, flooding our market to the point of endangering the health of our own economy? Beside cheap labor, industrial production in China enjoys the freedom to dump and pollute where and when it likes. These graphic photos by a Chinese freelance photographer are examples of what economists hygienically refer to as "uncompensated externalities" which make extremely low costs of production possible. The Chinese waste their land because Americans buy their stuff in container ship loads. Think about Earth that the next time you head to Wal-Mart to do your Christmas shopping.
[credit: Lu Guang; an elder covers his nose against the smell of the polluted Yellow River]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chart of the Week: Let Them Eat Prozac

Conventional economic wisdom is that full employment and inflation are correlated. Workers with money in their pockets bid up prices--a case of increased demand for limited supply (demand-pull in Keynesian terms). There are other sorts of inflation, notably relevant now as the Fed drastically expands the money supply, is monetary inflation. Here is a chart which shows the inverse relationship between the Federal Funds rate, a key tool used by the Fed to control inflation, and employment. As you can see the Federal Reserve usually does not increase the discount rate until after a peak has been reached in unemployment. You are at the top of the red line on the right. Think of it as a greater misery leading indicator.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Americans Want a Strong Public Option

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il) conducted an on-line poll to find out what kind of public health insurance plan we want. The poll was not intended to be scientific, but US Person thinks its a good representation of what progressive voters want, so he shares the results here:
  • Out of a possible 10 the average ranking for a fifty state fully funded public option was 8.56;
  • 65% of respondents completely opposed any "trigger" mechanism because they know it will never be used;
  • an "opt-out" public option as proposed by Senator Henry Reid scored 5 out of 10 while an opt-in provision supported by the insurance industry handmaiden Ben Nelson (?-NE) scored 2.3.
The poll counted 83,954 responses. The message is clear: American want real reform.

Elephant Walk

No, not the 1954 film melodrama* starring the irrepressible Elizabeth Taylor, but the actual migration corridors used by generations of intelligent and sensitive elephants. An Indian high court ruled in favor of elephants over land developers, prohibiting construction blocking their routes on the Segur Plateau and around Mudumalai tiger reserve. According to wildlife officials only four corridors will be secured by the interim ruling among the 88 passages listed as critical by the Wildlife Trust of India. Conservationists have been working to purchase private land across India to connect protected areas for the pachyderm residents of India.

*Even though the film concerns a tea plantation manse built athwart a traditional elephant path in Ceylon, the elephants in the poster appear to be African, but reality never stopped Hollywood.

Copenhagen Doomed to Failure

World governments are acknowledging that the climate summit in Copenhagen will not produce a binding agreement primarily because the United States Congress has not passed pending climate legislation with emission targets. Congress is capable of focusing on only one major piece of legislation at a time, and that focus has been occupied by health insurance reform. If the summit can produce an agreement on limiting deforestation, it will be a major accomplishment. El Mensaje de Merida, from the site of the Ninth World Wilderness Conference to Copenhagen delegates, is that nature conservation on a large, interconnected scale is an effective strategy for mitigating climate change. Conservationists also endorsed 350ppm as the level of CO2 that is acceptable if wide spread ecological destruction is to be avoided. Host country Denmark has proposed achieving a political statement of intent on climate action followed by a second conference at the end of 2010 to forge a legal pact. While our government dithers, the Greenland ice pack is melting into the sea at an accelerating rate.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Japanese Whaling May Be Axed

The corrupt Japanese whaling program operates under a cover of "scientific research" in order to fit within an exception to the international whaling moratorium imposed in 1986. However, the program is not self-sustaining and requires a government subsidy of about $780 million to the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Fund to keep the discredited Institute for Cetacean Research going. A spending review committee has recommended that the subsidy be eliminated. The final decision on funding rests with the Cabinet Office. Greenpeace, which was instrumental in achieving the moratorium, has determined that whale meat from "research" vessels is being sold by crew members for personal profit. Two Greenpeace activists, Toru Suzuki and Junichi Sato, are awaiting trial for their undercover work in exposing the corruption of the whaling program. They are charged with theft and trespass. Whaling is on the agenda of items to be discussed by President Obama with Prime Minister Hatoyama during his state visit.

Creature Feature: Cat Blogging Friday

The world's first video taken of the rare and elusive bay cat endemic to Borneo and threatened by deforestation. Researchers Andrew Hearn and Jo Ross of the Global Canopy Programme caught Catopuma badia in a camera trap. The cat was not photographed in the wild until 1998. Watch closely; the video only lasts seven seconds, and if you blink you will only see the reddish brown cat's tail:

The bay cat is only one of several small cat species whose habitat is threatened by palm oil plantations. Four out of five felids endemic to Borneo are vulnerable to extinction. A new species of clouded leopard was found last year. Conservationists are hoping to preserve a large area of intact forest before plantations and logging destroy most of Borneo's forest cover.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Terrible Cost

The palm oil industry is rapidly denuding Southeast Asia, destroying the rainforest and replacing it with unsustainable monoculture plantations to produce a commodity used in cooking, foodstuffs and as a fuel. When the rainforest is torn down, the homes of endangered orangutans are also wiped out. That is bad enough, but the torture and abuse of orphaned orangutan infants uncovered on Borneo is truly sickening. Workers killed two mothers to eat them. Two of the infants [photo, International Animal Rescue] was found by conservationists beaten, emaciated and dehydrated. Helen was hog tied to a pole. Another younger infant apparently escaped the workers, but less than a year old, the orangutan undoubtedly died of starvation in the forest. Thankfully the rescued infants are recovering from their ordeal. Helen's wounds are responding well to antibiotics, and learning that not all homo sapiens are predators. They are the lucky ones because countless more primates are dying in captivity from similar torture and neglect. International Animal Rescue has signed an agreement with the Indonesian Forestry Department to set up a permanent rescue center in West Kalimantan where there is none at present. The group is also working on a proposal for research into suitable sites where orangutans can be released into protected areas of remaining forest.

Crackpots United

Some more evidence that the GOP is being taken over by fringe groups and fascist extremists from Mother Jones. Assorted nuts and tea baggers got a friendly welcome from GOP legislators on the steps of the Capital last week when they showed up to protest the painful progress being made on relieving America's healthcare crisis. Their placards are messages are sinking to new lows in our political debate--many of racial content insulting to the President--which already takes place at an elementary level. Their latest frenzy is truly laughable if not so ridiculous. The tea baggers have embraced the fringe political theories of a former KGB analyst, Dr. Igor Panarin, an academic and alleged expert on the United States. He holds forth on a weekly radio show and television appearances from Moscow about his pet theory that the United States will collapse around the year 2010 and splinter into separate regional states as did the Soviet Union in 1992. According to Dr. Panaran, who is a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US will break up along regional, ethnic and cultural faults. His reasoning for the breakup:
A whole range of reasons. Firstly, the financial problems in the U.S. will get worse. Millions of citizens there have lost their savings. Prices and unemployment are on the rise. General Motors and Ford are on the verge of collapse, and this means that whole cities will be left without work. Governors are already insistently demanding money from the federal center. Dissatisfaction is growing, and at the moment it is only being held back by the elections and the hope that Obama can work miracles. But by spring, it will be clear that there are no miracles."
The veterans of the Grand Army must be turing in their graves upon hearing this agitprop. Of course the Civil War is the great subject of revisionist history in Texas. There the tea baggers sponsored Panarin to speak at the Houston Hilton. The fringe right media have also cited Panarin's opinions from the Drudge Report to Chuck Baldwin, a perennial also ran of the Conservative Party. The small detail that Panarin puts the locus of Hispanic unrest in the southeast rather than in the northern portion of Mexico annexed by the United States after the Mexican War ought to tell you something about the quality of his analysis.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

End the Anti-War 'Treason' Rhetoric

US Person is truly disgusted with Washington politicans bashing the principled opposition to the Vietnam War by an entire generation of young Americans. Forty-four did it again on this Veterans Day, addressing the people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for the traditional wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown. Denigrating millions of Americans who stood up to their government to end a war that was immoral and unjustified has itself become tradition:

"If we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that there have been times where we as a nation have betrayed that sacred trust," "Our Vietnam veterans served with great honor. They often came home greeted not with gratitude or support, but with condemnation and neglect. That's something that will never happen again."

Many Americans at the time of Vietnam were emotionally opposed to the continuation of bloodshed. They were ashamed of their country killing millions of Vietnamese. If some took their frustrations out on individual returning soldiers, that was wrong, but entirely understandable. They saw their patriotic duty as convincing their leaders to end the war. To their everlasting credit they succeeded. The American anti-war movement did not loose a war by betraying servicemen*. To think that is to dismiss the extreme sacrifice of the Vietnamese who wanted an end to colonialism whether under France or as a client state of the U.S. fighting the Cold War.

Incredibly less than fifty years later, The United States is having a deja vu moment again with Forty-four playing the role of LBJ. He is about to send more young Americans to pay in blood for the mistaken notion that to do otherwise would fail "to do right by them". Accusing anti-war Americans of treason by implication to garner support for continuing the confused war in Afghanistan is a reprehensible political maneuver. Afghanistan is probably more of a quagmire than Vietnam. At least there was a South Vietnamese army that on occasion fought well with American support. The history of Afghanistan's impoverished tribal struggle against foreign powers goes back centuries. They are just as motivated as the communists were to push the foreign invader out. It may be just possible that they do not want a western style democracy imposed on them. And once again the American people are saying no more war. Will it take another Kent State for the authorities to represent the desires of the people who elected them? Their mind set is as hard as the stone monuments for the dead to which they pay so much tribute. The living can go die in a faraway desert land.

*Repugnant Senator Tom Coburn (OK) has put a hold on a major veterans' benefit bill, drawing the ire of 13 military and veteran groups

Nepal Protects Tigers

The government of Nepal has expanded the Bardia National Park by 900 sq.kms. (347.5 sq.m.) specifically for tiger habitat. The first ever national census showed 121 adult tigers living in four protected areas of Nepal. WWF urged the government to increase habitat and anti-poaching efforts. It will also establish a National Tiger Conservation Authority and a Wildlife Crime Control Commission. Government sees the success of tiger conservation tied to the livelihoods of local communities. WWF believes that Nepal can be successful in doubling the number of endangered tigers and sees Nepal's commitment to tiger survival as an important example for other countries in tiger range where remnant populations are hanging in the balance. GREEN KUDOS to Nepal for helping one of nature's most magnificent animals survive.
[photo courtesy: PBS]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New Joe McCarthy

Former Democratic Senator 'Zion' Joe Lieberman is fast becoming the new Joe McCarthy. This Joe is not hunting alleged communists infiltrating our government, but "sleeper" Muslim terrorists bent on destroying our nation from within. Lieberman got more face time on Fox Spews for his precipitous statements about Ft. Hood mass killer Nidal Hasan's motivations. Shouting "Allah Akbar" is enough to label you a domestic terrorist according to Joe. Would a mass murderer shouting "Jesus is Lord" be categorized in Joe's book as a terrorist? US Person doubts it, even though Joe is a devout Jew. As Army Chief of Staff George Casey said, we all want to know what drove a trained officer and psychiatrist to such violent behavior*, but also "we need to be very, very careful here in these early days and let the investigation take its course." Most of the damage has already been done by Hasan, but irresponsibly claiming that the shooting was "the most destructive terrorist act to be committed on American soil since 9/11" chills our already strained relations with American Muslims in and out of the Armed Services. There are indications that Hasan was experiencing emotional distress and that he holds extreme views of America's wars in Central Asia which the Army knew about but ignored However, Maj. Hasan, as a US citizen, is entitled to due process of law, not trial by sound bytes from a reactionary politician.

[photo: Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, VA which Hasan attended while stationed a Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC]
*the suicide rate for male veterans is twice the civilian rate.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Chart of the Week: No Mo' Credit

[credit: The Market]
Consumer credit is taking a swan dive as illustrated in the chart. Revolving credit, which are credit cards, is decreasing at an annual rate of 10%. This is not good news for an economy that is heavily dependent on consumer purchases, representing over 70% of GDP.

AIG Given Sweetheart Deal by NY Fed

Its pretty obvious to students of the financial meltdown in 2008 that the government blinked when confronted by the banksters armed with "weapons of mass financial destruction" (credit default swaps). AIG was literally drowning in collateral calls on the billions of CDS it wrote. Perhaps scared out of their wits, or simply helping out distressed colleagues and friends, the New York Federal Reserve gave AIG par value for its CDS junk when the New York insurance regulator had mediated deals at 13¢ because a default by AIG would have resulted in financial chaos. This is how the GAO described the situation in its September 2009 report on the crisis:
Critics of the government’s assistance have noted that by providing assistance to AIG for the purpose of providing or returning cash collateral to counterparties, the government was indirectly assisting the counterparties, and they questioned the efficiency of this approach. Some noted that banks that had bought CDS contracts from other failed insurers were paid 13 cents on the dollar in deals mediated by New York’s insurance regulator, whereas AIG’s counterparties were paid market value. They said that new capital to AIG in effect served as direct infusions to the counterparties, including foreign financial institutions [notably Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank]. Conversely, Federal Reserve officials believed that if AIG had failed to pay the collateral amounts due, it would have been in default of its agreements, which could have resulted in AIG’s counterparties forcing it into bankruptcy. Moreover, they believed that the unfolding crisis warranted swift action to prevent a total collapse of the financial system given its fragile state at that time.
Essentially, the government was forced into the corner by the free-booting banksters who created the Wild West private debt machine with the blessing of Alan 'Fedspan' and his cohorts. "Help us, patriots all, or die!" was their cry, and Timmy said "Sirs, aye, aye", despite Goldman Sachs being fully hedged against their AIG exposure. CFO David Viniar told investors in a conference call that Goldman was protected: "We limited our overall credit exposure to AIG through a combination of collateral and market hedges. There would have been no credit losses if AIG had failed."

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Poisoning of the Land

NRDC tells us that the Department of Agriculture spends $100 million annually to kill wildlife that agribusiness deems to be "pests". The division, inappropriately named"Wildlife Services", spreads poisons across millions of acres of public lands. Its agents use two of the most lethal toxins known, Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide intending to kill predators, but which are indiscriminate and kill any animal that comes in contact with them. If you and your dog should be walking in a national forest and your friend becomes the victim of a M-44 spring loaded trap, be prepared to bury your dog. The fiendish device shoots a pellet of cyanide directly into the investigating animal's mouth, insuring a painful and slow death. Help NRDC convince Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the senseless poisoning of our environment in favor of more effective and less indiscriminate methods of controlling wildlife populations.
[photo courtesy of USDA]