Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 21, 2008

Appeasement was (and is) Good Policy

In U.S. politics 'appeasement' accusations are brought out against anyone who voices objections over fighting the next imperial war.

I find this rather comical as appeasement in almost all cases was and is the only smart policy available.

Appeasement, as practiced by the Brits since the mid 19th-hundred up to 1939, kept their empire safe. The policy changed after proof was in that a strategic enemy was unappeasable. That change did cost the British their empire.

When Chamberlain flew to Munich to sign an agreement with Hitler over repatriating the German parts of Czechoslovakia he had little alternatives.

At that point there was no possible way the British and the French could have successfully challenged Germany militarily. The case the German's made was widely seen as just. The British empire was at that time also challenged by the Japanese in China and by Italy in the Mediterranean. The empire was already overstretched and its financial resources quite limited. The U.S. was isolationist. Soviet communism was feared, France was weak. After the horrors of WWI the British (and French) public were against another war. The punditry and the nobles up to the king were against it. The military was against it.

With the exception of a few earlybirds, notably Churchill, nobody thought that war was the right response to Germany's demand.

So Chamberlain signed the contract, bought more peaceful time and lost nothing. A few month later Hitler broke the contract and send his troops into the rest of Czechoslovakia. Only then, in hindsight, was Chamberlain's policy questioned, though I fail to find any presentation by his critics of realistic alternative ways he could have taken.

Hitler was not appeased because he was unappeasable. In that he was unique.

One should only fight wars one must fight and of these only those one can win. Everything else is simply stupid behaviour.

---
Jeffrey Record:
Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s (pdf, long)
Strategic Studies Institute

D. J. Dutton:
Proponents and critics of appeasement
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Neville Chamberlain:
Texts on Appeasement (1938/39)
The History Guide

Posted by b on May 21, 2008 at 15:13 UTC | Permalink | Comments (38)

The New American Century Has Ended

Apparently for financial reasons, the new American century has prematurely ended.

In a symbolic act, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), run by Bill Kristol and other neocons, has lost its internet presence.

When accessing www.newamericancentury.org one now gets redirected to the webhosters 'account suspended' page.

It says:

Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible.

The website was hosted by btnaccess.com which is a subsidary of Hong Kong based PCCW Global.

PNAC is unable to pay for the new American century and the Chinese, after checking America's  sinking  FICO scores, are obviously not willing to finance it with further credit lines.

Signs of the times ...

h/t Jim Lobe

Posted by b on May 21, 2008 at 12:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (7)

May 20, 2008

OT 08-19

Open thread ...

Please comment.

Posted by b on May 20, 2008 at 5:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (121)

May 19, 2008

U.S. Supported Mass Killing - Can't We Learn?

Yesterday I pointed to an Associated Press 'IMPACT' piece headlined Thousands killed by US's Korean ally. It ran on the general Associated Press feed at Yahoo news. Like AP, I expected it to have some 'impact'. Like AP, I was wrong.

The piece is the summary of a big investigative report that must have required quite some time and effort. There are a lot of new and so far unreported details in it.

In the early 1950s the South Korean dictatorial regime, under tutelage of the U.S., killed over 100,000 of its own people because they were suspected of being somewhat on the political left or otherwise not assumed loyal to the U.S. instantiated regime.

Just like German SS Einsatzgruppen killed 'undesirable people' of their own blood in the 1940s - hundred-thousands of them -  the South Korean a few years later did just the same. Unlike the Germans, the South Koreans were under U.S. control and the 'incidents' happened in attendence of U.S. officers.

Several U.S. government institutions exchanged memos about this. Officers of the U.S. military and clandestine services attended mass shootings and photographed the outcome - see above. All this was kept secret for over 50 years.

White-clad detainees — bent, submissive, with hands bound — were thrown down prone, jammed side by side, on the edge of a long trench. South Korean military and national policemen then stepped up behind, pointed their rifles at the backs of their heads and fired. The bodies were tipped into the trench.

One could imagine a country taking notice if such crimes done under its umbrella were finally aired.

The declassified record of U.S. documents shows an ambivalent American attitude toward the killings. American diplomats that summer urged restraint on southern officials — to no obvious effect — but a State Department cable that fall said overall commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur viewed the executions as a Korean "internal matter," even though he controlled South Korea's military.

But the AP piece sunk like lead. I searched some phrases of that piece in Google news: "South Korean military and national policemen then stepped up behind" - only three hits a day after this ran on the AP wire. Did anyone print this at all?

Evidence indicates South Korean executioners killed between 3,000 and 7,000 here, said commissioner Kim. A half-dozen trenches, each up to 150 yards long and full of bodies, extended over an area almost a mile long, said Kim Chong-hyun, 70, chairman of a group of bereaved families campaigning for disclosure and compensation for the Daejeon killings. His father, accused but never convicted of militant leftist activity, was one victim.

My German ancestors in the 1930s/40s killed a lot of people in a crazy rampage and under a insane philosophy and state of mind we still try to understand. By we at least talk about this in the open and our media doesn't shy away from reports about it. Hopefully this will help us to keep such pathologies in memory and never again take such path.

All people have such historic stigmas. Some acknowledge them, some don't. I am worried about my U.S. friends. When there is so little echo to this now reported mass killings in the 1950s, how much sensitivity is there towards U.S. instigated, controlled and secretly photographed killing today?

Who, during the last years, directed the Badr brigades in their rampage on Sunni Iraqis?

Maybe we will learn about that only 50 years from now?

Posted by b on May 19, 2008 at 20:48 UTC | Permalink | Comments (27)

Junk Accounting

Radian Group reports $215.2M 1Q loss,
Philadelphia Inquirer, Mon, May 12, 2008
Radian Reports First Quarter Net Income of $195.6 Million,
MSN Money, May 12, 2008

One might scratch ones head about such contradictory headlines. But both are correct.

Radian Group Inc. RDN today reported net income of $195.6 million [...] for the quarter ended March 31, 2008. Excluding the impact of net unrealized gains on derivatives and hybrid securities, the Company's net operating loss was $215.2 million ...

So Radian, a mortgage insurer with little other business, can report a loss of $200 million while also reporting profits in the same range. The trick in Wall Street language:

Given the significant widening of Radian's credit default swap spread over the past year, the reduction in the valuation of the Company's derivative liabilities related to non-performance risk more than offset the credit spread widening on underlying collateral for the current quarter.

The company has contract liabilities, credit default swaps, which have some nominal value and a market value. Radian changed the way it accounts for these obligations. Instead of their nominal value, Radian now uses the market value of its liabilities for accounting purposes.

Said differently: Because the market expects Radian not to fullfill its obligations, the company now accounts those obligations lower and thereby creates a nominal profit.

Last month you lent me $100 bucks against a paper that said "IOU $100." People later saw me in a casino, gambling that money away. They now believe that I'll be unable to ever pay back those $100. They expect that I may eventually pay back $10. When now asked how much I own to you, I'll say $10 because that is the current market value of the IOU I wrote. I'll even brag that I made a profit of $90.

For normal persons such bevavior is seen as criminal. For companies it is not even illegal. One can actually argue, as the company does, that such accounting is demanded by the federal accounting standards "mark to market" rule.

Banks use other tricks to hide their losses:

Banks and securities firms, reeling from record losses resulting from the collapse of the mortgage securities market, are failing to acknowledge in their income statements at least $35 billion of additional writedowns included in their balance sheets, regulatory filings show.

Citigroup Inc. subtracted $2 billion from equity for the declining value of home-loan bonds in its quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission on May 2 without mentioning the deduction in the earnings statement or conference call with investors that followed. ...

Here again the trick is legal:

Taking losses on a balance sheet instead of an income statement is acceptable under accounting rules, which make a distinction between so-called trading books and long-term investments. Changes in value on the trading side go straight to revenue. Changes in the value of bonds held for the long haul can be marked down on the equity line of a balance sheet, as long as the declines aren't considered permanent.

Citigroup and others simply pretend that the stuff everyone believes is junk, will be seen as artwork 20 years from now. Therefore, they say, the junk is actually quite valuable.

Radian reclassified some liabilities from face-value to mark-to-market value. Citibank reclassified some holdings from mark-to-market value to face-value.

Both moves are legal according to the rules (and there are even arguable sound reason for such rules). The problem is that companies can apply these rules in very discretionary fashion and the regulators don't care to hold them to some consistent standard.

With such accounting it is no wonder they got us into this mess in the first place.

Posted by b on May 19, 2008 at 17:53 UTC | Permalink | Comments (6)

May 18, 2008

The Media Tale of Sectarian Conflict

A frontpage NYT piece on Lebanon is, as the Angry Arab finds, extremely inaccurate and sounds like written by the Hariri press office. Today's WaPo wrap up of the last week in Lebanon is a bit better, but still misses many aspects of the actual conflict. For reliable analysis one should read Karim Makdisi at Counterpunch or this account of an anonymous German Lebanon correspondent at Syria Comment.

What the two mainstream pieces try is to shape the meme of sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict as the base of what happened. This is the same tale the U.S. (and the Saudis) have used in their divide and rule strategy in Iraq. In reality the split is much more a political than a religious one and with many more groups and interests involved than just Sunni and Shia.

The NYT puts it right into the headline: Hezbollah’s Actions Ignite Sectarian Fuse in Lebanon

After almost a week of street battles that left scores dead and threatened to push the country into open war, long-simmering Sunni-Shiite tensions here have sharply worsened, in an ominous echo of the civil conflict in Iraq.

The whole piece is filled with minor anecdotes that reinforce the point Sunni hate Shia, Shia hate Sunni and Hariri's poor Sunnis, not really a militia in the blind view of the author, lost the fight.

From the WaPo piece:

Meanwhile, many Lebanese agree that the hardening of Sunni-Shiite animosities — reminiscent of the Muslim-Christian fault line during the country’s 15-year civil war — is likely to make any future conflict here more violent.

In contrast to this 'official' view, the Syria Comment author notes:

The good news (so far): while the conflict does have a sectarian dimension – the fighters are mostly Shiites on one side, Sunnis and Druze on the other - it is still first and foremost a struggle between two irreconcilable political agendas, and has not (yet) turned sectarian, despite the best effort of pundits in the pay of the government and its Saudi masters (who control much of the Arab media) to discredit Hezbollah as hell-bent on turning Lebanon and the Levant into an Shiite-Arab foothold of a new Persian Empire.

Karim Makdisi writes:

The continued US, Israeli and Saudi obsession with Iran (which these days is being used interchangeably with “Shia’a” in a bid to fan sectarian flames) means that they will already be planning ahead for the next battle, probably in Lebanon and almost certainly in Gaza (since Hamas is placed in the “Iran” column), in order to halt the perceived Iranian gain in Lebanon last week.

Neither the NYT nor WaPo mention how much this conflict is instigated and controlled from the outside. They of course can not really do so because they are major willing tools used in this game.

It is not only the Saudi controlled Arab media that is pushing the sectarian meme. The U.S. mainstream media are marching in lockstep with them to create the bigger war, the big cauldron in the Middle East the neocons are longing for.

Posted by b on May 18, 2008 at 17:34 UTC | Permalink | Comments (37)

May 17, 2008

Myanmar - Politics, Media Manipulation and Help

BANGKOK (Reuters) - An international aid agency has confirmed some cases of cholera in Myanmar's cyclone-hit Irawaddy delta but the number was in line with normal levels in previous years, an aid official said on Friday.
...
"We don't have an explosion of cholera. Thus far the rate of cholera is no greater than the background rate that we would be seeing in Myanmar during this season," [World Health Organization representative Maureen Birmingham] said.
Some cholera confirmed in cyclone-hit Myanmar

My 12 year old RC cars and Lego cranes co-enthusiast, Lukas, today told me that cholera was a big problem in Burma because of the recent storm and the criminal non-action of the government there. He had read such in the local right-wing fish-wrap this morning which had a headline to that regard.

I can't blame him for getting the impression he had. But, according to the WHO, it was obviously wrong. So I explained to him that there are always some cholera cases in nearly every society and especially in hot and moist places with little technical hygiene facilities. Cholera is also relative easy to heal, I said. I then laid out that there are political reasons that drive such propaganda. That's what he immediately got.

There are other scare stories around now of "dead bodies floating" in Myanmar and that these may cause epidemics. The second part is just as wrong as the cholera stories:

"There has never been a documented case of a post-natural disaster epidemic that could be traced to dead bodies," the WHO said in a statement.

What many get from the news on Myanmar are scare stories about a bad government and lots of people dying because of that government.

Not that I like the military dictatorship in Myanmar, but the people who recently died there were killed by a natural disaster. A storm that drove an unexpected high wave onto a low laying area. No Myanmar government of any form could have prevented that.

But the hypocrites are out in full force:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the United Nations is concerned with saving lives, not with politics, as he tries to ramp up aid efforts following Cyclone Nargis which struck Myanmar and has severely affected up to 2.5 million people.

A few months ago the same 'unconcerned with politics' Ban Ki-Moon was pressing on Myanmar:

“Now, more than ever before, the Government of Myanmar should take bold actions towards democratization and respect for human rights,” he said. “The national reconciliation process must be accelerated and be made as broad-based, inclusive and transparent as possible.”

Today that stooge wonders why the government of Myanmar doesn't believe his 'unconcerned with politics' talk? Since when is it the task of the head of the U.N., or anywhere in the U.N. charta, to prefer a certain form of government in some nation? When did Ban Ki-moon call for 'democracy' to determine the next head of state in Britain, Canada and Australia?

There are other hypocrites fighting Ban Ki-moon for the top rank in that category. The French minister for War Without Boarders, Kouchner, made noise a week ago about Myanmar not immediately taking French aid from his military vessel Mistral.  As it turns out, the French ship Mistral picked up the aid Kouchner pressed Myanmar to accept ten days ago only the day before yesterday. Let's follow the trail:

May 7: France wants UN Security Council to press Myanmar on aid

Earlier Wednesday, in an interview with France Inter radio, Kouchner expressed frustration with "the very tough position by Myanmar authorities" on foreign aid and said he and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband were planning a joint media article "demanding access to victims."

Kouchner also said that French boats with helicopters aboard were in waters near Myanmar and could move quickly to help. The boats were in the area for a naval maneuver, he said."

May 11: France seeks approval for direct aid to Myanmar

Kouchner said he hoped the Mistral would arrive in Myanmar by Thursday and would receive permission to distribute aid.

So the ship was ready to go? Then why, four days later, on the 15th, I read:

The French amphibious landing ship Le Mistral, which was pulled out from war exercises with the Indian Navy off the Vishakhapatinam coast, made a call at the Chennai port to load relief material it will be taking to Myanmar for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

If you don't believe the Indian sources linked above, check the France 24 video report linked here under the headline "FRENCH SHIP READY TO HELP". It is dated May 14th/15th and at that time, long after Kouchners bluster, the ship was still driving circles with empty holds waiting to load the aid Kouchner pressed for to deliver.

Kouchner was making a lot of noise on May 7th, days after the catastrophe, without being able to deliver anything earlier than today. Some humanitarian ...

A comment to a Guardian op-ed by some Burmese variant of Ahmed Chalabi said it best:

When you have a disagreement with someone & they suffer a disaster.

Do you (a) help them - or - do you (b) try to exploit the situation for your political advantage?

If you choose A - you are a genuine humanitarian. You did not allow a golden opportunity for self-interest to sway you from putting the interests of the people first. YOu didn't stand back & dictate condemnation. YOu got your hands dirty & did everything to help. And only when the people were fit & ready for debates about politics - do you raise your interests. YOur actions prove you are a good leader.

if you choose b - you join a wealth of regime change NGOs who pretend to care for the people - but are only using them in their patrons pursuit of power & wealth. You put your self interests before the interests of the people. You say otherwise but your actions reveal your true motives. And the puppet western media will back you as long as you let them dictate (interpret) what the people want - what's best for them.

Choose

There is a U.S fleet currently in manoeuvers with the Thailand navy. Those will be finished on the 22nd. Expect renewed pressure from the U.S. on Myanmar to accept the "urgent help needed" immediately after those ships are no longer involved in useless war games and ready to deliver what they do not have to then no longer endangered people.

i expect a lot of 'cholera epidemic dangers' and 'floating dead bodies' stories will pop up again in the news within that context.

Posted by b on May 17, 2008 at 21:02 UTC | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Delusional Addict

Here is a story on delusional addicts who believe they have leverage towards their drug dealers.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have threatened to withhold military supplies from Saudi Arabia and its neighbors unless they pump more oil.
...
"We have a strategic partnership with the Saudis, but it seems to me a partnership works two ways," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, said at a news conference Thursday. "The Saudis want to purchase sophisticated weapons from our country. ... They should understand there are certain things we need from them as well."
US Dems threaten Saudis with arms cutoff, April 26, 2008

---

Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport is preparing a $4 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia, the Gazeta daily reported on Tuesday.
...
Experts say the helicopter contract alone is worth around $2 billion.
Russia eyes $4 bln arms contract with Saudis, May 13, 2008

---

The Senators introduced a resolution of disapproval on the arms sale as President Bush prepared to head for Saudi Arabia, partly on a mission to contain runaway oil prices.
Senators Threaten Saudi Arms Deal Over Oil Prices, May 13, 2008

---

Russia has won a 4-billion-dollar contract with Saudi Arabia in a competition with the USA and France.
...
It became known that a half of the contract accounts for 100 Mil helicopters (mainly, Mi-17 and Mi-35). Half a billion dollars accounts for 150 T-90C tanks. The contract also includes 20 middle-haul air defense systems Buk-M2E and several hundreds of BMP-3 infantry combat vehicles.
Russia forces USA out from its traditional arms markets, May 16, 2008

---

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, rebuffed a call Friday by President George W. Bush to pump more crude for a second time this year, saying it would only boost supplies to meet customer needs.
...
Oil traded in New York is forecast to rise to an average $148 a barrel next year, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a report Friday, citing supply constraints as the cause.
Saudis rebuff U.S. call to pump more oil, May 16, 2008

Why does no 'western' media mention the Russian-Saudi deal?

Posted by b on May 17, 2008 at 9:02 UTC | Permalink | Comments (15)

May 16, 2008

Rovian Appeasement

Yesterday Bush gave a speech in front of the Knesset that accused Obama of appeasement.

This was a sole U.S. political issue - the Knesset degraded itself to a rent-out high school stage.

The Rovian idea behind this is to move the Jewish votes, two thirds of which usually goes to Democrats, towards the Republican candidate.

But given that McCain lacks serious fund raising capacity, moving more zionist billionaires to cough up more money for McCain and the party, may have been the more important issue here.

Rove, a mass mailer by trade, always thinks in the frame of arranging statistical 'blocks' of 'targets'. Rove is essentially trying to buy off, give in to, or appease a certain group of voters.

But these voters no longer have the demand he assumes and tries to appease. There are many  signs that the Jewish vote in the U.S. has moved beyond radical zionism.

His efforts have therefore some general utility in the monetary range. But I doubt the utility of such assumed appeasement in the electoral dimension.

Then again, Diebold may take care of that.

What's your take on this?

Posted by b on May 16, 2008 at 20:12 UTC | Permalink | Comments (10)

Planless McCain

Text of McCain's Speech on First-Term Goals

So, what I want to do today is take a little time to describe what I would hope to have achieved at the end of my first term as President.
...
[1.947 words list of 200 or so somewhat chimerical things I hope to achieve]
...
Thank you

Your welcome Mr. McCain.

When I read through that, I found lots of aims one could argue about. But I found not a single word in there on how to achieve these aims.

Y'know, hope is not a plan.

What are the plans?

Posted by b on May 16, 2008 at 16:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (3)

In Search Of: Successful Humanitarian Intervention

A request to readers:

I am looking for an example of a successful humanitarian intervention.

Successful in the sense that

  • the sum of positive effects minus negative effects ended up greater than zero
  • the sum effect would likely not have been achieved with other means

Humanitarian in the sense that

  • there was a non-artificial humanitarian need
  • there was no hidden political agenda

Intervention in the sense that

  • military means were used (not necessarily active fighting)
  • by one nation state (group) into another state
  • against the wish of the target state authorities
  • limited in time, i.e. didn't end in occupation or permanent termination of the target state

Criticism of the above definition is welcome.

Is there any case that fits in completely?
Are there any cases that nearly fit in?

Posted by b on May 16, 2008 at 14:32 UTC | Permalink | Comments (12)

May 15, 2008

Bush Shuns, Gates Demands Appeasement

Says something about "unity of message" ...

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)
President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset , May 15, 2008

---

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Wednesday for more unofficial contacts with Iran, saying this might eventually open a pathway to more substantive dialogue between the governments.
...
"My own view, just my personal view, would be we ought to look for ways outside of government to open up the channels and get more of a flow of people back and forth," he said in a speech to the American Academy of Diplomacy, a group of retired U.S. diplomats.
Gates urges more nongovernment contacts with Iran, May 15, 2008

The Senator Bush quotes was William Borah, a Republican from Idaho.

Posted by b on May 15, 2008 at 19:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (20)

False Weather Warning by U.S. Military to Press Myanmar

A widely repeated Associated Press report yesterday claimed that a second cyclone is threatening Myanmar.

The report was false and likely based on U.S. military propaganda. It may have led to further death in Myanmar.

Here is what AP wrote:

A second cyclone was forming Wednesday near Myanmar, less than two weeks after it was devastated by a killer storm, the UN said.

The United Nations' weather center is tracking a nascent tropical storm that is likely to become a cyclone, said Amanda Pitt, the spokeswoman of the world body's humanitarian relief program, in Bangkok, Thailand.

"This is terrible," she told reporters, adding that it could further jeopardize the people who survived Cyclone Nargis on May 3 and the efforts to distribute aid for them.

The UN's World Meteorological Center said on its Web site that "the potential for the development of a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is good."

The UN World Meterological Center (WMO) never gave a warning for a second cyclone because there was never one to expect.

The actual "warning" was given by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center of the U.S. Air Force and Navy in Hawaii to the Regional UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangkok. From there it went to press agencies and the media. The U.S. military center later downgraded the likelihood of a second cyclone in the Myanmar area to "poor."

Is cyclone prediction by the U.S. military so bad that it changes its judgement within hours from "good chance" to "poor chance" for another one?

The U.S. military Joint Typhoon Warning Center is not at all a part of the UN weather network. The WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre for Tropical Cyclones in New Dehli is responsible for giving cyclone warnings in the area. The Severe World Weather Center website, run by the WMO, is the central place to go for weather warnings.

The central WMO office in Geneva called the warning and the report "irresponsible" as it induced panic in the already hard hit area and hindered further rescue and relief efforts.

The Frankfurter Rundschau, a reliable German daily, talked with a WMO officer in Geneva. "Maybe the U.S. wanted to increase pressure on Myanmar to let more foreign helpers into the country," quotes the paper.

At the risk of inducing panic in a desaster area? That's more than "irresponsible."

The WMO also refutes media assertions that Myanmar's government did not warn its population of the coming cyclone.

Warnings were provided to authorities as of 29 April. A press briefing was given to national media on 1 May and newspaper headlines on 2 May, the day of landfall, focused on the cyclone.

On May 1 the storm turned into the direction of Myanmar and made its landfall on May 2 after 6pm local time. The government did warn its people of the coming storm. The unforeseen unusual storm surge was the major cause of this disaster.

---
h/t snafu in comments

Posted by b on May 15, 2008 at 14:33 UTC | Permalink | Comments (5)

George Will's Misleading Quotes

In a column aptly titled Alice in Housing Land George Will goes through the looking glass.

He explain that there is no housing crisis and therefore legislative measures to help borrowers are not needed. To make his case, Will uses highly selective number and distorted quotes. He writes:

One symptom of the "crisis" is that housing prices have fallen. How far is unclear. Estimates range from 3 percent to 13 percent. Questions arise.

Do young couples struggling to purchase their first homes concur with the sudden consensus that the decline in prices is a national misfortune? The Economist reports: "Monthly payments on a typical house with a 30-year mortgage and 20 peris cent downpayment were 18.5 percent of the median family's income in February, down from almost 26 percent at the peak -- and close to the historical average."

If prices have only fallen 3-13%, how come the share of family income that is needed to pay for a house has decreased by 40% (from 26 to 18.5)?

Will does not explain that. But he points to the usually reliable Economist to support his  hacktacular non-crisis thesis. So let's check. Here is what the Economist wrote about the percentages Will cites:

America has several house-price indices and they tell different stories. Widely cited, but least useful, are monthly figures showing median home prices produced by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). These indicate that median prices are down some 13% from their peak, but since these averages do not adjust for the mix of homes changing hands, which fluctuates from month to month, they are inevitably distorted.

Mr Bernanke’s maps use figures from the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO). Its statistics have broad geographic reach and track repeat sales of the same house. The monthly national index suggests average prices have fallen only 3% from a peak in April 2007, and the quarterly figures are still positive. But OFHEO’s figures include only houses financed by mortgages backed by the government-sponsored giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They leave out the top and bottom of the market—where prices rose fastest during the bubble and where the mortgage mess was most severe. Thus OFHEO’s figures probably understate the scale of the housing mess.

Will has quoted the 3% number, "the least useful" one, and the 13% OFHEO number, which "probably understate the scale of the housing mess".

The number Will does not quote, but which the Economist sees as the most reliable one, is the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index which shows a decline so far of some 20+%.

Will thus picks from the Economist piece only what he likes while disregarding all its qualifiers and the numbers the Economist evaluated as the best fitting.

His direct quote from the Economist is even more misleading. Here is the paragraph from the Economist with the part Will cites marked in italic:

Optimists point out that some measures of housing affordability have dramatically improved. According to NAR figures, monthly payments on a typical house with a 30-year mortgage and 20% downpayment were 18.5% of the median family’s income in February, down from almost 26% at the peak—and close to the historical average. But this measure is misleading, not least because credit standards have tightened.

Will says "The Economist reports," letting his readers assume that these are original Economist research, where the Economist reported on NAR numbers, know to be notoriously optimistic. He does not mention to his readers that the Economist calls these numbers "misleading".

One can certainly make a case against Congress intervention in the housing market. But using numbers known to be false and distorted out-of-context quotes are not the way to do it.

Posted by b on May 15, 2008 at 11:10 UTC | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 14, 2008

Side Effects

A Democrat won yesterday's vote for a House seat in Mississippi's 1st district with 54% to 46%. An 8 points winning margin in a district where in 2004 62% voted for Bush, 37% for Kerry. This was the third Republican seat that went to a Democrat in a recent by-election.

With the economy worsening, there is no reasonable way the Democrats and their presidential candidate can lose the November elections. Any poll that gives McCain a chance to win over Obama is likely flawed. In November, the GOP will get trashed.

Still, the House Republicans hope a new slogan for their policies product will help.

"The Change You Deserve"

The slogan was copied from a campaign for an antidepressant, Effexor. The slogan will not work because the product has not changed and people who have taken the medicine over the last years already noticed the side effects:

Headache, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, weakness, dry mouth, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, blurred vision, tiredness, nervousness, trouble sleeping, sweating, or yawning may occur.
...
stomach/abdominal pain, chest pain, persistent cough, shortness of breath, bloody/black/tarry stools, vomit that looks like coffee grounds, easy bruising/bleeding, fast/irregular/pounding heartbeat, muscle weakness/cramps, yellowing eyes/skin, dark urine, seizures, unusual tiredness.

Fans on manliness, like Chris Matthews, have experienced a special one, "a painful or prolonged erection lasting 4 or more hours." As they did not see their doctor and never stopped to swallow the drug, as is reommended, they will now have to live with "permanent damage."

The U.S. people know it is high time to get rid of such medication. The race is thereby already over.

Still, the media will drive this on and make it look competitive because that is what sells their product.

But all international agents know this is over and now adjust their behavior accordingly. They rightly assume that U.S. policies will see significant change.

It will be interesting to follow that sea change especially in the Middle East but elsewhere too. That change itself will have some interesting side effects too.

The post below shows one of them.

Posted by b on May 14, 2008 at 18:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (14)

Stalemate on Iran

Finally someone important says what the 'Iranian nuclear issue' really is about - Iran's security:

Russia says "Six" could guarantee Iran security

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The six powers negotiating with Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program could offer Tehran security guarantees, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday.

"I think the 'Six' could make the following step: directly put concrete offers on the negotiating table, give Iran security guarantees and ensure a more distinguished place in negotiations on the situation in the Middle East," Lavrov said.
...
"I am convinced that this is an effective way of relieving tensions in the region and regulating the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear problem," Lavrov said.

But of course the U.S. wants 'regime change' and has no intention to let Iran live in peace:

U.S. says Iran security pledge not on table in atom row

"Security guarantees are not something we are looking at the moment," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Israel as President George W. Bush launched a Middle East visit.

"As we've been saying, details (of the incentive package) are still being worked out and will be presented to the Iranian government soon. The one who needs to give security guarantees is Iran, because they keep threatening to wipe Israel off the map," Johndroe told reporters when asked about Moscow's idea.

With the U.S. blocking any possibly reasonable offer, the 'Six' will of course achieve nothing. Sanctions will be circumvented and new security council action will likely be blocked.

Stalemate until whatever happens.

Posted by b on May 14, 2008 at 17:34 UTC | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 13, 2008

What to do about Hezbollahstan

The U.S. allies in Lebanon lost out against Hizbullah. The Shia in Lebanon, represented by Hizbullah, are some 35% of the population. They may now actually achieve a better representation than the 20% of parliament seats allocated to them by the Taif accord.

Universial suffrage is a pain in the ass, if a third of votes are against the imperial, colonist USrael agenda. Something must be done about such an awesome Hezbollahstan.

The neocons, out of ideas, have their usual answer:

Bombing the runway of the Damascus airport for the role [Syria] plays in serving as a conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah would also be an appropriate signal of American displeasure.

Another idea, from an Israeli, is a bit more refined:

Upon the elimination of the Christian hegemony in Lebanon, the old Israeli interest in maintaining an independent Lebanon will dissipate. The real alternatives are an Iranian Lebanon or a Syrian Lebanon. We do not know the price Syria will be willing to pay for a secret pledge that Israel would not do a thing to prevent Lebanon’s annexation to Syria, but it is worthwhile looking into it – this price may be Syrian willing to renounce its claims for the Golan.

Pretty cool and much more thoughtful than the bomb, bomb, bomb neconed one.

"I've stolen your Porsche. So what. Now stop nagging about that little robbery and I'll let you take your neighbours Jetta."

Chutzpa is a quite inimitable word.

Posted by b on May 13, 2008 at 18:38 UTC | Permalink | Comments (9)

Texan Characteristics of Terrorists

Via Cyrus Safdari a flyer (front, back) by the Counterterrorism Intelligence Unit of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The title:

TERRORISM - What the Public Needs to Know

This brochure is intended to provide information that will help YOU to help US in our everyday effort to identify and stop terrorism-before it becomes a deadly and tragic reality.

The flyer goes on to list "Some Characteristics of Terrorists":

  • Typically focused and committed to their cause.
  • Team oriented and very disciplined.
  • Trained to be familiar with their physical environment whether it be a 747 jumbo jet or a courthouse.
  • Will employ a variety of vehicles and communicate predominately by cellphone, E Mail or text messenging services.
  • Well prepared to spend years in "sleeper mode" until it comes time to attack.
  • In many cases may appear to fit in and not draw attention to themselves.
  • Will appear normal in appearance and behavior while portraying themselves as a tourist, student or business person.
  • May be found traveling in mixed groups of men, women and children of varying ages who are unaware of their purpose.
  • Trained to avoid confrontations with law enforcement and therefore can be expected to portray a "nice guy" image.
  • Known to use disguises or undergo plastic surgery especially when featured on police wanted posters list some.

Cyrus admits that he fits all the above. I am now preparing an email to the Special Crimes Service of Texas to turn him in.

Who else here do I need to list?

Confess!

Okay, I will add myself. I also fit the above and even some other additional criteria laid out in the flyer.

Recently, I made a large cash purchase of beer, wine and liquor. Texas seems to have reason to suspect that terrorists are doing such. I also own a relative large amount of clothing, especially of Levi jeans. This, according to the flyer, is another of many sign that I am a terrorist.

At least in Texas, where everything is a bit bigger than elsewhere.

Posted by b on May 13, 2008 at 16:40 UTC | Permalink | Comments (16)

May 12, 2008

Crunch

Wimberly said he'd recently sold a home in [Atlanta's] West End that tells the tale of what's happened in some neighborhoods. The home sold in March 2004 for $305,000 and then in August 2004 for $700,000. It tumbled to $122,900 in a sale last year. It sold recently for $51,000.
Tax assessors boggled by housing dip

Ouch!

That house may have hit its bottom, though the article points to some homes in the $10,000 range. The next step in the downward spiral is sinking tax revenue and lots of layoffs by cities, counties and states.

Two years from now things might start to look better again.

Posted by b on May 12, 2008 at 16:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (10)

Maliki's Thugs

The U.S. and its Iraqi puppets opened another fight against the resistance in Mosul. For starters, they killed a family riding in a car during a curfew. Did these people knew at all that there was a curfew?

The truce over Sadr City is somewhat mysterious as the sides do not seem to agree about its conditions. I find it unlikely that it will hold. There are good reasons for the Sadrist and the resistance to be very suspicious of Maliki's words and deeds. I'd rather not have his thugs around my neighborhood.

London Times: Parading of fighters' bodies taunts Mahdi Army

A humvee military vehicle idles on a broad avenue as an Iraqi army soldier walks nonchalantly past without so much as a glance at the body slung across the bonnet.

The dead man’s trousers have been pulled down to his ankles, exposing white underwear below a torn T-shirt drenched in blood from wounds to his chest and side.

Behind is a second Humvee with another body sprawled over the front, arms and legs outstretched. On his white shirt, a large bloodstain indicates the wound that may have killed him. A soldier sitting on the roof dangles his legs over the windscreen and seems to prod the corpse’s stomach with his boot.
...
A second video obtained from the same source purports to show prisoners being beaten in a police station in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.

McClatchy: Sadr City residents fear a cease-fire means more violence

Abdul Hassan pulled out his phone to show a public hanging of three men. They stood on police trucks with nooses around their necks as a crowd of people looked on and then the trucks were driven away and the men were hung. Another showed men shot by the Iraqi Security Forces and then burned.
...
Abdul Hassan said the videos were shot in the southern cities of Karbala and Nassiriyah, and he worried that the same would happen in Sadr City if the Iraqi Army had free reign.

But of course the U.S. just had to free Iraq of Saddam's brutal security forces ...

Posted by b on May 12, 2008 at 8:35 UTC | Permalink | Comments (4)