Saturday, November 29, 2008

Where we go, our "stuff" goes with us

Tom Engelheardt explains the mother-of-all rationals preventing a 16-month U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. We've got so much stuff over there, we can't possibly vacate it all in less than, oh, say, three years. Read it and weep.

It's the ultimate argument, the final bastion against withdrawal, and over these last years, the Bush administration has made sure it would have plenty of heft. Ironically, its strength lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics, the relative power of Shiites or Sunnis, the influence of Iran, or even the riptides of war. It really doesn't matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or oppositional cleric Muqtada al-Sadr think about it. In fact, it's an argument that has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with us, with the American way of war (and life), which makes it almost unassailable.

In a nutshell, the Pentagon's argument couldn't be simpler or more red-bloodedly American: We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat. Where we go, our "stuff" goes with us -- in such prodigious quantities that removing it is going to prove more daunting than invading in the first place. After all, it took less than a year to put in place the 130,000-plus invasion force, and all its equipment and support outfits from bases all around the world, as well as the air power and naval power to match.

Today, the Pentagon and the military top command plan to be far more responsible consumers and far better environmentalists, however long it takes, and the Department of Agriculture's "stringent requirements" for the "power-washing" -- this, in the desert, of course -- of every object to be returned to the U.S. will help ensure that this is so. "Ever since U.S. authorities found plague-infected rats in cargo returning from the Vietnam War," the AP's Hanley has written, "the decontamination process has been demanding: water blasting of equipment, treatment with insecticide and rodenticide, inspections, certifications."

And now, as the mission threatens to wind down, the top brass are evidently claiming that an Obama timeline for withdrawal would violate our property rights and squander a vast array of expensive equipment. You'll hear no apologies from the military for traveling heavy, despite the fact that they are now arguing against a reasonable withdrawal timetable based on the need to enact a kind of 12-step program for armed consumer sobriety.

Irony hardly covers this one. The Bush administration may have succeeded in little else, but it did embed the U.S. so deeply in that country that leaving can now be portrayed as the profligate thing to do.

Emerging from the same ideological petrie-dish as Bernanke and Paulson

At Counterpunch, Mike Whitney suggests that loss of credibility of government, financial and media institutions have contributed mightily to the loss of consumer confidence.

Bernanke and Paulson are trying to tackle the financial crisis from the wrong end. This isn't about liquidity or "access to credit", it’s about confidence. The public's trust has been betrayed a million times over. They've been tricked with WMD, bamboozled with phantom enemies, and cheated with bogus securities. All the surveys say the same thing; public confidence is at an all-time low. As a result, fear and pessimism are more widespread than any time in recent history. People no longer expect tomorrow to be better than today. In fact, they expect it to be worse, and for good reason. The country has broken loose from its moorings and is adrift. There's no accountability at any level of government anymore; it doesn't matter how big or heinous the crime, no one pays. The justice system is a sham. In fact, the D.O.J. is just a weapon for destroying political enemies; that's it. The one noteworthy conviction in the last 8 years was home-decorating guru Martha Stewart. What a joke. In his memoirs, Bush can boast, "At least we got Martha Stewart off the streets."

And it's not just the justice system that lacks credibility either; it's the financial system, too. The stampede out of the stock market to US Treasuries shows how quickly trust can turn to panic. The downward spiral of the economy reflects the mood of the country; dark and gloomy. That's not something that can be changed with more liquidity. After all, the economy is more than the sum of its parts, just like people are more than just consumption machines that can be zapped like rats into spending themselves into oblivion. They're sentient beings who can see the deteriorating economic conditions closing in on them and threatening their security. They're scared. Bernanke -- the academic -- sees the economy through the lens of his research on the Great Depression. He, like many other monetarists, believe that the depression was the result of the one-third contraction in the money supply during the 1930s. It is a widely held view and it could be true. But if that's the case, than why haven't the Fed's myriad lending facilities--which have flooded the financial system with trillions of dollars of liquidity -- stopped the markets from crashing and the recession from deepening. Could it be that there were other factors besides just money supply? People are hunkering down for a reason, and its not just lost revenue. They've lost faith in their institutions--the government, the banks, and the media; everybody is in it for themselves, and it shows. Even now, with the economy teetering at the brink of disaster, high-ranking officials like Paulson are still diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from the Treasury to their Wall Street buddies leaving nothing behind but a few scraps for the working stiffs. And Paulson isn't alone either; his "dog eat dog" creed is the prevailing ethos of the corrupt oligarchy that runs the country, Republican and Democrat alike, it makes no difference. It's "me first" and the public be damned.

Whitney also warns that (1) things are not much likely to improve under Obama and his economic team - which shares the culpability of the current financial meltdown, and (2) that things will get a whole lot worse.

The ... Obama star-studded economic recovery team emerges from the same ideological petrie-dish as Bernanke and Paulson. Their world view is shaped by the same strong sense of entitlement which will ultimately prevent them from enacting the regulatory reforms that need to be put in place to restore transparency, confidence and credibility. Instead, they will unleash a torrent of stimulus spending (infrastructure and green technology mainly) followed by unorthodox monetarist/fiscal chicanery (like purchasing stocks on the equities market or buying long-term Treasurys) all of which will hide the fact that they are not forcing the bad debts out into the open so they can be written down and the markets can reestablish equilibrium.

Regardless of what the new administration does, the stock markets will take another leg down between the end of 2009 to early 2010, finding a bottom on the Dow of 4,500 or thereabouts. 70 per cent plus declines took place on the NASDAQ following the bust, Japan during the 1990s "lost decade" and the Great Depression. In none of these cases was the bottom reached in the first year. Hedge fund redemptions will force more deleveraging and more wild swings in volatility. The banks, which have accounted for nearly half of their losses, will need to write off another $800 to $900 billion before its all over. No one knows where they'll get the capital. Unemployment will skyrocket, housing will overshoot to the downside, and there will be the first random incidents of political instability in major US cities. The economy will remain flat on its back for some years into the future. How quickly the markets rebound depends on whether Obama's team understands that the system needs deep structural changes and a banking system that is not paralyzed with debt.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Handicapped by the Bush Administration

Patrick Lang makes several important observations about the ongoing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq:

To some extent wars like these are always messy in their ending. It took the US military, handicapped by the Bush Administration, a long time to recognize these situations for the insurgent conflicts that they always were. Adequate forces and a proper strategic approach could have led to an effective if "temporary" pacification of Afghanistan. The time and opportunity for that are nearly gone. Once again, we are "broke" and that reality will govern the outcome. Iraq will not be Iowa in the Middle East, but it will also not be Saddam's Iraq, nor will it be the takfiris' dream of Iraq. Perhaps that is victory enough.

Among those who have bled in these wars, there will be cries of "stab in the back," and "nous sommes trahis." Get used to these kinds of outcomes, boys and girls. This is how the game is played.

About that the handicap imposed by the Bush administration - does this mean that our military leaders believed the propaganda perpetrated upon the American people, that our troops were fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq? Or does it suggest that our military leaders figured out our troops were fighting an "insurgency" some time ago, but never had the integrity to tell the truth?

Also not quite sure what game is referred to in this statement - "This is how the game is played." The "game" of war? The game of "strutting the stuff" of our military might?

For my mind, Commander Jeff Huber's explanations make the most sense:

It sounds like [retired Marine General James L.] Jones buys into the mythos-based ethos that his buddy John McCain subscribes to, the one that says we know we can't win the war we're in militarily, but we can't afford to lose or the bad guys will make fun of us, which is the second worst fate possible.* We can't lose as long as we keep fighting, so we have to keep fighting even though we know we can't win. When people ask what we're trying to achieve by all this endless fighting, we tell them "success," and when they press us for what we mean by that, we talk out our hats until they leave us alone.


*The worst fate possible is that everybody figures out we can't accomplish anything militarily anymore and slashes our budget to a stump.

At some point, we have to stand up

Booman remembers a LOT of the historical rhetorical failures of the U.S. defense department.

[T]he real concern on the left is that Obama is filling out his foreign policy team almost exclusively with people whose instincts were wrong on Iraq. That is not promising if the goal is to change the paradigm through which Washington views its foreign policy options.

There is no doubt that there is value in staffing up with some hawks and some ardent pro-Israeli thinkers if your goal is to move in a more dovish direction. It is wise to protect the right flank. But the Democrats run a risk. Since at least the time of McCarthy, Democrats have consistently found it necessary to protect their right flank, which is why they tend to select Republicans to run the Defense Department. It is a structural feature of American politics that the right wing will attack the Democrats as being soft on defense, even going so far as to concoct intelligence and statistics to make their case.

We saw this happen first with the whole 'Who lost China' debate, then the 'Let's Nuke China' debate, then the 'Let's invade Cuba' debate, then the 'Let's invade Vietnam' debate, then the 'The Soviets have established military superiority' debate, and finally the 'Democrats are soft on terror' debate. At some point, we have to stand up and beat back this structural deficit.

Who lost China? - Chiang Ki Chek & company lost China. The state department hands who had been warning of the impending uprising, those who got China "right" were fired or demoted. As if China were "ours" to lose.

Is there any reason to assume Obama wants to do anything other than continue fighting the GWOT, except move the "theater" from Iraq to Afghanistan? Not really.

Is there any reason to assume that Obama will not acquiesce to the wishes of the Israeli government?

Didn't Obama (as well as Clinton and Edwards) say that "nothing was off the table" in regards to possible responses to Iran, nothing off by implication including nuclear options on the table?

ONLY if the enormity of the ongoing financial crisis (shopping malls and hotels starting to default on loan repayments - another load of toxic collateralized waste about to hit the fan) seeps into the frontal lobes of consciousness of the president-elect and his incoming administration in conjunction with the enormity of the repeated failures of the U.S. military to achieve and implement U.S. political objectives in such places as - Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan will there be any hope of significantly reducing our military's commitments around the globe.

A licence for capitalists to steal

From Donald E. Westlake's 2003 crime novel Money For Nothing:

"Socialism, for a clever man," Mr. Nimrin told him, "is a license to steal. Capitalism is a license for capitalists to steal. As the name suggests, you first need capital."

They cannot solve problems by throwing money at them

William Lind notes the rise in Afghanistan of a domestic "middle" force opposed to both the Taliban and the coalition forces and how the rise of such forces ultimately signal when the occupying forces should leave. In Iraq, such a time has probably arrived, although Lind doubts the U.S. military will take heed:

The American military will probably ignore all this, as it ignores military theory generally. European militaries do pay attention to military theory, in part because they know they cannot solve problems by throwing money at them and in part because the 20th Century taught them the perils of Great Power hubris. Europe can do little to affect the war in Iraq, but if the Europeans were to decide that the moment to leave Afghanistan had arrived, the U.S. government would have to listen.

Commenting on the Lind piece, newsjarheaddean sagely observes:

And I find the fallowing most curious, “Europe can do little to affect the war in Iraq, but if the Europeans were to decide to leave Afg. the U.S. gov would have to listen”. Here I’m amazed at how governments are looked upon as so limited and yet the prime foe (in GWOT) is nothing but small organizations. This suggests that Exxon/Mobil could defeat US with an insurgency. Or maybe they already have with lobbyist and thus the odd strategies and tactics. Or maybe US is “playing war” for the MIC. IMO one thing is for sure US tax payers are getting ripped off.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

We think that's counterproductive

Trying to check on the information from a Bloomberg article entitled U.S. Pledges Top $7.7 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit proved problematic. While chocked full of useful information and fascinating quotes, the article might have been improved by presenting the financial information in tabular form. Below is a summary of the twelve major places where the money has gone, or to which it has been pledged.

$ (Billions)

$ 306 Guarantee Citi-Corp Debt

$ 700 TARP

$2,400 10-27-2008 program to buy commercial paper

$1,400 10-14-2008 program FDIC guarantee bank-to-bank loans

$ 29 to JP Morgan to engineer buyout of Bear Stearns

$ 122.8 AIG

$ 20 Treasury injection to Citi-Corp

$2,300 Commercial Paper Funding Facility/MMIFF

$ 300 FHA "Hope for Homeowners" distressed mortgage

$ 200 Shore up Fannie & Freddie (promised, not allocated)

$ 139 Loan guarantees to General Electric's finance unit

$ 29 "Wells Fargo Notice" - Tax Break for Wachovia purchase



Almost 8 trillion dollars.

$ 7,945,800,000,000

In response to Bloomberg's FOIA attempt and federal suit aimed to force the Fed to disclose which banks will get the loot, and what collateral that will put up in return, we learn of a considerable difference of opinion between Bernanke's views and those of the chief economist at a banking corporation:

“Some have asked us to reveal the names of the banks that are borrowing, how much they are borrowing, what collateral they are posting,” Bernanke said Nov. 18 to the House Financial Services Committee. “We think that’s counterproductive.”

The Fed should account for the collateral it takes in exchange for loans to banks, said Paul Kasriel, chief economist at Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp. and a former research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“There is a lack of transparency here and, given that the Fed is taking on a huge amount of credit risk now, it would seem to me as a taxpayer there should be more transparency,” Kasriel said.

Some of the most chilling comments come from Treasury Secretary Paulson, one of so many in the Bush administration that seem to not get anything right:

Paulson told the House Financial Services Committee Nov. 18 that the $250 billion already allocated to banks through the TARP is an investment, not an expenditure.

“I think it would be extraordinarily unusual if the government did not get that money back and more,” Paulson said.

In his Nov. 18 testimony, Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee that the central bank wouldn’t lose money.
“We take collateral, we haircut it, it is a short-term loan, it is very safe, we have never lost a penny in these various lending programs,” he said.

A haircut refers to the practice of lending less money than the collateral’s current market value.

Oh for the days when we could wring our hands over mere $400 haircuts not paid for by tax dollars.

And then there's this:

Requiring the Fed to disclose loan recipients might set off panic, said David Tobin, principal of New York-based loan-sale consultants and investment bank Mission Capital Advisors LLC.

What does David Tobin know that the rest of us don't?

Meanwhile, at Counterpunch, Kevin Zeese finds some research that helps put (a mere) $7.6 trillion in perpective, and asks some good questions:

We don’t know where the bottom is yet, see no evidence that the bailout is working and already, as Barry Ritholtz, author of "Bailout Nation," points out, the bailout has cost more than Marshall Plan, Louisiana Purchase, moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, the Iraq war, the Vietnam war, and NASA's lifetime budget – COMBINED! In fact, the bailout is almost double:

- Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion

- Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion

- Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion

- S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion

- Korean War: Cost: $54 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion

- The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est),
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)

- Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion

-Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion

- NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

You’d think for $7.7 trillion we’d get health care for all, tax relief or free college education! But Americans got none of that. Is this a wise use of tax dollars? Are there better ways to use this money? Will this trickle down approach work this time, even though it has failed in the past?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Steady move into making and selling real he-man cars and trucks

In Counterpunch, Former U.S. Senator James Abourezk reflects upon the 70's when the Big Three lobbied against legislation mandating improved gas mileage, and chronicles production / marketing decisions these automakers made that have put imperiled their industry.

When I was a member of the Senate Energy Committee in the 1970s I attached an amendment onto a piece of legislation that would have required the automobile manufacturers to make new cars that delivered a minimum of 26 miles to the gallon. That was in the 1970s when we all thought that mileage level would be a great victory. Nowadays, Toyota doesn’t make a car, I don’t believe, that delivers less than that. But back then, 26 miles to the gallon was revolutionary, even radical. So the Big Three came in and lobbied against it and defeated it. And they steadily moved into making and selling real he-man cars and trucks, such as the Hummers, the big pickups and the SUVs that more resemble a battleship than a car. At the same time, in Europe, taxes levied on gasoline made it so high that if one bought an American gas-guzzler, he would be thought of as crazy. So the Europeans made smaller cars that ate much less gas, and the Japanese began to move into the American market, selling high gas mileage cars to those of us who felt guilt at driving a four-wheeled monster.

The Europeans and Japanese also built high speed rail transportation that moved people so efficiently that cars became sort of redundant for longer trips.

Although, some would argue persuasively that the auto industry is dying as fossil fuels become more scarce and the cost of extraction becomes more expensive.

World wide problems for auto industry

Spiegel Online reports that the German auto industry also faces crisis amid much uncertainty.

Sales are declining rapidly worldwide. If there is one thing anxious consumers can postpone, it is the purchase of a car. Economic crises normally affect one major market, which allows large car companies to make up for the difference in other countries. But this time the financial crisis is shaking North America, Asia and Europe at the same time.

Suppliers are likewise threatened. Banks have cut off funding for necessary investments. Some suppliers are already on the verge of bankruptcy. If the biggest manufacturer of rear-view mirrors or door locks fails, carmakers will be forced to stop production, and it will be difficult to quickly find replacements.

Providing consumers with financing is also becoming more difficult. Part of the reason VW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche have enjoyed such phenomenal sales growth in recent years is that they have offered customers attractive leasing and financing packages. Now the carmakers' lending divisions must pay high interest rates to obtain the necessary funds on the capital markets, if they can borrow at all. As a result, they can no longer attract customers with low-interest car loans.

Ultimately, the entire business model of VW, Mercedes-Benz and BMW is beginning to falter. It is based on the assumption that carmakers can constantly increase sales by constantly introducing new models. This is the only way they can guarantee jobs. For car companies, standing still is in effect moving backwards. Companies that are not increasing sales are in fact shrinking, because productivity in their plants grows by 5 to 10 percent every year.

Still, it's difficult not to think that some manufacturers are merely trying to divert attention away from their own mistakes. Many of the problems are homegrown. The companies placed too much emphasis on growth at all costs, while at the same time neglecting to develop fuel-efficient cars earlier in the game.

And then there are the business models (always based on assumptions) that are not holding up in the present day (unanticipated) reality:

BMW based its leasing calculations on an estimated residual value for the cars when customers return them after three or four years. But this value has little to do with reality these days, because used car prices fall during an economic crisis. Besides, more and more customers who purchased a BMW on credit can no longer afford their car payments. In the first nine months of this year alone, BMW had to establish reserves of more than €1 billion ($1.25 billion) to make up for the difference, and more reserves are likely to follow.

The second risk for BMW lies in the fact that customers are increasingly buying smaller models, or at least are opting for smaller engines in the larger 5 Series and 7 Series.

Daimler [too] has a large Achilles heel: Daimler's shareholder structure. Because it lacks a major shareholder, the company is constantly at risk of being bought up and dismantled.

For this reason, the Stuttgart-based carmaker has to be managed using the same criteria that led General Motors to the brink of ruin: It must earn high short-term returns and pay large dividends. This is the only way to bring up the share price and thus prevent a takeover. But, under these conditions, how can the company be expected to continue designing cars that lead the world in technology, design and quality? And how can Mercedes-Benz justify its high prices in the long term?

[E]ven the VW Group faces a serious challenge. The board must correct its model strategy. Until now, developers at VW headquarters in the central German city of Wolfsburg were fixated on developing more and more powerful engines. In addition to a 16-cylinder engine, the company has two different 12-cylinder engines -- which not even BMW or Mercedes-Benz can offer. But this does Volkswagen little good, because smaller, fuel-efficient engines are now in demand.

Where did you get those socks, Ben?

The New Yorker has a fascinating article about Ben Bernanke and the current financial crisis. This anecdote caught my eye. Seems to say quite a bit about what catches the eye of the decider-in-chief.

In June, 2005, Bernanke was sworn in at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. One of his first tasks was to deliver a monthly economics briefing to the President and the Vice-President. After he and Hubbard sat down in the Oval Office, President Bush noticed that Bernanke was wearing light-tan socks under his dark suit. “Where did you get those socks, Ben?” he asked. “They don’t match.” Bernanke didn’t falter. “I bought them at the Gap—three pairs for seven dollars,” he replied. During the briefing, which lasted about forty-five minutes, the President mentioned the socks several times.

The following month, Hubbard’s deputy, Keith Hennessey, suggested that the entire economics team wear tan socks to the briefing. Hubbard agreed to call Vice-President Cheney and ask him to wear tan socks, too. “So, a little later, we all go into the Oval Office, and we all show up in tan socks,” Hubbard recalled. “The President looks at us and sees we are all wearing tan socks, and he says in a cool voice, ‘Oh, very, very funny.’ He turns to the Vice-President and says, ‘Mr. Vice-President, what do you think of these guys in their tan socks?’ Then the Vice-President shows him that he’s wearing them, too. The President broke up.”

Used to read about how assuring the Bush administration was (in the early days). How prompt they were to arrive at meetings, and how professional looking in their suits, and how on message everyone stayed; certainly an improvement over the relaxed attitudes and style of team Clinton.

Interesting, that Bush's eye (and apparently attention) kept returning to those tan socks. Wonder if any one in the room was thinking, "Geez, give it a rest already Mr. President?"

Nice to know these guys could laugh back in the halycon days of 2005 when things looked forever like it was all summertime, and the livin is easy.

The thought of Dick Cheney pulling up his pant leg to slowly reveal a patch of tan doesn't exactly fill one with warm fuzzies either.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Buying American

In Counterpunch, Saul Landau blasts the leaders of the auto industry:

[I]n recent years, the auto bosses have behaved like the Wall Street idiots and other titans who directed the US economy straight into the toilet. They made stupid decisions, rewarded themselves with high salaries, bonuses, perks and stock options and sneered at critics who warned that by continuing to emphasize SUVs and Hummers and not try to make a car for the times, they would lose their traditional markets. Eventually, even the stupidest Americans learned that “buying American” meant owning a gas guzzling, road destroying, environment polluting collage of heavy metal and cheap plastic. Furthermore, it would break down far more rapidly than the much demeaned but more gas efficient and environmentally friendly cars.

“Can you imagine these jerks coming to Congress, not to plead their case and admitting they were terrible managers, but we shouldn’t worry because they’ll do better in the future?” an irate House Member confided to me. “These multimillionaire losers walked in here with a sense of total entitlement! As if they had earned our infinite respect because they led GM, Ford and Chrysler. I hope someone gives them the news. They’re not number one any more.”

Look how quickly the mavens of free market economics abandoned their prized dogmas. Those who demanded bailouts of Wall Street and now the car industry had steadfastly demanded deregulation so the invisible hand of the market could govern their business dealings. As soon as business got really bad, they came like indignant beggars to demand government help for financial and manufacturing business they had run into the ground.

Instead of simply taking over the financial and manufacturing areas, the government seems intent on lending taxpayer money to these arrogant airheads -- because liberals in Congress want to forestall more huge job losses. But cars had their century – 20th. This century’s environment has sent dire warning signs about continuing to employ technology that relies on fossil fuels and causes insane highway congestion, noise pollution and death.

Armed gangs heading to the countryside

The Independent reports an increase in poaching in rural areas across Britain (and Scotland).

Police in rural areas across Britain are reporting a dramatic increase in poaching, as the rise in food prices and the reality of recession increases the temptation to deal in stolen venison, salmon, or rarer meat and fish.

Organised and sometimes armed gangs of poachers are accused of behaving dangerously, intimidating residents, causing damage to crops or to gates and fences. Squads have also been out in the countryside "lamping", poachers using lights to transfix animals.

There have even been reports of drive-by poachers, aiming guns through the open windows of moving vehicles to pick off deer or other game. Others go about their work more discreetly, knowing that in some parts of the countryside, if they are careful, their activities can pass unnoticed for weeks.

Last week, rural landowners and businesses in Scotland launched a new campaign to get the public to report instances of poaching or illegal hare or deer coursing. Scotland's National Wildlife Crime Unit has records of 335 incidents of poaching in 18 months, with the numbers now running at more than 20 a month. During August, the number of recorded incidents was 22, almost double the previous year's figure.

An increase in crime seems to follow along with tough economic times.

Now this is REALLY dim

The NYT's Gail Collins offers a stinging indictment of the corporate heads of U.S. auto industry:

The heads of America’s great carmaking corporations are so dim that they couldn’t even survive hearings run by members of Congress who actually wanted to help them. Really, when somebody asks you exactly how much money you need, the answer should not be something along the line of “a whole bunch.”

A proven money-maker for criminal gangs

The New York Times recently featured this article about an increase in the use of personal security guards in Mexico, which has been precipitated Mexican President Calderón's recent change in policy towards the drug cartels.

With drug-related violence spinning out of control and kidnappings a proven money-maker for criminal gangs, members of Mexico’s upper class find themselves juggling the spoils of their status with the fear of being killed.

Dinner party chatter these days focuses on two things that are making their lives, still the envy of the country’s masses, far less enviable: the financial crisis, which is chipping away at their wealth, and the wave of insecurity, which is making it more perilous for them to enjoy what remains.

Mexico’s violence afflicts both rich and poor, but the nation’s income gap is so pronounced that criminals scour the society pages for potential kidnapping victims, for whom they demand, and often receive, huge sums in ransom. A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Mexico had the largest divide between rich and poor of the group’s 30 member nations, virtually assuring that wealthy targets stand out.

Wealthy Mexicans have long hired bodyguards, but experts say the numbers of those seeking protection have jumped since President Felipe Calderón challenged the drug cartels, bringing unprecedented levels of related violence — which had been mainly confined to the areas bordering the United States — into the major cities.

An estimated 75,000 members

The Chicago Sun Times reports on the extent of Chicago gang drug dealing

There are at least 80 gangs dealing drugs on the city's streets, protecting their business and territory with guns.

On Saturday, Chicago Police gang and tactical officers from across the city will meet to learn about the best ways to anticipate what these criminal organizations -- with an estimated 75,000 members -- are doing and how to dismantle their operations.

That's a LOT of armed gang members.