Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Chickens come home to roost

Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost, to quote the title page of Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810.

foreclosures3The controversy over the handling of home foreclosures came back to hurt the nation’s biggest banks with a vengeance today. There may not be a lot of sympathy on Wall Street for people who missed their mortgage payments, but then again, there probably isn’t much sympathy on Main Street for the practice of “robo-signers” to approve home seizures, especially since banks probably shouldn’t have extended many of the defaulting mortgages in the first place.

Investors have no room for sentiment either way. They dumped bank stocks on fears a prolonged investigation into potentially shoddy foreclosures, one of the biggest legal probes of the mortgage industry in decades, will eat into profits. The fear: it will delay sales of bank-owned properties, draw fines from regulators, and spawn lawsuits from both homeowners and investors in mortgage-backed securities. Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan admitted it could slow down the recovery in the housing market, but said “we’re hoping it won’t kill it.”

On election watch, an interesting story on why the Afghan war is just not an issue for most voters, and another from Ohio about Democrats’ efforts to substitute organization for enthusiasm. Democratic strategist Chris Kofnis underlined what he called “the brutal reality” for his party. “Either we close the so-called enthusiasm gap before election day, or its going to be a really bad election day.”

There wasn’t much enthusiasm, though, when President Barack Obama held a televised “conversation” with an audience of young people. The brutal reality? We all know Obama’s ratings have fallen, but it was still striking how all that energy around “hope” and “change” had dissipated.

Karzai appeals to U.S. taxpayers

karzai1Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking a page from the playbook of American politicians campaigning for public office: talk to the taxpayers.

Karzai is on a campaign to give the boot to tens of thousands of foreign private security guards working in Afghanistan. He’s already put the U.S. government on notice that the private security firms operating in his country will be disbanded within four months.

On Sunday, the Afghan leader took his case directly to the American people.

“I am appealing to the U.S. taxpayer not to allow their hard-earned money to be wasted on groups that are not only providing lots of inconveniences to the Afghan people but actually are, God knows, in contact with Mafia-like groups and perhaps also funding militants and insurgents and terrorists through those funds,” Karzai said on in an ABC “This Week” interview.

Iraq … It’s not like Charlie Wilson’s war

Ambassador Chris Hill, the retiring U.S. envoy to Baghdad, is confident the Iraq war will not end up like Charlie Wilson’s war.

Wilson, the late Texas congressman, was a driving force behind the U.S. funding of mujahideen rebels who fought a Soviet occupation force in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, U.S. attention shifted elsewhere and Afghanistan slipped into civil war.
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Not a likely scenario in Iraq, Hill told a State Department briefing Tuesday.

“During my 16 months there I never lacked for senior people being, first of all, well-informed, and secondly, engaged and visiting, so I never had that (inattention) problem,” he said.

Washington Extra

wikileakIn many ways the documents released by WikiLeaks last night merely underscored the bleak assessment of the Afghan war which General Stanley McChrystal issued last August.

At the time McChrystal warned the overall situation was “deteriorating”, complained of “under-resourcing” and called for not just more resources but a “fundamentally new approach” from NATO forces if failure were to be avoided.

McChrystal, who had access to a whole lot more information than WikiLeaks, said the Taliban were aided by “elements of some intelligence agencies” — meaning the Pakistanis — something US officials have been saying for years. He talked of a popular “crisis of confidence” with the government of Afghanistan and warned that the steady stream of civilian casualties had to be stemmed.

Obama delivers checkmate by moving generals

President Barack Obama managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In a surprise move, he chose superstar General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal, whose team had badmouthed just about every top civilian adviser to Obama on Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone magazine article. AFGHANISTAN/

And with that one decision he managed to wipe away any impression that as commander-in-chief he would allow insubordination, and he preempted any criticism that he would allow the war in Afghanistan to be without competent leadership for reasons of politics and vanity.

It was by far the smartest move, and no one predicted it. That may have something to do with the fact that if the military was a corporation, Petraeus would essentially be taking a demotion — he is currently head of Central Command which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will now be in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.