Monday, September 29

"CNN=Crackhead Nightly News." Out of the mouths of No Quarter readers.

Dispirited? Bitter? Thinking America is going to hell in a handbasket? Before you reach for your gun and your Bible, take two readings of No Quarter's comment section and call me in the morning.

John Batchelor called it several months ago when he said that No Quarter is the new Daily Kos. It's what Kos used to be, before they got taken over by the MoveOn crowd, or went round the bend with Bush Derangement Syndrome, or whatever happened that drove away all the Democrats with common sense.

Many of the refugees found a perch at No Quarter and the blogosphere -- and No Quarter-- haven't been the same since. I'm not sure that Larry Johnson knew at first what the heck was happening to his site, but he wisely gave the throngs of new readers their head.

Here, a sampling of NQ reader pearls -- sass, salt, and all -- excerpted from a comment thread today in response to the NQ post: Wachovia Bank bought by Citibank


Comment by wodiej | 2008-09-29 15:07:51
Donald Trump says oil has dropped $10 today, down to $96 a barrell and will continue to drop like a rock. He also says we’ll do fine wo a bailout. Economy will come back and skyrocket. I trust him more than this stupid analysts.

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:15:11
When Donald speaks, people listen!!! Thanks.

Comment by Hillary or Bust | 2008-09-29 15:26:29
I REALLY hope he is right but I’m very worried.

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:07:52
Obama: I have a depression too!!!

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:13:28
Jack Cafferty is lying sack of crap. He is blaming this ALL on the republicans and McCain. He says they failed to come up with the 11 votes.

HELLO!!! 90 something Democrats voted against it too.

Comment by wodiej | 2008-09-29 15:24:17
right…he’s a tired ass sack of shit….

Comment by Firefly | 2008-09-29 15:34:14
ALL of CNN is blaming it on the republicans - Ed Henry just said the same exact thing as Cafferty - and Henry’s supposed to be a journalist - NONE OF THEM are even mentioning the 90 something dem votes against - saying it’s all on the head of republicans and those 11 votes - they truly think Americans are jaw-droppingly stupid - that we can’t even count.

I’m thinking (hoping) the backlash against the media will be catastrophic for those liars.

Comment by vinnie | 2008-09-29 15:56:25
facts shmacts. This failure of the bill is McCain’s fault and the Dems losing the GE will be on Hillary.

Comment by benny | 2008-09-29 15:16:13
Nancy Pelosi is going through fasting and prayer before she calls the ‘One’. she has lost, and has disappointed the ‘One’. fasting always helps. lol

[For readers outside the U.S.: 'The One' is a sarcastic reference to Obama.]

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:18:48 I’m watching FOX. CNN=Crackhead Nightly News.

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:23:53
Oh, this is rich. Somebody on FOX (BO supporter) is spinning this with something like:

McCain was supposed to deliver x-number of votes. Obama 120. Obama delivered 140, McCain didn’t deliver what he promised, therefore, it was all McCain’s fault.

Bull Hockey. 11 votes could have come from te 95 democrats who voted against it. Nice try but it is all baloney.

I say, let’s throw them all out and elect Donald Trump/Bloomberg ticket.

Comment by Ferd McBerfle | 2008-09-29 15:27:32
Better if switched: Bloomberg/ThisRug4Sale

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:30:00
LOL. That works for me!

Obama and McCain–YOU’RE FIRED!!!

Comment by wodiej | 2008-09-29 15:32:39
Donald Trump is very intelligent. Fox asked him one night if he would consider working as a financial analyst and he basically said no. But they have had him on pretty regular. They also said that percentage wise, today is not even in the top 10 of largest drops in the stock market. I think oil will continue to drop. When it does, the price of groceries will go back down. And on and on. Trump said people w cash will boost the economy. People do not need to borrow anymore on credit. Things need to slow down.

And what will happen to these big fat greedy financial institutions? I hope they rot in hell where they belong. I don’t GIVE A RATS ASS. The financial market is not going to fall off the face of the earth. I work at Wells Fargo and they sent us an e-mail a few months ago and said they were very minimally involved in subprime mortgages and so were in no danger of failing. Chase is apparently ok too as they bought Washington Mutual.

Perhaps this is just what was needed. Let the weasels stand before the world w their pants around their ankles. Maybe next time those golden parachutes won’t look so good.

Comment by McHope | 2008-09-29 15:24:48
Major Garrett reports that Obama did not take a stand on this bill. Does anyone have links to his taking credit for the whole thing?

Now that the dems are going to blame the Republicans for the failure to pass, shouldn’t they (the Republicans) take this opportunity to point out the flaws of the bill and the fact that the Dems were adding money for ACORN and offer to the public the reasonable measures that need to be added to make the bill feasible?

Comment by VMorris | 2008-09-29 15:28:20
Here you go:

Comment by Lee M | 2008-09-29 15:25:12
Henny Penny, Goosie Lucy and Turkey Lurkey have all been sent a message today.

To Paraphrase Pelosi’s message to Wall Street that the party is over. Antsy Nancey got her comeuppance from quite a few of her own party members in this vote. Not everyone in what remains of the Democratic Party believe as she does - that party gloating transcends that which relates to taking care of the country.


Comment by ford | 2008-09-29 15:32:46
I think McCain needs to put a new plan out there…

we have to accept that the bad loans have been floating bad paper for 20+years, and now they need to got to jail…this means many were cooking the books.

Sunday, September 28

Say, which country is the U.S. Treasury going to bail out? The U.S. or China?


Bernanke: I think we're supposed to first separate the blue and yellow wires.

Paulson: No, no! Don't touch the blue and yellow wires!

Bernanke: Are you sure?

Paulson: Yes I'm sure. What we need to do is cut the red or green wire.

Bernanke: I'm pretty sure we first need to separate the blue and yellow wires.

Paulson: Will you forget the goddamn blue and yellow wires and help me figure out whether we cut the red or green wire?
I understand the lights can go out any minute if we don't get the credit crisis resolved, but Pundita is such a skinflint I'd rather live by a candlelight for a few weeks if it means saving a trillion or so dollars in taxpayer money.

There is an aspect to the financial crisis that is just starting to come to public light, and which only struck me this morning when I got around to reading a Sept 26 analysis by Gillian Tett of the Financial Times titled Putting dodgy assets in deep freeze will not remove the rot. (H/T John Batchelor Show website) Tett mentions that "there appears to have been widespread fraud in the mortgage brokerage world in the latter stage of the credit boom."

Tette's remark reminded me that the FBI announced four days ago that they were adding Lehman Brothers and AIG to the list of companies (including Fannie and Freddie) they were investigating for fraud relating to the mortgage loan crisis.

AIG is an American company in name only, so to speak; it's a truly globalized corporation set up in Shanghai in 1919, and which always had deep roots in the Asian financial markets. It became the 18th largest corporation in the world. AIG owns 19.8% of People's Insurance Company of China through direct and indirect holdings. PICC is China's largest insurer of casualty insurance.

And as we recall, little more than 10 days ago AIG received the largest government bailout in U.S. history for a private company.

This is not the first time that AIG has been investigated for monkey business. Around the middle of this decade AIG was the target of a series of fraud investigations conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Justice Department, and New York State Attorney General's Office.

According to Wikipedia, CEO Hank Greenberg was ousted amid an accounting scandal in February 2005. The New York Attorney General's investigation led to a $1.6 billion fine for AIG and criminal charges for some of its executives.

Something else was going on around the time that AIG was under investigation, which was the staggering accumulation of bad loans in China.

By the spring of 2006, a conservative guess put the amount of those bad loans at $1.18 trillion; it could only be a guess because China's government-run banking system is opaque. Yet everybody knew there was a lot of bad debt backing up in China and that someday, something would cause the tower of bad paper to collapse from sheer weight. The bets were that a big jump in the price of oil would be the final straw but when the big jump happened, nothing happened. China continued more-or-less merrily along while carrying a huge amount of U.S. debt.

But over in the U.S., something did happen. An accumulation of bad paper set off a crisis in the mortgage brokerage industry.

Before you chuck your "Made in China" chachkas out the window, I am only guessing about a situation. And even if my guess is right, we're all adults here; we know that we can't allow China's economy to collapse because the economies of the U.S. and China are entwined. But maybe not so entwined that the U.S. should be the only country to dig China out from a crushing mountain of debt.

In any case, once you start talking about wide-scale fraud in globalized financial instruments, this not a problem that Americans should try to solve on their own. This is a task for the Lords of the Craps Table, who oversee (to the extent it can be overseen) what I term "The Casino" -- the international monetary system.

Ben Bernanke has as much stated that the $700+ billion rescue plan is an experiment.(1) I would prefer a workable solution. That would require a clear definition of the central problem, which has seemed lacking because details of how the credit crisis snowballed are sketchy.

That doesn't necessarily mean the details are suppressed; it could just mean that there hasn't been time to gather and integrate enough data to provide a clear picture.

However, there is a shortcut to getting to the bottom of matters. For this, representatives from the Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, the central banks from the G-8 countries, the European Central Bank and China's central bank, need to gather in a room and have a frank discussion.

(In a perfect world I would like to see a few other central banks sitting in, including Singapore's and five Eurozone banks in addition to the ones I mentioned. I would also like to see representatives of Hong Kong's major commercial banks in attendance and -- well, the Lords of the Craps Table would know which banks they'd want at a summit.)

Should Henry Paulson attend the meeting? Not to be rude but I don't think that would be a good idea. Mr Paulson has a long and close association with China's communist government; in fact, he's known as China's Armand Hammer. Hammer was the fellow who did huge business with the Soviets during the Cold War.

And indeed Goldman Sachs, which has been having its own financial problems, is very deeply involved with China's banking sector, and this was so during Mr Paulson's tenure as the company's CEO. We return to the 2005-2006 period:
[...] In late January 2006, Goldman Sachs purchased a stake in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China’s biggest bank, for $2.58 billion. According to press reports, Mr. Paulson’s personal stake in this transaction was $25 million. [...]

[T]he PRC seems simply to be dressing-up what were, until recently, insolvent banks in the hope that international capital markets will contribute to bailing them out. This process involves the off-loading of non-performing loans onto asset management companies in a fashion very reminiscent of the U.S. savings and loan crisis. Indeed, the PRC appears, in fact, to have modeled its strategy on the American experience.[...]
Those comments and many more on the same theme from Frank Gaffney at the time of Paulson's 2006 confirmation hearing for the role of Treasury Secretary, and which summarize Gaffney's testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

I think that's enough detail to convey that a group discussion with China's central bank and the Federal Reserve might be more relaxed without an ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs in attendance.

Depending on what the meeting turns up, we might expect a plan that spreads among several national governments the true cost of unfreezing the credit markets and the most efficient way to go about this.

At the least, such a cooperative effort would spread the blame and responsibility if the worst comes to pass; i.e., a total collapse of the world economy.

Can such a meeting take place? If my guess is near the mark it could be that the Federal Reserve already knows much of the story, and wouldn't want to have a meeting that telegraphed by China's presence the bottom line. If that is the case, it could explain the big rush to fix a plan in place without a thorough public review.

In any event, I think the kind of summit I propose will have to happen at some point down the line. So the question is whether to bite the bullet and meet now, or wait until the U.S. taxpayers are a trillion dollars in the hole before everyone realizes that thrashing around in the dark isn't working.

Often it happens that solving a problem first requires solving another, or at least getting a clear picture of the other problem.

The 'other problem' in this case is that China's financial affairs are inextricably entwined with those of America's, and that for at least five years running up to America's financial crisis, China's central bank was in a losing battle with a snowballing accumulation of bad loans that is so huge it may have no precedent in dollar figures for one nation.

The IMF and other financial institutions, including the World Bank, spent years in futile attempts to pressure China's government into revealing the extent of the bad loans, and they tried to help the government manage the worst effects of the ongoing crisis.

So before the U.S. government grabs blindfolded for a solution that is termed an "experiment," we need to get a handle on just what happened with China's crisis of bad paper. That knowledge may throw much light on how best to proceed with handling America's crisis of bad paper.

1) Sept 25 via Yahoo News:
[...] With the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble, mortgage-related securities are caught in a vicious downward cycle, commanding only "fire sale" prices, Bernanke says. The government purchases, through a series of novel auction mechanisms, will help the market value these assets, he says. And this could be the spark needed to get markets working and the economy’s engine turning over again.

This explanation is very different from the "bailout" imagery that surrounds the debate. And the great challenge for both sides has been to find some path in between these two poles — able to satisfy the anger voters feel for Wall Street but also leaving enough room for Bernanke's experiment to function.

Saturday, September 27

Vote for the Eskimo

"Will John McCain stroll onto the stage tonight and tell the American people that he is leader of a party that will fight Wall Street's schemes to rob the taxpayer? Will he say that his election depends upon principles?

Will he say that letting the fox dash into the chicken coop is not going to happen on his watch? Will he say that the Republican Party would rather lose an election than lose the trust of the American people?"
-- John Batchelor, September 26, 2008

From the CNN transcript of the September 26, 2008 presidential debate:
LEHRER: All right, let's go back to my question. How do you all stand on the recovery plan? [...] Do you -- are you in favor of this plan?

OBAMA: We haven't seen the language yet. And I do think that there's constructive work being done out there. So, for the viewers who are watching, I am optimistic about the capacity of us to come together with a plan. [...]

Two years ago, I warned that, because of the subprime lending mess, because of the lax regulation, that we were potentially going to have a problem and tried to stop some of the abuses in mortgages that were taking place at the time. [...]

LEHRER: Are you going to vote for the plan, Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: I -- I hope so. And I...

LEHRER: As a United States senator...


LEHRER: ... you're going to vote for the plan?

MCCAIN: Sure. But -- but let me -- let me point out, I also warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and warned about corporate greed and excess, and CEO pay, and all that. A lot of us saw this train wreck coming.
PUNDITA: So tell me where's the difference between these two, discounting that Obama is better at blowing smoke?

MICHAEL WRIGHT: They're scared, they're walking on eggshells. They're caught between the demands of their party leaders and the anger of the American public.

PUNDITA: Did you hear what they said about Russia? There's no daylight between them, discounting that Obama is better at blowing smoke.

MICHAEL WRIGHT: So what do you want to do? A vote for Nader is a vote for McCain; a vote for Barr is a vote for Obama.

PUNDITA: I'm voting for the Eskimo.*

WRIGHT: The what?

PUNDITA: Todd Palin.

WRIGHT: He's only part Eskimo. So you're going to write in Todd Palin for President?

PUNDITA: That would be a meaningless gesture. I'm gonna vote for McCain and pray.

WRIGHT: [laughing] Pray that he moves onto the next life sooner than later? That still wouldn't put Todd in the Oval Office.

PUNDITA: McCain is a good listener. If he listens to Sarah, who listens to Todd, then this country has a fighting chance.

WRIGHT: How did you come to have such a high opinion of Todd Palin?

PUNDITA: Reading everything published about him and reading between the lines, and studying him in interviews.

WRIGHT: You know who else has a high opinion of him? Bill Clinton. He only talked about Todd's snowmobile racing but the fact that he pointed out his courage and tenacity -- it suggests he wanted to underscore Todd's character qualities.

PUNDITA: I will give Clinton this much; he is a shrewd judge of character -- comes from a lifetime of getting into people's head.

WRIGHT: I've heard that Todd is deeply involved in his wife's administration in an unofficial capacity and that's raised eyebrows in Alaska.

PUNDITA: Bonus points, as far as I'm concerned; I'm glad he's gotten some experience in state government, which adds to his experience with Alaska's native tribal governments. Although he's only part Eskimo his mother was involved in tribal politics through her work for a tribal organization.

His father was a general manager for an Alaskan electricity cooperative; that, combined with his 18 years of work for BP, gives him a great deal of knowledge about energy issues, including energy politics.

He worked as a supervisor at BP until he had to give up that position. That was because of a possible conflict of interest when his wife's administration began negotiating with BP. Then he went back to work at BP as a roughneck when the family needed more money.

He's also a union man, so he knows union politics.

Common sense is his middle name. He's also the Navigator type. He's one of those people who are more interested in the process of problem solving than taking a leadership role. His wife is the leader type. That makes them a great team.

WRIGHT: You've said before that historically governments don't so much solve problems as manage them and that we've come into an era where voters are demanding solutions.

PUNDITA: There can't be solutions, only patches that don't hold together well. You want to know why, consider the two men who stood on a stage last night and debated. One's a lawyer, the other's a professional politician. They are two sides of a coin called Washington. The viewpoints represented by their vocations are ineffective for genuine problem-solving.

WRIGHT: It was supposed to be a rule of law, but it worked out to a rule by lawyers.

PUNDITA: Yes. The majority of people in Congress are attorneys. That makes sense from the viewpoint of legislation; it's disastrous from the viewpoint of problem solving. That includes solving problems deriving from outdated legislation.

You need engineering minds for solving the kind of problems this country is faced with. At the least you need enough engineering minds as a counterweight to the legislative minds.

WRIGHT: I think the situation was masked for a long time because of America's great success as a trading nation.

PUNDITA: A superpower nation is able to kick the can far down the road, as the British know, but eventually the road runs out. It's not any one thing challenging this country, it's many things that have been building for decades, and now there's a convergence of serious problems.

WRIGHT: Do you think Todd is strongly influenced by the Native American viewpoint? It would be symmetrical if someone who thinks like a Native American ended up steering America through this era.

PUNDITA: Wouldn't that be a kick in the head? Imagine: someone with deep roots in North America, in an influential position in the U.S. government. What a novel idea.

I'd have to talk with him for a few minutes to be certain but from what I know about him I think he is influenced in that way, although how much I can't say.

It's more likely that he's able to switch between two modes of thinking -- 'Western' and Native North American. More bonus points. But we could certainly use some of the native American viewpoint right now.

WRIGHT: Drawbacks?

PUNDITA: None that I can see at this point; he's got a phlegmatic temperament and reportedly he inspires trust in people through his actions.

WRIGHT: What do you think he'd see when he looked into Putin's eyes?

PUNDITA: Given that Russia should be one of America's most important allies, I would hope that he'd be more interested in what Putin saw while looking into his eyes. And that he'd communicate the point to McCain.

* For Canadian readers, the term "Eskimo" is not pejorative in Alaska; see the Wikipedia article on Eskimos.

From a report on Todd Palin:
Like other first spouses around the country, Palin has been asked to champion an array of causes or institutions since his wife took office in December. His favorite is steering young Alaskans toward stable jobs in the oil and gas industry. [...] "For those of us who learn by touching and tearing stuff apart and for those who don't have the financial background to go to college, just being a product of that on-the-job training is really important," Palin said [...]
I seem to recall discussing on this blog a few years back the issue that Todd mentions.

I believe there are "two tyrannies" in America -- one, the stranglehold that lawyers have on U.S. government; the other, the virtual monopoly that colleges now have on the route to career success.

Many years ago there was an examination of the monopoly, which if I recall was aired on 60 Minutes. American companies that wanted to hire high school graduates and give them on-the-job training and pay for specialized courses in the company's area of work met with stiff resistance from academia, which charged that the companies were trying to institute a guild system to replace the university one.

There should be enough room in America for both systems, but the academics didn't see it that way. Some companies ignored the criticism and went ahead with in-house training programs for high school graduates, but the criticism had a dampening effect on the idea.

So here we are today, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of young people who can't afford college and/or who learn best through hands-on experience, but who don't have the master-apprentice route of higher education open to them, except in manual labor jobs. All that's open is the route of getting college degrees.

That's another reason I'd like to see Todd Palin with close proximity to the White House. I think the issue near to his heart is also the ticket for many young Americans in this era, and for many American companies.

Friday, September 26

A message from American taxpayers to Washington's plutocrats: Don't tread on me!

Shades of the Boston Tea Party! John Batchelor on the brewing revolution, if you'll pardon the expression:
There is no deal likely, not today, not tomorrow, not this weekend, and the holidays next week move this melodrama to late next week.

And why? Because the emails and faxes and phone calls to Capitol Hill are running 10 to 1 against the Hank Paulson deal. Ten to one against from the Democrats. One hundred to one against from the Republicans.

Because the American taxpayer is making a stand. Because the House GOP has found the high ground, and the American citizenry is on the same high ground. Why do we see Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and Chuck Schumer at the microphone blaming and carping and whining and spinning? Because the GOP does not need to talk. The Paulson deal is unacceptable. No handouts to the plutocrats. The Democrats realize by now that they have goofed.

How to get out of this. Yell louder? You gonna shout down the American voters? Do you hear them, Barney? "No deal!"

Spoke to my colleague Jodi Schneider, Congressional Quarterly, and she told me that Nancy Pelosi has heard loudly from her members in the majority that if they vote for this deal while the GOP votes against they will be barbecued by their constituents. Roasted. Run out of their districts.

It is not close. There is revolution in the air. Paulson and Bush are gone in months. The GOP starts again in January, and the young GOP knows that there is no future for anyone who signs onto this folly from Goldman alumni. One hundred to one.

Debate in Ole Miss

Will John McCain stroll onto the stage tonight and tell the American people that he is leader of a party that will fight Wall Street's schemes to rob the taxpayer? Will he say that his election depends upon principles?

Will he say that letting the fox dash into the chicken coop is not going to happen on his watch? Will he say that the Republican Party would rather lose an election than lose the trust of the American people?

Will he say that he stands with Main Street against Wall Street and its friends Pelosi, Reid, Dodd, Frank, Paulson and Barack Obama, Larry Summers, Bob Rubin, Buffet, Paul Volcker? Unknown.

Either way, no deal, not tonight, not tomorrow, not by Monday. We stay together or they will cut us up for bait. Join or Die (Benjamin Franklin's warning). Don't Tread On Me.

Understatement of the century: "These pirates are getting bolder every day."

We're talking about literal pirates, not the investment-community kind. The latest is that pirates hijacked a boatload of grenade launchers, ammunition and battle tanks --all told worth $30 million. It doesn't seem they knew when they struck what the vessel contained. Each tank weighs 80,000 pounds, and it would require special training as well as special equipment to offload them.

The pirates know now what they made off with. That particular act of piracy has warships from the U.S. and Russian navies in hot pursuit. Yet this won't dampen the piracy business:
(International Herald Tribune, September 26) [...] Thieves seem to strike with increasing impunity, grabbing everything from sailing yachts to oil tankers. They then usually demand millions of dollars in ransom for the ships and their crews.

And people usually pay -- which Somali and Western officials say is fueling the problem. This year is one of the worst on record, with more than 50 ships attacked, 25 hijacked and at least 14 currently being held by pirates. The waters off Somalia are now considered the most dangerous in the world. [...]

"These pirates are getting bolder ever day," said Andrew Mwangura, the program coordinator of the Seafarers' Assistance Program in Kenya, whose organization tracks pirate attacks.

Somali officials say the pirates are growing in numbers, with more than 1,000 gunmen at their disposal, and they have evolved into a sophisticated organized crime ring with their headquarters along the rocky shores of northern Somalia. There is even a pirate spokesman (who could not be reached for comment on Friday.)
I know it's not funny. I know it's a sign of Fifth Generation Warfare. And, as the IHT reporter observes, when the U.S. and Russian warships catch up with the pirates:
It could lead to a showdown with the pirates, and with that many hostages aboard a floating ammunition dump, things could get complicated.
Yes. Complicated. But there is something about a few ex-fisherman with nothing more than light arms making off with a bunch of tanks that is -- how to put this while I struggle to maintain decorum -- that is somehow a perfect metaphor for our times.

As to what Ukraine's government is doing shipping tanks and a small mountain of ammo to Kenya -- the IHT report doesn't say but the report, which was filed by Jeffrey Gettleman, has juicy details about the theft.

Odd to think that the silly Pirates of the Caribbean, a movie produced by the Disney studio, was downright prophetic.

But maybe Pirates has the answer for avoiding complications when the warships catch up with the Somali pirates: Parley!

The sky is falling! Bring popcorn.

"It is the world turned upside down -- with the Grand Old Party marching arm-in-arm with Main Street, and the class warrior Democrats gamboling with the Wall Street Interest."

Why is this situation reminding me of the Non, Neen, and Nay votes re the EU Constituion?

John Batchelor has the lowdown on The $700 Billion Bailout Rebellion yesterday on Capitol Hill, which continues today:
The Majority Needs What?

News arrives that the Democrats are blaming something called "the House Republicans" for the failure of the Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate from closing a deal with the White House this afternoon (right) for the $700 Billion bailout of Wall Street. This is all hilarious and delightful. How does this sound? The Republican minority in the House is the villain because it will not obey the White House and the Treasury and Nancy Pelosi.

Try that again. The minority in the House won't pass a bill? How does the minority pass anything? Mrs. Pelosisi has 230 plus votes. She can pass anything she wants, and she does routinely, from opposing the war with reckless underfunding to proposing a sham energy drilling bill. Anything the Democratic majority wants, it gets.

So how is it that the Democrats can't pass the bailout? Why does Majority Leader Steny Hoyer say that he needs an unspecified number of Republican votes when in fact he needs none?

The Democrats need cover, that's why Mrs. Pelosi and Harry Reid are fuming. And the Democrats realized today, late this afternoon, that the Republicans in the House were not going to sign on. My best source says that it happened this way.

Everyone was at the table , and then John McCain mentions that the House Republicans have a proposal that he finds attractive. At this point, Barney Frank, ranking on House finances, became abusive, demanding to see this proposal; where is it?

The meeting broke up soon after, with Dick Shelby telling the media mob outside, "No deal."

Meanwhile, the Democrats did not see the deal ambush -- did not see that the Republicans were taking the high ground of refusing to spend $700 billion of the people's money on the plutocrats.

Instead, first Barack Obama went on television to blame the House Republicans for not cooperating with the Bush/Paulson plan, and then Harry Reid went on television to blame the House Republicans for not agreeing to pilfer the people. By this time, McCain was grinning.

The last two weeks, Obama has enjoyed his double game of blaming the Administration for the crisis and then claiming he was going to protect Main Street from Wall Street. Within one hour at the White House, Barack Obama and the whole Democratic Party on the Hill were demanding that the GOP help push money at the bankers.

Last evening, Mrs. Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Mitch McConnell all met to try to rescue the deal. Note that John Boehner, leader of the House Republicans, did not attend.

The World Turned Upside Down

Mrs. Pelosi now claims she aims to ram through the bill. She is shouting that the GOP must relent and join in. Not a chance. "No deal," is the way to guard the people's cash.

The Democrats are working with George Bush and Hank Paulson. The Republicans in the House (the Senate crowd is pointless and feckless) are working with the people. It is the world turned upside down -- with the Grand Old Party marching arm-in-arm with Main Street, and the class warrior Democrats gamboling with the Wall Street Interest.

Obama fell into the deal ambush, and now he must take the campaign stage claiming that a grotesque, imperial, unprecedented and endlessly ramshackle Goldman, Sachs fantasy of a deal is good for the country. And John McCain can stand on the same campaign stage and mumble sincerely that thrift, cautious, reform, transparency, modesty, honesty are the new day for the McCain administration.

Now What?
Mrs. Pelosi and Harry Reid have by this time realized they have sandbagged themselves into fighting with the president they denounce. Fighting for the arrogant, tone-deaf, bully Hank Paulson and the super rich they want to super tax. Fighting for the Wall Street that gives the Democrats twice as much as the Republicans.

Will they pull back? Or will they risk it, pass the bill, and hope that Obama can defeat McCain in the debate and on November 4 so they can ready their teams to withstand the assault of reformers coming in 2010?

More soon, and all eyes on John Boehner, Minority Leader of the cavalry to the rescue.

Tuesday, September 23

Colonel John Boyd and the revolution within

Just published: The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War is edited by the blogosphere's ZenPundit, otherwise known as Mark Safranski, with a forward by Thomas P. M. Barnett.

The book is the perfect gift for friends and relatives who complain that you spend too much time on the blogosphere. The Roundtable book arose from a cooperative effort by bloggers from a variety of disciplines and who analyze what is arguably the best book ever written on Boyd's ideas -- Colonel Frans Osinga's Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd.

Because this era is one of unrestricted warfare you can't really understand the times unless you understand something of Boyd's thinking and contributions to military strategy. So the book reflects the blogosphere at its most useful because Boyd's ideas can be difficult to approach, even for those versed in military history.

My reaction to the book includes a trip down memory lane to a rather traumatic moment in my life.

Asia's karate mandarins were so upset by their estimate of Bruce Lee's teachings that they put forward their best to challenge him to a match on a Hong Kong live TV show. The Master and Bruce stood, the Master bowed -- the traditional way to signal the start of a match -- and while he was bowing Bruce decked him with a boxing punch.

Initially this led to howls of "Cheap stunt!" and "Cheat!" across the martial arts world. But he had cheated only if threats against one's life were considered a game, which was the point of his preemptive strike.

Death does not bow before striking. Out there in the real world, the world outside the rules and regulations of art and gamesmanship, the idea was quite simple: by any which way, demoralize and disable the attacker before he harms you. For this, emphasis had to be on rapid situational analysis rather than adherence to any one style of fighting.

It was an emphasis that the martial arts world had forgotten, but it would take Bruce Lee more than one boxing punch to make the point.

One of Lee's disciples, a film star who was a veteran practitioner of the martial arts, summed the problem for many martial artists struggling to encompass Lee's teachings. He observed wryly that he understood Lee's ideas perfectly but only so long as he was in Lee's presence.

A female novice student asked Lee what was the best martial arts fighting style for a woman to fend off two male knife-wielding attackers.

He replied, "Poke 'em in the eyes, kick 'em in the balls, yell bloody murder and run like hell."

Hearing those stories and similar ones, discussing his ideas for hours on end, I said in awe to a friend, "He could inspire a revolution in U.S. military thinking and even police work."

The friend replied, "I hate to tell you this but Bruce Lee died two weeks ago."

You would need to have watched the Vietnam War unfold, and seen the fervent appreciation for Lee's fighting prowess spreading like wildfire in New York and every other U.S. city where his films were shown, to understand my reaction.

I answered stupidly, "That's not possible."

That was in 1973, two years before Colonel John Boyd retired from the U.S. Air Force and entered a phase of his life as a defense consultant that spawned a veritable universe of revolutionary ideas about war strategy.

One of Boyd's nicknames was "Thunder and Lightning," which derived from his habit of standing in the doorway of his office at the Pentagon while gesturing and screaming, "Out there -- business as usual! In here -- thunder and lightning!"

Boyd's Thunder and Lightning shop profoundly influenced the U.S. military's approach to warfare. He died at the age of 70, a year before al Qaeda's one-two punch in 1998 against U.S. embassies officially launched the era of unrestricted warfare.

The U.S. government's lumbering and wholly ineffective response to the attacks underscored that the "business as usual" mindset in Washington had confined Boyd's ideas to narrow parameters. It took almost four years of the U.S. military stumbling around in Iraq before men steeped in Boyd's ideas were finally let loose on the situation.

I venture that John Boyd was the closest the modern U.S. military ever came to Bruce Lee's view. But as with Lee it was easier to understand Boyd in person -- in Boyd's case, in marathon lecture sessions and the give-and-take of dialogue and debate.

Boyd did not leave behind a magnum opus or even an organized body of writings. So once out beyond the firm intellectual terrain of his OODA loop, the confluence of Boydian ideas taken from Zen, Daoism, mathematics, science, economics, business principles, epistemology, psychology, theoretical physics, biology, cybernetics, and classical military strategies created a kind of philosopher's stone.

The ideas couldn't be approached from the comfortable armchair of the intellect; they had to be wrestled with in the alchemy of personal transformation, through pushing the boundaries of one's experience, instincts, and knowledge.

This process helped develop some great military thinkers but also limited the applicability of Boyd's ideas. If there's one thing that the top military command and its funders don't like to hear it's the words, "It depends."

For all his emphasis on not being stuck on style, Bruce Lee defended classical martial arts training and he excelled at several of those arts. He was a synthesizer, not a rejecter of structure. In the same manner the nature of war means there has to be a structured approach to it, no matter how amorphous the enemy.

The debates that have raged in the Pentagon between the small war and big war proponents are not really to the point, which is the need for maximum flexibility within the confines of organized combat. Thus, the crying need for an examination of Boyd's ideas as they are, not as they've been interpreted by various camps.

That is where Dr. (Col.) Frans Osinga came in; he took an almost forensic approach to examining the development of Boyd's thinking, or what Mark Safranski calls "an expedition into intellectual archaeology."

The drawback to Osinga's book is that with a $100+ pricetag (paperback version) it's too expensive for most general readers, and also it's written for readers who already have some familiarity with Boyd's ideas and military strategy.

The Roundtable book (a bargain at $27) is a patch around the drawbacks, and a bonus is that Osinga contributed two essays to the discussion. For more introduction to the book, see Mark's discussion at ZenPundit.

In his own essay for Roundtable, Mark observes:
It was a pity that Boyd died when he did as the subsequent advent of network theory and research into scale-free networks and modularity have done much to lend validity to his strategic speculations and reinforce his rejection of static, mechanistic, linear thinking in military affairs.
Bruce Lee would have loved John Boyd's mind. But I was wrong to assume that a revolution in military thinking could come from outside. Boyd, for all his railing at the system, understood the collective aspect of the military experience. A revolution, if it was to occur, would have to come from within the military.

Monday, September 22

Good morning, Comrades and Comradesses in glorious People's Democratic Socialist Republic of United States of America!

Soon music of opening bell in glorious seat of government New York Stock Exchange will ring in our happy ears!

Soon glorious Politicheskoye Buro on Capitol Hill will unanimously rubber stamp appointment of Comrade Henry Paulson to position General Secretary!

All this on first day of autumn! So happy, so happy! Strike up balalaika! Where are little children with flower baskets? This is first day of rest of our lives, Comrade and Comradess Taxpayers!

We are so happy to live for glorious new one party political system with motto, "Your tax money bails out every stupid investor, piratical speculator and criminal investment bank president on planet Earth and maybe even entire universe!"

Send Enemy of People Stephen Moore of capitalist pig Wall Street Journal to labor camp! Send grumpy reactionary John Batchelor trying to organize another Boston Tea Party to reeducation camp!

Down with Batchelor Clandestine Radio! (#1 hour, 9/21 WABC podcast)

11:45 AM Update
"Greetings, Comradess Pundita!
Have crossposted your tract at The Real Barack Obama and added glorious revolutionary poster to embellish! All Hail Chairman Paulson!
Comrade Procrustes"

"Greetings, Comrade Procrustes!
So happy news of glorious revoution spreading, but notice you added words of reactionary Comrade Batchelor to tract. Life is short, Comrade, but reeducation camp is long, and reach of secret police even longer! Word to wise.

"Forgive Comradess Pundita, for lateness in crossposting your glorious revolutionary tract at Uppity Woman. Very bad night with wodka.
Comradess Uppity"

"Is okay lateness once, Comradess Uppity! Second time, on list of possible traitors to revolution!
Comradess Pundita"

Sunday, September 21

South Korea delays aid to the North

(See also my earlier post today, North Korea and the Russia card.)

Radio Australia is reporting that South Korea will delay a planned aid shipment to the North this week as Pyongyang moves to restart its nuclear reactor.
North Korea's action is a violation of the aid for disarmament six nation deal it has made with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.

North Korea's foreign ministry has confirmed the plutonium-producing reactor will be restored because of the United State's failure to drop the North from a terrorism blacklist.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing an unnamed government source, says the delivery steel pipes originally due on Thursday will be put on hold until later next month.

Ayers-Dohrn-Obama “smoking gun?"

Barack Obama and his handlers have moved heaven and earth to downplay his association with William Ayers. Reading this report throws more light on why they've done so.

Pakistan's 9/11: Caution! Smog of War ahead!

"The Marriott is an icon," said Abdullah Riar, formerly an aide to the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's wife. "It's like the twin towers of Pakistan. It's a symbolic place in the capital of the country, and now it has melted down."

Required reading: Bill Roggio's initial 12:34 AM report on the Marriott Hotel bombing and IHT/NYT one. Both reports provide valuable details and the IHT report carries facts that Bill's earlier report doesn't contain. But note the IHT slant, which not-so-subtly directs blame at U.S. actions:
[...]The targeting of the American hotel chain came at a time of growing anger in the Muslim nation over a wave of cross-border strikes on militant bases in Pakistan by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. [...]
A recent series of suspected U.S. missile strikes and a rare American ground assault in Pakistan's northwest have signaled Washington's impatience with Pakistan's efforts to clear out militants. But the cross-border operations have drawn protests from the Pakistani government, which warned they would fan militancy.[...]
The title of Bill's report points to the real story: Bombing at Islamabad Marriott latest in string of complex terror attacks. And this September 19 report from Bill's Long War Journal, US strikes in Pakistan aimed at stopping the next Sept. 11 attack, provides insights on the consequences of the Pakistan military's reluctance to confront terrorists inside Pakistan -- which now include the attack that many Pakistanis are calling their 9/11.

Steve Cohen on John Batchelor Show tonight; also, a raft of financial pundits to discuss Wall Street meltdown/bailout

KFI portion of the show (Eastern time shown); from the show schedule:

835P: Stephen F. Cohen, NYU, re the Russian market collapse and the Medvedev/Putin regime; re the global banking crisis and Russia; re was this Georgia or Putin?

850P: Cohen continue re the collapse of Ukraine government last week and the pending snap elections; re Yushchenko vs Tymoshenko; re NATO and Ukraine.

See this Sept 17 IHT report, Ukrainian PM blames rival for tensions with Russia for background on Ukraine situation.

John's hip, snarky 9/20 Toxic Hill is a good introduction to the discussions he'll feature with financial pundits Nomi Prins, Stephen Moore, Charlie Gasparino, Jim McTague and Jim Rogers:
Another Thrilling Week Ahead, and the Ticket is Free (Smile)

Hank Paulson goes to Capitol (Toxic) Hill starting Monday morning 22 to meet with the leadership in both Houses that control the RTC2.0 legislation that doesn't exist yet. They need a name. Toxic Waste Disposal Unit doesn't sing (TWDU). HazMat is taken. After that, it will be spin and gamesmanship and the always useful hostage-taking. We will need a scorecard to sort the players [...]
See the schedule for details on both parts of the show.

Pundita's foreign policy advice for 2009

(What is the difference between my publishing a letter and an essay? The former means I can wiggle out of the chore of digging up and adding links.)

From an August 31 email I sent to a fellow blogger:

I guess my foreign policy view at this time can be summed as "scared."

In his two recent posts about the importance of rejecting the Cold War paradigm, Tom Barnett made great use of his background in Soviet affairs. And goodness knows, I agree in principle with his observations about the Dept. of Everything Else.

But he scares the hell out of me, as do all Theoretical Bubbleists -- what I call those analysts who float serenely above the rough terrain of empirical facts while ensconced in the bubble of their theories.

He especially scares me because the military seems to believe that his theories reveal the map to their idea of the Holy Grail. That being the one-page, footnote-free, two-syllabic summary of how the world outside the battlefield operates.

Yet on close inspection the map that Barnett describes turns out to be that great weakness of the male brain, the tinker-toy set.

Enter Mark Steyn ("that ex-disk jockey," as one of his enemies terms him), who in 2005 or early 2006 put boots on the ground in Europe and saw what rafts of academics had been blind to: Europe's civilization was finished, crumbling inexorably from the inside.

Steyn's observations dynamite Barnett's tinker-toy view of the world, with its nice stable Core from which to connect Seam States and Gaps.

The stability of the Core, it turns out, is an illusion born of the spreadsheets of economists.

Steyn was not the first to note the demographic winter settling on the Europeans (and the Japanese and Russians). And it might be argued that he was only carrying Spengler's observations forward (the Asia Times columnist, not the philosopher - lol) and the warnings of anti-Eurabiaists such as Bat Ye'or.

But Steyn's great contribution was to point out that Europe's civilization was already done for and it wasn't coming back; it was not a dissolution that was on its way and so might be staved off. It was something that had already happened, and so whatever still seemed European was like the jerking movements of a corpse undergoing rigor mortis: an illusion of life emanating from the dead.

The RUSI report released earlier this year inadvertently supports that observation. The authors don't breathe a word about the single most important factor in British society, which is that years ago Gordon Brown decided that the only way to save Britain's economy was by turning the country into the Islamic banking capital of the world.

The catch was that British society would have to bend over and grab its ankles for Islam. So the country is now well on its way to becoming a police state because many Britons are chafing at seeing their society Islamicized -- and because unfortunately they never put their Constitution in writing.

The RUSI acknowledges that there is a little problem with the Islamization but peters out with recommendations to set up committees to do studies. X Doctrine, my foot. It's a document of surrender.

Yet it's only this year, I've heard, that the CIA has awakened to Steyn's book, America Alone .... So where has our nation's premier intelligence agency been all this time? Playing with tinker toys?

But my fear of Barnett's theories pales in comparison to what I experience while contemplating John McCain's foreign policy cadre, which "has little use for anyone outside their own tight network of ex-Senate staffers and lobbyists," as you succinctly put it.

As to where all this leaves the War on Terror -- not to worry, the British are solving that problem for us with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of State and Homeland Security.

By simply striking the term "War on Terror" from bureaucratic lexicons and diplomatic exchanges, and by working assiduously to downplay terms such as democracy, liberty, freedom, and jihadism, they are removing the entire edifice upholding the war.

If there is no war and no terrorism in the War on Terror there is simply an "on," which of course doesn't require warfare to deal with.

And just in time for that "on" to be ended, wouldn't you say? Now the decks are cleared for a real war to stop the return of the Russian empire!

So we arrive at Pundita's foreign policy directions for 2009: Run for your life!

2:00 PM ET Update
A reader asked whether the above might be an endorsement for Barack Obama's foreign policy views. The correspondent I addressed the letter to was aware that I don't bother to analyze Obama's views on national security/foreign relations because that would be like trying to nail down smoke.

Saturday, September 20

North Korea and the Russia Card (UPDATED 12:50 PM ET)

New York Times, September 20
Speculation on North Korean Leader Thrives in Factual Vacuum
The absence of facts is fertile ground for unrestrained speculation. News reports citing unnamed sources — or no sources — have proliferated. “At least North Korea doesn’t sue you,” journalists in Seoul say.
Korea Times, Sept 20:
World Spies Flock to North Korean Border
Amid North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s alleged illness, intelligence agents from around the world, notably South Korea, the United States and Japan, are flocking to China’s cities that border North Korea, Beijing-based International Herald Leader said Friday.

"Some countries have keen interest in collecting North Korea-related information by using satellites, dispatch of agents, and even dropping spies from an airplane. Among the countries, the United States, South Korea, and Japan are most active,” it said.
Dropping -- I hope they mean parachuting -- spies from planes, huh? We have a lazier way here in Punditaland. All right. After plowing through 30 reasonably substantiated news reports and analyses, working the Ouija board, staring at the configuration of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup and kissing a lucky rabbit's foot, I am ready to speak.

Here are my speculations on the thinking in North Korea's military that led to yesterday's announcement that Washington could go sit on a tack and that the Yongbyon nuclear reactor was being reassembled. First, a review of a few substantiated facts:

August 13, 2008

President George W. Bush announces that Washington will "use U.S. aircraft, as well as naval forces" to distribute "humanitarian" supplies in Georgia, and demands Russia withdraw troops from Georgia.

August 14, 2008

> Russia's General Staff announces that they question whether contents of two U.S. C-17 military planes landed in Georgia contain humanitarian supplies as part of the Pentagon's stated "humanitarian assistance mission" to Georgia.

> Without announcement, North Korea's military suddenly halts dismantling of the nuclear reactor and other facilities at Yongybon and orders that dismantled parts be hauled out of storage.

> North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il is last seen in public on or about August 14; rumors eventually surface that he suffered a stroke around that time.(1)

August 26, 2008

> The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia announces that two U.S. warships will deliver humanitarian aid the next day to the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, where Russian troops have been mounting patrols.

> North Korea's Foreign Ministry releases a statement charging that the U.S. failed to honor its pledge under the 2007 accord to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. "This was an outright violation of the agreement," said the ministry spokesman.

> The ministry also announces that the halt in dismantling the reactor had begun on August 14 and that steps had begun on that date to restore parts of the reactor that had been removed up to that point in accordance with the 2007 six-party agreement.

There's not necessarily an exclusively cause-and-effect relationship between the U.S. actions toward Russia and the North Korean actions cited above. However, in the weeks since August 14, it so happens that Pyongyang's hardline rhetoric toward the United States escalated in time with the escalation of U.S. hardline rhetoric toward Russia.

Pyongyang's rhetoric has been backed up by actions -- not only the moves to reassemble the nuclear reactor but also:
In recent weeks, U.S. officials said they have seen signs that Pyongyang could be preparing for a long-range missile test from a recently constructed launch site on North Korea's western coast...(1)
The hardline trend escalated again yesterday when a Pyongyang envoy took the same belittling tone toward the United States government that Condoleezza Rice used toward Russia's government the previous day.

I note that Washington, perhaps misreading the tea leaves, has been laid back to the point of patronizing in their response to the signs of Pyongyang's growing recalcitrance:
U.S. officials said amid this uncertainty they are attempting to maintain an unthreatening posture toward North Korea while continuing to try to build bridges to Pyongyang's military. The State Department's point man on North Korea, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, has sought to bring the KPA into the negotiating process aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program, but Pyongyang's military has balked.

"Communication is up and running and that's important," said a South Korean government official involved in the process. "But there is no sign from the North that they have stopped reversing the disablement activity." (1)
From the viewpoint of the KPA, even more alarming than Rice's belligerent words was the announcement on the same day by a "senior U.S. Defense official" that Western defense ministers would consider the creation of an easily deployable military force that could be sent into nations feeling threatened by Russia.

That announcement gives lie to repeated statements by U.S. officials that Washington is not trying to restart the Cold War.

Yes of course they're trying to restart the Cold War, and they're already well down the road to doing so. This fact is not lost on North Korea's military leaders, who were always strongly opposed to Kim Jong-il's agreement to dismantle Yongbyon.(1)

The question is whether Moscow's problems with Washington would be the excuse the KPA (Korean People's Army) old guard needed to override Kim and other officials in the NK government who support a genuine warming of relations with the United States.

A good place to start wrestling with the question is Stratfor's September 16 analysis of North Korea's relationship with other members of the six-party talks.

Stratfor reminds us that China and Russia are the only countries with direct influence inside Pyongyang and observes:
[...] Russia remains a powerful player in the game because of its formal ties to Pyongyang going back to the Cold War. Russia was not able to maintain this relationship as well as China did because the collapse of the Soviet Union restricted its capacity to act in its Far East.

Though in recent times Moscow has focused on its European and Caucasian frontiers, Russia continues to cooperate with North Korea on business and infrastructure projects. In 2008, construction began on the Russian-North Korean railroad, and discussions have moved forward on power transmission, an oil and natural gas pipeline and a Russian automobile assembly line. The Russians could see the transition or evolution of North Korean power as an opportunity to advance their long-term plan for the Far East.

Of course, anything resembling a power grab by Moscow will anger Beijing, and this at a time when the two are attempting to hash out a deal to ensure their interests in Central Asia do not collide. Whether the Russians will cooperate with the Chinese over North Korea remains to be seen, but certainly Russia presents complications for Beijing. [...]
It's likely that the KPA hardliners would see both opportunity and cause for alarm in Washington's belligerent posture toward Russia.

The hardliners have seen with their own eyes how the U.S. has used Georgia as a pawn in a typical Cold War play. So the hardliners have reason to be concerned that the U.S. actions in Georgia presage military action against Russia. In that event, there is no question that North Korea would stand with Russia.

Additionally, by thumbing their noses at the U.S. on the world stage, the KPA is giving Moscow a reason to downplay their objections to restarting Yongbyon and shrug their way through any additional six-party talks.

None of the above examines other possible reasons for the KPA to reject the 2007 agreement, such as soured relations with Seoul and anger at Japan's way of saying the KPA is trying to start a shooting war.

But given the condemnatory signals toward Russia sent by Barack Obama and John McCain in the wake of Russia's 'peacekeeping' invasion of Georgia, I doubt that one of the reasons is that the hardliners hope to get a better deal with the next U.S. President.

The subtext to several situations around the world at this time is that there is a very powerful and deeply entrenched anti-Russia lobby in Washington -- actually, several lobbies. This is in addition to the influence still wielded by the old Anti-Soviet Cold War Warriors and the energy lobbies here and abroad that want control of Russia's oil and natural gas resources. That is not counting the most determined and manipulative enemy of Vladimir Putin's administration, which is the British government.

Put it all together, and the combination of factions guarantees that when it comes to U.S. policy on Russia, it won't matter which presidential candidate takes the White House. Recently Vladimir Putin made a cynical reference to this reality when he observed that President Bush was controlled by Washington's imperial court.

God bless Vladimir Putin, who never learned to speak in a way other than what he is, which is a technocrat with absolutely no faith in the reasoning capacities of the ruling class.

However, Putin is sometimes failed by his intelligence analysts on account of their difficulty grasping the nuances of American democracy; e.g., They assumed Bush fired Dan Rather.

And in this case Putin was not entirely right. Since 9/11 Bush has been fighting the Bash Russia crowd with his hands tied behind his back because of wartime exigencies.

But once Bush leaves the White House, there will be no powerful force left in Washington to brake the plans of those on both sides of the Pond who want to overthrow Putin's government and failing that, invade Russia.

You may trust those facts are not lost on the KPA leaders. So I think North Korea's old guard would have to be daffy to hope for a better deal from the next U.S. President. Is it possible that since figuring this out Korea's generals have decided to play hardball, in a last-ditch effort to wring a few more goodies out of the Bush administration?

Pyongyang has cried "Wolf!" so many times in the past that it's tempting to assume they're up to their old tricks. But when I examine the announcements from North Korea made during the past month against the unfolding drama involving Washington and Russia over the same time period, I don't think it's wise to assume that Pyongyang is play acting this time.

What's next? Yesterday, the first inter-Korean talks since July took place; this occurred at the House of Peace, a South Korean administrative building inside the "truce village" of Panmunjom. The talks were billed as a "working-level meeting on economy and energy assistance and the six-party nuclear talks."

The confab might have been planned with this Sunday in mind. If I recall correctly from the reports, Christopher Hill will be meeting his South Korean counterpart in New York on Sunday and Secretary Rice will be there on the same day to meet with China's envoy.

In that event it's likely that Pyongyang's envoy delivered a message yesterday to South Korea's government that he wants passed along to Washington on Sunday. We'll learn soon enough what the message is, but I doubt it will be encouraging news for the six-party talks.

If my speculations are near the mark, would there be anything Bush could do to help rescue the 2007 agreement?

Well, he could always tell the American contingent of Washington's Bash Russia crowd that "God Save the Queen" is not the U.S. national anthem.

But that would be a parting shot, along the lines of his telling the other G-7 members, "Good-bye from the world's biggest polluter."

I'll make another pot of tea and see what kind of mood Ouija is in. Meanwhile, readers may wish to ponder this September 9 editorial by a South Korean who doesn't seem to be part of the Sunshine Policy crowd.

And for the traditionalists I've included the text for the Q_&A from Friday's State Department press briefing on the North Korea situation. How Arabic got into the discussion gives you an idea of how things are going.(2)

12:50 PM ET Update
Miss P:
Not a bad call on a Russia-DPRK tie-in. Putin would bluntly offer Pyongyang a quid pro quo without beating around the bush and the norks sometimes take the initiative if they are going to rattle their tin cup.
Mark Safranski

1) U.S., North Korea Talks Are in State of 'Inertia'
Kim's Health Raises Uncertainties, Stalls Nuclear Discussions by Jay Solomon; Wall Street Journal, September 19.

2) U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 19, 2008
QUESTION: They seem to have taken the plunge from -- and now confirming and saying that they’re going to restart Yongbyon and that they don’t care anymore about getting off the state sponsors list. So where does that leave you and where does that leave that State Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. And you know, the same basic response as I have been given over the past week or so as we’ve been talking about this story, and that is we’re looking for the output, looking for the verification regime where we, as well as others continue to be in contact with them and urge them, to get to the point where they approve that verification regime.

I checked on this question of where do they stand vis-à-vis those three stages we were talking about. The first stage, talking about trying to reverse what they’ve done. The second stage, making the – taking preparatory steps to reverse the shutdown of Yongbyon. And then the last stage is actually going operational and starting up Yongbyon again and continuing to produce plutonium and put the fuel rods in the reactor. We’re still in the second stage.

Now as they have said, and has been reported, they continue to move to the right, getting closer to that point where they are to the point of operationalizing Yongbyon again. They haven’t gotten to that point yet. And we would urge them not to get to that point.

Look, as always, throughout this process they have a choice: They can go down the pathway of having a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world, receiving the benefits of that relationship, or they can keep themselves isolated, move the process backwards. So we’ll see. I don’t think we’re to the point yet of their having fully reversed what they have done. But they are continuing to move that direction. And we’re going to remain engaged with the North Koreans and, in particular, are going to remain engaged with the other members of the Six-Party Talks.

And the Secretary looks forward to having a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister when she’s up at the UN General Assembly next week. And I would expect that this will be an important topic of conversation.

QUESTION: But what – why should the North Koreans deal with this Administration in its last four months?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I – you know, I don’t know who the next President and who the next Secretary of State is going to be, but I would wager that they’re not going to get a much different deal from the next administration as they’re getting from this administration. This is a solid process, a solid mechanism to try to solve really one of the toughest problems that is out there, and that is denuclearizing that Korean Peninsula which, for the past 60 years, has been a real source of geopolitical tension. This process holds out the prospect of defusing that longstanding geopolitical tension as well, as removing a serious threat in terms of proliferation, as well as, you know, North Korea possessing nuclear weapons.

So the process is a solid one. I think the logic behind it is indisputable. Again, I’m not going to speak for those who come after us here in this Administration. But I would wager that they probably are not going to get a much different deal from whomever comes next.

QUESTION: So you would – you would tell -- if you were to be advising the North Korean leadership on this, you would say that you don’t think that they’re going to get any better deal? That this is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they’ll make their own calculations. And first of all, I’m not going to offer them any advice and, second of all, I don’t think they would take it. But --

QUESTION: Do you – everything you’ve said so far is offering them advice.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no. You asked me a question; I gave you my best answer to it. But you know, again, I would caveat I don’t know what the policies of the next administration will be. I can only point out that this is a process that for the first time, really in decades, offers the prospect of addressing proliferation issues, political issues, security issues, all at once in one – in one process.

QUESTION: Would you say that a North Korean calculation that they should hold out and try for a better deal from the next administration is a fundamentally flawed --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I would only submit to you that there are existing Security Council resolutions that hold penalties for North Korea, should they go down the pathway of, for example, missile testing; for example, further testing of any nuclear devices. So there – the downsides are quite clear for them, and they exist even beyond, you know, American administrations. They’re enshrined in international law at this point.

So you know, that gives you a sense for where the international system is. And again, I don’t think that there’s a better solution at this point than this process.

QUESTION: Sean, do you link this reversal from the North Koreans – do you link this to Kim Jong-il’s apparently deteriorating health? And is there a decision-making, sort of, freeze in North Korea possibly, or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to – you know, I’m not going to make any comments about the news reports of Kim Jong-il’s health. I have seen the news reports out there. I’m not going to discount them, but I’m not going to certainly add in public to those news reports.

One thing we know for certain is that we have – we have yet to see any outputs from the North Koreans. And certainly, we have not seen any outputs from the North Koreans in the past month or so.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Actually, I just want to ask one more thing.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) moving to the right. That means – in the second stage? That means they’re getting closer to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I’m sort of – trying to draw --

QUESTION: It means it’s moving backwards. It’s not moving --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, you can – (laughter) – I view it – you know, I view it as a progression, albeit it a negative progression, but a progression moving, you know, left to right.

QUESTION: And that’s a change from what – when you first started --

MR. MCCORMACK: I suppose we could move from right to left, depending on, you know, what alphabet you use.



QUESTION: When you first started seeing the equipment being moved --


QUESTION: I mean, you weren’t quite sure what was going on. That’s a change now, that you’re seeing it go towards the right or backwards or however you want to say it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, look, again, I can’t get inside the decision-making loop of the North Koreans, you know. I can’t explain to you what the intent is behind their doing this, whether this is, you know, an attempt at a negotiating tactic or what have you. All I know is that the process isn’t going to move forward absent their – a positive decision on the verification regime.

Friday, September 19

Well, the good news is that North Korea's international film festival has opened

Reuters (Sept 19) - Communist North Korea rolled out its version of the red carpet this week when the reclusive state opened its biannual international film festival, allowing its masses to watch forbidden foreign films.

Movies are near to the heart of leader Kim Jong-il, a fan of Daffy Duck, Steven Spielberg and Elizabeth Taylor [...]
The bad news is that Pyongyang has told Washington to go sit on a tack. It seems they're claming that because the U.S. failed to remove NK from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, this is a breach of the nuke disarmament deal hammered out during the six-party talks.

However, it's a little difficult to follow because they're also thumbing their nose at the list, saying they don't care about the list, it's fine with them if they stay on the list. etc.

The part that's clear is that Pyongyang has announced today that they're preparing to restart the partially dismantled Yongbyon nuclear reactor once they get it put back together.

In short, the six-nation agreement is in the trash at this moment.

No official response yet from other parties to the talks. So basically everyone's working the tea leaves right now. And trying to recall the "Get Well" cards. Pyongyang officials are expressing fury about what they term evil rumors that Kimmy is indisposed.

According to a VOA report today:
South Korean officials said earlier this month that Mr. Kim underwent brain surgery after suffering a stroke. The 66-year-old leader's health has been the focus of global concern after he failed to show up at a national celebration marking the country's 60th anniversary.
The report also carries this eyebrow raiser:
In a separate development , an expert on Pyongyang's missile program says North Korea appears to be able to test its missiles under more realistic conditions than before. Joseph Bermudez's comments to VOA on Thursday follow South Korean media reports that North Korea has been testing the engine for its longest-range missiles.

Bermudez reported last week in Jane's Defence Weekly about a new North Korean missile test and launch site, which he called Pyongyang's "most advanced to date." He said the launch facility appears to be about one or two years from completion.

The long-range missile is theoretically capable of hitting the United States, but it failed less than a minute after launch during a test in 2006. It is not known if the missile is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon of the size that North Korea is able to produce.
So now we wait for the official responses. I am particularly interested in learning what Moscow has to say.

Let them eat bad paper

"Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité quickly descended to the towering figure of Robespierre and his Reign of Terror as the revolution spun out control and began to murder itself. First the royalists were beheaded, next the moderate Girondists, and by then the violence and suspicion was totally out of hand as the revolution devoured itself. In my opinion, after they started beheading the moderate Girondists it was only a matter of time before everyone else went to the guillotine."
-- Anonymous musings on the French Revolution
"RUSH LIMBAUGH: "[W]e found out where Daniel Mudd [lives], by the way; he's Roger Mudd's son, of CBS fame. This is [from] Braden Keil at the New York Post from just three days ago:

"As more than a million US homeowners face devastating mortgage foreclosures, ousted Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd continues to live in an opulent Washington, DC, mansion [...]

Mudd, whose former company, Fannie Mae, "don't call this a company" is being bailed out by billions in taxpayer dollars, calls home a 22-room Colonial mansion on Newark Street in tony Cleveland Park built on the former property of President Grover Cleveland. The eight-bedroom, eight-bath pad includes large public rooms with fireplaces, a home theater, a gym, a wine cellar, a solarium, servants' quarters, a terrace off the master-bedroom suite, and a gourmet kitchen. The gated, landscaped property also features a pool, fountains, gardens and a guesthouse."
That from Rush's rant yesterday, How Democrat Thieves Looted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I see he was in fine fettle.

John Batchelor also has fun with his rant about Mudd's predecessor, Franklin Raines. Raines tends to remind one why the French revolutionaries tolerated Maximillien Robespierre as long as they did, until they guillotined him.

Yes, Boris?

"Pundita, dear, you seem more upset about the aftermath of Hurricane Ike than the death of American capitalism. Do you think this crisis will blow over?"

Boris, there are strong parallels between the refusal to build sensibly in hurricane alleys and the situation that engulfed Wall Street.

I'm not sure what you mean by "American capitalism." Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were never capitalist institutions. Everyone on Wall Street always knew that. So they knew exactly what would happen if regulations on short selling were removed and the markets then got hit with a surge of bad paper.

It's just that they didn't know when the worst of the surge would hit them. The ones who miscalculated can be likened to residents who refused to evacuate Galveston Island, until it was so late that Ike trapped them when they tried to flee.

There is no such thing as capitalism in bits and pieces; if part of the American investment system is socialist -- propped up by the government -- and another part is unregulated, there's always a catastrophe when the contradictions are met with destructive conditions from outside the system.

In this case, as in the case of Hurricane Ike and all hurricanes, the storm didn't arise in the U.S. but far out to sea; it arose when foreign hedge funds and banks panicked at the liquidity problems in response to the U.S. mortgage market meltdown.

The Fed moved too late to address the meltdown and had little control over how other central banks would deal with the liquidity crisis.

It was at that moment that the SEC should have restored the regulations on short selling, in the manner of huddling behind a seawall during a storm surge.

The regulations couldn't stop the storm but they would have prevented the worst effects, which included U.S. companies with reasonably good fundamentals going under.

Of course there is tremendous corruption associated with Fannie and Freddie, and a Robespierre will be dredged up to make heads roll. But this won't be addressing the systemic problem, which is that governments can't resist using financial markets for social engineering purposes.

There was a closing comment I omitted from the Christian Science Monitor article I quoted from in Wednesday's post on Galveston Island in the wake of Ike:
"Yes, these kinds of storms become memorialized and they become part of that culture," says Anthony Oliver-Smith at the Institute for Environment and Human Security at United Nations University in Bonn, Germany.

But he says, "Memories of [natural disasters] begin to diminish after 30 years, at which point development begins again to put people in harm's way."
The same could be said for financial market crises that become catastrophic when governments refuse to acknowledge that capitalism is not a potted plant.

In the wake, everyone is scared and cautious. But the memory of the debacle eventually fades, and so here we are again.

The catastrophe won't blow over without a lot of fine tuning. The Lords of the Craps Table -- the gnomes at the BIS and IMF, the central bankers and the shrewdest minds at the largest capital firms -- will patch it over somehow. A new regulatory body or several will come into existence, along with a host of new laws.

Then we can all go back to having our cake and eating it too, until reality intervenes again somewhere down the line.

Don't despair, Boris. Remember I've counseled before on the folly of insisting on competence always in all things. When it comes time to ring down the curtain on the human race, you want a dolt in charge of overseeing the termination sequence.

Wednesday, September 17

More on the Ayers-Obama-Chicago Annenberg Challenge

The Real Barack Obama connects more dots in today's Obama, Ayers, Karanja — The Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the Chicago School Reform Collaborative

Only slightly off topic, on the 16th RBO and Uppity Woman returned to the can of worms called Penny Pritzker.

Come to think of it, Obama has so many cans of worms that if he flunks out of politics he can always open a fishing tackle store.

Pundita's Galveston Island Meltdown: They b-b-built houses outside the s-se-seawall? D-do they have f-f-flea poop f-for brains?

(The Christian Science Monitor, September 17) Galveston Island, Texas [...] safely ensconced behind a 10-mile long seawall built after a catastrophic 1900 hurricane, native Galvestonian Andrew Shelton took barely a lick from Ike.

On either side of the seawall, however, a 12-foot storm surge claimed perhaps hundreds of recently built homes with beach access and million-dollar views.

The contrast, says Mr. Shelton, reveals the folly of an exuberant coastal policy that has allowed taxpayer-subsidized market forces to place some of the nation's most valuable real estate on the coast's most unpredictable perches.[...] (1)
It seems only yesterday -- come to think of it, it was only yesterday that I was looking at the suspiciously low death toll in Ike's wake and proposing that Galveston be renamed "Lucky" or "Praise the Lord."

Later in the day I learned that I'm not the only person worried that the toll does not reflect the possibility of several residents washed out to sea. But as one official noted, we may never know.

Damn straight we may never know. Consider: if you had built outside the seawall and sent the hubby to haul lawn furniture out of Ike's winds when -- Whoosh!

No, you would never tell. "He decided to enter a monastery," is what you'd say.

But you know something? That camel's back is not made of iron. Anyone who read an article I posted yesterday knows that this nation came within inches and couple mph of a catastrophe involving a gas pipeline because some fool didn't think to move a ship away from the pipeline before Hurricane Gustav struck.

You can't quarantine every fool each time the hurricane, tornado, and wildfire season starts. There is this thing we call "human error." But because of that, in the off-seasons we must think. And plan. And recognize that this is not 1963.

This is now a nation with 304+ million people, a vast nation faced with many pressing needs for federal tax dollars. We cannot use those dollars to subsidize building booms for Americans who insist on nesting in the jaws of death and yet refuse to take reasonable precautions in their building practices.

It took me 90 seconds to locate internet articles on best practices for building and remodeling in a wildfire and tornado zone. It might take me a couple minutes to locate an article on the hurricane-proof beach house but it doesn't take much to describe it. It's built in the shape of an igloo.

If people say, 'Eeeew, I wouldn't want my beach house to be an igloo; I want a nice Cape Cod' -- then move to Cape Cod. Or sign a waiver for federal disaster insurance. That's if you want to build a box-shaped house on the beach on the Gulf in hurricane alley.

I have seen how those igloos withstand hurricane-force winds on a beach. There's no corners for the wind to grab onto, so they move on to wreck the box structures on either side of the igloo.

I have also seen how fireproofed houses and grounds fare, even though they're plunked next to a forest in California's wildfire alley. There's nothing for the fire to grab onto, so it leaps the house and goes on to consume the non-fireproofed ones around it. The kicker is that the fireproofing is actually a combination of practices that are not expensive.

All such best building practices are rooted in a survivalist outlook that is crucial for Americans to nurture and strengthen during this globalized era, which finds the U.S. worker in competition with billions of very tough people.

So there is more to this situation than economic concerns and protecting tax dollars. If you keep encouraging people to the idea that they don't have to change their behavior in the face of challenges, you weaken them; you weaken their will.

Before I return to the CSM report, Hurricane Ike's rampage in Galveston underscores the need for Americans to think of the aftermath when they say they can ride out a storm. Let's take a cursory look at Ike's aftermath in Galveston:
GALVESTON, Texas (AP - September 16) - The few hundred holdouts on Texas' ravaged Bolivar Peninsula will be required to leave in the next few days, and officials said Tuesday they are ready to use emergency powers to empty the barrier island scraped clean by Hurricane Ike.

Judge Jim Yarbrough, the top elected official in Galveston County, said the roughly 250 people who defied warnings they would be killed if they rode out the storm in the rural coastal community are a "hardy bunch" and there are some "old timers who aren't going to want to leave."

The Texas attorney general's office is looking into the legal options available to force the remaining residents leave, Yarbrough said. Local authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to get residents to a safer place.

"I don't want to do it," he said. "I'm doing it because it's in their best interests."

The sliver of land is just too damaged for residents to stay there, and the population must be cleared so that recovery can begin, officials said. With no gas, no power and no running water, there is also concern about spread of disease.

Entire neighborhoods on Bolivar Peninsula - home to about 30,000 people during the peak of the summer vacation season - were simply wiped away by the height of Ike's storm surge. In the town of Gilchrist, there are only few buildings still standing. Ferry service to the island is out, as is the bridge on its eastern end. The road that traverses the island is washed out, too.[...] (2)
Again, this is not 1963; the high price of gasoline today means it's very expensive to keep fleets of rescue helicopters in the air for hours on end. All phases of search and rescue operations are now very expensive.

And when thousands decide to ride out a storm while they have the choice to evacuate, this means putting many rescuers at unnecessary risk when the storm's aftermath creates a disaster zone.

I understand the concerns that cause people to ignore an evacuation order, but every one of those concerns can be addressed by cooperative efforts and good planning.

I also understand that there's nothing to prevent another string of very damaging tropical storms and hurricanes from hitting the U.S. this year or next -- while the nation is still trying to absorb the costs from the triple whammy of Fay, Gustav, and Ike -- and even Hannah did damage.

And let's not even talk about the $130 billion federal aid bill from Katrina. And not to mention the federal bills from the last disaster round from wildfires in California, and floods and tornadoes in the midwest.

As I noted, the camel's back is not made of iron. We're getting a small break from falling oil prices, but we are in the midst of an economic downturn. So now is the time to tighten up; to address issues that we shrugged off during the boom time. One of those issues, a big issue, is how we can improve in the area of disaster management.

So, while I don't want to be mean and suggest we re-name Galveston "Locoville," we do need to study the lessons of post-Ike Galveston then act on them, no matter which region of the nation we live in.

All right; here's the rest of the CSM article, which is very instructive; take special note of the part about the electrical substations:
[...] "The irony of this storm is that rich people who built outside the seawall got wiped away and the lower economic classes who trust the seawall survived," says Shelton, whose great-great-grandfather, John Henry Hutchens, survived the 1900 hurricane, which killed more than 6,000 islanders.

As the unprotected West End neighborhoods of Galveston Island remained impassable, and news came that much of Bolivar Peninsula to the east, also unprotected, had borne the brunt of Ike's massive wall of water, questions are being raised about the storm's impact on coastal development.

"I think people are now going to weigh carefully their investments, whether it's in terms of industry, business, and government," says Heber Taylor, editor of the Galveston County Daily News, Texas' oldest continuously published newspaper.

With President Bush visit to the island Tuesday, it's a debate that's likely to focus on Galveston, where storm memories run deep in the island's colorful and multi-cultural heritage, and where recent decades have seen political and market shifts that seem to contradict the hurricane lessons learned, and still practiced, by many natives.

On the other side of the debate is the notion that coastal development is no riskier than building in wildfire-prone California hills or along Tornado Alley in Kansas, with few critics questioning the right of residents there to receive federal insurance and rebuilding aid.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with its $130 billion federal aid package, began shaping that debate in earnest, sparking deep reforms in required construction practices. In some beach towns in and around Galveston Island – including Bolivar, Rollover Pass, Crystal Beach, and Gilchrist – Ike may now define how Texas decides to draw both physical and philosophical lines on beach-building.

Even before the storm, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson proposed that new coastal construction be set back at 60 times the erosion rate – 60 feet for every foot of erosion, for example.

"We now have a graphic example of why you should build as far away from the dunes as possible," Mr. Patterson told the Houston Chronicle during a flyover.

Local officials blasted Patterson's proposal, claiming that communities couldn't survive without new construction. The late '90s real estate boom helped fill tax coffers at a time when local industries were declining – especially in old boom towns like Galveston.

So far, the federal government has largely sided with building boosters. In high-erosion corners of the Gulf like Dauphin Island, Ala., the Army Corps of Engineers has moved sand in order to replace home lots that washed out to sea. Generous infrastructure funds guaranteed by federal law allow the government to underwrite disaster recovery, and also tend to support rebuilding on vulnerable lots.

"It's a very positive sign for sensible management if the State of Texas does take a new look at how we rebuild extremely vulnerable shorelines," says Rob Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.

"But I'm also skeptical, because the people who are being shut out of rebuilding tend to be wealthy and politically influential. People say, 'Those people must be nuts to build on the West End of Galveston,' but it's actually the taxpayers who are nuts for subsidizing that development."

Alphonso Nickerson, who rode out Ike with his mother behind the seawall, says wealthier residents will certainly rebuild. "If you don't have to worry about money, it's no big thing," he says.

But Carlos Silliman, a laid-back outdoorsman, says city government has abandoned the lessons of the last half-dozen storms. He thinks the city should stop building infrastructure to the unprotected areas and pay more attention to storm-proofing the city's five electrical substations, all of which fizzled out. [...] (1)
1) After Ike, to rebuild or not? Coastal Texas now faces the classic question asked in the wake of other natural disasters; The Christian Science Monitor; Patrik Jonsson, staff writer

2) Officials pledge to empty Ike-battered peninsula; Associated Press; by Juan A. Lozano; Associated Press Writers Andre Coe, Chris Duncan, Monica Rhor, April Castro and Deb Riechmann in Houston, Pauline Arrillaga in San Antonio, Allen G. Breed on Bolivar Peninsula, Jay Root in Austin, and Christopher Sherman and Jon Gambrell in Galveston, contributed to this report.