Saddam Hussein Had Dinner At My House The Other Day...

What is it with these media types who insist on referring to Saddam Hussein as "Saddam" like they hang out at the same happy hour or something? They were not on a first name basis with him and probably never even met the guy.

Such pretension riles Econo-Girl. Do they refer to Andrea Merkel as "Andrea"? Would they even think to refer to the President as "George" while reporting the news?

Econo-Girl can picture it now. The anchor tilts his head in that special way that television anchors do. He looks at the camera with his toupee perfectly in place. "George was working around the ranch today clearing sagebrush and then took a nap."

The inference of intimacy implied by first name usage is very out of place for Total Evil Man Saddam Hussein. Try wearing a t-shirt with "I Hugged Satan Today" around town and see what it gets you.

Aside from that, Econo-Girl cannot profess complete ignorance of this phenomenon. She knows that Saddam Hussein was particularly riled by being referred to by his first name only. The anchors also knew and goaded him with their false familiarity.

But is that really their role? Just report the damn news and keep your toupee on straight. Tilt your head in bizarre affectations and report the news. You are not supposed to be a part of it, tempting as it is.

Saddam Hussein

Is it important to be convicted of all your crimes before execution?

Does execution mean ridding the world of a bad guy, or calling someone to account for what they have done? If it is the latter, then they would need to be convicted for that crime first.

In the case of Saddam Hussein, he was responsible for gassing the Kurds, his own countrymen, because he thought the Kurds were going to join Iran's side while Iraq was at war with them. Five thousand people died in that gas attack. Tens of thousands more died in the ensuing drive by Saddam Hussein to dominate the Kurds. So let's just say, they are angry.

And a little disappointed. I guess they wanted to throw a big party, and who can blame them? But don't underestimate the power of having your day in court. It is very strong. People want a feeling of justice and of being heard. And that is exactly what the Kurds did not get with the sneak execution of Saddam Hussein.

Of course the practical reasons for the surprise execution include limiting riots and violence and bloodshed. Understandable. And the upcoming trial of Ali Hassan al Majid, a.k.a. Chemical Ali, will give the Kurds their day in court. But it is not the same as looking your father's killer and confronting him. So anticipate that the Kurds will not be quieted with the mere absence of Saddam Hussein. They were looking for something more: the vindication of being heard.


You Have To Want Democracy

"Sobriety is for the people who want it, not for the people who need it," is a well-known 12 step cliche. Econo-Girl believes the same idea applies to democracy and many other things in life.

Iraq must WANT democracy. The neo-conservatives wanted it for them. And maybe, in their own minds, Iraqis thought they wanted democracy too. But look at how they are acting.

The United States cannot make Iraq into a freedom-loving state. We cannot force democracy where people are not willing to compromise to get it. If you are not willing to do what it takes, you will fail. Econo-Girl will go as far as to say this is a spiritual truism.

So then the question becomes: what does America do now? Do we pull out and let them figure it out? Do we establish order first and then turn things over to the Iraqis? Can 0rder even be established there? What will neighboring countries do if we suddenly leave? Will we be handing the Middle East to Iran on a platter? A lot of thinking needs to go into this choice. Thinking that wasn't done beforehand.


New Perspectives From the World

In adding these links, Econo-Girl is providing English publications she has already evaluated and that have international coverage that dovetails with issue American news readers will be interested in. Here will be the source of differing perspectives on the same issues you read about in the U.S. press. Perspectives that are too local to the region will be omitted, as will sites that don't give enough free content to make looking at them worth it. The links will provide information you can get on a 15 minute break, without needing to become a scholar.

Econo-Girl will be adding noteworthy blogs and photo blogs in the future.

Belgrade Perspective on Iraq Study Group

B92 is a paper in Belgrade well-known in the region.

What you're going to notice in these publications are displaced Americans and Brits writing for them.

On the Iraq Study Group:
"Equally obvious without one word of direct criticism was the total scorn which the Study Group and specifically former Secretary of State Baker feels for the foreign policy that President Bush and his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, have conducted. " as written by William Montgomery.

Love the way he puts that: "total scorn."

South African Perspective on News

The Mail and Guardian Online is an exclusively online paper published in South Africa. It is fun and won't have Iraq on the front page at all.

Great cultural perspective. I mean, there's a whole section of the site dedicated to "The Selebi Saga." What is that, for God's sake? Americans don't even know. It's interesting to see how people on the other side of the world are just as gossip-oriented as we are, but about different things. It will have news stories not found in the U.S. For example, look at this:

"Gaza doctors say patients suffering mystery injuries Doctors in Gaza have reported previously unseen injuries from Israeli weapons that cause severe burning and leave deep internal wounds, often resulting in amputations or death. The injuries were first seen in July, when Israel launched operations in Gaza following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants."

Have you seen anything like this in U.S. papers? No.

Check out The Week In Pictures. And what paper in the world has a section for only good news? And yes, only good, positive news is reported there.

The sports coverage isn't even remotely familiar, but still fun.

The End of al Sadr

A raid on a police station by British and Iraqi police will be the beginning of the end for al Sadr. Al Sadr had been teamed up with local thugs who infiltrated that local police force. The people in that area were terrified of them.

The point of this international story is al Sadr has made some bad alliances. His poor choices will lead to his downfall one way or the other. Either Coalition Forces and Iraqi troops will fight and defeat them, or Iraqis will simply move away.

Al Sadr has always been a pretender in the world of radical Islam, anyway. It was his father who was the respected Muslim cleric, not him. Al Sadr does not have the educational chops for his father's shoes. His actions imply that he does, though. That weakness will undermine him in the future.


If No One Told You They Loved You Today, I Love You

Remember, there is love all around.

Econo-Girl used to have miserable Christmases. Then she started selecting what really made her happy, rather than what was expected. That's when she started to spend the day at an AA club and then go to the movies. Voila! Happy Holidays!

At the time, Econo-Girl lived on Kalorama Rd NW in Adams Morgan. On that street, there were several displays of Christmas tree finery for pedestrians to admire. I vowed to one day join the Christmas Tree Elite of Kalorama Road, and so I did.

As more Christmases came upon us, Econo-Girl added a Christmas tree with thousands of lights so that it could be seen from the street as a beacon. An ostentatious beacon, to be sure, but a beacon. My place at the time was 400 sq ft and on the third floor, and the Christmas tree dominated it. Econo-Girl was happy.
My advice is to take what you like and leave the rest. See a movie with friends. Get Chinese food. Just don't paste a smile on your face and live out someone else's idea of holiday. Create your own.


My Biggest Fans

Readers, despite the events of the past year, the biggest Google hits to Econo-Girl's musings are the Roasted Chestnut recipe and the story of my dog's leg being broken.

Kind of gives you some perspective, eh?

The key to the recipe's internet success is the mis-spelling of "chestnut" as "chesnut" by people all over the world, including Econo-Girl. Let that be a lesson to you. Include common spelling mistakes and you too can be on the first page of Google results.

And don't get me started about pets. People love them. In our house, our little critters are number one. In fact, Liesure Lad is getting me a digital video recorder so I can start a YouTube site dedicated to our little beings. Econo-Girl can't wait. We are picking it up today.

So in the hurly-burly of international intrigues, we must remember that most people have other concerns. Most of the world is made up of other things. And those things count more.


Alan Dershowitz, Shut Up!

An annoying man who will do anything to get attention - is Econo-Girl's opinion of Alan Dershowitz. Let's review his support of torture:

If we knew that an attack was imminent,
If we knew who was involved,
If we knew they knew the details of the attack,
If the Supreme Court says it's OK,
then Prof. Dershowitz thinks it would be OK to torture.

Econo-Girl would like to paraphrase Prof. Dershowitz's position:

If he wasn't saying something outrageous,
Since he doesn't know the subject matter,
If he didn't need to constantly jump up and down in front of a camera,
No one would ask him to be on t.v. if he wasn't a spectacle.

Prof. Dershowitz would never get face time on t.v. if he opposed torture, since too many luminaries with real credentials think the same thing. So he creates an absurd position and shrieks about that instead.

Then he drags Israel into the argument. Israel has banned the use of torture, SINCE IT WASN'T WORKING. That's the thing about the use of torture, IT DOESN'T WORK!!!

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Dershowitz said, "My basic point, though, is we should never under any circumstances allow low-level people to administer torture. If torture is going to be administered as a last resort in the ticking-bomb case, to save enormous numbers of lives, it ought to be done openly, with accountability, with approval by the president of the United States or by a Supreme Court Justice."

Umm, which politician is going to put their neck on the line for the cause of torture? The theoretical idea of getting top-level approval is a fantasy. Who will want their names associated with such a decision? None. That's who. Like now, the leaders of the Department of Defense and the CIA are content to let low-level people take the risk for their policy choices.

Donald Rumsfeld, coward-at-large, has created a career by not having "his fingerprints" on risky policies. That's what happened on the torture issue. And like it or not, the President is responsible. Now who's going to tell him?


Tim Johnson's Brain Surgery

Econo-Girl recalls with some anger a friend who had brain surgery and was kicked out of the hospital and sent home THE NEXT DAY by the insurance company!

Is our Senator suffering the same treatment? It seems not.



Jean Kirkpatrick

Econo-Girl reflects on the death of a very powerful woman: Jean Kirkpatrick.

Her power made some in America very afraid, like Jesse Jackson. When Jesse Jackson hosted Saturday Night Live, he did an entire skit making fun of how Jean Kirkpatrick looked, mocking the idea that anyone would find her attractive.

Econo-Girl was appalled. Her opinion of Jesse Jackson at that point plummeted. And that was before watching a PBS documentary on Rev. Martin Luther King and the early civil rights movement that showed Jesse Jackson always standing behind Rev. King when a camera was rolling so he could get on t.v. too.

And let's not forget the day after the King assassination that Jesse Jackson yelled and screamed before the Chicago City Council with red on his shirt that he claimed was Dr. King's blood. That claim was later disputed.

And so, the price of prominence for our Jean Kirkpatrick was suffering fools like Jesse Jackson. Attacks on appearance were common in those days for women of substance and policy who dared to be in the public eye. Willing to dare such outrages, my admiration and respect goes out to Jean Kirkpatrick. Rest in peace. We all stand on your shoulders.


To Puke on Putin

Our more conspiracy-minded commenters have noted the seeming irregularities associated with a Kremlin hit on their former agent living in London.

In terms of the radioactivity tracing back to planes coming from Russia, well, maybe the FSB is off its game since the cold war. I'm sure they lost a lot of good people to the Russian mob. Or, as the commenter said, the trail back to Mother Russia was deliberate.

And who stands to gain from everyone knowing Putin ordered the assassination of a former FSB agent in London? Putin himself. Talk about chilling free speech. Egad.

But what Putin didn't plan on was the backlash.

Despite the protests of her loyal readers - Econo-Girl maintains that this is going to be one hell of an international incident by the time it is over. Already the case has metasized to Germany.

Econo-Girl thinks that Putin over-reached in targeting a former KGB spy in a place like London. She further thinks that other European countries share the British anger because they are aware if a targeted kill can happen in Britain, it can happen in their country as well. And who wants to cede control of their borders to that extent? No one. Even if a country conceivably didn't care about Russia killing someone on their soil, they certainly can't be seen to be allowing it.

That is why Putin over-reached. Russia still needs Europe. Putin couldn't afford to piss them off like that.

So what did you think, Vladimir? The old glory days were back?

Iraq Study Group on Torture

The whole thing mentions torture once: when it describes the inadequacies of the Iraqi police.


There's a few assumptions in their logic.
  1. that torture is wrong,
  2. that it doesn't work,
  3. the fact that torture is taking place at all is a sign of an incompetent government.

What is not addressed is how the use of torture has helped our war effort in Iraq fail. Imagine that you are a luckless Iraqi picked up by US soldiers for questioning. You are beaten with a baseball bat (as has been offered on the record as having happened) by an angry US Army cook, then are let go after the determination that you don't know anything is made. So what do you do? You tell your family and friends. Then how likely are those same people to alert US soldiers to danger? Not very.

These interrogation tactics the US has embraced in an effort to feel tougher are backfiring. One day, historians will ascribe at least some of the failure in Iraq to abusive treatment of Iraqis. But not today.


Revenge of the Mid-Level Munchkins!

There's one thing about mid-level Munchkins that needs to be remembered, Mr. Bolton. They are related to high level Munchkins. And some even become high level Munchkins themselves.

And when you are sitting at the levers of power, don't forget who turns the wheels manually. It's all those Munchkins. So it's a good idea not to piss them off. Know what I mean? I guess you do now.

Like most bullies, you are afraid of power. and at the same time, expect others to be as fearful as yourself. With a little self-justification thrown in, you become a terror.

May Econo-Girl suggest the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People"? It may be very helpful in your next career.


The Middle East: The Balance of Power

Kissinger's approach to statecraft in terms of 'balance of power' has been under fire these days. With good reason. Let's look at all the civil wars we put our fingers in, only to make a hash of it. But 'balance of power' still needs to be in the analysis, as can be seen in the current ascendancy of Iran.

What was going on before our war in Iraq? There were two powerful countries fighting each other constantly, degrading their resources and strength trying to kill each other. Hence, a balance between them, since neither side truly dominated the other. There was also a check on the power of both in the form of the other country.

Enter the United States. "Hey, let's get rid of the Saddam Hussein guy and establish truth and beauty in Iraq! Imagine how grateful the Iraqis will be!" Aside from the merits of the grand political experiment, the U.S. upset the balance of power between the two nations and the whole region.

With no enemy next door to waste its resources and power on, Iran has been able to shore up, save, rest, and get stronger. Now they are being viewed as a stabilizing force. Their power is being felt all over the Middle East, and the U.S. has only itself to thank.

It has always been Econo-Girl's contention that all this 'hating your neighbor' thing in the Middle East is a distraction from widespread civil wars. Like in almost every country there. Witness the children who were assassinated yesterday in the Palestinian Territory. The Middle East is unstable because most of its countries are unstable.

So, what could distract Iran once again, causing them to spend resources tilting at another windmill? A Shiite-Sunni war. The disadvantage would be that the entire region would erupt. Such a conflict would not help anyone.

Now don't get hysterical. Econo-Girl does not think this is, ever was, or should be, a policy goal of the United States. No one was thinking of religious war going into Iraq. That's what you have to understand about Americans, we don't spend a lot of time thinking.

Also, an intra-religious war was the one thing al Qaida was trying to avoid, until they used tensions between Sunni and Shiite to destabilize Iraq. The short term goal of putting a finger in the eye of the U.S. has ruined the long-term goal of al Qaida of a pan-Islamic movement. Cooperation between Muslim sects has seriously degraded and the whole idea of a pan-Muslim political movement is over.

You know, like 'together we stand, divided we fall'?


Practice of Probate

An item on the dog front. First of all, it seems the cats have been peeing in the living room to get the dogs in trouble. Pesky cats, but you got to love them.

Econo-Girl has been graced with a vision lately. A vision where she uses her law degree in the field of probate law and guardianship for the elderly. It's time to unleash the inner advocate.

Some have said, "Why are you throwing away decades of computer experience and a guaranteed good income to start something new?"

But, without wanting to sound bitter or angry, Econo-Girl must admit to a bit of incapacitation since The Incident This Summer. Could she sit in a cubicle all day? Without really wanting to find out, the answer is probably "no."

Aside from that, should she dive into bureaucracy once more? Econo-Girl never fit in. She is an outside the box thinker if ever there was one. This is not the sort of thing that is welcomed, generally speaking.

Econo-Girl likens it to cutting off her big toe to fit into a glass slipper. Could she take such extreme measures? Sure. But it's not guaranteed to pay off. And that's just one toe too many for Econo-Girl.

Dollar Going Down

Econo-Girl first started this blog as a response to CNN Money's horrible financial and economic coverage. Honestly, what passes for business reporting in the U.S. is just embarrassing.

No announcement is made without a positive candy-cane spin to it. For example, the news that the dollar is going down is couched with the "but that means exports will go up." Of course exports will go up. They won't go up enough to cover the amount we import, however. That would take sacrifice and discipline, and we all know how far that would go.

The real upswing about a lower dollar value is that it will kick up inflation here at home. Since we import a lot of stuff, and the exchange rate puts the dollar as buying less, less can be bought with the dollar. So the price to get a foreign good will go up.

There are some that gamely point out that now Americans will buy more domestically-made products. Sure. They will. But nowhere in the U.S. are clothes made as cheap as Asia, even with the lower dollar value making the prices rise.

So the practical upswing is: run to Walmart now to buy clothing, before the prices inevitably rise.

Should I Avoid Eating Sushi With Russians?

All this poisoning of Russian whistleblowers is getting Econo-Girl down. She had vain hopes of traveling the world, eating sushi wherever she went. Perhaps another decade, not this one. And London isn't even safe for me. Quite disconcerting.

People have called the current regime fascists, not without reason. But Econo-Girl can say this: killing little CC was never on the table. For that, we can thank the strong institutions of democracy here in the U.S. and the American public.

Not the current Administration, mind you. Politicians have never been good at controlling themselves, and this group seems a particularly vengeful lot.

A Russian man told me that in his country, I would be swinging from the end of a rope. And he said it before the reporter's assassination. After The Incident This Summer, Econo-Girl was warned away from remote sections of South America. It seemed a bit extreme, but I'd already been to the Amazon, so there was no clash of plans.

Perhaps Econo-Girl should just avoid rude Russians.

In Russia, there doesn't seem to be any outrage about the assassinations at all. Completely curious. Putin's feet are being held to the fire by the British government, and you can imagine how angry they must be. Imagine the audacity of Russia to send people over to kill people on British soil. If Britain did the same to them, what would happen? Certainly the Brits would feel justified in killing on Russian soil now, if they hadn't already.

Econo-Girl predicts a major international incident in the next few months. Not based on any new information, just an explosion based on what's happened already.

Did They Leave Yet?

Econo-Girl is sure that by now only the hard-core reader is still with her. Good.

The value of ostentatious antiques has not fallen, unlike housing prices, and Econo-Girl is making good because of it. In the hurly-burly days of Y2K profits, a huge, seven foot tall, antique armoire with all inlaid and hand carved wood came into Econo-Girl's possession. It is now being sold at almost twice my initial cost. The damn thing's HUGE. It totally dominates my living room. I just grew to a point where eliciting gasps of delight and envy from my female visitors was no longer as important as having more comfortable seating. Cozy wins.

Of course, such microeconomic wins leads Econo-Girl's gimlet eyes towards other antiques in her house, which might prove to provide an equally good return on investment.

If there's one thing that sells in the Washington, DC area, it's ostentatious. And pretention. I am printing digitized photos of old ancestors, putting them in nice frames, and selling those, too. Of course, people will buy them to pretend they had respectable ancestors, too. Isn't it all sad?

An inventory revealed six sets of china. SIX! My husband is ecstatic that I am getting rid of all this stuff. Of course, a girl needs at least three sets of china. There's the special holiday set, blue with gold stars. Then there's the everyday stoneware. Then there's the minor holiday set.

And as my father said when my Mother announced she was downsizing her wardrobe: "Don't be fooled. It's to make room to buy more clothes."

Ah, well. Hope springs eternal.


The Media Beast Must Be Fed

Yes, Econo-Girl is aware that OJ no longer has a book and movie deal. While that is some measure of relief, wouldn't it just be easier to NOT TALK ABOUT a book that you didn't want to promote?

Of course, then the talking heads would need to talk about something else. Econo-Girl is full aware that the media beast needs to be fed.

But along those lines, do we really have to know about Brittany Spears' divorce? Leave the poor girl alone. Yes, the media beast must be fed. Yes, Ms. Spears has done her share of hopping up and down to get her photo taken. But by inviting that kind of publicity, does it necessarily mean that she invites intrusion into every part of her life? Do they HAVE to pick apart this terrible time just because she once promoted an album?

Econo-Girl thinks the media should leave celebrities alone sometimes. Are people really as interested as all that in their personal tragedies?


Habeas Corpus

The cable t.v. show Countdown did a slight overview of the meaning of the writ of habeas corpus. Econo-Girl wanted to talk a little bit more about it.

Black's Law Dictionary states that habeas corpus is "a writ used to bring a person before a court, most frequently to ensure that the party's imprisonment or detention is not illegal."

So if the United States had illegally locked someone up, and there was no habeas corpus, there would be no way to determine if the arrested person was being held in jail illegally. From there, we can infer that there would be no way of getting them out of jail, either. The writ of habeas corpus is "used to test the legality of an arrest or commitment."

See Black's Law Dictionary, Seventh Edition (1999).

Currently, the writ of habeas corpus has been suspended for detainees. So no one has to admit that some of the detainees don't belong there, let alone deserve getting beaten and abused. And if the detainees never see a judge, no one will find out about their beatings at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

Again, Econo-Girl has to ask: how long do you think this is going to last? How long are people going to stay quiet about what has happened in U.S. detention facilities? Not long.


Anna Politkovskaya

So who in their right mind will put their money in Russia now? Like it wasn't bad enough when the Russian editor of Forbes magazine was gunned down and left to bleed to death in an elevator.

Anna's death will not be in vain. Her personal sacrifice moved many people, including Econo-Girl.

What U.S. companies are invested in Russia now? Which have a financial interest in the success of the current regime? Let's find out. Then let's harass them. We shouldn't stay quiet on this topic. Big business flourishes in the U.S. because of people like us. We don't riot, for the most part, we pay taxes, we are stable. It our stability that big business stands on. They need it. All over the world, the U.S. dollar and equities are seen as safe havens for wealth. So let's use that. Let's make a vow to shake up Mother Russia.


Liability Insurance for Interrogators

The reason that CIA agents needed liability insurance related to their work as interrogators is that they realized they were being lied to about the law. They knew that they could not rely on the patsies of this Administration to tell them the truth about what was legal and what was not.

So they needed some kind of protection, and the liability insurance was it.

The good news about all of this is it implies that people are refusing to use torture in interrogations anymore without legal protection. Now that they have legal immunity that may have changed, but not by much. Everyone knows an election is coming up and a sea change is near. How long will an immunity last? How will it be interpreted? Such questions are natural ones for people taking the risks of prison, which I can assure you do not include our Attorney General, Mr. Torture himself.


But Soft! What Light on Yonder Window Breaks?

A mirage that looks like an agreement on torture. It looks like the United States is not going to abuse anyone anymore. But as you approach the vision gets wavy and flickers.

So agreement was reached on the Hill regarding interrogations. Both sides agreed to follow the Geneva Conventions and to give immunity to any acts interrogators might have committed.

Are they really thinking of the upshot of that immunity? No one will feel constrained now in describing what they did or what they saw. The political upshot of new information about detainee abuse would not bode well for the Administration. Remember, there's two years for this stuff to get out to the public.

But then thinking ahead never seemed to be this Administration's strength. Posing is.

Econo-Girl lives on the edge today by blogging before her morning coffee.



It is pure gall that this Administration, after blurring the line on legal interrogation techniques, now claims that standards and guidance are too vague. They are the reason the standard is vague.

But we should not be surprised. After all, this is the machine that came up with "reformer with results" and attacked John McCain's patriotism.

Look at the Torture Memos as a good example. The answer to the rabid Torture Memo I outcry was Torture Memo II. Regular readers will note how little assistance that gives.

So in a manner typical of this Administration, they tell a bold-faced lie and expect most people don't know the difference. Come now. Not all of us were C students.

The Benedictine Prophesy

If the Pope's remarks are so offensive to Muslims, why are they living out that description of them?

Econo-Girl's humble opinion is that most Muslims are simply unused to freedom of speech. Remember, words don't kill. Firebombs do.


The Tribunals

Let's diverge from our review of the Torture Memos.

The current argument for upending the Geneva Conventions is that the language is "too vague." Let's walk through the process and show how that is not true.

First, the Senate ratifies the Convention Against Torture treaty. That means the U.S. Government agrees to abide by its terms. Then, Congress passes a law that implements the Convention Against Torture, in this case 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A.

Yes, the language of the Geneva Conventions, and all international legal agreements, are vague on their face. They have to be, considering the number of judicial systems and cultures it must be applicable to. The details have been worked out as to what each provision means in application, however. Or at least as much as can be ahead of time.

So when looking at the Convention Against Torture, look at the law the United States passed to implement it. That is where the details are, and in the cases where U.S. courts have interpreted that law.

In short:
  1. Treaty
  2. Law
  3. Court interpretation of the Law


The Torture Memos

Econo-Girl is repeating the same blog title to gather search engine steam on this topic.

The federal statute making torture criminal is found in 18 U.S.C. sections 2340-2340A. The statute cites the definition of torture: "means an act committed by a person acting under color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control."

The 2004 Torture Memo restricted its analysis to "(1) the meaning of severe; (2) the meaning of "severe physical pain or suffering"; (3) the meaning of "severe mental pain or suffering"; and (4) the meaning of "specifically intended." " See page 5 of the Department of Justice, Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Memorandum for James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General, Re: Legal Standards Applicable Under 18 U.S.C. sections 2340-2340A, dated December 30, 2004. This memo is commonly known as one of the Torture memos, and will be referred to here as Torture Memo II.

The last post discussed and gave examples from the Torture Memo II of what was not severe.
Footnote 13 of Torture Memo II cites dictionary definitions of torture to bolster the view that to be considered torture, severity of pain or suffering must be present. Readers can look at dictionaries themselves. However, Econo-girl considers it significant that examples of what would constitute torture are given within the context of references to dictionary definitions.

Specifically, burning, crushing and wounding are the actions mentioned in Torture Memo II footnote 13 as examples of what would constitute torture.

This is important because almost nowhere else in the document is specific guidance given as to what torture actually is. Much describes what it is not.

So one thing we know is that burning, crushing and wounding are referred to as concrete examples of torture in Torture Memo II. The authors are careful to note that "[w]e emphatically are not saying that only such historical techniques - or similar ones - can constitute "torture" under sections 2340-2340A." So torture is recognized as being broader in scope that burning, crushing and wounding. But in terms of drawing a line, that is the only one I have seen so far.

Stay tuned.

p.s. I removed the Sitemeter thing because it bugged my Mom.


The Torture Memos

Let's take a minute to review some very important legal documents in the debate on the Bush Administration's torture policy.

There is the August 1, 2002 memo that sets the standard for "torture" as "inflict[ing] pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." The memo goes on to say that the application of "mind-altering substances" to be torture "they must produce an extreme effect" that "rise to the level of 'disrupting profoundly the sense or personality.' " Honestly, is that how your mother raised you, to call organ failure the standard of torture? What about pulling our fingernails? That would not be torture under this definition.

After the public release of this legal analysis, the President withdrew it and ordered another memo to be written. The memo of December 30, 2004 reversed some of the conclusions of the August 1, 2002 memo, which was a good thing. What it did not do was outline exactly what was legal to do within the context of an interrogation.

So what good is that?

The 2004 memo lists many cases describing fact patterns that have not been been ruled as constituting torture in U.S. courts. BUT - just when you think you have an answer the following footnote is inserted:

December 1, 2004 memo from the Office of the Assistant Attorney General, footnote 6

" ... In addition, this memorandum does not address the many other sources of law that may apply, depending on the circumstances, to the detention or interrogation of detainees (for example, the Geneva Conventions; the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 801 et seq.; the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, 18 U.S.C. 3261-3267; and the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441, among others)." (emphasis added)

The memo only applies to one section of law, the federal criminal prohibition against torture, in other words.

So not only doesn't the 2004 memo set a firm line between legal and illegal activities, it ignores military law and other federal laws. But people need to know what those rules are. They need to know what is allowed, and what will get them thrown in prison after the next election.

For the sake of edification, let's outline a few of fact patterns that have not been deemed torture under the one federal law the 2004 memo addresses.

The meaning of "severe."

"In Ireland v. United Kingdom, 25 Eur. Ct. H.R. (ser. A)(1978) the court concluding that the combined use of wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink constituted inhuman or degrading treatment but not torture under the European Convention." See footnote 14 of the 2004 memo.

Again, there is not discussion of what does constitute torture, just what it isn't. That is not to say that such actions are permissible and legal in the U.S., it just means that under this section of law, these lawyers are giving those acts as an example of what is not torture. Helpful, eh?

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report advising the ratification of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), "... The term "torture, in United States and international usage, is usually reserved for extreme, deliberate and unusually cruel practices, for example, sustained systematic beating, application of electric currents to sensitive parts of the body, and tying up or hanging in positions that cause extreme pain." See page 6 of 2004 memo.

That's all for today. I will continue offering concrete examples to people of what the legal definition of torture is, or may be.

And, my dumplings, the silence of a certain readership has not gone unnoticed. It is enough to say I am with you in spirit until full democracy returns. Please feel free to copy what I have written and to pass it around. And I'm sure some friends can pass along your comments under another name.


The Catch

Look at this from Yahoo.com:

"A senior administration official said that fewer than 100 people have been detained under the CIA program, rejecting allegations that perhaps thousands have been held in secret prisons. With the transfer of the 14 detainees to Guantanamo, the CIA is no longer holding any suspects, the administration official said. He added, however, that the administration wants the program to continue."

So the Administration wants to continue a program where the CIA uses harsh interrogation techniques, but they say that no one is in the program? So why do they want to continue it, then?

Waterboarding is Torture, and Torture is Wrong

The U.S. President has just announced that the Geneva Conventions will apply to detainees and that all the prisoners held by the CIA will be transferred to the Department of Defense. He also said that waterboarding will not be used during interrogations.

I just really want to believe him.

There are a few problems with believing our President, however. It's that he fought the anti-torture amendment passed by Congress and threatened to veto it. It's that once he did sign the law, he said he wouldn't apply it. This Administration is the one where the words don't meet the actions too frequently for comfort or credibility.

Oh yeah, and why was I fired? I mean the day before the Department of Defense and the CIA announced to the world that they were going to apply the Geneva Conventions to all prisoners. After that new policy was announced I wrote my blog post criticizing torture.

"What were you thinking?" the upper management types kept asking me. "But you said it was your policy," I replied. And I believed it then. I really want to believe it now. "The Seventh Floor is really upset with what you wrote," they said. And why was that? Were they sincere in what they said, or not? Judging by their behavior, I would say not. Are they this time? Too early to tell. But I know this: this battle is not over. Even if the abuse has stopped, the bill still needs to be paid.

Tell the President this by getting a shirt that tells him so at http://www.cafepress.com/econogirl


Debate, Fascism and Patriots

My, my. So it seems that anyone who questions the war in Iraq is really a Nazi sympathizer. Or is it collaborator and appeaser? Econo-Girl can't always keep these things straight.

Having read "Saddam's Bombmaker" years ago, Saddam Hussein certainly reminded Econo-Girl of Hitler in many ways. The key difference would be an ability to go to war with the entire world. Wasn't that what the first Gulf War was about? Stopping Saddam Hussein? And didn't we succeed?

So here we are, fulfilling the President's Oedipal drive, and people have the nerve to complain! Debate isn't patriotic, you know. That's why I was fired. Like a fascist, I try to discuss an issue of relevance to the entire Intelligence community: torture.

At the risk of being arrested, I will raise another: torture and our failures in Iraq. As a French soldier during the Battle of Algiers remarked: "And what to do with these poor devils after their use? There isn't enough place in the prisons and one can't kill everyone..., so one releases them and they're going to tell others, and from mouth to mouth, the whole world knows. Then their relatives and friends join the resistance." See "Does Torture Work" by Darius Rejali at Salon.com.

Don't you think our harsh treatment and downright abuse of detainees and prisoners has at least some bearing on how the war in Iraq is coming along?

Hugo Chavez

Look at him go! Hugging every world leader hostile to the U.S. - like he was running for Secretary General of the UN!

What is going on here? First of all, wasn't President Bush explicit in his preference for Chavez's foe to win instead of Chavez? Yes. So Econo-Girl's theory that a sitting U.S. President should never, ever endorse a candidate openly is once again vindicated. People are less likely to vote 'the American way' just to prove their independence. Take that, you bossy Americans.

On another level, Chavez is loosening the power grip the U.S. has over his country. He is shaking hands with countries who can be customers for his oil. Chavez is raising the profile of his nation and creating a power base in opposite to that of the U.S. He wears matching shirts with Castro, for God's sake.

What can we make of all this? In the intermediate term, oil is going to be used as a national security weapon by the larger oil-producing states (Russia, Venezuela) to the detriment of the United States. After all, there are only so many countries we can blow up.

The one clear answer is to reduce our dependence on oil. Go green. It's how we will reclaim our power and reduce these freaks to the footnotes in history that they deserve to be.



Should Armitage be indicted, or no? Econo-Girl says YES!

This is why: I know the certain types of gossip make people feel like big shots, especially the classified kind. Just because he is a big mouth doesn't let him off the hook for sharing classified information with a reporter. Especially the identity of a covert agent. I mean, people die over stuff like that.

There are doubtless those among you who feel that the little Econo-Girl saying something like this could be hypocritical. The difference is, of course, that I never told a reporter any classified information. I was terminated for expressing my views on the use of torture and abuse on our prisoners.

I certainly never outed a covert agent, and only spoke publicly after an investigation was started and I was fired.



Econo-Girl doesn't do this often, but she is going to post someone else's writing.

"Nobel Laureate Hyman Minsky points out that stability leads to instability. The more comfortable we get with a given condition or trend, the longer it will persist; and then when the trend fails, the more dramatic is the correction. The problem with long-term macroeconomic stability is that it tends to produce unstable financial arrangements. If we believe that tomorrow and next year will be the same as last week and last year, we are more willing to add debt or postpone savings for current consumption. Thus, says Minsky, the longer the period of stability, the higher the potential risk for even greater instability when market participants must change their behavior. Relating this to our sandpile, the longer that a critical state builds up in an economy, or in other words, the more "fingers of instability" that are allowed to develop a connection to other fingers of instability, the greater the potential for a serious "avalanche." "
John MauldinJohn@FrontLineThoughts.com Copyright 2006 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved

The whole article dealt with the housing market, which seems to be losing its strength, to say the least. Econo-Girl likes to judge a localized housing market by the For Sale signs. Not very high tech, but sometimes there is no replacement for shoe leather. And For Sale By Owner reveals the desperation of the overextended. I actually never saw For Sale By Owner signs until the housing market started to slow down.

So according to this analysis, the housing prices continued upward and upward annually, so people expected that they would continue to do so forever. And it was convenient to do so because that belief gave a feeling of financial prosperity. Prices in illustrious Columbia Heights in Washington, DC are being reduced, and have been for over a year now. Of course, the more people wait for lower prices, the more prices will fall. Another avalanche.


McCain and Iraq

Senator McCain had interesting things to say this weekend on the subject of Iraq, namely that we are not using enough forces there. He said that when we get an area under control we don't stay there, then we move troops to another area to do the same thing. What we need to do is increase the number of troops overall. He also said that we cannot just up and leave Iraq.

Econo-Girl agrees. It was stupid to go there, Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terror. But now that we upset the applecart, so to speak, we have some responsibility to see Iraq achieve stability.

The question is, are we really helping ourselves by capturing people and blasting Britney Spears at them all night long? As long as people know that that is our type of tactic in the war, how likely are we to succeed in the long run? Not at all.


Econo-Girl Stands Corrected

OK, my little dumplings. It seems that Hezbollah has 'won' the PR of this conflict. All of my intrepid readers were correct. Econo-Girl was in error, especially since Iran is kicking in more to rebuild Lebanon than the U.S. is. On a side note, couldn't we contribute engineers and other technical folk? That would be valuable, cheaper and good at mending relations.

So what happens now? Lebanon is not being strengthened to be self-governing. There will be a safe patch between Israel and Lebanon, at least temporarily. International troops will be there to guard the borders.

Readers may have lost faith in Econo-Girl's predictions on this score, but she will hold forth once again. There will be arab-based resistance to Iran/Hezbollah influence in the region.

Underneath this conflict is a series of civil wars that the entire region is distracting itself from. If peace would break out between groups, war would break out within them.



So what is it? A victory for Israel or Hezbollah? From the beginning the talking heads have been saying that if Hezbollah does nothing but survive, it will be a victory for them. They clucked on about how Hezbollah framed the conflict in those terms.

Econo-Girl has only this to ask:

Doesn't the media have complicity in framing the conflict that way? Isn't it disingenuous to say, over and over, that Hezbollah has only to survive to win when you are part of what is making that true?

And what is the lifespan of spin, anyway? How long are people going to think within the narrow confines of what is outlined for them? Two years? How long did that crap about Saddam Hussein being involved in Sept. 11 last? You can't hide behind the green curtain forever.

Econo-Girl posits that it was a defeat for both sides. After all, they had to compromise. Israel is very disappointed in its own performance and failed to wipe out Hezbollah completely. Hezbollah wasn't going to win in the end and they knew it, so they cut their losses and cease-fired now. What Hezbollah got was their own existence, the purpose of which was negated when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. But this entire conflict has highlighted to everyone the problems of a government not in control of its own territory. So the powerful role of Hezbollah will not be permitted in the future because of the MidEast war it almost sparked.

It probably was more of a defeat for Israel, but the conflict isn't really over yet. The bullets have just stopped flying, that's all. Let's wait and see.


Why I Lost Faith in Hillary Clinton

Econo-Girl has never spoken these words aloud:

I don't trust Hillary Clinton.

But now the truth is out. Her support of the war in Iraq lacked political courage. In fact, Econo-Girl would like to know where HC has ever displayed political courage. Where? Where has she spit in the pollsters' eyes and said "Damn it, it's the right thing to do!"

Even in 2001, after the attacks, it was clear that Iraq was not connected to the 9-11 attacks. But none of them had the courage to say so. And so now our nation is mired in Iraq and have a good chance of leaving the place in worse shape than how we found it.

Now that Lieberman lost the primary, it is easy to jump on the bandwagon against the war. Where was HC when it was a difficult and risky thing to do?


The Death of "Shock and Awe"

Econo-Girl has decided to use this forum to continue the same kind of commentary she indulged in while on Intelink.

"Shock and Awe" is dead. The current Israeli military campaign has demonstrated that the fantasy of air power to control territory is not effective, just as the U.S. military operations in Iraq did. There is no long-distance war without casualties. The armchair ruminations of our Secretary of Defense have been disproved a second time, with a loss of momentum on the side of the Israelis.

Econo-Girl has great faith in Israeli military power and strategy. With the start of a ground campaign, Hezbollah will have a new war to fight and win. It won't be easy.

Now, before all that hate mail from military types rolls in, I have no classified knowledge of any of this. My sources are the PBS Newshour and CNN.


Merely Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading

From Amnesty International's web page:

Memorandum to the US Government on the report of the UN Committee Against Torture and the question of closing Guantánamo

'On 2 December 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld approved, "as a matter of policy", a number of techniques for use in interrogating detainees at Guantánamo, at the discretion of the Commander of US Southern Command. The techniques included stress positions, sensory deprivation, isolation, the use of 20-hour interrogations, hooding during transportation and interrogation, stripping, forcible shaving, and "using detainees individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress". '

We are discussing the definition of torture on this blog, but please remember that when referring to torture, this Administration is not including the tactics described above. That is why definitions are so important.


Towards a Working Definition of Torture

FFG, a regular commenter, has suggested as a working definition of torture:

Anything that causes permanent physical or psychological damage.

It strikes Econo-Girl that that definition is a bit loose. After all, it applies to junior high gym class as well as waterboarding. To be honest, Econo-Girl has stayed away from defining torture because it's gross to think about. And I don't want a discussion here about pulling fingernails.

How about adding: Or leading a subject to believe that serious bodily injury will take place if they don't cooperate.

Of course, that would fall under the category of permanent psychological damage.

Or threatening the physical safety of family members or loved ones.

Same comment as above. Let's hear what you guys think. Econo-Girl seeks to host a dialog.


Message to All Army Interrogators

Hey guys, I read the latest Esquire magazine where an Army interrogator talked about interrogation techniques they used. It was shocking, but not entirely surprising. What Econo-Girl found surprising was that the interrogators were being lied to by military attorneys.

The Army interrogators were told that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to the people they were questioning. Why? Because the Attorney General said so. Now of course, no other U.S. Attorney General has ever held that opinion and no court has ever agreed with him, but never mind. The non-attorney interrogators were told that if anyone went to prison for what they were doing, it would be the lawyers telling them it was OK.

Come, now. You're sober, right? How could you possibly believe that? When has a pencil-necked attorney ever stuck his head out?

Believe Econo-Girl when she tells you that if you did it, you will be nailed for it. Wasn't Ollie North? Except you won't be getting a radio show out of the deal. After all, you'll be a torturer. Who would want to get behind that?

A little escape to the beach has done a lot to clarify things for Econo-Girl. Most of the post that started this whole mess was about outlining the law to non-attorneys who might be put in compromising legal positions. I saw it as a way of empowering them to say 'no' to prison for themselves. In retrospect, that's what got me fired. Not the sentence fragment that everyone is so hysterical about. I was going to expose the legal lie.


We All Lose Our Charms in the End

Econo-Girl got a Management degree years, even decades, ago. There she was exposed to the MAX MIN game theory. The thought is to make the worst that can happen as painless as possible.

Econo-Girl frequently thinks of this theory in relation to a functioning democracy. Since we all lose our charms in the end, you will eventually lose power by losing an election or political battle. When that happens, your actions will come to haunt you rather viciously.

With that in mind, a prudent pol will temper him/herself for a potential future downfall. Not in all cases, but for the most part. And that is part of what makes democracy great.

Econo-Girl is posting from sunny Naples, Florida today. Can't wait for a dip in the warm ocean.


We Must Discuss It For Torture To Stop

It's true. Many readers have expressed the opinion that the very discussion of the effectiveness of torture should not be engaged in. Econo-Girl disagrees. A lot of the underpinning of support for this practice is based on the belief that it is effective. So its effectiveness must be examined dispassionately. From there, the dialog can go to morals and beliefs.

Is Listening to Britney Spears Torture?

BTW - Econo-Girl loves Britney Spears, so this is not slam on you, girl. And a great web site you got.

Let's take a look at one definition:

n 1: extreme mental distress [syn: anguish, torment] 2: unbearable physical pain [syn: torment] 3: intense feelings of suffering; acute mental or physical pain; "an agony of doubt"; "the torments of the damned" [syn: agony, torment] 4: the act of distorting something so it seems to mean something it was not intended to mean [syn: distortion, overrefinement, straining, twisting] 5: the act of torturing someone; "it required unnatural torturing to extract a confession" [syn: torturing] v 1: torment emotionally or mentally [syn: torment, excruciate, rack] 2: subject to torture; "The sinners will be tormented in Hell, according to the Bible" [syn: excruciate, torment]
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Of course the disagreement will be in what constitutes extreme mental distress, unbearable physical pain, or intense feelings of suffering. We are all acculturated in our musical tastes such that exposure to something completely different at loud volume would be hard to bear. Or maybe the kids watching the prisoners just wanted to listen to Britney Spears, which is probably more likely.

A comment by IC Guy asked if a person would be more likely to tell the truth under threat of extreme physical pain, and the answer is probably 'yes.' But it is also just as likely they will tell you what you want to hear, judging from the reactions to their previous answers.

In this particular discussion thread, we are ignoring the role of morals.


False Confessions

Econo-Girl sees the use of torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as increasing the liklihood of false confessions. Or false information. Or false alarms.

The quicker results may be satisfying to a desparate political apparatus, and the resulting movement may in fact be confused with progress, but in the end you are left with information of dubious value and you are still a torturer.

Will Work Harder on Spelling

Fixed issues pointed out to me. And you're right, it does make a difference.

The Importance of Being Earnest

When Econo-Girl made the ill-fated decision to criticize torture she was being a naive fool. After all, hadn't the DoD and the CIA both decided to adhere to the Geneva Conventions? I really meant what I said, but apparantly they did not. Hence, the termination of employment.

Ah, well. What's done is done and there are no regrets, although a little pain. At a certain point in one's spiritual development, beliefs and actions must agree. That, in the end, is what happened. It was a process I didn't have full control of. There was a lot of profit in compartmentalization, after all.

Econo-Girl has the full support of many in the intelligence field. She knows this because she is continually approached and thanked for her outspokeness. I thank you in return. Your words of support have meant a lot to me.


Refuting a Defense of Torture: Saving Lives

A couple of recurring arguements are made to defend the practice of torture, one of which is that if it will save lives. Such a discussion often goes like this:

"So if some guy knows about an attack, and torture will get him to talk, it will save lives. So torture is OK then."

The fallacy of that point is it rarely is the case that the government knows exactly who knows of an impending attack. How is it that you are going to know the guy sitting in front of you has the information to save lives? These terrorist cells practice compartmentalization of information, so only a few will know enough details to tip off authorities. How could someone tell if they have that guy in custody? Of course, they won't.

So what are the options then? An interrogator could torture every person who hits the radar screen of suspicion. You know, just in case. And the whole time tell himself that he is saving lives. Another option is to choose someone who seems like a leader, and torture that guy until something good comes out. Of course, such things tend to be self-fulfilling prophesies.

This entire point of view is supported by the belief that people tell the truth under physical duress. How about that they will tell you anything to get the pain to stop? That seems more likely.


Starting a National Discussion on Torture

Econo-Girl is going to start a national discussion on torture and interrogation, not as an expert, but as a person who is driven to know and communicate.

We cannot ignore the role of faith, morals and identity in this discussion.

All perspectives need to be aired, including the tit-for-tat and effectiveness arguements. If, indeed, torture is effective, we need to discuss it, as morally abhorrant as that is to some. Keep in mind that effectiveness is not the final word in the discussion.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of various interrogation methods?

What is the impact of false confessions to counter-terrorist analysis?

What constitutes torture? What is its definition?

Let's examine the conflict between what is said, and what is done. Thank you in advance for your participation.


Can We All Agree That Torture Is Wrong?

Some of you make the arguement that torture is necessary at times. But working towards a common ground of understanding, do we all agree that torture is wrong?

Saddam Hussein Also Disliked the Geneva Convention

Remember Gulf War I? The first President Bush was raising a fuss about Saddam Hussein and his gassing of the Kurds. He doesn't adhere to the Geneva Conventions! He must be stopped! It was used as one of the reasons to go to war.

Now we as a nation have decided to, finally, follow the Geneva Convention once again. And when I write to support that new policy, all hell breaks loose. That's fine. Econo-Girl is sure she angered a lot of people, and what's the point of living if you're not going to do that once in a while?

But the whole time he was rallying support against Saddam Hussein, the first President Bush never suggested we become just like him. He had the sense not to go into Iraq to begin with. That old geezer is looking better all the time.


Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Econo-Girl is! Hence the article in the paper. And I hope I don't look that old in person. The photo in the paper makes me look like my mother, who looks great for her age, but still.

Recently, a Federal contractor was indicted for exceeding authorized use in an FBI computer system. Let's review his crimes: he circumvented security to install a printer, he failed to get approval to install said printer from FBI HQ in Washington, DC. Further, he took the password file and demonstrated that it was not protected properly.

Econo-Girl freaked out because when she was let go, it was for exceeding authorized use of a Federal computer system. Was an indictment to follow? So she went public.

Aside from that, how is the FBI going to attract good IT people if everyone knows that installing a printer requires HQ approval, and a little initiative to improve security of a password file results in indictment?


Waterboarding is Torture, and Torture is Wrong

Not to mention ineffective. Econo-Girl has serious doubts as to whether European lives were saved.

Econo-Girl's purpose in writing this blog is to start a dialog on the Geneva Convention, since it now applies to the Department of Defense again. Guess it's not quaint anymore, eh?

Over the next few weeks, Econo-Girl would like to post articles about the Geneva Convention, like its origin and major provisions. Legal analysis is not the magic some would have you believe.

If the grunts and paper pushers are knowledgeable, the anti-torture infrastructure will be strengthened.

- - - - --

The above post is a recreation of a post that got me fired from the CIA. It is not exact, but covers the main points as best I remember them. I had a blog called Covert Communications on a kind of classified Internet. I wrote a version of the above post and classified it so that only Americans with clearances could read it. You couldn't even get to the blog if you had less than a Top Secret and above clearance anyway.

Another purpose of the blog post was to start a dialog on interogation techniques with the people who are asked to do the interogating. It was to be a public education campaign, of sorts. I was going to do the research on my own time and type in the results when I got to work. I never spent more than 15 minutes writing any of my posts.

What can I say? Waterboarding is torture, and torture is wrong.


Ken Lay is Dead

And in the end, that is where we all will be. So was defrauding all those people worth it, Ken, now that you have some perspective on the matter?

Econo-Girl is reminded of that girl who stole a book from some published author, got it published again under her own name, and got caught. Econo-Girl read a comment somewhere "So there are worse things than not getting into Harvard," which is where the girl was going to school.

Here, Econo-Girl says, "So there are worse things than not being a corporate titan." Like being remembered and hated for being a thief.


Our New Treasury Secretary

Look at this guy. This is the face of the guy who is going to set the world's mind at ease about the stability of the dollar? Does it inspire confidence in you? Not Econo-Girl. The man looks like a lunatic, albeit one that is on steroids. Note to White House: it is possible to be strongly insane.

Reuters photo.


For Sale By Owner

Econo-Girl has seen so many For Sale By Owner signs she is positively dizzy. It's not something she has seen before. But with interest rates causing mortgage payments to rise, perhaps housing is getting a little too dear for some people. For a lot of people, as a matter of fact.

Of course, selling the home yourself means that you aren't shelling out 6% to a realtor. And if you would take a loss if you gave up 6%, you would be selling the place yourself.

The question is: how much downward pressure will this reality put on housing prices?


Sadly Validated

See The Telegraph from the UK:

Markets braced for the worst By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Filed: 15/05/2006)

Global markets are bracing for turmoil today after an ominous slide in the US dollar and a slump in equity and bond prices late last week sent tremors through the global financial system, evoking memories of the 1987 crash.

So what's an Econo-Girl to do? What she has been doing for a year: paying off debts that go up with with the interest rates, trying to economize in groceries, etc. She is even considering taking up sewing again. There's nothing like it. I makes you feel like you are a clothing designer.


Oil and the Dollar

The dollar is the currency used to purchase oil and illegal narcotics around the world. Regarding oil, if Iran decides to sell its oil in a currency other than oil, then there will be less global demand for the dollar to use to buy it.

If there is less demand for the dollar, then its value will decrease. If the value of the dollar decreases, to the U.S. consumer that means that prices will go up, massive importers like WalMart and Target will have their prices rise. Right now, it possible to get a lot of stuff cheap overseas because the dollar is strong, and sell it here to you for a low prices in terms of the dollar. That will fuel inflation in the U.S.

If the dollar decreases, it also means that U.S. exported goods will be cheaper, so it will help our exports. And suddenly, coming to the U.S. for vacation will be cheaper, so the tourism business will improve.

A falling dollar will have big ramifications for other nations whose currency is pegged to the dollar. Their currencies will fall in value, as well. So it is rather a big threat on Iran's part.

Threats seem to be a Middle East specialty.


Good News ?

Americans are borrowing less? Not at all. They are still borrowing more than last month, or even last year. But the rate of growth of that borrowing is decreasing! Whee! Don't you feel better now?

Meanwhile, there is a great fear of an economic slowdown in the U.S. And Iran is thinking of buying and selling oil in a currency other than the dollar.

View http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060505/ap_on_bi_go_ec_fi/consumer_credit;_ylt=AuogCCMGtgmsa2e3hjnVFA3v5rEF;_ylu=X3oDMTBjMHVqMTQ4BHNlYwN5bnN1YmNhdA for the article.


Where's the Optimism?

Economists want to know: where U.S. consumer optimism? Job growth is going well, corporate profits are going up, what's the problem?

How disconnected are these goons, anyway? Would it be the rising cost of the same old debt because of the rising interest rates? Like credit cards and interest-only mortgages? Guess how many people that affects? Rising gas prices is only one part of it. So is the forboding knowlege that all this deficit spending is going to have to be paid by US, the U.S. taxpayer.



WalMart America

Econo-Girl has an idea! One that will solve our budget shortfall lickety-split!

Let's sell the name of our country. Sure. There's the Verizon Dome, or whatever, so why not WalMart America? And should they take a nosedive, we can sell it again. This could go on forever. Talk about capitalism. Somebody should mention this idea to the President.

The New Chinese Export

Econo-Girl listened with horror as she heard a news program on the BBC report about the latest Chinese export: human organs. I actually turned off the radio at the point.

Of course, they have a lot of people to spare over there. Econo-Girl guesses that's the rationale behind this behaviour. It's disgusting. Imagine the desparate people who are doing to selling. This is their entry into capitalism?

Econo-Girl points to situations like these when she says that unfettered capitalism is wrong. Organ selling is wrong. People should not be allowed to cut out a piece of themselves and sell it, pressed by poverty and possibly their families. It's gross.


Controlling Inflation

See article below. Warnings are going out that central banks across the globe will not always be able to control inflation.

Hmmmm. No one knows, still, how national economies work. There are theories that come into vogue that explain what is going on at the moment they are published. That's for sure.

Econo-girl is reminded of the Army Corps of Engineers trying to reroute the Mississippi River. How well did that work? Remember, the Fed only controls the interest rate charged to banks. Yes, it trickles down to all of us. But they don't control prices or inventories. And they don't control what we buy.


Nixon's Last Gasp

In a last bid to hold on to power, Nixon contacted Democrats on the Hill and offered to support universal health care if they just forgot about this breaking and entering stuff.

What is the Republican last gasp these days? Immigration? Lower taxes? The War? It seems the President is even listening to non-scripted questions. Talk about desparate.

Econo-Girl has predicted that in the end, Bush II is going to wish he had lost re-election like his Dad.


Front Seat at the Revolution

Econo-Girl chanced to see a Congressional fool this morning talking about how even though the immigration reform law he voted for would impose criminal penalties on a doctor that treated an illegal alien, it would not be enforced that way.


You mean you voted for a law that you knew was so ridiculous on its face that you never really planned on its enforcement? That speaks volumes about our Republican Congresspeople.

On a related note, did my intrepid readers see HOW MANY PEOPLE showed up at these demonstrations protesting the immigration bill? And did you hear what they said? That this is only the beginning of political change. The first step is immigration reform. Then comes other social issues.

In Econo-Girl's opinion, it's about time for universal health care in some shape or form. Econo-Girl herself has been in the precarious state of not having health insurance. And Leisure Lad had a serious health crisis a year ago. If he didn't have health insurance, he might be dead now. Fortunately, I have insurance. We shouldn't have to live like that as Americans. Call me a communist, but that's what I think.


Immigration, Capitalism and Ethics

Illegal immigration is the current scapegoat for all kinds of problems. The stealth unemployment rate no one is talking about, for one thing. People are mentioning that jobs are really being taken away from Americans, but not the 'it seems we do have unemployment after all' kicker that is its logical underpinning.

The U.S. gets a lot of advantages from illegal immigrants. Cheap labor. Cheaper restaurant meals. Lower building costs. Which is why Congress doesn't really do anything except squack about it. Structurally speaking, paying people higher wages would have an impact on our quality of life. Who wants that?

Mention has been made about cutting all government services to illegal residents. The Supreme Court has ruled that illegal, and so it should. The people are here illegally because we need them to be. And education is not something they are getting much of at home, so none in the U.S. for them wouldn't stop them from coming here. And is it really right to let someone die because of their immigrant status? Econo-Girl doesn't think so. Remember, diseases don't stop and start at the sight of a green card. If a disease is not treated among one group of people here, then it will inevitably spread to other people living here. So it is good for all concerned to keep the overall population healthy, legal and illegal.

Molly Ivins has a great idea on how to attack illegal immigration: arrest and jail a corporate president. See http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/03/30/ivins.immigration/index.html. Of course, that would bring up all kinds of class issues. And there would be hordes of people who would actually defend the idea that the nice man in a nice suit shouldn't be dragged through the street in handcuffs. That's only for real criminals. Personally, Econo-Girl couldn't get enough of such comeuppance. She suspects she is not alone.


The Moon

Ladies and Gentlemen, please consider the moon. Not as we know it, that dead planet of rocks and dust. But what it could become. A center of commerce and a place to live after we kill every plant on Earth.

Check out www.lunardevelopment.net. A site with more content Econo-Girl has rarely seen.

Gambling, Gambling, My Goodness!

Econo-Girl is glad that her little dumplings are so thoughtful in their opinions.

We have had some contretemps lately about gambling. To gamble or not to gamble, is that the question? Not really. Can you stop? That is the question. How much of your net income do you spend doing it?

Econo-Girl will not bore her readers with another story of her Vegas trip. But if Econo-Girl was going to measure the joy of a gambling experience, it would be how long $100 would last. Because it can be a heady experience with the dealers and people watching you, the lights and decor making you feel like a big shot. At least that's what Econo-Girl felt at the beginners' cheapskate table. Not even the soda was free.

And then you look around and see the other tables, where you can lose much more money much more quickly. And, yes, it seems that beating the house just might be possible, or even easy. The whole thing scared Econo-Girl and so she stays away.

But if that isn't what it does to you, and you can stop and set limits on yourself, do it! It's just that the casinos are banking on your not being able to stop. And, unfortunately, they are usually right.


Six and Half Percent Unemployment

The real unemployment rate, if they were counting everybody. And nobody's counting the underemployed.



Brazil's currency took a nosedive this week. Investors, and the world in general, are concerned what the new Finance chief there is going to do. Since they seem to be unsure of what they guy is about, naturally they panic and cause a currency crisis.

This is why measured words are so important for our Fed chief. These hysterical ninnies in the financial industry will take any excuse for an emotional bender and play it to the hilt. Econo-Girl often finds that the people hiding behind numerical analysis are just a lot of twits that are extremely reactive.

Take the Law and Economics theory. It basically says that every legal decision should be decided by a cost/benefit analysis. Hmmm. Great way to look at the Bill of Rights. And of course, anything they decide they want somehow gets the best results and wins their 'objective analysis'.

All this puts Greenspan's warning about 'irrational exuberance' in a context of bravery. That took a lot of risk and guts to tell it like it is. Econo-Girl is going to miss old Alan Greenspan.


The Six Percent Solution

Bernanke made a little remark that is receiving little attention, although it should. He said that the trade deficit the US has with the rest of the world could be corrected by a six percent drop in the value of the dollar. He wasn't advocating that drop, but assured America that if it did happen, not to worry. Our economy was strong enough to handle it.

In what sense, Econo-Girl asks. Since much of consumer goods are imported, it means that the price of imported goods would rise six percent, right off the bat. And that assumes no escalating in the price rise as retailers fear a continutation of that rise and their prices go up to meet the level of their fear.

And what effect would a sudden rise in prices have on your personal economy? So what is he talking about? He is the Fed Chief. He knows that prices will rise for everyone if the dollar drops in value to that extent. Does he think most people will take that in stride?


Do You Want to Work Here?

A question that everyone going on an interview asks themselves. In the rats maze of cubicles that Econo-Girl works in, she has observed some indicators to watch out for. First of all, how are the carpets? If they are worn badly, then the people there aren't well taken care of. Secondly, are there any plants not belonging to an individual? Plants indicate to me a degree of compassion. Plants in an individual's cubicle indicate that the person wants a piece of refuge with them at work.

Is Econo-Girl jumping to conclusions? As she types out her beliefs, they seem to be a bit quick to judge.

Recently, Econo-Girl has worked at a place where the boss' boss was a young woman who dressed like Adrianna from the Sopranos. The only people who had Dilbert cartoons on display were upper management. Econo-Girl suspects there is meaning in that somewhere. She just can't figure out what it is. Maybe it sucks to be middle management.



Econo-Girl watched one of her favorite movies last night: Casino. Geek that she is, one of the things she likes about it best are the little business lessons about putting the most profitable machine in front, etc. She always wondered why DeNiro didn't have Sharon Stone's old boyfriend killed or something.

Of course, intrepid readers will remember how Econo-Girl hated, HATED Vegas when she went there. Gambling is not her thing, mostly because she hates to lose. Some people think it is fun, she knows, but it actually is rather scary to me. Sitting there, you feel like you are the center of it all. And nothing else exists. And the rounds go so fast. I know that is the point. You don't get to enjoy sitting there without playing.

A statistician one told Econo-Girl that you can expect to get 30% return at a casino, max. And the longer you play, the more likely you are to lose. It's in the numbers. Who would have thought that that extra zero or two would throw things so much? But it does.

Watching the other people in Vegas was depressing. Some of them were so sad. Maybe they felt like us about being there.


Inheritance Wars

Agatha Christie made her literary career on WASP fights for inheritances. She was really on to something. Nothing brings out the unbridled id like standing in line for the family treasures.

Dearest Readers, recently Econo-Girl has shared with you her grief at the loss of a great man, Fred Tate. So imagine Econo-Girl's feelings when, one hour after his arrival, his son wanted to raid any common accounts Fred Tate held with his wife, the son's stepmother.

The body was barely cold.

Fortunately, all monies were kept completely separate, lucky for Aunt Janice. A few days later, Janice called us, upset, because her stepson wanted to take the car. That, too, was headed off at the pass.

It's not that the son is a bad fellow. He isn't. It's just the weird way people feel that they "deserve." As in "Dad left Mom and me for this woman and spent this money on her." Now he deserves it back. That's all. So he came to collect.

Leisure Lad and I are not blood relations. We feel obligated because we promised Fred on his last night alive that we would always look after Janice. And we will. Janice doesn't want to be alone in the house at night, so Leisure Lad and Econo-Girl have been staying at the house a few nights a week. It's tough, because we're being treated like moochers. Janice's family is in Rhode Island, we're staying with Janice when she wants us to, we're getting home health aides for her, we're doing the shopping for her, getting a better maid, looking for a dog groomer, etc.

The biological family treats us like hangers-on. Who would be there if it wasn't for us? Janice doesn't even think she needs help at home. We have to talk her into it, and even then she changes her mind and sends them away when they arrive.

Janice's sister thinks that, after being barely ambulatory for a few years and not walking at all since October, Janice should just get over it and get to walking again.

Econo-Girl is finding all this emotional stuff to be very taxing. Janice and Fred helped my husband very much throughout his life. We will not forget our obligation to Fred. But, dammit, I want some appreciation.


The Intolerance of Intolerance

Here's a good one. If you are caught harrassing, pestering, annoying, bothering any employee, you are subject to termination. Because, by God, they're not going to tolerate any intolerance!

But what if your conversational style is just aggressive? What if someone is ducking your e-mails? What if someone drank your milk in the corporate fridge? You can't pester them about it? That seems awful stringent to Econo-Girl, who herself is not known for quiet stoicism. But what kind of workplace does that engender? You would be afraid for your job if you were too persistent, for fear that you were pestering. You wouldn't want to accuse your co-worker of going through your purse, for fear you were bothering her.

What's an Econo-Girl to do? Keep an updated resume.



An article today in the New York Times talks about the long-term pitfalls in investing in India. They say that there isn't the human capital to feed the IT growth. The schools for engineering and technology are great, but the primary schools are dreadful and 40% of the population drops out in grade school.

Let's talk about this a bit. Behind the numbers is the social system in India, where most people can't afford an education. And that is exactly what would have to change. But what are the obstacles? A social system called the caste system. In it, most people are on the bottom and have no way to rise to a higher class level. Most people are in dreadful poverty.

So for this to change, high caste young people would have to go to school with low caste people in grade school. Then, when they are all competing in later grades, high caste people are going to have to accept that their children lost to some low caste kids. In young adulthood, Indians will have to accept Untouchables as co-workers and supervisors.

Econo-Girl has been to India. She doesn't see this as happening. Econo-Girl worked with an emigre from India once. He told the whole team how he paid the maid back home $2.50 a month. A MONTH! We offered to take up an office collection to give her a raise, but he wouldn't accept it, saying that if you gave them more money they just got spoiled.

Econo-Girl came to believe, after her trip to India, that the social mores surrounding economic activity is as important as the activity itself. In the States, we don't look to your family name before deciding on your promotion (for the most part). You have to deliver the goods. We don't defer to rank or age. And it is that flexibility that makes America great, and keeps it that way.


Menu of Corruption

Duke Cunningham took bribes as a California Congressman to hand out "no compete" business to defense contractors. In the interests of efficiency, Duke made out a MENU for corrupt defense contractors to show how much payoff it would take per million dollars of business. Pretty handy, eh? And it seems it's been going on for years. Econo-Girl has heard talk of defense contract corruption that included working Defense employees. No specifics, mind you. But rumors were there. The trick was to hire a retired general who knew how it was done.

So now leniency is being pleaded for former fighter pilot who fleeced the Treasury and betrayed the public trust. Econo-Girl votes "no".

Yes, personal bravery and stamina, quick-thinking and intelligence are admirable qualities in any American. But the man's a thief. And it is hard to accept, but that is not inconsistent with his better qualities. Yes, he has served his country admirably. But he profited from it admirably as well. Duke Cunningham should be given the maximum prison sentence, even if he dies there. His corruption was not merely one bad choice, or even a few of them. It established a systemic corruption founded on Duke Cunningham's military experience. He pissed in his own soup. Then he fed it to the U.S. public. Yum-yum.


Conventional Wisdom

What can a person trust? Econo-Girl was perusing the business section of the New York Times, where someone was dismissing the effects of a real estate price collapse. After all, he pointed out, only 10% of homeowners owe so much on their homes that a 'value' reduction would cause real problems for them.

Hmmm. 'Only' 10% of homeowners. Do you know how many people that is? A hell of a lot of them. And what would be the effect of their belt-tightening? Fewer goods and services sold in general.

This guy mentions that an increase in home values is really not translatable into real increased wealth unless you sell your home. True. But is that really how people have been approaching it? Haven't people been using their sudden home equity to buy, buy, buy? Yes, yes, yes.

The effects of a downturn in the real estate market will be felt across the economy. The question is, what's next? Employment is picking up, which is good. The deficit is astouding. Is there another bubble we can all get obsessed with? Readers will remember Econo-Girl's prediction that the next asset bubble is gold. She is staying with her prediction.


Death in the Family

It's a very sad day. A wonderful man has died. He played uncle to my husband with no obligation of expectation for him to do so. My husband's real father had nothing to do with him and let him grow up in the DC foster care system. But when Leisure Lad turned 21, his bio dad showed up and wanted him to take his last name.

And so Fred, in the intervening years, was there for him and helped him out of many scrapes over the years. Fred was also an avid reader of this blog, something which always made me very proud. He really cared for me the way I was, not because I made him look good. That was something new for me.

We had dinner with him and his wife just last night and I tried to teach him how to highlight text and print it. He was 81 and didn't cotton to computers. My husband and I had dinner with he and his wife once a week for most Sundays out of a year. Often we would be the only people they would see all week. It was the best investment I ever made.

Fred Tate, I will miss you a lot. God bless you and keep you.


Housing Prices Will Fall By Half

You heard it here first.

What Do We Want In a Fed Chief?

People are never happy. Alan Greenspan foretells the stock market bubble, only to be openly ridiculed by oafs not qualified to carry his lunch. Econo-Girl remembers the 'irrational exuberance' speech. She also remembers the old guys on the 'news' channels talking about Greenspan as if he were some doddering old man who has lost touch with reality. In retrospect, many of Greenspan's critics were making money off of their wild-eyed stock predictions.

As an aside, it doesn't matter if the stock market is above 10,000. It's only a number.

So now the new guy to replace Alan Greenspan, Bernake, was roasted on Capital Hill because he refused to offer economic advice other than to reduce the Federal deficit. No one is ever happy. But is that what the Fed Chairman should do? He said that the size of government is none of his business. But isn't it? Doesn't that affect his choices on the money supply? And if it does, shouldn't we know that?

If this guy doesn't know the answers, who the hell does?

Econo-Girl predicts that, in the end, Bernake will choose to offer some advice. He is just drawing a clear line between himself and his predecessor. And now that he has drawn the cloak of mystery around himself, Bernake will be watched even more closely.


*** is Corrupt

Econo-Girl has read today in the paper how easy it is to be fired based on a blog. Well, well. She thought she would try to trash a FORMER employer just for fun. What are you going to do? Fire me?

*** is best known for the black suits its employees wear. They are expensive and tailored. *** is less known for the movies its employees watch at work or the naps they take behind closed office doors, both of which Econo-Girl has witnessed. They like to put a huge wall between the customer and the workers, so ne'er the twain shall meet. This tactic allows for big obstacles to stand between the government client and the truth about the computer application's functionality.

In the lobby of a ***building, a guard stands with a plastic thing in his ear. Is he in moment-to-moment touch with Security Central? No. He is eavesdropping on the *** employees in the lobby. It's OK that they get blown up, but those pesky little worker bees better not be talking out of school.

As a software tester at ***, I witnessed about the worst coding I have ever seen, except for +++. No small feat. The application was due to be deployed in two weeks and almost none of the background calculations were working. And when I wrote up what I found, the computer programmers blamed me for it! And management went along. To this day, I believe that if I had told them that the computer program worked fine, I would still have a job.

And don't get Econo-Girl started on the racial or sex discrimination at ***. Every white male was a partner or on the partnership track. I only ever saw one female partner and no people of color as partners.

Econo-Girl kept getting the feeling that she was about to be knifed in the kitchen, and she probably was, although not with an acutal knife. It is enough to say that she is glad as hell to be out of there and hopes a major scandal rocks *** in their boots.


Space Alien Abductees

Suppose, perhaps, that people were recovering actual memories? And suppose that there was a way to make sense of it without delving into the weird? Econo-Girl has an idea.

Econo-Girl saw a documentary on people who recovered memories on space alien abductions. A striking similarity ran through the stories. Namely, the creatures had big eyes, stuck things into their orafices, picked them up and transported them seemingly though the air, and were sometimes assisted by shorter space aliens. Right so far?

All of the above would describe the experiences of a newborn baby. And the short aliens would be siblings. Remember, a baby's eyesight is still not developed fully. It is entirely possible that what people are describing applies to how an infant would see their parents and feel about having their temperature taken. Just a thought. Approaching it from another angle would take some of the horror out of the situation. And the recovered memory thing would be right, too. It's just giving the memory another context gives it an entire new meaning.


Wolfowitz Admits He Was WRONG


Paul Wolfowitz,in comments in a coffee shop in Dupont Circle Saturday morning, admitted the whole "lets invade Iraq" thing was wrong-headed from the start. "Hey, it was worth a shot" said Mr. Wolfowitz. "How else would we know? Anyways, I'm not there anymore, so it's somebody else's headache."

The previous paragraph was completely fabricated. However, Econo-Girl is going to conduct an experiment. She's going to copy and paste only the false first paragraph, and send it to every media outlet with an e-mail, along with the link to this specific post. She encourages her readers to do the same. The goal is to see how many people take the quote without actually going to the link and reading the post. What's your guess?



Econo-Girl waited for last Friday night for two weeks. It was "expose the pervert" time on Dateline. What fun! What ratings!

One of the backlashes of the information age is the private realm is shrinking. People who committed crimes 20 years ago are being found out as they live among us as Baptist ministers.

Econo-Girl believes that a new underground economy is starting. The privacy option.

Let's face it, there are actions we take that we don't want everybody to know about. So pay off a clerk to keep you out of the information stream by putting another name down instead of yours.

There could even be people who go around breaking into computers to erase data about you. Cool gig.