Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Economic Vapidity

The Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR - or An wahr), is a small parcel of land when contrasted against Alaska, but still, a pretty big parcel of land. It's bigger than West Virginia, and would rank as the 40th largest state if it were a state.

It was set aside in an effort to preserve species and land which had, by contrast, been destroyed in the lower 48 states, as a last haven for what was once a continent of pristine beauty. Of course, it was in the frozen north, land so undesirable, that it has the among lowest population densities in the world. That's part of the reason it was chosen.

Now, as we seen an ever increasing need for oil, those who would gladly strip mine the upper midwest for shale oil, also want access to ANWR, where there is approximately 18 Billion barrels of oil - and that's a lot of oil. It's 1 Billion more than was at the Prudhoe Bay finding.

So, sounds good, we do a little drilling, disturb not too much, and voila' we have much less expensive gas again, right?

Not so fast there big fella, some realities start to sink in when you consider where this oil is, and what is required to get it to a refinery. Some further realities sink in when you consider the overall impact such supply actually would have on the world market.

Prudhoe Bay/Alaskan oil represents 17% of the US oil consumption, it had 17 Billion barrels, about 9 of which has been pumped. It comes to the lower 48 through the Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline, which at peak, moved about 2.1 Million Barrels per day. Currently that pipeline carries 750k (roughly) per day.

Presumably, to use the ANWR find, the same pipeline would be used, if not, the time to get ANWR oil to market would be many, many years. Some sort of cross-ship pipeline would seem to be required - a big job, but a LOT less impactful than having to build a second pipeline, but that's where the trouble would seem to start. Prudhoe still HAS 8 Billion Barrels, and its shipping that daily at a rate of 750,000 barrels. If we assume ANWR would use up the remaining roughly 1.3 MM/bbl shipping capacity/day, then we get that ANWR would simply replace what was once coming from Prudhoe Bay. Meaning the net impact on the world stage would be roughly 1.3MM/bbl - even if ANWR could PUMP 10MM bbl/day, the problem is in logistics, there is no way to ship that oil south without either a. building a new pipeline - (a decade long project), or using the current pipeline.

Then there's this, oil is of course used world wide. 96% of the growth in consumption is in nations which subsidize the price of (and in many cases produce) oil. The US is not among that list. Their consumption will continue to grow until they are convinced to stop, they are impairing the ability of high prices to reduce consumption. Currently, the world uses about 100MM/bbl/day, at peak pumping ability, the amount of oil the oil producers can provide will peak in 4 years at 110MM/bbl/day. So, think about it, will 1.3MM/bbl/day make much, if any, difference, when consumption is only going to rise? Will a 1% increase in production really matter? The simple answer is, not very much. Oil is more affected by rumor than reality, so even a 1.3MM/bbl/day increase probably would drop the spot market by more than 1%, it might even drop it as much as 5% - but likely not much more. When OPEC agreed to increase supply by 1MM/bbl/day several years ago, oil dropped in price, but only a few dollars a barrel.

So, ANWR is unlikely to have much of an impact, and it won't have an impact for a decade or so.

Then let's talk about off-shore drilling. It wasn't economical 5 years ago, and is now only because oil is above $60/bbl. If the threats to Nigerian production, and to Iran's supply were removed, oil would probably be near $60/bbl according to both oil industry and airline industry executives. Meaning, offshore drilling is only viable IF supply isn't increased much above consumption growth. In short terms, it means offshore drilling won't be used if prices drop, so it won't really impact anything, other than keeping up with current consumption, and again, that won't happen for 10 years.

Then finally, there's shale oil. The US is said to have 150 Billion barrels of oil in shale oil deposits. There are two rather inconvenient truths here, though. First, shale oil takes HUGE amounts of water to extract, not exactly a robust commodity in North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Montana (where the deposits are found), and, if used for shale oil extraction, means it WON'T be available for US citizens, creating indirect shortages. Oh, and this pesky problem, shale oil is extracted by strip mining - clearing vast areas of land of it's topsoil. While the oil companies do a decent job of putting the landscape back into use, the shear vastness of the area of deposits means we'd have to strip mine an area roughly 20% of the size of the continental US to fully extract that oil - imagine the reality of that impact. So, there's not really enough water, and the environmental impact would be unbelievable in it's magnitude.

The bottom line is, the neo-cons want to entrust our future energy needs and stability to the same companies who couldn't predict the current shortfall, either didn't plan well enough how to handle it, or were plenty happen to see it coming and reap the benefits, and stood before Congress and said 'it's not OUR fault' that we didn't plan. I think the citizens of Alaska would be happy to atest to the soundness of trusting Exxon after the Valdez crash - it took a dozen years and a dozen lawsuits to get Exxon to live up to their promises to clean up the Alaskan coastline. I think trusting companies who's primary motive is profit - to 'do the right' thing, when they've so demonstrably proven they will do anything BUT the right thing if given an opportunity to make money off it, is economically vapid, vapid beyond words.

The long and short of it is simply this, there IS no immediate solution. The solution to trust the oil companies to find enough oil is trusting that in 10 years they won't look to create the same shortages, and maximize profits, that they could see 10 years ago. It also means trusting them NOT to pollute, or create economic wastelands, in pristine wilderness that is irreplacable. Finally, it ties our future to a fossil fuel that we KNOW has enormous negative impacts on the health of our country and the world as a whole. We are at a crossroads in history, do we look to simply find enough oil - as may exist in the shale deposits - to satisfy our gluttony for cheap, but destructive, energy sources - or do we look forward responsibly for better, cleaner energy? Some neo-cons say 'do both' but trusting that they'll actually DO both - is trusting them (oil companies) to not lead us into shortages that create massive profits and ruined economies. It's time to cut that umbilical cord and to put our future into the hands of people who grasp that if we do not concern ourselves with the plight of all, but rather the plight of a few, in the end, we all perish.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Doing nothing (or very little) and breaking your arm patting yourself on the back

Mitch Berg, at Scared of the Dark once again finds a way to congratulate neo-kooks for doing next to nothing.

He whines about truckers planning on protecting the Republican National Convention because "They're protesting the people actually DOING something about it." To neo-kooks, doing something means proposing short-term fixes, or fixes that didn't even exist five years ago.

ANWR has perhaps as much as 18 billion barrels of oil, I say perhaps because that's the most optimistic guess, it could be somewhat less. Even if they could get 10 Million barrels a day from ANWR, which is a massive if, it would not change the price of oil substantially. The world's current rate of consumption will top 110 M/bbls per day by 2012, and probably be over 125 bbls/day by 2025. While 10 bbls helps, it won't change the price of crude more than a few to a dozen dollars. It's a small amount when contrasted against the WORLD's consumption. People like Berg try hard to ignore that fact - when they talk about how ANWR could supply the US for several years. Oil is a world-wide commodity. While ANWR oil might even wind up here, it would only be replacing oil which would then head elsewhere. Bottom line, oil company executives testified that oil should be at $60/bbl without speculation and the threatening situation with Iran (and some threats from Niger). If you add 10MM/bbl per day to 110 which is or will be available, you're adding 9% to current supply, 9% of $60 is $5.40/bbl reduction in straight terms - which means gas would go from roughly $2.25 gallan it SHOULD be at, to $2.05 - WOW, what a difference!

Shale-oil and deep water drilling are solutions which were not even available five years ago. Shale-oil simply couldn't be realisitically produced, and deep water drilling isn't financially viable below roughly $55-60 barrel, which oil wasn't at 5 years ago. Unless the oil companies are stupid, they don't have any interest in pumping oil for a loss, and the sure won't erect oil derricks for a 'future' need 5 years in advance. Bottom line, neither was a viable solution, yet the neo-kooks belly-ache about how 'environmentalists prevented them' from having a solution. They also fail to grasp the vast quantities of water needed to process enough shale-oil to have an impact. I believe I read it takes something like 10 gallons of wash water to clean enough shale/sand to give you 2 gallons of oil. Good luck getting enough water in Utah - fresh water is already becoming a commodity under pressure in the southeast US, I wonder what happens when we start consuming another 1.5 billion gallons a day to process shale/sand oil? (at a 5:1 ratio - to produce 10 Million barrels/day will require at least that much water). Even if it's only 100 million gallons a day - that's an enormous quantity of water - and it's not available.

What the neo-kooks don't want to admit to is that for 35 years they've stood in the way of alternatives to oil, claiming it would last forever, that it renews itself, that polution control wouldn't work, was too costly, was unnecessary, that pollution was overrated hype. They also supported tax cuts which greatly increased consumption - cuts which were unneccessary sops to the US automanufacturers.

Now that things have hit critical mass, they want to claim only THEY have a solution, but their solution is either a short-term band-aid on a long-term problem (in the case of ANWR), or was not viable in the past at the market prices, and does NOTHING to address dependence, pollution, or good long-term planning. In short, bottom line, they don't want to do much of anything, they want to, once again, ignore the problems and hope they'll go away, and they want to pat themselves on the back for suggesting ANWR, which is a nothing solution, it's irresponsibily short-sighted. They want to claim others don't have solutions, because the solutions others have will, in fact, take a long time, but will, as opposed to ANWR, bring the country and the world to a far more healthy, far more viable long-term energy policy.

It's as if we're in a flood we/they could see coming, at first they denied it was going to rain, then they denied it would be much of anything, then they denied the flood would rise up high enough, then they said that the sandbags would fill themselves, and then finally as the waters invaded their home and they filled a sand-bag, they want to jump and shout and claim they stopped the flood, and that the other people, building locks and dams to control flood rains, are fools, aren't doing anything, and are the REAL problem.

It reminds me of Senator McCain, who was irrefutably wrong for 3.5 years, breaking his arm patting himself on the back because Patraeus wasn't as incompetent as Tommy Franks, claiming the ends justified the means.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Twins Killings

Terry Ryan retired from his post as General Manager for the Twins a couple years ago, and while Ryan didn't make every trade exactly right, neither did he very often go far wrong or do as poorly as the current manger, Bill Smith.

The Twins have forever tried to get over the hump with humpties, from Sidney Ponson, Joe Niekro (at the end of his career) and Rheal Cormier to Livan Hernandez, Adam Everett and Mike Lamb, this has ever been their lot. As a smaller market team, it's the nature of things, you rarely get to sign expensive players. It is a shame, though, that so very often, the players the Twins sign do not pan out. Only Don Baylor, Jack Morris, Mike Redmond Paul Molitor come to mind as a free agent whom they signed who produced anything like was hoped for. Whereas many, many players have not.

However, that's not really the problem, it would be nice if free agents produced, but the real killer is, for small market teams, players whom they trade, usually players about to become free agents, need to bring talent back to the small market team that trades them.

Last season, the Twins made two meaningful trades:

The first sent Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the organization's history since Bert Blylleven, to the New York Mets. For Santana, an A+ level free agent, the Twins got Carlos Gomez, Deolis Geurra, and two not too well regarded prospects. Gomez, after starting off hot, has cooled dramatically, makes defensive mistakes, and is showing himself to be what the scouts said, a fantastically fast player, with good defensive range, but who makes enormous base running mistakes, and who, unfortunately, cannot bat lead-off because he doesn't know how to draw a walk EVER. While the Twins weren't getting killed with high-calibre offers, clearly the offers MUST have been better than this someplace, but the Twins took the wrong one. Guerra has potential, but it's hard to know if it will EVER turn out. This trade is quickly becoming a bust, and when it's the best player you have to offer, that just cannot happen.

The second trade is a little more ambiguous. The Twins traded Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa for Delmon Young and Brandon Harris. Young is hitting .294, Harris .251. However, Garza was a 24 year-old, hard throwing right-hander. His current ERA would tie him for second on the Twin's staff, and considering the generally better defensive team the Twins have over the Devil Rays, it's not unlikely Garza's ERA would be lower. He's given the 'Rays' quality starts time and again - and was not in any sort of free agent year. Bartlett, who struggled at the plate last season for the Twins, played a position where fielding well is more important than hitting well, and Bartlett was an excellent fielder. This year, he's hitting better, considering he was 25 when traded, we gave up on him too soon. Considering Adam Everett is hitting .189, and Harris can't play second base that well, and is pretty awful at short - this was a horrible trade, on a one for one basis, Bartlett is just flat-out a better SS. Delmon Young hits .294, but he's been awful in the clutch, is a lousy-armed and poor ranged left-fielder who hits for NO power. That's totally, utterly unacceptable. Some positions can be slap hitters, if you have power elsewhere, LF CAN be, but shouldn't, but Young was brought in to keep pitchers and teams honest, by hitting between Mauer and Mourneau, and he can't do it. The Twins moved him out of that spot because he's not reliable enough as a hitter, and isn't fearsome enough with power. Beyond that, his average is likely inflated by hitting behind Mourneau. He's been a C- grade player at best, considering the Twins gave up Garza to get him, this was a horrid, awful trade.

The real problem goes a bit deeper too, it's not as if the Twins didn't have solutions at second and CF in their minors. Denard Span and Alexie Casilla have proven they deserve to play. The Twins would be FAR better off with Bartlett and Casilla up the middle, Span in CF, and Garza in the rotation, having spent the money they spent on Livan Hernandez to get a DH or LF (or 3b) who could hit. Punto has returned to hitting, and is an excellent 3b, and good enough SS to play - but you didn't know that would happen. Finding a decent hitting DH really, REALLY isn't that hard, and they could have played Kubel in LF, Cuddyer in RF, Span in CF, and been a much better team. The trade of Santana CERTAINLY should have brought a starting player or high-grade pitching prospect, and as it turns out now, it sure looks to have not done so. Gomez at least could be kept for his utility and speed (though not as a PH, he can't find a pitch he won't swing at), but Monroe should be jetisoned, as should Mike Lamb, to make room for Liriano, to keep Span in the majors, and to have room for Cuddyer.

The crying shame is both of those trades were much easier to see as a bad move when they happened, but worse, that the organization didn't see it had good options in the minors for what it got for Garza and Bartlett, and look to solve glaring problems at 3B and LF with the Santana, rather than solving CF - bespeaks a General Manager and minor league evaluators who didn't do their jobs right, not even close to right, last year. While the Yankees or Red Sox can recover from that kind of screw-up, smaller market teams, like the Twins, rarely do. The proof will not be this season, but maybe next or the year after, when they need Garza, and still don't have a quality player at 3b or SS (depending on where Punto plays). They got killed twice last year - one more than a team like the Twins can afford.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tin. Ear. Who.

Today, the Bush Administration said, "We're going to do nothing to heed the call of the troops, to pay attention the obvious realities playing out on the ground, or help stem the growing tide and threat in Afghanistan."

Via this link:

Bush has said essentially, no help is coming to Afghanistan any time soon. Even with a new President in 6 months, a new appropriation and orders to move will take months, perhaps even a year. The situation in Afghanistan is in fact growing more serious by the month, if not week, but this President 'committed' to the war on terror - will do nothing. Wonder why? Me too, and then it hits me.

If President Bush orders a rotation of troops to Afghanistan, he is validating Obama's (among others) plans and claims that the real fight, the fight against the Taliban, the fight against Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, is both IN Afghanistan, and in need of troops. Further, he'll validate that Iraq isn't the 'central front' on the war on terror, but rather than Afghanistan and Pakistan are.
Finally, of course, he'll be moving more troops into harms way, in an election year where John McCain's one feeble appeal is that the danger to US lives and US troops is lessening. Sending more troops into harm's way, in the place they were needed all along, is sending a message that this GWOT is far from over, and was fought in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Can't have that, as always, craven politics trumps listening to the troops and generals - more troops may be needed, but they'll be at least a year coming because this President doesn't have the moral fortitude to do his job. And the Neo-Cons want another go at screwing up a war until they are forced to change with McCain as their new figurehead. As the saying goes, fool me once..(you don't get fooled again -- Prez Bush)

McCain declares "Peace with Honor"

John McCain yesterday said that he would “Bring our troops home in Victory” as opposed to Senator Obama, whom he says will simply bring them home precipitously, and seemingly therefore, in defeat, by Mr. McCain’s comments.

I think that’s great, I think we should declare victory, and leave.

There is nothing further to be gained by our presence, unless you want to justify a permanent military presence. The Iraqis want us out, on a firm timetable, as does Senator Obama, so Obama is aligned with the sentiments of the legitimately elected government, where Senator McCain is not. Senator McCain claims if we leave too early, we will only have to return, instead, we must assure ‘victory’, of course, he doesn’t describe that ‘victory’, nor has he ever, in detail.
So if this is about covering ourselves in glory, then I say we say we’ve won, and come home. The solution necessary now is for the Iraqis to make peace internally, between the Shiaa and Sunni, between the Kurds and the Sunni, and externally between Iraq and Iran. Our presence does little but inflame and complicate the situation.

As Richard Nixon did in 1975, we should simply say we’ve won, and leave – knowing full well, in this case, however, that China and Soviet sponsored client states are NOT about to topple the Iraqi government. The only way that government will fall is if the Iraqi PEOPLE decide it is illegitimate and replace it, and they cannot make that decision, or take that action, while we are there. More than that, they cannot get on with the process of rebuilding their nation – the process of reconciliation – while we create artificial prisons with our concrete walls. That ‘reconciliation’ may be violent, or hopefully, it will be peaceful, but there is nothing our troops are going to do today, or in 50 years, which will make it be any different, and our return would be unwelcome, unnecessary, and unproductive.

The other truth is simply this, Mr. McCain has only one note to sing, he constantly yammers about ‘the surge working’ and that Mr. Obama, based on all good information at the time, opposed it. The ‘surge’ worked obliquely, was counter to better information (like say, ignoring better information about WMD), and is the first thing in five years of action in Iraq that Mr. McCain can claim he was right about. Conversely, Obama was right and Mr. McCain was wrong about – WMD, the reasons for invasion, the way to handle the occupation, the number of troops, the conduct of the CPA, the need to investigate the CPA, the reality and impact of Abu Ghraib, the need to investigate same, the conduct and control over our ‘contractors’, the cost of the war, the length of the war, the ability of the Iraqi’s to pay for the war, the competence of Tommy Franks, the truths told by General after General about what was going on and how to fight the war, and finally TA DA, the tactic/strategy advocated by Gen. Patraeus which Senator McCain, by backing Tommy Franks, initially rejected as molly-coddling.

Bottom line is this, this interference in a civil war is a war which is not worthy of the presence of our troops for one day longer. We help to save lives, to be sure, but we cannot prevent the ultimate reconciliation and work Iraq must do for itself, they know it, Obama knows it, I suspect the American people know it, I just wonder just like he was ignorant/oblivious to the realities of the fact that we helped create and exacerbate the ‘insurgency’ through our hubris, and then ultimately changed only due to political pressure, when Senator McCain will ‘get it’ too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

9 Strikes and you're normally out (ok it's 3 but..)

Recently, John McCain made the comment that "I know how to win wars" and that "the 'surge' has worked."

I think Senator McCain needs to remember a few things:

1. No WMD
2. Mission Accomplished
3. A few remaining 'dead-enders'
4. No need for more troops (2003)
5. "last throws"
6. 'Weeks not months' - Donald Rumsfeld on how long it would take to secure Iraq
7. The Iraq war will pay for itself
8. We only need six more months (said in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007)
9. Iraq is the central front on the 'war on terror'

The point is this, I could probably go on, but the 'surge' was a change in tactics to no longer brutalizing the Iraqi people. McCain never aspoused the cavallier attitude regarding the plight of civilians that most neo-cons do and did - (with comments like 'everything's fair, mollycoddle the terrorists, Abu Ghraib was a 'fraternity prank'), but he backed an administration which did, and he backed Tommy Franks and others who did - and backed those who called any dissent 'aiding and abbetting the enemy." To the extent the 'surge' worked to calm sectarian violence - which it has - it's the FIRST THING HE'S GOTTEN RIGHT. I wouldn't, for one, break my arm patting myself on the back for a success after 3.5 years of abject failure. If this is how McCain, "knows how to win wars' then I'd rather have someone who wouldn't waste 3.5 years getting the right people, wait 3.5 years to listen to the experts.

Put another way, McCain comments are akin to someone, after striking out three times in a row, if he gets a single, jumping up and shouting, "See, I'm a great hitter!!"

Past that, the 'surge' worked because it was used to erect concrete barriers and instill a police state in Baghdad, which is good in that it has saved lives, but little political progress has followed - and such a state is not sustainable. Perhaps Senator McCain should take the time to consider why Gen. Patreaus was successful against Al Qaeda in Iraq, meaning, he was not arogant (Gen. Patreaus), he did not bluster about American infalibility and greatness, he sat down with his potential adversaries, identified commong goals, and built relationships. It is a lesson anyone who would call talking to Iran "appeasement" seems highly unlikely to accept - just as the current resident of the White House was unable to accept until change was thrust upon him.

A Dark Night

Some local Scaifenetters complained about the rather mild negative remarks of people like Keith Olbermann when they commented on Tony Snow's death. Of course, they conveniently forget their own ghoulish commentary regarding the deaths of liberals they don't like, or their unnecessary political shots when commenting about Ted Kennedy and his battle with cancer.

Still, is it right to make a negative comment (or two) when someone 'high profile' passes away? The simple answer is 'yes', because being honest about someone is the right thing to do, but the less simple answer is, unless they were a complete jerk, those comments need to be tempered, and probably need to be said after a bit of time, to allow those who loved the person to grieve unfettered by thoughts less than kind. Olbermann made several highly complimentary comments about Snow "with whom he disagreed," and interestingly, in an ironic twist of fate, his comments - which I echo - point to exactly how Snow so completely differed from the right-wing in one key area. Snow was able to separate the message, from the messenger.

The idea in discussion is to debate the merits of each side's point, not to personalize each side's proponents into 'us' and 'them', while very often ignoring the point. The right very often desires the exact opposite - attacking personally (such as in the Swift Boat attacks). This is/was the antithesis of Snow - and something some on the right found infuriating, that he wouldn't demean the press personally, off-camera, he would instead stand up for his peers. Snow epitomized what we on the left wished we'd have seen in so many more on the right, passion with a sense of decency. Snow, as I've come to know AFTER his death, was a kind person, but not kind in the Ann Coulter sort of off-camera smarminess where she talked about not really meaning it with Al Franken - but then went on camera to butcher the character of one person after another. No, Snow stood up for people, stood up for good conduct. I didn't always like what he said on camera, but I rarely, if ever, saw him take off after someone personally. His like is too infrequently encountered in the world of politics, and we are cheaper for it.

Which brings us to Heath Ledger. Last night, "The Dark Knight" premiered. Ledger, as I hear, was superb, as he was a superb actor quite often, I suppose this shouldn't be too surprising, but it points to the tragedy of too many actors/artists, their on-camera/on-canvas gifts are overshadowed and perhaps even borne of a harsher off-camera reality, a 'dark night' when the cameras dim. Ledger wasn't a hero, he was, like John Belushi or Chris Farley or Freddie Prinz Jr. or Karen Carpenter for that matter, a person haunted by demons. Stardom appears to those of us sitting in our comfortable suburban world, to be easy street, and we wonder how people can go so wrong. Yet, while it is easy financially, and it seems that the worries of the 'rich and famous' in Hollywood - are often trite and shallow - the reality for some is that the very talent they draw upon comes from a skewed and painful history, and a very very negative sense of who they are. Ledger was a talented young actor, with a troubled off-camera life. I admire his talent, I would not suggest admiration of the troubles he struggled with, nor creating another and ultimately profoundly dishonest and disrespectful unreality about him. It is my guess that someone like Ledger, like someone like Snow, would rather we learn from his missteps as much as we might like to learn, should learn, from his graces.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bank Failures

The job I have works every day with some prominent banks. IndyMac wasn't one, but that doesn't mean that some banks I know of may not have issues that I don't know of.

The failure of IndyMac represents the end-game for the idea of letting 'the market' decide on home lending, but unfortunately, may only be a signal bell for the coming rough seas. While I suspect the FDIC and the Federal Reserve have no interest in allowing more large banks to fail, there may be little the FDIC (at least) can do, and given the ham-handed way in which Bear Stearns was handled by this administration, unfortunately, any further bail-outs of large banks (other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are less likely to be acceptable to a skeptical public and Congress.

The bottom line is that while economic environments are cyclical, this cycle is going to be rough, really, really rough. Rough because of fiscally foolish policies by the administration, abetted by both Democrats AND Republicans. Tax cuts which were unneeded, and did nothing meaningful to spur the economy, were passed by both parties in 2001 and 2002. Massive spending on military boondoggles (like Iraq) have made the situation worse. Fannie and Freddie were obligated to take on loans they'd rather not, and the administrations' laissez faire attitude as it watched home equity loans, depletions of 401(k) and IRA funds, and sub-prime mortgages spiral out of control, all have contributed to a heaping helping of really bad things. We've moved our ability to produce offshore, along with the jobs and payroll necessary, we've handed the wealth to people who've fled to tax havens, and failed to require them to pay their share on the way out the door.

We have little opportunity to pay our debts, insufficient strength in the economy to look to future earnings, and created debts needlessly. When you heap on that the need to pay for health care, Medicare, and Social Security, this nation is looking at a grim next couple of DECADES. When McCain talks about change, it seems like he means no change at all, and unfortunately, I doubt Obama means anything like sufficient change and honesty - either way, either man is going to be saddled with a need to change unlike anything we've seen in 40 or 50 years or more - change will be thrust upon them.

This is bad - and it has been made all the worse by an administration which was both ambivalent and complicit in the coming disaster. Let's hope the next one isn't so craven.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Say it ain't So!

Nouri al-Maliki yesterday requested a formal timetable from the US for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq.

A thought or two:

First, it shows that those who have said the fundamental question of whether we stay or go, is the Iraqi's to decide how to answer.

Second, is al-Maliki 'pro-surrender', or is he just in favor of telling the terrorists how long to wait?

Third, a permanent presence has always been the goal of this administration, and al-Maliki just let the neo-cons know their ambitions of using Iraq as a 'big stick' launching point, probably just got tossed out by the same Shiaa which the left has been saying for years does not want us to stay.

An al-Maliki spokesperson (member of their parliament) testified before Congress two weeks ago that 'probably more than 70 percent' of Iraqis want the US to leave, virtually immediately. I find it difficult, at best, to understand how the neo-cons and John McCain (not to mention Norm Coleman), feel threatened/angry/self-righteous about any suggestion we aren't really helping in the inter-religious conflict in Iraq, that our presence is neither necessary or wanted long-term, and that our withdrawal is best both for Iraq, and for US troops (long-term). They talk (sometimes) about reducing troop levels, but they just about never talk about removal of forces. al-Maliki and others have made it plain, our interest in a 'Status of Forces' agreement - is something they don't support, for exactly the reasons I asked a certain Senator about -- namely, our insistence on impunity from control or consequences.

I wonder what the right thinks sometimes, I really do - these people (the Iraqis) are bright, independent, and proud. They don't want foreign occupiers, they CERTAINLY don't want people who may rob them of their oil assets, and THEY want to determine their future, without the presence of troops they cannot control, cannot stop, and cannot bring to justice. No wonder they want us gone.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

CEP (Circular Error Probable)

In ballistic missile technology, the amount the missile is likely to miss the actual target by, is referred to as C.E.P. or Critical Error Probable.

It mattered, for ICMBs, SLBMs etc.. which were to be used to destroy enemy missile silos, because an error of 1000' might in fact mean a failure to destroy the silo. During the cold war, Soviet missiles had large CEPs, sometimes above 1000', while US made missiles had much smaller CEPs, sometimes as small as 10'. Considering the missile was fired into low orbit, and the warhead had extremely limited opportunity for guidance or correction (in fact ZERO once the second stage had separated), hitting a target 10' in radius from 6000 miles is pretty darned good.

In contrast, our targetting of Al Qaeda, has been somewhat less effective/accurate. Yesterday, the New York Times published the following from the Associated Press:

The thrust of the story is that SIX YEARS after Tora Bora - after the destruction of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger, NOT WEAKER, than it was in 2002 and stronger, not weaker, than it was prior to Iraq, or as a result of our involvement in Iraq.

In detail, the story conveys the lack of organization, the political in-fighting, and bureaucratic red-tape that President Bush SAID he'd do away with, has in fact not gotten ANY better, it is in fact, probably worse, given the revelations of political nepotism we've seen throughout the administration - down to the policy and expert level.

It goes further, though, and points out what the left has been saying for 7 years, namely that Pervez Musharraf, despite receiving BILLIONS of dollars in aid from the US, despite all of our posturing about 'either they'll get the terrorists or WE will', in fact not only hasn't Pakistan gone after Al Qaeda seriously - Al Qaeda has grown, and we can't get access. WE are being played for fools, and further, that all the 'chest thumping' about being able to get our 'allies' to perform, about how there is a new sherrif, the difficulty in dealing with Pakistan was going to make getting Al Qaeda in Pakistan very difficult, and why we COULD'T miss the opportunity to kill them in Afghanistan.

Instead, we started pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2002 - to send them to Iraq. Iraq has made AQ stronger - not weaker, we have had bureaucratic, turf-war, fiefdom battles side-track our own actions, and we have a foreign leader de-facto sponsoring AQ - not North Korea, not Iran, but Pakistan, just as the left asserted, we missed the mark, we went after the wrong targets, we pushed troops to the wrong place, and we failed to get Bin Laden. In short, we had rampant political pandering, cronyism, and political patronage, all of which greatly impared the GWOT - probably fatally in Afghanistan - the FAR more important locale.

In Iraq, attacks are down, accomplished by creating neighborhood prisons, by 'balkanizing' Baghdad. Not all bad, people are alive who wouldn't be, but it's not sustainable, and it sure isn't 'winning,' it's postponing.

If this is 'experience', if this is an example of how the Republicans will 'win the GWOT', then I'll take a change in approach - I suppose it COULD be worse, but it'd be hard to see how. Republican claims of victory are, as Mark Twain said, "somewhat premature," but wrapping oneself in the flag has always been the last refuge of scoundrels.

Our CEP has been 6 years, even if we immediately correct, we've missed the mark badly, not even the Soviets would have missed so badly.