Thursday, April 30, 2009


MSNBC headline:

Swine flu’s positive impact in Mexico City

Or, the fewer Mexicans around the better.


Call the cops.
A Senator told the truth, Dick Durbin:
And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place...
Let me tell you something else, equally true, they own the White House, too.


It's as American as apple pie.
And the goals are always the same, false confessions and, of course, sadism.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Worse than Bush

As careful readers of Blog Simple will know, our take is that the most striking thing about the young Obama administration has been its continuance of policies from the last two years of the Bush administration. Apart from some cosmetic changes and changes in rhetoric, it would be hard to know that there is a new 'Democratic' administration.

But it seems that the Obaminites are charting out new territory in the confrontation with North Korea. Or maybe not new, but back to the bad old days of the mad dog Bush admin, when Cheney had the bit between his teeth, Bolton was talking smack to foes and allies alike, and Rummie bestrode the Pentagon, on the lookout for a new war.

In fact, the last two years of shaky progress with the DPRK have been undone in a matter of 100 days, in fact, matters may be worse than before Christopher Hill calmed things down.

Since Obama took office, the North has:
  • kicked out the UN inspectors
  • said they were starting up the Yongbyon reactor
  • threatened to start a uranium enrichment program
Even the South Koreans, who have been more aggressive than Washington of late are getting worried:

Washington’s current stand on North Korea has raised some concern in Seoul. After recent policy discussions in Washington, Moon Chung-in, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, described the American attitude as “just like the first-term Bush administration.”

Shin Nakyun, a South Korean lawmaker, who also attended the discussions, said: “Although they said they keep their door open for North Korea, I felt they were turning uniformly hard-line. They said there will be no carrots for the North.”
But Clinton has decided to keep talking tough:
Over the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington would not be “blackmailed” by the North. The United States and its allies will “tighten the band around North Korea,” she said.
When dealing with a nation that feels it has its back to the wall, and you do wish to encourage denuclearization, starting off with additional sanctions and tough talk is a bad strategy. Pushing North Korea risks much, and gains little.

Monday, April 27, 2009

“the man of the hour.”

Ladies and Germs, you genuinely cannot make this shit up:
Eight months after the interview, Mr. Kiriakou was hired as a paid consultant for ABC News. He resigned last month and now works for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
You've got to read the article, Bizarro World to the max.
(h/t Atrios)

100 days

Yes, it is true, Barack Obama, one hundred days have passed since you took the oath of office and Feckless Leader rode off into the sunset.

While such a short period of time is insufficient to resolve many of the doubts, hopes and fears we started out with, it is enough time to be given a first assessment in the Blog Simple Presidential Report Card. We'll use the traditional American A-F grading method. We do not grade on a curve, nor will we compare him with his predecessor. That would be a short and unfair path to a 4.0 average.

We also use the Kingsborough Community College (an institution that has no connection to Blog Simple) GPA calculator to translate the grades to a GPA, where 4.0 is tops. Here we go:

General Foreign Policy - C
A reasonable tone has been set. Clinton seems a bit lost. Trips abroad were great PR. The 900 lb. gorilla, the Israel/Palestine has not yet been confronted.

Iraq war - C-
Announcing a delayed departure is better than none, but little progress had been shown on the ground. The generals have quieted down their delaying talk, probably put in their place by Gates.

AfPak war - F
More troops, more drone attacks. Pakistan gets repeated lectures, but oddly enough, continues to act in what it sees as its own self-interest. Pakistan wants to convince the US that the problem with Pakistan is Afghanistan. The US thinks the opposite.

Economic crisis - F
F for FAILURE. A total shipwreck, trillions are spent to delay the day of reckoning. Geithner was a terrible choice for Treasury Secretary, Summers on the staff is even worse. No one seems to be able to admit the extent of the damage, including Obama, so the half-assed policies are doomed to failure.

General Domestic Policy - D
Apart from the economic crisis, there hasn't been much done here yet. But the health care approach taken by Obama will, if not make things worse, only marginally improve them. He seems reluctant to expend any political capital to try to do the right thing.

PR - A
The guy is a master, at least so far. Following Bush just makes it all easier.

Justice - D+
Holder is taking his time on a lot of things. Why? Getting rid of corrupt US attorneys seems a no brainer. The torture issue is being handled like PR problem. Leaking memos is a strange strategy, if that's what they're doing.

Environment - C+
A good correction in course, but without any sense of urgency.

National Security - D
Caving on Freeman was very bad. Panetta was ridiculous choice to head the CIA. Gates is competent but little more than a apparatchik. He needs direction, but seems to be giving it.

GPA: 1.4 - Failing, Obama, time to buckle down.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


If you read anything today, read this post by Scott Harper.

He concludes:
Now comes the test of our democracy–will we close the door and walk away, or demand to know what’s been done in our name and hold those who guided any abuses to account for their misconduct? President Obama tells us there’s nothing to see here, just move along. But this will be a test of whether we have a citizenry worthy of that name.
How is the citizenry to act, if not through their elected representatives? And how would Congress act, hearings, special committees, a special prosecutor? Or perhaps impeachment, DNI Blair and President Obama can now both be seen as accessories after the fact.

But I fear the citizenry is not worthy of that name, they stand by silently as trillions of dollars are looted from them without even being told where the money went, why would they speak up about the torture of others? If you cannot or dare not speak up for your own interest, you won't speak up for others.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Since when do the Geneva Conventions apply to Gitmo?
The military does not allow interviews with Guantanamo prisoners, saying to do so would violate the Geneva Conventions.
Bonus! More free translations:
Newspeak: harsh tactics
Oldspeak: torture

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Free translation service

Newspeak headline (WSJ): NSA Exceeds Legal Limits In Eavesdropping Program
Oldspeak: NSA Breaks Laws In Eavesdropping Program

Newspeak headline (NYT): N.S.A.’s Intercepts Exceed Limits Set by Congress
Oldspeak: N.S.A.’s Intercepts Break Laws Passed by Congress

Exceeding (Legal) Limits, a coincidence that both papers use the same euphemistic phrase? No, that's bona fide Newspeak.

Learn, Comrades!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Really surreal

Obama's ability to look good while continuing Bush's policies of the last two years of his administration still holds. Saying the right thing while saying nothing is a talent, shown again today in his remarks on the economy.

It was well timed too, as the press is still basking in the afterglow of 'taking out' some bedraggled Somali pirates. Yeah, we can take some straight talk on the economic bad news when we've just seen our 'best and brightest' in their new incarnation, snipers!

It is hard to see the long term benefits of escalating in Somalia, but that seems to be the next step. Whack a mole gets frustrating after a while, and the pirates will learn to shoot first when negotiating with the US. So expect a move against their 'bases', the impoverished fishing villages that have seen their livelihood destroyed by foreign fishing fleets. Air strikes will put back them in their place, starving quietly.

Now our miracle man is off for a meeting in our old playground, Latin America. After the trivial changes to the Cuba policy, it's unlikely we'll see more than threats to Chavez and Morales, while prodding the others to support 'democracy'. Like in Europe, style will trump substance.

Here on the home front, the 'legal left' is getting exercised over Obama's continuing, once again, Bush's claims that the executive is above the law. When you had a bunch of low-life gangsters and idiots making absurd legal claims it seemed almost normal, but now, with everybody so bright and articulate, making the same arguments takes on a surreal quality. Do they really think that 'sovereign immunity' is a valid legal argument?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stressed out

Elizabeth Warren is the chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel. Here are some highlights from an interview she gave to the Boston Globe:
There's no discussion of the overall policy. Instead, there are specific programs that are announced, and from that, it's necessary to reason backwards to figure out what the goal must have been. It's like a "Jeopardy!" game. If this is the answer, what was the question? It's frustrating because without a clearly articulated goal and identified metrics to determine whether the goal is being accomplished, it's almost impossible to tell if a program is successful.
On the other hand, not discussing the overall policy makes failure more difficult! Then, when asked if she could summarize what the TARP is supposed to do, she replies:
No. And neither is Treasury. Treasury has given us multiple contradictory explanations for what it's trying to accomplish.
She finally goes on to ask for public support so that Treasury will be more forthcoming. But she doesn't say what form this public support should take, nor why Treasury should care even if they do. Congress is supposed to be the voice of the public, they set up the panel when they gave the $700bn. The fact that the panel can't force the information from Treasury, and that she accepted the job knowing that she had no power to force disclosure, means it's just a exercise in BS.

Ms. Warren should resign, loudly.
(h/t firedoglake)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sovereign Immunity

Those who had hoped that the Obama administration would restore the rule of law and renounce the imperial presidency are now faced with the opposite, the administration is expanding the imperial reach of the office into new and even more uncharted territory. Scott Horton gives a good summing up and critique of this latest outrage:
The doctrine of sovereign immunity exists in two forms—one protecting foreign sovereigns from suits in our courts on the grounds that such suits could interfere with or undermine our relations with those foreign sovereigns. The other protects the government against its citizens, based on the ancient notion that the “king can do no wrong” and therefore cannot be challenged in the courts save with his permission. This is a perfectly fine legal principle—for an absolute monarchy or a totalitarian dictatorship. Democracies, however, have different rules. First among them is the idea that the government is accountable to its citizens. Another important principle is that no right is created without a vehicle for its enforcement. But in its submission on Friday, the Obama Justice Department repudiated these two fundamental principles, instead raising high the banner of tyrannical government.
Oddly enough, this 'raising high the banner of tyrannical government' has not yet been covered by the 'paper of record' (the NYT) as best I can tell using Google and the Times' own search engine. Perhaps they're waiting until after the mid-terms?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The cardboard president

After suffering through the eight years of Feckless Leader's administration, eight years that took the incipient neo-liberal, neo-con path set out by Reagan and Clinton, pumped it full of crooks and fanatics, and let them freely lie, plunder and destroy until the nation and the world were buffeted by the financial disaster that rang his reign out, we might have hoped that the new administration would set a course that rejected those past eight years, and set out to recover the recoverable, and to create new structures when necessary.

Let us run through, quickly, some of the damaged and destroyed areas of American politics and policy:
  1. Economy and finance - the housing bubble, coupled to the 'wealth creation' magic of the derivatives market has made most of the large US banks and financial organizations insolvent. They were propped up to the end of Bush's administration with trillions from the Fed and the Treasury. The real world economy finds itself without credit, the markets have lost about 50% from their peak.
  2. Foreign policy - the dream of Cheney, control of the energy rich areas in the Middle East and Central Asia, together with the encirclement of Russia and China was clearly dead by Bush's second term. Four more years of the war run as a holding action has only weakened the US position further, especially in the AfPak region. Iraq, what's left of it at least, is mostly controlled by Iranian allies.
  3. Military - spending more than the rest of the world combined, the US military has proved unequal to the task of subduing Iraq and Afghanistan. They have obviously been misused, but the phony adulation that's been built up makes them even hungrier for more resources, now under the heading of COIN, or more colonial wars.
  4. Constitution and civil liberties - the coronation of the executive branch as supreme and lawless provider of 'security' was argued successfully in Congress, where most Democratic lawmakers joined the Republicans in abandoning their Constitutional duties and prerogatives. Bush defied Congressional subpoenas and Congresscritters sat on their hands.
  5. Health care - US health care costs more than the rest of the developed world, and the results are far worse. The costs make US industry uncompetitive, drive the ill into penury, and enrich a parasitic industry that employs 2 to 3 million people pushing paper and money around.
  6. Justice and law enforcement - 2.3 million imprisoned in a truly bi-partisan effort to destroy minority communities and keep whites working as prison guards. Since US manufacturing has been heading overseas, this, along with the military provide welfare services, such as they are, to much of the country.
Now we have a new president, Barack Obama, who has, somewhat vaguely, promised change. Let's run through the list again, and try to see where this change might be manifesting itself.
  1. No change at all, here. The Bernanke, Geithner, Summers team, apart from some cosmetic fiddling, has continued the Paulson strategy of propping up insolvent banks with government funds, with no effort to provide accountability or to give a coherent explanation of where the money goes.
  2. The holding pattern of Bush's second term has been confirmed as the new policy. The Afghanistan front is deteriorating, so more troops are necessary, but at best the situation will be stabilized. At worst, Pakistan will continue to dissolve into anarchy.
  3. A 4% increase in the proposed defense budget, before Congress gets their hot little hands on it. Methinks the increase will go up. Gates's changes, cutting off some of the more fanciful programs, while getting ready for more colonial wars is not meaningful change.
  4. Here Obama seems to be trying to outdo even Feckless Leader. Claims of 'state secret' to block trials, intimidation of allies who are questioning their part in torture, and now the new 'sovereign immunity' claim that sets out new ground in making illegal surveillance unchallengeable in the courts.
  5. Some talk of change, but only within the parameters defined by the insurance companies. There is no reason to believe that anything but the more marginal improvements are possible.
  6. No change, none at all. Democrats have always been at least as responsible for our gulags as the Republicans.
So what we have is more of the same. The more egregious thieves have hopefully been sidelined, cosmetic assurances of caring for the environment sound good to the public, but will probably have little real effect, and Obama's superstar status has the foreign press lapping up the new administrations hype without asking uncomfortable questions, yet.

But change, necessary change, is being avoided at all cost. The image that Obama presents is engaging, well spoken, and charismatic, but when you look behind the words there is nothing to see but the flailing of another apparatchik of the failed ruling class.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Quote of the day

From ClubOrlov:
Not that, in general, there is a lack of effort to save things. We are making an effort to save financial institutions, which are the ultimate ephemera of industrial civilization, and are absolutely guaranteed to have no reason to continue into a future in which debt, denominated in future earnings that will be meager at best, and money, which will only hold its value for as long as it guarantees access to sources of pure, concentrated energy, all steadily dwindle to nothing. It is as if the doctors decided to only try to save persistent vegetative quadriplegics with terminal cancer, or if the environmentalists decided that the endangered species list only has room for one animal: the vampire bat. It would make much more sense to try to save small businesses, such as family businesses that serve local communities, because there is a good chance that they will find a use in the future, or at least facilitate the transition. Instead, we are squandering the remaining resources on the various dinosaurs of the industrial age.
Ephemera is exactly right, there is nothing banks do that could not be done as well by others, or not done at all.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Yves Smith lays it on the line:
Third, the very biggest lie is that this is merely "rearranging" the counters within the moneyed classes. This is massive dumping of losses from the investing class onto taxpayers, many of whom have little in the way of retirement savings. The costs the average taxpayer is absorbing is well in excess of what his bank related investments.

The dishonesty of this crowd is just breathtaking. The Bushies were blatantly high handed, while Team Obama prefers the Big Lie and assumes we are all too dumb to see through it.
The Obama years are shaping up to be more horrifying than those of Bush, less arrogance, but more lies. The big squeeze now being applied to the American public was set up during the last eight years, but Obama will preside over its effects and consequences and he, as far as can be told so far, is fully on board.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Petraeus puts Pakistan in its place

Just in case it didn't know:
The U.S. military will reserve the "right of last resort" to take out threats inside Pakistan, but it would prefer to enable the Pakistani military to do the job itself, Gen. David Petraeus said Monday in an exclusive interview with FOX News.
Pakistan, then, is in a position of 'limited sovereignty', and decisions made there are always subject to the veto of the U.S. military, ostensibly under the direction of the Commander in Chief, though one may have trouble discerning that from the conduct and statements of Gen. Petraeus.

The other surge

According to Syed Saleem Shahzad of the Asia Times, the AfPak war is about to significantly heat up, and it's not because of the Obama 'surge'.

What he says is new is that the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), the Afghan Taliban, and Al-Qaida are now going to pursue a unified strategy:
The neo-Taliban plan to spread this chaos across Pakistan, Afghanistan and India though kidnappings and attacks on high-profile people. At the same time, the Taliban's Haqqani network will carry out suicide bombing missions in Kabul and southeastern Afghanistan and the Kandahari clan will try to capture towns and villages in southwestern Afghanistan. The idea is that once the enemy's regular troops are sufficiently diverted, their convoys and bases will be attacked.
He calls this new alignment the neo-Taliban. If he's right, this could be a year of decision, especially in Pakistan, and at least a much hotter war in Afghanistan. The accord that ended the long march, and kept the army on the sidelines came just in time to confront this growing menace to the state.

UPDATE: The state, such as it is. See my next post.