Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thought for the Day

If you can calculate a return on investment for a political donation, then you are a member of the elite.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Gospel According to Mammon, and Craazyman

Naked Capitalism has a great, but technical, story about how Goldman was selling securities to unwary investors, then betting against the securities, and collecting money from both the government (through AIG, when the securities defaulted), and by collecting on the bets that they made against the securities.

How did they make sure the securities defaulted? They sabotaged them. They sold them to investors (pension plans, small towns, whoever), and then willingly sabotaged them.

It's kind of like selling a house to someone, taking out insurance on it, and then setting the house on fire as soon as the sale goes through so you can collect the insurance money. Except that in Goldman's case, they had already collected "insurance" from the taxpayer.

No one ever said these guys weren't smart.

Of course, Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman CEO, thinks that they are doing God's work. Which would explain, I guess, why their executives demanded and got flu vaccines before the public did.

Craazyman commented on this story, and his comment is not technical, and it made my day:

And Don John entered into his house, which they called a john, and sat upon his pile, which reacheth up as unto a heaven, and called his disciples and said unto them.

“When ye go to the market place let not your communications be Yeah and Nay, as the hypocrites do, for truly they will have no reward for their labors.

But when ye pray, and prepareth ye to greet thy neighbor, entereth into thy closet so that no man seeth, and let thy words be as snakes in the grass, who slink and slither and coil, yeah around themselves as it were, into a knot.

Nor forgive ye men their trespasses against thee, for there be no profit in mercy nor doth pity increaseth thy stature. And deception be not an abomination, nor doth tickery reduceth thy pile, and even as ye confound thy neighbor and be as a briar unto him, ye shall find favor in the lord of hosts and ye shall prosper.”

And the disciples did as they were instructed and their words were as snares and as the tounges of serpents, and their words numbered even as the stars in the heavens, and they bound the multitude into a great vexation, for the multitude was rendered as a man whose pile bloweth away like a house of sand, yeah unto the ends of the earth, as in a storm.

The Gospel According to Mammon, VI, ix – xii

I just realized why Americans are in debt

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scahill on Blackwater

Uber Tool Chuck Todd say that we shouldn't prosecute anyone for torture, because if any of the cases went wrong, you might not be able to prosecute anyone for torture later.

Of course, if we never prosecute anyone for torture, then we'll never prosecute anyone for torture later, either. This is mind-numbing stupidity from a man who is too scared to do his job as a journalist and actually investigate something.

Chuck Todd is a concern troll of the highest order. From Urban Dictionary:

Concern Troll (N):
In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you're an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets.

The only thing important to Chuck Todd is maintaining the status quo. Somehow, somewhere, the fourth estate got so screwed up that it managed to elevate a brown-noser like Chuck Todd to a position of high influence, a Serious Person. As a White House correspondent, Chuck believes that his job is to faithfully write down everything that the occupants of the White House tell him to write, and then to transmit this information without the prejudice of critical thought, to the huddled masses below. Glenn Greenwald appropriately calls this "stenography".

It most certainly isn't journalism. But Chuck is a useful tool for an president; he is like a White House spokesman who has the added benefit that people actually think he is a journalist. Chuck's main goal in life, you see, is to not rock the boat. And why should he? As a journalist, he not qualified to deliver the morning paper. But he gets great access, because everyone knows he won't ask any questions!

Of course, Chuck thinks prides himself on being fair and balanced.

To Chuck, this means not just repeating what the president says, but verifying the presidents truthfulness and telling the public when he is lying.

Did you believe that last sentence? You shouldn't. It's not true. Let me rephrase it.

To Chuck, this means not just repeating what the president says, but also repeating what the Republicans say, and then letting the public just make guesses as to which of the two parties is lying.

(Hint: It's usually both.)

Of course, this is "fair" and "balanced", but it is absolutely worthless as journalism. And don't forget, a strong and vigorous press is the only thing that keeps the government in check.

Chuck Todd is neither strong, nor vigorous. Chuck Todd is a tool.

Update: I know it's cruel and petty, but Chuck Todd deserves it, and I deserve it, and you deserve it too.

I just can't help but think he looks like Murray from Flight of the Conchords, only Murray is almost likeable.

Maybe They Aren't All Crazy, After All

Peter Galbraith, a US advisor to the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars from an oilfield in the Kurdish region.

OSLO — Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.

These talks were very contentious, to say the least. The Kurds have never gotten along with the rest of Iraq, and were demanding that they had rights to the oil in their region, and that those rights superseded any claim the Iraqi government had.

Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.

In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.

Mr. Galbraith, widely viewed in Washington as a smart and bold foreign policy expert, has always described himself as an unpaid adviser to the Kurds, although he has spoken in general terms about having business interests in Kurdistan, as the north of Iraq is known.

So it came as a shock to many last month when a group of Norwegian investigative journalists at the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv began publishing documents linking Mr. Galbraith to a specific Norwegian oil company with major contracts in Iraq.

Here is one thing you can be sure of. Galbraith knew precisely what he was doing, and he knew it at every step of the way. You do not "accidentally" earn a hundred million dollars just for standing around. And if it's all above board, why didn't he say anything about it? Why did he claim to be an unpaid advisor? Even if it's technically true, in the sense that he wasn't on salary, his denial makes it pretty apparent that he did not want anyone knowing that he had interests in Iraqi oil.

When drillers struck oil in a rich new field called Tawke in December 2005, no one but a handful of government and business officials and members of Mr. Galbraith’s inner circle knew that the constitutional provisions he had pushed through only months earlier could enrich him so handsomely.

So he helped design the Iraqi constitution, and then, shockingly, it turns out that that same constitution is going to make him very rich. Somehow I don't think the Muslim world will find that to be coincidental.

As the scope of Mr. Galbraith’s financial interests in Kurdistan become clear, they have the potential to inflame some of Iraqis’ deepest fears, including conspiracy theories that the true reason for the American invasion of their country was to take its oil.

Of course, these conspiracy theories don't sound so far-fetched now, do they, as a former US Ambassador and the Kurds have conspired to help themselves to Iraqi oil, oil which Iraq desperately needs as it tries to rebuild. Oil which it will need to sell if the US taxpayer has any hope of ever freeing itself from the burden of supporting Iraq.

Some officials say that his financial ties could raise serious questions about the integrity of the constitutional negotiations themselves. “The idea that an oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution leaves me speechless,” said Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, a principal drafter of the law that governed Iraq after the United States ceded control to an Iraqi government on June 28, 2004.

In effect, he said, the company “has a representative in the room, drafting.”

DNO’s chief executive, Helge Eide, confirmed that Mr. Galbraith helped negotiate the Tawke deal and advised the company during 2005. But Mr. Eide said that Mr. Galbraith acted solely as a political adviser and that the company never discussed the Constitution negotiations with him. “We certainly never did give any input, language or suggestions on the Constitution,” Mr. Eide said.

Sure. They had a man in the room, helping to write a constitution which would have a major financial impact on the company, but they didn't really pay any attention to him, or give him any suggestions. If there was even the slightest possibility of this statement being true, then you would also be reading about the massive stock sell-off as investors realized the company was being run by morons.

Kurdish officials said that they were informed of Mr. Galbraith’s work for DNO and that they still considered him a friend and advocate. Mr. Galbraith said that during his work on the Constitution negotiations, the Kurds “did not pay me and they knew I was being paid by DNO.”

Yes, of course the Kurds knew. Galbraith was helping them get a bigger piece of the action, at the expense of the Iraqi people, and he got a cut of it in return. The real question is did the Iraqis know that he was working for an oil company when he was pretending to be a mediator as he worked on their constitution. And they clearly did not.

The reasons why the Muslim world hates the US are getting clearer and clearer every day. They aren't crazy at all.

And there can hardly be any doubt that actions of Peter Galbraith will cost American lives and money, and will go a long way towards making Americans less secure.

I hope it was worth it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blackwater Murders Civilians, Tries To Cover It Up With Bribes

Breaking News:

WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater is a private military unit, which is owned by a militant Christian fundamentalist named Erik Prince. According to testimony from two of his former employees, Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

Somehow, though, the US Government gave this man billions of dollars to provide "security" in Iraq, a country populated mostly by Muslims.

I can almost hear how this conversation went:

Bush: Hey Erik! I need someone to keep the peace over there in Iraq. Those Islamites are looking kind of tense right now.

Prince: Well, I can do that!

Bush: I need someone who can really keep it chill. What're yer qualities, uh, quantitizat-, i mean, qualifications? Yeah.

Prince: Well, Dubya, I'm hell-bent on eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe. Family values, you know?

Bush: Perfect! Heh heh. Perfect!

And of course this happened:

At midday on Sept. 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy opened fire on Iraqi civilians in the crowded intersection, spraying automatic weapons fire in ways that investigators later claimed was indiscriminate, and even launching grenades into a nearby school. Seventeen Iraqis were killed and dozens more were wounded.

Read more here. It's pretty bad.

Of course, this was just one of many Blackwater crimes in Iraq. But this one was so bad, so egregious, that they realized that not even the Bush administration could protect them if the Iraqis wanted to bar them from operating in the country. So, according to former company officials, they tried to bribe the Iraqis with $1 million.

And Blackwater is accountable to no one. They operated in Iraq with virtual immunity; their mercenary soldiers could kill almost at will. They are an evil outfit.

It's becoming harder and harder every day to vilify insurgents in countries that have been invaded by the United States.

Drone Terror

From David Rohde's account of his capture and captivity by the Taliban. This is what people in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan live with daily.

It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be immolated without warning.

This is terrorism. How could this fail to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who had to live with this eye in the sky. It is as though the United States has set itself up as a god, who is always watching from above, ready to smite at the slightest provocation, or just on a whim.

There is no appeal to this god, no recourse to his laws. Your life, at all times, is in his hands.

Even the meekest of the meek would chafe under this oppression. How can we be surprised that the response of a culture as macho and honor-driven as the Taliban would be one of hate, fear, and violence? What is irrational about that?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Worst of the Worst

If you don't have 9 minutes now, come back when you do. This is what your government has done, and it is fighting today for the power to keep doing this.

Crying Terrorist

The new definition of terrorism is, apparently, any violence committed by Muslims against anyone else.

Joe Leiberman, quoted in the WSJ today, said:

"We don't know enough to say now, but there are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act," Mr. Lieberman added.

In other words, any and all violence committed by a Muslim with radical views (i.e., different from Lieberman's) are acts of terror. The obverse of that argument, of course, is that violence committed by non-Muslims is never terrorism.

So terrorism is something that only Muslims do, by definition.

If you think this is pushing it a little far, look at what some of the nutbags over at Atlas Shrugs posted:

Islamic Terror Attacks on American Soil

We recently got taken to the mat by a polite, young Muslim living in the U.K. who took issue with our oft-repeated statement that no Muslim-American lost their life to vigilante violence following 9/11. She provided us a list of six or seven candidates and, after whittling out the ones where the killer was unknown or in cases with mitigating circumstances such as “victim was sleeping with killer’s ex-girlfriend” (and we’re not making that up), we reached a shocking conclusion:

We were wrong.

There is one seemingly unambiguous case that occurred in Dallas, Texas where Waqar Hasan, a Muslim convenience storeowner, was gunned down by Mark Anthony Stroman four days after the 9/11 attacks. Stroman claimed to have been motivated by anger from watching the towers fall. He is not exactly your average American, however, even apart from the shooting. For one thing, he is a white supremacist who carried a felony criminal record at the time of the attack. He also went on to shoot two more people in the weeks that followed.

Thankfully, an American jury sentenced Mark Stroman to death. The same cannot be said of many Muslim terrorists such as Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, who not only have sanctuary in Muslim countries, but are often treated as heroes by devout followers of Muhammad.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge that our friend is correct and that there was at least one Muslim killed in an anti-Arab hate crime in the U.S. following the anti-American hate crime on 9/11. For anyone keeping score:

People killed by radical Muslims on 9/11: 2,996
Muslim-Americans killed "in revenge": 1


One Muslim-American.

One Muslim-American has died since 9/11, in revenge for that terrible act, and so the indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans is glossed over. It's as though it didn't even happen.

The breathtaking stupidity of that statement almost needs to be savored for moment, and chewed over a few times before being vomited out as the vile piece of propaganda that it is.

The fact is that terrorism is not a useful term. There is war, and there is immoral war. There is violence, and there is immoral violence.

If a US Special Forces commando was to infiltrate an Al Qaeda cell, pull out a couple pistols and shoot everyone in sight while yelling "God Bless the USA", would Joe Lieberman call him a terrorist?

Of course not. He would be hailed as a hero, and Lieberman would fall all over himself to place him in the pantheon of noble Americans.

Here's the ugly truth. When America spends more on its war machine ($663 Billion next year!) than the entire gross domestic product of 174 of the world's 191 countries, the only way to fight back is to do whatever you can.

Terrorism is literally the only way most of the world's people have of effecting political change with the United States. It doesn't make it right, but it's impossible to argue that it's somehow morally worse than the Shock and Awe campaign in Baghdad, or dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the fire-bombing of Dresden. In fact, the collateral damage of terrorism is far less than that of full-scale conventional war.

Roughly 3000 Americans were killed in the attacks on 9/11. Since then, it is estimated that we have killed between 100,000 and 1,000,000 million Iraqis. Many of these were civlians.

So what, really, is the difference between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq?

Both were unjustified. Both killed innocent civilians. (Far more in Iraq)

Is it because the 9/11 attackers were religious?

So was George Bush, who believed, as a born-again Christian, that the coming rapture required a war in the Middle East.

Is it because the 9/11 attackers wanted to effect political change?

So did the United States; one of its stated objectives was the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Is it because it used fear and terror as a method of achieving that goal?

What, exactly, do you think Shock and Awe was supposed to do?

No, it's not any of these things.

Is it because the 9/11 attackers were Muslims?


Monday, November 2, 2009

Afghan Democracy?

Abdullah Abdullah has dropped out:

In an emotional speech on Sunday to thousands of supporters here, Mr. Abdullah said he could not take part in a runoff that he believed would be at least as fraudulent as the tainted first round in August, in which almost a million ballots for Mr. Karzai were thrown out as fakes.

“I hoped there would be a better process,” he said. “But it is final. I will not participate in the Nov. 7 elections.

Afghanistan is not ready for democracy. They are not even close. You can't just throw up some polling stations and ballots and claim that you have a functioning, democratic government.

Think about what happened here. There was an election of sorts, which everyone knew was going to be fraudulent. It was found to be fraudulent, and so everyone decided that there should be another one. And then it was apparent that that one would be fraudulent too, and that a whole lot of innocent people were going to die. So everyone convinced one of the candidates to quit, and declared the election off, and decided that the guy who stole the first election gets to keep being president. And then they all stand around and talk about how great it is that there is democracy in Afghanistan.

This is what we're fighting for? What a joke.

Sure, Afghanistan had an election. But what they don't have is a government.