Prague Twin

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

War Games

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to play with Army men. We had intricate battles set up and complex rules of engagement. As we got older, killing each others' army men gave way to killing each other: again with a complex set of rules of engagement. We took this quite seriously. I might not even remember how serious it was if it weren't for my Mom one time admonishing me for taking things a bit too far. I remember her quoting me as she had heard from several houses down, "No Brian, you are dead! Get down on the ground! All the way down! I blew your head clean off and that is a twenty count and you know it!"

All this war play got me thinking about how I would react if called to actual duty someday. A 12 year-old me gave it some serious thought and I came up with the following: I would defend my country against any invader, no matter what. I don't think I would allow myself to be sent off to a foreign land to kill or be killed, but if someone else was invading, I'd be the first one in line to defend my country. My goal would be to kill at least one of the invaders before I got killed myself. If I could kill two before I bought it, I figured that would be a success. I didn't concern myself with the details about who might invade or why, I just knew that "this land is my land" and I would defend it to the death.

Twenty five years later, I hold the same opinion. I've since left my beloved country, but I would defend my home wherever that might be against any invation no matter what. I would be part of a resistance or just a rouge saboteur. I would surely go down with a fight.

I've always figured that most people feel the same as I do, and that Iraqis would be no exception. Up until recently there had been some discrepancy as to Iraqi public opinion on the subject of American occupation, but today's report leaves little doubt that at least now most Iraqi's indeed feel the same as I would. (Go to born at the crest of the empire to download the pdf of the whole poll; I don't know how to make pdf links, but I'd love to know...)

I think this is a pretty simple point. Most people don't care too much for lofty ideals or complex philosophical arguments. No, most people are pretty simple. We can try to justify our presence in any number of ways, but as Bill Clinton said the other night to Tim Russert (loose quote here), "no matter how good our intentions may be, eventually people are going to resent our presence because we are not from there." I've tried to use the example of Chinese tanks rolling through the southern U.S. and how they might be received by the local residents. I am usually met with arguments about how the Chinese wouldn't have a reason to be there in the first place or some other irrelevant point. Just try to imagine if for some reason they were rolling down the streets of Galveston: people just wouldn't like it, even if they were there to secure the area after a hurricane and to help rebuild. I guarantee that the people there would be taking pot-shots at those tanks.

If we believe in Democracy as we say we do, then it looks like we have about a year to get the hell out of Iraq. Otherwise, we are acting directly against the will of the majority of the Iraqi people. And that, for better or for worse, is nothing less than tyranny.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I'm sure that Cheney et. al. had legitimate reasons for not serving, but when a 19 year old chickenhawk who leads the local Young Republicans gets badgered to join the military and can't even come up with a reason why he hasn't, well, I just have to laugh.... and you will too! Check out this post and the slew of comments he got from it. It gets a little raunchy, but it is good for a laugh.

This has been going on for two weeks and the kid hasn't figured out what to say in response yet. I almost feel sorry for him.... almost.

Czech Sensiblility

Prague, Sept 25 (CTK) - Jiri Lang, director of the civilian counter-intelligence BIS, believes most Czechs are not yet fully aware of the danger of terrorism.

Translation: Czech's do not panic and change their way of life because of the threat of terrorism. I've said this so many times I am blue in the face, but I'm going to say it again. Here it goes....

Terrorist want you to be afraid. The root of the word terrorism is terror (being afraid). They do not intend to kill us all, but rather they seek to kill a few to make the rest of us terrified. If we refuse to be afraid then we have won the battle. If we cower and run then the terrorists have won.

The Czechs have never struck me as a people overly concerned with safety. That is clearly changing, but the basic you-never-know-when-you-are-going-to-die-so-you-should-enjoy-life-while-you-can attitude is still well in tact.

I can not stand fear mongering and I refuse to be afraid. I would be happy to do what I can to fight terrorism, but I feel there is little I can do. Yet the powers that be are trying to lay the resposibility for fighting terrorism on you and me. Let's take this quote to illustrate what I mean.

He said that a well-informed public and its cooperation with the police can be one of the most effective weapons against terrorism.

O.K. that sounds all fine and good, but what does that mean? How exactly do I cooperate with the police? I am well informed, but the police have yet to ask for my help. I guess I will just have to wait.

Have you ever heard the expression "lightning never strikes twice in one place?" Now, I don't know if that is true, but it is a pretty good rule live by. Ground Zero of the WTC is probably a very safe place right now. Bali? No more bombs since the first one. How about that bus in London? Any more problems there? Of course not. And yet these lousy fear mongers make the Czechs out to be stupid for living by this priciple.

"When there is a bomb attack at a seaside resort, other foreigners do not visit the location for some time. On the contrary, Czechs go to this particular site because the prices of the stays fall," Lang said, citing this as an example of the Czech attitude to terrorism.

If the rest of the world had this type of attitude, the terrorists wouldn't stand a chance.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Terror Threat Taken in Stride

Yesterday there was terror scare. Security was stepped up after the Parliament met all night on Friday to decide what to do about the threat. There was some indication that this was linked to the foiled plot in Norway to blow up Israeli and American embassies there.

Reaction from the populous was muted. A few chuckles in the local pub about avoiding the Metro did not prevent me from doing what I had to do. I drove through the center of town and crossed the major bridge without incident. In the evening a good size group of us went to a local free concert. The square was packed with people enjoying honey liquer, beer, fresh wine ("burchak"), and lots and lots of pork. The climax was the performance from the 4th placed contestant on "Super Star" Mr. Petr Bender. Then, of course, there were fireworks.

Some would call the general reaction to the terror non-event "complacency". I would call it "logical".

Half a dozen Czechs will die on the highway this weekend, but no increased effort to provide security on the highway will be taken. There will be no all night meetings to try to save these poor six people, and they will surely die.

At the end of the day, the Metro is still safer than the highway. I'll take my chances with the former.

UPDATE: There were 6 seperate anonymous bomb threats received by police yesterday after the threat was announced. One of them indicated that the bridge I drove accross had a bomb planted on it. Another caused a nearby hotel to be evacuated. All of these threats were bogus and not actually that unusual in Prague, although six in one day is pretty over the top.

Friday, September 22, 2006


So the bloodletting seems to be continuing in the equities market. The Dow closed down 80 points yestere day and is down almost 30 today, but the key will be the resistance turned support level of 11,300.

I've been missing my favorite currency analyst as she was away in Asia doing a seminar, but now she is back and has some choice words about the U.S. economy this morning. In the words of the demi-god Ms. Kathy Lein....

The US dollar is much weaker today against its counterparts. Having just returned from giving seminars in Asia, I am surprised to see the positive take on yesterday’s FOMC statement. Even though the Federal Reserve repeated that inflation risks remain, they probably only did so to temper the more bearish change that they made to the statement which was to say that they no longer see the slowdown in the housing market as gradual. Any hopes that the Fed will resume its rate hikes this year is probably wishful thinking. Their true inflation concerns should be relatively moderate because in the third paragraph of their statement, they said that “inflation pressures seem likely to moderate over time” thanks to “reduced impetus from energy prices” and the effects of their past interest rate hikes. Oil prices have fallen significantly over the past few weeks driving gasoline prices lower as well, which should keep inflationary pressures well contained. Economic data has been lackluster at best. We did see a strong retail sales report last week, but every other piece of data released in recent weeks was either in line or worst than expected. There is actually further evidence of slowing in the housing market. However it took today’s reports to remind traders of the tough times to come in the US economy. Both leading indicators and the Philadelphia Fed survey of manufacturing conditions came in negative, signaling slower growth ahead. For the second month in a row, leading indicators fell by 0.2 percent in the month of August while the Philly Fed survey came in negative for the first time in over three years. Even though the outlook for the US economy is grim, the sharp fall in energy prices should keep consumers happy for the time being. Prices at the pump have already fallen and we may even see discounts pop up in other industries if oil prices continue to remain low. Therefore any dollar weakness could be capped by the prior lows of 1.2945 against the Euro and 115.50 against the Japanese Yen, especially since there is no US economic data scheduled for release tomorrow.

The real test is in Europe: can European markets survive a U.S. slowdown? Probably not, but if they manage to somehow, it will mark the beginning of a new era where the saying, "as goes the U.S. economy, so goes the world economy" will be put to rest.

I'm not holding my breath though.

As a side note, the public debt almost crested the $8.5 trillion mark the day before yesterday. Despite Bush's promise to cut the deficit in half, the yearly shortfall is still coming in at about 850 billion. That means the debt is increasing by 10% per year. That is a lot.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Economic Front

There has been quite a lot of interesting events on the economic front of late. The latest bit is the release of the Philadelphia Manufacturing Index which was realesed a half an hour ago. The significance of the Philly Index is that it is the first of the regional indices to be released. It is considered the second most important of the regional indices next to Chicago's.

Analysts called for a modest 14.8 reading. Instead it came in at -0.4. This is the first contraction seen in over 3 years. We will see in less than two weeks if the national ISM index reflects this contraction.

The Dow had been flirting with new all time highs and is down 50 points immediately on the news. The dollar has lost just over half a cent, but dollar bears look to be energized so the damage is likely to continue (although I doubt the Euro will be able to break 1.30 anyway: just more see-saw action).

Earlier in the week some interesting things came up. Capital flows to the U.S. declined from over 47 billion in July to just over 12 billion in August. This could have affected the dollar adversely but at about the same time it was noted that the Chinese National Bank had increased its dollar holdings by over 12%. These two bits of data essentially canceled each other out. The decrease in capital flows was due mostly to private investors not repatriating as much. Considering the fact that wealth (as measured by the amount of money available for investment in equities) grew world wide by about 8% in 2005, but by 23% in Europe, it is not that surprising. Why repatirate your earnings when the prospects in Europe and elsewhere are so much better than at home? People talk about the sluggish Eurozone, but if you get past the fantasy numbers in the U.S. that largely reflect mergers and aquisitions (of late) you will see that real growth is occuring in the Eurozone and Asia more that anywhere in the world (despite the GDP numbers).

Housing data once again disappointed. I can't remember one time in the last 3 months when housing data came in close to what was expected. It has been a long string of disappointments and the squakers are starting to say that the housing market is not just hurt, but it is broken. They don't think the cheaper markets will get hit too hard but California, New York and especially the condos in south Florida are all at risk of losing something like 20% according to analysts.

The good news is that the PPI (Producer Price Index) data came in lower than expected indicating that inflation may indeed be under control. Core PPI (which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors) came in at -0.4% which is the first negative inflation reading I've seen for a very long time. Predictably, the Fed chose to keep rates on hold at 5.25%. It looks like they have screwed the bolts down sufficiently to keep inflation in check. Interest rate expectations point to a rate cut in 2007.

Some have argued that the Fed has already gone to far and that the effects on the economy will be devastating. We will see.

Last but not least, oil continues to drop on news of increased inventories and decreased global instability (yea right). All of those who predicted a rapid drop in oil before the election are being proven right. The technical barries have been removed and a slide to below 50 before election time is in the cards. I can't help but to wonder if some big money players are dumping their oil futures in some kind of coordinated event.

I've come to realize that the bombing of Iran most certainly will not take place before the election as that would cause the price of oil to spike. There is still time before Christmas though! Maybe the neo-cons will get what they always wanted for Christmas this year: the end of the world.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Saudi ups prices, cuts output

This is old news, but it is worth noting.

Saudi has raised the official selling price for its crude oil to Europe in July, but cut prices to US buyers, according to Reuters. It increased prices to Europe by between 45 and 75 cents a barrel, while cutting US prices by 30 to 35 cents. Meanwhile, the world's top exporter cut production to 9.1m bpd in April, due to a drop in refinery demand, The Wall Street Journal quoted Oil Minister Ali Al Naimi as saying.

No explaination and no one really takes much note.

Get your tinfoil hats ready.

Saudi Oil

The Plot Thickens

If anyone out there is feeling sorry for themselves because their political system is a mess, be sure to read about the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the Czech Republic and its fractured government.

(The article is a little clunky in its translation but bear with it).

Feel better now?

Friday, September 15, 2006


Today should be a big day for markets.

The Dow has turned the 11,300 resistance level into a support level and is set for a test of the May high above 11,700. Oil has lost almost 20% of it's value in the last month, settling just above $63 a barrel. I had said that I didn't expect it to go below $65 and I wasn't alone, but I would be VERY surprised if it goes much below $60.

But in a few hours, Ford is expected to release the details of their restructuring. As many as 75,000 workers may be layed off. Probably more importantly, at 2:30 EDT, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will be announced. Some analysts are calling for a larger number than predicted. If inflation does not show signs of abating, you will see a sharp drop in commodities today.

Signs of stability are encouraging (lower oil, lower gold, lower commodities). However, with almost everyone expecting a US slowdown, I think once again Wall Street is teetering on overexuberance. I think that inflation will continue to print numbers above expectations and this will have a negative effect on commodities as expectations for another Fed rate-hike by the end of the year are reinforced.

The positive would be for the US dollar which has fought off recent attacks and was poised for a serious comeback all week. That position finally gave way yesterday when the momentum went back against the dollar. I think that people are positioning ahead of today's CPI data, and the dollar could break through important levels should the data come in higher than expected.

Any other predictions?

UPDATE: Inflation numbers printed in line with expectations against my prediction. The exuberance from this has resulted in a healthy jump in equities in the first hour. The all time high set four months ago is only about 100 points away. A failure to break that May high should result in a pretty strong correction I would think. We are sitting on a strong 1,000 point rally right now without any major corections after the last test of the 10,700 bottom.

As has been the case lately, once again the U.S. dollar defies convention by strengthening on the CPI data after a very small speculative dip. This shows that the market already believes the Fed is finished tightening so more evidence to that end does not pressure the dollar.

The S&P is four points away from a five and half year high oil has broken levels below $62.20 which is very significant.

This couldn't really be better for the GOP.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Still Remembering

I know that most just want to let it go. It is no fun to be overly focused on one event. On the other hand, the world we now live in has been so drastically changed since that one event, that I think it deserves further examination. In that vein, I watched about 3 hours of CNN's "real-time" coverage (I'll get the reason for the quotes in a minute) of the WTC attacks. Aside from the human interest, I wanted to see what intelligent people had to say when they were in the moment.

By the time I tuned in, the second tower had just come down. I did get to see WTC7 go down, which was largely ignored. No explaination was given, and Guliani was questioned about coming out of the building. He was cool as a cucumber. I suspect that he was one of the few people who really knew theat this could happen. I don't mean he had inside information but that he understood this was possible and he had thought about how he would react. He was brilliant, focusing on rescue efforts and avoiding any politics altogether. He confirmed that the fire was not due to a gas leak, but he gave no other explaination. I noticed that he announced that 4 out of 5 boroughs still had subway service and would into the evening so that kids and people could get home. That, I think, was brave and would not be repeated in today's climate of fear.

Nearly everyone(aside from Guliani, of course) stressed that it was essential that we find the people that did this and bring them to juctice. They said it in uncertain terms, calmly at times, sometimes with some fire. But it was the same thing, over and over. It was the one constant. "We must bring those who comitted such a horrible act to justice." A second point, nearly as ubiquitous, was that we can not change our way of life. George Shultz was the first person I heard use the word pre-emption. He stressed that a greater effort need to be made to identify and stop these types of attacks before they occured. He did not mention a global war. He was directly asked if Americans needed to change their lives to adapt to this new threat and he rejected that idea uncategorically. I think I can quote him saying, "America... Must, Not, Change it's way of life because of this one event." This was the Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan.

Tom Clancy was scathing in his criticism for the government, but in a very calm and creative way. As you may know, Clancy wrote a book in which a hijacked airplane is crashed into Capitol Hill during a joint session, this effectively shutting down the government. So he told a story on the day of the event when he asked Zinn (I'm presuming here, but it was a general) if they had though about this as a real possiblitly. He said, "I'll be on it on Monday." Irrespective of that bit of sly criticism, Clancy stressed that it was important that we not lose our heads. Realize that it is "a very, very short list of people who could have done this", and of course he stressed the two main points of the day: They must be found. America should not change.

But right under the surface was the warning about Iraq. It was so clear looking at it five years later. He knew how bad they wanted to go in, and like others who echoed similar warnings, he worried that this would be used as a reason. He capped the interview by saying we should focus on not losing our heads.

Later I heard Wesley Clark give an interview on the phone which was as specific about who he thought did it as anyone's. He even named Bin Laden, I believe. (I should update this with some quotes that I have in my notes later). He was hitting on some pretty good material when suddenly the feed stopped. There was this little announcement about how they wanted to play this in as close to real time as possible so they had to take these breaks. Now maybe I'm a little dense, but why would you have to take breaks to play something in real-time? I'm sure it is innocent enough, but Clark's interview came back on after a while, they wrapped it up quickly, and it was over. I sure did feel like I missed something.

In between these guests, there was a repeating of president Bush's vow to find who was responsible and bring them to justice. that was the only statement given out of the White House at the time. You have to give him credit, that is what everyone else was saying too. CNN was in full time mode, and if they could quote something else, they sure would have loved to. But that was it, "We vow to do everything possible to find those responsible for this and bring them to justice." Two days later, bush had this to say.

"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him."
- G.W. Bush, 9/13/01

Exactly six months later...

I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
- G.W. Bush, 3/13/02

How anyone can take this man seriously, I have no idea. This might be the greatest contradicion of all time, and not on a small point. No, on the biggest point imaginable.

The president was still not at the White House six hours after the attack. At the sixth hour, as it were, CNN was reporting that they needed extra fighter planes to protect Air Force One. Extra fighter planes, in addition to the standard wing-men that accompany Air Force One, but I think I mentioned that.

Millions of New Yorkers took the subway home that day because they belived the threat to be contained, and I think as a show of bravery that was well needed. The New Yorkers reacted like the rest of us should have. The smart money (including Clancy) was saying that this group had actuallly already outdone itself. I don't think anyone could possibly reasonably assume that Bin Laden could launch fighter planes to shoot down Air Force One. Six hours later when all flights were on the ground, Bin Laden had well blown his terrorist load. I'm sure he was having a good laugh at the president's expense. I remember actually fearing for him when he finally did show up, walking across the lawn, exposed. I thought that an assasination would really instill the fear that the terrorists want us to feel. But I certainly wasn't worried about him on the flight over.

Later in the day there were explosions in Kabul. Nic Robertson had a bird's-eye view of what appeared to be a fuel-dump on fire that apparently had been hit with missles.

And there it was, Kabul in flames already. Who knew then just how far that fire would spread?

Monday, September 11, 2006

911 Remembered

I think there is little to say five years after the horrific day that changed the world as we knew it.....except this.

It is high time that the person ultimately responsible for this attack to be brought to justice.

The friends and families of those who died deserve at least that.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Czechs to Host Missile Defense System

It seems inevitalbe that the Czechs will host a new missle defense system. The latest evidence that this system is a foregone conclusion came late last week when Alexandr Vondra, the Czech Foreign Minister, voiced his support for the Czech Republic to host a substantial part of the now only conceptual missle defense system.

Details are murkey but it is clear that the Czech Republic stands to gain financially. Why else would the cleary corrupt government openly back the plan while opposition groups protest and collect signatures for a referendum?

There seems to be fairly broad opposition to the plan according to the local paper (I'd link an article, but I don't think you all would get much out of it). However, one can continue to search in vain for that opposition to be echoed by the elected "representatives" here. Money is what motivates these "leaders" to act. Public opinion rates a distant second.

Sound familiar?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Busy Bush

It has been a busy week for president Bush.

On Tuesday, he reshufled his cabinet. Later that day, he gave a speech full of politically motivated talking points. He was quoted as saying that "America is safer, but not yet fully safe." It would be a nice place to be for him politically, if true. But my favortie has to be this one...

"Some say Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror. The terrorists disagree.''

President Bush is starting to understand. Yes, Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror, for us. For the terrorists it is their propaganda tool, their recruiting tool, and their fly trap for American lives. Hell yes, this is the center for them. This is the place where they have managed to kill almost as many Americans as in the WTC attacks. It is their trophy, and it seems to be shining itself.

In terms of actually making us safer, however, it is purley a diversion and likely a liability. I doubt al-Queda would have such an easy time recruiting the London bombers had it not been for Iraq. Maybe the war in Iraq made no difference, but it certainly hasn't dissuaded any other tragically lost souls from trying to destroy the empire. I haven't seen any repentent terrorists on Geraldo talking about how Iraq made them see the error of their ways, but I don't watch much Geraldo. Maybe there have been. What I have seen is greater instability and terrorist activity throughout the region.

But getting back to the point, the day after the big speech, Bush confirmed the existence of secret prisons and said that 14 people will be tried in connection with the 9/11 atttacks. These two bombshells were quickly forgotten today when the Pentagon announced new rules of interrogation. And now before I even have time to breath, Bush calls on Congress to endorse warantless wire-tapping. Yes, let Congress approve such a thing.

But coome on man, it is only Thursday! I'm a little overwhelmed!

It sounds like he got the message from all of the sensible people in the world that secrecy gains you very little but it hurts your credibility a lot. Transparency, Sir, is all we ask. Let Congress decide if they approve of your plans (or at the very least let them monitor your programs properly). No one is saying we don't want you to fight terrorism, only that you have to play by the rules, just like everybody else. The fact that terrorist don't play by the rules doesn't allow you to do the same.

Two wrongs don't make a right, and any third-grader can tell you that.

I'm particularly happy about the unveiling of the secret prisons, and the rules of interrogation. Does keeping someone in a secret location help you get information from them? No. Does torture? Most say the information obtained under torture is worthless. I've heard this argument used in the military's defense. "They wouldn't torture because the tourtured will say anything to make it stop." Well, it looks like the administration agrees. And this is good because now no soldier can be tricked into engaging in torture. The rules are clear and good soldiers (which most are) will obey them. There will always be exceptions, but there should never be institutionalized abuse. It is the most unseemly of all things, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein himself.

Bush sure has been busy this week. For once, that seems to be a good thing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hold the Phone!

Breathtaking. That is how the Unit Labor Cost figures released today have been described. ULC for Q2 was expected to rise 4.0%, however it came in at 4.9%. What was truly breathtaking is that Q1 ULC was revised up to 9.0% from 2.5%. Currency traders are having a bit of a laugh at US Treasury economists citing 300% revisions as the norm.

So what does this mean? ULC is the final piece in the inflation puzzle. It starts with producer prices (PPI), continues with consumer prices (CPI) and finishes with labor costs (ULC). When the cost of labor goes up quickly, economist say that we are at the end of the economic cycle.

These numbers have cast doubt on the Fed's likelihood to stay sidelined. Wall Steet is about to open and I would expect there to be some losses today. It has been a hell of a bull run for the last month so a correction is in the cards anyway.

Let's see if today's ULC numbers frighten investors.

UPDATE: The Dow is down nearly 50 points in the first 5 minutes of trading.

UPDATE 2: The Dow closed down 63 points to just over 11,400. Back to school means back to work for traders, and so far it has been caution and profit taking. Apparently, this is normal for September and we should expect more of the same. Today's was a healthy correction, but a bigger one is definately in the cards.

Interesting side note: oil droped to a 3-month low settling in New York at $67.50 per barrel. Looking at the oil chart a couple of months ago I figured the $65 as the bottom on corrections. This seems like a logical correction from the new high set a couple weeks ago. Should it drop below $65 I will be officially suspecting an October surprise.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Stryker Report

My favorite milblog is American Citizen Soldier. It is run by Buck Sargent, a member of the very successful 172nd Stryker Brigade. I've sang his laurels before. Summarizing, Buck is honest about his opinion, is a dedicated soldier, and respects dissent. He has engaged my opposition with thourough, intelligent responses and he admits his mistakes.

Lately, he has been pretty upset with his personal situation as he feels his time is being wasted and he is being lied to. It started when he found out about his redeployment from Yahoo! News. Suffice to say he is not feeling the love right now. His latest post lamblasts Rumsfeld for his incompetence and lack of integrity. Here are my favorite quotes....

The Army has sent our veteran Stryker brigade -- on the cusp of a long-deserved homecoming -- instead back to Iraq to begin the equivalent of a third consecutive Marine tour of duty. The security of Baghdad is the official reason, but if you read between the lines, it is actually to generate positive headlines for the upcoming midterm Congressional elections. The administration is living under the fantasy that the Iraqi capital can be secured with photo-op half-measures that will somehow miraculously translate into positive media coverage of the results. On both counts, they could not possibly be more wrong.


The only thing that can pull the city back from the brink is to allow us to do the job we were purportedly sent here to do. That means open season on the Shiite militias, whether it’s popular for al-Maliki with his political base or not. Anything less is a waste of everyone’s time: his, theirs, and especially ours.


In the very first week of ground operations our company alone uncovered enormous caches of offensive weaponry stashed or buried on the grounds of the mosques we searched in the presence of local Iraqi forces. We also randomly searched the headquarters of one of the Islamic political parties and uncovered enough of an arsenal to outfit a small army.

Since then, we’ve done little else but "clearing ops" which amount to us cordoning off entire neighborhoods and searching every single residence, talking with the people who live there, and collecting census data. This face to face communication and rapport building is indeed important, and was at the heart of our previous success in Mosul, but is only half the solution for a fractured area like Baghdad. There are several rogue militia groups operating with near impunity, responsible for much of the "sectarian strife" that produces not only hundreds of corpses weekly, but dozens of proclamations of "impending civil war" by nearly every news agency on the planet.

Why every mosque in the Baghdad area was not simultaneously raided on a brigade-level scale within days of uncovering insurgent mother lodes right off the bat, I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that we were purportedly sent down here to "get tough on terrorism" in the city, yet so far we have yet to be let off the leash. We’ve cleared entire neighborhoods house by house and block by block, performing census work far more often than targeted raids. Call me crazy, but I figure that when houses of worship are being exploited to house weapons of war, that is when Muslim sensitivities need to take a back seat to modern realities.

Release the hounds, sirs. Don’t force us to chew through our own leash. Because right now we’re choking on it.


The locals have repeatedly conveyed to us horrid tales of shop owners being pulled from their places of business and executed directly outside their storefronts, or mysterious uniformed men driving up and snatching people right off the street, never to be heard from again.. Most of the wealthy homes now stand empty, their owners having fled to less politically free but certainly less volatile Middle Eastern countries.

If you are left wondering, if this is not a civil war, then how will we know when or if it is? I’ll gladly provide you the answer. If Iraq is broken up into it’s three main ethnic categories -- the Kurds in the north, the Shia in the east and south, and the Sunni in the west -- then, and only then, will you be witness to a full-scale civil war worthy of a Beirut circa 1982 or Bosnia circa 1995. Distinct battle lines will be drawn, the spoils of victory will be clear, and the disputed territory will be fought over viciously and without restraint. And that’s without even factoring in the likelihood of neighboring Iran, Syria, and Turkey entering the fray to extract their own pound of Iraqi flesh. If you think the situation is ugly now, you won’t be pleased by what it easily could become if Iraq were to head down the path of religious and ethnic sovereignty. Malice toward all, charity toward none.


When asked by one 172nd wife why the unit was performing house-to-house searches in Baghdad rather than the combat ops they specialize in, Rumsfeld "disputed her assertion, saying that 95 percent of the house-clearing operations are being done by Iraqi troops."

Stop the tape.

"95 percent of the house-clearing operations are being done by Iraqi troops." If this is an accurate quote (no longer a given with our agenda-driven media), then a healthy dose of WD-40 is direly needed within the gears of the civilian-military chain of command, because it’s squeaking worse than the cot I currently sleep on or my bowels after dining at "Chez Haji." His statement isn’t merely a whopper, it’s a bacon double whopper w/extra cheese and a side of total bulls**t.

Baghdad, we’ve got a problem.

Mediocre chow, the worst living conditions we‘ve had yet, sweating our asses off in triple-digit heat all day in order to perform a task that other Army units (cough, cough, 4th ID... 101st...) should already have been doing all year, and then receiving zero credit for any of it?! Wait, I stand corrected. "The Donald" did allow us recognition for a whopping "5%." But if you were to follow us on the ground during the brutally hot days, you would understand my incredulity. Yes, Iraqi police forces tag along with us and do assist in the cultural aspects of interacting with the populace to some extent (although the majority of this falls on our overstretched and invaluable U.S.-contracted interpreters); however, if they were truly performing "95%" of the workload then based on our own results thus far all of Baghdad would accordingly have been cleared by now.

Perhaps our brigade had been spoiled by the relative competence of the Kurdish IA recruits we trained and worked with all year in Mosul. After all, the Peshmerga already had a fairly long institutional history as a cohesive militia in opposition to the former regime. But the predominantly Arab security forces in the capital make the Pesh look like Delta Force. These guys are lazy, totally without discipline, training, or motivation, and about as haji-on-the-spot as Mel Gibson’s designated driver.

Baghdad should have been the main focus from the very beginning, but clearly it’s been left to its own devices and whatever progress that has been made in this vital heart of the country has become as stagnant as a street level sewage pond.

Bottom line: the city needs work. A lot of work. And if we are not able to leave it in capable Iraqi hands when we eventually leave, all of our efforts will have been for naught. Iraqization is the key, yet it remains the weakest link in the chain. Until that is addressed openly and honestly, we're just spinning our tires here.

And Strykers have eight of them.

Obviously I've focused on the parts that serve to verify what some of us have been saying in cotradiction to the official government line. Read the whole thing for a more non-baised picure.

I find it compelling that this is coming from someone who believes in the effort and up until now has been arguing that things were quite good in Iraq and that the media was protraying things much worse than the reality dictated. Reality is what Buck is dealing with now, and it is doing the dictating.

As always, I wish the best for him and all the soldiers, and a safe return home....soon.


It has been a while since I reported on markets. I know this bores most of you so I will try to be brief.

The Dow has recently cleared important technical resistance levels which clears the way for new record highs above the 11,700 mark set in May. On Friday before the Labor Day holiday it stood at over 11,400 which is the highest level in three months. Now that Labor Day is behind us, the senior traders are back on Wall Street. It will be interesting to see if they continue the bullish trend that the junior traders established over the last couple of weeks, or if they take a pessimistic view and a sell-off insues. So far today, the Dow is down just slightly.

Non-Farm Payrolls came in just above market expectations Friday at 128,000. The ISM Manufacturing Index also came in at market expectations. These two numbers emphasised the view that the economy is still robust but not overly hot. Traders took it as a sign that further gains are in the cards but an interest rate hike probably is not.

Currency traders have been shorting the dollar everywhere you look. This oversold bias has actually helped the dollar retain it's value. The major currencies have been not been able to break out of the same ranges that we have seen all summer against the dollar. A couple of months ago I reported that the EUR/USD was in a range between 1.26 and 1.2950. Recently the range has been confined to the upper half with 1.2750 providing solid support and 1.2940 providing solid resistance.

All and all pretty boring over the last couple of weeks. There is very little data to be released this week, so the boredom should continue. Next week the inflation numbers start coming out and I expect that that data will provide the markets with some direction.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back from Paris

My wife and I had a very early flight out of Prague on Friday, so security was even faster than the last time. The girl who checked my passport (I say girl because she was barely 20 as far as I could tell) had a cup of coffee in front of her and forgot to give me my passport back. She realized her mistake quickly and we laughed a litlle. The security check was quick. The main difference I've noticed is that now I have to take off my belt. Other than that, there seems to be no difference in the security procedures since the recent panic.

We took the RER train from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the center of Paris: St. Michele-Notre Dame. We had the use of a friend's flat about 100 meters from Notre Dame. I have never stayed in the center of Paris and I have to say it is really nice not having to use the Metro. The metro is convienient, but hot and crowded. It costs about $1.80 for a one way trip. This is really cheap considering the prices of things in Paris. A small beer is about $5 and you don't really get breaks for ordering larger ones. I was paying over 10 times what I pay for a beer in Prague. Cocktails in the center of Paris are about $13 and they are small and watered down. It is best to drink wine or champagne.

Paris is pricey, but what you pay for is convinience and quality (except in the case of cocktails). Here is an example... We decided we wanted to drink champagne, so I left the flat and walked about 50 feet when I found a wine shop. A very friendly gentleman ran it and he had bottles of champagne chilling in an oversized refrigerated display case. They were presented better than any champagne I had ever seen: layed out as they were for my perusal. There are literally hundreds of restaurants, bars, cafes, and bakeries withing walking distance of the flat we stayed in. There are no shopping malls, but there are hundreds of small boutiques with shoes, clothes, and furniture so stylish it is almost intimidating. Every shop seems to have a distint style and a creative interior. There is always some clever design behind every display: something original.

My father met us there, and he told us about a tradition his high school had that I had a hard time even comprehending, much less believing. I was hoping someone might know something about this. Apparently, his school colors were green and white, and the team name was the "Hunters". Pretty straitforward so far, but this is where it gets wierd. Each senior class was required to have a special color for their graduating year, plus a mascot. A ficticious example would be the Red Bears of '57. It seems like an okay idea until you start running out of colors and mascots. I figure this was the reason for the downfall of this system. My father's graduating class, for example, was the Heliotrope D'Artagnans. Without clicking, does anyone know anything about either of these? I didn't. Now I know what they are, but I am still a little confused as to why they exist. If anyone can help me out on this, I would appreciate it.

Return Secutiry

On our return, security seemed a bit tighter. Mostly, it looked like the normal drones were being supervised and educated. They were pretty efficient. Then I witnessed the madness. After we were already in the secure area, they set up another security station for all of the flights to Great Brittian. There was a special zone with about 4 gates completely secure. No services (I'm not sure if they had restrooms, but definately no shops or food. All of the people going to Great Brittian had to go through an additional check where each carry on was searched completely. There was the hugest trash-bag ever to collect all of the water and other liquids that could present a threat. When a plane started to board, the people who had not yet cleared security on the flight got to go to the front of the line, so that the people that arrived the requested minimum two hours before their flight were spending about an hour or more in this additional line and I felt sorry for them.

On the bright side, this hysteria seems to be confined to the United States and Great Britian with the emphasis on the latter. My Father said security was no big deal in the States. Europe seems to be taking the signal to be more vigilant but not at the expense of efficiency. Well done France. Well done Czech Republic. Maybe the whole world hasn't gone mad after all.