Syria Comment Returns + News Roundup - Syria Comment

Syria Comment Returns + News Roundup

Some readers may have noticed that Syria Comment was down for about 2 days. We are sorry about this. Alex, and a wonderful techie of his, have been repairing and servicing the site, which forced us to take it off line for a few days.

The 1 trillion bail out. At the end of the Clinton administration in 2000, US government debt was $5,676,989,904,887 and falling for the first time for decades. After 8 years of Bush leadership, the national debt stands at 9.6 trillion dollars. The financial crisis of the past few weeks is estimated to have already cost the American taxpayers over 1 trillion, which means that in a few weeks the debt has increased by over 10% to bring it over the 10 trillion dollar mark. The average American owed $31,721.81 a week ago. Today, that debt has been increased by roughly $3,000 per American, or $12,000 for a family of 4, like mine.

The Bush administration will have presided over the doubling of US debt in a short 8 years. The financial crisis may end up costing Americans more than the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The impact of this growing debt on America’s foreign power is unclear. One can assume that Washington’s hands will be increasingly tied by its poverty. More of the budget will be spent on servicing the debt. Foreign countries, such as China which owns America’s debt, will have greater influence over the US economy, and, presumably, its politics as well. Washington will have to hesitate before going to war or imposing economic sanctions on countries.

In the mean time, the US remains confident enough to continue economic sanctions on Syria. A friend writes:

Just this week, I have heard from other American friends in Syria (I am currently in the US – I’ll be back in Syria in a week) that America has blocked Americans from using ATMs in Syria. Some of my friends have been able to use their cards while others have not. I called my bank here to check and they said there was no problem. We’ll see next week once we’re back. Perhaps you could get confirmation from some of your readers in Syria?

The explanation for blocked ATM use may be simply that banks stop cards if they see irregular activity. For Americans, traveling to Syria will be cause for their banks to block their cards. To avoid this, Americans should call their banks and explain where they will be traveling before departure. I have taken this precaution before and still had my card blocked because bank employees have neglected to read the notes placed on my computer account before blocking the card. It can be fixed by a call or email to your bank. Don’t leave home without your bank information and telephone numbers.

A second explanation for irregular blockage of bank cards may be that some companies are taking no chances and blocking all commerce with Syria, while others do not. For example, Google has blocked the use of its new web-browser, “Chrome”, in Syria.

If readers have intelligence on this matter, please let us know.

Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian who was sent to Syria for torture by US authorities, is interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR.

$500 billion bailout of financial firms

The government rather than the cold judgment of the marketplace will decide the winners and losers from the crisis that has shaken the U.S. economy for the past year.

Paulson and Bernanke held a morning conference call with more than 100 House Republicans, making the case for their plan and describing in “strong and serious” terms the dire situation facing the financial system, according to a participant on the call. Hours later, the House Republican leadership met with members and lobbyists to warn against cluttering the legislation with amendments or trying to delay its passage. The message, according to a person at the meeting: We want a clean bill. …

“If you have hundreds of millions of mortgage-backed securities on your books that you cannot value, much less sell, you can now unload them to the U.S. government.”

Ten Russian warships have docked at Syrian port
Debka, 20 settembre 2008

Israeli military and naval commanders were taken by surprise by Rear Adm. Andrei Baranov’s disclosure that 10 Russian warships are already anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus, DEBKA file’s military sources report.

Moscow and Damascus have worked fast to put in place the agreement reached in Moscow on Sept. 12 by Russian navy commander, Adm. Vladimir Wysotsky and Syrian naval commander Gen. Taleb al-Barri to provide the Russian fleet with a long-term base at Syrian ports. Israel was not aware that this many vessels were involved in the deal.

What most worries Israeli military leaders is an earlier announcement by Adm. Wysotsky that Russia’s Mediterranean assets would subjected to its Black Sea fleet command, thereby placing Russia’s warships near Israel’s shores at the service of Moscow’s contest against the US and NATO in the Caucasian. It is feared that Israel will be dragged into another cold war.

Rear Adm. Baranov disclosed that the warships in Tartus had brought engineering crews to widen and dredge the harbor to accommodate additional, fleet vessels. The crews were also working on expanding Latakia, another Syrian port, possibly for aircraft carriers or guided missile cruisers.

The Russians are making no secret of their intention of using their naval presence in Syrian ports as a deterrent to a possible Israeli air strike against Syria.

Israel says Russia passes intelligence it gathers about the Jewish state to Syria and indirectly to Hezbollah… “…The allegations …came at a touchy time in relations with Moscow, given Russian arms talks with Syria and the involvement of a Russian state-owned company in building a nuclear power plant for Iran at Bushehr on its Gulf coast.
Russia has, in turn, complained about Israeli arms and training for Georgia, with which it fought a five-day war last month over the Georgian province of South Ossetia. “My assessment is that their facilities cover most of the state of Israel’s territory,”

Friday Lunch Club reports that: Fmr. head of NSA, Adm. Bobby Inman: “The US government has told the Israeli government in no uncertain terms that they can not kill Nasrallah”

Israel postpones Turkish-brokered talks with Syria, Tehran Times: “”When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party election in Israel,”” Muallem added.

Cheney Linked Hussein to Al-Qaeda, Ex-GOP House Leader Says in Book
By Jeff Leen
The Washington Post, September 16, 2008

A GOP congressional leader who was wavering on giving President Bush the authority to wage war in late 2002 said Vice President Cheney misled him by saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had direct personal ties to al-Qaeda terrorists and was making rapid progress toward a suitcase nuclear weapon, according to a new book by Washington Post investigative reporter Barton Gellman.

Cheney’s assertions, described by former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.), came in a highly classified one-on-one briefing in Room H-208, the vice president’s hideaway office in the Capitol. The threat Cheney described went far beyond public statements that have been criticized for relying on “cherry-picked” intelligence of unknown reliability. There was no intelligence to support the vice president’s private assertions, Gellman reports, and they “crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.”

Armey had spoken out against the coming war, and his opposition gave cover to Democrats who feared the political costs of appearing to be weak. Armey reversed his position after Cheney told him, he said, that the threat from Iraq was actually ” more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large.”

Cheney said, according to Armey, that Iraq’s “ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear,” had been “substantially refined since the first Gulf War,” and would soon result in “packages that could be moved even by ground personnel.” Cheney linked that threat to Hussein’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, Armey said, explaining that “we now know they have the ability to develop these weapons in a very portable fashion, and they have a delivery system in their relationship with organizations such as al-Qaeda.”

“Did Dick Cheney . . . purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue?” Armey said. “I seriously feel that may be the case. . . . Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed [the war] resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening…”

Report: Syrian authorities arrest activist
The International Herald Tribune, September 16, 2008

DAMASCUS, Syria: A human rights group says Syrian intelligence agents have arrested a political activist.
A statement Tuesday by the Syrian Organization for Human Rights says Majed Alloush was picked up Saturday from his home in the Deir al-Zour province in northeastern Syria and taken to an unknown destination. It says Alloush has written numerous articles on “public issues” and is a member of the so-called Damascus Declaration, a coalition of pro-democracy and opposition activists and groups.
Twelve members of that group are standing trial in Syria on charges that include spreading false information and weakening national morale. Three more are in detention.

The organization says Alloush suffers from a heart condition.

IAEA Iran Report
By Judah Grunstein
World Politics Review, September 16, 2008

The IAEA issued its latest Iran report yesterday. Here’s the report itself (.pdf) from the ISIS site, here’s Elaine Sciolino’s write-up for the IHT. The short version is that little has changed in the way of Iranian compliance since the last report. So, declared materials are still accounted for, the nuclear fuel at Bushehr is still under IAEA seal, and Iran’s declared facilities have not been altered or engaged in suspect activity. But it has continued its enrichment program, gaining substantially in the efficiency of its centrifuge cascades and expanding their operation, and has done almost nothing to increase transparency or otherwise respond to documentation of past weaponization efforts.
Sciolino flags this passage from the IAEA report, too:

With reference to the document describing experimentation in connection with. . .an implosion type nuclear device, Iran has stated that there have been no such activities in Iran. Since the Director General’s previous report, the Agency has obtained information indicating that the experimentation described in this document may have involved the assistance of foreign expertise.

No mention yet of where that foreign expertise originated from, but look for that as the next front in the campaign of intelligence leaks on past Iranian weaponization efforts.

Says Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk, “Overall, the Iranians seem to be moving right along,” and clearly, the status quo plays into Iran’s hands. What’s more, as Adam Wolfe pointed out in a WPR piece last week, between the American presidential election this fall, the Iranian presidential election next summer, Russian resistance to sanctions and Iran’s stonewalling, it looks like things are going to be in status quo mode until at least this time next year. By then, the Bushehr reactor will be online, and Iran will have not only continued to improve its enrichment capacity, it will also have a not insignificant amount of enriched uranium at its disposal. Meaning its leverage at the negotiating table will be significantly increased.an airstrike would strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners and pollute the negotiating atmosphere. But the logic…..

Former U.S. secretaries of state say they support talks with Iran
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz.com, September 16, 2008

Five former U.S. secretaries of state on Monday announced their support for talks with Iran, with all five saying the United States should not wait to launch diplomatic engagements with the Islamic Republic….. Albright added that the issue is more serious because the war in Iraq has strengthened Iran. She also said the U.S. has an inaccurate view of Iranian society, saying, “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is not particularly popular, and we don’t understand Iranian society, it’s not monolithic.”Powell issued a harsh rebuke to those who would stonewall the Islamic Republic, saying, “we should start to talk to them and not wait till later. What are we afraid of?”….

Former Clinton administration secretary of state Warren Christopher highlighted U.S. military
shortcomings in the need to pursue talks, saying, “We cannot afford not to have a dialogue, the military options are very poor.”….

Talking with Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah By: Manuela Paraipan, World Security Network, September 15, 2008

Before entering the gate of Sheikh’s Fadlallah’s residence, the man in charge of security verified if indeed I was expected and also checked the car. ….

Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut’s Shelled Synagogue
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, September 18, 2008

Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) — In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.

Arazi, a leader of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community, sees the incident as a lesson in the Arab country’s tradition of tolerance. Now he is trying to make use of that tradition, along with the global diaspora of Lebanese Jews, in a drive to rebuild Beirut’s only synagogue, damaged during the war.

“Those who don’t have a past don’t have a future,” Arazi said to explain his push to rebuild the synagogue.

Beirut’s Maghen Abraham Synagogue opened in 1926 in Wadi Abou Jmil, the city’s Jewish quarter, located on the edge of west Beirut near the Grand Serai palace, where the government meets, and within walking distance of parliament.

Lebanon then was something of a haven for Jews, some of whom were the descendants of those who had fled the Spanish inquisition; it later served a similar role for refugees from Nazi Germany. With “no history of anti-Jewish tensions,” it was the only Arab country whose Jewish population rose after Israel’s creation in 1948, according to Kirsten Schulze, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and author of “The Jews of Lebanon.”

By the mid-1960s, there were as many as 22,000 Lebanese Jews, said Arazi, 65. In addition to heading the Jewish Community Council he owns a food-machinery business with 1,000 customers…

Antoun Issa argues that Saudi Arabia may have been behind the assassination of Aridi in Lebanon in his post: “Lebanon Killing a Sign That Not All Are Happy

It’s Time for the US to Engage Syria in “Serious” Talk By Bashar Elsbihi [Bashman]
Damascus Spring, September 12, 2008

In the past 3 years the current U.S administration has opted to follow a policy of disengagement and isolation with the Syrian regime. Today this policy continues to be the cornerstone of the Bush administration, yet developments on the ground are proving it fruitless. This administration must open the way to the next one and lay down the ground work for a new foreign policy towards Syria that will be pivotal in securing U.S interests and restoring some of the U.S influence lost in the region since the start of the Iraq war. Syria is begging for Washington’s attention, The White House ought to listen…

Comments (63)


EHSANI2 said:

Dear Dr. Landis,

Your write that “the financial crisis of the past few weeks is estimated to have already cost the American taxpayers over 1 trillion”.

I am afraid that the one trillion number is if anything too conservative. Here is why:

The bailouts for Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the underwater money market funds add up close to $600 billion. You then have to add the costs of relieving banks of their bad assets. The entity that will be commissioned to carry this out is estimated to need anywhere between $500 billion and One Trillion.

The reason the number on the debt is potentially much higher is because we must not forget that following the seizure of Fannie and Freddie, the U.S. government now stands behind $5 trillion of mortgages. This makes it responsible for half the entire stock of U.S. home loans outstanding.

September 20th, 2008, 5:04 pm

 

Alex said:

Ehsani,

What is the lesson learned here?

Joshua,

The Lebanese people should be happy that their national debt of $50 billions can now be considered manageable compared to the one the United States has.

September 20th, 2008, 5:15 pm

 

Frank al Irlandi said:

Dear Dr Landis

The topical coincidence of the news about Tartus and Latakia and the few trillion that have been lost down the back of the sofa should be taken together with this.

http://www.csbaonline.org/2006-1/1.StrategicStudies/Navy.shtml

Poor Old Admiral Mullen may have some problems juggling his priorities.

It is even more interesting to speculate on who will fly Combat Air Patrol over the Russian ships when they arrive in Tartus and whether they will deploy TOR and S-300 air defence systems.

September 20th, 2008, 5:37 pm

 

norman said:

Alex ,

I know you asked Ehsani , I still want to give my take .

The lesson is that if my child is overweight and want candy it is my job not to have candy available to him as he can not hold himself ,

So are the American people they are addicted to debt and the financial institutions help them get in more debt , the problem that the Parents ( American Government ) did not have safeguard to prevent the American people from ruining themselves by getting more loans , The US government should protect the consumers from them selves by not giving them loans they can not afford.

September 20th, 2008, 5:55 pm

 

Naji said:

Glad SC is back up… good work Alex… I’d just like to suggest making the comments archive (as it is the heart of Syria COMMENT) more easily searchable…! (and perhaps adding some buttons for HTML tags!?)

In celebration, here is a piece of our Rime’s mind…

As Syria watches, Lebanon changes
Friday, September 19, 2008, 12:51
http://www.rimeallaf.com/mosaics/index.php?entry=entry080919-055101

Apologies or explanations are probably needed for the long absence from the blog, and for not even posting various articles I’ve published elsewhere.

Until I have the time to start blogging again and to comment on so many things, here’s a piece published yesterday which many of my Lebanese friends will not like, and which some of my Syrian friends (and regime fans) who don’t know any better will claim defends the Syrian regime. Not that I need to present my credentials on this subject to anyone of course, and it’s about time they realize that it’s entirely possible to have contempt for two or more sides, and that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

In any case, there will be time to comment about the unbelievable nonsense being written about Syria by people who don’t live there, who fly in and out and “report” on the great strides, the lack of begging, the visionary policies and the other wonderful things supposedly happening there. Some of them haven’t even visited in decades, but apparently that is not an impediment for being an expert on Syria – a bit like the neocons who never went to Ayraq but still make the decisions about its fate. But I digress, don’t I?

As Syria watches, Lebanon changes

The passion seems to have gone out of the Syrian-Lebanese relationship, and the intermittent sparks that flare every now and then hardly cause a ripple. Moreover, for the moment neither side seems to care about rekindling the flame. Or so it seems.

On the Syrian side, no matter which way one looks at it, there is a definite sense of “Lebanon fatigue” overtaking official and popular circles, rendered lethargic by the avalanche of accusations coming their way courtesy of the March 14 movement and their allies. For several years every single crime, assassination, strike, parliamentarian deadlock, economic slump or political stalemate was blamed solely on “Syria”. No Lebanese politician or leader, apparently, might have had any role to play in any such bad, negative or destructive incidents–no Lebanese party, that is, apart from Hizballah and other “pro-Syrian” parties, of course.

Even events in Syria itself, such as the assassination of Hizballah official Imad Mughniyeh in the middle of Damascus were seen by several Lebanese experts (who don’t seem to read self-congratulatory pieces in Israeli newspapers) as being the work of a Syrian regime that apparently had a long list of reasons for wanting to commit such an action.

According to this simplistic discourse, Lebanon had become a simple case of us versus them, of pro-democracy versus pro-Syria, of life-loving versus death-glorifying. In other words, it translated into March 14 versus all those who opposed it, including Syria and its allies. These, consequently, had to be shunned and punished for their long list of alleged crimes, their flouting of Security Council resolutions (a point on which Israel always agrees without a hint of irony) and their ultimate agenda to come back to Lebanon by hook or by crook.

However, an increasing number of observers, analysts and governments around the world were not convinced that this was true–or, at least, that this was the only truth–and began to communicate with Damascus again over Lebanon and over issues bigger than Lebanon. With this, they earned themselves the ire of the March 14 movement and their Saudi-owned media supporters, and became the new target of incredible contempt.

Thus, the presidents of France and Russia and the foreign minister of Spain, to name but a few recent recipients of indignant reprimands, have been unwisely criticized, to the point of ridicule, for basically not conducting their respective countries’ affairs around the agenda of the March 14 movement. They are being lectured as if they were adolescents who embarked on a stormy affair without having considered the consequences, harassed for daring to make high profile official visits and being seen in public together and scolded for not understanding that Syria’s only interest is escaping isolation.

Most of these critics have not noticed that the so-called isolation had never been a serious hindrance, that Syria was never really entirely “out” of Lebanon (although it borders on the pathetic to imagine that Syrian commandos this week “invaded” and “occupied” Lebanon through Tripoli), and that the likelihood of UNSC Resolution 1559 being implemented (or of the UN’s international tribunal being invested) was small and depended on a lot more than meets the eye.

The agitation of the last few years, and especially the last few months following the showdown with Hizballah in Beirut, seems to have come full circle with the apparent crisis within March 14 itself. In recent days and weeks, key figures of the majority are sending out signals, presumably to Damascus, about potential changes in their position, and making open overtures to parties they had hitherto blamed for most of Lebanon’s ills. Walid Jumblatt’s recent statements, for instance, are indicators of serious problems within March 14 and of a possible timid nod toward Damascus (even when accounting for his legendary habit to effect a swift volte-face whenever his position becomes untenable).

No matter how its media supporters spin it, there is no escaping the fact that March 14 is nowhere near achieving its goals (declared or undeclared), and that a variety of issues and troublemakers (not least of which the sectarian clashes in Tripoli, a fire on which Hariri’s media continues to throw fuel) will continue to immobilize the reconciliation process that was imposed on all factions last May in Doha. The adjournment of the dialogue for seven weeks–until November 5, one day after the Americans will have elected their next president–speaks volumes about the involvement, for good or bad, of players other than Syria. Even the visit of the Lebanese president to Washington D.C., just before Tehran, is failing to excite most people as they wait for things to heat up again, probably before the May election circus begins in earnest.

It is perhaps a sign of the maturity of the Syrian regime that its schadenfreude is not being paraded (indeed, Syrian official reactions have practically reached a point of indifference) and that official statements have so far remained civil, indicating that all Lebanese leaders were welcome in Damascus. Perhaps it is easy to play the dignified, more mature partner in this relationship while moving in more prestigious circles and mixing with leaders who have real political weight around the world. Indeed, with an increasing number of friends in high places, there are no longer any signs of Syria’s obsession with maintaining an ostentatious presence in Lebanon or even of continuing to micro-manage the affairs of its allies. For the time being, the Syrian leadership seems confident that Lebanese factions are more than capable by themselves of ruining any chance for real independence, while the bigger issues on the table (including the status of Hizballah) are left simmering on the back burner.

Unfortunately for March 14, there is no escaping the fact that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Published 18/9/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at Britain’s Chatham House.

September 20th, 2008, 8:18 pm

 

Naji said:

I’d also suggest making the editing window longer… at least the old half hour… you want to encourage well considered thoughts and writing, don’t you…!?

September 20th, 2008, 8:24 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

I am afraid that the one trillion number is if anything too conservative. Here is why:

I suppose nobody yet even knows how much this financial turmoil in the end will cost USA and the world. Certainly the US government and FED are not willing to inform the US taxpayers what the saving of the financial system will / could cost. When the bank turmoil in Finland beagun in the beginning of 90’s the government first put FIM 7.9 billion to save the banks. They said then that it is enough. In the end the cost for Finnish tax payers was FIM 61 billion in money and FIM 23 billion in collaterals. The final direct net costs for tax payers were about FIM 50 billion. The indirect costs for the national economy were much bigger in form of thousands of destroyed businesses and huge unemployment.

I worked much with the risk evaluation systems used by the Finnish bad loan institution and more or less socialized banks. Before the financial market collapse I used to work in one of the most risk taking banks. So I had in many ways personal experience of such events and the complexity of the situation. The difference between the events in Nordic countries in the 90’s and now is the huge size and influence of US financial system and more importantly the much more complex modern “bank products”. Mixing insolvent customers and good customers loans in packets and selling then around the world in different “shapes” was not a very brilliant idea.

The result of the Finnish bank crisis was that most of then biggest commercial banks are now run and owned by non Finnish banks. Probably the owners of future US banks and other financial institutions will in future be “less American” as they are now.

Let’s hope that US regime manages fast to put the crisis in control, though I think we have seen only the beginning of this saga and it will get much worse before the healing process can begin. Surely this event showed that an unregulated capitalism (= belief that greedy businessmen can themselves take care of the control) is an dangerous utopia.

By the way there was in Finnish news that already in the spring Bank of Finland exchanged experiences with FED about bad loan banks.

September 20th, 2008, 10:46 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Dear Simohurtta,

The Fed has indeed recently studied the Nordic as well as the Japanese experience. The Fed Chairman is also acutely aware of the 1930’s US depression era.

What are the lessons learnt?

As an active participant in the derivatives market for most of my career, let me offer a simple answer to Alex’s question:

There is no doubt that lax regulation was to blame. The real issue however is to do with the inability of humans to say no and walk away from more than reasonable returns on investment.

Starting in 2001, those that bought U.S. real estate saw the values of their homes rise by close to 20% a year for 4 straight years. Clearly, such returns on investment could not last. Bankers did indeed expect this to stop. But, few could fathom that not only real estate values may stop rising but they could actually fall. The majority of lenders and borrowers were comforted by the fact that “national” home prices have never fallen in the U.S. All that was needed therefore was a large and diversified loan portfolio that can mimic the national housing market.

Starting late 2006, home values did indeed stop rising. By early 2007, they started “falling”. This was a shock to the people that built the models behind the mortgage securities. A fall of 10% now looked all but certain. By early 2008, lenders were staring at potential price declines of as much as 30% in parts of the country. In the world of mortgage securities this was akin to a nuclear explosion that threw the value of the loans backing these securities into a tail spin.

The lesson is that nothing in life is immune from a fall in value. If prices are in equilibrium, they can fall as much as they can rise as a result of a change in the demand curve. This simple fact was not taken into account by the mortgage lenders and the buyers of the securities backing these loans.

Any excess return over the risk free government rate comes with risk. As markets rise 10, 20 or 30% a year for few years, it becomes very hard for humans to resist the temptation.

Once the mania bursts as it inevitably does, greed turns into fear. The past one week that fear turned into shock and despair.

The U.S authorities stared at the abyss and finally decided to throw the towel and institute the mother of all government interventions. It is ironic to see an administration that champions free markets pull every trick in the book to stop free markets from repricing themselves to take account of the new realities in the economy.

September 20th, 2008, 11:44 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Ehsani

To what extent do you think that the ease of aquiring credit has contributed to the rising home prices.

Home sellers and owners also could not resist the opportunity of cashing in on their existing equity, could assessors and with real estate agents have also contributed. It was common to say, just tell the assessor how much are you paying and she/he will make sure that the number is close enough.

It would be interesting to find out how much of the bad loans are equity loans and how much are first home loans. I can not find out such number, but i would be interested in knowing it. And who better than our Ehsani to ask?

September 21st, 2008, 12:50 am

 

Off the Wall said:

Ehsani

Bob Barr, the republican turned libertarian argues that the sky would not have fallen if the FEDS never bailed out anyone. I would argue that instead of bailing out the big guys, had the FEDS established a mechanism to re-finance the consumers’ themselves as opposed to refinancing and taking over the banks, wouldn’t the problem be much smaller as the banks get their monies and the consumers can stop paying the high variable interest rates. But i think that main street is on no ones mind. I am very upset at this bail-out. It will allow all of those who designed these shady financial instruments and cashed big money out already to get away scott free, or in severe cases, with a slap on the wrist and tens of millions in compensation for being fired. What a joke.

September 21st, 2008, 1:01 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Dear Off The Wall,

Home equity loans are only $750 billion. The size of the entire U.S. mortgage loan market is $10 trillion.

There is no doubt that many households were approved to get access to loans that they should have never received. The motto of an “ownership society” was promoted by policy makers and every past administration. The tax code did it part too.

As to lax lending standards, I believe that the concept was correlated with extremely rosy assumptions about the future trend of home prices. If you plugged in your model the assumption that home prices will rise by 10-20% a year, resisting a loan application looks foolish. When a home buyer puts 20% down and home prices rise by 20%, the lending business starts to look very attractive indeed. Banks dropped the required down payment to 10% and at the peak to as little as zero. Were prices to continue rising, the home buyer will quickly have 10-20% equity in a year so why not drop the loan underwriting standards.

The process goes hey wire of course when you change the sign in that model to -30% from +20% when it comes to the future trend in house prices. Suddenly, most borrowers owe more on their homes than what their equity is worth. Many simple decided to hand the key to their bankers and walked away. Since American mortgage loans are non-recourse loans, the bank cannot come after your other assets. You could drive a ferrari and have millions in your bank account but still shield yourself from your mortgage lender should you decide to default on your mortgage and walk away.

September 21st, 2008, 1:17 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

I am a proponent of free markets. Even though I work in the industry, I will stick to that principal and agree with you that the bailout should not have taken place.

Major Wall Street firms like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sacks were on the brink of having their share collapse like Lehman and Bear before them. The CEO’s of both companies heavily lobbied Washington for urgent and immediate help. They blamed the short sellers for their demise. Short sellers play a valuable role in markets. Plus, Morgan Stanley short sellers only represented 3% of the outstanding stock. It is true that they bet against the companies in the derivatives market too. I personally have no problem with that. Short sellers have been correct about the state of the balance sheets of these companies. Take the case of Morgan Stanley as an example:

The company has debts totaling $775 billion and shareholder equity of $31 billion. This amounts to a debt/equity ratio of 2496%.

This amount of leverage is no longer tolerated in today’s market place and new realty. Lacking a steady customer deposit base means that these type pf balance sheets are at the mercy of creditors and buyers of the firm’s bonds. Should they decide not to roll over the securities when they are due, the firm will be in deep trouble. Equity of 31 billion cannot and should not support a balance sheet of over a trillion dollars. It is this that is causing the stock price to decline and not the short sellers. This company and many like it need to issue new stock to raise fresh capital and/or merge with others. They can no longer survive on their own.

Regrettably, the U.S. treasury has decided to stand in the way of this process using potential future taxpayer liability as its weapon of shock and awe.

September 21st, 2008, 1:44 am

 

norman said:

Ehsani,

Very enlightening explanation ,

I have two questions ,

1_ Why do you think that the houses value went down instead of up for the first time ,

2_ Do you think that it would be better off securing the mortgages personally with the borrowers .

September 21st, 2008, 1:47 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

House prices went down because “trees don’t grow to the sky”. At the peak of house prices, affordability made it very hard for new home buyers to join the party even with lax financing. Any asset that rises 20% in value for 5 straight years in what then a low inflation environment must stop at some point. The last batch of buyers were of such poor credit that defaults quickly became apparent. As they defaulted and fell behind on interest payments, banks took over the homes and put them on the market for sale. Sales below market prices at the time drove whole neighbourhoods down, thanks to pricing according to “comprables”. This negative and reverse loop has continued to this day.

In Europe, Mortgage loans are full recourse loans. You cannot walk away from your house and leave your other assets protected. Clearly, the U.S. system is riskier for the lenders and ought to come with more expensive mortgage rates. In reality, this is not the case. U.S. mortgages are indeed much cheaper than they ought be based on this issue alone.

September 21st, 2008, 2:07 am

 

AIG said:

Ehsani,
The bailout was required to make sure credit markets do not freeze and that if main street companies and people require loans they would continue getting them. The bailout is not going to help wall street companies very much. If the treasury buys their toxic bonds at 20-30 cents for the dollar, it will not save the the stock holders of the banks. They will have to write off the bonds and they will have huge losses. BUT, new investors would be more likely to inject capital into the banks, and the banks in general will find it easier to lend to each other and other companies because the balance sheets will be cleared once and for all and confidence will be built again.

There is still a good chance that several financial institutions will go under. For sure, Goldman and Morgan will show huge losses when they sell their debt and when they deleverage.

What the US government has done is made sure that the recession in the US will last 1-2 years instead of 10 years like in Japan. It will force the banks to clean their balance sheets. Some will survive and some will die in the process, but there will not be zombies, or living dead left around to severely hamper growth. In the end, if house prices rise in the future, the US tax payer may even make money.

September 21st, 2008, 2:13 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

AIG,

If the treasury buys the toxic securities at 20-30 cents on the dollar, the banks will take a massive hit. Citibank’s Alt-A loans are still marked at close to 80 cents on the dollar. Goldman has marked them at 50 cents while Lehman had them at 38 cents just before they collapsed. The whole point of setting up this $700 billion monster is to help buy the securities from the banks without having those institutions go out of business in the meantime. If the treasury insists that it will only buy them at say 20 cents on the dollar, banks are going to need billions in fresh capital to make up for that loss given their current marks.

The treasury proposal to congress was a simple 3 page letter that gives the secretary the amazing power of buying and reselling mortgage debt. All he needs to do is to report to congress semiannually.

If he buys the loans at a high price, he will help the bank balance sheets and stuff the tax payers with the possibility of future losses ($700 billion is $2000 per U.S. citizen). If he buys them at a low price (as you seem to suggest), banks will take hits relative to current mark-to-market and once the short selling ban is over, their share prices will slide to make up for the need of fresh capital.

The fact is that Mr. Paulson is now the most powerful man in the country. He will soon be granted the power to answer the above question all by himself with hardly any oversight.

September 21st, 2008, 2:34 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

AIG,

The treasury will buy the securities in what is called a “reverse auction”. This essentially means that the treasury will seek the lowest price during the auction process (in a normal auction, the highest bidder wins). Here, the bank that sells lowest gets to unload the securities.

September 21st, 2008, 3:59 am

 

AIG said:

Ehsani,
I did not know that, but that is good news for the the US tax payers. I agree with you that there is going to be strong pressure on Goldman and Morgan stocks once the short ban is over. But that is only fair. The share holders should get a large hit because of the mismanagement. Goldman and Morgan will not go out of business, but will shrink substantially.

September 21st, 2008, 4:16 am

 

Rumyal said:

Alex,

Regarding “Chrome”, I contacted an (Israeli) friend of mine in Google—as promised—and his semi-serious semi-tongue-in-cheek response was:

I really don’t know but it sounds interesting enough and I will be happy to follow up – whatever it takes to drive peace in the middle east.

We’ll see what he finds out…

September 21st, 2008, 6:22 am

 

Shai said:

Rumyal,

Good to see you again on SC. I want to add my own appreciation of your (very) detailed responses. They are far better than I could ever achieve and, as the Israeli side is very underrepresented here (our own fault, not anyone else’s), I’m proud to be in the company of fellow Israelis such as yourself.

As for a possible Arab (or joint Arab-Israeli) browser development, I’ve got an idea for the name… (not for the technical aspects unfortunately) – how about “Golan” (with heights as the icon)? Gee what a creative suggestion, eh? 🙂

September 21st, 2008, 6:51 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

What the US government has done is made sure that the recession in the US will last 1-2 years instead of 10 years like in Japan. It will force the banks to clean their balance sheets. Some will survive and some will die in the process, but there will not be zombies, or living dead left around to severely hamper growth. In the end, if house prices rise in the future, the US tax payer may even make money.

AIG believing that this is “over” in 1 – 2 years is daydreaming. Also believing that US taxpayers will make money is rather laughable. US taxpayers will “make money” of those bad loans only if there is a an extremely high inflation for several years. But the future 10 inflation dollars might not have the value of one present dollar.

PS.
AIG interesting news about the “nuclear reactor”.
Diplomats: Syria passes 1st test of nuclear probe

September 21st, 2008, 8:17 am

 

kooki said:

ATM cards: I went with my niece yesterday to draw out money with her American ATM card in central Damascus and, interestingly, we went to four banks before we could find one that worked. In the end, she was able to withdraw cash at the Arab Bank of Syria, but it did not work at Bank Bemo, Oveseas and Commercial Bank and A. N. Other, I forget which. She had already notified her bank in the US that she was visiting. At the time, I put it down to the banks having run out of bills over the weekend…I have found that the Syrian banks, private and others, tend to change their guidelines quite often, but it’s one one to watch.

September 21st, 2008, 8:25 am

 

ugarit said:

As per the US economy discussion: So we’re now socializing losses and privatizing profits. I guess the white collars’ lobbying and money really paid off in the end.

Where’s the free market? I don’t expect anyone to answer this since there never was a “free” market.

September 21st, 2008, 2:23 pm

 
 
 

Off the Wall said:

UGARIT

Thanks, my point exactly, but well said. I think you captured the essence of how our government work.

September 21st, 2008, 4:39 pm

 

American Progressive said:

Can anyone tell me whether the Debka report on the Russian ships in Tartus and Latakia is true? what does everyone think about the implications. More stability in the region or less? Does anyone trust Russian intentions lately and where are they headed? Is this Bashar’s response to israel’s attack on the reactor site? Is it a brilliant move to counteract the crazy eight years of Bush’s efforts at regime change or is it reckless invitation for a return of the Cold War? Will it lead to the possibility of a deal with Israel or a greater possibility of war? I am inclined to see the intelligence of Bashar shoring up his defense against a reckless American policy of eight years, but i am very nervous about increasing Russian hegemony replacing American hegemony. Who says the world will be better off? The opportunity for military confrontation seems to be increasing, but i am not sure. I think we need more research on this, more eyes on the ground and more conversations with diplomats and military people. This is worrying me more than anything else. The Russians have decided to engage militarily of late and I am not sure that the leverage they will now have on Syria will make the region or Syria safer.

September 21st, 2008, 4:48 pm

 

Alex said:

Rumyal,

Thanks : )

Ugarit,

we always criticized the Bush administration, but you have to admit that this administration is exceptionally skilled in … swiftly moving money in large quantities.

Either because they “had to” fight “terrorism” … in Ayrak, or because they had to save wall street from total collapse … the end result is that the government (or the American people) had to pay trillions of dollars, and many of their rich friends and corporations became much richer.

Despite all the administration’s failures (military, foreign policy, economic) … it succeeded in empowering whoever it wanted to empower.

Watch how the recipients of large chunks of those mobile trillions will affect decision making in Washington in the coming years.

September 21st, 2008, 5:47 pm

 

Naji said:

Excellent comment, Alex…!

That’s why I suggested you make the comments’ archive more easily searchable… so that we can more easily find such gems in the future…!

Let’s see how far will flattery get me on this…!? 🙂

September 21st, 2008, 6:21 pm

 

Alex said:

Thank you Naji,

Flattery works. Last time I read your suggestion, I forgot about it a minute later.

This time I will keep what you suggested in mind and I will work on it.

: )

September 21st, 2008, 7:27 pm

 

offended said:

Hello guys. Nice to have SC up and running again!

September 21st, 2008, 7:35 pm

 

offended said:

such a contemptible act of al qaeda to blow up people at the time of iftar. well i guess cowardice knows no limits, does it?

September 21st, 2008, 7:42 pm

 

offended said:

A casual observation; the editing time countdown makes me nervous. Just saying.

September 21st, 2008, 7:45 pm

 

offended said:

otherwise a great job!
thanks you guys!

September 21st, 2008, 7:46 pm

 

offended said:

If so far the spam filter didn’t realize that I am trying to test its limits, then I should be fine!

September 21st, 2008, 7:48 pm

 

Alex said:

Offendded,

If the spam filter does not stop you I will!

: )

September 21st, 2008, 7:53 pm

 

Friend in America said:

Reflections by policy makers and academics on policies flourish during American national election campaigns and in the 2 months following national elections. Here is a forum that I will not be attending, but I invite thoughtful comments by the participants here on the questions asked. Criticizing this organization (POMED) is not desired. Your comments on the questions are.

“The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the
Institute for Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International
Affairs present:
A Time of Transition: U.S. Impact on Reform in a Changing
Middle East
As Washington officials debate the future of U.S. policy in
the Middle East, one of the principal issues with which they must grapple is change. Dynamics of reform in particular
are changing. Youth are increasingly disengaged from traditional political parties, gravitating instead towards independent new organizations mobilized around particular issues or
grievances. Islamists’ political calculations have changed after observing very divergent experiences and reactions in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, and the West Bank & Gaza. Blogging and
social networking websites like Facebook play an increasingly important role in political mobilization and protest. And while rising oil prices provide additional flexibility to oil producers, inflation threatens the standard of living in poorer states.

Governments, on the other hand, have refined their
strategies of managed political reform. In some countries, emergency laws continue to stifle dissent; in others,
such laws have been replaced with functionally similar “anti-terrorism” laws. Elections are carefully controlled, either through sweeping changes in electoral systems or targeted
election-day intervention in particular constituencies. Journalists, bloggers, and independent political voices are targets of arrest or intimidation.
How are dynamics of reform in the Middle East changing, and
what are the main drivers of that change? How have the last seven years shaped Middle Easterners’ attitudes to American involvement in the region, to the word “democracy,” and to democratic reform itself? What opportunities and challenges do these changes create for Middle Easterners dedicated to political reform?
Following a time of transition in America’s own domestic politics, how should the U.S. approach the region? Can the next administration play a positive role in supporting democratic reform in the Middle East, and if so, how?

Please join us for a discussion with:
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Founder, Ibn Khaldun Center for
Development Studies, Cairo
Marc Lynch, Associate Professor of Political Science and
International Affairs, George Washington University; author, Voices of the New Arab Public
Moderated by Andrew Albertson, Executive Director, Project
on Middle East

September 21st, 2008, 10:08 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

The impact of this growing debt on America’s foreign power is unclear. One can assume that Washington’s hands will be increasingly tied by its poverty.

I’m not sure who wrote this, but I find it amusing that a pro-Syrian cheerleader has emerged to tell us about Washington’s “poverty”.

$1 TRILLION dollars divided by 300 million citizens = about $3,333/citizen. With a per capita GDP of $46,000, that about 7% of one citizen’s annual pay.

Sorry to inform you, we can absorb it. The fight against Saddam, Iran and 911-type jihadist terrorism is worth it.

Offended said:

such a contemptible act of al qaeda to blow up people at the time of iftar. well i guess cowardice knows no limits, does it?

You’re right about that.

September 22nd, 2008, 1:01 am

 

Alex said:

I guess there was no other option at that time …

ALMOST ARMAGEDDON
MARKETS WERE 500 TRADES FROM A MELTDOWN

By MICHAEL GRAY
September 21, 2008

The market was 500 trades away from Armageddon on Thursday, traders inside two large custodial banks tell The Post.

Had the Treasury and Fed not quickly stepped into the fray that morning with a quick $105 billion injection of liquidity, the Dow could have collapsed to the 8,300-level – a 22 percent decline! – while the clang of the opening bell was still echoing around the cavernous exchange floor.

According to traders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, money market funds were inundated with $500 billion in sell orders prior to the opening. The total money-market capitalization was roughly $4 trillion that morning.

The panicked selling was directly linked to the seizing up of the credit markets – including a $52 billion constriction in commercial paper – and the rumors of additional money market funds “breaking the buck,” or dropping below $1 net asset value.

The Fed’s dramatic $105 billion liquidity injection on Thursday (pre-market) was just enough to keep key institutional accounts from following through on the sell orders and starting a stampede of cash that could have brought large tracts of the US economy to a halt.

While many depositors treat money market accounts as fancy savings accounts, they are different. Banks buy a variety of short-term debt, including commercial paper, with the assets. It is an important distinction because banks use the $1.7 trillion commercial-paper market to fund their credit card operations and car finance companies use it to move autos.

Without commercial paper, “factories would have to shut down, people would lose their jobs and there would be an effect on the real economy,” Paul Schott Stevens, of the Investment Company Institute, told the Wall Street Journal.

Cracks started to show in money market accounts late Tuesday when shares in one fund, the Reserve Primary Fund – which touted itself as super safe – fell below the golden $1 a share level. It had purchased what it thought was safe Lehman bonds, never dreaming they could default – which they did 24 hours earlier when the 158-year-old investment bank filed Chapter 11.

By Wednesday, banks sensed a run on their accounts. They started stockpiling cash in anticipation of withdrawals.

Banks, which usually keep an average of $2 billion in excess reserves earmarked for withdrawals, pumped that up to an astounding $90 billion by Wednesday, Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrighton ICAP, told The Journal.

And for good reason. By the close of business on Wednesday, $144.5 billion – a record – had been withdrawn. How much money was taken out of money market funds the prior week? Roughly $7.1 billion, according to AMG Data Services.

By Thursday, that level, fed by the incredible volume of sell orders pouring in from institutional investors like pension funds and sovereign funds, had grown to $100 billion. It was still not enough to stem the tidal wave.

The banks knew something drastic had to be done. So did Paulson.

The injection of capital into the market was followed up by calls from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to major money market players like Bank of New York Mellon and State Street in Boston informing them that federal money was in the market and they should tell their clients the Feds would be back with a plan to stem the constriction in the credit market.

Paulson knew the $105 billion injection was not a real solution. A broader, more radical answer was needed.

Hours after Paulson made his round of calls to calm the industry, word leaked out that an added $1 trillion bailout of banks was being readied. Investors cheered. At about 3 p.m., news of the plans was filtering up and down Wall Street, fueling a 700-point advance in the Dow Jones industrial average through 4 p.m. Friday.

By that time, Paulson had announced the plan. It included insurance on money market accounts, a move that started in quiet Thursday morning, when the former Goldman Sachs executive saved the country from a paralyzing meltdown.

mgray@nypost.com

September 22nd, 2008, 3:26 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

$1 TRILLION dollars divided by 300 million citizens = about $3,333/citizen. With a per capita GDP of $46,000, that about 7% of one citizen’s annual pay.

Sorry to inform you, we can absorb it. The fight against Saddam, Iran and 911-type jihadist terrorism is worth it.

Well Akbar that $1 trillion to garbage banks is only a down payment, the final bill will be much higher. To that one trillion you must add $1 trillion costs of your strange and no result showing fight against Saddam, Iran & Jihadists. That makes 2 trillion in costs (hitherto). The irony is that Americans have not yet paid those costs. The costs have / will been paid by lending the money from abroad. Sooner or later you have pay the costs of those adventures in taxes. Sorry to inform you Akbar, but that will hurt.

By the way Akbar US intelligence services seem to have astonishing much co-operation with these “jihadists”

Sauerland_Attentäter – Der CIA-Mann aus Ludwigshafen
. Strange Akbar isn’t it, when CIA provides the Jihadists the needed detonators. Well knowing the murky history and methods of CIA and Mossad it is not so “astonishing”.

September 22nd, 2008, 6:54 am

 

Zenobia said:

Sorry to inform you, we can absorb it. The fight against Saddam, Iran and 911-type jihadist terrorism is worth it.

oh really? who do you think you are speaking for exactly?

the minute most americans felt that in their pocket books and could cognitively tie it directly to the cost of these ventures.. they would protest like crazy.
If they even believe these things are grave threats to our abstract ideals, and I mean IF, they still wouldn’t be interested in paying for it. Most amerians want their so called ideals and values on the cheap. And hopefully with profit.

September 22nd, 2008, 7:42 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

oh really? who do you think you are speaking for exactly?

Zenobia,

I only try to speak for myself. It seems to me GWB’s winning a second term was a referendum on the War in Iraq and the War on Terrorism. Even Senator Obama has changed his tune about his “immediate” withdraw from Iraq. IMHO, we can’t afford to walk away from jihadism and those that support them. Confronting terrorism is the only way to reduce the threat.

That being said, the current financial crisis has very little to do with these wars, although one would never know that reading many of the posts here. These financial problems have more to do with poor lending practices as lawmakers lobbied financial companies to “make it easy” for anyboby to purchase something they could hardly afford.

September 22nd, 2008, 11:07 am

 

Zenobia said:

The connection to the current financial crisis is that during the entire time that the american population were preoccupied with the war in Iraq, this was the same period in which all this recklessness in the financial sector was escalating with zero attention being paid. In addition, things like the Bush tax cuts were pushed through right after the invasion, I believe such that nobody made a peep to debate it out in the public sphere, and most people hardly noticed.
The entirety of the economic policies and the corruption in the financial industry were overshadowed by our horrible war endeavor.

In addition, maybe you don’t notice, but 500 billion dollars spent on war, does have to come from somewhere!… It has a bill…yes? It takes away from other things. Or it adds to our debt. It may not be related to Wall Street directly, but it is related to the budget of our government and to the issue of what we spend money on in this world. Again, I would argue that most Americans would not prefer to spend their own paycheck on some weapons to fight some jihadists if it came down to such a concrete experience. If the gov’t told them, you know, you will have to give up ten percent of your paycheck to go to the war fund.
Do you think that would go over well?
Now, we just assume that the money is coming from somewhere…where? nobody knows. And as long as you still have a house, that’s fine. Except now, a lot of people lost there house, and there is no money to bail them out apparently….

of course, you probably favored all those policies Akbar, so this would be fine with you. For those of us who don’t, we feel the country was screwed over big time.

but to the larger issue….

“Confronting” terrorism is NOT the only way to eliminate it. In fact, I would argue it is a completely useless way to eliminate it.
It is very similar to the Reagan era utterly useless “War on Drugs”… I just don’t see why so many people can’t grasp that there are endless supplies of new people who will take the place of every drug lord and every “terrorist” or resistance fighter that you confront or kill.

In fact, the more you kill , the more pissed off the ‘enemy’ becomes and the more this incites other wayward persons to join the cause of fighting you back. It is ridiculous.

The whole premise of the theory that you just need to confront such beings is based on the idea that these individuals are simply an anomalous group of evil people, not part of the normal population, like a cancer tumor that one just needs to cut out of an otherwise placid and healthy whole. It is nonsense and a complete misapprehension of reality.

In fact, every drug cartel and every terror cell or movement is an outgrowth from a population- an extreme along some continuum withing a sub-culture. And when you eliminate leaders of this extreme, the underlings will shift over to assume those same leadership positions. And when you destroy and attack, then this is like a poison to the whole, that weakens it, and then actually the cancer spreads even more. There is no clean cut.

In Iraq, the americans tried to take out the supposed separate bad guys- the real Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia that developed quickly or the old guard of Saddam. And the result was, such an angered general population, that all sorts of enraged Iraqis, not even former supporters of Saddam, not even particular religious or jihadist types, not foreign fighters with their own agendas, but formerly normal Iraqis joined up in an insurgency. The complete opposite result from what was trying to be achieved.

Look, you can applaud the so called surge all you want. It wasn’t our warriors that won the day right now, and let me emphasize, RIGHT NOW, but rather our MONEY won the day, the power of the purse is what bought the calm.
We paid the insurgency off to stop firing. How noble, how brilliant!! The triumph of democracy…

Will that last?? What happens when the americans leave?, and they will leave, you know, now, or later…
What then, when the shite dominated government… decides to stop paying those hundreds of thousands of Sunni fighters to keep the peace? No more three hundred dollars a month…. too bad.

Well, perhaps, a miracle will happen, and the gov’t will do the right thing and power share with the Sunnis. Perhaps the Kurds will not break off into their own country… perhaps there will be democratic… power sharing to the point where all feel they have a stake in the survival of their new government and in not killing each other but cooperating.

However, this is a big IF at this point. I would not start celebrating yet, while the paychecks to the rebels are still flowing. and while the stupid ass government still cannot hardy agree on the simplest thing and are not prepared for a greater distribution of power in the government to include those who represent the population that fed the insurgency.

We’ll see. If things turn out well…it will show only the spirit of the Iraqis and their overcoming…. it will not prove that f-ing GWB and dickless Chaney were right about anything.

Akbar, you can speak for yourself that it was “worth it”…that’s all fine and well…for YOU , yes.
I think that the Iraqis who lost several hundred thousand family members… and those millions that had to flee their country and homes… may not agree with you…

September 22nd, 2008, 6:03 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

The connection to the current financial crisis … with zero attention being paid. In addition, things like the Bush tax cuts …

Dear Zenobia,

That is why (as a conservative I suppose) I wouldn’t want the US government to run our healthcare, etc. The fewer things the US government is responsible for, the better we’ll all be. If the US were to switch to a form of European socialism, out healthcare and our standard of living will be less than it is today. I can assure you. If there weren’t any tax cuts, these financial institutions would still be where they are today. The main role of our federal government should be to protect us from threats “foreign and domestic”.

The entirety of the economic policies and the corruption in the financial industry were overshadowed by our horrible war endeavor.

You haven’t shown me that if we were NOT at war, how the “corruption in the financial industry” would have magically gone away.

In addition, maybe you don’t notice, but 500 billion dollars spent on war, does have to come from somewhere!

The 500 billion dollars spent on the war doesn’t come from Lehman Brothers or from AIG or Bear Stearns or from Fannie Mae, etc. They are not related Zenobia.

It has a bill…yes? It takes away from other things.

It “weakens” the dollar, it “slows” the economy and perhaps the stock market, but it didn’t cause these financial institutions to lend billions of dollars to people who didn’t have the income to pay these loans back. In fact, Congress passed laws encouraging these risky loans.

Or it adds to our debt.

Yes, it does.

Again, I would argue that most Americans would not prefer to spend their own paycheck on some weapons to fight some jihadists if it came down to such a concrete experience.

After 9-11, Americans had no problem fighting jihadists. Bush was re-elected 3 years after the war. But most understand that because we live in a DEMOCRACY, we leave it to the PEOPLE to determine if we have fought enough or not. The fact that McCain is still in this race and the fact that Obama has stepped back from our “immediate” withdraw from Iraq, tells me that the US citizenry is still concerns about global terrorism. Check out the “grass-roots” demonstrations against the king-pin of global terrorism, Iran and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today if you care to.

If the gov’t told them, you know, you will have to give up ten percent of your paycheck to go to the war fund.
Do you think that would go over well?

Probably not. However, if you could guarantee a “WIN” against gloabal terrorism and energy independence, I think it would go over quite well.

Now, we just assume that the money is coming from somewhere…where? nobody knows. And as long as you still have a house, that’s fine. Except now, a lot of people lost there house, and there is no money to bail them out apparently….

People lose things every day: Cars, homes, stocks, keys, wallets, credit cards. The US government can’t be your mother and it can’t be your father.

of course, you probably favored all those policies Akbar, so this would be fine with you. For those of us who don’t, we feel the country was screwed over big time.

Any large “bail-out” using your taxes and mine is not right, especially if it is to keep a failing business up and running. That is why a lot of conservative are against these bail-outs.

“Confronting” terrorism is NOT the only way to eliminate it. In fact, I would argue it is a completely useless way to eliminate it.

I believe I have more “data” proving my case than you do proving your case.

I just don’t see why so many people can’t grasp that there are endless supplies of new people who will take the place of every drug lord and every “terrorist” or resistance fighter that you confront or kill.

If there are “endless supplies of new … terrorists or resistance fighters”, why have the number of suicide bombings decreased in Iraq? Why have they decreased in Europe? The answer is:

1.) The countries who are supporting these people are pressured to refrain from supporting them with actual consequences for not complying.

2.) Those states afflicted with terrorism are taking a personal interest in improving the security of their neighborhoods and their homeland.

In fact, the more you kill , the more pissed off the ‘enemy’ becomes and the more this incites other wayward persons to join the cause of fighting you back. It is ridiculous.

Zenobia,

This is a myth. The 9-11 bombers planned their attacks way before GWB was in office, smack dab in the middle of the Clinton administration’s last term. No one was in Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter. Clinton was in daily communication with our beloved Syria. The “enemy” will always be “pissed off”, angry and dissatisfied. The “enemy” will always see a fly in his soup and have some type of grievance. Even if Israel is long gone, you can bet somebody out there wants to kill somebody else.

The whole premise of the theory that you just need to confront such beings is based on the idea that these individuals are simply an anomalous group of evil people, not part of the normal population, like a cancer tumor that one just needs to cut out of an otherwise placid and healthy whole. It is nonsense and a complete misapprehension of reality.

The theory is believe in is that:

1.) Hold the countries that employ terrorism accountable.

2.) Conduct regime change is said government doesn’t comply.

3.) Get deomcracy in place to make the government accountable.

4.) Let the government and the citizenry take care of their domestic security and the foreign policy.

And when you destroy and attack, then this is like a poison to the whole, that weakens it, and then actually the cancer spreads even more. There is no clean cut.

If we take Iraq into accout, I think we actually have a case of a “cancer survivor”, or, at least, a cancer patient in “remission”.

In Iraq, the americans tried to take out the supposed separate bad guys- the real Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia that developed quickly or the old guard of Saddam. And the result was, such an angered general population, that all sorts of enraged Iraqis, not even former supporters of Saddam, not even particular religious or jihadist types, not foreign fighters with their own agendas, but formerly normal Iraqis joined up in an insurgency. The complete opposite result from what was trying to be achieved.

From my vantage point, Iraq was first happy, then angry, and now optimistic (according to the polls). All this with a country that has never known freedom or democracy. It took the US nearly 200 years, it took Japan and Germany a few decades. I know the democrats are an impatient sort, but I think Iraq has done fairly well.

Look, you can applaud the so called surge all you want. It wasn’t our warriors that won the day right now, and let me emphasize, RIGHT NOW, but rather our MONEY won the day, the power of the purse is what bought the calm.

If it wasn’t our “warriors”, Saddam would be in power today.

We paid the insurgency off to stop firing. How noble, how brilliant!! The triumph of democracy…

I thought the Islamic resistance and Al-Queda in Iraq transcended money. Nevertheless, a combination of military power and confrontation, tribal “negotiation”, training, and persistence is how we will win against state sponsors of terror.

The other “low hanging fruit” of Libya is another, better example of how confrontation works better than negotiating with these ME thugs.

Will that last?? What happens when the americans leave?, and they will leave, you know, now, or later…

It will last if the thug in charge either “gets the message” or he is replaced by democracy.

Well, perhaps, a miracle will happen, and the gov’t will do the right thing and power share with the Sunnis. Perhaps the Kurds will not break off into their own country… perhaps there will be democratic… power sharing to the point where all feel they have a stake in the survival of their new government and in not killing each other but cooperating.

Now you’re beginning to see the light…

However, this is a big IF at this point.

Which is why we should stay in Iraq unitl all these issues are resolved.

I would not start celebrating yet…

Just optimistic, unless we get a US Administration that doesn’t care.

We’ll see. If things turn out well…it will show only the spirit of the Iraqis and their overcoming….

And let us not forget, it also shows the spirit of an American people who are not willing to absorb a 9-11 and do nothing about it.

it will not prove that f-ing GWB and dickless Chaney were right about anything.

I don’t BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) cloud my thinking. If a democrat like Kerry were in power, you can rest assured your buddy Saddam Hussein would be in power today.

I think that the Iraqis who lost several hundred thousand family members… and those millions that had to flee their country and homes… may not agree with you…

Maybe not, but the bottom line is: Would they prefer to go back to Saddam Hussein? Ask them for me and get back to me with an answer. If I recall the polls, most agree to be exactly where they are today.

Nice talking to you, try not to let that “Left Coast” mentality to cloud your very good thinking;)

September 23rd, 2008, 12:07 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Anwar Sadat: war hero, peace-maker or traitor?

Bashar Assad: war hero, eye doctor, peace-maker, or empty suit?

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1004837.html

September 23rd, 2008, 4:15 pm

 

Observer said:

I followed with interest the comments of Ehsani 2. I am still not sure whether he favors a bailout or not. Here is in my humble opinion the best explanation of what happened and why the system is no longer sustainable
http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/23/paul.bailout/index.html

September 23rd, 2008, 6:46 pm

 

Off The Wall said:

A.P.
The theory is believe in is that:
1.) Hold the countries that employ terrorism accountable.
A. How about starting by a trial of Ronald Reagan, conservatism Icon for building up the Jihadist movement, which was then considered “Terrorists” by the soviet Union. Or is one man’s trash, another man’s treasure?
2.) Conduct regime change is said government doesn’t comply.
Now, this is a little tougher, I do not think that you are advocating changing our own American regime for supporting many death squads and for organizing so much terror to overthrow democratically elected governments. No need to count examples, they are all over the place
3.) Get democracy in place to make the government accountable.
Now this one makes me laugh. Have you seen the authority bush, the intellectual giant of interventionist policy planned on giving our own Secretary of Treasury. I like this one, let us get democracy here at home and get rid of your favorite Patriot act, and of Domestic surveillance, list too long to continue
4.) Let the government and the citizenry take care of their domestic security and the foreign policy
Now that is very contradictory, because at the first sign of not doing what you tell them, they are subject to article 2 of your recipe for foreign policy.

September 24th, 2008, 12:07 am

 

Zenobia said:

Akbar,
nothing is clouding my thinking, thanks.

We disagree because you choose your presumed ‘facts’ and I choose mine and then put them together in causal relationships differently than I do.
simply, we do not see eye to eye on anything at all really.. You think that you have some superior ‘data’ you are drawing on, but that is absurd.

My critique of pretty much all your answers is that you seem to think in a completely ahistorical way. Example would be the comment about Al Qaeda planning their attack on 9/11 way before Bush.

I think this is the tenth time that I have tried to point out to you that certain leaders of resistance movements in the ME, bin Laden for one, are very knowledgeable people, at least in the sense of having a historical knowledge. This antipathy to the west and to the colonialist is at least a century old. It didn’t begin with Bush!!!… Bush is the last example of the absolutely hated colonizer in the minds of the people of the middle east.
You can try to diminish the rationality of your enemy, they are just insane, they would find a fly in any soup, it has nothing to do with us or the policies of the West.

This what I mean by a-historical. A very convenient attitude to take so you don’t have to look at our role in causing the response of extremist and fundamentalists who have seized on distraught populations to organize a resistance.

This is in no way to say that the leaders of the ME haven’t caused harm, they have of course, but we made it easy for more harm to take place.
It is utterly hypocritical to come now into a country like Iraq and claim to be the champions of their progress.
Nobody liked Saddam, except a few. But Iraqis should have decided what they wanted, not us. It is not our right. EVER.

you are playing that slip shod game of equating 9/11 with Iraq. The body of the insurgency was not made of imported jihadi from Al Qaeda. The insurgency was foremost created of Iraqis wanting us out of their country immediately after taking Saddam down. WE gave power to Al Qaeda to expand into a base in Iraq. Now we pay the Sunni insurgency of Iraqis to take out Al Qaeda. Maybe that works for awhile.

I predict one thing, you another. I hope you are right actually. But I doubt you will be. Only time will tell.

As for the US. You again, reduce what I am saying. I was not making a direct connect between Lehman brothers, and money for war. Don’t be absurd. But I do think the state of our country , generally speaking , fit all in a piece. I do think the functioning of government, policies, whether domestic or foreign has several themes in the last twenty – maybe thirty years and certainly in the last eight that do in fact relate to each other. It has to do with executive power and oversight or lack of and the bottomless pocket book we seem to put out there for war. When I say that all this money has to come from somewhere, I can relate that to war or I can relate it to bailouts, but still the larger issue that pertains to both is there. What are our priorities? Who decides what those priorities are?

The fact that THIS government is a piece of shit who has abused the common trust to outrageous levels does not prove that government cannot run things or be used for the common good.
Why should I trust a corporation – whose aim is to give me as little services as possible and maximize their profit- to provide me with health insurance or health care.
I would much rather that my government, assuming it is doing what it should do, protect and provide the basic necessities of life or make it possible for even the poorest person in our society to meet these needs, to oversee my right to healthcare.

Governments can be just and good. They are the only body that can protect us from the selfishness and heartlessness of our system. If government has been abusive at anytime, then it is our job as citizenry to demand it do better. That’s it.
I have no reason to trust some totally self interested corporation instead. It defies reasoning.
I know , i know the logic…that all corporations have to serve and be fair otherwise they will fail to succeed and go under. But it just doesn’t bare out with reality these days.
We are locked in with no choice. It sort of reminds me of being held hostage in my f***ing cell phone contract.

September 24th, 2008, 1:00 am

 

AIG said:

OTW,

[deleted by admin … same point raised by you and discussed a thousand times]

Read the rules:
https://joshualandis.com/blog/?page_id=698

As for your points:

1) When the Jihadists were fighting the Russian army, they were not terrorist. After the Russians left, and they started killing civillians, they became terrorists. If Hamas would ONLY attack the Israeli army, they would not be terrorists either. Got it?

2) Every election there is a regime change in the US. So if you don’t like a government, you get to vote it out.

3) This is the argument of the true extremist. Unless democracy is the purest of the pure, it does not count as democracy and therefore the US cannot discuss democracy in other countries. Aren’t you the one to argue that the world is not “black and white”? Apparently it is when it suites your purpose.

4) Not at all. Only if a new dictator takes power, NOT if they democratically decide what to do.

September 24th, 2008, 2:52 am

 

AIG said:

Zenobia,
You are not locked. You can always vote with your legs. Why don’t you move to France or Spain where they have “good and just” governments? Nobody is keeping you in the US.

Of course your view of government is completely mistaken and naive but perhaps if you lived in other countries and would judge your government in relative terms instead of absolute terms, you would start thinking rationally. The right thing to do is to compare the US government to other governments and not some impossible ideal.

September 24th, 2008, 2:58 am

 

AIG said:

[deleted by admin]

And you are banned for a month as warned earlier today.

September 24th, 2008, 3:10 am

 

Zenobia said:

AIG

I really can’t understand why you continue to address me, and think that you can spew your usual revolting insults masked in some kind of pseudo objectivity.

I think you imagine that if enough time goes on, then you can speak to me. and that I have given up my ban or ignore AIG campaign. but if you talk to me again, or say anything about me, i am going to be on you again with renewed efforts.

go call someone else, NAIVE, IRRATIONAL…ETC. Because clearly some other people are willing to tolerate your garbage spew.

September 24th, 2008, 3:16 am

 

AIG said:

Zenobia,
I will continue to address you because you are the perfect example of a stuck-up pseudo intellectual. You are a great example of the shallow and muddled thinking perpetuated in liberal circles in the US and therefore you are very important to the discussion here.

Please feel free to ignore me if you wish, after all it is your right. But it is not you right to shut someone up because he is provactive. Or are you really a closet dictator?

September 24th, 2008, 3:25 am

 

Zenobia said:

Yeah, continue to spew some more stereotypes why don’t you… you are the one who looks…like the cliche really.

and…
actually it is my right to petition for you to be eliminated from this blog. This is not a free service we are offering you here. I have no power to ban you, obviously, or it would have happened a long time ago. Not for your content, but for your baiting that you do to people constantly. Straw man baiting… bullshit.

I am not a dictator. YOU are a provocative destructive person actually. Using cliche issues, obvious issues, non- issues actually… to poke and prod people and draw them into a meaningless stupid interchange.

and i resent it deeply. I have every right to complain about you. As do many many many many other people who write on this blog. I think we could take a vote on that… actually, how valuable is AIG… what is his purpose? Is it to inform? Is it to engage with others in productive or helpful way? Is it even to give voice to thoughts that others can benefit from?

HELL NO. Your only purpose is to spew your own repetitive attacks on others character.
So,why should I refrain from telling you what a piece of crap you are as a person.

September 24th, 2008, 3:39 am

 

Shai said:

Zenobia,

Your health is more important… leave it.

September 24th, 2008, 3:57 am

 

AIG said:

Zenobia,

For you labeling Palin as a country hick is not a cliche, but discussing Asad’s credentials is. Saying Bush ended democracy in the US is not a cliche but probing why people who say that also support Asad’s program in Syria is. Go figure.

September 24th, 2008, 4:05 am

 

Jad said:

Alex,
I think a ban for some provocative people here become a necessity. They don’t understand that letting them comment and communicate with the best and most open minded Syrian they can ever dream of talking to in real life is a luxury that they don’t understand or appreciate but the opposit they insult them in many ways and nobody is willing to accept that.
The internet is full of like minded people as them, why don’t they take thiere garbage and go there, we don’t want them here, It’s getting very annoying.

September 24th, 2008, 5:29 am

 

Zenobia said:

I haven’t mentioned or made comment on any of the issues you just brought up. You must be confusing me with some other liberal pseudo intellectual around here.

In case anyone is interested, I would like it to go on record, that I AM a liberal and I am proud of it. I am a PROGRESSIVE! even worse!! and proud of it.
I am also proud of having gone to the University of California at Berkeley and had a superior ‘liberal’ and highly humanistic oriented education. I am proud to have gone to one of the top two highly competitive public universities in one of the largest states in the United States, in a one of the most famous LIBERAL college towns in the world.

I find the continuing and worsening trend of ‘anti-intellectualism’ and anti-cosmopolitan and reverence for the supposed ‘non-elite’ everyman leader… bizarre.

On another note.
‘Elite’ used to mean superior in a good way, as in exceptional, the top of your class, excelled, etc and so forth. (And you know I don’t mean boston brahmin kind of elite, or well known family tribal elite nonsense, but the real accomplished acquired achievement kind of elite person.)
Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Shouldn’t we WANT and exceptional leader? a superior person at the helm of our ship?

Why would I want the leader of my country to be an average person, with a non-exceptional background, who I just happen to like the look of, and who makes me feel happy to be american with no need for self criticism, and as if they can relate to my particular little life (rather than say, appearing to have a grasp on the collective whole of all the incredibly varied lives going on in america today -some of which many of us can barely relate to at all). It’s a pathetic way to choose our leaders.
I think I prefer to vote for someone who I deem to be an elite. We need an elite brain right about now.

September 24th, 2008, 5:32 am

 

Off The Wall said:

AIG

You have accused me on several occasion of being inconsistent. Yet, what you seem to miss the origin of my commitment to freedom and to human life and dignity, which is much more grounded and solid than you are willing to acknowledge. You have not met that source, and you will never do. My father has been dead for more than 17 years.

1. On Freedom fighters and Terrorists:

1.A. One of the largest recipients of CIA/KSA funds among the “Mujahidin” was a guy with the name Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, who according to Juan Cole, had a long history of being violent extremist, with a history of throwing acid on the face of unveiled women. So please do not give me the non-sense of freedom fighters crap. During that same time, Syria was fighting our own branch of your freedom fighters, who were assassinating civilians, targeting some of our most educated and bright people simply because they are Alawite. Some of them went to fight alongside those Mujahidin. There is no doubt in my mind that Reagan used them like a tissue to be thrown away after their usefulness to his cause is done. Otherwise how would one explain the contemptuous abandonment of Afghanistan to these ruthless killers who turned on their own country men and murdered thousands in Kabul alone in one year after liberation. You can not tell me that no one knew what these rascals were, for their ideology, administrative practices, and treatment of women, whenever they “liberated” a village was out in the open for CIA officers to see. An added insult to injury is the knowledge of who was their intellectual womb, the religious leadership of a country who now produces fatwa for killing Mickey Mouse (not far from edicts about telle-tubbies, or whatever these poor animated characters were). If you are willing to suspend, for a minute, you detestation of me, please check what many Asians think of Reagan’s legacy

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FF15Ak02.html

Reagan never stopped. Hell, not for a minute. What do you call marine mines around Nicaragua, what would you call the war crimes committed by his Contras against their own citizens, the death squads in Latin America, need I say more. And yet, some try to present him as a moral leader. I do not accept that, nor should anyone with a shred of decency and love for humanity. The world is not black and white, but Reagan’s world knew only one color, blood red, and his legacy disgusts me. Come to think of it, he is the grandfather of our economic woes today. I give him the first batch of credit for that and will not be wooed by all the hyperventilation you or anyone in your camp throws at me.

1.B: ON HAMAS
Your recognition of the right of Palestinians to fight the occupation army is commendable. Yet, I would support holding those who plotted and executed attacks against innocent civilians accountable. Of course not through selective and so called targeted assassinations, which are not better, but through courts including international courts. If Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal, a general pardon may be worked out, but that is their own issue and I would leave it to them

2. Every election there is a regime change in the US. So if you don’t like a government, you get to vote it out.

I do vote, you argument is true in principle, but it does not address my contention of the fact that our current regime has been an anti-democratic regime. But as for a possible, but not highly reliable differentiation between regime and government, please refer to the discussions about the monopoly of the two parties system. Nevertheless, I argue that we may change a government but not necessarily the regime. As long as lobbying is legal, the regime will remain the same. Today was an extraordinary day and a rare occasion when my point is proven wrong, but that will be addressed in my next answer

3 I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue! (Barry Goldwater)

Hyperbolic, but inspiring statements aside, I never said democracy has to be purest of the pure, but you are wrong to your own ideal and advocacy for immediate democracy in Syria. Well , the US is my adoptive country, and I love it no less than you do. And if I am to want what I think is better for my beloved country, them let me be.

Can you for a moment argue that the bush administration shares our democratic value of accountability, which was the point I was trying to answer AP on. I think that in the past 8 years, more accountability was observed in Morocco than in the US. Constant refusal to abide by the congressional right of oversight, excessive and unjustifiable use of executive privilege, secrecy, ramming legislations through the congress and blackmailing legislature by wrapping everything with the flag and by that desecrating the flag and the values it stands for more than any radical can dream of doing burning it.

I am proud to join both republican rebels such as Chuck Hagle, and many democrats, libertarians, and progressive in our commitment to defend our constitutions. But it seems that som of our countrymen are willing to take the expedient way. And to those I would let Benjamin Franklin speak. We want to keep our republic, and will not let that camp of moral relativism kill it in our names or in the name of our security. If that is inconsistent to you, so be it. It suite my purpose for my country not be a hypocrite. It is consistent with what I am and with who my friends are.

4) Utter nonsense. Advocates of your theory or of the theory AP subscribes to have been playing games with dictators worldwide. So I will not even take this seriously and attempt to answer it. And in fact, you place yourself and your likes as world dictators.

September 24th, 2008, 7:27 am

 

Alex said:

AIG

You are banned for a month (see site rules and my clear warning earlier).

>> Come back October 24th.

Zenobia,

I edited your comments for now but next time you use that language, even with AIG, I will have to also ban you.

September 24th, 2008, 7:45 am

 

Off the Wall said:

AIG
BTW

Funny how agitated you got at my slight attempt to mimic your own tactic of answering AP theory in manners similar to that you have been using to answer others’ posts. I confess to my unintentional imitation of your tactics, would you agree that It was really annoying and agitating.

By your own tactics i mean short cynical bites. I was guilty of that. But that does not change my conviction regarding what I said

September 24th, 2008, 7:51 am

 

Off The Wall said:

ZENOBIA

KUDOS to you, your education, your cosmopolitanism, and your progressiveness.

Never fear to be called elitist. Especially by those who own 7 homes and who knows how many cars, and much more specifically, by someone with the title Lady and three last names.

But after all, you are an elitist, aren’t you our Syrian queen 🙂

September 24th, 2008, 8:01 am

 

Siria e Iran monocromatici - Appunti Digitali said:

[…] riporta Mediashift, che lo ha appreso a sua volta da Syria report. Tanto per fugare ogni dubbio di problemi tecnici, nemmeno  Google Talk e Gmail notifier sono […]

October 15th, 2008, 6:31 am

 

Post a comment