Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Douthat Books His Cabin On Exxon's Ark

Right-wing apologist Ross Douthat brings himself to admit that global warming is real, but then makes the following argument on the OpEd page of the NYT:

But this doesn’t mean that we should mourn the death of cap-and-trade. It’s possible that the best thing to do about a warming earth — for now, at least — is relatively little. This is the view advanced by famous global-warming heretics like Bjorn Lomborg and Freeman Dyson; in recent online debates, it has been championed by Jim Manzi, the American right’s most persuasive critic of climate-change legislation.
Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.
This entire argument is grounded in nothing less than a virtually religious belief that technology can somehow solve all the problems that will result from climate change, and, in an even more frightening display of hubris, that we can somehow predict the limits of this change on the indescribably complex natural system that we all live in.

But the complete destruction of the environment in which we live does not lend itself to casual cost/benefit analysis. Would Douthat take this same stance if there was an massive asteroid hurtling towards the planet with a one in a thousand chance of extinguishing all life? There are some things you just don't take chances with, and I would guess that the odds of climate change moving into a positive feedback loop and threatening life on earth is considerably higher than one in a thousand.
But it’s also grounded in skepticism that such a regime is possible. Any attempt to legislate our way to a cooler earth, the argument goes, will inevitably resemble the package of cap-and-trade emission restrictions that passed the House last year: a Rube Goldberg contraption whose buy-offs and giveaways swamped its original purpose.
Well, yes. Cap and trade was a joke; a huge corporate giveaway that probably would have done nothing to mitigate climate change, but would have enriched Goldman and the entire energy industry at the expense of taxpayers. It's climate change's version of Obama's health care "reform".

But what Douthat conveniently leaves out is the fact that better legislation could never have passed because the people he represents (the Democrats and Republicans in Congress that are owned by the corporate sector) would never have let it happen. It is not inevitable that climate legislation would be bad; it just turned out that way because Douthat and the rest of the ruling elite wouldn't have it any other way.

I'd really like to see Douthat publish a list of his past columns arguing for effective and fair legislation. Where are his calls for a carbon tax, for example? This is a free-market, fair and effective way of getting people to use less carbon for forcing them to pay for the harm its use causes. But of course "conservatives" like Douthat oppose all forms of taxes as evil, and would be taken aback at any plan that would result in people using less oil, for example, because it would mean smaller profits for the oil companies that are part of our ruling elite.

But of course, if the planet becomes unlivable for most, there'll be room for Douthat on Exxon's ark.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Journalism Class

The Huffington Post has an interesting interview with Michael Hastings, who wrote the Rolling Stone story on Stanley McChrystal, which ultimately led to his firing. At the end comes this interesting exchange:
(HuffPo) In the hypercompetitive media world, some of the reaction to your story has been a little negative, that you have "hostile views" and that you're anti-war. Some have wondered how you could jeopardize your future access to sources. How do you respond to that?
(Hastings) Look, I went into journalism to do journalism, not advertising. My views are critical but that shouldn't be mistaken for hostile - I'm just not a stenographer. There is a body of work that shows how I view these issues but that was hard-earned through experience, not something I learned going to a cocktail party on fucking K Street. That's what reporters are supposed to do, report the story.
That is a great quote.

And this is ultimately why Michael Hastings is a journalist, and people like CNN's Ed Henry are not. Hastings cares about getting at the truth, and that's it. Ed Henry and the like care only for being invited back to posh sprinkler parties, and will never do, say or write anything that might jeopardize their access.

It's worth noting that Rolling Stone has featured some really good pieces of journalism of late, with Matt Taibbi's scathing Wall Street exposes and now Hastings piece. You can also find some pretty good journalism from Jon Stewart over at the Daily Show, who often posts extended online interviews that are more illuminating and honest than anything you'll ever find at Fox or CNN.

Do I wish that the mainstream media would do their jobs for once? Of course. But since they aren't, let's stop watching and reading them. Let's support actual journalists.

Here's to Michael Hastings!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill!

There is a widely circulated new analysis of the Gulf spill that was posted on The Oil Drum recently, which claims that the true extent of the catastrophe is much greater than either BP and the government are, even now, letting on.

The post lays out a fairly convincing argument that the problems within the well go far beyond what we can see on the deep sea video-in other words, that the oil spewing from the wellhead is not the whole story.

The poster, who identifies himself as an expert in domestic energy business, claims that everything that we know about the leak points to a catastrophic sub-seafloor failure of the well pipe, and that it is now leaking at around 1000 feet below the seafloor. This leak will grow worse and worse, until it results in an unrestricted flow of oil from the reservoir below. And to make matters worse, if the relief well that is currently being drilled doesn’t reach the well pipe before it disintegrates, it will be useless and we will be out of options to stop it. And at this point, we could be looking at releases of 150,000 barrels per day.

At this point, the entire capacity of the underlying Macondo prospect will flow unrestricted into the Gulf of Mexico.

Does this sound scary? It should. The Macondo reserve holds an estimated 50 million barrels of crude oil. This is 2.1 billion gallons of crude. To put that in perspective, this is 200 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. It is an unimaginable figure, and would cause an environmental disaster of unimaginable proportions.

The post claims that it is probably too late to prevent this from happening. I don’t know if that is true or not. I hope it’s not. But so far, everything that BP and the government has told us has been either a lie, or frighteningly wrong. There is absolutely no reason to believe anything they say regarding what’s actually happening down there. And so we have to assume that there is a good chance that the doomsday scenario will happen-that the entire 50 million barrel reserve is going to end up in the Gulf and eventually spread to all four corners of the earth.

What is BP doing about this possibility? Nothing. The spill response plan that BP was required by law to have ready at all times was useless, a generalized plan written by a contractor that had references to saving walruses and proved to be completely inadequate for the current spill, and will be even more so if this entire well does, in fact, fail.

We are told that they are drilling a relief well, and have been told that this is guaranteed to work. But now, unsurprisingly, we are learning that there is a good chance that it will not work, even if the well does not fail. What then?

I think that there is one other thing that we could do which would mitigate the disaster. It would be expensive, and that’s probably why I haven’t heard BP make a peep about it. In fact, I haven’t heard this suggestion anywhere, but I’m going to make it anyways: It’s time to start drilling multiple wells into this reserve. By this I don’t mean a relief well, because these won’t work in case of complete failure. I mean separate wells.

If this gusher cannot be stopped, we can either get the oil out in a relatively safe manner, or it can get itself out. Every barrel that we can get out through a well is a barrel that won’t be escaping into the sea. We don’t need one well, or two, but as many as we can possibly drill, in as short a time as possible. And we should start drilling them now, because they will take a long time to complete.

BP, of course, doesn’t want to contemplate this. Deep sea wells are extremely expensive to drill. Multiple wells make no economic sense in normal times, because there is a fixed amount of oil in a reserve, and there is no hurry in getting it out.

But these are not normal times. Every single day tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of barrels of poison are escaping from that reserve. We are in a huge fucking hurry.

Will this be expensive? Of course. We may drill these wells almost to completion only to find that the original well has not deteriorated further, and we may decide at that point that we only risk making the problem worse by tapping the reserve with the same well technology that just recently failed so spectacularly.

But if this well fails completely, then we are going to need these wells. It won’t matter if they fail, anyway. And it will be far to late to drill them at that point.

BP will scream bloody murder, of course. But if they refuse, the United States government should nationalize them, and make them drill. There is plenty of precedent for doing this in the face of threats to the national security, and there can be no doubt that this is exactly such a threat.

Empty promises from BP to pay for the cleanup instead are unacceptable. There is a great likelihood that BP doesn’t have enough money to pay for the damage already done, and that’s assuming that you can even put a price on what’s happened. And I don’t believe that you can.

It’s past time for us to assume the worst. We can no longer trust BP when they say they have a plan, or when the government says it’s on top of things.We can no longer allow BP to base its response to this disaster on its own financial interests. It’s time to act.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Terrible True Cost Of Oil (That BP Doesn't Want You To See)

Notes from the BP hearing:

"(BP President Lamar) McKay, did, however, issue a plea for forbearance from Congressional and executive branch officials, saying: “America’s economy, security and standard of living today significantly depend upon domestic oil and gas production. Reducing our energy production, absent a concurrent reduction in consumption, would shift additional jobs and dollars offshore and place millions of additional barrels per day into tanker ships that must traverse the world’s oceans.”

As detestable as BP is, McKay is right about this. We absolutely must reduce our consumption of oil. And the reasons for this go far beyond those which McKay listed. Our out-of-control use of oil is the reason we are currently engaged in two wars, which are killing hundreds of thousands and costing the United States trillions. It is the reason we suffer from air pollution that kills thousands each year, and sickens many more. It is one of the reasons we are facing global climate change.

And today, it is the reason that a huge part of the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico is dying, that thousands of fisherman and shrimpers have lost their livelihoods, and that millions more who rely on a clean ocean will pay a fearsome price.

But what McKay didn't say is that one of the main reasons Americans do not reduce their consumption is because he and the rest of his industry do everything in their power to keep Americans hooked on oil. And the way that they do that is by using Congress to hide the true costs of oil consumption.

When we buy gas at the pump, we pay only the cost of producing and delivering that gas, plus a little extra in taxes to maintain roads. The people who use gas don't directly pay the costs of trillion dollar wars, or pollution, or climate change, or of the devastation in the Gulf.

But those costs are real. The true cost of a gallon of gasoline is probably somewhere around $15. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. So who pays?

You do.

You pay in taxes to support imperialistic wars needed to secure large supplies of oil for our addicted population.

You pay every time you take a breath of polluted air.

You pay every time a landfill overflows with petroleum based plastics.

You pay every when production catastrophes result in a virtual destruction of large parts of our country.

And you pay for this even while the oil companies make hundreds of billions of dollars, while passing off the hidden costs to you.

We must reduce our use of oil. But we will never be able to do this as long as the oil industry pays off Congress to require us to pay the hidden costs of oil. These hidden costs make our alternatives to oil seem more expensive, even though they are not. And until we are able to see the true cost of our oil use, we will not kick the habit.

Maybe the silver lining in this disaster is that people will finally begin to see just how terrible is the price we pay.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Israel Doesn't Need Help, Plans To Investigate Itself

This should really get to the bottom of things:

JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed a commission that includes two international observers to investigate the bungled raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine dead last month.
The May 31 raid by Israeli naval commandoes triggered one of Israel's worst diplomatic crises in decades. The U.S. joined the United Nations Security Council in condemning the raid and called for a credible and transparent investigation.
The commission, announced late Sunday night by Mr. Netanyahu, is unlikely to satisfy some in the international community, however, including Turkey, which has called for an international investigation. All nine passengers killed during the raid were Turkish, including one who had dual U.S. citizenship.

The whole world, with the usual exception of Israel's chief defender and enabler, the United States, has demanded an international investigation of Israel's killing of nine aid activists in international waters. Israel has refused, saying that it will investigate itself, as though that could ever be done in a meaningful way. It has appointed a commission of Israelis, who will be joined by two international observers as a sop to those who demanded a fair inquiry.

Those observers? One is the British Lord David Trimble, who was last noted for founding the "Friends of Israel" initiative, only last month. The other is Canadian General Ken Watkin, of which little seems to be known. It should be sufficient to point out that all of the members of the commission were hand-picked by the Israeli government-the same government which has confiscated all audio and video recordings of the event that it could find, and whose main goal is to ensure that the only story ever told is the one they are telling.

So far, it's working.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Joke That The Afghan War Has Become

The NYT today highlights the confusion around the private Afghan security companies that are hired by the private trucking firms that the United States pay to transport supplies to combat troops.

The story documents what has become painfully obvious. We have no real idea who we are fighting. We claim to be committed to destroying the Taliban, because they are evil and anti-democratic. So instead, we pay money to other groups who on paper oppose the Taliban, even though they are just as violent and repressive. And that's ok, because they aren't called "Taliban", which Americans have been trained to see as the most evil of all people on earth.

So on any given day, we hand out money with no accountability to armed groups who we have no control over, who may or may not be colluding with the Taliban, who are just as repressive as the Taliban, and who may in fact be integrated with, or indistinguishable from the Taliban. We really just have no fucking idea.

Why don't we just guard our own convoys? I was once in the Army back in a different life, and I was a truck driver in a supply company. Do those jobs not exist anymore?

They don't, and the reason is simple. The Obama administration finds it politically impossible to ask for enough troops to actually carry out the mission. So instead, they are literally outsourcing our war. And what's worse, they are outsourcing it to our enemies.

The insanity of this policy is hard to overstate. It is destroying our ability to accomplish the already pointless and impossible mission which we have ludicrously set for ourselves: building a democracy in a strange country whose population doesn't want it. So why do we do it?

There are two reasons, and they stand as an insult to the troops we have who are needlessly sacrificing their lives for a mission which our government is sabotaging daily for political reasons.

The first reason is that politically, our government refuses to tell the people the straight truth, which is that in order for us to waste our time more efficiently in Afghanistan, we need more troops. But Americans won't support more troops, and so our government tries to cover this up by essentially bribing our enemies to allow supplies to go through, so that we can continue to pretend to fight this war.

The second reason is that, while our military could re-supply itself at a far smaller cost, and without handing millions over to people who we call our enemies, we won't do that because these supply and security contracts are bribes in and of themselves. We're bribing American contractors, who lobby Congress daily in order to enrich themselves through our war. And we're bribing members of the Afghan government, who have connections with both the Taliban and warlords who are sympathetic to the government, at least at the moment. (The grim truth is that the loyalties of pretty much anyone with a weapon in Afghanistan lie with whomever can help them out at the moment.)

But don't worry. We have a well-defined goal and a clear path to its accomplishment.

The goal is to destroy our empire in the wilds of Afghanistan. And the path is the one that we are on today.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


In case you were wondering who is making US foreign policy decisions about issues which affect us deeply:
At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was cobbling together a proposal for an international panel to investigate the deadly raid.
The panel would include representatives from Turkey and Israel, or at least one member each to represent their interests, and two or three others selected from a list assembled by Mr. Ban, diplomats said.
Mr. Ban plans to pitch the plan to Israel and Turkey over the weekend, the diplomats said, and the United States has said it will sign off on it once Israel accepts it.
Here's a hint: it's not the United States.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Israel Ambassador Defend Poor, Helpless Israel

The New York Times has a shameful editorial contribution about the recent Israel assault on the humanitarian aid flotilla that was attempting to deliver aid to Gaza. It's written by none other than Michael Oren, who is the Israeli ambassador to the United States. It says a lot about the current state of media affairs  when the reaction of the "liberal" New York Times is to give a national platform to the Israeli ambassador to spew his propaganda, as though Israel has trouble getting heard in the United States.

Needless to say, there is nothing from anyone representing the Palestinians side, or the side of the outraged international community in general.

PEACE activists are people who demonstrate nonviolently for peaceful co-existence and human rights. The mob that assaulted Israeli special forces on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday was not motivated by peace. On the contrary, the religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis — both by their own hands as well as by aiding Hamas — and to destroy any hope of peace.
There is so much that is wrong with paragraph that I hardly know where to begin.

First, he calls them a mob, but the rest of the world knows that the group included European legislators, peace activists, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. These people were not armed, and the idea that they were some some of angry mob bent on invading Israel in ludicrous.

Second, the notion that these people assaulted the Israeli commandos is would be laughable if it were not so outrageous and disgusting. These people were unarmed, were in international waters, and were assaulted by Israeli storm troopers rappelling out of helicopters in the middle of the night. Numerous reports have been made that the Israeli's fired their weapons from the helicopters before they even reached the ship. The most obvious explanation is that the peace activists were defending themselves. And it simply boggles the mind that any sane person could believe that a bunch of unarmed activists could pose any resembling a threat to the Israeli Defense Force, which is one of the most ruthless, well-armed, and unstoppable military forces on the planet, much less could be assaulting them from the deck of a small boat.

What does he think happened here? Does he think that those Israeli special forces guys were just innocently hanging from helicopters in the Mediterranean when a boat full of politicians and peace activists swooped in with ferry boat and attacked them with sticks? Because that's what he's saying.
Millions have already seen the Al Jazeera broadcast showing these “activists” chanting “Khaibar! Khaibar!”— a reference to a Muslim massacre of Jews in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. YouTube viewers saw Israeli troops, armed with crowd-dispersing paintball guns and side arms for emergency protection, being beaten and hurled over the railings of the ship by attackers wielding iron bars.
I haven't seen this video, but it's not surprising that people who were being assaulted and murdered would say things like that. And there is frankly nothing that can believed about any of the videos that the Israelis have released, because they are out of context and because the Israelis have seized all journalistic evidence, and are controlling the flow of information completely.
What the videos don’t show, however, are several curious aspects Israeli authorities are now investigating. First, about 100 of those detained from the boats were carrying immense sums in their pockets — nearly a million euros in total. Second, Israel discovered spent bullet cartridges on the Mavi Marmara that are of a caliber not used by the Israeli commandos, some of whom suffered gunshot wounds. Also found on the boat were propaganda clips showing passengers “injured” by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.
First of all, when did it become a crime or even suspicious behavior to carry money? And is this really that much money? That averages out to 10,000 euros apiece. If I was going to a place like Gaza, I'd probably want to have some cash with me, too. Is that supposed to be some sort of justification for murdering a bunch of aid workers in cold blood?

As far as spent bullet casings and video clips go, well, does anyone with any knowledge of how Israel operates doubt for a second that could easily be a plant? And Israel, of course, is insisting that all of this "evidence" and, indeed, the whole massacre, be investigate by none other than Israel.
The investigations of all this evidence will be transparent, in accordance with Israel’s security needs.
Note that he does not say that the investigation will be transparent, but that it will be transparent as long as the transparency serves Israel's interests.
There is little doubt as to the real purpose of the Mavi Marmara’s voyage — not to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, but to create a provocation that would put international pressure on Israel to drop the Gaza embargo, and thus allow the flow of seaborne military supplies to Hamas.
So the real intent of this mission was to spotlight the cruelty and inhumanity and criminality of Israel's denial of vital food and medicine to Gazans, and we're supposed to think that there is something wrong with this? Of course, Israel is not only trying to starve Gaza, but it's also trying to deny them weapons. This is what any genocidal government would do to a population that it has been brutally occupying for decades. I'm sure the Nazi's tried to keep guns out of the Warsaw Ghetto, too. It doesn't make it right.
Just as Hamas gunmen hide behind civilians in Gaza, so, too, do their sponsors cower behind shipments of seemingly innocent aid.
What is only "seemingly innocent" about a boatload of medical supplies? Did the Israelis find a weapons cache and forget to tell the world?
This is why the organizers of the flotilla repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to transfer its cargo to Gaza once it was inspected for military contraband. They also rebuffed an Israeli request to earmark some aid packages for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas for four years.
Or maybe it's because Israel has repeatedly refused to allow these exact same kinds of supplies to get through, and has even publicly claimed it plans to put the Palestinians people in Gaza "on a diet". And so what if they refused to bring an aid package to Shalit? It's a group of international aid workers and politicians. If Israel wants to deliver aid to Shalit, they can drop it off themselves. They're in Gaza shooting people every day anyway.
In the recent past, Israeli forces have diverted nine such flotillas, all without incident, and peacefully boarded five of the ships in this week’s convoy. Their cargoes, after proper inspection, were delivered to non-Hamas institutions in Gaza. Only the Marmara, a vessel too large to be neutralized by technical means such as fouling the propeller, violently resisted.
Wait, I though they were assaulting the Israelis? Now they're only resisting these heavily armed commandos? With sticks?
It is no coincidence that the ship was dispatched by Insani Yardim Vakfi (also called the I.H.H.), a supposed charity that Israeli and other intelligence services have linked to Islamic extremists.
You'll have to excuse me for not believing the Israeli intelligence service. So who are these "other intelligence services"? Is he trying to say that Al Qaeda is mixed up in this? Because Oren knows damn well this isn't true, and is just trying to spread rumors that he knows will get America's thoroughly-terrorized wing nuts foaming at the mouth.
The real intent of breaking the embargo is to allow rockets to be transported to Gaza from Hamas’s suppliers in Syria and Iran. Israel has already intercepted several such ships laden with munitions. Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has fired more than 10,000 rockets and mortars at our civilian population. This week, two Hamas rockets exploded near Ashkelon, one of Israel’s largest cities.
I'm sure Hamas would love to have some more rockets, as ineffectual as they have been. A few dozen Israelis have ever been killed by these rockets, and that's over the entire history of Israel's brutal occupation of Gaza, a history which includes a recent war against the defenseless Palestinians in which 13 Israeli soldiers died, while 1300 Palestinians, many of them civilians and children perished and what was left of the Gazan infrastructure was left in rubble- the ruins of which the Israelis are condemning the Palestinian people to live in while denying them food, medicine, clean water, and any hope of rebuilding.

But apparently, we should all be outraged that the Palestinians would want to get a few homemade rockets to fight back against the world-class military that the United States has so graciously provided for Israel. And this outrage is somehow supposed to obscure the fact that there were no rockets on these ships, as the whole world already knew.

Israel has a right and a duty to defend itself from Hamas and its backers.
But not by committing genocide against the Palestinian people.
Our struggle is not with the people of Gaza but only with the radical regime that overthrew the legitimate Palestinian Authority and has pledged to seek Israel’s destruction.
No matter how many times Israel says this, it doesn't change the fact that it is the civilian population of Gaza that pays the price.
Each day, Israel facilitates the passage into Gaza of more than 100 truckloads of food and medicine — there is no shortage of either.
100 truckloads-for a population of 1.5 million, and in a territory that has been reduced to rubble and desperately needs to rebuild. The notion that there is no shortage of food in Gaza is laughable; report after report from independent agencies have shown that there is a massive ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
We, too, want a free Gaza — a Gaza liberated from brutal Hamas rule — as well as an Israel freed from terrorist threats.
Hamas was put in power because they got the electricity working. The Palestinians don't seem to think they're brutal, and it would be hard to imagine anything as brutal as the Israeli army's treatment of Gaza. It's preposterous for Israel to claim that they are concerned about the freedom of Gaza.

As far as Israel being free from terrorist threats, the next time they complain about rocket attacks or suicide bombers, we should all remember that they have overwhelming regional military superiority, they have nuclear weapons, the have the world's only superpower backing them regardless of what they do, and that they have been brutally occupying Gaza for decades. They have denied the Palestinians any method of self-determination, and have denied them a conventional military with which to defend themselves.

How can they complain that it's somehow "unfair" when the Palestinians fight back with stick, stones, rockets and suicide bombs?

What other options have they been left with?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Did you hear the story about the guy who was suspected of murder? It seems that the police department let him conduct an investigation of himself.

Didn't hear that story? I didn't either. But the United States is insisting that Israel be allowed to investigate itself in a case in which it is suspected of murdering 9 peace activists in an incident that has sparked widespread international condemnation from all corners of the globe-with the exception, of course, of the United States.

I mean seriously, how fucking stupid does America think the rest of the world is? Because they either think that, or they just don't give a damn anymore.

What I don't understand is why they would even bother with an investigation. The US should just speak up and say what everyone else already knows: As far as America is concerned, Israel can do whatever the hell they want.

Why bother covering it up with a report no one will believe anyway?

The Shameful Silence Of The United States

I thought that this week's commando assault on an international group of unarmed peace protesters and aid workers in international waters, which was perpetrated by the terrorist state of Israel, might finally elicit some criticism from the Obama administration.

I was wrong.

The president and high ranking members of his administration have made it very clear in the past that there is noting, literally nothing, that Israel could do that the United States would condemn. The billions of dollars worth of weapons and aid which the United States sends to Israel each year will not stop, nor will the United States' ever stop enabling Israel commit war crimes with impunity.

What is the end result of our policy of aiding and abetting a country that has done more to harm the security of the United States than any other nation on earth besides our own?

First, we can expect more terror attacks. Our shameful support for Israel as it commits a slow form of genocide against the Palestinian people probably does more to radicalize Islam than any other policy, and there are plenty of shameful American policies to choose from.The whole world knows what Israel has done, as it commits war crime after war crime, and the whole world knows that the only reason Israel is able to continue doing these things is because the United States has told the rest of the world that it will not allow anyone to do anything to stop Israel.

We have seen case after case of terror attempts by radicalized Muslims, some successful, some not, who are motivated by a deep hatred of the United States, because they correctly see us as the sole reason that Israel can keep an entire people living in a virtual concentration camp, even as the rest of the world cries out for justice.

Our leaders and the media, of course, willfully ignore what motivates these terrorists, as though the reasons for these attacks are unimportant. And the American people, by and large, accept this, as though the last thing we should worry about are the stated reasons for these continued and escalating attacks.

But no one in Washington really cares about doing anything about the threat of terrorism. The Obama administration, like the one before it, has realized that it is able to claim vast imperial powers for itself as long as the "War on Terror" continues, and so it has a vested interest in continuing the "war" forever, if possible.

The military/security/industrial complex is a profit making enterprise for whom terrorism and fear is a form of marketing. It's greatest fear is that peace will come.

And most members of Congress refuse to do anything positive, either because they have been bought off by the military/industrial complex, or because they are petrified of ignorant voters who can't stand to hear anything other than that the United States is the greatest nation that ever was, and that it can never, but never, do wrong.

And so nothing happens. What will be the response of the United States when Israel detonates a nuclear weapon inside Iran? It will have the choice of siding with Israel against the entire world, including a comprehensively radicalized Islamic population, or of siding with civilization against Israel. Is there any question which choice it will make?

Soon, the United States will indeed find itself and its client state of Israel isolated against the international community. In fact, this is arguably the case today, but the degree of isolation and its effects can become radically worse. In the short term, the result will be more and worse terror attacks, more civil rights taken away from American citizens as the country slips closer and closer to an armed police state, and a more rapid consolidation of power in the elite.

This sounds bad enough, but the long term is even worse. The US is a fading empire, and like all fading empires, the cost of incessant war will suffocate its economy. The US is already held hostage to foreign oil, and is being rapidly eclipsed by economies like China, which are light years ahead of us in the race to develop clean, efficient energy. The US no longer knows how to make things. The largest sector of its economy -by far- is a virtual house of cards, pretending to make money by shuffling paper around.

What happens in 10 or 20 years, when the rest of the world sees the United States crumbling? One thing is for sure-if we continue on the path we are on, we will have no friends, and our enemies will show us no mercy.

Monday, May 31, 2010

This Didn't Need To Happen

From the NYT:
SAN FRANCISCO — A 23-year-old man died and nearly a dozen other people were hospitalized on Sunday — some with life-threatening symptoms — after apparently ingesting a batch of tainted drugs at a weekend rave party just south of here, the authorities said.
Why would someone die from tainted drugs? Because these drugs are illegal, and when you make drugs illegal, only criminals make drugs. And criminals just aren't as careful about making safe drugs as they could be. They're more concerned with not going to jail.

So here is another name we can add to to the long list of victims of the Drug War. But it doesn't have to be this way. We aren't going to keep people from doing drugs. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars over 40 years, and people are still using them. Let's legalize them and regulate them and make them safe.

It's Time To Cut Israel Loose

Last night, Israel attacked a flotilla of ships in international waters who were trying to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, the same people whom Israel is slowly starving to death and who have been cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli blockade. A number of peace activists who resisted this act of aggression were killed, and many more wounded.  By all accounts, this appears to be a war crime, and yet, as in the past, any attempt to sanction or even criticize Israel through the United Nations will be blocked by the United States.

How much longer can the United States unconditionally support Israel? Its actions are universally condemned by the world community with the exception of the US, and it is only our continued military and financial aid which is allowing Israel to act in the manner it does.

The cost of this relationship to the United States can hardly be overstated. Our support for Israel at the expense of the Palestinians is widely acknowledged to be one of the prime reasons for the ongoing radicalization of the Islamic world, and has probably done more to ensure a steady supply of recruits to Islamic terror organizations than anything else we've done, even including our barbarous and criminal invasion and destruction of Iraq.

It is becoming abundantly clear to the citizens of the United States that Israel is a rogue country, and that we simply cannot justify our continued support of it, even as it continues to oppress the Palestinian people, murder them and steal their land. How much longer will it take for the Congress to reach the point where voters are so angry that they can no longer afford to allow the Israeli lobby to dictate the terms of US foreign policy towards Israel?

Israel has reached the point of no return with this attack. It has shown that has every intention of doing whatever it pleases, and that it could care less about the morality of its actions or the effects that they have on its allies.

Israel has been warned repeatedly by the United States and by the world, and it has ignored those warnings. It has exhausted the international goodwill that foolishly allowed it to appropriate land for a new nation in the wake of the Holocaust. It has become a terrorist state, and is guilty of crimes against humanity. It's time to cut it loose.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spreading Freedom, One Mutilated Corpse At A Time

The road to freedom and democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has hit something of a speed bump.

American commanders, in some sort of misguided attempt to ensure that only actual Taliban members (or perhaps people who have talked to or seen one, or maybe is a relative of or went to school with one) are eligible to be taught the wonders of American values which the US military often delivers by means of Hellfire missiles, are responding to reports that we've also been sharing these values with civilians. Apparently, the official US policy is that we only liberate people who have some connection to the Taliban, and spreading democracy to whole families who are just out for a drive by ripping them into little pieces of meat for the crows and vultures to eat is just not acceptable. For this, you will be written up. The horror!

This sure is some kind of noble war we've got going on over there, where operators of remote controlled drones called Predators sit in quiet rooms safely behind the US border and spread democracy and freedom by firing missiles through remote control at people who look suspicious. Sometimes, they just blow up whole families of innocent people with those freedom bombs, spreading the blasted little pieces of blood and guts and brains all over the shrubbery, and maybe leaving some limbless, frightened people alive who have to sit there covered with those little pieces of blood and guts and brains that until just moments before belonged to the laughing, smiling, innocent bodies of their families.

Now, I know the casual reader of this blog might be concerned that this reasonable suspicion requirement could prevent US forces from murdering a sufficient number of innocent Afghan citizens. The American elite class, particularly those Freedom-and-Democracy-loving Neo-Cons, love nothing better than a good bloodbath to demonstrate the superiority of the American system of freedom and justice and equality for all. And who better to turn into a sort of exploding fountain of body parts than innocent civilians? After all, aren't they the ones whose hearts and minds we are trying to win over?

But not to worry. As US General Stanley McChrystal recently bragged, "We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."

So you may rest assured that US forces are not being hamstrung too severely in their hunt for harmless civilians to render into paragons of democracy, much the way the spare parts of a steer are rendered into so much bone and meat meal to be used for pet food or glue.

And it seems to be working. We've been trying to get the Afghans interested in American democracy for quite some time, but with little apparent success. Oh, sure, we claimed to have found some, like 12 year old Mohammed Jawad, who the US claimed was so interested in the US that they had to lock him up for 7 years in a cage in Gitmo. But as it turns out, Jawad and most of those like him really weren't interested in the US at all; the US military was just making the whole thing up so that we Americans would think the Afghans cared.

Now, however, the new approach of liberating innocent Afghan souls by splattering the small, remaining fragments of their bones, teeth, hair and other more solid body parts against the walls of their family homes has begun to reap some rewards. Why, just last September an Afghan citizen in the United States showed so much interest in this American method of spreading democracy and freedom that he planned to go all the way to New York City to return the favor, intending to show how he himself had embraced the American method by painting the walls of a New York City subway car with his remains and those of a few dozen of his traveling companions.

Our leaders, of course, are far too modest to take credit for this rapid interest in the American way by Afghan citizens. In typical fashion, they humbly claim that Afghans still actually hate America, and that they hate us for our freedoms, and our clothes and our movies.

But we know better. We know that our great leaders have indeed brought about great change. We know that there are many Afghans who, in the past, were interested only in tending to their flocks or fields. But our leaders have shown them the awesome power of democracy and freedom by shredding small children into even smaller pieces of children, or incinerating grandfathers as they sit telling stories, or of filling the pregnant wives of influential and respected community members with a great multitude of fast moving lead projectiles.

The success of this method is readily apparent. There is a huge rise in the number of previously unenlightened sheep farmers with new-found interest in the United States, and who have recently not only embraced this method of sharing ideals, but have grown determined to share the technique with the rest of Western World.

Being new to this method of spreading liberty and freedom, the Afghans still have some things to learn. For example, their preferred method of delivering their message of freedom, blowing themselves up along with the intended recipient of the message, while certainly brave, is just not as artistic or relaxing as the American method of flying invisible Predator drones high overhead, and then silently delivering their blood-soaked version of Democracy from on high, like some sort of Freedom God. This has the added benefit of keeping the rest of the population in a constant state of heightened anticipation, wondering when their chance to experience liberty will come.

But the Afghans will learn. Our American leaders have made it clear that we will be teaching them these lessons for many years to come, and so it is inevitable that the Afghans will get better at this. Today, there are only failed attempts at spreading freedom in subways; tomorrow, we may have pitched gun battles in shopping malls, as Afghans find new and better ways to return the favor.

And let us not forget that we are showing the Pakistanis the American way as well. Our Predator drones are in full effect there as well, and the results appear to be just as promising. Not long ago, a Pakistani citizen who was inspired by the wonderful American gifts of disemboweled children and crispy, smoking, corpses (which inevitably accompany our wonderful family massacres) attempted to return the favor in New York City's Times Square. His generous act of freedom was not, of course, on par with the bloody contributions to justice that America so selflessly and frequently makes, but that will change with time.

And if there is one thing that both Pakistanis and Afghans have, it's time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Police State

Here's a sad example of the War On People Who Use Drugs:

It's hard to think that we live in anything other than a police state. Here is a man who is on flimsy evidence is suspected of being a drug dealer, but who in fact is actually nothing more than than a marijuana user who a police informant happened to have mentioned.

This man had never shown any signs of violence, and is at home sleeping with his family and their dog. And yet the police somehow find it necessary to show up in force-at least seven paramilitary members, in full battle gear including kevlar and machine guns. They knock once, and when there is no immediate answer from the sleeping family, smash through the front door and begin shooting. The family dog is killed, and a second injured by a stray bullet, but that could just as easily have been the young daughter or the parents who were injured or killed.

And for what? They found a small amount of pot and a pipe. This guy could not have been any more harmless, and yet they sent a bunch of amped cops, armed to the teeth, and obviously ready to shoot something or someone into this man's house in the middle of the night.

Please tell me how this is functionally any different from what East German Police or the KGB did. Sure, you can say those people shouldn't smoke pot, but I guess you could have told the East Germans not to get together and talk politics too.

I realize these cops will say they're just doing their jobs, but at some point you have to wonder why they don't resign out of shame. Perhaps they have none.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rand Paul Says He's Not A Racist. Ok, Well Here's A Way To Prove It

There's been plenty of talk about Rand Paul and his indecision about whether he supports the ban on private discrimination that was part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Let's back up to Tuesday night, shall we?

The younger Mr. Paul made clear on Tuesday that the celebration at the Bowling Green Country Club was a Tea Party party. He declared himself a proud member, credited the movement for his success and dismissed speculation that he would abandon its message to appeal to more moderate voters in the general election.
“People are already saying, now you need to weave and dodge,” he said. “Now you need to switch. Now you need to give up your conservative message. You need to become a moderate. You need to give up the Tea Party. You need to distance yourself.” The crowd yelled “No!”

Rand Paul followed that speech up by going on Rachel Maddow's show the next night and weaving and dodging, as he simply refused to give an answer when Maddow asked him whether he thought businesses should be able to refuse to serve blacks. Watch this embarrassing exchange:

Of course, Paul has been saying for quite some time that he thinks the government should not get involved, but all of sudden he is faced with the prospect of having to defend the reality of such a position in front of people who think it's abhorrent. By the next night he was proclaiming his support for a ban on this kind of discrimination.

So much for consistency and being above politics. I guess getting elected is more important.

But I want to follow up on Paul's argument a little more. I've been asking around on libertarian message boards, and, at least among these people, the answer to Maddow's question seems to be a resounding no. Libertarians, quite frankly, believe that Congress does not have the constitutional power to forbid discrimination in private business.

Let's take that argument at face value, for it seems to be the argument that Rand Paul is making. Paul keeps protesting that he is not a racist, but rather someone who just believes in following the Constitution. He talks about how discrimination is terrible, and how he wishes it would all go away, but throws his hands up in the air and says it can't be helped-the Constitution just doesn't allow Congress to interfere. 

Well, I have a suggestion for Mr. Paul. If he really believes that discrimination is terrible, and an affront to humanity, and that he would love to ban it but for the Constitution, then he should promise that his first act as a U.S. Senator will be to sponsor an amendment to the Constitution banning discrimination. This should take care of all of his concerns.

In fact, I think he has a duty. He has now claimed that he is not a racist, that he is opposed to discrimination, and that he supports the Civil Rights Act in its entirety although he thinks that it is unconstitutional. What choice left is there for an honorable man in this situation but to rectify the situation through a Constitutional amendment?

Needless to say, I won't hold my breath waiting for this to happen.

Stating The Obvious

This Dumb Quote Of The Day comes comes courtesy of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, on why 30-year senator, long-time member of the establishment elite and opportunistic Democratic convert Arlen Specter lost his bid for a sixth term to relative outsider Joe Sestak:

“In fairness to Arlen,” Mr. Rendell said, “if the economy was ok and there was no anti-incumbent wave, this wouldn’t have been a close election.”

Keeping in mind the fact that Arlen Specter is one of those responsible for the horrible economy, Rendell might as well have said:

"In fairness to my client, if he had not actually committed this crime he probably would have gotten off."

Yes, Mr. Rendell, had Senator Specter actually been a good senator, he may well have won this election.

Friday, May 21, 2010

We Need It; They Don't

Brian Doherty at Reason gets it half right:
What’s wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations?
Here's why in a nutshell. Big corporations don't need government in order to screw us. But we need government if we're going to keep them from doing it.

The BP disaster is the perfect example. Without government, BP would have gone right ahead and done exactly what it did.* With a shitty government, like the one we have, it made no difference.

The only thing that can help us is good government. Can we get it? I don't know, but I know that not having any government at all is not necessarily any better than having bad government.

*Actually, they would have done it long ago, and even more often.

This Should Tell You All You Need To Know

If you still think the "financial reform" that the Senate passed today is going to do anything to rein in the out of control banks that are holding the country hostage, this bit from the WSJ should clear up any confusion you might have:

Among the financial components posting big gains following the Senate's approval of the biggest overhaul of the financial system since the 1930s were J.P. Morgan Chase, up 4.6%, while Bank of America, up 4%, and Goldman Sachs, up 3.7%.

Given that JP's market capitalization is around $150 billion, this means that the news of the Senate passing this bill was worth around $7 billion to JP Morgan.

So much for reform.

Put Your Seat Belts On

At the end of Ron Lieber's write-up of the new financial reform bill comes this gem of a line, which pretty much sums up what Congress is doing:
Lest we forget, the whole point of this bill is to keep something like what went on in the latter half of the last decade from ever happening again. Perhaps the new cops on the beat will sound the alarms sooner when we inevitably go off the rails again in the years to come.
We're not going to actually stop any of this mess from happening again, of course. We're just going to sound the alarm a little earlier so people can brace themselves before the train goes off the tracks and over the cliff.
And that's about as good a summation of the "reform" that Congress is foisting on us as you'll find anywhere.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

BP's Priority Is Not Stopping The Leak

It's becoming pretty obvious that BP's top priority at the moment is not mitigating the damage from the gulf oil spill, but trying to find a way to keep from paying for what they've done.
The New York Times is reporting that the EPA has ordered BP to find a new chemical dispersant to use on the gulf oil leak.
Citing worries about a fragile coastal environment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday gave the giant energy company BP 24 hours to select a less toxic chemical than the one that it is now using to break up crude oil gushing from a ruined well in the Gulf of Mexico…
In seeking to break up the oil bubbling to the surface from the Deepwater Horizon well, BP has sprayed nearly 700,000 gallons of Corexit chemical dispersants on the surface of the gulf and directly onto the leaking well head, a mile underwater. It is by far the largest use of chemicals to break up an oil spill in United States waters to date.
That's a lot of dispersant. I realize that the United States government is only recently beginning to care about science again, but someone must have an idea of whether these dispersants make sense to use.
The purpose of the dispersants is to break up the crude oil into tiny droplets that will sink into the water rather than float, and thus be more easily diluted by ocean currents, so that oil slicks do not hurt marine life on the surface or affect sensitive shoreline ecosystems.
But all dispersants are types of detergents and at best are mildly toxic, so applying them requires a careful calculation about whether the dispersant-oil mixture will cause more or fewer problems than untreated crude oil would.
Now, you may have heard that BP is refusing to allow scientists to use accurate, modern equipment to measure the flow rate at the wellhead, and is teaming up with the government to try to make its original much lower estimate stick, an estimate that has been widely discredited by independent observers. From an earlier story
BP has repeatedly said that its highest priority is stopping the leak, not measuring it. “There’s just no way to measure it,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said in a recent briefing.
This is PR bullshit. How can you possibly begin to know how to stop the leak if you don't even know how big it is? There are a whole host of reasons to figure this out, foremost among them being that it's essential to solving the engineering problem. But there are two other reasons that are almost as important. The first is so that we can accurately assess the damage when it comes time to make BP pay for what it's done. The second is so that we can have a much better understanding of the risks involved in drilling these wells, risks that the industry repeatedly lied about.
Yet for decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well.
Richard Camilli and Andy Bowen, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who have routinely made such measurements, spoke extensively to BP last week, Mr. Bowen said. They were poised to fly to the gulf to conduct volume measurements.
But they were contacted late in the week and told not to come, at around the time BP decided to lower a large metal container to try to capture the leak. That maneuver failed. They have not been invited again.
Ok, so BP is using chemical dispersants that require "careful calculations" in order to determine whether or not their use causes more damage than doing nothing. And yet they refuse to allow independent scientists in to determine the actual rate of flow. 
Now, you may wonder why BP wouldn't want an accurate flow rate. After all, it's obviously something they'll need in order to mitigate this disaster, right?
The problem is that BP has no interest in mitigating this disaster. BP is interested in mitigating how much this disaster is going to cost BP, and that's it. 
From the first story:
Many experts in the field wonder why dispersants are being used at all so far out in the gulf, and why the federal agencies whose approval was required to apply the chemicals signed off on the plan.
Dispersants are conventionally applied to move oil off the surface of the ocean to protect marine life there and to prevent large amounts of surface oil from coming ashore. Yet the well that was left leaking by the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April is 50 miles from shore, which could be too far for the dispersants to play a helpful role in protecting coastal ecosystems, some experts said.
Why would BP spend millions on dispersants that will have no net benefit to the environment?
Here's your answer:
Recent research shows that rather than degrading the oil so that it disappears — a natural process that occurs over time — the dispersants move it to a different part of the ocean where, in theory, it causes less trouble. As in a shaken bottle of vegetable oil-based salad dressing, “what goes down, eventually comes up” somewhere, Dr. Fingas said.
Huge underwater plumes of dispersed oil have been spotted drifting in the gulf over the last week — a predictable consequence of dispersant use, according to experts including Dr. Fingas, because the oil droplets sink and are carried by underwater currents.
Frederic Hauge, head of the international environment group Bellona, said that the use of dispersants can make it harder to track a spill and to measure the effect of the oil and chemicals, because “you don’t know where it will pop up next.”
So BP is refusing to allow anyone to take the critical measurements of the flow rate from this well, because they know damn well that it a hell of a lot more than 5000 barrels a day. In fact, McClatchy reported today that a scientist testified to a House Energy subcommittee that his estimate of the flow rate was 95,000 barrels (4 millions gallons!) per day. And in order to make sure that no one can prove that this 5000 barrel number is wrong, they're using dangerous chemicals to disperse the oil across the world's seas so that no one will ever be able hold them liable for the true cost of the disaster.
Sure, all that dispersant will just make things worse, but who ever really believed that BP gave a damn about the environment anyway?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Freddie Mac Executive Lectures Underwater Homeowners About Morality. Really.

Is your mortgage underwater? Are you wondering if you should stop throwing money away in a hopeless cause? Is your mortgage putting you in dire financial straits? Well, don't worry-one of the jackasses who just destroyed our economy is here to lecture you about morality and social responsibility.

Here's a letter that Freddie Mac Executive Vice-President Don Bisenius recently posted on the Freddie Mac web site. It is an insulting and pathetic attempt to convince people with underwater mortgages to keep paying them, even when it's not in their best interests. I felt as though he was talking to me, so I figured I'd respond.

(Freddie Mac, of course, is the secondary mortgage buyer that was rescued by taxpayers after it essentially failed in 2008. It has already taken $52 billion, and the cash drain on taxpayers seems to have no end in sight.)

A Perspective on Strategic Defaults 
Don Bisenius
May 3, 2010 – As the mortgage industry works through a large volume of loan delinquencies, a new and growing concern has emerged: strategic defaults. In other words, borrowers who have the financial means to make monthly mortgage payments, but choose not to do so and, instead, purposely default on their loan.

Yes, this is a huge problem. Foreclosures, whether intentional or not, are often personally traumatic, and not only on affect the borrower, but society in general as they have the effect of lowering home prices for everyone around as well.

Now, Mr. Bisenius, since you are a longtime executive at Freddie Mac, which paid its executives millions to buy shitty mortgages from anyone that would sell them, you are among the people most responsible for this tragic wave of foreclosures which has crushed the housing market and destroyed the finances of millions of households. You must be planning to write about how bad this situation is, and how sorry you are for your role in it. No doubt this will be accompanied by a letter of resignation, and an offer to return your ill-gotten salary to the taxpayers for helping to preside over such an utter failure. Please continue.
Strategic defaults come from a variety of homebuyers: from real estate investors who sought to profit from rising house prices during the housing boom, to individual families who simply sought shelter. But these homebuyers have certain things in common: their properties reside in regions where house prices have declined considerably, and the amount still owed on the mortgage is far greater than the present value of the house.
Yes, it's terrible. Get on to the resignation, please.
Some in this situation believe they will be forever chained to a large debt owed when they sell the house. And so, even though they have the ability to keep paying the monthly bill, they have decided to walk away from the property without paying off the loan. An intentional foreclosure, if you will.
Makes perfect sense to me. I mean really, Don, did you raise a stink when your buddies at Morgan Stanley walked away from a $2.5 billion loan and handed the keys to its office buildings back to its lender, even though they could have kept paying? I didn't think so.
In essence, these borrowers are weighing the costs and benefits of a strategic default, and coming to a conclusion. 
And in many cases, that very obvious conclusion is that it would be insane to continue to pay their mortgages.
Now, the costs can be considerable. Once a mortgage goes into default, a borrower's credit rating is severely tarnished, making it more expensive, if not impossible, to qualify for any new form of credit. 
Of course, if they continue to pay said mortgage, they will be so broke that they will also find it impossible to qualify for any new form of credit.
In certain states, a borrower's personal assets can be subject to a deficiency judgment. 
Well, that's what Chapter 7 is for. And in most states, that's not the case anyway. And so what? Do you think people don't take this into consideration when they make a rational decision to walk away?
And anything that involves a credit review, such as obtaining auto insurance or getting a new job, can be complicated. These detriments can be in effect for several years. 
That sounds like a threat. 
The benefit: the borrower avoids paying for the lost equity in the house.
So let's recap your cost/benefit analysis, shall we, Don?

The costs of defaulting on your mortgage:

  1.  Your credit score will go down, which will make it harder for you to get new loans that you obviously can't afford in the first place, and which you won't get anyway because you're broke and no one is lending.
  2.  In certain states, you may have to file Chapter 7 in order to protect your other assets, which will also affect your credit score as already discussed.
  3.  Your credit score may affect your ability to get certain jobs- jobs that aren't available anymore anyway ever since institutions like Freddie Mac destroyed the economy.
  4.  It might be a hassle to get car insurance.

These costs are real, but they aren't catastrophic, and for many people will hardly affect them at all.

The benefits:

You could immediately get rid of tens of thousands of dollars of debt. This money could be used for sending your kids to college, or going back to school yourself, or buying groceries or health insurance. 

So is it worth it? I don't know, because every situation is different. What I do know is that you, Don Bisenius, have absolutely no fucking clue either. So sit down, and shut the hell up.

And you seem to realize that too, don't you, Don? Because that's not really your point. And it's also becoming pretty obvious that you have no intention of resigning or refunding your salary to taxpayers.

 I'm deeply disappointed.
Knowing the costs and factoring in the time horizon, some borrowers have made the calculation that it is better to purposely default on the mortgage. While I understand how that might well be a good decision for certain borrowers, that doesn't make it good social policy. 
What the fuck, Don? Did you seriously just start talking about good social policy? When did it become the responsibility of borrowers to worry about social policy? Borrowers have enough on their hands trying to keep your bankster buddies from raping them. Where in the hell do you get off talking about social responsibility? Where were you in the last 10 years-hell, the last 30 years- when the entire financial industry took a giant crap on social responsibility, and destroyed the American economy so that executives like yourself could get obscenely rich at the expense of average Americans, who have lost their jobs and seen their life savings go up in smoke as a result of the free-market bullshit spouted by people exactly like you?
That's because strategic defaults affect many other families and communities. And these costs – or as they are known in economic jargon, externalities – are not factored into the individual borrower's calculations.
Yeah, externalities. I don't suppose anyone on Wall Street factored in the externalities of destroying the financial system either, did they? Did they worry about the millions of jobs that would be lost? Did they worry about the trillions of taxpayer dollars that would get transferred from the poor and middle class to executives like yourself? Did anyone at Freddie Mac give two shits about the fact that the banks they dealt with were pushing fraudulent loans on people who didn't know any better or who couldn't afford them, and paying themselves billions in bonuses as fast as they could, knowing that taxpayers would bail them out when the shit inevitably hit the fan? 

You've  been at Freddie Mac since 1992, Don. What were you doing-napping? Maybe you should have woken the hell up and delivered this speech about social responsibility and externalities to your colleagues and golfing buddies at Goldman and Citigroup and the rest. Maybe you should give it right now to your boss, one Ed Haldeman, who will make $6 million this year presiding over a company that has attached itself to the American economy like a bloodsucking leech.
Let's start with the neighbors. When strategic defaults occur, homes go into foreclosure and sit vacant for some period of time. We know from experience that foreclosures and vacancies drive down the property values of everyone else in the neighborhood. Thus, strategic defaulters, in effect, deplete the personal wealth of their neighbors. Get a critical mass of strategic defaults, and broader communities and regions become affected. Indeed, Economy.com , the analytic firm, recently said that more strategic defaults could tip a fragile housing market back into one of further price declines. Even more families harmed.
Yeah, and that's all the fault of the borrower. The borrower who was told by everyone in the financial industry that prices would rise forever. The borrower who bought a home cautiously and conservatively, only to watch the banks and Freddie Mac team up to flood the market they live in with thousands of homes which were destined for foreclosure the minute the deal was done. 

Don, if you were the CEO of a company that intentionally spread a fatal and infectious disease among the population, you would blame the contagion on people who didn't just shoot themselves as soon as they found out they were infected in order to keep themselves from passing it on. And then lecture them in a letter not unlike this one.
But that's not all. Should strategic defaults become more common, mortgage guarantors and investors, including Freddie Mac, would need to factor this risk more prominently into their credit policies and prices. 
Now that is a threat.
The likely impact on future homebuyers: the cost of a mortgage will go up and credit terms will be less flexible. Thus, the impact of strategic defaulters on still more families might be more expensive mortgages and loans that are more difficult to obtain. The strategic defaulter does not usually consider these costs.
You think? 

You're telling us we have a moral responsibility to keep throwing our money away on a hopeless and disastrous loan so…other people can get these loans?
Do borrowers considering strategic defaults have other options? They do. For those who have not suffered any disruption in income and have a longer time horizon, simply continuing to pay the bills might be best.
Sure, it might be best for them. Or it might not.  And if it is, I'm sure they'll do it.
Over time, recovering house prices and declining mortgage balances likely will close some, if not all, of the equity gap. 
And you know this….how? Because you have some super power that lets you predict where housing prices will go? Why didn't you use that five years ago? It might have helped save the global economy.
The reality is that you have absolutely no idea where housing prices will be in one year, much less 20. But for a lot of people, everything will have to go just right to break even in 20 years. And if it doesn't, their kids won't be going to college, or they'll find themselves greeting people at Wal-Mart well past retirement age so they can buy groceries and Geritol. 

But don't worry about that; listen to Don Bisenius, an executive at a corporation that was so good at predicting the future, they've been taken over by the government and have already had to beg taxpayers for $52 billion, even before their recent $10.6 payoff.
According to the Federal Reserve, while the housing bust wiped out $8 trillion in home equity, $1 trillion came back in 2009. The point here: time might be your best ally.
Guess what? The $1 trillion that already came back was the stuff that shouldn't have been devalued. That other $7 trillion was the bubble; and it's gone and will take years to come back at historical housing appreciation rates. There is a reason people can't pay back all these loans. The homes just aren't worth that much.
Another alternative: if Freddie Mac owns the loan, a family might be able to refinance up to 125 percent of the current property value. In other words, if a family's home equity has been completely wiped out and the mortgage balance is as much as 25 percent more than the home is worth, we can help.
Well, if you're so worried about the social effect, then get out there and start modifying the principal on these loans. But Freddie Mac isn't doing that. They have great programs for the few people that can actually qualify for them. But the Making Home Affordable Program has been a colossal failure, because no one wants to do the only thing that will help, which is to reduce the principal. The banks won't do that because it would force them to start telling the truth about how much these mortgages are really worth, and that would put a damper on the bonus parties. How's that for social responsibility?
What about families who need to move? We can help here, too. Freddie Mac has an array of solutions that help certain borrowers avoid the cost and stigma of foreclosure, such as short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure. And we continue to work on additional solutions that address would-be strategic defaulters while minimizing the impact on neighbors.
"An array of solutions that help certain borrowers…" Just not the ones who really need the help.

"Avoid the…stigma of foreclosure." You want to help people avoid the stigma? Stop writing asinine letters accusing them of ruining society. Like this one.
In the end, borrowers considering a strategic default should recognize the damaging impact their actions can have on others. While a personal financial strategy might argue for a strategic default, entire communities and future homebuyers can be harmed as a result. And that is why our broader social and policy interests will be best served by discouraging strategic defaults.
So borrowers should sacrifice their own financial interests in order to make sure that you continue to get paid, while you and the people like yourself who are responsible for the mess collect billions of dollars of taxpayer funded bonuses and lecture struggling families about wasting money on college funds and groceries when they could be paying their mortgages.

Are there some borrowers who are at fault? Sure, but most people just didn't know any better. And how could they? They aren't financial experts like you are, Don. They're teachers and waitresses and mechanics and soldiers who didn't know any better than to listen when you and your friends in the business told them to buy now or they'd miss out on the chance to buy a home forever. And even the worst of the speculators and house flippers weren't doing anything worse than your banking buddies still are today. The only difference is that they lost their investment, while Freddie Mac got bailed out and you and your friends got to keep your jobs and fancy cars.


There are two important points that I want to make. 

First, there is no moral requirement to pay off a mortgage. It makes my blood boil when I hear bankers lecturing people about living up to their responsibility, especially when those same bankers wouldn't think twice about defaulting on commercial loans they no longer view as profitable. It is not a moral issue.

What do you think happens when you get a mortgage? Do you think the bank is relying on your good word that you will pay them back? If they are, then I guess you have a moral responsibility to pay keep paying. But that's not how it works. You don't promise to pay them back. You promise to either a) pay them back or else b) let them take the house. You have the option. If it makes more sense to pay it, then pay it. If it makes more sense to walk away, then walk away. That's it. 

The second point is that there is no such thing as a strategic default. It's just a default. No one ever makes every payment that they possibly could. Have you ever heard of a borrower who stopping eating and sold all of his possessions in order to make payments as long as he possibly could?

Of course not. People make payments until it no longer makes sense for them to make them anymore. For some people, that moment comes when they have to choose between food and the mortgage. For others, it's the car. For the more prescient among us, it's the ones who make the decision right around the time they realize the choice is between paying the mortgage or giving up what little hope for future financial freedom they still have.

But I guess you won't get the coveted Don Bisenius Social Responsibility Medal Of Honor unless you starve the family and live without electricity.

Thanks for the morality lesson, jackass.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just A Little While Longer...We Promise

American commanders, worried about increased violence in the wake of Iraq's inconclusive elections, are now reconsidering the pace of a major troop pullout this summer, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The withdrawal of the first major wave of troops is expected to be delayed by about a month, the officials said. Waiting much longer could endanger President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the force level from 92,000 to 50,000 troops by Aug. 31.
We will never leave there, will we? I suppose the only intriguing question left at this point is how Obama's most blindly loyal supporters will excuse yet another broken campaign promise-this time, the very important promise to end the war and bring the troops home.
More than two months after parliamentary elections, the Iraqis have still not formed a new government, and militants aiming to exploit the void have carried out attacks like Monday's bombings and shootings that killed at least 119 people — the country's bloodiest day of 2010.
Of course, we had an opportunity to allow Iraqi's elections and democracy soon after our invasion. They wanted elections, but the United States refused to let them have them because it was worried that they would elect people who weren't interested in just handing over all of Iraq's oil to Bush's friends. So we denied them the democracy that Bush claimed we were spreading, and ruled them by decree from the safety of the Green Zone. And Iraq proceeded to burn. 
The threat has prompted military officials to look at keeping as many troops on the ground, for as long as possible, without missing the Aug. 31 deadline. A security agreement between the two nations requires American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
A lot can happen between now and then. The neo-cons are alive and well, and they have no intention of allowing America to give up its conquest in Iraq. They'll need those bases for the next war in Iran. Is there any reason to believe they won't remove the  new government from power with the excuse that it cannot maintain the peace, and forcibly install another puppet government in its place? And would anyone then be surprised to find out that that puppet government asked the Americans to stay a little longer?
I know I wouldn't.

He's Just One Of Us


This man truly has no shame. Not to mention a really inflated sense of self. This ad is like an SNL sketch. I don't know if you could even come up with a parody of it, but I sure hope someone tries.

Also, he was against the fence before he was for it.

In The Footsteps Of Tyrants

Another one of our freedom-loving allies in the Middle East continues to show us the way:
CAIRO—Egypt's government on Tuesday extended the country's controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use—a promise dismissed by human-rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.
The emergency law, in place since the 1981 assassination of then-President Anwar Sadat by Islamic militants, gives police broad powers of arrest and allows indefinite detention without charge. Democracy advocates and human rights groups have long said the law is used to silence critics and ensure the ruling party's lock on power in this top Mideast ally of the U.S., pointing to the arrest of bloggers, political activists and others.
Does this sound familiar?
After an attack by Islamic militants, a government uses the incident to take a hard turn to the right and gives its law enforcement agencies broad powers to arrest people suspected of being terrorists, or of providing support for suspected terrorists, or really of doing anything that the government doesn't like. The people arrested under these new powers can be held in indefinite detention, without any charges, and without any trial. This government has also used the incident to rationalize the torture of its prisoners.
The United States has done all of these things, and the only thing that seems to separate it from Egypt, at this point, is the government's reluctance to use violence to stifle free speech.
But at this rate, how long will it take them to cross this line? They are already up against it; their prosecutions of whistleblowers and their attempts to silence Wikileaks are but two disturbing examples.
An overt campaign to keep real journalists from reporting on the actions of government may seem far-fetched, but we must remember that both the current and previous administration have been among the most non-transparent in history, and already tightly control the flow of information to the select group of friendly lap-dog media elites it knows it can control. 
And consider that, 10 years ago, the idea of the United States openly torturing prisoners, spying on its own citizens, locking people in solitary confinement without trial at their pleasure and claiming the power of its president to assassinate its own citizens at will would have seemed equally far-fetched. And yet, to a large percentage of the population, this seems perfectly acceptable today. 
Freedom of the press won't be destroyed overnight, of course. The government isn't going to just take over TV stations and newspapers. It might start by employing  (as Glenn Greenwald reports) Obama confidant Cass Sunstein's proposal to infiltrate organizations who promote "false conspiracy theories" about the government, which, of course, would include any theory that does not agree with the government's official claims.
Next might come a few arrests of bloggers who are sympathetic to the grievances of Islamic terrorists. They could be charged with "providing material support to terrorism," a law so broad that the Humanitarian Law Project fears is could be used against them for promoting peace talks with groups like the Tamil Tigers. Those arrests will have the effect of silencing much of that sort of criticism.
And the more critics are silenced, the easier it will get for the government to restrict the press even further. Many Americans won't even notice it happening; the mainstream media, run by members of the same elite class of people who run the government and corporate America, will continue to serve up the same official party line, and to distract us with their endless tales of meaningless Washington intrigue and political horse races. Their willingness to create their own version of the truth will become less and less constrained as competing journalists are either frightened into silence or marginalized by being denied access to information.
And this is how democracies die. When the voters are denied the information that they need in order to make  informed decisions, the whole system becomes a sham. Even worse, they are often unaware that they are not getting the truth, and are even more unlikely to ever remedy the situation. We can only hope that Americans start taking an interest in their democracy before it's too late to save it.