Friday, December 14, 2007
The problem is that banks don't trust each other. Therefore, it's clear that there is another shoe to drop. Banks have expanded their risks enormously because they used securitization (selling loans as some kind of paper) to get loans off of their books. If the loans stayed on their books, the banks would have been limited in their loan making by their capital and their access to funds. Once banks were close to being limited in making loans by the size of their capital, the Fed could regulate new lending by expanding or limiting the banks access to additional funds.
If they moved the loans off of their books, however, they were never limited. Furthermore, at least in theory, moving the loans off of their books also moved the risk off. But now all of this junk that the banks thought they had gotten rid of is coming back home. Citibank has recently taken several of the "SIV" off-books sham entities it created back onto its own books, thus limiting the amount of new lending it can do.
To the extend that Citibank or other banks become capital limited, the Fed can help in its traditional way. However, if the majority of the loans are floating around as commercial paper being held by who knows who, there is not much the Fed can do. In essence the banks created money that was beyond the control of the Fed.
The rub is that the banks know how much trash is out there, because they know how much trash they sold. Therefore, banks are reluctant to lend to other banks, because they don't trust the other bank to stay solvent to repay the loan. The scary thing is that the banks know better than anybody what risk is out there, and they are too scared to lend to their colleagues. That makes it look bad.
Everybody talks about the subprime housing crisis, but what if there is other bad stuff out there. Banks have been "securitizing" everything, getting loans off their books. What about credit card debt? Car loans? Business loans? If banks lowered their lending standards considerably in these other sectors as they did for mortgages, won't some of them start to go belly up, too?
Paul Krugman has an article in the NYT saying that we are in more than a liquidity crisis. A liquidity crisis is when you have the capacity to pay off a loan, but you just don't have the cash on you. In this case, somebody (the Fed) can loan you the money to pay it off now, and then you can pay them (the Fed) off later as you continue to get salary paychecks, or your house finally sells, or whatever. But if you can never pay off the loan, it's a different problem. The money is gone for good. In this case the banks may have paid themselves huge profits on bad loans in a giant ponzi scheme. If the debtor can never pay, a Fed loan is not going to help. It may be that the banks believe this, and that's why they won't lend to each other.
If only a small percentage of the loans are bad, the system can handle it, but at some point this could grow from a liquidity crisis into a financial crisis.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The other question is what has happened to the neighborhoods? Has violence dropped because the neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed, because neighborhoods that were once mixed Sunni and Shiite are now only one or the other?
And, has the violence dropped because we defeated al Qaeda and other opponents, or have they just faded into the woodwork until the surge is over? It appears that the surge is about over. Troops are coming home that are not being replaced, because there are no troops to replace them.
It looks like the surge proved that we needed more troops than we had for most of the war. Why did it take us four years to learn that? Just how bad are our military planners and leaders?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
It adds, "Dethrone the 'war on terror' as the organising principle of US action - not because containing terrorism is unimportant, but because subordinating everything to that aim makes it harder to achieve."
But in general, even of the this report, the FT says, "there is a whiff of hubris about it."
Saturday, November 17, 2007
- Criticizes the State Department for a reorganization that was mandated by Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican who hated State, and
- Implies that the main job of State should be regime change.
On both counts it is misguided. Helms mandated that USIS (the public affairs diplomatic arm) be merged into main State, along with AID and ACDA (which he doesn't mention). No doubt merging them into State has made them somewhat less desirable, but that's what the Republicans wanted because they generally hate State and what to see it stymied in whatever it's doing. But I doubt that separating them out again will make much difference in the short term.
He complains that State has not been involved enough in Iraq and Afghanistan, but part of that is due to Rumsfeld and his colleagues at Defense, who fought hard to keep State out of Iraq and to make Defense responsible for things that would normally be done by State. Only after Defense failed at these tasks did insiders start to call for State to take up the tasks and to criticize State for not having done it earlier.
Without specifically mentioning regime change, Max Boot calls for State to aid moderate Muslims, flex our political and diplomatic muscles to achieve vital objectives peacefully, gather intelligence, and build the rule of law in ungoverned lands.
I am one of those, who as he says will "object that to build up these capacities will encourage reckless 'imperialism' or 'militarism.' But improving our abilities in nation-building, strategic communications, security advising and related disciplines will actually lessen the chances that we will need to mount a major military intervention such as the one in Iraq."
Friday, November 16, 2007
I would have thought this, but I would have thought that I was prejudiced for thinking it. I think Wall Street is one of the most unpatriotic streets in America. It's a street of greed, a street that says, "Send some rednecks to die in Iraq and Afghanistan for us." And as a further note of prejudice, New York is full of Jews. Jews did fight in World War II -- Norman Mailer is an example -- but they don't fight so much now. They pay Anglos and other ethnics to go fight for them, while they stay on Wall Street and get rich.
They don't have a monopoly on this attitude; Mitt Romney did the same thing. Being a Mormon missionary in France is not equivalent to being an infantryman in Vietnam. Sorry, Mitt, I'm prejudiced on this issue, too. But Mitt's the exception for Mormons, many of whom did and do serve in the military. Jews tend to fight for Israel, not for America, even if they are born in America. Mitt, of course, has another problem, which is that after he got back from France, he went into the private equity business with Bain Capital, where he did not pay a tax rate as high as most working men and women, while he was becoming a millionaire. Romney does not love America enough to pay his fair share of taxes.
So, the leading presidential candidates for both parties come from New York -- Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, with Mike Bloomberg waiting in the wings -- but their state is the least patriotic state, despite Rudy's claim to 9/11 fame. More and more there seem to be two (or more) Americas who don't talk to each other.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
As the op-ed says, a draft would sort things out. Let's have a draft now! Of course, that's a little problem for Bush and Cheney, both of whom dodged the draft during Vietnam. They don't believe in fighting for their country. They believe in sending somebody else to fight for the United States. That's why we have thousands of mercenary troops like Blackwater fighting in Iraq, in addition to our "volunteer" military.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Previously the Wall Street Journal printed an op-ed suggesting that the US join some larger currency scheme that would take the pressure off the dollar as an international exchange currency. The problem with that is that when you join such an international scheme, you have to conform to certain standards.
The above article on the EU says that EU countries must keep their budget deficit below 3% of GDP to meet Euro guidelines. That made me wonder if the US would qualify to join the Euro regime. It took me a while to find what appeared to be a reliable table giving budget deficit estimates as a percentage of GDP. Finally, I found this one by the Congressional Budget Office done in 2004, with projections for future years.
What surprised me was that we would meet the 3% guidelines overall, by taking into account the Social Security "off-budget" SURPLUS. The projected overall budget deficit for 2007 is only 2% of GDP. But the "on-budget" deficit is 3.6%. The 3.6% is the budget actually approved by the President and Congress. BUT, there is a 1.6% Social Security SURPLUS. So, the working people who fund Social Security through payroll taxes are in surplus, while the rich people, who got the huge Bush tax cuts and who pay no payroll tax on the millions they earn above the approximately $90,000 ceiling on income subject to the payroll tax, are causing a budget deficit in excess of the EU guidelines for good government.
This is truly a government of Robin Hood's Sheriff of Nottingham that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. A fat cat who paid social security payroll taxes on maybe 5 or 10 percent of his income during his earning years (as opposed to most salaried workers who pay the tax on 100% of their earnings), and who then retires and lives off of his investments, can collect 100% of his social security, while workers who still earn a salary after age 62 have their social security payments reduced by a formula linked to how much they continue to earn.
I think AIPAC played a large role in the policy making process that led to the US invasion of Iraq. Cohen may not, but look at those arguing for invastion: Perle, Adelman, Krystal, Wolfowitz, Feith, et al.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Congratulations to Obama for ending the charade that wearing the flag pin somehow symbolizes patriotism. Where were Bush and Cheney on 9/11? Bush was reading "My Pet Goat," and then got in Air Force One and hid out for hours when he should have been leading the country. Cheney went into his spider hole in Washington and ran things from remote control because he was afraid to come out. Cheney and Saddam: the spider hole twins!
Two main points are:
"...Privatising war is, in reality, financially, politically and militarily very expensive," and
"Neither [the Senate's nor the Pentagon's efforts to control Blackwater] has a chance, much less moral validity, unless the US and its allies adhere to the rule of law they claim their forces are there to defend."
Sunday, September 30, 2007
We're approaching the 20th anniversary of the 1987 stock market meltdown, not that that means anything. The stock market seems very happy with its .5% rate cut; maybe that means they expect the Fed to bail them out of any problems, like failed banks, not to mention failed hedge funds.
Friday, September 28, 2007
So, the Fed action aided speculators, hurt savers, and aided debtors. So, it's encouraging borrowing money to speculate in the stock market. That's definitely the behavior we want to encourage -- NOT!
Thursday, September 27, 2007
To critics it is now the "Bernanke put" - the belief that, as under Alan Greenspan, the US Federal Reserve will always ride to the rescue of Wall Street. The jubilant response of traders to the Fed's 50 basis point cut in the short-term interest rate might justify this suspicion. But saving Wall Street from its follies is not the Fed's objective. It is an (unfortunate) by-product of the attempt to do its job.The "unfortunate by-product" reference is similar to Alan Greenspan's reply to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Stewart asked Greenspan why it was that the Fed 50 basis point interest rate cut sent the stock market up over 300 point, thus benefitting the rich, while it meant that banks would pay less interest to the ordinary people who had savings accounts in banks, rather than stock market investments. Greenspan responded that this was an "unintended effect."
I agree with Wolf that one inflationary risk the US runs is that the dollar's value will decline against other currencies (as it has already), thus making everything imported more expensive. However, inflation is the easiest way for debtor nations to try to get out from under their debts; as the dollar's value decreases, the absolute value of the debt decreases, too. So, you pay off your debt in cheaper dollars. This is usually only attempted by pariah states, currently Zimbabwe comes to mind, but George Bush has such contempt for the international community that it is not beyond possibility that he will try it. He may think it will help him pay off his Iraq War debt. As Wolf describes the situation:
Externally, the US is a huge net debtor. A large dollar devaluation is then a far less painful way to turn it into a net creditor than running current account surpluses, since its liabilities are denominated in dollars.In retrospect it looks as if Volker may have been a better Fed chairman than Greenspan, if only because Volker had more difficult issues to deal with.
Given these facts, it is going to be an enduring struggle for the Fed to convince those who have put their faith in the dollar that it is safe. This is not some remote danger. In financial markets, the future is now. If holders of the dollar conclude it is no longer a secure store of value they will dump both the currency and assets dependent on its future value. If that were to happen, the Fed would confront a dreadful dilemma - whether or not to cut rates as the dollar plunged and long-term interest rates soared. Its freedom of manoeuvre would be gone, as in 1979, when Paul Volcker became chairman.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
...the US Federal Reserve remains a puppet of private banks, which also ultimately owe their allegiance to the ubiquitous Rothschilds.
The thing that most shocked [the author, Song Hongbing], he says, was his “discovery” that the Fed is a privately owned and run bank. “I just never imagined a central bank could be a private body,” he says.
The Fed does describe itself “as an unusual mixture of public and private elements”. While its seven governors are all appointed by the US president, private banks do hold shares in its 12 regional reserve banks.
But Mr Song ignores the government’s role and argues that the Fed’s key functions are ultimately controlled by five private banks, such as Citibank, all of which have maintained a “close relationship” with the Rothschilds.
Mr Song is defensive about his focus on the Rothschilds and what the book depicts as their Jewish clannishness.
“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” he says. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.”
I was inclined to dislike New York anyway because:
- The families of New Yorkers killed on 9/11 got millions in compensation from the US government, while those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing got nothing. It might show the power of the New York congressional delegation, but more likely it shows the greed of New Yorkers, compared to regular people who live in Oklahoma.
- Wall Street's stock market continued to go up during the worst of the Iraq War, which according to at least one explanation (0f many given by Bush), was in response to 9/11. I saw no gratitude on the part of New Yorkers for the sacrifices that young people from middle America, including Oklahoma, were making for New York when they died or were injured in Iraq.
- Now with the Ahmadinejad visit, New Yorkers have shown their contempt for the Constitutional guarantee of free speech, not to mention the fact that they should be grateful that their city is the site of the UN which must invite all types of world leaders if it is to advance the cause of world peace. New Yorkers reviled the assertion that if Hitler were invited, he should be allowed to talk. But wouldn't that talk have been worthwhile if it could have avoided the Holocaust, not to mention the tens of millions of gentiles who died in WW II. One problem in the lead up to World War II was that the League of Nations had ceased functioning.
There are lots of other candidates not from New York. Why not choose one of them. Of the New Yorkers, the least objectionable is probably Bloomberg, not least because he is fondly spoken of by Senator Chuck Hagel, whom I respect.
The New York Times' report on the incident closed by saying:
It remains unclear whether Columbia’s leaders were able to mollify critics through their critical treatment of Mr. Ahmadinejad. But they made some headway: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent out an e-mail message shortly after the speech with the subject line, “A Must Read: Columbia University President’s Intro of Iran’s Ahmadinejad today.”
Inside was a transcript of Mr. Bollinger’s introduction.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
As a US Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired Foreign Service Officer, I believe that it is important for the United States to hold the moral high ground. Recent revelations about Blackwater’s activities in Iraq raise questions about whether the State Department is undermining its honor and credibility by continuing to employ Blackwater. How can we call on Iraq to adhere to the rule of law when our own contractors flout the rule of law in Iraq? It certainly does not help us overcome our image, in Iraq and around the world, created by Abu Ghraib and other atrocities.
In addition, I do not like the fact that the State Department is promoting the use of mercenary soldiers by the US Government. As an Army veteran, it offends me that the State Department refuses to rely on the US military to protect it. The State Department and the Marine Corps have a long tradition of Marine Security Guards protecting American embassies overseas. Yet, when there is a real security threat, the State Department says, “We don’t trust the Marines to protect us.” It’s ironic that Ambassador Crocker appeared before Congress with General Petraeus to praise the performance of the American military in Iraq, but Ambassador Crocker says by his actions, “I don’t trust the US military to protect me personally.”
Thursday, September 20, 2007
One is "tribe-like politics." "You had to make sure that if someone violated you in any way -- even the smallest way -- you would not only punish them but punish them in a manner that signaled to all the other families, clans, or tribes around that this is what happens to anyone who tampers with me."
Two is "authoritarianism -- the concentration of power in a single ruler or elite not bound by any constitutional framework." It comes in two flavors: gentle and brutal. The Ottoman Turkish empire was gentle. Two examples of the brutal variety were Hafez Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein. They survived "not only because they have been brutal (many of their predecessors were just as brutal), but because they have been brutal and smart. They have no friends, only agents and enemies...."
Three is the modern nation-state imposed by Westerners. "What happened in the twentieth century when these new nation-states were created was that in each one a particular tribe-like group either seized power or was ensconced in power by the British and French -- and then tried to dominate all the others."
So, after the invasion of Iraq, one would have thought that someone would have thought it important to suppress tribal rivalries and to assert authority when looting broke out after the fall of Baghdad, for example. By the Middle Eastern standards listed by Friedman, the US looked woefully weak the morning after.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
- Failure in Iraq meant the Bush administration had reduced power domestically and internationally, for example the failure to pass an immigration bill in the US, and "scant regard paid to US efforts to influence Israeli-Palestinian developments";
- Adversaries of the US believe "they will prevail if they manage to draw the US into a prolonged engagement";
- Iran is flexing its muscles in the Middle East;
- Iraq has caused the US to fail to focus as much as it should on other parts of the world.
So, Bush's old buddies in the oil patch correctly have no confidence in, or respect for, him.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Among the points he makes in the FT article:
- While short-term federal deficits are coming down, they are still too high, and
- Longer-term, the Medicare prescription drug benefit has increased Social Security and Medicare liabiities from about $20,000 billion to $50,000 billion.
Like Rome, in the US:
- There has been a decline in moral values and political civility;
- The military is overextended; and
- There is fiscal irresponsibility.
George Washington said that we should avoid "ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burdens that we ourselves ought to bear."
He also says he coordinated it with Jay Garner, his predecessor, who in interviews in Woodward's State of Denial claims that he did not like the de-Baathification proposal, but I suspect that at least some of Garner's comments are self-serving, made after the strategy had begun to fail. Garner was himself very close to the Israelis, which is why I thought he was chosen for the job before he lost it to Bremer.
I don't know why Bremer got the job. At the State Department, I remember him mainly as being the ultimate staff assistant, the head of S/S, the Secretary of State's secretariat, who made sure all the briefings, decision memos, etc., were properly prepared on time. He went on to be an ambassador, a reward for his staff work, but I don't think that's how he made his mark. Ironically, maybe he was chosen because he was known to be a staffer who would not go off on his own, but would do a good job of implementing the policies of his bosses.
Monday, September 10, 2007
It is more than coincidence that Petraeus and Crocker will be testifying to Congress on 9/11. The Bush administration has clearly scheduled the testimony to link the Iraq war to the 9/11 attacks, although there is no connection, except in Bush's mind. The Republicans, in their pre-testimony remarks, criticized Move-On.org for the Petraeus/Betray-us ad in the NYT, with some justification, but the Republicans started the dispute by turning to the military to give a political justification for the war. The Republicans have politicized the military, while they send thousands to die in Iraq. The Republicans, under the leadership of Sen. John Warner among others, are destroying the military establishment, both in terms of fighting capability and intellectually.
Rep. Duncan Hunter's comments before the testimony were particularly interesting because he praised Gen. MacArthur, who was fired by Pres. Truman because MacArthur failed to obey civilian direction during the Korean War. It's odd that a civilian Congressman would hint to a general that the general should not obey civilian orders.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Ackerman says "nobody is noticing the threat to civilian control" of the military. "Despite the president's grandiose pretentions as commander-in-chief, the future of the Iraq war is up to Gen. Patraeus." As a contrast, Ackerman cites Harry Truman, who fired Gen. MacArthur, rather than have McArthur decide how the Korean War would be fought. He says that as Bush sends Petraeus up to Congress on the 9/11 anniversary, "it is now up to a military man to defend the principle of civilian control."
If you are cynical, you think:
1) Bush is too cowardly to face Congress himself and call for continuing the war; so, he sends Patraeus, dressed in his uniform, like Reagan sent up Ollie North to defend Iran-Contra; and
2) Bush has chosen Patraeus because he can manipulate Patraeus like he and Rumsfeld did Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs Myers and Pace.
It's a real problem as Maher may have unintentionally illustrated by one of his questions to Col. Wilkerson: "Why is the military so loyal to Bush?" Think of the alternative! What if the military were not loyal to Bush? Would we have a coup? We had better hope the military is loyal, but that is one reason why they should be insulated from the politics of declaring war.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Interestingly, the NYT just ran an long article on Condi Rice's failure as Secretary of State. Josh Bolten, Card's replacement, was just on the PBS News Hour tonight saying that Condi would stay through the end of Bush's administration.
You can be pretty sure that nothing major is going to happen in the Middle East, or anywhere else. Condi's supposed to be a Russian expert, but relations with Russia are going down the tubes. North Korea is somewhat of a success, but mainly because she got rid of John Bolton and let Chris Hill do his thing.
The military has been pretty much tarred by the Iraq campaign. Bush keeps talking about how great they are, but they're losing. Part of the problem is that Rumsfeld put cowardly yes-men like Richard Myers and Peter Pace in senior positions. In general, peacetime conditions breed a military that's not much good for fighting. When a war comes, somebody like General George Marshall has to put some fighting generals in charge. In Iraq, nobody ever did this.
In any case, before the US invasion, there was no civil war in Iraq. After we defeated Saddam for his invasion of Kuwait, things were relatively quiet. The no fly zone and other limitations kept Saddam in his box. It was a successful containment (a la the cold war) on a small scale. So if Saddam could prevent civil war among the Iraqi populace, the US should also be able to, but it would require many more resources that we are willing to put in.
We should go back to square one: re-occupy the country with something like 1,000,000 men, and mete out something close to Western justice (not Abu Ghraib justice) to Iraqis who do anything wrong, from stealing hubcaps to insurrection. The US occupation failed when looting broke out after we entered Baghdad, and we did nothing to stop it.
Saddam kept order by terror; we could keep order by establishing a real occupation with real justice, but we won't do it.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Tom Friedman talks about how well things are going in Iraqi Kurdistan. It sounds as if the Kurds have long been one of the motivations for the Iraq war. Bush 1 basically abandoned them to Saddam's treachery after the first Iraq war. Then according to one of the Iraq war books --
Fiasco, Cobra II, State of Denial -- a lot of the people who pushed for the war liked, visited, and helped the Kurds, including Wolfowitz, some of the military men, and Jay Garner, who was originally designated for the job to head the Iraq occupation that Jerry Bremer ended up getting. I don't know exactly what the connection is, but Jews seem to like the Kurds, perhaps they see the Kurds as less threatening Muslims than the Arabs. In any case, I think the Jews that wanted the Iraq war -- Wolfowitz, Perle, Adelman, Feith, Kristol, et. al -- were motivated in part by their impressions of Kurds and Kurdistan. This may also include Jay Garner, who as a general before he retired had close connections with Israel, which may have been carried over to his retirement as some kind of armaments dealer. So, it's not surprising that Tom Friedman would find Kurdistan is wonderful. Maybe it is, but Jews love of Kurds helped get us into a horrible war in the rest of Iraq.
David Brooks' column on how the tribes are going to bring democracy to Baghdad probably has some merit. But there is also the possibility that success at the tribal level is as much about ethnic cleansing as about democracy. The test will be whether tribes from other regions, sects, etc., Kurds and Sunnis, or Sunnis and Shiites will be willing to work together. I'm not so sure. They want security for their tribes. They don't care that much about Iraq as a country.
My question is, "What happened to FISCAL policy?" Basically, with the Bush tax cuts and deficit spending, fiscal policy is based on a perception of the economic climate as, "Oh my God, we're all going to die!" The government has to spend and encourage businessmen with tax breaks as if we were in a deep depression and there was no tomorrow. Of course, that is not the case. It's just that businessmen like you better if you give them money; so, Bush and his cronies have given them tons of money. And he has a 27% approval rating to show for it.
But that puts Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Paulson is a tough spot, because half of their tools -- the fiscal policies -- are gone. Dick Cheney has already shot his friend in the face and doesn't have any ammunition left. So, it's all on Bernanke, who so far seems to be taking his job seriously, much more seriously than Congress, Tony Snow, or George Bush. Bernanke may actually care about this country. If so, hooray for him! But he should not have to fight this battle alone. (Somehow, he, unlike Tony Snow, can live on a government salary.)
And what does Tony Snow's resignation say about government service. For Snow, working for $168,000 a year was a tremendous sacrifice that he wouldn't continue. What about an enlisted man serving in Iraq? I don't know what he makes, but it's a lot less than $168,000 per year. Of course the deep pockets Republican sector is hiring the best special forces soldiers away from the military at something like Tony Snow's government salary to serve in the private security services in Iraq, such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy and their ilk.
It's pretty clear that Republicans and maybe most Americans of any political persuasion, love money more than they love their country.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Now Warner has called for pulling out 5,000 troops of the 160,000 currently there, if the President wants to. It's almost nothing. It's too few to be noticeable, and probably too few to make a difference one way or another. It's symbolic, and that's something, but it's not much. What George Marshall did was more than symbolic. He took a small, peacetime military, much like America's today, and transformed it into a huge fighting machine that made the difference in World War II. He made hard choices; he replaced peacetime generals with generals who could fight. He drafted millions of men; he turned America's industrial base on its heels toward the production of military equipment. Bush and Warner kept their yes-man generals and gave huge tax breaks to the rich. They said, "Keep us in power and we'll give you lots of money and send some worthless farm boys and ghetto kids to die in Iraq. And we'll do it with generals who won't rock the boat." Their contempt for average Americans is boundless.
Warner may not be the worst politician in the Senate, but he certainly does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with General George Marshall.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
In discussing what to do about this situation, the concept of "moral hazard" gets mentioned occasionally, as it does in this Financial Times editorial. The moral hazard concept is that you should not bail out people who got themselves in financial difficulty. It certainly applies to the hedge fund and private equity types; it is less clear that it applies to the average homeowner who might lose his house because he got a disadvantageous mortgage. There should be a level playing field. The hedge fund types certainly knew what they were doing; most have MBAs. Homeowners may or may not have known; they may have been cheated by mortgage brokers who didn't explain exactly what they were getting into. But the homeowners should have been smart enough to understand that if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably not true.
In any case, the moral hazard argument is that we should not bail out those who profited from taking risks that have now come home to roost. Therefore, in general, the Fed should not bail them out by cutting interest rates. But the economy does have a problem if the market turmoil threatens to bring on recession. It's the old story, "If you own the bank $100,000 and can't pay, you're in trouble. If you owe the bank $100,000,000 and can't pay, the bank is in trouble." So, it's possible the hedge fund types have the Fed over a barrel. But certainly the Fed should resist the temptation to bail out the market losers, like Jim Cramer of CNBC, according to Barrons. Bush has already given them a ton of help by cutting their taxes to almost nothing. Bush works for them; maybe Bernanke doesn't. Maybe he works for America. We'll see.
For most Americans, supporting the troops means putting a bumper sticker on their car, or watching a program about the Army on TV. The real way to support the troops is to enlist in the Army or the Marines to go fight. Because nobody does that, those in the service go back to Iraq again and again. Bush and Cheney don't care. They were both draft dodgers during Vietnam who have contempt for the military; to them, serving in the military is something that poor, stupid people do who can't get a real job working for Halliburton or the Texas Rangers.
One thing General Hertling pointedly did not suggest was for the families of the soldiers to return to the United States. The Army’s goal is to create a support network strong enough that the spouses will decide to wait out the deployment on the base in Germany, a country that many of them scarcely know and that pointedly declined to take part in the Iraq war. “We tell them, ‘You will not get the support you think you will, if you go back home,’ ” he said in an interview.
But it also demonstrates, General Hertling said, how the gap between American society and its volunteer military has widened as the Iraq war has dragged on. “Many people there have just moved on,” he said.
The extension of the last deployment — which came at the last minute after some troops had already reunited with their families in Germany — strained relations between the families and the Army. “There have been so many changes in what we’ve asked soldiers to do, that we may have put spouses in a position where they question what comes next,” said General Hertling, who has had two sons and a daughter-in-law serving in Iraq.
To me an example of contempt for the military is that the last two Democratic candidates for President, Al Gore and John Kerry, were both Vietnam veterans. The public said, "Naw, we don't like veterans. We didn't serve, and we don't trust those do-gooders who did serve. Give us a draft dodger." And the public got what it deserved: cowards who were afraid to fight in Iraq, who got us into a horrible war that will destabilize the Middle East because they were afraid to fight hard enough to win. Why? Because they would have to raise taxes and re-institute the draft to get enough soldiers to fight and win the war they started. Cowards! Republicans, draft dodger Rudy Giuliani included, are cowards, except for John McCain, Chuck Hagel, and a few other veterans.
I'm not happy with Sen. John Warner, who was Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee during the invasion of Iraq and during the first years of the war, although he is a veteran. He did not support the military, and has let Bush and Cheney virtually destroy the military by not providing the necessary manpower and equipment to fight the war in Iraq. Warner just got an award from the George Marshall Foundation, but instead of an award he should have gotten a censure for doing the exact opposite of what Marshall did to build up the Army to win World War II. It's time for Warner to go. He has failed his country.
Monday, August 20, 2007
The bad thing is that the Congress cared so little about what the law said that it passed it without debating it, without even reading it closely, if at all. The lesson: August vacation is more important to Congress than America's national security. Congress is a national disgrace!
In short, this seems like something that it would be very unlikely for China to do. It would hurt the US, but at a great price for China. The only scenario might be if there was a huge financial crash in China, so that adding to it would be relatively unnoticeable; then China might say, "If I'm going down, I'll take America with me."
Saturday, August 11, 2007
I think we need a draft. Too much is being asked of our all volunteer Army. Bush and Cheney, two draft dodgers, would never propose to restore the draft, although their war is the reason we need to do so. They are perfectly happy to destroy the Army, for which they have no respect, and let their successor figure out how to defend the US. We need to start planning for the future now, and the all volunteer Army won't meet the needs of the future unless we get out of Iraq now and let it start recuperating.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
In any case, the Financial Times study tends to reinforce the negative impression of Wall Street. The violent fluctuations currently going on in the market no doubt allow savvy traders, maybe not doing anything illegal, but just using their intimate knowledge of how trades are made these days by computer programs, to make money when the market goes up or down. Add to this the fact that many staffers, high and low, in banks and brokerages are aware of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, and can probably do some small trades using their inside knowledge that will not show up on the SEC's radar screen, but may show up on the overall statistical study done by the Financial Times.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Bush is worthless, but the Democrats are also worthless. I guess politicians are worthless. I'm particularly surprised that Diane Feinstein, Jim Webb, and my Democratic Senator Ken Salazar voted for the bill.
The bill may be okay, but it may not be. The quick vote was unseemly and showed that the Congress wanted to go on vacation more than it wanted to protect the US. Yesterday, two people debated the law on PBS and they had diametrically different ideas of what the bill actually said, much less what it meant.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
While her subordinates have been out doing things, Condi has been giving interviews and making appearances around the world. But she is not going to make any tough decisions. Any progress in the Middle East will require getting Israel to make some sacrifices, and she won't do that because she and Bush won't, or don't want to, stand up to the Israel lobby, AIPAC and company. Thus, her initiative is doomed from the start.
The idea of shoring up Abbas and Fatah is unlikely to lead anywhere. Fatah meant something when Arafat headed it. The Israelis assassinated Arafat, and I think they will live to regret it. The Israelis may not have assassinated Arafat by actually killing him, although they may have. The reasons for his death given by the French hospital where he was treated were never very clear; he could have died from some virus or poison wafted into his ramshackle headquarters by Israel. Or he may have died simply because of the squalid conditions that Israel forced him to live in. In any case, he was a leader of the Palestinians who could actually follow through on promises he made. Abbas does not have they power. He is a puppet of Israel and the US and is perceived as such by the Palestinians and other Arab and Muslim states. The US money and weapons given to Fatah may help him stay in power, but it won't help him bring peace to the region. It would take a leader with more power than Abbas to do that.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
I am distressed that by starting a war that it has now virtually lost, the United States has created a hell on earth in Iraq. According to the New York Times, 750,000 Iraqi refugees now live in Jordan, and 1.5 million live in Syria. Another 50,000 leave Iraq every month. Craig Johnstone, the UN deputy high commissioner for refugees, told the BBC, "The international community, I think, has neglected the plight of the refugees from Iraq so far, but they are beginning to act."
On a related issue, we need to help Iraqis who have worked for the US leave Iraq if their life is threatened. As a retired Foreign Service officer who worked frequently with “foreign service nationals” (FSNs) at embassies abroad, I feel particularly strongly that we should help them. I am distressed that we seem to be allowing only a handful of Iraqis to seek refuge in the US, when we should be helping thousands. It’s nothing compared to the number of Vietnamese who came to the US as a result of the Vietnam war.
I do not think immediate withdrawal from Iraq is the best course of action to bring closure to the Iraq war. I think we need to reinstate the draft and increase the number of troops in Iraq to 500,000 to 1 million until we can stop the terror there and bring enough peace for Iraqis to live in their own country. However, if we are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to bring peace to Iraq, then we should leave and let the Iraqis end the civil war as soon as possible with their own internecine bloodletting. As an American I am dismayed that we have brought upon ourselves this choice between two horrible alternatives.
I was a draftee who went to Vietnam, unlike Presidents Bush and Clinton, and Vice President Cheney. I was the Science Counselor at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, in the mid-1990s when then Vice President Gore visited for an anniversary marking the end of World War II. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski introduced Gore to the audience of Polish war veterans at the Ambassador’s residence in Warsaw by noting Gore’s service in Vietnam. The Poles applauded loudly, but many Americans murmured, “Doesn’t he know Clinton didn’t serve?” As a Vietnam veteran, I will probably never forget the American hostility towards Gore for being a veteran and the difference in attitudes between the Poles and the Americans. I’ve seen it all my life; when I returned from Vietnam to the relatively conservative University of Alabama, all anybody wanted to hear about Vietnam was how many atrocities you committed or saw. I was grateful to have served along the DMZ where, unlike farther south, anybody you saw outside your perimeter was almost certainly a bad guy. For many in Vietnam telling the good guys from the bad guys was difficult, but it seems much more difficult in Iraq.
I realize that Americans are now trying to make up for their former open prejudice against veterans by praising those who fight in Iraq. But news reports make it clear that those fighting are a relatively small group of mostly white Christians from small towns in the mid-American heartland. Upper class and upper middle class citizens from comfortable cities and suburbs applaud them so that the wealthy don’t have to go. Until the last few days, Wall Street celebrated the carnage in Iraq by hitting new highs of the Dow Jones average.
Unless the US beefs up its military presence in Iraq, which unfortunately I doubt because of the unwillingness of most Americans to make any sacrifice for the “war on terror,” I pity the poor Iraqi war veterans. Because of the shoddy treatment of these vets by Walter Reed Hospital and the Veterans Administration, President Bush set up a commission led by former Senator Dole and former Secretary Shalala to help improve their treatment. This is a good start, but the problem for the future is that there will be so few Iraqi vets. Because they are being sent back again and again, the total number of vets is small, especially when compared to World War II or even Vietnam, where most soldiers served one tour. Thus, in the years to come they will have a very small political constituency to fight for the benefits they need. Once the war is off the front pages, they are unlikely to get much from the government.
I don’t know what happened, but the recent resignation announced by Coloradan Jim Nicholson as Secretary of Veterans Affairs is discouraging. I am guessing that, perhaps in private, the Dole-Shalala panel had some tough words for the VA because of its failure to meet Iraq war veterans’ needs.
Friday, July 20, 2007
We should have enough troops to do what we need done in Iraq. I think this even includes Halliburton's jobs of running mess halls and driving trucks. Of course, we could never do this with the small Army and Marine Corps that we have, but that means that we need a bigger military until this war is won, not that we go hire a bunch of South African thugs to act as body guards for senior Americans.
While military salaries and bonuses are growing to keep some semblance of parity with the contractors, the country will be bankrupted if we take it too far. Of course, Bush is oblivious to the financial cost of the war. He's aiming for a trillion dollar war.
It's clear now that we lost the war when we allowed looting to break out after the US troops first took Baghdad. Ministries were destroyed; key records were lost; key personnel disappeared; archaeological treasures were stolen. The country was disintegrating before our eyes, and we did nothing. Now we reap what we sowed then.
So, if we're serious about Iraq, we must re-establish the draft. But I don't think we are serious; so, if not, then it's time to leave. We can try to leave gracefully and leave as many Iraqi police and army troops in place as possible, but it's likely to be a bloodbath.
As an American, I feel awful every time I see or read about a suicide bombing, or a beheading, or an assassination. As Colin Powell told Bush, the Pottery Barn principle applies, "If you break, it you bought it." We bought it big time. Terrible things happened before we invaded, but then it was Saddam Hussein's fault; now it's our fault. We are not murdering too many people (although a few according to press reports), but we are failing to maintain order and a civil society. George Bush blames Maliki, but Bush is responsible. It's his war. He failed. America failed. Why would he start a war, and then lose it? It's total incompetence and cowardice.
Should that possibility keep us from leaving? Maybe, but only if staying could change that outcome. If staying just keeps the lid on anarchy until we finally leave, what's the point? Iran could take over in 2008 or 2010 or 2020; it still takes over. We could hope for some kind of revolution in Iran, but it's unlikely to happen.
I think that we need to beef up the troops and re-establish order in Iraq, but Bush and the Republicans are too cowardly to do it. They won't re-establish the draft, which would be the only way to raise a sufficient number of troops to do the job. They'll just keep sending the same troops over there again and again for longer and longer tours with shorter and shorter stateside tours.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Something the article doesn't mention is World War II. WW II is so far unique in our history in pulling the country together. Unlike Vietnam and Iraq, almost everybody served in the military and fought. Men from the upper classes and the Ivy League spent years with men from the farms and factories. There was a brotherhood and a sense of shared responsibility. Today there is none of that. The privileged classes don't fight in Iraq. There is less social mobility within American society.
After WW II men who served as officers and returned to run the business world felt a kinship for and obligation toward the less fortunate enlisted men they had fought with. Some of the elite, rather than going into business, went into politics and ended up passing some of the laws leveling American society, making taxes more progressing, limiting monopolistic practices, etc., the kinds of things that have been undone in the last 20 years.
While these men ran America, we had a somewhat golden (as opposed gilded) age where management and labor worked more or less together to make life better for everyone. Today there is very little of that. The head of FedEx is a Vietnam veteran, and while Vietnam was a very different war, FedEx probably espouses more social responsibility than most other corporations whose managers only know the brotherhood of business school at Harvard or some other elite university.
Checking Wikipedia for military service by some big business names, I found:
- Bill Gates (Microsoft) - No service
- Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway) - No service
- Sandy Weill (Citicorp) - Did Air Force ROTC; wanted to be a pilot, but apparently could not qualify and did not serve in the active military.
- Leo Hindery (AT&T) - No mention of service, but less than complete biographies.
- Sumner Redstone (Viacom) - Worked in the predecessor to NSA during WW II.
- Kenneth Griffin (Citadel hedge fund) - No mention of military service; sounds like he went straight from Harvard into managing hedge funds.
- Lew Frankfort (Coach) - No mention of military service in Business Week bio.
- Sheldon Adelson (Gambling/Las Vegas) - No mention of service in Forbes bio.
- Larry Ellison (Oracle) - No mention of service in Forbes bio.
- Paul Allen (Microsoft) - No mention of service in Forbes.
- Jim Walton (Wal-Mart) - No mention of service in Forbes.
- Robson Walton (Wal-Mart) - No mention of service.
- Sergay Brin (Google) - No mention of service.
- Larry Page (Google) - No mention of service
- Michael Dell (Dell) - No mention of service.
- Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) - No mention of service.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Condi has turned out to be a light weight when it comes to foreign policy. She basically lets herself be pushed around by whomever she's with. At the White House, it was the war mongering neo-cons, and she backed them. Now, at State, she to her credit is taking a more statesman-like position, but due to the people around her, not to any good sense of her own.
She dresses nicely and is telegenic, but like Paris Hilton, there's not much "there" there, unlike Robert Gates who appears to be personally moving the Defense Department in a more reasonable direction.
Monday, June 25, 2007
This country has changed a lot. I think it's sad, but maybe when history looks back on it, it won't be so bad. Who it is bad for are the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This report shows more clearly that average Americans won't fight for their country. They let somebody else, probably somebody poorer who needs the money, do it. Families of New Yorkers in particular got millions from the government if they were killed in 9/11; now they party and profit from the stock market, while their poorer fellow citizens from southern and western states that New Yorkers spit on, die in Iraq and Afghanistan. Families of soldiers who die in combat, and families of victims killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, have gotten nothing close to the millions that New Yorkers got for 9/11.
Monday, June 18, 2007
It convinces me that America got the government it deserved, a bunch of cowardly, inept, greedy SOBs. The best and the brightest declined to serve in Vietnam, as George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney did. Al Gore went to Vietnam, and had the election stolen from him as a reward. Now the best and the brightest refuse to go to Iraq. Hey, they can stay here and make billions in the hedge fund or private equity business. Look at Mitt Romney; he didn't serve in the military (apparently his Mormon missionary service exempted him), and when he made his millions in private equity, he avoided a large share of his taxes by taking much of his income as capital gains rather than salary, unlike the families of the ordinary people who died in his place in Vietnam, and now in Iraq.
This is a government that knows how to make OTHER people sacrifice, and like it. However, whatever they have been doing is now working in Iraq. It's a huge mess, but they will just walk away from it. The Republicans who are so concerned about saving babies from abortion are responsible for the deaths of many more thousands of babies in Iraq. They don't care, as long as they get their money.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
The odd thing is that according to George Bush, the boys and girls in Iraq are fighting for them. Bush says this war is in response to Saddam Hussein's attacking the World Trade Center in the New York City financial district. These soldiers are dying to get revenge for the deaths of New Yorkers, and New Yorkers don't give a damn. Of course, neither does Bush, the US Congress, or the American people in general. The soldiers and their families care, but in general the soldiers need the money and don't have other options, or they would probably be out of there, too.
Maybe those rich Wall Streeters could do something about providing jobs for soldiers leaving the military. They they wouldn't have to keep fighting in Iraq until they die.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
With all his talk about fighting the war in Iraq or the war on terror, Bush is a coward. He dodged the draft during Vietnam, and when the US was attacked on 9/11 he went missing. He quit reading My Pet Goat and started flying around the country, to Louisana, Nebraska, and who knows where else. A real man would have returned to Washington, stepped before the TV cameras and said "I'm in charge; I will protect you." He showed up in New York several days later and did the PR thing long after the all clear had sounded.
His position on the Iraq war was, "I'm right, and everybody else (the UN, old Europe, etc.) is wrong." It turned out that Bush was wrong. There were no WMD; we were not greeted as liberators. What really irks me is that Bush did not attempt to be polite or work with other countries. He basically stuck his finger in the eye of anybody who didn't agree with him. So, he and Tony Blair went to war together with a few token troops from some little countries trying to curry favor with the US for whatever reason, in most cases having nothing to do with the war on terror.
In the process, Bush turned his back on US (and British) legal protections like habeas corpus, and instituted torture as an instrument of the US government. He turned the US into one of those outlaw states that we had criticized for the last 50 years. Why? Because he was scared. Many bullies are cowards, and Bush seems to belong to that group. He's a bad, bad man.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Ironically, the author of the article, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, got a masters degree from the University of Chicago, the home of the neo-cons.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Monday, April 16, 2007
Bush's job was to reduce taxes and give government subsidies to the rich who elected him. He got thrown off his agenda, however, when the terrorists attacked the US. As a cowardly draft dodger, responding to terrorists was not in his nature. So, he and Cheney, on the advice of a bunch of Jews at the upper levels of the administration, decided to invade Iraq to show how brave and resolute they were. The problem was that they were neither brave nor resolute and walked into a giant tar pit that threatens to keep America mired in combat for years.
Meanwhile, though, they have continued to carry out the task for which they were elected (or almost elected and then selected by the Supreme Court, which also usually answers to the "powers that be"). So, there is no sacrifice called for to support the war in Iraq, because Bush was elected to reduce sacrifice, not increase it. He has betrayed America for money. I think a lot of it is Jew money, but who knows. Certainly a lot of it is gentile money -- the Wal-Mart and Mars candy people, who want to get rid of the estate tax, for example. A lot of the gentile money, however, does not support this effort -- Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and a lot of old money, like the Rockefellers, for example. Some Jews don't either, like George Soros and some of the other big Jewish contributors to the Democratic party.
But George Bush has stuck to his guns, giving tax cuts despite the terrorist attacks, and America is the worse for it. I'm sure that Bush expects in return to be cared for by these fat cats for the rest of his life, but it seems like you don't really have to sell your soul for money after being President. Clinton and Bush I have made plenty of money from speaking engagements, and Bush II could, too. Maybe he is worried that he is so stupid that even the fat cats wouldn't pay to hear him speak. Basically, as President he only speaks to people in uniform who are ordered to go listen to him, and they don't make much money.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Bush, in theory, was in the National Guard. For him, during the Vietnam War, it was his hiding hole, like the one he found Saddam Hussein in. It kept him out of combat. Now he, as commander in chief, takes people in the same position he was and instead of exempting them, sends them into combat. It's so unfair that it boggles the mind.
It really rankles me as a Vietnam veteran who was in effect drafted, although not actually, because once I became 1-A under the draft, I volunteered, rather than wait to be drafted.
Bush's partner in crime is Dick Cheney, who also avoided the draft. And what about most of the Republican candidates. Except for John McCain, did they serve? Particularly what about Rudy Giuliani, who is running on his heroism on 9/11? Was he heroic during the Vietnam War? And what about the veteran who ran last time? John Kerry may not have been the best candidate, but he did not deserve to be Swift-boated and dragged through the mud because he actually served in Vietnam.
This country hates its veterans. The current Iraq veterans will find this out in a few years, after this war is over one way or another. John McCain has not experienced this because he came back as a POW under extraordinary circumstances, and gets a lot of bowing and scraping now because he is a Senator. Chuck Hagel seems more like a real veteran, a fact that will probably be used against him if he ever really gets into the public spotlight.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Maybe he'll get canned, but it's unlikely until Bush gets the boot in the next US election. Scandal couldn't happen to a more deserving person -- the failed architect of the Iraq war, the butcher of Baghdad!
I can't find anything on the Internet that says Eagleburger is Jewish, either ethnically or religiously, but he certainly seems to be with his close connections to Kissinger, his appointment as one of the chief Holocaust restitution bosses, etc.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
The NYT said on March 24, "Investors who fail to take a hard look at the vulnerability of the American economy are courting tremendous risk. The fact that after years of profligacy the federal government is fiscally ill prepared to respond to a destabilizing downturn only increases those risks."
William Rhodes, CEO of Citibank, wrote in the Financial Times on March 29:
The low spreads, the tremendous build-up of liquidity, the reach for yield and the lack of differentiation among borrowers have stimulated both dynamic growth and some real concerns....My own view of what's going on is that interest rates price both inflation and risk. When inflation was higher and interest rates were higher, they more or less incorporated the risk factor, i.e., it was relatively small in comparison to the inflation factor. As inflation fell and interest rates fell with it, the risk portion shrank in tandem. However, if anything the risk has been going up, not down, as hedge funds, private equity, and derivatives have played a more and more important role. In addition, the entry into the world economy of new major players such as China and India, who have kept inflation artificially low by depressing wage costs, has also kept the risk factor artificially low while actually increasing risk.
As lenders and investors inevitably become more discriminating, liquidity will recede and a number of problems will surface....
I believe that over the next 12 months a market correction will occur and this time it will be a real correction....
Today, hedge funds, private equity and those involved in credit derivatives play important, and as yet largely untested, roles. The primary worry of many who make or regulate the market is not inflation or growth or interest rates, but instead the coming adjustment and the possible destabilising effect these new players could have on the functioning of international markets as liquidity recedes. It is also possible that they could provide relief for markets that face shortages of liquidity.
Either way, this clearly is the time to exercise greater prudence in lending and in investing and to resist any temptation to relax standards.
As Rhodes said, someday investors will begin to notice this underpricing of risk, maybe not until something happens to highlight the risk factor. The sub-prime mortgage sector is probably not big enough in itself to do this, but if some other bump comes along while sub-primes are still a problem, that might do it.
Politically, it should be noted that while interest rates have fallen for big investors, they have risen for small consumers. In addition to the sub-prime mortgage scandal, which came to light because the interest rates on these mortgages increased dramatically, credit card issuers are raising rates far above the prime rates they charge wealthy individuals, as well as adding all kinds of fees and penalties. This doesn't represent risk pricing so much as it does hucksterism and usury. Lenders are taking advantage of people who have gotten themselves in trouble by borrowing too much. This is illustrated by the fact that people in credit trouble often get more offers from lenders ("loan sharks," even if they are big, fancy banks) than people with good credit histories.