Saturday, March 13, 2010

Elvis was wrong, fools and reporters rush in

Anthony Shadid and Sam Dagher (New York Times) report that the appointed (and ceremonial) President of Iraq position is becoming an issue. They describe Jalal Talabani as "avuncular" and deserve credit for that. (He's grossly overweight, under doctor's orders to lose weight that he's never lost, regularly comes to the US for treatment and, in the US, passed out at a bookstore and his bodyguards had to struggle to lift him and carry him out of the store.) Jalal, of course, angered Kurds by saying an independent Kurdish region was 'just a dream'. After that infamous remark, Jalal announced he would not attempt to seek the presidency again (and that infamous remark also impacted his political party's showing in the July 2009 elections). But, in the tradition of H. Ross Perot, Jalal attempted to walk back the remark and now wants to continue as President of Iraq. You would too if you needed the intense health care because you refuse to follow doctor's guidelines. The reporters note (previous remarks are my own and not in the report) that Tareq al-Hashimi, currently one of Iraq's two vice-presidents, wants the post. Again, it's a ceremonial post.

Meanwhile Al Jazzera reports that partial election results are in from 10 provinces but that it is "to close to call six days after the March 7 vote." There are 18 provinces and, yes, it is too close to call. It was too close to call on Monday -- that didn't stop Quil Lawrence, Steve Inskeep and NPR though, did it? -- it was too close to call all week but the press largely wasted our time with gas baggery passed off as reporting. Yes, it's too close to call. No surprise there for anyone with half-a-brain -- which is apparently a greater portion of the brain than so many in the press have. Let's check in on Quil and NPR. Jackie Lyden spoke to him today on Weekend Edition (link has audio and transcript):

LYDEN: So, how are Iraqis reacting to this long wait and what are the politicians doing in the meantime?

LAWRENCE: It seems to kind of depend on who people voted for whether they said this wait is okay. I've talked to a lot of people who support sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the capital. They say they think it's going fine. Similar results in Basra. But up in Mosul, for example, it's a bit more worrisome. People are saying that they think there might be attempts at fraud during this delay, but they are still convinced that they'll win, meaning that they're Sunni supported list probably Ayad Allawi will win. I can tell you right now that list is not going to win a majority. No one expects that to be the winner. So, it's a little bit disturbing to hear from the still the most troubled and violent part of the country saying they're confident they're going to win and it makes you wonder what they're going to say when the results do come out.

LYDEN: There have been results announced in a few provinces, including some partial results from parts of Baghdad. Anything to be concluded from these limited returns?

LAWRENCE: Those just came in this morning, the results from Baghdad, but we're still talking about 17, 18, under 20, under 30 percent from the few provinces we've heard from. I can tell you, we got a little NPR war room set up here with a whiteboard and all 18 provinces listed. And next to them is the number of seats they'll get. But our board is mostly blank. We just don't really have anything conclusive.

And just when you want to applaud Quil for remembering that he's a reporter and that facts matter, he adds, "It looks like Prime Minister Maliki is going to be the largest single individual vote getter, but he probably won't be able to form a government without months of political horse trading, negotiating with some of the other parties who will still get 20 percent, 25 percent of the vote." What? WHAT!!!

The Prime Minister position is voted on by the Parliament. The new Parliament. Members of Parliament are what Iraqis voted on in this election. The voters selected who or what party they wanted to be their member of Parliament. Does Quil think, for example, that in Falluja, Nouri's name was on the ballot? If he does, NPR needs to start drug testing employees. There is no excuse for this nonsense. It's not only ignorant, it amplifies ignorance and it damn well needs to stop. There's no excuse for it.

Al Jazeera offers some basics:

Baghdad is worth twice as many seats in Iraq's next parliament as the next largest province.
The parliament has a total of 325 seats.
The votes tallied so far suggest weeks or months of horse-trading ahead to form a government and pick a prime minister.
Allegations of fraud may also unsettle the scenario.

Sam Dagher (New York Times) decides that the thing to do is to try his hand at tea leaf reading. Dagher, ply your trade elsewhere. The election results -- which are unknown at this point -- indicate to Dagher what people may feel about Kirkuk. Really? You had nothing else to write about? How very, very sad. Next up, the New York Times tackles what the (partial and unnofficial results) say about Iraqis attitudes towards both global warming and the potential longevity for Taylor Lautner's film career. In the real world, Amanda Kim Stairrett (Killeen Daily Herald) reports:

More than 700 names line the black granite walls of the 1st Cavalry Division's Iraq war memorial. Of those, 169 fell while serving with the 1st Cavalry-led Multinational Division-Baghdad from 2004 through 2005, 492 fell during the 2006 to 2008 surge years and 69 fell during the division's latest deployment to Iraq from late 2008 to early 2010.

Violence continues in Iraq.


Reuters notes
a Mosul car bombing which claimed 3 lives, a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left ten people injured, another Baghdad roadside bombing which injured two police officers and a Mosul grenade attack which injured one person.


Reuters notes 1 person shot dead and a police officer wounded in a Kirkuk battle and 1 police officer shot dead outside his Tal Afar home and 1 person shot dead outside his Mosul home.


Reuters notes 2 corpses discovered in Samarra.

And we'll close with this from Danny Schechter's "How 'Bankquakes' Shake People From Their Homes" (Information Clearing House):

Ed Harrison who monitors this industry for a website called Credit Write Downs sees a "second wave coming"--like a new tsunami in a industry that All of Obama's horses and all of Obama's Men have not been able to do anything about. The idea of challenging fraud and deception with a debt relief plan goes a bit too far for these self-styled centrists. Writes Harrison:

When the crisis first developed, in February of 2007, it was subprime where the worries were, with the lion's share of writedowns coming from mark-to-market losses in the securitisation market. However, subprime was a relatively small part of the overall market, making up 14% of loans outstanding at that time. Alt-A loans were 27% and prime loans were 57% respectively of loans outstanding according to a Banc of America Securities report.

As the 2004-2007 co-horts of Alt-A option ARM mortgages have started to reset and prime borrowers have come under stress, we have started to see defaults in markets which are an order of magnitude larger than subprime.

I love phrases like "order of magnitude" because they make problems seem too big to do anything about. As we aggregate the losses we lose sight of the individuals whose lives are at risk even as financial websites carry more and more articles about how to profit from foreclosures.

Today, it's not just that prime loans are about to go belly up but more and more tenants living in private homes are at risk-with no one looking out for them because they don't own anything and so are considered disposable.

Mounting foreclosures is an issue I have been writing and railing about. Protests against them are featured in my forthcoming film Plunder: The Crime Of Our Time.

There is a macro dimension to this crisis abut also a far more personal micro one.

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