The real problem yet to be addressed ?


(click for full image)

Reference : http://www.economist.com/daily/
kallery/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14588414

Maureen Dowd : Big Bed Berlusconi

Friday, June 26, 2009

…..Our president is positively monkish compared with Silvio Berlusconi, whose Vesuvial vices spurred a trio of women academics in Italy to write an “Appeal to the First Ladies.”  It urges Michelle Obama and other wives of world leaders to boycott next month’s G-8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, to protest the Italian prime minister’s “sexist” and “offensive” manner toward women.  One of the things the petitioners objected to, according to The Times of London, was Berlusconi’s attempt to put up actresses and showgirls as candidates in the European elections (not to mention as allegedly remunerated ornaments for wild parties at his posh villas).  His wife, Veronica Lario, a former actress who met him while she was starring topless in “The Magnificent Cuckold” and who is now divorcing him, has operatically upbraided him twice: once two years ago after he had a public flirtation with a TV starlet whom he later appointed as Minister of Equal Opportunities; and again last month when Lario charged her randy hubby with “consorting with minors” after he went to the 18th birthday party of a model and gave her a diamond and gold necklace.  Naturally, Berlusconi, who likes to be called “Papi” by his flock of chicks, upped the antics.  The paparazzi splashed photos of topless babes — or “L’harem di Berlusconi,” as they’re known — and a buck naked ex-Czech prime minister romping at Berlusconi’s villa in Sardinia.  And a comely 23-year-old starlet named Barbara Montereale told La Repubblica this week that she got paid by a hospital equipment vendor for going to the villa in January — an incident now under police investigation.  “We played with a little puppy that Bush had given him as a present,” she said.  She claimed she went with another girl, an “escort” named Patrizia D’Addario, who told her that she had had sex with the 72-year-old prime minister and asked for a favor about a building project but never got it.  Now a disillusioned D’Addario has released a secret recording she made in which Berlusconi’s voice is heard saying: “Go and wait for me in the big bed.”  The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night that Berlusconi, in an interview with the Italian society magazine Chi, which is owned by his holding company, denied that he had ever paid a woman to spend the night with him.  “I’ve never understood what would be the satisfaction if there isn’t the pleasure of conquest,” he said, adding that he had “no memory” of D’Addario…..

Reference : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/opinion/24dowd.html

Brilliant, brilliant title and a most impressive article by Priya Satia.

As Pakistan spirals out of its grasp, the Obama administration is at last considering haltting drone attacks there.  Influential military officials such as Colonel David Kilcullen, a former adviser to General David Petraeus in Iraq, have testified that, despite damaging the Taliban leadership and protecting US pilots, the strategy is backfiring.  The Taliban’s recent gains come on the heels of President Barack Obama’s intensification of remotely piloted air strikes – 16 strikes in the first four months of 2009 compared with 36 in all of 2008.  This scepticism about drones is well placed but a halt is not enough.  Only a permanent end to the strategy will win Pakistani hearts and minds back to their government and its US ally.  They, like Afghans and Iraqis, are struck less by the strategy’s futuristic qualities than by its uncanny echo of the past: aerial counterinsurgency was invented in precisely these two regions – Iraq and the Pakistani-Afghan borderland – in the 1920s by the British.  The memory of that colonial past shapes the military and political dynamics of any aerial strategy in the region.  Col Kilcullen shrewdly discerned that Pakistanis see the drones as “neocolonial”.  Oddly, the historical use of aerial policing in the region has been absent from public debate about the issue, despite the light it sheds on the likelihood of the tactic’s success. 

The British, too, turned to aerial surveillance as a way out of the double bind of persistent anti-colonial rebellion and popular demands that their troops be brought home.  When the British public grew critical in turn of the violence of the new strategy, officials proclaimed that it worked more through the threat of bombardment than actual attack, gamely embracing “terror” as its main tactical principle.  As I discovered while researching Air Ministry documents, officials privately confessed that the public was not ready for the truth that air warfare had made distinctions between civilians and combatants “obsolete”.  The Middle East offered an ideal terrain for its education: this was the region in which civilian deaths would be easiest to stomach, air staff officials argued, since Arabs and Pathans “love fighting for fighting’s sake… They have no objection to being killed.”  In 1924, Squadron Leader Arthur Harris, head of Bomber Command in the second world war, reported having shown Iraqis “what real bombing means, in casualties and damage; they know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village . . . can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed.”  But British aerial control failed miserably, and regional memory of that past ensures that the strategy raises the spectre of ruthless western impe rial ambition – no matter how much US officials protest their altruism.  Certainly, aerial control did save British lives and money, but Iraqi and Afghan anger about civilian deaths and constant foreign surveillance produced decades of coups and conflict with the west, leading up to the current wars.  Determined insurgents found ways to evade the “all-seeing” eyes in the sky.  As long as the Royal Air Force remained in Iraq, where it functioned as an imperial administration (1922-58), the legitimacy of the “independent” Iraqi government was compromised and insurgency was rife.  The air policing regime lasted as long as it did because heavy censorship prevented even officials from perceiving the extent of the damage it was doing.  No one knew how many Iraqis and Afghans were killed; casualty counts lumped women, children and “insurgents” together.

Likewise, today’s drones operate in secrecy.  The trickle of reports on air strikes cannot assess the number and identity of their victims.  The US government routinely offers no comment on strikes.  In a rare front-page story on the drones, The New York Times reported that 70 of the 195 $150m Predators had crashed but said nothing about human losses.  In a recent interview, Col Kilcullen said in Pakistan 14 al-Qaeda leaders had been hit, at the cost of 700 civilian lives – “a hit rate of 2% on 98% collateral.  It’s not moral.”  The controversy over civilian deaths in a strike on Afghan villages last week is partly due to the fact that the bombs ripped people to shreds, leaving nothing left to count.  In short, there is no public scrutiny of drone activity or any reason to take their effectiveness on trust.  Today’s drones may be more precise than the crude bombers of the past, but they will not create a secure environment for Iraqi, Pakistani, Afghan or US interests.  Military sceptics warn of the impossibility of analysing the data the drones collect.  News reports confirm that civilians are often caught in their lethal sights.  Uncertainty about the number of deaths feeds rumours of the worst kind.  Similarly, news of a temporary halt will not allay suspicions of their continued, even more covert use: the effort to defuse Afghan anger over last week’s strike shows that when a covert imperial power issues a denial, no one listens.  The casualties and the imposition of continual foreign surveillance provoke more anger and insecurity than the system contains.  Just as the British failure produced our present discontents, mistaken faith in an aerial panacea will fuel the conflicts of the future.  Mr Obama must heed local rulers’ requests to end drone attacks – as a matter of tactical as much as political wisdom.

Reference : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4946af0c-459e-11de-b6c8-00144feabdc0.html

US Immigration

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Found this to be a way cool infographic –


(click for full image)

…..The tableau of Michelle Obama hoisting a pitchfork with her sinewy arms and warning that the commander in chief would be commandeered into yard work left me wondering if the wrong Obama is in the Oval.  It’s a time in America’s history where we need less smooth jazz and more martial brass.  Barack Obama prides himself on consensus, soothing warring sides into agreement.  But the fury directed at the robber barons by the robbed blind in America has been getting hotter, not cooler.  And that’s because the president and his Treasury secretary have been coddling the Wall Street elite, fretting that if they curtail executives’ pay and perks too much, if they make the negotiations with those who siphoned our 401(k)’s too tough, the spoiled Sherman McCoys will run away, the rescue plan will fail and the markets will wither.  (Now that Mr. Obama has made $8,605,429 on his books — including $500,000 for letting his memoir be condensed into a kids’ book — maybe he’s lost touch with his hole-in-the-shoe, hole-in-the-Datsun, have-not roots.)  The shafters of the universe have been treated with such kid gloves that they remain obnoxiously oblivious.  Vikram “Pandit the Bandit” at Citigroup, which received $50 billion in bailout money, is pulling a Thain, spending $10 million to renovate his Park Avenue offices, complete with a Sub-Zero refrigerator and premium millwork (whatever that is).  Fannie Mae, the mortgage finance behemoth that had $59 billion in losses last year when the government was forced to take it over, and since has asked for $15 billion in taxpayer money, brazenly intends to give $1 million apiece in retention bonuses to four top executives, even though the word retention in a depression is pure Ionesco

Freddie Mac, which has sought $45 billion in aid, has yet to disclose its planned bonuses.  Asked by Jay Leno why our loans to Wall Street haven’t trickled down to Main Street, Mr. Obama conceded that the banks “haven’t started lending it yet.”  Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who grew up as a Republican and was head of the New York Fed for five years, sees things from the point of view of that wellspring of masters of the universe, Goldman Sachs…..At the New York Fed, Geithner helped preside over the A.I.G. bailout in September.  But in October, it was Andrew Cuomo, the New York attorney general, who had to threaten to sue unless A.I.G. canceled $160 million in planned expenses for conferences and a $600 million bonus pool.  Virtually unnoticed amid the bonus imbroglio was A.I.G.’s grudging disclosure that it had funneled $93 billion — more than half its federal money to date — to its high-flying insurees, including Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and a group of European banks.  Goldman Sachs separately got $10 billion in bailout money last year, but recently asserted snootily that it’s doing well enough and doesn’t want our money because of the restrictions attached.  Yet as Goldman sneers at the federal money at the front door, it’s taking delivery of billions in no-strings federal money through the back door.  Can we taxpayers deduct the difference?  Our gift to Goldman demonstrates why the government’s headless and heedless bailout of A.I.G. is so wrong.  And why are we bailing out foreign banks, including a couple of French ones and UBS, a Swiss bank currently tussling with the I.R.S. because it refuses to hand over the names of thousands of U.S. tax-dodgers?…..

Reference : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22dowd.html

…..Tim Geithner, the learned and laconic civil servant and financial engineer, did not sweep in and infuse our shaky psyches with confidence.  For starters, the 47-year-old’s voice kept cracking.  Escorting us over the rickety, foggy bridge from TARP to Son of TARP by way of TALF — don’t ask — Geithner did not, as the president said when he drew on the wisdom of Fred Astaire, inspire us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.  The Obama crowd is hung up on the same issues that the Bush crew was hung up on last September: Which of the potentially $2 or $3 trillion in toxic assets will the taxpayers buy and what will we pay for them?  Despite the touting, the Treasury chief unveiled a plan short on illumination, recrimination, fine points and foreclosure closure.  The Dow collapsed on its fainting couch as Sports Illustrated swimsuit models rang the closing bell.  It wasn’t only that Geithner’s own tax history — and his time as head of the New York Fed when all the bad stuff was happening on Wall Street, and when he left with nearly a half-million in severance — makes him a dubious messenger for the president’s pledge to keep the haves from further betraying the have-nots.  It wasn’t only that Americans’ already threadbare trust has been ripped by Hank Paulson’s mumbo-jumbo and the Democrats’ bad judgment in accessorizing the stimulus bill with Grammy-level “bling, bling,” as the R.N.C. chairman, Michael Steele, called it.  The problem is that the “lost faith” that Geithner talked about in his announcement Tuesday cannot be restored as long as the taxpayers who are funding these wayward banks don’t have more control.  Geithner is not even requiring the banks to lend in return for the $2 trillion his program will try to marshal, mostly by having the Fed print money out of thin air, thereby diluting our money, or borrowing more from China.  (When, exactly, can China foreclose on us and start sending us toxic toys again?)  There’s a weaselly feel to the plan, a sense that tough decisions were postponed even as President Obama warns about our “perfect storm of financial problems.”  The outrage is going only one way, as we pony up trillion after trillion.

…..The new plan offers insufficient meddling with Wall Street, even though Wall Street shows no sign that the hardscrabble economy has pierced its Hermès-swathed world.  Wells Fargo, for instance, which has leeched $25 billion in bailout money, bought an inadvertently hilarious full-page ad in The Times to whinge about the junkets to Las Vegas and elsewhere it was forced to cancel because of public outrage.  (The ad in The Times on Sunday could have cost up to $200,000, which may count as a bailout for our industry.)  “Okay, time out.  Something doesn’t feel right,” John Stumpf, the president and chief executive of Wells Fargo wrote in an open letter defending their two decades of four-day employee recognition “events.”  Calling them junkets or boondoggles is “nonsense,” he protested, adding about his employees: “This recognition energizes them.”  In this economy, simply having a job should energize them.  Geithner is wrong.  The pay of all the employees in bailed-out banks, not just top executives, should be capped…..Wall Street cannot be trusted to change its culture.  Just look at the full-page ads that Bank of America (which got $45 billion) and Citigroup (which got $50 billion) are plastering in newspapers, lavishing taxpayer money on preening prose.  We don’t want our money spent, as Citigroup did, to pat itself on the back “as we navigate the complexities together.”  Bank of America cannot get back our trust by spending more of our cash to assure us that it’s “getting to work” on getting back our trust.  Just get back to work and start repaying us.

Reference : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/11/opinion/11dowd.html

…..When Brit Hume did a joint interview last week with Bush father and son, dubbed “41st guy” and “43rd guy” by W., the Fox anchor asked whether it was true that “there wasn’t a lot of give and take” between them, except on family matters.  “See,” the Oedipally oddball W. replied, “the interesting thing is that a president has got plenty of advisers, but what a president never has is someone who gave him unconditional love.”  He talks about his father, the commander in chief who went to war with Saddam before he did, like a puppy.  “You rarely have people,” he said, “who can pick up the phone and say, ‘I love you, son,’ or, ‘Hang in there, son.’ ”  Maybe he wouldn’t have needed so many Hang-in-there-sons if he had actually consulted his dad before he ignorantly and fraudulently rammed into the Middle East…..The exiting and entering presidents are opposite poles — one the parody of a monosyllabic Western gunslinger who disdains nuance, and one a complex, polysyllabic professor sort who will make a decision only after he has held it up to the light and examined it from all sides…..

It’s astonishing that, as banks continue to fail and Americans continue to lose jobs and homes, W. was obtuse enough to go on TV and give a canned ode to can-do-ism.  “Good and evil are present in this world,” he reiterated, “and between the two of them there can be no compromise.”  He gives the good-and-evil view of things a bad name.  Good and evil are not like the Redskins and the Cowboys.  Good and evil intermingle in the same breath, let alone the same society.  A moral analysis cannot be a simplistic analysis.  “You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made,” he said Thursday night.  “But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”  Actually, no.  His decisions have been, for the most part, disastrous.  If he’d paid as much attention to facts as fitness, 9/11, Iraq, the drowning of New Orleans, the deterioration in Afghanistan and the financial deregulation orgy could have been prevented.  Bush fancied himself the Decider; Obama fancies himself the Convener…..W., Cheney and Rummy loved making enemies, under the mistaken assumption that the more people hated America, the more the Bushies were standing up for principle.  But is Obama neurotically reluctant to make enemies, and overly concerned with winning over those who have smacked him, from Hillary and Bill to conservative columnists?  Right now, though, it’s a huge relief to be getting an inquisitive, complicated mind in the White House…..We’re trading a dogmatic president for one who’s shopping for a dog.  It feels good.

Reference : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/opinion/18dowd.html