Prague Twin

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iran: Why Do They Hate Us?

Since it is the last day of Ashura, I thought it would be an auspicious time to reminisce about the history of the United States and Iran and how the U.S. came to be known as "The Great Satan." Many think (or simply assume) that it all began in 1979 when the Iranian revolution used the U.S. as a scapegoat for their internal problems. It is widely assumed that United States undeservedly earned the title of "The Great Satan" by simply disagreeing with a religious revolution that (as all revolutions in Iran) started in Qom. It is a theory that is plausible enough. Religious radilcals want to overthrow the legitimate leadership who happen to be backed by the U.S. (I mean, if they are backed by the U.S. they must be legitamate, right?) and so the U.S. must be portrayed as a great evil. Plausible, but way off the mark this assumption is.

One needs to go back to at least 1953 and Operation Ajax to get any kind of relevant perspective on the hate that is reserved for the United States, known in Iran as "The Great Satan." For those of you poor souls who don't know, the Brittish wanted to overthrow the nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, and his parliment because they had nationalized BP's oil exploration project which was the first western oil venture in the Middle East. If we look at the situation today in the Middle East, it is easy to say that it all started here.

But that wasn't the only thing that started there. Operation Ajax was initially rejected by president Truman, but president Eisenhower signed on to this, the first of a series of CIA orchestrated overthrows of democratically elected governments. Guatemala was soon to follow and later came many others, most notably Chile and Nicaragua. The irony of the United States overthrowing democratically elected governments for financial reasons is not lost on myself, but I digress.

Some would blame Carter for not giving the Shah of Iran proper riot suppression materials to suppress the revolution that was well underway by 1978. But tear gas aside, the economic fallout that resulted from the poor management of the wealth that sprung from the 70's oil boom rests squarely on the shoulders of the Shah. Perhaps the revolution could have been postponed with a heavy handed approach, but the underlying economic factors that had inflation and unemployment reaching nearly 40% by 1978 were sure to foment the revolution with or without the mitigating efforts of the United States.

Just like the downfall of the reform movement that led to Ahmadninejad's election, and his waning power as evidenced by the recent local elections, and just as with every other group of people in the world, economics makes or breaks a power structure. If the people are suffering economically, your days as a leader are numbered.

So if you wonder why Iran hates us, just remember this. We overthrew their democratically elected leader and installed a decendent of the old Monarch. This "Shah of Shahs" ruled so ineptly that an economy that had enormous welth fell into a tailspin of misery which led to an Islamic revolution. We have never apolgized for this, and yet we wonder why the world doubts our intentions of "spreading democracy."

As one of the top NSA researchers on terrorism said, (paraphrase) "we are clearly loosing the war against Islamic terrorsim. Until our leaders admit that the root cause of Islamic terrorism is the history foreign policy of the United States and it's allies in the Muslim world, we have no chance of winning. You cannot win a war when you haven't even bothered to properly address the threat."

It is high time we made ammends for the transgressions of the past. Then perhaps our calls to spread democracy won't ring so hollow.

Side note: Roger, at XDA claims that Iranian steel production was fifth in the world before the revolution and doubts that now it could be in the top 30. Well, without some very expensive subscriptions I can't get any data to confirm or deny the historical claim. I do know that Iran's steel production is now at 20th in the world and growing at break-neck speed, although they are still at net importer. If anyone has information I'd love to get my hands on it.

Friday, January 26, 2007


If truth is such a dirty word
Why is it so seldom heard?
We laugh at politicians prose
For life’s a chore, heaven knows

We’d settle for linguistic porn
Playful bashing, ruthless scorn
In place we get pretentious crap
Senses dulled from mental slap

Compliments, all around
For now the lady wears a crown
Find a way to bring a smile
Go the extra pseudo-mile

Then fill us with your dirty lies
Pleasantry the truth belies
We’ll listen when you’ve what to say
For now we’ll keep the kids away

For truth is such a dirty word
That’s why today it’s never heard
The fatalistic urge it grows
The lowest of the lowest lows

Rhetoric, tired and worn
Allegiances, ripped and torn
Fall into our best-laid trap
Then we’ll all just start to clap

Keep on smiling, never frown
Your friends would never let you down
We love your speeches, full of bile
Condescending, false and vile

We want to hear your dirty lies
Far above the children’s cries
You know you have the greatest sway
For that we know we all must pay

For truth is such a dirty word
To speak it plainly is absurd
So now the lies line up in rows
Semi-circles in formal clothes

(h/t to Kvatch for the inspiration and Windspike for the theme)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Winter is Here

It finally happened: winter is here. It is about 2 1/2 months late, but I'm not complaining. Usually, we have about 5 months of winter here, November through March. When people ask if it snows much, I usually say, "It isn't that it snows so much, it is more that when it does, you can expect that snow to be around until April.

But this year has been different. Last year we had six feet of snow on the ground by Christmas. This year, there was a few dustings in the mountains around Christmas and then it got warm in January. We set records for almost every day in the first half of January for the daily highs. About two weeks ago I walked outside of my office and it actually felt like spring. There was even some heady talk of winter not showing up at all this year. Fat chance.

It has snowed nearly a foot in about 24 hours accross the whole country.

Winter is here: finally.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Other Factors

Following up on the post below, I have been looking into other factors related to emissions and global warming. First of all, the issue of methane gas released from cows has recently come to the worlds attention because of a United Nations report that says methane from cows is the number one contributor to the greehouse effect.

This could be true, but does anyone else see the irony that the same people who want the United Nations to be a thing of the past suddenly are latching on to this report? Well, I guess most aren't latching on to it because they don't believe in global warming anyway. It does sound kind of stupid to say, "I don't believe in global warming, but if I did, I would think that cows are more to blame than cars and industry." Pretty weak.

There are some doubts about this report, but suffice to say, cows release a lot of methane. What releases more? Well according to the EPA landfills are the number one source in the U.S. They state that 60% of methane is from human activity, and cows are near the top of the list.

Now, depending on who you listen to, cows are responsible for between 2% and 18% of greenhouse gasses. They multiply methane by 20 to get effective CO2 but methane breaks down quickly unlike CO2.

What to do? Well some California dairy farmers are turning manure into electricity. Also, Australian scientists are working on isolating bacteria in Kangaroos which allow them to eat grass and release no methane. The magic bacteria could hopefully be introduced into sheep, pigs, and cattle to reduce or eliminate methane realease. And since more methane comes from garbage in the U.S. than from any other source, maybe we could find a way to harness that gas, or at least burn it off as it seeps out.

However, it seems like the best thing to do is to become a vegitarian. No matter if it is cars, industry, or cows, the fact remains that human activity is accelerating global warming. And human activity is having other negative effects on the planet as well.

Next up, ocean acidification.

Note: This post was edited from it's original form

Monday, January 22, 2007

Man Vs. Volcano

Which is worse?

I've heard some stupid things in my life, but the claim that a volcano releases more CO2 in one spit than all of industry over the last 150 years has to be the stupidest. For the record, let's use the USGS as a reference. They state.....

Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1992). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 22 billion tonnes per year (24 billion tons) Human activities release more than 150 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes--the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea.

O.K. I feel better now.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Most Wanted Fish Monger

Confessing my igonrance, I have just learned of the "infamous" Abu Deraa from this Times on Line article. With all the fanfare about Zarqawi, and the fools who actually thought that his death would make a difference, Deraa has been largely overlooked.

A Shi'ite, Deraa is largely credited with leading a subgroup of the Mahdi Army that may have already killed thousands of Sunnis, many of which were tourtured to death. Of course Deraa denies these claims.

As for using electric drills, I would never mutilate a human being because Islam prohibits mutilation, even for dogs.

But whether or not Deraa kills Sunnis with electric drills, he is a committed militant who will surely fight the occupation until his death, or until the occupation ends. He is largely overlooked by the media and never mentioned by the administration because he does not fit into the paradigm, or fantasy, that Iraq's problems and the leadership of the insurgency comes from militant clerics or foreign extremists. What was Deraa before the invation?

Of his background, he says little beyond confirming he used to sell fish: "I was a worker, like others, before the war," he said. "I gained recognition through my rejection of occupation, my love of my country and my support for the oppressed."

Asked if he is a terrorist, he replies rhetorically.

If someone who resists the occupation is a terrorist, then use whatever name you like -- God is watching from on high.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cost of War

I've just been reading a post titled, "Escalation and Accidental Military Keynesianism." In it, there are some very interesting predictions and burn models for the Iraq war in 2007 under the Bush escalation. The main point is that expeditures in 2007 in Iraq will top $110 billion dollars, which represents nearly 1% of U.S. GDP. This figure is so large it is hard to even comprehend. It is more that the GDP of all but 45 countries. The country I live in has a GDP of $125 billion, for example. 1% of GDP is the same percentage as the farming industry represents, for example. Quite simply, $110 billion is a lot of money.

A great deal of this money will come back to the United States in the form of salaries and expeditures on American made goods. The effect this has on the overall economy cannot be overlooked. In fact, try to imagine how much the economy would suffer if this money suddenly were not being spent. It is a well accepted battle cry of the left that war is good for the economy and that is what these war-mongers are thinking when they call to arms. The former is undeniable, but the latter is a little too cynical for my taste. Having said that, one must always remember that it is money that makes this world go around. Anyone who tries to seperate politics from economics can expect to be half-informed at best, a marionette at worst.

WWII is generally credited for bringing the United States out of the depression and putting America firmly in charge of the world's economy. There has been a surge in economic activity during every major war the the U.S. has been involved in since. During Vietnam, for example, GNP increased by over 75%.

So if the United States continues to outpace the world in economic growth in 2007, you can be sure that one major reason for that is the war in Iraq. Even if it is just "acccidental Keynesian effects."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Credit Where it is Due

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am a bit of a bear on the U.S. Economy. Well, I've been proven wrong again and again of late. Having said that, I openly admit that I tend to underestimate the resiliance of the U.S. economy.

As of yesterday's close, the Dow is up about 1800 points in the last six months (about 15%). January 17th was the low point of the last major correction, so it is now officially a 6 month rally without a single major correction. If you look at this six month chart you see a very smooth, steady rally. Low volatility, and no major corrections along the way.

15% in 6 months is fantastic, but it is not unprecedented. If you go further back, you will see that it is roughly the same for the one year performance (about 15%). And if you go back to the beginning of the Bush administration you will see that this six-month rally represents more growth in the value of equities that has been seen over the entire time Bush was in office. Not that it was his fault, but just to note that over the last six years, the Dow is averaging growth of only 2%.

I suppose that means this rally could still have a long way to go. Now that I've said that, I'll probably be proven wrong.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Iraqi Dinar

The Iraqi Dinar has strengthened significantly since the beginning of November last year. According to this chart, well over 10% from 1,470 to the dollar to today's rate of 1314.

The Central Bank of Iraq has tried to keep the price stable, and has been doing a pretty good job of it, especially considering the circumstances. There is a very good piece on the history of the Dinar auction here, and you can see the actual data from the daily auctions here. Why such a drastic increase lately? Mostly because of the recent widespread trend to deal in Dinars instead of dollars. It has been predicted that the Dinar will hit 1200 to the dollar by mid 2007.

This is an interesting trend, and something that really caught my eye. On the surface it is positive, although no one is really saying if this is good or bad. However it does indicate that the Dinar is becoming a currency that people are actually using, and that is a positive. Time will tell if this is just a short term move or if it is the beginning of something big. I'll be sure to post updates.

Today in Czech History

On today's date in 1969, Jan Palach immolated himself near the top of Václavské Náměstí to protest the 1968 Soviet invation. He died three days later of his burns. Jan Zajíc did the same just over a month later in the same spot. The picture above is of the monument in the spot where they both immolated themselves. There will be hundreds of candles lit there tonight, and many people will gather in silent reflection around the monument.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Total Disconnect

One thing that has really been bugging me about the Iraq war is the total disconnect between the society that started the conflict and the effect that war is having on that society. In past wars, society was asked to make certain concessions. Nationwide recruitment campaigns were initiated, food and materials were rationed, people planted "victory gardens", and there was a general understanding that sacrifices were being made by ordinary people to support the folks that were making the big sacrifices (i.e. limbs and lives).

But with this war, nothing is being asked of the American people aside from those in the military and their families. Taxes have been lowered for most, and the only thing we are being asked in return is to keep shopping. The president talks about "sacrifice" but I'm not sure what he means. Does he mean that we should all go into debt to finance the most lavish Thanksgiving dinner Other than putting a yellow ribbon on your SUV, I can't think of one thing that is being asked of us, as average citizens, to do our part for the effort.

There is no draft, no conscription, no rationing, no noticable effect for any of us aside from a mounting debt that has no short term effect on us whatsoever. Even avid supporters of the war fail to enlist.

It is as if the war is happening only on television, and only really in our imagination. Surely if we were really at war, we would be asked to do something, to at least participate in some symbolic fashion. But in fact we are completely seperated, and completely disconnected from the war and it's effects.

And now, something funny to illustrate what I mean...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lead-in Quote to Post Below

The speed with which armies collapse, bureaucracies abdicate, and social structures dissolve once the autocrat is removed frequently surprises American policymakers.

--Jeane Kirkpatrick

May Peace be Upon Her.

Hypocricy Reaches Fever Pitch

One of the things that really blows about living overseas is that when something happens at 9pm EST, I'm asleep. I don't get to see things like President Bush's speech in real time. I also miss out on all the immediate analysis that is sure to follow. So I settle for watching sober analysis (not mac friendly) on CNBC in the morning. But now that I have read the damn speech, I feel it my duty to tear the thing apart, bit by miserable bit.

Ignoring the obvious fact that a 21,500 increase in troop levels will not represent the maximum troop levels in this war, and thus has little chance of truly changing the face of this war; ignoring the fact that an increase of 21,500 troops does not represent an escalation on an order of magnitude that former General Shinseki said would be required; ignoring the fact that the overall suggestion is for a change that is less substantial than what we have seen in the past, let's look at the hypocricy that has been unleashed on the American people and the world.

But before I go headstrong into the hypocricy contained in the speech, I have to take pause that the president has actually taken some responsibility for the mistakes made.

Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

So what were the mistakes? First and foremost is obviously the lack of sufficient troops to secure the country. After the looting, the insurgency raging out of control, the sectarian violence, and the general lack of security over the last 3 1/2 years, the president is in some respects admitting that he made a mistake by not having enough boots on the ground. But let us not forget that the original estimate for the cost of the war was $60-$70 billion. Now at $350 billion and counting, there can be little doubt that this war will cost American taxpayers a minimum of $1 trillion before it is all said and done. Let us not forget that Paul Wolfowitz predicted that Iraq would be able to fund it's own reconstruction "virtually immediately." Let us not forget that billions of dollars have been stolen and tens of billions wasted on projects that will never be finished or that have been completed so poorly that they are useless.

Yes, Mr. President, these things, and the undue loss of life that has resulted from the inept and foolish way this war has been executed from day one rests upon your shoulders and yours alone. I'm glad you finally realize that, or at least are paying some lip service to that undeniable fact. I guess it is just too bad for those who are now dead because of your incompetence.

Now, getting to the hypocritcy in your thinly veiled call to further war, I will start with the following gem:

On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.

So although a safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan is what caused 9/11, we are now going to pull troops away from Afghanistan and into Iraq before the people who executed that diabolical plan are brought to justice. Furthermore, before we invaded Iraq, there was no safe haven for al-Qaeda in that country, but something close to that is approaching now. Why don't we work on eliminating the safe haven for terrorists that have already attacked America before we start making new ones? Oh, wait, too late. So now al-Qaeda has two safe havens, and neither one looks to be threatened significantly.

Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people.

If this is true, what point is there in increasing American troops?

America's men and women in uniform took away al-Qaida's safe haven in Afghanistan — and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.

Wrong on both points. al-Qaeda is still alive in well in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) and is now operating with impunity in Iraq, thanks to the United States.

The biggest problem of all, of course is the combination of these quotes...

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.


I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people


In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.

So just like in the ISG report, the message is that success in Iraq is essential, but in the end it is all up to the Maliki government to achieve that success. We are in a place now where (if you believe the president's rhetoric) our very lives depend on the efficacy of the Maliki government who is backed by the likes of Moqtada al Sadr and whose ministries are filled with death squads, criminal gangs, and Iranian agents.

These are the people we now rely on for our very lives. Let us not forget who got us into this situation and who takes the full blame for what happens as a result. By his own admission, it is none other than the president himself.

Finally, the most disturbing part of the speech (which many have touched on) was the hard-line talk vis-vis Iran...

Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

Wasting no time, U.S. forces raided the Iranian Embassy in Iraq just hours after the speach was delivered.

I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing — and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.

Again, this is not original thought on my part, but clearly this means that strong action agains Iran is imminent, and steps are being taken to prepare for that.

Two unfinished wars, and he wants to start a third. It is nice that you admit that you have made mistakes and you take responsiblility for them, Mr. President. It would be nice, however, if you would actually learn from those mistakes and take steps not to repeat them over and over and over.

It has been a while since anything has really gotten me fired up, but this speech has done it. It is the culmination of years of failed policy, tired rhetoric, and belligerent arrogance, all wrapped up in a 15 minute speech. This indeed is the defining moment of your Presidency, Mr. Bush.

This is how you will be remembered.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mother of All Data

What you see here is the diminishing possiblility (largely over the last month) that the Fed will cut rates anytime soon.

Inflation concerns and strong job growth are the reasons why. I've thought this for quite a while, but it seems the odds makers are starting to catch up. I stand by my statement that the fed will not cut rates before June of '07.

The Non-Farm Payrolls report showed an increase of 167K jobs in December. November's number was revised upward by 29,000. This is the first really good news out of the U.S. in quite a while. There have been some encouraging home sales numbers lately, but inventories remain dangerously high. Further softness in construction hiring is expected as a result.

Auto sales continue to disappoint but the Institute for Supply Management report shows a slight expantion in December in the manufacturing sector. The barely positive 51.4 reading comes as a relief as the November ISM came in under the 50 level indicating that manufacturing as a whole was contracting. The December Non-Manufacturing report was more upbeat indicating that the service industry is still expanding at a pretty decent clip (57.1).

Getting back to the "mother of all data releases", the NFP report, it is clear now that the Fed will not be lowering rates anytime soon. Average hourly pay increased by .5% which will increase inflation fears. Despite all the talk about the Fed having to step in to save mortgage holders, banks, Freddie Mac (who posted $550 million in losses in Q3), and Fannie Mae, the Fed has repeatedly said that inflation is it's top concern. So as time goes by we see the probability of a rate cut decreasing. Partially because slightly better economic data is coming in, but more importantly because inflation concerns remain.

So despite the rapid drop in oil prices of late, the equity markets are looking a little jittery with the realization that the Fed will not cut rates anytime soon finally starting to set in. Furthermore, the nearly 6 month rally in equities looks to be showing some fatigue, with volotility on the rise, and the new record highs above 12,500 looking like a mid-term top.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dead, but not Buried

It seems that Saddam's lynching (Riverbend link) is stirring up controversy. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the "execution" ends up causing more problems than it aimed to solve, especially if this rumor is true. (h/t Mike@Born at the Crest of the Empire)

There is a particularly good piece here by The Disillusioned Kid which finishes on the point that I think is crucial but is being largely ignored in the mainstream.....

Executing Saddam has also got all those people who helped him off the hook. We've managed to avoid any embarrassing incidents with Donald Rumsfeld being called to testify on his visit to Saddam in 1983; or Douglas Hurd being quizzed on his trip to Iraq to sell missile systems in 1981. Our own culpability in his reign of terror, to say nothing of our subsequent campaign of state terrorism and siege warfare against the country from 1991 onwards can be quietly pushed to one side. The Bad Man is dead. What are you loooking at us for?

And while I'm being lazy and linking everyone else's work, be sure to read this excellent post on why U.S. policies continue to fail in Iraq. He doesn't do these longer posts often, but when he does, they are quite good.

That is it for me tonight. Like I said......LAZY.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Today is the warmest New-Year Day in Prague's recorded history. It reached 12.5 degrees Celsius (54.5 degrees Fahrenheit) this afternoon. This beats the old record for January 1st by a full degree Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit). There is still nearly no snow in the mountains and obviously what little has fallen here in Prague long since melted away.

Contrast that with last year when the mountains had well over six feet of snow, and with every other New Year's Day that I can remember. It is usually well below freezing by now and the temperature rarely creeps above freezing from now until April.

I'm not complaining.

Happy New Year. May it be a healthy and prosperous one for all of you and your families.