December 16, 2012

The Nation is Sick With This Kind of Tragedies. This Senseless Violence Must End and Sandy Hook Elementary Should be the Starting Point

I don't know if the president has a plan other than to reassert his Xtian credentials, because he sounded more like a preacher tonight than a leader who has to now has to change the gun laws of this country as the public by overwhelming majority now demands.

I reserve my judgment until I see what he does in the next few days regarding federal legislation to ban assault weapons, high capacity magazines, require strict controls on handguns, etc. Maybe it's his strategy to grieve his the families and through the emotional path try to bring the necessary change.

However, enough with superstition and ignorance. What the hell is this supposed to mean, "God called back those children"??!!! Really, Mr. president? Then if God wanted to call those children in such horrible way--and you assume you know that--why should we blame the gunman or demand any change? If God is able and willing, he'll do whatever is necessary. Or, he won't... Why should we bother with anything really if this is the motto?

Someone has to speak up against this primitive superstitious and ignorant approach/reaction to tragedies. This should end. I'd like those who have access to megaphones and want a more critical thinking public would not bring out the voodoo dolls during times of crisis. It's the 21st century, we should be mature enough to handle reality, so references to the supernatural is a disservice and an action that further perpetuates wishful thinking, prejudice, servility, and superstition.

Federal laws must be passed as to what kind of firearms are allowed. It's a political choice of a secular regime! No hunter should get guided missiles, bombs, or machine guns to enjoy their sport. No one should get clips that hold dozens of bullets, and of course no assault weapons. The Second Amendment--written by people over 2 centuries ago whose idea of "arms" was much different than ours--has already been modified by reality: "the right to bear arms" doesn't mean today the right to have tanks, F16s, and nukes. Oh, and the argument that we need guns to protect ourselves from the government is so 18th century too. Out duty as engaged and informed citizens is to never reach that point of having to violently resist our own government, because if we do it'll be too late! The government will always have more, bigger, and powerful weapons.
It's absolutely ridiculous that in order to get a car you need to be tested for ability, obtain insurance, while the vehicle is registered and inspected, but getting a gun is simple matter of going to a gun show and buy one with no background check! This is totally insane. I'm fed up with going through the same motions of sadness, anger, grieving, promises of "never again", every time such a bloody event happens, but we don't do anything about it!

Children under 14 are 13 time more likely to be killed in the US (in advanced countries). Guns kill 30,000 Americans every year. The murder rate in other advanced countries is in the dozens whereas in the US is in the tens of thousands. Yes, there are complex reasons for having such a violent society--and we should start a national dialogue on this--but we certainly can do something about the means of violence.

Obama has done this kind of consoling after massacres 4 times during his tenure. Has he learned that the mass murderers used legally-obtained assault weapons? But, this is the president who signed 2 gun bills into law. One, to allow firearms into national parks and one to allow them on Amtrak! How's this for a radical president who'd confiscate all guns as the conservative nuts argued in 2008?...

Time is now for serious action and the president to lead. I understand the script, I understand that Obama has to speak a certain language, but no amount of comfort can bring back the innocent dead. However, if we change our attitudes and public policies we can prevent tragedies in the future. We'll all gain from this. We should come together when we face adversity and pain, but we should stop being masochists and fatalists now!

October 04, 2012

Obama Lost the First Presidential Debate of 2012. Hold Your Cheers or Dispair. Most Voters Have Already Picked their Ponies

The first presidential debate of 2012 is in the history book, though it'll probably go into the pages no one reads in the future. The general consensus is that Romney beat Obama by a big margin and that the latter missed a dozen opportunities to deliver. So, is this a game-changer?

Not so fast. Obama disappointed many of his supporters. He showed that he is not a forceful leader by nature, that he becomes professorial and almost "above the fray" when he needs to show strong commitment and when he's expected to clearly demonstrate that he's in the fight to win it. As in many games, playing it safe against an inferior team often leads to defeat.

As I've already said, 2012 looks much like 2004 in the reverse. Kerry won all debates against president Bush but he lost the general election. Romney won last night but not convincingly. He earned a few points among Independents, but I hardly think that this will turn the tide. Let's see how the polls move in the next few days. If the gap, especially in the swing states remains in Obama's favor, this election will be already decided.

What debates like that one do is to energize the base of the candidate that does well, and this, indeed, has an effect. Much of the result in all elections depends on turnout when the margin of popular support is within a few points. Again, if the post-debate polls maintain the 4-5 point difference (in battleground states), there's no path to victory for Romney. I do not see this Obama advantage melting away in the next 4 weeks. However a more energized Romney base may make a big difference in Senate and House races because of turnout. This, however, is still to be decided. We're just entered fourth quarter. If the losing team begins to believe the game is lost, it gives up and the ultimate gap becomes bigger as the "players" (voters) don't show up on election day.

Both candidates tried to send specific messages to their political bases. They know turnout is crucial. I'm not sure if they believe that there are many undecided voters up for grabs; the polls show that there aren't many, and of those it's a big question whether they'll actually show up on November 6th.

The debates measure what exactly? How the two candidates deliver, communicate their message, their temperament and quick wit. Most people who tune in are doing so to crystallize their views, confirm their decision. In my view, very few actually tune it with a totally available mind to be convinced one way or another. We know this. We know that most of those who say the candidate they preferred before the debate but lost is also the candidate they'll end up voting for! I know my horse hobbles horribly, but will I change my pony?....

When I raised this point during my interview with WABC radio, someone observed that politics is not like sports, because it's not the emotional side but other needs that take precedent. Well, yes and no. Choosing positions--philosophical or political--is a long term process. It's also emotional, more so that people are willing to admit. Politics like religion runs in families. The environment plays a role, but it's not during a few autumnal weeks prior to an election. Investing in a team, an idea, an identity is logical and emotional. The longer a person does this the harder to change his/her views. Then it's picking ponies of similar colors. Occasionally some people may confuse a mule for a pony, but in their minds they're picking a pony.

Predictions is a risky business, but, what the heck, I'm making an educated guess that Obama will win at least 320 Electoral Votes, possibly 332, while Romney around 200, a little more or less. I cannot see how Ohio, Florida can go Romney's way. The states he can win is Indiana, for sure, possibly North Carolina, and maybe, at best, one or two smaller states. Not enough to land in or surpass the 270 box.

September 15, 2012

You Are Going to Be Offended. Now, Grow Up and Deal With It Without Resorting to Violence!

With technology news travels faster and there are many more ways for ideas, events, and whatever else to spread everywhere. It's getting increasingly impossible to remain in isolation any more. Guess what? The world is not made to please us all the time! All the religious fanatics, the ultranationalists, and whomever has a oversensitive disposition should take a deep breath and deal with this fact: they are going to be offended!  

Not all ideas are good or make any contribution except to waste our time and energy, but so it's the deep-entrenched belief that certain revealed knowledge should be unassailable. It is through free exchange, trading, and thinking that we have advanced in the face of the reactionaries who are more comfortable with repetition, ignorance, and mental isolation.

The US ambassador to Libya and others were killed because some idiot in the US, plus idiots in the Middle East showed a video defaming the prophet Mohamed. Same story with the Danish cartoons several years ago. Along the line of the Biblical moral value of punishing someone for the sins of someone else, innocent people are injured, tortured, and killed. Mohamed, Jesus, Apollo, Odin, Buddha, etc, must be happy when the mortals kill each other defending the true prophet's reputation. Otherwise the heavens should have another clear and universally-accessed message of which version is correct and whether the killings should stop.
 A Matter of Confidence
People who have confidence and are mature don't need to use violence to defend their beliefs when offended. We, men, while growing up forming an identity were very sensitive to, say, having our masculinity challenged. Most of us remember getting into fights because someone said something to our face. Most of us adults don't do this anymore, because we are confident, don't need to prove something through violence, and our identity is not invalidated by some idiot's remarks. Right? Yes!

Freedom of expression includes the free circulation of ideas, good and bad, without the fear of punishment. Societies who have experimented with tolerance and free exchange have been more successful, creative, and happier. Ancient Athens gave a lot to western civilization, and not only, while the playwrights made fun of the gods, while the scientists were discovering the world without having to please the secular and religious authorities. 

It's a safer, more rewarding, more practical & beneficial to our lives that we seek to understand the world instead the mind of God. Since the latter has given contradictory messages to different peoples throughout the continents and through millennia, while he is not willing to speak to all of us without intermediaries, in a clear indisputable way, let's just say we can live with offending each other. 

Yes, it would take maturity, confidence, and a rational mind to stop behaving like primitive primates, but we can make a better world for all of us. Unfortunately, keeping humans in a primitive state maintains servility--of body and most importantly of spirit. Who benefits from this? Who benefits when ignorance rules? Who benefits when people live in fear?  I know who is least served by such conditions: the poor, the middle class, the oppressed. 

I understand that once an idea, a practice, or a belief system is raised to the level of identity, amendments are hard to come by. But, we should promote the rational mind instead of the irrational, the prejudicial, and the uneducated. A better world depends on this. 

I'm Offended! Richard Dawkins is Disrespecting Zeus!

We are not advancing our collective civilization the more we stoke the fears and the worst primal instincts of people. We are not advancing if we are forced to respect--under the threat of the death penalty--the attributes of man-made gods who, according to the holly books, are jealous, vindictive, megalomaniac, capricious, dictatorial, genocidal, ethnic cleansers, and insecure when challenged by other gods or humans lacking faith.

Let's just all agree that we're all going to hell--that's what religions say about the other religions--but in the meanwhile we can make it a better world by respecting each other and a person's right to free expression. Ideas don't need rights, people do!


 This is all we've got, and we've been wasting our little spec of time fighting each other about whose illusions are more correct...

September 09, 2012

Are We Better Off Today than 4 Years Ago?

Are we better off four years into Obama's presidency? Well, it depends how you look at it. I say, yes, we are! The previous chief and his crew started the fire that began to consume our house. This chief and his crew put out the fire and have began the rebuilding process. Is our house better since 2008? Probably yes. Is it better since we arrived? Probably not. However, the previous regime that created the whole mess now wants the keys back because the present regime hasn't completely fixed the mess!

Oh, and when the current chief asks for tools, programs, jobs, the Republicans in Congress say, NO! Under our system, the president can't raise or spend money unless Congress agrees. Further, we should never elect to high office persons and political parties that do not have a positive view regarding government. If they don't think our government can be a positive force for our commonwealth, they should stay away. No, government is not the answer to all problems, but it is the agent that reduces obstacles to freedom, to enhance access to opportunity, and to push for legal equality.

The numbers

Clinton was right, the Dems have created almost twice as many jobs despite controlling the White House for fewer years! The Repubs have created more deficits and increased the gap between the 1% and the rest. How about the market? Without including the Great Depression [guess who was mainly responsible for it?], had you invested in the market, under a Dem president you'd have gotten an annual return twice as big, 8.9% to 4.7%; including Hoover's term, then it drops to 0.4%! [Here's the link to those numbers]

Obama gets an "D" (barely passes) when it comes to political communication. He cut taxes for 95% of the middle class taxpayers and nobody knows it. The benefits of the health care law are not known to those not immediately affected by it, so many people think it's another big government program costing billions more, when it's not and it actually reduces medical expenses. One third of the stimulus went to tax breaks for working people!

There's been a huge investment in green jobs and the CBO reports that 2.5 millions jobs are a direct effect. Likewise for the automobile industry and the many private business connected to it. The stimulus package was mainly a jobs bill in essence, but Obama hasn't communicated that!

Banks got a bailout--private banks with very highly-paid execs--but that saved the financial system. It wasn't done in a way most of us would have liked, but it was necessary.

Where's G. W. Bush?

In 2008, the US had lost millions of jobs, and was losing hundred of thousands every month until the summer of 2009 when Obama's policies began to take effect. The conservatives started labeling the Great Recession as Obama's recession a week after the November election in 2008!

If the GOP really believes Obama is responsible not for the pace of the recovery but for the roots of the problem why don't they take G.W. Bush and his crew out of mothballs and parade them around today until the election? Did you hear Dubya's name at the GOP convention? I didn't either!

In 2008, the economy was shrinking 9% a year; it was like the entire economy of Canada disappearing! Deregulation and lack of oversight of Wall Street created many of the financial scandals. This is the philosophy and policies of the conservatives at play. Yes, many Democratic leaders also cater to Wall Street and big banks. A few support regulation of the marketplace and not a libertarian's paradise, like Somalia...

Why? Because capitalism needs referees, needs oversight, needs to be saved from itself. The more successful, stable, happy, safest, healthiest countries are the ones who have strong regulations and a good oversight. The more "pure capitalist" countries are on the opposite side of this spectrum. Check it out.

It's truly amazing that the US conservatives' policies attract so much support. Why Romney and his party are still competitive in this election... They are not saying anything different nor are proposing new policies but the ones that got us into a deep recession and worsened the position of the middle class.  Are we suffering from Alzheimer's as a nation? Let's see what happens on November 6th, 2012, when not only the presidency will be decided but Congress and the future Supreme Court.

August 09, 2012

Summer Politics Worth of Staycation Laze

Let's talk politics before this summer is over and the dynamic changes after Labor Day and the two parties' nominating conventions. So, here are a few things: the nominating show, the economy, the problem with the base of the GOP, and looking into the magic bowl while chewing coca leaves... (or, something like that).

Invite or not Sarah Palin to speak at the GOP convention?
The Repubs are having their show in a couple weeks and Romney has vowed to pick his VP before then. The first rule is do-no-harm. The VP choice rarely adds anything to the ticket but it can be a drag as Sarah Palin demonstrated. At best, in an evenly matched prez field the VP can add a slight margin in his state (if it's competitive; Alaska wasn't in 2008, which was another mistake by McCain), and may add a very few more votes in a couple other states.

Here's the problem with Romney and the GOP: They are out of the mainstream. Most of their main policy proposals--as articulated on the state level, in Congress, and their affiliated tea parties--are not in line with the vast majority of Americans. Worse, if these policies and social issues stands are further explained to the public, their approval drops even lower. Worst, is that the country is moving away from them.

Romney was/is (?) a moderate, or someone who's a businessman and cares little about the social issues that don't affect his wealthy class. Yet, he wants to be president but unfortunately for him (and many other centrist Repubs) he has to go through a very conservative activist base. So, he flips-flops. He was for gun control, same-sex rights, choice, mandated health coverage, etc. He now had to denounce those views to be viable in today's GOP. 

The Chick-fil-A gay bashing issue is indicative of Romney's impossible conundrum. He avoided taking a position (as he has on many other social issues), because he can't have it both ways--he can't alienate the American public nor he can afford to turn away his activist but very conservative base. However, that inane leader of the Catholic League Donohue--who reflects the views of may social conservatives regardless of their particular denomination--has said that they're pondering sitting this election out, because they fear is confirmed they cannot trust Romney to be a social conservative!

Elections are decided on turnout to a great extend and it doesn't look good for Romney right now. Even as a known quality, even after having a Dem prez in office, Mittens was receiving fewer votes in the competitive primaries earlier this year than 4 years ago when he was losing to Mac! One might have expected a higher mobilization wave against the "Muslim Kenyan" in the Oval Office, but it's either because Anti-Christ's hold of the executive doesn't seem as too threatening or that Obama's centrist style is acceptable to most voters. Barry Hussein seems to have a much higher "likeability" index than Mittens!

As for the economy, people are pessimistic--they've been hurting since 2008--but not quite blaming Obama for the entirety of the misery. They don't see a good alternative in Mittens either. So, I suppose O's positives will hover around 50%, good enough for reelection, barring any major disaster before November.

It's often said that Americans don't really pay attention to politics in the summer. Maybe the don't follow the details {do they other times?} but impressions still are being formed about the major candidates. Two issues that aren't going away is how R made money at Bain Capital and his tax returns. The latter creates the impression that he's out of touch, that he's hiding something by not releasing older tax records. I think this is a case of double damnation--releasing the records or not.   

Even if Harry Reid--who claimed that a former Mitt associate said R didn't pay any taxes for 10 years--is wrong, I assume that most Americans wouldn't like it that a multi-millionaire pays half the rate most of us do. Yes, it's an issue with me as well. I'm in the so-called middle class and my tax rates are twice as Romney's 12.99% of his last tax return! I don't care how he gets his income. Well, actually I work hard while he collects dividends and interest from his vast fortunes. There's something seriously wrong with this picture.

And, the Repubs want to keep the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy, which is another point the Dems must keep reminding everyone. Even billionaire Warren Buffet [clearly a ..traitor to his class] said that the rich always ask for more money so they can spend more and thus create more jobs! Obviously a ridiculous claim but one adopted by the GOP that wants to convince us the trickle down effect is rain and not the wealthy pissing on us.

July 27, 2012

Guns Don't Kill People! Therefore, All Guns, Any Weapon, to All People! Yeehaw!

Those who don't like gun control now--after the theater massacre in CO--say "let's not politicize it". I say, we shouldn't if no aspects of this outcome are related to political decisions. Of course, we all know that the prevalence of gun violence in our society isn't because of our culture but also because of laws which are the result of political considerations, lobbying, and leadership.

Short on something?
Speaking of leadership, the president failed to lead, again, on this issue. He may lead, from the rear, in the near future if the country moves ahead on this issue and demands sensible gun controls. This issue is like so many others--oh, "controversial"--so Obama is cautious. Like he was with the Don't Ask Don't Tell, same sex marriage, taxes, etc. First the country moved, then this president followed instead of providing leadership.

Even most NRA members agree that sensible gun laws, better and more complete ones we have now, are needed! So, when will this president and Congressional leaders take on this issue? Why isn't there a federal law prohibiting assault weapons, certain ammo, and requiring background checks and waiting periods? 

Not turn-the-other-cheek fellow.
One of the stupidest arguments is that "the Gov will take away our freedom if it takes away, or knows about, our guns!" Oh, really? IF it comes to that, it will be too late indeed; the GOV always has more and bigger guns. We would have lost our fundamental freedoms well before that. And, we'd lose those freedoms by being idiotic, apathetic, and having a bumper-sticker mentality!

Modern societies have progressed from the days when justice and protection was up to each person--if they could afford it. Disputes are better solved without violence and if there's violence deadly weapons aren't used. We tried the method of everybody carrying a gun to defend themselves and we, at least most of the advanced societies, decided to change that. 

Draw and make my day!
Sure, it's possible that the Colorado incident might have turned out differently had most of the theater audience packed guns. How different, I'm not sure. On campus where I work we've talked about the V Tech student massacre few years ago--when one person walked on campus and killed 30+ people. Maybe that would have happened if faculty, staff, and students had been carrying guns. However, what would happen every other day?! And, what would the atmosphere be when everybody knows a dispute can escalate into bullets flying everywhere?!

The Notion of Freedom 

I will not tire repeating that freedom is not just the absence of restraint! Yet, this is how most Americans define it, but this is rather inadequate nowadays. Obstacles to freedom include poverty, illiteracy, prejudice, tyranny of the majority, disease, lack of opportunity, etc.  

From my perspective, having the freedom to carry a gun and use it for protection is not as important as having health care, education, and be in an environment that allows me to reach my potential.  I cannot understand why having limits on the types of weapons I can buy, the types & amount of ammunition I can obtain, or restrictions on how and where to use certain weapons is limiting my true freedom. 

If guns don't kill people, then why have any limits? How about licensing nukes, armed fighter planes, and dirty bombs? Don't we need such weaponry for hunting or target practice? Obviously no one needs this weapons or huge ammo clips that attach to machine guns. If then it's about the effects οf weapons, then reasonable restrictions are necessary.

Necessary gun control plus some common sense enhance everyone's freedom and the quality of life.

Update, 7/23

The NYT has an editorial today reflecting many of the points here. Both candidates for president, but especially the sitting president failed to take this opportunity to lead and push for sensible gun laws.  On the other hand,  NYC mayor Bloomberg has been right on this issue all along. 

Maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.”Mayor M. Bloomberg

As much as Obama has been lukewarm on many important issues, GOP flag bearer Mittens Romney is ridiculous. When he was one-term Gov of MA, he advocated all sorts of good things--health care, gun control, same-sex unions, abortion rights, etc. Of course by vying for the leadership of a lunatic party he changed his tune completely. 

And, this is my argument with people who say voting for Romney will not make much of a difference and that maybe he'll be more effective than the siting president. This is wrong on so many counts. Romney will have to govern with this Republican party, with its extreme policies and backward party line. He has flipped-flopped from his centrist positions and he'll most likely won't go back to them if elected. Plus, he'll be running for reelection which will make it even harder to adopt centrist policies.

On the other hand, Obama might be freer to pursue sensible policies (more) boldly after November thinking of his legacy and not of reelection in 2016.

July 25, 2012

The Inveitability of the Arab Spring

The uprisings in the Arab world did not take me by surprise. I am not implying that I knew, with any precision, when these uprisings would erupt but I am merely referring to the fact that I have been predicting such an upheaval for decades. This does not make me a seer but it does make me a member of the group of people in the world who would rather base their views about the future on an analysis of facts about the forces that exist in societies at a particular point in time. Whenever I was asked about while was not surprised that an Arab uprising has taken place my simple answer has always been; the real surprise would be if no uprising has taken place since the societal structure of the Arab world was and still is ripe for a radical change.

Let us review some of these facts:

(1)All Arab regimes can be looked upon essentially as continuations of colonialism. With very few exceptions the systems in power in each country was installed by the colonial powers and in a few examples some minor revolutionary changes took place, revolutionary changes based often on the promising idea of Pan Arabism, a concept that is dead for all intensive purposes. It is with this in mind that the Arab Spring may be viewed as the beginning of the post colonial era as Professor Hamid Dabashi argues in his latest book.

(2) Political pluralism was (and still is in many places) practically nonexistent in the Arab world. Political parties are either banned outright or if not banned then the formation of one required all sorts of permits and governmental approvals that made the process Kafkaesque.

(3)Constitutions or whatever passed for constitutions were not documents about the aspirations of the citizens since these citizens ever played a major role either in their formulations or in their adoption.

(4)Conditions for a free press, arguably one of the most important institutions in a vibrant dynamic democracy were made very difficult. Most Arab countries; 17 out of 19 according to one count; required special permits for the establishment of a newspaper. In many cases the number of permits was fixed, as in Lebanon, while in others no free press was allowed. A permit inhibits the behaviour of the recipient under the best of circumstances.

(5)Political succession was either mandated as in the Kingdoms and the GCC emirates or became quasi dynastic as in Tunis, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria. Even the Lebanese had no problem in amending the constitution to accommodate desire by Presidents to stay in power unconstitutionally.

(6) Many ruled by giving themselves emergency powers (Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Sudan to name a few) that have been in effect for decades. The justification was usually the false claim or blackmail if you will that it is either the regime or disintegration and chaos without it. This appears to be, at the moment, the favourite explanation by the Syrian regime supporters about the need to put down the uprising so brutally.

(7) State security was given almost free hand to apprehend torture and spread fear among peaceful citizens who might wish to object and dissent. Civil liberty was an alien concept in most countries.

(8) Economic performance among the non oil exporting countries was close to dismal. Unemployment was high, economic growth was low, wealth distribution was inequitable, food insecurity was rampant, educational opportunities very limited

(9) Modern technology has made it difficult to keep the abuse, the inequities and the underperformance hidden. The world did shrink as a result of inexpensive transportation but essentially as a result of telecommunication revolutions that allowed individuals to make telephone calls overseas, communicate with friends and relatives in more prosperous parts of the world and the ability to learn that other people in other countries do not have to put up with the daily abuse to their personhood. They have had enough.

As all of you now the above brief list could be expanded into many other areas as corruption and cult of personality. But I trust that the above is enough to make it clear that no people will willingly choose to live under these unjust, unfair and abusive conditions. It was only a matter of time before people would rise and demand their freedom: an inalienable right. That is how history unfolds. All people are destined to be free and all dictators, authoritarian regimes and tyrannical rulers will ultimately fall. This you can count on it is a law as valid as that of gravity. The entire Arab world will ultimately be free.   

July 20, 2012

Is The Arab Destined To Watch The World Go By?

Judged by practically every single ranking in the world Arab countries in general do not rank very high; 
neither when measured by the HDI (Human Development Index) nor when measured by the Democracy Index, the Corruption Index or that of Failed State. Why is that so? If you ask Arabs most will never tire of recounting the fact that Algebra, Medicine and Philosophy were the most developed in the world about 1200 years ago by Arab speaking scholars and Moslem believers. They have a point. The relatively common explanation of “backwardness’ in terms of language, geographical location , natural resources and religion does not stand the rigors of serious investigations. So what is it that makes nations fail? In a relatively new book that has become an instantaneous reference on the subject the two authors James Robinson of Harvard and his colleague Daron Acemoglu from MIT suggest that ultimately it is institutions, social, economic and political. They describe at length, in “Why Nations Fail”, the divergent development of North and South Korea, two countries inhabited by the same people who speak the same language and share the same peninsula. One of them has become one of the most vibrant economies in the world while the other is one of the poorest. It is clear that this offers as close to a laboratory experiment in the social field as one can imagine. One country was split into two; one adopted an open democratic system and free enterprise while the other opted for state planning and a command economy. The former prospered while the latter stagnated. What are the lessons in this to the Arab world? Create institutions that value personal freedom and liberty, encourage education and risk taking by offering protection of personal property i.e. Encourage responsible citizenship and educated population that does not fear failure since that is the dynamic force behind innovation. Creative destruction is not a phrase to be feared as much as an idea to be embraced.

Unfortunately each of the above basic attributes of this modern society that can keep reinventing itself and moving forward rests on education and on an  open mind above everything else. This is our failure in the Arab world. In many of our countries the literacy rate is rather low and even then it is barely above 6-8 years of education. Combine that with the dominant culture of a traditional society , a culture that does not question the reasons for the way things are but merely accepts the status quo for what it is and you get the conditions for stagnation, lack of research and entrepreneurship.

The above is not based on speculation but facts as collected , catalogued and presented by a prestigious research center, Arab thought Foundation. Its latest report reveals the damning evidence that Arabs, in general do not read, do not study and do not do research in any meaningful way. The figures are astonishingly alarming as the following will illustrate.

The average Arab child reads only 6 minutes a year compared to the 12000 by the Western counterpart. The average Arab adult reads the equivalent of a quarter of a page each year compared to the 11 books read by the American and the 7 books read by a resident of the UK. Such results should not be surprising when very few if any of our villages, towns and cities have public libraries and when the 4.5 million Lebanese buy every day less than 100,000 newspapers.  It is rare to visit an Arab home that has a bookshelf of current books besides the Quran or possibly the Bible. When we complain, as we must, that even in nominally democratic Lebanon, citizens do not vote for ideas as much as traditional feudalistic leadership, we must not forget that very few of the citizens have had the opportunity to read and learn about different ideas and different ways of thinking.

As bad as the above might be in preventing the rise of responsible government it pales in significance when compared to the utter lack of interest that our society shows in research and experiments. Arab countries on the average devote 0.2% of their GDP to scientific research when countries such as Sweden and Japan spend 17 times more; 3.4%. This lack of interest in science is also seen in the number of researchers per 1 million citizens. The highest such ratio in the Arab world is found in Egypt: 650 researchers out of every 1 million people when South Korea has 4600 researchers for every 1 million Korean.
And the lack of performance goes on. It can be seen clearly in the rankings of the top 500 universities in the worlds according to the University of Shanghai, the most popular such ranking. Only 2 Arab universities make the cut; King Saud University and the King Fahd University for Petroleum and minerals. Alas all of these low rankings are reflected in something concrete, the whole of the Arab world had registered only 475 patents all across the world in the period of 2005-2009.

So what is the lesson if any? The dismal educational record in addition to the lack of any interest in research manifested them in a rigid dictatorial political system that is ripe for revolution. You cannot keep them on the farm once they have seen Paris, as the US saying goes. The Arab Spring should not have been a surprise in a society that has abused its citizens and refused to let modern institutions develop. The Arab Spring is not over yet, even if the Assad regime falls tomorrow. We still have to deal with the rigidities of the GCC, Jordan and half of North Africa. Revolution is inevitable, and if governments are smart then they can prevent the collective pain or at least minimize it by modernizing and creating open institutions.

If any of you has the courage to read the full report (359 pages) then have a go at it:

June 03, 2012

Syrian Future: No Role for the Depraved Dictatorship

Dictatorship is illegitimate by definition since it represents taking power by force and it maintains it through oppression, fear and brutality. That is one reason that most dictatorships, Arab ones in particular have felt the need to pretend that they are legitimate by setting up sham elections. As if anyone really believed that 99.9% support abuse and cruelty.

The Arab Spring has not given the Arab world a single dynamic democracy yet but it has given voice to the Arab masses who have decided to stand up and demand their right to be heard. Governance in the Arab world will never be the same again. Finally a movement has been born to tell dictators that the long journey to democracy and personal freedom, the journey to human dignity will not be stopped.

Bashar Assad of Syria exemplifies the tyranny of Arab dictatorships. His father rose to power through a coup and ruled the country under emergency law for 30 years. When Hafez Assad died his son Bashar, an ophthalmologist, inherited a country and continued the exploitation and the one man rule of governance.
Many Syrians were encouraged by the relative success of the Arab masses in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and so initiated small roving peaceful demonstrations. Dictators do not seek the approval of those that they govern; instead they maintain control by the use of brutal secret service supporters/gangs that inflict random violence. The response of the Bashar Assad regime was initially subdued because he had feared that a sharp escalation would bring about a response from the world community similar to that in Libya.  As time passed the Syrian forces became more forceful but stopped shy of leveling civilian quarters in major cities with tanks and artillery. The West had warned that such attacks will not be tolerated but will be met with a stern response.

This is when Russia decided to step in and protect its only client in the Arab world. Russia sent armaments and assured the Syrian regime that Russia and China will veto any attempt by the Security Council to pass any measures similar to what had happened in Libya. The regime then tested the will of the international community by waging a strong military attack on a neighbourhood in Hama. No meaningful Western response was forthcoming.  Russia and China delivered on their promise to keep the UN Security Council in check. This emboldened the Syrian regime to try its strong military tactics again in Homs.  Again the West failed to act. Since then the Syrian government, shielded by Russia and China and helped by Iran has been acting with impunity.

One Arab League initiative, which was passed through the UN Security Council, appointed Kofi Annan to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. This was not opposed by either Russia or China and so Mr. Annan is trying to apply the same rules to the victims as well as the victimizers. It appears that this effort will be abandoned since so far  the level  of violence by the Syrian forces has not diminished, actually it has led to the most grotesque massacre in this conflict so far; Al Houla Massacre.

So where we and what are next in this conflict? The current government is illegitimate, it is a dictatorship that has failed to evolve and reform for over forty years, it has sought and obtained Iranian help in putting down the insurrection, it has used Russian and Chinese political protection to increase the frequency and ferocity of its military attacks against its own civilian population. It has taken advantage of the well meaning efforts by Mr. Annan in order to increase the level of violence and it has called on its Lebanese minions to expand the Syrian conflict into Lebanon so as to make the Syrian government’s warning that without Bashar regional instability will ensue a reality.

This is a regime that has never had any legitimacy, a regime that does not value personal freedom, a regime that survives by oppression and brutality a regime that is best described as a regime of human depravity. This regime must be held accountable for all its human right abuses over the past 14 months of this uprising as well as all its previous excesses against Hama, Kurds and all its political opponents. To argue that this regime must be negotiated with only because it has large guns is an insult to reason and rationality. Furthermore the efforts to justify a continuation of this regime on the ground that its level of brutality is not as grotesque as it is in some other dictatorships are ludicrous and actually contemptuous. And last but not least, as the world evolves and as cosmopolitanism spreads the circle of ethics widens from the self to the family then the tribe the state and eventually the world. That would then call for a universal right to protect against slavery, exploitation and flagrant violation of the most basic principles of human rights. The Syrian people are entitled to freedom of expression and self determination in an open and free election without having to fear the ghosts of the Assad secret services and their egregious acts.