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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Arresting the Hezbollah

June 30th, 2011 - 7:30 pm

The Globe and Mail reports, “Warrants issued for the arrest of four men wanted for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri have the potential to tear Lebanon apart – but don’t expect the men to stand trial or even be arrested any time soon.”

The men reportedly include Mustafa Badreddine, said to have been Hezbollah’s deputy military commander, and brother-in-law of the late Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh. The others – Salim Ayyash, also known as Abu Salim; Assad Sabra and Hassan Anise, who changed his name to Hassan Issa – are relative unknowns. …

“If they try to serve the warrants they’ll be blocked,” Mr. Makdisi said. And if they ever should actually arrest someone, all hell will break loose.

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Bean Counters

June 30th, 2011 - 2:15 pm

The conviction of Lee Farkas, one time head of the Taylor, Bean and Whitaker mortgage company exposes many of the elements of the housing debacle of the last decade. It also prompts the question: what’s changed?  Farkas who probably did not act alone, defrauded stakeholders of $3 billion dollars and caused many more billions in damage by placing fake mortgages. His actions led directly to the collapse of a major bank. How did he do it? He lied.

He lied in a manner calculated to escape being caught. To do this, Farkas hired former executives in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae so that he  knew exactly what buttons to push.  Long after these agencies began to suspect that Taylor, Bean and Whitaker was founded on fictitious mortgages they declined to act decisively for fear of causing mistrust in a system that deserved to be mistrusted. Only after the whole gimcrack scheme had demolished whole swathes of the economy did the story of what everyone suspected all along come out.

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The Seven Second Solution

June 30th, 2011 - 11:14 am

Mark Halperin’s indefinite suspension by MSNBC for calling President Obama a “dick” on the air for his behavior during the budget negotiations is a study in contrasts. The contrast between the consequences to the media of calling Michelle Bachmann a “flake” to her face and the contrast between a supposed technical competence and their inability to get their signals straight.

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More Or Less?

June 29th, 2011 - 12:20 pm

Phil Angelides of the Washington Post makes the liberal argument for tax increases. It is similar to the one made by Robert Reich in this video. Essentially the story goes like this. All the profits in the economy have been captured over the past decades by a small number of capitalists. This is reflected in growing income inequality in America. Middle class wages have stagnated because they haven’t shared in the wealth.  The deficit, according to this narrative, is primarily caused by a refusal of the capitalists to pay higher taxes. If taxes were raised then most of the fiscal problems of the country would be over and much of the entitlement crisis would go away.

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Can Governments Stop an Economic Slowdown?

June 28th, 2011 - 12:06 pm

How strong is China’s economy? CNN Money says Jim Chanos believes it is about to go into meltdown.  Chanos has warned in the past that China was pumping billions into a property bubble that would ultimately burst, but now he may now be proven right. “China’s top auditor said that loose lending standards and a sharp rise in local government borrowing (for building projects, of course) may have created a mountain of debt that cannot be repaid … All it will take is a fall in housing, or some sort of economic slowdown, to reveal an untold number of bad loans.”

The New York Times says “Liu Jiayi, the top auditor in China, said on Monday that at the end of last year local government debt had reached $1.7 trillion, or about 27 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. He said better regulation was needed to manage the debt risks.” The prosperity was built on a mountain of government debt, acquired by the Chinese government itself.

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The End of Blagojevich

June 27th, 2011 - 1:33 pm

A roundup of reactions from political figures all across Illinois expressed relief over the conviction of former Governor Rod Blagojevich on several counts of corruption, including the attempted sale of Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. But there was some doubt over whether the conviction would mean an end to corruption in a state whose largest city, Chicago, is a byword in wheeling and dealing.

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked “What happened?” after he was found guilty of 17 of 20 charges in his corruption retrial. … Blagojevich was convicted of all 11 charges related to his attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

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Long, Hot Summer

June 27th, 2011 - 11:42 am

Islamic militants have consolidated their hold in parts of southern Yemen, controlling market prices, ordering women to stay indoors and recruiting young men into their ranks. The AP says “government forces do not appear to have the will to fight the Islamists, raising fears that al-Qaida’s most dangerous wing is making significant gains as the weakened regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh unravels in the face of an array of opponents.”

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The Future from 1966

June 26th, 2011 - 5:36 pm

Popular Science describes plans for a 4,000 mph underwater train under the Atlantic that will make it possible to simply zip across the ocean — “allow you to have lunch in Manhattan and still get to London in time for the theater, despite the 5-hour time difference”. Concept is simple. Just construct a 3,500 mile long neutrally buoyant (floating) tunnel at a safe depth under the ocean, pump all the air out of it to remove air resistance and put maglev rails on it.

A number of practical objections suggest themselves. One is how you construct a 3,500 mile long pressure hull and ensure watertight integrity; the other is how easy it is to make a 3,500 mile long vacuum chamber. But that’s not the point. It’s a wow idea, like flying cars, jetpacks, domed cities and … that makes one wonder whether it won’t wind up like the other cool stuff that once seemed just around the corner and never materialized.

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Sunday Afternoon

June 26th, 2011 - 10:37 am

Caroline Glick wrote a review of my novel, “No Way In” at her site. Although a lot of people have liked (or disliked) the thriller aspect of the book, Caroline is one of the first to notice it’s actually a religious and philosophical book tricked out as a cliffhanger. She picked out this passage:

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DC Drift

June 25th, 2011 - 2:12 pm

The Los Angeles Times says that acting ATF head Kenneth Melson is resisting pressure to step down over the Gunwalker controversy. “Melson does not want to be ‘the fall guy’ for the program, under which ATF agents allowed straw purchasers to acquire more than 1,700 AK-47s and other high-powered rifles from Arizona gun dealers, the sources said.”
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