Studs Terkel, voice of America, 1912-2008.
As if Halloween weren't scary enough . . .

This promo video for Rogue Warrior never made it, for reasons that will be obvious when you see it. But I promised I'd post it for Halloween . . .
The newest reason to get an iPhone

Legos, iPhone, beer . . . what a combination. Even dogs want to get into the act...
Speaking of Dreamland

Sometimes it seems like I've been working on Dreamland forever. I don't think Dale or I ever thought it would go out to twelve books. Along the way the characters have become real people to us . . . which is about as scary as it gets.

How long has it been?

When we were first tossing around the ideas that led to the books, UAVs were way-out experimental . . . no one had mounted a weapon on one . . . the B-52 was still flying.

Oh wait - the BUFF is still still flying.

Seems like yesterday. Thanks for reading guys. We appreciate it.
The new Dreamland . . .

Hits the shelves today.

You can get it from Barnes & Noble here . . .
Bait and switch . . .

Anyone who thought the bank bailout was going to help preserve the American banking system and banks as we knew them should take a close look at the government's role in the takeover of National City Bank by PNC.

I realize this is esoteric stuff for most people, so I'll skip to the executive summary - the bailout program is going to be used to forcefully consolidate the banking system. We're going to end up with a handful of extremely large banks, some very small banks and credit unions, and nothing in the middle. And the feds are going to be the ones making the decisions, based on . . . well, not as much as you'd think, if the publicly available balance sheets and other information in the National City/PNC case are any indication.

What does this mean to you? Well, the (supposedly) safest and most favored bank in the country . . . not to mention one of the largest (at this point, with the mergers, etc., I'm no longer sure of the statistics) is J.P. Morgan/Chase . . . go back a year and compare their rates and charges to any other bank in your area, and you'll find that basically they didn't want your business unless you couldn't afford to give it to them. When this ends, the only banks left will be that big.

Necessary to save the financial system?

Maybe. But they're using your money to do it. And it's not the way the plan was sold, by anyone . . .
And just in case you were feeling secure this morning . . .

Outsourced passports . . .

The United States has outsourced the manufacturing of its electronic passports to overseas companies — including one in Thailand that was victimized by Chinese espionage — raising concerns that cost savings are being put ahead of national security, an investigation by The Washington Times has found.

The Government Printing Office's decision to export the work has proved lucrative, allowing the agency to book more than $100 million in recent profits by charging the State Department more money for blank passports than it actually costs to make them, according to interviews with federal officials and documents obtained by The Times.

The profits have raised questions both inside the agency and in Congress because the law that created GPO as the federal government's official printer explicitly requires the agency to break even by charging only enough to recover its costs.

Full story here.
Do we even have enough outrage left for things like this?

More than just a search engine

Google's new toy. When they say they can find anything, they mean it....

(Here's the "real" story. Nod, nod, wink, wink.)
Peabody or pea-something-else?

Cops net holiday for 9/11

Peabody cops will pocket extra pay to work Sept. 11 or take a day off, thanks to a new union contract.

Even though the date commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America is neither a state nor federal holiday, officers who work it will receive time-and -a-quarter compensation, while others will have the option of taking the day off, said Manny Costa, president of the Peabody Police Benevolent Association.

Link to story...

Gee, why would it bother me that someone is using 9/11 as a way to make extra money?

But the worst cut of all are the claims that they're "memorializing" the "losses."

Purity of mind, and other body parts

Micro Mary was in the bar the other night, and came over to talk about the web. She has a blog that gets a few hundred hits and sometimes a couple of thousand a day.

"How's the blog going?" I asked.

"Not bad. Two thousand and three hits yesterday."

"You taking advertising?"

"Hell no. I'm not selling out. I'm in this for the purity of mind."

"How do you get all those hits?" asked the bartender, coming over to do some refills.

"Easy," said Mary. "When the hits go down, I show them my tits."

His eyes did a bugout thing; Micro Mary's breasts are not micro.

"Buy me a beer and I'll link to your site," she told me. "You'll get a lot of hits."

I didn't figure too many people would be interested in seeing my chest, so I passed.

The bartender spent the rest of the night trying to figure out her url.
Can I get a duh . . .

From the NY Times . . .

Documents Say Iran
Aids Militias From Iraq

American officials have long cited Iranian training and weapons as reasons for the lethality of attacks by Shiite fighters in Iraq. Iranian officials deny that such training takes place.

Now, more than 80 pages of newly declassified intelligence documents for the first time describe in detail an elaborate network used by Iraqis to gain entry into Iran and train under Iranian supervision. They offer the most comprehensive account to date to support American claims about Iranian efforts to build a proxy force in Iraq. Those claims have become highly politicized, with Bush administration critics charging that accounts of Iranian involvement have been exaggerated.
Actually, the story reminds us one hopeful fact - the friction between the Iraqi trainees and the Iranians.

The whole story is here.
Bear season

No, I didn't get one. But they're smarter than the average bear around here . . .

Dictator's Ransom

You can order the book online from the "big" boys (see below), or from my favorite local bookstore, Merritt Books.
The Man himself ...

The Extended Book on Rogue Warrior: Dictator's Ransom
Richard Marcinko on North Korea

. . . and our new entrant in the Rogue Warrior series, Dictator's Ransom...

If there were a conventional war between North Korea and South Korea, who would win?

If the war was contained between those two nations – not a given – then it would be a matter of where the bulk of the combat took place. North Korea can bear down on Seoul with over two hundred and thirty tubes of heavy artillery in minutes; it has the masses of ground troops "on the line" to overpower the immediate line of contact. The question would then become how fast the South Korean forces could strike back. If North Korea penetrated a significant distance south, the South Korean population might cut and run to preserve their better way of life rather than dig in and fight the onslaught.

South Korea’s strategy would be to stop the attack and go deep into North Korea to sever the command and control networks. Where would they stop? Probably at the Chinese border.

One way or another, it would be a blood bath on both sides, a conventional war comparable, at least on the tactical level, to World War II.

If South Korea would ultimately prevail, why should we worry?

We’d have big worries if South Korea prevailed – who would they turn to to help support the masses they liberated?

The social responsibility would be on a level the world is not prepared for. In Darfur, 400,000 people are estimated to have died from the war and starvation. A Korean war would produce at least ten times that number of casualties – and maybe even a hundred times.

It does remind me of an old joke, a bit of dark humor: Attack the U.S.A. and let them kick your ass. Then they’ll rebuild you. It's far cheaper than a World Bank loan!

Is it really possible that North Korea and-or terrorists could attack the U.S.?

North Korea has missiles that could reach Alaska. How accurate they are is an open question, but then nuclear weapons don’t have to be all that accurate. A strike by North Korea would probably fall short and hit the ocean, ending up as more an embarrassment more than a real loss for us. Another example of the tail wagging the dog.

Of course, if we were attacked, hell would be too good for the leaders who launched the missiles.

Is there a connection between North Korea and international terrorists?

The connection is primary of supply and demand, not ideology. The North Koreans have nukes the terrorists want and need, and the terrorists may have the finances North Korea wants. At this juncture, our best bet is to better monitor what’s going on.

Your new book and upcoming computer game seem to advocate a SEAL-like approach to dealing with North Korea and terrorists. Is that realistic?

It is realistic as a demonstration of our “will” to contain North Korean aspirations. Spec Warfare is not a panacea; it doesn’t replace "boots on the ground" in full-scale military operations and it can’t replace diplomatic or political activity. Shooters are not diplomats or world leaders. But it is an important tool in the modern world. A SEAL-like approach to problems and situations as outlined in the book, in all my books, has numerous advantages. We have to keep that capability sharp. It gets us “eyes on targets” – human beings with real intelligence observing things close up, rather that through tiny electronic devices thousands of miles away. And successful SEAL-like strikes, when appropriate, sting the sleeping dog, putting the world on notice that we are not focused on only oil and the Middle East but the much broader threat of fanatical terrorism.

How close are your books to real life - are they fiction? Non-fiction? Prediction?

The books are a combination of fiction and prediction, as I said earlier. They are a means to show people the threats I see. I write them from the perspective of what I would do if I were the bad guy. That’s the same tactic and philosophy that drove me in the SEALs, in Red Cell, and in my later military and private endeavors. I take the enemy’s mindset, and then I try to tell our side what’s going on, where our weaknesses – and strengths – are.

And, I hope, the books entertain you along the way.
The Rogue as statesman

Why does Marcinko, with a reputation as a wildman, sound more reasonable than any secretary of state we've had since Marshall?

North Korea and China seem particularly close. Would China risk a war over North Korea?

China has a full plate now and I don't think it is in their strategic makeup, let alone their interest, to go to war over North Korea – not right now, at least. They are busy modernizing their armed forces. They were impressed with our "shock & awe" and realize they need to gear up. But the future may be a different story. Remember, their clock ticks a lot slower than ours and they are patient.

China is a concern in its own right. Their army has recently begun training with Russian forces in both China and Russia. That is a "point of interest” we should be looking at.

It’s recently been reported that Korean leader Kim Jong il suffered a serious stroke. Do you have any opinion on who might succeed him?

The bloodline is the normal path; Kim Jong il succeeded his father, and it’s believed that he will choose one of his sons to succeed him. He may already have; we simply don’t know. But Kim Jong il’s bloodlines are, to put it delicately, irregular – besides his natural and acknowledged children, he has some illegitimate and adopted offspring. Things could get pretty complicated.

I believe at least one and more likely two or more of his offspring will attempt to inherit the throne. The army will not trust any of them and will aim to take over in a military coalition. I think the military will succeed and take over, at least in the short term, probably working with one of Kim’s sons as a figurehead.

I do know this: There is no one in the wings with the leadership skills that are required to lead a impoverished nation. None of Kim’s children, or military leaders for that matter, have experience nor international exposure to gain support or approval.

But like all developing nations, there’s the issue of greed over need – they greedy hold onto their power once they get it. The needs of the people will be pushed aside.

Would a new regime in North Korea present a challenge or an opportunity to the U.S.?

A military regime would most likely revert to a "Fortress North Korea" mentality. That could be an extreme problem for us, since they would be reverting to the only thing they know: war and aggression, both internationally and internally. The country will become an even worse police state than it is today. Which is hard to believe.

* Who he? Marshall was the guy with the plan - during Truman's administration, he got Europe back on its feet. He was also part of the group that came up with the idea of containing the Soviet Union so it would collapse. And oh yeah, he led the American army during WWII, and served for a year as defense secretary (during the Korean War).
On North Korea:

The purloined Rogue Warrior - Richard Marcinko interview continues.

What happens if North Korea does agree to get rid of its bombs? Will it still be a problem?

RW: They will not totally disband. They will lie to their benefit. We would probably do the same under the guise of "national interest."

Their bombs and nuclear material are not the only threats we have to contend with. They’ve already shared their nuclear expertise. Again, I won’t go into details, but it’s not hard to discover the connection between Pakistan’s bomb program and North Korea’s. The whole Syria matter was in the news recently. And those are only two well-known examples.

No matter what they agree to, North Korea is likely to retain a capability to jump start a nuclear weapons program. They’re going to do that; there’s no doubt in my mind. But even if they truly and totally disbanded their program and somehow eliminated the knowledge that makes that capability possible, they will still be a regional problem.

If only because of the shear numbers in the armed forces, North Korea will remain a threat to South Korea and possibly Japan for years to come. Invading South Korea represents an opportunity to unite their homeland. Beyond that, it would also give them a bread basket – or a rice bowl, to be more literal. It would lay open all of the technological advances the south enjoys, at a fraction of the price of South Korea paid to develop them. It’s a very tempting bowl of candy, right there on their kitchen counter.

Will North Korea attack? Maybe, if they believe the rest of the world is "too busy" with other problems of the day.
More Rogue . . .

The Bush administration has recently entered into an agreement with North Korea that, ultimately, should result in its getting rid of its nuclear weapons making capability. Do you think North Korea can be trusted to follow through on any agreements?

RW: My answer is somewhere between “NO!” and “HELL NO!” It is not to their advantage. They will remain the tail attempting to wag the dog.

But they have already agreed. Can we make them live up to that agreement?

RW: They’ve already backtracked, threatening to rebuild the reactor they destroyed under the agreement. But yes, the international players – the U.S., Japan, South Korea, China – should try to hold them to everything they’ve agreed to do, and more. There will be no guarantees. Again, they have little or nothing to lose by pushing back. They will continue to challenge the world like a young child with selective hearing.

Do you see alternatives to the present policy of negotiating with North Korea?

RW: We certainly do not have a military option. The only action we can afford to take today would be a series of strategic strikes – missiles and bombs, no boots on the ground. That would entail a lot of collateral damage that politically we can't afford and don't want to deal with at this time, especially during a time of transition from one president to another.

The months leading up to the election and immediately afterward are going to be our most vulnerable time – I’d say from now through at least the first 100 days of the new administration. Whoever is elected. We have a marvelous team but we are out of bench!!

So you endorse the present policy?

RW: Let’s say I’m not criticizing it.

It's easy to "Monday morning quarterback". We didn't take North Korea serious enough for too long. We have few experts, little knowledge and virtually no HUMINT [human intelligence – information gathered by spies and other human sources] in the area. We have to rely on third nation input for everything. And I never trust my translators.

Speaking of Rogue Warrior

You can order from Amazon here, and Barnes and Noble here.

The book's website is here.
The Rogue Warrior meets the press

I purloined the transcript from one of Dick Marcinko's interviews about the new book. It's supposed to get posted to the book's website soon. In the meantime, I'll post some here.

Hopefully it makes interesting reading.

Your new book, Rogue Warrior: Dictator’s Ransom, is set largely in North Korea. Was that a random choice?

Richard Marcinko: One of the things I’ve always tried to do in my fictional books is alert the general public to what’s going on outside of America. The plots come out of real dangers around the world. The books are a means to tell our citizens about the threats I see as a SEAL with a lot of CT [counter-terrorism] experience. I call it “fiction or prediction” – yes, the stories are mostly made up, but they depict situations and events that do exist or will very shortly.

I chose to focus on North Korea this time because it is a rogue – little ‘R’ – nation. They have very few ties to other countries with the exception of China and, though their relationship is not exactly ideal, South Korea. On the other hand, North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world. Unclassified estimates put the overall military force at one million men; that’s out of a total population of 23 million in a country about the size of Mississippi.

Just for comparison’s sake, roughly 2.3 million Americans serve in the U.S. military, including our reserves and the guy who mops the floor at the Pentagon every night. If we had the same proportion of people in uniform that North Korea does, our armed forces would have over 13 million members. And I’m not counting North Korea’s reserves and other components in my totals.

I can’t get into the debate about how many nuclear weapons North Korea has or may have; much of the information is highly classified. But anyone with access to the internet can use a search engine to find fairly knowledgeable sources who estimate they may have more than a dozen weapons. Even the optimists say they have at least six.

The world doesn’t know enough of North Korea’s internal functions nor goals. And the reverse is also true – North Koreans know nothing of the outside world. But here’s what we do know: The North Korean economy is in shambles. People are starving there. With hunger and the economy such serious issues, North Korea must turn to China, and Russia as well, for assistance. To help them get the aid that they want, they focus on us as a threat. In effect what they’re doing is giving China and Russia a chance to irritate us through a surrogate that anyone can flush without anyone missing them. North Korea is a "dispensable pawn" on the world stage. It’s what they have to do to eat.

It’s a dangerous game for us, and also for them. But with their people starving, they’re a cornered rat with nothing to lose in anything they attempt, whether it is invading South Korea or selling nuclear weapons to terrorist who will gladly pay for the toys.

The Bush administration has recently entered into an agreement with North Korea that, ultimately, should result in its getting rid of its nuclear weapons making capability. Do you think North Korea can be trusted to follow through on any agreements?

My answer is somewhere between “NO!” and “HELL NO!” It is not to their advantage. They will remain the tail attempting to wag the dog.
Ignorance is . . .

From the Wall Street Journal (emphasis mine):

The most worrying aspect of the crisis is a growing reluctance among financial institutions to offer basic loans that are the lifeblood of the economic system. The Federal Reserve said Thursday the situation had worsened over the past week. Its data showed lenders reduced short-term loans to companies by a record $94.9 billion, bringing the total decline to $208 billion over the past three weeks.

These loans, known as "commercial paper," run anywhere from a few days to three months, and are routinely used by businesses of all stripes to fund day-to-day operations -- paying the bills, meeting salaries. The market for these loans, which totaled $2.2 trillion last summer, has shrunk to $1.6 trillion.

The Wall Street Journal has to define "commercial paper" for its readers?

No wonder we're in trouble . . .
Welcome back, Intrepid ...

See you soon.
Bailing out continued . . .

The bailout plan was flawed, so to fix it, congress will 1) add tax breaks without making up for them by decreasing spending, 2) put the federal government on the hook for more $$ in bank failures without actually finding money to cover the possible costs (that's what the increase in insured deposits means), and 3) encourage the SEC to let banks pick numbers out of the air when valuing their assets.*

Didn't the credit crisis happen because no one was actually able to pay for the money they borrowed? Not just people with mortgages and loans, but the banks that multiplied those mortgages and loans into "real" money, lending it back and forth until there were so many zeroes behind it that failing to make a payment caused a real calamity?


Better pass this bill quick before the "solution" gets much worse.

* The change in accounting rules, which would do away with mark to market valuations, is the real poison pill here. The rule - which basically says an asset is only worth what it can fetch if sold - was adopted following the last banking crisis. Take it away, and stockholders will have to discount financial stocks even further ... if they buy them at all.
Too technical? Think of it this way: You go to the store to buy a box of cereal. The box says it's sold by weight, not by volume. You figure 10 ounces is 10 ounces. Except with the accounting rule change, 10 ounces is no longer 10 ounces - it's 9 ounces or 8 ounces or maybe 2 ounces, because the cereal maker is using his own scale.