More weekend reading about our changing world

The previous recommendations having brought us up to date, here are recent article I strongly recommend reading.  No excerpts are given for the first 3 stories.

NOTE: comments only about suicide bombing — past, present, future. This is not an open thread to ruminate about the conflict in the Middle East.

  1. Bernanke an Expert on the Great Depression?“, Steve Keen, Oz Debtwatch, 11 January 2009 — A powerful essay by Keen, Professor of Economics at University of Western Sydney (bio).
  2. New Paths to Power Emerge in Iraq“, Washington Post, 13 January 2009 — “Cleric’s Ascent to Local Strongman Illustrates Shift Underway.” Illustration of how our tactics (absurdly called “the surge”) have merely delayed the end game in Iraq.
  3. Modern Liberalism and Libertarianism: An Economist’s View“, Brad Delong (Prof Economics at Berkeley), 14 January 2009 — For the large numbers of libertarians reading, I strongly recommend reading this!

4.   “Martyrdom beckons Lebanese teen, but she really wants to direct“, Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, 13 January 2009 — Very repulsive reporting by the LAT.  ” Hiba, 18, says she is bored with kids her age. Rather than shop, gossip and chitchat about clothes and makeup, she’d rather spend a free afternoon at the swimming pool or surfing the Web for news of the world. Aspiring filmmaker Hiba Qassir is about to graduate from a Hezbollah-backed high school. She loves movies, but would give up her career dream if offered the chance to be a suicide bomber.”  Excerpt below.

5.  “Hamas Fighters Display Mix of Swagger and Fear“, TAGHREED EL-KHODARY and SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times, 14 January 2009 — A wonderful insight into the family life of a culture embracing suicide bombers.  Excerpt below.

Plus — a special edition, our government shows how to steal hundreds of billions (easily, with no fuss):

  1. This article at Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture displays the appropriate outrage.
  2. Treasury, Federal Reserve, and the FDIC Provide Assistance to Bank of America“, Joint press release, 16 January 2009 .
  3. For the details see the Term Sheet.
  4. Barry Ritholtz comments on this here
  5. Simon Johnson gives a brief analysis here (impressive background; bio here).
  6. A trenchant analysis by Michael S. Rozeff (Professor of Finance, retired):  “How to Steal Billions in Plain View: Bernanke’s Robber Banks“, posted at Lew Rockwell, 15 January 2009 — Excerpt below.

All together now, let’s give the yell of the 21st century American:  “Baa, baa, baa.”

Excerpts

I recommend reading these in full!

(4)  “Martyrdom beckons Lebanese teen, but she really wants to direct“, Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, 13 January 2009 — IMO repulsive reporting by the LAT, writing about a young girl aspiring to be a suicide bombers and kill women and children.  Writing about this in the chirpy upbeat style of a newspaper Lifestyle section.  It’s Grrrl Power; go girl!

Hiba, 18, says she is bored with kids her age. Rather than shop, gossip and chitchat about clothes and makeup, she’d rather spend a free afternoon at the swimming pool or surfing the Web for news of the world. Aspiring filmmaker Hiba Qassir is about to graduate from a Hezbollah-backed high school. She loves movies, but would give up her career dream if offered the chance to be a suicide bomber.

Reporting from Tyre, Lebanon — Hiba Qassir dreams of making movies. She’s ambitious and precocious enough. At 18, she’s taught herself how to edit video and sound on a computer, and has her sights set on directing gripping social and psychological dramas.

But if the movie business doesn’t work out, that’s OK. She has other dreams: perhaps to become a cop or a pilot. Or maybe a suicide bomber. “Martyrdom is the shortest way to heaven, and the history of martyrdom is not like any history,” Hiba says. “It made victory. We wouldn’t have achieved victory without these martyrdoms.”

… Hiba wears a colorful head scarf and faded bluejeans and running shoes under a black cloak as she gives a tour of Hezbollah’s annual “martyrdom” exhibit here in this southern port city.

Cheery and rosy-cheeked, she helpfully guides visitors past mannequins of guerrilla fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, and placards chronicling suicide operations against Israeli troops during the Jewish state’s two-decade occupation of southern Lebanon.

… “Here is some information about each martyrdom operation,” she informs a small tour group. She points to a hall lined with posters adorned with artificial flowers. “The first one was in 1982 here in Tyre,” she says. “You can see that [late Israeli leader] Yitzhak Rabin said that this operation took the lives of many people, especially those with special qualities and skills.”

That suicide bomber was 18, just like her, when he drove an explosives-filled Peugeot sedan into the Israeli command post here on Nov. 11, 1982, and killed 75 Israeli soldiers, border guards and intelligence officers, according to Lebanese accounts. Israel has long maintained that the blast was an accident, caused by a gas leak. His name was Ahmad Qassir, and Hiba is particularly proud of her uncle, martyr No. 1 in the official history of Hezbollah’s long war against Israel.

“Israel usually says that these people are hopeless people and lovers of death,” Hiba says. “But we always say that martyrdom is our way to heaven.”

(5) Hamas Fighters Display Mix of Swagger and Fear“, TAGHREED EL-KHODARY and SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times, 14 January 2009 —  A wonderful insight into the family life of a culture embracing suicide bombers. Excerpt:

In a different part of town, another young fighter and his wife were getting ready to go see her brother, 20, who had been wounded in southwest Gaza City two nights ago while bringing food to fighters. The fighter, 27, in dark jeans and Timberland-style boots, swaggered with words about Islam and duty to his people. Hamas is doctrinally opposed to Israel’s right to exist.  “It’s either victory while alive, or martyrdom,” he said. “Both ways are victory.”

His wife, in a white head scarf, agreed.  “Two days ago, he was very tired and he didn’t want to leave the house,” she said. “I told him you have to leave, you have a responsibility.”

But the sight of her brother unconscious in the hospital bed seemed to jolt the couple into an alternate reality, one where they were vulnerable and afraid. The man’s eyes glistened with tears as he asked the doctor question after question.

Back outside, the woman regained her composure.  “I prefer you as a martyr,” she said to her husband.

“What if I am injured?” he asked.

She repeated her preference for death.

He took up the accusation that Hamas fighters hid behind civilians. Fighters, in a way, are both, he argued, and are accepted by many residents as defenders. People bring them food, he said. Sometimes they oppose rockets being launched nearby, but often they do not. 

“I’m a civilian, and I’m a fighter,” he said.

They want to have the best of both worlds — treatment as civilians, but acting as “fighters.”  Assymetric warfare.

(6)  How to Steal Billions in Plain View: Bernanke’s Robber Banks“, posted at Lew Rockwell, 15 January 2009 — Excerpt:

The Federal Reserve is living up to its purpose, which is to enrich bankers at the expense of everyone else. Ben Bernanke, who chairs the Federal Reserve Board, is to be congratulated for his open call for the banks under his tutelage to receive billions more of our tribute.

Let us understand the matter clearly. We have exited a significant boom period. During the boom, the bankers made large and very large profits. The managements took home very large pay and bonuses. The stockholders (including officers and managers of the banks) had, for a time, very large wealth in the stocks they held. The bondholders of the banks had, for a time, very secure debts.

But the bankers over-reached for business in several ways. They extended a slew of bad loans during the lately departed boom. The stocks and bonds fell in price, reflecting the lower worth of the bank assets, these bad loans.

And now that the boom is over, the bankers, led by Mr. Bernanke, want us to eat their losses.

Bernanke urges Congress to absorb the bad loans. The details of his three alternative plans are secondary to the fact that they all ask that others pay for the losses that the bankers caused, or else they involve the government in a variety of complicated maneuvers by which the government ends up shoring up these banks and bankers while taking on various risks of owning portfolios of bad loans. The idea is for the bankers to offload their mistakes onto taxpayers.

… A government bailout does the following. It preserves the bank organization. It preserves the current bank management. It transfers taxpayer wealth to the security holders of the bank (bondholders, preferred stockholders, and stockholders). It transfers wealth to counterparties to other contracts that the bankers entered into. Why is any of this necessary? What is so precious about these banks? Haven’t they demonstrated a level of high incompetence? Shouldn’t that spell their doom?

Heads I win, tails I win. That is the deal that Bernanke wants for the banks and these associated parties. Tails – they should be losing. No one else should be footing the bills

… What cheek! What effrontery! What brazen thievery! How disgusting!

… Banks, in Bernanke’s world, are not only to have insured deposits that lead them to make risky loans, investments, mergers, and expansions into all sorts of lines of business, which are overlooked by regulators such as the Fed and even encouraged by them, but they are also to be bailed out by government financing when these investments turn sour!

… I wish the whole dreary episode were over, but instead each day I am punished by more dreadful trial balloons and suggestions such as the latest emanating from Bernanke. There seems no end to the extent of it. Obama, the candidate of hope, comes across to me as a clueless patsy in this affair. If he understands any economics at all, he surely does not show it, not yet. According to the Wall Street Journal, he wants the second half of the $700 billion so that he won’t be caught without emergency funds if financial markets weaken further.

… The Fed’s attempts to bail out its clients are worse than futile. They are blatant theft.

Afterword

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7 thoughts on “More weekend reading about our changing world

  1. @FM: I found an article by Douglas Farah that might be of interest to those reading this blog:

    * “A Look at the Future of Ungoverned Spaces and Terrorism” Posted @ Douglas Farah, Jan 6, 2009.

    Money quote:

    “What is striking is that, while we often look at ungoverned spaces (generally a misleading term because, while the state does not govern there, some person, criminal organization or militia almost certainly does), we view them as vast swaths of territory with little population and empty territory where one could hide.

    In reality, many of the “stateless” areas are in the rapidly-growing mega-urban centers that are growing up around the world. See National Geographic map for a fascinating and terrifying graphic of the trends.

    In these urban settings, there are densely-populated sectors where the state has no presence or power. These areas offer an entirely different set of challenges from stateless territories that are both larger and much less densely populated.”

    ~T. Greer, with a link.

  2. FM note: Indian Investor posted 9 comments totaling 1800 words, far in excess of the 250 word max set by the comment policy stated at the end of every post and in the reference page here. Here is his first comment; the remaining 8 can be seen here.

    Since my earlier comment seems to have been misinterpreted by readers I’d like to expand on the topic of Islam. I’m not biased for or against any particular ideologies. Especially,I would not support aggression against followers of Islam.
    The word “Islam” translates as “Peace” or “Calm”, approximately. One of the main ways to attain “Islam” is through “Jihad”. The word “Jihad” and its description in the Quran has been interpreted in different ways. The only correct translation and understanding of “Jihad” comes directly from the Quran. “Jihad” is a “Crusade”.
    Modern conservative Muslims believe that the “Jihad” is a peaceful activity, a “striving” or “internal struggle”. For instance, a Jihad could be against a bad habit, the struggle of a seeker against his or her habit of smoking cigarettes, would be a good example of a “Jihad”, according to the modern conservatives.
    The terror groups interpret “Jihad” as a violent struggle without any rules of fairness, to decimate all non believers in Islam.
    The true and correct Quranic interpretation, in my understanding, is in between these publicly stated interpretations. My understanding comes from an unbiased consideration of various commentaries on the topic, both from those who are violently opposed to Islam, from the conservatives and some of the extreme Islamic ideologues.

  3. “Martyrdom beckons Lebanese teen, but she really wants to direct”

    Unfortunately for her Hezbollah hasn’t used Suicide bombers for a long time( since Isreal has withdrawn from the Lebanon), although it makes good propaganda for them as its seems to be quite a glamorous for the religiously inclined Shiite in the Middle east.
    Weird tone in that article alright.

  4. From the post: “I’m a civilian, and I’m a fighter,” he said.
    They want to have the best of both worlds — treatment as civilians, but acting as “fighters.” Assymetric warfare.

    I missed the bit where he demanded treatment as a Civilian. Perhaps he was stating a fact, he is a fighter and he is a Civilian, his house is a battlefield, hi wife part of his logistical support, his brother in law a brother in arms. In between planting bombs he has to mind the kids.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a valid interpretation. I would be interesting if the interviewer had asked about his view of the appropriate “laws of war” for this struggle.

  5. Re Brad Delong’s article “Modern Liberalism and Libertarianism: An Economist’s View“.

    In his initial metaphor about the self-interested butcher, he appears to be conflating self-interest with exploitation. I’ll grant that, in the absence of internalized moral codes, self-interested market exchange requires some sort of balance of power and means to punish “defectors” – but he glides too easily to the formula that self-interest inevitably means a return to the Hobbesian jungle. Libertarians generally assume that violence is a moral wrong and that some institution for responding to it exists.

    The notion that there exists something called the “public interest” which diverges from individual interests is also problematic in all forms of liberalism – including Delong’s. One of the key tenets of liberalism (with which I do not necessarily agree) is that there are no society-level values (other than perhaps tolerance) and that liberal institutions exist to arbitrate potential conflicts between freely chosen individual values. Liberal societies claim not to encourage or promote any specific view of the “good”. Libertarians exploit the basic conflict within liberalism between individual freedom of choice and democratic institutions which impose majority values and choices. Delong can’t support interventionism from within his liberal presuppositions – he has to appeal to some vision of the “good” shared by his fellow citizens – as I see it, he has to make a religious claim.

  6. I cannot recommend more highly Prof Steve Keen’s work. He has 2 websites:

    (1) Debunking Economics, based round his great book “Debunking Economics’ (only $10 as an E book). A wealth of information, the history of economic thought, Smith, Marx, Keynmes, Minsky, etc. This web site is a must read by everyone.

    (2) Debt Deflation, a Blog site where you can read his latest thoughts and comment on them. Some of his stuff is for the history books of the future .. so read it now. You are actually watching a great mind in operation.

    This is a NOT MISS.

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