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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Matthew Hoh's resignation letter

A scan of the document is here (via the Ochlophobist). It is a very good letter, and reading between the lines, I suspect Mr. Hoh would have liked to say a lot more. The third page contains as frank an admission as you are likely to see by a US government official: Afghanistan is not really the problem; the root is a violent religious ideology with an established presence in the West.

Undergirding our continued presence in the Afghan money pit is the assumption, by both of what passes for 'the Left' and 'the Right' in this country, that inside every Pashtun and Tajik tribesmen is an occidental social democrat just waiting to get out. Thus, we shower Afghanistan with schools, voting booths and hospitals to treat all the natives we bomb, when the cold reality is Afghanistan will become a progressive democracy only when the US military is let off the leash to clear the place for American colonization. Afghanistan is Afghanistan because it's populated by Afghans, and you can substitute any country and peoples you like for that axiom.

The swipe at Mexico is rather breathtaking as well. Way, way under the radar of the LA/NYC/DC axis, the same dynamic is playing out: indigenous tribesmen are in open revolt against a corrupt, urban, US-backed elite. Unlike the Afghan conflict, this one will be coming home to us.

I wonder if Matthew Hoh has been reading William Lind?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Return of the Great Depression

A new book by Vox Day.

I don't know that I'd use the big 'D' word, but some things I think we are going to see revealed as 'new' truths:

1. Mortgages with a term over 15 years make no financial sense.
2. Mortgages for any amount over two to three (more like two) times annual income make no financial sense.
3. College, for the most part, makes no financial sense, nor do the loans that pay for it.
4. Car loans make no financial sense.
5. Renting, and boarding houses, are actually not a bad idea.
6. The projection of rates of return in real dollars for practically all 401k's is wildly overstated, and even more so after accounting for taxes on withdrawals.

There are others, but those are six that come readily to mind. There is a whole super-structure of economic activity that assumes we have way more discretionary income than we really do. A 'depression' is nothing less than the liquidation of the 'bubble' economy down to the level of the 'real' economy, that is, the economy that's actually supported by the pool of real savings.

More vaccine skepticism

Via Karen DeCoster at LewRockwell.com:

Gardasil researcher drops a bombshell
Dr. Harper began her remarks by explaining that 70 percent of all HPV infections resolve themselves without treatment within a year. Within two years, the number climbs to 90 percent. Of the remaining 10 percent of HPV infections, only half will develop into cervical cancer, which leaves little need for the vaccine.

She went on to surprise the audience by stating that the incidence of cervical cancer in the U.S. is already so low that “even if we get the vaccine and continue PAP screening, we will not lower the rate of cervical cancer in the US.”

There will be no decrease in cervical cancer until at least 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, and even then, the decrease will be minimal.

Apparently, conventional treatment and preventative measures are already cutting the cervical cancer rate by four percent a year. At this rate, in 60 years, there will be a 91.4 percent decline just with current treatment. Even if 70 percent of women get the shot and required boosters over the same time period, which is highly unlikely, Harper says Gardasil still could not claim to do as much as traditional care is already doing.


Of course, this is only a "bombshell" to anyone who didn't wonder why a virus that most people's immune systems deal with quite adequately requires mass vaccination at all. It's also worrisome that the mere label of "women's health!" has become at least as galvanizing as "for the children!" in setting public policy. The government and politically correct establishment (cynically abetted by Big Business) issue these hysterical mandates, which are then swallowed whole by the mainstream press, without a single pause for any critical thinking.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taibbi rocks the house

Taibbi continues his great series deconstructing the 2008 financial bust. His latest, Wall Street's Naked Swindle, dissects the practice of naked short-selling and its role in the 2008 financial bust.

On Tuesday, March 11th, 2008, somebody — nobody knows who — made one of the craziest bets Wall Street has ever seen. The mystery figure spent $1.7 million on a series of options, gambling that shares in the venerable investment bank Bear Stearns would lose more than half their value in nine days or less. It was madness — "like buying 1.7 million lottery tickets," according to one financial analyst.

But what's even crazier is that the bet paid.

At the close of business that afternoon, Bear Stearns was trading at $62.97. At that point, whoever made the gamble owned the right to sell huge bundles of Bear stock, at $30 and $25, on or before March 20th. In order for the bet to pay, Bear would have to fall harder and faster than any Wall Street brokerage in history.

The very next day, March 12th, Bear went into free fall. By the end of the week, the firm had lost virtually all of its cash and was clinging to promises of state aid; by the weekend, it was being knocked to its knees by the Fed and the Treasury, and forced at the barrel of a shotgun to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase (which had been given $29 billion in public money to marry its hunchbacked new bride) at the humiliating price of … $2 a share. Whoever bought those options on March 11th woke up on the morning of March 17th having made 159 times his money, or roughly $270 million. This trader was either the luckiest guy in the world, the smartest son of a bitch ever or…

Or what? That this was a brazen case of insider manipulation was so obvious that even Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the pillow-soft-touch Senate Banking Committee, couldn't help but remark on it a few weeks later, when questioning Christopher Cox, the then-chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission. "I would hope that you're looking at this," Dodd said. "This kind of spike must have triggered some sort of bells and whistles at the SEC. This goes beyond rumors."

Cox nodded sternly and promised, yes, he would look into it. What actually happened is another matter. Although the SEC issued more than 50 subpoenas to Wall Street firms, it has yet to identify the mysterious trader who somehow seemed to know in advance that one of the five largest investment banks in America was going to completely tank in a matter of days. "I've seen the SEC send agents overseas in a simple insider-trading case to investigate profits of maybe $2,000," says Brent Baker, a former senior counsel for the commission. "But they did nothing to stop this."

The SEC's halfhearted oversight didn't go unnoticed by the market. Six months after Bear was eaten by predators, virtually the same scenario repeated itself in the case of Lehman Brothers — another top-five investment bank that in September 2008 was vaporized in an obvious case of market manipulation. From there, the financial crisis was on, and the global economy went into full-blown crater mode.

Like all the great merchants of the bubble economy, Bear and Lehman were leveraged to the hilt and vulnerable to collapse. Many of the methods that outsiders used to knock them over were mostly legal: Credit markers were pulled, rumors were spread through the media, and legitimate short-sellers pressured the stock price down. But when Bear and Lehman made their final leap off the cliff of history, both undeniably got a push — especially in the form of a flat-out counterfeiting scheme called naked short-selling.


Most people are familiar with the practice of short selling, and of course, Taibbi explains it better than I can:
The basic premise of a normal short sale is easy to follow. Say you're a hedge-fund manager, and you want to bet against the stock of a company — let's call it Wounded Gazelle International (WGI). What you do is go out on the market and find someone — often a brokerage house like Goldman Sachs — who has shares in that stock and is willing to lend you some. So you go to Goldman on a Monday morning, and you borrow 1,000 shares in Wounded Gazelle, which that day happens to be trading at $10.

Now you take those 1,000 borrowed shares, and you sell them on the open market at $10, which leaves you with $10,000 in cash. You then take that $10,000, and you wait. A week later, surveillance tapes of Wounded's CEO having sex with a woodchuck in a Burger King bathroom appear on CNBC. Awash in scandal, the firm's share price tumbles to 3½. So you go out on the market and buy back those 1,000 shares of WGI — only now it costs you only $3,500 to do so. You then return the shares to Goldman Sachs, at which point your interest in WGI ends. By betting against or "shorting" the company, you've made a profit of $6,500.


Such a practice has a legitimate role in a free market, bringing bloated, over-valued companies to heel. What Taibbi goes after in this article is the practice of shorting shares you don't actually have, with the result that there are multiple claims to the same shares, and this enables all sorts of market manipulation that a fully-capitalized player would be unable to pull off. It's actually just like our current fractional reserve banking system, where the banks juggle an upside down pyramid of claims to the same bank assets, be they land holdings, mortgages or depositor dollars. Of course, as Taibbi acknowledges, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were rotten to the core with absurdly leveraged financial instruments. But what happened here was not the workings of a fully capitalized and transparent market.
By the middle of the Bush years, the great investment banks like Bear and Lehman no longer made their money financing real businesses and creating jobs. Instead, Wall Street now serves, in the words of one former investment executive, as "Lucy to America's Charlie Brown," endlessly creating new products to lure the great herd of unwitting investors into whatever tawdry greed-bubble is being spun at the moment: Come kick the football again, only this time we'll call it the Internet, real estate, oil futures. Wall Street has turned the economy into a giant asset-stripping scheme, one whose purpose is to suck the last bits of meat from the carcass of the middle class.

What really happened to Bear and Lehman is that an economic drought temporarily left the hyenas without any more middle-class victims — and so they started eating each other, using the exact same schemes they had been using for years to fleece the rest of the country. And in the forensic footprint left by those kills, we can see for the first time exactly how the scam worked — and how completely even the government regulators who are supposed to protect us have given up trying to stop it.

This was a brokered bloodletting, one in which the power of the state was used to help effect a monstrous consolidation of financial and political power. Heading into 2008, there were five major investment banks in the United States: Bear, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Today only Morgan Stanley and Goldman survive as independent firms, perched atop a restructured Wall Street hierarchy. And while the rest of the civilized world responded to last year's catastrophes with sweeping measures to rein in the corruption in their financial sectors, the United States invited the wolves into the government, with the popular new president, Barack Obama — elected amid promises to clean up the mess — filling his administration with Bear's and Lehman's conquerors, bestowing his papal blessing on a new era of robbery.


And the practice is not limited to stocks, as hedge funds and banks routinely do the same thing with mortgage-backed securities, Treasury bonds, commodities futures, and on and on. The bottom line is that the US economy is mostly just about moving piles of money around--a bizarre, cargo-cult type of economy where we're all supposed to get rich brokering deals instead of actually making things and selling them.

All of this is only possible of course because, so far, the rest of the world is obligingly sending us our dollars back for investment, and we have a lender of last resort in the Treasury and Fed linebacking the whole rotten structure.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Infectious Lies

Robert Klassen, at LewRockwell.com:

... Bird Flu came along in 1997. SARS followed in 2002. Both came from Asia with great fanfare and dire predictions of a pandemic, which failed to materialize. Did these viruses come from labs? Were they natural? We’re not likely to find out.

This year we are confronted with swine flu, a novel combination of pig virus, bird virus, and human virus. This time the advertising has been coordinated and relentless, and miraculously a vaccine has been released in the nick of time. This drama reads like a script.

I came to the conclusion that every aggressive assertion announced by a bureaucracy was a self-serving lie many years ago. The FDA is controlled by the pharmaceutical industry, and duly lies in their interest. The NIH serves the interests of several cartels, including the AMA, controls medical research, and only releases results that favor its predetermined conclusion. But this only scratches the surface of government deception.

...

I wonder about the increasing frequency and ferocity of the lying. It reminds me of the psychopath who is finally trapped by reality and is desperately trying to avert attention to another subject. Meanwhile, we do have real problems that are not being addressed at all.

MRSA has been killing thousands of people annually for years, yet it is not labeled a pandemic, which it is, and the bureaucrats yawn and tell us to wash our hands. Meanwhile, hospital patients are incubating even worse antibiotic resistant bacteria, VRSA, VRE, C.diff, and TB. Influenza might make us sick, and might kill us, but these bacteria will not only make us sick, they are sure to kill us. Why is there no hue and cry in the media about this threat to public health?


I have come to wonder whether vaccines, like antibiotics, have reached a point of diminishing returns, and now serve mainly to put selection pressures on viruses to evolve into more potent strains.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lindsey Graham returns to his vomit

In May 2009, Lindsey Graham declared, "We are not going to build a party around libertarian ideas. Ron Paul is not the leader of this party." A breathtaking statement, considering its delivery mere months after neo-conservatism's total electoral defeat. In retrospect though, Graham was just getting an early start making the short, happy journey back home to Trotskyite social democracy.

Graham seems to have a particular burr under his saddle for Ron Paul and libertarian politics, warming again to this theme here: Graham: GOP not going to be the party of angry white guys.

And if there remained any doubt, this statement from a Republican politician establishes the dialectic from now on. Low taxes and limited government are policies espoused only by loathsome, racist white guys.

One expects this sort of thing from Democrats, but to hear a white Republican senator tell it to his own electoral base is just absurd. Who does he think is going to vote for his prissy old ass when those 'angry white guys' are a demographic minority? More importantly, who's going to pay for all the swill Graham and his new Democratic overlords will be ladling out when those angry white guys are a demographic minority? On second thought, don't bother answering.

It's all enough to make this white guy, well, angry.