Counting the Cost

Somehow, I never seem to see these stories in the U.S. media. From The Guardian:

This week, the BBC reported that the government’s own scientists advised ministers that the Johns Hopkins study on Iraq civilian mortality was accurate and reliable. This paper was published in the Lancet last October. It estimated that 650,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the American- and British-led invasion in March 2003.

Immediately after publication, the prime minister’s official spokesman said that The Lancet’s study “was not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate”. The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that the Lancet figures were “extrapolated” and a “leap”. President Bush said: “I don’t consider it a credible report”.

Scientists at the UK’s Department for International Development thought differently. They concluded that the study’s methods were “tried and tested”. Indeed, the Hopkins approach would likely lead to an “underestimation of mortality”.

The Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific advisor said the research was “robust”, close to “best practice”, and “balanced”. He recommended “caution in publicly criticising the study”.

And President Bush says that the Iraqi people should thank the United States.

And then there’s Tal Afar, where Sunni suicide bombers killed scores of people a few days ago, and where a Shi’ite mob, including police, dragged about 100 Sunnis randomly from their homes and killed them in retaliation. Oh, and the Iraqi army went in and detained several Shi’ite police for questioning, only to release them when the local Shi’ite mob protested.

It’s going great! We’re doing great! We should totally be over there in the middle of a religious civil war!

We’re preventing a bloodbath, and we can win, if we only believe!

“Counting the Cost”
The Guardian
March 27, 2007

Sub-Prime

My old friend Industry Figure Larry Helmerich and I have long marveled at the booming housing subprime lending crisis. We recently asked each other why so many of the people that we know, who are seemingly smart, don’t see the problem with the surety that we see it?

(And to be clear: housing prices are going to fall 25% before they start to rebound. That’s the optimistic scenario, as far as I’m concerned. Housing prices must fall, substantially, before everything comes back into balance — there’s not really any way around the Bad Thing.)

Why are Larry and I immune to the blindness that afflicts so many? We don’t have a horse in the game: we’ve both lived in our current houses for the last 20 years. If our houses lose half their value, we’ll still be fine.

I’ve written before about the Impending Doom — a surprisingly long time ago, in fact. But it’s coming, my friends. Consider this quote from a recent New York Times article, sent to me just now by Larry:

…in many of these neighborhoods, a heavy mortgage debt has led thousands of residents — many of them first-time homebuyers — close to financial ruin, experts and local officials say. According to recent census figures, more than 40 percent of Newark homeowners spend more than half their income on housing, one of the highest percentages in the New York metropolitan region and among the highest in the country.

So: more than 4 in 10 people spend over half of their yearly income…to live in Newark, New Jersey. And while it is the Garden State, a lot of those “creative” financing deals made in the last several years (no money down, low initial interest rate that jumps up substantially after two years, with an adjustable rate after that) are due for that first big jump soon.

In California, homeowners are finding that while they could scrape by and make that old $4,000/month mortgage payment, their new $6,000/month mortgage payment is impossible. Many have put their homes on the market, but buyers are sitting on the sidelines, and with home prices down, those who haven’t owned their homes for very long and who didn’t pay much money down are under water, owing more money than their homes are worth. As banks start foreclosing, and speculators dump their investment purchases, that’s going to put even more units on the market, priced to move.

And God help us if the Chinese ever lose their taste for SquanderBucks.

Read the Full Story at The New York Times:
“Behind Foreclosures, Ruined Credit and Hopes”
March 28, 2007

“$9,000,000.00…Denny Crane!”

I’ve just gotten to the part in The Practice‘s last season where “Denny Crane” (William Shatner) makes his first courtroom appearance. He’s soooo funny, it’s hard to keep from laughing uncontrollably.

(Season 8, Episode 17, if you want to know, although if you love Boston Legal, you’d probably much better start out with the first episode of Season 8 of The Practice, where Alan Shore is introduced.)