Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saddam Hussein: hanged - II









David Seaton's News Links

Here to end the year are some pungent comments from Niall Ferguson on the late Mr. Hussein and some of his former friends. DS
Abstract: In George W Bush he faced an antagonist very different in temper from the elder President Bush; a leader persuaded by his advisers that Saddam's overthrow was desirable in three ways: as retaliation for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (though Iraqi complicity was conspicuous by its absence); as pre-emption before Saddam acquired weapons of mass destruction (though the evidence for their existence was woefully thin); and as proof of the superiority of democracy over dictatorship (though history offered no evidence that democracy could be imposed at gunpoint in the Middle East). Saddam had been Bush-whacked once; to suffer the same fate twice was worse than carelessness. Rather than confess that his WMD programmes had been abandoned in the 1990s, he continued to bluff, apparently ruling out the possibility that Bush Jnr was hell-bent on invading Iraq, with or without UN backing.(...) Today, of course, we can look back and understand Saddam's miscalculation better. In Saddam's eyes, as in the eyes of Bush Snr, the lesson of history was that the alternative to Saddam was civil war, not democracy. The US had stopped short of regime change in 1991 and had cynically left the Shias and Kurds to face Saddam's wrath, having initially urged them to rise up in revolt. All that has happened since 2003 has vindicated those who argued that, without Saddam's iron fist, Iraq would disintegrate, not democratise. The dictator's nemesis proved to be a president so naive that he did not even know the difference between Sunni and Shia. In the same spirit, we may ask ourselves this New Year's Eve: who is the bigger criminal: he who tyrannises a people, or he who first bankrolls the tyrant — and then replaces his tyranny with anarchy. For Saddam's career would have taken a very different course had he not, at vital times, received support as well as opposition from the United States. He was given training by the CIA in Egypt following the abortive coup of 1959. Though Iraq appeared to be drifting into the Soviet orbit in the early 1970s, Saddam won favour in Washington for purging the Iraqi Communists. After 1979, he received copious quantities of arms and aid to prosecute his war of aggression against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. READ IT ALL

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A tribute to Billmon, the prince of bloggers


David Seaton's News Links
Billmon appears to really mean it this time... he is truly hanging up his spikes. He has a way of announcing his retirement from blogging from time to time and than returning like an opera tenor or a bullfighter for yet another farewell performance, but I get the feeling that this time he may be serious. So, with a little trepidation, I will pay him tribute. Billmon (whoever he is) has always been, by far, my favorite blogger: informed, fluent, witty, creative... I shall miss his blog terribly. To have Billmon quit and James Brown die in the same week is a hardly digestable, one-two punch. I'm a married man and I can understand the pressure he may have faced. In my case blogging helps me to do my research and keeps my hands warm and my ideas flowing for my "daytime job", which is writing about international affairs for a Spanish newspaper. My wife understands that my blogging is part of the process of putting groceries on our table. Billmon works in the financial sector and blogging for him has been a quixotic, labor of love/hate and political commitment. I imagine his old lady put a gun to his head. I truly respect that. I shall miss him terribly. My wish is that he would "come out" and write a book about the times we live in, where his blog was one of the few things that kept the bastards from grinding me down: "Illegitimati non carborundum." I will never give up hope that like the "lost Mahdi", Billmon will someday return. DS

Saddam Hussein: hanged by the neck until dead

David Seaton's News Links
Juan Cole has a masterful piece about the hanging of Saddam Hussein in today's Salon, which contextualizes the execution from a very detailed and coherent Iraqi perspective. What is the American context? It seems to me, that as Juan points out, everything about the way Saddam was tried and executed is counterproductive to bringing peace and stability to Iraq. Therefore the rush to hang him appears to have had more to do with silencing Saddam than bringing him to "justice". Saddam and the USA go a long way back and during the Reagan administration, the relationship became especially intense. Certainly it is about time to examine the United State's policies in the Middle East ... (a fat understatement!) and a lengthy, detailed, "Milosevic in the Hague", type trial of Saddam Hussein, could have really peeled back the carpet under which many a creepy, crawly has been hiding all these years. So although he was hanged, in truth Saddam was metaphorically "gunned down from a moving car". A key witness has been silenced. DS

Friday, December 29, 2006

Iraq today... living the hell of American Empire

David Seaton's News Links
While perusing my daily ration of Juan Cole, I happened on this extraordinary report on the state of Baghdad by probably the best American reporter to ever have worked there, Hannah Allam of the McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder) newspapers. A voyage to hell. One of the most nauseating trends in today's punditocracy is to blame the Iraqis themselves for their suffering. This indescribable hell is the result of criminal decisions taken of their own free will by people with names well known to all. They bask in smug immunity today. The most that can happen to them is that they lose their present jobs and join the lecture circuit, the defense industry or some think tank. What is going to be needed, perhaps for decades to come, is some new Simon Wiesenthal to hunt these criminals down and bring them to trial to answer for their crimes, no matter how long it takes. DS
Hannah Allam returns to Baghdad - McClatchy Newspapers
Abstract: (Hannah Allam covers the Middle East and Islamic world as bureau chief in Cairo, Egypt. She recently returned to Baghdad on assignment, where she previously spent more than two years reporting on the war in Iraq as Baghdad bureau chief. ) A certain color of stone worn a certain way is just one of the dozens of superficial clues - like dialect, style of beard, how you pin a veil - that indicate whether you're Sunni or Shiite. These little signs increasingly mean the difference between life and death at the terrifying illegal checkpoints that surround the districts of Baghdad.(...) nowadays it seems like everything in Baghdad hinges on separation. There's the Green Zone to guard the unpopular government from its suffering people, U.S. military bases where Iraqis aren't allowed to work, armored sedans to shield VIPs from the explosions that kill workaday civilians, different TV channels and newspapers for each political party, an unwritten citywide dress code to keep women from the eyes of men. Attempts to bring people together have failed miserably. I attended a symposium called "How to Solve Iraq's Militia Problem," but the main militia representatives never showed up and those of us who did were stuck inside for hours while a robot disabled a car bomb in the parking lot.(...) I asked my colleagues to arrange meetings with old Iraqi sources - politicians, professors, activists and clerics - only to be told they'd been assassinated, abducted or exiled.(...) So many blindfolded, tortured corpses turn up that an Iraqi co-worker recently told me it was "a slow day" when 17 bodies were found. Typically, the figure is 40 or more. When the overflowing morgue at Yarmouk Hospital was bombed last month, one of our drivers wearily muttered, "How many times can they kill us?" Even the toughest of my Iraqi colleagues hit their breaking points after experiencing the indignity of being forced from their homes, the trauma of a bomb outside a doorstep, the grief for a cousin killed by a mortar, the shame of staying silent while a neighbor's house was torched. (...) For them, there is no ivory-tower debate over whether they're living in a civil war.(...) Electricity is on for just a couple of hours a day in most districts. Gas lines stretch for block after block. Food prices are higher than ever, especially for fresh produce, which requires rural farmers to make the treacherous drive to Baghdad markets. The water is contaminated. Gunmen in police uniforms stage brazen mass abductions, evaporating faith in the Iraqi security forces. READ IT ALL

Global Warming... "conservatives" up against the wall

David Seaton's News Links
Scientists are overwhelmingly in agreement: global warming is happening and the results are already catastrophic. By the time today's small children are adults, the nightmare will be consummated... The end of the world? No, global warming is not the end of the world, just as tetraplegia is not the end of life. Global warming only means the end of life as we know it.... or perhaps as we would want to know it. Politically the question is, can our free-market economy, which is based on consumption, respond to the challenge? Can a fox guard chickens? As there seems to be a direct link between our consumption habits and climate change, it would appear not. Clearly, "conservatives" (ironic term) don't want to admit global warming or talk about it because they are looking at a collapse of their system that would dwarf the Soviet Union's. As the disaster progresses there seem two broad alternatives for humanity: selfishness or solidarity. First case: a tiny minority, armed to the teeth, maintains something like the old life style surrounded by a hostile, suffering majority... think Israeli settler enclaves on the occupied West Bank... on a planetary scale... or. Second case: a highly controlled, planned economy on a global scale where scarce resources are husbanded and shared equitably. The second alternative by any other name is "Socialism". The question would be, totalitarian, terror-based socialism or participatory, democratic socialism? Totalitarian, terror-based socialism, as we saw in the Soviet Union's, "Real, Existing Socialism", would mean a a tiny minority (party apparatchiks), armed to the teeth, that maintain something like the old life style surrounded by a hostile, suffering majority... while talking solidarity. It would seem that the only humanly tolerable alternative to a parched and flooded, homo homini lupus, dystopia, would be democratic, participatory socialism... Which hasn't been invented or tried yet. So anybody who would like to do some serious, useful thinking, should get busy preparing it, designing it and agitating for it. Meanwhile read Anatol Lieven's, wonderful, "writing on the wall" piece below. DS
Anatol Lieven: The end of the West as we know it? - IHT
Abstract: For market economies, and the Western model of democracy with which they have been associated, the existential challenge for the foreseeable future will be global warming.(...) As the recent British official commission chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern correctly stated, climate change "is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen." The question now facing us is whether global capitalism and Western democracy can follow the Stern report's recommendations, and make the limited economic adjustments necessary to keep global warming within bounds that will allow us to preserve our system in a recognizable form; or whether our system is so dependent on unlimited consumption that it is by its nature incapable of demanding even small sacrifices from its present elites and populations. If the latter proves the case, and the world suffers radically destructive climate change, then we must recognize that everything that the West now stands for will be rejected by future generations. The entire democratic capitalist system will be seen to have failed utterly as a model for humanity and as a custodian of essential human interests.(...) If the conservative estimates of the Stern report are correct, then already by 2050 the effects of climate change may be such as to wreck the societies of Pakistan and Bangladesh; and if these states collapse, how can India and other countries possibly insulate themselves? At that point, not only will today's obsessive concern with terrorism appear insignificant, but all the democratizing efforts of Western states, and of private individuals and bodies like George Soros and his Open Society Institute, will be rendered completely meaningless. So, of course, will every effort directed today toward the reduction of poverty and disease.(...) If this comes to pass, what will our descendants make of a political and media culture that devotes little attention to this threat when compared with sports, consumer goods, leisure and a threat from terrorism that is puny by comparison? Will they remember us as great paragons of human progress and freedom? They are more likely to spit on our graves.
READ IT ALL

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ethiopia invades Somalia with US support: George W. Bush and the "Fear of the Lord"

David Seaton's News Links
This is so easy, these juxtapositions are so obvious, but they have to be made and repeated and circulated. Howard Dean is absolutely correct when he says the Democrats should push "values". Progressives should not allow the rich human values of Christianity to be monopolized by criminal hypocrites who are more incensed by gay marriage than by the United States supporting a situation which is literally a "hell on earth", one that produces starving children and drug-crazed warlords. The Horn of Africa, with its famine and genocide has the Devil's fingerprints all over it, and any believer, no matter how tepid, would have to approach it with the greatest trepidation. There are scads of people running around today calling themselves "Christians": among them, notoriously, the "decider" himself... George W. Bush. What in hell do these people mean by the word "Christian"? I always thought that evangelical, Southern Baptist types really believed in hellfire and were afraid of it. Probably, most people who are spiritually inclined, of any tradition, would agree with King Solomon that, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 1:7). When you read about the Horn of Africa you have to ask yourself if any of these self-proclaimed "Christians" actually do "fear God". DS
News Items - BBC - Islamists abandon Somali capital: As they withdrew, gunfire was heard and armed supporters of the city's warlords began taking control of key facilities. Some residents say lawlessness has returned to Mogadishu - which had been under Islamic rule for six months.(...) Residents in the north of the city have reported cars and mobile phones being stolen. Rising insecurity has forced most businesses to stop trading.(...) The situation seems to be descending back into anarchy, our correspondent adds.(...) Courts administering Islamic law restored order in a city bedevilled by anarchy since the overthrow of former President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.(...) The UN Security Council has failed for a second time to agree on a statement calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian and other foreign forces from Somalia.(...) The African Union earlier called for Ethiopia to withdraw, as fighting moved closer to the capital Mogadishu. However, the United States has signalled support for Ethiopia's intervention, with the White House saying Addis Ababa had reason for concern about Somalia's internal security situation.
Ethiopia: Malnutrition is cheating its survivors, and Africa's future - New York Times
Abstract: Almost half of Ethiopia's children are malnourished, and most do not die. Some suffer a different fate. Robbed of vital nutrients as children, they grow up stunted and sickly, weaklings in a land that still runs on manual labor. Some become intellectually stunted adults, shorn of as many as 15 I.Q. points, unable to learn or even to concentrate, inclined to drop out of school early. There are many children like this in the villages around Shimider. Nearly 6 in 10 are stunted; 10-year-olds can fail to top an adult's belt buckle. They are frequently sick: diarrhea, chronic coughs and worse are standard for toddlers here. Most disquieting, teachers say, many of the 775 children at Shimider Primary are below-average pupils — often well below. "They fall asleep," said Eteafraw Baro, a third-grade teacher at the school. "Their minds are slow, and they don't grasp what you teach them, and they're always behind in class." Their hunger is neither a temporary inconvenience nor a quick death sentence. Rather, it is a chronic, lifelong, irreversible handicap that scuttles their futures and cripples Ethiopia's hopes to join the developed world. (...) Thirty percent of Amhara's children under 5 are stunted, with another 26 percent severely stunted, evidence of lifelong, acute hunger. One in 15 pregnant women experiences night blindness, indicating vitamin A deficiency and a diet devoid of protein and red or yellow fruits and vegetables. Among both malnourished children and their mothers, the impact of such privation is achingly evident. One recent Sunday, Tewres Beram, a woman in her early 20s, carried her daughter Mekdes to a free immunization clinic. Mekdes, severely malnourished, sat suckling fruitlessly at her mother's breast. "We don't have enough food," her mother said, "so there's not enough milk to feed her." A year old, Mekdes does not crawl. Her sister, 2, has barely begun to crawl. "Both of them are like little dead bodies," their mother said. Sirkalem Birhanu, 40, clasps Endalew, age 2 and unable even to hold up his head. "He's always sick," she said. Endalew has company, she said; his 13-year-old brother "is very tiny, and he loses weight." "And he's always been sick," she added. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bush: the most public failure in the history of the world

David Seaton's News Links
To fail utterly at the presidency of the United States because one is totally lacking in all the qualities or the knowledge to do the job is to fail big time. It is almost impossible for anyone to fail so miserably. To be in such a job and with no idea of how to go about it is the stuff of nightmares: in deadly danger and unable to move. Men have failed at the job because of bad luck, like LBJ or Carter. Others have done a workmanlike job, but miscalculated politically like Bush senior did. Nixon, who was perhaps the most intelligent man to sit in the White House in the 20th century, failed because of his damaged personality. But not one of the above was an incompetent, ne'r do well and all had solid achievements to point to in seeking the job. Wisdom or even common sense would warn against taking on such a challenge; many men and women, and not by any means the worst, would shrink from it. We are looking at literally the most public failure in the history of the world. We can only hope Bush is too dumb or too deluded to realize how bad it is. He has the atomic bomb... missiles... chemical weapons, biological weapons... people are laughing at him... soon they will be laughing in his face. May God have mercy on us all. DS

Bush is not going quietly

The Return of the Sheik
Ussi Stefano - 1822 -1901

David Seaton's News Links
Continuing today's leitmotif, Bush is not going to go quietly, he is going to escalate. He is going to dig his hole deeper and deeper, in exactly the same way his predecessors did in Vietnam. Again, I repeat, Bush is looking at a level of failure magnitudes beyond LBJ's. He is looking at disgrace far beyond the most paranoid nightmares of Richard Nixon. The world is literally crashing down around his ears. He is still the Commander and Chief of history's most mastodontic military establishment... And yes dear readers, in fact, he is still the decider. I don't think somebody who conspired to steal the presidency and who lied the country into a criminal war, would stop at killing a few thousand more people just to save his tattered reputation. Tell me, do you? DS

Arnaud De Borchgrave:
Arabian Medicis - UPI

Abstract:
There is a growing convergence of opinion among the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt that only an aerial bombardment of 17 known nuclear sites could retard Iran`s nuclear ambitions by five to 10 years. One U.S. intel topsider remarked (not for attribution), 'If we can gain five years that way, it`s worth considering.' He speculated Iran`s moderate reformers could gain power in the interim, Royal hawks remembered how Iranian pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) agitators had joined the annual pilgrimage to Mecca to stir up the masses of worshippers and provoke a coup against the ruling Saudi family. In the early 1980s, several hundred were killed in clashes with Saudi law enforcement. The Saudis can also see Iran becoming the big winner in the wake of a U.S. disaster in Iraq. And unless the U.S. ceased pampering Iraq`s Shiites at the expense of the Sunnis, or precipitously withdrew from Iraq, the kingdom would have to openly side with the Sunni insurgency, supplying both arms and funding to Iraq`s Sunni minority. This, in turn, could agitate Saudi minority Shiites that live and work in the eastern oil fields.(...) Since the 1973-74 oil embargo and skyrocketing oil prices, the Saudi-led, six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the latest defense hardware from the U.S., U.K. and France. Saudi Arabia alone, with a population of 21 million and oil revenue of $500 million a day, bought $268.6 billion worth of armaments since 1990, proportionally more than India or China, each with populations of more than one billion, writes Youssef Ibrahim, a prominent Arab American journalist. But the 'Gulfies' know they`re no match for the Iranian military with eight years of war fighting experience following Iraq`s 1980 invasion. A nuclear-tipped Iran, undeterred by the U.N. Security Council`s slap-on-the-wrist sanctions vote, has alarmed all six countries, from Oman to Kuwait. They, too, are now planning a 'peaceful' nuclear power program. The GCC Arabs are also planning their largest ever joint exercise -- Peninsula Shield -- to test interoperability. By reinforcing their naval presence inside and outside the Gulf, the U.S., Britain, and Gulf navies keep demonstrating that the military option is very much on the table. A second U.S. carrier task force will be on station in early 2007. Gulf countries possess over half the world`s oil reserves. Conversely, Iran is honing its retaliatory capabilities. Several hundred Hamas operatives recently left Gaza for Iran for special training by Revolutionary Guards, according to Israeli intelligence. Iran has also re-equipped Hezbollah in Lebanon with thousands of missiles and rockets to replace those fired at Israeli targets for 34 days last summer. READ IT ALL

Somalia: in a hole and digging faster

David Seaton's News Links
If you thought Bush was going to "go quietly" you are in for another think. Perhaps Bush's only chance to avoid his own personal humiliation is to widen and deepen the crisis. He is looking at a level of failure, exposure to ridicule and universal repudiation that few human beings will ever have to face. Although he makes much of his Christianity he doesn't seem to cultivate the Christian virtues of meekness, humility, repentance and truthfulness. The failure of conspicuously Christian, Jimmy Carter's presidency is nothing beside Bush's and if I can't imagine Bush resigning himself to a lifetime of redemption through good works... is this a failure of my imagination? So be prepared for universal collapse, catastrophe and war. Bush is his own little apocalypse. DS
In Somalia, a reckless U.S. proxy war - International Herald Tribune
Abstract: Undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With full U.S. backing and military training, at least 15,000 Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia in an illegal war of aggression against the Union of Islamic Courts, which controls almost the entire south of the country. As with Iraq in 2003, the United States has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism, but its real goal is to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic region by establishing a client regime there. The Horn of Africa is newly oil-rich, and lies just miles from Saudi Arabia, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through the Red Sea. General John Abizaid, the current U.S. military chief of the Iraq war, was in Ethiopia this month, and President Hu Jintao of China visited Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this year to pursue oil and trade agreements. The U.S. instigation of war between Ethiopia and Somalia, two of world's poorest countries already struggling with massive humanitarian disasters, is reckless in the extreme. Unlike in the run-up to Iraq, independent experts, including from the European Union, were united in warning that this war could destabilize the whole region even if America succeeds in its goal of toppling the Islamic Courts. An insurgency by Somalis, millions of whom live in Kenya and Ethiopia, will surely ensue, and attract thousands of new anti-U.S. militants and terrorists. READ IT ALL

Impeachment... trying Bush, hanging Saddam

David Seaton's News Links
A reader of this blog has asked me what I think about impeaching Bush. Frankly, I think it would be time consuming and a self-indulgent, feel-good, media circus. There are only two years left to his "reign". What I think would be useful, good for America's image, "healing", if you like that terminology, would be to remit Bush to the Hague to be tried for war crimes when his term is up. Political agitation for his trial by the international court, even if it wasn't successful, would be productive for progressive politics everywhere. The important thing is to clarify how and why this present situation came to be. Impeachment is a political circus whereby by politicians showboat, whereas something like the Milosevic treatment for Bush would really pull back the carpet. Trials can clarify or obscure. For example, there is a great hurry now to hang Saddam Hussein in order to keep him from talking about America's involvement with his regime in the 80s and its complicity with his use of poisonous gas. Obviously in Saddam's case the object of his trial is to silence him. DS

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Afghan heroin: a unique price/quality proposition

David Seaton's News Links
If a newsman really wanted to know how the war in Afghanistan was going, all he or she would have to do is follow the retail/street price of heroin in their hometown. That simple. All the questions are there. Why do Americans consume so much heroin. How does it get through the NATO surveillance of Afghanistan? What is the USA really doing in Afghanistan anyway? And on and on. DS

Afghan heroin's surge poses danger in U.S. - Los Angeles Times
Abstract:
Supplies of highly potent Afghan heroin in the United States are growing so fast that the pure white powder is rapidly overtaking lower-quality Mexican heroin, prompting fears of increased addiction and overdoses. Heroin-related deaths in Los Angeles County soared from 13
Publish7 in 2002 to 239 in 2005, a jump of nearly 75% in three years, a period when other factors contributing to overdose deaths remained unchanged, experts said. The jump in deaths was especially prevalent among users older than 40, who lack the resilience to recover from an overdose of unexpectedly strong heroin, according to a study by the county's Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology. "The rise of heroin from Afghanistan is our biggest rising threat in the fight against narcotics," said Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. "We are seeing more seizures and more overdoses." According to a Drug Enforcement Administration report obtained by The Times, Afghanistan's poppy fields have become the fastest-growing source of heroin in the United States. Its share of the U.S. market doubled from 7% in 2001, the year U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban, to 14% in 2004, the latest year studied. Another DEA report, released in October, said the 14% actually could be significantly higher. Poppy production in Afghanistan jumped significantly after the 2001 U.S. invasion destabilized an already shaky economy, leading farmers to turn to the opium market to survive. READ IT ALL

Toyota to pass GM - Deming ora pro nobis!

David Seaton's News Links
News Item - Associated Press: Toyota Motor Corp. on Monday reported its 25th straight month of growth in worldwide production as it closed in on General Motors' position as the world's biggest vehicle maker.(...) Last week, Toyota executives in Japan laid out a production target of 9.42 million vehicles for next year, a 4 percent increase over the 9.04 million vehicles it expects to produce this year and more than the 9.2 million that Detroit-based General Motors Corp. is estimated to have produced this year. GM has not given targets for next year, but has been forced to scale back production after seeing its market share eroded by Toyota and other Asian automakers, which have a reputation for better fuel efficiency.
I can remember so far back that I can remember when a joke circulated that Toyota was going to merge with Chevrolet and make the "Toileta"... How the mighty are humbled, yadda, yadda. The irony is that the success of Japanese manufacturing owes a lot to the man in the picture, W. Edwards Deming, the father of "Japanese quality". When you read his "14 Points" and "Seven Deadly Diseases" it all resonates with the plain, solid, good sense that you would expect from someone born in the deepest, ├╝ber-American, Sioux City, Iowa. But strangely enough, nothing could be more "foreign" to the contemporary, American, business culture than the pragmatic humanism Deming advocated. Here is a Deming Zen koan to meditate upon, "Everyone must understand the damage and loss to the whole organization from a team that seeks to become a selfish, independent, profit centre." The decline of the United States and its possible recovery are all in the story, thought and works of W. Edwards Deming. DS

"Innovation comes from people who take joy in their work."
W. Edwards Deming

Deming's 14 Points

1. Create constancy of purpose for improvement of products and service.

2. Adopt a new philosophy: we are in a new economic age.

3. Cease dependence upon inspection as a way to achieve quality.

4. End the practice of awarding business based on price tag.

5. Constantly improve the process of planning, production, and service- this system includes people.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute improved supervision (leadership)

8. Drive out fear.

9. Break down barriers between departments.

10. Eliminate slogans/targets asking for increased productivity without providing methods

11. Eliminate numerical quotas.

12. Remove barriers that stand between workers and their pride of workmanship.

13. Institute programs for education and retraining.

14. Put all emphasis in the company to work to accomplish the transformation.

Seven Deadly Diseases

1. Lack of constancy of purpose to plan a marketable product and service to keep the company in business and provide jobs.

2. Emphasis on short-term profits.

3. Personal evaluation appraisal, by whatever name, for people in management, the effects of which are devastating.

4. Mobility of management; job hopping.

5. Use of visible figures for management, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable.

6. Excessive medical costs.

7. Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers that work on contingency fees.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Another Christmas story

The Holy Family with St Anne, 1628, Rubens, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

David Seaton's News Links
Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, or to think of them and to remember them lovingly if they are very far away or no longer among the living. It is also a time when Christians are urged to wish for 'peace on earth, good will to men' and consequentially obliged to practice the Christian virtues of forgiving and loving their enemies. However, in order to truly love one's friends and to truly forgive and to begin to love one's enemies, it is obviously essential to first begin by being able to distinguish between one's friends and one's enemies. This is not always as easy as it would appear at first glance. Today the relations between Islam and Christianity need, more than ever, to be examined and revised. Westerners ignorance and lack of appreciation of Islam is doubly aggravated by their ignorance of Muslim's traditional knowledge and esteem of Christianity... An esteem born out by the number of Muslims named, "Miriam," (Mary) and "Isa", (Jesus). Tragically, little is known in the West of Islam's affection for the Virgin Mary (Umm Isa) to whom an entire chapter of the Koran is devoted. Karen Armstrong, a former nun and perhaps the English language's most interesting writer on comparative religions, published the article quoted below in The Guardian on Friday. It makes a perfect Christmas meditation in these times of hatred and intolerance. DS

The Muslim prophet born in Bethlehem - Karen Armstrong - Guardian
Abstract: In 632, after five years of fearful warfare, the city of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz voluntarily opened its gates to the Muslim army. No blood was shed and nobody was forced to convert to Islam, but the Prophet Muhammad ordered the destruction of all idols and icons of the Divine. There were a number of frescoes painted on the inner walls of the Kabah, the ancient granite shrine in the centre of Mecca, and one of them, it is said, depicted Mary and the infant Jesus. Immediately Muhammad covered it reverently with his cloak, ordering all the other pictures to be destroyed except that one. This story may surprise people in the west, who have regarded Islam as the implacable enemy of Christianity ever since the crusades, but it is salutary to recall it during the Christmas season when we are surrounded by similar images of the Virgin and Child. It reminds us that the so-called clash of civilisations was by no means inevitable. For centuries Muslims cherished the figure of Jesus, who is honoured in the Qur'an as one of the greatest of the prophets and, in the formative years of Islam, became a constituent part of the emergent Muslim identity. There are important lessons here for both Christians and Muslims - especially, perhaps, at Christmas. The Qur'an does not believe that Jesus is divine but it devotes more space to the story of his virginal conception and birth than does the New Testament, presenting it as richly symbolic of the birth of the Spirit in all human beings (Qur'an 19:17-29; 21:91). Like the great prophets, Mary receives this Spirit and bears Jesus, who will, in his turn, become an ayah, a revelation of peace, gentleness and compassion to the world.(...) The Muslim devotion to Jesus is a remarkable example of the way in which one tradition can be enriched by another. It cannot be said that Christians returned the compliment. While the Muslims were amassing their Jesus-traditions, Christian scholars in Europe were denouncing Muhammad as a lecher and charlatan, viciously addicted to violence. But today both Muslims and Christians are guilty of this kind of bigotry and often seem eager to see only the worst in each other. The Muslim devotion to Jesus shows that this was not always the case. In the past, before the political dislocations of modernity, Muslims were always able to engage in fruitful and stringent self-criticism. This year, on the birthday of the Prophet Jesus, they might ask themselves how they can revive their long tradition of pluralism and appreciation of other religions. For their part, meditating on the affinity that Muslims once felt for their faith, Christians might look into their own past and consider what they might have done to forfeit this respect.
READ IT ALL

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Americans are so surprised

David Seaton's News Links
One of my favorite "how dumb Thomas Friedman is" stories, is in fact an anecdote that holds a key to understanding the entire predicament that the USA has gotten itself into. The story concerns a visit Friedman made to a Pakistani madrassa, famous as the alma mater of many of the most illustrious and most fanatical of the Afghan Taliban. Following the Islamic traditions of hospitality, Friedman was received politely and offered refreshment. While they chatted, our Tom and the headmaster or head Iman of the school sipped at bottles of chilled Coca Cola. The Iman roundly and eloquently denounced the policies of the United States in the Muslim world. Friedman than asked him with an air of "gotcha", "If you don't like America's policies, why do you drink Coca Cola?" as if that were an "end of argument" crusher. The Iman calmly replied, "Because Coca Cola is sweet, but America's policies are poisonous." In a sense, the cultural problem that is at the heart of America's present failure is all there in a nutshell in that story. In their heart of hearts, most American's think that everybody, everywhere, wants to be American too... That Hamburgers and Coca Cola are mysteriously transubstantiated into the "body and blood" of the United States of America and in partaking of them, somehow foreigners join in the "mystical body" of the USA and become in some way American too. But, if you like Sushi and eat enough of it, do you develop palpebral folds on your eyes? If you own a Mercedes Benz, are you in danger of invading Poland? Like the Iman pointed out, in reality, people take the USA a la carte, what they like they take and what they don't they don't. The big mistake almost all Americans are making now is to think that they are being attacked, when if fact they are being counterattacked, they have been just too self-absorbed to ever know, or even care what was being done all over the world in their name. And now that the new technologies make it possible, they are surprised that somebody who drinks Coke could explode right next to them. If you imagined Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse with the Internet and prostrated toward Mecca, you might get some idea of what we are looking at. DS

Friday, December 22, 2006

Billmon is back and kicking serious butt

David Seaton's News Links
In case you missed his long awaited return, Billmon, (guru jai, jai, guru maharaj!) is back on line after a well deserved vacation and is still kicking very serious butt. Check out the number he does on Condoleeza (Secretary of State from Hell) Rice. DS
Tidbits: Maybe the simplest explanation is also the most accurate. Maybe Condi is just a cold, heartless bitch -- as morally numb and sociopathic as her office husband. (...) Does Condi understand how many deaths, mutilations and wrecked lives lie behind her "investments" and "birth pangs"? Undoubtedly. Does she care? I don't know. But, from a public diplomacy point of view, it would behoove her to show some sign that she has an emotional connection to the rest of the human race -- or, if she doesn't, to at least pretend that she does. READ IT ALL

Bacevich cuts to the bone

David Seaton's News Links
Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, formerly Colonel Andrew Bacevich, US Army, is one of the most incisive political thinkers in America's intellectual panorama. The world of American think tanks has turned US geopolitical discourse into a massive, over-funded, Swiftian Academy of Lagado, where sunbeams are extracted from cucumbers and a quick journey to the heart of any matter would put a lot of scholars out of work. Bacevich, however, cuts to the bone. His book, "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War," is an absolute 'must read': an invaluable starting point for any serious discussion about the terrible situation that the US has created for itself. Obviously, without a keystone or linchpin, without finding the axis around which the problem revolves, we will never find our way out of the labyrinth. This article from The International Herald Tribune, which is quoted below, will give you some idea of Professor Bacevich's unerring instinct for constantly locating the center of gravity of these questions. DS
Bush's illusions - International Herald Tribune

Abstract:
The world's only superpower no longer acts; instead, it reacts, usually to whatever happens to be the latest bad news out of Baghdad. As events in Iraq slip out of his control, President George W. Bush's strategy for waging his "global war on terror" lies in ruins. He is navigating without a compass. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Recall that for the architects of Operation Iraqi Freedom, taking down Saddam Hussein never qualified as more than a preliminary objective. Baghdad was not Berlin. It was Normandy, the jumping-off point for a much larger enterprise.(...) Skeptics saw the Freedom Agenda as little more than eyewash. The real object of the exercise, they insisted, was to assert U.S. control over the oil-rich Gulf. The aim of the global war on terror was not to share the blessings of liberty but to expand the perimeter of the American empire. Whether the name of the game was liberation or dominion, Iraq was a crucial test case. Iraq's transformation into the first Arab democracy — or (depending on your point of view) its conversion into a compliant protectorate — promised to validate the Bush administration's concept of global war. Victory in Iraq would also affirm key assumptions underlying that concept: that U.S. forces are invincible and unstoppable; that preventive war works; that the concerns of other major powers or the absence of a UN Security Council mandate need not constrain American freedom of action. In short, Iraq constituted step one. Success there would pave the way for the Bush administration to proceed along similar lines to steps two, three and four. The disappointments and frustrations resulting from that first step now leave the entire project in a shambles. If the United States cannot democratize Iraq, then to imagine that democracy will emerge from the barrel of an American gun in Iran, Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia is simply fanciful. If U.S. troops cannot pacify Iraq, then only the truly deluded would court a further military showdown that could oblige American forces to pacify Iraq's neighbors as well. The United States already has too much war for too few soldiers.(...) As if tacitly acknowledging that they have spent all their ammunition strategically, Bush and his lieutenants now preoccupy themselves with operational matters that ought to fall within the purview of field commanders.(...) Fighting the Battle of Baghdad does not qualify as presidential business. Devising an effective response to the threat posed by Islamic radicalism does. On that score, however, the most pressing question is this: Does open-ended global war provide the proper framework for formulating that response? Or has global war, based on various illusions about American competence and American power, led to a dead end? READ IT ALL

Empire Death Watch: Iran turns from dollar to euro in oil sales - The Times (London)

David Seaton's News Links
As any true American knows from birth, the US Dollar is the ultimate, visible and tangible manifestation of God's will on earth and his chosen instrument for expressing it... or so we have always believed... if not in thought and word, surely in deed. So, the subtext of this article could be summed up as, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," which Jimmy Cox once rendered into American English in the following manner:

Once I lived a life of a millionaire,
Spent all my money, didn't have any cares.
Took all my friends out for a mighty good time.
Bought bootleg liquor champagne and wine.

Then I began to fall so low,
Lost all my good friends, had nowhere to go.
If I get my hands on a dollar again,
I'll hang on to it 'til that old eagle grins.

'Cause no, no, nobody knows you
When you're down and out.
In your pocket, not one penny,
And as for friends, you don't have any.

When you get back on your feet again,
Everybody wants to be your long lost friend.
I said it straight without any doubt,
Nobody knows you when you're down and out.

"Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"
Words & Music by Jimmy Cox (1923) - Recorded by Eric Clapton, 1992
Iran turns from dollar to euro in oil sales - The Times
Abstract: Iran is selling more of its oil for payment in euros than dollars as it seeks to shift its foreign currency reserves away from the depreciating currency of its political enemy, the United States.(...) Gholanhossein Nozari, the managing director of National Iranian Oil Company, said that 57 per cent of Iran’s income from oil exports was now received in euros. The move reflects a political desire for less reliance on the dollar, as well as a need to avoid further depreciation in currency reserves. Iran’s dollar holdings are thought to have fallen from 40 per cent of currency reserves to just a third.(...) Iran’s decision to switch currencies extends a trend among big oil exporters moving from the dollar as they seek protection from a continuing slide in the petrocurrency’s value.(...) The dollar’s slide protected non-dollar oil importers from the escalation in the price of fuel early this year. Oil was $63 per barrel at the beginning of January, rose to $74 at the start of July and has fallen back to $63 per barrel this month. However, translated into euros, the rise is less impressive — from €53 a barrel to a peak of €58 before a sharp decline to €48. The fall in the dollar against major currencies has had a dramatic impact on the revenues of oil exporters and has exacerbated the rumbling anti- American feeling in the Gulf. Although Gulf Arab states are predominantly dollar export earners, they mainly purchase in euros and yen, buying food, consumer goods and manufactured products from Europe and the Far East. READ IT ALL

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thomas L. Friedman's sour grapes

David Seaton's News Links
Thomas L. Friedman is normally as cheerful as a chipmunk, a Pollyanna-ish tifoso of globalization, prone to see silver linings in the darkest of clouds. That makes the column he posted in the NYT yesterday rather special. I can't remember ever reading such a bitter, spiteful flow of bile from his pen. Probably he is so bitter because his reputation has foundered on the Iraq war: so totally trashed is Tom that he has become something of a figure of fun. He was an early enthusiast for the invasion and Haaretz grouped him then with Charles Krauthammer as an influential supporter of the war in Iraq. At the time he said,
"The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war."
After no WMD were found he said,
"The stated reason for the war was that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction that posed a long-term threat to America. I never bought this argument… The WMD argument was hyped by George Bush and Tony Blair to try to turn a war of choice into a war of necessity."
AND
"The right reason for this war, as I argued before it started, was to oust Saddam's regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report's prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women's empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification."
Finally in August of 2006 he wrote,
"Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, democracy is not emerging in Iraq, and we can’t throw more good lives after good lives"
His scrambling to maintain some reputation as an analyst and pundit led him to series of statements that have come to be known as the "Friedman Unit", a period of six months, where if his suggestions were followed, everything would turn out fine. Here is a sample of Friedman units ripped from Wikipedia:
"The next six months in Iraq... are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time" November 30, 2003.

"What we're gonna find out... in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war." October 3, 2004.

"I think we're in the end game now.... I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear" September 25, 2005.

"I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse" December 18, 2005.

"I think that we're going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding" January 23, 2006

"I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq." March 2, 2006

"we're going to find out... in the next year to six months - probably sooner - whether a decent outcome is possible" May 11, 2006.

Now he has it really figured out,
"our real choices in Iraq are 10 months or 10 years". December 8, 2006
America being what it is nowadays Friedman will probably continue to win Pulitzer Prizes. But just in case they wake up in the New York Times one morning and reassign him to writing advice for the lovelorn, don't feel too sorry for him, he shall want for naught. Our Tom is married to the daughter of Matthew Bucksbaum, the chairman of the board for General Growth Properties and one of America's richest men... Tom is only dumb when it comes to international politics. Here are some excerpts from his latest column, where he blames the whole Middle East for making him look so stupid. DS
Mideast Rules To Live By - New York Times
Abstract: For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.(...) Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.(...) If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all — they won’t believe it.(...) In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.(...) The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”(...) Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.(...) Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.(...) Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do. READ IT ALL (bootleg)

New war staring us right in the face

David Seaton's News Links
The man in the picture here is Aluf Benn, the diplomatic correspondent of the highly respected Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. The article quoted below is published in the English edition of Haaretz, thus it is available for the whole world to read. It goes without saying that anything Aluf Benn publishes in his newspaper has passed several filters. Three of them come instantly to mind. First: the brains, knowledge and professional experience to pass the selection process for such an important post. Second: the editorial policy of the paper. Third: the general consensus of his colleagues and community as to what is responsible discourse. Conclusion: Aluf Benn is a sensible, reputed professional, not some nut spouting off on an electronic street corner. Read in this light, the following article by Mr. Benn is literally terrifying. DS
Four reasons for ranting - Haaretz
Abstract: The ideal scenario, from Israel's point of view, would be an American military attack that would destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and remove the threat. "We have to get the United States to carry out what it promised to do, and to create the proper international climate," explains a senior official. It is not clear what President Bush told Olmert in private talks that had him leaving Bush's office feeling so satisfied. We can only presume that Olmert is depending on Bush's religious faith and obstinacy, which will lead him to attack Iran, even in light of American public opposition to military adventures in the Middle East. When will that happen? The head of the Mossad spoke this week about an Iranian nuclear bomb in another three years. This leaves a year for diplomacy and sanctions, and moves H-hour for a military attack to 2008, if Iran continues its nuclear development. The timing is right politically. It will be Bush's last year in the White House, and he will be busy bequeathing his "legacy." It is a known fact that U.S. election years have always been years of dramatic moves in relations with Israel, from Harry S. Truman's recognition of the Jewish state to Bill Clinton's Camp David summit, to the "Bush letter" that recognized the settlements and the separation fence.(...) Former prime minister Ariel Sharon used to deny that Israel was planning to attack Iran on its own. Olmert prefers to hint at a military option. That's good for spurring the "world" into action, but it is also good for preparing Israeli public opinion for a complex conflict that is liable to continue for years. The experts disagree as to whether Israel has the ability to paralyze the Iranian project if it strikes it at critical points. It is clear that Israel would have to receive American approval for such an operation, and would prefer receiving it from Bush, who is friendly to Israel, rather than gambling on his successor. That is why even for this alternative 2008 will be the critical year.(...) Olmert wants to remain in the Golan, refuses to talk to Syrian President Bashar Assad and uses Bush's opposition as an excuse: Israel needs Bush to fight Iran, and we must not annoy him by babbling nonsense about peace with Syria. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Uncle Hamas Cares for Palestinians - Der Spiegel

David Seaton's News Links
When you read an article like this one about Hamas in the above suspicion, German news magazine of reference, Der Spiegel, you realize that Bush, Blair, the "moderate" Arabs and the Israelis are in plain speech just "pissing into the wind". Simply put, faith and sacrifice on this level cannot be defeated by anything but prosperity and easy money. Certainly killing and starving people of this rectitude and courage will only make them stronger and braver in their faith. I think that as soon as the US fails in Iraq, and that will be soon enough, the Islamists will sweep all before them in the Middle East like a wind. Then we will see how long this probity lasts, when the faithful finally get all that oil money to spend. DS
Abstract: At first glance Hamas, a party that looks after the poor with its money and charity, appears to be playing a well-known tune on the instrument of populism. On the other hand, every major international aid organization is singing the Islamist group's praises when it comes to the quality of its work. "In the International Crisis Group's 2003 report, the most important American NGOs gave perfect marks to Hamas's work; they couldn't have achieved a better result," says Helga Baumgarten, a lecturer at Birzeit University in Ramallah. Baumgarten believes that the success of the party, which emerged from the radical Muslim Brotherhood in 1987, is based on two factors: the highly professional work of the group's welfare agencies and Hamas's oft-cited integrity. "In fact, all studies have concluded that Hamas operates without a trace of corruption," says Baumgarten. "This has enabled it to gain the respect of the population over the years." Nevertheless, Hamas is no moderate party. It sees itself as the spearhead of Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. Following its surprising election victory in January, the organization refused to renounce armed conflict or to recognize Israel. Its repeated use of suicide bombings against Israeli citizens since its founding has also contributed to Hamas being classified as a terrorist organization in the West -- despite its day-to-day charitable activities. But it is difficult to say whether Hamas deliberately uses its charitable work to generate sympathy within the population. "Social commitment is not a means to an end; I would not interpret this merely as exploitation," says Baumgarten. And even if it were, parties the world over operate no differently.(...) At first the wheelchair-bound Yassin, who founded Hamas in 1987 and was killed in a targeted Israeli missile attack in 2004, managed the organization's funds from the living room of his modest house a few streets away. Today the center has evolved into a giant charitable institution in Gaza, operating 16 kindergartens, 30 Koran schools, and providing thousands of families with money, food and clothing. The center also pays child support for 5,000 orphans.(...) Nidal Shabana, the center's director, currently manages an annual budget of about $1 million. Despite his prominent position, Shabana remains a modest man, although a hint of pride for his work trickles through when he talks about the Islamic ping-pong team that recently won the Gaza championships under his tutelage. "Modesty and honesty are principles that are especially valued in Islam," he says. When asked his opinion about the growing strength of Islamist parties in the Arab world -- a phenomenon viewed with great concern in the West -- Shabana becomes circumspect. The behavior of Islamic leaders happens to be exemplary, he says, adding that their hands are clean. In a roundabout way, Shabana is saying that he considers the political leaders in neighboring Arab states to be corrupt and morally weak. Since the 1970s, the failure of authoritarian regimes in the Arab world -- dominated by ruling families intent on lining their own pocketbooks and bloated, inefficient bureaucracies -- has led to Islamist groups filling a social and political vacuum in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. The fact that Hamas hasn't received recognition as the sole governing party in the Palestinian Territories is by no means just a local quirk. Resistance to Hezbollah's quest for power up the road in Beirut is similar. These religious fundamentalist organizations are a threat to the region's established regimes; it's not just Israel and its Western allies that are interested in keeping the Islamists in check. READ IT ALL

Iran outfoxes Israel, Blair and Bush

David Seaton's News Links
Today, Tony Blair is calling on "moderate" Arab (read Sunni) Muslim states to form an "alliance of moderation" to counter Iran's growing influence. Blair, who will soon be out of power, may have his eye as firmly fixed on his future lecture fees as on any plausible "peace plan". His anti-Iran alliance is certainly another dog that won't hunt. Blair's idea is to isolate Shiite Iran from its Sunni neighbors. By chance this is more or less Al Qaeda's program too. Ahmadinejad's maneuvering is calculated to avoid such isolation. None of the Sunni regimes has anything like Iran's democratic legitimacy (Ahmadinejad just lost a local election: dictators don't ever lose elections) and the "Arab street" of the "moderate" Sunni regimes is restless. Ahmadinejad's stunts like the Jew-baiting "Holocaust Conference" and Iran's support of Hezbollah resistance to Israel's invasion of Lebanon and Hamas's stoicism in Gaza, all of which Muslims seem to find thrilling and heroic, are an effective insurance policy against just the sort of alliance that Blair is proposing. The Sunni Arab Street would only see their rulers as dropping their trousers one more time for the "Jews and Crusaders". The way tempers are rising this could easily cost them their jobs and even their and their families lives. Also Ahmadinejad by his provocations has forced Israel into a historic error that may cost them the whole "atomic" game itself. By publicly admitting that Israel has the atomic bomb, following US Secretary of Defense Robert Gate's similar revelation, Israeli PM Olmert has cut the legal ground and the international legitimacy out from underneath the planned UN sanctions of Iran. If the Tehran "Holocaust Conference" was planned in order to provoke the Israelis into some stupid mistake, it has been successful beyond its wildest dreams. "I would suggest that all those who want to talk about the issue, for God's sake and for the sake of Israel's security, stop it," said the Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer. The doomsday climate thickens as Bush seems to have his 'mind" set on one last "grand offensive" in Iraq, which military experts fear may, in true Stalingrad fashion, be the definitive disaster. DS

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"You the man!", so says Time Magazine

Uncle Sam says, "Take charge. No 'leader' can do it for you!"
David Seaton's News Links
According to Time Magazine, all us Internet users are the "Person of the Year." You have to wonder why Time Warner of all people is celebrating the loss of their gatekeeper function, but still, they could be right. The 20th century opened with many outsized, revolutionary personalities like Einstein, Picasso and Lenin, who, in the space of only a few years, changed the way the world looked and the way it looked at itself.

Now, at the beginning of the 21rst century, either humans of the Einstein, Picasso and Lenin mold don't exist any more or, as is more probable, they are simply not needed and not called forth. Today, we have Kleenex-like, disposable, "celebrities" to satisfy our need to worship "great men".

On the contrary, this seems to be an era where, for the first time in history, intelligent, mass opinion can be formed and set into motion without the benefit and shepherding of the "great and the good"; those who have manipulated humanity to their benefit since records have been kept of our affairs. We have just seen a clear example in the Iraq disaster: the most serious and defining crisis of our time, where as Strobe Talbot tells us in the Financial Times, "The US faces in Iraq what could be the most consequential foreign-policy debacle in its history".

At this decisive moment most of America's so called "leaders" either voted or lobbied for the war. And as for the "gatekeepers", the great media groups captained by America's newspaper of reference, the New York Times, actively promoted it. At the very same time, in an unprecedented popular movement, millions of people in America and around the world demonstrated against the war and organized to oppose it and haven't ceased organizing, blogging and agitating online against it since the very day it began. Obviously if the "people" had been listened to, an unprecedented disaster could have been averted.

The insight would be, that after decades of nearly universal literacy and public education, the general public with the new technologies at its command, is perfectly able to decide the major issues of the day more correctly than its "leaders," who instead of stewarding the general welfare are for the most part responding to the cocktail of special interest groups whose large contributions finance their campaigns. What we have just lived through in the first years of the new century seems to bear out the theories of "deliberative democracy", Which in Wikipedia's article on the subject is defined as,

"Any system of political decisions based on some tradeoff of consensus decision making and representative democracy. In contrast to the traditional economics-based theory of democracy, which emphasizes voting as the central institution in democracy, deliberative democracy theorists argue that legitimate lawmaking can only arise from the public deliberation of the citizenry."
I seem to remember that somewhere Noam Chomsky said that if Americans studied public affairs with the attention and sophisticated powers of analysis that they expend on baseball statistics, it would change the world. Perhaps we are looking at the beginning of that now. Substitute "soccer" for "baseball" and it could apply to the rest of the world.

The only major US politician that seems to have acted decisively on this insight is Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party. Dean (or someone very near him) seems to have read and understood the Hardt and Negri concept of the "Multitude" (no mean feat as the authors can't write their way out of a paper bag). This "multitude" (Hardt-Negri's definition) "is our era's new political class, a fungible mass of political force, which in contrast to the 'proletariat' or working-class, is 'a collection of singularities" who discover what they have in common, but without fusing into some sort of sovereign unity'.

Howard Dean, alone among mainstream politicians, seems to understand the potential of opening political life to this "multitude" by giving them the chance to take their own political fate directly into their hands.

If this sounds a little esoteric to you, consider this simple arithmetic: there are an estimated 40,000,000 Americans without any health coverage... if each of them donated only 50 cents through the Internet to the Democratic Party's "war chest," that would make $20,000,000. By thus short-circuiting of the traditional "big wallet," special interest contributors, the realistic possibility for a new, high-tech populism opens.

The moral of the story? Before they figure out how to shut the Internet down, let us hurry and change the world. DS

You -- Yes, You -- Are TIME's Person of the Year
Abstract: Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail. There's no road map for how an organism that's not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion. But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you're not just a little bit curious. READ IT ALL

Soro's initiative

David Seaton's News Links
In today's climate of geopolitical disaster, which if American history is any guide, is soon to turn to a hysterical, "who lost the Middle East?", witch-hunt it is very, very important for the "man in the street" to be able to distinguish between a "Jewish conspiracy" and a "conspiracy in which a lot of Jewish people just happen to have been involved, which in no way represents the greater Jewish community's views". George Soro's initiative is intelligent, sensitive, useful and long, long overdue. DS
The other Israel lobby - Salon
Abstract: Eighty-seven percent of (American Jews) voted Democratic in the recent midterms -- the highest number since 1994 -- belying the oft-repeated claim that the Bush administration's staunch support for Israel would move the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote toward the Republicans. The fact is that most American Jews, and many other American supporters of Israel, do not see eye-to-eye on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the most hawkish, knee-jerk Israel supporters in the U.S. government -- even if their presumed leadership, represented by AIPAC, often appears to do so. Moreover, AIPAC's influence in Washington may soon begin to decline, as a powerful new alliance of left-leaning friends of Israel has begun to emerge, with the express aim of reshaping U.S. strategy on the region's most intractable problem. If the Bush administration decides to seriously reevaluate its strategy in the Middle East in the wake of the Iraq Study Group's recent report -- and among its recommendations is prioritizing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- it will have to deal with a minefield of interest groups. That will surely include AIPAC, a juggernaut that the New York Times has called the "most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."(...) The AIPAC insider said that he believes the "Soros Initiative" is little more than a fundraising drive to raise money for some impoverished organizations that "have to define themselves in opposition to something." In fact, say those involved, a contentious issue in the discussions is exactly how much the new organization would allow itself to be seen as being in direct opposition to AIPAC. At least four of the players involved have told me that they intend to be an "alternative," but not an "opposition." Still, one of those present at the early meetings said that he sees his organization as "the anti-AIPAC." Levy, meanwhile, said simply that if "there are differences in policy, those will be expressed in one group advocating one thing and another advocating another thing." This would at least be an improvement, he said, over the past, when Israeli leaders who honestly sought to make peace "pulled their hair out because of the lack of support from the Jewish community in the United States." READ IT ALL