Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Flooding and Food Riots

First it's eat rats, now rains and food riots? Bihar can't catch a break!
Food riots erupted on Wednesday in Bihar, where more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and about 250,000 houses destroyed in what officials say are the worst floods in 50 years. One person was killed in Madhepura district when angry villagers fought among themselves over limited supplies of food and medicines at overcrowded relief centres.

The Kosi river in Bihar, one of India's poorest states, smashed through mud embankments and changed course last week, unleashing huge walls of water that inundated hundreds of villages and towns. The floods have since killed nearly 50 people in Bihar.

Stranded villagers waved at passing helicopters and sent text messages to local authorities from rooftops of flooded buildings.

"Time is running out for me and there is no relief in sight and I have not eaten for days," a message from flood victim Sanjeev Kumar read.
Officials said floods had destroyed more than 227,000 homes and damaged about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of vegetables, wheat and paddy crops.

Last year, floods in eastern India and Bangladesh killed around 2,000 people. Millions were affected and officials fear climate change will make similar disasters more frequent.

Banking Crisis to Worsen with FDIC Already in Trouble

Ms. Bair’s agency is stretched.
Dozens of staff members who had been through the banking crises of the early 1990s retired in recent years. Despite her efforts to bring some seasoned examiners back, her small army of examiners is largely untested.

Meanwhile, there are growing questions about the adequacy of F.D.I.C.’s insurance fund, which guarantees repayment on deposit accounts of up to $100,000 when banks collapse. The fund dwindled to $45.2 billion during the second quarter, from $53 billion in the first quarter.

To replenish its fund, the agency will probably have to raise the fees it charges banks by at least 14 cents for every $100 of deposits, according to estimates by analysts. Ms. Bair declined to comment on the likely size of any increase but said the agency was proposing to revamp its fees so that institutions engaging in high-risk practices would pay higher rates.

“It only seems fair,” Ms. Bair, 54, said. Such a move is expected to draw criticism from banks.

How Ms. Bair navigates the financial and political landmines ahead will help determine the course of the banking industry and, by extension, the broader economy. It will also determine her legacy.
Here's where it gets interesting and the plot substantially thickens;
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) might have to borrow money from the Treasury Department to see it through an expected wave of bank failures, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The borrowing could be needed to cover short-term cash-flow pressures caused by reimbursing depositors immediately after the failure of a bank, the paper said.

The borrowed money would be repaid once the assets of that failed bank are sold.

"I would not rule out the possibility that at some point we may need to tap into (short-term) lines of credit with the Treasury for working capital, not to cover our losses," Chairman Sheila Bair said in an interview with the paper.
Higher fees? Treasury borrowing? Sounds to me like there's some big, big trouble on the way and the cavalry as non-existent for peeple's money as it was for their flooded out neighborhoods in Nawlins.....,

Russia 'Not Afraid' of a New Cold War

Russian President Says His Country Does Not Want a new Cold War, But Is Not Afraid of One Either. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking in the midst of one of the lowest points in the Russia-West relationship since the breakup of the Soviet Union 17 years ago, said Tuesday that his country did not seek a new Cold War but neither was it afraid of one.

"We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War," Medvedev was quoted as saying Tuesday by the ITAR-Tass news agency. "But we don't want it and in this situation everything depends on the position of our partners."

The statement comes hours after Medvedev recognized the independence of two Georgian rebel provinces, defying the West. The recognition which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described as "extremely unfortunate" follows a short but intense war with Western-allied Georgia earlier this month.

"If they want to preserve good relations with Russia in the West, they will understand the reason behind our decision," Medvedev said.

NATO-Russian naval controntation on tap in Black Sea?

Tbilisia/Kiev/Moscow - A NATO-Russia naval confrontation in the Black Sea appeared days away on Tuesday, after American officials announced a US warship would attempt to enter a Georgian port controlled by Russian army and naval forces. US fleet elements will in coming weeks unload humanitarian aid in the Russia-controlled Georgian port Poti, US embassy spokesman Stephen Guice said in remarks widely reported by Georgian media.

The American announcement setting the stage for a direct US-Russia naval confrontation came against a background of continuing high tensions in the region in the wake of the Russia-Georgia conflict and with both Russia and NATO rushing warships into the Black Sea.[...]

The Kremlin has harshly criticised the NATO naval buildup, and has repeatedly made public the names and destinations of NATO warships moving into the region, well before Brussels' official acknowledgement.

NATO currently has a total eight warships operating in the Black Sea, with a ninth frigate en route and expected on Georgia station in the next few days, Russian naval officials citing maritime intelligence said Tuesday.

But Moscow also has responded to the apparent - if officially denied - NATO naval challenge by spiking its own Black Sea warship levels.

The flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the guided missle cruiser Moscow, put to sea on Monday after returning to its home base port Sevastopol, Ukraine.

The global consensus on trade is unravelling

Lawrence Summers does a little narrative shuffling. With two wars still continuing and violence in Georgia dominating the foreign policy debate; and with the financial crisis and economic insecurity for families dominating the domestic debate, US international economic policy is receiving less attention in this presidential election year than usual. The limited attention it has received has focused on concerns about specific trade agreements, not broader questions of international strategy. That is unfortunate. The next administration faces the prospect of having to make the most consequential international economic policy choices in a generation at a time when the confidence of governments in free markets is being increasingly questioned.

The current distribution of regional economic power is unlike anything that was predicted even a decade ago. The rise of the developing world, its growing share in global output and far greater share of global growth, is perhaps a quantitative but not a qualitative surprise. The qualitative surprise is this: with almost all the industrial world in or near recession, much of the momentum in the global economy is coming from countries with authoritarian governments that are pursuing economic strategies directed towards wealth accumulation and building up geopolitical strength rather than improving living standards for their populations. China, where household consumption has now fallen below 40 per cent of its gross domestic product – which must be some kind of peacetime record – is the most extreme example. Similar tendencies, however, can be seen in other parts of Asia, Russia and other oil exporting countries.

not that it matters, but...........,

Ron Suskind - The Forged Iraqi Letter;
The Iraq Intelligence Chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush -- a man still carrying a $1 million reward for capture, the Jack of Diamonds in Bush's famous deck of wanted men -- has been America's secret source on Iraq. Starting in January of 2003, with Blair and Bush watching, his secret reports began to flow to officials on both sides of the Atlantic, saying that there were no WMD and that Hussein was acting so odd because of fear that the Iranians would find out he was a toothless tiger. The U.S. deep-sixed the intelligence report in February, "resettled" Habbush to a safe house in Jordan during the invasion and then paid him $5 million in what could only be considered hush money.

In the fall of 2003, after the world learned there were no WMD -- as Habbush had foretold -- the White House ordered the CIA to carry out a deception. The mission: create a handwritten letter, dated July, 2001, from Habbush to Saddam saying that Atta trained in Iraq before the attacks and the Saddam was buying yellow cake for Niger with help from a "small team from the al Qaeda organization."

The mission was carried out, the letter was created, popped up in Baghdad, and roiled the global newcycles in December, 2003 (conning even venerable journalists like Tom Brokaw). The mission is a statutory violation of the charter of the CIA, and amendments added in 1991, prohibiting the CIA from conducting disinformation campaigns on U.S. soil.
More relevant detail here; National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 254: "The U.S. intelligence community buckled sooner in 2002 than previously reported to Bush administration pressure for data justifying an invasion of Iraq, according to a documents posting on the Web today by National Security Archive senior fellow John Prados.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kucinich.....,

playing nuke-u-ler chicken....,

If the Bush administration proceeds with its plan to deploy its Missile Defense System in Poland, Russian Prime Minister Putin will be forced to remove it militarily. He has no other option. The proposed system integrates the the entire US nuclear arsenal into one operational-unit a mere 115 miles from the Russian border. It's no different than Khrushchev's plan to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba in the 1960s.

Early last year, at a press conference that was censored in the United States, Putin explained his concerns about Bush's plan:

“Once the missile defense system is put in place it will work automatically with the entire nuclear capability of the United States. It will be an integral part of the US nuclear capability....And, for the first time in history---and I want to emphasize this---there will be elements of the US nuclear capability on the European continent. It simply changes the whole configuration of international security…..Of course, we have to respond to that.”

Nuclear weapons specialist, Francis A. Boyle, says the Bush administration's plans represent the “longstanding US policy of nuclear first-strike against Russia." In Boyle’s article “US Missiles in Europe: Beyond Deterrence to First Strike Threat” he states:

“By means of a US first strike about 99%+ of Russian nuclear forces would be taken out. Namely, the United States Government believes that with the deployment of a facially successful first strike capability, they can move beyond deterrence and into "compellence."… This has been analyzed ad nauseam in the professional literature. But especially by one of Harvard's premier warmongers in chief, Thomas Schelling --winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics granted by the Bank of Sweden-- who developed the term "compellence" and distinguished it from "deterrence." …The USG is breaking out of a "deterrence" posture and moving into a "compellence" posture. (Global Research 6-6-07)

Bush's real goal is to force Moscow to conform to Washington’s diktats or face the prospect of first-strike nuclear annihilation. Putin must respond.
Mike Whitney on why Putin can't afford to back down.

patience sheeple; death and flag waving are not far off now.....,

Apparently I'm not the only one.

Simon Jenkins fundamentally gets it.

The world is showing alarming parallels with the 1930s. Lights are turning to red as the world again approaches depression. The credit crunch and the collapse of world trade talks are making nations introverted. Meanwhile, the defeated power of the last war, Russia, is flexing its muscles and finding them in good working order[...] Has the West misjudged the fault line of an impending conflict? Its global strategy under George Bush, Tony Blair and a ham-fisted Nato has declared the threat to world peace as coming from nonstate organisations, specifically Al-Qaeda, and the nations that give them either bases or tacit support. Western generals and securocrats have elevated these anarchist fanatics to the status of nuclear powers. Policing crime has become “waging war”, so as to justify soaring budgets and influence over policy, much as did America’s military-industrial complex during the cold war.

Might it be that a raging seven-year obsession with Osama Bin Laden and his tiny Al-Qaeda organisation has blinded strategists to the old verities? Wars are rarely “clashes of civilisation”, but rather clashes of interest. They are usually the result of careless policy, of misread signals and of mission creep closing options for peace.

Terrorists, wherever located and trained, can certainly capture headlines and cause overnight mayhem, but they cannot project power. They cannot conquer countries or peoples, only manipulate democratic regimes into espousing illiberal policies, as in America and Britain. By grossly overstating the significance of terrorism, western leaders have distracted foreign policy from what should be its prime concern: securing world peace by holding a balance of interest - and pride - among the great powers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

spoke too soon.....,

The NYTimes goes to great lengths to deny that race is a pivotal issue. The Race Isn’t About Race and Accentuate the Negative - we'll start with Krugman;
And the McCain campaign, after initially mumbling something about how Mr. Obama eats arugula, quickly resorted to its all-purpose answer: you can’t criticize the candidate because he’s a former P.O.W. Maybe the campaign hopes that the Obama people will fall into a reflexive cringe, the same way they did when Wesley Clark made the entirely reasonable point that having been a P.O.W., while it makes you a hero, doesn’t necessarily qualify you to become president.

Assuming that the Obama campaign isn’t scared off by the P.O.W. thing, can it really win in an exchange of character attacks? Probably not — but it doesn’t have to.

The central fact of this year’s election is that voters are fed up with Republican rule. The only way Mr. McCain can win the presidential race is if it becomes a contest of personalities rather than parties — and if his campaign can instill in voters the perception that Mr. Obama is a suspicious character while Mr. McCain is a fine, upstanding gentleman.

The Obama campaign, on the other hand, doesn’t need to convince voters either that he’s the awesomest candidate ever or that Mr. McCain is a villain. All it has to do is tarnish Mr. McCain’s image enough so that voters see this as a race between a Democrat and a Republican. And that’s a race the Democrat will easily win.
and then go back to Bai, whose claims are a priori somewhat more ridiculous.
The only hitch in this plan is that there’s plenty of reason to think that Mr. Obama’s race is not the insurmountable detriment to his candidacy that a lot of anxious observers believe it is.

The theory that race is holding back Mr. Obama’s candidacy rests on a pretty simple premise. Adherents argue that the Democratic candidate ought to be effortlessly leading by double digits in the polls at this point — and that his failure to do so can only be explained by latent racism among older voters.

After all, this thinking goes, the Republican president suffers from abysmal approval ratings, and even half-witted voters should be able to see that Mr. Obama is a superior candidate to Mr. McCain, were their views not clouded by race.

These are flawed assumptions, however. While it’s entirely possible that Mr. Obama’s race is costing him some support, it’s also true that the electorate that voted in the last two presidential elections was almost symmetrically divided between the two parties. It would defy the laws of politics if, at this early stage of the campaign, moderate Republicans and conservative independents were to reject Mr. McCain (a candidate many of them preferred back in 2000) simply because they don’t like George W. Bush.
Inability to face superficial facts does not bode well for the prospect of facing substantive facts. So many folks caught up in the minutiae of political theater, that they never even consider the cool and calculating hand of the man behind the curtain orchestrating the entire production with an eye to simple governance continuity.

No one mentions race.....,

In the Observer - US elections: Why has Obama stalled? On the eve of the Democrats' convention in Denver, Barack Obama finds himself struggling against a resurgent John McCain. Why isn't Obama doing better in the polls? There is one answer no one wants to hear. Paul Harris reports on how race has become the great unspoken issue in the campaign for the White House - and why it may yet be the decisive factor;
The Democrats are starting to struggle in a presidential race which they should be dominating. America is beset by economic troubles, mired in an unpopular foreign war and facing an unpopular Republican party. A stunning 80 per cent of Americans think that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Yet Obama and McCain are virtually tied in the polls. The possible explanations are multiple. The Democratic campaign is being daily assaulted by withering Republican attack ads. At the same time, there are still deep scars in the party left by the ferocious battle between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.

And then there is the issue of race. It gets much less attention than the battle with Clinton, or the daily barbs traded with McCain, or Obama's struggle to rise in the polls. Yet it might provide the key to understanding the strange inability of the Obama campaign to achieve lift-off in the polls.

'The question of this election is race. The answer we are looking for is, how much will it matter?' said Professor Shawn Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside. America will soon find out. When Obama speaks on Thursday to more than 80,000 people in Denver's football stadium he will also reach a television audience of millions of Americans. They will look into the face of a man who could be their next President and for the first time it will be a black face.
America will finally be facing up to the question that truly defines the 2008 presidential race: is America ready to elect a black President to the White House?

Crash Course Chapter Seventeen: Peak Oil

Consistent with the high quality of the previous chapters. Click on the image to view.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Change Before It’s Too Late

Frank Rich gets it too.

  1. Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures?
  2. Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization?
  3. Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?
How we dig out of this quagmire is the American story that Obama must tell. It is not a story of endless conflicts abroad but a potentially inspiring tale of serious economic, educational, energy and health-care mobilization at home. We don’t have the time or resources to go off on more quixotic military missions or to indulge in culture wars. (In China, they’re too busy exploiting scientific advances for competitive advantage to reopen settled debates about Darwin.) Americans must band together for change before the new century leaves us completely behind. The Obama campaign actually has plans, however imperfect or provisional, to set us on that path; the McCain campaign offers only disposable Band-Aids typified by the “drill now” mantra that even McCain says will only have a “psychological” effect on gas prices.

Even as it points to America’s future, the Obama campaign also has the duty to fill in its opponent’s past. McCain’s attacks on Obama have worked: in last week’s Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll, Obama’s favorable rating declined from 59 to 48 percent and his negative rating rose from 27 to 35. Yet McCain still has a lower positive rating (46 percent) and higher negative rating (38) than Obama. McCain is not nearly as popular among Americans, it turns out, as he is among his journalistic camp followers. Should voters actually get to know him, he has nowhere to go but down.

The argument against Obama’s “going negative” is that it undermines his message of “transcendent politics” and will make him look like an “angry black man.” But pacifistic politics is an oxymoron, and Obama is constitutionally incapable of coming off angrier than McCain. A few more fisticuffs from the former law professor (and many more from his running mate and other surrogates) can only help make him look less skinny (metaphorically if not literally). Obama should go after McCain’s supposedly biggest asset — experience — much as McCain went after Obama’s crowd-drawing celebrity.

It is, after all, not mere happenstance that so many conservative pundits — Rich Lowry, Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru — have, to McCain’s irritation, proposed that he “patriotically” declare in advance that he will selflessly serve only a single term. Whatever their lofty stated reasons for promoting this stunt, their underlying message is clear: They recognize in their heart of hearts that the shelf life of McCain’s experience has already reached its expiration date.

Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures? Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization? Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?

R.I.P., “Change We Can Believe In.” The fierce urgency of the 21st century demands Change Before It’s Too Late.

drill! Drill! DRILL!

Americans don't like uncertainty.

Americans don't like any suggestion that they must live within any sort of limits.

Americans don't particularly care about the environment, especially when it threatens their lifestyle.

Americans won't endure anyone telling them that their behaviors are selfish, irresponsible and wrong.

"Drill here, Drill now, Pay less" is a lie for those who prefer hearing lies rather than dealing with the truth.

What is the truth? The truth is contained in these charts:

No one of a conservative mindset will understand these charts or what they depict.

They want cheap gasoline

They are entitled to cheap gasoline forever

They will vote for the candidate who promises cheap gasoline forever.

What John McCain knows is that the American people do not have any sort of knowledge about energy nor any appetite to learn.

drill, Drill, DRILL! appeals to the desperation of the simple-minded ignorant.

Lies such as two trillion barrels of oil shale plus billions and billions under the Arctic are perfectly well suited to the American masses.

You've allowed John McCain to use the energy issue to steal your momentum and erase your lead in the polls. McCain told America that we needed to explore all our options to solve the energy crisis, including drilling offshore. He said that you disagreed. He summed up his argument in a powerful little phrase: "Drill here and drill now."

Brilliant!

Yes, I know. It's a gimmick. The relatively small amount of oil that we may find by punching more holes in the floor of the Gulf wouldn't be seen for years.

Furthermore, we have to come to terms with the fact that we are running out of oil anyway. We may be able to push back our day of reckoning, but it's coming. According to the Energy Information administration, our domestic production has fallen 40 percent since 1985, and not for lack of drilling. Since 2000, the number of exploratory and developmental wells has nearly doubled, while crude production has continued to slip.

We have to slake our thirst for crude and invest immediately and aggressively in alternative energy sources.

In spite of all this, people still took the drilling bait. Why?

Because it was concise, catchy and positive. That's the formula. I thought that you understood this, you of the "Yes We Can!" slogan and all. But, apparently not.

Lately, you've demonstrated an unsettling penchant for overly nuanced statements that meander into the cerebral.

Earth to Barack: to Main Street America, nuance equals confusion.

Holla at yo boy Charles Blow before it's too late Baraka....,

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Batman and Rush: Why McCain Will Win

This election has already been decided. It's over. The winner is John McCain - according to Jeffrey Lord in The American Spectator. Let's go directly to the moneyshot - Lord's brash conclusion;
Does Batman really care what others think of him? Does Rush? Did Reagan or Teddy Roosevelt? Are you kidding? In other words, every time the media thinks they are promoting Obama they are in fact doing him damage. Subtle, yet irreversible damage that will eventually begin to show itself in the polling numbers if it hasn't already.

What will Americans be voting for in 2008? The same thing they have been voting for routinely in every election since the beginning of American presidential elections. They want action. A willingness to risk. They want someone who doesn't give a damn what others think.

They want Batman. They want Rush.

So they will elect McCain.
Interesting. But far more interesting still is the underlying rationale leading Lord to this conclusion;

What is it that makes Americans choose anything the way they do? And specifically what does this mean when it comes to choosing presidents?

First, he explained to me, we should understand that every human has a brain divided into three parts. The cortex is the seat of logic, while the limbic deals with emotions. It is what he calls the "third brain" -- the "reptilian brain" -- that unmistakably dominates the other two. It houses a person's fundamental instinct for two and only two things: survival and reproduction. While every human walking the planet has these two instincts, some people are more "reptilian" than others. Those others could be depending more on their "cortex" -- the part of the brain that is home to logic, that controls intelligence. Or they can seem to run mostly on emotion. Yet without question, the research shows again and again that whether the subject is picking cars, coffee or presidents, people respond with their instincts. When this fact of life is overlaid with culture -- in the case of voters for president of the United States, American culture -- the result is easy to see.

While other cultures put a premium on thinking (the French) or order (the Germans), Americans want our presidents to respond just as we do in our culture -- with their gut. An American presidential candidate, Rapaille says, "doesn't need to be extremely reptilian, only more reptilian than his opponent is." In particular, and he says this in terms of a cultural observation as opposed to a subjective condemnation, Americans are not culturally disposed to thinking. We prefer, as the Nike commercial has long said, to "just do it." We are a culture of action, of rebellion, of instinct. When Europeans or American liberals deride a George W. Bush or a Reagan as a "cowboy," they think they are hurling an insult. Yet most Americans see cowboys as heroes, so the insult effectively backfires. When it comes to choosing between two candidates for president, we gravitate instinctively to the one perceived as more "reptilian." Rapaille puts it this way: "We don't want our presidents to think too much."
And that my friends, is exactly the way it is. Not that I believe the popular mandate and the selected manager of federal executive branch operations is the final arbiter and shot caller, but as a windsock for public opinion - he ABSOLUTELY serves a critical role for TPTB who must guage, assuage, and ultimately co-opt the political will of the masses.

The Misshapen Mind

How the Brain's Haphazard Evolution Left Us with Self-Destructive Instincts;
A kluge, Marcus tells us, is an improvised engineering response to a problem. It is the product of a tinkerer playing around with odds and ends and creating a functional machine. That, he writes, is what the brain and its package of emotional, intellectual, and logical tools is. It is a series of good but imperfect methods for processing and acting on information, developed over hundreds of millions of years.

Evolution, in other words, produces things that work. That, Marcus argues, is the case with the brain, with how we store memories and how we respond to information. Were our memory systems better designed, they'd store and retrieve memories in the same way computers do. Instead, we rely on context to access snapshots from the past. Moving beyond memory, the logical aspect of higher thought is simply the icing on the cake, Marcus explains -- something that has evolved in an evolutionary microsecond and set up residence in the brain's frontal lobes.
The older parts of the brain, call them our reptilian legacy, had much longer to mature. As a result, in many situations, especially when quick responses are demanded, they simply overwhelm our rational side, stampeding us into actions that don't really stand up to serious analysis.

Thus, we see an act of violence in the media (whether it be a single person being kidnapped and murdered, as with the 1993 celebrated Polly Klaas case in California, or mass slaughter, as with September 11), and we respond with a potpourri of inchoate fear, panic, and rage. We feel that the certainties governing our lives have been shattered. Rarely do we successfully step back and analyze the likelihood or unlikelihood of such an event impacting us.

For both Marcus and Gardner, the result is the emergence of an increasingly irrational political system, a sort of Truman Show in which reality is continually altered by an omnipresent media superstructure.
and THAT - ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is precisely what we seek to resolve, not as in "cure", rather, simply to bring into focus so that it becomes first nature for you to spot it and remember it wherever you encounter it. Liminality is as easy as falling out of bed, once you've accustomed yourself to its terms. Always and everywhere, remember yourself.....,

Georgian Endgame

Ramzy Baroud gives a great synopsis in his article The Saakashvili Experiment;
It's rather interesting how a controversial and unpopular plan that has raised the ire of the Polish people -- 70 per cent of the country is against it -- was overcome within days of war and is now embraced as a necessary deterrent. One cannot help but question the relationship between the decision to invade South Ossetia, which was certain to compel some Russian response, and the rush to embrace Bush's military designs in that region. The plan to place missiles in Poland seemed like a resounding failure as late as last month when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "tried and failed just before leaving for Europe on Monday [7 July] to seal a deal to place missiles in Poland, the State Department said," according to CNN. Now Poland is all for it. It return, Poland would receive US assistance in overhauling its military, reminiscent of the Israeli-US efforts in aiding Georgia's military, which emboldened the latter to pursue war with Russia.

While Russia's decisive response to Saakashvili's war may have temporarily reaffirmed Russia's military readiness, it has already provided the needed justification for greater US-NATO intervention in Georgia, Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. That US presence might be welcomed by the unnerved "democratic" leaders of these states but it will pique the fury of Russia, whose political radars are intercepting the Bush administration's every move in the region with great alarm.

The ceasefire between Russia and Georgia, achieved through French mediation, will hardly be the end of the new Cold War underway in an area too accustomed to cold wars. The fact is that Russia will fight to break away from the pro- US ring of former Soviet states that promise to undermine its influence in a Eurasia, and the US will do its utmost to maintain a level of tension, if not hostilities in the region, for without it neither a missile shield nor the 270 billion barrels of oil in the Caspian basin can be brought within Washington's reach.
I think it's important to understand and carefully reflect on the fact that the U.S. ventured nothing and lost nothing in this experiment. As a matter of fact, it can easily be argued, as Baroud has done, that western oligarchs gained strategic ground in the wake of this little experiment.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Food crisis: Indians asked to try rats

PATNA: A state government in eastern India is encouraging people to eat rats in an effort to battle soaring food prices and save grain stocks.

Authorities in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, are asking rich and poor alike to switch to eating rats in a bid to reduce the dependence on rice. They even plan to offer rats on restaurant menus.

“Eating of rats will serve twin purposes — it will save grains from being eaten away by rats and will simultaneously increase our grain stock,” said Vijay Prakash, an official from the state’s welfare department.

Officials say almost 50 per cent of India’s food grains stocks are eaten away by rodents in fields or warehouses.

Jitan Ram Manjhi, Bihar’s caste and tribe welfare minister, said rat meat was a healthy alternative to expensive rice or grains, and should be eaten by one and all. “We are very serious to implement this project since the food crisis is turning serious day by day,” said Manjhi, who has eaten rats.

In Bihar, rat meat is already eaten by Mushars, a group of lower caste Hindus, as well as poorer sections of society.—Reuters

The next credit crunch

In Fortune/CNN;

Last year, just as the subprime crisis happened, credit card debt took off. The home-equity ATM had been shut down, so people turned to the last source of easy money they had left, the most expensive debt on the menu, credit card borrowing.

Since credit card debt has been growing much faster than the economy - more than 8% in last year's third and fourth quarters and over 7% in May (the most recent month reported)- people are apparently using it as a substitute for income. Thus, for the past year or so we have still maintained the standard-of-living illusion.

So now what? It's hard to see where consumers can turn next. Home prices seem highly unlikely to start rising again soon. Stocks? You never know, but the Great Bull Market looks like a once-in-a-lifetime event. Homes and stocks are households' biggest asset classes by far. There isn't much else to borrow against.

It may be that the standard-of-living bubble finally has to deflate. Sustainable increases in living standards have to be earned, not borrowed, and that means performing ever higher value work that can't be outsourced. We haven't been meeting that challenge very well; doing so will probably require much more and better education for millions of Americans, which takes time and money.

The result may feel like deprivation, but I don't see it that way. Who knows - we might even find that living within our means and saving a little money actually isn't so bad.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Great Consumer Crash of 2009

How Did I Get Here

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?

And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

- Talking Heads, David Byrne lyrics to Once in a Lifetime

oops, I almost forgot - here's the article