Thursday, October 26, 2006

Retirement Plans

Mr. Rumsfeld imploded today. Resignation watch begins, look for an announcement sometime after the election. On his way out, just to be more condescending than Condescenda Rice herself, Rummy taunts a questioner when asked if and when he will decide to spare the lives of further soldiers in a pointless war:

"You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult. Honorable people are working on these things together."

He actually said that. “Relax.”

The Cunning Realist outlined, more than a year ago, fifteen points in which the Iraq war resembles the Vietnam war. Rumsfeld's recent exchange represents two of the fifteen:

# 7. Year after year, our political leaders cited "Vietnamization" as an open-ended goal. As the deaths started to mount, the American public was repeatedly assured that when South Vietnamese troops had been trained in sufficient numbers and were ready to fight on their own, our troops would come home.

#14. During Vietnam, our press became the enemy.

Relax, Mr. Rumsfeld. May I suggest a cozy little condo somewhere on the Carolina coast. Have fun with your time off. Too bad it hadn't come a six years ago.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Un-Quiet Desperation

I'm just a hack. I write goofy blog articles for no concrete reason, perhaps to show-off some intellectual acumen, to diarize my thoughts at the moment, to vent anger or joy, certainly not for remuneration. I know this is a fool's exercise. Today's post by Billmon is priceless and I will reproduce it in it's entirety, then sulk away in disgust for myself and my government. Here's Billmon:

Down the River

Riverbend posted today for the first time since early August. As she explains: "Every time I felt the urge to write about Iraq, about the situation, I'd be filled with a certain hopelessness that can't be put into words and that I suspect other Iraqis feel also."

There is no way I can even begin to comprehend what it must feel like to be an Iraqi right now -- much less an intelligent, educated, secular woman stuck in the middle of a slow-motion genocide. But I do know what a "certain hopelessness" feels like, or at least I think I do. It's what I feel every time I think about how we came to this point.

Riverbend's topic is the Lancet study on war deaths in Iraq, and she curtly eviscerates the conservative Holocaust deniers:

We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons -- with so many different ways to die, is the number so far fetched?

Nor does she have any kind words for any of the rest of us here in God Bless America, whether on the left or the right, who posture and bloviate while her country dies a slow, agonizing death:

They write about and discuss Iraq as I might write about the Ivory Coast or Cambodia -- with a detachment and lack of sentiment that, I suppose, is meant to be impartial. Hearing American politicians is even worse: They fall between idiots like Bush -- constantly and totally in denial, and opportunists who want to use the war and ensuing chaos to promote themselves.

That last one hits too close to home. A bulls eye, in fact. I've probably been as guilty as anyone of thinking of the war as some sort of strategy game, or a domestic political issue or a fascinating, if bloody, story -- a news junkie's next fix. When you're 8,000 miles and an existential light year away from the war, it's easy to distance yourself, intellectually and emotionally, from the stench of blood and the bloated corpses.

[Caption at left: An Iraqi girl screamed after her parents were killed when American soldiers fired on their car when it failed to stop, despite warning shots, in Tal Afar, Iraq. The military is investigating the incident.]

There's also a natural tendency, which I touched on yesterday, to make it all about us -- to consciously or unconsciously treat the Iraqis like extras (or worse, bloody mannequins) in a Mad Max remake produced and directed by Americans.

I'll also admit that I've become progressively less attentive -- not more -- as the death toll has climbed and we've been subjected to dispatches such as this:

The bloodletting there was touched off Friday by the kidnapping and beheading of 17 Shiite laborers working in date-palm groves in Duluiyah. Shiite leaders in the neighboring town said Saturday they asked militias of powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to come from Baghdad to strike back and take revenge. Shiite militias poured into the area, and Balad hospital workers said the bodies of 27 Sunnis had been brought to the hospital by Saturday night, all of them shot to death and bearing holes from electric drills and other signs of torture.

Everything I dreaded has come to pass -- for the Iraqis, if not for us.

The point deserves frequent repetition: We did this. We caused it. We're not just callous bystanders to genocide, as in Rwanda, but the active ingredient that made it possible. We turned Iraq into a happy hunting ground for Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army. If Iraq is now a failed state, it's because of our failures.

But one can fully accept America's moral and legal responsibility for unleashing this barbarism and still not have a clue as to what can or should be done to stop it. Would a U.S. military withdrawal reduce the bloodshed or worsen it? I don't know, and I think anyone who says they do know is either lying or as deluded as Bush. But my intuition tells me that either way, whether we stay or go, thousands more, maybe millions more, are going to die.

A certain hoplessness, you see.

For someone in my shoes, though, hopelessness can become an excuse for not thinking about unpleasant truths. But there was something about Riverbend's quiet despair that forced me to think hard about my own moral responsibility as an American for a genocide caused by America -- because of a war started in my name, paid for with my taxes.

I've opposed this war since it was just a malignant smirk on George Bush's face. I've spoken against it, written against it, marched against it, supported and contributed to politicians I generally despise because I thought (wrongly) that they might do something to stop it. It's why I took up blogging, why I started this blog.

But the question Riverbend has forced me to ask myself is: Did I do enough? And the only honest answer is no.

I opposed the invasion -- and the regime that launched it -- but I didn't do everything I could have done. Very few did. We may have put our words and our wallets on the line, but not our bodies. Not when it might have made a difference. In the end, we were all good little Germans.

My question to myself, in other words, is like Thoreau's famous question to Ralph Waldo Emerson when Emerson came to visit him in jail after he was arrested for not paying his poll tax as a protest against slavery:

Emerson: What are you doing in there, Henry?
Thoreau: No, Waldo, the question is: What are you doing out there?

It's easy to think up excuses now -- we were in the minority, the media was against us, the country was against us. We didn't know how bad it would be.

But we knew, or should have known, that what Bush was planning was an illegal act of aggression, based on a warmongering campaign of deception and ginned-up hysteria. And we knew, or should have known, what our moral and legal obligations were:

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

We were all complicit. I was complicit. Because I was afraid -- afraid to sacrifice my comfortable middle class lifestyle, afraid to lose my job and my house, afraid of the IRS, afraid to go to jail.

But not nearly as afraid, of course, as the thousands of Iraqis who have been tortured or murdered, or who, like Riverbend, are forced to live in bloody chaos, day after day. Which is why, reading her post today, I couldn't help but feel deeply, bitterly ashamed -- not just of my country, but of myself.

I just hope that in the next life I don't run into Henry David Thoreau.

--Billmon, October 19, 2006


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bears Win... But Ugly

File this one under “a W is a W and we'll take it.” The Bears win, but they are not ready yet. They may be aroused from their hibernation, but they still need a double espresso to clear the cobwebs. The Bears win 24-23 when Arizona kicker Neil Rackers missed a 40 yard field goal with 30 seconds left.

The hype for the past week has been all about comparisons of this year's Bears to the 1985 Super Bowl team. It was fun seeing clips of Samurai Mike's piercing gaze and Refrigerator Perry's touchdown run, but that 1985 team, with all it's mythology and legend, won because they were disciplined and fundamentally sound.

Tonight's display of lazy arm-tackles, turnovers and three-and-outs by the Bears was more indicative of an Abe Gibron 1970's Bears team than the 1985 Super Bowl Shufflers. Before the season I predicted the Bears would “be lucky to win 9 games” and, while I hope I'm wrong, I'll stand by it. Tonight, the Bears didn't have an offensive touchdown.

The combined winning percentage of the teams the Bears have beaten is less 0.300 and they damn near lost to the 0-4 Cardinals who started a rookie quarterback. Matt Leinart went 24 for 32 with 232 yards and 2 TD's. Which Super Bowl defense has ever gotten schooled by an opposing rookie quarterback?

The Bears looked bad. Edgerrin James ran through holes large enough to fit TO's ego. Maybe we forget how good that 1985 team was. I won't go over the stats, but a defense that stingy didn't get there by standing around with their hands on their hips. McMahon didn't throw into triple coverage.

Don't get me wrong. When it's twenty below and the wind is howling off the lake, I'll be in the East stands in my Bears parka with hand warmers and wool socks. I'll be hoarse on Monday morning just like every other Monday morning.

The Bears win, but only despite their poor play. Are these the re-incarnation of 1985? Hardly. We're 6-0, nothing to celebrate, let's take the gift and move on.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chris Matthews: Useful Idiot

Tonight's Hardball show takes the pile. Matthews has “Jimmy” Baker and Lee Hamilton on to talk about the Iraq Study Group, the administration's latest machination to save face in the midst of a hellish, murderous, unwinnable war.

Matthews asked Baker what he thought of the National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the the Iraq war had become a recruiting and training tool for al Qaeda, that the war has caused more terrorism that it will ever prevent. A reasonable question.

MATTHEWS: OK. What do you make of the National Intelligence Estimate that we are creating more terrorists over there than we‘re killing?

BAKER: Well, I don‘t know because I haven‘t seen it, and I‘m not privy to the intelligence. We have access to what we want, provided it‘s not too far up the food chain in terms of classification. I haven‘t seen that NIE, and so I really can‘t comment on it.

Baker's horseshit answer was the same that Cheney, Rice, Snow and almost every administration official has used: I didn't read it. Baker, the head of the Iraq Study Group, didn't read the NIE on Iraq? “I didn't read it.” What the fuck has he been doing the last 6 months. The NIE was reported in the Washington Post, Google News, Yahoo News, Captain Kangaroo News and every other news source this side of Kazakhstan. Even some middling gynecologist in Kalamazoo has read the conclusions to the report.... but good ol' boy “Jimmy” Baker hasn't read it? Bull- fucking- shit! “I didn't read it.” Liar.

The worst of it is that Matthews grunted affirmation and went on to the next question. That is journalistic malpractice, plain and simple. How in God's name can you allow this sumbitch to play you like that? Chris, why do you even bother to have a show, to get up in the morning, to write down all those clever little questions in your spiral notebook? What's the point? Really? You're not that cute, so cut the crap.

Matthews, you are a tool of the highest degree. I would expect such conversational fellatio by Chris Wallace, Shep Smith, Steve Doocey or even Geraldo. The fact is that the situation has been deteriorating in Iraq ever since April 2003 and the administration has gone through all the stages addiction: ignore the problem, deny the problem and now bargaining. “We'll do something about it as soon as the election is over.”

Chris, I'll be blunt: our soldiers are being killed. You and the rest of the media enablers have been complicit in this debacle from day fucking one. Hundreds of thousands of Iraq civilians have been killed, maimed, orphaned and widowed. You, my friend, should know better. When you have one of these vultures, these bloodsuckers who profit from war and pretend to be concerned, on your show you have to verbally wring their necks. You must hold them accountable.

At some point these administration criminals will be called to account for their deceit and their ignorance, and history will look back to see who stood up to them when a difference could be made. Where were you, Mr. Matthews? Sipping champagne and sampling tea biscuits with “Jimmy”? Shameful.

You are not a journalist, you are a sell-out and an embarassment.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Copyright Infringement Review

Google is buying You Tube, so in the interest of joining the video revolution, the Post will support the American way and pilfer some intellectual property. The top five videos on You Tube (with one from Photobucket):

#5 Republicans lose their minds over Foley scandal. This video is worth it for no other reason than Hannity's bold-faced lie about Monica Lewinsky's age (she was born in 1973):

#4 Keith Olbermann reviews the intelligence and news reports leading up to 9-11. I know it's old stuff and rather long at over 9 minutes, but it sure beats reading the entire Chapter 8 of the 9-11 report:

#3 What is the difference between the Iraq war and the Viet Nam war? Bush knew how to get out of the Viet Nam war. Watch how Rumsfeld lies better than Robert McNamara ever could. And Lara Logan in a red dress is must-see TV:

#2 A future president of the USA has one minute to give the real priority as shown to us by all the terrorist and war events of the past six years. Listen to what he says:

#1 The number one video is a cable TV classic. If you've seen it already, it never gets old. The Black Bush:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

They Knew (exhibit #237)

My guess is that every American will one day realize that something big was happening during the summer of 2001 and that a multitude of evidentiary exhibits show that the attacks on the World Trade Center could have been foiled.

For me, the "Aha" moment occurred the first time I read the 9/11 Commission Report and saw the veiled admissions that warnings were ignored in chapter 8, entitled "The System Is Blinking Red", and for others it may be the recent review of the July 2001 news story as unearthed by Blue Meme at dailykos.

Bob Woodward in his latest book State of Denial, relates the timeline that Condescenda Rice was told on July 10, 2001 that the FBI and CIA had increased the threat assessment for a terrorist attack on US assets. She asked that Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same presentation, which he was then given on July 17 according to official logs.

Blue Meme points out this news story from CBS from July 26, 2001 that Ashcroft had abruptly stoppped flying commercial airlines and instead chartered private jets, at a cost of $1600 per hour to taxpayers, immediately after that presentation:
In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.
Why? We were never told.

Bush's cabinet members were changing their normal travel behaviors in apparent direct response to the same information outlined only now in Woodward's book. Instead of warning the public and casting a wide net, Bush was preoccupied with pilfering the US Treasury of tax cuts for the upper class and spendng a full month clearing brush from his Texas faux ranch.


Brother, can you spare a dime...?

The last three months of the calendar year tend to give stock traders the yips. Perennially, money flows disfavor stock investment for a number of reasons and downard pressure on stock prices often ensues during this quarter. While my better judgement dictates that I refrain from comment on the stock market or money management, the recent hoopla over the Dow Jones Indusrial Average hitting a new high gives me pause. A few stats from Barry Ritholtz, market maven and famous contrarian:

All time high Date of high Recent high % off all time high
Dow 11,750.28 (1/31/00) 11647.69 0.25%
Tran 5,013.67 (5/31/06) 4433.34 11.57%
SPX 1,552.87 (3/31/00) 1333.7 14.11%
Nasdaq 5,132.52 (3/31/00) 2258.3 56.00%
NDX 100 4,816.35 (3/31/00) 1656.07 65.62%
Russell 784.62 5/31/2006 729.94 6.97%

The Dow has only 10 stocks above their January 2000 highs, and of those 10, four are responsible for dragging the index higher – Boeing, United Technology, Altria and Caterpillar...

• Cash has outperformed the Dow since January 2000; Even considering reinvested dividends; cash STILL out performs the Dow.

• The Dow's Real (inflation adjusted) performance, even with dividends reinvested, is significantly below breakeven.

• Lastly, see this for Why the 1994 Goldilocks scenario is so unlikely.

Aside from a handful of stocks, most major indices have not fared so well since the market highs of six years ago. Large cap tech is still off over 65% from that high. International indices, junk bond funds and plain old cash have outperformed the US market indices since 2000.

I'll leave the interpretation to each individual, but the possibility exists that the economy may not be as strong as some would have us believe. Pressures on the market, such as decreasing home equity values and continued underemployment can have significant effects on the economy. Soft landings in such scenarios are rare.

If you trade, remember to keep disciplined stop-losses. If you are a long term investor, prepare for some short term volatility. And remember, holding cash isn't always a bad thing.