Friday, August 17, 2007

Boogie Man

Why didn't I see this coming? Of course, it makes total sense.

The White House will use Petraeus's big report moment to push for war with Iran:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Washington's envoy to Iraq warned Americans on Thursday that pulling U.S. troops out of the country could open the door to a "major Iranian advance" that would threaten U.S. interests in the region.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker also accused Tehran of seeking to weaken the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government so that it could "by one means or another control it". Iran has denied U.S. charges that it is arming and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

Crocker and the top U.S. general in Iraq, General David Petraeus are due to present a pivotal report to Congress in September on progress on the military and political fronts and make recommendations on the way forward.
Doh! Big Doh!

It's a classic Rovian move. Double down on the double down. They'll say things are improving in Iraq but that unless we "counter" Iran in "some way", the big bad Ayatollah from the east will come eat your children.

Of course.

Nevermind the fact that the moment U.S. troops invaded, the fact that Iran would heavily influence Iraq in the future was a fait accompli. But conservatives will never let that minor detail stop them from advocating a crusade war against "them".


Vacuum Filling

If you get news only from the mainstream American media, you're likely unaware that the British are quietly leaving southern Iraq. In their wake, the previously peaceful area is falling apart with warring Shiite factions jockeying for power.

Will the U.S. feel compelled to send more troops to cover Basra? After all, Basra is where most of the oil is .......


Fed To The Rescue!

The Fed has de facto cut interest rates. Bernanke is in his heliocopter dropping cash!

Today they formally cut the "discount rate", the rate at which they charge banks (not the headline Fed Funds Rate). In their statement, they made it clear that they would do more if necessary. Behind the scenes, they've informally cut the Fed Funds Rate already. They just haven't announced it. Meanwhile, the nation's largest mortgage bank is having a run.

Let's see if that stems the bleeding or if more is needed.


Snark Alert

Can you imagine marrying Jenna Bush? Can you imagine having George Bush as your father-in-law?



More On Padilla

It's my personal policy to not question the verdict reached by jurors. And I won't here. I suspect that given the nature of the trial and given the instructions by the judge, the jury worked within those constraints to reach a rational verdict. Unless you're in the courtroom everyday hearing all the evidence as the jurors do, you simply can't second guess them.

But .....

Slate's TP:

After a three-month trial, jurors came to a decision in a little more than a day. The NYT talks to a juror who says she had pretty much made up her mind before deliberations began. Everyone says the most damning evidence against Padilla was a "mujahideen data form" that was described as an application to join an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. The form had Padilla's fingerprints, but lawyers questioned its authenticity and said he could have handled the document while under military custody.

Overall, the Post is the most outwardly skeptical of the evidence presented in the case, describing it as "relatively thin" on charges that Padilla intended to commit murder overseas and pointing out that the wiretapped calls presented to the jury "offered few specific clues of his intentions." Defense lawyers accused the prosecution of employing "scare tactics" and criticized the decision to play an interview with Osama Bin Laden, which they said was only used so jurors would think of Sept. 11. The LAT says Padilla's mother vowed her son would appeal. Lawyers for the two other men also promised to appeal saying that if it weren't for Padilla their clients would have been acquitted.
At best it was a very thin case. And if that statement about that juror having made up his/her mind before the trial is true, then we have a another problem here.

The larger issue is one that likely didn't come before the jury. Should a U.S. citizen be tried by the state when that defendant has been 1) detained indefinitely without any rights, 2) tortured, 3) denied any due process? Whatever Padilla did, and the "what he did is a very big if", he should have gotten off simply due to the government's violation of the Constitution.

Put another way, the jury should never have heard the case because the facts were de facto tainted, making it impossible to reach a rational verdict. We can only hope that the appeals courts reverse the case and uphold the Constitution. But given our Supreme Court, I'm not holding my breath.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Padilla ... On To Appeals

Despite the government having purposely set out to destroy this man's mind (and openly admitting it during the trial), and despite a lousy case against the guy on some vague jihad charges, Jose Padilla has been found guilty.

It's a sham on our justice system. Digby tells us why better than I ever could. This baby will go to the Supreme's where they'll have a further chance to validate torturing American citizens as an appropriate law enforcement technique. Scalia will probably recommend the teevee show "24" as a template for training our local law enforcement oskifers.


Petraeus Perspectives

Independent minded? Another enabler? Unwilling to be used? Too emotionally involved in the campaign? Just what is Gen. Petraeus?:

John Burns via Froomkin:

"But for General Petraeus, being cast as the president's white knight has been a mixed blessing. While he talks with Mr. Bush once or twice a week, in interviews he depicts himself as owing loyalty as much to Congress as the White House and stresses the downside, as well as the upside, of the military effort here.

"His view, he says, is that he is 'on a very important mission that derives from a policy made by folks at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, with the advice and consent and resources provided by folks at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And in September, that's how I'm going to approach it.' Whether to fight on here, he says, is a 'big, big decision, a national decision,' one that belongs to elected officials, not a field general."

It's also possible Petraeus realizes he may be being set up for a fall by the White House.

Or .... Paul Krugman:

Paul Krugman observed in his New York Times column last month: "I hope he proves me wrong, but the general's history suggests that he's another smart, sensible enabler.

"I don't know why the op-ed article that Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn't gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don't think it's standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election."

My guess is that the White House will manipulate the report significantly, spinning the language and influencing Petraeus's testimony, if he even gives any. I'm also going to predict that the short version of the report is that "things are bad but much much better since the escalation surge". They're be a recommendation for a small drawdown of some forces by spring that will get huge headlines but will not change the situation in Iraq materially.

In short, the report will be right down the middle and indecisive. Both anti-war and pro-war advocates will be able to claim victory and the whole thing will fall right back into Congress's lap to either let it continue or to stop it. Congress won't have the votes to stop it and the war will continue, a defacto victory for the pro-war side.


THE Report

We all know that the September Petraeus report White House report on progress of the Iraq escalation is due next month. If you read this blog, you also know that it was revealed that the report is being written by the White House. But it gets better all the time:

WaPo via Needlenose:

Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration's progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.

. . . With the report due by Sept. 15, officials at the White House, in Congress and in Baghdad said that no decisions have been made on where, when or how Petraeus and Crocker will appear before Congress. Lawmakers from both parties are growing worried that the report -- far from clarifying the United States' future in Iraq -- will only harden the political battle lines around the war.

. . . Those positions only hardened yesterday with reports that the document would not be written by the Army general but instead would come from the White House, with input from Petraeus, Crocker and other administration officials.
Oh, I get it. This is hereby becoming the disappearing report. The White House will scrub it clean, but they can't scrub it clean enough for a public hearing. So by trying to make it below the radar, we can all just pretend that the Pentagon's daily propaganda assessments of things going well are the facts, and that the war just continues.

I suspect that some "moderate" conservative Democrats are signaling that they'll be OK with another Friedman Unit otherwise the White House wouldn't even try this.
Ball's (or lack thereof) in your courts now Nancy and Harry.


Tantamount To King!

It's too bad this post isn't about the Supreme Court:

Think Progress:

Yesterday, a federal appeals court “appeared skeptical of and sometimes hostile” towards the Bush administration’s argument that legal challenges to the NSA’s surveillance programs should be dismissed on “state secrets” and national security grounds, with one judge saying the government’s argument was tantamount to “the king can do no wrong.”


The three judges on the court were unsatisfied with the argument, offering various stinging comments and rebuttals:

- “Is it the government’s position that when our country is engaged in a war that the power of the executive when it comes to wiretapping is unchecked?” asked Pregerson.

- “This seems to put us in the ‘trust us’ category. ‘We don’t do it. Trust us. And don’t ask us about it,’” said Judge M. Margaret McKeown.

- “Every ampersand, every comma is top-secret?” queried Judge Michael Daly Hawkins about a withheld document.

- “”Are you saying the courts are to rubber-stamp the determination of the executive of what’s a state secret? What’s our job?” asked Pregerson.

- “I feel like I’m in Alice and Wonderland,” observed McKeown.

When Deputy Solicitor General Greg Garre argued that “other avenues” than the court system were the proper forum for complaints about government surveillance, Pregerson shot back: “What is that? Impeachment?”
Like I said, too bad it's not SCOTUS. But at least it's in some courts.


The Pain Continues

Housing starts continue to fall and Countrywide mortgage, the largest home lender in the nation, is struggling (which may be an understatement). The Housing market is in a full blown recession, and with jobless claims rising you've got to wonder if the problems are permeating into the economy.

And the stock market continues in freefall ........

I will give Paulson and Bernanke credit for living their values. Thus far they have resisted the temptation to rescue the situation including this quote from Paulson:

"There is nothing, in my judgment, that we should be doing in terms of guaranteeing market participants against losses or in terms of restraining risk taking," Mr. Paulson said. "One of the natural consequences of the excesses is that some entities will cease to exist."
I wonder just how long he'll be able to stand on that platform?

Added: It appears that through it's daily money market activities, the Fed has done a defacto rate cut that is temporary. This is what financial pundits have been screaming for as an antedote. The markets responded with more fear.

Added: From Atrios, who in a former life was a econ prof., a quote from a wallstreeter describing the mess:
Second example: today any wealthy individual can take $1 million and go to a prime broker and leverage this amount three times; then the resulting $4 million ($1 equity and $3 debt) can be invested in a fund of funds that will in turn leverage these $4 millions three or four times and invest them in a hedge fund; then the hedge fund will take these funds and leverage them three or four times and buy some very junior tranche of a CDO that is itself levered nine or ten times. At the end of this credit chain, the initial $1 million of equity becomes a $100 million investment out of which $99 million is debt (leverage) and only $1 million is equity. So we got an overall leverage ratio of 100 to 1. Then, even a small 1% fall in the price of the final investment (CDO) wipes out the initial capital and creates a chain of margin calls that unravel this debt house of cards. This unraveling of a Minskian Ponzi credit scheme is exactly what is happening right now in financial markets.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


For your reading pleasure, why Rudy Guiliani could be worse than Bush.



Remember Japanese internment camps during WWII? Looks like the NYPD is in a similar mindset for "clusters" of Muslims in the U.S. "on a path" to terrorism.

God help us all. We're afraid of our own shadows.


Psychologists Finally Say Something

After reading that comprehensive piece in the New Yorker on torture being perpetrated by Americans, with the help of psychologists, I was wondering if they'd ever get around to this:

The American Psychological Association “is poised to issue a formal condemnation of a raft of notorious interrogation tactics employed by U.S. authorities against detainees…from simulated drowning to sensory deprivation.” The administration has previously employed psychologists to develop its coercive torture tactics, and psychologists are “likely” to help implement President Bush’s July 20 executive order restarting a coercive CIA interrogation program.
Guess they had to analyze the situation or something .....


Hell In A Hand Basket

That the prediction for the U.S.

No, not by me, but by a government official:

The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

Mr Walker’s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress.

While most of its studies are commissioned by legislators, about 10 per cent – such as the one containing his latest warnings – are initiated by the comptroller general himself.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.

“I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,” he said. “As comptroller general I’ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take on.
Join the crowd in terms of sounding an alarm. But hey, it's that new conservatism in action!


Toying With Us

I was watching the local news last night. They had some mom-on-the-street interviews about the Chinese toy mess. These moms were horrified to think their kids were exposed to the dangers of lead and swallowing magnets. One even discussed the ineffective lead testing kits available to consumers. You'd have thought a plague had hit suburbia.

It made me wonder.

Would these moms be worried if they lived in Iraq?


Racheting the Rhetoric

Apparently with Condie's blessing, we've now named a portion of Iran army as a "terrorist group". What's important here is not the stupidity of naming a portion of a sovereign country's army "terrorists". It's that the move is supported by Condie who, thus far, as been about the only bulwark against Cheney's great crusade against Iran.

Imagine if Iran named the Special Forces of the U.S. Army a "terrorists" group, which is likely accurate given their current activities within Iran. Conservatives would squeal like stuck pigs.


September, It's Only A Friedman Away

Speculation is growing about what his majesty Gen. Petraeus will say in September. Thanks to O'Hanlon and Pollack, the media is eating up the idea that "progress" is being made. Here's some of the buzz:

The Los Angeles Times leads with administration officials saying they expect that Gen. David Petraeus will suggest U.S. troops should be moved out of several areas in Iraq where security has improved when he gives his much-awaited progress report in September.


The LAT points out that even if Petraeus proposes removing troops from certain areas, this wouldn't necessarily mean that he will suggest any kind of withdrawal from Iraq since they could simply be moved to "another hot spot." Some say Petraeus will call for maintaining the current number of troops for an additional six months. But still, officials hope that by stating that progress has been made in certain areas, including the once volatile Anbar province, it could persuade lawmakers to delay calls for a major troop withdrawal. Despite the predictions, it's clear that officials really don't know what Petraeus will recommend, and some have warned that pulling back from areas too quickly could result in a resurgence of violence.
First off, the only real accurate part of the "reporting" is that no one really knows what Petraeus will say. If he does propose another Friedman Unit, it wouldn't be surprising. But the tactics of redeploying units within Iraq to "hot spots" looks a lot like whack-a-mole, Petraeus style (in slow motion rather than quickly). And the most important part is what Petraeus has to say about the strategic situation, which our media seems to not understand. Remember. The entire purpose of tactical security is to make it possible to improve the situation politically. I disagree that the security situation has materially changed:

Everyone fronts the four truck bombs that exploded in northern Iraq and killed at least 175 people (the NYT says 190). "It looks like a nuclear bomb hit the villages," an Iraqi officer said. Everyone mentions the bombs targeted members of a small religious sect, the Yazidis, who have become targets of Sunni attacks after a Yazidi woman was stoned to death for eloping with a Sunni man and converting to Islam. It amounted to the deadliest attack in almost a year and, once again, raised concerns that the recent buildup of U.S. troops has simply moved insurgents to more remote areas. [as is customary, the Pentagon is blaming al Qaeda with no proof]

The U.S. military announced the deaths of nine American service members, including five who were killed in a helicopter crash. Also yesterday, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms and using official government vehicles kidnapped five senior Oil Ministry officials.

The violence is dispersing (as predicted), but not fundamentally changed. And on the political front, there's been reverse progress to date and no number of Friedman Units is going to change that.

Added: Here's a shock for you. The Petraeus report is being written by the White House.



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Atrios Asks A Question

Paraphrasing here. Atrios asks, supposed we attacked Iraq, democracy reined, and we had found secret nuculur weapons. What do you think would have happened to the reputations of anti-war advocates and pundits, especially their invites to the teevee shows?

Compare and contrast with reality ......


Hey Bear, Need A Condo?

Did you know that Katrina aid money is going to build condo's in Alabama?

Yep. Nevermind that the damage there was not large, they are after all a "red" state and Bear Bryant was a great football coach.

This is really having your priorities right.


Inflation Ex-Inflation Watch

In the middle of everything else going on in the economy, we had yet another report of no inflation .... when you take out the costs of food and energy. Guess we all need to stop using energy and eating to stay ahead economically.

But frankly, given the state of the credit markets, the Fed has no choice but to try and pump that balloon up .... big time.


This Is Not Good

Update: Rumors are floating that the Fed will come out today and cut interest rates.

Some money markets are halting redemptions. Just what does that mean?

Money markets are used by a whole lot of people like a savings account. In other words, they are very safe, very liquid and not at all a part of the credit problems. Yet panicy investors are requesting withdrawals at high rates .... runs on the bank ... if you will. For these guys to stop allowing people to withdraw their money is a sign of a significantly spreading panic.

This is a completely a no win situation for the institutions. If they halt redemptions, people panic more. If they liquidate assets to meet withdrawals, they risk bankruptcy. Why? Because right now the panic in the bond market has made even high quality bonds difficult if not impossible to trade. And if you can get a buyer, it's at a significant loss.


Just What We Need

This is just perfect. The man who didn't meet a death penalty case he didn't like to have more power?

The Los Angeles Times leads with word that the Justice Department is close to implementing a new set of regulations that would ultimately give Attorney General Alberto Gonzales the power to decide whether certain states can speed up death-penalty prosecutions. A state would have to specifically request to be included in the "fast track" program that would decrease the time a prisoner has to appeal.
This would be just crazy .....


Monday, August 13, 2007

Tweety Has A Problem

Updated: Clip is now included in the post.

I saw this clip earlier today and was creeped out by it. Chris Matthews has been noted to act like he has chronic man-crushes, gushing as he does about Thompson, Guiliani, or Bush at various times. But in this instance, it was a woman .....

Digby writes about it here and says it better than I.

In an interview with CNBC's Erin Burnett, Matthews really makes an ass of himself. You can watch the video here. Burnett is clearly caught way off guard and is embarrassed by Matthews comments. His past bullshit has been only noteworthy for being a lousy journalist. This is noteworthy for his demonstration of sexual harrassment.


In Your Honor Karl

This story is shamelessly taken from Kevin Drum. It's a fitting symbolic story to the entire Bush administration, led in part by Unkie Karl:

Interestingly, the story is told by a Republican:

"For all the years he was president," [Dick] Armey told me, "Bill Clinton and I had a little thing we'd do where every time I went to the White House, I would take the little name tag they give you and pass it to the president, who, without saying a word, would sign and date it. Bill Clinton and I didn't like each other. He said I was his least-favorite member of Congress. But he knew that when I left his office, the first schoolkid I came across would be given that card, and some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president's autograph. I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it."

Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition with Clinton and asked the president if he would care to continue it. "Bush refused to sign the card. Rove, who was sitting across the table, said, 'It would probably wind up on eBay,'" Armey continued. "Do I give a damn? No. But can you imagine refusing a simple request like that with an insult? It's stupid. From the point of view of your own self-interest, it's stupid. I was from Texas, and I was the majority leader. If my expectations of civility and collegiality were disappointed, what do you think it was like for the rest of the congressmen they dealt with? The Bush White House was tone-deaf to the normal courtesies of the office."
A swell bunch or dumbass, immature, nerdy, wannabe fratboys.



I saw Sicko yesterday.

All I can really say is, go see it. You'll not regret it.


Turd Blossom Out

Yeah, so Rove is leaving. But like everyone else, I'm suspicious. Is it a late-in-the-second-term departure or something else? His departure doesn't lessen his chances of having to testify ... quite the contrary.

So, like with everything Bush, the most sinister explanation will likely be correct.


The U.S. Islamic State

I was reading Glenn Greenwald today who is talking about the fear by some conservatives that the U.S. will be overrun by Islamist. What's up with that?

My first thought was, do these people really exist who think this? Followed by, of course there are. And there are a lot of them. And their thinking doesn't stop at Islam. They'll include a fear of anyone who isn't white, doesn't adhere to a strict set of norms and that doesn't looks like them.

Why does this exist?

There is absolutely no empirical evidence that there is any significant threat by any Islamic group to the United States. Despite that evidence, there is a very large group of people who chronically seem to fear being "taken over".

As a former psychological type, I tend to wonder about these people as individuals and their personal psychological makeup. I think the answer to this fear emanates from their own internalized fear about their own existence. Put another way, they're really not sure they're good enough, strong enough, smart enough or (fill in the blank) enough to compete with diversity, or the different. That insecurity manifests as fear leading to actions which can only be called, at best protectionist, and at worst racist.

There is absolutely no way, even in the current state of affairs, that America will become an Islamic theological state. The fundamental beliefs associated with Islamists are so fundamentally different from commonly held American values that is just ain't gonna ever happen. Interestingly, the real likely dangers of a theocracy come from those who are afraid of diversity, those very people leading the charge of fear against Islam. It's is their rigid and narrow view of America that is much closer to traditional values held in this country, and therefore would be much more likely to slowly be ingrained into the body politic.

Ironic. Isn't it?


Retail Sales

You're going to hear headlines stories of how retail sales are "good" or "improving". Maybe. I'll let you be the judge:

Here's the chart:

While sales were up, they certainly aren't great. Why is this important? Because consumers and their spending are two-thirds of gross domestic product.

Draw your own conclusions .....

Added: California sales seem to be particularly faltering.

Added: The retail sales figures are not adjusted for inflation.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Used And Abused

Glenn Greenwald interviews Michael O'Hanlon where Michael reveals how he was bent over by the Bush administration. What's amazing is that with O'Hanlon's admissions, he still doesn't get it.


Bonus Quote

“We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.”
Can you guess who said this? Answer after the jump .....

As Digby calls him, Benito Guiliani.


The Future?


A Must Read

Here's today's Sunday must-read. It's a NY Times story on how and why the war in Afghanistan was a failure and how Afghanistan is going down the drain.


Subprime Overview

As you likely now know, there was a shock in the stock market last week. Shocks have occurred before. The Fed has thrown money at it and things settled down. But a lot of people are concerned that this problem is different. Here's why:

This from John Mauldin's newsletter (free: subscribe here)

And one last difference between 1998 and today. Back then, the problems in the markets became known and were priced into the markets in relatively short order. It is going to be several years before we know the extent of the subprime losses. Remember the table that I used last week which showed the bulk of subprime mortgage interest rate resets was not until the first half of 2008. [This table shown in billions, the amount of adjustable loans to reset and when they begin to reset]:

It is going to take years for the markets to know what the losses on the subprime will actually be.

And it is not as if it should be a total surprise. Any investor can go to their Bloomberg and pull up a listing of subprime Residential Mortgage Backed Securities. There are 2,512 of them. If you sort by the ones with the most loans over 60 days past due, you find that the average RMBS has 12.39% of their mortgages over 60 days, and 2.39% have already been repossessed (REO in the next table), with almost 5% in foreclosure.


"Let me reinforce my point with a basic but very appropriate analogy. In Japan, there is a distinctive puffer fish called the Fugu. It is served in special sushi restaurants by master chefs. Fugu tingles in your mouth when you eat it. It is supposed to be an exotic aphrodisiac in Japan, where diners spend hundreds of dollars a serving to eat it. The problem is that eating Fugu can kill you. There is an old saying in Japan, 'I want to eat Fugu, but I don't want to die.' People have been known to literally drop dead in sushi bars from cardiac arrest and pulmonary failure if the Fugu they ate wasn't prepared correctly. You have to be a specially trained and licensed Fugu chef to prepare and serve it. Personally, I would want to see the stats of the chef before eating Fugu...just a simple 'number of customers killed' would work for me.

"Now imagine a family in your town called the Griswolds. (You may remember them from the National Lampoon 'Vacation' films.) Suppose for their next trip, the Griswolds decide to travel to Japan and pursue some gastronomical thrills and eat the infamous Fugu. So they do some cursory research, march into a Tokyo Fugu restaurant, plunk down $1,000 and order a huge plate of Fugu. And die on the spot.

"The next morning as you sit at your breakfast table sipping coffee, you read the following headline:


"You think to yourself, no problem... you continue sipping coffee... and maybe mutter... 'They should have known better.'

"Now imagine instead that you read the following headline:


"Your reaction may be very different. You are likely going to cancel your reservation at the local sushi bar until you hear more. What if all fish are tainted? Or is it just that restaurant? Or is it a specific type of fish? You'll have lots of questions, and you might assume, until you know more, that no fish are worth eating.
Mauldin is exactly correct. It's going to take months to have any kind of sense of just how big the mortgage default situation is. It's going to likely take years to know the impact of defaults on consumers, housing prices, and the value of underlying bonds that support mortgages. Until then, the headlines coming out are going to be imprecise and the information sketchy. Markets do not like sketchy.

As I've said before, only a fool would predict a collapse. But, also, only a fool would predict that a collapse can't happen. The fact is, no one knows, which is exactly the problem. So get ready for a wild ride if you have any investments.