"America" Archive

ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism

There have been a lot of books on the recent economic crisis, but most of them address only small parts of the systematic failures which caused the crisis, and they don't do a good job of explaining what the financial system looks like before moving onto the crisis itself. ECONned is a really good overview of both the systems in place and the crisis.

The book isn't about just the crisis, but rather the current financial system and the regulatory, personal and economic interests which shaped it. The author's blog is really interesting as well.

Other books, like Micheal Lewis's The Big Short do a good job of telling a small part of the story, but completely fail to deliver on what actually happened.

Continue reading "ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism"
June 17, 2010 | America , Books | Comments

The CIA and the ISI sitting in a tree

The CIA and the ISI have a long history, but it seems they're once again sharing the same playhouse:

The C.I.A. and its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, have a long and often tormented relationship. [...] Yet interviews in recent days show how they are working together on tactical operations, and how far the C.I.A. has extended its extraordinary secret war beyond the mountainous tribal belt and deep into Pakistan's sprawling cities. [...] Successful missions sometimes end with American and Pakistani spies toasting one another with Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, a gift from the C.I.A.
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March 31, 2010 | America , Pakistan | Comments

Killing your own, by Poison

A common topic in urban drawing rooms around Pakistan is how far behind the country is from the developed world. Now, that will take a whole another blog post, but one interesting metric to look at is how many people the Pakistani state deliberately kills each year by poisoning them.

So the US govt. killed at least 10,000 of it's own in a few years:
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
They had the good sense to stop, officially in 1933, but unofficially by 1930. Over here in Pakistan, the government continues poisoning industrial alcohol, and it doesn't seem like they're going to stop any time soon. Continue reading "Killing your own, by Poison"
March 15, 2010 | America , Pakistan | Comments

America, Nukes and Pakistan

In an article on nuclear weapons in Pakistan, the New Yorker explores Pakistan's relationship with America and comes to a pretty grim conclusion:
bq. In an interview the next afternoon, an Indian official who has dealt diplomatically with Pakistan for years said, "Pakistan is in trouble, and it's worrisome to us because an unstable Pakistan is the worst thing we can have." But he wasn't sure what America could do. "They like us better in Pakistan than you Americans," he said. "I can tell you that in a public-opinion poll we, India, will beat you."

That's probably true.. the only real relationship with America is dependant on the crates of arms they send to the Army and the bribes they give people like Zardari. Some other tidbits from Musharraf:

Musharraf, who was forced out of office in August, 2008, under threat of impeachment, did not spare his successor. "Asif Zardari is a criminal and a fraud," Musharraf told me. "He'll do anything to save himself. He's not a patriot and he's got no love for Pakistan. He's a third-rater."

It's good that 2 years after his retirement Musharraf finally grew some balls and spoke about the idiot savant leader of Pakistan, Zardari.

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November 11, 2009 | America , Pakistan | Comments

President Obama

The following comments from Reddit sum up the world's feelings:

Dear Rest of The World

We didn't fuck it up



The reply:

Dear America,


Regards, Rest of the World

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November 5, 2008 | America | Comments

The gigantic house of cards, formerly known as Wall Street

Now, you'd be better off buying a copy of Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan and reading that, but here is the extremely simplified version of one aspect of the giant monolith which was the American financial house of cards:

Back in the days, we had these things called banks. They took in money from people, and lent it out to other people, who did something with that money and thus were able to pay it back with interest. Now, even back than, banking wasn't this simple, but this portion constituted a significant part of what banks did back then. Sure, they bought lots of stuff, and invested all over the place, but as JP Morgan, the most powerful banker ever, famously said, "If you can't draw it on a napkin with a crayon, don't buy it".

By and large, besides funding a war here and there, bankers stuck to the basics and made money hand over fist. Till such time they lost it all, which happened periodically, like the great depression in 1939, and Black Monday in 1987.

So this is the image which people have of things to this day - that banks take in deposits, give out loans, and make money on the interest paid on loans. Now, sure, banks and the other bank like institutions still do this, but this has been a small part of their business for the last couple of decades now. This is the part which is the toughest for people to grasp - that none of the large American banks are banks in the traditional sense of the word. Here someone might ask, if not banks, than what the hell are they?

The plain answer is that no one knows.

The short answer is that the American financial system is the greatest pyramid scheme ever, a house of cards stacked so high over the entire world that it's collapse is going to be wrecking havoc for years to come.

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September 24, 2008 | America | Comments

The ISI, once again in the news

Kevin Drum calls the ISI the scariest group in the world:

I'm not absolutely certain who my choice for scariest group in the world is, but if push came to shove it probably wouldn't be al-Qaeda. It would be the ISI, Pakistan's main intelligence service.

He's probably right. The New York Times reporting on the latest to surface about the ISI:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan's powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India's embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

...The government officials were guarded in describing the new evidence and would not say specifically what kind of assistance the ISI officers provided to the militants. They said that the ISI officers had not been renegades, indicating that their actions might have been authorized by superiors.

All this is something Ahmed Rashid has been saying for years, most notably in his last book, Descent into Chaos.

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August 1, 2008 | America , Pakistan | Comments

Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos

A good overview of Pakistan and Afghan history and American involvement - and a very bleak assessment of where they're headed. The gist of the book is that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are hovering somewhere on the point of no return, descending into chaos and bringing the whole region down with them. It's very well researched, and the author really knows what he's talking about - there is a lot more in the book -

It's a brilliant, encyclopedic summary of the current situation in Pakistan. The book, just like his last book, is extremely timely, as region after region in Pakistan falls to the Taliban, and the government pulls back further and further.

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July 11, 2008 | America , Books , Pakistan | Comments

Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons

The book traces Pakistan's nuclear history, wherein Pakistan with Chinese, Saudi, American and North Korean help (and a whole lot of private contractors) developed numerous types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

The book is really interesting, not because of the exact details of how Pakistan developed the bomb, but the insight it gives on how Pakistan really operates. It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who kicked of Pakistan's nuclear programme, famously declaring "we will eat grass if we have to, but we will make the bomb". For the next 20 years this statement was literally and figuratively true - everything took a backseat was tens of billions of dollars were poured into two competing nuclear labs.

This is the most depressing account of Pakistani/American political history I've read. The old maxim "the end justifies the means" was the one and only motto of the Pakistan Army & the Republican Party, which ran the country for the next 30 years, sucking in practically every dollar of foreign aid and diverting it to nuclear weapons development and regular arms procurement. They had to let parts of the billions of dollars pouring in for the Afghan war though, under American pressure, but development aid money was mostly fully diverted to the bomb.

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March 13, 2008 | America , Books , Pakistan | Comments

A Perilous Course: US Strategy and Assistance to Pakistan

For American assistance to be effective in a large-aid-recipient state such as Pakistan, it must go beyond transactional, quid pro quo deals and address the country’s main drivers of conflict, instability and extremism. Despite more than $10 billion in U.S. assistance since September 11, 2001, distrust, dissatisfaction and unrealistic expectations continue to undermine the official goal of developing a strong, strategic and enduring partnership.

Pakistan’s main drivers of conflict, instability and extremism include: a culture of impunity and injustice, discontent in the provinces, ethnic and sectarian tensions, a rapidly growing and urbanizing youth population, and extremist views among traditional allies. Militant groups exploit these underlying conditions to recruit followers on the basis of a narrative of shared suffering and injustice and the failure of the state to provide stability or prosperity. Link

A short summary of the report: America is not getting it's desired bang for it's 10 billion plus bucks and they are upset. The reports view of Pakistan is damned bleak.

November 23, 2007 | America , Pakistan | Comments

Randy Paush's last lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Almost all of us have childhood dreams: for example, being an astronaut, or making movies or video games for a living. ... all » Sadly, most people don't achieve theirs, and I think that's a shame. I had several specific childhood dreams, and I've actually achieved most of them. More importantly, I have found ways, in particular the creation (with Don Marinelli), of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center (etc.cmu.edu), of helping many young people actually achieve their childhood dreams. This talk will discuss how I achieved my childhood dreams (being in zero gravity, designing theme park rides for Disney, and a few others), and will contain realistic advice on how you can live your life so that you can make your childhood dreams come true, too.

September 26, 2007 | America , Computing | Comments

Vanity Fair on the American Media

Vanity Fair, in a rare introspective piece on the many failings of the American media:

Al Gore couldn't believe his eyes: as the 2000 election heated up, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other top news outlets kept going after him, with misquotes ("I invented the Internet"), distortions (that he lied about being the inspiration for Love Story), and strangely off-the-mark needling, while pundits such as Maureen Dowd appeared to be charmed by his rival, George W. Bush. For the first time, Gore and his family talk about the effect of the press attacks on his campaign--and about his future plans--to the author, who finds that many in the media are re-assessing their 2000 coverage. #

The article is long winded, so here is the short summary: Seven long years after the 2000 elections, parts of the American media are finally looking back at their coverage of the 2000 elections, and starting to realize that it was a bit biased towards the republican side.

By attacking Gore so viciously, often with made up quotes and stories, they helped to swing the elections away from him. As Jonathan Alter points out, "Overall, the press was harder on Gore than it was on Bush.... The consequences of [that] in such a close election were terrifying."

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September 6, 2007 | America | Comments

US Assistance to Pakistan since 9/11


Interesting article on US Assistance to the Pakistan Army: When $10 billion is not enough: Rethinking US strategy towards Pakistan. The picture is taken from the article, and aptly sums up the situation. Over 90% of official US assistance to Pakistan has gone to the Pakistan Army, and more interestingly, the article estimates that besides the official figure over $10 billion of classified US money has also gone to the Pakistan Army! That's over $20 billion dollars from 9/11 to now - a heck lot of money, most of which has been spent on high tech toys for the army.

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April 25, 2007 | America , Pakistan | Comments

Creationist Nonsense

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination.

Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense :: Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up. Based on the Bible, the universe was created about six thousand and 9 years ago, so it stands to reason that evolution isn't possible for so many people the world over.

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December 14, 2006 | America , Religion | Comments

Fast Food Nation

An eye opening book on what lies behind the shiny facade of most fast food restaurants today. The book pokes deep inside the modern American meat packing industry, which the race for the ever cheaper and larger McMeal has turned into a monstrosity. Micheal Pollan's brilliant interview on modern meat covers the some of the basics talked about in the book very well. A key factoid: By the time a modern American beef cow is six months old, it has seen its last blade of grass for the rest of its life. Industrialized meat farming is more akin to medival europe back in the dark ages than something out of this day and age.

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August 25, 2006 | America , Books

Charlie Wilson's War

This is the book on how the US got involved in Afghanistan supporting Islamic militants against the Soviets. Highly recommended. George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War is the story of how one man, U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson, almost single-handedly launched the several billion dollar CIA/Saudi operation in Afghanistan to force out the occupying Soviets, without a vote in Congress, and without the clear approval of the President. What started as barely a nuisance campaign turned into the greatest covert operation in CIA history.

Besides the Afghan war, this book gives a brilliant insight on how the US government works. Those from the third world will find themselves at home with all the congressional wheelings and dealings. The amazing thing is the amount of power US congressmen and senators have. Thirdworld senators are barely able to push around a few million dollars, while their US equivalents are dealing in the billions.

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August 14, 2006 | America , Books , Pakistan | Comments

An Inconvenient Truth

The Early Days

A film on the dangers of global warming. It's basically Al Gore presenting a very slick slideshow, but there is no more important subject. It's illuminating, fascinating and sometimes frightening.:

Gore's point is a simple one: We have a moral imperative, as individuals and as a nation, to do something about global warming, the dramatic, precipitous rise of world temperatures in the atmosphere, on land and in bodies of water, caused by greenhouse gases.

Gore has a gift for making scientific data digestible, understandable and intriguing. He is so consumed by the subject and impassioned in his efforts to change minds that it is hard not to get caught up in his fervor.

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May 26, 2006 | America , Movies , World | Comments

Why Do You Work So Hard?

Interesting article on work: Why Do You Work So Hard? Is it maybe time to quit your safe job and follow your path and infuriate the establishment?

In Pakistan, the term work used to have different connotations that in the West. That is slowly changing, with much of the corporate sector demanding employees adhere to the American work ethic, but minus the american pay.

Of course, much parts of the Pakistani work sector still function at their own pace. The public sector is stuck way back in the colonial ages - the major difference being that the english had natives to do their work, and got them to do it - now that the natives are the colonials there is no one left to do any work!

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March 18, 2006 | America , Pakistan , World | Comments

New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina has devasted New Orleans, and one feels for the people there. A million websites have much information on the ongoing rescue mission and so on, but aside from that, many interesting factoids have come out from this disaster.

See the Wikipedia entry on Hurricane Katrina for the best coverage and a detailed overview.

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September 4, 2005 | America | Comments

The cost of Iraq

The Iraq election results are in, and as the Washington Post says: Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision.

But, in one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy -- $300 billion and counting, U.S. and regional analysts say.

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March 1, 2005 | America | Comments

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