Friday, September 28, 2007

The Gun Whores of Main Street

What makes me mad about this story is perhaps the fact that no one --no one-- save a few socially maladjuted bloggers and the dirty fscking hippies have seriously asked the question that desperately needs asking.

But I see I am getting ahead of myself...

Okay... let's start with NPR's craptacular piece this morning "Blackwater Eyes Domestic Contracts in U.S."

In particular I would like to draw your attention to this bit:
"The first Blackwater employees arrived in New Orleans just 36 hours after the levies broke.
That's the lede of the story. And then nowhere is the question ever hinted at: If things were such a shambles, and we couldn't get the National Guard or FEMA in there, then how did Blackwater put the equivalent of a short infantry regiment, rapid reaction team into town within a day and half, while the flood waters were still rising?

As Dr. S9 has previously noted, in spite of the NPR happy talk about the humanitarian mission of Blackwater, they were there at first primarily at the behest of insurance companies to protect property, and then only later did FEMA and DHS decide it would be easier to hire mercenaries than to use legitimate law enforcement and government resources for certain functions in New Orleans.

So, yeah, I'm ticked that again, a major media outlet, and frankly one of the last ones I trust to give so much as the time of day, lets something like that slip. So then there's the nut of the story:
"Providing security after national emergencies is usually a function of the National Guard and local police. And during the Katrina aftermath, the Blackwater employees were paid $950 a day, or about eight times the salary of a New Orleans police officer."
Now to be fair (because after all, the Mojowire is nothing, if not all about the fair) they do extensively quote an ex-Air Force Attorney and fellow at G-Town Law, who says this talk of Blackwater getting contracts to work American streets is very unnerving.

Although he still skirts the main issue I have with all of this, he hints at it in this quote:
"The only difference between Blackwater in Iraq and Blackwater in New Orleans is that they are mercenaries in Iraq and they are vigilantes in New Orleans..."
Vigilantes... absolutely right. Albeit vigilantes with letters of marque and reprisal, apparently. Yeah, they're animals, but they're our animals...

The reason I bring this up is the fact that the übergrøppénfumbler of this delightful little enterprise is a guy named Erik Prince. NPR has a little bio of him along with their main story, and they note that the guy is associated with some far right wing Christian Dominionist and Republican groups.

Yeah, our nation's leading gun pimp is a right wing dommie... I'm sure you're shocked beyond all comprehension to learn this [/snark].

Okay... here's the other shoe: "Tiny Potrero Battles County and Blackwater USA." That's right lads...our Potrero! Ya got that?! Check it:
"The hamlet of Potrero in southeast San Diego County, 45 miles from the city and just 8 minutes from Tecate, is being ambushed. The attackers are county bureaucrats marching alongside Blackwater USA, the private military contractor that is getting so much bad press while being labeled one of the biggest mercenary firms in the Iraq War.

Blackwater wants to build an 824-acre training facility three miles north of Potrero. It will have 15 shooting ranges, an armory for storing ammunition, a course on which moving vehicles will be strafed with paintballs, a helicopter pad, several buildings, and other military accoutrements. But Potrero's oft-stated community goal is to "maintain the existing rural lifestyle by continuing the existing pattern of residential and agricultural uses on large 40-acre lots" alongside "generally undeveloped meadows, open spaces, and hillsides."[...]

[...]Last July, Blackwater hired as a lobbyist Nikki Clay, a longtime cheerleader for corporate welfare (Chargers, Padres) and former president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Blackwater brought on the developer-friendly environmental firm of Mooney, Jones & Stokes, along with other companies to make up their project team. The team quickly snuggled up to the County, which was not playing hard to get."
At this point there is a recall election spurred by this and threatened law suits, but it seems to me after covering other such development issues, that it's a done deal and they are only delaying the inevitable.

So aside from the obvious emotional ties the editors of this blog have for the small high desert border hamlet in San Diego County, there is another issue at work here.

For the last couple of years, there has been a semi-permanent presence in the hills of eastern San Diego County of the cream of the gene pool that Redneckistan could muster and put on our border to stop the hordes of the Brown Menance from coming north to take our lucrative dishwashing and crop picking jobs... of course, I am talking about The Minutemen.

Now given that DHS has not only the authority, but the will to use hired guns to do thing that a normal law enforcement officer apparently won't or can't, then I can only wonder how long it will be before there are semi-official Blackwater "observers" on the border with the Minutemen. And given their current proclivity for gun violence and their corporation's leading light being a radical dominionist, then I am wondering how long it will be before they start putting up barracks and training the Minutemen down there...

And how much of this will be done with the knowledge, funding and approval of DHS? Yeah, there are all sorts of ways this can end, most of them dark and unpleasant...

Quo Vadis,

mojo sends

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where Do I Sign Up?

Oh, right... I sign up for this at U.S. Army Infantry Center & Fort Benning Chaplain's Office.

It's so nice to know that they don't particularly feel like pretending anymore not to be conducting a crusade.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Now, Some More Economic Doom... Ready?

Over at Econombrowser, Menzie Chinn asks what would be the effects of stagflation on the value of the U.S. dollar? I wrote about stagflation earlier.

Here's the nut section:
What this quote highlights is that while there are (at least) two categories of forces pushing down the dollar's value, there's one that might possibly push the opposite direction -- namely, inflationary pressures and the consequent policy response. While this seems an unlikely fear, I found this Reuters article of today of interest:
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - The Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) market is likely to show inflation expectations rising through year end, a Pacific Investment Management Co fund manager said.

Break-even spreads between the nominal 10-year Treasury note yield and the equivalent TIPS should widen to near 250 basis points by December from about 230 basis points currently, John Brynjolfsson, a managing director at PIMCO, told a Euromoney conference on inflation-linked products in New York.

Widening break-even spreads reflect investors' rising inflation expectations.
Higher inflation implies a weaker currency over time. But to the extent that the Fed responds to observed and anticipated inflation, then this implies higher policy rates in the future. Then the big question is which effect dominates in moving the dollar. In addition, higher interest rates have an impact on output and asset prices at different horizons. Hence, a surprise in inflation could prompt an increase in the policy interest rates (relative to what was anticipated), which when combined with sticky prices would lead to a higher real interest rate that appreciates the dollar instantaneously and in the short run (Note: This argument relies upon a Taylor rule interpretation of monetary policy -- the currency value implications of which are drawn out in this post).

To the extent that higher interest rates depress economic activity in the medium term, this will tend to lead to a weaker currency at the longer horizon. This means that the path of the dollar may be subject to more influences than would be obvious at first glance. And that changes in policy rates may very well have different impacts at different horizons.
Shorter Menzie Chinn: the FOMC will get to decide whether you're going to be more screwed by higher prices for imported energy and manufactured goods, or instead by a tighter job market and downward wage and benefit pressures. Guess which one they're likely to pick for you!

My money is on the latter and against the former.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"...He Needed A Rescue."

ZOMG. Just, kill me. Kill me now. I can't compose any kind of coherent response to this. It makes me want to scream.
...The pro-war fascists of Gathering of Eagles found a father of a fallen Marine to beat up along the route: Carlos Arredondo, who marches in anti-war demonstrations pulling a flag-draped coffin adorned with a picture of his son. ...
Fascists. That's just about right.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How influential is Iran in Shiite Iraq?

Dan Drezner argues that perhaps Iran's role in Southern Iraq is more problematic than appears at first glance:

1) Iran is playing a very active supporting role;

2) Iran does not appear to be playing a unifying role. The Monitor story suggests that this is because it lacks the capacity to do so:

Although Iran is closest to the council and its affiliate parties like Badr and Sayed al-Shuhada, it's also backing many other Shiite groups in southern Iraq including those that are openly using violence to oppose British and coalition troops, according to Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at London's Chatham House.

"The Iranians are backing as many horses as they can," he says. "But there is a limit to their influence, given how fractious Shiites are in Iraq."

There's an alternative interpretation -- it's possible that Iran lacks the interest. A fractious Iraq can serve as a buffer for Iran without triggering a security dilemma with Saudi Arabia or other Sunni states.

The Basra story is still developing, of course. Still, one wonders whether Tehran will be any more adept at nation-building in Iraq than the United States.

That final question is, I think, worth pondering. The common assumption is that Iran will back fill into Iraq in the wake of a US withdrawal, and essentially run the show, either directly or through proxies.(Your mileage may vary).

I'm not convinced that it's quite that simple or easy to predict. As the Guardian story Drezner cites indicates, Shia Iraq is a morass of competing factions, some of whom are supported by Iran, and others opposed to Iranian dominance in varying degrees. This is part of the problem in forming a national government. Of the three major blocs in the Iraqi government as we conceive them, Shia, Sunni, and Kurd, really only the Kurds are close to united. A recipe for political progress it is not.

Another important aspect Drezner doesn't address is that Iran's military/government structure is not simply a straightforward hierarchy from the Ayotallah Khaemeni on down. The Republican Guard, for example, is independent of the military, created as a sort of Praetorian guard in reverse to prevent a military coup in the early days of the Islamic Republic. It reportedly has it's own covert and intelligence elements. It is possible, even likely, that different factions within Iran's political and military structure are engaged in Iraq without close coordination. A wrinkle conveniently glossed over by war agitators and their stenographers in the national press.

To my mind, this muddy situation screams out for an effort to corral Iran into some sort of regional role as one of several to help restore a measure of political and economic stability to Iraq. An escalation of the current civil war among Shia could create a massive refugee crisis that Iran will have to deal with. A regional conflagration is perhaps not the golden opportunity for Iran made out by Neoconservatives and those trapped in the range of the beltway group think. The best leverage for that I would argue is a withdrawal deadline. Simply continuing to occupy Iraq only exacerbates the existing issues without exerting any pressure to change policy on the groups and regional players who are leveraging the current situation for their own purposes.

I'm not suggesting that Iran does not have a opportunity to benefit here, or that it has not been a bad actor, it has. I'm suggesting that like it or not, Iranian actions are the result of a complicated and sometimes contradictory political system, and that their capabilities and true interests might be more opaque than they appear at first glance.

Your Friend, The Sucking Chest Wound

The Sucking Chest Wound of Economics is stagflation. This is the condition where you have high unemployment at the same time you have high inflation. Under classical economic theory, this is supposed to be impossible. When people are out of work, demand falls, creating oversupply, driving prices lower not higher. Alas, were it so.

Those of us old enough to be alive [and young enough to have been mostly sober] through the 1970's in America have memories of varying clarity of a time when we had lots of unemployment, and prices were shooting through the roof. Classical economists were standing around with this sour look on their faces. "This isn't supposed to be happening!" Monetarist economics partly arose to prominence in the 1980's because, whatever their other failings, they had an at least half-assed explanation for WTF was going on.

There are now lots of competing theories for how and why stagflation happens. The monetarists only have one of several. The Keynesians, naturally, descended into the basement, sucked on a battery for a few years, and came back with a theory that explains it. According to them, there are two kinds of inflation: demand-pull and cost-push.
  • Demand-pull inflation is when demand rises and supply can't keep up, usually because of market failure and the general failure of capitalists to treat planners like human beings. It tends to come with low unemployment, rising wages, i.e. all the things that capitalists hate hate hate. The Federal Reserve usually gets excellent results in stomping on this kind of inflation by jacking interest rates up.

  • Cost-push inflation is when supply falls while demand continues to grow, which tends to happen when some public resource or environmental condition everybody is taking for granted suddenly comes up in short supply, c.f. the Oil Crisis of 1973. This is the kind of inflation that usually comes with high unemployment. It doesn't respond as well to interest rate hikes, because that just puts more people out of work and spreads the economic pain deeper and wider among the peasants. In fact, the traditional remedy for stagflation is to lower rates, eat the inflation, and treat or avert recessionary pressures on the economy first— then jack up rates again to kill the inflation you caused. The treatment is to shove something otherwise foreign into the sucking hole in the chest of your patient and hope you can deal with the inevitable infection later.
I bring this to your attention now as background to the news today that the Federal Reserve has cut both the federal funds target rate and the discount rate by 50 basis points. The guidance language in the statement from the Federal Open Market Committee says, and I quote, "Today’s action is intended to help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might otherwise arise from the disruptions in financial markets and to promote moderate growth over time."

Bullshit, I say. They're not worried about "disruptions in financial markets" causing a recession. How does that even work, anyway? They're worried about the possibility of stagflation caused by Peak Oil and the unwinding of the Asian currency dollar carry trade. That's what I say.

Did you notice where crude oil futures closed today?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Small Price

The Great Orange Satan thinks we suck because we're not banging the drums day and night about House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-FlyoverCountry) and his comment that 4000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq is a "small price" to pay.

Sadly, Mr. Boehner only spoke the harsh truth. Those dead troops are a small price to pay. They're little people, who don't figure much in the overall political, philosophical or economic system of America— unlike the 3000 or so people who got killed in the 9/11 attacks, who are all so much more important.

Losing those civilians was a huge price to pay. The U.S. troops in Iraq? Not so much.

This is a truth everyone in America knows, but no one can say it out loud. Except, a GOP congressman from Ohio who happens to be the House Minority Leader, of course. He can say it. The GOP won't raise an outcry. They know it's true. The conservative punditry establishment knows its true. Even the Democratic leadership knows it's true.

Sure, a few dirty f*cking hippie bloggers will piss and moan about it, but nobody listens to them. Besides, they also know Boehner is right. Every dead soldier is one less U.S. treasury payroll check that has to be delivered every month to somebody who volunteered to be a target in a shooting gallery. Right? Come on... we all know this. Maybe, we're all thinking, we can replace the ones who get killed with new recruits who will do the same work for lower pay. God bless America. Land of free market competition and entrepreneurial spirit.

We all know that 4000 dead troops is a small price to pay. It's the reason we aren't demanding that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq be repealed immediately, that all U.S. military personnel be withdrawn from Iraq with redeployment beginning immediately, and that all further construction of permanent U.S. military installations in Iraq be stopped immediately. It's the reason we don't really mind that our candidates for President and the leadership of both our major parties in Congress refuse to consider those ideas, much less advance serious proposals to that effect. It's the reason most civilians without any direct interaction with military personnel and their families are pretty much oblivious to the human costs of the war in Iraq.

Not enough U.S. troops have been killed, maimed, broken and their families destroyed for most of us to care. What's another thousand or so every year? As long as more Iraqis are dying than American troops, it's all good for us. Isn't that right?

Maybe, just maybe, this post I've just written offends your sensibilities. What are you going to do about it? I already know your answer to that. You're going to be outraged that I should be allowed to say such terrible things without having to pay any price for it. You're going to say I should be made to pay a price. A huge price. So, what do you have in mind?

And, don't you think that's a price Mr. Boehner should pay as well?

Petraeus Caesar

The other day, s9 put up this amusing/horrifying bit, saying: "I have no joke here... I just like saying President-for-Life Petraeus over and over again until it sounds almost normal."

This was based on a moment of clarity from Kevin Drum (link in original post) about the nature of Petraeus Iraqious and what might his intentions be once he brings his legions back from Persia/Mesopotamia and marches them across the Rubicon...

It was an interesting bit, to be sure, and I guess it's been kicking around in the back of my mind for a bit, because this morning I was over to Comrade Joshua's place and came across the following ominous artifact". To wit:
"Sabah Khadim, then a senior adviser at Iraq's Interior Ministry, says General Petraeus discussed with him his ambition when the general was head of training and recruitment of the Iraqi army in 2004-05.

"I asked him if he was planning to run in 2008 and he said, 'No, that would be too soon'," Mr Khadim, who now lives in London, said."
Yeah... you can just rock me to sleep now, thanks!

mojo sends

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Intellectually Crippled Leading the Morally Bankrupt -- or -- Put Down the Friedman and Step Away From the Bong

So this morning I'm getting ready for work, listening to NPR as usual, and especially this morning, since they are the only news outlet not grotesquely pimping our National-Death-And-Grief-Fetish-Day.

But that only left the gateway open for this baleful artifact to drop through the aether and find its way into my's the nut:
We could abolish the income tax and the payroll tax, too, and replace them with a 23 percent national sales tax. All taxes would be paid at the cash register when you buy a grape slurpee or a Honda Civic.

This "fair tax" would instantly banish 8 billion pages of paperwork, and the more than 12,000 IRS agents who snoop on all our financial transactions. Economists from Harvard and MIT have verified that this plan wouldn't swell the budget deficit and would increase American jobs. [...]
I am then informed that the author of this ignorant screed is one Stephen Moore, one of the flying monkey, invisible hand gang at the Wall Street Journal's opinion page. However, if you gun his name through yer favourite search engine, you also quickly learn that he is also Ultra-Commandante of the Club For Growth. Yeah, try to quell yer surprise...

Do I even have to spell out what a whack-ass idea this is, even for the Club For Growth? I mean, 23 freekin' percent? And it will have no harmful effect on the middle classes and be revenue neutral? Wait for it; Moore has anticipated you and your pasty-faced, weak-kneed, surrender-cheese argument:
Oh, but wouldn't a national sales tax be regressive and hurt the poor? Nope -- under the fair tax, every American family of four would be able to purchase the first $20,000 of goods and services every year tax-free.
What planet is this guy on?! For a moment, forget the fact that implementation of some goofy system of accounting will be required, like a national sales tax receipt to track that first $20,000.00, the idea that 20 grand buys bupkis anymore is laughable.

You want to buy a new car for $20,000.00? That now becomes $24,600.00. Yeah, that won't have a chilling effect on durable good spending. Any savings you put away for health care, like the Club for Growth suggests we should through MSA's, gets eaten almost immediately by this tax, far outstripping any interest you might have accrued.

My favorite part is where they suggest that Social Security will be made solvent with this. So the point is not to keep working for the future, but spending for the future. Moore points out that paychecks would increase by 20 percent -- a whole 20 percent! However, spending it on anything will cost you 23 percent. So while it might spur thriftiness, that would in turn screw revenues.

The punchline here is that the Club for Growth is not interested in healthy government spending or taxation. They are interested in repealing out current form of government and economy and replacing it with an imperial plutocracy, and crazy-ass schemes like a national 23 percent sales tax are simply goofy ideas they float because one day they think one might stick.

Of course where he gets all this is from legendary right wing academicians Neil Boortz' and John Linder's book "The Fair Tax," where they plucked the 23 percent apparently out of their ass.

This is supposed to be the intellectual class of the right. So now, they are down to the economic equivalent of a Coyote and Road Runner cartoon, where they set out a bowl of free bird seed in the road, while holding a rope attached to one (1) Acme Anvil suspended above our heads, in the vain hope we will stop long enough to eat that the anvil will finally squash us.

Yeah, I've seen that one... it doesn't end well for the Coyote, either...

mojo sends

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dear President George W. Bush...

Please, shut the fnork up.

Love, your friends in Iran, i.e. not the mullahs or the IRGC, but your friends.

Oh, For Fnork's Sake...

Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet report in the latest Mother Jones that Hillary Clinton is a member of The Family (the Christian political organization also known as The Fellowship).
[...]After a glancing shot at Republican "pharisees," Clinton explained that, of course, her "very serious" grounding in faith had helped her weather the affair. But she had also relied on the "extended faith family" that came to her aid, "people whom I knew who were literally praying for me in prayer chains, who were prayer warriors for me."

Such references to spiritual warfare—prayer as battle against Satan, evil, and sin—might seem like heavy evangelical rhetoric for the senator from New York, but they went over well with the Sojourners audience, as did her call to "inject faith into policy." [...]
Really, senator... "prayer warriors?" And you expect me to swallow that and still vote for you to be President?
Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. "A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation," says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. "I don't....there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer."
And anybody who disagrees with that naked assertion can just Suck On It, right?

Look, I don't really have a problem with candidates for public office adhering to systems of religious belief. What I have is a problem with cryptofascist dominionist Christians who think their personal relationship with Jeebus gives them a special authority to govern over the rest of us.

The Fellowship are a gang of straight-up dominionists, bent on destroying the secularity of U.S. government. Worse, they have an almost sexual fetish about keeping their activity and doctrines a secret from their members' constituents. Hillary is a member, and she's the Democratic front runner.

At least Sam Brownback openly brags about being a god-bothering theocrat. With a guy like him, at least you know where you stand as an atheist. He thinks you're in league with Satan, and therefore anything the government does to persecute you is all right with Le Grand Fromage in the sky. It really pisses me off that I have to find a way to get excited about Hillary Clinton as the LesserEvil™ next year, even though it's clear she really hates me just as much as Sam Brownback does.

This is it. I've snapped.

We should just repeal the First Amendment and establish a goddamn church. I don't care which one. Let's just pick one, and move on to the inevitable religious warring over religious tests and the whole shooting match. Let's get it the fnork over with. I'm done. All this skulking around and pretending we don't really have religious tests or an established church is really goddamn tiresome. Let's get it out in the open where we can all talk about it in public without sounding like cranks.

Is that so goddamn much to ask?

Monday, September 03, 2007

The U.S. Navy: A Haven For Racist Hatemongers

And you thought it was just the Air Force...

According to this report from Southern Poverty Law Center, the U.S. Navy seems to have a problem keeping its racist hatemongers on a short leash. One wonders whether someone publicly supporting the activities of, say, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would be treated with the same degree of measured discipline from the Navy that Lt. Cmdr Sharpe seems to have received.

Also, you all do realize that, if Lt. Cmdr Sharpe were a Wahhabi Muslim instead of Catholic, then the usual suspects in Outer Wingnuttia and Far East Blogistan would be howling at the moon over him.

I'm just saying...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I Have No Joke Here...

...I just like saying, "President-for-life Petraeus" over and over again until it sounds almost normal.

For background, just read this rare moment of Chomskyan lucidity from Kevin Drum.

Until now, I didn't have any good ideas about who could plausibly take the starring role as the big villain in my near-future American catastrophe storyline. Now, I have at least one good candidate.

It's all so clear to me now. After our excellent adventurers, Dick and George, get done shooting the moon in Iran, General Brutus Petraeus will be finishing the Presidential term of whatever sad wreck of a human being gets into the White House next year. You do realize this, right?