August 13, 2005

...and the big fool says to push on.

Back from a well-deserved holiday, Frank Rich, on the ongoing debacle in Iraq:

Like the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. "We will stay the course," he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him.


The endgame for American involvement in Iraq will be of a piece with the rest of this sorry history. "It makes no sense for the commander in chief to put out a timetable" for withdrawal, Mr. Bush declared on the same day that 14 of those Ohio troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha. But even as he spoke, the war's actual commander, Gen. George Casey, had already publicly set a timetable for "some fairly substantial reductions" to start next spring. Officially this calendar is tied to the next round of Iraqi elections, but it's quite another election this administration has in mind. The priority now is less to save Jessica Lynch (or Iraqi democracy) than to save Rick Santorum and every other endangered Republican facing voters in November 2006.

Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America: not a shotgun constitution rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline, not another Iraqi election, not higher terrorist body counts, not another battle for Falluja (where insurgents may again regroup, The Los Angeles Times reported last week). A citizenry that was asked to accept tax cuts, not sacrifice, at the war's inception is hardly in the mood to start sacrificing now. There will be neither the volunteers nor the money required to field the wholesale additional American troops that might bolster the security situation in Iraq.

Read the whole thing.

August 12, 2005

Finally, some good news from the bankruptcy front: the state that has the highest per capita rate of bankruptcy filings, Utah, has seen a decline in filings this year, a trend that continued in July. Utah also has had the lowest growth rate in home values of all 50 states since 2000. I might also point out that here in the Central District of California, after only a slight increase in June, 2005, the number of filings actually declined last month, according to my unofficial count.

UPDATE [8/24]: Spoke too soon. According to the official figures just out, there was a slight increase last month as well, albeit barely over a percent. Again, the increase is entirely due to a moderate rise in the number of Chapter 7 cases; Chapter 13 filings, which reflect the strength of the housing market, are way, way down. So far, so good; the canary hasn't keeled over yet.
Quickie Trivia: Name the only major league baseball team(s) to have never played a regular season game in Washington D.C., as of today?
The otherwise fine libertine site Hit&Run goes into my blogroll penalty box this weekend, for this excruciating pun.

August 11, 2005

As if the Catholic Church's recent endorsement of creationism isn't bad enough, now comes the story that B-16 intends to grant plenary indulgences (ie., the blanket forgiveness of sins to erase purgatorial debt) to participants of World Youth Day next week. If the term sounds somewhat familiar, it was the sale of said indulgences by the Church that led Martin Luther to post the 95 Theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg in 1517. [link via Nicholas von Hoffman, at HuffPost]

August 10, 2005

George Bush's most important legacy might be the creation of a solid, dependable liberal voting bloc consisting of...veterans. To wit, the story of Army Pvt. Terry Rogers, who lost a leg and much of his eyesight in Iraq:
One day a nurse came in to ask Rodgers if he wanted to meet President Bush, who was visiting the hospital. Rodgers declined.

"I don't want anything to do with him," he explains. "My belief is that his ego is getting people killed and mutilated for no reason -- just his ego and his reputation. If we really wanted to, we could pull out of Iraq. Maybe not completely but enough that we wouldn't be losing people -- at least not at this rate. So I think he himself is responsible for quite a few American deaths."


Rodgers says he also declined to meet Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. This wounded soldier has lost faith in his leaders, and he no longer believes their repeated assurances of victory.

"It's gonna go on as long as we're there," he says. "There's always gonna be insurgents trying to blow us up. There's just too many of 'em that are willing to do it. You're never gonna catch all of 'em. And it seems like they have unlimited amounts of ammunition. So I don't think it's ever gonna end."
Link via Dan Savage, sub-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, who also observes: "Maybe Michelle Malkin could visit Rogers at Walter Reed and tell him whether the leg he lost in Iraq would approve of such behavior?"

August 09, 2005

There will be some who are going to spin this as imposing a religious test on the judiciary, but I think it makes plain good sense. If the Roman Catholic Church (of which I am a member) is going to demand that its practitioners serving in public office adhere strictly to church dogma when enacting policy, it is fair to ask whether said demands shall also be imposed on judges, and if they are, to require said judges to recuse themselves when an issue like abortion comes before them.
Perhaps it's just the idiotarian in me speaking, but I'd rather live in a country that loses a couple thousand people each decade to terrorist violence, but maintains its civil liberties and its best traditions of freedom and liberty, than live in a nation where such such freedoms have been compromised in a desperate, and likely vain, attempt to prevent such violence.

August 08, 2005

"This is the way the bubble ends: not with a pop, but with a hiss." So says Paul Krugman, in this morning's very illuminating column on the onset of the bursting of the Housing Bubble. He mentions something that I've frequently referred to on this site, the fact that there are two separate "countries" within the United States, what he calls "Flatland" (where home prices have flatlined, due to the availability of open spaces to build new housing) in the middle of the U.S., and "Zoned Zone" along the coasts, where prices have skyrocketed. The Bubble will burst not by a dramatic fall in housing prices, according to Prof. Krugman, but in a long, sustained slump, where homes stay on the market longer and existing inventories remain unsold, creating a buyer's market (Angry Bear has a useful graph as to what past housing recessions have looked like, here).

Of course, as you might recall, I referred to the same phenomenum as "Red" and "Blue" America: the areas that have seen the most explosive growth in the past twenty-five years, almost without exception, voted for Kerry in the last election, while the states with the slowest growth went for Bush, again almost without exception. The YBK problem will disproportionately effect those areas of the country that favored Kerry, since it will be those homeowners who have been using their home's equity to stave off financial disaster that will feel the immediate impact of the Bubble.
Did you know there is a Wikipedia definition of "idiotarian"? It's full of s***, of course, and one that I'm going to have a great deal of fun editing (an "idiotarian" is someone who believes, perhaps naively, that every other problem in the world didn't disappear because of 9/11, and that the solution to said problems doesn't necessarily involve the U.S. military), but it's interesting to see a different perspective on a commonly-used word....
The resignation speech delivered by the late Sir Robin Cook may have been the most eloquent, prescient words spoken about what was about to take place in Iraq, only days before hostilities commenced. Read it here.

August 07, 2005

For some idea as to how the other half lives in the run-up to YBK (now only ten weeks away !!), here's a Dallas Morning News article on the recent increase in bankruptcy filings in North Texas. The Lone Star State would probably not be directly effected by the bursting of the housing bubble, since home prices in Texas have not increased in value that much in recent years. In fact, the value of single family residences went up only 3.77% last year, putting the state dead last in the country, and barely keeping ahead of inflation; since 1980, Texas ranks 49th, ahead of only Oklahoma.

According to statistics published by the Northern District of Texas, filings went up 11% in the quarter beginning in April, the month Bush signed the new bankruptcy law, and in the month of June alone, filings rose almost 35% from the same month last year. Because of the stagnant real estate market in that state, however, the new law will not have as dramatic an effect in Texas. Without being able to borrow on the equity in their homes when times get tough, Texas homeowners are less likely to incur high levels of secured debt, but are more directly susceptible to the threat of foreclosure.

Because of that, when it comes time to seek bankruptcy relief, Texans have been more likely to file under Chapter 13, the procedure favored under the new law, which requires debtors to make monthly payments to certain creditors (and, as I noted earlier, the procedure most amenable to fraud) over a period of time. Since 1994, nearly half of all bankruptcy petitions in Texas have been filed using that procedure, which allows the debtor to hang on to his home while discharging other debt at the same time.

Under current law, Chapter 13's are mostly used to repay delinquent mortgages and car payments, and are filed literally on the eve of a foreclosure sale; after October 17, however, the courts may force more debtors into that procedure, whether they own a home or not. Since Chapter 13's are already more prevalent in Texas, and since the impact of the housing bubble bursting will not be felt as severely in that state, the YBK effect won't have quite the same dramatic effect in the Lone Star State that it will have in, let's say, California or Florida. So any increase in bankruptcy filings will be due exclusively to the ominous threat of the new law, not to other economic trends, and the devastation to that economy will be far less.

UPDATE [8/8]: But see also, contra, Charles Kuffner, who believes that the Great Burst will impact states like Texas, albeit in a different way than the YBK impact: via an increase in inventory of unsold homes. If that happens, the impact would initially hit businesses (ie., construction, mortgaging, contracting, etc.) rather than consumers no longer able to borrow on their homes.
Hitchitis: Another Brit joins the Junior Orwell brigade, belatedly.