« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

September 29, 2007

Where We're Headed Rights, Law

Say hello to the future, which is already in progress. ABC:

A car circles a high-rise three times. Someone leaves a backpack in a park.

Such things go unnoticed in big cities every day. But that could change in Chicago with a new video surveillance system that would recognize such anomalies and alert authorities to take a closer look.

On Thursday, the city and IBM Corp. are announcing the initial phase of what officials say could be the most advanced video security network in any U.S. city. The City of Broad Shoulders is getting eyes in the back of its head.

"Chicago is really light years ahead of any metropolitan area in the U.S. now," said Sam Docknevich, who heads video-surveillance consulting for IBM.

Chicago already has thousands of security cameras in use by businesses and police including some equipped with devices that recognize the sound of a gunshot, turn the cameras toward the source and place a 911 call. But the new system would let cameras analyze images in real time 24 hours a day.

"You're talking about creating (something) that knows no fatigue, no boredom and is absolutely focused," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

For example, the system could be programmed to alert the city's emergency center whenever a camera spots a vehicle matching the description of one being sought by authorities.

The system could be programmed to recognize license plates. It could alert emergency officials if the same car or truck circles the Sears Tower three times or if nobody picks up a backpack in Grant Park for, say, 30 seconds. [...]

"The eventual goal is to have elaborate video surveillance well in advance of the 2016 Olympics," said Bo Larsson, CEO of Firetide Inc., the company providing the wireless connectivity for the project.

Neither Smith nor IBM would reveal the cost of the network, but Smith said much of it would be paid by the Department of Homeland Security. The cost of previous surveillance efforts has run into the millions of dollars. Just adding devices that allow surveillance cameras to turn toward the sound of gunfire was as much as $10,000 per unit. [...]

Jonathan Schachter, a public policy lecturer at Northwestern University, said there are no studies that show cameras reduce crime. And the idea that placing cameras near "strategic assets" would prevent a terrorist attack is "absurd," he said. [Emphasis added]

This is only the beginning. The endgame is complete and perfect surveillance. Technology will get us there sooner or later, and probably sooner than we think.

Fear leads people to make poor choices, and these days we're certainly encouraged to be afraid. Of terrorist attacks, for example, despite their being exceedingly rare and improbable events. But we want to feel safe, so we willingly trade our liberty for the illusion of safety. Lambs to the slaughter.

[Thanks, Maurice]

Posted by Jonathan at 02:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, has a book coming out where he talks about George Bush. He said that Bush, the cowboy, is afraid of horses. Well actually, he's not afraid of them, but he had a bad experience. Back in college, a horse defeated him in a debate. — Bill Maher

Posted by Jonathan at 01:29 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 28, 2007

The Mother Of All Shocks Black Ops  Corporations, Globalization  War and Peace

I'm reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, and I think it's an enormously important book. One of those books that can fundamentally restructure your mental model of how the world works. A real paradigm shift. I'll have more to say about it later. Still reading.

In the meantime, John Cusack does a good video interview with Klein, here. Go watch it.

The thesis, in a nutshell, is that recent history has seen a series of conscious, highly-organized efforts to exploit shocks — economic catastrophes, natural disasters, wars, 9/11, Katrina — to jam through "reforms" that people would never tolerate otherwise. Economic shock therapy, suspension of civil liberties, the Patriot Act and Gitmo, etc., etc. But above all, disaster capitalism — privatization of all kinds of formerly public functions, extending now even to privatized war-fighting. Enormous fortunes are being made by companies that now have a vested interested in more and bigger catastrophes. And it's not only about dollars. Each shock drives us further to the right politically. In the event of another shock of national scope — another 9/11, or worse — the groundwork has been laid to fundamentally alter just about everything about how the US government functions and the rights of US citizens.

Which brings us to Iran. I've been generally skeptical that Bush/Cheney will, when all is said and done, attack Iran. I've reported the warning signs, because I think that's the responsible thing to do, but I've been skeptical. Because the results of such an attack would be cataclysmic. Surely, they're not that reckless, that self-destructive, that crazy.

One of Past Peak's readers, however, raises a terrifying question: what if that very cataclysm is the desired result. The mother of all shocks, the one that will let our world be remade in undreamed of ways, practically overnight. The mother of all shocks — but in the eyes of some, the mother of all opportunities. I'm not saying it will happen, but here's the point. Should it happen, don't let yourself be swept away in the tide of shock and horror. Don't let yourself be paralyzed by fear. Realize what you are witnessing: the deliberate instigation of a catastrophe for the purpose of creating a window where anything goes. Keep your wits about you. Recognize the shock doctrine and disaster capitalism when you see them.

That's the ultimate importance of Naomi Klein's work: a psychological innoculation before-the-fact, so that next time we won't sit by dumb-founded as the jackals move in to pick our bones clean.

Even better, let's not sit by passively beforehand and just let the shock come. War with Iran is madness. We must prevent it.

[Thanks, Miles]

Posted by Jonathan at 05:52 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 09:55 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

This Saturday, in Washington, DC, they will hold the Seventh Annual National Book Festival. First Lady Laura Bush will deliver a speech about the joys of reading. And then, President Bush will give the rebuttal. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 09:53 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 27, 2007

Fun With Fugues Humor & Fun

This is a hoot.

Posted by Jonathan at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Dollar Hits All-Time Low Economy  Peak Oil

The dollar continued its slide, falling to 1.4189 against the euro today, the dollar's all-time lowest point since the euro was invented. The dollar's set a new low each of the last six trading days.

Meanwhile, oil prices rose $2.58 (3.21%) for the day, to close at $82.88 a barrel, after topping $83 a barrel in intraday trading.

But stocks? They're up. Who says markets are rational?

Posted by Jonathan at 05:13 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Masculinity As Conquest Culture  Ethics  War and Peace

Making the connections:

From Stan Goff and Audrey Mantey. Goff is a veteran of the US Army Rangers, Airborne, Delta Force, and Special Forces. He served in Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, and Haiti. Which is to say, he knows a whole lot more about combat than you or I.

Here's his advice for people considering joining the military. Excellent:

(Via Feral Scholar)

Posted by Jonathan at 10:51 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

I was a little disappointed to hear this. Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and John McCain all said they cannot attend the minority debate this week at Morgan State University because they have scheduling conflicts. They're scheduled to meet with rich white people. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 26, 2007

Winding Down — Not Iraq  Politics

Bush's request for war funding in 2008 will be the biggest of the war. LAT:

After smothering efforts by war critics in Congress to drastically cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq, President Bush plans to ask lawmakers next week to approve another massive spending measure — totaling nearly $200 billion — to fund the war through next year, Pentagon officials said.

If Bush's spending request is approved, 2008 will be the most expensive year of the Iraq war. [...]

The funding request means that war costs are projected to grow even as the number of deployed combat troops begins a gradual decline starting in December. Spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is to rise from $173 billion this year to about $195 billion in fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.

When costs of CIA operations and embassy expenses are added, the war in Iraq currently costs taxpayers about $12 billion a month, said Winslow T. Wheeler, a former Republican congressional budget aide who is a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. [Emphasis added]

Good thing we elected all those Democrats last year. What a difference it's made.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:58 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

US Home Prices: Worst Drop In 16 Years Economy

Housing news keeps getting worse. AP:

The decline in U.S. home prices accelerated nationwide in July, posting the steepest drop in 16 years, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday.

Home prices have fallen by more every month since the beginning of the year.

An index of 10 U.S. cities fell 4.5 percent in July from a year ago. That was the biggest drop since July 1991. [...]

[Robert] Shiller, an economist at Yale University, told lawmakers in written comments last week that the loss of a boom mentality among consumers poses a "significant risk" of a recession within the next year. [Emphasis added]

The big wave of adjustable-rate mortgage resets hasn't even hit yet. The economy has been kept afloat in the Bush years by people taking cash out of their homes and spending it. That spending is coming to a screeching halt, so housing's problems are going to impact a whole lot more than just housing.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Privatizing War Corporations, Globalization  Iraq  War and Peace

A startling piece of information from John Robb. Private military contractors probably provide almost as many "trigger pullers" in Iraq as the entire US military does:

There are currently 20,000 PMC [Private Military Company] trigger pullers in Iraq. These men are guarding facilities and key people across the country. This is likely nearly the same number of trigger pullers (as opposed to support personnel) as the entire US military currently has in the country. Without these men, the US military would barely be able to field a force large enough to patrol Baghdad. [Emphasis added]

Privatization of war-fighting is bad news for a variety of reasons. It undermines democracy, because it is infinitely easier to sell a war that's fought by mercenaries than one fought by uniformed soldiers that people still think of as their sons and daughters. It removes accountability for the conduct of the fighting, since the contractors are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It supports the creation of standing private armies and fosters the further militarization of domestic law enforcement. And it creates a built-in constituency for more war. When war is a profit center, the obvious way to grow profits is to promote war. When PMCs have soldiers on the ground (not just in Iraq, but in many hotspots around the world), they have all sorts of opportunities to drum up business.

Where is this all headed? LA Times:

[Erik] Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, is straightforward about his company's goal: "We're trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service."

Since FedEx rendered the post office irrelevant for all but the most trivial forms of mail, this means you can kiss our national security apparatus goodbye. [Emphasis added]

The Founders considered any form of standing army a grave threat to liberty. And now we're going to convert much of the standing army into a profit-making enterprise under private control.

Whatever else corporations are, they are undemocratic: what the boss says, goes. And corporations are committed to maximizing growth. So when corporations have armies — when corporations are armies — how can it end well?

Posted by Jonathan at 12:40 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

The Democrats are so useless that they could not even pass a bill to get our troops more time between deployments. Only the Republicans could make an argument that a bill that literally supports the troops didn't support the troops. And only the Democrats could lose that argument. Next week, the Democrats are going to vote whether to give Republicans all their lunch money or just some of it. — Bill Maher

Posted by Jonathan at 12:00 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 25, 2007

3800 Iraq

The carnage continues in Iraq.

US troop deaths in Iraq hit 3800 today.


And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, millions displaced. For what?

Posted by Jonathan at 05:54 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 05:53 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

It's getting pretty nasty out there on the campaign trail. This week, Hillary Clinton referred to Vice President Dick Cheney as Darth Vader. And today, he demanded an apology. Not Dick Cheney, Darth Vader. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 05:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 24, 2007

A Shameful Racket Corporations, Globalization

Some things simply don't work as unregulated, for-profit activities. NYT:

Habana Health Care Center, a 150-bed nursing home in Tampa, Fla., was struggling when a group of large private investment firms purchased it and 48 other nursing homes in 2002.

The facility's managers quickly cut costs. Within months, the number of clinical registered nurses at the home was half what it had been a year earlier...Budgets for nursing supplies, resident activities and other services also fell. [...]

The investors and operators were soon earning millions of dollars a year from their 49 homes.

Residents fared less well. Over three years, 15 at Habana died from what their families contend was negligent care in lawsuits filed in state court. Regulators repeatedly warned the home that staff levels were below mandatory minimums. When regulators visited, they found malfunctioning fire doors, unhygienic kitchens and a resident using a leg brace that was broken.

"They've created a hellhole," said Vivian Hewitt, who sued Habana in 2004 when her mother died after a large bedsore became infected by feces.

Habana is one of thousands of nursing homes across the nation that large Wall Street investment companies have bought or agreed to acquire in recent years.

Those investors include prominent private equity firms like Warburg Pincus and the Carlyle Group, better known for buying companies like Dunkin' Donuts.

As such investors have acquired nursing homes, they have often reduced costs, increased profits and quickly resold facilities for significant gains.

But by many regulatory benchmarks, residents at those nursing homes are worse off, on average, than they were under previous owners,. [...]

The Times analysis shows that, as at Habana, managers at many other nursing homes acquired by large private investors have cut expenses and staff, sometimes below minimum legal requirements.

Regulators say residents at these homes have suffered. At facilities owned by private investment firms, residents on average have fared more poorly than occupants of other homes in common problems like depression, loss of mobility and loss of ability to dress and bathe themselves, according to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. [...]

In the past, residents' families often responded to such declines in care by suing, and regulators levied heavy fines against nursing home chains where understaffing led to lapses in care.

But private investment companies have made it very difficult for plaintiffs to succeed in court and for regulators to levy chainwide fines by creating complex corporate structures that obscure who controls their nursing homes.

By contrast, publicly owned nursing home chains are essentially required to disclose who controls their facilities in securities filings and other regulatory documents. [...]

When Mrs. Hewitt sued Habana over her mother's death, for example, she found that its owners and managers had spread control of Habana among 15 companies and five layers of firms.

As a result, Mrs. Hewitt's lawyer, like many others confronting privately owned homes, has been unable to establish definitively who was responsible for her mother's care. [...]

The typical large chain owned by an investment company in 2005 earned $1,700 a resident, according to reports filed by the facilities. Those homes, on average, were 41 percent more profitable than the average facility. [...]

"The first thing owners do is lay off nurses and other staff that are essential to keeping patients safe," said Charlene Harrington, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco who studies nursing homes. In her opinion, she added, "chains have made a lot of money by cutting nurses, but it's at the cost of human lives." [...]

[W]hen Mrs. Hewitt's lawyer, Sumeet Kaul, began investigating Habana's corporate structure, he discovered that its complexity meant that even if she prevailed in court, the investors' wallets would likely be out of reach.

Others had tried and failed. In response to dozens of lawsuits, Formation and affiliates of Warburg Pincus had successfully argued in court that they were not nursing home operators, and thus not liable for deficiencies in care.

Formation said in a statement that it was not reasonable to hold the company responsible for residents, "any more, say, than it would be reasonable for a landlord who owns a building, one of whose tenants is Starbucks, to be held liable if a Starbucks customer is scalded by a cup of hot coffee." [...]

Advocates for nursing home reforms say anyone who profits from a facility should be held accountable for its care. [...]

[E]ven when regulators do issue fines to investor-owned homes, they have found penalties difficult to collect.

"These companies leave the nursing home licensee with no assets, and so there is nothing to take," said Scott Johnson, special assistant attorney general of Mississippi. [...]

Last year, Formation sold Habana and 185 other facilities to General Electric for $1.4 billion. A prominent nursing home industry analyst, Steve Monroe, estimates that Formation's and its co-investors' gains from that sale were more than $500 million in just four years. Formation declined to comment on that figure. [Emphasis added]

These guys should be brought up on racketeering charges. They say they need to set up the layers of shell corporations that make them virtually lawsuit-proof because the industry had been the target of overzealous lawyers. But if that's all it is, why cut staff and services to dangerously low levels? Obviously, they've made themselves lawsuit-proof because they know they are going to do things that make them lawsuit-worthy.

It's practically a truism in America today that if you want something done right, you put it in the hands of a deregulated private sector. But over and over again, the facts prove otherwise.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:18 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:22 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

So obviously, the president has a better [health care] idea [on screen: Bush saying, "I believe the best approach is to put more power in the hands of individuals. By empowering people and their doctors..."] Okay, I'm just going to stop him right there. I think I figured out the disconnect here. I think I figured out the problem. "Empowering people and their doctors." See, he thinks the uninsured have doctors. — Jon Stewart

Posted by Jonathan at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 23, 2007

I'm So Proud 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Politics

Our president:

(Via Cryptogon)

Posted by Jonathan at 05:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:45 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Just today, President Bush gave a press conference to talk about an issue on everyone's mind — health care. Specifically, this so-called SCHIP insurance bill. It's a Democratic measure that would expand what children would be eligible for federally funded health insurance. And you know why that's bad [on screen: Bush saying, "The SCHIP plan is an incremental step toward the goal of government run health care for every American."] Oh my God, they're gonna put Communism in our kids' drinking water — and then inject them with the gay and load them on Michael Moore and float them to Cuba! — Jon Stewart

Posted by Jonathan at 10:15 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 21, 2007

President Creepy Politics

Sidney Blumenthal reviews Robert Draper's Dead Certain in Salon. It's creepy stuff. Excerpt:

In his interviews with Draper, [Bush] is constantly worried about weakness and passivity. "If you're weak internally? This job will run you all over town." He fears being controlled and talks about it relentlessly, feeling he's being watched. "And part of being a leader is: people watch you." He casts his anxiety as a matter of self-discipline. "I don't think I'd be sitting here if not for the discipline ... And they look at me — they want to know whether I've got the resolution necessary to see this through. And I do. I believe — I know we'll succeed." He is sensitive about asserting his supremacy over others, but especially his father. "He knows as an ex-president, he doesn't have nearly the amount of knowledge I've got on current things," he told Draper.

Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket." In front of other aides, Bush joked repeatedly that he would fire Rove. (Laura Bush's attitude toward Rove was pointedly disdainful. She nicknamed him "Pigpen," for wallowing in dirty politics. He was staff, not family — certainly not people like them.)

Bush's deployed his fetish for punctuality as a punitive weapon. When Colin Powell was several minutes late to a Cabinet meeting, Bush ordered that the door to the Cabinet Room be locked. Aides have been fearful of raising problems with him. In his 2004 debates with Sen. John Kerry, no one felt comfortable or confident enough to discuss with Bush the importance of his personal demeanor. Doing poorly in his first debate, he turned his anger on his communications director, Dan Bartlett, for showing him a tape afterward. When his trusted old public relations handler, Karen Hughes, tried gently to tell him, "You looked mad," he shot back, "I wasn't mad! Tell them that!"

At a political strategy meeting in May 2004, when Matthew Dowd and Rove explained to him that he was not likely to win in a Reagan-like landslide, as Bush had imagined, he lashed out at Rove: "KARL!" Rove, according to Draper, was Bush's "favorite punching bag," and the president often threw futile and meaningless questions at him, and shouted, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

Those around him have learned how to manipulate him through the art of flattery. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played Bush like a Stradivarius, exploiting his grandiosity. "Rumsfeld would later tell his lieutenants that if you wanted the president's support for an initiative, it was always best to frame it as a 'Big New Thing.'" Other aides played on Bush's self-conception as "the Decider." "To sell him on an idea," writes Draper, "aides were now learning, the best approach was to tell the president, This is going to be a really tough decision." But flattery always requires deference. Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: "Thank you for the privilege of serving today."

Draper reports a telling exchange between Bush and James Baker, one of his father's closest associates, the elder Bush's former secretary of state and the one the family called on to take command of the campaign for the 2000 Florida contest when everything hung in the balance. Baker's ruthless field marshaling safely brought the younger Bush into the White House. Counseling him in the aftermath, Baker warned him about Rumsfeld. "All I'm going to say to you is, you know what he did to your daddy," he said.

Indeed, Rumsfeld and the elder Bush were bitter rivals. Rumsfeld had scorn for him, and tried to sideline and eliminate him during the Ford administration because he wanted to become president himself. If George W. Bush didn't know about it before, he knew about it then from Baker, and soon thereafter he appointed Rumsfeld secretary of defense. Draper does not reflect on this revelation, but it is highly suggestive.

Quoted in an Aug. 9 article in the New York Times on the lachrymose father, Andrew Card, aide to both men, lately as White House chief of staff, and a family loyalist, spoke out of school. "It was relatively easy for me to read the sitting president's body language after he had talked to his mother or father," Card said. "Sometimes he'd ask me a probing question. And I'd think, Hmm, I don't think that question came from him." [...]

"History would acquit him, too. Bush was confident of that, and of something else as well," writes Draper. "Though it was not the sort of thing one could say publicly anymore, the president still believed that Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction. He repeated this conviction to Andy Card all the way up until Card's departure in April 2006, almost exactly three years after the Coalition had begun its fruitless search for WMDs."

Bush grasps at the straws of his own disinformation as he casts himself deeper into the abyss. The more profound and compounded his blunders, and the more he redoubles his certainty in ultimate victory, the greater his indifference to failure. He has entered a phase of decadent perversity, where he accelerates his errors to vindicate his folly. As the sands of time run down, he has decided that no matter what he does, history will finally judge him as heroic. [Emphasis added]

What kind of jerk lets his chief of staff greet him, day after day, with the words, "Thank you for the privilege of serving today." I mean, come on. And how delusional does he have to be to still think Saddam had WMDs?

And all the rest of it, the constant nasty, petty ways he humiliates and bullies the people around him. It would be one thing if he were some kind of genius prima donna — a George Patton, maybe, or a Winston Churchill — but the guy's an absolute fly-weight, grotesquely out of his depth, without even a hint of self-awareness. What an asshole.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:43 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Blackwater Un-Banned In Iraq Iraq

Well, that didn't take long. Blackwater is going back to work in Iraq.

In case you were wondering if Iraq's supposedly sovereign government actually has final say-so.

Posted by Jonathan at 12:50 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 12:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In political news, Vice President Dick Cheney is very upset about the way General Petraeus has been treated by the Democrats. Vice President Cheney said it is horrible that people mock and insult a soldier. I'll be sure to pass that on to John Kerry when I see him. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 20, 2007

US Dollar In Free Fall, Hits All-Time Low Against The Euro Economy

When you spend way more than you earn, there comes a time when nobody wants any more of your damn IOUs. True for individuals, true for nations. The US is about to learn a painful lesson.

Yesterday (Telegraph):

Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East.

"This is a very dangerous situation for the dollar," said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas.

"Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management. They face an inflationary threat and do not want to import an interest rate policy set for the recessionary conditions in the United States," he said.

The Saudi central bank said today that it would take "appropriate measures" to halt huge capital inflows into the country, but analysts say this policy is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to the collapse of the dollar peg.

As a close ally of the US, Riyadh has so far tried to stick to the peg, but the link is now destabilising its own economy.

The Fed's dramatic half point cut to 4.75pc yesterday has already caused a plunge in the world dollar index to a fifteen year low, touching with weakest level ever against the mighty euro at just under $1.40.

There is now a growing danger that global investors will start to shun the US bond markets. The latest US government data on foreign holdings released this week show a collapse in purchases of US bonds from $97bn to just $19bn in July, with outright net sales of US Treasuries.

The danger is that this could now accelerate as the yield gap between the United States and the rest of the world narrows rapidly, leaving America starved of foreign capital flows needed to cover its current account deficit - expected to reach $850bn this year, or 6.5pc of GDP.

Mr Redeker said foreign investors have been gradually pulling out of the long-term US debt markets, leaving the dollar dependent on short-term funding. Foreigners have funded 25pc to 30pc of America's credit and short-term paper markets over the last two years.

"They were willing to provide the money when rates were paying nicely, but why bear the risk in these dramatically changed circumstances? We think that a fall in dollar to $1.50 against the euro is not out of the question at all by the first quarter of 2008," he said.

"This is nothing like the situation in 1998 when the crisis was in Asia, but the US was booming. This time the US itself is the problem," he said. [Emphasis added]

Today (FT):

The Canadian dollar rose to parity against the US dollar for the first time since 1976 on Thursday, buoyed by soaring oil prices and broad-based weakness in the greenback. [...]

Late in New York, the Canadian dollar rose 1.4 per cent to C$1.0012 against its US counterpart.

Elsewhere, the dollar dropped to a record low through the $1.40 level against the euro as the US currency continued its slide following the Federal Reserve's decision to cut interest rates this week.

Traders said the euro's rise through the psychologically important $1.40 level – seen as a pain barrier for eurozone exporters – triggered a host of stop-loss buying, sending the single currency higher.

The euro rose 0.8 per cent to $1.4071 against the dollar...

The dollar fell 0.4 per cent to $2.0093 against the pound, lost 1.5 per cent against the yen to Y114.44 and dropped 1 per cent to SFr1.1717 against the Swiss franc.

Some analysts put the dollar's weakness down to speculation that Saudi Arabia was set to abandon its peg against the US dollar. [Emphasis added]

When Bush took office, dollars were worth more than euros. Back then, it took about 90 cents to buy what a euro could buy. Now it takes $1.40.

It's not all Bush's fault, but the war — his war — is an important factor. We pay for it by, in effect, printing more and more dollars. That makes dollars worth less and less, which is a huge hidden tax on everybody who holds dollars. We may be approaching the point where the big dollar holders say "Enough!" and start dumping their holdings. Then, look out.

And then there's this, from today's BBC:

Losses from sub-prime mortgages have far exceeded "even the most pessimistic estimates", US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has said. [Emphasis added]

This isn't going to be pretty.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Congratulations to Al Gore! Al Gore won an Emmy the other night. Actually, you know the secret to his win? This time, they actually counted the votes. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 19, 2007

Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:02 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In a new book, Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, says that President Bush's Spanish is at grade school-level. Fortunately, Bush's feelings weren't hurt, because Fox made the comments in Spanish. — Conan O'Brien

Posted by Jonathan at 10:01 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 18, 2007

2007 Foreclosures To Top 2 Million Economy

As the Fed frantically tries to reinflate the bubble, housing continues to tank. CNN:

Late summer brought no relief from soaring foreclosures. The number of homes in some stage of default jumped 36 percent month-over-month in August, according to a regular monthly survey.

Delinquencies and defaults more than doubled year over year to 243,947, according to August figures released Tuesday by RealtyTrac, a marketer of foreclosed properties. RealtyTrac's forecast is for total foreclosure filings to exceed 2 million this year.

"The jump in foreclosure filings this month might be the beginning of the next wave of increased foreclosure activity, as a large number of subprime adjustable rate loans are beginning to reset now," James Saccacio, chief executive of RealtyTrac, said in a statement

October is expected to be a peak month for hybrid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) to reset, with the interest rates on some $50 billion worth of loans poised to go up dramatically. [Emphasis added]

October, eh? Brings to mind this and this.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:46 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Free Speech Rights, Law

Guess they don't like it when you ask about Skull & Bones:

Posted by Jonathan at 05:14 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Oil Tops $82 A Barrel Peak Oil

Oil jumped $1.81 today to close at another new record: $82.38 per barrel.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 04:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The other night, President Bush gave his eighth speech to the nation about Iraq. In it, Bush promised to have the troops home by speech number 73. — Conan O'Brien

Posted by Jonathan at 04:55 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 17, 2007

Barbarian Invasion Iraq

In Iraq, five millenia ago, civilization began. Today, among the many bitter fruits of the US invasion is this: the ongoing — and soon to be complete — ransacking, looting, and destruction of thousands of the world's most ancient archaeological sites. Robert Fisk:

Today, almost every archaeological site in southern Iraq is under the control of looters.

In a long and devastating appraisal to be published in December, Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says that armies of looters have not spared "one metre of these Sumerian capitals that have been buried under the sand for thousands of years.

"They systematically destroyed the remains of this civilisation in their tireless search for sellable artefacts: ancient cities, covering an estimated surface area of 20 square kilometres, which – if properly excavated – could have provided extensive new information concerning the development of the human race.

"Humankind is losing its past for a cuneiform tablet or a sculpture or piece of jewellery that the dealer buys and pays for in cash in a country devastated by war. Humankind is losing its history for the pleasure of private collectors living safely in their luxurious houses and ordering specific objects for their collection."

Ms Farchakh, who helped with the original investigation into stolen treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, says Iraq may soon end up with no history.

"There are 10,000 archaeological sites in the country. In the Nassariyah area alone, there are about 840 Sumerian sites; they have all been systematically looted. Even when Alexander the Great destroyed a city, he would always build another. But now the robbers are destroying everything because they are going down to bedrock. What's new is that the looters are becoming more and more organised with, apparently, lots of money.

"Quite apart from this, military operations are damaging these sites forever. There's been a US base in Ur for five years and the walls are cracking because of the weight of military vehicles. It's like putting an archaeological site under a continuous earthquake."

Of all the ancient cities of present-day Iraq, Ur is regarded as the most important in the history of man-kind. Mentioned in the Old Testament – and believed by many to be the home of the Prophet Abraham – it also features in the works of Arab historians and geographers where its name is Qamirnah, The City of the Moon. [...]

The legions of antiquities looters work within a smooth mass-smuggling organisation. Trucks, cars, planes and boats take Iraq's historical plunder to Europe, the US, to the United Arab Emirates and to Japan. The archaeologists say an ever-growing number of internet websites offer Mesopotamian artefacts, objects anywhere up to 7,000 years old.

The farmers of southern Iraq are now professional looters, knowing how to outline the walls of buried buildings and able to break directly into rooms and tombs. The archaeologists' report says: "They have been trained in how to rob the world of its past and they have been making significant profit from it. They know the value of each object and it is difficult to see why they would stop looting." [Emphasis added]

Millenia have passed, empires have come and gone, and the antiquities have survived it all. But now, in the blink of an eye, they will be gone.

It's disgraceful and appalling, but it fits: we trash the world with reckless disregard for the generations to come after us, so of course we care nothing for the ones who came before. But these things, once done, cannot be undone. It is cause for deep and everlasting shame.

[Thanks, Miles]

Posted by Jonathan at 11:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Blackwater Banned In Iraq Iraq

Iraq's Interior Ministry says it has banned the infamous mercenary outfit Blackwater USA from further operations in Iraq. CNN:

Iraq's Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater USA, an American security firm whose contractors are blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead. The U.S. State Department said it plans to investigate what it calls a "terrible incident."

In addition to the fatalities, 14 people were wounded, most of them civilians, an Iraqi official said. [...]

Sunday's firefight took place near Nusoor Square, an area that straddles the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Mansour and Yarmouk.

The ministry said the incident began around midday, when a convoy of sport utility vehicles came under fire from unidentified gunmen in the square. The men in the SUVs, described by witnesses as Westerners, returned fire, the ministry said.

One witness told The Associated Press that he heard an explosion before the gunfire began.

"We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby," Hussein Abdul-Abbas, owner of a mobile phone store in the area, told the AP. "One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately."

A team from another security company passed through the area a few minutes afterward.

"Our people saw a couple of cars destroyed," Carter Andress, CEO of American-Iraqi Solutions Groups, told CNN on Monday. "Dead bodies, wounded people being evacuated. The U.S. military had moved in and secured the area. It was not a good scene."

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, said, "We have revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq. As of now they are not allowed to operate anywhere in the Republic of Iraq. The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday's killing will be referred to Iraqi justice." [Emphasis added]

This is going to be interesting. Will the Iraqi government be allowed to make this stick?

Posted by Jonathan at 03:53 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Oil Price Sets New Record — Again Peak Oil

Oil rose $1.47 today, closing at $80.57 a barrel, another new record.

Posted by Jonathan at 03:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

[Thanks, Maurice]

Posted by Jonathan at 10:23 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 16, 2007

Greenspan: Iraq War Was For Oil Iraq

Sunday Times:

America's elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.

In his long-awaited memoir, to be published tomorrow, Greenspan, a Republican whose 18-year tenure as head of the US Federal Reserve was widely admired, will also deliver a stinging critique of President George W Bush's economic policies.

However, it is his view on the motive for the 2003 Iraq invasion that is likely to provoke the most controversy. "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil," he says.

Greenspan, 81, is understood to believe that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of oil supplies in the Middle East. [Emphasis added]


Posted by Jonathan at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Cashing In On Shock 9/11, "War On Terror"  Black Ops  Disasters

I'm a big fan of Naomi Klein (see this, this, this, this, this, this, this), who's got a new book, Shock Doctine, coming out this week. Pre-ordered mine a month ago. While we wait, here's an intro made for her by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who made the wonderful Children of Men:

She's really onto something. Check it out.

And you know that once they figured out all the uses that shock could be put to, they started looking for ways to create the needed shocks — 9/11 being the mother of them all.

[Thanks, Miles]

Posted by Jonathan at 08:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 07:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In a new biography coming out soon about President George W. Bush, when asked what his plans where after he leaves office, President Bush said he'd like to make some money giving speeches. He wants to give speeches. Well, you can't say the man doesn't know where his strengths are. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 07:36 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 14, 2007

1.2 Million Iraqis Killed By The War Iraq

ORB, a leading British survey research firm, reports:

In the week in which General Patraeus reports back to US Congress on the impact the recent "surge" is having in Iraq, a new poll reveals that more than 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have been murdered since the invasion took place in 2003.

Previous estimates, most noticeably the one published in the Lancet in October 2006, suggested almost half this number (654,965 deaths).
These findings come from a poll released today by O.R.B., the British polling agency that have been tracking public opinion in Iraq since 2005. In conjunction with their Iraqi fieldwork agency a representative sample of 1,461 adults aged 18 answered the following question:

Q How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (ie as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof.

None 78%
One 16%
Two 5%
Three 1%
Four or more 0.002%

Given that from the 2005 census there are a total of 4,050,597 households this data suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003.

Detailed analysis (which is available on our website) indicates that almost one in two households in Baghdad have lost a family member, significantly higher than in any other area of the country. The governorates of Diyala (42%) and Ninewa (35%) were next.

The poll also questioned the surviving relatives on the method in which their loved ones were killed. It reveals that 48% died from a gunshot wound, 20% from the impact of a car bomb, 9% from aerial bombardment, 6% as a result of an accident and 6% from another blast/ordnance. This is significant because more often that not it is car bombs and aerial bombardments that make the news – with gunshots rarely in the headlines.

As well as a murder rate that now exceeds the Rwanda genocide from 1994 (800,000 murdered), not only have more than one million been injured but our poll calculates that of the millions of Iraqis that have fled their neighbourhoods, 52% have moved within Iraq but 48% have crossed its borders, with Syria taking the brunt of refugees.

Whether the true number is really 1.2 million or not, one thing is clear: the number, whatever it is, is a really big number. But no one on the tv will say it's true, so no one will believe it — and of course no one wants to believe it. And then there are the millions of refugees, a number that no one seems to dispute. The overall scale and scope of the suffering is impossible to grasp. This is all happening in a real place, to real people — millions of them.

But General Petraeus seemed like such a nice man.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Miette's Tear Humor & Fun

Chaos theory:

(via RI)

Posted by Jonathan at 05:09 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 12:43 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

I guess the Secret Service had a little scare yesterday. For a couple of hours, they could not find President Bush. Turns out he was just hiding behind General Petraeus. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 12:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 13, 2007

Disappearing Boys Environment

The Arctic is a sink for a lot of air- and water-borne pollution. The effects of that pollution are profound. The Independent:

Twice as many girls as boys are being born in remote communities north of the Arctic Circle. Across much of the northern hemisphere, particularly in the US and Japan, the gender ratio has skewed towards girls for the first time.

Now scientists working with Inuit villages in Arctic Russia and Greenland have found the first direct evidence that this trend is linked to widespread chemical pollutants. Despite the Arctic's pristine environment, the area functions as a pollution sink for much of the industrialised world. Winds and rivers deliver a toxic tide from the northern hemisphere into the polar food chain.

Scientists have traced flame-retardant chemicals used in everything from industrial products to furniture, phones and laptops to the food chain, finding high levels of these pollutants in seabirds, seals and polar bears. The Inuit have traditionally relied on a hunter- gatherer's diet almost exclusively made up of marine animals, making them especially vulnerable to toxic pollutants.

Historically in large populations, it is considered normal for the number of baby boys slightly to outnumber girls in a trend believed to compensate naturally for greater male mortality rates.

But a peer-reviewed US study found an unexpected drop in the proportion of boys born in much of the northern hemisphere. The missing boys would number more than 250,000 in the US and Japan, using the gender ratio at the levels recorded up until 1970.

The researchers suspected that this linked widespread exposure among pregnant women to hormone-mimicking pollutants. But Danish scientists examined 480 families in the Russian Arctic and found high levels of the hormone-mimicking pollutants in the blood of pregnant women, and twice as many girls being born as boys.

They are now studying similar communities in Greenland and Canada and although full results will be published next year, their initial findings exactly match those in Russia.

Lars Otto Riersen, a marine biologist, pollution expert and an executive with the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Amap), says: "When you see such things happening in the Arctic, it may happen here first, in the same way as climate change did." [...]

Dr Jens Hansen, leader of Amap research, said they were finding incredibly high levels of banned PCBs among a cocktail of other hormone-mimicking chemicals in pre-natal mothers. Pregnant mothers, he said were ingesting these hormone-mimicking chemicals in their diet and passing them through the placenta where they influenced the gender of the foetus or killed male foetuses. [...]

Aqqaluk Lynge, head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said they were trying to raise the alarm internationally but nobody was listening. "People don't want to talk about such a critical question. We are talking about our people's survival which is very alarming."

Greenland, the world's largest island and still a dependency of Denmark, now has the highest proportion of women in the world. [Emphasis added]

The modern world's a runaway train. So few people take the long view anymore. Gotta make that buck, gotta do it today — tomorrow be damned. Maybe it's because, deep down, we've lost confidence that we've got a lot of tomorrows left.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:30 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Oil Closes Above $80 For First Time Peak Oil

Another day, another record oil price. Bloomberg:

Crude oil rose, closing above $80 a barrel in New York for the first time, after Hurricane Humberto shut three refineries in Texas.

Gasoline gained, pulling oil higher, as the storm knocked out power at plants in Port Arthur, Texas, owned by Total SA, Valero Energy Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. The plants can process a combined 850,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

"We don't have the ability to lose any refining capacity, especially since refineries are shutting for maintenance ahead of heating-oil season," said Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover Inc., a New Canaan, Connecticut, energy consultant. [...]

Crude oil for October delivery advanced 18 cents to settle at $80.09 a barrel at 2:59 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a record close. Futures touched $80.20, the highest intraday price since trading began in 1983. Prices are up 25 percent from a year ago. [Emphasis added]

Something of a non sequitir there: loss of refineries could contribute to higher gasoline prices, but it's hard to see why it would cause crude oil prices to climb. It might actually have the opposite effect, as reduced refining capacity would tend to allow inventories of unrefined crude oil to grow in the backlog. As usual, analysts reach for something in the day's news to explain the day's trading, ignoring the fact that larger forces are at work.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:07 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 04:50 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In Australia, President Bush praised the brave Austrian troops. Can't wait for him to go to Vienna and ask where all the kangaroos are. — Will Durst

Posted by Jonathan at 04:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 12, 2007

Atlantic: Ghawar In Decline Peak Oil

An article in The Atlantic based on Stuart Staniford's work at The Oil Drum pretty much concludes that Saudi Arabia's oil production has peaked and is now in decline. That would mean the world's in decline: Peak Oil is here. Excerpts:

No country is more important to oil markets than Saudi Arabia. The kingdom produced roughly 9.2 million barrels of crude a day in 2006, and accounted for 19 percent of world oil exports. Many analysts expect it to supply a quarter of the world’s added production over the next few years. And as the only producer with significant excess capacity, it has played a crucial role [in the past] in alleviating temporary supply disruptions, increasing daily production by 3.1 million barrels during the first Gulf War, for example, when oil production in Iraq and Kuwait dropped by 5.3 million barrels.

The Ghawar oil field is the kingdom’s crown jewel. Stretching for more than 150 miles beneath the desert, it is the largest known deposit in the world. It produces perhaps twice as much oil as any other field, and has doubtless accounted for more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Yet the Saudis have been removing oil from this reservoir for half a century. Sooner or later, its production must fall.

The Saudis do not release data on how much oil they are extracting from individual wells, or on the remaining reserves of individual oil fields. But the total amount that the kingdom produces has been declining, down a million barrels a day over the last two years of data.

The Saudis have claimed these cuts have been in response to weak demand. However, the big drop in production began in the spring of 2006, when the price of oil was rising from $60 to $74 a barrel; the claim that no one wanted to buy Saudi Arabia’s light crude strains credulity. The drop in production has also coincided with a huge new Saudi effort to find and pump more oil: The number of active oil rigs in Saudi Arabia has tripled over the past three years.

Frustrated by the lack of hard data on Ghawar, Stuart Staniford, a computer scientist with a doctorate in physics, has conducted a painstaking study of publicly available information. His research has been reported at theoildrum.com, a Web site that analyzes energy markets. [...]

Staniford has also built a detailed computer simulation of the Ghawar reser­voir, based on its size and shape, the porosity and permeability of its rock, and the assumed oil-extraction rates. The results of this simulation line up remarkably well with Staniford's other calculations. Oil production from northern Ghawar has likely peaked.

Southern Ghawar still holds a lot of oil, and perhaps the kingdom's push to find new fields will bear fruit. But northern Ghawar was developed first because it was by far the most promising field. Its production cannot be easily replaced. At about the same time that Saudi production began its decline, the new Haradh project in southern Ghawar began producing perhaps an additional 300,000 barrels a day. The Saudis have also made a huge investment to reopen the Qatif field on the eastern coast, which they had abandoned in 1995; it is now producing an estimated half-million barrels a day. With Saudi production falling despite these new contributions, the situation could be serious.

At a bare minimum, the era when excess Saudi capacity could cushion geopolitical disruptions in oil supplies may well be over, even though the threat of such disruptions is greater than ever. And if Saudi production continues to decline even as world demand keeps growing, in a few years we will look back at the summer of 2007 as the last of the days when gasoline — even at $3.50 a gallon — was still plentiful and cheap. [Emphasis added]

Saudi output down a million barrels a day while they triple the number of active oil rigs. If that doesn't say depletion, I don't know what does.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Oil Tops $80 A Barrel Peak Oil

Earlier today, oil rose to $80.18 a barrel.

As I write this, it's up $1.68 to $79.91 a barrel.

Yesterday's all-time record of $78.23 sure didn't last long.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:59 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

"That's Not How Gay Works" Humor & Fun  Politics

Larry Craig's old news, but this is too funny.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:50 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 09:40 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

On Labor Day enroute to a summit in Australia, President Bush made an unannounced stop in Anbar province, Iraq, stopping at the Anbar Province Regional Airport. Why Iraq? Why now? Well, as the president explained, "I have come to see with my own eyes the remarkable changes that are taking place in Anbar province." He's not looking with other people's eyes, he's looking with his. In all, Bush was in Iraq for a total of six hours, all of it within the 17-mile perimeter of the highly-secured Al Asad airbase. His take away? [on screen: Bush saying, "When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like"] — a giant, heavily-armed U.S. military base surrounded by a bloody sectarian free-for-all. He's a dreamer. — Jon Stewart

(Video here)

Posted by Jonathan at 09:31 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 11, 2007

Arctic Ice Melt Obliterates Previous Record Environment

The Arctic continues to melt at an astonishing pace. ABC:

An area of Arctic sea ice the size of Florida has melted away in just the last six days as melting at the top of the planet continues at a record rate.

2007 has already broken the record for the lowest amount of sea ice ever recorded, say scientists, smashing the old record set in 2005.

Currently, there are about 1.63 million square miles of Arctic ice, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. That is well below the record of 2.05 million square miles set two summers ago and could drop even lower before the final numbers are in.

From September 3 to September 9, researchers say 69,000 square miles of Arctic ice disappeared, roughly the size of the Sunshine State.

Scientists say the rate of melting in 2007 has been unprecedented, and veteran ice researchers worry the Arctic is on track to be completely ice-free much earlier than previous research and climate models have suggested.

"If you had asked me a few years ago about how fast the Arctic would be ice free in summer, I would have said somewhere between about 2070 and the turn of the century," said scientist Mark Serreze, polar ice expert at the NSIDC. "My view has changed. I think that an ice-free Arctic as early as 2030 is not unreasonable." [...]

Melting sea ice, unlike land-based glaciers like the ones in Greenland and elsewhere, does not raise sea level. But it does play a major role in regulating the planet's climate by affecting air and ocean currents.

"It will shift some of the weather patterns in ways that we are just beginning to understand," said Robert Correll, a scientist who chairs the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and is also the climate change director at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington, D.C.

Correll said that white sea ice also acts as a mirror at the top of the planet, reflecting much of the sun's energy back into space. As it melts, it reveals darker water that absorbs more energy from the sun — further warming the ocean in a process scientists call a "feedback."

"If there is no ice, the ocean is going to continue to heat, and that is going to accelerate the global warming process," said Correll. [Emphasis added]

1.63 million sq mi this year, compared to 2.05 million sq mi when the record was set two years ago. That's a reduction of 20%. The record hasn't been broken, it's been absolutely obliterated.

Something very significant is happening up there.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Shell May Use Nuclear To Power Tar Sands Operation Energy  Peak Oil

As Kevin says at Cryptogon, this reads like something from The Onion. Independent:

Shell is considering using nuclear power to operate its controversial tar sands programme in Canada.

Tar sands extraction – mining oil from a mixture of sand or clay, water and very heavy crude oil – uses a huge amount of energy and water. Environmentalists say it results in more than three times as many emissions of carbon dioxide compared to conventional oil production.

Now Canadian firms AECL and Energy Alberta have proposed building a nuclear reactor near the site of Shell's vast Athabasca tar sands development. The boss of Energy Alberta has said the C$6bn (£2.8bn) reactor has the backing of a large unnamed copany that would take 70 per cent of the reactor's energy.

A spokeswoman for Shell Canada refused to confirm that the company would take electricity from the reactor but said: "We have had a number of power options presented to us. Yes, it includes nuclear.

"If a nuclear facility proceeds, we would look at it based on a wide range of factors such as economics, sustainability and the energy [required]."

She added that the company was also looking at building biomass, renewable or co-generation plants.

Analysts estimate that Canada's huge tar sands give it the world's second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia.

However, Walt Patterson, associate fellow at think-tank Chatham House, said: "Extracting oil from tar scares the pants off me. The whole idea is fundamentally perverse in the context of our present environmental situation. To then power it with nuclear, it seems to be the worst of all worlds."

The Independent on Sunday has also been told that, earlier this year, Shell Canada contacted French nuclear firm Areva to find out how much it would cost to build a reactor for the oil sands project, but did not pursue this option because of the cost. The Shell Canada spokeswoman could not confirm this discussion took place.

Shell and its Athabasca partners currently pump over 155,000 barrels of oil per day from the tar sands but want to increase this by five times over the next 20 years. This would need more than an extra 1,000MW of generating capacity. Most of the project's existing power comes from a gas-fired plant, but gas production in North America is declining.

We're addicted to oil, and this is the way addicts behave. No scheme is too self-destructive, no idea too crazy, if it lets the addict get his fix. What's frightening is not so much the insanity of this particular idea — crazy though it is — but the glimpse it provides of the desperation to come. When world oil production starts to decline in earnest, people are going to get reckless.

Update: Oil closed today at $78.23, an all-time record.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Pentagon Report To "Differ Substantially" From Petraeus' Iraq

General Petraeus makes it sound like the Centcom commander and the Pentagon brass all agree with him. Not so, apparently. Newsweek:

Newsweek has learned that a separate internal report being prepared by a Pentagon working group will "differ substantially" from Petraeus's recommendations, according to an official who is privy to the ongoing discussions but would speak about them only on condition of anonymity. An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will "recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there." The strategy will involve unwinding the still large U.S. presence in big forward operation bases and putting smaller teams in outposts. "There is interest at senior levels [of the Pentagon] in getting alternative views" to Petraeus, the official said. Among others, Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon is known to want to draw down faster than Petraeus. [...]

John Arquilla, an intelligence and counterinsurgency expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, is even harsher in his assessment of Petraeus. "I think Colin Powell used dodgy information to get us into the war, and Petraeus is using dodgy information to keep us there," he said. "His political talking points are all very clear: the continued references he made to the danger of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example, even though it represents only somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of the total insurgency. The continued references to Iran, when in fact the Iranians have had a lot to do with stability in the Shiite portion of the country. And it's not at all clear why things are a little better now. Is it because there are more troops, or is it because we're negotiating with the insurgents and have moved to small operating outposts? On any given day we don't have more than 20,000 troops operating. The glacial pace of reductions beggars the imagination." [...]

According to a former senior civilian official in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Petraeus is a "total performer." This reporter observed Petraeus's political skills up close while flying with him above the Iraqi city of Mosul in a Blackhawk helicopter in early 2004. Speaking through headphones over the loud whirring of the chopper engines, Petraeus pointed out to then-Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer III how many satellite dishes had popped up on Iraqi homes during the general's tenure as commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Citing the dishes as a sign of progress, he proposed that Bremer go national with Petraeus's "Mosul's most wanted" TV show, launched to get locals to call in with insurgent tips. And Petraeus called in a large press gaggle to observe training exercises at his local Iraqi military training academy. Later, back in Baghdad, Bremer shook his head and laughed indulgently. "He loves headlines," Bremer said. "But he's very good." [Emphasis added]

Something tells me the Pentagon brass who disagree with Petraeus won't get two days in the media spotlight to say so.

Posted by Jonathan at 03:56 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Scientists in Russia have announced they will send a man to the moon by the year 2025. A defiant President Bush said today, "Not if we get there first." — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 10, 2007

Petraeus' Performance Iraq  Politics

Watching Petraeus' performance, you get the impression that great strides are being made in Iraq. But note what he actually said: by mid-July of next year, if all goes well, the US should be able to go back to the same number of troops it had before the surge. I.e., the withdrawal he's talking about is withdrawal of the surge. Back to where we were before. That's all. Nearly a year from now. And after that — who knows. Petraeus:

Force reductions will continue beyond the pre-surge levels of brigade combat teams that we will reach by mid-July 2008. However, in my professional judgment, it would be premature to make recommendations on the pace of such reductions at this time.

Petraeus comes across as smart, competent, straight-forward, on top of things. No wonder, given how much prep and practice he's had. Still, you listen to him and you think, wow, that's encouraging.

But Iraqis beg to differ. BBC:

Coming at a crucial moment, a new BBC/ABC News opinion poll suggests ordinary Iraqis have a damning verdict on the US surge.

The poll, conducted in August, also indicates that Iraqi opinion is at its gloomiest since the BBC/ABC News polls began in February 2004.

According to this latest poll, in key areas - security and the conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development - between 67 and 70% of Iraqis, or more than two-thirds, say the surge has made things worse. [...]

Since the last BBC/ABC News poll in February, the number of Iraqis who think that US-led coalition forces should leave immediately has risen sharply, from 35 to 47%, although that does mean that a small majority - 53% - still says the forces should stay until security has improved.

But 85% of Iraqis say they have little or no confidence in US and UK forces. [...]

In terms of quality of life, 80% of Iraqis say the availability of jobs is bad or very bad, 93% say the same about electricity supplies, 75% for clean water, 92% for fuel.

And 77% of Iraqis say the ability to live where they want, without persecution, is bad or very bad. [...]

There are some more encouraging results.

Sixty-two per cent of Iraqis still say Iraq should have a unified central government, and 98% say it would be a bad thing for the country to separate along sectarian lines. [...]

This is the fourth BBC/ABC News poll since the US-led invasion. And the polling reveals two great divides.

The first is between the relative optimism recorded in November 2005, and the gloom reflected in the two polls conducted this year. [...]

The other great divide is that revealed between the Sunni and Shia communities.

Eighty-eight per cent of Sunnis say things are going badly in their lives.

Fifty-four per cent of Shias think they are going well.

Also, strikingly, 93% of Sunnis say attacks on coalition forces are acceptable, compared with 50% of Shia (the overall total is 57%). [...]

But both communities think equally overwhelmingly (by 98%) that sectarian separation is a bad thing. Iraqis are also somewhat suspicious of their neighbours.

Seventy-nine per cent of them think that Iran is actively encouraging sectarian violence in their country, 66% think the same of Syria and 65% think likewise about Saudi Arabia. [Emphasis added]

It's helpful, too, to know that people close to Petraeus call him "a walking mass of ambition" and "the most competitive person I have ever known — ever," a man who will not just beat you but "make a point of it." And he probably wants to be President. So take his performance with a heaping helping of salt.

And there's this. Military leaders are not supposed to be the ones to sell a policy. That's supposed to be a job for civilians. The White House is hiding behind the general, using the general to cow Congress, which is not how a democracy is supposed to work.

Posted by Jonathan at 06:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

How about that President Bush, he makes that surprise trip to Iraq. Was pretty impressive don't you think? He spent a few quick hours visiting with the troops, and then he left. You know, it was just like his days in the National Guard. — David Letterman

Posted by Jonathan at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 09, 2007

Greenland Melt Accelerates Environment

Greenland ice is melting so quickly now that chunks breaking off are so huge they trigger earthquakes. Glacier flow is three times faster than it was just 10 years ago. Guardian:

The Greenland ice cap is melting so quickly that it is triggering earthquakes as pieces of ice several cubic kilometres in size break off.

Scientists monitoring events this summer say the acceleration could be catastrophic in terms of sea-level rise and make predictions this February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change far too low.

The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago.

Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said in Ilulissat yesterday: "We have seen a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea. The ice is moving at 2 metres an hour on a front 5km [3 miles] long and 1,500 metres deep. That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year."

He is visiting Greenland as part of a symposium of religious, scientific, and political leaders to look at the problems of the island, which has an ice cap 3km thick containing enough water to raise worldwide sea levels by seven metres. [...]

He had flown over the Ilulissat glacier and "seen gigantic holes in it through which swirling masses of melt water were falling. I first looked at this glacier in the 1960s and there were no holes. These so-called moulins, 10 to 15 metres across, have opened up all over the place. There are hundreds of them."

This melt water was pouring through to the bottom of the glacier creating a lake 500 metres deep which was causing the glacier "to float on land. These melt-water rivers are lubricating the glacier, like applying oil to a surface and causing it to slide into the sea. It is causing a massive acceleration which could be catastrophic."

The glacier is now moving at 15km a year into the sea although in surges it moves even faster. He measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes - an extraordinary event.

Veli Kallio, a Finnish scientist, said the quakes were triggered because ice had broken away after being fused to the rock for hundreds of years. The quakes were not vast - on a magnitude of 1 to 3 - but had never happened before in north-west Greenland and showed potential for the entire ice sheet to collapse.

Dr Corell said: "These earthquakes are not dangerous in themselves but the fact that they are happening shows that events are happening far faster than we ever anticipated." [Emphasis added]

The one constant in all these global warming stories seems to be that everything is happening much faster than even the worst case predictions. It's important to realize that the ice doesn't all have to melt outright. As melt water gets under the ice sheet, breaks its hold on the rock below, and turns the rock into a slippery slope, the ice can just slide into the sea and melt there. These kinds of effects can be quite sudden, as is being seen. A glacier moving 5 km in 90 minutes — that's stunning.

Posted by Jonathan at 03:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 03:23 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

While the Republicans had their 789th debate last night, the big issue of course was the war in Iraq. The candidates were split over it, some Republicans were in favor of it, and other Republicans were really, really in favor of it. In fact, last night on our show, Fred Thompson announced he strongly supports the war in Iraq. When will these Hollywood actors learn to keep their political opinions to themselves on talk shows? Come on. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 03:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 07, 2007

Liar 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

Watch Rudy lie through his teeth:

Posted by Jonathan at 05:13 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Progress! Iraq

Posted by Jonathan at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

The Decider Down Under Iraq  Politics

Feel the pride. AP:

President Bush had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the Sydney Opera House.

He'd only reached the third sentence of Friday's speech to business leaders, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, when he committed his first gaffe.

"Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit," Bush said to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Oops. That would be APEC, the annual meeting of leaders from 21 Pacific Rim nations, not OPEC, the cartel of 12 major oil producers.

Bush quickly corrected himself. "APEC summit," he said forcefully, joking that Howard had invited him to the OPEC summit next year (for the record, an impossibility, since neither Australia nor the U.S. are OPEC members).

The president's next goof went uncorrected — by him anyway. Talking about Howard's visit to Iraq last year to thank his country's soldiers serving there, Bush called them "Austrian troops."

That one was fixed for him. Though tapes of the speech clearly show Bush saying "Austrian," the official text released by the White House switched it to "Australian."

Then, speech done, Bush confidently headed out — the wrong way.

He strode away from the lectern on a path that would have sent him over a steep drop. Howard and others redirected the president to center stage, where there were steps leading down to the floor of the theater.

The event had inauspicious beginnings. Bush started 10 minutes late, so that APEC workers could hustle people out of the theater's balcony seating to fill the many empty portions of the main orchestra section below — which is most visible on camera.

Even resettled, the audience remained quiet throughout the president's remarks, applauding only when he was finished. [Emphasis added]

Mr. Magoo.

Kinda funny, I guess, but then there's this (SMH):

[Bush] arrived in Australia in a chipper mood.

"We're kicking ass," he told Mark Vaile on the tarmac after the Deputy Prime Minister inquired politely of the President's stopover in Iraq en route to Sydney. [...]

[In his press conference,] Bush said [Afghanistan and Iraq] were "both theatres in the same war". [...]

His defiance on Iraq is growing. He implied that those who argued against the war in the first place had no role in the current debate.

Perhaps encouraged by the expectation that he will soon be able to withdraw some troops and claim success, regardless of what the rest of the world believes, Bush appeared as a man who has convinced himself he is on the right track and will crash or crash through. [Emphasis added]

"We're kicking ass." The guy's delusional.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:21 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 09:56 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Did you know, when President Bush is in Australia, his approval rating goes down the drain counter-clockwise? — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 09:53 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 06, 2007

Dire Scenarios From Two Top Economists Economy

The US economy has been fueled in recent years by a housing/credit bubble that has made homeowners feel rich, causing them to take equity out of their homes and spend it. Two top US economists warn that that's coming to a screeching halt. FinFacts:

US homes may lose as much as half their value in some US cities as the housing bust deepens, according to Yale University professor Robert Shiller. Meanwhile, Martin Feldstein of Harvard University says that experience suggests that the dramatic decline in residential construction provides an early warning of a coming recession. The likelihood of a recession is increased by what is happening in credit markets and in mortgage borrowing. Feldstein says that most of these forces are inadequately captured by the formal macroeconomic models used by the Federal Reserve and other macro forecasters.

"The examples we have of past cycles indicate that major declines in real home prices — even 50 percent declines in some places — are entirely possible going forward from today or from the not too distant future," Shiller said in a paper presented last Friday at the Federal Reserve Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Falling real-estate values may undermine consumer spending by spurring households to save more and by preventing them from tapping home equity.

Because price gains were larger and more widespread this time compared with past speculative booms, the risk of "substantial" price declines is greater, wrote Shiller. [...]

Last week the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index posted a record annual decline in Q2 2007 - the worst since 1987. [...]

He said that 50 percent declines in the worth of some cities' homes wouldn't be unprecedented. Prices in London and Los Angeles fell by almost that amount from the late 1980s to mid-1990s. [...]

Harvard University Professor Martin Feldstein, who is a member of a group that calls the timing of recessions, said that the housing contraction threatens a broader recession, and the Federal Reserve should lower interest rates. [...]

"The economy could suffer a very serious downturn," Feldstein said. "A sharp reduction in the interest rate, in addition to a vigorous lender-of-last-resort policy, would attenuate that very bad outcome."

Feldstein said that Shiller's analysis began with the striking fact that national indexes of real house prices and real rents moved together until 2000 and that real house prices then surged to a level 80 percent higher than equivalent rents, driven in part by a widespread popular belief that houses were an irresistible investment opportunity. How else could an average American family buy an asset appreciating at 9 percent a year, with 80 percent of that investment financed by a mortgage with a tax deductible interest rate of 6 percent, implying an annual rate of return on the initial equity of more than 25 percent?

"But at a certain point home owners recognized that house prices – really the price of land – wouldn't keep rising and may decline. That fall has now begun, with a 3.4 percent decline in the past 12 months and an estimated 9 percent annual rate of decline in the most recent month for which data are available. The decline in house prices accelerates sales and slows home buying, causing a rise in the inventory of unsold homes and a decision by home builders to slow the rate of construction. Home building has now collapsed, down 20 percent from a year ago, to the lowest level in a decade.

"...[S]uch declines in housing construction were a precursor to 8 of the past 10 recessions. Moreover, major falls in home building were followed by a recession in every case except when the Korean and Vietnam wars provided an offsetting stimulus," Feldstein said.

"Why did home prices surge in the past 5 years?" Feldstein asked.

"While a frenzy of irrational house price expectations may have contributed, there were also fundamental reasons. Credit became both cheap and relatively easy to obtain. When the Fed worried about deflation it cut the Fed funds rate to one percent in 2003 and promised that it would rise only very slowly. That caused medium term rates to fall, inducing a drop in mortgage rates and a widespread promotion of mortgages with very low temporary teaser rates," he said. [Emphasis added]

Two things.

First, we learn all over again that bubbles are a fool's paradise. Everybody thinks the party will last last forever, and then it doesn't. Suddenly it's the morning after, hangover time. Which is to say, you mostly can't get something for nothing. Duh. Sure, some people get out in time, but most people don't. It cannot be otherwise, since when people start heading for the exits in droves, that's what pops the bubble. Who's going to buy your seat once the theatre's on fire?

Second, this didn't happen all by itself. The Fed and other banks created massive amounts of money out of thin air in the form of credit — i.e., debt (see this). All that new money created an impression of wealth, but since it didn't correspond to increases in actual wealth — since it was just numbers on paper and on computer hard drives — it was just so much hot air. Monopoly money. Which created all manner of market distortions, prompting people to do all sorts of things they otherwise wouldn't have done — building houses that weren't needed, taking out loans they couldn't afford, and so on. People who took the equity out of their homes and spent it all are going to wake up and find they have negative equity when their home value comes back down to earth. And then they're going to spend years digging their way out of the hole. As will a lot of home builders. A form of slavery, self-induced. And people think the Fed's their friend.

Posted by Jonathan at 06:10 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Shunka pitches in.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

President Bush loves the Labor Day weekend. It gives him a chance to unwind, and, gosh, I'm thinking, "When does this guy wind?" — David Letterman

Posted by Jonathan at 10:18 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 05, 2007

Endless War War and Peace

John Robb makes a chilling set of observations that to me, at least, ring true. (Note: Robb uses "moral weakness" and "moral collapse" to refer to a nation's losing the will to continue a war. Unfortunate terminology, but his main points are still valid.)

If you think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will end with this US presidency, think again. These wars will likely outlast the next several Presidents. The old Vietnam era formulas don't apply anymore. The reason is that the moral weaknesses that have traditionally limited the state's ability to fight long guerrilla wars have dissipated, and modern states may now have the ability and the desire to wage this type of war indefinitely. Here's what changed:
  • A radical improvement in marketing war. The US military learned from Vietnam that it needed to be much better at marketing wars to domestic audiences in order to prevent moral collapse. It has gotten better at this, and that information operations/strategic communications capability has reached a new level of effectiveness with General Petraeus. Despite this improvement, the military and its civilian leadership still don't have the ability to garner wide domestic support for guerrilla wars beyond the initial phases. However, they do have the ability to maintain support within a small but vocal base...and the capability to trump those that call for withdrawal (by keeping the faintest glimmer of potential success alive and using fear/uncertainty/doubt FUD to magnify the consequences of defeat). In our factional political system, that is sufficient to prevent withdrawal.

  • The threat that justifies the state and the perpetual war that codifies it. The ongoing threat of terrorism has become the primary justification for the existence of a strong nation-state (and its greatest instrument of power, the military) at the very moment it finds itself in decline due to globalization (or more accurately: irrelevance). The militarization of "the war against terrorism" reverses this process of dissipation, since it can be used to make the case for the acquisition of new powers, money, and legitimacy (regardless of party affiliation) — for example, everything from increases in conventional military spending to the application of technical reconnaissance on domestic targets. Of course, this desire for war at the political level is complemented by the huge number of contractors (and their phalanxes of lobbyists) attracted by the potential of Midas level profits from the privatization of warfare. The current degree of corporate participation in warfare makes the old "military industrial complex" look tame in comparison.

  • The privatization of conflict. This is likely the critical factor that makes perpetual warfare possible. For all intents and purposes, the US isn't at war. The use of a professional military in combination with corporate partners has pushed warfare to the margins of political/social life. A war's initiation and continuation is now merely a function of our willingness/ability to finance it. Further, since privatization mutes moral opposition to war (i.e. "our son isn't forced to go to war to die") the real damage at the ballot box is more likely to impact those that wish to end its financing. To wit: every major presidential candidate in the field today now gives his/her full support to the continuation of these wars. [Emphasis added]

There have always been war profiteers, but where they used to provide just weapons and materiel, they now increasingly provide the very armies themselves. And where war-profiteering was once considered shameful, if not illegal, we've now got what amounts to a "war bubble", a giddy frenzy of profiteering and corruption. See, for example, Rolling Stone's The Great Iraq Swindle, where we read:

[T]here was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes — $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about [security contractor] Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while." [Emphasis added]

This privatization of war-fighting is an extremely ominous development. Just as for-profit prisons create a built-in constituency for putting more and more people behind bars, for-profit war-fighting creates a built-in constituency for war. War becomes just another business, an especially lucrative one. It will go on and on and on.

Endless war will destroy us. Not for nothing was endless war one of the hallmarks of Orwell's 1984. Orwell lives.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 09:22 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

President Bush was going to give the White House staff the day off for Labor Day, but then he realized everyone resigned, no one works there anymore. In fact, today was Karl Rove's last day at the White House. Yeah, he wanted to wait until everything was just perfect before he left. You know, you don't want to leave the country in a mess. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 09:13 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 04, 2007

Everybody Shape Up Humor & Fun

Ok, humor break needed.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Source: Pentagon Has Plans For Massive 3-Day Air Assault On Iran Iran

More on the Pentagon plans for a massive air assault on Iran. The Times (UK) Online:

The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians' military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for "pinprick strikes" against Iran’s nuclear facilities. "They're about taking out the entire Iranian military," he said.

Debat was speaking at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: "Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same." It was, he added, a "very legitimate strategic calculus".

President George Bush intensified the rhetoric against Iran last week, accusing Tehran of putting the Middle East "under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust". He warned that the US and its allies would confront Iran "before it is too late".

One Washington source said the "temperature was rising" inside the administration. Bush was "sending a message to a number of audiences", he said — to the Iranians and to members of the United Nations security council who are trying to weaken a tough third resolution on sanctions against Iran for flouting a UN ban on uranium enrichment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week reported "significant" cooperation with Iran over its nuclear programme and said that uranium enrichment had slowed. Tehran has promised to answer most questions from the agency by November, but Washington fears it is stalling to prevent further sanctions. Iran continues to maintain it is merely developing civilian nuclear power.

Bush is committed for now to the diplomatic route but thinks Iran is moving towards acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to one well placed source, Washington believes it would be prudent to use rapid, overwhelming force, should military action become necessary.

Israel, which has warned it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, has made its own preparations for airstrikes and is said to be ready to attack if the Americans back down. [Emphasis added]

That supposedly serious people can even discuss such an insanely reckless, doomed, and nightmarishly evil course of action in terms of a "very legitimate strategic calculus" is so incomprehensible, so dumbfounding — I find myself wondering if they're even members of the same species as you and I.

Have the last four and a half years taught them nothing?

Posted by Jonathan at 04:44 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Winding Down — Not Iraq

Average number of US troop deaths in Iraq for the past six months and each six month period previously:

Not a good trend.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Yesterday in Washington, a couple of pranksters covered Karl Rove's car in bumper stickers that read, "I Love Obama." Karl Rove laughed about it, then had the pranksters murdered. — Conan O'Brien

Posted by Jonathan at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 03, 2007

Dead Certain Iraq  Politics

The NYT has some excerpts from interviews Bush gave to author Robert Draper for his forthcoming book, Dead Certain:

[I]n an interview with a book author in the Oval Office one day last December, [Bush] daydreamed about the next phase of his life, when his time will be his own.

First, Mr. Bush said, "I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers." With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, "I don’t know what my dad gets — it's more than 50-75" thousand dollars a speech, and "Clinton's making a lot of money."

Then he said, "We’ll have a nice place in Dallas," where he will be running what he called "a fantastic Freedom Institute" promoting democracy around the world. But he added, "I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch."

For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, "I'm playing for October-November." That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: "To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence," and, he said later, "stay longer." [...]

As Mr. Draper described it, Mr. Bush began the interview process over lunch last Dec. 12, in a week when he suddenly had free time because his highly anticipated announcement of a new Iraq strategy had been postponed.

Sitting in an anteroom of the Oval Office, he eschewed the more formal White House menu for comfort food — a low-fat hotdog and ice cream — and bitingly told an aide who peeked in on the session that his time with Mr. Draper was "worthless anyway."

But as Mr. Draper described it, and as the transcripts show, Mr. Bush warmed up considerably over the intervening interviews, chewing on an unlit cigar, jubilantly swatting at flies between making solemn points, propping his feet up on a table or stopping him at points to say emphatically, "I want you to get this" or "I want this damn book to be right." [...]

And in apparent reference to the invasion of Iraq, he continued, "This group-think of 'we all sat around and decided' — there's only one person that can decide, and that's the president." [...]

In response to Mr. Draper’s observance that Mr. Bush had nobody’s "shoulder to cry on," the president said: "Of course I do, I've got God's shoulder to cry on, and I cry a lot." In what Mr. Draper interpreted as a reference to war casualties, Mr. Bush added, "I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count as president."

Yet Mr. Bush said his certainty that Iraq would turn around for the better was not for show. "You can't fake it," he told Mr. Draper in December. [...]

"I've been here too long," Mr. Bush said, according to Mr. Draper. "Every time I start painting a rosy picture [about Iraq], it gets criticized and then it doesn't make it on the news."

But he said he saw his unpopularity as a natural result of his decision to pursue a strategy in which he believed. "I made a decision to lead," he said, "One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?" [...]

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen."

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush's former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army's dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, "Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'" But, he added, "Again, Hadley's got notes on all of this stuff," referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

Mr. Bush said he believed that Mr. Hussein did not take his threats of war seriously, suggesting that the United Nations emboldened him by failing to follow up on an initial resolution demanding that Iraq disarm. He had sought a second measure containing an ultimatum that failure to comply would result in war.

"One interesting question historians are going to have to answer is: Would Saddam have behaved differently if he hadn't gotten mixed signals between the first resolution and the failure of the second resolution?" Mr. Bush said. "I can't answer that question. I was hopeful that diplomacy would work." [Emphasis added]

So, he's The Decider, but he's got no idea how the Iraqi Army got disbanded. Doesn't remember all of that "stuff". I bet Cheney remembers.

Dead Certain. Could the irony of that title be any more grotesque?

Posted by Jonathan at 03:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 03:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In the New York Sunday Times, they mixed up a picture of Iraq with a picture of New Orleans. This even confused the White House. They saw the picture and accidentally sent money to New Orleans. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 02:43 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 01, 2007

Price Of Wheat Sets Record Environment

Adverse weather conditions are taking a toll on wheat yields in much of the world; wheat prices set a record high this week. Bloomberg (via Cryptogon):

Wheat futures in Chicago climbed to a record, heading for the biggest monthly gain in 34 years, as demand from importers including South Korea and India reduced global inventories.

Prices for the grain have doubled in the past year as adverse weather in Ukraine, Canada, Europe and Australia damaged crops. Global stockpiles will fall to the lowest in 26 years by May 31, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [Emphasis added]

Climate change is tough on agriculture, and it's only going to get worse. China, for example, projects that warming will reduce its grain harvest by as much as 10%. SMH:

Global warming will cut China's annual grain harvest by up to 10 per cent, placing extra demands on the country's shrinking farmland and threatening its notion of food security, an official has warned. This would mean China would have to find another 10 million hectares of farmland by 2030, when its population is expected to peak at 1.5 billion.

The head of the State Meteorological Administration, Zheng Guogang, told an agricultural forum in northern China that global warming would increase the cost of production because more money would be needed to fight new insects and diseases.

A one degree rise would also exacerbate ground-water evaporation by 7 per cent in a country where drought already affects 22 of 31 provinces.

A fall in the grain harvest of up to 10 per cent would mean 30 million to 50 million tonnes less grain at a time when an extra 100 million tonnes of food would be needed to feed an additional 200 million people in 2030, Mr Zheng said.

China has 20 per cent of the world's population but just 7 per cent of its arable land.

Chinese officials have warned that the country is already nearing the "red line" for the minimum amount of arable land needed to ensure the country can meet the bulk of its food needs.

At the end of 2006, China had 121.8 million hectares of arable land, just over the 120 million hectares deemed the minimum requirement by 2010. [...]

Global warming would cause more drought in already dry areas in low-lying and mid-altitude regions because rainfall would drop 10 to 30 per cent by 2030, Mr Zheng said, while wet, high-altitude areas would experience more drastic flooding.

Although climate change would have little impact on wheat production it would cause corn and rice production to fall. Though some places in north-eastern China had increased grain production because warmer winters meant rice could be grown there, most regions' grain output was falling.

Mr Zheng is one of a growing number of experts to warn against the negative impact of global warming. Last month environmental authorities said climate change was shrinking wetlands at the source of China's two greatest rivers - the Yangtze and the Yellow - and other studies found that glaciers, the source for many of Asia's rivers, in north-western China's Xinjiang region and in the Himalayas have been shrinking rapidly. Summer droughts and floods have already affected a fifth of China's arable land this year and agriculture experts have warned that a decline in the autumn harvest - which usually provides 70 per cent of grain production - could fuel inflation. [Emphasis added]

There was a time when people thought additional CO2 in the atmosphere might boost photosynthesis, increasing crop yields enough to counteract the negative effects of climate change, but that appears to be wishful thinking. New Scientist:

Climate change is set to do far worse damage to global food production than even the gloomiest of previous forecasts, according to studies presented at the Royal Society in London, UK, on Tuesday.

"We need to seriously re-examine our predictions of future global food production," said Steve Long, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US. Output is "likely to be far lower than previously estimated".

Most researchers believe that higher temperatures and droughts caused by climate change will depress crop yields in many places in the coming decades. But a recent consensus has emerged that rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could come to the rescue. The gas thought to be behind global warming could also speed up photosynthesis, counteracting the negative effects of warming and even ushering in an era of bumper crops.

But Long told the two-day meeting on crops and future climate that this conclusion was a dangerous illusion. It was, he said, based on results from tests in gas chambers and small greenhouses known to be unreliable.

Long reported instead on the findings of four studies in the US, China and Japan that all test crops in open fields. In these Free-Air Concentration Enrichment experiments, gases such as CO2 were piped into the air around plants - a world first.

The FACE experiments showed that for all four of the world's main food crops - maize, rice, soybean and wheat - the real-world fertilization effect was only half as great as predicted by the contained experiments.

Meanwhile, in some FACE experiments, Long added a new variable not factored into previous studies. He puffed doses of ozone into the fields to simulate the expected rise in ozone smogs due to higher temperatures - and yields crashed. A 20% increase in ozone levels cut yields by 20%, he said.

Increases in ozone levels of this level are predicted for Europe, the US, China, India and much of the middle east by 2050. If Long’s findings prove correct, even CO2 fertilisation will not prevent the world’s crop yields from declining by 10% to 15%. [...]

The Royal Society conference also heard about dangerous temperature thresholds that could destroy crops overnight and give rise to famine.

According to Andrew Challinor of the University of Reading, UK, climate change will mean tropical countries like India will face short periods of super-high temperatures - into the high 40s Celsius. These temperatures could completely destroy crops if they coincide with the flowering period. [Emphasis added]

The world's food situation is increasingly precarious. Burning corn as ethanol doesn't help. Add the rising cost of fossil fuels (and therefore of fertilizers), the depletion of aquifers and glaciers, the loss of topsoil, and there's a perfect storm brewing. When there's no longer enough food to go around, people will get desperate. Desperate people do desperate things.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:22 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 05:58 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Sen. Larry Craig said today yes he is gay, but he never inhaled. — Jay Leno

Posted by Jonathan at 05:56 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb