Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for September 2008

What’s with all the pirates lately?

with 4 comments

What a perfect topic for Doug’s Darkworld! Pirates! Especially in these dark days. And now pirates have seized a ship full of tanks off East Africa. Kinda hard to unload tanks in the black market, in fact hard to unload at all without sailing into a port. And now that the US Navy has them in their sights, these particular pirates might be re-considering their career choice.

So, what is with all these pirates lately? Well, turns out, nothing, piracy has been in decline since 2000 or so, after rising for more than a decade after the end of the Cold War. There have just been some high profile cases lately. An oddly enough, even though it is a crime that has been around since the beginning of recorded history, modern piracy statistics only started in the mid nineties.

Basically after the end of the Cold War, the major naval powers cut back on their patrolling of the high seas. In various part of the world, notably Indonesia and parts of South Asia and East Africa, pirates grew in number and boldness. Peaking around 2,000, after which some major powers began to patrol some of the worst areas, and the crime has been in decline since then. Were only talking a few hundred cases a year in any event, this is not like the pirate fleets of the past which numbered in the hundreds of ships and did battle with major naval powers at times. No, the modern pirate is more a sea going thug, who is usually after the ship’s safe, valuable supplies, and ransom. As in the current tank cargo case where the pirates are demanding $20 million for ransom.

And as might be expected, piracy is a crime that flourishes wherever there are failed states. This is why it has become such a problem off the coast of Somalia in recent years, Bush’s invasion by proxy utterly destroyed the stability and lawful government the Somali’s had established for themselves a few years back, and plunged the country into an endless insurgency against their foreign occupiers. I’d say that must have been Bush’s plan all along, since one would think he would know by now how difficult it is to impose governments by force on foreign lands, but apparently  he has missed a few memos since the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

So as long as there are failed states, crushing poverty, a world awash in small weapons, and floating piles of money on the high seas…there will be pirates. The good news like I said is that in the greater scheme of things this is a trivial problem on the world stage. Very few people are killed and the economic cost is relatively minor, numerous other categories of crime cause vastly more loss of life and property.

In other pirate news, the Bush administration is still holding the economy hostage and demanding $700 billion dollars. A “compromise” bailout bill has been worked out, but it’s just the now popular proverbial pig with lipstick. There’s still no guarantee it will work, plenty of main stream economists think it’s a bad idea, and just in general it’s still the most brazen theft in history.  As some have pointed out, it’s already made things worse in that the big banks are now completely freezing loans in anticipation of getting a huge handout from the government. In any event, read here and here about the myriad problems with this bailout and the many alternatives that have been proposed.

And while America has been distracted by the bailout, the even bigger scam quietly goes on. Congress proposed yet another round of enormous military spending. With virtually no public discussion the military once again got more than it requested, though of course not enough to pay for the full year in Iraq and Afghanistan so that another big loan will have to be taken out and given to them before the fiscal year is out. The amount of money we are spending on the military is going to break the bank just as sure the bailout, and it’s about a trillion dollars a year now. The fact that this gets basically zero press shows once again what a myth the “liberal media” is. The media may be liberal in many trivial ways, but when it comes to the important stuff, they are in perfect goose stepping harmony with their corporate owners and the Washington elite.

Sigh. I was going to post about the debate, but it proved to be a very short post. Both sides statements could be summed up as follows: “I’ll do a better job than my opponent, who, by the way, is a liar.” Some debate. Basically both managed to appeal to their base without making any major gaffes, so that what people thought of the debate was a good indicator of how fervent a supporter they are. McCain partisans thought McCain wiped the floor with Obama, Obama partisans thought Obama “clearly” won. In my opinion Obama was slightly more logical and factual, but still so far away from where he really needs to be that for all practical purposes it was just another example of debating about how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

(The above image is public domain under US copyright law, being an early nineteenth century woodcut. It is of Charlotte de Berry, a famous woman pirate of the mid seventeenth century. I find it curious because while wikipedia lists her as an historical personage, some say she is a nineteenth century literary invention. Heck, I just recently found out that Homer, the great Greek poet of antiquity, was probably fictional as well. Some day future historians will no doubt decide Bush was a fictional character too, since no one could possibly mismanage a country so badly for so many years without getting recalled.)

Written by unitedcats

September 29, 2008 at 7:49 am

Posted in Politics, War, World

Through Thick and Thin

with one comment

I’ve been a bit doom and gloom lately, as always I hope I’m wrong. Strange days indeed though, a lot is happening. In fact in some ways this is the point I am trying to get across by exaggerating the doom and gloom, historic events are unfolding in Washington and the world, and what transpires between now and the inauguration next spring is going to change our lives forever. The sky is falling, it’s just unclear yet whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s going to be a different thing for sure.

In the election campaign McCain first “stopped campaigning” and said he was going to Washington to help work out the bailout package, and maybe postpone the debate. Now he’s more or less backed off and will be going to the debate. Honestly, I’m a little concerned about Mr McCain, this, like his Palin pick, sounds like someone whose judgement is failing and getting erratic. It’s been a stressful campaign, it’s stressful times, and he’s an old guy. I’ll watch the debate and see how he holds up, but I wonder if a Ross Perot type meltdown is about  happen. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean this in a mean way, I hope I’m imagining things.

Off the coast of Africa, pirates have seized a Ukrainian ship full of arms headed for Kenya. The shipment included T-72 tanks. I suspect it will be re-captured soon, but this is one of those stories with a number of implications. It’s a little alarming that something like this can happen in the first place, both in the general sense that parts of the world have become lawless pirate haunts, and in the specific sense that one would think that a ship full of weapons would be guarded in some fashion. I mean, this is  a valuable and dangerous cargo, doesn’t that rate a few armed guards at least? And lastly, why the hell is Kenya buying main battle tanks? It’s either a terrible waste of money, or widespread war is more likely in East Africa than the press is letting on.

In Europe I came across a really good article about the EU, the latest failed vote in Ireland, and the history of the whole shebang. The whole EU thing is hard to parse, I really haven’t had time to study it in depth. Or even shallowly, turns out more is going on in the world than one person can keep track of. Who would have guessed? In any event I recommend Empire of Nothing for those curious about the EU and Europe. Maybe it’s full of horrible misinformation, in which case hopefully a reader will let us know.

In other world news, further shooting and tensions on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Pakistan is making it clear they don’t want the USA to carry out military operations inside Pakistan, the USA is more or less ignoring them and striking at Pashtun/Taliban militants inside Pakistan.  I’m still kind of mystified by this, since the level of attacks are not militarily significant. My best guess is that the USA is trying to goad Pakistan into taking action against its own people. Since the Pakistan government doesn’t really want a Taliban style insurgency in its own country, I don’t think it’s too likely. It’s all too possible that the USA doesn’t even have a real strategy and is making the strikes because it can.

Conspiracy theorists are alarmed because for the first time a US Army brigade is being basically assigned to homeland defence, and will be trained and equipped for crowd control among other things. I don’t think it’s a sign of incipient fascism, one brigade isn’t going to be able to occupy East Oakland, let alone the whole country, but it is a further erosion of the US Constitution and the Posse Comitatus Act. I think it’s mostly just another sign that our army is being converted to a police army for use in our various overseas commitments, not to mention mission creep and corruption. IE now the army can buy fabulously expensive (and dubiously useful) non-lethal weapons as well as the lethal kind.

Still, while on the subject of conspiracy theories, I had a little paranoid thought. What if the whole Wall Street bailout thing is simply a distraction to hide preparations for something much bigger? Like a coup d’etat or a nuclear attack on Iran? Nah, just kidding.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is  T72 tank that was “illegally” sold to Georgia by Ukraine in 2006. The little tubes to the right of the main gun barrel are for launching biological weapons. It is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, it is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. Credit: Russian Spy. The picture above is what this tank looked like before the recent Russia/Georgia war, for the after picture click here. And no, there’s no such thing as biological weapons launchers, those are smoke grenade launchers.)

Written by unitedcats

September 26, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Politics, World

The money-changers are holding the economy hostage, and our leaders say we should agree to all their demands. What would Jesus do?

with 5 comments

Outraged yet? You should be.

Outraged yet? You should be.

I woke up this morning and the enormity of the $700 billion “bailout” finally sunk home. This is, simply put,  a $700 billion tax break for the rich. This is the largest upwards transfer of wealth in history. This is easily the most brazen crime ever committed, with a straight face our “leaders” are asking us for $700 billion to give to the banking and finance industry. Nearly three decades of deregulation and tax cuts for big business, and now they need a bailout on the backs of the American worker? This is a crime, this is madness. Yes, this is in fact, really serious.

Since the Reagan era America has been a land of opportunity for the wealthy. Tax cuts, deregulation, and a compliant Congress allowed them to prosper as never before. There is no doubt that since the eighties the USA has seen one of the greatest upward transfers of wealth in history. The people at the very top own a vast percentage of America’s wealth, and it’s been growing vaster for decades. This isn’t debatable, this isn’t in doubt, this isn’t some conspiracy theory…this is plain unvarnished fact. The last few decades has been a gilded age for the people at the top in America, anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the rich being rich. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, being successful, and making a lot of money. The problem I have is with what the rich do with their ever increasing share of the wealth. If they were building factories, farms,  and mines, in America, it would be a good thing. The rich could also invest in alternate energy, research, infrastructure and a whole host of other ventures that would not only make them richer, they would create wealth and jobs for the rest of us. This is not what they have done. Again, this is not debatable in any honest way.

Instead of investing in America, many of the wealthiest turned Wall Street and America’s centralized financial system into a giant casino, where the game was always rigged in favour of the house. They piled up a huge amount of paper money, money that was creating basically by moving money around and then borrowing against it. And they especially created money every time they loaned out money, so money was loaned out willy-nilly. And now that it is clear they irresponsibly loaned out money to people who don’t  have the ability to repay, the taxpayer is supposed to buy these “toxic debts” so that the financiers can keep the enormous profits they have made the last few decades? This is literally $700 billion of pork for the finance industry. Usually at least pork puts some locals to work, this just puts a tax bill in everyone’s pocket. And allows the money changers to keep running the show.

This is not a Democrat issue, or a Republican issue, this has nothing to do with conservatives or liberals.  This is not about the elections or the debates. This is our so called leaders sticking us, the American public, with the biggest tax hike in history. And then they will give the money to the people who made this mess in the first place. Holding the economy hostage unless we pay them is extortion, and Bush  and Congress want to simply pay the blackmailer’s off? We should be freeing the economy from the money changers, not paying them off. I’m not stupid, I know what happens when a blackmailer gets paid…they just come back later for more.

Anything is better than simply handing seven hundred billion dollars to the people who said everything was fine a few weeks ago. It’s not too late America, if we don’t act today and stop this bailout for the  banks, we will no longer be hostages tomorrow. We will be slaves. Am I exaggerating? Not really, by many standards this is the most extreme proposal in US history…and if we let it happen it will be the greatest example of putting good money after bad in history. Not to mention the greatest theft in history.

Wake up America, it’s time to vote the bastards out.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Matthew 21:12-13

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, it is not being used for profit. The text of this article may be freely reproduced for educational purposes so long as it it properly attributed to Doug Stych. I know this is a rapidly emerging story, the reason they are in such a hurry is to pull the wool over our eyes. I don’t give a rat’s ass what Congress agrees too, the American people shouldn’t put up with this.)

Written by unitedcats

September 25, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Bush, Business, Politics

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

with 5 comments

I was writing a post about my ten favourite military blunders (did you know Custer’s men were drunk?) but seeing as the collapse of the west’s financial system is a fairly important story, I thought I’d press on with that. I’ve done more reading, and many thought  provoking comments were left on my last post, so once again into the breech. Bush and Paulson still want $700 billion, a lot of people are getting their backs up, though how serious resistence is remains to be seen. In no particular order, more thoughts and observations on Bush/Paulson’s demand: “$700 billion or the economy gets it.”

Someone pointed out that when people say “you have to take this offer right now,” it’s usually a sign that you are being handed the short end of the stick. In fact it’s a used car salesman tactic. It’s also a bit suspicious that this is being presented as the “only” option. I’ve done a lot of reading and there are a lot of ideas about what to do about this financial crisis from people with expertise on the subject, and handing Bush a blank check isn’t very high on the list of proposed solutions.  Just for starters, how about letting the people who made this mess go bankrupt, and help out the Americans who were screwed by unscrupulous lenders?

Speaking of which, a commenter pointed out that while greed in high places led to this, lots of poor people took loans they couldn’t afford in their own attempt to get rich. Isn’t it their fault as well? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that everyone is ultimately responsible for the consequences of their actions. No, and it’s a resounding no, in the sense that one half of the population is below average when it comes to judgement and intelligence. Is it OK for smart educated people to manipulate lesser intellects into ruinous agreements? No. If a society allows the rich to simply prey upon the poor, everyone suffers ultimately. It’s called usury, and even the ancients understood how destructive it could be.

Moving right along, another commenter pointed out that capitalism pretty much has to have credit to keep going. I mean, buying a home or  a car requires credit. And both small and large businesses require it, at least for the most part.   So of course we have to bail out the finance industry so that they may continue to provide credit so that business may continue. Right? Wrong. The idea that bailing out the big guys is the only solution assumes that the centralized credit market that has grown over the past few decades is the only way to go. That’s a hell of an assumption, especially considering its performance. At the core centralized banking creates something called malinvestment, I recommend studying the Austrian Business Cycle Theory to understand the concept.

I certainly agree from my readings that the centralization of the credit market is the problem, not the solution. So propping up the centralized credit system may make things better in the short run, but at best it is a stopgap measure that just continues a failed system at public expense. It’s not that there isn’t any money out there to be loaned, it’s that we have allowed only the central pools of money to be the entire nation’s (and by extension the western world’s) source of credit. Not only did there used to be regional banks, there was a time a few decades ago when interstate banks weren’t even allowed so that a bank failure would only be a regional problem. This centralization of USA/western credit is what the Chinese are talking about when they say that the bailout is an American attempt to rule the world’s financial systems.

And it’s an attempt that is doomed to fail, because the system it is meant to revive is already dead. The bailout is just a Frankensteinian effort to animate a corpse for a few more months until the whole mess can be passed on, or to dump blame on Congress if they fail to pass the bailout. Ahmadinejad may be a out there in some ways, but his comments that we are seeing the end of the American Empire are sadly right on the mark. China and its friend’s finances are in great shape, it’s America and its allies that are going down the tubes.

“Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.”

—Ezekiel 18:13

(The above image and quotes are both safely beyond copyright protection. The title quote is from Shakespeare. The bible quote is from the King James Bible. And the image is of a painting painted in 1798 by Vincenzo Camucci. It’s a painting of Caesar being assassinated, though I chose it to represent the  seriousness of the current situation, the possible death of the Republic…and the end of our current would-be Casar’s reign. I don’t know what is going to happen after Bush leaves office, but it’s going to be a hell of  a ride.)

Written by unitedcats

September 24, 2008 at 8:42 am

Posted in Bush, Business, World

Bush’s Gloves Come Off: Give me 700 Billion Dollars Right NOW…Or Else!

with 19 comments

I like how Al Jazeera put it: “US treasury to use taxpayers’ money to buy bad debts from financial institutions.” That pretty much covers it, short, succinct, factual. In many ways this is the biggest story of the Bush administration, if not the biggest story in decades. Yes, the Bush Administration wants the US taxpayer to cough up more money than has been spent on the war in Iraq, and they want it now, and they want it no questions asked. I’m not sure if they want it in small unmarked bills, but it wouldn’t surprise me. What do they want it for? To buy up “bad loans” to avoid the collapse of the financial system. In other words to bail out the hyper-rich folks who made this mess in the first place. Right.

There are so many things not only wrong, but frightening, about this situation that people should be marching in the streets demanding answers. At the beginning of last week we weren’t even in a recession, and a week later we need to cough up 700 billion dollars to prevent economic catastrophe? That should be ringing alarm bells all over the country. The fact that they want the money with no judicial or congressional oversight is also scary. I mean, they just want to hand out the money as they please, and no one has any say over it?

For one thing, the Bush administration doesn’t exactly have a record of spending money wisely. The opposite in fact. They can’t account for hundreds of billions of dollars in spending as it is, but we are supposed to trust them with a blank check for another 700 billion? Secondly, the Bush administration’s strategy for almost every situation seems to be classic “put good money after bad.” IE they never admit they made a mistake and the solution to all problems is to persevere or even redouble their efforts. Well, their efforts have already led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

This has been called the biggest theft in history as well. And I certainly can’t disagree. More than $2000 for every man woman and child in the USA is going to be pulled out of our pockets to buy “bad debt” from the people who made the bad debt in the first place. How is rewarding people for their greed and lack a foresight going to make things better? Of course the Bush administration says we will get the money back someday, they have a plan to be revealed later. I mean, I’m not making this up, the proposed bill for this bailout out is three pages long and has basically  no details.

At least some in Congress are planning to fight this. The Bush administration says that to do nothing would be even worse. Frankly I’m willing to take the chance, since “do as I say or the bogeyman will get you” is wearing rather thin as an argument. We’ve borrowed and spent nearly two trillion dollars for pointless wars and “homeland security” as it is, now they need nearly another trillion to ward off catastrophe again? I’m sorry, but this is simply the final chapter in the long saga of the Bush administration, they couldn’t just sell the country’s assets, so they just borrowed every dime they could and gave it to their business cronies. And this is just the final blatant step in the same, more hundreds of billions of dollars being given to Bush’s buddies while the taxpayer gets handed the bill.

It’s also extremely troubling to me that they are asking for basically dictatorial powers to get and distribute this money. Granted Bush has pretty much acted above the law and the Constitution during his entire administration, but this time they have blatantly asked Congress to rubber stamp their imperial prerogatives. When Caesar had himself declared dictator, at least he was popular. (Caesar also managed to catch his Bin Laden I should add.) I don’t think Bush is going to be any more popular as a dictator than he is as a president.

Lastly, what most scares me about this, is that I don’t think it matters one way or the other. Two decades of deregulation (IE putting the fox in charge of the hen house) and “borrow and spend” have finally reached their inevitable conclusion, the collapse of the financial system. There isn’t going to be any fixing this because the damage done by the upwards transfer of wealth in the USA has grown too large to contain. And it’s  safe bet that transferring another trillion dollars upwards isn’t going to help, if anything it will make the situation worse. In fact I have a suspicion that one main purpose of this request is simple, if Congress refuses this money, the Bush administration will be able to blame them for the unfolding economic tsunami.

And there is no doubt, an economic tsunami is rolling through the western economies. When I said the economy was hosed last week, I was off the mark. It’s much worse than anyone thought, this coming week is scary. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there’s going to be some major changes in the coming days, last week was just preview. This week may be the opening of the last act in the Fall of the American Empire. Some are now saying that the USA government will go bankrupt in the spring. I think it’s already bankrupt. This $700 billion is just putting lipstick on a corpse. Very expensive lipstick that I apparently have no choice but to help pay for.

On the plus side there’s going to be lots to blog about.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, and I don’t know who to attribute it too, some nameless blogger I think. And don’t get me wrong, while Bush and company are the last and sleaziest of the crowd that got us here, every administration and almost every politician since Reagan has been a part of the looting of America. This is not about party politics, this is about most Americans partying while their leaders robbed them blind. Well, the party is over, brace yourself for the mother of all hangovers.)

Written by unitedcats

September 22, 2008 at 9:02 am

Posted in Bush, Business

Bush attacks Pakistan, what’s up with that?

with 9 comments

So many events in the news, so little time to write about them. Global warming deserves a look, politics never ends, the Russia/Georgia thing gets more intractable all the time. Iran is always fun, the Russians are going to sell them new anti-aircraft missiles, as if to say to Bush “Nyah, nyah, nyah.” Still,  today’s issue is Pakistan, especially Bush’s acts of war against same. Basically, in July Bush gave the military the authorization to launch attacks inside Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistan government. And the military has done so. This situation is not the only potential appocalypse on the horizon, but it’s worth looking at for a number of reasons.

For starters, there are some parallels with Vietnam era thinking. In Vietnam the Viet Cong/NVA used bases in Laos and Cambodia to support and supply their military operations in South Vietnam. The obvious solution was to attack the enemy bases in Laos and Cambodia. And the same thinking seems to be prevailing in Afghanistan. The Taliban are getting support and supply from bases in Pakistan, the Pakistan government is unable or unwilling to do anything about them, so the USA is taking unilateral action against them. Sounds reasonable enough, I have even heard people claiming we should simply declare war on Pakistan because of their unwillingness to deal with this situation.

Unfortunately, in both cases, there’s problems. The first being that while the support from across the border is definitely an issue, it’s not the sole or even the most important reason our missions in Vietnam and Afghanistan were failing. In both cases the basic problem was that we were trying to prop up a government that the locals mostly viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. As I’ve stated before, because I think a lot of people are unclear on this, governments that are installed and maintained by foreign troops…are not legitimate governments. They are occupation governments. So it’s unfair and unrealistic to claim that their problems are due to “outside agitators”.

The second problem is that cross border attacks rarely acheive much except destabilizing neighbouring countries. Laos is quite literally the most bombed country in history, yet all that bombing did little to slow, let alone halt, the flow of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail. And US bombing and meddling was instrumental in destroying Cambodia and paving the way for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to seize power. And none of this carnage changed the outcome of the war, and arguably simply made our enemies even stronger.

And superficial analogies aside, the situation vis a vis Pakistan and Afghanistan isn’t really all that similar to Vietnam. In Vietnam, North Vietnam was indeed using Cambodia and Laos to move militarily significant amounts of supplies and troops to South Vietnam. There simply isn’t this sort of support flowing from Pakistan to Afghanistan, though there’s no doubt the Taliban is using Pakistan as a safe haven, the resistence in Afghanistan is largely home grown. IE North Vietnam did send about half their army into South Vietnam (a year after the USA sent troops to South Vietnam,) there’s nothing even remotely similar taking place in Afghanistan. And lastly, the tiny number of American attacks and raids in Pakistan are militarily insignificant if the intent is to hurt Al Qaeda and the Taliban, or stop the purported flow of men and materials to Afghanistan.

So what the hell is going on here? If the Bush administration thinks that the occasional raid and air strike in Pakistan is going to change the situation in Afghanistan, they are deluded beyond belief. It’s possible though, especially since the military itself seems  have agitated for this new state of affairs. The other side of the coin is that while these raids may not be militarily significant, they are most definitely politically significant. The Pashtun in Pakistan are not at all happy about these raids, as no doubt Americans would be upset if Canada or Mexico conducted military raids in the USA that frequently killed American civilians. And Pakistanis in general aren’t happy that their government seems at best helpless to stop these attacks, and at worst is deliberately looking the other way or even betting them quietly.

Basically these American attacks are very destabilizing in Pakistan, and the USA has to know that. So I see one of two possibilities. The lesser possibility is that the USA is trying to goad the Pashtun region of Pakistan into revolt against the Pakistan government, the end result being that Pakistan will send troops into the region and deny the region to the Taliban as a secure base. Unfortunately this is a really simplistic and optimistic plan, since there’s simply  no guarantee that even if Pakistan sends in the army that it can pacify and control the region. It’s just as likely that it will simply spread the Taliban (IE Pashtun) insurgency to Pakistan as well, and even possible it will create such chaos and instability in Pakistan that its western style government will be overthrown by an Islamic revolution.

And that is in fact the final possibility, that these American attacks are indeed designed to destabilize Pakistan, with the end result of destroying the world’s only nuclear armed Islamic regime. I hope that’s not true, because it would speak of arrogance and tunnel vision of truly epic proportions. In any event it doesn’t matter what the intent is, only the result. And frankly I don’t see how these raids can possibly do anything but make a bad situation worse. And that’s the terrible danger here, especially since supplies for the NATO operation in Afghanistan run through Pakistan. If we do succeed in starting a full scale civil war or insurgency in Pakistan, it’s the NATO forces in Afghanistan that will find themselves cut off from outside supplies.

My guess is that the Bush administration is so enamoured of military force as their only option that basically these raids are like a bear swatting wildly at stinging hornets. I don’t know how this is going to end, but I don’t think it’s going to be pretty. And oh, did I mention that these attacks in Pakistan are acts of war and are illegal under international law and completely unconstitutional under US law? Facts that the so called liberal press is completely ignoring? Fancy that.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. Credit: Who knows?  It may even have been created as satire, though I got it from an extremely pro-Bush web site. I chose it to illustrate the most alarming possibility, that Bush and company actually believe that they are on a crusade for God, and as long as they attack “evil” wherever they see it, why God will ultimately lead them to victory. Even a cursory examination of the crusades shows how disastrous substituting faith for sound military and political judgement is, but studying history doesn’t appear to be the Bush administration’s strong suit.)

Written by unitedcats

September 19, 2008 at 9:07 am

Posted in History, War, World

Today’s Business Report: We are SO screwed

with 8 comments

Well, the stock market seems to be in the news these days, what with it dropping all over the place and giant companies folding up almost daily. Obviously this is not a good thing, and while I don’t fully understand it, I do have a few thoughts and observations.

My first thought is “Told Ya.” Back in the eighties when the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) industries began to explode I had a lot of arguments with people about them. My concern was that an increasing share of America’s industries didn’t actually create any wealth. I mean, if one builds farms/factories/mines or  provides infrastructure/service for same, somewhere along the way actual wealth is being created. The FIRE industries do not generate any wealth and only generate profit by moving money around. And while I am not saying we don’t need the FIRE industries, we managed to have a booming economy in the fifties and sixties with less than 10% of the economy being in the FIRE industries. Now it’s over 30%.

My friends would argue that no, it’s simply the new economy, it was just capitalism evolving, etc. Well, yes, the economy was evolving. The rich were getting richer and the nation’s wealth was being concentrated among people who made their wealth through crony capitalism and government lobbying. (I mean, ENRON didn’t actually produce a damn thing, they simply bought and sold energy futures.) Throw in deregulation and the loans got out of control because the more money that was loaned out, the more profit there was!

Oddly enough similar in some ways to the causes of the Great Depression. There the whole country was buying stocks on margin, IE credit. As long as the stock prices kept going up, everyone gets rich. All this buying stock on credit inflated the value of stocks ridiculously, and when the prices dropped, everyone was ruined since they now owed all this money for stocks that weren’t worth anything. Pretty much the same thing here, except on a much grander scale. The whole goddamn economy was based on loaning money to anyone who wanted it, and when the value of the housing market started collapsing, all these loans suddenly were worthless. And since the FIRE industry was all based on credit, the whole house of cards is coming down. Loan shark capitalism, bad idea.

Granted, that’s a simplistic analysis, but I suspect it’s pretty close to the truth. And now rather than let everything crash Bush is desperately trying to keep things afloat by buying out failing firms, the AIG buyout being the latest. Since the government doesn’t really have any money, or more accurately, has to borrow money from abroad, this is just buying time at best. While the excuse is that these firms are “too big to fail” in reality they have failed, this is just a desperate attempt at damage control before the elections. And once the government “owns” all these huge firms, yeah, they are going to run them in a fiscally sound manner? Give me a break.

In case I didn’t make it clear, in summation, deregulation and greed in high places is what made this mess. So expecting the people who created this mess to fix it is, well, stupid. I should also mention that the timing on this is really bad, the economy is also battered by spending a trillion dollars on two profitless wars, and about 700 billion on “Homeland Security” after 9/11. (The only thing we needed to secure after 9/11 was cockpit doors.) Then there’s the hurricanes that are rolling into the Gulf, that’s more body blows to the economy.

So this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Basically there are so many bad loans out there that the dollar is more or less worthless. And many doomed artificial industries that were more or less created by financing and government support. I’ve heard that the airlines and auto manufacturers are next, that they will be bailed out soon to prevent them from going bankrupt. Well, attacking the symptoms instead of looking for root causes is Bush’s stock-in-trade, so it won’t surprise me. Heck, in a few months the government may “own” just about everything. On the plus side at least people will save in postage since all their loan payments, tax payments, etc will be going in the same envelope. And if the world’s economy goes down the tubes, why, the price of gas will keep dropping as demand for oil slacks off! Yeah, good times ahead!

(The above disturbing 9/11 image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is basically a historically important iconic image and is not being used for profit. Credit: Unknown. I chose it to reflect the severity of this issue, the country is going to the dogs…and the candidates are arguing about lipstick innuendos.  Even as I write this the markets are collapsing and more bad news is hitting the wires, I just heard a rumour that the government is going to bail out the Federal Reserve bank. The mind, already reeling, boggles uncontrollably.)

Written by unitedcats

September 17, 2008 at 8:53 am

Posted in Business, History, Politics

How Racism Works

with 4 comments

Bele and Lokai

Bele and Lokai

I thought I’d try something a little different today. I don’t normally post on racism because it’s such a depressing subject, and I’m not sure I have anything to add to the discussion. It’s a horrible problem, and deeply ingrained in the way people think. And by that I pretty much mean all people. A lot of folks like to think that in America racism is a thing of the past, we no longer have coloured water fountains, what’s the problem? The problem is that racism is at its core a set of unconscious attitudes, not just signs on restroom doors.

Restated, the problem is that even if the overt trappings of apartheid society are gone, the attitudes that put them there in the first place are far from gone. How’s that? Well…ever noticed that white women can give birth to black babies, but black women can’t give birth to white ones? Think about the implications of that for a moment. (I stumbled across that little idea here.) And speaking of stumbled upon, the below arrived in my email from some stranger the other day, and it was thought provoking enough I thought I’d pass it along:

How Racism Works

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said “I do” to?
What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama were a member of the “Keating 5”?
What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

—Kelvin LaFond, letter to the editor at the Fort Worth Star.”

I had a hard time getting my head around this. (The Keating 5 by the way were five Senators in the 80s who pressured regulators to back-off on a major campaign contributor, allowing a small problem to balloon into the Savings and loan crisis that eventually cost the taxpayers over 100 billion dollars.) In any event, my point here is that in a not so subtle way Obama has a much higher bar to cross than McCain. I mean, as Mr LaFond went on to point out, what if Michelle Obama had an unmarried pregnant teenage daughter? Maybe I’m wrong, but I think if the above conjectures were true, Obama wouldn’t even be in the race.

Now granted the above reflects some cherry-picking, but I think it still illustrates the basic truth. Despite all our talk of progress, modern America is still very much a white man’s country. In any number of subtle and not so subtle ways white is considered “normal” and anything else with suspicion. Another way to look at this is pointed out in the article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Basically the author points out that white people, especially white males, have all sorts of subtle privileges and advantages that permeate our culture. As she puts it: “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” She gives countless examples, such as:

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

Been there, done that myself, even in my limited experience in the professional working world.

My other point is that not only is the problem much more pervasive than many people, especially white people, care to see, this sort of blindness affects our world view in other ways. This sort of subtle but pervasive bias makes it easy to pretend that what happens in non-white countries isn’t important. Its how the USA can overlook the literally millions of people in other parts of the world our foreign policy has killed over the post World War Two decades. It was even expressed overtly during the Vietnam war, some claimed that the appalling civilian toll from our actions didn’t matter because “those people don’t think of death the same way as us.”

Basically anytime one makes broad generalizations about “those people” based on such things as race, religion, gender…one has fallen into a trap where one is seeing the world through one’s own prejudices, instead of the complex reality that exists. In fact one can male a case that the neocon vision of reshaping the Islamic world into our image stems from this underlaying racist assumption that white Christian culture is the “norm.”

Which has led to two bloody and pointless occupations, and may just get us into World War Three as Bush seems intent on turning Pakistan into a nuclear armed fundamentalist Islamic theocracy. More about that on Wednesday, though it’s depressing too.

(The above image is from the original Star Trek TV show, and is so pervasive on the web it might as well be considered iconic. Nonetheless I’m claiming it as Fair Use to be safe, there is simply no conceivable way my use of the image could hurt the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image, and it’s a low resolution grey scale copy to boot. Credit: Paramount Pictures. And just in case anyone missed it, note how the loss of a hundred billon dollars was a  big historical crisis in the eighties, but that kind of government mismanagement doesn’t even get on the radar the past few years?)

Written by unitedcats

September 15, 2008 at 10:45 am

9/11 Hangover

with 2 comments

Another 9/11 anniversary just slipped by. I’ve been trying for days to write a post about 9/11and have given up. What can I say that already hasn’t been said better by someone else? It was a terrible event, but at least as a country we seem to be finally putting it behind us to some extent. So instead of writing about 9/11 I thought I’d write about some previous 9/11s in America’s history. Terrorism isn’t something new and different, it just has  new face every generation.

The Deerfield Raid. I’ve no doubt linked to it before, and one of these days I’ll write a post about it. In 1704 a French and Indian raiding party attacked the town of Deerfield Massachusetts, killing over 50 defenders and taking over 100 into captivity, marching them 300 miles to Quebec. Some eventually returned or were ransomed, some died, some chose to stay with their captors. This happened during Queen Anne’s War, but even under the standards of the time taking women and children as prisoners was over the top. It remained controversial for many years, and much diplomacy was undertaken trying to effect the return of the hostages. Still, the raid didn’t result in any major policy changes and had no effect on the outcome of the war.

The Sioux Rebellion of 1862. A few years after Minnesota was made into a state in 1858, the Sioux rebelled and tried to drive white settlers from their lands. Hundreds of settlers were massacred, but eventually the Sioux surrendered, and 38 of them were hung in the largest mass execution in US history. While it got the Sioux pretty much kicked out of Minnesota, otherwise it had little effect since for the most part Americans of the time regarded the Indians as sub-human and were already systematically stealing their lands and killing them.

The Columbus raid. In 1916 Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary, led a raiding force to attack Columbus, New Mexico. A few dozen townspeople and soldiers were killed, nearly 100 of the attackers were killed. It was a big deal at the time, and General Pershing led an army of 10,000 into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa. He managed to evade capture, and after a year the Americans left, Pancho Villa having more or less being contained and eliminated as a major fighting force.

The Wall Street Bombing in 1920. Now this one is almost forgotten today, though damage done can still be seen. Someone parked a waggon packed with explosives on Wall Street, and walked way.  It exploded. 38 people were killed and there was extensive property damage. The perpetrators not only were never caught, they were never even identified. Italian anarchists are the prime suspects, but no real proof has ever been offered. While it certainly got a lot of attention and increased fears of similar attacks, Wall Street was open the next day and the only lasting effect was more public support for efforts to eliminate radical anarchist groups in the USA.

There have been others, but for the most part events like this are somewhat rare in American history. 9/11 may have been spectacular, but let’s face it, the 9/11 raiding party was nineteen guys, it was only a fluke that so few attackers were able to kill several thousand people. In other respects the 9/11 attacks were no different that dozens of other bands of outlaws and criminals and insurgents that have plotted to attack America since before America was even a  country. 9/11 was a terrible crime, perpetrated by a handful plotters outside America, no more and no less.

Which leads to the big difference between 9/11 and these previous attacks. In none of the previous attacks did we declare some sort of global war, massively increase the size of the US government, give all sorts of new powers to the president, suspend or water down the rights of all Americans, or declare that somehow a “War of Civilizations” was under way. In other words, our response was at least somewhat measured and appropriate to the threat at hand. Yet after 9/11 we sent American armies abroad to occupy foreign lands at staggering cost, where hundreds of thousands have died in their wake…and we are no closer to a world without terror.

In conclusion, since there have always been and always will be bands of outlaws plotting evil, there will be future 9/11s. Heck, it only took two guys to pull off the Oklahoma city bombing. So God rest the souls of every innocent who has ever died by terrorism, God grant peace to their survivors. And Dear God, let there be someone more mature and level headed in the White House the next time terrorism happens here, so we can deal with it and move on instead of hysterically over reacting.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image of the aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street Bombing is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and arguably is an historically important image. I chose it because it’s the only one I could find that was shot reasonably close up. A witness said the pools of blood “sparkled in the sunlight.”)

Written by unitedcats

September 12, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Posted in History, Politics, Terrorism

The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Takeover, Isn’t This Socialism?

with 12 comments

I’ve been trying to understand the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac takeover for a few days now, and frankly it makes the LHC and particle physics seem simple in comparison. Granted discussion of things like mortgages and finances is not one of my favourite things, hell, I’d go to a football game (shudder)  to get out of a discussion of finances. Still, I think I have a handle on it, and there are a few very interesting points to make. And even if I’m wrong in some regards, I still think this is an important story that should be getting a lot more attention and debate.

The basics. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are mortgage companies set up some decades ago to provide mortgages at affordable rates so that more Americans could own homes. They’ve been successful and something half of America’s homes carry one of these mortgages. We’re talking trillions of dollars in debt here, this is not chicken scratch. Well, as home prices started to fall, recently people started defaulting on their mortgages, and pretty soon Fannie and Freddie were in trouble. Bad management, deregulation, and risky investments were also a big part of the picture.

And now the US government has basically seized these two companies to prevent them from going bankrupt, ostensibly to prevent further meltdowns in the USA financial market. As far as I can tell the big danger is that if they failed, it would cause problems throughout the US financial markets.  This would ultimately hinder the US government’s ability to borrow money. And since the US government apparently can’t function without deficit spending, that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Well, my first comment is that the government’s lack of oversight and deregulation, not to mention deficit spending, are largely to blame for this. So the government “had” to step in to “fix” a problem it basically created itself? If that’s even halfway true, I find it very disturbing. Especially since this is going to cost the taxpayers at least 100 billion dollars, once again because the government and the ultra rich screwed up, the taxpayer has to bail them out? How come every time there is malfeasance and incompetence in high places, the taxpayer is the only one that gets punished?

I’ve been told this is the largest nationalization ever to take place. Some have said that this means that if you are paying on one of these mortgages, the money now goes to Uncle Sam. In effect this means the government now “owns” half the homes in America? Shouldn’t this getting more media attention? If the media really did have a liberal bias, this would be trumpeted to the rooftops. Instead it’s being downplayed and mostly ignored.

I also don’t even understand how this is even legal. I thought this was a free country…but the government can just seize businesses without so much as passing a bill or getting a judge’s signature? And isn’t the seizure of private assets and turning them into government assets socialism? One certainly has to assume that the ultra rich are all in favour of this since no one is squawking. Again, I don’t like the implications of that. Has the US treasury just been looted once again before our eyes?

OK, so basically I have  a lot of questions about this. More questions than answers. It appears to be yet another case of the taxpayer’s money being used to cover the losses of the ultra rich. And I hate to say it, but another example of the Bush administration’s primary goal for the past five years of so: “Stave off the results of our catastrophically failed policies at whatever cost until we can pass the buck to the next administration.” And they may manage to do it, but God help us all though when we wake up one day and the dollar is worth…nothing.

On the plus side, if the US financial system does a meltdown and destroys Earth as we know it, unlike a LHC mishap, I will be around to say “I told you so.” That will be fun.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Darned if I can figure out who to credit. I like it for several reasons pertaining to this post, but I’ll let the gentle reader ponder that.)

Written by unitedcats

September 10, 2008 at 7:37 am

Posted in Business, Politics