Friday, November 30, 2007

China : on getting rich with the "little red book"

David Seaton's News Links
If you study modern China, its Communist Party and the Chinese people even a little, you will see that their obsession, with or without Marxism, is to maintain China's unity, sovereignty and independence.

It is not difficult to imagine the unease of the Chinese leadership at the prospect of facing the United States alone in its role as "sole superpower" at the fall of the USSR and its "really existing socialism" and the subsequent "color revolutions" instigated by the USA.

Obviously something had to be done to keep China from returning to its pre-Mao status of client and near-colony of the west and obviously... something has been done.

Reading Mao Tse-Tung's 1957 speech, "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People", when he talks about joining forces with China's middle class to defeat the Japanese will make this clearer:
"To understand these two different types of contradictions correctly, we must first be clear on what is meant by "the people" and what is meant by "the enemy". The concept of "the people" varies in content in different countries and in different periods of history in a given country. Take our own country for example. During the War of Resistance Against Japan, all those classes, strata and social groups opposing Japanese aggression came within the category of the people, while the Japanese imperialists, their Chinese collaborators and the pro-Japanese elements were all enemies of the people."
That phrase is the key. The Chinese Communists (who still control China) waited to defeat the Japanese before continuing "class struggle": for the Chinese Communist Party the "primary contradiction" was the struggle against the Japanese.

Reading what Mao wrote you will see what is happening now has a long pedigree.

You would have to go back to the "Long March" of 1934 to find the equivalent of China's entry into the global economy. A long retreat, a regrouping, a devastating counter-attack. With its entry sui generis into globalization, China has neatly turned the tables on the United States, firmly entrapping the Americans in their own free trade ideology. DS

Philip Stephens: Global response needed to the shifting world order - Financial Times
Abstract: I was looking the other day at some statistics gathered by my colleague Martin Wolf. A little under 200 years ago, in 1820, China produced about a third of world output and India 16 per cent. The big four European countries accounted for 17 per cent and the US less than 2 per cent. By 1950, the US share had risen to 27 per cent, China’s had fallen to 5 per cent and India’s to 4 per cent. The European Big Four claimed 19 per cent. Now consider the projections, measured at purchasing power parity, for 2015. At 20 per cent, China’s output will match that of the US. These figures may prove inexact but the direction is clear. By some calculations China will easily overtake the US before 2025. (...) after almost two centuries of retreat China has already rediscovered geopolitics. As for India, as a senior US official told me recently, its “soft” power is already felt almost everywhere. The onward march of globalisation is, of course, not ineluctable. At a seminar in Washington recently I heard another official in the high ranks of the US administration remark that he was no longer sure that globalisation was “politically sustainable” in the US. The free trade majority in the Congress had fractured and the impact, as much perceived as real, of outsourcing on middle-class jobs had fanned the flames of protectionism. To this had now been added the strategic, as well as economic, fears generated by the hundreds of billions of dollars in sovereign wealth funds sloshing around in search of assets. It does not help that there are plenty in Washington who believe that strategic conflict with China is inevitable – and better sooner than later. You can detect the same economic anxieties in Europe – and not just in France. Peter Mandelson, the European Union’s trade commissioner, is a champion of open economies. Visiting Beijing this week, however, he added his voice to the criticism of China’s disregard for intellectual property rights and product standards. China’s manipulation of its currency prompts similar ire. Behind the specific complaints lies the deeper concern, felt particularly acutely in Washington. In the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, globalisation belonged to the developed economies. The opening of goods and financial markets was framed by the so-called Washington consensus. The technology was provided by Silicon Valley. Suddenly it seems as if it belongs to Asia. Globalisation was something the rich countries did to the rest of the world – for the good of all, of course. Now it is beginning to feel like something someone else is doing to them. It does not help, again especially in Washington, that the principal “do-er” is China. The protectionist impulses are overlaid with the strategic fears. Yet it is hard to see how the forces of globalisation could be reversed. (...) It would take a crash to stop it. One possibility would be a sequence in which the world economy slips into recession and weakening world trade provokes the beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism that then turns recession into depression. Another would be a major geopolitical clash between the US and China, perhaps over Taiwan. READ IT ALL

Thursday, November 29, 2007

An American image: still a gringo after all these years

David Seaton's News Links
I just love this photo. I found it on a slide show from Slate magazine of "pre-digital" photography.

The photo from the 1970s is absolutely American in every detail.

Every American I've shown it to goes off into gales of hysterical laughter. Non-Americans can't see what we are laughing about. My German wife, for example, finds it utterly disgusting. So does every Spaniard I've shown it to for that matter. So do I for that matter, but still I love it...

I guess that defines me as still a gringo after all these years. I am overwhelmed by the word "we" when I look at this lady. This "homemaker" from hell.

The writer in Slate chose the photo for its, "
quirky blend of innocence and experience", which might be a good definition of the strange after-taste that America leaves behind wherever it goes. DS

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hugo Chávez Frías is not Martin Luther King

David Seaton's News Links
On Sunday Venezuelans will vote in a referendum that could make Hugo Chávez president for life. Tension is high, there are demonstrations, impassioned speeches for and against and even riots with people getting killed. Chávez himself is doing all he can to raise the tension by seemingly picking a new fight with someone every day. There is a significant detail here. Watching it all on the television news with the sound off, you can usually guess who is pro or anti-Chávez just by the color of their skin.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, only a fifth of Venezuela’s population is of white European descent. This makes it very difficult to trust media reports of the situation. White faces read the news on TV. Most Latin American commentators whose views reach us are members of the white. middle class, as are those that own and run the poll taking organizations. And not just in Venezuela, even in Castro’s socialist, afro-Cuban, Cuba, the leadership cadres are overwhelmingly white. Chávez’s support comes from what a Los Angeles Times editorial calls his, “brilliant instinct for rallying the country's disaffected poor.”

In 1952 an African-American author, Ralph Ellison published a ground breaking novel, “The Invisible Man”, whose title many critics feel defined the experience of people of African descent in the Americas: that of being invisible and voiceless. In the years that followed, the people of color in the United States raised their voices and became visible, to the great and continuing discomfort of many whites. The white people of the US south who once voted solidly Democratic have punished that party’s leadership of the civil rights movement by voting solidly Republican ever since… the key to the victories of Nixon, Reagan and Bush. The “Conservative Revolution”, that only favors the rich, is based on the resentment of poor whites.

North America and Latin America are very different, but perhaps the oppression of people of color is the experience that they most share in common. In North America, white people are a majority, but in most of Latin America the opposite is true. Now it appears that the people of color of Latin America: African, indigenous and mixed race are also finding their voices. Chávez is riding that wave. The more resistance he encounters the harder he’ll ride it

Every fight Chávez picks, every shouting match he gets into is meant to cement the empathy that people of color feel in seeing any person of color confronting a white man. This explains many things. For example: nothing in the third world of European ex-colonies could symbolize “whiteness” more than a member of European royalty. If that empathy translates into votes it will give him victory, its absence will sink him. DS

Monday, November 26, 2007

Grace is a slippin' and a slidin'

"Fed easing will not prevent millions of US households from defaulting on their mortgages and will not prevent home prices falling 20% or more given the biggest housing recession in US history; it did not and will not prevent dozens of mortgage lenders and home builders from going bankrupt; it will not prevent a surge in corporate defaults once the economy experiences a hard landing. Monetary policy can lead with pure liquidity runs; but when such liquidity runs are related to the risk of insolvency monetary policy is mostly impotent. And most of the current problems in the real economy and in the financial markets have to do with insolvency, not just illiquidity." Nouriel Roubini

"As the country that benefits most from global economic integration, we have the responsibility of making sure that this new system is sustainable.. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist - McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps....The global system cannot hold together without an activist and generous American foreign and defense policy. Without America on duty, there will be no America Online... " Thomas Friedman, New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1999

"Everything is subject to change. The big decadent forces will give way to the small new-born forces. The small forces will change into big forces because the majority of the people demand this change." Mao Tse-Tung
David Seaton's News Links
The bigger they come the harder they fall. The United States has a systemic problem: America's loss of power is the major story of our era. What is happening, what has happened, what will happen? Don't look at me, your guess is as good as mine.

When a system gets clogged up, all the king's horses and all the kings men have difficulty getting to the root of it. The complexity of the situation is so overwhelming and there is such an accumulation of factors that even with historical perspective it is difficult to get a sure answer. They say that the lead pipes that wealthy people had in their homes brought down the Roman Empire by making the women of the senatorial caste infertile... but even after centuries to think about it, that is just speculation. Was it a meteorite that caused the extinction of dinosaurs? Go figure. Once upon a time there were hundreds of Howard Johnson's restaurants all over the USA, now there are only three left. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Some will call me a prophet of doom, but I consider myself an optimist. America will bounce back. The United States is a great country, filled with hard working and inventive people and you can't keep a great people down for very long. Ten years ago nobody would have ever predicted that Russia would be in as good shape as it is today. That should be some consolation in times to come.

When the USSR went down, most observers read it ideologically, that we in the west had "won". Our merit had cause it all to happen. This was probably a big mistake. Perhaps that collapse did little more than reveal that a huge, powerful, system, one that had industrialized an enormous, backward country and made it a scientific, political and military superpower that had defeated Nazi Germany almost singlehandedly in WWII, could just simply collapse mysteriously. Just up and die. Just like that.

The United States, instead of taking a victory lap, might have been more prudent to murmur then, "there but for the grace of God go I" and gotten busy looking to its own vulnerabilities instead of crowing and preening, because it appears that ol' Grace is seeing somebody else these days. DS

Lawrence Summers: Wake up to the dangers of a deepening crisis - Financial Times
Abstract: Three months ago it was reasonable to expect that the subprime credit crisis would be a financially significant event but not one that would threaten the overall pattern of economic growth. This is still a possible outcome but no longer the preponderant probability.(...) Several streams of data indicate how much more serious the situation is than was clear a few months ago. First, forward-looking indicators suggest that the housing sector may be in free-fall from what felt like the basement levels of a few months ago. Single family home construction may be down over the next year by as much as half from previous peak levels. There are forecasts implied by at least one property derivatives market indicating that nationwide house prices could fall from their previous peaks by as much as 25 per cent over the next several years. We do not have comparable experiences on which to base predictions about what this will mean for the overall economy, but it is hard to believe declines of anything like this magnitude will not lead to a dramatic slowing in the consumer spending that has driven the economy in recent years. Second, it is now clear that only a small part of the financial distress that must be worked through has yet been faced. On even the most optimistic estimates, the rate of foreclosure will more than double over the next year as rates reset on subprime mortgages and home values fall. Estimates vary, but there is nearly universal agreement that – if all assets were marked to market valuations – total losses in the American financial sector would be several times the $50bn or so in write-downs that have already been announced by big financial institutions. These figures take no account of the likelihood that losses will spread to the credit card, auto and commercial property sectors. Nor do they recognise the large volume of financial instruments that depend for their high ratings on guarantees provided by credit insurers whose own health is now very much in doubt. Third, the capacity of the financial system to provide credit in support of new investment on the scale necessary to maintain economic expansion is in increasing doubt. The extent of the flight to quality and its expected persistence was powerfully demonstrated last week when the yield on the two-year Treasury bond dropped below 3 per cent for the first time in years. Banks and other financial intermediaries will inevitably curtail new lending as they are hit by a perfect storm of declining capital due to mark-to-market losses, involuntary balance sheet expansion as various backstop facilities are called, and greatly reduced confidence in the creditworthiness of traditional borrowers as the economy turns downwards and asset prices fall. READ IT ALL

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Meditations on the dollar

David Seaton's News Links
As a long term expatriate I am well placed to comment on the falling value of the dollar. If you live in the states the rise and fall of our currency affects you, but only indirectly and with a delayed effect. For Americans abroad the effect of the falling dollar can be huge. It is catastrophic for army families in Germany and for executives of American companies abroad... And even tragic in the case of American retirees.

I have been living off the local economy for many years now, but one of the reasons my family came abroad to live in the first place was the extremely favorable exchange rate. For people with fixed incomes, living abroad meant access to a much higher standard of living for the same amount of money. That simple.

People who don't travel much or have never had to "play the part" of the American, may not understand how much prestige is/was involved in the value of the dollar, they are easily unaware of what a symbol of power and even glamor it is/was.... (has been?) The last time the dollar was like this was in the 80s, but at that time the Euro didn't exist and the USSR and its army was still sitting in Eastern Europe... Nobody wanted to rock the boat.

By all means keep your eye on the "fundamentals" and, yes, there are some advantages for trade in a falling dollar, but never lose sight of the psychological effect of the dollar turning into what America's old friend Fidel Castro calls "perfumed paper".

Since Bush invaded Iraq we have watched the USA perform a striptease: habeas corpus, human rights, sub-prime, etc, etc and now the USA is down to its g-string and pasties... in this situation having the dollar crash is the "full Monty".

Things may come in a chain reaction now. It is really too difficult to forecast: too complex, too many variables. But nothing good for sure. DS

Michael Hirsh: In the Realm of the Dying Dollar - Newsweek
Abstract: Great powers die slowly. It took years before the world realized that Great Britain was an imperial corpse, sapped of its strength by two world wars. The funeral finally occurred on Feb. 21, 1947, a freezing winter day in bomb-torn, bedraggled London, when the British wrote their own epitaph. That was the day that London cabled Washington: "His Majesty's Government, in view of their own situation, find it impossible to grant further financial assistance to Greece," amounting to a half billion dollars a year and a garrison of 40,000 troops. The British also announced the same day that they were withdrawing from Turkey. "The British are finished," remarked a stunned Dean Acheson, who was soon to be Harry Truman's secretary of State. And so they were.(...) If the passing of American hegemony happens, it will occur very slowly--death by a thousand cuts of credit. One reason why it's so hard for Americans to contemplate their loss of prestige, symbolized by the fall of the once-almighty dollar, is that politicians and pundits tend to cast the issue as all-or-nothing. What would happen, they say, if China suddenly decided to dump the trillion dollars of U.S. debt it holds in reserves? This, however, will almost certainly never occur. While China and other big dollar-holding countries such as Singapore, Russia and the Persian Gulf states are very worried about the erosion in value of their dollar-denominated holdings and inflationary pressure, they also know that an abrupt move to cut their pegs to the dollar or to sell off in large amounts would force a run on the currency. That would leave them even poorer. Instead these countries are pursuing careful reallocations of their investment holdings, shifting slowly to the euro or a "basket" of currencies that will allow them to hedge against the dollar's decline. Credit will become more expensive, the U.S. economy will find itself increasingly crimped, and America's ability and willingness to act as the defense umbrella to the world will gradually peter out. The effect will be more like a slow-acting poison: drip, drip, drip.(...) the country is in such a fiscal hole right now that, as David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, told my colleague Jeff Bartholet last week, "You could decide not to renew the Bush tax cuts, you could eliminate all foreign aid, eliminate all earmarks, eliminate NASA, eliminate the National Endowment for Humanities and eliminate the entire Defense Department tomorrow, and you still wouldn't solve the problem." READ IT ALL

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thought for Thanksgiving

David Seaton's New Links
I find it curious that the fate of the US dollar now appears to be in the hands of China, which is ruled by the direct heirs of Mao Tse-Tung.

John Lennon sang mockingly in "Revolution",
"But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow".
However, if you look carefully you'll find that Mao's picture is on all the Chinese money right at this very moment, so I guess that makes about a billion people "carrying pictures of Chairman Mao".

The idea always was that the opposing internal forces in capitalism, called the "contradictions" would bring it down eventually. The problem is that millenarians, being only human after all, always expect (demand) the millennium in their own lifetime. You could say that all revolutions to date have been impatient "cesareans", producing preemies.

Perhaps the revolution will come finally with a whimper instead of a bang. The big question for Americans in this millenarian, end of capitalism scenario is whether we will be "raptured" or will we be "left behind"? DS

China voices alarm at dollar weakness - Financial Times
Abstract: China on Monday expressed concern at the decline in the dollar, joining a growing chorus of global policymakers alarmed by the weakness in the world’s main reserve currency. Wen Jiabao, the premier, told a business audience in Singapore it was becoming difficult to manage China’s $1,430bn foreign exchange reserves, saying their value was under unprecedented pressure. “We have never been experiencing such big pressure,” Mr Wen said, according to Reuters. “We are worried about how to preserve the value of our reserves.” China keeps the currency composition of its reserves a state secret, but some analysts believe that more than two-thirds are probably still held in dollars. The dollar has dropped 16 per cent this year against a basket of major currencies.(...) Russell Jones, head of currency strategy at RBC, said: “Any respite in the dollar’s weakness is likely to be temporary. The dollar isn’t a safe haven at the moment, because most of the problems facing the world economy are coming out of the US.” Ashraf Laidi, currency strategist at CMC Markets, said “the power in influencing the fate of the dollar lies increasingly with the oil producers as they struggle with a falling dollar.” Mr Wen’s remarks are likely to fuel market speculation that Beijing might move to reduce the proportion of its reserves held in the US currency. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What exactly has Hillary ever done?

Sen. Clinton has gotten where she is primarily on the strength of who she is, or, more precisely, to whom she is married.

The reason Mrs. Clinton is behind among members of my demographic -- professional women making more than $75,000 a year -- is because she is simply not one of us. She hasn't accomplished anything on her own since getting admitted to Yale Law. Take a look behind her resume. Yes, she made partner two years after joining the Rose Law Firm -- because her husband was the governor and was able to direct a lot of business their way.
She isn't Dianne Feinstein, who spent years as mayor of San Francisco before becoming a senator, or Nancy Pelosi, who became Madam Speaker on the strength of her political abilities. All Hillary is, is Mrs. Clinton. She became a partner at the Rose Law Firm because of that, senator of New York because of that, and (heaven help us) she could become president because of that.
Joan B. Di Cola, Esq. - Letter to the editor, Wall Street Journal
David Seaton's News Links
I got wind of this letter to the editor from Maureen Dowd's column. Like me, the liberal Ms. Dowd is no admirer of Hillary. This is what Maureen has to say:
Her Democratic rivals had meekly gone along, accepting her self-portrait as a former co-president who gets to take credit for everything important Bill Clinton did in the ’90s. But she was not elected or appointed to a position that needed Senate confirmation. And the part of the Clinton administration that worked best — the economy, stupid — was run by Robert Rubin. Hillary did not show good judgment in her areas of influence — the legal fiefdom, health care and running oppo-campaigns against Bill’s galpals.

She went on some first lady jaunts and made a good speech at a U.N. women’s conference in Beijing. But she was certainly not, as her top Iowa supporter, former governor Tom Vilsack claimed yesterday on MSNBC, “the face of the administration in foreign affairs.”
I'm amazed that anyone takes Hillary Clinton seriously as presidential material, there are thousands of American women in politics, diplomacy and business who are much more qualified than she is to run the US government. I guess I've been away too long, I think this campaign is plain weird. DS

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Annapolis: nothing from nothing leaves nothing

“As yet another attempt to get a final settlement gets underway, it is fair to ask if this is really more about giving the appearance of progress than making progress.”
Paul Reynolds, world affairs correspondent, BBC News
David Seaton's News Links

The legendary cafeteria of the Israeli parliament, where all the deals are done, where the fate of the Middle East and beyond is often settled in an incongruent corner deli atmosphere of chatty intimacy: a place that is usually a hotbed of rumors and activity, is strangely quiet.

Reading the article below from the Jerusalem Post tells the whole story. about Annapolis

In very complex situations, like this one where there is little real information, look for the significant detail: stories like this often tell you more than pages and pages of official drivel. DS

Why Annapolis draws yawns in Knesset corridors - Jerusalem Post
Abstract: To understand the difference between the upcoming Annapolis peace summit and previous peace efforts, politicians said they need only peer into the Knesset's unofficial conference room - the Knesset cafeteria. "In the weeks before Oslo, and before Camp David, the Knesset was so full the cafeteria ran out of food," said one Kadima MK, who was the only coalition member in the nearly-empty cafeteria Monday. "The excitement was tangible. Things were bustling. You couldn't find a table, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife... That is, if you even got a knife. Look at it now." Barely two weeks before the Annapolis peace summit, and the Knesset cafeteria remained largely empty of MKs despite three no-confidence motions and faction meetings on the day's agenda.(....) "This is not a serious effort at peace talks. It is barely a diplomatic step, let alone a historic step," said MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). "There is nothing new in these talks to garner excitement... I have been an MK many years and I don't see anyone here, in the Knesset, that really believes that a peace treaty [can be] reached at Annapolis."(...) On Monday, MK Arye Eldad (NU-NRP) sent a letter to the US administration asking that they postpone Annapolis to a future date "where the Israeli people and the political climate will be more receptive of peace talks." The move has been the most drastic step taken by the right-wing parties, said MK Yitzhak Levy (NU-NRP). "In past years there were serious protests and serious efforts being made by the right-wing lobby to make our concerns known ahead of peace negotiations. This time around, there is some talk, but no one is really taking it seriously," said Levy. "There is a general consensus that this whole process is more declarative than serious." READ IT ALL

Monday, November 19, 2007

Handicapping 2008

David Seaton's News Links

I had coffee Saturday with a important political consultant from the Democratic Party who was visiting Madrid. Since the conversation was informal and off the record, I can't tell you his name, which isn't important really, since he's an insider's insider, who I hadn't heard of either until we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Some of the things he said were very interesting and some were quite disturbing... to me at least.

The most disturbing impression I got was that, while the Republicans are very comfortable with their base, the Democratic establishment are afraid and embarrassed by theirs. If there ever was a formula for losing that is it. The consultant also said that winning Congress was more important for the Democrats than winning the presidency, which gave me a curious impression of premature sour grapes, especially since this Congress's approval ratings are even lower than Bush's.

The Democrats seem to exist to neutralize progressive trends in the USA. This Congress was an important, perhaps a final chance to make clear that a real difference exists between the parties and this opportunity has been lost. The Democrats seem set on nominating Hillary for President and maybe she could beat Bush, but I don't think she can beat Giuliani.

It is important to remember at this point that the Democrats are not going to be running against Bush, he'll be gone and he is so exceptionally inept that very few voters are going to to associate his historic, amazing and very personal incompetence with Republicans in general... Certainly not with Giuliani.

And speaking of Rudy, it is also important to remember that what the voters have always liked most about Dubya is that he is a mean son of a bitch and Rudy is even meaner than Bush and unlike the Shrub is seen to be sharp and competent. Bush was reelected comfortably because the frightened American people wanted a bad assed prick for President... but they wanted a competent
bad assed prick. They are still frightened, but they are disappointed by Bush's performance, not, repeat, not, by his selling proposition.

The Democratic campaign consultant also confirmed my impression that Mike Huckabee is hot. "To hear Huckabee, is to love Huckabee", he said. A client of his, a Democratic governor, told him in confidence that Huckabee was probably the best governor in the country. He actually is what Bush pretended to be, a "compassionate conservative". Except when he speaks on nutrition, most of what Huckabee says sounds like nonsense to me, but he is funny, he's human and he gives the impression of being both a genuinely good man and real. I think that he will probably be Giuliani's running mate and that will be a very, very, balanced ticket, indeed. Giuliani is both a thug and corrupt and his weirdness could put off the "values" voter. Huckabee on the ticket could solve all that.

Who could be Hillary's running mate? Frankly, I think there is only one human being in the world that balances Hillary Clinton and that is Bill Clinton, but I don't think he can run for Vice-President. Can he?

I think the Democrats are going to lose, because they are not true to their base, they haven't learned the Kerry lesson yet and probably never will. I don't think the people who finance the Democrats will ever allow them to be true to that base. The Republicans don't have that problem. What you see is what you get.

I'm sorry to say that it is clearer
to me every day that the Democratic Party has become little more than a Judas Goat for progressives. The path to change is not going to be found leading through this version of the Democratic Party, I'm afraid. DS

Mike Huckabee on nutrition - Salon
There are two basic elements to health: good nutrition and activity. We've got to help this country to start realizing that whole, natural foods are critical to health. I often tell people a couple of basic rules of nutrition: One is, if it wasn't a food 100 years ago, it probably isn't a food today. Secondly, if it comes through the car window, it isn't food. So much of what people eat today is a chemical product that has been processed, and when you really look at what it is and read the label, you'd be better off eating the box and throwing the contents away, because the box would at least give you some fiber.

George Packer on Giuliani - New Yorker
Whenever its leading Presidential candidates appear before partisan audiences, they try to outdo one another in pledging loyalty oaths to the use of force, pandering to the war lobby as if they were Democrats addressing the teachers’ union. Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of advisers—from Norman Podhoretz to the former Pentagon official Michael Rubin—who, having got Iraq spectacularly wrong, seem determined to make up for it by doing the same thing in Iran. Giuliani approaches foreign policy in the same mood of barely restrained eagerness for confrontation with which, as mayor of New York, he went after criminals. He has essentially promised to go to war with Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, and he recently suggested that waterboarding is only torture when the wrong people are doing it, and blamed the “liberal media” for giving it a bad name. He has said that he would improve America’s miserable image around the world by threatening State Department diplomats with unnamed consequences unless they defend United States foreign policy more aggressively. “The era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end,” Giuliani snarled in the polite pages of Foreign Affairs, which had invited candidates to lay out their views.

Karl Rove on Hillary - Newsweek
I've seen up close the two Clintons America knows. He's a big smile, hand locked on your arm and lots of charms. "Hey, come down and speak at my library. I'd like to talk some politics with you." And her? She tends to be, well, hard and brittle. I inherited her West Wing office. Shortly after the 2001 Inauguration, I made a little talk saying I appreciated having the office because it had the only full-length vanity mirror in the West Wing, which gave me a chance to improve my rumpled appearance. The senator from New York confronted me shortly after and pointedly said she hadn't put the mirror there. I hadn't said she did, just that the mirror was there. So a few weeks later, in another talk, I repeated the story about the mirror. And shortly thereafter, the junior senator saw me and, again, without a hint of humor or light in her voice, icily said she'd heard I'd repeated the story of the mirror and she … did … not … put … that mirror in the office.(...) Say in authentic terms what you believe. The GOP nominee must highlight his core convictions to help people understand who he is and to set up a natural contrast with Clinton, both on style and substance. Don't be afraid to say something controversial. The American people want their president to be authentic. And against a Democrat who calculates almost everything, including her accent and laugh, being seen as someone who says what he believes in a direct way will help.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


David Seaton's News Links
There is a wonderful saying in Spanish, "eramos pocos y parió la abuela", which translates literally as, "there were only a few of us and grandmother gave birth" and means, "it was the last straw". Obviously the English version gives none of the surreal exasperation of the Spanish original.

This saying comes to my mind constantly when I put the economic news alongside the geopolitical stuff. So many calamities taken all together become a thing to itself, the quantity turns into a quality, something called a "tipping point".

Tipping into what? That is the question. DS

Nouriel Roubini says:

I now see the risk of a severe and worsening liquidity and credit crunch leading to a generalized meltdown of the financial system of a severity and magnitude like we have never observed before. In this extreme scenario whose likelihood is increasing we could see a generalized run on some banks; and runs on a couple of weaker (non-bank) broker dealers that may go bankrupt with severe and systemic ripple effects on a mass of highly leveraged derivative instruments that will lead to a seizure of the derivatives markets (think of LTCM to the power of three); a collapse of the ABCP market and a disorderly collapse of the SIVs and conduits; massive losses on money market funds with a run on both those sponsored by banks and those not sponsored by banks (with the latter at even more severe risk as the recent effective bailout of the formers’ losses by theirs sponsoring banks is not available to those not being backed by banks); ever growing defaults and losses ($500 billion plus) in subprime, near prime and prime mortgages with severe known-on effect on the RMBS and CDOs market; massive losses in consumer credit (auto loans, credit cards); severe problems and losses in commercial real estate and related CMBS; the drying up of liquidity and credit in a variety of asset backed securities putting the entire model of securitization at risk; runs on hedge funds and other financial institutions that do not have access to the Fed’s lender of last resort support; a sharp increase in corporate defaults and credit spreads; and a massive process of re-intermediation into the banking system of activities that were until now altogether securitized. READ IT ALL

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bye bye bucky

"The dollar blues have migrated from the halls of central banks to images of rap musicians. In a video for the movie ``American Gangster,'' hip-hop maestro Jay-Z thumbs through a wad of 500-euro notes on a night of cruising through the concrete canyons of New York, a city where the euro isn't legal tender" Bloomberg
David Seaton's News Links
The decline of the dollar is a complex phenomenon. We say 'complex' because the
phenomenon consists of many aspects, some primary and some secondary that interact simultaneously with each other.. These aspects can be objective data called "fundamentals" or the intuitive perceptions which play so great a part in the crowd behavior of markets Adding to the complexity, the secondary aspects can morph into primary and vice versa, taking turns in the lead like a grupetto of eschapé cyclists in the Tour de France.

The declining dollar in its turn is a secondary aspect of the general, perceived, decline of the USA. Again, this perceived decline is another fluid mixture of objective data and intuitive perception in which America's lost prestige, to which we give the portmanteau name, "Bush" brings down the dollar and the falling dollar objectively rooted in US debt adds to the loss of prestige... ad infinitum or ad nauseum (your pick).

Taking apart this complexity and fully understanding this crisis, is perhaps impossible while it is ongoing and will probably have to be left to a figure of posterity which I have tentatively named, "future Chinese historians". DS

American Gangster's Wad of Euros Signals U.S. Decline - Bloomberg
Abstract: Almost four decades after the U.S. tore up the monetary arrangements that governed the post-World War II international economy, the dollar's fall from grace amounts to a tectonic shift in the global hierarchy. This time, the U.S. currency is on the losing side. After declining in five of the last six years, the weakest dollar in the era of floating currencies reflects a period of diminished U.S. political and economic hegemony. Whoever wins the White House next year will confront two unpopular choices: Accept the fall in U.S. clout and the rise of new rivals, or rein in record public and consumer debt that the rest of the world no longer wants to bankroll.(...) The dollar blues have migrated from the halls of central banks to images of rap musicians. In a video for the movie ``American Gangster,'' hip-hop maestro Jay-Z thumbs through a wad of 500-euro notes on a night of cruising through the concrete canyons of New York, a city where the euro isn't legal tender.(...) Like the British pound, its predecessor as the world currency, the dollar has fallen victim to widening burdens overseas and economic stresses at home. The slippage began in 1971 when President Richard Nixon, in a stopgap move to cope with the inflationary financing of the Vietnam War, halted the exchange of dollars for gold. Since then, currency markets have ebbed and flowed. High Federal Reserve interest rates and a flood of Japanese capital to finance Ronald Reagan's deficits bred the ``superdollar'' of the mid-1980s. The Internet-led productivity boom lured investment to the U.S. in the late 1990s. The most recent period reflects a world awash in other options.(...) Buoyed by the fastest growth of any major economy and putting tight limits on the appreciation of its exchange rate, China has piled up the world's biggest stash of foreign currencies, worth $1.4 trillion at the end of September. Cash-rich governments are discovering the profit motive, adding to pressure on the dollar as they comb the world's markets for investments that pay more than the current 4.25 percent return on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds. Economists at Merrill Lynch & Co. estimate as much as $1.2 trillion in dollar holdings will shift to other currencies in the next five years. A warning by Cheng Siwei, vice chairman of the National People's Congress, that China will invest in stronger currencies triggered a recent stampede out of the dollar. China doesn't have to dump dollars to depress the U.S. currency, economists at UBS AG say. Accumulating them at a slower pace will have the same effect.(...) ``There is a loss of confidence in both the dollar and the U.S.,'' said Riordan Roett, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. ``It may only reflect the widespread dismay with the Bush administration, but it is obvious that the next administration, of either party, will have a steep uphill struggle.'' READ IT ALL

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The bad and beautiful Benazir Bhutto

David Seaton's News Links
Benazir Bhutto may very well be the most beautiful politician to have ever lived (not a very beautiful bunch, I'll admit) However, make no mistake, she is a very nasty piece of work.

She is totally corrupt by all reliable accounts and to consider her some sort of democratic alternative to military rule is naive if not purely cynical. As in most of the Muslim world today a truly democratic process would probably produce an outcome unacceptable to the "west", that is to say, to the USA and what the Maoists used to call our "running dogs". (What a useful term "running dogs", much better than "poodle", why did it ever disappear, I wonder?)

The fact is that under intense American pressure there are no "viable alternatives" for Pakistan. Things are bad enough in that misbegotten (in the most literal sense of being defective from birth, thanks to the British) land, without American meddling. DS

Aunt Benazir's false promises - Los Angeles Times
Abstract: Perhaps the most bizarre part of this circus has been the hijacking of the democratic cause by my aunt, the twice-disgraced former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. While she was hashing out a deal to share power with Gen. Pervez Musharraf last month, she repeatedly insisted that without her, democracy in Pakistan would be a lost cause. Now that the situation has changed, she's saying that she wants Musharraf to step down and that she'd like to make a deal with his opponents -- but still, she says, she's the savior of democracy. The reality, however, is that there is no one better placed to benefit from emergency rule than she is. Along with the leaders of prominent Islamic parties, she has been spared the violent retributions of emergency law.(...) It was particularly unappealing of Ms. Bhutto to ask Musharraf to bypass the courts and drop the many corruption cases that still face her in Pakistan. He agreed, creating the odiously titled National Reconciliation Ordinance in order to do so. Her collaboration with him was so unsubtle that people on the streets are now calling her party, the Pakistan People's Party, the Pervez People's Party. Now she might like to distance herself, but it's too late. Why did Ms. Bhutto and her party cronies demand that her corruption cases be dropped, but not demand that the cases of activists jailed during the brutal regime of dictator Zia ul-Haq (from 1977 to 1988) not be quashed? What about the sanctity of the law? When her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto -- my father -- returned to Pakistan in 1993, he faced 99 cases against him that had been brought by Zia's military government. The cases all carried the death penalty. Yet even though his sister was serving as prime minister, he did not ask her to drop the cases. He returned, was arrested at the airport and spent the remaining years of his life clearing his name, legally and with confidence, in the courts of Pakistan. Ms. Bhutto's repeated promises to end fundamentalism and terrorism in Pakistan strain credulity because, after all, the Taliban government that ran Afghanistan was recognized by Pakistan under her last government -- making Pakistan one of only three governments in the world to do so. And I am suspicious of her talk of ensuring peace. My father was a member of Parliament and a vocal critic of his sister's politics. He was killed outside our home in 1996 in a carefully planned police assassination while she was prime minister. There were 70 to 100 policemen at the scene, all the streetlights had been shut off and the roads were cordoned off. Six men were killed with my father. They were shot at point-blank range, suffered multiple bullet wounds and were left to bleed on the streets. My father was Benazir's younger brother. To this day, her role in his assassination has never been adequately answered, although the tribunal convened after his death under the leadership of three respected judges concluded that it could not have taken place without approval from a "much higher" political authority. READ IT ALL

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Balkan trap

David Seaton's News Links
It is a cliché of geopolitics that the Americans play poker and the Russians play chess. Chess is by far the more subtle game of course, objectives have to be thought out several moves in advance, traps are laid and sprung on the unwary, pawns are sacrificed to waylay a queen.

I get the feeling that Vladimir Putin's Russia has decided to use the issue of Kosovar independence to humiliate NATO, the European Union and the United States in one master stroke and take full revenge for the humiliation that Yeltsin's impotent Russia received in 1999, when they were helpless to save Serbian unity from the attacks of US led NATO... and also to use Kosovo and Bosnia as trading chips in forcing the withdrawal of America's planned missile shield from Poland and the Czech republic.

Russia will veto any UN resolution granting Kosovo independence and they are upping the ante by equating the independence of Kosovo with the breaking up of Bosnia, by encouraging the independence of the Bosnian Serb, Republika Srpska. If this happens fighting could easily break out again in the Balkans and there would be little that the "west" could do about it.

At this moment the US armed forces are stretched to a breaking point in Iraq and the NATO countries cannot find the political will to send more troops in Afghanistan. It would be impossible for either to smother a new outbreak of fighting in the Balkans without abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan.

As to the European Union, although Britain and France would join the United States in supporting a unilateral declaration of Kosovar independence, Orthodox Greece is firmly opposed and would veto any EU support for it. Spain, with its Basque and Catalonian separatist movements is certainly against encouraging national "self-determination" movements of any kind anywhere, much less in Europe itself. Romania, Cyprus, Slovakia and Cyprus; all with separatist problems of their own would probably veto any EU declaration of Kosovar independence too. Certainly any attempt to strong arm all these countries into line would set the European back considerably.

Renewed fighting between Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians and Kosovars would, of course, further aggravate the "war of civilizations" and give Bosnian Muslims further reasons to radicalize.

We are looking, in fact, at a rather perfect trap. DS

Again and Again in the Balkans - Editorial - New York Times
Abstract: The Albanians of Kosovo are woefully unprepared for the independence they demand. The European Commission reported recently that the Kosovo administration is plagued by graft, cronyism and organized crime. If that weren’t bad enough, Russia has thrown its weight behind the Serbs, and together they have goaded Bosnian Serbs into threatening to break up the Bosnian quasi-federation created by the Dayton accords should Kosovo become independent. This is the Balkan mess that the United States, Russia and the European Union confront when they next meet in the latest, and possibly last, round of talks with the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. A unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, recognized by the United States and part of Europe but not by the United Nations, Russia or Serbia, would be unsatisfactory; a renewal of strife in Bosnia would be an outright disaster. READ IT ALL

Monday, November 12, 2007

Terrorism, racial profiling and Bosnia

Bosnian national soccer team
David Seaton's News Links
On of the dirty little secrets of the war on terrorism is that much of it is based on racial profiling of the sort that causes black corporate lawyers to be constantly pulled over to the curb in America and asked to show the insurance papers of their BMWs.

I have a Spanish friend, a lady in her late 30s, that travels a lot in her work. She has olive skin, dark hair and large, dark eyes. She tells me that she is frequently subjected to more questioning then the other passengers of the international flights she takes and her baggage is often more meticulously searched. Once, when she complained, the customs officer told her frankly that it was because she "looked like an Arab".

Please study the photograph above of the Bosnian national soccer team carefully before reading the article below from Der Spiegel on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bosnia Herzegovina.... (study, study, study) Hey! These are white people!

That means that while my Spanish friend, a Catholic, is being subjected to a body search by some policewoman, somewhere, anyone looking like the young men in the photograph (or their sisters) could stroll right in, anywhere, wearing an explosive vest. I'm sure the significance of this will not be lost on my gentle readers.

Fundamentalist Islam Finds Fertile Ground in Bosnia - Der Spiegel
Terrorism experts fear Bosnia could become a base for extremists, since many Bosnian Muslims have become radicalized through the influence of foreign combatants as well as the charitable Islamic organizations that spread their beliefs with money. Before the war, women in full-body coverings and men with long beards were a rare sight. Today, though, they hardly turn a head. Wahhabism is quickly gaining ground in the country, with polls showing that 13 percent of Bosnian Muslims support the conservative Sunni Islam reform movement. The movement is financed primarily by Saudi Arabian backers, who have invested well over a half-billion euros in Bosnia's development -- especially in the construction of over 150 mosques. The 8,187 square meter (88,124 square foot) King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo alone cost €20 million ($29 million), and it's also where radicals go to pray. A notorious mujahedeen commune in the remote village of Bocinje, 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Tuzla in northeastern Bosnia, is considered the birthplace of the religious movement. Shortly before the end of the war in 1995, the mujahedeen unit moved into Bocinje. The combatants occupied the homes of Serbs who had been driven out, and they established a fundamentalist enclave there. Among the high profile visitors who have come to Bocinje is Aymen al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's second in command. In 2002, after shooting, fighting and legal injunctions, the missionaries were forced to leave the village. But it is believed that camps still exist in the surrounding woods, where Bosnians are trained as terrorists. READ IT ALL

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Decadence, like charity, begins at home

David Seaton's News Links
To be decadent is to do things a certain way because they have always been done that way, to endlessly repeat oneself until becoming a parody of oneself.

To be decadent is to turn what was once fresh and charming into a tic, into a mannerism, so that what once was seductive becomes grotesquely repellent.

Fatigue disguised as youthful energy, boredom disguised as fascination... Capped teeth exposed in an achingly wide smile under cold, watchful eyes that see nothing but surfaces.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives... The question today is will there be a second act in America's life? DS

William Pfaff: What's Happened to Pakistan?

Abstract: American pressure on Musharraf has alienated a part of his army, spurred the rise of Islamic radicalism, inspired an enormous rise in anti-Americanism, and now, in manipulating the return of Benazir Bhutto as agent of American-desired political liberalization, Washington has precipitated Musharraf’s coup. Washington also wants Musharraf to be a democrat. The return to constitutional government and the empowerment of civil society now are blocked, even though elections are promised for February. It could end in the wreckage of still another Islamic nation – following Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestine Authority and Somalia. In this case, it concerns a state possessing nuclear weapons. All are victims of history, their own. But to the extent that American intervention is involved, they also are victims of a colossal American ignorance of other people’s history, and indifference to the consequences of manipulating other societies.(...) It is easy to destroy. What follows is another matter. READ IT ALL

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sarko the jerko

David Seaton's News Links
In the article below the Guardian's Jonathan Steele has said out loud what many are now beginning to think: That world conservatism's new "great white hope" is just an impostor and a jerk.

Steel compares him to Berlusconi.

I think its totally unfair to compare him to Berlusconi, however... Unfair to Berlusconi.

Il Cavalieri is, after all, a great (if crooked) business man, an imaginative (if unethical) entrepreneur who has created an enormous (if sinister) media empire and owns a wonderful (no caveat here) football club, FC Milan. Berlusconi just dabbles in politics to keep himself out of jail.

Berlusconi is, of course a horrible man, but he is the real thing, nothing fake about him. Sarkozy is a fraud and this will presently become evident to even the dullest observers. I predict that soon he will be a severe embarrassment to the French and even to Europe in general. DS
The French Berlusconi - Guardian
Abstract: Six months in office, and Nicolas Sarkozy has not ceased being an embarrassment on the world stage. From his first appearance at the G8 summit in Germany, where he foolishly called for more delay on Kosovo - a move that courtesy forced his new partners to support - to his fawning visit to Washington this week, France's president is making waves for the wrong reasons. Headstrong and unreflective, Sarkozy risks making an ass of himself.(...) At home, Sarkozy's rush to act first and think afterwards is as notable as on foreign policy. So are his arrogance and bad temper. He demeaned his friend and jogging partner, the prime minister François Fillon, by calling him an "aide". He shouted at his press secretary, publicly accusing him of being a "child" and an "imbecile". Where is the dignity of the office? Where is a sense of the responsibilities a president carries? Where is the subtlety needed by anyone who wants to negotiate a new deal with France's public service workers? Foreign policy was almost absent from the presidential campaign. So why race around like a bull in an international china shop when you were elected to implement a domestic agenda? The glamour of foreign summits is seductive. But even in a global television age European leaders are still judged by what they do at home rather than abroad. Stick to that, Sarkozy. Ground yourself for a while. Otherwise, you may do worse than Tony Blair. You could become the gaffe-prone European whom your colleagues roll their eyes at when you turn your back - the new Berlusconi, the clown they grimly have to grin and bear. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Born under a bad sign

Born under a bad sign.
Ive been down since I began to crawl.
If it wasnt for bad luck,
I wouldnt have no luck.
If it wasnt for real bad luck,
I wouldnt have no luck at all.
Booker T. Jones and William Bell
David Seaton's News Links
In the same week that oil pushed toward a hundred dollars a barrel, the financial News agency Bloomberg reported that, “The dollar fell to a record low against the euro on speculation financial-company losses from U.S. subprime-mortgage defaults will grow.” New York University economics professor, the always clairvoyant Nouriel Roubini, added, “the ongoing credit crunch will get much worse in the year ahead and its fallout spread from the US to Europe and throughout Asia and the globe. (...) The first crisis of financial globalization and securitization is thus only at its beginning stage.” At precisely this moment Pakistan took another step toward the abyss.

The veteran analyst Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote, “One of the world’s eight nuclear powers, Pakistan is now a failing state out of control where Taliban, al-Qaida and their supporters have secured their privileged sanctuaries in the tribal areas on the Afghan border; reoccupied the Red Mosque in the center of Islamabad; launched suicide bombers in widely scattered parts of this Muslim country of 160 million. More than any other country in the world, Pakistan is the breeding ground of Islamic terrorism.” The New York Times editorialized, “The United States is increasingly left with bad options. Cutting off aid would only make it harder to enlist Pakistan’s military in the anti-extremist fight and renew doubts about America’s reliability as an ally.” The Guardian’s editorial stated it even more baldly, “Gen Musharraf has called Washington and London's bluff, knowing they have no option but to back him. The general has exposed the impotence of the US and Britain to control a key ally with nuclear weapons.” The Pakistani army is the true center of power: all that holds a geographically and ethnically divided Pakistan together and the generals are not about to give up that role. If Musharraf falls, another general will be there to take his place... perhaps one who attends more to his prayers.

A sailor would touch wood and call this the approach of the perfect storm, an astrologer looking at the ephemeris would speak of an inauspicious aligning of the planets, a master of Diamat could speak of contradiction, of quantity becoming quality and a Hindu might simply smile and speak of the "Dance of Shiva". The fact is that the bad news is beginning to accumulate in a most alarming way: catastrophe: war, terrorism, inflation and now the possible collapse of major banks. Any one of these things would itself be a painful blow, taken together they begin to define our time. DS

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Biofuel: the new Holocaust

"The price of agricultural land will be influenced by its potential use for bio-energy. As farmers choose what crop would suit them best, they will change what they produce and hence the whole system of relative prices of agricultural produce. This will imply a very large increase in the demand for agricultural land. Its price and that of the products that use it intensively – such as food and cotton – will go up. By how much? This will depend not only on the cost of bio-energy but also on how much additional land is put to use and the degree to which food crops will be complements or substitutes of bio-energy: they would be substitutes if switch grass were planted instead of soybeans; they will be complements if biofuels are made out of wheat stalk. My bet is that they will tend to be more substitutes than complements and the relative price of food will go up." Ricardo Hausmann (director of Harvard University’s Center for International Development)

David Seaton's News Links

People will have to starve to death so that we can ride in style.

Regular News Links readers know that biofuel is one of my hobby horses. My intuition tells me that this process is part and parcel of the same growing technical perfection that created the possibilty of the Holocaust and the atom bombs that devoured Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a perfection organization and logistics that not only allows us, but invites us to express our darkest natures on a monstrous scale.

The following article by George Monbiot is a masterpiece. DS

Monbiot:The western appetite for biofuels is causing starvation in the poor world - Guardian
Abstract: It doesn't get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava. The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the district of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought. It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.(...) the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that they will snatch food from people's mouths. Run your car on virgin biofuel, and other people will starve. Even the International Monetary Fund, always ready to immolate the poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce biofuels "might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further". This week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will announce the lowest global food reserves in 25 years, threatening what it calls "a very serious crisis".(...) A recent study by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen shows that the official estimates have ignored the contribution of nitrogen fertilisers. They generate a greenhouse gas - nitrous oxide - that is 296 times as powerful as CO2. These emissions alone ensure that ethanol from maize causes between 0.9 and 1.5 times as much warming as petrol, while rapeseed oil (the source of more than 80% of the world's biodiesel) generates 1-1.7 times the impact of diesel. This is before you account for the changes in land use. A paper published in the journal Science three months ago suggests that protecting uncultivated land saves, over 30 years, between two and nine times the carbon emissions you might avoid by ploughing it and planting biofuels.(...) If the governments promoting biofuels do not reverse their policies, the humanitarian impact will be greater than that of the Iraq war. Millions will be displaced, hundreds of millions more could go hungry. This crime against humanity is a complex one, but that neither lessens nor excuses it. READ IT ALL

Monday, November 05, 2007

Condoleezza Rice: the Republican's greatest success story

David Seaton's News Links
I disagree with the conclusion of Fred Kaplan's article, reprinted below. Far from being a failure Condoleezza Rice is the one great Republican success story of the Bush years.

Condoleezza Rice has done more than any other individual to reinforce the most basic conservative Republican positions on both feminism and affirmative action. Rarely ever has anyone so advanced the Republican's key agendas. DS

Condoleezza Rice: Why Her Dreams Crashed - Washington Post
Abstract: Rice isn't used to failure, and most Americans aren't used to thinking of her as one. (...) Rice remains one of the architects of a fantasy foreign policy, and her record as secretary of state gives little hope that she'll be able to reverse that verdict in the administration's final months. The case against Condi starts with her dismal tenure as national security adviser in Bush's first term -- perhaps the worst in the office's history.(...) The problem was that, in the course of counseling George W. Bush, she fell under his tutelage much more than vice versa. Instead of informing his instincts, she formalized them into doctrine -- and came to believe in it herself. In his second inaugural address, Bush declared that his main goal would be to end tyranny and spread democracy around the world. For a few months, some wondered whether freedom might really be "on the march." Iraq held its first free elections; in Ukraine, protests and turmoil followed a rigged presidential vote; massive rallies in Beirut forced Syria to end its 30-year occupation of Lebanon. Rice took these as signs that the world was spinning on a new axis, and she took Bush's words as a mandate to spin it harder.(...) While advising Bush's son during his 2000 presidential campaign, Rice remained firmly in this mold. In an article for Foreign Affairs magazine, she called "power politics" and "power balances" the key elements of national security. Yet just five years later, she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, "the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power." And: "Democracy is the only assurance of lasting peace and security between states, because it is the only guarantee of freedom and justice within states." Her friends and colleagues gasped at the reversal. Cynics ascribed it to a psychological complex about powerful male tutors. The merely skeptical attributed it to a pragmatic realization that she had to adopt Bush's messianic views to keep her job.(...) At times this year, Rice seems to have returned to her realist roots, most notably in striking a quick nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea. After years of scorning Arab-Israeli diplomacy, she now hopes to assemble a last-ditch Israeli-Palestinian peace conference; but Washington's leverage has diminished, the parties know she and Bush are lame ducks, and the region's ground is burning. She is said to be locked in a face-off with Cheney over Iran policy: He wants to bomb, she wants to keep talking. But it is a sad comment on the endurance of her one great asset -- her influence with the president -- that nobody knows whose side the decider will take. Finally, there looms Iraq, where the only recent tactical successes have involved building up tribal warlords, not creating a beacon of democracy. This war has been Rice's war as much as anybody's in the administration. Long after her celebrity and charm have been forgotten, her epitaph will endure: She pursued democracy at the expense of stability, and achieved neither. READ IT ALL

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Democrat's big chance to lose the White House

"Potentially facing that Republican may be a Democrat who is not in favor of rushing to war in Iran but, now as in 2002, may well be in favor of walking to war. In any event, she will not have been a leader in making the strenuous case for an alternative policy that defuses rather than escalates tensions with Tehran." - Frank Rich - NYT
David Seaton's News Links
Frank Rich has written a very good analysis of why Hillary Clinton is a terrible Democratic candidate for president. These are dreadful times: America desperately needs a president who has clear positions on major issues. Hillary's positions on everything are carefully "crafted". Even her laughter is studied and rehearsed. Hillary is like Gertrude Stein's description of her home town, "when you get there, there is no there, there."

After eight years of
a sinister clown's stewardship, it is vital, not only for America, but for the stability of the entire world, that the next President of the United States project integrity and humanity. That what is still the "most important job in the world" be filled by someone who embodies, clarity, honesty and reality.

Hillary Clinton is a genuine phony, someone who would sincerely love to say "sincerely", sincerely.

Democrats would be foolish if they thought that they are sure to win in 2008. Just as in 2004 they appear to be hunting for the perfect foil for the Republicans. And I think the GOP is drooling at the thought of running against the former First Lady. DS

Frank Rich: Noun + Verb + 9/11 + Iran = Democrats’ Defeat? - NYT
Abstract: But what happens if President Bush does not bomb Iran? That is good news for the world, but potentially terrible news for the Democrats. If we do go to war in Iran, the election will indeed be a referendum on the results, which the Republican Party will own no matter whom it nominates for president. But if we don’t, the Democratic standard-bearer will have to take a clear stand on the defining issue of the race. As we saw once again at Tuesday night’s debate, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, does not have one.(...) Yet 2002 history may not literally repeat itself. Mr. Cheney doesn’t necessarily rule in the post-Rumsfeld second Bush term. There are saner military minds afoot now: the defense secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, the Central Command chief William Fallon. They know that a clean, surgical military strike at Iran could precipitate even more blowback than our “cakewalk” in Iraq.(...) Then there’s the really bad news. Much as Iraq distracted America from the war against Al Qaeda, so a strike on Iran could ignite Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s thriving base and the actual central front of the war on terror. As Joe Biden said Tuesday night, if we attack Iran to stop it from obtaining a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium, we risk facilitating the fall of the teetering Musharraf government and the unleashing of Pakistan’s already good-to-go nuclear arsenal on Israel and India. A full-scale regional war, chaos in the oil market, an overstretched American military pushed past the brink — all to take down a little thug like Ahmadinejad (who isn’t even Iran’s primary leader) and a state, however truculent, whose defense budget is less than 1 percent of America’s? Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t think even the Bush administration can be this crazy.(...) While the saber- rattling is reckless as foreign policy, it’s a proven winner as election-year Republican campaign strategy. The real point may be less to intimidate Iranians than to frighten Americans. Fear, the only remaining card this administration still knows how to play, may once more give a seemingly spent G.O.P. a crack at the White House in 2008. Whatever happens in or to Iran, the American public will be carpet-bombed by apocalyptic propaganda for the 12 months to come. Mr. Bush has nothing to lose by once again using the specter of war to pillory the Democrats as soft on national security. The question for the Democrats is whether they’ll walk once more into this trap.(...) There are signs that the steady invocation of new mushroom clouds is already having an impact as it did in 2002 and 2003. A Zogby poll last month found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) now supports a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.(...) In 2002 Senators Clinton, Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards and Chris Dodd all looked over their shoulders at such polls. They and the party’s Congressional leaders, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, voted for the Iraq war resolution out of the cynical calculation that it would inoculate them against charges of wussiness.(...) This time around, with the exception of Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic candidates seem to be saying what they really believe rather than trying to play both sides against the middle. Only Mrs. Clinton voted for this fall’s nonbinding Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution, designed by its hawk authors to validate Mr. Bush’s Iran policy.(...) In 2002, the Iraq war resolution passed by 77 to 23. In 2007, Kyl-Lieberman passed by 76 to 22. No sooner did Mrs. Clinton cast her vote than she started taking heat in Iowa. Her response was to blur her stand.(...) In Tuesday’s debate Mrs. Clinton tried to play down her vote for Kyl-Lieberman again by incessantly repeating her belief in “vigorous diplomacy” as well as the same sound bite she used after her Iraq vote five years ago. “I am not in favor of this rush for war,” she said, “but I’m also not in favor of doing nothing.”(...) That leaves her in a no man’s — or woman’s — land. If Mr. Bush actually does make a strike against Iran, Mrs. Clinton will be the only leading Democrat to have played a cameo role in enabling it. If he doesn’t, she can no longer be arguing in the campaign crunch of fall 2008 that she is against rushing to war, because it would no longer be a rush. Her hand would be forced.(...) Potentially facing that Republican may be a Democrat who is not in favor of rushing to war in Iran but, now as in 2002, may well be in favor of walking to war. In any event, she will not have been a leader in making the strenuous case for an alternative policy that defuses rather than escalates tensions with Tehran. READ IT ALL