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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Time To Start Watching The Unemployment Numbers

The seasonally adjusted four-week moving average for unemployment claims is up to 325,000. From the DOL release:
State/Change/State Supplied Comment
IA/+1,027/No comment.
LA/+1,040/No comment.
NC/+1,143/Layoffs in the construction, lumber/wood, furniture, fabricated metals, and transportation industries.
MD/+1,201/No comment.
AZ/+1,351/No comment.
CT/+1,548/Layoffs in the construction industry, and agriculture.
WI/+1,623/Layoffs in the construction, service, and manufacturing industries.
MN/+2,126/Layoffs in the construction industry.
MO/+2,175/Layoffs in the construction and trade industries.
WA/+2,188/No comment.
TX/+2,200/Layoffs in the utilities and manufacturing industries.
KY/+2,437/Layoffs in the automobile and manufacturing industries.
OR/+2,484/No comment.
AR/+2,668/No comment.
FL/+3,020/Layoffs in the construction, trade, service, and manufacturing industries, and agriculture.
OH/+3,091/Layoffs in the construction industry.
IN/+3,263/Layoffs in the automobile industry.
MI/+3,296/Layoffs in the construction industry.
NJ/+3,816/Layoffs in the construction, trade, service, and manufacturing industries.
PA/+8,925/Layoffs in the construction, trade, and service industries.
IL/+9,309/Layoffs in the construction, trade, service, and manufacturing industries.
CA/+9,949/Layoffs in the construction and service industries, and agriculture.

South Carolina and Mississippi had small decreases in initial claims.

Late in the year you generally see a rise in unemployment claims, so the seasonally adjusted (SA) numbers are the relevant figures. You also expect declining construction employment in the winter, but the difference this year is that the decline in permits means that many of these jobs won't be back in the spring.

These figures look as if they may be moving out of the 2004/2005 range in the next few weeks. You can pull the initial unemployment claims for each week since 1967 at this page.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

With A Deadly Accuracy

These posts have something in common. The Anchoress, with deadly accuracy, discusses the press in two posts. In the first she skewers the designation of a Giuliani donor as "anti-Clinton":
...for Rudy (or whoever ends up running against Hillary) this will be the additional requirement: all donors must be screened to make sure they haven’t said anything bad about Mrs. Clinton and if they have, they must be disavowed by Giuliani and his whole team. And probably, if he really wanted to prove that he is a good guy and all, Giuliani should return checks to anyone who checks out as a rabid “anti-Clintite!”
Hilarious, but true. It's an extreme double standard. In an earlier post, The Anchoress asked some very important questions about the media's approach to current affairs, and the never-ending myth of Vietnam:
If she continues to fight, America will continue to weaken AlQaeda. If that weakness can be sustained while Middle Eastern liberty is allowed to gain a foothold, it will eventually break AlQ and de-glamorize terrorism as a means of movement. If America folds, if she “stops” the war, because the NY Times and NBC don’t like it, what do you think will happen next?

Think hard. The answer is important.
The extreme bias in the press is all aimed at keeping us from thinking hard, though. I think the alternative of facing reality is so unpleasant to them that it drives them onward to ever-greater flights of fantasy. There is so little substance to much of there grand theme that it forces them to absurdities. You have to slap a lot of coats of paint onto the fabric of history to ignore the casualties after we left Vietnam. But they have coats of paint in abundance.

Nor is this a phenomenon confined to the US. Here's a fascinating tale from the UK, brought to you by Photon Courier:
Lieutenant Daniel Lenherr, a British Army officer, had just taken part in a parade marking Remembrance Day. After the parade, Lt Lenherr and his wife decided to visit London's Harrods, a well-known London department store. They were not allowed to enter: a security guard told Lenherr that other customers might be intimidated by his uniform.
The word to describe this is "cowardice"; in the UK's politically correct culture, piggybanks and the uniform of the armed forces have become too offensive to be tolerated.

This isn't confined to the press; SC&A notes a discovery by Gagdad Bob of a Kossite shrink who is horrified by the idea of declaring ourselves the enemies of anything. Quoting Gagdad Bob:
In his “about me” page, Soldz sets the tone, making reference to how the American public has “rallied around a mythic ‘war on terror’” which “is built on a simplistic duality of good versus evil.” In other words, the terrorists are not actually evil. Rather, it is just that we have projected all of our “undesirable characteristics” into the so-called “evil” other. Evidently, it is we who actually want to chop their heads off and murder their children just for the hell of it.
Again, the inversion. In an earlier post SC&A wrote:
To be considered a ‘professional journalist’ today, it is almost an imperative that a graduate of journalism school adopt a secular and particular kind of ideology. It isn’t as if you can’t have another point of view, of course, but if you do, you are suspect as a journalist, or are somehow less than ‘professional.’ In what is great irony, journalists who are identified as ‘different’ are immediately suspected of being less objective and less truthful. The message is clear: if a journalist doesn’t share certain secular or ideological viewpoints, it is assumed that journalist will knowingly deceive the public (in the UK, one editor said that Jewish reporters could not be trusted to report on the Israel-Palestine issue. Apparently, Arab Muslim graduates of the Arafat School Of Journalistic Integrity were models of veracity and decency).

Of course, the vast majority of MSM journalists do not see their own bias for what it really is- a bias. They consider themselves decent and they see themselves as examples of the best of the human condition. The also believe that anyone who disagrees with their worldview is imperfect- and imperfections are bad. Whatever biases they might have can be set aside because they are ‘fair minded’ and compassionate- ideals never to be found in anyone with differing beliefs.
Competent people do not experience this sense of righteousness by middle age. It's that simple. If you meet a parent who thinks that he or she is a great parent, you can be pretty sure they're a crappy parent. And if you are the patient of a doctor who thinks he's never mistaken in a diagnosis, you probably need to find another doctor. The most competent people you meet in any profession are those who are constantly checking themselves, because they've accomplished enough to have experienced their own errors. They're the ones always looking for resources and ways to check themselves, because they take their responsibilities seriously.

What journalists will not write about is Hezbollah's and Syria's tactics in Lebanon - attempting seize control of a democratically elected government in which they are a minority, assassinating journalists who dare to criticize and assassinating ministers of the government who dare to oppose them in their attempt to take power the people did not give them. Where are the blazing editorials in favor of freedom of journalism in the ME? Where? The chattering class can chatter all it wants, but it cannot chatter about reality and sustain its illusion, and those who are actually from the region are quite aware of the stakes.

just posted, quoting a Syrian living in the United States who discussed the Gemayel assassination, and who also addresses the role of propaganda in generating a political defeat in the ME for the anti-tyrant forces. As Shrinkwrapped observes, dreams of peace can remain only dreams until we confront the real enemies of peace:
The Realists have always supported stability as the best approach to this volatile part of the world. There is a superficial plausibility to the argument that ff we "talk" to Iran and Syria, we will, in fact, gain stability. If the violence in Iraq decreases (which would be proof of Iran and Syria complicity in fomenting violence), we would then be able to withdraw our troops. As an important corollary, the American public will no longer be bombarded by images of blood and carnage; the violence in Iraq will recede from view and what violence persists will be off stage where no one will notice.

[This is one way in which Vietnam is instructive. Once we left, and then pulled the financial plug on the South, the million Vietnamese and two million Cambodians who eventually were murdered by the victorious Communists returned to becoming unknown statistics. Once they no longer served the purposes of the anti-War media, they no longer existed, out of sight and out of mind.]

The stability will be temporary and illusory, of course. Iran will continue recruiting suicide bombers, will push forward on obtaining a nuclear capability, and the Syrians, as the opportunities present themselves, will continue to destabilize Lebanon. The two terrorist proxies in the HISH Alliance, Hamas and Hezbollah have been feverishly arming and re-arming in preparation for their next round of fighting.
Of course. The problem with this ideology is that it has failed miserably in creating successful cultures and countries. Where it gains sway, misery gains sway, guaranteeing an endless cycle of woe and blame deflected upon the rest of the world. Palestine is a current example; the Gaza withdrawal has generated only violence and further destruction. The culture of the Islamicists does not contain any strategies for capitalizing on peace. They cannot survive without war and endless grievance; peace generates internal conflicts of the most barbaric quality.

It's not that Palestinians shouldn't have a state; it's that they are incapable of having one. The only thing they seem to be able to do is loot and blackmail.

Iran does seem incapable of creating a successful society, in exactly the same way that Hitler and Mussolini's states were toppling into financial insolvency before WWII. The democracies had no aggressive intentions toward fascist Italy and Germany; it was Germany and Italy that employed aggression to mitigate their own failures. Iran is suffering incredible internal instability, and its aggression is real, because otherwise its revolution is dead.

Syria is not threatened by Lebanon physically or militarily. Syria's aggression towards Lebanon is generated by its own failures.

North Korea is not going to be attacked by any other nation, but it must sustain its paranoia in order to prevent its citizens from redeeming their desperate condition.

How is it possible that the scions of Columbia University, Yale and Harvard find themselves unable to strongly condemn the people who believe in gaining power by murder and terror and sustaining their power with an endless cycle of aggressive war? How is it possible that these "journalists" find it necessary to criticize those who tell the truth? The only accurate word is cowardice.

We have entered an era of a deadly combat between successful and unsuccessful cultures; the unsuccesssful cultures are competing with violence, because they have no alternative. Granted, they are desperate, but it is a desperation which the successful cultures cannot redeem because the successful cultures did not create the desperation. The choice and the initiative will remain with the unsuccessful cultures until the successful ones rise up in defense of peace.

Wednesday's GDP

I flew back home yesterday, and the plane was delayed so I didn't get home until the wee hours of the morning. Not that I cared, because it so happened that I was seated next to a man who is in the same general line of business as I am, so we babbled onwards with great joy (proving that men can and do talk as much as women).

It was utterly fascinating, because we have both independently drawn similar conclusions about several aspects of the economy domestically and internationally. For example, both of us see a lot of opportunity out there, but both of us also think the average person doesn't have a way to invest in the really good opportunities, because few of the really innovative startups are willing to go the public company route. It's deadly, at least in the US. It stifles the company's ability to be productive.

My personal belief is that the big imbalance in the economy (globally, not just domestically) that keeps producing all of these bubbles is too much capital stymied from finding its best use. This is a problem which can easily be fixed using today's technology, because there is nothing really stopping a second market of private capital from developing except knowledge channels, and those are easy to create nowdays. The potential strengths in the economic system are not being exploited right now, but this could change in a few years and produce a new boom, at least domestically.

Today we got preliminary GDP for the third quarter (revised from the advance for the third quarter). Third quarter GDP was revised up sharply to 2.2% from the advance report. It's not as good as it looks, because too much of the durable goods rise went into inventories and because of the government component, but it's still a lot better than the advance report.

Table 1 in these reports shows the rate of change in major components. Private domestic investment was flat because of the big 18% drop in residential investment, but government investment and consumption increased 2.2%. (Defense was down, but non-defense was up 6.8%, and state and local increased 2.6%.) Exports of goods increased 9.4%, and the weakening dollar could help this trend in the fourth quarter. Imports of goods increased 6.9%, less than exports, which is an encouraging sign, although quite a negligible one given the overall gap between exports and imports (refer to Table 2's "Net . But the bottom line is that most of the GDP growth came from personal consumption (up 2.6%) and government spending (up 2.2%), which is not a good trend.

For those whose eyes glaze over when presented with numbers, the bottom line is that both private domestic investment and exports must increase, and right now we know that the decline in housing permits will continue to drag down private domestic investment. (See this from a mortgage broker in Orange County for perspective.) The larger builders have continued to build in order to unload current investments ASAP, so we have not seen the real impact from the residential debacle yet. It will show up very strongly in the first quarter of 2007.

Gross national product increased 1.9% in the third quarter, the third consecutive decrease. GNP was at 0.5 in the fourth quarter of 2005, but I believe that reflected the impact of the hurricanes, and it was followed by a 6.1% increase in the first quarter of 2006. Those quarters really should be averaged, and if you do so you see a declining trend that is significant. These are the GNP/GDP numbers by quarter:
4thQ 2002: 1.0/0.2;
1stQ 2003: 0.8/1.2; 2ndQ 2003: 4.1/3.5; 3rdQ 2003: 7.3/7.5; 4thQ 2003: 3.5/2.7;
1stQ 2004: 3.5/3.9; 2ndQ 2004: 2.9/4.0; 3rdQ 2004: 3.3/3.1; 4thQ 2004: 2.0/2.6;
1stQ 2005: 3.6/3.4; 2ndQ 2005: 3.0/3.3; 3rdQ 2005: 4.9/4.2; 4thQ 2005: 0.5/1.8;
1stQ 2006: 6.1/5.6; 3rdQ 2006: 2.3/2.6; 4thQ 2006: 1.9/2.2
The pattern of the weak fourth quarter has been pretty consistent (indicating the stimulating forces in our economy of the past few years, which were consumer spending and housing), so to me it is the first quarter of 2007 which will be predictive. It's hard to see how we can have a fourth quarter above 1.0%, though. This is all a gentle hint to review your stock holdings; we are approaching the danger period.

New home sales supported the idea that the residential real estate market has stabilized IF you compared October's numbers to the revised numbers from summer on contained in this release. However, if you compared October's numbers to the August release, it appears to still be declining, and I believe that is the correct comparison. The consistent downward revisions have been significant, and I don't think that will change in October. November's numbers should show some uptick in sales reflecting bargains, incentives and low mortgage rates, although I don't think it's going to make dent in months of supply. The prices in the new home sales report month to month mean nothing, because the rate of error is very high and the mix of new home sales shifts rapidly.

However, mortgage rates are coming down, and we should see some stimulus from that. It's not enough to make a difference in the areas with high prices, but it is chipping away at the affordability gap. The bottom for national real estate is not near, but as I peer over the cliff the rocks below seem to be somewhat closer, at least if mortgage rates can remain at this level. This is important, because there a few areas with good economies that may stay out of the real estate swamp if mortgage rates stay down and if their local economies continue to do relatively well. If they do, the recession will be less of a shock.

Until months of inventory starts declining, it's lunatic to talk of "stabilization" in the housing market.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Casey's Flipped For The Last Time

Casey Serin has surpassed himself. His latest brilliant plan is to borrow more money (50 grand), pay his back payments and taxes on the houses he has left (going quickly, they are), and then get credit-challenged buyers to pay enough to cover the payments on his original (bad) loans and the new loans. What's in it for this mythical buyer? They acquire houses for which the current value is declining and on which Casey overborrowed in the first place to make repairs which he did not make. He's underwater on every single house already, or he'd be able to sell. The banks are willing to short-sell, but just not for as short as he needs to sell.

He's awesome. Awesomely crazy. Here's one that should be netted off the streets and put away in a nice safe place before he can do any more harm. He knows no way of making money other than to borrow it, and he hasn't yet figured out that this won't work.

RE: October Existing Home

Hmmm. Sales are up, compared to September, but median and average prices are down for the nation as a whole, and months of supply are still increasing. I'm sure NAR has a very optimistic press release, but the numbers don't look favorable.

There are 7.2 months of supply for single-family homes, up from 7.1 months of supply in September. Prices by region compared to October of last year:
National: median price dropped 3.4%; average price dropped 3.2%
Northeast: median price dropped 5.2%; average price dropped 2.7%
Midwest: median price dropped 2.2%; average price dropped 0.3%
South: median price dropped 6.7%; average price dropped 8.6%
West: median price dropped 0.1%; average price rose 0.2%.
There are 9.1 months of supply for condos/coops, up from 8.5 in September. Prices by region compared to October of last year:
National: median price dropped 5.3%; average price dropped 4.4%
Northeast: median price dropped 4.0%; average price dropped 2.5%
Midwest: median price rose 3.8%; average price rose 3.7%
South: median price dropped 12.1%; average price dropped 10.2%
West: median price dropped 12.2%; average price dropped 7.1%.
There are substantial sales incentives included in contracts (such as credits at closing for buyer's costs) which are not included in these figures, so real losses are higher. The stronger regions seem to be softening, such as the Seattle area. As the cookie crumble these drops will start to mount quickly, and you can expect new listings to mount in the spring. It's very, very hard to even imagine a scenario in which prices could stop falling next year, especially given the growing economic weakness in the general economy.

This is what is going to force much higher numbers of foreclosures; costs for selling are usually a minimum of 5%. If you've lost 5% in price and have to pay 5% to sell, you'd wind up having to bring $40,000 to the table in the form of equity or cold hard cash for the privilege of unloading a house selling for $400,000. Very few recent buyers have the cash to do that. Fewer and fewer recent buyers have the equity.

These price declines are setting post WWII records. Even in the Great Depression, housing prices didn't fall all that fast nationally at first. We are in unprecedented territory.

Here is an interesting article about Bernanke's career and views on the danger of deflation from December of last year. I think it likely that the Fed will start to cut aggressively in the first quarter of 2007 if they have any margin at all in which to do so.

The Releases

Next week on the 4th we'll get pending home sales; these contracts are being renegotiated all the time, so I don't place much reliance on the price numbers any more. It will not be a good spring for real estate, though. Foreclosures are escalating rapidly in some areas and will continue to worsen significantly next year. In several areas in different regions of the country, foreclosure sales are driving down home prices now, and the dead zones will spread next year.

Today we get the advance report for October durable goods, which are important, and existing home sales from NAR. Tomorrow we get the preliminary third quarter GDP from Commerce, which is a revision of last month's advance numbers. It ought to be revised sharply downward, but I doubt they will bite the bullet and do that.

I haven't read through the durable goods report yet, but it appears signficantly worse than most expected:
Nondefense new orders for capital goods in October decreased $13.6 billion or 15.6 percent to $73.2 billion.
This sounds worse than it is, because of recent jumps, but it points out the glaring contradiction between the Fed's predictions and reality. The Fed has been predicting that manufacturing and industrial strength would carry us through the housing recession to a soft landing, and it simply is not so; with unfilled orders increasing, and inventories increasing, we have passed the cusp and we will see a relatively weak performance from this sector in the first quarter. On the 5th we get revised durable goods and non-durable goods. That will be an important release.

The transportation sector was going to drop regardless, but if you take out those numbers durable goods orders still dropped significantly. Reuters:
The biggest drop since July 2000 in orders for durable goods -- big-ticket items expected to last three years or longer -- was propelled by a 21.7 percent fall in transportation orders, the Commerce Department said.

But even excluding transportation orders, durables declined 1.7 percent as manufacturing, fabricated metal, and computers and electronics orders all slid.
When defense orders were excluded, durables orders fell 6.4 percent, well short of the 0.3 percent rise expected by analysts. It was the biggest decline in that category since a matching drop in September 2002.

A proxy for business spending, non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, also took an unexpected dive, slipping 5.1 percent.
The end to the "soft landing scenario" is nigh, because the well of plausible deniability has about run dry. We'll see what Ben has to say today, but last night I was wondering about 50 basis point drop in the first quarter of 2007. It really is that bad, but the Fed cannot afford to stimulate inflation either, which would drive up interest rates for mortgages and put the economy further down the rabbit hole. They are really in a trap; oil prices must fall before they can afford to cut rates.

Crude prices are up, heading for $61 for January deliveries. OPEC is making noises about further cuts too.

The WalMart numbers for November are due on Thursday, but I think WalMart is not a good indicator for the economy as a whole at this point. I also think that they are playing the expectations game and that they will release a slight increase in same-store sales for November on Thursday.

WalMart has mismanaged quite a few of their stores, and their remaining market is the segment of the population worst-hit by inflation. All their attempts over the last eight months have been to broaden their market, but they are fighting a very uphill battle in that effort. Target's numbers are the ones to watch for a better reading.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Holly Berries Of No Excuses

There's a bunch of economic news coming out next week, and I'll write about that next week. There's a lot going on, but I can't stand to write about a lot of it over the holidays.

Anyway, I hurt all over tonight. I noticed that my father's holly bush had berries, and when I told my mother she decided it had to be de-vined. He had always liked that bush, and he had always been disappointed that it never had berries. Well, now it does.

Since I only managed to extract the peach schnapps bottle from her hands yesterday and since she had surgery on Wednesday, I didn't want her out there. So it was a team effort, and it turned into a big effort, especially since the holly bush is growing on the side of a cliff. I had to take down a dead tree next to it, and I'm still working on getting that out of the ground without tearing up the side of the cliff.

They didn't want to do surgery on my mother, because they were were worried about risks. True, on paper it looks bad, but paper is not reality. Yes, she is a diabetic, but she controls it without medication. And yes, she has Lyme Disease, but that's relatively controlled. And yes, she contracted two different ricksettial diseases this summer (which was what was wrong when she was so sick earlier this year), but just looking at her titers you can tell that there's a lot of residual strength in her immune system. She's popping back well, although it will take a few more days of work to get her blood sugar regulated again. After testing it several times, she refused to test for several days, and only the Dire Daughter of Diabetic Accountability's nagging got her to check this morning - but it wasn't half bad.

Anyway, I had to keep netting her off the cliff today and glaring at her as she climbed the ladder to take down ivy that was getting into the gutters. I'm sure the exercise was good for her, and after a couple of hours she conceded she had had enough, and wandered in to take a nap. Tomorrow I'm accompanying her on the shopping expedition from hell.

My mother was a teacher for decades, and a superb one. I'm sure she derived her level of determination from that. It's a very difficult job, physically, mentally and emotionally, if you do it well, and she sure did. I figure if that didn't kill her not much else will, and given her performance today I'd say that's correct.

To be a good public-school teacher you have to combine realistic optimism with the gentle firmness of a drill sergeant having a particularly bad day with a particularly bad bunch of recruits. My mother has these qualities in abundance, and she and my father raised all of us with the maxim that apparent impossibility requires more effort, not surrender.

To give you an example of my mother in action, I'll describe one of her students only. This was when she was teaching second grade. She had an incoming student who had been diagnosed with extreme dyslexia. Testing over the summer showed that it was very severe. He couldn't, for example, draw a triangle, although he could match two triangles if shown a group of triangles and circles. But that was about it; the neurological pathways that allow a person to distinguish letters and numbers from each other appeared to be just about absent. He was a very bright child, but he literally could not draw a triangle after several years of tutoring. After a complete workup, the professional diagnosis was that he would probably never learn to write or read. He was the son of a teacher, and had already been held back a year. (Early on, you just don't worry about this in boys - it's probably a developmental lag. After seven you get serious.)

I learned about this during that summer, when I became very worried about my mother. She kept spending hours staring into the distance, and often didn't respond when spoken to. My mother is a southerner, and loves heat, so she's usually a blinding blur of activity in the summer. Her behavior was so unusual that I was sure that something was very, very wrong. I thought perhaps she was very ill, or that she and my father might be having marital problems, because I could imagine absolutely nothing else that would produce this sort of behavior.

Finally I confronted her one Saturday morning. She slowly emerged from the fog and told me she was thinking about a student, and then submerged again. A few weeks later, in August, she got busy. She made a set of templates with letters and numbers. When I asked her what she was doing, she fixed me with a stare of utter determination, and announced that she had solved it; she would be able to teach him where ON the template the letters and numbers were, because he could consistently resolve spatial placements, and then he would be able to write the letters and numbers by using the correct place on the template.

While we were cooking for Thanksgiving of that year, I asked her how the boy was doing. Had he been able to learn to use the template? She impaled me with this incredulous, pitying gaze, as if it had just dawned on her that she had given birth to a sadly deficient human being, and responded that the problem was fixed. He no longer needed even the template, and, she confidently announced, he would be above grade level by the end of January.

The kid wound up in the gifted and talented program, because he really was very bright. His dyslexia was cured, completely and absolutely. At that age, children's brains are incredibly flexible.

And that, my friends, is my mother. She accepts no excuses from herself or others; if a thing has to be done it's just a matter of figuring how to do it. Is it any wonder that I came back out of my fog? It never occurred to me that I wouldn't; I just figured it was a matter of finding the way. When you know success is assured, you keep at it. What she taught me, and her students, was that the foundations of success are built in finding and overcoming your weaknesses.

I am not happy about the economic situation, but to me bad news has a different connotation than to many others. First diagnose the problem; then figure out how to craft a solution. Because I am my mother's daughter, I don't believe in glossing over difficulties, instead, I believe in accurately assessing them and then addressing them. Understand the problem, and you are near to a solution.

Peace Or War?

I have been following the situation in Lebanon closely; they are at a crossroads. The Gemayel assassination has sparked huge gatherings in opposition to the agenda of Syria and Hezbollah. See the last week and a half of Ouwet.com, starting with this post:
I just came back from the demonstration, i didnt think we could make another March 14th, but i was proven more than wrong. Over a million easily were down there, the people kept coming till 2 pm from all regions and the roads of Beirut were all filled.
Today’s slogan was “We love life” and “We want to live” and expressed the feeling of those downthere at Martyrs’ square. We, the Lebanese people, want and deserve to live in dignity and freely.
Those who are closest to it know what the true choices are. The people of these areas seem whipsawed by foreign activists. Hamas in Egypt:
The political leader of Hamas said Saturday that the Islamic militant group is willing to allow negotiations with Israel but warned of a new uprising if talks fail to reach a deal for a Palestinian state within six months.
Mashaal also suggested Hamas could accept a "two-state" solution -- with a Jewish state in pre-1967 borders and a Palestinian nation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank -- though he stopped short of using that phrase or of recognizing Israel.
Teddy bear bombs suggest that withdrawals may not be possible, although there is in theory a truce in Gaza, but I think there will be trucebreakers galore.

It is not a time for the faint of heart, and the Pope is going to Turkey, while the Turkish police try to establish security for the visit. I hope he survives; there have been multiple attacks on priests in Turkey. The kicker to this Newsday article comes at the end:
A recent Turkish thriller, "Plot Against the Pope" by Yucel Kaya carries the subtitle "Who will kill the pope in Istanbul?" Its conspiracy theory ties the assassination into a plot by conservative Roman Catholics, Freemasons and U.S. intelligence services to attack Iran, Turkey's eastern neighbor.
Ah, the alibi. That pretty much sums it up; while Catholics and judges are attacked in Turkey, some of the Muslims rage over the Regensburg speech. Those who preach death are honored, and those who preach life are hated; the combat literally is between those dominated by rage and the will to destroy and those who love life and want to live it. This is less of a religious conflict than an ideological conflict.

There has been talk that Pope Benedict XVI will visit a mosque; I certainly hope that if he does he will leave it under his own power.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Real Estate Diet

After Thanksgiving, naturally 99.9% of all women start worrying about fitting into those little black dresses for the Christmas company party. Fear not, I have good tidings. My bulldog, who is exquisitely feminine, has evolved a fool-proof and profoundly simple, yet enjoyable, diet plan for herself that produces guaranteed results without fail.

To follow this plan, all you have to do is divide the available comestibles into three groups - No Calorie, Low Calorie and High Calorie. Restrict your daily intake to zero to one servings of High Calorie food, three to four servings of Low Calorie food, and go wild with the No Calorie group. A serving is defined as all you can find at the moment, so there's no need to measure or weigh anything. No exercise is required, other than that required to carry out this plan.

So it's all in the food groupings, and here is where the elegant simplicity of this diet becomes apparent. Rather than counting carbs or grams or staring at charts, the fundamental principle used to categorize foods in this plan is Location, Location, Location. Just remember those three words: location, location, location (from which words comes the diet's official name). Using this simple principle, most women will be able to rapidly work out their own personalized road to dieting success. Here's the bulldog's plan as an example.

High Calorie foods:
Low Calorie foods:
No Calorie foods:
The real strength of this diet is that it allows considerable flexibility as long as you approach it with strategic cunning. For example, at first you might believe that eating your piece of rawhide and That Other Dog's rawhide would count as two servings of Low Calorie food, leaving you with only two more for the day. But with planning, you can convert Low Calorie foods to No Calorie foods.

In this situation, the thing to do is choose a location where you can make eye contact with That Other Dog, and sit on your own rawhide. Then you stare with anguish and woe at That Other Dog as he attempts to eat his, while you clearly have none. Naturally, he will start to feel sorry for you (especially since you ate nothing at breakfast) and will stop eating. Eventually That Other Dog will get up to go for a walk and you can then dart in, grab his nearly-whole piece of rawhide, and store it in the food vault while he is distracted chasing golf balls. Grab a golf ball for a quick No Calorie snack while you wait, and then when you go back in, grab your rawhide quickly and eat it. So now you have had only one serving of Low Calorie food plus one serving of No Calorie food, but you also have a spare piece of No Caloric rawhide tucked away in your food vault for an evening snack, which remembrance will strengthen your resolve to ignore the food in your own bowl at dinner.

In addition, after a few days of resolutely eating nothing from your bowl, That Other Dog will start to feel sorry for you and will leave you some pretty good portion of what is in his bowl, or possibly pick up and dump mouthfuls of food from his bowl on the ground purely for the pleasure of watching you circle and make low swooping runs below the terrifying jaws of That Other Dog to get at those delicious morsels.

Now there are times when the food in your bowl will be tempting indeed, but there is no need to panic! Keep your head and realize that merely by combining stricken gazes at the bowl with anguished gazes at Dear Man, you should be able to induce Dear Man to remove some of the best meat hunks from your bowl and offer it to you by hand, thus converting a High Calorie food into a Low Calorie food.

This diet is uniformly successful. That Other Dog always loses weight at a significant rate, and if That Big Bitch dumps the contents of your dinner bowl into the garbage instead of on the ground, you may even lose weight yourself. It is also a very satisfying diet which makes eating a fun and entrepeneurial activity.

In my opinion, all the most successful female dieters use some version of this plan. For instance, take the well-known technique of ordering a salad in a restaurant and then staring sadly at your escort 's steak until he orders cheesecake for dessert. This is a time-tested way of converting high caloric food into low caloric food. because of course bits of cheesecake sniped from his plate don't make you fat, whereas ordering your own dessert would cause the entire restaurant to erupt in jeers and would cause your dress seams to split before you even made it home.

Oh, and a helpful final tip from the bulldog: if that little black dress still reveals unsightly bulges after a few weeks of following this plan, don't panic. Simply put it on the sofa for a day, dump chocolate syrup or mousse on it and eat the blasted thing. Remember, sofa upholstery is in the No Calorie group.

Then when the guy comes home, instead of dressing for the company party suggest an interlude in the bedroom. He'll be happy and you will be too, and you will not be missed at the company party.
Don't forget to offer Dear Man some cheesecake or pie after you emerge from the bedroom, and do sit staring lovingly at him while he eats it. You should be able to get more than half. It's best if you do this while only wearing a sweatshirt, because a little judicious leg crossing and uncrossing will ensure that his eyes will not be on his plate. By the end of the evening you both will be experiencing great holiday cheer.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I had to make a quick trip because my mother had surgery yesterday. Everything went well and the news was very good - no cancer. So it's a very, very good Thanksgiving for me and mine. I hope you all have a great time, wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

Btw, that Airborne stuff does work. I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Depressing, But True?

Oraculations, from 2003:
The "Real Left", the writers, academics, media whores, and internationalist businessmen who only see "the bottom line" of profits in various countries, will dominate media, the Democratic Party, and hence the subjects of public dialogue. Their next attempt will be to declare some sort of special rights for the Sunnis and Shias within Iraq who in their view will require separate countries. The Kurds will once again be left with their "special rights", which is to exist under the heel of the Turks. Nor will the Left ever support the Iranian students and young people in their fight against oppression within Iran. They will do all they can to see that we have no troops on the border between Iraq and Iran. They will label it "provacative". The current pressure from the Left is an attempt to keep us from helping in Iran, or anyone who lives under the boot of a dictator. Their aim is not just to stop the spread of democracy at the Iraqi border, they want to stop it period. Democracy means America. And they actually hate America.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hot Toddy Blogging

Yes, the flu is coming on (or some such similar bug). But I cannot afford to get the flu, because I got typhus this summer and I am still recovering from it. So, I bring out the big guns to kill the very small virii. This is an extreme measure reserved for desperate circumstances.

There are those who have never had a hot toddy (especially Baptists), BUT THEY DO WORK. I thought I'd explain. The most important part is to drink almost as much water as you can hold first, because later you are going to get dehydrated. Then you want to check your lying-down spot carefully. There should be lots of blankets. Deposit a container of fresh water there for later use. Now you are ready for the main event:

1) This is a last-resort measure.
2) You need some sort of powerful liquor. I use Jack Daniels, although it's a frightful desecration of whiskey.
3) Ingredients:
- Honey (The real kind, if possible. Not that stuff in the plastic bottle.)
-Lemon juice
-Water or strong tea
4) You take one part lemon juice, one part honey. Add two parts water. Heat it up and stir until the honey is mixed in. Don't smell it. Mother Nature did not intend for honey and lemon juice to be mixed together, and it smells something like paint thinner. (Mother Nature is an unreliable bitch who cultivates viral illnesses for the sole purpose of torturing me, so who cares what she intends?)
5) Add two parts whiskey. Make sure that the whole mixture is very hot. This is almost the only use I've ever found for microwaves.
6) Now the difficult part. You are going to have to drink it. Just pouring it on your head does not work. Drink it in gulps.
7) First gulp. I consider abandoning this effort altogether. (Reflect upon the trials of the pioneers, upon the bravery of the soldiers, upon the whole panoply of human striving and suffering that has constituted humanity's long struggle up and out of the cave. Can I let them all down? This is a test of character! Dig deep, and swallow.)
8) Second gulp. (Meditate upon the dire situation. Surely there must be a way to turn this suffering into a benefit to humanity? Carry toddy to computer, and log on to Blogger. Whoa! Made it on the second try. NOT BAD. Swallow.)
9) Third gulp. Swallow without hesitation, because by this time my tongue is numb. Contemplate the strategic situation. Shortly after the next gulp, it's going to feel like someone snuck up behind me and whanged a frying pan over my head. There will be two remaining gulps. How likely is it that I will make it to the lying-down spot from the computer? Not likely. One possible approach is to tote the toddy into the bedroom and finish it there, but then the disgusting glass which held the disgusting mixture would remain bedside. This seems unendurable.
10) Fourth gulp, and it really doesn't taste half bad. Frying pan descends on schedule, because I am not a drinker. (Hmm. Hmmmmmmm. Perhaps the best approach is to just swallow the fifth gulp and slither sideways off the chair. The dog bed is only a short crawl away. Unfortunately, the dog is on it. Not Rescue Dog, who would certainly share, but the bulldog, who is, despite all of Rescue Dog's training efforts, still poor at sharing. Perhaps the long crawl to the bedroom is the best option, although there's this five inch step-up thingie to go from here to there. It may be difficult to navigate after the fifth gulp. Very. Yet, can anyone place a limit on the sum of human achievement? NO! We have gone to the moon and the bottom of the ocean in my lifetime! IT CAN BE DONE! Now it's clearly time to start singing. The Marseillaise.)
11) Fifth gulp, which goes down easily, considering I have trouble lifting the glass to my mouth. Frying pan whangs do that to you. (For some reason, Chief No-Nag does not like the Marseillaise. I have never encountered any trace of bigotry in him before, but remonstrances about Francophobic sentiments will have to wait until my tongue is less numb. He's been in a bad mood ever since he read the bit about the anti-war activists planning a "Global Orgasm" peace thingie, and he had wandered off to bed still muttering about it. My guess is that it's because he has accurately assessed the chances of him getting any out of my viralized carcass, which are slim to none.)

There you have it. Let no virus feel safe, the terrifying PNACian conspiracy of the whisky will drive you from your homes. You will lose your lives in an onslaught of terror such as you have never known, you will have no graves and no posterity, and as your capsules explode, you will hear the lamentations of your brothers and sisters meeting the same fate, all knowing that they died unmourned and unlamented.

I go now, to bravely do what no woman has ever done before, to scale the vast five inch heights and crawl bravely to my fate. To drink, to sleep, to sweat, and to rise triumphant over the forces of viral evil. This is to be human. To transcend is human! To survive is human! To mount the barricades and fight for a decent life is human!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Edgy Adji And Professor Crocodile

Iran, no matter what the Kossites think, bears not the slightest resemblance to a socialist paradise except for one characteristic. The new generation is desperately trying to prevent Iranians from exposure to western ideas while suppressing any criticism of its regime.

Read all about Professor Crocodile here and here, and note the close alliance with Edgy Adji. Edgy Adji believes in Professor Crocodile's ideas on the merits of suicide bombers, which is why he gives speeches on stages with dancers cavorting around holding vials of uranium as a background. Building a better Islamic bomb is what it's all about, even if that Islamic bomb is a dirty bomb instead of a true nuke.

We are not being granted peace in our time, and the reformists in Iran are losing ground, not gaining it. This reality only fuels the desperate attempts of the left to obfuscate the issue, as Shrinkwrapped and Dr. Sanity have noted. The problem with reality is that it comes and gets you no matter where you're hiding, especially if reality is armed with radioactive material. Shrinkwrapped's post was very gutsy:
The dirty, little secret, more accurately, the hidden pang of anxiety and fear at the heart of the anti-war movement, is the question of our courage. ... Were we motivated by cowardice in our opposition to the Vietnam War? It is inarguable that fear played a role in the anti-war movement. The proof was that once Congress did away with the draft, the opposition to the war dissipated with alarming speed.
Yet in order to avoid feeling scared, the war protesters needed to see themselves as bravely facing a quasi-fascist regime (LBJ and then Nixon); our protests were heroic efforts to establish and support peace and justice. In reality , the protests were nothing of the sort and millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians paid the price of our rationalizations. By demonizing the war as based on lies, immoral, imperialistic, etc (which all had a grain of truth but were clearly exaggerations and hardly the exclusive reasons for our involvement in Vietnam) the logic of our defensive edifice required the eventual cut-off of funds to the South Vietnamese, who until the military aid cut-off were more than holding their own.
The same tactic is being repeated with Iraq and Israel. The left excoriates Israel in order to escape the guilt of facilitating Israel's destruction. This isn't childishnessness; it's infantilism. The infantile left is profoundly unserious, and believes that everyone else is the same, and so the infantile left sympathizes with what it believes is its blood-brother standing there on that stage in Iran with the uranium-vial dance troop making a gesture. The only problem is that Edgy Adji and Professor Crocodile are serious. They will do it, if they can.

Their goal is to establish hegemony over the Persian Gulf, and to collect tribute from the oil-generating countries, because only massive infusions of money can keep them in power in Iran. They cannot do this by conventional warfare, and so they need to be able to credibly threaten the use of nuclear weapons against a few key ports and refinery sites; radioactive contamination is a real threat to the Saudis, for example. (Which is why it was necessary to keep Saddam Hussein from gaining and using WMDs, because, as he showed in Kuwait, he would absolutely have used them.)

The only power within the ME that can oppose a nuclear Iran is Israel, and so the Iranian theo-fascists are following a strategy to make it politically impossible for the leaders of the other ME nations to collaborate with Israel. Part of that plan includes the alliance of Hezbollah with the Palestinian terrorists, because they must keep Palestinian rockets raining down on Israel territory in order to generate Israeli reprisals.

It's a good plan, and it will probably succeed if we depart Iraq without making that country functional and defensible. If we want to avoid war with Iran we must succeed in Iraq, and that's the long and short of it. Success in Iraq may eventually require taking out Iran, but let's leave room for optimism here.

WWII's scope was only worldwide because the democracies failed to block Germany's and Italy's encroachments upon the weaker countries. We will generate WWIII if we do not hold the line now against Iran.

The next step for Iran is to test small bombs with what they have, because I am sure they intend to hit one port to show their seriousness. They won't admit it in public, but every ME ruler will know who did it, and all will bow their heads and pay tribute. Iran will probably be testing varieties of dirty bombs in northern Iran in tunnels they have dug into the mountains. They need to make the first "incident" a controlled one that completely disables the target facility for a long period of time but doesn't threaten the entire area. This will require testing and measurement of the results.

Here is a map of Iran; here is a page that has information on known nuclear facilities, but I think they have others, and in any case the best location is an abandoned mine which can be adapted for their purposes.

Friday, November 17, 2006

RE: Bring In The Brass Monkeys

After numerous reports of "cooling" and optimistic reports of national housing market warming in the spring, the Commerce Dept numbers today provide a blast of arctic air. Expectations for housing starts and permits were:
The Commerce Dept. today reports on housing starts and building permits: Consensus estimates are that starts fell 5.6%, but that permits are up 0.1%. If correct, that would be the first up month since February.
The actuals (at NJ Real Estate Report):
Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in October were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,535,000. This is 6.3 percent (±1.2%) below the revised September rate of 1,638,000 and is 28.0 percent (±1.2%) below the October 2005 estimate of 2,131,000.

Privately-owned housing starts in October were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,486,000. This is 14.6 percent (±7.6%) below the revised September estimate of 1,740,000 and is 27.4 percent (±5.3%) below the October 2005 rate of 2,046,000.
However, completions are still at extremely high rates (see Calculated Risk's post).

I have no idea why anyone was expecting permits to rise. There will be continuing strength in government building, but commercial sector building will follow the trajectory of private sector housing, which is down. The builders are now being caught in the cash flow trap, and they are racing to get product on the market to get money coming in. However, getting funding for new projects is going to become increasingly difficult. See, for example, this note in Origination News:
HouseRaising Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based service provider to custom homebuilders, has announced a credit program that will enable affiliated builders to buy materials and supplies from Lowe's through a master credit facility. Under the program, builders of custom homes constructed with the HouseRaising proprietary management system and with financing through SunTrust Mortgage, Richmond, Va., can buy building materials from Lowe's. Greg Wessling, chairman and chief executive officer of HouseRaising, said the arrangement will lower the cost of homes and help builders who often find it difficult to get financing for materials purchases.
Don't forget that homebuilders have also been providing incentives going forward (such as making partial mortgage payments for the first few years, or paying utilities, etc). There are future costs to any building binge, and in this case there are additional and exceptional future costs built in for some of these large homebuilders. However building supply costs are also going down in many markets, which helps homebuilders somewhat.

On the affordability side, the nominal and real drop in housing prices combined with lower interest rates is generating more purchase money mortgage apps (as well as more refi apps). Purchase money apps are now down only about 13% compared to last year. The lower rates go the less the impact will be on the adjustable rate mortgages. However we are now into about the 15th month of decline in the housing market, so the year-over-year comparisons may look somewhat better without showing any real reversal of trend.

One local wild card is property taxes; in areas in which property taxes have risen sharply, the lower mortgage rates aren't yet producing any net increase in affordability. In those areas, prices will have to fall further to generate more sales. We have not seen any significant constriction in lending standards yet, but this will begin to come into play next year as defaults continue to rise and appraisals continue to come in lower.

I don't think we are even close to the bottom at this point. In order to reduce inventory we need an influx of first-time buyers, and affordability for them is still staggeringly low in most markets. I find it difficult to believe that the practice of continuing to provide near 100% financing for first-time homebuyers with above-norm DTI's can continue through next summer in most markets, and as soon as credit tightens, this new inventory coming on the market in many areas will become an indigestible glut.

As you are out there doing your Christmas shopping, I think you'll see a pattern of retailers chasing buyers which foreshadows a rough economy in 2007. If you think about it, you'll see why. It is true that wages have begun rising, but most people pay relatively high taxes on wage income, whereas when you borrow your spending money instead of earning it, 100% or more of that money is spent (consider interest deductions on home-secured loans). We'd have to see a huge jump in wages to produce the same type of economic stimulus produced by the wave of equity withdrawals, and it isn't in the cards.

In other news, foreign treasury buys are dropping, while foreign purchases of corporate debt are rising. I think the treasuries are a better deal than most corporate bonds, so color me contrarian. Japan and some of the OPEC countries reduced their holdings in September.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rough Weather

We've been having rough weather (although not as bad as this), so I'm mostly offline. So listen to the "wheel chair boy". Murtha's out and Hoyer's in, along with Pelosi in a reportedly unanimous vote.

Oh, and Howard suddenly realized why people complain about Microsoft, once he bought MS Word.

I haven't fooled with Vista yet, but I strongly suspect that the real focus of the OS is to push another version of Office. I gave that up long ago and now I use the free and functional OpenOffice. They released the SDK for Developers along with a 900 page manual.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

DU On Murtha

One feels sorry for them. DU discusses Pelosi's endorsement of Murtha for Majority Leader and CREW's criticism of that choice:
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) questioned soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) commitment to eradicating corruption with her endorsement of one of the most unethical members in Congress, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), to be Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Murtha was listed in CREW’s report Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch). As reported in the study and by the news media, Rep. Murtha has been involved in a number of pay-to play schemes involving former staffers and his brother, Robert “Kit” Murtha. Eight incumbents in CREW’s report lost their races to ethics issues.
1. If this is true, Murtha is the wong person to be Majority Leader.
4. It is true. But the big hole here is if Pelosi came out and endorsed Hoyer, CREW would have written just as bad a critique on Hoyer.

Both Murtha and Hoyer are dirty.

But they are the only two choices Pelosi has.
6. So much for us being the clean team. Sigh.
Welcome to the real world. The problem for both parties and the American population is that we have a lot of unethical people in Congress, and that the one thing the movers and shakers of both parties fail to do is censure them in any meaningful way. What was the one example of GOP/Dem cooperation in Congress we had last year? The leaders of both parties were outraged that a subpoena issued by a judge was executed against Jefferson's office. The leaders of both parties love pork, and the leaders of both parties seem to want to be above the law. We've got reason to sigh.

I think we should be spending more time on the primaries; the Congressional system seems to reward and insulate incumbents who are ethically challenged.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Amazing And Terrifying

This is truly amazing stuff. It leaves me wordless and grasping, but Dr. Sanity didn't even her recuperation from knee surgery stop her. One of the comments was something like "I'll never be ashamed again for using the word dingbat." (Update: For those who want to read what the Iran of today is really like, Amir Taheri describes it accurately in this Arab News article. See the end for a description of the conditions in this "worker's paradise". This is not socialism - it's a brand of fascism very akin to Mussolini's Italy, although even more unjust. The country is headed for disaster and so is now very dangerous.)

Yeah, dingbat is too kind. "Moral zero" would be more accurate.

Nonetheless, it is this type of sentiment which is the driving force behind Pelosi's contingent. I think David of Photon Courier accurately summarized my worries:
...what scares me most about the Democratic victory is that the leadership of this party does not seem to understand that the threats we face are existential in nature--that devastating harm to this country, and to civilization itself, are well within the realm of possibility--and still less does the Democratic leadership understand the nature of those who oppose us.
He's right - they really don't. They are self-referential; they assume that everyone shares their worldview, and they believe that somehow the US is not threatened. Nancy Pelosi has been consistently against any realistic effort to bolster our internal energy sources, consistently against fighting terrorism abroad, and consistently against any real efforts to increase internal security. It's an amazing record.

From Amir Taheri's article:
Workers’ grievances can be summed up in three demands.

The first is to lift the ban on trade unions and recognize the workers’ right to take industrial action. Under a protocol signed between the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Islamic republic during Khatami’s presidency, this was supposed to happen in 2004 but did not.

The second demand is to amend the Labor Code, enacted under the mullahs, to restore the pro-worker clauses contained in pre-revolution legislature. The current Labor Code allows employers to hire and fire workers virtually as they please. More than 85 percent of all urban workers are hired under short-term contracts, often less than 40 days. Many employers ask the prospective employee to sign an undated letter of resignation before taking up the job.

These practices, initially limited to the private sector, have in recent years spread to the public sector as well. As a result an estimated 12 million workers, out of a work force of some 25 million, have virtually no social protection, health coverage, or pension scheme.

The employers including in the massive public sector, know that widespread unemployment, estimated officially to stand around 10.6 percent, means that they can always have access to an abundant source of cheap and vulnerable labor. This is especially so because unemployment rate for workers aged between 15 and 25 is estimated at over 40 percent.

The third demand put forward by Iranian workers is to develop a mechanism for consultation and negotiation among labor, industry and the government.

“No society can progress without dialogue,” says Hassan Dehqan, a labor leader. “We cannot allow the authorities and the employers to decide our fate without even consulting us.”

Apart from these three “imperatives”, the workers also want those of their colleagues sent to jail released and those expelled after taking part in industrial action to be reinstated. No one knows how many workers are in prison. But several sources put the number at “many hundreds.” The number of workers expelled as a form of punishment is said to run into thousands.

Workers also demand that government intervene to make sure they get paid on time. According to Massoud Cheraghi, a paper factory worker, some employees have not been paid for 26 months.

Things Are Moving Fast

Internationally, that is. Lebanon's government returned the endorsement for the investigation of the Hariri assassination, widely believed to have been done at the behest of Syria. However this was done after the mass resignation of the Hezbollah ministers:
Saniora, whose anti-Syrian majority dominates the Cabinet, convened the session over President Emile Lahoud's objections and despite the resignations of six pro-Syrian ministers. Five of them, Shiite Muslims, quit in a dispute with the prime minister over their demand for more influence in decision-making.

Saturday's withdrawal by the five ministers left Shiites, the largest single sect in Lebanon, out of the government, contravening a provision in Lebanon's constitution to ensure the distribution of political power among Christian and Muslim sects.

Still, all 18 remaining ministers attending the meeting approved the U.N. document, and they defended the Cabinet's decision.
It seems that Hezbollah does not do the power-sharing thing well. The Hezbollah faction wanted veto power in the cabinet, and the rest of the cabinet refused. Now Hezbollah say they will hold "mass demonstrations", but the bombings are picking up.... On the heels of this action:
Al-Qaida has purportedly issued a statement threatening to topple Lebanon's "corrupt" Western-backed government, according to a London-based Arabic newspaper Monday.

The Al-Hayat newspaper reported that al-Qaida issued the statement from the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr. "The organization has arrived in Lebanon and we will work on destroying this corrupt government that receives orders from the American administration," Al-Hayat said, quoting the statement.
Whether the statement actually came from Al-Qaeda or not is disputed.

In Iraq over the weekend, Prime Minister al-Maliki is reported to have stated that there will be a reshuffling of the cabinet and that loyalty to the government will be the criteria rather than power-sharing:
Shiite legislator Bassem al-Sharif quoted al-Maliki as telling them: " We need a major government reshuffle, and we will not allow any candidate to be loyal to his party. I will choose according to qualifications. I will reject any incompetent candidate," al-Maliki said, according to al-Sharif.

Al-Maliki also told the politicians to stop squabbling and "solve your problems among yourselves," al-Sharif said. "Let your loyalty be to Iraq. Help the government."
"You all have militias. I will not accept a government made up of militiamen. We cannot be a state in the presence of militias," he was quoted as saying.
He also spoke to a newspaper, saying that some sort of Syrian initiative had been advanced wanting to "start fresh with Iraq", and seemed to imply that his government was willing to talk:
Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Labib Abbawi said today that an official invitation has been sent to Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and he accepted. No date for a visit has been set.
Things are genuinely awful in Iraq, as the top Iraqi judge pointed out (he's visiting the US). He insisted that they were making progress, but:
He said the roughly 4,000 security officers hired to protect judges are not enough, and that 22 judges and many of their relatives have been murdered. Al-Mahmood's son was slain.

"We need much higher numbers to protect the judge and his family," he said.
One of the worst aspects of the Iraqi "insurgency" is that the various coalitions are targeting the families of government and military officials. This is why abandoning the country now would be such a betrayal; no matter what you think about the situation, many of the Iraqis have shown epic bravery in trying to improve matters.

Meanwhile, the Arab nations have been putting pressure on the Palestinians to stop shooting each other and start working with each other. There had been a virtual Arab boycott of Hamas in Palestine, but as a result of the Gaza missile attack, all that has suddenly changed:
The Hamas-led Palestinian government agreed Sunday to an international peace conference with Israel after the Arab League -- angered by Israel's military offensive in Gaza -- voted to end a financial blockade on the Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas endorsed a statement by Arab foreign ministers calling for the peace conference during a meeting in Cairo to respond to a U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Gaza offensive.
The Arab League statement said ministers sought a conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "according to international resolutions and the principle of 'land for peace'." Arabs want Hamas to endorse a 2002 Arab initiative that calls for peace in exchange for land seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Sunday was the first time Zahar had attended an Arab foreign ministers' meeting since Hamas became the ruling party. The Arab League had previously refused to let him join unless Hamas accepted the peace initiative.

Arab ministers also decided Sunday to end a financial blockade on the Palestinians to show their anger over U.S. veto in the Security Council on Saturday.
Olmert is in the US. It's hard to know how this is going to work out, but supposedly the Arab nations (including Kuwait) will be making some quick transfers of money to the Hamas government.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Day Of Silence

It's Veteran's Day, and the best way I can think of recognizing it is to shut up for a day.

Those who have served have sacrificed what I have not, done what I cannot, and spent so many beautiful fall days like this one doing what they had to do rather than what they wanted to do.

This day I have comes from them and belongs to them, and I would rather have you listen to them somehow than me.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Quotes From All Over

Kevin of Strategy Revolutions quotes St. Francis of Assissi and goes on to write:
I'm not sure if other people feel what I feel. I'm not certain that other people feel that something is really missing in our increasingly technological society.
I have nothing against technology. I have nothing against progress, but I have something against progress at the sake of our precious humanity.

What are the elements of our humanity? Service, love, sacrifice and courage are a good start. Leadership without service is empty and crumbles.
The Adventures of Chester posted a roundup of quotes about the Iraq "situation", including this Pelosi quote:
The point is, this isn't a war to win, it's a situation to be solved. And you define winning any way you want, but you must solve the problem.
It's hard to redefine a bullet, but then she's not the one getting shot at. Chester seems to like this idea:
This is the golden window for not only making significant changes, but for also building bipartisan consensus, before the show trials begin in January. If the Democrats are on board with an Iraq plan, even the media will drag themselves kicking and screaming toward slightly better coverage. They know where their bread is buttered.
James Baker is a brilliant diplomat and should not be misunderestimated. The events in the next week will spell salvation or doom in Mesopotamia.
The comments on Chester's post are superb; please read them. They have ideas, including this by Nichevo (excerpted):
Meanwhile, "all hands on deck" (or what I call "flood the zone") is I think a clear and constructive option. Balls to the wall, no more excuses on troop strength, saturate the hot zones and root 'em out but good. Handover to the Iraqis, rinse, repeat.
Dear genius Dem Congress, please budget extra $ for the deployments, also:

$ for local walking-around money - I forget the name of that effective US program.

$ for reconstruction as I imagine there will be an awful lotta rubble when complete.
Sorry, Nichevo, this is what the "genius Dem Congress" has planned about the walking-around money:
Rep. Ike Skelton knows what he will do in one of his first acts as chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Democratic-led House: resurrect the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

The panel was disbanded by the Republicans after they won control of Congress in 1994. Now, Skelton (D-Mo.) intends to use it as a forum to probe Pentagon spending and the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war.

It has been 12 years since Democrats were in control of both the House and Senate. But they are looking to make up for lost time, and in some cases, make the Bush administration and its business allies sweat.
Al-Qaeda has released an audio tape supposedly by Al-Masri (whom the Iraqis say they have in custody) celebrating the election and Rumsfeld's departure:
Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, said in the recording posted on the Internet on Friday that the group had 12,000 armed fighters and 10,000 others waiting to be equipped to fight U.S. troops in Iraq.

"I tell the lame duck (U.S. administration) do not rush to escape as did your defense minister...stay on the battle ground," he said.
"I swear by God we shall not rest from jihad until we...blow up the filthiest house known as the White House," the voice on the recording said.
DU had an interesting set of reactions to that tape:
12. Rove is on the phone now yelling "@*%! I told you I needed those tapes for LAST weekend, not THIS weekend!!!"
8. reason Bolton needs to go and Bush MUST eat humble pie
now is time to have others help in this mess Bush and company created. None of the "KMA" behavior will work, real DIPLOMACY now get the Arab nations to help police this country and help it back to order.
Like Syria and Iran? This is working so wonderfully well in Lebanon? Well, possibly from the DU point of view it is, because Khameini's claim that the Democratic Congress is a victory for Iran was greeted with a group sing-along of "We Are the World" at DU:
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called U.S. President George W. Bush's defeat in congressional elections a victory for Iran.
"This issue (the elections) is not a purely domestic issue for America, but it is the defeat of Bush's hawkish policies in the world," Khamenei said in remarks reported by Iran's student news agency ISNA on Friday.

"Since Washington's hostile and hawkish policies have always been against the Iranian nation, this defeat is actually an obvious victory for the Iranian nation."
1. Hopefully, its a victory for the WORLD
2. A victory for the people of the world...and the planet itself.
(I thought I heard Gaia warbling away in the background!)
3. Pretty much the entire world thinks it's a victory for the entire world.
Europe, Russia, China, Venezuala, Iraq, Iran... The only country I've heard whining about it is Israel.
Israel is not coming off well on DU these days; the prevailing theory seems to match pretty well with Khameini's. I quote, you decide. Kobayashi Maru is worried. Dr. Sanity blogged from the hospital about the situation.

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