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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 01/18/2009 - 01/25/2009
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, January 24, 2009

See how many times you can hit Bush with your shoe...!

something to pass the time on a sunny sunday morning here in aqaba...


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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Roubini sees $3.6 TRILLION Loan and Securities Losses

pretty jaw-dropping stuff...
Up To $1.8T Loan Loss and Securities Writedowns Out of Total $3.6T: How Sound Is the U.S. Banking Sector?

* Jan 20 Roubini/Parisi: Assuming a further 20% fall in house prices and unemployment peaking at 9%, we project total loan losses to amount to $1.6T out of $12.4T loans outstanding. Of these $1.6T loan losses, about $1.1T accrue to U.S. banks and brokers.
* Mark-to-market prices as of December imply around $2T in writedowns on $10.8T U.S. originated securities outstanding. Flow of funds data show that 40% of U.S. originated securities are held abroad. U.S. banks' share of writedowns is about 30-35%, or $600-700bn for U.S. banks/brokers according to weights in IMF GFSR October 2008, table 1.1
* Total loan and securities losses amount to $3.6T, half of which accrue to the U.S. banking system, or $1.8T. Capitalization of FDIC banks is $1.4T, that of investment banks as of Q3 $110bn. If projected loan and securities losses materialize, the U.S. banking system is close to insolvency despite TARP 1 of $230bn and private capital of $200bn.
* Chris Whalen (IRA): The bad news is that estimates that put aggregate charge-offs for all US banks over the next 12-18 months above $1 trillion are probably in the right neighborhood. The entire banking industry only has $1.5 trillion in capital, so new equity must obviously be provided by Washington and/or private investors.
* Other estimates: Goldman Sachs expects a further $1.1T in loan losses alone for a total of $1.6T.
* Calculated Risk: I think the U.S. residential credit losses will be in the $1 to $1.5 trillion range and additional credit losses from corporate loans and bonds, commercial real estate, credit cards, and other consumer loans will probably add close to another $1 trillion in losses.This analysis excludes losses on securitizations.
* Roubini: In order to restore healthy credit conditions, the banking system needs about $1-1.5T in public or private capital. This calls for a comprehensive solution along the lines of a 'bad bank' or RTC.
* Krugman: 'Bad bank' problem without nationalization first is asset valuation and ongoing bail-out of existing share and debt holders. A better approach would be to do what the government did with zombie savings and loans at the end of the 1980s: it seized the defunct banks, cleaning out the shareholders. Then it transferred their bad assets to a special institution, the Resolution Trust Corporation; paid off enough of the banks' debts to make them solvent; and sold the fixed-up banks to new owners
* Roubini: in order to resolve this financial crisis it is not enough to take the bad/toxic assets off the balance sheet of the financial institutions (a new RTC); it is also necessary and fundamental to reduce the debt overhang of millions of insolvent households via asignificant debt reduction on their mortgages (an HOLC program like the one that was implement during the Great Depression); and also recapitalize undercapitalized banks with public capital inthe form of preferred shares (as the RFC did with 4000 banks during the Great Depression). An RTC scheme without an HOLC and RFC component would not resolve two fundamental problems: 1) millions of households are insolvent and unable to service their mortgages; 2) the financial system is vastly undercapitalized and needs capital to avoid an ugly credit crunch and to foster new credit creation that is needed for future growth--> That is why I proposed the creation of a HOME (Home Owners’ Mortgage Enterprise) that would be a combination of an RTC, a HOLC and a RFC.

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An amazing photo of the masses of people who turned out for the inauguration


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Secret prisons AND Guantánamo to close...!!!!!!!!!!

amazing...! totally amazing...!!
President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.

The orders, which would be the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, would rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They would require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

i've witnessed the most intense stream of good news in the past two days than i have witnessed in my entire lifetime... keep on truckin', barack...! i'm likin' it... i'm likin' it A LOT...!


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now that Bush has "left the building," Russell Tice spills the rest of the beans on Olbermann

yeah, well, this is what most of us have been saying all along, only maybe now there's some chance of something being DONE about it... ya 'spose...?

from oxdown gazette via emptywheel, both at firedoglake...

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A few more thoughts on the first day

as i've repeatedly said, i'm of two minds on obama... my heart jumps for joy when i think of him as our new president but in my mind, my cynical, worn-out, jaded mind, the jury is still out... yes, indeed, the first day has been like a sip of cool, clear water to a man dying of thirst in the desert - guantanamo, banning torture, halting destructive regulatory reviews, on and on... will he continue to do what's so desperately needed...? most of all, will he insist on accountability for the criminals who have systematically trampled on the rule of law and the sacred values of our country...? i guess we will just have to wait and see, now won't we...?

gil kaufman published this on the mtv news blog...

The Road So Far: From Denver To Chicago To Washington With President Obama

By Gil Kaufman

I wasn’t in Iowa on that cold, bright morning in January of last year when President Barack Obama made his first improbable step to the White House. I watched from home, and like a lot of people, I was shocked that this freshman senator was able to pull off such an audacious feat against a former two-time First Lady whose coronation seemed all but assured by the pundits.

I wasn’t on the campaign trail, where the quiet, steady confidence of a man whose story followed the arc of America ’s own crooked path to equality won over voters one by one, then by the thousands, then by the tens of thousands, then millions. The wins kept coming and this insurgent campaign that was given long odds began to take shape. Watching as the usual suspects bashed and swatted at each other, saying and doing all the things that for the past five election cycles had soured me on what felt like the most mean-spirited and petty way to choose our leaders, I began to notice small things. Obama said he would try to run a cleaner campaign, one that didn’t recede into negative attacks and political petulance. And, for the most part, he did.

As the country’s mood turned bleak – beaten down by two wars, increasingly falling into economic peril due to failing mortgages and a growing financial crisis – Obama stuck to his message of hope. Hope. What seemed so quaint for all those months, a word that reeked of empty hippie platitudes slowly morphed from a slogan that looked good on t-shirts and posters into an concept that more and more Americans could, and wanted to, embrace. Needed to embrace.

And then, in August, I was there. In Denver at the Democratic National Convention, I saw what the hype was about. I saw this well-oiled machine, this juggernaut headed by the calm political general they call “No Drama Obama.” It wasn’t just the ability to stay on message, it was a feeling you could almost touch: that this hope Obama had been speaking of was not just a slogan, but a set of ideas, ideals, that might actually bend that arc of history toward justice, toward a future we could be proud of.

Sitting in the crowd at Mile High with more than 75,000 people I got a feeling I’ve never had before from a politician: this man was not speaking to me, or at me, but for me, about me, with me, inviting me, and anyone else willing to take that leap, to believe that past does not have to be prologue and that ideas can matter.

I didn’t want to leave the stadium, afraid that the moment would dissipate into the thin Denver night air and become just another faded memory in a long year of repetitive stump speeches, debates, attack ads and bald-faced pandering. I wasn’t alone. Thousands hung around for an hour or more after the speech, trading highlight moments, quoting their favorite lines and talking about hope, about how they were energized for the first time in their lives, or for the first time in decades.

Even as the campaign against Senator John McCain heated up, I said to myself, ‘this is an honorable man, a nation’s hero’ who, if he should win, I would accept as my president, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. Because, for all his flaws, he’s given his life over to service to his country, a noble path and one that deserves respect. But as McCain turned his rhetoric into the same old divisive, petty sniping that had been used against him in election’s past, I began to lose that respect, even as Obama stayed mostly above the fray, his eyes on the prize, his mettle tested, but his spirit resolute against the more seasoned politician and his well-oiled, dirty politics machine.

And on election night in November, I was there again. I stood among tens of thousands in a field on the lakefront in Chicago and watched as Obama steamrolled to a sure-fire win. My heart leaped every time the numbers flashed on the screen and the crowd screamed “Yes we can!!!” I was overcome when the victory was sealed and the chant switched to “Yes we did!!!” And when Obama took the stage and gave the most eloquent speech I’ve ever witnessed, I knew without question that this “hope” he’d been speaking of for more than two years was much more than a brilliant sales pitch or a shrewd political gambit. It was those things, yes, but more than that it was a lifeline to fellow citizens who felt like America had lost the thread and that they’d been washed out in a flood of bad decisions and economic missteps that some of them may never recover from. It was an extended hand that said to anyone who would listen: this country made me and now it’s my turn now to remake it for the better. Now it’s our turn.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama said. The words still give me chills.

And, then, today, I was there again. I snaked my way through the millions gathered on the National Mall to watch the president-elect cross the threshold to history. I was more than a mile away, in the shadow of the Washington Monument , the sound of the circle of American flags whipping in the wind sometimes drowning out the announcements from the steps of the Capitol. I stood among the millions who had heeded Obama’s call, and I heard them answer it, in Spanish, French, Arabic, Italian and languages I couldn’t decipher. I saw them brave the bitter cold with their children bundled to their chests, with aged parents and special needs teenagers in wheelchairs. I heard their hearts leap as Obama took the oath of office and promised a “new way forward.”

Here’s what I heard: a hand up to the less fortunate, out to our enemies, our friends and the world. Those who would stand against us and with us. Those who believe in our god, their own god or no god at all. Those who’ve given up on us, who never left us and who are ready to stand with us again. Anyone who still believes this country can and will be great again. Soon. Not today maybe, or tomorrow and maybe not in the next four years, but again, anew. Those are the words I heard today, echoing from the Capitol, across the water, and up to the Washington Monument like an unstoppable wave. I heard them standing shoulder-to- shoulder in a crowd that contained the multitudes president Obama spoke of. Ones who’ve heard his call to service and his warnings that the road will be steep and hard and that it will take hard work to climb that mountain.

I heard those words and, for once, I totally believed them.

i don't "totally believe them" quite yet, but i'm more than prepared to do so...

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On this, the first day of the Obama administration

not bad, not bad...

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A fervent prayer on this Presidential Inauguration Day 2009

i will be watching the oath-taking in d.c. live from here in aqaba, jordan, at 7 p.m. local time... this is a moment of such tremendous historical significance it's almost impossible to capture it in words and i'm not even going to try... i will leave that task to others, others much more adept at recording things for posterity than i... what i would like to offer, however, is my fervent wish - nay, my fervent prayer - that our new president restores the values that i believe my country is built on, the constitution that has guided us since the beginning and the pride that i would like to again feel about my country's place in the world... and, as much as it pains me to say it, that will not be possible unless and until we can shake off our collective denial about the criminals we have tacitly enabled to lead us over the past years and make sure that accountability and the rule of law is upheld... without that, all of our efforts to march hand-in-hand to a brighter day will be hollow and ultimately ineffective...

all blessings, good will and the brilliant white light of truth and love to you, president obama, on this, the most auspicious day of my lifetime...

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Keith Olbermann Special Comment: Prosecute Bush For Torture

of all the keith olbermann special comments, most of which have been critical statements of truth, fact and relevance, this is perhaps the most important one of all... we simply cannot allow wholesale flouting of the rule of law, the concerted undermining of our country's constitution, and the violation of every human value known to man to pass without demanding public accountability and due process... the u.s. and the world simply cannot afford to let criminals of this magnitude render such flagrant disservice to our ideals and values and then pass quietly into history unchallenged...

olbermann's diary in daily kos...
Submitted this of all evenings, from this of all places, with the respect and hope due any President-Elect on the eve of his or her inauguration (but particularly this one), I am agreeing with Mr. Obama when he told George Stephanopoulos: "What we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."

That perspective, looking ahead and not back, makes more imperative still the prosecution of those who tortured -- and those who authorized torture -- in your name, in my name, in Barack Obama's name.

As the spontaneous chants of "Yes We Can" waft in to the cramped MSNBC trailer on the Mall (just morphing now into "Yes We Did") we have a metaphor for what the President-Elect needs to accomplish in this vital area.

I also defer to the President-Elect when he shows, as he did today and will likely express in his address tomorrow, that while we celebrate our liberation this week, we must simultaneously continue to work -- to work right now -- for what is right. The prosecution of torture might not have to be the first priority; it might not have to be a sweeping event consuming the nation, but we must have a catharsis.

Most importantly, the great and tragic events of our history have proven that the failure to achieve such a catharsis, the failure to atone, has its own tragic, long-range consequences.

From tonight's piece:
In point of fact, every effort to merely 'draw a line in the sand' and declare the past dead, has only served to keep the past alive -- and often to strengthen it.

We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence --and four score and nine years later we had buried 600,000 of our sons and brothers in a Civil War.

After that War's ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the South. And a century later, we had not only not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the South.

We compromised with Germany and the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War -- nobody even arrested the German Kaiser, let alone conducted War Crimes trials, and 19 years later there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heart-rending Second World War.

We compromised with the Trusts of the early 1900's, and today we have corporations too big to let fail.

We compromised with The Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism, and we compromised with McCarthyism and got Watergate, and we compromised with Watergate and the junior members of the Ford Administration realized how little was ultimately at risk, and grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

We cannot compromise again.

And of paramount importance, whether the outcome of torture prosecutions is imprisonment or just an asterisk to history, their pursuit alone is the difference between this nation saying "no, our elected leaders were wrong," and it deferring to George W. Bush's vision that torture was legal, and effective, and saved the country.


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The Bush administration was a hell of a lot worse than a bunch of bungling ideologues who governed like Keystone Kops

yes, this is a lot to read, but it's well worth it... it sets forth what i have been preaching about for seemingly forever - bush administration incompetency is a sad, pathetic characterization for the evil intent behind its actions...
So, How'd You Like Your Beer?
by David Michael Green | January 16, 2009 - 1:31pm

Go on. Admit it. You never thought this would end, did you? You never thought they'd actually leave, huh? With only days remaining, you still have nagging doubts, don't you?

Finally. Mercifully. Astonishingly. Incredibly. The insane adventure in national suicide known as the Bush administration is at last coming to an end.

This was a ride that beggars belief. Even after McCarthy and Nixon and Reagan and Gingrich, nothing prepared us for the last eight years, and I for one have difficulty finding the words that could begin to do justice to describing this historical folly of epic proportions.

The list of self-inflicted wounds is endless, running from the fiscal irresponsibility, to the lies about war, to the incompetent execution of every policy, to the extreme recklessness of environmental catastrophe, to economic meltdown, and to turning one of the most admired countries in the world into one of the most reviled.

It is a breathtaking record. It really is. Indeed, one might argue in complete seriousness that it would be far easier to list the one or two exceptions to a blanket rule of disaster than to catalogue the endless list of travesties themselves. It would certainly take a lot less time to specify any successes than to climb the mountain of wholesale failures. In short, it literally involves almost no exaggeration to describe this adventure in catastrophic governance by means of a simple covering adage: If there was a way the Bush administration could have diminished America, it did.

Given this endless chronicle of national implosion, I won't try - for the umpteenth time - to catalogue the crimes and catastrophes here, despite the fact that this week offers a good opportunity for summing up our world of hurt. There are too many, and they are too well known. Except for those that are not, of course, of which I expect there is a huge quantity. Not for nothing did the administration - in one of its very first acts in government - rewrite the rules concerning the release of presidential documents, so that it could control them completely, despite the fact that they belong to you and me, not Alberto Gonzales. Not for nothing has Mr. Cheney's shredder needed sharpening every morning for the last six months.

As tempted as I am to once more list what has been lost by an America that has lost so very much, I will instead confine myself here to two simple, albeit not simply answered, questions: What happened? And, Why?

The first one is easier than the second, though I contend that most Americans still don't know the correct answer. My guess is that most people think the Bush administration has been highly ideological and partisan, and indeed it has. I think they believe the Bush people were largely incompetent at governing, and they were. Many Americans might have a sense of the corruption attendant to Bush's team, and they rightly should. Lots of them probably see the president as simultaneously arrogant and over his head, and they're quite right to do so.

But I'm convinced what most Americans fail to perceive, even to this day, is the true depth of the evil here. What they don't understand is that the incompetence and the partisanship and even the garden-variety corruption are the least of what just happened. What they don't get is that the major reason the Bush catastrophe was so catastrophic is that these people never came to Washington to do good, in the first place. They came instead to do well, and boy did they.

If this child in the body of a man were named Putin or Castro or Kim, Americans would get it. If they were observing the country from the perspective of Zimbabwe, instead of the other way around, then they would get it. They can understand the notion of some foreign thug who means to do harm to our country. They get the idea, in other places, of a domestic thug who seeks to plunder his own country. They just can't imagine it happening here. And, therefore, they don't see that it just has.

Most people have completely failed to perceive the magnitude of the Bush crime, because they see it as limited to 'merely' dumb policies, poorly implemented, by incompetent stewards of government. Would that that were so. We'd be so much better off as a country and as a world had it been only that.

Instead, this was an American Stalin, seeking to use military power for purposes of overrunning and raping other countries. Instead, this was an American Mugabe, seeking to steal power by any means, in order to plunder the wealth of his own country per the interests of a narrow band of cronies.

This president - and indeed the entire movement of regressive politics these last three decades (which I refer to as Reaganism-Bushism) - can only be properly understood as class warfare. Its purpose was never to make America a better place. Indeed, if we define America as a country belonging to its 300 million inhabitants, then the purpose was actually precisely the opposite. The mission of this ideology was in fact to diminish if not impoverish the vast bulk of these citizens, so that the already massively wealthy among them could instead become obscenely wealthy.

Where you or I might have looked at the middle of the twentieth century and seen the moment when America finally did justice to its national promise by introducing a measure of serious economic equality for the first time, and thus vastly expanding the middle class, the plutocrats behind Reaganism-Bushism saw a filthy aberration to the natural order of master and slave that had long existed in human history. They therefore set about to overturn that aberration and return to 'better times' through a process of class warfare. That meant that labor unions had to go, along with workplace protections, good wages, decent benefits, government protections, and a far-too-moderate average CEO to lowest-paid worker salary ratio on the order of fifty-to-one, replaced instead by something closer to five-hundred- to-one.

And, where Washington was concerned, that meant that government was to become a vehicle to serve not the 300 million, but rather the 300 families at the top, who already owned the most but craved ever, ever more. It was a cash cow that could provide enormous riches to buccaneers who make the Somali pirates look like Campfire Girls in comparison. Social Security is not, from this perspective, a program to serve seniors and keep a roof over their heads during their final decades of life, but rather a pool of money which the government had been kind enough to already collect and centralize, just waiting for barons to come along and robber it. Deregulation is another important purpose of the federal government. Protecting the long-term integrity of the economic system from the exploitation of short-term Ponzi schemers with their derivatives and their garbage loans was so mid-twentieth- century, you know? And then, chief among all purposes of government under Reaganism-Bushism, are the tax cuts for the wealthy, even if - especially if - they can be made more massive by borrowing from suckers' - I mean, citizens' - children in future generations.

In short, if you merely hate the Bush administration for driving the country into penury, making us hated around the world, bringing on a global economic crisis, ignoring when not exacerbating a looming environmental catastrophe of planetary proportions, killing a million Iraqis on the basis of a host of lies, letting New Orleans drown, trying to wreck Social Security, sleeping through (at best) the worst terrorist attack on our shores, allowing when not assisting the Middle East in going up in flames, or dividing our country internally - if that's 'all' you've got against these guys, then you have no idea how bad it really is.

Because how bad it really is can be found in the same place where one sees the difference between first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. The latter is a crime of ineptitude, the former one of intent. If you are fooled into thinking - as I suspect that most Americans have been - that the Bush administration was just a bunch of bungling ideologues who governed like Keystone Kops, then you will have been duped by the crime of the century. For at bottom these were kleptocrats, pure and simple. They came to steal, not to serve, and - with the chief exception of their foiled Social Security raid - they accomplished their mission rather handily. This was class warfare, and we lost badly. The rich in America are now far richer than they've been since 1929, while we and our government are infinitely more impoverished than we've been since the New Deal.

Of course, a movement representing one-half of one percent of the American public is never going to win elections as such, even as imperfect as is America's democracy, and so the kleptocrats had to do three things. First, they had to lie about their agenda. Second, they had to enlist others as unwitting agents in their crime. And, third, they had to steal elections. The three are, of course, heavily related. By pretending to be hyper-patriots, and by dressing up tax code changes, privatization and deregulation in the vernacular of freedom and the unleashing of economic dynamism, they could give their agenda a plausibility sufficient to fool those not looking too closely. Recruiting a few jive economists from academia to flak for not-so-funny- after-all Laffer Curves and the like gave the thing an additional patina of legitimacy.

Then, by pretending to give two shits about religious piety or national security threats, the kleptocratic junta could enlist the shock troops of the religious right and enough lazy and selfish voters necessary to seize power through elections (albeit with an occasional assist from regressive Supreme Court justices or swing-state secretaries of state) and fulfill their mission. As if they ever cared a whit about either of these grand diversions of religion or national security. These predators would have happily sold Saddam Hussein the very nails to put Jesus himself up on the cross if there was money to be made in it.

This has been, indeed, the crime of the century, and my only hope at this point is that it will ultimately be recognized as such. Right now, we are far from that. Most Americans abhor the Bush administration, to the point where quite a large percentage would probably be willing to call it the worst in American history. But that fails completely to do it justice, because it still misses the crucial question of intention. The difference between the perception of the Bush administration and the true reality of its mission accomplished is the difference between a well-intentioned bungler and a vicious though friendly predator.

There is so much that is amazing (in the same sense that witnessing a tsunami or a hydrogen bomb test is amazing) about these last eight years and the two decades preceding them, but if you're looking for something to top the list, consider the fact that the regressive right in America has now been reduced to using wholesale incompetence, gross negligence and catastrophic outcomes as its alibi. Think of how ugly and deep the real crime you're hiding must be if those are your diversionary tactics.

What's more, it's crucial to note that the danger of historical misinterpretation is far from the only one lurking here. In that respect, we would be well advised to remind ourselves that - even after eight years of devastation, even with homes being repossessed in droves, with jobs being lost, with medical conditions untreated because of insufficient funds, and even with an anodyne and centrist Democratic presidential candidate running a near-perfect campaign against a buffoonish McCain-Palin ticket - even after all that, we should remember that Barack Obama won in 2008 by a mere six percent of the vote.

And the resulting possibility that we could experience yet more Reaganism-Bushism brings us to the question of how this could have happened in the first place. What drives people to embrace stupidity, aggression, recklessness, destruction and contemptuousness as national policy, especially when they have other choices? Even worse yet (though that is hard to imagine), what impels them away from perceiving the even deeper crimes lurking below the death and destruction on the surface?

This second of our two questions is less easy to understand, but I believe the short answer is fear. Which is fairly astonishing, when one considers that we have long been the richest and most powerful country on the planet, by leaps and bounds. And yet this is a country whose populace strikes me as riddled with all manner of fears, in myriad aspects, whose ugliest political operatives understand this as well as they do the very concept of breathing, and who have become so used to preying on those fears that they engage in both practices both with about equal forethought.

It's been long said of George W. Bush that he wins elections because he seems like the kind of guy voters would be most comfortable having a beer with. That says a lot - an unfortunate, awful lot - about us fearful Americans. How frightened and insecure do you have to be, after all, to deliberately choose mediocrity for your government - with all the perils affecting you and your children such a choice entails - just so you won't be reminded every night as you watch the news that you're not as accomplished as the guy in the White House? Would we want our heart surgeons and airplane pilots to be equal exemplars of mediocrity? Would we enjoy the beer we'd be sipping with them in the afterlife, once they'd managed to get us killed? Nor is this just clever and fun, but specious, analogy. Just ask the thousands of Americans dead in Iraq, or because of absent health insurance, or a government that was partying instead of protecting them when the bad guys hijacked airplanes, or when the hurricanes came onshore. A certain American vice president likes to say that "elections have consequences" . Well, indeed they do, Dick, and some of them can be quite lethal as a matter of fact.

The simple fact of George W. Bush as two-term president of the United States and leader of the Free World - as opposed instead to, say, the could-never- grow-up, could-never- stay-sober, sixty-year-old- frat-boy- cheerleader, Midland-Texas- Elks-Club- Secretary- Treasurer- who-couldn' t-actually- keep-the- minutes-or- balance-the- checkbook, local-car-crasher- extraordinaire - will not exactly acquit us all very well in the history books. At least the Romans had the excuse of monarchy to explain Nero and Caligula. We don't. Nor can we plead ignorance. Our friendly neighbors in Europe dropped their collective jaws and looked on in astonishment from Day One. "You guys chose what? Out of 300 million of you? You put a dude in charge of a planeticide- capable arsenal who can't even properly pronounce the word 'nuclear'? Are you freakin' kidding?"

Maybe the one thing I got out of the horror of the last eight years was a lesson in political culture. I learned that he who goes looking for rational thought or dialogue among the ranks of the regressives will come home a confused, addled and empty-handed fellow. That's what I was half a decade ago when that revelation whacked me across the forehead. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. I couldn't believe that most of my fellow citizens could believe what we were witnessing.

But my mistake was to conceive of an America characterized by rational thought and some rough approximation of deliberative democracy. It's so long ago now, and no doubt my memory is foggy, but it seems to me that's what we had in my younger days. Yep, even with Vietnam and Watergate, even with Nixon and McCarthy, we seemed so much closer then to the Enlightenment ideal of the country's Founders. But something went desperately wrong - beginning in the late 1970s or early 1980s and culminating with this reign of the American Caligula - and it strikes me that there has been a paradigm shift in this country's cognitive architecture. Which is just a fancy way of saying we got ourselves real stupid, real fast. And real willfully, too.

I don't know what explains that, but I like to take the long anthropological perspective on these questions, and one can't help noticing that this is the exact moment that the wind went out of the sails of the American standard of living. Ever since then - following an economic rocket ride in the post-war period - it's been static, if not a real-value decline, for the American middle class (and we don't even bother talking about those in poverty any more). I think what happened is that we hit a wall and began having to get very creative in stealing from ourselves and from others and from our children in order to maintain a semblance of the old mass-consumption lifestyle. And I think we went looking for a politics that could justify and personify that expression of wholesale greed, which the regressive movement and the Republican Party were more than happy to provide. Thus did the most gluttonous faction of the most gluttonous tribe of the most gluttonous species come to rule the planet. And thus have we wrecked everything in sight.

I think we lived in some kind of deep fear that someone would take our toys away from us. And, worse, since we had so foolishly come to also imbue those toys with a sense of meaning, we thus added the existential fear that their loss would also mean taking away our very purpose for living as well. I think a political movement arose which understood that it could get additional subsequent money and power (and entertainment) out of stoking such fears by means of prior thefts of money and power from a frightened people. Give them employment insecurity and financial woes by siphoning their wages into the coffers of the already super-rich, and they'll just turn around and choose politicians who will then do far more of the same. It was the ultimate racket, and it lasted an astonishingly long time.

Nor is it even at all clear that people are the wiser, still at this late date. It's curious enough to ask how it is that Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter got ridden out on a rail, while this Thing continues blissfully on in office. How is it that he is not hated and despised? How is it that he dares show his face in public? How does he continue doing inane farewell interviews and presidential speeches without being confronted with even a sliver of reality?

Perhaps it is that the same fear which led us in this direction originally now also prevents us from reckoning with our wreckage. Perhaps our cowardice has now morphed from solitary failing to enduring habit.

But, of course, what isn't paid for now is only paid for later, at a much higher cost. I will be amazed if the coming decade or two isn't a period characterized by multiple and profound self-made catastrophes raging home in an amphetamine- stoked frenzy, each of them furiously seeking Mama, looking for a hug. That's an embrace we surely won't desire, but just as surely neither will we be able to avoid it.

We've been on a bender of exquisite proportions for thirty years now. We've done everything there is to do, to everyone there is to do it to, and more or less gotten away with it all. But now our creditors - literal and figurative - are lined up around the block, knives in their teeth, and they don't look happy.

All I can say, America, is that I hope it was worth it.
I hope you enjoyed the free ride you took by offloading your woes on the rest of the world, including your own children.

I hope you feel good about yourself.

And I hope you liked your beer.

thank god the worst of it ends tomorrow... at least i hope so... we'll see, won't we...

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Saturday Jordan photoblogging on Sunday


yesterday - saturday - was the second day of the weekend here in aqaba, jordan... today, the u.s. project office where i work is closed to observe martin luther king day, so i get a three-day weekend (not like i'm not working anyway!)...

yesterday, however, i took a stroll down the public beach area along the gulf of aqaba... it was full of families enjoying a january day that almost bordered on hot... the beach area is lined with palm-thatched and canvas-covered canopies where food vendors offer tables, chairs, snacks, tea and shishas (water pipes) in the shade where the parents can relax while the kids frolic in the water and chase each other across the sand... paralleling the beach on a walkway are souk (bazaar) vendors peddling beach accessories, trinkets, souvenirs, collections of kids clothes, shoes, sandals, postcards - all the usual items such folks try to foist on visitors seeking water, sun and sand...

i walked all the way down to the enormous flagpole that flys the jumbo-sized flag of the arab revolt (not the same as the official flag of jordan, see above and below) that can be seen literally all over town... there were lots of families and kids there too and the kids were pestering their parents to let them have a turn on one of those small electric kiddie cars available for rent... following that, i adjourned to a nearby cafe where i plopped in a comfortable rattan chair on the terrace and took my ease while smoking a shisha and drinking turkish coffee... not a bad afternoon overall...

Flag of the Arab Revolt as seen from the Gulf of Aqaba
(courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Aqaba Flagpole in Aqaba, Jordan is the second tallest free standing flagpole in the world at a height of 132 meters (430 feet) high. It carries the flag of the Arab Revolt and can be seen from Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

here's the photo i took yesterday from the plaza that surrounds the flag base...


aqaba is in the midst of a development boom which may or may not survive the current global financial meltdown... anyway, below is a photo i took from the waterfront near the flag looking back toward the hotel area, and the photo below that is an enlarged section where, if you can pick them out, you can see 7 construction cranes, all serving the construction sites of 7 different new hotels... (in the far center left of the larger photo, you can see the buildings of eilat, israel...)


Aqaba (Arabic: العقبة‎, Al-ʻAqabah) is a coastal town in the far south of Jordan. It is the capital of Aqaba Governorate. Aqaba is strategically important to Jordan as it is the country's only seaport. The town borders Eilat, Israel, and there is a border post where it is possible to cross between the two countries (see Wadi Araba Crossing). Both Aqaba and Eilat are at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.


During World War I, the occupying Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from the town after a raid led by T. E. Lawrence and the Arab forces of Sharif Hussein in 1917, making the territory part of the Kingdom of Hejaz, under the rule of Prince Faisal. The capture of Aqaba helped open supply lines from Egypt up to Arab and British forces afield further north in Transjordan and Greater Palestine, and more importantly alleviated a threat of a Turkish offensive onto the strategically important Suez Canal.


Aqaba has been chosen for the sight of a new waterfront building project that would rebuild Aqaba with new man-made water structures, new high-rise residential and office buildings, and more tourist services to place Aqaba on the investment map and challenge other centers of waterfront development throughout the region.


Aqaba's economy is skyrocketing because of the economic zone. New resorts are being constructed, but most are still on its leveling stage. New projects like Tala Bay and Saraya al Aqaba are well under construction which will provide high-end vacation and residential homes to locals and foreigners alike.

Along with tourism projects, Aqaba has also attracted global logistic companies such as APM Terminals and Agility to invest in logistics, which boosted the city's status as a transport and logistics hub.

There are numerous hotels that reside in Aqaba but new hotels are also under construction.

finally, here's a photo of one of life's little pleasures, the shisha, something i was introduced to last year in afghanistan... finally i understand why you always see photos of tea and coffee shops with men sitting around smoking water pipes... it's a great way to pass the time, engage in conversation, drink coffee and tea and solve the world's problems...

Depending on locality and supply, hookahs may be referred to by many names, often of Arabic, Indian, Turkic, or Persian origin. Narghilè is the name most commonly used in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bulgaria and Israel, although the initial "n" is often dropped in Arabic pronunciation. Narghile derives from the Persian word nārgil (نارگیل), meaning coconut, which in turn is from the Sanskrit word nārikela (नारिकेला), suggesting that early hookahs were hewn from coconut shells.[7]

In Albania, Bosnia, Croatia the hookah is called "Lula" or "Lulava" in Romani, meaning "pipe," the word "shishe" refers to the actual bottle piece.

Shisha (Arabic: شيشة‎), from the Persian word shīshe (شیشه), meaning glass, is the common term for the hookah in Egypt and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf (including Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE, and Saudi Arabia), and in Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, Somalia and Yemen.

for those of you tempted to think i was engaged in smoking substances other than tobacco, you can put your minds at ease...!

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