December 05, 2009

Is the Future as Good as the Present?

Maybe New Models Are Needed

As students, we didn't think all that far ahead; of course we were concerned about the future but we firmly believed in the American dream--the world was there for us to take. It's been quite some time since I graduated college, and many things have changed, but also many haven't. The middle class hasn't advanced all that much, if at all. I went to a public university so I managed to get my degrees while accumulating little debt. However, most students today graduate with a huge amount of debt--a figure that's rising about 6% a year. Project Student Debt has the numbers for graduating seniors. [pdf] The most debt-laden students are in the Northeast!

The employment prospects for graduates reflect the overall state of the US economy. Yet, US workers' productivity has increased while wages haven't followed the trend. Since 1973, real wages have remained stagnant! Read Elizabeth Warren's America Without a Middle Class to find out more. The presence of a strong middle class is very important in a stable, progressive, and fair commonwealth. Unfortunately, most of the wealth is amassed and held by the very small elite that has been using the political system to its advantage. The corporate media hardly talks about the distribution of wealth and usually distracts the audience with cheap, mindless entertainment.

I don't know whether the American people have begun to re-evaluate the conditions in our country, but there's a sense at present that the "fix is in." They believe that Wall Street is more important that Main Street, and that the government primarily serves the wealthy and powerful. On the other hand, there are too many of us who prefer myths and distractions to reality. For the life of me, I don't understand how voters elect most of the Republicans in Congress today--such a conservative bunch that has no intention to do anything good for the common folk, from consumer protection to equality of opportunity conditions. Or, that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and so many others, have tens of millions of listeners! This does have a tremendous effect on our national dialogue and on public policy.

Now, on to education. Did you read Bob Herbert's editorial in the NY Times? He argues that the greatest national security issue in the US is the crisis in education. This isn't too far fetched, you know. Within the span of one or two generations, the effects of a largely uneducated public, the lack of real opportunities, and the lack of economic growth that matters to most people can be explosive. An empire that's losing power can also be a very dangerous thing. I could see how demagogues can convince the American public that our woes are not our fault by the fault of others, and that we must act unilaterally against our enemies! Always confusing the issues and transfer blame.

In the end, we'll collectively get what we deserve. What do you think we deserve in the near future?

Here's a popular American explaining American history and providing a solution for a better country:

November 22, 2009

Would The Wall Ever Fall In The Arab World?

Chipping Away at...

The whole world has been celebrating one of the most momentous events of the later half of the 20th century, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. What a triumph for the human spirit, for democracy, individual freedom, human dignity and personal freedom. The events that followed the collapse of that symbol of oppression were as exhilarating as the event itself. The fall of the wall set in motion a liberation tsunami that washed over all of Eastern Europe, parts of the Soviet Union and Central Asia.

It was only Africa and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) that have been “spared” the move towards liberal democracy. Not even Russia was able to resist the tide to democratize and introduce some reforms, albeit not as successful as in most of the other countries. Yet the gulag has been exposed and discredited and the hope is that it will never be able to make a come back.

Despite all of this the one region of the world that seems to be immune to the trend to liberalize and democratize seems to be the Arab World. In a sense the region that has resisted rather successfully until now the forces of liberation and freedom includes the whole of MENA with the possible exception of Turkey.

Many are by now familiar with the Arab Human Development Reports commissioned by UNDP but authored by independent Arab thinkers. The results of these studies have been anything but flattering.

The Arab countries as a group are home to over 300 million people and yet the total number of translated books every year is less than the books translated by Greece. It is not only education that is lacking but so is science and development. The Arab countries, as a group, managed to register in the US less than 400 patents when South Korea had registered in the same time period over 15,000 and Israel over 7000. A recent global happening illustrates the “backwardness” of the Arab masses best. When what promises to be one of the greatest discoveries, that of ARDI, a 4.5 million year old skeleton was announced the few mentions of this phenomenal discovery in the Arab press were devoted to the wrong interpretation that Darwin was wrong. They had missed the fact that ARDI is one of the most impressive pieces of solid evidence about the truth behind the Darwinian theory of evolution. Furthermore a survey conducted in Egypt revealed that less than 30 % of the public had even heard of the name Darwin. Such examples abound in every field. The fact of the matter is that the Arab region lags behind the rest of the world in practically every single area and field.

But many individuals of Arabic decent have succeeded in practically all fields and in all sorts of countries. Obviously this suggests that the fault is not that of the individual but it is of the oppressive, dictatorial backward exploitative political environment in each and every one of the 21 countries including the 22nd Occupied Palestinian Territory. A cursory look at the map of MENA from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf reveals countries that are ruled by absolute monarchs, Emirs, Sultans and dictators. Muamar Kaddafi has been in power for 40 years and is preparing the ground for his son, Egypt is about to become Mubarak land, Syria was inherited by a young optometrist, Yemen has had the same president for 30 years , Tunisia just reelected its president for the sixth term with an 87% plurality and the beat goes on. Lebanon is the only country that has a claim to democratic institutions but in reality they are just as hollow and rotten as those of its neighbours. Political feudalism masquerading as democracy.

It is obvious that in a wired up world and one with more travel and interactions than ever before the role of the authoritarian regimes is becoming more difficult. But the size of the Mukhabarat keeps on growing, and indiscriminate fear continues to spread in an attempt to thwart the inevitable move to personal freedom and democracy. An Arab Wall shall fall and when it does it shall sweep all throughout MENA to topple these regimes. That we can count on, that is how history unfolds. I just hope and pray that when the time comes we are mature and smart enough to have a velvet revolution.

November 04, 2009

Education is not for the Intellectually Timid

It doesn't happen that often--maybe because students don't care to say anything about it--but occasionally someone in class would argue that some comments/discussions about certain belief systems are offensive and disrespectful. The other day, a student said, "I don't pay thousands of dollars to have my beliefs insulted." Presumably she meant that certain topics should be off limits because she's uncomfortable with anything that may undermine her sacred beliefs. She pays thousands of dollars to get an education--in my opinion, education means more than vocational skills--but is she interested in paying for an education that sharpens critical skills? How about, the value of arriving at a conclusion after examining the facts and weighing the validity of the arguments?

The piece of paper a university awards should mean that the title holder has critical skills, can analyze, can amend, construct reasonable arguments, connect the relevant dots, and, yes, maintain a curious mind. How about learning something that may be outside one's comfort zone? Is this valuable?

Now, on the question of respect. As a principle it's a good one: respect every individual's human dignity; respect their rights; respect their claims to own conscience and opinion. But, why should their beliefs be granted automatic respect? Yet, denying automatic respect to a point of view does not mean people don't have the right to have whatever opinion they deem appropriate or their right to express it. Simply put, I do not recognize any right of de facto respect. Opinions, theories, belief systems should be evaluated on their merits. How can anyone demand that such be afforded sacred status? What's sacred for me may be laughable to you, and I'm OK with that! So, should you!

To take it a step further, if you claim sanctity for your beliefs, it may be an indication of weakness. Instead of having the force of arguments to defend your views, you rely on censorship for protection. I realize that many people don't want to be challenged so they seek supporting views only. Of course, this is their right. Of course, it's their right to feel any way they want. They can create filters and avoid places that present challenges. However, they should be prepared to have their views tested when they enter an institution where intellectual pursuits involve critical examination of ideas and beliefs.

How do we know things? Seriously, how do we know if something is true & valid? Maybe I should ask instead, do we care to know?

If we do, then the scientific method is the best tool we have to understand and accumulate precious knowledge! This involves open discussion, challenges, reason, evidence, review, and a way to amend.

I'm naturally suspicious of claims of divine revelation. I don't think profound knowledge or truths should be revealed only in secret and to a very few people. Especially when such statements can't be put to a test or subject it to an intellectual challenge. As someone claims the right not to be offended, I claim the right to free speech and rational thought. Above all, I claim the right to be human!

And, that's my theory!

November 01, 2009

Can A Zionist Be Fair To Arabs?

Is the Concept of Fairness like the Blind Goddess of Justice?

There is no doubt that the Palestinian people have not been treated justly and fairly over the past sixty years or so. In a sense their problems became insurmountable with the Balfour declaration of Nov 2, 1917 (92 years ago this Monday), the development that started the saga of the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state on the land of the Palestinian Arabs of the time. Fast forward to the 1948 war and all what followed; one loss after another and then you might start to understand the rationale that the Palestinian mind set has had to adopt vis-a-vis all Jews and Zionists. That inability to differentiate between one Jew and another or even one Zionist and another has served to inflame the Palestinian Israeli problem when a more liberal and objective understanding could have helped ease the pain and maybe even hasten an end to the suffering.

To suggest that the Palestinian Israeli problem has become the opiate of the authoritarian Arab regimes is not an exaggeration. Each and every Arab ruler is constantly engaged in grandstanding and in advocating positions that would demonstrate the opposition of his regime to everything Jewish and his devotion to everything Arab and Palestinian. That is why Arab “sham democracies” are invariably opposed to anything Jewish and why they favour supporting resistance groups and even terrorist actions. Blowing up school children in Tel Aviv is to be commended while harming those in say Damascus is barbaric. Our love for the Palestinians is best demonstrated by the squalid living conditions that we have provided for them and the severe constraints that we have placed on their ability to integrate in our societies, own property and acquire citizenship. On the other hand we are constantly proud of our ability to blame the Jew for each of our problems be it social, economic,scientific or political. It has even been reported recently that a major Hollywood producer was denied the right to land at Beirut International because his private jet had some Israeli manufactured parts.

Tragic events that have befallen the Palestinian people should not be allowed to become blinders that deny us the possibility of making a case based on its merits even when we have to cast a favourable judgment on a Jew, an Israeli or even a Zionist. Two cases in point help illustrate the inadvisability of generalized condemnations. The latest events in Jerusalem subjected innocent Palestinian civilians to intolerable abuse at the hands of a few members of the Israeli police force in Jerusalem. The abuse was a reminder of the degrading incidents that took place at Abu Ghraib. In the Jerusalem case two Israeli border guards decided to pick on, torture and dehumanize Palestinians for no other reason than they were Arabs. The evidence of the abuse was incontrovertible; the Israeli guards had recorded their cruelty on their own video cameras and then proceeded to boast about it. When the Jerusalem Police force refused to prosecute the officers involved and to recommend that the matter be handled by internal investigation Shulamit Aloni was infuriated. Ms. Aloni, a former Education Minister went on the offensive berating the Israeli authorities and asking whether dignity is to be viewed as the preserve of the Jews only [article]. Her courageous stand is an example of what honest and decent people should do on both sides of the aisle.

Another example that deserves lots of attention in the Arab world is that of the Goldstone Report. Judge Goldstone, a South African Jew and a Zionist led the group that issued a scathing indictment of the Israeli war machine in its most recent Gaza adventure. Judge Goldstone was also critical of Hamas and its tactics. His judgment that both the IDF and Hamas have committed war crimes and violated the Geneva conventions in the last Gaza war might still prove to be one of the most damaging decisions against Israeli racism and brutality. Arabs will do well to listen to Judge Goldstone and follow his example of objectivity and justice.

It is very instructive to read the text of an interview with Judge Richard Goldstone conducted by the liberal American Rabbi Michael Lerner that is posted at:

Goldstone Interview

A Podcast of the above can be heard at: Ramblings

Copenhagen, One More Time

Who Cares?

The peace Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu sent a letter to the EU parliament in which he berated them for not acting to slow down climate change. Mr. Tutu said in his letter " The rich world is historically responsible for the emissions causing climate change and they have a moral obligation to provide the means for the countries on the front line to survive and prosper."

Mr. Tutu was in effect urging the countries of the North to overcome their differences and to live up to their moral responsibility by agreeing; during the Barcelona negotiations; to find a way out of the current impasse before Copenhagen . The developing countries have made it clear that they expect financial transfers from the developed countries of around $148 billion a year by 2020 if they are to do their part of reducing their expected carbon footprint.

But since climate change is a global issue then it does require a global solution. Again it seems obvious that we cannot have a global solution if the largest, well second largest , emitter is not ready to participate in the game. Copenhagen is exactly one month away and the US climate change bill is still languishing in the Senate sub-committee. Senator Boxer , the chair of the Environmental Committee, remains hopeful that a bill will leave her committee before Copenhagen. That is not assured because a number of the Republican senators promise not to attend the committee mark up sessions. If they do not attend then no bill can be presented to the senate at large. Even if a bill is to emerge some very powerful Democratic senators such as Max Baucus promise to hold up the measure in his powerful Finance Committee by delaying funding for the measure.

What is even worse are the proposed targets. Kyoto which was initially agreed to by the US was to cut carbon emissions by 5 % from the 1990 level by 2012. The US is estimated to have released around 5 Billion tons of carbon in 1990 and thus the implicit target by 2012 would have been 4.75 billion tons.The new bill is aiming for a 20% reduction from the 2005 levels by 2020. Since the 2005 emissions are estimated to be 6 billion tons then the 20% reduction will take the US back to 4.8 billion tons by 2020. That is irresponsible behviour besides being a cruel joke on the aspirations of those that take these existential matters seriously. The US is targeting to potentially reach by 2020 a level of carbon emissions that it was supposed to have hit by 2012 and yet they want the world to call such measures responsible action. Go figure.

Mr. Yao de Bar, the UN Climate Change Secretariat said it best when he stated the need to "Step back from self interest and let common interest prevail" Nothing else will work.

Fallujah Horror

We have often been told that war is hell. The residents of Fallujah, Iraq, are finding out that war for them is worst kind of hell imaginable. Worse than Dante’s seventh circle if that is possible because the after results of war in Fallujah will be felt for at least for a decade or two. We are not talking about physical destruction of homes and factories or the total annihilation of infrastructure such as water utilities, electricity generating plants, sewage plants, bridges and highways. All of these can be rebuilt and life will go on. In this case we are concerned with much more sinister effects of war, effects that linger on and destroy life. What the people of Fallujah, more than any other people in the world, are facing everyday and every second of every day is hell on earth; they have to witness the death of more than a quarter of the new born within a week of their birth and to make the deeply painful decision of what is to be done about the huge proportion of grotesquely deformed babies that are born with two heads, three eyes, no limbs, one eye.

The world owes the people of Fallujah an explanation of what has triggered this avalanche of deformity and horror. The usual celebratory experience of giving birth has been transformed to a time of anxiety and horror. Women dread becoming pregnant and above all carrying the fetus for nine months only to find out that what they are carrying has been condemned to death the moment that life was to begin. Such rapid and unique developments do not occur without a cause. The only logical proximate cause for this human tragedy was the 2003 war and in particular the 2004 assault on Fallujah. It was estimated that during that assault over 10,000 tons of depleted uranium, DU, was used in the bombardment of the city of 300,000 people.

Both the Pentagon and the British governments insist that the use of DU is not illegal and that the studies that they have undertaken do not reveal DU to be a carcinogen. That might be true but many an international body including the EU and the UN have been trying, unsuccessfully, to prevent the use of DU munitions because there are many physicians, engineers and studies that suspect that the DU produced vapour in battles is capable of contaminating humans, soil and water. It is this radioactive contamination that causes the severe deformities in the newly born “things” since many of them do not look like humans.

A group of doctors at the hospitals of Fallujah have documented the severity of the problems encountered by the newly born and has approached the UN and other world institutions asking for an investigation to determine the root cause of this tragedy. Tragic results from technological developments in war are nothing new. Agent Orange was used extensively to defoliate forests in Vietnam but wound up in causing the death and even childbirth deformities of thousands of people that it was deployed to protect. McNamara, who approved the use of Agent Orange never, forgave himself for all the damage and suffering that his decision has caused to millions of people but especially for loosing his son to an Agent Orange induced illness.

The prospective new parents of Fallujah and the next generation are being asked to bear the unbearable burden of seeing their children die within days of being born or of giving birth to grotesquely deformed beings. This is the result of a war of choice during which one side made the deliberate decision to subdue a city by pulverizing it and by subjecting its innocent civilians to the most incredible of human sufferings. DU is an instrument of death and horror that must be banned from use in war until serious and exhaustive studies can be made to show the opposite. Meanwhile the heart of all decent and honorable citizens in the world goes out to the suffering parents of Fallujah and to the horror that they have been forced to live with. We must make sure that such acts are never repeated again. DU; if found to be the culprit; must be prohibited and declared in violation of the laws of war besides the Declaration of Human rights.

October 19, 2009


Who Pays For Lunch?

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” has been traced to the late nineteenth century when saloons in the US offered free lunch for their paying customers. Obviously the idea has since become a corner stone of economics by emphasizing that whenever we make a choice then we have to sacrifice something else in exchange. The same principle governs all activities in the scientific world that is governed by the entropic nature of the universe. We can never produce something out of nothing.

It is unfortunate, in light of the above, that so many thinkers, institutions and organizations have chosen to remedy what is arguably the greatest challenge to civilization; environmental degradation; by advocating policies that are not guided by that most basic of ideas.

Sustainability, an inevitable phenomenon of an increasingly complex systems, is being promoted by each and every government in the world, by the United Nations and all its agencies and many think tanks and educational institutions of higher learning through arguments and models that seek more economic growth when it is very clear that sustainability came to the forefront; as an existential issue; as a result of the destructive activities of economic growth. Major concerns about sustainability, the ability to continue the current scale of operations into the future demands that we adopt a radically different methodology rather than the current paradigm that glorifies economic growth and unfettered markets. As the proverb says "If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you always got." Business as usual will only result in severe shortages and unthinkable environmental degradation.

Kenneth Boulding, the preeminent economist is reputed to have said: “Only mad men and economists believe that infinite growth is possible in a finite world”. He actually went further as to characterize that kind of irresponsible behavior as a “cowboy economy” when he suggested that we need to think of the delicate balance of a “spaceship” earth. A society without limits is a fiction.

This idea of the absolute need for limits to growth has been adopted by many thinkers in all sorts of fields, physics, anthropology, biology, ecology, philosophy and economics just to name a few. But the most effective proposition has been the one made by Herman Daly who revived the old idea of the classical economists in general and that of J. S. Mill in particular, namely steady state economics. This notion has become the foundation for all environmental visions that seek to steer human activity in such a way as to avoid the imminent collapse that we are heading towards. How far are we from the abyss is debatable but many of the models such as the Club of Rome, global ecological footprint, Pimentel estimates of the limits to the size of global population or the Energy Return on Investment (EROI) speak in terms of decades and not centuries.

Add to the above the bleak Environmental assessment of the group of 1300 scientists assembled by the UN, the dreadful outlook of James Hansen of NASA about the severity of the upcoming climate change in addition to the dire predictions of James Lovelock who has been described as “one of the environmental movement’s most influential figures” and one cannot help but be bewildered when we hear the politicians suggest more growth when it was growth that created the problem in the first place. When would we understand that more of the same is a recipe for disaster and that sustainability is not compatible with economic growth. It is simply one or the other.

Under the best of circumstances growth can be justified as a means to an end but it is pure madness when growth becomes an end in itself as it has become in the developed world. Why is it so difficult to connect the dots and conclude that since pollution is a by product of economic activity and since economic growth demands a greater scale of human activity then economic growth is the cause of environmental degradation. Maybe when all is said and done Homo sapiens (wise humans) we are not.

The world is at a critical proverbial fork in the road. We can either change direction and hope that we can avoid the abyss or we can pretend that there is a free lunch and we can have it all, economic growth and sustainability in a finite world. The choice is very clear, either follow the principles and the models that show unmistakably he absolute need for a radical change in the whole architecture or continue the pretense that we can have our cake and eat it too. Lipstick on a pig just won’t cut it.

October 04, 2009

Copenhagen, Again.

"Progress toward high industrialized world emissions cuts remains disappointing during these talks. We're not seeing real advances there," Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told reporters.

That just about sums up all the progress or disappointment at the on going pre Copenhagen discussions taking place at Bangkok, Thailand. The discussions are scheduled to end on October 9, 2009 and are being attended by delegates from 180 different countries who are attempting to nail down a global agreement to cut carbon emissions that will be finalized at Copenhagen. Unfortunately , the differences between the developed world and the developing world are just as wide as they have ever been. Even the targets for the developed world seem to be way out of reach.

Such an outcome should not be surprising to all of those who are familiar with the logic behind the “Tragedy of the Commons”. Each country wants to decrease the cost of its own targets hoping that somebody else will pick up the slack. When each country attempts to lower its own cost by shifting it to another country then the earth suffers because the global targets will be missed and only ruin will result.

The US position has posed the greatest challenge to the participants so far. "Not knowing what the United States is going to be able to bring to Copenhagen really makes it very difficult for other countries in that Kyoto discussion to increase the level of ambition of their numbers," said John Ashe, a senior diplomat who chairs a key U.N. group negotiating expanded Kyoto commitments. So far it does not look very promising for the developed world to agree on the up to 40% carbon emissions cut by 2020 from the 1990 levels that scientists deem to be essential.

To make things even more complicated the developing nations refuse to accept anything less than a 40% cut by the developed world in addition to financial transfers that do not appear to be forthcoming. As you can see both sides are playing a game of chicken when the health of the entire planet is at stake.

September 27, 2009

Is COP15 at Copenhagen Flawed?

Will the World End in Fire?
We are already witnessing the beginnings of a barrage of saturated media coverage about climate change and the upcoming Copenhagen conference. By the time the COP15 Conference at Copenhagen arrives, it might be the only item in the news all over the world and that is good. We need to take some meaningful measures that could get us to move in the right direction. Who knows, we might even avoid the apocalypse.

The failure to reach an agreement to adopt an effective and clear plan of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be a major setback to the environmental efforts to avert a catastrophic climate change, an increase in temperature greater than 2 degrees Celsius. Sea level will rise, major ocean currents would be disrupted, monsoons and hurricanes will increase both in their frequency and intensity, crop failures will become more common, desertification will increase; life as we know it will become disrupted. What is at stake is surely the greatest challenge that civilization has ever faced and a successful Copenhagen meeting is a must.

Yet if we are to act as dispassionate observers of this process we will have no choice but to note the major logical fallacy upon which Copenhagen is built. The issue is not whether the world can afford not to decrease its GHG emissions; it can not. The real issue though is whether Copenhagen can deliver us out of this self inflicted quagmire? How can it possibly do that when we even refuse to look into the root cause of this problem?

Anthropogenic emissions are simply the product of human economic activity and no one is proposing that we limit economic growth. The position at Copenhagen is nothing else but an exercise in a combination of major logical fallacies such as “argumentum ad populum” combined with “argumentum ad baculum”; a false argument based on the appeal to the majority and to fear.

Let me explain. One of the major efforts that the nations, represented at Copenhagen, will confront is that of reducing car emissions. It is widely believed that the move to hybrid engines and electric plug-in vehicles, in addition to more efficient engines, will turn out to be a major contribution in achieving the sought reduction in carbon emissions. But would it? The world produced over 70 million new vehicles during 2007 but under the best estimates all the hybrids and electric plug-in will not amount to more than 2 million units a year by 2015. If these numbers hold then that is a miserly 2% of the new cars, not to mention that China and India alone are slated to replace the United States as the number one producers of vehicles in the world. Emissions from China and India, both of whom are neighbours of Bangladesh, will not be regulated. Climate change is the largest infringement on the sovereignty of Bangladesh and yet it goes on each day of the year without firing a bullet or creating a political standoff. Even if we are to assume, as unlikely as it might be, that by 2020 one fifth of the newly manufactured in the world each year would be powered by either a hybrid or an electric engine, what about all the raw materials that has to be mined and processed in order to build all of these cars not to mention all the tires, spare parts, accidents and highways that they will generate and require? Would supplying all of these resources by “developing” countries be without a carbon footprint?

A more efficient car is a welcome development but a more efficient car will be useless in reducing the human impact on the ecosystem unless we are to simultaneously build fewer cars and consequently fewer garages, less highways, less spare parts use less resources and conserve our natural capital.

It is not sufficient to set up a goal. We must set up a goal accompanied by a workable plan otherwise the goal would best be classified as a wish. Imagine ,if you will, that all the water bottling facilities in Fiji ; whose products are shipped to North America and the rest of the world; are to become totally powered by energy acquired through either thermal solar , photovoltaic or wind turbines, would that then make the consumption of such water environmentally friendly? You decide.

As you can see from the above the need to cut down on GHG’s and carbon emissions is not questioned. What is at stake is our ability, or rather inability, to accept that climate change is nothing more than a manifestation of a systemic failure and such failures demand a total redesign of the system. If we cannot understand this most basic of all facts then all our efforts, as well intentioned as they might be will be for naught.

A Podcast of the above text can be found at:

September 02, 2009

No Real Global Commitment to Solve Climate Change

There is unanimity that climate change poses an enormous challenge to our specie. That is no longer debatable. But assessing the enormity of the problem is one thing and doing something meaningful about it is another. History is replete with examples of catastrophes that were hastened because of our inability or unwillingness to act.

Every aspect of environmental degradation from climate change to desertification, from overfishing to deforestation, from population growth rates to malnutrition , from overproduction to overconsumption, from diminishing biodiversity to the unabiding trust in economic growth, from unjust distribution of income to neo imperialism, from unsustainable practices to the rejection of intrinsic value and from the conviction that the whole of creation was meant for our own whimsical use to the strong belief that humans are hard wired to be selfish is a vivid demonstration that “Homo Sapiens” ( wise humans) we are not. Yet we pretend that we are and furthermore we make believe that we are earnestly looking for a solution.

The upcoming COP 15 at Copenhagen scheduled for December 2009 was supposed to demonstrate our earnest desire in finally seeking a solution that is commensurate to the existential challenge of keeping climate change within an increase of 2 degrees centigrade. Well don’t hold your breath. The UN Development Chief Helen Clark has just issued a statement preparing us for the upcoming disappointment. She declares: “"If there's no deal as such, it won't be a failure. I think the conference will be positive but it won't dot every 'i' and cross every 't'." That does not make you very confident in the quality and commitment of international governance does it?

Kyoto and Copenhagen are about one issue only. If we believe, truly believe that climate change must be stopped and that it is essentially the result of human activity then we need to act and act promptly. Global calamity is about to strike and we have no one to blame but us. The Pogo Cartoon said it best over forty years ago” We have met the enemy and he is us”.

So what is the US, the world's largest economy, doing about this problem? The US seems to have finally accepted the idea that it is its duty, nay its obligation, to reduce its carbon footprint since it is the greatest contributor to the anthropogenically produced carbon since the onset of the industrial revolution. Give the Obama administration its due credit. It plans to submit a plan to reduce the US contribution to the worldwide carbon emission through a cap and trade program.

The proposed reductions are no where close to what they should be but they are greater reductions than what the previous administration has been willing to commit to. Under the proposed system of Cap and Trade the government will set a total level of emissions and issue against that standard permits. The emitters cannot collectively exceed the level mandated by the government but they are free to trade these permits among each other as they see fit. That does not sound so bad except the reduction in overall emissions is no where as major as the challenge dictates that it should be.

The other problem, and may I suggest that this is just as major if not even more so, the government plans to give away gratis, for free, these permits to the corporations that pollute instead of auctioning these permits and raising the 100s of billions of dollars that they are worth. Think about it, instead of asking the polluter to pay we are asking the already burdened tax payer to subsidize pollution. That is madness. But why would anyone give away for free that which is worth billions? Well we have already answered that question. Homo Sapiens we ain’t neither are we rational or even committed to the idea of biodiversity and sustainability.

And finally, let me say that the US is not the only obstacle to finding a solution to climate change. China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are even more adamant that they do not have to apply any restraint to their level of economic activity--let the health of the global ecosystem be damned. One can easily add Russia and Indonesia to the group of countries that have to be dragged to adopt proforma carbon emission reduction targets. (The combined emissions of the above seven countries is over 56% of global carbon emissions). Enough said about our real concern for sustainability and biodiversity.

A podcast of the above can be heard at: ramblings11

July 27, 2009

Cabinet Formation in a Parliamentary Democracy

Parliamentary democracies, as a general rule, assign legislative power to an elected parliament and assign executive power to the Prime Minister. Usually a role is also given to the president that is essentially ceremonial although in some cases the president is given a consultative role and some executive powers. The Lebanese constitution is no different. It follows the above formula to a great extent. Articles 16 and 17 of the Constitution speak to this very clearly:

  • Article 16 Legislative power is vested in a single body, the Chamber of Deputies.

  • Article 17 Executive power is entrusted to the Council of Ministers to be exercised it in accordance with the conditions laid down in this constitution.

  • As for the presidential powers, they are discussed in great detail in Article 53.

The powers range from accrediting ambassadors, presiding over official functions, granting pardons to the right to preside over cabinet meetings without casting a vote. Then obviously there is the judicial arm which is to ascertain that the laws of the land are being applied in accordance to the constitution. This system of separate Legislative, Executive and Judicial functions has evolved primarily to make sure that the majority do not ride rough shod over the minority and to assure all citizens of equal protection under the law.

The right to dissent without the fear of unjust retaliation by the ruling party is an elemental right for a vigorous and robust democracy. The above schema forms the basis of democratic governments whether they are the mature parliamentary system of the United Kingdom, the German Federation, the state of India or the Russian Federation just to name a few. This nearly universal system of parliamentary democracy seems to work to the satisfaction of most but for one reason or another it is not deemed to be good enough to the Lebanese who I might add have willingly adopted the constitution mentioned above.

For the past three years the opposition has waged a well determined campaign that has effectively paralyzed the country to demand participation in the cabinet and to be given the right of veto. Unfortunately the majority gave in , a “national unity” government was formed and new parliamentary elections held. The opposition failed to gain a majority of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies but yet has been waging another determined campaign with the equally absurd interpretation that the cabinet must be composed of all parliamentary groups each according to its share of the parliamentary seats. The previous cabinet, where all factions were represented, turned out to be a disaster as many have predicted. It was simply a tower of Babel. The new demands are equally absurd.

A government that represents everyone is a government without any accountability. Which political group is to get credit for effective and popular policies and who is to carry the blame for the failure to act during emergencies or in face of social, political, economic and military challenges. If no one party is to be held responsible for either the success or the failure then why bother and hold elections. Mr. Sa’ad Hariri, the Prime Minister designate, has not formed the cabinet yet, but he has given every indication that he intends to form a government that has a large proportion of the opposition in it. That will be a tragic mistake not for rigid ideological reasons but for simple logical ones. A member of a government cannot be expected to be an advocate for a position and yet at the same time be opposed to it. If the opposition is to be integrated into the cabinet then that means that there is essentially no opposition and that does not a healthy government make. Dissent promotes growth.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Hariri is getting all sorts of advice to proceed and form such a mish mash of a cabinet that will not be able to function and whose very essence would be undemocratic and illogical. I wonder why is it that Mr. Sarkozi does not follow his own advice to Sa’ad Hariri by forming a French cabinet that includes all factions represented in the French parliament? And Mr. Hariri must never forget that the advice or pressure that he is under from either Saudi Arabia or Egypt is from countries that might have the best intentions for the Lebanese state but unfortunately this advice does not come from democratic practitioners and so how can they teach that which they do not understand. Mr. Hariri needs to understand that the electorate voted so that the winning coalition can implement its platform, it did not vote to see the winners equivocate and go back on their promises.

Mr. Hariri has to realize that a victory margin of 55% vs. 45% is a respectable margin by any standard and that he should not blow this margin away through indecisiveness and appeasement. And finally let me be very clear about this, Sa’ad Hariri is not to blame for this. The fault lies squarely on our shoulders, the Lebanese citizens. Our whole political culture is at fault.

A Lebanese daily ran a great caricature recently which said that the Lebanese political leaders have failed to teach the citizens anything about accountability. That political cartoon would have been so insightful had it been exactly in the reverse. Governments and politicians are a reflection of the values, sophistication and mores of the populace.

June 20, 2009

Iran: A Revolution Goes Awry

It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case these few pictures speak volumes about the ruthless Iranian regime and its henchmen. There can be no better indictment of the current power structure than the attached and in particular when the gruesome circumstances are kept in mind. This poor innocent girl was standing by watching a demonstration when she was shot literally in the heart by a Basij sharpshooter from a roof top. Enough said. What the world is witnessing is nothing short of a revolution that is devouring its own children and that has no respect for human rights , democracy or the dissent. The challenge is to be able to watch these 40 seconds without crying.

Editor's warning: this video depicts graphic violence.

March 13, 2009

US-liberated Afhanistan: Blasphemy and Women's Rights are Punishable by Death!

What do You Mean Religion Can Breed Violence? You Deserve to Die for Saying this!

I've discussed the issue of blasphemy in several of my classes, and most students seem to agree that the UN General Assembly's attempt to ban criticism of religion is a bad thing. We then talked about the illiberal regimes--which include some democracies (more like mob rule) that don't afford individual conscience & expression. Invariably, however,most students are apt to criticize foreign people and countries without even thinking about the US or western democracies. In the previous post, the illiberal practice by Germany is cited as an example of censorship and violation of individual rights to free speech.

When I press the students a little harder on the question whether we should criticize, even offend, our own political & religious institutions, many reply in the negative! We have free speech, they tell me, so some limits are OK! Thankfully, many students seem willing to allow for maximum free expression, including blasphemy.What to you think about political blasphemy? As in burning the US flag for political protest?

Remember that Afghani student who was sentenced to death last year for promoting women's rights--a blasphemous act in Afghanistan--by distributing an essay questioning passages in the Koran? This past week and appeals court (more like a "cangaroo" court) converted the death sentence to 20 years in prison. If this decision stands, Pervez Kambaksh, will not survive, because the Taliban want him killed. Even if he's pardoned by the president of Afghanistan, there are thousands of others who have been killed, tortured, and sentenced to long prison terms for blasphemy or for promoting a more civil society--including women's rights!

PS. By clicking on the picture (Jesus & Mo), you can open it bigger; the picture on the right is that of Kambaksh being led out of the kangaroo court in Kabul. Clicking on his name in the post connects to the article by The Independent.

March 05, 2009

An Argument in Defense of Blasphemy

There are many things that offend me. High on my list is obligatory superstition and ignorance forced upon us, as well as violations of human rights & fundamental freedoms! On the other hand, I admit, I do like the occasional blasphemy routine (who doesn’t?), because it has a liberating effect on me. That’s right, it feels good to have the right to free expression! Even though, many things offend me, I support the conditions that ultimately make me happy. Such conditions allow others who disagree with my views and life style to pursue their own self-defined bliss. I can deal with offensive expressions by maintaining my personal choices and taste.

Boycotting, choosing not to, or ignoring something is not the same as legally banning it. I prefer not to be offended, but if it happens, I shouldn’t have the legal right to remain non-offended. This is easy to understand why: there’s isn’t anything under the sun that can’t be offensive to someone somewhere.

Morality, in its most basic application, is how we treat others in a civil society where a plurality exists. The conditions that support civil rights & constitutional liberal democracy are the most suited for enlightened, progressive human beings. A personal definition of fulfillment & purpose is appropriate for every thinking, mature individual. Free expression is in the core of such definition.

If you are a confident person you probably don't think that ideas (or expressions) are toxic, because you can handle them. Correct? Bad taste, stupidity, purposeful ignorance, prejudice, etc, can all be dismissed by the rational and confident mind. You probably worry that it is your fellow citizens who aren't equipped to handle such expression, and therefore you want to protect them by banning offensive material. Right?

Wrong! People have to grow up and deal with life and the real world--even if this means being offended here and there. Keeping people insulated in a web of mind control is not good. It results in ignorance, extremism, lack of confidence to deal with a crisis, and, obviously, authoritarian practices by small elites--benevolent dictators. We are better than that.

Besides, who is the best judge of what's offensive to me? Should I say, I don't want to be offended.. Should I elevate this to a legal right? What do you think?

When I was very young, I saw the American flag being burnt in protest by veterans of the Vietnam war. I was offended. I hadn't separated the material of the flag with what the flag represents. Just as I was offended when my religion was being attacked as a myth. Yes, once I believed in Zeus, Santa Claus, Superman, and the Tooth Fairy. I grew up since. Today, I'm offended mainly by actions that attempt to limit the conditions of freedom--including banning free speech. Being challenged on my core beliefs back then resulted in re-examining those long-held beliefs. I'm better for it. This has been another liberating experience for me. I mean, it's a relief not to have to worry about offending the big man in the sky. My dress code, eating patterns, sex, and how I relate to others, all improved after this discovery.

I do support blasphemy. I support it because I want to offend t
hose who don't want free-thinkers around. And, I want to fight for liberty, including the liberty of those who oppose free expression; though I oppose their plans to gag the rest of us into submission.

By now you've probably heard about the UN General Assembly's resolution to ban "defamatory" speech against Islam and religion in general. If that action is not a defamation of liberty & free expression I don't know what it is! The Islamic countries that are only ones pushing this, mind you. They have many Christian sympathizers, because most of the Church hierarchy does not care to defend free thought & expression; it wants more religion! Liberal democracies (and modernity) has a habit of challenging religious views that have originated in primitive society. I bet many western Churches dream longingly of the European theocracies of the past! The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, favors Sharia law in the Muslim communities in Britain!!! Sharia law in a constitutional liberal democracy??!! Well, that's really offensive!

Germany shares a big slice of the blame here. It's illegal in that country to deny the Jewish holocaust--an offense that can land you 3 years in jail. Obviously, only ignorant persons or Nazi-sympathizers deny the holocaust, but those bigots should have a right to their own propaganda and indoctrination, even if they're 100% wrong and offensive to the rest of us. As others have the right to make up and believe in their own myths, like winged horses, virgin births, walking through walls, warlords from outer space, and the earth resting on a giant tortoise.

After all, there are many types of deniers out there, like those who deny the notion that Zeus is the God of all gods. I suppose this is fine, because only a handful of people follow the ancient Hellenic religion today, right? There are others, though, who make extraordinary claims without offering any proof while their claims could not stand against rudimentary logic. What's really crazy it's the view that irrational & superstitious beliefs deserve an absolute protection from blasphemy. I'd say, {it is precisely those beliefs that we must offend}, and offend with impunity!

Maybe this way, sometime soon, we can reclaim our humanity from those who want to impede our species' intellectual progress and self-fulfillment.
[Here's an older post written at the time of the Danish cartoon controversy. Who's afraid of offensive speech?]

PS>The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most UN members, should be re-read by those who seek to limit free expression. From the UDHR:

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

March 02, 2009

Urban Sprawl

A major criticism of conventional, mainstream thinking is its inability to distinguish the forests from the trees, so to speak. There seems to be an overwhelming urge to be satisfied with describing symptoms when the urgent need is for an understanding of the root cause for the phenomenon in question.

"Descrirtive" analysis might not be totally useless but it fails to advance , meaningfully, our understanding of the dynamics behind the issue of concern.To suggest that environmental degradation is caused by excessive pollution is a "no brainer" when in fact what is instrumental is an understanding of the reason why we pollute.

This line of "shallow environmentalism" has become so widely spread that it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it might have become the norm. And that is tragic. One current example where this "shallow" analysis has become often applied is that of Urban Sprawl. There is no doubt that urban sprawl is one of the most destructive developments that we are confronting but to suggest that urban sprawl is related to numbers of inhabitants goes a long way in mismanaging the problem. No doubt that numbers can and often do play a role but may I suggest that the single most important issue in urban sprawl is NOT connected to numbers. Urban sprawl is very much the result of a life style, a habit of consumption and an accepted standard of living. Urban sprawl is very much a product of a feeling of entitlement that every family is to live in a ranch home spread over an acre of land with a swimming pool in the backyard and a three car garage in front. A recent study by the EU concluded that 65% of material use and 70% of global warming potential is related to urban areas. And yet uncontrolled, rampant urbanization is not only accepted but is even encouraged the world over.
Yet, is there a justification for the following:

February 15, 2009

US: Complicit In Gaza "Death Experiment" ?

Reports of New Weapons Being Tested in Gaza.

New and ugly allegations have surfaced recently in connection to the recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza. The accusations are coming from many reliable sources and as such must be thoroughly investigated in order to determine their veracity.
According to a Norwegian MD who was working at a Palestinian hospital in Gaza during the recent war the type of injuries that were inflicted on war casualties ,during this campaign, were different than anything that he has seen before in a war theater and he has seen quite a few conflagrations over the past thirty years. Another Norwegian doctor named DR. Gilbert told the Oslo Gardermoen that "there is a strong suspicion that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons."

The suspicion as expressed by many medical doctors is the use of what the US Army calls DIME, Dense Inert Metal Explosive. This weapon was originally designed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories to inflict severe damage on people but cause lighter destruction on buildings. Dr. Brommant , a German Doctor , who was also present in Gaza, describes the injuries that he has witnessed by saying that "It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically." Those who are lucky to survive the initial injuries are most likely to develop RMS a deadly cancer related to the tungsten tiny particles.

Some observers had suspected the use of these weapons in the Lebanon war of 2006 but the intensity was no where close to what took place in Gaza during the first three weeks of January 2009. No one has yet accused the United States military of either deploying or using this type of a deadly weapon either in Iraq or Afghanistan but the question that begs to be asked is: Where did the IDF get these ammunitions from? If it can be shown that Israel has built its own DIME ammunition then we need to find out whether this development is purely coincidental or whether the US military supplied the Israeli government with the plans to build DIMEs.

Irrespective of whether Israel bought the weapons from the US or whether they obtained the right to manufacture them the US has clearly acted as a co-conspirator in this case. If it is to be shown that the Israeli forces did use DIME explosives in the Gaza campaign then it would be difficult not to view the US as an active partner in that war. What is even more unconscionable is the idea that the whole Gaza campaign might have been designed in order to test the effectiveness of this new killing device. It is to be noted that DIME weapons are not banned by the Geneva Convention but may I suggest that the weapons have not been banned simply because they have never been used before. Many are confident that once the use of these devices is established then their use will probably be prohibited.

Citizens of good will, the world over, must make their voices heard in order to demand a thorough investigation by the international community in order to establish clearly what weapons were used in Gaza, the origin of these weapons , how was the design for manufacturing them obtained by the IDF and whether the whole Gaza affair was nothing short of a camouflaged operation whose only purpose was to run an immoral and grotesque death experiment.

If the above hypothesis can be proven then, paradoxically, Hamas’s naiveté was even deadlier to their Palestinian brethren than what was originally thought.

February 09, 2009

Clean Wind Energy vs. Wasteful Spending

Part not apart from...

The Lebanese media has been abuzz recently with the news about the grandiose plans to construct an artificial island off the Damour coast in the shape of a Cedar Tree, as if the shape of such an environmental monstrosity is supposed to make it acceptable.

No country, rich or poor, can possibly justify spending precious human and environmental resources in order to create an artificial habitat whose only purpose is to cater to the whims of the rich and privileged. Homo sapiens, at least the variety in Lebanon, do not seem to have learned the most basic of ecological principles; we are part of nature and not apart from it. This implies that we have a moral obligation to respect other specie and not to act as if everything was created for our benefit. A basic environmental truth is that the more we do then the less we will have. All of that is made absolutely clear by the Second Law of Thermodynamics; entropy; which has been described by no less of an authority than Einstein as the supreme law of nature.

Lebanon is not the only country in the world that faces many challenges in practically all fields but yet it is a country whose challenges appear to be daunting whether one is to consider its political stability, economic progress, social coherence or ecological sustainability. Lebanon’s political existence is challenged daily both from within and from without but what is even more essential is the fact that its social structure is fractured , its economic modus operandi rests on inequality and exploitation, its political system is tribal and its ecology is unsustainable. Such a set of circumstances must relegate the destructive ideas of building small gardens within troubled areas as totally unacceptable and ultimately selfish. It looks that the invisible hand has demonstrated its shortcomings and grotesque failure the world over except in Lebanon where the idea of individual gain still trumps the common good and that is sad.

What is even more deplorable is the complicity of the Lebanese state in the promotion of these environmentally degenerate projects. The most ardent advocates of the free market enterprise system admit that in many instances the forces of the market fail to find the theoretical optimal allocation and the proverbial efficient solution. The name of the economist Pigou , a strong advocate of traditional mainstream economics during the early part of the 20th century, will always be associated with the notion of externalities that prevent the actual market forces from performing their magic. An equally important circumstance that prevents the free market from working efficiently is that of Public Goods.

The ultimate question in regards to the Cedar Island and the Hotel opposite Saint George in Beirut is that of ownership of the sea bed on which these projects are to be constructed. Who owns the sea bed? Obviously it is not individuals, nor corporations or a handful of politicians. The closest thing to an international law regarding the ownership of beaches and waterways is the Public Trust Doctrine which simply states that the citizens are the ultimate owners of these resources and that each and every one of us has the right to protect these natural endowments even if we have to sue on their behalf. The beaches are our natural patrimony and we have an obligation to protect them on behalf of the future generations.

What Lebanon needs, and very badly for that matter, is not a Hotel on stilts in the sea or an artificial island for the rich but a serious investment in clean and renewable energy that will cut down on our carbon footprint and yet supply us with the electricity that we need. We must ask those that are running for elections about their positions on these existential issues and vote accordingly. Good citizens have no choice but to act in a manner that will promote the integrity of the ecosystem as Aldo Leopold , the great environmental ethicist, has taught us.

January 31, 2009

What Took So Long?

Who Wants What?

So the Egyptian government has come to the conclusion that Hassan Nasrallah and his followers at Hezbollah in addition to Hamas and its leadership are in essence Iranian agents. My only question is: What took so long?

Walid Jumblatt declared over a year ago, on January 2, 2008 to be precise, that Nasrallah "is not a free man and his decision-making is not free." Then he went on to say that Mr. Nasrallah and his henchmen are paid Syrian and Iranian agents bent on destroying the Lebanese state in order to satisfy the grandiose visions held by their masters. Even two years prior to that, in the summer of 2006, Mr. Jumblatt explained that "We had been trying for months, to spring our country out of the Syrian-Iranian trap, and here we are forcibly pushed into that trap again."

It is important to note that Mr. Jumblatt was not alone in his assessment. A broad coalition of Lebanese political parties and associations questioned the motivations of the acts taken by Hezbollah by stating: "Is it Lebanon's fate to endure the killing of its citizens and the destruction of its economy and its tourist season in order to serve the interests of empty nationalist slogans?"

Many a journalist , blogger and analyst had arrived at the same conclusion four years ago. It was evident to whoever cared to look at the facts that Hezbollah’s interests were not compatible with those of an open, democratic and secular society. In the final analysis Hezbollah is a group of religious fanatics created to promote the interests of an Iranian theocracy. And as the saying goes :if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck then it is a duck.

It is unfortunate but it appears that many in Lebanon and the Arab world have chosen to conveniently forget the clear history of the evolution of Hezbollah. The para-military and illegal militia was established by generals from the Iranian Pasadran, funded by Iranian money, supplied with smuggled Iranian and Syrian arms, trained in illicit bases in Lebanon by Iranian personnel and is structured to serve the Iranian national interests as seen through the eyes of the Grand Ayatollah to whom Hassan Nasrallah pays ultimate homage as he himself has declared in 1987 that “Those who reject the Faqih’s authority are rejecting God and the descendents of the prophet Mohammad.” Some might need to be reminded that the Wilayat Al Faqih concept started with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978 and is interpreted to mean that the Grand ayatollah has power over all Shiite in the world and in all fields: religious, social and political.

Those who willingly choose to live in denial do so at their own peril. When will the Arabs, in general, and the Lebanese, in particular, decide to wake up from their slumber and call things by their real name? The Arab- Israeli conflict has been transformed over the past decade into an Iranian- Israeli conflict except that the ones who are doing the dying, the suffering and the fighting are Arabs. Iran has been able to penetrate masterfully the Arab ranks through its creation, funding and support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran has hijacked the Arab –Israeli conflict with the express complicity of these two parties and the cooperation of the isolated weakened and desperate Syrian regime.

To expect loyalty to a state and support for democracy and diversity by those whose founding charter declares: “We, the Umma of Hezbollah, consider ourselves part of the Islamic state of Iran… We are committed to the orders of one leadership, represented by the Wilayat Al-Faqih, the supreme leader” is the biggest of all follies.

January 21, 2009

The Election of Obama: A Revolution.

It is crucially important to have an un-abiding belief in ones capabilities to achieve and to make things happen. But it is even more important to act on such a belief in order to transform the idea from the field of the purely hypothetical to that of the real. Barak Obama set up a challenge and then proceeded to deliver on it. That is how YES WE CAN became YES WE DID.

The real implications of the election of Barak Obama to the office of the presidency of the United States of America cannot be understood clearly unless the process is viewed as a continuation of what started more than two centuries ago, the American Revolution. Yes, the American Revolution lives on in order to demonstrate that revolutions never fulfill their promise if they allow their vision to become static. A revolution, ironically in the best Marxist tradition, must maintain its ability to reinvent itself and to evolve with the changing circumstances. Hegelian dialectics as borrowed by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luckas speak to a revolution philosophy that refuses to become content for its initial successes. As Paulo Freire, the greatest educator of the last one hundred years has spent his life teaching, if we are to truly liberate ourselves then we must also liberate the other. What good is there to be gained if we are to settle for merely exchanging positions; the exploited become the exploiters and those that did the exploiting become the victims of the new rulers. If we allow that to happen then we would have failed to advance the cause of liberty and justice.
It is precisely in these terms that the election of Mr. Obama, to the highest office in the world is to be understood. This election is not a culmination of a dream as much as it is a continuation of a belief that a better and a more just society for all can be created. The United States has managed to surprise itself and the world by demonstrating its dynamism and by refusing to let its previous accomplishments hold it back from reaching for new heights and opening new vistas. The real genius of this revolution, and it is a revolution, is that it has sent a message to the world warning those that cling to old bygone fossil ideas that time has rendered obsolete and irrelevant have no one to blame but themselves for their inability to grow , change and move towards a more perfect structure. After all we must recognize the importance of the old Buddhist concept of impermanence. We need to accept that nothing is permanent except change itself.
This has got to be the lesson to the Arab countries in general. The world is best characterized by flux and if our societies are to survive and prosper then adaptation and evolution are two ideas that we should embrace rather than fight.

January 19, 2009

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Official unemployment in the US has surpassed the 10 million mark and according to some estimates it is on its way to 12 million. As any student of economics knows, or should know, the official publicized figures of unemployment understate the real number by a wide margin. If one is to add the number of the discouraged workers and those that are forced to work part time then what we get is an unemployment rate that is easily in the low double digits. And that is scary.

What makes the current situation even worse is the fact that no one can yet point to any encouraging signs of a potential turn around. Most prognosticators do not expect a meaningful pick up in economic activity until the third quarter of 2009 at the earliest. Unfortunately these tough economic circumstances of economic contraction, decreasing employment, plummeting prices in the housing sector, frozen credit markets and low consumer confidence have spread to most countries. This is an especially ominous development because there are no players that can pick up the slack ,if you will.

It goes without saying that the above mentioned harsh economic conditions are being felt by all members of society. This high level of anxiety and unease are reflected in practically all fields. New all-time lows are being recorded almost on a daily basis in the housing industry, financial transactions on Wall Street, the volume of steel production, the sales volume in electronics or that of new cars, to name just a few major areas.

The current administration has already taken a number of major initiatives to steady the financial hemorrhaging and the incoming Obama-led team has already prepared a massive stimulus package whose aim is to revive the economy and create new jobs. The question that I would like to raise at this juncture is simply this: Does each of us as an individual consumer bear a special responsibility towards other members of the community that are less fortunate than we are? I am not talking about donations of food , old clothing and battered furniture. In a market economy our values and mores are being constantly revealed through our allocation of income i.e. through our consumption decisions. Now let me ask you this: How sincere is your concern for your fellow automotive worker when you decide to purchase a vehicle; that is of comparable size and quality as that made in the US; but that was built by say French labor? Are your concerns for the rubber workers genuine when you proceed to buy tires made in Germany? Do you really have the right to complain about low wages when you persist in giving most of your business to those retailers and manufacturers that abuse their labor? Should you have the right to make an issue of government deficits when you willingly under report your income or fail to report a barter transaction? Does any one have the right to raise a raucous about global warming if one happens to live in a 4000SF home; drive 15,000 miles a year;go skiing across the Atlantic ; own large flat screen TV sets in addition to a large variety of electronic gear. Is it fair to rely on government and the sacrifice of others in order to resolve a problem that each of us has helped create?

January 12, 2009

How To Avoid A Quagmire In Gaza

What are the prospects for change?
It is clear that the stated objective of the Gaza operation for the Israeli government is to silence the Hamas rockets that are fired periodically from Gaza into the southern part of Israel. What is not clear though, is what Hamas is after in having provided the Israeli government its rationale for this current operation?

It is also clear that the Israeli government did not put together this complicated plan of fighting in Gaza at the spur of the moment. Israel has arguably been preparing for this onslaught for the past two years in an effort to rehabilitate its image that took a beating after the Lebanese 2006 campaign that proved to be quite ineffective if not outright fiasco. Yet, Israel wanted an excuse to move into Gaza and Hamas seems to have been more than willing to provide the IDF with a solid rationale for its onslaught. Why? Did Hamas miscalculate the Israeli ability to tolerate the Qassam rockets or were they motivated by other goals?

The Hamas leadership has shown over the years its ability to be effective strategic thinkers and to be popular political players. As a result it is only fair to assume that Hamas must have known that Israel will eventually respond with overwhelming force, its own version of shock-and-awe, if you will. But yet they went ahead with their provocations by continuously firing the ineffective but irritating Qassams into Ashkelon and its environs. There are only two logical explanations for their semi-suicidal behavior:

(1) Hamas was following orders issued by their financiers, military trainers and arms suppliers, the Iranian mullahs, or,

(2) Hamas seriously believes that it is ready to inflict on the IDF major losses once the IDF is lured into urban warfare on the streets and alleys of Gaza.

On both counts Hamas has either grossly miscalculated or willingly agreed to sacrifice the blood of the innocent noncombatants for the benefit of an outside non Palestinian power. Which ever is the reason for the recent provocations Hamas did not act in the best interest of the Palestinian people but seems to be merely driven to score propaganda points against the brutality of the Israeli offensive that their acts have initiated in the first place? These acts border on being criminal and must be seen as such instead of the constant media barrage from all across the Arab speaking countries that condemns the Israeli aggression but does not question the Hamas policies that in essence craved this Israeli operation.

And so who is it that has lured whom into this quagmire? Was it the Israeli policies that pushed Hamas into providing the IDF with an excuse for its forceful reoccupation of Gaza in an effort to influence the outcome of the upcoming Palestinian elections or even an effort to help Mr. Olmert; Israel’s George Bush; or was it Hamas incompetence and misguided policies that handed the IDF with the rationale that it needed for its operation? It really does not matter. Both sides to this bloody conflict have shown nothing but total disregard for the rules of war, sanctity of non-combatants and have persisted to misread history.

Hamas, especially its refusal to accept the existence of the state of Israel and its resort to random violence as a means to achieving its goal makes it an anachronism. It is time that Hamas, Hezbollah, PFLP and all the other resistance groups recognize that their adopted methods have proven to be ineffective and counter productive. It is time to abandon these destructive tools and engage the adversary on a higher level. It is time to introduce into the equation pragmatism and an acceptance of reality. It is time to learn to live in peace with those that speak a different language and have a different religion. It is time to apply the idea of impermanence instead of clinging to the notion of authenticity in a world best described by contamination and flux. It is time that the Palestinian people reject the rejectionists in order to have hope for the future.

Israel, on the other hand, is just as much in need of a change in its policies. Military force will not bring peace; it might silence begrudgingly the guns for a while. Peace requires policies that do not dehumanize, discriminate, exploit and abuse the very same people that Israel claims that it needs as good neighbours. It is time for Israel to demonstrate its willingness to accept a Palestinian state next door by negotiating a date certain for the total sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza.

The current war in Gaza has entered its third week and yet it shows no signs of winding down. The rough details of the outcome of this war have been known from the outset. The IDF cannot wipe out Hamas, only the Palestinian people can do that and Hamas will have to stop firing its rockets into Israel. Is it that important who stops first? The IDF has a golden opportunity to declare an end to the Gaza operation, to remove the embargo and to start a serious economic development program with the help of the GCC in exchange for strictly inspected borders and an end to rocket firing into Israel. These acts stand the chance of moving the peace process forward. Israel and its Palestinian neighbours need desperately “change that they can believe in”’

January 07, 2009

Hamas Intransigence + Israeli Belligerence = Human Catastrophe

This has to wait a little longer..

The tragic events that have been in control of the Palestinian- Israeli problem for over sixty years have brought nothing but misery and suffering to both parties. It is unfortunate but true, that the continuing struggle between both sides and the ensuing “logic’ applied by them has been inevitable. This is a classic tragedy that cannot be avoided since the rules of logic that are in control of the situation dictate and lock in what economists call a sub Pareto optimal solution.

It is in the light of the above, the current Gaza crisis should be evaluated. Hamas and the government of Israel are in essence the two actors in the traditional Game Theory known as a Prisoners Dilemma. According to the rules of logic where each party is concerned with improving its own welfare the solution is always sub optimal. This simply means that whenever the actors in a “game” are attempting to maximize their own welfare they inevitably make choices that are not in their best interest

Note the decision by Hamas to keep on lobbing its ineffective and rudimentary rockets on near by Israeli towns despite the fact that Israel has pulled out its forces and settlements from Gaza over two years ago. I have no doubt in my mind that the Hamas leadership and the greater majority of the 1.5 million Gazans are convinced that these acts are helpful to the Palestinian people. Except that the real calculus makes it very clear that this chosen line of action is very costly on the Palestinian people. Actually the death and destruction brought about through these acts is ultimately a set back to the welfare and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The same flawed logic is in control of the Israeli side. Israel appears to think that there is only one solution to the Hamas intransigence, a military solution. Israel has chosen, at its peril, not to learn from history that victory at the battlefield does not translate in this case to peaceful relationships with its neighbours. Israel has not learned yet the lesson that many problems in the world do not have a technical solution.

Is it inevitable for the two persons randomly picked up by police and accused of a crime to confess to a crime that they did not commit? Not until they learn to cooperate and stop making decisions based on their own selfish welfare. Unfortunately the exact conditions apply to our protagonists in the current Gaza –Israel quagmire. Both parties need a radical transformation in their priorities, values and mores. Unless they learn to play the game cooperatively then both of them are doomed to stay in the hell that they have created.