Saturday, June 30, 2007
GLASGOW, Scotland -- A Jeep Cherokee trailing a cascade of flames rammed into Glasgow airport on Saturday, shattering glass doors just yards from passengers lined up at the check-in counters, in what appeared to be the third attempted terror attack in Britain in days.
The green Jeep barreled toward Glasgow's main airport terminal shortly after 3 p.m., hitting security barriers before crashing into the glass doors, witnesses said.
Police subdued the driver and a passenger, both described by witnesses as South Asian _ a term used to refer to people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region _ arresting them and taking one to the hospital. Witnesses said one of the men was engulfed in flames and spoke "gibberish" as an official used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.
The airport was evacuated and all flights suspended. Flames and black smoke rose from the Jeep outside the main entrance. It did not appear there were any injuries aside from the suspect who had been set afire.
I haven't turned on the TV. I'm sure they're all shrill and hysterical over the latest "terrorist attack." But the incident detailed above sounds less a serious terrorist attack and more like a silly act of desperation by clearly disturbed (and stupid) individuals who identify with jihad and/or the three stooges.
UPDATE: David Shuster is speculating on MSNBC that this may have been a botched suicide car bomb attack and that it seems to be linked to yesterday's averted car bomb attacks in London.
If this is so, then Larry Johnson says these guys are pretty clearly amateurs:
If today's events at Glasgow prove to be linked to the two non-events yesterday in London, then we should heave a sigh of relief. We may be witnessing the implosion of takfiri jihadists--religious fanatics who are incredibly inept. While I am not an explosives expert I am good friends with one of the world's foremost explosives experts. Propane tanks and petrol (gas for us Americans) can produce a dandy flame and a mighty boom but these are not the tools for making a car bomb long the lines of what we see detonating on a daily basis in Iraq.
One more thing: the White House doesn't seem to be taking these attacks all that seriously either. Preznut Bush has kept to his vacation schedule in Maine - he's been biking and fishing.
Would he remain fishing and biking if these attacks signaled a potential terrorist Armageddon in either Britain or the United States?
I think not - sure, he didn't do shit during the first few days of Katrina, but don't you think he'd jump on the chance to regain the "I'm the Anti-Terrorism Preznut" mantle?
This Guy's The GOP Savior?
Yet what has Thompson done in his life other than look the part of a president (i.e., play president on TV and in the movies)? Sure he was a senator for eight years, but he sponsored no major legislation during that time and had a reputation for being the laziest man in the Senate (he reportedly doesn't like to work longer than a few hours a day...can't say I blame him, but does this work ethic necessarily recommend him to the presidency?). Thompson has worked as a lobbyist for twenty years (one of his clients was Haiti's Aristide - the guy who admires when thugs throw flaming tires over the necks of his enemies) and a trial lawyer (how come Repubs loathe Dem trial lawyers like John Edwards but not Repub trial lawyers like Fred Thompson? oh, right, they're hypocrites...) and has a wife trophy wife who's 30+ years younger than he is (yes, this says he has an appeal to the younger generation, but come on.) He also supported campaign finance reform (in fact, he helped write the bill), which the base hates, helped run McCain's 2000 presidential bid (which the base also hates), and is on the record with some pretty pro-choice statements in his distant past (opening him up to Romney flip-flop charges.) He also has chaired the Free Scooter Libby campaign, helping to raise millions of dollars for Libby's defense fund in the CIA leak case (and perhaps serving as a bribe to keep Libby quiet and not divulge to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald what the vice preznut's role in the case may have been.) While Libby has become a cause for many wingers, it remains to be seen how Thompson's defense of a convicted perjurer makes him the "Law & Order candidate" (Law & Order is only for the guys who belong to the other party?).
So if you're paying close attention to the race, you know that Thompson has some serious weaknesses that could easily derail his presidential bid. Nonetheless the as-yet undeclared Thompson leads the GOP presidential field in the latest Rasmussen poll (he beats the tanking Giuliani 27%-24%...Romney and McCain are way behind at 12% and 11% respectively.) But let us note that Thompson strong showing in the polls has come before he's said much publicly. How much support will he retain once he stops teasing and announces he's running for president for real?
Well, three public speeches Thompson has given to the Republican base suggest so far he's mostly a "projection candidate" (i.e., people project what they want to see and hear on him, but are disappointed once the wish-fulfillment bubble is burst by the reality of actually hearing and seeing him.) The first came a few months back when Thompson spoke to the Lincoln Club of Orange County for their 45th annual dinner. Robert Novak wrote a column criticizing Thompson's performance and quoting some members of the club as saying: "It was not Reaganesque." "No red meat." "Too low key." Novak went on to write that:
Lincoln Club members, like many conservative Republicans, have been unimpressed by the existing field of Republican hopefuls and envisioned Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. They did not get it Friday night.
The excitement aroused in melancholy Republican ranks by the politician-commentator-actor will not be doused by one lackluster performance. Nevertheless, his first speech since his unexpected presidential boom began suggests that Thompson needs preparation if he does take up this daunting burden.
While it is true that Novak has since written that Thompson gave a better performance at a May meeting with conservatives of the Saturday Evening Club in Connecticut, the doubts about Thompson's campaign chops and overall eagerness to run for president remain and Thompson is going to have dispel them before he can really be considered the front runner in the GOP race.
Unfortunately for Thompson, he did not dispel those doubts when he spoke to groups of Republicans in South Carolina and New Hampshire this week. First, here's Holly Bailey of Newsweek on Thompson's performance in South Carolina on Wednesday:
Thompson was careful not to admit as much. In a half-hour speech that seemed almost rambling at times, the former senator never mentioned his presidential ambitions—mindful of the fact that once he officially says he’s running, he will fall under the scrutiny of campaign-disclosure laws. Instead, he focused Wednesday on a variation of what most likely will be his eventual stump speech: a talk about reforming the government and rising above Washington partisanship and a call on Republicans to bring their party back to its conservative ideals.It was a broad speech painfully short on specifics. Thompson talked about Iraq, describing the global war on terrorism as a “war of wills” that must be won. He decried the immigration proposal pending in Congress, citing in particular the number of Cubans immigrating to the United States.
Thompson seemed more enthusiastic than he had in previous speeches (especially a widely panned talk he gave in California last May). Still, he struggled at times to stay on message. He’s a guy who enjoys talking more than sticking to a speech. Some in the audience seemed disappointed not to hear more specifics on what he’d do as president. But Wednesday’s stop—as well as a speech scheduled for Thursday night in New Hampshire—are being billed as mere warm-ups to a potential candidacy, and Thompson admitted as much yesterday.
Now Steve Thomma of McClatchy on Thompson's lackluster performance in New Hampshire on Thursday:
BEDFORD, N.H. — When Fred Thompson made his debut on the presidential stage here this week, he left some Republicans thinking he needs more work before his nascent campaign matches the media hype it's gotten in advance.
The former Tennessee senator with the baritone drawl showed up Thursday in New Hampshire, the site of the first primary voting, and gave a speech that lasted only nine minutes, skipping over hot-button issues such as Iraq and immigration to invoke platitudes about freedom and strength.
He left more than a few Republicans disappointed.
``I plan on seeing a whole lot more of you,'' Thompson told about 200 New Hampshire Republicans who paid $50 each to hear him — and to benefit state Republican legislators.
He'd better, because many present came away decidedly under-whelmed.
``It was short,'' said Richard Heitmiller of Nashua. ``He's got a nice voice. But there was nothing there. He's for apple pie and motherhood. He's going to have to say what he's for.''
Heitmiller said he hadn't made up his mind about whom to support — way too early — and had come to learn more about this man he'd heard about but never seen.
``People want to get to know him. He hasn't been here, and he gives a nine-minute speech,'' he said dismissively. As Thompson exited, people started making their way to the doors midway through a reception.
``I told my wife we'd get home by 8. We'll get home a lot earlier than that,'' Heitmiller said.
``He looks good onstage, but I don't know if he has the gravitas,'' said Kathleen Williamson, a conservative Roman Catholic from North Weare. ``It seems like he's trying to win over conservatives, but I'm still not sure he has the credentials. I'm worried he's trying to get by on his celebrity.''
While Southerner Thompson got better reviews in South Carolina than New Hampshire, both performances suggest that the work Novak thought Thompson the Candidate needed to do on himself after bombing at the Lincoln Club of Orange County in early May still hasn't been done. As the New Hampshire state Republican chairman Fergus Cullen told McClatchy "It's easy to like a candidate in the abstract...We'll see what happens if he starts campaigning here."
So far, the evidence suggests Thompson is a better candidate in the abstract than a real, hard-working candidate with a shot to win the nomination. The fact that so many in the news media have man crushes on Thompson certainly helps his candidacy for now, but let me remind you that the media have also had man crushes on John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in the past too. Media man crushes and GOP desperation are no guarantee for campaign success when the candidate himself seems unable or unwilling to work hard enough to improve as a candidate.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Subprime Morgtage Mess & Enron
An important Bloomberg article this morning spills the beans on how the game is really played on Wall Street.
# Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings are masking growing losses in the market for subprime mortgage bonds by not cutting the credit ratings on about $200 billion of securities backed by home loans, Bloomberg is reporting.
# This is precisely the mark-to-model and conflict of interest issue Minyanville Professor John Succo first raised more than a month ago.
# Bloomberg has found that almost 65% of th bonds in the indexes that track subprime mortgage debt don't meet the ratings criteria in place when they were sold.
# So why aren't the ratings agencies downgrading the credit ratings?
# Downgrades by S&P, Moody's and Fitch would force hundreds of investors to sell holdings, Bloomberg says.
# Meanwhile, executives at S&P, Moody's and Fitch say they are waiting until foreclosure sales show that the collateral backing the bonds has declined enough to create losses before lowering ratings on some of the $6.65 trillion in outstanding mortgage-backed debt.
# That certainly sounds reasonable... until one realizes that both S&P and Moody's maintained investment-grade ratings on Enron debt until days before the company filed for bankruptcy.
Boy, that last point is really the kicker.
Does it make you feel the subprime mortgage problems are "well-contained"?
London Terror Plot
Here's a brief rundown:
There was the JFK terror plot where "jihadis" planned to blow up the airport by targeting fuel tanks. They had no explosives, no expertise in detonations and experts say the plot could not have worked, since any explosion in the area of the fuel tanks would have been contained from the rest of the airport. Nonetheless, Bush administration officials claimed the attack would have caused "unthinkable devastation" in the area and crippled the airline industry. Uh, huh - except for the fact that it wouldn't have worked.
Then there was the Fort Dix plot where some "jihadis" planned to attack the military installation and kill American soldiers. These geniuses were caught when they brought a jihadi training video to Circuit City to have it transferred to DVD and the Circuit City employee alerted authorities. Their terrorist training was limited to playing paintball on weekends and trips to the firing range and again, the group had neither the equipment or ability to pull off even a small-level attack (let along the major attack the Bush administration claimed they had foiled.)
Then there was the Miami "terrorist cell" that was looking to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. The FBI had infiltrated the group with a fake "Al Qaeda representative" and when this fake Al Qaeda guy asked the terrorists what they needed from Al Qaeda in order to carry out their plot, they said boots and uniforms to build an "Islamic Army." Again the "terrorists" had no military training, no guns, no explosives and no expertise in detonations. The Bush administration claimed this terror plot was going to be "worse than 9/11."
And let's not forget the Citicorp Building plot when the Bush administration announced imminent attacks had been planned by Al Qaeda terrorists against financial institution buildings in New York and New Jersey, including the Citicorp Building on 53rd and 3rd Avenue in NYC. The announcement came on August 1, 2004, the day after the Democratic Presidential Convention had concluded in Boston. The "terrorist plot" was later found to be bogus, the information for the plot dating back to before September 11, 2001. The administration had simply used the "terrorist plot" to curtail the momentum of Democratic nominee John Kerry coming out of his convention. It worked - Bush was re-elected three months later.
Or how about the NYC Subway Terror Plot that Mayor Moneybags Bloomberg announced in October 2005, a month before his own re-election bid for mayor. This "plot," which the Feds deemed "not credible," was divulged to U.S. intelligence agents by an informant in Iraq and could not be corroborated. Three other Iraqis alleged to have knowledge of the plot were given lie detector tests, but were found to "know nothing about such a plan." The feds ultimately concluded it was bullshit. Nonetheless, Bloomberg made a big deal about the "plot" and shut the subways down for a while so that they could be "secured" at the exact same time the Feds were telling him the plot was a hoax. Moneybags was re-elected handily the next month.
Lastly, there the Hudson River Tunnels Plot in which eight Al Qaeda terrorists who had never set foot into this country were alleged to be trying to blow up the PATH train tunnels under the Hudson River in order to flood Lower Manhattan and kill tens of thousands of people. There were several problems with this "plot," including the most obvious, that the terrorists couldn't get themselves into the country to carry it out. In addition, experts said that even if the terrorists could have blown up the tunnels (nearly impossible considering they were going to be using backpack bombs to blow through concrete and steel-reinforced tunnels and 40 feet of bedrock), Lower Manhattan would not have flooded since it is above the level of the Hudson River. Nonetheless, the FBI official announcing the plot, flanked by Mayor Moneybags Bloomberg and his chief cop Ray Kelly, said this plot was the "real deal."
But of course it wasn't the "real deal," any more than the other plots detailed above were "real deals." They were mostly aspirational plots devised by people with little to no expertise or training to carry out their aspirations.
Now we still don't know who was behind the car bomb plot in London (MSNBC just reported that so far police have found no link to terrorism), but as the news media breathlessly reports the story and reminds us that we Americans must continue to be scared of Islamic terrorists coming up our toilets (as Atrios said this morning), let us remember that so far, post-9/11, all of the supposed domestic "terror plots" foiled here in the U.S. have been aspirational plots and/or hoaxes that merited much less than the hysterical coverage we got over them.
This is not to say we do not need to be vigilant in the war against terrorists, but the "Be very Afraid/Terrorists Are Coming Up Your Toilet" message sent to us by both our government officials and news media is both misleading and counterproductive in the fight against terrorism.
After all, didn't these messages from the government and the media help sell the war in Iraq to a frightened populace and hasn't the war made us less secure in the WoT?
Thursday, June 28, 2007
BAGHDAD, June 28 -- A massive car bomb exploded at a street-side bus depot during Baghdad's Thursday morning rush hour, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 40 others in a tremendous explosion that set fire to scores of vehicles, Iraqi police said.
The attack followed a late-night car bombing on Wednesday that killed at least 14 people near a major Shiite shrine in the Kadhimiya neighborhood in northern Baghdad, police reported.
Elsewhere, local residents found 20 headless bodies Thursday on the banks of the Tigris River in al-Mada'in, about 15 miles south of the capital, news agencies reported. A day earlier, 21 bodies were found in Baghdad, police said.
The violence is also causing American deaths. U.S. military officials said a soldier was killed during combat operations Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in eastern Baghdad. Four soldiers were injured. On Tuesday, a Marine was killed in combat in al-Anbar Province west of the capital, the military reported Wednesday.
Those deaths brought to 92 the number of U.S. troops killed so far in June. There have been 322 U.S. casualties in Iraq since the beginning of April, making the last three months the most deadly period for U.S. forces since the war began in March 2003.
Icasualties.org lists 94 Americans and 7 Brits killed in Iraq for the month.
Guess not much has changed.
Except for the body count.
UPDATE: Remember the old "We'll stand down when the Iraqi security forces stand up" meme from a while back. Well, the Iraqi security forces still aren't standing up:
WASHINGTON -- After spending $19 billion to train and equip 346,500 Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon doesn't know how many of them are on the job or whether their weapons have been stolen or turned against American forces, according to a bipartisan congressional report that was released Wednesday.
It found that Iraqi security forces aren't ready to take full responsibility for their country's security and the central government of Iraq isn't capable of funding and guiding them. It demands that the Pentagon do a better job of accounting for the Iraqis it's trained and equipped.
"What we have found has been a lot of disappointment," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass. The Iraqi forces are "nowhere near ready to operate independently."
Gee, what abundant progress we are making in this war.
Will the Iraqi security forces be ready to stand up by the time Jenna Bush is in her second term (after Hillary enjoys double duty, of course)?
Companies are pulling financing deals across the globe, in one of the clearest signs yet that investors’ worries about rising interest rates and US subprime mortgages could be infecting other areas of the credit world and driving up the cost of corporate borrowing.
MISC, the world’s biggest owner of liquefied gas tankers, day shelved its $750m bond offering.
The move came a day after US Foodservice, the American division of Ahold, the Dutch supermarket group, postponed its $650m bond offering and Arcelor Finance put plans for its euro-denominated benchmark bond issue on hold, citing turbulent market conditions.
The pulled deals highlight the growing risk-aversion among investors amid rising global interest rates and nervousness about credit markets following the near-collapse of two hedge funds owned by Bear Stearns that have heavy exposure to the US subprime market.
From Marketwatch (via Calculated Risk):
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- One of the hedge fund industry's biggest stars, Eric Mindich, the chief executive of Eton Park Capital Management, said that he believes the credit cycle will turn and that margins are too narrow. He said the "day of reckoning" may be here, in reference to recent problems in the securitized debt markets. "There's dry timber out there," Mindich said at the Wall Street Journal Deals and Deal Makers Conference on Wednesday. "There are people's lives that are going to be changed by what happens."
Big Picture looks at the similarities between hedge fund accounting schemes and Enron:
There are several issues here that deserve closer scrutiny. Here's how I connect the dots:
1. Side Pockets: A way to move toxic holdings "Off Balance Sheet," to a netherland, hidden from investors and perhaps regulators. This lack of transparency does not exactly comply with truth-in-reporting to your investors or FASB accounting standards.
Sound familiar? It should: Its remarkably similar to Enron Off Balance Sheet Special Partnerships. The WSJ's Scott Patterson went into the details last week:
Even if Bear's pain spreads through the market, other hedge-fund investors might not feel it, at least right away. Sometimes, hedge funds move big pieces of their holdings into separate accounts known as side pockets to keep declining assets from hurting a main fund's performance record -- and managers' wallets. They can also block investors from cashing out.
2. Mark-to-Model: The similarities to Kenny boy's outfit don't end there: What do we do with illiquid holdings where the fund is both the buyer and seller, and the parent company is the buyer of last resort? Unlike most mutual and hedge fund, who mark-to-market based upon the closing price pof their assets, holders of these CDOs get to indulge their "creative" side. Instead of writing the great American novel, they derive a model that optimistically prices these illiquid assets.
Why optimistic? Because the theoretical returns to investors and actual fees to management are based on the pricing of these (non-priced) assets! Keep those Enron parallels coming!
Indeed, the reason Bear was originally willing to pony up $3.2 billion dollars was what would happen if there was an actual public auction price: The entire complex would have to reprice all oft heir holdings. Buy bye investor returns, buy bye fees!
Still feel confident that subprime mortgage problems and hedge fund funkiness are "well-contained?" Don't be:
The Telegraph this morning quotes Charles Dumas, global strategist at Lombard Street Research summarizing the issue: "We don't know what the value of this debt is because the investment banks shut down the market in a cover-up so that nobody would know. There is $750bn of dubious paper out there in the form of CDOs held by banks that have a total capitalization of $850bn."
Also, take a look at Minyanville's take on why the phrase "well-contained" is being used so frequently these days. Hint: it's because many people fear the problems are NOT "well-contained."
UPDATE: Bonddad sees it differently. He agrees with the WSJ that the American economy is "impressively resilient" and therefore these events are probably not fatal.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Freddie Mac: Subprime Mortgage Woes Limited To Seven States
That's a joke, of course. Things are really bad around the country.Minyanville summarizes the bad news from the housing market today:
* Sales of new homes fell 1.6% to an annual pace of 915,000 last month, the Commerce Department said.
* The decline follows April's unexpected surge of 16%, which was revised lower to 13%, though that remains the largest increase since September 1993.
* The median price of a new home fell 0.9 percent to $236,100 last month from $238,200 a year earlier.
* Inventories declined, but the decline was less than sales, pushing the supply of homes at the current sales rate to 7.1 months from 7 months in April.
* Although new home sales account for just 15% or so of the total home sales (existing homes make up the rest) conventional economics wisdom is that purchases of new homes are considered a timely snapshot of market demand since they are recorded when the contract is signed, while existing home sales consist primarily of closings that may reflect contracts signed weeks or months in advance.
* The catch, however, are contract cancellations, which leads us to today's Number Two.
This morning Miami-based Lennar (LEN) reported a second-quarter loss of $244.2 million. Can you believe that as recently as last July the company actually reported a net profit of $324.7 million?
* By just about any measure the results were worse than expected.
* The company reported a 28% drop in home deliveries year-over-year.
* Consequently, revenue fell 37%, the most in at least 10 years, Bloomberg said.
* New orders in the quarter declined 31%.
* The average sales price of homes fell more than 7% year over year.
* The cancellation rate came in at 29% - among the reasons new home sales figures (see Number One, above) are so deceiving.
* It is quite disturbing that Lennar has made absolutely no progress on the company's cancellation rate this quarter.
* Back on April 7 the company reported a first quarter cancellation rate of, again, 29%.
* In April's 10-Q filing, the company said:
"Although our cancellation rate in the first quarter of 2007 increased compared to the first quarter of 2006, we focused significant efforts on reselling the homes that were the subject of canceled contracts, which, in many instances, included the use of higher sales incentives (discussed below as a percentage of revenues from home sales), to avoid the build up of excess inventory."
* And what about those sales incentives?
* The company reported higher sales incentives offered to homebuyers of 9.6% in the first quarter of 2007, compared to 4.9% in 2006.
* In this quarter the company reported sales incentives surged to $43,700 per home delivered, compared to "just" $24,700 per home delivered a year ago.
* So two things: cancellation rates are not making progress, and the company is resorting to a stunning increase in incentives.
* The company is even as we write this on a conference call, saying, among other things:
- The market has "eroded" over the past six months
- The subprime market needs to be "replaced"
- The company is facing a "great deal of downward pricing pressure."
Also, the Case-Shiller Home Price index showed that 14 out of 20 cities tracked saw year-over-year home price declines. Home values declined 2.1% in April. This was the fourth straight decline for the index. Robert Shiller, chief economist at Macromarkets, said "No region is immune to the weakening price returns."
Gee, I dunno. Outside of the seven states in the map above, everything looks swell in the housing market.
Trouble On The Horizon?
Shares in Bear Stearns dropped another 3.2 per cent on Monday as the Securities and Exchange Commission sought information from the bank about its two troubled hedge funds and a drop in US home sales sparked more fear about the state of the mortgage market.
Bear shares are now down about 19 per cent since January on fears that turmoil in the subprime and wider mortgage market could take a heavy toll on the bank’s earnings. Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers shares each dropped about 2 per cent on mortgage concerns.
The drops came as new data showed sales of existing homes fell slightly last month to a four-year low as the backlog of unsold homes rose, dampening hopes of a recovery in the sector.
Bond yields remained lower as investors worried that financial institutions could face further losses in the mortgage market. The 10-year bond yield fell to 5.08 per cent on Monday, against 5.13 per cent late on Friday.
In a third consecutive monthly decline, 5.99m homes changed hands in May, against the 5.97m economists had expected, and 0.3 per cent fewer than in April, according to the National Association of Realtors. It was the lowest rate of sales since June 2003.
The number of homes for sale rose to a 15-year high of 4.43m, or 8.9 months supply, almost double the supply from two years ago.
“The current level [of inventory] is approximately a million units above normal, a figure that glaringly illustrates the housing market’s biggest problem,” said Tony Crescenzi, bond strategist at Miller Tabak & Co.
Sales of existing homes make up about 85 percent of the housing market.
Mr Konstam said Moody’s estimated that sales of complex financial instruments, known as Collateralised Debt Obligations reached $506bn in 2006, of which more than half contained subprime exposure. “If there is contagion, the problem certainly has sufficient scale to become a financial event,” said Mr Konstam.
The value of such instruments is derived from conditions in the housing market.
Michelle Meyer of Lehman Brothers said large and rising inventories could lead to higher foreclosure rates for borrowers struggling to pay off mortgages, as high levels of supply make it more difficult to sell homes quickly.
Bonddad notes that a second fund has now reported trouble because of its subprime loan exposure:
And, Queen's Walk Investment Ltd., a United Kingdom-based publicly traded closed-end fund managed by Cheyne Capital Management (U.K.) LLP, said it had a net loss of €67.7 million ($91.2 million) in the first quarter and a loss of €98.8 million in the fourth quarter, due to losses in the mortgage-backed bond market. The net asset value of the securities in the fund fell 26.8%. More broadly, bond markets show signs of trouble digesting recent issues of corporate debt.
More trouble to follow? And if so, a major financial event to follow that? Or are troubles with subprime loans, mortgages, and the housing industry contained and no problem as the fed says?
Monday, June 25, 2007
CNN: Lugar Calls For A "New Direction" In Iraq
CNN's Dana Bash says Lugar's call will give Repubs already wavering on the preznut's policy cover to turn on the war.
So many times we've heard how we'll get changes in the Iraq policy, but the only changes I've seen so far is when Bush finally added more troops earlier this year after years of saying there were already enough troops deployed.
But Lugar is an "establishment" Repub, so when he ditches on the war, it is a pretty big deal and it can't make the jokers in the White House and the VP's office too happy tonight.
Whitman Faces Inquiry - Rudy Should Too
Yesterday, she blamed Rudy Giuliani for all the health problems Ground Zero workers are suffering as a result of their exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero and/or in downtown Manhattan after 9/11.
There is plenty of evidence to show that Whitman herself knew the air was unsafe even as she was assuring New Yorkers that "their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink."
Which is not to say that Rudy himself shouldn't be dragged up before the Congress to answer some questions about his own actions post-9/11 that directly put residents of downtown and Ground Zero workers at risk.
Juan Gonzalez has some questions he thinks Whitman needs to answer when she goes before the Congress today.
I agree that she needs to answer these questions.
I also think Rudy should be answering questions next.
He'll just have to tear himself away from all his electioneering and fund-raising to explain why he decided it was more important to reopen downtown after 9// than to make sure the air and area were safe before allowing residents and workers back. Not to mention why he didn't force Ground Zero workers to wear masks when the studies of his own environmental officials told him the Pile was insanely toxic and dangerous.
UPDATE: Here's how Whitman did yesterday, according to the NY Daily News:
WASHINGTON - Christie Whitman was a woman of many moods yesterday in her reluctant star turn on Capitol Hill.
She went from sad, to patient, to petulant, to forgetful to angry - and back again - in her 2-1/2 hours of high-heat grilling by the House judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties.
First she was a little sad, her lips turned down as the congressional panel accused her of lying about the air around Ground Zero.
Then the former Environmental Protection Agency head listened patiently as subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) accused the Bush administration of "false, misleading and inaccurate statements."
She became uncomfortable, glancing down at her light-beige-and-white-striped jacket sleeve when Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) called her "dead wrong" for saying the air was safe around Ground Zero.
She managed a tight smile and shook her head when he said no such statements were "so damaging to the health of New York City" as hers.
A video of her reassurances about the safe air, now known to be tragically optimistic, brought only a few blinks by way of reaction.
Mostly, Whitman looked vaguely distressed that congressmen would question her actions in the grim days after 9/11, and branded much of the criticism "innuendo and outright falsehoods."
She resorted to the time-honored, memory-challenged response of not recalling about a dozen times, but pegged most of her answers on others, often with lines like "the scientists were telling me it was safe."
Eventually, Whitman got mad and exploded at Congressman Keith Ellison during his questioning.
Funny how she picked the Muslim congressman for her fury.
The Vice Preznut Of Torture
Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney's lawyer, who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby. The meeting marked "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. "The CIA guys said, 'We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'" if interrogators confined themselves to humane techniques allowed by the Geneva Conventions.
From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive's will to resist. The vice president's office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.
The vice president's lawyer advocated what was considered the memo's most radical claim: that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line of torture. U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to "commit torture," that passage stated, "do not apply" to the commander in chief, because Congress "may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."
That same day, Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo signed off on a second secret opinion, the contents of which have never been made public. According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of specific interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA -- including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government classified as a war crime in 1947. The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.
Yoo said for the first time in an interview that he verbally warned lawyers for the president, Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that it would be dangerous as a matter of policy to permit military interrogators to use the harshest techniques, because the armed services, vastly larger than the CIA, could overuse the tools or exceed the limits. "I always thought that only the CIA should do this, but people at the White House and at DOD felt differently," Yoo said. The migration of those techniques from the CIA to the military, and from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, aroused worldwide condemnation when abuse by U.S. troops was exposed.
Does anyone really still believe that the dog collars, the naked pyramids, the electric shock to the genitals and other "enhanced interrogation methods" really started with the guys and gals on the Abu Ghraib nightshift?
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Per the NY Times, the operational commander of troops battling to drive fighters with Al Qaeda from Baquba said Friday that 80 percent of the top Al Qaeda leaders in the city fled before the American-led offensive began earlier this week. He compared their flight with the escape of Qaeda leaders from Falluja ahead of an American offensive that recaptured that city in 2004.
The Washington Post reports that the U.S. military fears there are not enough U.S. troops to effectively expand security operations beyond Baghdad as they are currently trying to do. Experts and officers in the field worry that insurgents will simply move from areas of engagement to other places in Iraq where the U.S. does not have enough forces to pursue them.
So casualties continue to skyrocket since Preznut Bush sent 30,000-40,000 additional troops over to Iraq for his security surge, yet we still don't have enough troops in Iraq to effectively affect much positive change on the ground there, insurgents are still escaping at will from the clutches of the U.S. military and the U.S. does not have any more additional troops to send to remedy the situation. And no one other than the completely delusional people in the VP's office actually think the Iraq security forces will be able to pick up the slack in this geopolitical game of whack-a-mole anytime soon.
Tell me again what the endgame for this war is and just what the U.S. is accomplishing with the surge policy and the increased U.S. casualties that have resulted from it?
The Rules Don't Apply To Them
WASHINGTON — The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney's office, President Bush's office is not allowing an independent federal watchdog to oversee its handling of classified national security information.
An executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 — amending an existing order — requires all government agencies that are part of the executive branch to submit to oversight. Although it doesn't specifically say so, Bush's order was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said.
Bush amended the oversight directive in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help ensure that national secrets would not be mishandled, made public or improperly declassified.
The order aimed to create a uniform system for classifying, declassifying and otherwise safeguarding national security information. It gave the archives' oversight unit responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of each agency's classification programs. It applied to the executive branch of government, mostly agencies led by Bush administration appointees — not to legislative offices such as Congress or to judicial offices such as the courts.
But from the start, Bush considered his office and Cheney's exempt from the reporting requirements, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in an interview Friday.
Cheney's office filed the reports in 2001 and 2002 but stopped in 2003.
As a result, the National Archives has been unable to review how much information the president's and vice president's offices are classifying and declassifying. And the security oversight office cannot inspect the president and vice president's executive offices to determine whether safeguards are in place to protect the classified information they handle and to properly declassify information when required.
Unfortunately for America, the "accountability moment" as Preznut Bush once termed it passed back in 2004 and now Bush and Cheney can do any old thing they want and there's nothing you or the Congress or anybody can do about it.
Unless we want to put impeachment back on the table.
Bush democracy - just like the rule of the Sun King.
Friday, June 22, 2007
These kinds of stories tend to come out when a person is running for president in the era of three 24 hour cable news networks, three broadcast networks, thousands of newspapers, tens of thousands of Internet political news and opinion sources/blogs, and You Tube.
So what makes Mayor Moneybags Bloomberg - who refuses to tell people nearly ANYTHING about his personal life, where he actually lives (hint: it's not Gracie Mansion), where he goes on weekends (hint: it's a secret!), how much money he is REALLY worth (when you see the press throwing figures around about his net worth, they're all just estimates), etc. - think HE can get through the election process without having details about his personal and business lives being revealed?
I dunno, but it's clear he does:
"For more than six years, we've had a consistent policy of not discussing the mayor's private schedule or personal life," was all Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser would say when asked if the mayor had spent money on polls or other activities to explore a bid.
Right now, Bloomberg is receiving adulatory kid glove treatment from the media who apparently aren't satisfied with the current quality of the presidential candidates (8 Dems/10 Repubs + Fred Thompson) and want to see Moneybags enter the race if for no other reason that it creates even more uncertainty in an already uncertain race that the press are already bored by.
But what happens when Bloomberg actually enters the race early next year and the adulatory kid glove treatment turns to the same kind of scrutiny that other presidential candidates receive?
How will Bloomberg react when he's asked about his personal life, his ex-wife, his current girlfriend and/or boyfriend, where he lives, where he goes on weekends (hint: it's a secret island he owns somewhere far, far away from everybody), what his net worth is and so on?
Bloomberg's track record says that he will not react too well.
When challenged at his press conference on Tuesday whether he had ordered city employees to work on his presidential bid while also working on the city payroll, Bloomberg grew snarky and petulant.
He has a reputation for wanting things to go his way and when they don't, he gets very, very upset and makes sure things go his way anyway.
Now that may work in the business world, where ruthlessness, petulance and selfishness are virtues, but in a presidential campaign Bloomberg's penchant for getting upset when things don't go his way is going to be a problem.
As Tom Harkin noted:
Mr. Bloomberg, whom I don't know real well -- I've met him a few times -- kind of reminds me of the little rich kid that if he can't have it his way he's going to take his little balls and go home."
I suspect when Bloomberg is challenged about his personal and business lives by the press and his opponents in the presidential race, that is exactly what is going to happen.
So unless the press decides to give Bloomberg a pass on these questions and unless Bloomberg's Democratic and Republican opponents decide to ignore the weirdness and unfairness of his refusal to give ANY details about his personal and business lives while they have to divulge just about everything about themselves, Moneybags is going to have a "snark moment" on camera where he tells a reporter or two to go fuck themselves when they ask how many people he employs on his secret tropical island in the South Pacific or why he won't reveal where he lives during the week when he's not jetting off to his secret tropical paradise.
If that moment happens, it will define Bloomberg for the American people in a way that Bloomberg's billion dollar ad campaign may just not be able to undo.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
BAGHDAD - The U.S. military said on Thursday it was setting a trap to “eliminate” militants near Baghdad, where 15 American troops died in the past three days, including five slain Thursday in a single roadside bombing that also killed four Iraqis.
Elsewhere, a suicide truck bomber struck the Sulaiman Bek city hall in a predominantly Sunni area of northern Iraq, killing at least 16 people and wounding 67, an Iraqi commander said.
The latest U.S. deaths raised to at least 3,545 the number of American troops who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The deadliest attack was a roadside bomb that struck a convoy in northeastern Baghdad on Thursday, killing five U.S. soldiers, three Iraqi civilians and one Iraqi interpreter, the military said.
A rocket-propelled grenade struck a vehicle in northern Baghdad about 12:30 p.m. Thursday, killing one soldier and wounding three others, another statement said.
Four other U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded Wednesday when their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in a western neighborhood in the capital, the military said separately.
Southwest of Baghdad, two U.S. soldiers were killed and four were wounded Wednesday when explosions struck near their vehicle, according to a statement earlier in the day.
Two Marines also were killed Wednesday while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the military said.
Counting a previously announced U.S. fatality that occurred Tuesday, the latest military statements meant that 15 troops were killed over a three-day period.
68 U.S. soldiers have been killed so far this month in Iraq. If the level of casualties continues at the current 3.38 a day, there will be more than a 100 again this month. That would mean more than 100 U.S. casualties in Iraq for three consecutive months.
What are we getting in return for these lives?
This Is Very Good
Democrats in Congress are pushing to overhaul the nation's student loan system with legislation that would cut federal subsidies to lending companies by as much as $19 billion, channel most of those savings to student aid and ease repayment rules for borrowers.
The Senate education committee overwhelmingly approved its version of the legislation yesterday, one week after the House education panel took similar action. Senior Democrats predicted that the bills would come to a vote by the end of next month and would be reconciled without significant difficulty.
Momentum for the legislation has grown this year as the $85 billion-a-year industry has come under intense scrutiny. Federal and state investigations have found conflicts of interest among lenders, universities and government regulators. In addition, the Democratic takeover of Congress this year has allowed the party to drive its agenda on student loans for the first time in more than a decade.
The proposals would have borrowers pay no more than 15 percent of their discretionary income for federally backed student loans. They would allow such loans to be forgiven after about 25 years. The Senate measure would gradually boost the maximum Pell grant, the nation's main aid program for low-income students, from $4,300 to $5,400 a year. The House plan calls for a smaller grant increase but would cut in half the interest rates on federally backed student loans, to 3.4 percent.
Just so you know, last year a Republican Congress passed and Preznut Bush happily signed a law that increased student loan interest rates for students to 6.8% and for parents to 8.5%. These rates cannot be lowered even if interest rates fall back to historic lows and students or parents can consolidate them at a lower rate. They also increased federal subsidies to student loan companies.
Preznut Bush and the Republicans in Congress - always looking out for the little guy.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Pew Poll: 56% Say They Will NEVER Vote For Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg has created some excitement in the political world about a possible run for the presidency by dropping his Republican affiliation. But a recent nationwide Pew voter survey found that while the New York mayor is relatively well known, his appeal is very modest at this point.
Almost two-thirds of American voters (65%) know who Michael Bloomberg is – more than have heard of Mitt Romney (62%), Joe Biden (58%), Fred Thompson (51%) or Bill Richardson (48%). Overall, Bloomberg's visibility falls in the middle of the pack of presidential contenders – well below the current Democratic or Republican frontrunners.
But as the New York mayor reportedly considers an independent bid for the presidency, only 9% of voters who have heard of him say there's a good chance they'd cast a ballot for him.
Another 23% say there is some chance, but more than half of American voters – 56% – say there's no chance Bloomberg would get their vote.
Majorities of Republican, Democratic and independent voters who have heard of Bloomberg say there is no chance they'd vote for him, though he is somewhat more appealing to independents and Republicans than he is to Democrats.
Looks like Bloomberg's constituency is mostly among the jaded press corps professionals and Washington hackery looking for monkey wrench or two to throw into the race. Granted, Moneybags will be spending a lot of money on the race, but I still don't see how he plays anything but spoiler with poll numbers like these and intractable Republican and Democratic constituencies who say they would NEVER vote for Bloomberg under ANY circumstance.
So unless Mark Halperin and some other media wankers can anoint Bloomberg president, he has about as good a shot as Ross Perot had back in 1992, which is to say, not too much.
Survey USA Poll Shows Bloomberg Candidacy Hurts GOP
SurveyUSA pits New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg against the top three Republicans (Giuliani, McCain, Romney) and top two Democrats (Clinton, Obama) in 16 key states and makes these observations:
* Bloomberg is not yet running, and has not yet spent any of his fortune, but at this hour, a Bloomberg 3rd-Party candidacy hurts Republicans.
* Bloomberg siphons enough Republican votes to flip red states Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and New Mexico blue.
* There are two instances in which a Bloomberg 3rd-Party run flips a blue state to red, compared to 27 instances where a red state flips to blue.
* Should Bloomberg enter the race, and should Bloomberg begin to spend money, and should Bloomberg begin to form non-traditional coalitions, these dynamics may well alter. For now, his candidacy helps color more of the map blue.
Wow - I really would think Moneybags would hurt Dems more than Repubs if he chooses to run for president in '08. But it seems that as of now, he wins more votes from Republicans than Dems.
Bloomberg Would Need To Spend At Least Two Billion To Buy The White House
The Washington Post says today that he is willing to spend somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion on a presidential bid (Fortune says Bloomberg is worth $5.5 billion, others estimate he is worth as much as $20 billion.)
Chris Cilliza of The Fix wrote in late May that the major party candidates are expected to raise as much as $500 million to $750 million dollars each to spend on the campaign.
Leaving aside the obscene amounts of money candidates need to run for president and the injurious effects that may be having on the overall health of American democracy, let me ask you this: can Bloomberg actually beat both major party candidates if he can only outspend them by $250 million-$500 million dollars?
Think about the impediments to an independent candidacy. Think about the highly partisan nature of presidential elections and try and figure out just who would support Bloomberg (Repubs? - he's pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, pro-choice; Dems? - he's anti-union, pro-outsourcing and wants to bring back feudalism so that he and his rich billionaire buddies can rake in more money and build more football stadiums.) Think about the political apparatus and the GOTV machines needed in all 50 states and ask yourself if Bloomberg, even with the help of some independent organization like Unity08, can actually win enough votes to garner 270 electoral votes and win the presidency.
I say he cannot, especially if he's only going to outspend the major party candidates by about $250 million bucks. Remember, Bloomberg won the NYC race by spending 4 times as much as his opponents. He had very low approval numbers for his first few years as mayor until he spent another $100 million on campaign advertising 1 full year before his mayoral re-election and then he still outspent his Dem opponent (the hapless Fernando Ferrer) by 4 times as much to win re-election.
For Bloomberg to actually be able to win the WH, he probably needs to again spend 4 times as much as the major party candidates (especially given that he has no national constituency, little recognition outside of NY, and will only have the political aid of people he buys to help him GOTV.)
This means he probably realistically needs to spend more than $2 billion to have a chance to win (and even then, his chances aren't so good.). Is he willing to do that?
Dunno. He's got a pretty big ego, so perhaps. But for now, he's just going to tease us and we'll have to wait until early next year to see what signs he's sending out.
If I had to wager, in the end I'd say he does not run unless something major happens to bring down both major party candidates. As it is now, if Romney or Thompson runs against Clinton, I don't see how he can realistically run in that race and expect to be anything other than a spoiler.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Moneybags Tries To Buy White House
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg left the Republican Party on Tuesday and switched to unaffiliated, a move certain to be seen as a prelude to an independent presidential bid that would upend the 2008 race.
The billionaire former CEO, who was a lifelong Democrat before he switched to the Republican Party in 2001 for his first mayoral run, said the change in his voter registration does not mean he is running for president.
Throughout his 5 1/2 years as mayor, Bloomberg has often been at odds with his party and President Bush. He supports gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control and stem cell research, and raised property taxes to help solve a fiscal crisis after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Couple things here:
Bloomberg CANNOT actually win the presidency. He has no national constituency, has no real issue to run on, has made some real tough enemies over the years (the NRA hates him over the gun control issue) and cannot count on state party establishments to turn out votes for him. Plus he disappears to a secret island on weekends and won't tell anyone where he goes, he's Jewish (how does that play in the heartland where the word "Mormon" is already creating problems for another presidential candidate?) and is rumored to be secretly gay (the girlfriend is a beard, if you believe the rumors, and the secret weekend trips are when he gets his groove on.) How electable is that type of candidate for the presidency? Not very, in my opinion, even though he reputedly is ready to drop a billion dollars in the race.
Bloomberg CAN still upend the race by taking votes away from one or both of the major party candidates. I suspect he would hurt Dems much more than Repubs, given his pro-gay, pro-gun control, pro-choice stances. Whether he is willing to run a campaign and spend a billion dollars for no other reason than to ensure a Republican gets elected president is a bit doubtful, but you never know.
I believe Mayor Moneybags - with an ego the size of Dick Cheney's ass - relishes the attention and wants to be fellated by the national press for the next six months/year over whether he is going to run for president or not. He is going to tease us for a while, make lots of national appearances and talk about how good a job he has done in NYC by being above party.
But in the end, during a time when national security and foreign policy issues mean a whole lot, what the hell does a little mayor from NYC who once decreed that all bulletin boards in NYC public schools had to look EXACTLY the SAME and all classes across the city had to be on the EXACT SAME page in the EXACT SAME book at the EXACT SAME moment on the EXACT SAME day know about Iraq, Iran, Syria, China, India, Pakistan and Russia other than how to help his billionaire buddies outsource jobs to those countries?
How can he, even after dropping a billion+ in the race, win as an independent?
I will make a prediction - if Moneybags runs, he wins 1% of the vote for every $100 million he drops in the race. A billion only gives him 10% of the vote - not nearly enough to do anything other than give us Romney or Rudy for four years.
Will 10% make the little mayor from NYC happy? Or does the Moneybags just want all the attention before he rides off into the sunset?
UPDATE: Forgot to mention one thing - Bloomberg will run as the "practical manager/businessman" type who "can get things done." If Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination (and Romney currently leads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina polls), Romney will also be running as the "practical manager/businessman" type who "can get things done." Kinda takes some of the wind out of Moneybags' sails. And with Giuliani tanking and McCain already toast, Romney is looking more and more like he is going to be the GOP candidate (unless Fred Thompson really catches fire - still doubtful.)
SECOND UPDATE: Chris Cilliza at The Fix runs through the past independent bids for president. The independent candidate who garnered the most popular votes for president in the last hundred years? Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 won 27% of the vote. That was good enough for 88 electoral votes; Woodrow Wilson won 435.
Giuliani Campaign Aide Indicted For Conspiracy To Distribute Cocaine
On the same day that Newsday reveals Rudy Giuliani quit the Iraq Study Group so he could make millions of dollars giving speeches, word comes that the chairman of the Giuliani campaign in South Carolina, SC State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, was indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Not a good day for the Giuliani campaign.
WASHINGTON -- Rudolph Giuliani's membership on an elite Iraq study panel came to an abrupt end last spring after he failed to show up for a single official meeting of the group, causing the panel's top Republican to give him a stark choice: either attend the meetings or quit, several sources said.
Giuliani left the Iraq Study Group last May after just two months, walking away from a chance to make up for his lack of foreign policy credentials on the top issue in the 2008 race, the Iraq war.
He cited "previous time commitments" in a letter explaining his decision to quit, and a look at his schedule suggests why -- the sessions at times conflicted with Giuliani's lucrative speaking tour that garnered him $11.4 million in 14 months.
Giuliani failed to show up for a pair of two-day sessions that occurred during his tenure, the sources said -- and both times, they conflicted with paid public appearances shown on his recent financial disclosure. Giuliani quit the group during his busiest stretch in 2006, when he gave 20 speeches in a single month that brought in $1.7 million.
By giving up his seat on the panel, Giuliani has opened himself up to charges that he chose private-sector paydays and politics over unpaid service on a critical issue facing the nation.
Not only that, but the 10-member group -- also called the Baker-Hamilton commission -- was no ordinary blue-ribbon panel, instead chartered by Congress and encouraged by the president to find a way forward in Iraq.
Giuliani's move already has come under attack by Democrats, and outside experts say it shines a light on his priorities at the time.
"Missing one meeting, you could put it down to staff error, but when you're missing them consistently, your priorities have been indicated, and the staff knows when there's a choice, you go on the road and pick up some bucks," said Kent Cooper, co-founder of Political Money Line, which tracks money in politics.
Josh Marshall notes that this kind of revelation usually ends the campaign of a candidate who has based his entire campaign on his anti-terrorism credentials and hard-assed Iraq policies:
Rudy's running on terrorism and Iraq. But he got booted off a congressionally-mandated blue ribbon panel because he couldn't be bothered to show up for the meetings. It conflicted with his for-a-price speaking gigs. Like I said, it's the kind of story that ends campaigns.
Monday, June 18, 2007
One of the problems with Representative Gingrey's lecture - as of today, 3,527 American military personnel have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war (along w/ 151 Brits and 127 multi-national soldiers.)
Doesn't it undercut the power and efficacy of Representative Gingrey's lecture that the stupid sonuvabitch doesn't even have a ballpark figure for the actual number of U.S. deaths in Iraq?
Gingrey was off by 427.
The number of U.S. deaths in Iraq reached 3,100 in January of this year - before the surge started.
Did Gingrey just stop checking the casualty lists for the last six months?
Or might it be that he simply doesn't give a rat's ass about dead American soldiers even though he serves on the House Armed Services Committee?
They Knew All The Time
The Army two-star general who led the first investigation into detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq believes senior defense officials were involved in directing abusive interrogation policies, according to an article on the New Yorker magazine's Web site.
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, a Leilehua High School graduate, told the magazine that he felt mocked and shunned by top Pentagon officials, including then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, after filing an exhaustive report on the now-notorious Abu Ghraib abuse that sparked international outrage and led to an overhaul of the U.S. interrogation and detention policies.
Taguba's report examining the 800th Military Police Brigade put in plain terms what had been documented in shocking photographs.
In interviews with New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh to be published in the magazine today, Taguba said he was ordered to limit his investigation to low-ranking soldiers who were photographed with the detainees and the soldiers' unit. But he said that it was always his sense that the abuse was ordered at higher levels.
Taguba, who said that he was forced to retire early because of his pursuit of the issue, was quoted as saying that he thinks top commanders in Iraq had extensive knowledge of the aggressive interrogation techniques that mirrored those used on high-value detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the military police "were literally being exploited by the military interrogators."
Taguba also said that Rumsfeld misled Congress when he testified in May 2004 about the abuse investigation, minimizing how much he knew about the incidents.
Taguba said that he met with Rumsfeld and top aides the day before the testimony.
"I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib," Taguba said, according to the article. "We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."
Of course a complicit GOP Congress enabled the cover-up by not investigating the scandal independently of the administration.
For those who say the current Dem Congress is conducting too many investigations, I would like to note that the current Prosecutor Purge scandal, the warrantless wiretapping scandal and the Abu Ghraib scandal amount to some truly horrendous abuses of power by the people in this administration and the hack Repubs who have enabled them over the last 7 years.
The Abu Ghraib scandal needs to be looked at again and Rumsfeld and the other top level guys behind both the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on the prisoners (i.e., torture) and the cover-up of the scandal need to have their asses hauled down in front of Congressional committees for some testimony under oath.
Let's find out who knew what about the scandal when and why they either ordered the torture or did nothing about it until it was publicly revealed.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
So Much For September
In fact, just today Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said this on Face The Nation:
"I think that everybody anticipates that this is going to be a new strategy in the fall. I don't think we'll have the same level of troops, in all likelihood, that we have now," he said. "We're not [in Iraq] forever."
And yet, U.S. General David Petreaus said this today on FOX:
Conditions in Iraq will not improve sufficiently by September to justify a drawdown of U.S. military forces, the top commander in Iraq said yesterday.
Asked whether he thought the job assigned to an additional 30,000 troops deployed as the centerpiece of President Bush's new war strategy would be completed by then, Gen. David H. Petraeus replied: "I do not, no. I think that we have a lot of heavy lifting to do."
We're not going anywhere.
If anything, they may try and squeeze a few more troops in.
Quintuple deployments anyone?
Politicizing The Department of Justice Even More
Atty Gen. Alberto Gonzales so far has survived a political crisis over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, a rare potential vote of no-confidence in the Senate and numerous calls for his resignation.
His response? Gonzales recently proposed tightening the leash on the men and women who prosecute federal crimes across the nation.
Gonzales described what he delicately calls "a more vigorous and a little bit more formal process" for annually evaluating prosecutors. What that means, as he explained it, is hauling in every U.S. attorney for a meeting to hear, among other things, politicians' beefs against the prosecutor.
If that should happen, expect the fair-mindedness and independence Americans still count on from their Justice Department to slip.
In testimony to Congress and comments at the National Press Club, Gonzales framed the meetings as a way of improving communications. But it also looks a lot like a way to remind recalcitrant U.S. attorneys what the home team expects.
Of course, there's already an evaluation process run by the Justice Department's executive office for U.S. attorneys. But that only measures how well a prosecutor runs the office, not how loyal he or she is to the administration's agenda.
Let's face it - in Bush's eyes, U.S. attorneys are only doing their jobs well when they're helping Republicans get re-elected and hurting the re-election chances of Democrats.
That's why Gonzales plans on having one-on-one meetings with EVERY U.S. attorney (and perhaps the disgruntled politicians with beefs against them) as part of the review process.
Can you imagine the screaming we'd hear from wingnuts if Bill Clinton and Janet Reno had run DOJ like that?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
"Security Situation Is Out Of Control"
Hooded gunmen clad in black blew up a second Sunni mosque in the southern city of Basra today after ordering the police at the mosque to flee, and despite a curfew imposed by Iraq’s central government, witnesses and security officials said.
The blast at the al-Ashrah al-Mubashra mosque in central Basra, a day after a blast razed another Sunni mosque in the city, suggested that Shiite militias south of the capital have rejected calls for restraint from Iraqi leaders after explosions Wednesday toppled two minarets at a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra.
The latest Basra attack immediately heightened tensions between Sunni and Shiite officials, and for some, seemed to confirm that Iraq’s central government has lost the ability to exert much influence not just on areas of the Kurdish north, but also majority Shiite strongholds in the south.
“The security situation is out of control in the city,” said Wael Abdul Latif, a Shiite former governor of Basra and member of the Iraqi List, a moderate party headed by Ayad Allawi. “The power of the state is weak, and the forces of the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry are confused and afraid even though handing such matters requires toughness.”
A prelude to when the U.S. pulls the majority of troops out.
And yet, what do we accomplish long-term by staying and trying to keep a lid on the bloodletting?
Whether we pull out today or three years from now, the sectarian violence and chaos is going to explode in Iraq regardless of what we try and do to stop it now.
The mistakes that were made both BEFORE the invasion (should have never gone in, had too few troops, had no post-war plan) and immediately AFTER the fall of Saddam (had too few troops to control country, deBaathification, ignored burgeoning insurgency) compounded by the refusal of the administration to acknowledge the grim realities of the continuously worsening security conditions and sectarian tensions in Iraq have ensured that there is going to be a long period of carnage and mayhem before there is even a modicum of peace.
It would behoove the United States to make sure that everybody involved in facilitating the Iraq mess - from the neocon advisers and journalists who hawked this war in the first place to the Republican Party apparatchiks who dutifully cheered it on for all those years before it became apparent to even them what a disaster the war was to the Democratic Party hacks who signed on to this war because it was the politically expedient thing to do - be left out of future discussions of "What do we do to pick up the pieces now?"
I know that won't leave many of the "Wise Men Of Washington" around to make future decisions and policy, but that, I think would best for all of us.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Vigil For Scooter
Funny thing though - on Hardball tonight, former Nixon speech writer and Reagan communications director Pat Buchanan took apart former Cheney aide Ron Christie in a debate over Libby's pardon and the fairness of the verdict. After three segments on whether Libby should be pardoned or not, Buchanan (taking the viewpoint that someone convicted of perjury/obstruction in a court of law ought to be punished and go to jail) says to Christie: "After all the talk about this, the only reason I can see that you have given to me for why Libby should be pardoned is because he's Cheney's guy. And that's not good enough - what about the rule of law?"
I'll post more about the Buchanan/Christie bit when MSNBC puts up the transcript tomorrow. Really, it was that good.
It's All About The Spin
Here's the lede from the Washington Post:
Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.
Here's the LA Times on the same story:
WASHINGTON — Violence in Iraq rose slightly in the three months ended in May because of increased attacks in cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful before the Bush administration's troop buildup, the Pentagon reported Wednesday.
The intense focus on Baghdad and western Iraq by newly arriving U.S. troops pushed insurgent groups into other regions, causing a rise in violence in northern and eastern provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, the Pentagon said in a quarterly report to Congress on Iraqi security.
Now here's an administration-friendlier version of the story from USA Today:
BAGHDAD — When Gen. David Petraeus drives through the streets of Iraq's capital, he sees "astonishing signs of normalcy" in half, perhaps two-thirds of Baghdad.
"I'm talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks — big ones, markets that are very vibrant," says Petraeus, commander of the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The scenes provide a sign that the new strategy in Iraq is working, although many problems remain, he told USA TODAY in an interview Wednesday.
Five months after President Bush ordered an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, data suggest that sectarian violence in Baghdad has declined. Other tentative signs of progress have included a rise in Iraqi army enlistments and some quality-of-life improvements such as fewer electricity blackouts in the capital.
However, U.S. military casualties have jumped to record-high levels as more troops are put in harm's way. Violence has surged in some areas outside the capital. Iraq's government has yet to pass any of the major legislative changes that Bush said were necessary for an enduring peace between the Sunni and Shiite sects.
The USA Today article goes on to report these "possible signs of progress" from Iraq:
•Iraq's army. The Iraqi army currently has 152,500 trained and equipped soldiers, nearly 20,000 more troops than were on the rosters in January, according to the U.S. State Department. Another 20,000 soldiers will be added to the ranks this year, the U.S. military says.McClatchy reviewed the surge strategy last Friday and found results a lot more dismal than USA Today did, however. Here's some of that report:
The Army now has its own Iraqi-run basic training and leadership schools. "The Iraqi army has, in general, done quite well in the face of some really serious challenges," Petraeus says. "In certain areas it really is very heartening to see what it has done."
•Anbar province. This area in the heart of the Sunni Triangle has been held up by the U.S. military as a model for Iraq. "The progress in Anbar has actually been breathtaking," Petraeus says.
Commanders credit much of the success to the U.S. military's decision to arm, train and organize Sunni provincial militias that have turned against al-Qaeda militants operating in the area.
•Sectarian violence. The number of unidentified bodies found in Baghdad — an indicator of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims — dropped from a high of 1,782 in October to 411 in April, according to an Interior Ministry official who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The body count spiked to 726 in May. So far this month, the numbers are again on a "downward trend," Petraeus says. Although the bombing Wednesday of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra raises the risk of a new outbreak of sectarian violence, he says.
WASHINGTON - Three months after additional U.S. troops began pouring into Baghdad in the most recent effort to stanch violence in Iraq's capital, military observers are fretting that the same problems that torpedoed last summer's Baghdad security plan are cropping up again.
Violence is on the rise, Iraqi troops aren't showing up to secure neighborhoods, U.S. troops are having to revisit neighborhoods they'd already cleared, and Iraq's politicians haven't met any of their benchmarks.
With expectations high in Washington for a September assessment from new Iraq commander Army Gen. David Petraeus, military officials in Iraq already are saying they'll need more time.
One thing is already clear, however: The additional U.S. troops haven't yet had a major impact on reducing violence.
The number of bodies found on Baghdad's streets declined in March and April after the surge began on Feb. 15, but it shot back up to an even higher level in May. So far this month, 206 unidentified corpses have been found in the capital, compared with 176 in the first eight days of May.
Some question whether any plan can create an Iraqi force that would allow the U.S. to begin drawing down troop levels in Iraq any time soon.
"The U.S. commitment level is there. But we are still seeing the same thing where the Iraqis haven't shown up the way they were supposed to. It's the same problem (as last year) and that problem hasn't been fixed," said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Iraqi forces "still can't come in large scale and replace us."
The surge also hasn't met its non-military goal of giving the Iraqi government time to reach agreements on key political issues, such as how to distribute Iraq's oil revenues and whether to let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party work for the government.
The Iraqi government has missed every interim deadline set by U.S. officials and has made little progress toward 18 benchmarks that Congress has ordered Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to report on in September.
One thing to note about the two reports - USA Today had an "exclusive" interview with General David Petreaus to use in their article while Juan Cole notes that a McClatchy newspaper reporter was rebuffed by Defense Secretary Gates and not invited on a fly-over of Iraq.
In any case, as Kevin Drum blogged here, the spin coming from the administration and its allies is a desperate attempt to try and pull back expectations that September is some kind of "accountability moment" for the surge strategy (even though it was administration allies in the first place that put that notion out there in the public domain.) They keep saying that the full complement of surge troops didn't arrive until the end of May so any gauge of how the strategy is working will take months and months to figure. And then they keep trying to plant their own positive spin in the newspapers with the help of friendly reporters ("Sure violence is up in three provinces, USA Today, but it's down in two!!!")
It's all about the spin - make believe things are better, continue to criticize or shut out news outlets that report facts and conditions on the ground (note Bill O'Reilly's latest tirade that news organizations shouldn't report bombings and other violence from Iraq because such incidents are "meaningless") and hope Americans get so tied up in their summer vacation plans and tanking housing markets that they stop paying attention to the war.
Given the dismal poll numbers in the latest WSJ/NBC News poll for both the preznut and the Congress, however, I doubt that is going to happen. People know this war is going badly, they're angry that Dems in Congress couldn't or wouldn't do anything to stop it and are really mad that the Boy King continues to escalate the war like it's 1967.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Ratcheting Down Expectations
The last couple of weeks have been dedicated to nonstop declarations that we should expect (a) an increase in violence this summer, (b) no political progress to speak of, and (c) an even more dysfunctional and sectarian Iraqi security apparatus than we have now. By the time Petraeus's progress report arrives, they'll be telling us we should count the surge a success as long as things are no more than 20% worse than when it started.
Here's the official word from the White House on Petraeus' September report:
A September progress report on the U.S. troop increase in Iraq that President George W. Bush called an important moment for his war strategy is unlikely to be a "pivotal" assessment, officials now say.
Amid unrelenting bloodshed in Iraq and scant signs of progress by the Iraqi government in meeting political benchmarks, the White House sought to temper expectations of rapid strides resulting from a security crackdown begun at the start of this year.
"I have warned from the very beginning about expecting some sort of magical thing to happen in September," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters on Wednesday.
"What I would suggest is, rather than it's, sort of, a pivotal moment, it is the first opportunity to be able to take a look at what happens when you've got (the troop increase) up and running fully for a period of months," he added. "It is naive to think, suddenly -- boom -- you snap a finger and you've got an instant change in the situation."
No - the American occupation isn't ending anytime soon.