Archive for December 2007

The Last Post of 2007

The chihuahua trots into the kitchen, then returns to the living room with a kibble of Science Diet in his mouth. Crunch crunch crunch.
Upstairs the Kid is playing Crysis over the internet. The Wife and I watch Shrek 2 as the lab chases the Chihuahua who leaps across my laptop. The white cat stands as a sentinel above the TV next to the stuffed Philadelphia Eagle that danced its last touchdown dance yesterday.

My little cozy home in suburbia. The only place I always want to be.

Happy New Year.

Past Predictions and 2008

A year ago I made several predictions many of which turned out to be wrong. I guess I’m not Nostradamus – meaning that I am not capable of writing symbolic passages that can be interpreted to mean just about anything. That’s fine with me. As a professional business writer clarity keeps the paychecks coming.

There is no way for us to predict the future. As physicist Niels Bohr noted, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” Although quantum physics seems quite comfortable with bidirectional time, we in the classical realm are stuck on a one way path from the order of the past to chaos of the future. We are therefore left to guess. That creates its own problem, as I noted in this post from 2005: “The Past is real and to a great degree concrete. We lived it and know it – well, at least our faulty perception convinces us that we do. The Future, on the other hand, is as ethereal as a cloud.”

But in that same post I predicted the bursting of the housing bubble, a full two years before the MSM did. Doesn’t that negate the previous paragraph? Nope. Throw a ball into the air then predict whether it will keep traveling up or fall back to earth. After you’ve thrown it you can accurately predict that it will fall back to earth because you know it obeys the law of gravity. My prediction on the housing bubble was along those lines; in a free economy prices will not continue rising forever: they will be brought back to earth by the law of supply and demand. Economic laws are not natural laws, but in a free market they can approximate natural ones. That’s why I can say today that the housing recession will not last forever, that eventually the subprime mess will be worked out and housing values will stabilize.

Will it happen in 2008? I hope it so, but I doubt it. Bubbles are created from irrational exuberance and usually end with irrational pessimism. When people begin to talk about real estate with the same bitterness used to discuss buying Global Crossing or other internet stocks in 2001, then you’ll know it’s time to buy. But that hasn’t happened yet – so the bubble will continue to deflate.

We’re already in a recession, and I suspect that in 2008 the MSM and politicians will recognize this fact. What this means for the election is unclear. I firmly believe that interest in global warming won’t outlast a recession; when it comes between jobs today and the climate of 2100, I have no doubt that present issues trump future ones. Taxes are also a tough sell during a recession.

The election of 2008 is the big question. From the standpoint of the final days of 2007 the candidates appear to be Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, with the outcome being the election of the first woman president in American history. However the election isn’t held today, and 10 months is an eternity in a federal election cycle. Anything can happen, and as the death of Benazir Bhutto proves, everything can change in an instant.

A terror attack in the USA would make a Republican victory likely in November. Skyrocketing violence in Iraq could hand the election to the Democrats. A sour economy could make the election go either way, since neither party has strong roots in the middle class (Big Business has shifted its allegiance to the Democratic party leaving an opportunity for the Republican Party to pick them up once it realizes that it has lost Wall Street).

Famous people will die (fingers crossed on Castro). others will hang on (Carter), and even more will deserve death (Chavez, Ahmadinejad).

The Problem with Pakistan

Crossposted at Dean’s World

If you haven’t already read Ali’s post on PajamasMedia, do so. Ali believes that the United States should give up on Musharraf and call for an objective international panel on Bhutto’s murder.

If the U.S. can create the conditions for such a public demonstration of the history and extent of jihadist killing and infiltration, it would arm the people of Pakistan with unerring proof about who is their real enemy. It would be a boost to their sense of survival. It would demonstrate that the US is looking out for them. They would be able to take these feelings to the polls.

Or would it simply result in Nawaz Sharif taking power and allowing the militants in Pakistan to gain more power, and perhaps even nuclear weapons?

Ali’s positions seems naive to me. If we cut off support of Musharraf and support an independent inquiry, the Pakistanis will have a change of heart about the United States and realize we’re on their side.

What is the likelihood of that happening? As Ali notes, Sharif has never had security problems because he is on the same side of the extremists. If Musharraf leaves and creates a power vacuum, isn’t Sharif – and the jihadists who support him – the one most likely to fill it?

Pakistan has always been a complicating factor in American foreign policy. It has made relations with India tougher, and since 2001 has constrained our fight in Afghanistan. Should Pakistan switch sides and cut off coalition overflights, we would have no way to supply forces in Afghanistan.

Benazir Bhutto was one of a kind. I don’t see anyone able to replace her. I’m sure that today the Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon and even the maivens of State are brainstorming what to do now that America’s policy towards Pakistan is buried in a mausoleum in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh.

Benazir Bhutto, RIP

Here’s a closely guarded secret: I’ve liked Benazir Bhutto ever since I was in high school in the mid 1980s, and I once dreamed that I would meet her after I joined the Foreign Service.

Life had other plans of course. I didn’t make it into the FS, and Benazir was assassinated before I could meet her.

As Ali Eteraz notes, Bhutto was killed for her hatred of jihadis:

Why is it that Pakistan’s extremists (who purportedly hate Musharraf and democracy) are not consistent in targeting pro-Musharraf and pro-democracy people? Why do they pick and choose?

I think the answer is apparent: in Pakistan, if you do not criticize the Islamists, you will not be targeted. Musharraf and Bhutto did criticize the Islamists and that is why they tend to end up in the jihadi cross-hairs. Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, has long pandered to Jamat e Islami (and in the early 90’s even Bin Laden), while Mullah Diesel heads the main pro-Taliban party. There is no reason for extremists to attack these people; they are already on the same side.

Eteraz recommends that we dump Musharraf and let the Pakistanis sort it out for themselves. I’m all for the latter, but the former stinks of the 20th century American habit of letting our friends twist in the wind.

I’ll miss Benazir, and I’m sorry I never got to meet her. I hope some good comes out of this, but from my perspective today I don’t see how it can happen.

Disband the CIA

I’m a hawk who changed his dovish plumage on a crystal-blue morning in September 2001. I no longer want the USA to coexist with its enemies: I want to see them destroyed. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s under the era of detente with the Soviet Union. This policy made sense since the USSR was too big to destroy and we had to live with it. However we don’t have to live with Iran and Saudi Arabia – our nation’s current enemies.

But the CIA is not the agency to do it, and Gabriel Schoenfeld agrees. He quotes former CIA director Robert Gates from his memoir From the Shadows:

As a result of the lack of innovative and creative personnel management, I believe this agency is chock full of people simply awaiting retirement: some are only a year or two away and some are twenty-five years away, but there are far too many playing it safe, proceeding cautiously, not antagonizing management, and certainly not broadening their horizons, especially as long as their own senior management makes it clear that [risk-taking] is not career enhancing. How is the health of CIA? I would say that at the present time it has a case of advanced bureaucratic arteriosclerosis: the arteries are clogging up with careerist bureaucrats who have lost the spark. It is my opinion that it is this steadily increasing proportion of intelligence bureaucrats that has led to the decline in the quality of intelligence collection and analysis over the past fifteen years — more so than our declining resources . . . or congressional investigations or legal restrictions. CIA is slowly turning into the Department of Agriculture.

The biggest reason to disband the organization is the simple fact that it has become a large organization. I know large organizations. I tend to work for them; I have seen them from the inside, and realize that it might be okay to rely upon them to manage your insurance or even your bank account, but national security? My bank recently had a security breach and only told me so after my bank account had been drained. Would I trust this bank with the physical security of 300 million Americans when it has difficulty managing data security for a few million bank accounts?

And that’s the problem with the CIA. I’m sure that there are some good people who work for it, just like the manager at the local branch of my bank. However these people would be even more effective in smaller, more nimble and less bureaucratic ones than the CIA. As far as I’m concerned any organization concerned with spying should not have a sign directing to it’s headquarters from the interstate.

Does this have to do with bitterness towards their recent report exonerating Iran that even the French government doesn’t believe? Of course. But why should I believe the CIA is right about Iran today when it was wrong about Iraq 4 years ago?

In my experience working with data I have learned that it is better to have no information than unreliable information. The CIA is a large organization which produces unreliable intel. The fact that it was wrong about Iraq is more excusable since its intel was similar to independently gathered intelligence data of other countries. Anti-war folks like to hitch their star on that intelligence failure, forgetting that it wasn’t just the CIA that screwed up. The mossad, M1, French and Russian intelligence agencies all agreed that Saddam was actively hiding his program from the UN inspection teams. Saddam just didn’t fool George Bush he fooled the world.

The CIA remains Truman’s greatest mistake – not his firing of General MacArthur or his handling of the Korean War. It is a mistake that should be rectified by the next president regardless of his/her party affiliation.

The Subprime Mess

When I signed paperwork for my first mortgage in 1997 I knew exactly what the interest rate was and I still know it today. I bought a 30 year fixed even though the initial interest rates were lower on adjustables. I’ve never refied that mortgage; I’ve never had to because I knew that adjustable rate mortgages were gambling – and I don’t gamble (no lotto, no raffles, no playing stocks, nothing).

The adjustables on the market in 1997 weren’t the infamous 2/28s that fueled the subprime boom in 2005-2006. These were simpler debt instruments where the interest rate was based on the prime rate. If the rate stayed the same, I paid less than if it the prime rate rose.

Sure my house is small. I could have bought a much bigger house using those adjustable rate mortgages, but I knew deep down that I could afford those homes. Why buy a home that I can’t really, truly afford?

So I’m in a small house today, but I have equity and security knowing that I didn’t bite off more than I could chew. While others in similar financial situations bought big McMansions, we have lived quietly in our cozy home trading space for economic security and the peace of mind that comes with it.

Which leads me to this excellent series (article 1, article 2, article 3, article 4, article 5, plus this astute observation by Caroline Baum. ) on the subprime mess at As you may expect from the above, I don’t feel very sorry for those who lived beyond their means and didn’t read the fine print. I don’t buy that fine print cr@p because honestly your gut knows whether you can afford something or not. If you can’t trust your gut, then you’d better break out the magnifying glass and educate yourself in the details found in your mortgage app.

At the same time, I’m not all that supportive of the banking industry. Calls to bail out the subprime borrowers really are nothing but demands to bail out the industry. I see no reason why I, who chose to live in a smaller house even though it would have been nice to have a bigger one, must pay to support gamblers who bet against the market and lost.

Losers at craps don’t get reimbursed by the government, so why should borrowers? The best thing for borrowers to do is move into a smaller home or into an apartment, get back on their feet financially, and stop gambling.

UPDATE: 12/21/2007
Here is an excerpt of my post on Sept. 16, 2005, about a year before the mortgage delinquency rate began to shoot up and the bubble began to burst. I am no genius, nor am I a fortune teller. I am an amateur historian who has lived through several bubbles in my brief time.

It’s September 2005 and the Global Housing Bubble (GHB) continues expanding. However I don’t think you have to be Nostrodamus to predict that sooner or later, this bubble will burst. Then we will look back and say to ourselves “What were we thinking?”

Well, truth be told, we are thinking – but past success means alot more in the present than the future. Currently the future is very dim, and the ability to predict with any certainty makes one tend to not even try. After all, look at the past. We thought housing prices were overvalued when they were half what they are today, didn’t we? And look what happened.

The Past is real and to a great degree concrete. We lived it and know it – well, at least our faulty perception convinces us that we do. The Future, on the other hand, is as ethereal as a cloud.

Plus, we also take comfort in the Herd: “Everyone else is doing it. Can everyone else be similarly deluded?”

Well, yes they can. Buying Global Crossing at $200/share. Selling homes to buy a single Tulip bulb. History is peppered throughout with mass delusion of one type or another.

In addition, there are always Doom Sayers. “The End is Nigh”, “The bubble will collapse”, “Doom, Doom, Doom.” Most of the time these people are wrong and can be safely ignored. However when do you start listening to them?

Perhaps you never should – since broken clocks may be right twice a day but we don’t use them to tell time. More useful are predicators that have been tested by time and have worked in the past. All of these indicators point to a housing bubble – one that exists on a global scale.

Time Magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year

Is clearly, without a doubt, General David Petraeus. Former Virginia Governor and Senator George Allen agrees:

I think the most significant persons would be General David Petraeus and the magnificent men and women who serve in our armed forces. They know what is going on here when leaders say the war is lost or that they are terrorizing Iraqis. But these men and women keep doing their job in dangerous, precarious positions. They are making a positive difference in Iraq. They are protecting our country.

But will the magazine? If it does I will be shocked in ways that can’t be described without involving a live high-voltage cable and a bathtub of water.

However Petraeus is the man of the year. He’s the best American general since World War 2 and the world since Israeli general Moshe Dayan.

But Time won’t acknowledge it – I guarantee it.

So here’s my salute to the true 2007 Person of the Year.

2007 Person of the Year - General David H. Petraeus

No matter how hard…

I try to keep this online journal serious, I just can’t.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

So if you like pictures of cute animals AND to debate hot topics like Global Warming and wars in the Middle East, then I guess you’ve come to the right place.

Al Sharpton and the Street Machine in Philly

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a story on Al Sharpton soliciting funds from one of Mayor John Street’s pay-to-play pals, Ronald A. White. At the time the FBI was investigating Street and his associates, and unwittingly caught Sharpton asking White for help in raising the money necessary to get on the 2004 presidential election ballot.

With a hidden FBI camera rolling inside a New York hotel suite in 2003, an unsuspecting Rev. Al Sharpton, Democratic candidate for president, spoke candidly.

Sharpton offered to help Philadelphia fund-raiser Ronald A. White win a multimillion-dollar business deal, if White helped him raise $50,000 for politics.

White offered $25,000. “If you bring my guys up on this hedge fund, and I have the right conversation,” White said, “I’ll give you what you need.”

“Cool,” Sharpton said.

While Sharpton wasn’t charged in the scheme, the FBI and IRS continued their investigations into Sharpton, examining whether the money he raised violated campaign finance laws.

Sharpton claims he’s innocent, saying “It’s not illegal for me to help guys get contracts . . . making introductions for Mr. White and Mr. Hawkins, if they help me raise money,” Sharpton said. “I’m not a public official.”

I can’t help but wonder what happened to supposed civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton and even Mayor John Street. I cannot believe that at one time long ago these men believed in their causes and seriously wanted to help their communities. In their early years they butted heads with City Hall, but over time they eventually took control (as in Street’s case) or exercised tremendous power (as in Sharpton’s). They in effect became the very entity they fought so hard against and the community they once championed suffered. Perhaps they became proof for Lord Acton’s axiom that “Power tends to corrupt,” or maybe it was simple selfishness.

Regardless, Street has left his native Philadelphia a “filthy mess,” in the words of incoming mayor Michael Nutter. As for Sharpton… Well, he’s just an embarrassment:

On a few calls, Hawkins expressed his concern about Sharpton’s shortcomings as a candidate. He was sloppy with campaign finances, Hawkins said, worrying that some campaign funds might get mixed with personal or National Action Network funds.

“He’s a train wreck – a plane crash waiting to happen,” Hawkins told White.

He’s already playing his usual card: that he’s being persecuted by the Federal Government, a claim made by public figures busted by the feds since Al Capone.

“This is government harassment,” he said. “I knew this investigation would come back when we started the Jena protests.”

Some in the African American community and the limousine liberal set may believe it, but the “victim card” was overplayed by Sharpton years ago. He’s about as much a victim of the feds as a mafia don or your run of the mill crack dealer, and just as useful to the community he claims to represent.

Bullseye the Feral Cat

Since we moved into this house about 10 years ago there have been a succession of feral cats that have come around. Perhaps they are attracted to the indoor cats; most likely it’s because we feed them (stupid, I know, but we’ve tried to catch them and get them neutered – but it isn’t easy).

First there was Mr. Bones – an old, scraggly looking thing that came around briefly. Then there was “Ta-ta”, named by the kid who thought he looked like a tiger but couldn’t say the word properly. Then there was Bullseye, and Chalupa – who I wrote about here.
And amazingly enough, after about 7 years, there’s still Bullseye.

All this time this unneutered male crept around our house, nipping at the food we left out for him but never letting us approach him. Each winter we put out a small shelter for him, a covered litterbox that we’ve lined with old blankets and towels to keep him warm on covered patio. However he would dart out of his “house” if we paid him much attention.

Until this year.

Bullseye the stray cat

Over the past few months Bullseye has begun allowing us to pet him. We can sit with him outside and he interacts with us, rubbing against our legs and encouraging us to give his ruff a nice scratch.

Why the relatively sudden change after such a long time? Beats me. At first I thought it was because he was sick, but aside from an eye infection that is clearing up on its own, he’s quite heavy and solid when I try to pick him up. Perhaps he senses that the people who provide him daily food and shelter aren’t such a bad lot after all. I really don’t know for sure.

And maybe that’s part of why I keep animals. As predictable and simple as they are, they still manage to surprise me and teach me something. What that something is, as in the case of Chalupa, is not always readily apparent.

Major Security Breach At Bank

Results in the draining of our bank account. Our account wasn’t the only one, but the bank isn’t saying just how big the breach is. The mere fact of that tells me it’s big. I don’t want to say much at this time because I don’t want to compromise the investigation. I’ll update this as I can.

Somehow the thieves managed to obtain my check card number along with my pin and did a couple ATM withdrawals. While my bank has promised me that the money will be returned, it will take some time. Meanwhile the crime has seriously dented our cash flow at a critical time (job change & holidays).

Consider that the bank knows these charges are fraudulent. The account number and PINs were stolen through a data breach on their system. I didn’t hand my card and PIN to a homeless guy in Center City and tell him to have a good time at the crackhouse on me. Given the unusual amounts of some of the withdrawals, I didn’t even know they could be made (How many ATMs shell out odd amounts of coinage? Update: ANSWER: The ATM fees duh…). They know with absolute certainty that they are responsible and even apologized to me. But the only process they have in place is a sluggish one that keeps me separated from my money, a variant of the same chargeback dispute process that they’ve used for decades.

Meanwhile I’ve got to figure out how to live without cash. The Kid’s school lunch lady doesn’t take Visa, nor does the parking garage I must park in at work. That’s not even considering the bills that are due in the next few days.

Not that the thieves care about this. They only care about themselves, and will justify their crime in a myriad of ways that make sense only to them. After all, the world is theirs for the taking. I am nothing to them, just a source of cash for meth and crack.

I hope the f****rs rot in hell, and will do whatever I can to insure that outcome.

A Widow Speaks – Murdered By Mumia

Maureen Faulkner has written a book about her life after Mumia shot her husband Office William Faulkner to death. It’s excerpted in today’s Philly Inquirer. The following explains why she believes that Mumia deserves death.

I explained that I was wise enough to know that in our legal system, LWOP is not what it seems. I explained to the reporters that unless Jamal is executed, my family and I will have to live every day of the rest of our lives knowing that a future governor could set Abu-Jamal free with the stroke of a pen, and that I had no doubt that Abu-Jamal’s misguided and uninformed supporters and friends would relentlessly lie about the facts to future generations in order to perpetuate the myth that Abu-Jamal is a victim of a racist justice system, then demand his release.

Another Year of Sobriety

7 years baby…

Woohoo Hattip: Grouchy Media