Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A unique opportunity for peace in our time

Ensuring there's enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country's entitlement system, Boehner said. He said he'd favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them. "We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we're broke," Boehner said. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)
David Seaton's News  Links
I found the above quote in a post by Dean Baker at TPM Café and the above chart was delivered to my mail box  a couple of days ago and I think they compliment each other very nicely

In them I see one of the few hopeful developments to appear in a very bleak world.

Finally, the most politically active American citizens, the elderly, the only ones who always vote, are being told clearly that their pensions must be sacrificed to America's endless wars, wars fought in places that most Americans can't find on a map.

I don't think they are going to stand for it.

The ensuing confrontation could change US politics beyond recognition, because there are probably quite a few Democrats who are as willing to sacrifice the standard of living of America's elderly to the gods of imperial war as Republicans like congressman Boehner are. (Note: Boehner is pronounced "bayner" not "boner").

In my opinion, this could have the germs of a real, sustained political movement in it, something like the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s.

Real politics, sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations, hounding of lawmakers, not just voting for a "messiah" and then sitting back waiting for the loaves and the fishes to appear.

Our greatest consolation as Americans would be if the elderly of America brought peace to the world by using their votes and ample free time to put an end to America's culture of endless wars. DS

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Burger and fries, hold the spies.

Russia's Foreign Ministry condemned the arrests of 10 alleged Russian spies in the United States, calling them baseless Tuesday, and senior lawmakers suggested they had stemmed from a conspiracy in the U.S. government to undermine President Obama's efforts to improve relations with Moscow. Washington Post
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I find this case of the Russian spies extremely strange and the timing of their arrests especially disturbing and suspicious, coming, as they do, so soon after the feel good "Hamburger summit".

This incident makes the president of the United States look ridiculous at a moment when Russian cooperation is essential in a multitude of sensitive areas, not the least of which is Afghanistan.

I really cannot believe this is a coincidence, as it seems perfectly timed to embarrass the president and perhaps derail to some extent the "reset" in US-Russian relations.

Since these suspected spies gave no indication that they planning to flee, nor do they seem to have penetrated into any sensitive, sanctum sanctorum of America's secret life, which would require them to be immediately neutralized, then the question has to be: why were their arrests timed to coincide with an elaborately staged thaw in US/Russian relations?

So, lets go over this again.

If the spies had not come into the possession of America's family jewels, then the questions  have to be in the line of:
  • Did the president of the United States know that the arrests were going to be made when he invited Medvedev out for hamburgers
  • If he didn't, why not?
  • Who should have told him that didn't tell him?
  • Who, would benefit by cooling off American/Russian relations?
  • Are they in the administration itself?
  • Is this a "one off" job of specific US/Russian relations sabotage, or are there "factions" within the government who are trying to weaken the president?
These are the truly important questions that should be asked and answered and as I write this, I don't see them even being asked. DS

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

General McChrystal covers his... flank

Fatheaded hubris is going to take a severe hit in the years to come and Americans are going to want someone to blame it on. I think that they will blame it on whichever poor, helpless, sap wins the White House this year. Self quote - News Links, 9/15/2008
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The McChrystal affair is much simpler than it looks.

I'm sure that McChrystal knew perfectly well what he was doing and that he was only trying to get himself fired for some other reason than not winning the war. I would interpret this whole incident as a clear sign that those who understand these things already consider Afghanistan a lost cause.

I think that this quote from the Rolling Stone article is the key to all of this:
Today, as McChrystal gears up for an offensive in southern Afghanistan, the prospects for any kind of success look bleak. In June, the death toll for U.S. troops passed 1,000, and the number of IEDs has doubled. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population, whose attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile. The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a "bleeding ulcer." In June, Afghanistan officially outpaced Vietnam as the longest war in American history – and Obama has quietly begun to back away from the deadline he set for withdrawing U.S. troops in July of next year. The president finds himself stuck in something even more insane than a quagmire: a quagmire he knowingly walked into, even though it's precisely the kind of gigantic, mind-numbing, multigenerational nation-building project he explicitly said he didn't want.

Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it's going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. "It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win," says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. "This is going to end in an argument."
McChrystal didn't want to go down with the ship.

Experts agree that the most difficult military maneuver of all is to organize an orderly retreat from an impossible position. Knowing when the position is hopeless, creating distractions and withdrawing under their cover with the least possible damage to oneself is universally considered the summum of the soldier's art and the mark of an able general.

McChrystal is a brilliant general with a big IQ trapped in a hopeless situation from which he has just been liberated. I find it hard to believe he didn't know exactly what he was doing.

When the war ends it will be Obama who lost it, not McChrystal.

Mission accomplished.

Mark my words, someday apologists writing books about "who lost Afghanistan" will say, "if only Obama had kept McChrystal..."

In 2013 President Huckabee will probably make him Chief of Staff.

Or maybe his vice-president.DS

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wile E. Coyote enters into contradiction (beep beep)

“The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.” [Marx - Capital, Volume III, Chapter 30]
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There are certain ancient temples, where, perhaps once in decades, the sunlight will shine through a tiny, hidden crack in the temple wall and for only a moment illuminate a small, unnoticed, obscure, hieroglyph among thousands... the one that contains the mystery of mysteries... The old chestnut quoted above is like that, for decades and decades it made little sense and now, sweet mystery of life, at last I know the meaning of it all.

It goes like this:

Because of the intense pressure of needing to be "competitive", over the years business has found ways of producing more and more things to sell, using fewer people at home or using "cheaper" people in other countries to produce them. That is why for many years now workers salaries have been more or less stagnant in real terms. This makes it difficult for impoverished people  to purchase all the things that business can produce. This has been "solved" on one hand by more and more "efficiency", technology and cheap foreign labor (thus keeping salaries and prices down) and by lowering interest rates below the rate of inflation, practically begging them to take loans so, in this way, people wouldn't notice that they were poor... almost like giving money away... almost.

Like when Wile E. Coyote, out chasing the roadrunner, runs off a cliff and everything is fine until he looks down and then hoo hooo hooooooooooo thud he crashes to the canyon floor, the lenders got nervous, didn't want to loan any more and wanted their money back, but there actually wasn't any money there when the credit dried up.

Here we see that the "invisible hand" has been working for years and years like a cosmic Bernie Madoff... but unlike in Bernie's case, now the rest of us have to do his time.

But hey, it gets worse.

The Chinese and the Indians are not content with pressing their noses to the candy store window, they want to consume too. Here is my favorite conservative economist Martin Hutchinson on what is coming down the pipe:
I have been predicting for some time now that the inflation-suppressing effect of globalization would soon come to an end, with unpleasant results for all the cheap-money western economies. The decision by the Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn to raise wages in its 300,000-employee Chinese factory by 30%, with an additional 66% to be paid as bonuses based on output, suggests that the cost revolution in outsourcing is now fully upon us. Needless to say, we are wholly unprepared.(...) Food prices in India are currently 16.7% above those of a year ago, while overall wholesale price inflation is rising at 9.6%. Like Chinese, Indian labor costs are outpacing any possible productivity improvements, with wage rises of as much as 20% in urban areas. Not only does this indicate that Indian interest rates need to rise sharply from their current 3.75%, but it also suggests that outsourcers are going to find India as well as China an increasingly expensive place to do business.(...) If the two largest sources of cheap labor that provide manufacturing and service capacity for globalized businesses both have high inflation and there are few alternatives available, then the conclusion is inescapable: cost inflation is about to hit Western economies in a big way.(...) Western sentimentalists are rejoicing currently at the vast improvements in living standards for the Foxconn workforce. They should withhold their joy; the long-term costs of those wage increases will be paid in the West.
So on top of unemployment, stagnant salaries, paying down debt, reassuring the markets and no credit, we are going to have inflation too. The answer to all of this of course is more productivity, more efficiency, not raising salaries, while inflation eats away what little buying power those salaries had.

But, of course if people are out of work and prices are going up, they are not going to be buying much stuff, so a lot of Chinese and Indian factories are going to close

This is what the old guy who opened this rant used to call "contradictions".

The result... Well, many years ago, when I was a little boy, my dad, who though a Brooks Brothers clad executive, was a fanatical Democrat, used to play a practical joke at election time; when he took cabs or went for lunch at expensive restaurants, he would leave really stingy tips with a cheery, "Vote Republican!".

When I was a boy that was a joke...

Nowadays that is probably what the people getting stiffed are going to do... vote Republican.

That is the part old Karl never really got figured out. DS

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil, Obama and tea... tea everywhere and not a drop to drink

As one should expect from a natural phenomenon, failure is fractal—observable at every scale. The same pattern of maladaptive strategy leading to untimely demise constantly replays itself at the level of viruses and bacteria, and all the way to individual plants and animals, populations, societies, countries and civilizations. Dimitri Orlov

Bogus and misdirected as the Tea Party movement is, in one respect it has an authenticity that the left lacks: it is angry and it's prepared to translate that anger into action. It is marching, recruiting, unseating, replacing. We talk, they act.  George Monbiot - Guardian
David Seaton's News Links
Globalization allows or forces all people to ask themselves, "what benefit do I derive from the state I pay taxes to?"

When we see that the only real power in the world belongs to the "markets", we all wonder what need our particular nation state fulfills that wouldn't be better served by a soccer team.

I repeat, that this is a question that stares everyone in the face today, both left and right, but only the far right seems to be addressing it, all backwards, but addressing it.

As Monbiot says, the Tea Party
(...) voices the resentments of those who sense that they have been shut out of American life. Yet it campaigns for policies that threaten to exclude them further. The Contract from America for which Tea Party members voted demands that the US adopt a single-rate tax system, repeal Obama's healthcare legislation and sustain George Bush's reductions in income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax. The beneficiaries of these policies are corporations and the ultra-wealthy. Those who will be hurt by them are angrily converging on state capitals to demand that they are implemented.
So obviously they are thick as a brick, but they are a living example of people who are on their feet, getting well organized around what they believe in and taking it to the streets and the political campaigns.

This a movement. Misguided, manipulated, wrong headed, whatever, but as Woody Allen said, 90 percent of success is just showing up.

So the only ones showing up are the ultra-right.

Let's not put too fine a point on the word ultra-right, let's just loosely define it as some sort of ad-hoc mix of xenophobic, chauvinistic, populist-militaristic idiocy whereby globalization's walking wounded blame their troubles on a variable geometry combination of Islam, homosexuality, abortion, elitism and ruccola, instead of the financial industry (for example).

But funny enough though,  for incipient fascistoids they don't seem to be yearning for some Duce, Caudillo, Fuhrer or The One to lead them passively to the promised land. They are not cutting anybody any slack: pragmatism, charisma and "stories" don't seem to make much of a dent in them, its all program, program and God help the politician that deviates from their orthodoxy.

Why can't the left seem to show such initiative?

George Monbiot has put his finger right on a major problem for the American left or for the left in most developed countries for that matter: the left has become the default wimp option.

This certainly is not a law of nature, they hardly ever came more alpha than Joe Hill,  Che Guevara or Lenin, but in the USA, and most of the rest of the developed world, the left has somehow come to be vaguely represented by ruccola, white wine and librarians. Who knows, perhaps it's something they put in the water or feed to the beef cattle.

But maybe, just maybe the worm is turning, Katrina vanden Heuvel the editor and publisher of the Nation, one of America's leading progressive voices, wrote the following in the Washington Post:
Now, with resistance imperiling the Obama's change agenda, there is an understanding that it is time for progressives to mobilize independently once more. It doesn't matter whether you think Obama has done the best that he can or that he has compromised too easily. What's important is to alter the balance of power. And that means recruiting and mobilizing to unleash new energy into the debate. (...) The tension between Obama and the progressive movement isn't a threat to the president. Rather, it may be needed to save him.
Well, I'm of the opinion that if it will have to threaten him, and threaten him much more than the corporate "constituencies" do in order to "save" him.

Because this is really more about saving his proposed or
implied agenda than it is about saving him.

It's about wanting to save what people were wanting to want before they got what they got. DS

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Helen Thomas touched the sore point

"Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world. The real test for us is to make Israel such an attractive place--cutting edge in science, education, culture, quality of life--that even American Jewish young people want to come here. If we cannot do this, even those who were born here will consciously decide to go to other places. This is a real problem." Ehud Barak

A recent survey by the Jerusalem-based Menachem Begin Heritage Center found that 59% of Israelis had approached or intended to approach a foreign embassy to ask for citizenship and a passport.(...) Insofar as Israel is very much a part of the global economy, it is no longer unusual for Israelis to commute to work in Europe and even the United States. A European or American passport renders the commute that much easier. A second-generation Israeli of Polish extraction might want a Polish passport so she can study and work freely throughout the E.U. for a few years. And an Israeli doing business in the Arab world would definitely need a second passport. And then there’s this: Despite the aspirations of Zionism to create a safe haven for the world’s Jews, Israel is hardly the safest place in the world. Can we blame Israeli parents for wanting their children to have another option, an insurance policy, just in case Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes good on his threats? The Forward

Israel fears the new Turkey, Syria and Iran as much as it fears Russian support for it. A new Middle East is being born - and there seems to be only one place for Israel: isolation.
Pepe Escobar - Asia Times
David Seaton's News Links
Helen Thomas the ancient mother superior of White House correspondents was immolated in a firestorm of her own making when she suggested that Israelis get out of the Middle East and return to Poland, Germany and America. I'm sure that one of the reasons the reaction to her off the cuff remarks was so violent was that she touched a nerve. Because as you can see from the quotes of Ehud Barack and The Forward above, quite a few Israelis are prepared and equipped to do just what she said.

Scientists, computer and aerospace engineers and the other practitioners of  the "cutting edge" technologies that make up the backbone of Israel's new information-society prosperity are in great demand in Europe and the USA and can find jobs in those countries at the drop of a hat and all they need to continue working can probably fit onto the hard disk of a laptop computer. Transferring them and their technology from one place to another would only take a matter of days. Overwhelmingly this elite is of European or American origin.

In short, if things got too rough, if the tension built up beyond a certain point the crème de la crème of Israel could be gone in a week... with nice jobs, nice homes and good schools for their children waiting for them wherever they went.

Now, of course, not all Israelis are from Poland, Germany and America, in fact over half of the Jews of Israel are "Mizrahim" or "Oriental" Jews, originally from places like Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Iran, etc. To cut to the chase, they are the poorest people of Israel, the least educated, with the fewest marketable skills, whose countries of origin wouldn't welcome them back, even if there were any jobs to be had in those places.

So even if a full scale war never finally broke out, if the tension became too nerve wracking, too constant, went on too long, Israel could experience a crippling brain drain and  gradually more elite Ashkenazim would take Helen Thomas's advice and then the vast majority of Jews left in Israel would be the less educated oriental Jews or the fundamentalist Ashkenazi Haredim who don't even do military service. Israel would quickly be converted into a poor Middle Eastern country bordering Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

The Turks know this and the Israelis know they know it.

My reading of the flotilla crisis is that the Turks are playing mind games with the Israelis in order to dictate the terms for peace in the Middle East.

The Turks are uniquely equipped to do this.

Turkey is a Muslim country, but they have been living peacefully with a large and flourishing Sephardi, Jewish community for 500 years (no "Christian" country can make that statement). The Jews know the Turks very well, and perhaps more importantly the Turks know the Jews well too.

The Turks are one of the oldest and historically most active warrior cultures in the world, who once ruled an immense empire... (we drink coffee thanks to their siege of Vienna in 1683... Cervantes lost the use of his left hand fighting the Turks in the battle of Lepanto). They were in the Korean war and their reputation for sheer stoic toughness and cruel ferocity in battle remained undimmed. They have one of the most powerful armies in the world today.

Nobody in their right mind would want to go to war with Turkey.

My reading is that the Turks, being who they are, and having lived side by side with the Jews for centuries, are much less impressed by Israel's military prowess than the rest of us. They probably think that inside every Moshe Dayan there is a Woody Allen trying to get out and they are playing on the Israeli's "inner Woody Allen".

The Turks have completely changed the game and since they can raise and lower the tension at will, they can and will play on the Israeli's frayed nervous system like a bağlama.

In short, they are "psyching out" the Israelis. They have found the Israeli's spot and are playing on it... the resultant hysteria is proof of this strategy's effectiveness.

If Turkey has decided to become the "play maker" of the Middle East then the eastern Mediterranean and the ME are going to get very complicated for the Israelis and the tension that they will have to endure in dozens of incidents like the flotilla massacre, any one of which could set off a war they might end up losing will be too much for those Israelis whose skills are marketable in Europe or the USA. They will begin to move out.

Unless the Israelis let the Turks dictate the terms of Palestinian statehood, that is probably what will happen.

In the end, Helen Thomas, whose remarks were taken as antisemitic, may simply have predicted the future. DS

Monday, June 07, 2010

Israel: cold Turkey

"Ah" says Mr. Kissinger, "If only the Bible had been written in Uganda. Everyone would be better off." Saul Bellow- "To Jerusalem and Back: a personal account"
David Seaton's News Links
It came to me when rolling this flotilla crisis thing around in my mind, that what we are witnessing at this moment is a rebirth of the old non-aligned nations group, but without the Soviet Union and with Russia as non-aligned too. 

During the Cold War, the United States attacked the non-aligned movement as a tool of Soviet imperialism, but without the Manichean ideological framework of the Cold War, we are simply talking about countries that are grouping together in variable geometry to protect themselves from becoming American vassals.

Turkey is earning its non-aligned cred in this crisis, it is doing to the USA what Tito did to the USSR. If you look at Turkey's geographical and historical position you can see what opportunities await them. They are set to become an extremely powerful geopolitical broker. Turkey's stepping forward to claim a leadership role that everything: location, history and present power entitles them to, changes the whole balance of power in the region. Right now the Turks are mending fences with the Greeks and the Armenians, with Syria, Iraq and Iran, They are a major trading partner with Russia and as founding members of NATO, have troops in Afghanistan. This is very positive for the region as a whole. Positive also for the USA, which is literally aching to devote more of its dwindling power to addressing its innumerable problems at home.  

But not positive for Netanyahu's Israel. Not one bit.

What doesn't fit into the non-aligned script for the Middle East or the Mediterranean, for that matter, is Israel. Jerusalem is beginning to create the same problems for the USA and Europe that N. Korea creates for China and the rest of Asia (enormous pain in the tuchas); with the huge difference that the North Koreans don't have a lobby in Beijing that makes the Chinese Communist Party sit up and beg.

There are two major problems Israel presents at this point, as I see it:
  1. It destabilizes the ME, which is a very important place, not only because of the oil, but because it lies between Europe and Asia and within it lies Mecca, the heart and soul of Islam.   Today's communications connects Mecca and the idea of Mecca instantly with the nervous system of a lot of other strategic and sensitive places all over Asia and Africa. The Internet has made Mohamed's dream of the Umma a reality and this means that what happens to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank instantly complicates otherwise unrelated situations all over the world.   If Israel were located in Africa, as Kissinger would have preferred, and having problems with oil-rich Nigeria, I'm sure we could all live with that... we cannot live with an endless world war with Islam.
  2. Israel has way too much power over the US political system and this power is much too blatant and increasingly employed as a blunt instrument. This makes the USA look weak and ineffectual: the tail wags the dog. Allies and enemies both get the impression that anything the USA does or says must first be vetted by Jerusalem. Bad for brand America. Bad for American Jewish people too, as Philip Weiss, M.J. Rosenberg and J-Street are pointing out daily. A serious backlash against the lobby could rend America's social fabric beyond repair.
In my opinion Turkey's moving into its natural role in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean makes this a whole new ballgame. Israel's position is more precarious now than at any time since the Six Day War. This time the danger is political more than military. It has not one ally in the region where it lives and totally depends on a distant power with grave domestic difficulties that require its entire attention.

The danger in coming months is that Israel may "do a Samson" and pull the roof down on all our heads by striking out in all directions in a desperate attempt to totally rearrange a dynamic that is radically unfavorable to them. DS

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Israel's massive flotilla cock-up

(...) I call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians‪." William Hague - UK Foreign Secretary statement on Gaza Flotilla
Mossad Chief Meir Dagan said on Tuesday that Israel is progressively becoming a burden on the United States. "Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden," said Dagan, speaking before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Dagan said that the U.S. government has recently examined the possibility of coercing a settlement on Israel and the Palestinians, but retreated from the idea after realizing it would not lead to a peace agreement. Haaretz
David Seaton's News Links
If we look at the thing sensu strictu, the ship of a NATO country has been boarded on the high seas by the armed forces of a non-member of NATO and when the occupants of the ship exercised their right of self-defense and tried to repel the boarding party, they were massacred.... This is piracy plain and simple.

In theory the members of NATO should invoke Article Five "an attack on one member is an attack on all the members" and declare war on Israel. Of course that isn't going to happen, but the reasons it isn't going to happen show NATO to be something of a joke. You may remember that the USA fought a war with Great Britain in 1812 over the principal of freedom of the seas. The "Law of the Sea" is the basis of international law.

Aside from all questions of international law, what stands out is how badly done it was. The Israel of Entebbe days seems to have vanished with the hardy kibbutz culture that created it. Bad concept, bad planning, bad execution... like the Cast Lead attack on Gaza, like the last invasion of Lebanon. The enemies of Israel and even its friends are beginning to think Israel can't cut the mustard anymore. That perception is more dangerous for Israel than any Iranian atomic bomb.

If there is anything but simple incompetence and pathological stupidity involved, if there is a "deep game" here, than all I can think of is that this barbaric boutade  is a ploy to humiliate Barack Obama and degrade his attempts to effect some sort of reconciliation between the USA and the Muslim world.

However, you know that finally Obama's response will be mealymouthed, and although there is much criticism of Israel all over the alternative media in the USA, you wont hear any strong criticism of Israel from him, or the US Congress or the mainstream American media either... then the world will know who is boss. That could be the bottom line: Israel still controls the American political-media space.

As of now the Israeli PR response is the classic, "The whole world are hypocrites, Israel is terribly misunderstood, your eye punched my fist", when the problem for Israel is that, daily, Israel is better understood than ever before and the mechanisms that give Israel impunity are clearer every day too. As the head of Mossad says, Israel is getting to be a burden and not an asset for the USA. The question is how long can you keep a lead balloon airborne?

What Israel and friends of Israel should be concerned about is that the number of people in the "west" who are thoroughly sick of Israel is growing exponentially. The problem is that the people now in power in Israel believe that everyone who isn't Jewish, if you only scratch the surface, is a default antisemite anyway and it is naive to try to conform to their hypocritical rules of conduct.

Of course, in the end, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Finally, people will have had enough and no matter how much military might or political leverage is employed, universally adverse opinion reaches a tipping point. At that moment things begin to move very quickly and no amount of hasbara will hide the simple reality of an apartheid rogue state, armed with atomic weapons, that has managed to unman the American political class.

In the Gaza flotilla incident we are looking at a "dress rehearsal" of that tipping point... it is now only a matter of time. DS