Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
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Flogged from someone else's blog... lost the address, will add it as soon as I find it
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Keith Ng owns Nick Smith. hopefully the media pick up on this 'error' before the public get the wrong impression...
Cause we wouldn't want that now, would we?
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
By Chris Hedges
Al-Qaida could not care less what we do in Afghanistan. We can bomb Afghan villages, hunt the Taliban in Helmand province, build a 100,000-strong client Afghan army, stand by passively as Afghan warlords execute hundreds, maybe thousands, of Taliban prisoners, build huge, elaborate military bases and send drones to drop bombs on Pakistan. It will make no difference. The war will not halt the attacks of Islamic radicals. Terrorist and insurgent groups are not conventional forces. They do not play by the rules of warfare our commanders have drilled into them in war colleges and service academies. And these underground groups are protean, changing shape and color as they drift from one failed state to the next, plan a terrorist attack and then fade back into the shadows. We are fighting with the wrong tools. We are fighting the wrong people. We are on the wrong side of history. And we will be defeated in Afghanistan as we will be in Iraq.
The cost of the Afghanistan war is rising. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded. July has been the deadliest month in the war for NATO combatants, with at least 50 troops, including 26 Americans, killed. Roadside bomb attacks on coalition forces are swelling the number of wounded and killed. In June, the tally of incidents involving roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hit 736, a record for the fourth straight month; the number had risen from 361 in March to 407 in April and to 465 in May. The decision by President Barack Obama to send 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan has increased our presence to 57,000 American troops. The total is expected to rise to at least 68,000 by the end of 2009. It will only mean more death, expanded fighting and greater futility.
We have stumbled into a confusing mix of armed groups that include criminal gangs, drug traffickers, Pashtun and Tajik militias, kidnapping rings, death squads and mercenaries. We are embroiled in a civil war. The Pashtuns, who make up most of the Taliban and are the traditional rulers of Afghanistan, are battling the Tajiks and Uzbeks, who make up the Northern Alliance, which, with foreign help, won the civil war in 2001. The old Northern Alliance now dominates the corrupt and incompetent government. It is deeply hated. And it will fall with us.
We are losing the war in Afghanistan. When we invaded the country eight years ago the Taliban controlled about 75 percent of Afghanistan. Today its reach has crept back to about half the country. The Taliban runs the poppy trade, which brings in an annual income of about $300 million a year. It brazenly carries out attacks in Kabul, the capital, and foreigners, fearing kidnapping, rarely walk the streets of most Afghan cities. It is life-threatening to go into the countryside, where 80 percent of all Afghanis live, unless escorted by NATO troops. And intrepid reporters can interview Taliban officials in downtown coffee shops in Kabul. Osama bin Laden has, to the amusement of much of the rest of the world, become the Where’s Waldo of the Middle East. Take away the bullets and the bombs and you have a Gilbert and Sullivan farce.
No one seems to be able to articulate why we are in Afghanistan. Is it to hunt down bin Laden and al-Qaida? Is it to consolidate progress? Have we declared war on the Taliban? Are we building democracy? Are we fighting terrorists there so we do not have to fight them here? Are we “liberating” the women of Afghanistan? The absurdity of the questions, used as thought-terminating clichés, exposes the absurdity of the war. The confusion of purpose mirrors the confusion on the ground. We don’t know what we are doing.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, announced recently that coalition forces must make a “cultural shift” in Afghanistan. He said they should move away from their normal combat orientation and toward protecting civilians. He understands that airstrikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians, are a potent recruiting tool for the Taliban. The goal is lofty but the reality of war defies its implementation. NATO forces will always call in close air support when they are under attack. This is what troops under fire do. They do not have the luxury of canvassing the local population first. They ask questions later. The May 4 aerial attack on Farah province, which killed dozens of civilians, violated standing orders about airstrikes. So did the air assault in Kandahar province last week in which four civilians were killed and 13 were wounded. The NATO strike targeted a village in the Shawalikot district. Wounded villagers at a hospital in the provincial capital told AP that attack helicopters started bombarding their homes at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. One man said his 3-year-old granddaughter was killed. Combat creates its own rules, and civilians are almost always the losers.
The offensive by NATO forces in Helmand province will follow the usual scenario laid out by military commanders, who know much about weapons systems and conventional armies and little about the nuances of irregular warfare. The Taliban will withdraw, probably to sanctuaries in Pakistan. We will declare the operation a success. Our force presence will be reduced. And the Taliban will creep back into the zones we will have “cleansed.” The roadside bombs will continue to exact their deadly toll. Soldiers and Marines, frustrated at trying to fight an elusive and often invisible enemy, will lash out with greater fury at phantoms and continue to increase the numbers of civilian dead. It is a game as old as insurgency itself, and yet each generation of warriors thinks it has finally found the magic key to victory.
We have ensured that Iraq and Afghanistan are failed states. Next on our list appears to be Pakistan. Pakistan, like Iraq and Afghanistan, is also a bizarre construct of Western powers that drew arbitrary and artificial borders, ones the clans and ethnic groups divided by these lines ignore. As Pakistan has unraveled, its army has sought legitimacy in militant Islam. It was the Pakistani military that created the Taliban. The Pakistanis determined how the billions in U.S. aid to the resistance during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was allocated. And nearly all of it went to the most extremist wings of the Afghan resistance movement. The Taliban, in Pakistan’s eyes, is not only an effective weapon to defeat foreign invaders, whether Russian or American, but is a bulwark against India. Muslim radicals in Kabul are never going to build an alliance with India against Pakistan. And India, not Afghanistan, is Pakistan’s primary concern. Pakistan, no matter how many billions we give to it, will always nurture and protect the Taliban, which it knows is going to inherit Afghanistan. And the government’s well-publicized battle with the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, rather than a new beginning, is part of a choreographed charade that does nothing to break the unholy alliance.
The only way to defeat terrorist groups is to isolate them within their own societies. This requires wooing the population away from radicals. It is a political, economic and cultural war. The terrible algebra of military occupation and violence is always counterproductive to this kind of battle. It always creates more insurgents than it kills. It always legitimizes terrorism. And while we squander resources and lives, the real enemy, al-Qaida, has moved on to build networks in Indonesia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Morocco and depressed Muslim communities such as those in France’s Lyon and London’s Brixton area. There is no shortage of backwaters and broken patches of the Earth where al-Qaida can hide and operate. It does not need Afghanistan, and neither do we.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Imagine you're a woman. This will be easier for some of you than others, obviously. Enjoy the easy, it's about to get harder.
You're widowed, and you've been on your own with your kids for a long time when you meet a man. He's charming and funny. He compliments you and makes you feel better than you have for a long time. There's a very attractive dynamic energy about him. He's got the gift of the gab. Better than any of that, he loves you.
You get married. A bit after that, you have a daughter. He dotes on her: it's pretty
clear he thinks she pukes sunshine and poops rainbows. He's a wonderful father to her. He can't spend enough time playing with her. He doesn't read to her, he tells her stories, wonderful made-up stories about an invisible orange leprechaun called George whose job is to look after her. He'll come home after a day at work and let her ride around the lounge on his back. And alright, he spoils her a bit, but obviously only because he loves her...
...You can stop imagining now, because that wasn't your story. It's a story that's happening somewhere, though, right now. All the time.
The Women's Refuge Appeal is collecting on the 24th and 25th of July.
You can slip them a twenty via their website right now.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Last year, when Hank Paulson told us all that the planet would explode if we didn’t fork over a gazillion dollars to Wall Street immediately, the entire rationale not only for TARP but for the whole galaxy of lesser-known state crutches and safety nets quietly ushered in later on was that Wall Street, once rescued, would pump money back into the economy, create jobs, and initiate a widespread recovery. This, we were told, was the reason we needed to pilfer massive amounts of middle-class tax revenue and hand it over to the same guys who had just blown up the financial world. We’d save their asses, they’d save ours. That was the deal.
It turned out not to happen that way. We constructed this massive bailout infrastructure, and instead of pumping that free money back into the economy, the banks instead simply hoarded it and ate it on the spot, converting it into bonuses. So what does this Goldman profit number mean? This is the final evidence that the bailouts were a political decision to use the power of the state to redirect society’s resources upward, on a grand scale. It was a selective rescue of a small group of chortling jerks who must be laughing all the way to the Hamptons every weekend about how they fleeced all of us at the very moment the game should have been up for all of them.
Now, the counter to this charge is, well, hey, they made that money fair and square, legally, how can you blame them? They’re just really smart!
Bullshit. One of the most hilarious lies that has been spread about Goldman of late is that, since it repaid its TARP money, it’s now free and clear of any obligation to the government - as if that was the only handout Goldman got in the last year. Goldman last year made your average AFDC mom on food stamps look like an entrepreneur. Here’s a brief list of all the state aid that is hiding behind that $3.44 billion number they announced the other day. In no particular order:
Groan... read the full article here
Thursday, July 16, 2009
As it happens, thanks largely to that taxpayer-funded bailout, bank stocks have risen since last fall's meltdown. Selling those warrants, then, should mean a tidy profit for taxpayers. But no such luck, it seems. Almost a dozen small banks have already bought back their warrants, and for a considerable discount -- a mere 66% of their value -- costing taxpayers upwards of $10 million. If this were to continue when giant firms like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley come up to bat, taxpayers could be out up to $2.1 billion. Think of that as a small potential thank-you note from the banking business to Americans for helping it out of a jam.
Right behind that bit of sprightly news was a report from the Associated Press that the giant insurance firm AIG, almost 80% owned by taxpayers, was now back in consultation with the Obama administration over just how much more it should pay out in further retention bonuses -- this after multi-millions in such bonuses were already paid -- including "about $235 million for employees at AIG's financial products unit." AIG's near collapse, added the AP, "was not due to its traditional insurance operations, but instead risky derivatives contracts written by the financial products division." In addition to those traders, for 40 top execs of the dismally failed company, there is to be a payout of a mere $9 million in further bonuses for 2008. What a comedown!
Of course, who can be surprised by this sort of thing these days? Not, I assume, Barbara Garson, known in the Vietnam era as the author of the satiric play "MacBird," who has since gone on to write books on American work life (All the Livelong Day) and on a single bank deposit as it made its dizzying way around our planet (Money Makes the World Go Around). For TomDispatch, she's written a little mystery story about those financial-products types, what's happened to them, and -- most strikingly -- their possible rebirth. Think of her as this site's equivalent of Miss Marple, set loose on our financially melted-down planet. Tom
The Mystery of the Missing Unemployed Man
On Jobs and Banks
By Barbara Garson
For the book I'm writing about unemployed Americans, I had no trouble finding accountants, brokers, cashiers, or die casters. Admittedly, I had to go out of town to interview the die casters. But when I arrived, alphabetically, at unemployed editors, I had only to look in my address book.
Financiers were further from my life experience than either die casters or editors. Yet the "do you know anyone who…?" method still proved an effective way of turning up unemployed hedge-fund analysts and bank loan officers -- and within a week at that. It was only when I refined my search to ferret out unemployed financiers who had actually handled those infamous "toxic assets" that I hit the proverbial brick wall.
Since mortgage-backed securities and the swaps that insure them had been the downfall of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and the giant insurance company AIG, packs of bankers who worked on them must, I assumed, be roaming free on the streets of Manhattan. Yet I couldn't find a single one.
Finally, I phoned a law firm representing Lehman Brothers employees in a suit for the pay they were owed when the company shut down without notice. I asked the lawyer if he could possibly inquire among his unemployed clients for someone, anyone, who used to work with mortgage-backed securities and might be willing to talk about how he or she was getting by today. "I don't have to use real names," I assured him. Many of the unemployed people I'd already interviewed felt so lost and ashamed that I had decided not to use their real names. Unemployed bankers deserve anonymity, too.
But the lawyer made it clear that that wasn't the problem. "Most of them were snapped up immediately by Barclays," he said. He represents other financial plaintiffs as well, and he seemed to think that the kind of person I was looking for hadn't remained unemployed very long.
How could that be? We've heard ad nauseum about mortgage-backed securities. They're bonds "structured" out of thousands, or tens of thousands, of home or commercial mortgages. The bond's owner was to receive interest out of the mortgage payments from all those property owners. He could earn a low 5% interest if he opted to be paid out of the first money that came in. (Institutional investors often chose that safe "tranche," or slice, of the security.) But back when mortgages seemed so safe, a hedge-fund gambler might have been happy to opt for the last mortgage payments to come in -- in exchange for heftier 7% to 8% interest rates. Of course, that was the gamble. Too many missed mortgage payments meant little or no returns for his fund.
When last I heard, more than half of U.S. mortgages were held this way, so it was a reasonable supposition that a lot of people had been employed structuring, trading, and insuring those bonds. But who in his right mind would touch this stuff now? While that lawyer sounded like an honest, helpful fellow, I still wondered whether he wasn't just brushing me off to protect his embarrassingly unemployed clients.
Soon after, however, I met a bank corporate loan officer who confirmed that his colleagues on the "structured side" were indeed still employed. In fact, he thought he noticed a couple of new chairs at their trading desk in the bank's trading room. "Those damn things" had become so complicated, he speculated, that the people who put them together were now needed in similar numbers to "unwind the bank's positions" -- that is, get them out of the deals.
That must be it, I thought, and recalled a moment soon after AIG got the last of its $182 billion bailout from the government. At that time, the company braved a massive public outcry to award big bonuses to its top employees, including those who had created the "swaps" (short for credit default swaps, or CDSs) that swamped the company. Like so many other companies, AIG claimed that bonuses were necessary to retain the "best brains," especially those who understood the credit-default swaps.
These swaps are a type of derivative that was supposed to represent a way of insuring the very bonds we've been talking about. Here's how it worked -- at least theoretically, at least before the ship went down: On a given bond, say number 123456, an insurance company like AIG would essentially say to a large investor, perhaps a mutual fund, "You pay us $7,000 a month and, if you fail to receive the interest on that bond for, say, two months, then we'll buy the whole bond from you for the $200 million you paid for it." In other words, it was a private, custom-written contract to simply "swap" one of those bonds for money under certain agreed circumstances.
These deals were couched in such terms, rather than as straight insurance policies, because insurance is regulated and the regulations require setting aside relatively small amounts of money in reserve in case the disasters insured against occur. But swaps aren't regulated. Nothing need be set aside.
Here's the remarkable thing: both the Bush and Obama administrations decided that the government would make good on these non-regulated, non-insurance policies. The costs could be humongous.
Now, here's an even more distressing complication. You didn't have to own the original bond to buy the swap that was really an insurance policy. An "investor" could approach AIG and say, "You know that Merrill asset-backed bond -- number 123456? I'll pay you $7,000 a month, too, and if the bond defaults, then you owe me 200 million also."
It's as if any number of people could buy (or, really, bet on) your life insurance policy. Or think of a race track where anyone can go to the window and bet on any horse in any race -- and collect if it comes in. (Or in this case, collect if mortgage payments didn't come in.)
If our government were merely going to cover the original mortgage-backed securities, the maximum payouts, though large, would at least be calculable. If 50% of the mortgages in the U.S. were, as they say, securitized, and if they all were to default, that would be a vast but finite loss. But since any number of people could buy into the swaps on those bonds, the swap payouts could be an unknown amount that would be many times the value of the real buildings. How many multiples of reality might that come to? Two times, 10 times, 100 times? Who knows? Remember, these are unregulated transactions.
And keep in mind that the "investment" being bailed out here has nothing to do with anything in the real world. Neither party to these "me too" swaps owned, built, or financed the original housing, or anything else for that matter. They were simply betting on whether a certain group of people would pay their mortgage bills.
Why our government would underwrite these bets, and why such gambling contracts are legal in the first place, is beyond me, but as we know, they were placed on a vast scale. No wonder, I thought, that my swap men were all still employed. After all, even if there's no work for die-casters or editors, there's still all that "unwinding" to do by the people who did the winding in the first place.
Then I read this headline in the Financial Times: "Strange but true -- the credit specs are back." According to the column that followed by John Dizard, "[T]hanks to the Geithner Treasury's policy of reform, rather than dissolution, CDS trading has regained a vampiric strength that the real economy still lacks."
So, now I understood: the man I couldn't find, the man who wasn't unemployed, wasn't just doing that final bit of unwinding or cleaning up old messes. He was busy making new ones!
How could Dizard be certain, though, that the debt trade is really booming again? He cites "one friend of mine in the credit fund trade" who has "made money on both the downside and the upside during the past year."
Of course, who can know for sure? If there was a derivative exchange along the lines of the New York Stock Exchange, we'd have a good idea of the volume of the trade. But derivatives -- I know you've heard this more than once -- are unregulated.
President Obama's recent white paper on financial reform suggests that derivatives should, in fact, be regulated, except for what it refers to as "custom" products. That, unfortunately, sounds like just the right-sized loophole for the financial instruments I've described. And -- I'm sure you won't be surprised by this -- financiers are lobbying furiously to expand that hole.
Why is there such an interest in reviving the debt market and why are financiers so determined to keep it unregulated? Aren't they scared of it, too? Let me quote Dizard one last time:
"After all, if the dictates of style and tax auditors say you have to go easy on conspicuous consumption, and if there's no demand for the products of real capital spending, then you might as well take your cash to the track, or the corner credit default swap dealer."
In other words, people are speculating on derivatives and derivatives of derivatives because there's no action in the real world. You can't invest in new real businesses or lend money to old real businesses for expansion unless people can afford to buy the products they'll produce. That brings me back to where I started: our real world. You know, the one where just about everyone's unemployed except those swap guys.
Barbara Garson is the author of two classic books about work: All the Livelong Day: The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work and The Electronic Sweatshop. She's the author of several plays, including the Obie-winning children's play "The Dinosaur Door" and the Vietnam-era play "MacBird." Her latest book, Money Makes the World Go Around, published in 2000, described the hollowed-out global economy that was heading for a crash. Now, she's embarked on a book about the current Great Recession.
Copyright 2009 Barbara Garson
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
1. Gino Latino 'No Sorry'
2. K-Os 'Definition of Love'
3. Inner City 'Do You Love What You Feel' (Power 41 In Control Remix)
4. Inner City 'Do You Love What You Feel' (Power 41 Remix)
5. Royal House 'Get Funky'
6. Raven Maize 'Forever Together'
7. White Knight 'Keep It Movin' ('Cause The Crowd Says So)' (Insane Mix)
8. Sound Factory 'Cuban Gigolo'
9. Dionne 'Come Get My Lovin''
10. 28th Street Crew 'I Need A Rhythm' (Vocal Club Mix)
11. Adeva 'Warning'
12. The Bass Boyz 'Lost In The Bass' (Mike 'Hitman' Wilson Mix)
13. Julian 'Jumpin' Perez & Kool Rock Steady 'Aint We Funky Now'
14. Monie Love 'Grandpa's Party' (Love II Love Mix)
15. Tony Scott 'That's How I'm Living'
16. Chubb Rock 'Ya Bad Chubbs' (Crib Mix)
17. Akasa 'One Night in My Life'
18. Kid 'N' Play '2 Hype' (House Inst.)
19. Kenny 'Jammin' Jason & Fast Eddie 'Can U Dance'
20. Jungle Crew 'Elektric Dance'
21. NWA 'Express Yourself'
22. Big Daddy Kane 'Warm It Up, Kane'
23. Queen Latifah 'Dance 4 Me' (Ultimatum Mix - Vocal)
24. MC's Logik 'Get Involved' (In It To Win It Mix)
25. Reese 'Rock to the Beat' (Mike Wilsons Hitman Mix)
26. Rhythim is Rhythim 'Strings of Life' (Unreleased Remix)
27. R-Tyme 'R-Theme'
28. Doug Lazy 'Let it Roll'
29. Frankie Bones 'We Call It Techno'
30. Seduction 'You're My One & Only True Love' (C & C New York House Mix 1)
31. Sandee 'Notice Me'
32. Forgemasters 'Track With No Name'
33. Diskonexion 'Love Rush' (Put On Mix)
34. Black Box 'Ride On Time'
35. Sterling Void 'Runaway Girl'
36. Annette 'Dream 17'
37. Phase II 'Reachin''
38. T-R-P - Let There Be House 'Untitled'
39. Orange Lemon 'Dreams of Santa Anna'
40. Shannon 'Let the Music Play' (1989 European Remix)
\Film Clip Sample poss from Donna ***** 'Sad Song' 12"\
41. Carly Simon 'Why' \ Donna ***** 'Sad Song' (Accapella)
\Martin Luther King "I Have A Dream" Speech Excerpt\
42. Imagination 'Just An Illusion' (Park & Pickering Mix)
43. Company 2 'Tell it As it Is'
44. Roberta Flack 'Uh Uh Ooh Ooh Look Out (Here it Comes)' (Steve 'Silk' Hurley Mix)
45. 2 in a Room 'Somebody in the House Say Yeah'
46. T-R-P - Let There Be House 'Untitled'
47. Richie Rich 'Salsa House'
48. Redhead Kingpin & the FBI 'Do the Right Thing' (Happiness Remix)
49. Digital Underground 'Doowutchalike' (Playhowyalike Mix)
50. Kariya 'Let Me Love You For Tonight'
51. Nocera 'Summertime Summertime' (House '89)
52. Lil Louis 'French Kiss' / Sylvester 'You Make me Feel (Mighty Real)' (Acca)
53. 808 State 'Pacific'
54. Sueno Latino 'Sueno Latino'
55. Dynamic Duo 'In The Pocket' (Hip House Dub)
56. Da Posse 'It's My Life' (Aluh Mix)
57. Technotronic 'Pump Up the Jam'
59. Mix N’ Tel 'Feel The Beat' (Pierre's Mix)
60. Gary Jackmaster Wallace 'House Has Taken Over Me' (The House Every Night Oh Yeah Mix
download from here
http://www.mediafire.com/file/rezkzn4yigw/hacienda - part1
http://www.mediafire.com/file/nlzmjuemuzz/hacienda - part 2
http://www.mediafire.com/file/e0vg5myzymz/hacienda - part 3
Saturday, July 11, 2009
They have a free download of the song Walk On available here.
Friday, July 10, 2009
By Scott Ritter
Fireworks lit up the Baghdad sky on the evening of June 30th, signaling the advent of “National Sovereignty Day.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared the new holiday to commemorate the withdrawal of American combat troops from the Iraqi capital and all other major urban centers, although thousands of “advisers” would remain in the cities, embedded with Iraqi forces. The celebration transpired inside a city that has been radically transformed over the past six years. Even with American combat forces ostensibly withdrawn, Baghdad remains one of the most militarized urban areas in the world. It wasn’t always so. When I was in Baghdad during the 1990s, I was struck by the lack of an overt military presence for a nation purported to be governed by one of the world’s worst militaristic dictatorships.
Of course, in the city areas housing Saddam Hussein, his family and inner circle, and the seat of government, one would see green-clad soldiers of the Special Republican Guard standing watch over the gates controlling access into and out of these islands of power and privilege. But in the rest of the city—the vast majority of the city—there was no military presence. Traffic police stood on little islands in the middle of busy intersections, keeping the bustle of a modern city moving along at a brisk pace. There were soldiers in uniform around, but they carried no weapons, being on leave from their duties in Iraq’s conscript military. Just like their fellow servicemen in other cities around the world, they would enjoy a day or two walking the streets and markets of Baghdad, taking in the sights and sounds, grabbing a glass of tea, a quick meal and the sight of pretty girls neatly attired in Western-style dress.
Let there be no doubt, Iraq was a police state, and the streets of the city were also filled with agents and informers of the regime, quick to detect any hint of rebellion or insurrection. Telephone calls were listened in on and conversations illicitly recorded in the hope of finding evidence of dissent. And when dissent was found, the forces of repression would mobilize quickly to crush it—secret police and paramilitary forces for small incidents, and the battalions of Special Republican Guard for larger threats. But Baghdad, like Mosul and other major cities, was also a place where someone—whether resident, visitor or even U.N. weapons inspector—could leave his or her home or workplace in the evening and travel freely without fear of endless roadblocks, checkpoints, car bombs and firefights.
One could take in a street market in what was then known as Saddam City (today we call it Sadr City), the Shiite-dominated neighborhood in the northeast corner of Baghdad. Or grab a kebab in Karrada, a Sunni-dominated neighborhood in the center of town. Or visit the shopping districts of Monsouriyah, or tour the gold-domed mosques in Khadamiyah (Shiite) or across the Tigris River in Adamiyah (Sunni). The quality of the Baghdad-Iraq experience fluctuated given the state of the economy (U.N. sanctions crippled Iraq from 1991 until 1996, when the controversial oil-for-food program breathed new life into what had become a stagnant existence). But whether the shelves in a given shop were full or empty, one thing remained constant—Baghdad and the other major cities of Iraq functioned in a manner more in keeping with the open societies of Europe, and less like the municipality under siege that exists today.
Baghdad survives now as a city defined not by its thousands of years of history, but rather segregation brought on by policies of deliberate ethnic cleansing. The city is now a checkerboard of neighborhoods walled off from one another by giant concrete-block dividers installed by American troops in an effort to keep Iraqis from killing one another, a phenomenon born from ethnic and religious differences which have violently come to a head in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Once we get beyond the pageantry and spectacle of the deception that is taking place in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities “formerly” occupied by U.S. troops, the pretense of progress is difficult to sustain.
Iraqi soldiers, primarily Shiite troops loyal to the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister al-Maliki, are everywhere. They man checkpoints and mini-garrisons throughout the city and constantly patrol streets and neighborhoods which function less as communities and more like tiny feudal fiefdoms. Militias, like street gangs in Western ghettos, lurk inside every walled-off zone, sometimes working with the Iraqi military, sometimes working against it. To attempt to move from zone to zone today is an exercise in futility and frustration, as well as a flagrant temptation of fate. Sunni and Shiite, Arabs and Kurds, Christians and Muslims—all used to be able to mingle freely in the streets of Baghdad. Today these diverse elements are segregated from one another, their daily existence dictated by a kill-or-be-killed mentality that manifests itself in violence and a growing diaspora of Iraqi refugees no longer able to sustain life in a city they once called home.
Many in the West continue to delude themselves into seeing progress—and therefore “victory”—when in fact the situation in Iraq has only regressed. It is in vogue for Western journalists, pundits and government officials to compare and contrast conditions in Baghdad today with those that existed in 2007, when the U.S. began its “surge” of military forces into the urban areas of Iraq in an effort to quell violence that had reached epidemic proportions. There is no debate over the fact that the level of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere throughout Iraq has dropped dramatically since the surge was instituted. But the cost paid by Iraqi society, shredded by ethnic cleansing and segregation, raises the question of whether or not the alleged “cure” is any better than the “disease” it purports to address. One thing is certain: Iraq remains a very sick patient. The U.S., in designing a surge that addressed only the most visible symptoms of the problems which ravage Iraq in the post-Saddam era, has created a false sense of accomplishment when in fact the underlying conditions that caused the violence prior to the surge still exist. It’s like a cancer temporarily stunned into remission by a drug that weakened the body and now is being withdrawn without actually curing anything. The Shiite-Sunni schism has only worsened, and there is increasing risk that the Arab-Kurd disagreement over oil rights will escalate from a war of words into something more violent.
The absolute failure of the surge is even more evident when one considers conditions inside Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003. There is simply no serious benchmark by which one can make a viable argument for improvement. Even the Bush administration stopped the pretense that we had brought democracy to the country. Stability is now the term of choice, and when one compares the situation in Iraq circa February 2003 to today, the facts scream out loud and clear that Iraq is far more unstable in its present condition than when governed by Saddam Hussein.
Take oil, the commodity that was going to pay for the invasion and guarantee the political and economic future of Iraq. Not only is the Iraqi government divided on how to move forward with a new legal framework designed to encourage foreign investment in Iraq’s oil sector, but the billions of dollars already spent on Iraq’s oil industry since the U.S. invasion have actually produced less oil per day than when Saddam was in power—and one must keep in mind that Saddam’s Iraq suffered under crushing economic sanctions.
The number of Iraqi refugees has more than quadrupled since the invasion. Some 500,000 Iraqis had fled the abuses of the Saddam regime, while today more than 2 million Iraqis have been compelled to leave the country as a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation. Another 2 million have been forced from their homes and are internally displaced.
Unemployment is rampant. Iraq’s health care system is in tatters, as is its education system. But apparently these figures are meaningless in the face of the one major statistic the Twitter-crazed Western media seems to have fallen in love with: There are nearly 18 million cell phones in use in Iraq today, up from a mere 80,000 when Saddam Hussein governed. The fact that most of these phones operate with intermittent or nonexistent service is irrelevant. Iraq has cell phone coverage. God Bless America.
It is wishful thinking to believe that the Iraqi military and paramilitary forces under the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki will be able to hold the ruins of Iraqi society together without major U.S. intervention. The sad reality is not only that Baghdad is a far more militarized city today than at any time under Saddam Hussein, but the United States has assumed the role of Saddam’s Special Republican Guard. American soldiers are now an iron fist lurking on the edges of the city, waiting to be called in to crush any sign of rebellion or insurrection. That our role has so readily transformed from liberator to occupier should come as a surprise to no one.
In 1999 I warned Americans that a war between Iraq and the United States would appear on the surface to be deceptively easy. I predicted that a force of no more than 250,000 troops (we actually did it with less—about 200,000 troops deployed either in Iraq or in theater) would require less than a month (the U.S.-led attack began on March 19, and Baghdad was occupied on April 9), and would result in relatively few casualties (139 American military personnel died in action from March 20 through May 1, 2003). The easy part, I noted, would be getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The hard part would be securing victory in the aftermath of Saddam’s demise. And this task, I warned, would be made even harder, indeed virtually impossible, by the fact that the U.S.-led invasion would lack any justification under international law, especially if a case for war were to be cobbled together using U.N. weapons inspections and Iraqi WMD as an excuse. The U.S. did invade, and the rest is history.
The incompetence, corruption and futility of the U.S. occupation of Iraq are matters of record. America has failed in Iraq, a fact many Americans recognized when they voted for change in 2008 by electing Barack Obama over John McCain. And yet today these same Americans appear to be as self-deceiving as those who supported George W. Bush’s attempts to spin the tragedy of the American experience in Iraq as something noble and worthy of support. To date, the war in Iraq has cost more than 4,300 American service members their lives. Tens of thousands more have been physically wounded or permanently scarred by the psychological horror of participating in the Iraqi conflict. We’ve stopped seriously trying to count the number of Iraqi dead, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to more than a million.
Even before the U.S. “withdrawal” from Baghdad, acts of violence in that city and elsewhere were on the rise. There is little doubt that the many Iraqi enemies of the government of al-Maliki will soon try to flex their muscle. Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is all but assured. Some Iraqi military units will, at least initially, perform well; others will not. Neighborhoods once secured by U.S. occupiers will fall out of the control of central Iraqi authority. The more the Iraqi military tries to suppress this dissent, the more the dissent will grow. Though major U.S. combat forces are currently out of Baghdad, there is little doubt that there will soon be a call for their return, in force, either to respond to an ambush of a U.S. convoy supplying the American Embassy enclave in central Baghdad or to bail out the Iraqi military when it fumbles its effort to suppress the opponents of the government.
Iraq, for President Obama and his military leaders, is a lose-lose situation. There is no path toward military victory there today. With American forces out of the major urban areas of Iraq, the next step for Obama is to complete the planned withdrawal on schedule, with most U.S. forces leaving Iraq in 2010. This will be impossible to accomplish if America finds itself sucked back into the urban centers of the country to maintain the false perception of stability created through the surge.
The biggest challenge in Iraq facing the Obama administration is not to fall victim to the need to be seen as victorious. Victory today can be measured only in terms of mitigating the consequences of failure. There will be no “Battleship Missouri moment,” with the forces of a defeated Iraqi insurgency lined up to formally surrender. Instead, America will have to deal with the reality that, no matter how we spin facts, President Bush’s ill-advised Iraqi adventure has ended in defeat. Whether this defeat is memorialized with imagery reminiscent of the U.S. retreat from Saigon, with helicopters pulling the last occupiers from the roofs of the American Embassy in Baghdad (unlikely), or repeats the pathos of the Russian retreat from Afghanistan, with a convoy of American troops crossing over into Kuwait in orderly fashion (more likely), there is no victory to be had in the classic sense.
In one of the last patrols conducted by U.S. forces before the formal withdrawal from Baghdad, four American soldiers lost their lives. The patrol itself was wholly symbolic—a show of force and will at a time when every military reason for the patrol had ceased to exist—a tragic yet fitting analogy for the entire U.S. military presence in Iraq. No more American troops need to die, or be physically or psychologically maimed, participating in futile “last patrols” designed to salvage the reputations of politicians. There are those who will argue for sustaining the failed military misadventure in Iraq out of a misplaced sense of national pride and honor. President Obama must confront his own ego and hubris and accept the fact that in order to secure a lasting legacy as a peacemaker he will need to ride out the short-term criticism.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The Jedi People's Republic of Nu Zeelind, also known as "Sheep Light District", is the world's largest dairy farm, and was invented by J. R. R. Tolkien for a joke in the late 1900s. Manufactured using several quadrillion sheep's droppings, the nutrient rich crap has solidified into four large-ish islands: The North Island; The South Island; The Stewardess Island; and The Other Island. It also consists of a few smaller islands and a group of moderately sized fishing boats owned by Ngai Tahu and bound together with baling twine, #8 fencing wire and duct tape. These latter islands and fishing boats are currently adrift in the South Pacific Ocean as a result of the global economic crisis. According to indigenous legends, a man named Meowi (descendant of Kitler) fished up the North Island. Nuu Zeiland is a multicultural society with 4 million people, and eighteen billion sheep. Unlike the United States of America and Australia it is a peaceful country with little violent crime or in-breeding. The country is located far from nearly everywhere else and just next to the arsehole of the World (see Australia). Nu Zeelind is ruled by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement (leaders of the political party Flight of the Conchords') who demand to be called the Hiphoppopotamus and the Rhymenoceros (reverent titles in the New Zealish language).
Monday, July 06, 2009
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Want to know why we have a zombieconomy? Because the beancounters killed the incentives to create real value.
Let's use MJ's tragic death as a mini case-study. $300 million over, for example, 25 years? That's $12 million a year.
I'm deliberately leaving out ads, endorsements, concerts, etc., to focus on the the structural problems in one industry: music.
If the world's biggest pop star only made $12 million a year from his recordings, why would anyone make serious music? Where did the rest of the money go? Why, straight into record labels' pockets. Did they make better music with it? Nope — they made Britney and Lady GaGa. And that's how they killed themselves: by underinvesting in quality, to rake in the take.
Wait a second — that sounds familiar. You can add back in the endorsements, etc. now — they only double the figure: to about $25 million.
If the world's biggest pop star only made $25 million a year in total, something's very, very wrong. Where's the rest of the money? Why can't a resource as scarce as the King of Pop capture more value?