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Saturday, March 28, 2009




מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד

Article in IHT about Sunni Shia tensions in Bahrain...


Published: March 28, 2009

MALIKIYA, Bahrain: . . .

. . .

The government and its supporters say that the Shiites are not discriminated against, but that they also cannot be trusted to serve in the security forces.

"There are so many riots, burnings, killings, and not even one case is condemned by the Shiites," said Adel al-Maawdah, chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, defense and national security and a member of a fundamentalist Sunni political party. "Burning a car with people inside is not condemned. How can we trust such people?"

In fact, plenty of people condemn the violence. But the young people are so bored, and so agitated by religious leaders who define the conflict as sectarian, that they see protest as both entertainment and a duty (!!! NB).

Source

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The toughest nut to crack

Hackers agree the toughest nut to crack is Firefox running on Windows.

Source: The Economist

(Linux is probably not mentioned because it's not as widespread as other operating systems. I bet Firefox or Konqueror running on Linux should be the nut of all nuts.)

The venerable Konqueror

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Friday, March 27, 2009




Perfect timing

A friend from the neighborhood emailed me this regarding Israeli air strikes in Sudan reported by CBS.


I just heard Olmert's comments about the Phantom Strike in east Sudan.

It's fucking great!!, and the timing of releasing the news is even greater (just when Al-Bashir is in Cairo - double humiliation)

I like that man!!, and I don't know why you people (or your politicians) don't like him!!

It sounds too good to be true...


:D :D

Indeed. And Egypt may well have provided Israel with intelligence used to plan the attack.

:D :D

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009




Global/World

New section on the sidebar: Global/World. May be updated with more links to previous posts later.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009




The Sub Prime Middle East

In January Jeha concluded that regardless of how much President Sarkozy values his investment in Bashar Assad, the last French envoy to the Middle East sounds "just like a stockbroker talking up some junk bond". That was after the presidential envoy cheerfully informed reporters in Beirut about Syria's positive role during the last operation in Gaza.

President Assad told me he exerted his influence to ensure Hezbollah adopted a responsible attitude and showed restraint during the events in Gaza. Syria's role has been positive.

Jeha barely managed to finish his post as more sophisticated junk traders rushed into the region armed with techniques borrowed from the US sub prime market. The British happened to be in particular innovative. The British sliced the Hezbollah-Iran axis into several CDO like tranches by declaring willingness to open direct talks with what they called Hezbollah's political wing. For all practical purposes Hezbollah has no political and military wings and it stands out among other similar movements by the virtue of its overcentralized nature with the whole movement in its turn being totally beholden to the Shiite higher priesthood in Tehran. Shiites generally tend to do much better than Sunnis both with hierarchy and mass mobilizations. This should be undoubtedly a by-product of the more structured and organized character of their branch of Islam.

Nasrallah and Khamenei

It's not for nothing that many Lebanese consider Hezbollah and its Shiites Iranian proxies in their country. If anything, the British should talk to Ali Khamenei himself, he is the one who decides. In short, the British succeeded to find plurality where there is none, and when the sub prime nature of their assets becomes evident, this junk will crash just as the other junk stuff was doing during the US sub prime crisis.

Anyway, the subject of this post is Syria and in this sense I would like to consider the point Midi was making in the comments section of another post:

Michael.di said...

So why do "some" politicians want to give them the Golan heights? It doesn't make any sense!

The truth is that Israel has got more than its share of junk traders and the Syrian option has been frequently offered to the market. In particular, recently there seems a certain consensus to have been produced that reasons that no resolution is possible that does not take into account Syria. Syria, according to this school of thought, holds the key due to its support to and the influence it has over Hamas and Hezbollah. This consensus is a culmination of the lifetime work of the best known Israeli junk traders of the past and present, including Yossi Beilin and the current president Shimon Peres.

In reality the only key that Syria holds to the region stems from its potential to destabilize its surroundings in case the Alawi regime is overthrown by Muslim Brothers. The collapse of the Alawi regime may create a huge Anbar area that will consume not only large chunks of Syria itself, but also parts of the Sunni heartland in Iraq on one side, while reaching deep into Lebanon, where the Lebanese seems to have got their own hotbed of Sunni fundamentalism in the North, on the other. On such occasion, Iraqi Kurds may become interested to reunite with their Syrian brethren and even the Alawis themselves with their back to the sea may get bent on wrestling back their homeland in Latakia to themselves, cutting the rest of the country from the Mediterranean and recreating the short lived Alawite state of the French era.

This destructive potential of Syria has been magnified by American experiments with bringing democracy to the Arab world in Iraq. Martin Kramer once very aptly described US achievements in Iraq as having unhinged the country. However, it would be even more accurate to say that the US Iraqi campaign has unhinged the entire region in a radius of hundreds of kilometers around Iraq with Sunni Shiite tensions raging from Pakistan to the Gulf and even in some parts of the Arab world where there are no Shiites at all, not to mention the new Arab Persian cold war.

The fundamental fact about Syria is that this country seems hardly able to afford any normalization with Israel due to its problematic sectarian composition. This is a minority regime in which Alawis and allied minorities preside over a Sunni majority comprised of Arabs and the heavily oppressed Syrian Kurds. The regime has survived for so long through a combination of ruthless oppression and constant galvanizing of masses into a state of permanent "anti colonial" resistance. Constant hostility and tensions with neighbors is the oxygen of this regime. Even if the regime has some keys, it will not volunteer them to open any door. And even if a slim probability of this happening exists, one should be quite insane to want to put the true Syrian intentions to test by giving up on the Golan heights. Let alone that all economic and other data points to one thing only - this is going to be the most unstable and short lived accord ever struck between Israel and an Arab state.

Finally, as far as the West Bank and Palestinians are concerned, Israel does not need Syria to pull the bulk of its settlements back which is a mega issue of all issues. All that's needed is to negotiate an intermediate agreement bypassing the refugees issue and even the area around Jerusalem. Such an agreement about basic outline of the borders may not even require the army going back. The army can be negotiated to stay til the next stage if this stage is going to happen at all. Anyway, what was missing until now is a political will to resolve the settlements issue. And if the will is missing, then Syria won't help. Giving up on the Golan heights in order to be allowed to give up on the West Bank sounds just as bizarre as it really is.

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Friday, March 20, 2009




The politics of cycles

For a person who was campaigning as the only one who can stop Bibi, Livni seems to be about to bring too many misfortunes on our head. I may not mind Bibi or Ivet, but I certainly mind loonies from the Jewish House or Shas and her ultra friends with their child subsidies. Neither after having considered the matter for a short while, I can find any reason why this shit should be happening to us at all, except for the failure of this woman to get control of herself during her cycles. If I were a Kadima supporter, I would not forget Livni this time.

Kadima is frequently claimed to be not a party well built for spending any significant amount of time in opposition. And this may be just as true as the fact that Bibi and Likud are not well built these days for such a coalition they are now finding themselves cornered in. Bibi is plainly understanding this, given how much he was trying to lure livni and Barak into creating a unity government. Now when what was supposed to be our center is so vigorously engaging in self destruction, I start really wondering what we'll be left with in the next elections.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009




The Big Revolts

Once synonymous with financial meltdowns, Brazil now is trying to help the world solve a crisis that began in the U.S. Brazilian officials privately joke that U.S. banks that once lectured Brazil on fiscal prudence now risk collapse. Mr. da Silva warned that the downturn threatened to hurt an emerging middle class in developing nations, a recipe for social unrest. "The big revolts don't come from the hungry," Mr. da Silva said. "They come from the middle class, which has learned to live well, and doesn't want to lose it."

Source: WSJ

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

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Saturday, March 14, 2009




Born to Spend

Last updated: March 14, 2009

February 27, 2009


It starts getting boring...

FOR a man who is likely to run a budget deficit in excess of 12% of GDP this year, Barack Obama can do a surprisingly good impression of a fiscal hawk. Just days after signing into law a huge $787 billion fiscal stimulus, he kicked off a “summit” of congressional leaders, administration officials and policy wonks by warning of “another crisis down the road as our interest payments rise, our obligations come due”.

Source: The Economist

One can only be wondering why the Economist does not get tired of repeating the same stuff whenever Obama and his team come up with another plan or declaration of intentions. The same things can be said just about everything coming from Obama and his administration. It's full of bombastic declarations, it's very vague in details, it's not clear who is going to pay for this. I don't even mention this "everybody needs to make sacrifices" routine. I think every single American these days can recite this catchphrase even if waken up in the middle of the night. The evidence of such sacrifices is not scarce, it's non existent and these words are repeated only because for some reason Obama extremely likes to incorporate them into his speeches. It's a figure of speech and is not meant to be understood literally. We have been already through it all when the treasury finally came up with its much trumpeted plan to fix the financial system. Analysts could not even say so much about the plan, because there was nothing in it. We are probably going to be repeatedly put through this routine until the end of the presidential term and the Economist can safely save its article and just reprint it as it is whenever Obama decides to share with us his grandiose visions in the future.

The same goes about the much celebrated in the media shift to green energy which is pretty much meaningless until this administration decides to put in place the long overdue gas tax. And this Obama has no intention to do. In fact, he made it clear in the most clear terms possible. It may be true that Obama has just started and critics should keep their criticisms to themselves for the time being. However, the general pattern of this administration seems to be already very clear and easy to define. It's based on collecting and recycling just about every single "wish well feel good" Don Quixote style project ever suggested in the congress and the media. And these come together with a very deficient understanding of how to make them reality or how much making them reality may cost.


March 14, 2009

Born to Spend

The Economist was lately growing increasingly critical of Obama's economic plans even though it remains still largely sympathetic to the president it endorsed over GWB John McCain during the elections. Calling Obama's budget proposals "wishful, and dangerous, thinking", the Economist finds Obama's thinking deeply flawed on several accounts.


Sadly, these plans are deeply flawed. First, Mr Obama’s budget forecasts that the economy will shrink 1.2% this year then grow by an average of 4% over the following four years. It might if the economy were to follow a conventional path back to full employment. But this is not a conventional recession. The unprecedented damage to household balance sheets could well result in anaemic economic growth for years, significantly undermining the president’s revenue projections. The economic outlook continues to darken and the stockmarket has already tumbled to 12-year lows. Mr Obama may either have to renege on his promise to slash the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013 from more than 12% now, rein in his spending promises or raise taxes more.

Source: The Economist

The Economist then busts another pillar on which Obama is basing his spending programs, that one is about shifting taxation from the middle class onto the richest 2%. The crisis has already wiped out fortunes and is set to continue decimating this part of the taxation base, leaving Obama noble projects with nothing to stand upon. "Tell it as it is," says the Economist - everybody will have to pay for a bigger government, the bulk of taxpayers will have to bear an increased burden of a massive health reform and other projects.

A question many would ask themselves at this point is how Obama is thinking to bridge the enormous gap between his grandiose visions and the miserable state of US economy and finances. But as obvious from the passage just quoted, Obama is not preoccupied so much with the gap due to his extraordinary optimism regarding the future of US economy. Another thing that stands out clear is that though Obama is generously throwing around calls on everybody to make painful sacrifices, he does not really think that anybody will have to do it, except for the richest 2%. In fact, the amazing thing about all this is that Obama seems to be quite serious in hoping both to implement his massive and costly social and green initiatives and to ease taxation burden for 98% of Americans at the same time. So how come?

Here we come to what may be the central tenet of Obama's thinking and visions and one that may define the style and approach of his administration to the end of its term. It's hard to explain the logic that drives these visions and programs, unless one assumes that Obama somehow believes that spending in itself creates revenues by means of something the style of the Keynesian multiplicator. This may explain the enthusiasm with which this administration is devising its stimulus programs and reforms without hesitating to get the country indebted up to its neck by trillions of dollars. It's not hesitating because it believes that every dollar borrowed and reinvested into American economy will generate several more in return boosting tax revenues and creating jobs.

Obama seems to be generally thinking that spending is good and much of the stimulus package is designed to do just this: to encourage Americans to spend more by cutting taxes. However, Americans, heavily indebted after years of binge consuming and no saving, appear to have a different idea of what to do with that income they still have. Saving rates went up dramatically since the beginning of the crisis as people are both bracing themselves for more to come and try to live in a more sensible way. On this Obama seems to be out of step with the rest of the country despite all popularity he still enjoys. A significant part of the tax cuts may end by simply being saved and the money may end up going full circle without achieving anything besides American government getting indebted even more.

This is also why Obama is so stubbornly opposing any form of tax increase on the middle class. Even introducing gas tax by means of a tax swap is anathema to this administration (even though such a tax swap can only benefit American taxpayers). The top 2% don't spend enough, that's why it's imperative to move taxation burden onto them, leaving the middle class with more disposable income to spend and so keep things ticking. For Obama, this is more than an issue of social justice. Well wishing and noble ideas are good economically, so he seems to believe. The Economist might be wondering where all economic growth expected by Obama will come from to allow him to go on with his spending, but for Obama the whole thing works just the other way round - the economy will grow by 4% next year because Obama is spending.

Another concept that this administration is entertaining itself with also points to its extraordinary faith in state and private spending as a magic wand capable of removing all ills. This one is about creating green jobs. Undoubtedly investing into alternative energies will create green jobs, but green industries are generally not held to be very labor intensive. Rechanneling investment into such sectors means taking it from somewhere where it could create more jobs, so the net effect of such investment in terms of jobs creation may be even negative. This is not to say that encouraging shift to low carbon economy is a wrong idea, but it may become one, and even a dangerous one, if there is not enough awareness of economic and social costs involved in doing this. And as it looks now such awareness is virtually non existent in the current administration.

Anyway, the defining reflex pattern of this administration seems to be all about spending. It's the end and a means to achieve the end at the same time. Keeping this in mind may happen to be helpful in anticipating and understanding this administration's next moves.

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