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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 03/15/2009 - 03/22/2009
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"Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it."
- Noam Chomsky
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh Brother

U.S. Vessels Collide in Strait of Hormuz, Navy Says

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Two U.S. Navy vessels, a nuclear-powered submarine and an amphibious ship, collided before dawn Friday in the mouth of the Persian Gulf, one of the world's most important sea passages for oil supplies.

[...]

The New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank, resulting in an oil spill of approximately 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) of diesel fuel, Lt. Christensen said.

[...]

"The spill is closely monitored," Lt. Christensen said. "The lightweight diesel, although obviously a fairly substantial amount of gasoline, likely dissipated in the ocean."

[...]

Both ships were heading to port and were going in the same direction when the incident occurred in the narrow Hormuz, said Lt. Christensen. He said the submarine was submerged at the time but that he could give no further details as the collision is still under investigation.

I love the way they always try to explain away incidents in the Strait of Hormuz as 'how narrow it is'. Here's some facts: The Strait, at it's narrowest point is 29 miles. The shipping lane is 6 miles wide- two miles in each direction, with a two mile buffer in the center. Was there a Captain on duty on either of these vessels?

I also like the intelligence level of the Naval spokesman, calling the spill both diesel fuel and gasoline in the same sentence. It is apparent that poor education isn't proprietary to the inner cities.

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Atrios quotes John Cole - "We are so screwed"

and there's really not a goddam thing that anybody can say that sums it up any better than this...
A Cunning Plan

John Cole sums it up pretty well:
The Illness- reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
The Diagnosis- Insufficient gambling.
The Cure- a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
The Prognosis- We are so screwed.

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Boo-freakin'-hoo

< sniff, sniff > 'scuse me, i'm tearing up... < sniff >
An alarmed banking industry looked for friends in Washington yesterday as it tried to head off severe congressional restrictions on compensation, fearful that a wave of popular anger about vast paydays will result in permanent damage to the industry.

After a week of unexpected setbacks for an industry accustomed to deference, bank executives said they were now racing to convince Congress and the Obama administration that imposing punitive taxes on bonuses would unfairly punish thousands of people for the sins of a few. Executives also argued that hitting banks would hurt the broader economy.

oh, puh-l-e-e-e-e-eze... i'm living on the tiniest FRACTION of what these people are boo-hooing about... gag me with a spoon...

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Stop mincing words... The U.S. is bankrupt and printing more worthless dollars ain't gonna fix it... Meanwhile, the WaPo stays context-free...

wake up and smell the coffee...
Deteriorating economic conditions will cause the federal deficit to soar past $1.8 trillion this year and leave the nation wallowing in a sea of red ink far deeper than the White House had previously estimated, congressional budget analysts said today.

[...]

And although Obama would come close to meeting his goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his first term, the CBO predicts that the nation's annual operating deficit would never drop below 4 percent of the overall economy over the next decade, a level administration officials have said is unsustainable because the national debt would grow too rapidly.

By the CBO's estimate, for example, the nation's debt would grow to 82 percent of the overall economy by 2019 under Obama's policies, compared with a pre-recession average of 40 percent.

what's wrong with this story...?

well, for starters, how about the total failure to mention the connection of the national debt to the failed federal reserve system which is the creditor to which the u.s. must pay the debt, the privately-owned money printing machine that holds us all in economic thrall...

oh, yeah, and, btw, there's also the matter of the REASON for the soaring national debt, namely, that the u.s. is borrowing all that money from the federal reserve in order to prop up the friggin' PRIVATE BANKING AND FINANCIAL INTERESTS that feed from the federal reserve trough... interestin', eh...?

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Enough is enough...!!

olbermann's special comment...

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Israeli soldiers attest to the war crimes committed in Gaza

the ugly truth is coming out quite a bit faster than it has in the past...
Israel's army is accused of war crimes after more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the war on Gaza.

In interviews published by a leading Israeli newspaper, Israeli soldiers say killing Palestinian civilians and destroying their homes was allowed in Israels rules of engagement during the war.



here's a mind-twister... this story was broken by an israeli newspaper and then was picked up by al jazeera... imho, that's a pretty decent way for a major story to break...

i also have to say that, the more i watch al jazeera, the more impressed i am with their journalism... given the propaganda we are routinely fed via u.s. news media outlets, i find it a breath of fresh air to watch al jazeera make a valiant effort to present all sides of a story in an in-depth manner, rather than the diet of neo-con sound bites we are accustomed to on the likes of cnn...

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Afghanistan civilian "surge"

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now we're talkin'...
A civilian "surge" of hundreds of additional U.S. officials in Afghanistan would accompany the already approved increase in U.S. troop levels there under a new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy being completed at the White House, according to administration officials.

[...]

Some of the proposed new civilian force in Afghanistan -- diplomats, specialists from federal departments such as Agriculture and Justice, and hundreds of new "full-time, temporary" hires -- would work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, officials said. Others would be assigned to U.S. provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, located primarily in eastern Afghanistan, and to other efforts to build Afghan civilian capacity around the country. Patterned on a program first established in Iraq, the PRTs assist and advise Afghans in economic and local governance development.

i do have some reservations and they're not minor... i've never had a particularly favorable impression of state department or other federal department types (including usaid), or their lackeys... most of them are bureaucratic functionaries intent on covering their own asses and maintaining their cushy incomes... however, given the choice between that kind of people and heavily armed troops, i'll opt for bureaucratic functionaries every time...

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keep on printin' them worthless dollars but at least A.I.G.'s Liddy is on the run

i wonder how many printing presses have burned out and had to be replaced at the mint...
The Federal Reserve yesterday escalated its massive campaign to stabilize the economy, saying it would flood the financial system with an additional $1.2 trillion.

The decision by the Fed to buy government bonds and mortgage-related securities is designed to lower borrowing costs for home mortgages and other types of loans, thereby stimulating economic activity. The central bank, effectively, will print more money to pay for the purchases.

Combined with the billions already deployed by the Fed, the new money dwarfs even the biggest government bailouts of financial companies.

Yesterday's announcement amounts to a recognition by Fed leaders that the economy has gotten much worse than they had forecast at their last policy-making meeting, in January. It also is their attempt to show market participants that, three months after cutting short-term interest rates to zero, they still have more tools to try to bolster the economy.

such frigging insanity...

at least aig's liddy was called on the carpet...

The chief executive of American International Group, trying to quell the wrath of the public and politicians over millions of dollars in bonuses, told Congress yesterday that he had just asked a few hundred employees of the beleaguered insurance company to give back at least half of the extra pay.

Edward M. Liddy, brought in last fall to lead the giant firm the government had just rescued from the brink of insolvency, arrived on Capitol Hill with an understanding of the outrage that has erupted over the bonuses -- but not complete acquiescence.

"We've heard the American people loudly and clearly these past few days," Liddy told an irate House subcommittee, saying that he found the bonuses "distasteful."

But he defended the rationale behind the payments, totaling $165 million to AIG's troubled Financial Products division, reiterating that they were intended to prevent the company from collapsing by deterring vital employees from leaving. He said that "some" of the Financial Products employees have returned their bonuses but did not specify how many. Asked by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to provide the names of those who have kept the money, Liddy balked, saying he feared for their safety in light of written threats, including one that said, "All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks."

he may be on the run but i don't hear much of an acceptance of the reality of just how badly he and his ilk in the financial services and banking industries have been systematically fleecing their fellow citizens...

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Colbert and O'Reilly are not only NOT in the same league, they're not even on the SAME PLANET

my daughter just sent this to me and it's well worth watching...
Steven Colbert goes on to The O'Reilly Factor and Utterly destroys him. Colbert never breaks character. O'Reilly's own crew were laughing at him.



i don't think i'd ever like to go mano-a-mano with colbert... colbert has this rare ability to sever your head from your shoulders in such a way that you don't even know it's been cut off until later when you shake your head and it falls off... o'reilly doesn't even know what hit him...

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Back in Kabul and coordinating across time zones

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well, i knew i was going be covering a lot of ground the first part of this year, but, honestly, i'm now getting a little disoriented... i left the u.s. for argentina just before new years, and, less than two weeks later, headed to jordan for a couple weeks of work... then it was back to argentina and, on the way back, i took advantage of a 9-hour layover in london to go into town with a colleague for a walk in battersea park followed by some delicious indian food...

i was back in argentina again for less than two weeks before heading to afghanistan... i spent the last two weeks of february here in kabul and then headed back to jordan for another two weeks... last evening, i flew from jordan to dubai and then back to kabul this morning... i've got six weeks more in afghanistan before heading back to argentina for the month of may and then back to the u.s. to teach a summer class... i knew it was going to be challenging for this old fart to keep jumping multiple time zones, but, so far, i'm still in one piece, physically at least... you'll have to solicit the opinions of my colleagues about my mental and emotional state... HA...!

it's not only the multiple time zones that cause head-scratching, it's also that we're in the season for going on or coming off of daylight savings time, depending on whether you're in the northern or southern hemisphere... that's complicated by the fact that most countries don't change on the same dates as the u.s. does, plus there are many countries that don't observe daylight savings time at all... (see link here for a complete breakdown of daylight savings time worldwide...)

the above can lead to the kind of interesting situation where, depending on the date and the countries, their time zones could be either three hours apart or one hour apart... an example is argentina and u.s. east coast time... when argentina is on daylight savings time and the u.s. eastern time zone isn't, they're three hours apart... when u.s. east coast time is on daylight savings time and argentina isn't, they're only one hour apart... when both are on standard time, they're two hours apart... and then, of course, there are some years argentina doesn't observe daylight savings time AT ALL...! if you're not confused yet, just try coordinating a conference call with afghanistan, london, argentina, and washington d.c... fortunately, there's meeting planning aids that can help (see here...)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

C'mon, Porteños... Clean up yer goddam act....

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porteños - as buenos aires residents are known - are passionate about their fútbol AND their hooliganism, but shooting little old ladies and middle-aged men, both innocent bystanders, is outrageous... it's only a F%*!@&^G GAME...!
An 85-year-old woman and 55-year-old man were shot when Boca Junior fans fought among themselves before their team's match against Argentinos Juniors Sunday, an emergency services official said.

The woman, who had nothing to do with the supporters, was hit in the leg while the man suffered a serious head injury after he was also shot, Alberto Cresenti told the TN cable news channel.

The latest bout of Argentine football violence broke out near Boca's Bombonera stadium, situated in a working-class district just south of the center, around four hours before kick off.

Media reports said rival factions of the Boca supporters group known as The 12 clashed in an area of fast food restaurants known as Parque Lezama.

During the fighting, at least one man opened fire and four or five shots were heard, local media said. More than 100 people were reported to be involved in the fighting. Six were arrested.

It was the second successive week that rival factions of The 12 have fought before a game. Last week, dozens were arrested during a pitched battle before the game away to Independiente.

i love the argentines, but this particular tendency needs to be stamped out...

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You have a "horrible, horrible, horrible feeling this is going to end badly...?" That's cuz it's been rotten to the core from the get-go...

aig has rapidly become a symbol of all that is wrong with both our financial system and our government, and it's now a litmus test for the obama administration... if this brand-new president, his treasury secretary, and his advisors want to retain a shred of credibility for their "change" agenda, they've got to find a way to deal with this effectively and show the american people that they aren't just funding a give-away to the already super-rich, cuz that's for goddam sure what it looks like...
Attorneys working for the Fed had been examining the matter for months and determined that the retention payments couldn't be touched because AIG would face costly lawsuits and be subject to penalties from states and foreign governments. Administration officials said over the weekend that they agreed with that assessment.

check this...
A tidal wave of public outrage over bonus payments swamped American International Group yesterday. Hired guards stood watch outside the suburban Connecticut offices of AIG Financial Products, the division whose exotic derivatives brought the insurance giant to the brink of collapse last year. Inside, death threats and angry letters flooded e-mail inboxes. Irate callers lit up the phone lines. Senior managers submitted their resignations. Some employees didn't show up at all.

"It's a mob effect," one senior executive said. "It's putting people's lives in danger."

Politicians and the public spent yesterday demanding that AIG rescind payouts that they said rewarded recklessness and greed at a company being bailed out with $170 billion in taxpayer funds. But company officials contend that the uproar is scaring away the very employees who understand AIG Financial Products' complex trades and who are trying to dismantle the division before it further endangers the world's economy.

"It's going to blow up," said a senior Financial Products manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the company. "I have a horrible, horrible, horrible feeling that this is going to end badly."

do i smell a domestic military deployment in the air...? (see previous posts here, here, and here...)

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Michael Parenti on global financiers' view of the current U.S. economy: "We've destroyed the social democracy"

i've said all along that the goal of the super-rich elites was to completely gut any semblance of social contract, whether it be in the u.s. or anywhere else in the world, and, for the most part, they've done a damn good job...
In 1978, a number of these financiers came out and said, “This country is just heading for a social democracy, and we don’t want that.” I mean, they used the term “social democracy.” They’re aware of these things. A few months ago in The New Yorker, there was an article about how Republicans had a loss for issues, and one of them said, “Well, the reason we’re at a loss is because we’ve accomplished all we wanted to. We’ve destroyed the social democracy.” And that’s their goal.

And if you listen to them now, I mean, it’s fascinating and outrageous. They’re talking about doing nothing, just putting a cap on all spending, that the market is in a stage of correction. They use terms like “correction” or “adjustment.” They don’t mind recessions. Recessions are fine. It allows them to buy up smaller companies at bargain prices. It disciplines labor. It humiliates and beats back people. And this, I think, is what we’re facing. And I’m infuriated by the Republicans in the Congress and the way they’re going at this. The only passion they show is to protect the tax cuts for the super rich. That seems to be the only interest they have.

[...]

Well, I argue that one of the functions of a capitalist state is to defend capitalism from itself, to defend capitalism from the capitalists. It was Marx—dare we mention him? I hear he’s coming back in style. It was Marx who said one capitalist will kill many other capitalists, that the system begins to consume itself. We see that with Bernard Madoff and the like.

And it’s not merely because of a number of wicked personalities, because these personalities are brought to the fore. Those are the people who get the rewards. Those are the people who—yes, and what we need are drastic sets of regulations, and there hasn’t been enough talk. We just got a vague reference to it here, Geithner referencing and saying, well, it’s going to be a little bit of a different camp, a little more responsible, accountable maybe. But as far as actual regulations, we haven’t seen it.

The free market does not work. It’s not free. It’s not really a market; it’s a plunder. And it has to be done away with.

i completely agree...

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An excellent question from Think Progress

Why Are AIG’s Contracts Sacrosanct But Not Union Workers’ Contracts?

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Another left turn in Latin America, this time in El Salvador [UPDATE]

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Mauricio Funes,
El Salvador president-elect


there's only a very few right-wing or center-right countries left in latin america, most notably mexico and colombia... most others are heeding the call of their citizens and rejecting the slavish obeisance to unfettered capitalism and wholesale privatization...
A party of former left-wing guerrillas has taken power in El Salvador following presidential elections over the weekend.

The FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes is the latest in a string of leftist politicians to come to power in Latin America in recent years.

He narrowly beat Rodrigo Avila from the ruling conservative Arena party, according to election officials.

The FMLN fought a civil war against the Government of El Salvador from 1981 to 1992, when peace accords were signed.

It subsequently became a left-wing political party, but Mr Funes is a moderate politician and former journalist who was chosen as presidential candidate from outside the FMLN ranks.

good for el salvador...

[UPDATE]

more on funes...
A charismatic former TV journalist promised to build strong ties with President Barack Obama and promote investor confidence Monday as he took El Salvador into uncharted territory by being elected its first leftist president.

Behind Mauricio Funes is a party of former Marxist guerrillas that fought to overthrow U.S.-backed governments in the 1980s and whose rise to power has raised fears of a communist regime in the war-scarred Central American country.

Funes, who gave up journalism less than two years ago to become the presidential candidate of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, sought to quell those concerns after his historic victory Sunday.

"Nothing traumatizing is going to happen here," he said in an interview with local Megavision television. "We will not reverse any privatizations. We will not jeopardize private property. There is no reason at this moment for fear."

and here...
The apparent victory of leftist candidate Maurico Funes in Sunday's presidential election in El Salvador finally closes out the Cold War in Central America and raises some serious questions about the long term goals of U.S. foreign policy.

With Funes' election, history has come full cycle. Both El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua will now be governed by two former guerrilla fronts against which the Reagan administration spared no efforts in trying to defeat during the entire course of the 1980's. We will now coexist with those we once branded as the greatest of threats to our national security. Those we branded as "international terrorists" now democratically govern much of Central America.

Funes, once a commentator for CNN's Spanish-language service, comes to power representing the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a Marxist guerrilla group-turned-political -party, an organization that the U.S. government once described in terms now reserved for Al Qaeda and Hizbollah.

el salvador has had to deal with some very, very rough times over the years, not the least of which was the horrific slaughter wreaked by its involvement with operation condor and the school of the americas (see my previous posts here, here, and here...)

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Obama stirs from his stupor and slaps Geithner's hand

and about fucking time too...
President Obama vowed to try to stop the faltering insurance giant American International Group from paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives, as the administration scrambled to avert a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street that could complicate Mr. Obama’s economic recovery agenda.

“In the last six months, A.I.G. has received substantial sums from the U.S. Treasury,” Mr. Obama said. He added that he had asked Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner “to use that leverage and pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.”

"populist backlash" is putting it mildly... i think obama had a vision of people with torches, rakes, and hoes storming the white house... also, "trying to stop" ain't good enough... in 12-step language, "trying" is "lying"...

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

What ever happened to legal prohibitions on outright usury...? Maybe Bernie Sanders has the answer...

the definition of usury...
usu·ry
Pronunciation:
\ˈyü-zhə-rē, ˈyüzh-rē\

1archaic : interest
2: the lending of money with an interest charge for its use ; especially : the lending of money at exorbitant interest rates
3: an unconscionable or exorbitant rate or amount of interest ; specifically : interest in excess of a legal rate charged to a borrower for the use of money

usury from wikipedia...
[O]ne must always consider that usury, in historical context, has always been inextricably linked to economic abuses, mostly of the masses and of the poor ... . The main moral argument is that usury creates excessive profit and gain without "labor" which is deemed "work" in the Biblical context. Profits from usury are argued not to arise from any substantial labor or work but from mere avarice, greed, trickery and manipulation. In addition, usury is said to create a divide between people due to obsession with monetary gain. Most importantly, usury is the derivation of profit from biological time, which is linked to life, considered sacred, God-given and divine, leading to excessive worrying about money instead of God, thus subjugating a God-given sanctity of life to man-made artificial notions of material wealth.

and yet, we seem to tolerate it in the modern age... or maybe not...
Since the beginning of the year, millions of credit card customers have been hit with higher interest rates -- in many cases from lenders that have received billions of dollars in bailout cash from taxpayers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, responded last week with legislation that would impose a 15% cap on rates for all consumer loans, including plastic.

And you know what? It just might work.

That's because Sanders' bill would trump a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that allowed banks to set credit card rates at whatever their home state allowed. Banks, in turn, high-tailed it to places like South Dakota and Delaware, which abandoned their usury laws to entice financial institutions into setting up shop.

"Every state would have to honor a federal rate cap of 15%," Sanders told me. "It would be a national usury law."

ever wonder why the average person receives up to a dozen solicitations for credit cards weekly...? it's just another manifestation of the greed fostered by our rapidly-collapsing, debt-based financial system...

are credit cards a necessity...? for me, i'd have to say, absolutely... with the travel i do and the lag time between the time i incur large expenses for hotel and airline travel and the time i get reimbursed, i would have to carry large - and potentially dangerous - amounts of cash, cash that i would constantly be running to currency exchanges to convert at THEIR usurious rates...

the only thing that keeps me away from the credit card companies shaking me down practically at gun-point to fork over their obscene interest rates, is that i pay off my entire credit card balance monthly, whether or NOT i've received the reimbursement... i simply can't afford to pay what they're charging and, besides, it's a matter of principle...

you go, senator...

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