Saturday, October 31, 2009

Banking Bast_rds . . . .


McClatchy has released the first report on their five-month investigation into Goldman Sachs' activities during the lead up to the financial fiasco.

You will be amazed to find out that the politically well-connected investment firm has not been exactly squeaky-clean in their activities.


Or maybe not.


How Goldman secretly bet on the U.S. housing crash
Greg Gordon | McClatchy Newspapers

November 01, 2009 01:37:11 AM


WASHINGTON — In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.

Goldman's sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation's premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies. Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.

_______________


McClatchy's inquiry found that Goldman Sachs:


* Bought and converted into high-yield bonds tens of thousands of mortgages from subprime lenders that became the subjects of FBI investigations into whether they'd misled borrowers or exaggerated applicants' incomes to justify making hefty loans.


* Used offshore tax havens to shuffle its mortgage-backed securities to institutions worldwide, including European and Asian banks, often in secret deals run through the Cayman Islands, a British territory in the Caribbean that companies use to bypass U.S. disclosure requirements.


* Has dispatched lawyers across the country to repossess homes from bankrupt or financially struggling individuals, many of whom lacked sufficient credit or income
but got subprime mortgages anyway because Wall Street made it easy for them to qualify.

* Was buoyed last fall by key federal bailout decisions, at least two of which involved then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman chief executive whose staff at Treasury included several other Goldman alumni.


The firm benefited when Paulson elected not to save rival Lehman Brothers from collapse, and when he organized a massive rescue of tottering global insurer American International Group while in constant telephone contact with Goldman chief Blankfein. With the Federal Reserve Board's blessing, AIG later used $12.9 billion in taxpayers' dollars to pay off every penny it owed Goldman.


Read the whole article and watch your blood pressure rise while you think about how many Goldman alumni have been and still are in very powerful positions in Washington.

Sleep well . . . .

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

At The Going Down of The Sun...


With condolences and respect to the families and friends of:

Lieutenant Justin Boyes, 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, killed due to enemy action 28 October, 2009; and,

Sapper Steven Marshall, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, killed due to enemy action 30 October, 2009.

Ric-a-dam-do

Ubique

Marital relationships . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

"National Toast" or "So Long and Thanks for All the Fishwrap"

It looks like curtains for the Canada's most right wing national rag. As much as I bleed ink and hate the thought of another newspaper closing down, I will not shed a tear for the National Post - I only hope the courts refuse to allow the Aspers to tie this anchor around the collective neck of their other newspapers, which like most other papers have enough financial trouble to deal with already.The National Post was started by Conrad Black to attack the governing Liberals after Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to grant Connie a waver and let him become a British aristocrat while remaining a Canadian citizen. The soon-to-be Lord Tubby of Fleet Prisoner No. 90210 Lord Black of Cross Harbour decided that this would not do - mere law was not going this plucky underdog billionaire from achieving the British peerage that every Canadian boy dreams about. Deciding the Globe and Mail was not sufficiently conservative or at his beck and call, Tubby threw some money around, hired the cream of the conservative pundit and columnist crop, and set up the National Post.It has never made money, nor has it impressed anyone with its editorial brilliance.Despite the occasional presence of some bright lights, the National Post has been a rag from day one, the print equivalent of the FOX TV news, but without the constant stripper stories or teabag rallies.Eventually Black gave up, renounced his Canadian citizenship and bought took his seat in the House of Lords and sold the money-burning Reform-Tory organ to the Asper family, long-time Liberal party supporters who under heir-to-the-throne David Asper seem to have converted to the Likud-Republican neoconservatism embraced by movement conservatives in the United States and Canada. The acquistion of the National Post and the former Southam chain from Black, along with their purchase of several specialty TV channels, seems to have been the beginning of the end for the Asper family's CanWest media empire.Which, given the extent to which the Asper clan seems to like to interfere with editorial policy at their media properties, is just fine by me.When a news organ with pretentions to respectability starts giving editorial space to hateful, chuckleheaded boobs like Kathy Shaide and "Raphel Alexander" -- well, its time to take Old Yeller out behind the barn and do the decent thing.


Update: Well, the court has ruled that the National Post can take the rest of the former Southam chain of newspapers down with it. This is a shame because some of them, such as the Montreal Gazette, were actually doing okay compared to the rest of the industry. On the bright side, there could be some decent newspapers for sale at fire-sale-on-boxing-day prices for anyone crazy enough to want to take a chance on the newspaper business these days. Otherwise we may as well pucker up and kiss goodbye the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Edmonton Journal, Regina Leader-Post, Vancouver Province, Vancouver Sun, Victoria Times-Colonist and the Windsor Star. Which pretty much leaves the country with country with a bunch more cities that just won't have a real daily newspaper anymore.


Crossposted from the Woodshed where we have The Rules

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our head spook isn't happy


CSIS DIRECTOR RICHARD FADDEN isn't happy with you and me. He feels like Rodney Dangerfield — just can't get no respect.

According to Ian Macleod of the OTTAWA CITIZEN, Ricky believes

"Almost any attempt to fight terrorism by the government is portrayed as an overreaction or an assault on liberty. It is a peculiar position, given that terrorism is the ultimate attack on liberties. If terrorists believe in anything, it is nihilism and death, and they are equal opportunity oppressors."

Ricky is really peeved we're not with the program:

Fadden also revealed the service's dilemma in the recent security certificate case of suspected terrorist Adil Charkaoui.

A Federal Court this month killed the government's case against the Montreal man after government lawyers refused to reveal their detailed evidence against him, citing national security concerns.

The disclosure demand, "pushed us beyond what we could accept," explained Fadden.

"We were faced with a dilemma: to disclose information that would have given would-be terrorists a virtual road map to our tradecraft and sources; or to withdraw that information from the case, causing a security certificate to collapse.

"We chose the path that would cause the least long-term damage to Canada and withdrew the information. We did this because an intelligence agency that cannot protect its sources and tradecraft cannot be credible or effective."


Ricky is concerned about about CSIS "sources" — and get this — CSIS "tradecraft". Yes, folks, that's right, tradecraft. You know, like holding back polygraph results, and handing over people of interest to the CIA and the Syrians or whoever for "care and handling".

I wonder what Bill Stephenson, aka "Intrepid" would think about all this hoo-ha. Ricky, you got some 'splainin' to do.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Citizen Hero Recognized

UPDATED: CBC's The Current audio here. (Paul Pritchard, 1st segment)

The citizen hero who filmed Robert Dzianski's violent death was properly recognized for his responsible and commendable actions.

Per the
CBC today:

Man who shot Dziekanski video gets journalism award
By CBC News |
October 28, 2009


The man who used a digital camera to record the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport says he feels guilty he didn't try to help the Polish immigrant even though others honoured his actions Tuesday with a citizen-journalism award.

The man who used a digital camera to record the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport says he feels guilty he didn't try to help the Polish immigrant even though others honoured his actions Tuesday with a citizen-journalism award.

Dziekanski, 40, died Oct. 14, 2007, following several shocks from a Taser four RCMP officers used to subdue him after he caused a disturbance.

The incident might never have received much attention if Paul Pritchard had not decided to grab his digital camera and start recording the actions of the distraught Dziekanski before police arrived.

_______________


After the incident, Pritchard, who was on his way
to his family's home in Victoria and had been waiting in the international arrivals lounge at the time, handed his video over to the RCMP to use in their investigation. The police promised it would be returned in 48 hours.

But when the RCMP's public statements about the incident conflicted with what Pritchard and other witnesses said they saw, Pritchard demanded the RCMP return the video so that he could release it to the public.


When the police refused, saying releasing the video would compromise their investigation, Pritchard hired a lawyer, held a news conference and threatened to use legal action to get it back.

Th
e release of the 10-minute video, which contradicted the police version of the incident, led to widespread public outrage around the world and diplomatic tensions between Canada and Poland. It also resulted in the deepest scrutiny of the RCMP in decades in the form of a special inquiry into the incident, led by retired British Columbia Appeal Court Justice Thomas R. Braidwood.

Citizen journalism award

On Tuesday evening in Toronto, Pritchard's work in documenting what happened and waging a legal battle against the RCMP for the release of his video was honoured by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

The organization gave Pritchard its first-ever award for citizen journalism, which recognizes the contributions of ordinary people in the field of journalism.

_______________


"I don't consider myself a hero, and to be honest, I'm not completely happy with the fact that I did that," said Pritchard. "Maybe instead of grabbing a camera, I could have gone and talked to him.

"If I feel I did something wrong, or feel I didn't do enough, I think the effort I put in afterwards is enough for me to live with that ? I did everything I possibly could do."


Personally, I consider Paul a hero for what he did.

Without his responsible actions, the whole affair would have been swept under the proverbial rug . . . .


(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

UK search and seizure

Operation Rize: An officer uses an angle grinder
to open lockers containing safety-deposit boxes

THE DAILY MAIL has a very disturbing report by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark about a police raid last Summer.  Wow. Where things get crunchy is that a lot of innocent people had to prove they had legal ownership of their box's contents, and when it was all done, some people claimed the fuzz had "appropriated" some missing goodies. Check it out.

The raid that rocked the Met: Why gun and drugs op on 6,717 safety deposit boxes could cost taxpayer a fortune

More than 500 officers smashed their way into thousands of safety-deposit boxes to retrieve guns, drugs and millions of pounds of criminal assets. At least, that's what was supposed to happen. 

Forged passports found in deposit boxes

Conservative Humour

Regarding opposition questions about H1N1 flu and pregnant women? Mocking laughter and jeering from the Con benches.




Dr. Dawg and Impolitical have more.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Afghansitan on CBC

Sort of a quick post.

I've just flipped through and caught part of "Obama's War" on the Passionate Eye. It's a journal piece and all the big wigs and small players are being interviewed: Richard Holbrook, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, a US Marine ISAF staff officer, US Marine company commander. There's footage of firefights between US Marines and the Taliban, and of Marines talking to local villagers through a translator.

Highlights:

- Marines are demanding to know why villagers are not using their market and instead going elsewhere. The Marines have camped near the village/market to "connect more with the locals". Locals move out because they don't want to be near the guys with guns. Marines are frustrated and tell the locals they aren't being cooperative and if they aren't cooperative, they'll think they're Taliban. Footage marines surrounding Afghans and telling them to lift up their shirts.

- Counterinsurgency braintrust (Nagl, McCrystal, Kilkullen et al) talking about how much the Afghans need governance, and a chance a good life, and Dairy Queen. Mention stuff about valuing locals, and the military need to eradicate corruption. Nagl seems the brightlight, stating needs 600 000 more NATO troops.

- talk about how much Pakistan may or may not share goals with the US. How the US fighting the Taleban, whom Pakistan intelligence supports, thus fighting Pakistan. Weird. Talk about "most complicated war ever fought."

Impressions.

- Marines miss the point. They are put in the position of lecturing locals about what they ought to be doing such demanding they use the bazaar near the Marines and conform to Marine demands regarding their deportment/behaviour around them (keep your hands where we can see them!). At the same time the Marines are telling them how much they're friends of the locals, shaking hands, etc. This is dysfunctional and abusive, like a relationship where one partner threatens and hugs at the same time. No wonder the Afghans fuck off when the Marines show up. More abstract, the locals become the fulcrum of conflict between NATO and the Taliban, pulled one way or the other. Threatened by both groups, it is no wonder they're ducking out. A friend and combat veteran of that conflict once told me, "all the villages want is to be left alone by everyone" and this footage confirms it. Which brings us to the COIN braintrust.

- The braintrust, like their political masters, keeps babbling about what is needed to win. How many troops - 40K, 600K? What sort of strategy? Talk to the locals more, less use of air strikes? Pressure Pakistan? They treat it like a puzzle, or scientific problem. Gee Bob, all we need to do is get the formula right and we'll have hte ultimate, guaranteed to win, COIN strategy, tactics, and doctrine. It becomes a theoretical exercise based on the assumption that the Afghans need the West for whatever reason and that we cannot leave. None seem to be looking for ways to leave the locals alone. None talk about finding ways to leave them alone. Give them a market without a Marine rifle company bivved nearby. Take half the war away, and half the shooting stops. So the Taliban move in. Do the locals get to go to their own market and sell their wares when that crowd shows up, vs the Marines? If there is only side left, are there still firefights in the villages and fields? The generals and politicians talk about how many troops are needed over there to occupy enough of the country to keep it secure, but no-one asks how many Taleban can be mobilised to do the same. Sure, the data says the Taleban are active in a great many provinces, but are their enough of them to hold the ground and keep down non-Pashtun resistance? Are there enough of them now that Pakistan is another front in their fight? Would, if the Taleban are a growing movement expanding in nuclear and developed Pakistan, they have enough to do their thing in Afghanistan and Pakistan? From what I understand, much motivation for Taliban recruits besides the press-gang, is the fact all those Western troops are kicking around. Take away the West, does the Taleban weaken? NATO needs the Taleban and the Taleban needs NATO...

Anway, enough for tonight.

Bedpans or Bombs? Decisions, Decisions . . . .


Wow!


With savings like this nearly 20 more wars could be funded.

Maybe a debate between Big Pharma/Big Insurance and the Military/Industrial Complex is in order.




Let the
campaign donations begin . . . .



(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)


If this happened in Canada

LONDON (AFP) - A police officer who killed a woman on a "hair-raising joyride" in a patrol car while running errands like taking a birthday card to his sister was jailed for six and a half years on Monday.

Malcolm Searles, 24, ran over Sandra Simpson, a 61-year-old grandmother, in Bromley, southeast London, in August last year. He was driving a marked patrol car with its blue lights flashing and siren turned on.

In the hour before the crash, prosecutors said he had delivered a card to his sister, visited a supermarket and picked up his father and uncle from a fancy dress party to give them a ride in the patrol car.

He was clocked doing 104 miles (167 kilometres) per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone and also drove at high speed through housing estates where children were playing on the pavement.

After hitting Simpson, Searles, who has now left London's Metropolitan Police, falsely claimed he had been following a stolen car, Southwark Crown Court in London heard.

...


I suspect that if this happened in Canada -
  • the cop would never have seen a courtroom or a charge, and maybe even be promoted
  • may have been temporarily suspended with pay, while his peers "investigate"
  • the investigation would have mostly involved looking for dirt on the grandmother
  • a police spokesperson and perhaps a Con spokesperson would have suggested it was the grandmother's fault for standing in front of the lit-up patrol car obviously on police business
  • no mention of a 'joy-ride' would ever have been made public
  • public knowledge of the joy-ride element would happened through only through a leak or recording from a witness or third party source
  • a Blogging Tory or two would have written a long post about how hard it is to be a cop and risk your life on the streets every day and we should all just shut up when these things happen and people should know better than to stand in front of speeding police cars and the woman was probably some sort of radical leftist drug addict scum anyway
  • a Taser(tm) would have been involved, perhaps on a passerby/witness giving first-aid to the victim

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Hope and Change." Right . . . .


Stuff like this is really pissing me off.


From The Huffington Post yesterday:

Leaderless: Senate Pushes For Public Option Without Obama's Support
HuffPost | 10-24-09

President Barack Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part of health care reform. In its place, say multiple Democratic sources, Obama has indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance industry, which would see a public plan "triggered" into effect in the future by a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.

The administration retreat runs counter to the letter and the spirit of Obama's presidential campaign. The man who ran on the "Audacity of Hope" has now taken a more conservative stand than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), leaving progressives with a mix of confusion and outrage. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have battled conservatives in their own party in an effort to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Now tantalizingly close, they are calling for Obama to step up.

_______________



On Thursday evening, after taking the temperature of his caucus, Reid told Obama at a White House meeting that he was pushing a national public option with an opt-out provision. Obama, several sources briefed on the exchange, reacted coolly.

"He certainly didn't embrace it and he seemed to indicate a preference for continuing to work on a strategy that involved Senator Snowe and a trigger," said one aide briefed on the meeting. Several other sources, along with independent media reports, confirmed the exchange.

_______________


It is not philosophical, one White House aide explained, but is a matter of political practicality. If the votes were there to pass a robust public option through the Senate, the president would be leading the charge, the aide said. But after six months of concern that it would be filibustered, the bet among Obama's aides is that Reid is now simply being too optimistic in his whip count. The trigger proposal, said Democratic aides, has long been associated with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

_______________


Advocates of a public option largely consider a "trigger" the equivalent of no public option at all . . . . "The current state of our health system should be trigger enough for anyone who's paying attention," said a congressional aide in the middle of the health care battle. "The American people pulled the 'trigger' in November."


If Obama is going to renege on promises he made in his campaign, what exactly is the "change" he advocated? Change of party, yes, but no substantial change of policies as of yet.

He's the president, fer krissakes! Should he not be the one making the decisions and not his chief of staff?!? Listening to rahm emanuel and "Queen Olympia" is not what the USian voters wanted when they elected the man president. A strong public option in health care legislation should be the minimum he demands his party's Congress do. It's the least he can do since he took the only real reform of Single Payer off the table as soon as he got the office.

If you still vote in the US you might want to contact the White House with your thoughts. Apparently, people in the administration are becoming as much or more a barrier to reform than is Congress. You can email them here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

It may be time to change the slogan from "Hope and Change" to "Despair and M.O.T.S.*" . . . .

* More of the Same

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

Birthdays

ASTERIX TURNS 50!

SINCE IT BEGAN ON OCTOBER  29, 1959, IMHO, Asterix is one of the most delightful comic strips ever created: the artwork is excellent, and has delighted people world-round. But according to a report by Hugh Schofield for the BBC, there are those who believe that the strip just isn't what it used to be. That's because Asterix was a co-production between Italian-born artist Albert Uderzo, who, with his script-writer friend René Goscinny, had dreamed up the idea a few months previously on the terrace of his Bobigny flat — and unfortunately, René died in 1977.

It may be so, but the article, "Should Asterix hang up his sword?" is worth the read, because it's still a nice overview of the oeuvre.

On 22 October, a new album comes out, the 34th in the series, entitled, "Asterix and Obelix's birthday - The Gold Book". And, over the following week a series of events will be held across Paris to mark the anniversary. They include a musical, a seminar at the Sorbonne and a costumed pageant on 29 October. 

For the French, who take their Bandes Dessinées (BD, comic strip books) very seriously indeed, Asterix is part of the canon. Not only is he a prodigious (and rare) cultural export - 325 million books sold in 107 languages - he also exemplifies perfectly the national self-image.


The Asterix web site is a delight. Do go visit, and check out the vast number of characters with all those wonderful names.

Cacofonix: Bard, school teacher and scapegoat.

Geriatrix: The Oldest Member of the Village.Suffix: Druid whose inventions spread like powder in the wind

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Climate Action on Cambie Bridge . . . .


Vancouver turned out in force for
climate action today.

Yours truly was there with thousands of others.

We looked for you, Lady Alison and RossK - Hope you made it.

Some pics in case you didn't make it:






How embarrassing!
For a moment there I thought I was
in Mississippi or Arkansas . . . .









Let's hope stevie harper is paying attention.

Bets, anyone ? ? ? ?

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)


YIKES!

CHINA HUSH is a site devoted to stories of China. The author proclaims

Most of the posts are selected from Chinese websites, blogs and BBS sites. We translate them into English so friends who cannot read Chinese, but are interested in the stories, can enjoy them. Some of the selected stories are current news items. Some are shocking, sad or inspiring. Others cover controversial issues or show cultural differences. A few are just funny and purely for entertainment and amusement…. We hope we present another perspective, so friends who have this common interest will learn a little bit about Chinese cultures, lifestyles, what is hot in China, what Chinese people are talking about, the latest memes…

Anyway, check out the pictures of the cost of development . . .


Friday, October 23, 2009

Step Right Up . . . .

Need more exercise?




Sweden and Volkswagen have an entertaining way to get it . . . .

Ethanol from almost anything?

AROUND THE TIME THAT THE BOTTOM DROPPED OUT of the world economy, GM invested in a start-up by name of Coskata, which has developed a proprietary process to produce alcohol from just about anything.

Pundits were not impressed. Well, it seems that Coskata is the real deal. They've just opened a medium-size installation, and are fixing plans for a humongous one somewhere in the US south-east.

Why should you care? Well, for starters, the Coskata process is energy-positive:

Argonne National Lab has found that with certain feedstocks, the Coskata process can "reach a net energy balance of 7.7" (meaning, the ethanol produced contains 7.7 times as much energy as it took to make the fuel). 

AUTOBLOG has an in-depth article by Sebastian Blanco, that will provide a lot more detail, and is worth the read. This could be the Tar Sands' worst nightmare. Besides, turbos love E-85 . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

M & M . . . .





Matt and Michael are getting a bit impatient.






Is there a "movement" stirring?







One can only hope . . . .






(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

The Leafs vs child abuse


A seven-year-old Toronto , Ontario boy was at the centre of a Toronto city courtroom drama yesterday when he challenged a court ruling over who should have custody of him.
 
The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents & the judge initially awarded custody to his aunt, in keeping with child custody law & regulations requiring that family unity be maintained to the degree possible.
 
The boy surprised the court when he proclaimed that his aunt beat him more than his parents & he adamantly refused to live with her. When the judge then suggested that he live with his grandparents, the boy alleged they had also beat him.

After considering the remainder of the immediate family & learning that domestic violence was apparently a way of life among them, judge took the unprecedented step of allowing the boy to propose who should have custody of him.
 
After two recesses to check legal references & confer with child welfare officials, the judge granted temporary custody to the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom the boy firmly believes are not capable of beating anyone.

Fire Up . . . .







Whoopee!





The torch has been ignited in Greece.



Let the "Owelympics" commence!














What do we have here? A prelude to the "72 Virgins" narrative, perhaps?















Did anyone else get a visual of The Queen of Hearts from "Alice in Wonderland"?







OK.

Maybe it was just me.





Well, at least BC's LINO*s will have excellent seats for the big event.

We paid enough for them . . . .

* Liberal in Name Only

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cyborg beetles


PHYSORG.COM has a report that a team of scientists funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have implanted miniature neural and muscle stimulation systems into beetles to enable their flight to be remotely controlled.

Three types of large beetles from Cameroon were used in the experiments, which were carried out at the University of California in Berkeley. The smallest, cotinis texana, is 2 cm long, while the largest is a massive 20 cm long (megasoma elephas). The third species was mecynorhina torquata, a 7 cm long beetle. The components of the system were implanted in the beetles when they were at the pupal stage.

According to Professor Noel Sharkey, an international expert on artificial intelligence and robotics from Sheffield University in the UK, there have been attempts in the past to control insects such as cockroaches, but this is the first time the flight of insects has been controlled remotely.


As you can see from the cobbled-up circuitry in the picture, this is just the beginning . . . .

Happy Birthday to me

I hope everyone gets what they want for their birthday - the party to celebrate my being another year closer to death is over at the Woodshed

But seriously, folks . . .

A CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time.

So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.

She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.

"Pardon me, sir, I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. May I ask your name?"

"Morris Fishbein," he replied.

"Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years."

"60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man."

"How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"

"Like I'm talking to a fucking wall."

Stiff Neck?

SKEPTIC.COM is a fine source of rational thought. The site has an article on the dangers of chiropractic, by J. D. Haines, MD. Dr Haines has over 20 years experience in family and emergency medicine. He is a Fellow of American College of Sports Medicine, and Clinical Associate Professor of Family Practice at the University of Oklahoma. So perhaps his opinion, titled "Fatal Adjustments How Chiropractic Kills" should be considered carefully.

When Kristi Bedenbaugh wanted relief from a bad sinus headache, the 24 year-old former beauty queen and medical office administrator made the mistake of consulting a chiropractor. An autopsy performed on Kristi revealed that the manipulation of her neck had split the inner walls of both vertebral arteries, resulting in a fatal stroke.

The chiropractor’s violent twisting of her neck caused the torn arterial walls to balloon and block the blood supply to the posterior portion of her brain. Studies confirmed that the blood clots formed on the two days she received her neck adjustments.

Kristi died in1993. Four years later, South Carolina’s State Board of Chiropractic Examiners fined the chiropractor $1000 and sentenced him to 12 hours of continuing medical education in the area of neurological disorders and emergency response.

Supporters of chiropractic are quick to claim that cases like this are rare. Try telling that to Kristi’s family — no matter how great the odds, the outcome was 100% fatal for her. The real problem is that there are no valid statistics concerning the risk of stroke after neck manipulation. Aside from anecdotal reports like Kristi’s and a few surveys, little clinical research has addressed this problem.

Two recent studies reveal the tip of the iceberg. In 1992, researchers at the Stanford Stroke Center surveyed 486 California neurologists regarding how many patients they had seen within the previous two years who had suffered a stroke within 24 hours of neck manipulation. One hundred seventy-seven neurologists responded, reporting 55 patients between the ages of 21 and 60. One patient died and 48 were left with permanent neurological impairment.

Even H.L. Mencken was unimpressed:

As far back as 1924 essayist H. L. Mencken recognized chiropractors as quacks:

Today the backwoods swarm with chiropractors, and in most States they have been able to exert enough pressure on the rural politicians to get themselves licensed. Any lout with strong hands and arms is perfectly equipped to become a chiropractor. No education beyond the elements is necessary. The takings are often high, and so the profession has attracted thousands of recruits — retired baseball players, work-weary plumbers, truck-drivers, longshoremen, bogus dentists, dubious preachers, cashiered school superintendents. Now and then a quack of some other school — say homeopathy — plunges into it. Hundreds of promising students come from the intellectual ranks of hospital orderlies.

Owelympics : Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of debt ...


Church Sign Generator - from the old internets
A Global TV news story on the International Olympic Committee's elevation to a special seat at the United Nations carried the headline :
Now why would Canada decline? 25 other nations sponsored it.
Over at Bread 'n Roses, Toe suggests this may have had something to do with it:
A memoir, written by a Chinese sports official, tells the tale bluntly:
Beijing sealed its bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics by trumping Toronto in backroom deals.
Behind the scenes, Beijing officials told European members of the International Olympic Committee that China would support the candidacy of Belgium's Jacques Rogge for IOC president in return for their support of a Games in China, according to retired sports minister and president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Yuan Weimin.

The scheme worked to perfection. Not only did the Chinese capital get the 2008 Games, but Rogge was elected IOC president and not a single member of the IOC executive board was elected from Canada or the Americas.
CTV : "The alleged deal would have impacted Canada as Toronto bid against Beijing for the Olympics while Montreal's Dick Pound was running against Rogge."

Speaking to the UN General Assembly on behalf of Canada today, John Furlong, head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, said :

"Canada recognizes the power of sport to build sustainable communities, to advocate for equality, to foster social inclusion among young people and to contribute to a global culture of peace."

Hey, John, glad to hear you brought up 'sustainable communities' and 'equality' and 'social inclusion' and all.
Maybe while you're there, you might mention to our Permanent Mission to the UN that despite our using First Nation art and motifs to advertise the 2010 Games, sell Owelympic swag, and decorate the athletes' outfits and medals, Canada has yet to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples . Now it's just us and the US.

Thanks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On a lighter note

LEIF PENG IS AN ILLUSTRATOR in Hamilton, Ontario, who has a wonderful site devoted to those artists he admires, called Today's Inspiration.  Here, he celebrates the art and career of Pete Hawley. So, who's Pete Hawley?

Looking over the many phases of Pete Hawley's career... from his high school competition wins and early days in Chicago, to his war years and the "Jantzen years" in New York... what always comes percolating to the surface is his natural affinity for drawing cute kids and critters. Its almost as though everything was leading up to an inevitability for the artist. Around the mid-60's, destiny caught up with Pete Hawley. For the next quarter century he would delight children and grownups alike with a seemingly limitless output of cute cards for American Greetings.

Enjoy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

You think you have problems . . .


THE DAILY RECKONING is a fine source of level-headed thinking about things financial. At least, that's my opinion, as a Canadian Securities Course graduate. Anyway, they've got an article by Rocky Vega, titled "Financial Armageddon Could be Coming to a County Near You". It's about the state of things in Jefferson County in Alabama. Apparently, things are rather pear-shaped.

Jefferson County in Alabama is now on track to potentially become the largest municipal bankruptcy filing since Orange County, California, lost $1.6 billion on derivatives in 1994. All it’s taken is a swashbuckling local politician, some synthetic bond derivatives served up piping hot from JP Morgan Chase, and a few aggressive and short-sighted bets.

As a result of the failed bond scheme, Jefferson County is left saddled with debt, had an occupational tax that generated 25 percent of the county’s revenue struck down, had roughly 1,000 county employees furloughed, and has a local politician in court-issued leg irons.

BLOOMBERG also covered this debacle:

“People want to kill somebody,
  but they don’t know who to shoot at,”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

COIN

SMALL WARS JOURNAL is a site of some depth, devoted to the study of COIN — COunter INsurgency. COIN has been a point of discussion by generations of military thinkers, and not just the product of today's fascination with concepts like Assymetrical Warfare, and 4th-Generation Warfare (4GW).

John Noonan is a contributor, with "An Interview with Peter Godwin". So, who's Peter Godwin?

Sometimes the most effective COIN lessons are found in the strangest of places. Some time ago, while researching Zimbabwe’s staggering collapse under the Robert Mugabe regime, I stumbled upon When a Crocodile Eats the Sun – a deeply moving memoir of Zimbabwe’s corrosive rot, told by native Zimbabwean reporter, Mr. Peter Godwin. Godwin spun his tale with an enviably smooth narration, blending microcosmic personal tragedies with macrocosmic political and economic failures into a sad, powerful account of a functional nation-state’s collapse. When I finished reading, I wanted more. Digging into Godwin’s Amazon.com author history, I came across Mukiwa, the fascinating autobiography of a white boy growing up in colonial Africa (and winner of the Orwell Prize for political writing).

Mukiwa spans multiple governments in a single country, as Godwin’s wonderfully interesting experiences stretch from Rhodesia as a British Crown Colony, to an international pariah, to an undeclared Republic, an unrecognized hybrid state in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and finally to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. While Mukiwa isn’t necessarily a war memoir (though Godwin did spend much of his career as a war correspondent), several chapters are dedicated to his time serving with the British South Africa Police during the Rhodesian Bush War. So poignant were the stories from Godwin’s tour, I sent a copy to a close friend serving in Afghanistan. He too was taken with how simply and effectively Godwin laid out basic COIN principles, so much so that he had his NCOs read the chapters that I had bookmarked.

I reached out to Mr. Godwin, now a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, who generously agreed to sit down for an interview.

Q: During the Bush War, you served with the British South Africa Police -- a hybrid unit that was charged with an amalgamation of military and police functions. Given that the Rhodesian Tribal Trust Lands were similar to today's Afghanistan --in that the laws of local chiefs and warlords often trumped those of the national government-- would it be useful for NATO forces to adopt a similar hybrid force?

A: I think the key is continuity of intelligent presence. If you have one force that provides 'ground coverage,' starts to build relationships with locals, develops an understanding of the 'human terrain,' they inevitably end up in a quasi policing function, rather than in a purely military one - and that's what you need to win (or even hold) an insurgency war. All this can be jeopardized if you then send in a fire force that doesn't really know what's what on the ground, and is interested only in a specific mission, and may easily end up causing co-lateral damage that sets back the whole hearts and minds effort.
Part of the problem is choosing the personnel for the task, an 19 year old may make a perfectly good GI, but often isn’t yet ready to play the policing function, which is usually better done by someone with a little more maturity, experience, age. But the 'policing' function may very suddenly have to be supplemented by real military know how if things turn nasty, so these guys on the ground have to be able to look after themselves too.
There is inevitably a certain amount of anthropology to all this - but the local people are making also a very basic calculation, one that they are auditing constantly, and that's the balance of fear. However much they like you, however much you're helping out, providing transport, fixing stuff, being respectful of their customs, giving candy to the kids, whatever - they are also deciding who will punish them more if they don't cooperate - and by and large (in both Rhodesia and Afghanistan) it's the insurgents. The Taliban will wreak much worse vengeance on 'sell-outs' among their own people, than NATO will.

Of course, all this begs the main question. What is the relationship between NATO and Afghan forces? The more closely these are integrated, and the better their relationship and comms, then the more efficient you'll be. But there are all sorts of dangers here - for example if the Afghan forces you are working with in a particular location, are from somewhere else, a rival tribe perhaps, that can actually exacerbate tensions on the ground. NATO people need to know enough about the local politics to be able to navigate around it, and sometimes to exploit it to advantage. During colonialism, the British used to arrive in a place and seek out ‘the second strongest chief’ and offer to recognize him as paramount if he would work with them. (After all what motivation would the most powerful leader have to cooperate with interlopers?!)

Worth the read. 

Follow the money . . .

THE WASHINGTON POST has an excellent interview with Elizabeth Warren, Chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee that is tasked with scrutinizing how the Treasury Department has spent $700 billion to shore up failing American financial institutions. The interview, titled "Voices of Power: Elizabeth Warren", by Lois Romano, is worth the read. It may not tell you anything you don't already know, but it will give you a perspective on how some at the heart of the maelstrom feel about the situation.

ROMANO: So, the first thing I want to ask you is you are about to become a household name. You are-you are one of the heroines, you're being described of, of Michael Moore's new movie which derides capitalism and goes after our economic structures.

WARREN: Well, I'd have to say, you know, I did an interview with Michael Moore and now I'm just astonished. I never thought I would be in 9 million television commercials, so it's been pretty amazing.

ROMANO: There's a wonderful moment when he asks you where the $700 billion is, and you look at him and you say, "I don't know." So the question is: why don't you know?

WARREN: Well, we don't know where the $700 billion is because the system was initially designed to make sure that we didn't know.

ROMANO: Do you agree with Michael Moore's basic premise that capitalism as it is now has destroyed the country's middle class?

WARREN: Well, I believe that the middle class is under terrific assault. And I don't want to play this as a capitalism issue. When we compare middle-class families today with their parents a generation ago ¿ we have basically flat earnings-a fully employed male today earns on average about $800 less, adjusted for inflation- than a fully employed male earned a generation ago. The only way that houses could increase or families could increase their household income was to put a second earner into the workforce, and, of course that's now flattened out because there aren't any more people to put into the workforce. So you've got, effectively, flat income in this time period ¿ with rising core expenses; housing; health insurance; child care; transportation, now that it takes two cars to get everywhere, two jobs to support; and taxes, because you've got two people in the workforce and we have a somewhat progressive taxation system. So that families are spending a lot more on what you describe as the basic nut.

The third leg to the triangle, and that is families, to deal with this, stopped saving and started going into debt.

And the debt side of where families both spend more money and are made much more vulnerable on mortgages, on credit cards, on check overdraft fees, all this side of it, the credit side of it really means that we have a middle class that a generation ago we would have described as solid, secure, dependable. If you could just get into the middle class, you could pretty much count on a fairly comfortable life and all the way through to a comfortable retirement.

That's been hollowed out. Sure, there are people who are going to make it through just fine, but the vulnerability of families in the middle class has just, it has gone up enormously.