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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 02/22/2009 - 03/01/2009
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Saturday, February 28, 2009

On the road (again) plus a few Dubai insights...


i flew from kabul here to dubai yesterday... the flight departure from kabul was delayed and the aircraft we were to have departed on was finally switched after we stood on the ramp in a cold wind waiting to board for nearly an hour, freezing our respective tushies off... when we arrived in dubai, the temp was just over 90 with a sandstorm in progress...

i should add that, flying over afghanistan's central mountains, i was stunned by the amount of snow... those mountains are extremely rugged and barren, but the current snow levels are so high that all the harsh edges are now soft and rounded and the entire landscape looks like a big, soft, fluffy, slightly rumpled, startlingly white bed comforter, not unlike the one i'm looking at right now on my hotel room bed...

i should also point out that "sandstorm" doesn't necessarily mean blowing sand, although that's what's behind it... it also means fine, sandy, brown dust kicked up by wind blowing sand somewhere else that blows over huge regions, reduces visibility, and is generally quite unpleasant to look at... dubai is vulnerable to such from two different directions, iran and saudi arabia, depending on which way the wind is blowing...

yesterday afternoon, a colleague of mine and i visited with an egyptian general manager who is here running four processing plants for a local investor and he filled us in on the current economic situation in dubai and the gulf states in general... nothing disastrous yet but people are starting to stretch out the time it takes them to pay their bills... we asked him if he was worried about people starting to not pay at all and, in response, were treated to a detailed run-down on how the government protects business people... in short, if someone doesn't pay within a reasonable period, you can call the cops who show up asap, give the guy one month to fork over and, if he doesn't, it's off to jail, no passing go, no collecting $200... he also said that a number of privately-financed construction projects are on hold and that government-financed projects are moving ahead but more slowly... then he dispensed another another fascinating bit of insight...

the rule of law here is strictly enforced and apparently no one is above it... a high-level government official, someone very close to their majesties, got caught in a shady deal in lebanon... he's now cooling his heels in prison for fifteen years... what i found particularly interesting is that the government also seized all of his assets and put them in a trust out of which they are insuring his family is completely taken care of, housing, food, education, everything and what the assets don't cover, the government makes up the difference... yeah, things are done a bit differently here... the good news is that no one operates with impunity, completely unlike afghanistan and even my own home country (whose name i will not mention here)...

today, i fly on to amman and then to aqaba tomorrow morning to work through the middle of the month before returning to kabul where i will remain until the end of april... as much as afghanistan has come to occupy a spot in my heart, it's still a hard place to be and i'm glad to have a short respite before the six-week stint to come...

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Over four years and 7,750 posts

7,751 counting this one...

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And here I thought it couldn't get worse than charging for water on USAir

as the brits would say, i'm gobsmacked...
Ryanair May Charge For Toilet Use On Planes
February 27, 2009

Irish carrier Ryanair, Europe's largest budget airline, might start charging passengers for using the toilet while flying, chief executive Michael O'Leary said on Friday.

"One thing we have looked at in the past and are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound (USD$1.43) to spend a penny in future," he told BBC television.

He said this would not inconvenience passengers travelling without cash. "I don't think there is anybody in history that has got on board a Ryanair aircraft with less than a pound."

O'Leary has a reputation as a cost cutter, expanding Ryanair by offering low headline fares and charging extra for items such as luggage.

Last week, Ryanair announced it was to shut all check-in desks at airports and have passengers check in online instead.

"We're all about finding ways of raising discretionary revenue so we can keep lowering the cost of air travel," he said.

you know what will happen, don't you...? someone, someday will bring an empty plastic bottle on board to pee in... mark my words...

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Have I mentioned lately just how grateful I am?

well, i am... a lot... hugely...

i just spent the better part of an hour, smoking a havana stogie, sitting in the sun on the rooftop terrace of the guesthouse here in kabul... (friday is our one-day weekend...) i gazed out over the city, took in the breathtaking snow-shrouded mountains that surround the city on three sides, watched the birds wheel and dive in a mostly cloudless sky, and reflected on just how incredibly fortunate i am to live the kind of life i live...

i am amazingly blessed to be here in afghanistan, working with some wonderful afghan friends and colleagues, getting to see a major world event up close and personal... i am amazingly blessed to be able to live part-time in buenos aires, a beautiful city in a beautiful country, populated by wonderful people... i am amazingly blessed to have three terrific children and two wonderful grandsons... i am amazingly blessed to have outstanding professional colleagues and dear, dear friends... i could go on and on but, suffice to say, i have many more blessings than i can count...

just thought i'd share...

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

THIRD bailout for Citi - how disgusting is this...?

why don't they skip the middleman and just deposit the cash directly into the bank accounts of the board members and the senior executives... this smoke and mirrors shit is enough to gag a maggot...
The Treasury Department reached a deal late Thursday to take a stake of 30 to 40 percent in Citigroup as part of a third bailout of the embattled bank, according to several people close to the deal.

Vikram S. Pandit, the chief executive, will remain at the helm, but Citigroup will have to shake up its board so that it has a majority of independent directors, a move that federal regulators had already been pursuing.

Under the terms of the deal, the Treasury Department has agreed to convert up to $25 billion of its preferred stock investment in Citigroup into common stock.

It will convert its stake to the extent that Citigroup can persuade private investors, including several big foreign government investment funds, to do so alongside the government, two people close to the deal said.

The Treasury Department will match the private investors’ conversions dollar-for-dollar. That accounts for uncertainty in how big the government’s stake will be.

mish offers his usually trenchant perceptions on this travesty...
With all due respect Mr. President, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke are offering the same policies as President Bush and Secretary Paulson. Those policies are to bail out banks regardless of cost to taxpayers. Mr. President, it's hard enough to overlook Geithner's tax indiscretions. Mr. President, it is harder still, if not impossible, to ignore the fact that neither Geithner nor Bernanke saw this coming. Yet amazingly they are both cock sure of the solution. Even more amazing is the fact that [the] solution changes every day.

With all due respect Mr. President, Geithner and Bernanke are a huge part of the problem, and no part of the solution and the sooner you realize that the better off this nation will be


With all due respect Mr. President, you and Congress want to force banks to lend when banks (by not lending) are acting responsibly for the first time in a decade. Mr, President can you please tell us who banks are supposed to lend to? Do we need any more Home Depots? Pizza Huts? Strip malls? Nail salons? Auto dealerships? What Mr. President? What? And why should banks be lending when unemployment is rising and lending risks right along with it?

not much i can add to that...

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Sign the petition to support Senator Leahy's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Click on image to sign petition

as a country, we desperately need to do this... unless we squarely face what we as a nation have allowed to take place in our names, we stand little chance of ever regaining our national integrity and resetting our moral compass...

senator leahy

With over 35,000 signatures to date, our petition at is rapidly building grassroots support for a commission that will uncover the truth about Bush-Cheney Administration abuses. I am humbled that so many Americans have stood up in support of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, and grateful that our efforts have led the press, outside groups, my Congressional colleagues, and the White House to start taking this idea seriously.

We need to continue to show that the American people are committed to uncovering the truth about the misdeeds of the last administration -- so that we can ensure the same mistakes are not repeated.

As one of the earliest signers of the petition, I need your help to gather 50,000 petition signatures by next week. Please invite your friends and family to add their names to the petition today.

What little we know about the Bush-Cheney Administration's use of extraordinary rendition, torture, and secret legal memos to subvert the Constitution underscores the need for an independent inquiry.

When I first came to the Senate in 1975, the Church Committee was working to expose the excesses of the Watergate era. Last weekend's New York Times credited that effort with "[leading] directly to a series of reforms" curbing executive power and restoring the Constitution.

The time for asking questions and getting answers has come once again. In the words of Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., who served as chief counsel for the Church Committee and supports a new truth commission, "It may seem that we already know a lot, but based on my experience, I'm certain there's a lot that went on the last eight years that we still don't know."

Americans embrace this notion, with 6 in 10 supporting an investigation into Bush-Cheney Administration abuses. But that popular sentiment alone won't make it so, and we must keep the pressure on to consider establishing a truth and reconciliation commission.

sign it... it may not be the perfect plan but it's better than continuing to bury our heads in the sand...

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Speaking of bloody pulpits (see previous post), here's more on Afghanistan


it's not like i don't get on mine on a regular basis...

robert greenwald of brave new films is putting together a documentary on afghanistan where he attempts to put together some of the issues facing the u.s. and the world in that country... as i sit here in kabul typing this, i wish him luck...

i made an offer to john aravosis at americablog a few weeks ago to arrange for him to visit kabul but i think he's wussed out... i just made the same offer to brave new films... let's see if someone there can muster the cojones...

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How would you like it if Argentina announced the possibility of future "economic instability" in the US?


even if it's true...?

it's stunning to me how the u.s. can make sweeping pronouncements about other countries but won't bother to look in the mirror...

from al jazeera...

The Argentinian government has angrily criticised Leon Panetta, the new director of the CIA, for warning of a potential economic crisis in the country.

Leon Panetta, CIA Director

The country's foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador to Buenos Aires "to explain the lamentable statements" made by Panetta earlier this week, describing them as "unacceptable interference" in its affairs.

Panetta told reporters on Wednesday he had been informed that the US would have to pay more attention to Latin America because of "some serious problems … that involve economic instability".

The CIA chief later said the concerns "particularly involved Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela".

But Jorge Taiana, the Argentinian foreign minister, said at a news conference on Thursday that such remarks were "irresponsible, unfounded and do not show respect".

Jorge Taiana, the Argentinian foreign minister

"It is an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs," he said.

"This isn't the view of the country expressed in our dialogues with representatives of the [US] State Department and numerous members of the two main parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate."

He said Earl Wayne, the US ambassador, would be asked to explain Panetta's statements on Friday.

what such a pronouncement does once more is to reinforce the all-too-prevalent image of argentina in the minds of most u.s. citizens as some sort of third-world backwater... since i live there part-time, i can definitely attest to the fact that it's not...

is there a possibility of economic unrest in argentina...? hell, yes... given its history and current state of affairs, there's ALWAYS a possibility of economic unrest in argentina but, fercryinoutloud, do we have to get up on our bloody pulpit, shake our paternalistic, condescending finger as though we were somehow pure as the driven snow, and rub their face in it, particularly when they obviously weren't consulted...? does ANYONE in our government have the ability to see things from another country's perspective...? can you imagine the uproar in the u.s. if ANY other country made a pronouncement like this about the u.s...?

i had much higher - but obviously misplaced - hopes for the obama administration...

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Monday and Tuesday Kabul photoblogging on Thursday


rain mixed with snow was the scene here in kabul most of last week up through this past monday... tuesday morning dawned bright and sparklingly clear and the snow on the hindu kush mountains was a sight to behold...

this was the view out my office window on monday... nothing but slop and mud up to the hubcaps... (note: after looking at this post on the blog, i realized i had neglected to mention that the photo below shows the STREET that goes past the office, just in case anyone looking at it might have thought it was just a muddy alley...)


contrast the mess in the photo above with the magnificent, snow-covered panorama as seen from the rooftop of the guesthouse early tuesday morning...


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some thoughts on Afghanistan from Qall e-Fatullah


take a look at this... real news editor paul jay talks with former cia analyst ray mcgovern about the u.s. machinations that led up to the mess that characterizes our current involvement in afghanistan... it seems that we - the u.s. - have this annoying proclivity for repeatedly shooting ourselves in the foot (or, more accurately, shooting ourselves AND everyone else involved as well) in our geopolitical power games...

i can't tell you how much fun it is to sit here in the qall e-fatullah neighborhood of the northwest quadrant of kabul and be able to absorb these kinds of perspectives from a ground level, and i'm not being snarky here... i indeed feel privileged to get to see some of this stuff first-hand...

i have to add that, for those of you who might think all is totally horrible here, it's not... there's a bunch of neighborhood kids playing a pick-up soccer game in the street right below my window... life has this interesting way of going on, no matter how badly some of us might try to totally screw it up...

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Dow at 7243.73 at noon today, down -121.94 [UPDATE]

once again, i am sitting in kabul on monday night, 9 1/2 hours ahead of u.s. east coast time, watching the dow plunge... i'll update this post in the morning when i get up which will be approximately five hours after wall street's closing bell...


holy shit...! i knew it was going to continue to fall, but i wasn't expecting THIS...!

7,114.78, down -250.89

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