Thursday, January 29, 2009

A lot of... something

This Bloomberg article Credit Swaps Industry Says Limits Would Hamper Market throws around a lot of big numbers:
A draft of a bill aimed at reining in $28 trillion of credit-default swaps would hinder recovery of debt markets, according to academics and an industry group.
That's a lot of reigning in, or it seems so until you see the size of the market:
House of Representatives Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota circulated an updated draft bill yesterday that would ban credit-default swap trading unless investors owned the underlying bonds. The draft, distributed by e-mail from the committee, would also force U.S. trades in the $684 trillion over-the-counter derivatives markets to be processed by a clearinghouse. Hearings on the draft will be held next week.
So it would actually reign in about 4% of the total market. The total 2007 world GDP was about $54.5 trillion, which looks pretty damn small compared to the derivative market.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. held $87.7 trillion of derivatives as of Sept. 30, more than twice as much as the next largest holder, Bank of America Corp., which had $38.7 trillion, according to data from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Of the holdings at New York-based JPMorgan, 96 percent were in the OTC market, compared with 94 percent for Bank of America.
I have the feeling this is all going to end rather badly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The testimony that SecDef Gates gave today in Congress was an excellent illustration of the policy vacuum that Obama has inherited, and evidently endorsed. As this good article by Nancy Youssef of McClatchy points out:

Giving his first congressional testimony under his new boss, President Barack Obama, Gates called the Afghan army and police the "exit ticket for all of us," yet he conceded that the Afghan government is too poor to support those forces long term.

He called for a more unified command structure, implying direct U.S. command, and at the same time called on NATO countries to do become more assertive. He also said the U.S. needs more modest goals in Afghanistan even as it commits 30,000 more troops to tackle Afghanistan's complex drug trafficking network.


Gates also said he's concerned about civilian causalities, but he didn't back away from using airstrikes, which are some of the most common causes of civilian deaths.

He stressed that if the U.S. is seen as an occupying force, rather than one supporting the Afghan forces, "we will set ourselves up for failure."

This is dreamland, people. Contradictory aims are garbled together for the big goal:
Instead, the goal must be for Afghanistan to no longer be a place where terrorists can plot attacks on the U.S.
Terrorists, Mr. Gates, are being created by your half-assed, murderous policies. They can go anywhere to 'plot'. If you mean train, then try to remember that the purported 9/11 terrorists trained in the good ol' USA. What are you going to do about that?

It was a very bad indication that Obama decided to keep Gates. It was an admission that the incoming administration was clueless about what was happening in the Middle East and Central/South Asia, and that they would let themselves be guided by those whose failures were already apparent.

For a good place to start in trying to conceive some way out of the mess, here is a amazing review of a book by Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.

The review should be read in its own right, and the book itself has leaped to the top of Blog Simple's reading list. I wonder if anyone in the administration has or will read it? It sure doesn't look that way.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention Gates's raving about Iran opening 'offices' in Latin America. Without the Bush crazies around him, he looks a lot more like what he is, a second rate bureaucrat totally out of his depth.

No picnic

Monday, January 26, 2009

Exactly right

missing links has a post that notices the deafening silence that has followed the US media's lockstep on the Gaza war:
And now, as Israeli society contemplates its options in the run-up to national elections on February 10--including the possibility of a Nazi-style citizenship-certificate law--and Hamas leaders are reportedly under continued threat of asassination, the American foreign-policy establishment has fallen silent. Everyone from Brookings to CAP to NSN and including the courtiers and court-watchers at Foreign Policy are finding other things to talk about. And the reason is perhaps not surprising: They have not yet been told what to think, so they are waiting.
Yup, that's the reason. Brookings, et. al. only pretend to discuss policy, they're there to explain policy decisions to the reporters and pundits that can point to their 'impartial expertise' to justify whatever needs to be justified. They're also useful in spreading the magic of bipartisanship, the Brookings clown O'Hanlon was invariably called a liberal before he called out for more war. They're part and parcel of the media, and like the media do what their masters tell them to do.

State of religion

Grand Trunk Road has an excellent post that illustrates some of the problems that Pakistan has in dealing with religious fundamentalism. It seems that just the invocation of Sharia (religious law) is enough to silence any other point of view. Here is a good example from the post:

I was in the 9th grade then and I remember that this case was discussed in some detail one afternoon in one of our classes. Now this was an all-girls school, one of the best schools in Karachi — the most liberal city of Pakistan. In that first discussion, I don’t remember a single girl voicing the opinion that Saima Waheed should not be allowed to marry without her father’s consent. Anyway, we all went home and some of us asked or read up about what Sharia says about marriage without the permission of ones guardian. As it turned out, three of the four major school of Sunni Fiqh absolutely require the Wali’s permission for a marriage to be valid, and the fourth one, the Hanafi school, strongly discourages marriage without the permission of the Wali. It is backed up by some pretty strong Hadiths. Now at the age of 14, not many of us knew this when we first expressed our opinions on the case (overwhelmingly in favour of Saima Waheed), but the next day after reading up about it, the silence in the classroom was deafening. I remember asking a friend why she had changed her mind and she said, simply, that her grandmother had read the following Hadith to her:

“No marriage except with a guardian and the ruler is the guardian of she who has no guardian.” (Reported by Abu Dawud & others and classed as Sahih)

And that was the end of that.

One of the problems of founding a nation by virtue of its religion, such as in Pakistan (and Israel!) is that it means that opposition to fundamentalism can be construed as an attack upon the state. This leaves a lot of power to the fanatical and/or unscrupulous on the table, which by their nature they are inclined to use, not for the benefit of the state, but for their own power.


Here is a video of a lecture by Hans Rosling that gives a statistical view of the world and how it's changed since the 1960s. It's about twenty minutes long and worth every minute. It's also very engaging and the guy does great statistical graphs. Must see!
(h/t Tom Ricks)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ex bank

Despite a raft of qualifications, a clear and well presented program, as well as a burning need, it appears that Blog Simple has been disqualified, or possibly just ignored in its request for TARP funds.

Clearly, political machinations, envy, and greed have all played their part in denying what should have been a routine request and subsequent delivery of funds.

Thus, Blog Simple is giving up on the world of finance, and returning to its roots as a blog, sadder, poorer, but also wiser.

UPDATE: And yes, simpler.

UPDATE 2: Freddie wants another $35bn (for now). Bastards!


It's looking like in addition to surging escalating the Afghan war with 30,000 more troops, the US is thinking about dumping Kabul mayor Karzai in the near future.

First, there was the head of the NATO forces putting the blame for failure on Karzai's government. Naturally the possibility that some fault might belong to NATO and the US was not even mentioned.

Then Obama met with four rivals to Karzai, before talking to the ostensible leader of the nation in question. The only good thing about this is that the notion of having Khalilzad take over (after performing a Vulcan mind meld with Condaleezza Rice) has been dropped. Let's not get too weird here.

M K Bhadrakumar thinks that dumping Karzai is not going to be as easy as most reporters seem to think (or are told to think). He points out that Karzai is already fighting back:
On Tuesday, Karzai utilized the opening of the Afghan parliament's winter session in Kabul to criticize the United States-led coalition for its conduct of the war, its manner of bypassing his government as if it was inconsequential as a source of Afghan authority, its patronage of "warlords", the corruption and waste in its aid programs and its condoning of drug trafficking.
He also had his UN ambassador raise the issue of Afghan control of the war at the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, both France and Germany seem reluctant to add more forces to Afghanistan. Thus the war seems to be becoming a US/British affair, like Iraq, with a few toadies like the Dutch hanging on for a while.

Despite his vows of transparency, I've heard no clear delineation of policy by Obama that would justify the current course of greater death and destruction to achieve some illusory victory that has never been defined. Maybe if he tried to do so, it might occur to him that there might be better ways to move forward. We shall see.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shadow war

Russell Tice, an ex-analyst the the NSA said to Keith Olberman on MSNBC that the NSA was spying on everyone in the US, and concentrating on journalists and news organizations. So far, none of the other big media has picked up the story... tick, tick, tick.

As Bernhardt of Moon of Alabama puts it:

According to Tice that was done to all U.S. domestic communication too.

Also according to Tice this was used to spy on special groups like journalists.

I am sure that an investigation will find that other special group includes politician and organized groups like ACLU and that such surveillance was used to blackmail.

The surprise is that despite these efforts some kind of regime change was still able to happen.

What is going to happen now?

A good question that. Another question, that will probably never be answered is, "What really happened?". The Bushies had all the bells and whistles of a criminal gang put into a position of power, and determined to keep it. Yet they were unable to maintain their grip, despite the spying, the free pass from the media, and the obsequiousness of Congress. In my view, there was a shadow war that was fought, not about the goals and means of the National Security State, but rather between a group that tried to take full possession of that state for their own use and profit, and the rest of the bureaucracy that realized that the Bushies were so corrupt and inefficient that they could bring down the whole edifice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Words of warning to Obama

This ain't no picnic...

Stiff upper lip, what!

Great Britain seems to be having a bit of a sticky wicket with all these banks:
Privately, something close to desperation is starting to develop inside government. After watching the slide in bank shares on Friday, one cabinet minister did not altogether joke when he said: "The banks are fucked, we're fucked, the country's fucked."
Harsh words, to be sure. The good minister seems to take seriously the possibility of a national bankruptcy, and there is no political alternative, Britain has all parties on board the neo-liberal shipwreck.

Chain of command

Syed Saleem Shahzad at the Asia Times writes that Pakistan is moving more towards setting up forces to counter a possible conflict with India rather than pursuing the Taliban and helping the US and NATO with the war in Afghanistan.

Also, he reports that Gen. Petraeus has just paid a visit to Pakistan, and met with Gen. Kiani (God, I wish editors could agree on the spelling of foreign names), and told him to toe the line. But later, Petraeus also announced that he had set up a new supply route for Afghanistan that goes through Russia and 'Central Asian states'.

Does this mean the US is going to start being buddy-buddy with Russia? Supplying a war through a country that you're also surrounding with military bases and missiles seems a tad ingenuous if you want to keep playing hardball with the Russians.

Under Bush, contradictions like these were part of the pie, the 'empire' made its own rules. Is Petraeus acting under orders from Obama with the new set up with Russia? Has this already been discussed with Gates? Whatever one may think about the strategy, hopefully everyone is on board. There was a lot of blurring of the line of command during the Bush administration, Obama had better be very careful that it is followed rigorously.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Farewell Feckless Leader

Who could have imagined eight years ago the trials, tribulations, death, destruction, corruption, mendacity and sheer bloodymindedness we've been witness to? That the twit now riding off to Crawford would have been able to set the bar so high for failure? True, he did not do it alone. Cheney and Condi, Rummy and Gonzales, et. al. have done their part in the colossal fuck-up. But Feckless Leader set the tone, he received the paeans of the press, he wore the flight suit, and it is he who laid claim to the title, Worst President EVAR!!!!11!!1

Monday, January 19, 2009

Great moments in diplomacy, part 3412

Hopefully, the final Condi Rice edition.

To somehow make the end of Israeli's slaughter in Gaza even more splendidly wonderful, Condi and Livni signed an agreement that the US and Israel would cooperate to end smuggling into Gaza.

After being humiliated by Olmert a few days earlier, Condi probably felt the need to humiliate someone herself, and who better than El Supremo of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. If the US can't humiliate Egypt when it gives them $2.2bn per annum, what's all the money for, anyway?

See, Condi and the Israelis neglected to get Egypt's agreement, and since all the smuggling starts in Egypt, the only way the US and Israel can stop the smuggling is to go into Egypt. So Mubarak is pissed, and busily drawing red lines that cannot be crossed, ever, unless more money paid. If nothing else, this little episode might prove expensive, but that's no longer Condi's worry.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Government Regulators Aided IndyMac Cover-Up, Maybe Others
The best thing is that the same dude that helped IndyMac fudge their books helped Charles Keating do the same back in the eighties, a Mr. Darrel Dochow of the Office of Thrift Supervision in the Treasury Department.

But don't worry, Mr. Dochow will not go to jail:

While Dochow could end up losing his job, neither he nor his colleagues are expected to go to prison.

"This is criminal with the small 'c'," said Black. "No one within the regulatory ranks may go to jail, but they have done the worst possible disservice to the taxpayers of America."

I'm usually not in favor of capital punishment, but in cases like this the public hanging of Mr. Dochow and others might help convince our public servants to perform their duties more carefully.
(h/t cryptogon)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday fun

Don't nobody move, this is a heist

(h/t Lil' Brudder Jeff)


Paul Rogers looks at the Gaza war and calls it a failure by Israel:
Israel may not have envisaged that, even with this level of planning and use of force, it would completely demolish Hamas. But its achievement still falls far short of what it must have hoped for. A coordinated deployment of strike-aircraft, helicopter-gunships, reconnaissance-drones, twenty-four-hour surveillance, and all the other systems available to the Israeli Defence Forces - yet much of Hamas's military wing has survived (albeit underground), the rockets keep coming (albeit fewer), and the movement's political leaders calmly maintain a negotiating presence in Cairo and Damascus. It is an extraordinary outcome.
He attributes Israels failed strategy to 'liddism', "of keeping the lid on things and refusing to address the underlying causes". This is leading to the use of ever more massive destruction, it is the same strategy used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan with the same results, failure. He concludes with words of dire warning that Israel would do well to heed:

What makes the war in Gaza so significant is that under-armed irregular forces have been able to have such a remarkable political effect - and that they will survive to do so again. This is a stark example of the potential for irregular warfare - even with the most rudimentary of weapons (see "Gaza: hope after attack", 1 January 2009). This capacity can only grow; indeed, unless a lasting peace is achieved in Israel-Palestine, at some stage in the next decade or more, such weapons will acquire much more potent warheads, quite possibly sufficient to threaten Israel's survival (see Irregular Warfare and Revolts from the Margins, Oxford Research Group, November 2008).

Israel is a state that may best be described as impregnable in its insecurity. But it is impossible to build walls a hundred miles high. Israel has survived for sixty years. The Gaza war of 2008-09 suggests that a change in its security posture is absolutely essential if it is to survive to seventy-five years, let alone a century.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The press corps

Glenn Greenwald, one of the best and most courageous bloggers out there, looked at an article by the NYT's David Lichtblau that 'reported' on a decision by the FISA court. Since the article was grossly wrong about the import of the decision, it was even wrong about what the decision actually said, Glenn rightfully demolished Lichtblau, as well as the right wing commentators that also misread the decision. Then Glenn gave out what he think was behind the story:
But this is what has been happening with the FISA controversy -- and, for that matter, all of these lawbreaking scandals -- from the start. Right-wing Bush followers spout total falsehoods. Reporters who cover the story (such as Lichtblau), to say nothing of cable news talking heads, are too slothful, ill-informed and/or just dumb to understand why these right-wing claims are so factually false.
Here, IMHO, I believe he goes astray. I doubt that Lichtblau is slothful, ill-informed, and/or dumb. He is just doing his job, writing a story for his editors with the focus that they want. If Lichtblau started reporting what he wanted to report, the result might be completely different. True, it might not, but that is not the point, the point is that the press is an army, regular reporters might be compaired to noncoms, and noncoms know how to take and implement their orders, that's how they got to be noncoms (reporters).

The national press is now wholly a part of the national security state. Their reporting is completely indicative of that status. Take this other example, back on Jan. 4, the NYT had an article by Scott Shane that proclaimed itself to be the most exhaustive look at the presumed anthrax killer and the whole investigation that led to the conclusion that Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the crimes. Shane writes that:
By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.
This seems completely unsubstantiated, but was none the less included in the article. Why? Because it helped to fulfill the article's purpose, to assist in convicting Ivins in the public eye, it was included. Shane, like Lichtblau was carrying out orders and produced an article that fulfilled his superiors wishes. Who was the unnamed source that provided Shane's tidbit? We shall never know, but we can certainly guess.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who's lying?

So who is lying about this?
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday flatly rejected an assertion by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had convinced the Bush administration to abstain from last week's United Nations resolution calling for an immediate truce in the Gaza Strip.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also denied that the abstention embarrassed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
If I had to guess, I'd say both, one way or another.

Passing gas

I'm sure it is not funny for those suffering the cold in eastern Europe, but the Russia/Ukraine gas dance seems to want to go on forever (or until summer), while the EU looks on in impotence.

The NYT, wedded to the politics of 'Russia bad' finds it difficult to report the on the whole snafu without pointing out the games that the Ukrainians have been playing, including sneaking paragraphs into the EU brokered agreement, and now not allowing EU monitors on the scene as agreed. Still, the above linked article does the best it can with the he said/she said motif.

Question, are Ukraine's actions helping or hindering their quest for admission into NATO? It's hard not to think that global political issues are pulling some strings here.

Great moments in chuzpah

After getting Congress to swear undying fealty and support for all and any actions Israel might take, PM Olmert is now crowing over his latest accomplishment, calling Feckless Leader to the phone, telling him what to do, and then watch Condi writhe in embarrassment:

Early Friday morning the secretary of state was considering bringing the cease-fire resolution to a UNSC vote and we didn’t want her to vote for it.” Olmert said. “I said ‘get President Bush on the phone.’ They tried and told me he was in the middle of a lecture in Philadelphia. I said ‘I’m not interested, I need to speak to him now.’ He got down from the podium, went out and took the phone call.

A beaming Olmert then described telling President Bush “the US cannot possibly vote in favor of this resolution,” and spoke with pride of how embarrassed US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was at having to abstain from voting for a resolution she helped to organize and gather support for.

You simply cannot make this shit up. Just the combination of the personalities makes it a candidate for the bizarro world championships:

Feckless Leader - a lame duck entering the last week of his disastrous presidency. Nothing political to lose, but still so weak-minded he is called to the phone like the cur he is.

Olmert - corrupt and vicious, a politician in the middle of his second war, their only benefits have been the civilian casualties that puff up his and his countries ego.

Condi - the worst National Security Adviser ever, the worst Secretary of State ever, now spending most of her time 'defending' the administration, but with enough spare time to humiliate herself and her country. What would it take to get this person to resign?

Nothing conceivable, evidently. This is the money quote from the article:

Just days later Rice too was lashing out at the resolution as “unacceptable.”

This is going to be a long week.

Friday, January 09, 2009



Navigating through the labyrinth of Pakistani politics is much like groping through an unknown darkened room, objects are bumped into and thus identified, but there seems to be also someone moving them about, so one's bump information can be lost before the next one.

The news that PM Gilani has fired his National Security Advisor, Gen. Durrani, is like one of those bumps. It seems to mean something, but that just might be for now.

Durrani is and was very friendly to the US and its policies, and it's been reported in the Pakistani press that the US Ambassador has 'demanded' his reinstatement.

The Asia Times is reporting that he was fired, and a planned crackdown on LET was cancelled, because of pressure from the Pakistani military. Thus the US plans for the region may not be going as smoothly as hoped:
The new year began with a fresh initiative in the US-led "war on terror" in terms of which Boucher unfolded a two-prong approach: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was to seek reconciliation with India by complying with its demands following the Mumbai attack, and Zardari was to visit Kabul to establish better coordination with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, is soon to launch a surge in Afghanistan that will double the number of US troops from 30,000 to 60,000. At the same time, Pakistan's tribal areas, where militants have extensive bases, will become open hunting grounds for Afghan and Pakistan tribal militias backed by joint patrols of the national armies of the two countries, in addition to North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.

The first segment of the American package concerning India has, however, now been shot down with Durrani's dismissal, throwing into doubt the remaining part. This leaves Zardari's civilian government awkwardly caught between the competing desires of the US and its own military establishment.
VP-elect Biden is due to go to the region soon, perhaps to try to rearrainge the furniture in the darkened room. Be ready for more bumps.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Quick and firm

A day after adamantly refusing to become involved in the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on their gas spat, the EU has brokered a deal for independent monitoring of gas flows through Ukraine. That was a Russian demand, since they accused Ukraine of stealing gas meant for Europe.

It's also after the Czech Republic took over the EU presidency and demanded that the flow of gas resume within 24 hours or... something. That something seems to be the EU reversing course and taking part in the negotiations, a stunning display of firmness by the EU, towards themselves true, but still very, very firm. I thought they were just going to stamp their little feet very, very hard.

Rogue state

As usual, the most credible voices that criticize Israeli policies are... Israelis. It's just that you cannot hear them here in the US unless you look to Europe or Israel for their publication.

The Guardian has an article by this guy:
Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state's legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions
It should be read in its entirety, but here are the conclusions:
This brief review of Israel's record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.
If I may disagree a tad with Prof. Schlaim, I'd like to point out that Israeli politicians are doomed to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past because they are owned by corrupt foreign billionaires. They're free to do nothing but what they're told to do.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Gas deliveries to EU countries through Ukraine have now been cut 'about seven times less than the norm' according to Gazprom.

The EU has called the cuts 'unacceptable', but just what they mean by 'unacceptable' is anyone's guess. And at the same time the EU still refuses to get involved with the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

This is a fine example of the policy paralysis that makes the EU so impotent on the world stage. Europe has less collective clout than they did when they were separate nations, so it has to be asked, what is the EU really for?

Years of blindly supporting US policies towards Iran, Russia, and the Middle East has meant growing energy insecurity. The only reasonable partial substitute for Russian gas is Iranian gas, but as Switzerland found out, Europe can't go there without obtaining permission from Israel and the US.

It's going to be increasingly difficult for European countries, and thus the EU, to sell such impotence to their populations. But change will take years, and until then the EU may as well jump into the negotiations with Russia and Ukraine, and find out just how much more they will have to pay. They are just not ready to play hardball.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Million dollar mittens

Bernie Madoff will remain free on bail even though prosecutors said he has been mailing out items worth $1mn, including a pair of mittens.
The mittens were given to Madoff by his granddaughter, Sorkin said. Peter Madoff’s lawyer, John Wing, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Also, it was disclosed that:
Harley International Ltd., a hedge fund run by Cayman Islands-based Euro-Dutch Management Ltd., invested all of its assets with Madoff, a person familiar with the matter said today. The fund managed $2.76 billion as of Oct. 31.
That's a hell of a hedge fund, we're asked to believe that they invested all of their investor's money with Madoff, and that the money is now all gone. Madoff may prove to be an excuse that will allow many, many more billions to disappear into seeming nothingness. Why should such useful people have to go to jail?

UPDATE: Courageous congresscritters are now calling for “a statutory and regulatory structure for the 21st century,” which, of course, can mean just about whatever you want it to mean. And though the SEC is now investigating itself, I've yet to hear calls for an independent investigation of the SEC. Don't hold your breath while waiting for one.

Blogging Blagojevich

The shadow play surrounding Gov. Blagojevich and his appointee to the US Senate continues.

First, Fitzgerald was given another three months to obtain an indictment against the talkative Gov., after he started a what amounts to a political campaign to get rid of him. Blog Simple has already speculated that this has been an indirect attack on Obama, and while that's unproven up to now, the bizarre nature of the whole case, plus the involvement of Saint Fitzgerald, has done nothing to refute said speculation.

Next, Blagojevich's appointee, Roland Burris is off to Washington to claim his Senate seat. That's despite Harry Reid's sort of adamant contention that Burris will not join the illustrious club. But Burris's appointment was a shrewd move by Blagojevich that shifted some of the pressure off of him, and onto Reid. Now Democrats have to lacerate each other, while sucking up to Republicans to present an image of bipartisanship. Harry Reid is one of the worst and weakest political leaders of this decade, getting him out of the spotlight should be one of Obama's highest political priorities.

So once again, Obama remains the victim of the situation. Like Gaza, he can't speak up without pissing someone off, so he stays with an unsatisfactory silence that pleases no one. Fitzgerald and the judge have kept the case in on the front burner, without getting an indictment that would require him to put his cards on the table. Could it be that the cards are not good enough?

Lebanon/Gaza, déjà vu?

Sami Moubaye, at the Asia Times, looks at the similarities between Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the similarities of the current Israeli invasion of Gaza, and that of Lebanon in 2006.

Certainly the wars are being fought with the same faulty objectives by the Israelis, that people can be separated from insurgent groups by death and destruction, and that the resulting situation will be to their advantage. An unbiased historical look at insurgencies will show this to be a fallacy, and the surrounding political situation in the Middle East makes it possible that long term effects (Egypt) could become significantly worse for both Israel and their 'friend', the US. Internal political considerations, elections looming now, and propping up Olmert back in 2006, also show the same short term, cynical thinking.

Hamas's big problem as an insurgency and resistance movement is that they are also the government in Gaza. This was a problem that Hezbollah did not have. From a propaganda view point, this means that dropping bombs on police recruits in Gaza is sanctified by their ties to Hamas, while bombing the Beirut airport was obviously directed against Lebanon, and not Hezbollah. And while Nasrallah could admit that kidnapping the Israeli soldiers was a mistake, Hamas cannot renounce shelling Sderot while Israel continues to blockade Gaza, with the resulting misery, disease and death.

Finally, geology is destiny. The rugged terrain of southern Lebanon is ideal for resisting an invasion, in Gaza there is no where to hide but buildings, letting Israel claim that Hamas is hiding behind civilians, though two can play that game.

The last Lebanon war lasted just over a month. By any metric except casualties, Israel lost that conflict. The Gaza war will probably last about as long, giving Obama's inauguration a backdrop of death and destruction that he would probably prefer to do without. Unless he is willing to speak up, which seems unlikely, the invasion will probably continue until it becomes too expensive, or after the Israeli elections, whichever comes first.

The result of the current war, unless Israel is willing to reoccupy Gaza on a permanent basis, is likely to be a stalemate once again. Occupation would be logical within their stated goals of stopping rocket fire, but the stated goals are horseshit anyway. It is a sign of a sick state (see the US as well) when issues of war and peace are decided on the basis of internal politics, but that is where we are. Until the US, and thus the Israelis, are able to divorce their policies from the neo-con dream of 'remaking' the Middle East, it will probably be déjà vu all over again in a year or two.

UPDATE: It seems that along with Egypt (mentioned above), Jordan may also be suffering the consequences of the Gaza invasion. King Abdullah of Jordan fired the head of Jordanian General Intelligence.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Dog days

So we're in countdown mode for the end of Feckless Leader's reign of error, but there is still much mischief to be accomplished even in this limited amount of time.

The accelerated destruction of Gaza is surely part of the goodbye, the Israelis wanted Iran, but will have to content themselves with their default punching bag, Hamas. Risking run ups in the price of energy at this moment might rip up the papering over of the financial and economic mess. So it looks like Iran will be Obama's problem.

Everyone's favorite war in Afghanistan garners a consensus that allows an escalation to take place without any meaningful discussion. Obama's statements and his selections for his cabinet have made him captive to the Bush administration's strategy. Surely no government in history as been as adept as this one in guaranteeing the continuation of failed policies. It's a funny kind of success, one that sets the stage for future disasters that can be blamed on the new administration. One can hardly dispute that Obama's embrace of continuity makes them his (dead) babies as well.