Friday, April 28, 2006

Immigration the new French political battlefield?

In a sure sign that last year's riots by immigrants and their children remains a sore point with the French electorate, Interior Minister Sarkozy has begun adopting a hard line on immigration and immigrants.

Sarkozy knows a good political issue when he sees it. The Left can't touch immigration other than to denounce proposed curbs and reforms, and to try to paint those supporting reform as followers of Le Pen. Good luck. France wants scapegoats (and has a real need for reform across the board) and the immigrants don't do themselves any favors with their behavior.

Some aspects of Sarkozy's proposals are controversial, such as raising barriers to families joining those already in France. But as this largely composes France's immigration, it should be addressed, hopefully in the National Assembly.

[...] It took one comment by Nicolas Sarkozy, the media-savvy interior minister with presidential ambitions, to shift the national focus from the hazardous terrain of labor market reform, where his party has serious problems, to turf that lies at the heart of his own popularity.

"If some people are bothered by France, they shouldn't hesitate to leave a country they don't love," Sarkozy said last weekend, echoing a slogan of Jean- Marie Le Pen, the anti-immigrant leader of the far-right National Front: "France, love it or leave it." [...]

Now analysts say that Sarkozy, the only prominent Gaullist politician to come out of that crisis unscathed, is shifting the battlefield for next year's presidential election from economic reform to immigration and law and order.

A key moment will come Tuesday, when the National Assembly considers an immigration bill drafted by Sarkozy that imposes tougher conditions on unskilled, low-income immigrants while significantly easing access for highly qualified foreigners. Sarkozy went on television Thursday night to defend the bill, which has been denounced as unjust by church groups, mosques, foreigners' support groups and the French left.

"There is generosity and there is irresponsibility," he said, looking combative. "Why is France the only country in the world that doesn't have the right to choose its immigrants?"
Not the best job framing the issue, but useful to start the debate on his terms. The Left will need to respond with something beyond denunciations. Immigration is important to the voters, and they will want to see a competing solution, not lofty rhetoric on the rights of man.

"It's not a question of only choosing Nobel Prize winners," he continued. "We can't offer housing and jobs to all those who think France is an El Dorado." [...]

A hot-button issue since riots by second-generation immigrant youths swept France in November, immigration is likely to remain at the forefront of the political agenda in the months before the presidential vote. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim community, fed by decades of immigration from former colonies in North and West Africa. Many immigrants live in housing projects in impoverished areas outside major cities and suffer from social exclusion and disproportionate jobless rates, which fueled last year's violence. [...]

"The strategy of Nicolas Sarkozy is to move away from economic and social issues which favor the left and focus the presidential campaign on his strong points," said Vincent Tiberj, a political scientist at the center for political research at Sciences Po in Paris.

Sarkozy's bet on immigration is risky. Some of those criticizing his bill, including the church groups, traditionally vote for center-right parties. If adopted, his bill would represent a fundamental shift for France, limiting the ability of immigrant workers to have family members join them. The bill also strips illegal immigrants of the right to receive residency papers after 10 years on French territory. In contrast, it introduces a three-year work permit for educated professionals.

But according to Tiberj, the focus on immigration and crime, two traditional conservative concerns, holds two advantages: In addition to distracting from the recent crisis, it allows Sarkozy, who is also president of the Union for a Popular Movement party, to appease the party faithful who were appalled to see the government bow to the demands of the street. It also allows him to pursue a long-standing campaign to tap into a sizable pool of far-right voters, estimated at about 10 percent of the electorate over the last 20 years.

Last weekend, addressing new party members, Sarkozy openly pledged to win over far-right voters "one by one."

Clever of Sarkozy to adopt some of the far Right's most appealing ideas while leaving the race baiting behind. The Left and many newspapers will attempt to tar him with with the Le Pen brush, but Sarkozy is an exceptionally nimble politician, quite able to turn the tables on his attackers.

Yet another reason for Europe to tremble

To the problems of stifled labor markets, low growth, lack of assimilation of immigrants, and low birth rate, add a Russian energy giant not opposed to threatening its neighbors:

President Vladimir Putin waded Wednesday into a debate over expansion plans of the giant company Gazprom, warning that Russia would direct future oil and natural gas exports away from Europe and toward Asian markets. Outside of Asia, he said, Russian energy companies have been blocked from expanding by "unprincipled competition." [...]

"We often encounter unfair competition on international markets," Putin said a business forum held before the meeting with Merkel in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

"Despite the great demand for energy resources, attempts are made, under all sorts of pretexts, to restrict us, sometimes in the north, sometimes in the south, sometimes in the west," he said.

"We have to remember that the nations of the Asia-Pacific region are developing at an enormous rate, and they need our cooperation," he said. [...]

The swagger in Putin's remark suggests his government believes it has a strong negotiating hand with Europe on energy issues. [....]

Although there was little else Europe could do about meeting its natural gas needs (no other suppliers were capable of delivering the huge amounts of energy), it still has time to diversify further and secure deals as both a hedge against Russia and as potential negotiating chips.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Idiot Swiss President: allow Hamas a probationary period

Swiss President Leuenberger evidences the European tendency to make excuses for the Palestinians when he criticizes the international boycott against Hamas:
Leuenberger told the Arab news channel, Al-Jazeera, that it would have been more "reasonable" to grant Hamas a probationary period to prove itself.

This year's Swiss president was reacting to a decision by the European Union and United States to suspend direct aid to the Palestinian government.

In part of the interview, which was broadcast on Swiss television on Tuesday evening, Leuenberger said: "Democratic elections were held and one has to accept the results."
Leuenberger misses the point. Everyone accepts that Hamas won the elections; nevertheless, Hamas must not only desist from terror and the advocating of terror, it must also recognize Israel (as was done by the previous Palistinian regime) if it expects to receive direct aid.

Thankfully the Israeli ambassador explains it:
On Wednesday the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland, Aviv Shir-On, said Hamas had had enough time since its victory at the polls in January to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Like German anti-Americanism? Read this

Der Speigel Online has a pretty good (if you're a KOSsack; otherwise it's hilarious) analysis of the Bush presidency, penned by Clintonite Sid Blumenthal. Hint: he refers to Bush as a martyr, obviously trying to draw a parallel with Iran's mad as a hatter president. It's a fine example of how Europeans--and many democrats--view the US.

In the opening paragraph Spiegel paints Bush as a latter day political Hitler, beaten and surrounded, yet still vainly ordering counterattacks:

The urgent dispatch of Karl Rove to the business of maintaining one-party rule in the midterm elections is the Bush White House's belated startle reflex to its endangerment. Besieged by crises of his own making, plummeting to ever lower depths in the polls week after week, Bush has assigned his political general to muster dwindling forces for a heroic offensive to break out of the closing ring. If the Democrats gain control of the House or Senate they will launch a thousand subpoenas to establish the oversight that has been abdicated by the Republican Congress. [...]

But Rove's elaborate design for Republican rule during the second term has collapsed under the strain of his grandiosity. In 2004, Rove galvanized "the base" (ironically, "al-Qaida" in Arabic) through ruthless divide-and-conquer and slash-and-burn tactics. But with Bush winning the election by a bare 50.73 percent, he failed to forge the unassailable Republican realignment that he sought.

I think anyone would like to win an election by 50.73%. What Spiegel clearly meant to write was that Bush won with 50.73% of the vote.

Another example of European and democrat similarity: Blame Bush for everything (in this case, high gas prices):
Rove's lieutenants have been promoted to hold the fort while he begins the epic defense of the embattled regime. His mission is to salvage the Republican majority in Congress from the blighted corruption of its leadership and rescue the Bush White House from the consequences of its own radical policies on everything from the endless Iraq war to skyrocketing gasoline prices. [...]
As expected Cheney and Rumsfeld--who holds a special place in Europe's heart for his "old Europe" comment--come in for their share of liberal knee-jerk bashing:
For Rumsfeld and Cheney the final days of the Bush administration are the endgame. They cannot expect positions in any future White House. Since the Nixon White House, when counselor Rumsfeld and his deputy Cheney watched the self-destruction of the president, they have plotted to reach the point where they would impose the imperial presidency that Nixon was thwarted from doing. Both men held ambitions to become president themselves. The Bush years have been their opportunity, their last one, to run a presidency. Through the agency of the son of one of their colleagues from the Ford White House, George H.W. Bush (whom President Ford considered but passed over for his vice president and chief of staff, giving the latter job to Cheney), they have enabled their notion of executive power. But the fulfillment of their idea of presidential power is steadily draining the president of strength. Their 30-year-long project on behalf of autocracy has merely produced monumental incompetence. [...]
And now we get to something that drives Europeans nuts: America is a nation of faith. The writer's lumpen instability is in fine form:
[...] Bush's profession of faith is precisely the message that incites Islamic terrorists in their jihad against the Christian crusader. [....]
Yes. By all means, blame Bush's faith for inciting the terrorists. If only he were an secularist like the Europeans, the terrorists would give up or redirect their jihad. Tell it to Madrid and London.

Blumenthal knows his audience and delivers the red meat on cue. Bravo, excellent monkey!

In Vietnam: Adam Smith 1, Karl Marx 0

The first paragraphs tell the story:

It was Lenin's birthday. The most important Communist Party meeting in five years was under way. And the star of the show was the world's most famous capitalist, Bill Gates.

The president, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister all excused themselves from the party meeting Sunday to have their pictures taken with a man who has more star power in Vietnam than any of them. [...]

The article goes on to note that Vietman has become far more attractive to investors over the last decade due to its having adopted healthy business practices:

Vietnam has been improving its legal infrastructure, banking system and other regulations, making it a safer and more reliable business environment.

It has tied itself to so many international agreements, including a trade agreement with the United States, that its economic reforms now appear irreversible. [...]

The Communist Party may officially be in charge, but Adam Smith effectively holds the reins. If Vietnam can avoid disabling corruption they can be the next Asian tiger.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It's Fatwa time: From space, how to locate Mecca?

Interesting religious problems facing Malaysia's first astronauts, at least one of whom will be a Muslim.

The questions requiring a fatwa: Zooming through space, how does one locate Mecca with any degree of accuracy during the five daily prayer sessions? And just how long does a space day last? On earth sunrise to sunrise lasts 24 fhours. However in space one sees a sunrise about every 90 minutes. Anyone trying to squeeze five prayers into 90 minutes would be less than worthless to his colleagues.

Let's hope that commonsense prevails and the Muslim astronaut(s) don't spin like tops while praying.

Populism on the rise in Europe

In a development so blindingly predictable, even I managed the feat, European populism is on the rise in the wake of France's and Holland's rejection of the EU constitution last year.

Mild populism in itself is not terribly bad. In Europe's case, however, its history is darker, and European populists tend to be racist, anti-Semitic and without principle (think Britain's George Galloway, and for the ultimate example, Hitler).

Even one time ultra-EU supporter Finalnd is seeing the rise of EU bashing populists, who are effective communicators adept in addressing their nation's angst:
Timo Soini, Finland's most outspoken EU skeptic, recently considered protesting plans by the government to ratify the European Union's moribund constitution by drop-kicking it down the stairs of Parliament or immersing the 300-page document in a pile of fish. In the end he decided against any such display, on the grounds that it would be too "un- Finnish." [...]

While pouring fish on the sidewalk may not go down well in this famously orderly country of five million, Soini's campaign against the EU has gained him a growing following. In the presidential elections in January, he surprised the political establishment by winning nearly 3.4 percent of the vote - coming in fifth among eight candidates, including the sitting prime minister and president.

Analysts say his popularity reflected an intensifying backlash against the EU in Finland, a country that has been among the most pro-EU states since joining in 1995 and that is the only Nordic country using the euro, the EU's single currency.

"The days when Finns thought the EU could do no wrong are over," said Alexander Stubb, a member of the European Parliament and one of Finland's most ardent EU proponents. [...]

With Finland poised to take over the EU's rotating presidency in July, such skepticism comes at an awkward time. As the 25-member bloc's cheerleader in chief, Finland will have the task of reinvigorating the Union during a period of doubt about its expansion and growing economic nationalism on the Continent. This could prove difficult given the growing EU skepticism here.

The doubts fit into a Europe-wide trend: Since the rejection of the EU constitution by voters in France and the Netherlands, Europeans have grown increasingly wary of a liberalizing EU, which has become an easy target for angst about everything from joblessness to immigration.

Political observers here say the increasingly frosty attitude toward the EU in Finland is noteworthy because the geographically isolated country - once part of Sweden and a reluctant partner with Moscow during the Cold War - is not part of North Atlantic Treaty Organization and has traditionally viewed the EU as a vital link to the West and guarantor of its security.

"Finland always wants to be the best pupil in the EU class," said Mikko Majander, a Finnish historian. "But Finns are beginning to ask themselves: Why should we go to such efforts, when big countries can't seem to bother?"

Soini, who likes to deliver speeches standing on a crate with a megaphone, leads a populist rural party named True Finns. He attributes the growing EU skepticism to the Union's recent expansion into a bloc of 460 million people where a small country like Finland risks being drowned out.

Still, he says the EU's further expansion has an attractive side: He believes it will make the bloc so unmanageable that it will self-destruct.

"It may be good if the EU gets so big that it can no longer function - it will be like a rat with its hypothalamus removed, who keeps eating until it explodes," he said, using the kind of colorful analogy that has made him popular with some voters. [...]

"The EU structure is very Catholic," he said. "The commission president behaves like an unelected pope, the commissioners are his cardinals, while there are 83,000 pages of regulations that it likes to think are the gospel."

"I already have my church," he added, "so I don't need another religion in Brussels."

Soini compares Finland's relationship with the EU to its appeasement of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. "Everyone knew that the communist dictatorship was a harmful system, yet we talked about it bringing peace and prosperity," he said. "Now we use this same double-speak when talking about the EU." [...]

Soini, for his part, has no hesitation about the way forward for Finland. "We need to escape from the heart of darkness in Brussels and stop licking the EU's boots," he says.
Those are lines most any populist in Europe will be happy to repeat.

France is again flirting with the Right:

France's far-right political party, the National Front, has emerged stronger than ever from the civil unrest of the past six months, a new survey shows, suggesting that the party could play a major role in the presidential election next year.

The National Front's outspoken and vehemently anti-immigration leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has had occasional bursts of support before: Four years ago, he made it to the runoff for president, losing to Jacques Chirac.

But after riots by second-generation immigrant youths last autumn, Le Pen's approval rating in polls surged five percentage points, to 21 percent, according to a survey published Friday by IFOP, a French polling institute.

That is not far behind the approval rating of Chirac's would-be successor, Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, whose rating slumped to 29 percent this month in the political fiasco when nationwide protests forced the government to scrap a new labor law. [....]

Ex-Guantanamo immates to face trial in France

France, for all the jokes made about its military ineptitude, has a very good domestic intelligence service, known for its penetration and understanding of Islamist groups.

Those resources have led a French court to lay terrorism charges against 6 0f 7 high profile French ex-Guantanamo detainees. France opened an immediate investigation, and has now charged them with "associating with criminals in relation to a terrorist enterprise."

Perhaps the French knew all along that the US had good reasons for holding them. They must have kept the suspects under surveillance from the moment of their release, so perhaps they will be able to charge a few more domestic Islamists.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Which European coalition will last longer?

Germany's, where business confidence is up, or Italy's where the coalition is already strained? My money goes on Germany, which is seeing the benefits of Merkel's steadying hand.

From the BBC:

Germany's business confidence has risen sharply despite expectations that it would fall in a widely watched survey.

The study by research institute Ifo shows the rise was the biggest in fifteen years and follows the sharp increase for four consecutive months.

Manufacturing, wholesaling and construction confidence all rose in April compared to the previous month. [...]

The news could foreshadow stronger economic growth by Europe's largest economy [and world's leading exporter--P]. [....]

And from the IHT ($):

[...] Not promising: the way the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund sees Italy's economic situation. With Raghuram Rajan's description of the circumstances - diminishing productivity and competitiveness, massive debt, 1.6 percent growth this year and an incapacity to meet the EU's deficit targets - Prodi would need something like economic war powers to right the situation.

According to Reuters, that was exactly Rajan's metaphor: "The challenges for Italy are tremendous and need to be taken up almost on a war footing." Drastic spending cuts and deep structural reform were described as the only meaningful line of attack.

But while Prodi, who is without the muscle of a party affiliation, fell into squabbling about who gets what job in an eventual government, his left-wing allies were fencing off no-go zones that made clear how little power he'll have to make the necessary changes.

Example: The Communist Refoundation Party said it was supporting the insistence of Guglielmo Epifani, head of Italy's biggest trade union, that Prodi scrap a Berlusconi- initiated law aimed at opening up the job market.

This is a kind of provocation because the law is timid, representative more than anything else of Berlusconi's years of flight from tougher reform, and previously designated by Prodi as so inoffensive as to be maintained in modified form.

Before getting to Square 1 of an operating government, we're at this station of descent: While Prodi needs a long suspension of disbelief regarding his associates' built-in contradictions, they actively undermine his position. The message to the leftists' clientele is: Relax, forget about anyone cutting the size of public sector expenditure and, with it, your hold on Italy's army of petty bureaucrats and entitlement- holders. [....]

To be sure: Berlusconi wasn't getting the job done either. It seems nothing short of an economic crisis will get the attention of France's and Italy's voters. Italy's voters will likely get a chance before France's (2007) when Prodi's coalition falls apart.

The Böögg predicts a warm summer

Switzerland's version of groundhog day, an explosive filled effigy of a snowman, blew up fairly quickly, thus predicting a decent summer.

Confused? Swiss-info has answers:
Zurich has rung in the spring with its traditional Sechseläuten (six bells) festivities, culminating with the symbolic burning of the Böögg snowman.

The cotton effigy almost didn't make it to the festivities, after a group of leftwing militants stole the original Böögg from a garage last week.

It only took just under ten minutes and 30 seconds for the snowman's head – loaded with explosives - to blow up on Monday, announcing a warm summer. According to tradition, the less time it takes for the explosion to happen, the better summer will be. Over the past ten years, the average time for the Böögg to explode has been 14 minutes.
I hope the exploding snowman speaks true. We could use a good, warm summer. Last night was nice and warm, we even grilled for the first time; so maybe we're in luck.

Tour De Romandie begins today

An important multi-day check of riders' condition kicks off today in western Switzerland. The Tour de Romandie begins in Geneva with a short prologue, then races through scenic parts of the French speaking section of Switzerland.

It includes some decent climbs and is used by many teams as an important early season check of their top riders' form.

Very much under the microscope will be Germany's Jan Ullrich, perhaps the most talented rider now that Armstrong has retired. Unfortunately, Ullrich often is lazy. Consequently, he doesn't ride to his potential.

If he performs poorly here the German press will savage him. So expect either a good result or a lame excuse.

Snark for snark's sake. Steyn on global warming

Ouch. Mark Steyn hilariously pokes fun at one of my favorite authors, one time enfant terrible of British literature Martin Amis (son of author Kingsley). The book Steyn refers to is Einstein's Monsters.

Full disclosure: I think the science that global warming is occurring is fairly solid. I am considerably less convinced that humans are largely responsible for--or that we can meaningfully alter--global warming. With that caveat, here is a wonderfully snarky excerpt of Steyn's article on global warming:
[...] But what to worry about? Iranian nukes? Nah, that's just some racket cooked up by the Christian fundamentalist Bush and his Zionist buddies to give Halliburton a pretext to take over the Persian carpet industry. Worrying about nukes is so '80s. "They make me want to throw up. . . . They make me feel sick to my stomach," wrote the British novelist Martin Amis, who couldn't stop thinking about them 20 years ago. In the intro to a collection of short stories, he worried about the Big One and outlined his own plan for coping with a nuclear winter wonderland:

"Suppose I survive," he fretted. "Suppose my eyes aren't pouring down my face, suppose I am untouched by the hurricane of secondary missiles that all mortar, metal and glass has abruptly become: Suppose all this. I shall be obliged (and it's the last thing I feel like doing) to retrace that long mile home, through the firestorm, the remains of the thousands-miles-an-hour winds, the warped atoms, the groveling dead. Then -- God willing, if I still have the strength, and, of course, if they are still alive -- I must find my wife and children and I must kill them."

But the Big One never fell. And instead of killing his wife Martin Amis had to make do with divorcing her. Back then it was just crazies like Reagan and Thatcher who had nukes, so you can understand why everyone was terrified. But now Kim Jong-Il and the ayatollahs have them, so we're all sophisticated and relaxed about it, like the French hearing that their president's acquired a couple more mistresses. Martin Amis hasn't thrown up a word about the subject in years. To the best of my knowledge, he has no plans to kill the present Mrs. Amis. [...]
Steyn, Chris Hitchens and Tim Blair can all bring the snark. As can Amis when the mood hits. For what it's worth: Amis' intro was quite a good essay, notwithstanding that bit of heightened emotionalism.

Followed the link from Tim Blair's fine site.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bin Laden's message increasingly ignored

Sudan listens to Osama's latest rant, and shrugs its shoulders:
Sudan's foreign ministry was quick to distance itself from the appeal.

"Sudan has nothing to do with such statements," spokesman Jamal Mohammed Ibrahim said. "We are not concerned with any mujahideen or any crusade or any war with the international community.
Bin Laden's rhetoric, once viewed as an acceptable Islamist response to the West, is increasingly embarrassing to Muslims. His latest tapes are newsworthy only for the fact that he remains at large. The group which most avidly awaits his tapes: the Democratic National Committee; each tape reminds the voters that Bush has yet to bring Bin Laden to justice. Beyond that, many Islamist pay him lip service, but then go on with their own plans (how many will heed the call to fight for Islam in Sudan?).

Even Islamist conspiracy theorists must hope for something better than this:

In it, the speaker identified as Bin Laden described the situation in Iraq and Sudan's troubled Darfur region as evidence of a "Zionist-Crusader war against Islam", referring to Israel and Christian states.

He called for Islamist militants to prepare for a "long war against the Crusader plunderers in western Sudan".

This isn't to say that Bin Laden should be ignored by the West, or that he has become a comical and impotent figure. He clearly retains considerable sway over others, remains an icon for quite a few Muslims, and is capable of inspiring and funding further atrocities. There is no question that he should be hunted down and brought to justice.

It's just nice to see the asshole striking out at the plate.

UPDATE: While the Zionist-Crusaders war against Islam, Osama continues his war on Muslims. Bin Laden is the best example of Santayana's aphorism: Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.

RINO's in action

AJ Strata of the Strata-Sphere blog hosts this week's selection of RINO posts. This is an especially good week for spending some time reading the carnival submissions.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How to build a terrorist

Britain's first suicide bomber was easy prey for the Islamists:

[...] Since second-generation Muslim youths rarely knew much about Islam, [his friend] Khan says, they were easily drawn in. "Stick in a few out-of-context aiyas [verses] from the Koran and from the Hadith [traditions of Muhammad] to back themselves up, and people with that vulnerability will buy in . . . [failed bomber] Omar Sharif was that type," [...]
Read the whole thing. The banal circumstances of his conversion are interesting; he could just as easily been won over to some other ism, I suspect.

UPDATE: Certainly the ease of recruitment must give Europe's governments pause.

Iran's Basiji have a death wish

From The New Republic (registration required) comes this chilling tale of Iran's president and his background, reportedly as a trainer of Iran's cannon fodder militias during the Iran-Iraq war, the Basiji (Wiki). This group, now millions strong, provides Iran's president with unqualified support in his drive to secure nuclear weapons and to confront the West.

Much of the piece concerns how the Basiji were formed and used in the war. They were God's soldiers, doing God's will as defined by the Ayatollah Khomeini. That is merely disgusting. The rest of the article concerns the apocalyptic mindset of Iran's leaders.

Firstly: What sort of spiritual perversion could produce this:
During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran's forces were no match for Saddam Hussein's professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as twelve years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child's neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.

At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. "In the past," wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, "we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone." Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. "Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves." [...]

The article also notes that President Ahmandinejad is keen to roll back whatever liberal reforms remain. Naturally, the Basiji are to play a large role.
Since Ahmadinejad became president, the influence of the Basiji has grown. In November, the new Iranian president opened the annual "Basiji Week," which commemorates the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War. According to a report in Kayan, a publication loyal to Khameini, some nine million Basiji--12 percent of the Iranian population--turned out to demonstrate in favor of Ahmadinejad's anti-liberal platform. The article claimed that the demonstrators "form[ed] a human chain some 8,700 kilometers long. ... In Tehran alone, some 1,250,000 people turned out." Barely noticed by the Western media, this mobilization attests to Ahmadinejad's determination to impose his "second revolution" and to extinguish the few sparks of freedom in Iran. [...]

As Basij ideology and influence enjoy a renaissance under Ahmadinejad, the movement's belief in the virtues of violent self-sacrifice remains intact. There is no "truth commission" in Iran to investigate the state-planned collective suicide that took place from 1980 to 1988. Instead, every Iranian is taught the virtues of martyrdom from childhood. Obviously, many of them reject the Basij teachings. Still, everyone knows the name of Hossein Fahmideh, who, as a 13-year-old boy during the war, blew himself up in front of an Iraqi tank. His image follows Iranians throughout their day: whether on postage stamps or the currency. If you hold up a 500 Rial bill to the light, it is his face you will see in the watermark. The self-destruction of Fahmideh is depicted as a model of profound faith by the Iranian press. It has been the subject of both an animated film and an episode of the TV series "Children of Paradise." As a symbol of their readiness to die for the Revolution, Basij groups wear white funeral shrouds over their uniforms during public appearances.

During this year's Ashura Festival, school classes were taken on excursions to a "Martyrs' Cemetery." "They wear headbands painted with the name Hussein," The New York Times reported, "and march beneath banners that read: 'Remembering the Martyrs today is as important as becoming a Martyr' and 'The Nation for whom Martyrdom means happiness, will always be Victorious.' " Since 2004, the mobilization of Iranians for suicide brigades has intensified, with recruits being trained for foreign missions. Thus, a special military unit has been created bearing the name "Commando of Voluntary Martyrs. "According to its own statistics, this force has so far recruited some 52,000 Iranians to the suicidal cause. It aims to form a "martyrdom unit" in every Iranian province.
Certainly this plays a part in how far nations are willing to go in confronting Iran over nuclear weapons. The prospect of Iran unleashing and supporting thousands of trained and intelligent terrorists will give many European nations pause.

More worrisome is their desire to bring about the return of the 12th Imam. One sure way: nuclear holocaust.

The Basiji's cult of self-destruction would be chilling in any country. In the context of the Iranian nuclear program, however, its obsession with martyrdom amounts to a lit fuse. Nowadays, Basiji are sent not into the desert, but rather into the laboratory. Basij students are encouraged to enroll in technical and scientific disciplines. According to a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Guard, the aim is to use the "technical factor" in order to augment "national security."

What exactly does that mean? Consider that, in December 2001, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani explained that "the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything." On the other hand, if Israel responded with its own nuclear weapons, it "will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality." Rafsanjani thus spelled out a macabre cost-benefit analysis. It might not be possible to destroy Israel without suffering retaliation. But, for Islam, the level of damage Israel could inflict is bearable--only 100,000 or so additional martyrs for Islam.

And Rafsanjani is a member of the moderate, pragmatic wing of the Iranian Revolution; he believes that any conflict ought to have a "worthwhile" outcome. Ahmadinejad, by contrast, is predisposed toward apocalyptic thinking. In one of his first TV interviews after being elected president, he enthused: "Is there an art that is more beautiful, more divine, more eternal than the art of the martyr's death?" In September 2005, he concluded his first speech before the United Nations by imploring God to bring about the return of the Twelfth Imam. He finances a research institute in Tehran whose sole purpose is to study, and, if possible, accelerate the coming of the imam. And, at a theology conference in November 2005, he stressed, "The most important task of our Revolution is to prepare the way for the return of the Twelfth Imam."

A politics pursued in alliance with a supernatural force is necessarily unpredictable.Why should an Iranian president engage in pragmatic politics when his assumption is that, in three or four years, the savior will appear? If the messiah is coming, why compromise? That is why, up to now, Ahmadinejad has pursued confrontational policies with evident pleasure.

The history of the Basiji shows that we must expect monstrosities from the current Iranian regime. Already, what began in the early '80s with the clearing of minefields by human detonators has spread throughout the Middle East, as suicide bombing has become the terrorist tactic of choice. The motivational shows in the desert--with hired actors in the role of the hidden imam--have evolved into a showdown between a zealous Iranian president and the Western world. And the Basiji who once upon a time wandered the desert armed only with a walking stick is today working as a chemist in a uranium enrichment facility.

I was always sceptical of stories--and blogs--that played up the armageddon aspects of Iran's leadership. I am considerably less so after reading articles like this. Some sort of echo chamber for the destruction of Hussein's murderers (and assorted other devils) has been built in Iran and it functions all too well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Religious intolerance a betrayal of Islam

This op-ed in The Jakarta Post argues that intolerance of others is atypical for Muslims. Which even if true, somewhat misses the point. It is, however, good to see this moderate provided a platform in Indonesia. The government there recognizes that it is in a battle with extremism, and realizes it needs to use the bully pulpit to discredit Islamists.

Islam is a very tolerant religion, but a significant rise in religious extremism and intolerance throughout the world, including Indonesia, makes us wonder what kind of Islam we are facing today. Religious intolerance has entered a new boom period.

Indeed, when we learn of the fatwa (edict) issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia's highest Islamic authority, the limits of tolerance are reached. The MUI fatwa in July 2005, a revision of a 1984 ruling, which declares the Islamic religious sect Jamaah Ahmadiyah heretical, along with Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni's statement that the Ahmadiyah congregation [an Indonesian Muslim offshoot--P] should find a new religion or renounce their beliefs, is an example of the lack of tolerance.

Following the issuance of the verdict, some hard-line groups declared the blood of the Ahmadiyah congregation halal (permissible). There is no justification in the Koran for slaying fellow Muslims. Instead the Koran forbids the killing of believers (An-Nisaa: 92).

Not only was Adam created with rights, but the entire cosmological universe (the heavens and the earth) was similarly created with haqq, an Arabic term that can mean "right", "truth" or "justice". The idea that all created things posses rights that are part of their ontological nature is fundamental to the Islamic conception of justice. The Koran strongly guarantees all fundamental human rights [what the Koran grants, the Sunnah takes away--P]. These rights are so deeply rooted in our humanness that their denial or violation is tantamount to a negation or degradation of that which makes us human.

The first and most basic right emphasized by the Koran is the right to be regarded in a way that reflects the sanctity and absolute value of human life. Each person has the right not only to live but also to be respected, not by virtue of being a man or a woman, but by virtue of being a human being. Following this right is the right of free choice, without which divine judgment would be meaningless.

In addition, for faith to be true and reliable it must be a voluntary act, born out of conviction and freedom. So, then, compulsion and external interference would be the antithesis of Islamic faith. In fact, even the Prophet Muhammad was strongly admonished by God not to compel people to follow the truth of revelation.

The Prophet himself let a Christian, who was not sure about Islam, to keep his original belief and return to his home safely. Thus, the principle of the freedom of conscience is firmly established in the Koran and the Sunnah.

Islam as a religious belief has been distorted and betrayed in the Ahmadiyah case, and the MUI and the religious minister let the extremist-fundamentalists degrade Islam not only by legitimizing the totalitarian rule they seek, but also by silencing "moderate" Muslims. Indeed, religion must remain a faith. If it is politicized, then we have Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu fundamentalists slaying one another while justifying their violence in the name of religion.

Why has Islam been betrayed? In the case of Ahmadiyah, are they really so threatening that we have to destroy them? Please, "stay away from takfir (condemning others as nonbelievers)." This is really a tragedy.

God is most of all communicable. God has manifested and revealed himself in various ways to different people in their respective situations. Since human beings are not generic but unique, the expressions of response to the firman (Word of God) will be many and varied, rather than one and the same; people's capacities to experience and express the ultimate reality are diverse and conditioned. The spark of divine creativity animates every culture, and God can be worshiped and encountered in myriad ways.

Leave God for God's sake. Stop speaking in God's name. The Koran says, "no one can know the soldier of God except God". This verse is a negation of authoritarianism -- it denies any human being the claim that he or she is a soldier of God endowed with God's authority. In addition, there is no concept of "church" in Islam, and that no person, or set of persons, embodies God's divine authority and thus no authority can issue a religious edict and expect it to be accepted universally by all Muslims.

In Islam, the principle of ijtihad (thorough exertion of a person's mental faculty in finding a solution to a case of law) was used right from the beginning, and every mujtahid (a person who applies ijtihad) is correct. According to the Hadith, if the mujtahid is correct in his or her ijtihad, he or she receives two bounties, and if he or she is wrong, he or she receives one. In other words, one must try without fear of failure; one is rewarded for the success and the failure. The idea conveyed and constantly reinforced as part of the Islamic ethos is that Islam rejects elitism and emphasizes that truth is equally accessible to all Muslims regardless of race, class or gender. It is this notion of individual and egalitarian accessibility to the truth that results in a rich doctrinal diversity in Islam. [...]

So, religious leaders, your office is to reconcile God's people with God, not to drive them away from Him. Your office is to "call people to the way of God", to let them share and benefit from the Supreme vision of religious truth, which they have appropriated. Hold the fatwa, the fundamentalists in the illegal opposition may use it to justify the slaying of others!

UK Muslim students 'being taught to despise unbelievers as filth'

Students in at least two religious programs in the UK are being taught that non-Muslims are akin to dogs and pigs. As troubling as the news of what students are being taught is, the fact that the students themselves raised concerns is heartening

MUSLIM students training to be imams at a British college with strong Iranian links have complained that they are being taught fundamentalist doctrines which describe nonMuslims as “filth”.

The Times has obtained extracts from medieval texts taught to the students in which unbelievers are likened to pigs and dogs. The texts are taught at the Hawza Ilmiyya of London, a religious school, which has a sister institution, the Islamic College for Advanced Studies (ICAS), which offers a degree validated by Middlesex University.

The students, who have asked to remain anonymous, study their religious courses alongside the university-backed BA in Islamic studies. They spend two days a week as religious students and three days on their university course. [...]

The text that has upset some students is the core work in their Introduction to Islamic Law class and was written by Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, a 13thcentury scholar. The Hawza Ilmiyya website states that “the module aims to familiarise the student with the basic rules of Islamic law as structured by al-Hilli”.

Besides likening unbelievers to filth, the al-Hilli text includes a chapter on jihad, setting down the conditions under which Muslims are supposed to fight Jews and Christians.

The text is one of a number of books that some students say they find “disturbing” and “very worrying”. Their spokesman told The Times: “They are being exposed to very literalist interpretations of the Koran. These are interpretations that would not be recognised by 80 or 90 per cent of Muslims, but they are being taught in this school.

“A lot of people in the Muslim community are very concerned about this. We need to urgently re-examine the kind of material that is being taught here and in other colleges in Britain.”

Mohammed Saeed Bahmanpour, who teaches in both the Hawza and the ICAS, confirmed that al-Hilli text was used, but denied that it was taught as doctrine. He said that, although the book was a key work in the jurisprudence class, its prescriptions were not taught as law. When he taught from it, he omitted the impurity chapter, he said.

Dr Bahmanpour said: “We just read the text and translate for them, but as I said I do not deal with the book on purity. We have left that to the discretion of the teacher whether he wants to teach it or not.

“The idea is not to teach them jurisprudence because most of the fatwas of Muhaqiq are not actually conforming with the fatwa of our modern jurists. The idea is that they would be able to read classical texts and that is all.” [...]

The Islamic centre’s website reports Ayatollah Khamenei’s speeches and activities prominently and one of the first sites listed under its links section is the supreme leader’s homepage.

A spokeswoman for the ICEL also confirmed its links with the Iran’s spiritual leadership but said the centre was a purely religious organisation. [...]

The article went into more detail regarding the strong financial links between Iran and the teaching center.

If one were to look at 13th century texts describing how Chritianity viewed Muslims there would be any number of outrageous descriptions of Muslims. Nevertheless, no one would teach these texts as a basis of western law.

Another evolutionary gap filled...

Which means two more opportunities for the ID crowd to point out the gaps in the fossil record (each "missing link" that is found creates two more). This time the gap-filling fossil may be the oldest snake. Interestingly, it has vestigal hips, and may help scientists determine if snakes evolved from sea creatures or land animals.
Scientists have found fossils of a legged snake with “hips” – a specimen that could be the most primitive snake ever unearthed. The find suggests early snakes were not creatures of the sea and has reignited the debate over how snakes evolved.

Sebastián Apesteguía at the Argentine Museum of Natural History and his team found the snake fossil in a terrestrial deposit in the Río Negro province of north Patagonia, Argentina, in 2003. Unlike a handful of legged fossils found in marine deposits and identified as snakes over the past decade, the new fossil, named Najash rionegrina, has a well-defined sacrum supporting a pelvis and functional hind legs outside of its ribcage.

The creature's skeletal structure suggests it was evolutionarily closer to its four-legged ancestor than previous fossils. And since the scientists found it in a terrestrial deposit, it is near certain that the animal lived on land.

“This snake is an important addition because it is the first snake with a sacrum. This represents an intermediate morphology that has never before been seen,” says Hussam Zaher, curator of herpetology at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and part of the research team. [...]

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Islamists unclear on the concept

At a trial in Indonesia many Islamist supporters of a defense witness shouted:

"You're stupid prosecutors, Jewish prosecutors [....]"

Now, I thought that Islamists held the Jews to be the cleverest people on the Earth, able to control events, nations, the media, you name it. Yet here we have the prosecutors being called Jewish and stupid.

One explanation: It's also a Jewish plot; yeah, that's the ticket.

Some advice: Stick to the talking points, people. It confuses the rest of us.

The Danube in European history

The Danube (Wiki entry) is at 100 year highs along parts of its lower reaches, and is flooding large parts of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. This piece in The Telegraph notes its importance to European history, and makes for interesting reading:
[[...] Since man first settled on its banks the river has formed a natural frontier. The Romans found its fast-flowing waters an effective frontier against the barbarian hordes during the 1st century AD. [...]

The Danube is the continent’s largest river after the Volga. It begins in the Black Forest in Germany and flows through, or touches, ten countries before spilling into the Black Sea. There are rumours of buried emperors’ palaces – and hints of treasure – in the islands that dot the river around Budapest, the Hungarian capital.

In his magisterial work Danube, the Italian writer Claudio Magris records the legend of Jason and the Argonauts sailing down the river, heading for Colchis, now in western Georgia, across the Black Sea, bearing the Golden Fleece. The Danube also marked the border between the AustroHungarian and Ottoman empires: Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, was for centuries an important Ottoman city, the northernmost point of “ Turkey-in- Europe”, while the village of Zemun, on the other side of the river, marked the start of Habsburg territory. Today the two settlements are united in one city.

The river has traditionally marked the route east, onwards to the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. The Crusader king Richard the Lionheart was captured at the end of the 12th century and imprisoned by the Duke of Austria at Schloss Durnstein, above the river.

Its power has also inspired writers and composers. Johann Strauss wrote [By] The [Beautiful] Blue Danube while travelling down the river, although its waters are usually grey or brown. The music became the defining tune of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Vienna has an ambiguous relationship with the river. Unlike neighbouring capitals, the Danube does not flow proudly through the centre. The paradox of Vienna is that a city that considers itself the most western of capitals is Europe’s gateway to the east, through the Danube most of all. [...]

The Danube has also been a grave.

In Budapest a small, poignant sculpture stands by five-star hotels alongside the Corso, the riverbank pedestrian zone. A row of shoes, cast in metal, commemorates the Jews who were taken there at gunpoint in the winter of 1944, ordered to stand facing the waters tied together, before being gunned down into its depths by the Hungarian Arrow Cross Nazis.

In comparison to Leningrad and Stalingrad, historians have paid little attention to the siege of Budapest that lasted from late 1944 to February 1945. By early 1945 the river marked the border between liberation and subjugation, as the Soviet army pounded the last redoubt of the SS in Buda castle from the city’s Pest side, before the SS finally surrendered.

Less than 50 years later, the Danube once again echoed to the sounds of war.

The Danube forms part of the border between Croatia and Serbia and control of the waters was a strategic imperative. The pretty baroque Croatian town of Vukovar was once an important trading post on the river. But it became a byword for destruction as Serb gunners pounded it throughout the autumn of 1991 before the city fell in November. A cosmopolitan riverside society of Croats and Serbs, Hungarians and Germans has now vanished in the rubble.

The Turkish island of Ada Kaleh — Island Fortress — has also vanished under the waters during the construction of a hydroelectric power station by the Iron Gates gorge that separates Serbia and Romania. The island was conquered and reconquered by the Turks and Austrians. It was home to Sufi mystics and smugglers.

History and geography have ensured that the Balkan nations of Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria have been worst hit by the floods. It has left them with the legacy of communism: weak central governments, poor infrastructure and under-funded national agencies that have been overwhelmed by the devastation.

Geography, too, has played an important role: in its upper reaches in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, the Danube is manageable, even at flood-tide. [...]

The scales are shot from the NYT's eyes

The NYT is shocked, shocked, they tell us, to find a terrorist organization is governing the Palestinians:
After the Palestinian election, the burning question was which part of Hamas would dominate the new government: would it be the political organization that provides a desperate people with vital services, or the terrorist group that advocates the violent destruction of Israel? Now we have the answer, in Hamas's monumentally cynical and dimwitted applause for the bombing that killed nine people and wounded dozens in Tel Aviv on Monday.

In contrast, Israel's prime minister-designate, Ehud Olmert, has taken the high road, at least for now. Israel didn't launch a big reprisal attack. Mr. Olmert's office said Israel would instead revoke the residency permits of Hamas officials living in East Jerusalem, and the Israelis conducted raids in the West Bank and made arrests. Mr. Olmert's cabinet also approved a police crackdown on the smuggling of Palestinians into Israel, tightening what is an already tight noose around Palestinian territory.

That's really what makes Hamas's response to the suicide attack not just immoral, but stupid as well. The attack was presumably not carried out by Hamas; Islamic Jihad said it was responsible. But Hamas is no longer just a terrorist ally of Islamic Jihad. Last time we checked, it is the government of the Palestinian people. It cannot just sit on the sidelines and cheer terrorist attacks that were renounced by the same Palestinian Authority that Hamas now controls. In a democracy, Hamas cannot reject positions ratified by previous Palestinian parliaments without first going back to the Palestinian people for a vote.

Hamas's support for terrorism encourages Mr. Olmert's strategy of a unilateral separation from the Palestinian people. It's a sure bet that if Israel carries out this separation without input from the Palestinians — as it is now doing — the Palestinians will not end up with enough land for a viable state.

Finally, lest Hamas forget, it is flat broke. The coffers it inherited from Fatah are empty, and both the United States and the European Union have rightly refused to bankroll a Hamas government that preaches and practices terrorism, denies that Israel has any right to exist, and refuses to abide by peace agreements signed by previous Palestinian governments. Hamas has received pledges from Muslim states — notably $50 million each from Qatar and Iran — to help make up some of the shortfall. But that doesn't come close to the $300 million the United States had pledged, and it would behoove Hamas to remember that the gulf states in particular are notorious for not keeping their promises.

Three things will work to bring Hamas around. First: They are a political organization, and politicians want more than anything to remain in power. By bringing hardship on the Palestinians through their actions--and non-actions--they harm their chances of staying in power. Moreoever, Islamist parties tend to moderate their views once in power ofr the very same reason. Witness Turkey and at least one state in Malaysia. Second: Israel's march towards a unilateral definition of borders is an incredibly powerful motivator to negotiate. Third: Money. Can't live without it.

Doubtless Hamas will attempt to antagonize Israel in the hopes of keeping the focus off of their poor decisions (as seen by Hamas's cheering of the Tel Aviv suicide bomber). This will only work up to a point, then the Palestinians will begin to hold Hamas accountable. How long this will take is anybody's guess. My guess is another six months to a year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Oil + Africa = massive corruption

Hunting for a good example of fate? Forget Job's noting that Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Instead look to African states harmed by corruption. To my mind corruption is at the root of most non-functioning African nations. The latest example of the "devil take the hindmost" attitude is provided by Equatorial Guinea, a land equally rich in oil and corruption, and led by a completely disagreeable man.

The US is too cozy with this brutal and corrupt regime, though for an understandable reason: oil

WITH A LAND mass similar to Maryland's, Equatorial Guinea has the fortune to be Africa's third-largest oil producer. The money from black gold helps to explain how the president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has bought large homes in France and Morocco, as well as two in Potomac, and how his son and presumed heir bought a Lamborghini and two Bentleys during a shopping spree in South Africa. But oil has done little to help Equatorial Guinea's 540,000 people, some 400,000 of whom suffer from malnutrition. Those who are hungry know better than to complain. According to State Department reports, the president's goons have urinated on prisoners, sliced their ears and smeared them with oil to attract stinging ants.

So it is uncontroversial to observe that Mr. Obiang is no friend to his people. But he is a "good friend" of the United States, at least according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with him last week in Washington. "I'm very pleased to welcome the president," Ms. Rice told reporters after the meeting. "Thank you very much for your presence here." Mr. Obiang purred back: "We are extremely pleased and hopeful that this relationship will continue to grow in friendship and cooperation."

In the global rankings of political and civil liberties compiled by Freedom House, only seven countries rate worse than Equatorial Guinea. If President Bush and Ms. Rice want anyone to take their pro-democracy rhetoric seriously, they must stop throwing bouquets to odious dictators. The meeting with Mr. Obiang was presumably a reward for his hospitable treatment of U.S. oil firms, though we cannot be sure since the State Department declined our invitation to comment. But Ms. Rice herself argues that U.S. foreign policy spent too long coddling corruption and autocracy in Arab oil states. Surely she doesn't have a different standard for Africa?
The WaPo is too niave. In the scramble to line up potential oil suppliers, governments are willing to overlook the supplier's behavior. This reminds of how nations were wooed during the cold war. So long as they were our bastards their plundering of their nations was acceptable.

Happy Independance day, Zimbabwe

Upon independance, Zimbabwe was as well situated economically as any African nation to move forward. Sadly that promise is long gone. Zimbabweans now struggle just to survive. From The Times, a description of what Mugabe has wrought:
[...] Mr Mugabe has presided over the ruin of the country’s economy, once one of the strongest in Africa. The rapid impoverishment of Zimbabweans has been compunded by the destruction of the homes of nearly one million people, who have also been banned from making a living in his notorious “Operation Remove the Rubbish”, which continues after 11 months.

Last week the World Health Organisation said that Zimbabwean women had the lowest life expectancy in the world, at 34 years. The country has the highest inflation, at 913 per cent. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe estimates that a family of six needs Z$35 million a month to survive. Six years ago Z$1 million dollars would have bought a whole block of luxury apartments.

State school fees have recently risen by 1,000 per cent. “Zimbabwean children are faced with some of the worst hardships confronting children anywhere in the world,” a Unicef spokesman said.

John Makumbe, a political commentator, said: “Life has become unbearable and unaffordable. These people are waiting to vent their anger through mass demonstrations. We are on the brink. The element of (ordinary Zimbabweans’) fear is overrated. That point is going to become clearer in the next few months.”

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of what appears to be the dominant faction of the divided Opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, is capitalising on the rising mood of defiance. He has promised in recent weeks that he will lead street protests to bring down the Government and has said that he is prepared to die doing so. He has hinted that the movement will start next month.

Mr Mugabe responded with a stark warning to Mr Tsvangirai: “If he wants to invite his own death, let him go ahead.”

John Robertson, an economist, said: “We are in a tinderbox situation. If something starts, it can become complete collapse and it can be started by street violence. They will call the soldiers out, but the soldiers may turn their guns on their leaders. They are having as difficult a time as everyone else.” [...]
Some statistics from then and now:

1980
Cost of loaf of bread: Z$0.20; Land: 4,500 white farmers own 70 per cent of fertile land; Adult literacy: 70 per cent; Life expectancy: 58; GDP per capita (real terms): US$3,377

2006
Cost of loaf of bread: Z$90,000; Land: Farms seized from white ownership; Adult literacy: 91 per cent; Life expectancy: 37; GDP per capita: US$2,100
Hard to imagine that as literacy climbs, life expectancy would drop. Yet Bob Mugabe has managed the feat.

RINO rodeo is up

The latest roundup of RINO posts (Republicans/Independants Not Overdosed (on the party Kool-aid)) is found at Countertop Chronicles.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Does Europe need a near meltdown to reform?

After looking at recent events, The Economist ($) concludes that old Europe needs more bad news before it will embrace economic reform. Even relative bright light Germany is only fiddling around at the margins (notwithstanding Chancellor Merkel's excellent start in budget and foreign policy balancing):
THEY are two seemingly unconnected events, but they yield a common, depressing conclusion. The events were the decision by France's government to tear up its controversial law creating a more flexible job contract for the young, and the razor-edge outcome of Italy's rancorous election. The conclusion: the core countries of Europe are not ready to make the economic reforms they so desperately need—and that change, alas, will come only after a diabolic economic crisis. [...]

The sad truth in all three countries [Germany, France, Italy] is that their voters are not yet ready to swallow the nasty medicine of change. Reform is always painful. And all three have too many cosseted insiders—those with secure jobs, those in the public sector—who see little to gain and much to lose. They are ready to fight against change even though it would help outsiders—the young, the unemployed—and, ultimately, their economies.

Does that mean that Europe, especially the euro area, is unreformable? It is fashionable to answer yes, and to conclude that the continent's destiny is one of gradual decline into a genteel poverty, as populations age and economies lose their last remaining vestiges of dynamism. Yet that is surely too gloomy. In the right circumstances, and with a braver political leadership, even the three core members of the euro should be able to change their ways.

One reason for believing that reform can happen, even in Italy and France, is that so many other European countries have shown the way. Britain faced economic and social meltdown in 1979; there followed a decade of Thatcherite reform. Admittedly, Britain is not in the euro, but the Netherlands is. That country had an acute case of what became known as the “Dutch disease” in 1982; a string of reforms were then made that led, a decade later, to talk of a Dutch miracle. Another small country now in the euro, Ireland, almost fell off the cliff into poverty and bankruptcy in 1987; yet, after some years of painful change, it had transformed itself into the “Celtic Tiger”. Similarly, Finland became an economic basket-case in 1990; it then implemented reforms that have today helped to make it on some assessments the world's most competitive economy, ahead even of the (far bigger) United States [Finland also now boasts Europe's best education system, built largely from the ground up over the past 15 years--P].

Two things came together to make radical reform possible in these countries. The first was wide agreement, among voters, businessmen, trade unions and others that there was a grave economic crisis. The second were determined political leaders prepared to risk unpopularity. The real problem, not just for Italy and France but also for Germany, is that, so far, life has continued to be too good for too many people: there is not yet a general consensus that their economies are in serious trouble. All three have also lacked brave political leaders ready to leap in and explain the case for reform. There is one depressingly certain way to remedy the failings in the core European countries: to bring on a more serious economic crisis. This week will surely have brought that a lot closer.

Immigrants in America: what now?

Charles Krauthammer continues to examine the immigration situation. Last week he argued forcefully that of the impotance of building a wall along our southern border to dry up the flow of illegal aliens. This week he turns his eye on the differences between the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and what is being called the hispanic civil rights movement.

He correctly notes that the onus is on the immigrants and their advocates to clarify how they see their place in America:

[...] Americans instinctively know the difference between these two civil rights crusades. Blacks were owed. For centuries they had been the victims of a historic national crime. The principal crime involved in the immigrant crusade is the violation of immigration laws by the illegals themselves.

To be sure, that is not a high crime. But it does not behoove one who has stealthily stolen into another's house to then make demands about rights -- or to march under the banner of "The National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice."

Justice? On what grounds do those who come into a country illegally claim rights? They seek good will and understanding. And Americans might give it -- but on request, not on demand.

Martin Luther King had a case for justice that was utterly incontrovertible, yet he always appealed to the better angels of America's nature. It is all the more important for illegals, whose claims rest not on justice but on compassion, to appeal to American generosity, openness and idealism.

There is much generosity in America to be tapped. But that will require two things. First, a change of tone. And, second, a clarification of goals.

If you found a stranger living in your basement, you would be far more inclined to let him stay if he assured you that his ultimate intent is just to improve his own life and not to prepare the way for his various cousins waiting on the other side of your fence.

And that's the critical issue that the demonstrators and their supporters ignore. Is the amnesty they are demanding/requesting the beginning or the end? Is it a precedent or a one-time -- last-time -- exception? Are they seeking open-ended immigration, or do they agree that they should be the last wave?

We know they support the spirit of the failed Senate bill, which, when all the phony length-of-stay distinctions are stripped away, is about legalization and amnesty. And we know they oppose the House bill because it declares illegals to be felons. But House Republicans recognize that they made a huge political error with that language and are pledged to remove it. Will the demonstrators support the rest of the House bill, which would radically restrain new illegal immigration by means of a physical barrier and other measures?

If the answer to that is yes, then we have the makings of a national consensus to combine the House and Senate bills -- a fence plus amnesty -- into a comprehensive new policy. But we need an answer.

The Hispanic civil rights movement is young and lacks unified leadership. That would be an excuse for temporary incoherence about goals if the massive demonstrations did not insist on bringing the issue to a head now. The politically mobilized millions need to tell America where they stand: Are they ready to be welcomed into the American family as the last illegals -- or only as the first of many millions more?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

After diplomacy fails

What to do after diplomacy fails, as it doubtless will. To Iran, the risks of proceeding are small, and certainly either managable or bearable. This opinion piece in the WaPo is sobering--with as scary an introductory paragrapg as one is likely to find these days. Moreover, the author's appeal to more foresight and imagination than than what was applied to Iraq also hits the mark.
Even were one to believe that, despite its low and stagnant per capita gross national product and having the world's second-largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas, Iran would invest uneconomically in nuclear power generation, one would also have to disbelieve that it wanted nuclear weapons. But with an intermediate-range strategic nuclear capacity, it could deter American intervention, reign over the Persian Gulf, further separate Europe from American Middle East policy, correct a nuclear imbalance with Pakistan, lead and perhaps unify the Islamic world, and thus create the chance to end Western dominance of the Middle East and/or with a single shot destroy Israel.

Iran's claim of innocuous nuclear ambitions comports both with the Islamic doctrine of taqqiya (literal truth need not be conveyed to infidels) and the Western doctrine of state secrecy (the same thing), and it is part of a strategy of deception and false compromise deployed to buy time. After almost three years, the Bush administration has maneuvered the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, where it will fall under the protection of Russia and China, which will make any resolution meaningless or veto it outright. In the event of sanctions, Iran can sell oil to China in exchange for all the manufactures it might need, trade on the black market and eventually reenter the world economy after the inevitable unveiling of Iranian nuclear weapons stimulates the resignation of the West.

Were Russia not playing a double game, it would not have agreed in December to upgrade the Iranian air force and sell Iran 29 SA-15 SAMs for the protection of key facilities. Russia and China can operate in contradiction of what many assume to be their self-interest because they have always had a different appreciation of and doctrine relating to nuclear weapons, because they are willing to live dangerously and because they are the least likely targets. In addition, the agitation that they support roils the smooth surface of the Pax Americana to their maximum opportunity and relief. For example, chaos in the Middle East makes Russia in comparison a stable supplier of energy and shifts European resources and dependency to Russia's advantage.

Other than the likely nothing, what will the United States have done in the months and years ahead to prepare for the failure of diplomacy and sanctions? The obvious option is an aerial campaign to divest Iran of its nuclear potential: i.e., clear the Persian Gulf of Iranian naval forces, scrub anti-ship missiles from the shore and lay open antiaircraft-free corridors to each target. With the furious capacity of its new weapons, the United States can accomplish this readily. Were the targets effectively hidden or buried, Iran could be shut down, coerced and perhaps revolutionized by the simple and rapid destruction of its oil production and transport. The Iranians know their obvious vulnerabilities, but are we aware of ours?

In this war with a newly revived militant Islam, we think systematically and they think imaginatively. As we strain to bring the genius of imagination to our systems, they attempt to bring systematic discipline to their imagination, and neither of us is precluded from success. Despite our superior power, its diminution by geography, overcommittment and politics means that they might confound us. And because they believe absolutely in the miraculous, one must credit their stated aim to defeat us in the short term by hurling our armies from the Middle East and in the long term by causing the collapse of Western civilization.

If, like his predecessors Saladin, the Mahdi of Sudan and Nasser, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes for the long shot, he may have in mind to draw out and damage any American onslaught with his thousands of surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft guns; by a concentrated air and naval attack to sink one or more major American warships; and to mobilize the Iraqi Shia in a general uprising, with aid from infiltrated Revolutionary Guard and conventional elements, that would threaten U.S. forces in Iraq and sever their lines of supply.

This by itself would be a victory for those who see in the colors of martyrdom, but if he could knock us back and put enough of our blood in the water, the real prize might come into reach. That is: to make such a fury in the Islamic world that, as it has done before and not long ago, it would throw over caution in favor of jihad. As simply as it can be said, were Egypt to close the canal, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to lock up their airspace -- which, with their combined modern air forces, they could -- the U.S. military in Iraq and the Gulf, bereft of adequate supply, would be beleaguered and imperiled.

In trying to push the Iraqi snake by its tail, we have lost sight of the larger strategic picture, of which such events, though very unlikely, may become a part. But because the Iranian drive for deployable nuclear weapons will take years, we have a period of grace. In that time, we would do well to strengthen -- in numbers and mass as well as quality -- the means with which we fight, to reinforce the fleet train with which to supply the fighting lines, and to plan for a land route from the Mediterranean across Israel and Jordan to the Tigris and Euphrates. And even if we cannot extricate ourselves from nation-building and counterinsurgency in Iraq, we must have a plan for remounting the army there so that it can fight and maneuver as it was born to do.

To make these provisions will secure our flanks and give us a freer hand in the potentially difficult project of denying to a rogue nation of 68 million people, with a well-developed military and a penchant for rash action, the nuclear weapons it is bent on acquiring and rushing to construct. Our problem in Iraq has been delusion and lack of foresight. Iran is bigger and more powerful. What a pity it would be either to do nothing or once again to lurch forward with neither strategy nor thought.

Swiss men to attract Geman soccer widows?

The Swiss tourism board will run ads this summer designed to entice French and German soccer widows over the border. Sounds like a good idea in principle, but we'll propably only get the "fat, forty and flatulent" ones (the typical German hausfrau as famously described by a German author whose name escapes me).
For women bored at the thought of this summer's World Cup soccer finals in Germany, neighbor Switzerland is offering an alternative packed with beefcake.

A cow-milking 'Mr. Switzerland' and other handsome men are featured in a new advertising campaign seeking to entice soccer widows to leave their sports-obsessed men behind."Dear girls," starts the television spot, to run in France, Germany and Switzerland beginning in May.

"Why not escape this summer's World Cup to a country where men spend less time on football, and more time on you?," the advertisement, says over images of a strapping farmhand, a sexy train conductor, a fit mountain climber, a dapper ferryman and a brawny lumberjack.

It ends with Renzo Blumenthal, Mr. Switzerland 2005, milking and then leaning up against a cow.

The clip [...] is meant to lure women to Switzerland during the tournament that starts on June 9, Swiss Tourism spokeswoman Veronique Kanel said.
Thanks to my brother, who is stuck in New Mexico and will miss out on both the World Cup and his chance for hot German loving.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jenkins of The Guardian blames the West for Iran's pursuit of WMD

Simon Jenkins of The Guardian feels the West is pushing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. From the sub-heading of his piece, "The US and Britain are goading Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, while Blair's jihadist rhetoric is inciting a fourth crusade", to his conclusion, Jenkins views everything through the eyes of Neville Chamberlain and Iran's mad Mullahs.

As part of his argument not to threaten force, or even sanctions for fear of the consequences:
Many Iranian hardliners must be itching to cause more trouble in Iraq, threaten tanker lanes in the Straits of Hormuz and set Asian opinion further against the west.[...]
Jenkins doesn't see that once Iran has nuclear weapons, those Iranian hardliners will feel free to act as bellicose as they wish. Allowing them weapons won't keep them from destabilizing the region, rather it will cause monumental destabilization.

Next up:

The much-vaunted neocon campaign for a secure and liberal democracy in Asia is in retreat. It is ailing in Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. What might have been gained through security and friendship has been wrecked by the war in Iraq.
Again, not true. It was precisely that Iraq was freed that democracy made sudden gains. That the ruling elite are attempting to slow or reverse tangible gains (and less tangilble aspirations) is understandable. Perhaps they feel they need only wait out the Bush presidency and the status quo will reassert itself.

Finally, his conclusion:
One country in the region that has retained some political pluralism is Iran. It has shown bursts of democratic activity and, importantly, has experienced internal regime change. If ever there was a nation not to drive to the extreme it is Iran. If ever there was a powerful state to reassure and befriend rather than abuse and threaten, it is Iran. If ever there was a regime not to goad into seeking nuclear weapons it is Iran. Yet that is precisely what British and American policy is doing. It is completely nuts.
Yes, Iran has elections. But they are completely one-sided affairs, with the Mullahs having the final say over who gets to compete. All his advice on befriending Iran would be correct if Iran hadn't made such bellicose statements of what it hopes to accomplish in the region.

Contrary to Jenkins's feelings, it is because of Iran's actions and words that the West is convinced that Iran presents such a grave danger to regional stability. No one is goading Iran into seeking nuclear weapons. And nothing short of the harshest sanctions or military force will deter Iran.

Latest RINO carnival is up

The Louisianna Libertarian takes time out from digging out from the Katerina mess to host this week's RINO sightings.

For some reason I was unable to connect to his blog over the past two days. Now I can, and it is worth reading the varied submissions. The ones covering immigration are especially topical.

Airbus stumbles in its race with Boeing's Dreamliner

The European bad news trifecta is now complete (see two previous posts).

Airbus seems to have miscalculated in its push to build the A380 jumbo liner:
Airbus said Monday that it would look for improvements to the long-range A350 jet that the company cobbled together to compete with Boeing's new-generation 787 Dreamliner. It was a tacit acknowledgment that it might have underestimated the appeal of the new standard bearer that Boeing, its U.S. archrival, fashioned to pull farther ahead of Airbus in the market for widebody planes. [...]

Airbus decided to stake its widebody future on the giant A380, the largest commercial jetliner ever built, while Boeing pointedly rejected a huge competing aircraft in favor of the midsize 787 Dreamliner, a new-generation twin-aisle aircraft with a fuselage made of composite material rather than aluminum. As the first three years of production quickly sold out, Airbus then introduced the A350 in 2004 to compete with the Dreamliner.

The A380, meanwhile, has been dogged with problems ranging from a customer demand that it redesign engines to make them quieter to problems with weight and fuel economy.

At first, the A350 was basically little more than a derivative of the current widebody A330 with a longer range but few major changes. But as the months have gone by, the A350 has been redesigned several times. There were new engines, new systems and greater use of lightweight composites, raising the development cost by billions. [...]

Some important Airbus customers, including Singapore Airlines, have expressed concern that Airbus has not done enough to make the A350 competitive with the Dreamliner.

Airbus is already under pressure from the 787 and the popular widebody 777, complicated by slumping sales of its four-engine A340.

Chew Choon Seng, the chief executive of Singapore Airlines, told The Wall Street Journal that he believed that "having gone to the trouble of designing a new wing, tail, cockpit" and adding advanced new materials, Airbus "should have gone the whole hog and designed a new fuselage."

Singapore Airlines was expected in early May to announce a major order for widebody jetliners.

Chew's remarks came after Steven Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of International Lease Finance, said Airbus ought to widen the fuselage and redesign the wing on the A350.

Humbert of Airbus said, "Sales figures from our competitor of long-haul planes are starting to be better than ours, but this is a very recent development." He added, "All the same, we have 182 commitments for the A350, and Boeing sales benefit from the fact that they launched the 787 earlier." [....]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

France sliding towards ridiculousness

John Vinocur has a long essay ($) on France's slow descent into fear and rigidity.

He notes that neither the Left or the Right seem willing to even discuss economic change after the drubbing Prime Minister de Villepin's proposal to liberize hiring received from the future elite of France.
Jacques Chirac is discredited, Dominique de Villepin, too, and with them, it seems, a certain France that told the world it could avoid change and, as exceptionalist as ever, escape immobility's ridiculousness in the process.

Absurdity certainly has caught up with this routine. There's never been a more incongruous political crisis than the country's present misery about relaxing employment regulations for young people: scores of thousands of them - a poll shows 76 percent of the 15- to 24 year-old age group aspire to the privileges, early retirement and ironclad security of civil service jobs - demonstrating for social conservatism on the historical turf of new dawns and revolution.

And rarely has upheaval on the streets led to more ridiculous political repercussions. Here, it has exposed a president who tried to save face for his prime minister by signing a bill changing first-job rules, then explained incoherently that a second measure would soon nullify the original's provisions, and finally turned over the repair job to a rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, who both Chirac and Villepin have long hoped to crush.

For some, this is a hoot. But ridiculousness can be sad, or even ominous. That's the direction this episode points to for the future because it shows the entire French political spectrum locking itself into the depressing cavern of Chirac's political creed.

This article of faith insists that if France will sample the idea of reform, just tasting, it won't willingly swallow real social change. In terms of getting- elected politics, the Chirac precept says that only a presidential candidate who refuses to talk about the necessity of risk, or how France gains through a smaller nanny-state or a freer economy, can inspire enough French trust to win election. [...]

With roughly a year to go before Chirac's second term is up, the current unrest and its context has strengthened that awful irony. The upheaval caused by a tiny reform attempt signifies the only thing that this enfeebled president (his approval ratings are in the 25 percent range) has ensured as a political legacy is wide acceptance by politicians right and left of his defeatist analysis of French voters' instincts. [...]

Enter more ludicrousness: Before Villepin's presidential aspirations appeared to go up in smoke (the prime minister has fallen to the 25 percent level in voter satisfaction), his attempt to bring a little more flexibility to the job market was regarded as a pre- emptive tactic to counter Sarkozy's potential pitch as a reformer. [...]

That move was a botch. It effectively ended with this incoherent - or all too comprehensible - phrase from a seemingly punch-drunk Villepin in the National Assembly last week: "Let's not aim for a zero-risk society, which is an immobile society, but for a society of totally controlled risk." [the dream of the Left--P] [...]

Since Chirac fled tackling reform head on, and has been humiliated as a result of his prime minister trying to grab only the big toe of change, the Socialists can't be objectively encouraged or expected to act as its agents.

Rather the opposite. The one hot Socialist presidential prospect, Ségolène Royal, attacks the word flexibility, a euphemism for reform in a country certified as scared stiff of it. She argues flexibility "means social destructiveness and makes no economic sense."

Royal's prescription for a France she admits is in decline? She says: "I think that to re-establish confidence, citizens have got to see that the experiences they're living through are being identified with. The best way to achieve that is to ask them what they think. I believe in citizen expertise."

If that very probably means that fighting for reform gets eliminated as the best way to win the presidency, it proves Chirac's sorry axiom right.

In all of France's ongoing grief, Jacques Marseille, a professor of the history of economics at the Sorbonne, has become, left and right, the media's go-to guy for wisdom on the demonstrations and the country's rejection of change.

Talking to the newspaper Le Monde, he suggested that what France has now become is a pole of emptiness, "the model of the absence of real democracy, or incapacity for discussion, reform and compromise."

So was France impossible to reform? he was asked.

"Yes," Marseille answered. "Or in any case it's exceptionally difficult."

Presidential elections are some 13 months away. France's voters will want some concrete proposals to take their fear of the future away, and a plan to keep the wolf from the door. I suspect that populists will be the only ones willing to oblige.

From being funny and sad, France risks losing all that made it great. Economists will use it as a cautionary example. In the long term, failed statehood looms if France will not get its economic house in order.

Italians: change not welcome here

Like France, Italy has chosen stasis over change. Preliminary results show pretty much a dead heat between the two largest coalitions. Center-Left leader Prodi will probably get the nod to form a government, but it will be so weak--and opposed to economic reform in principle--that meaningful reform will have to come from the EU Commission (which is highly unlikely as the Commission is as highly regarded as a turd in a chowder these days).
Romano Prodi's center-left claimed victory in Italy's election on Tuesday but his tiny margin raised the specter of political paralysis and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's allies demanded a review.

"Italy is split," said Il Riformista newspaper.

The center-left won in the lower house and Sky Italia TV projected that it would have a majority of one or two seats in the upper house Senate thanks to votes of Italians abroad that were still being counted.

But the victory margin was so slim that the center-right contested it and markets worried that Prodi would have a hard time enacting reforms, cutting Italy's debt or trimming its deficit."We have to immediately send a message to the markets, to whomever wants to invest in Italy, that the country is not going to fall apart," Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said. [....]
End result: Italy, with its many small and vulnerable companies loses more ground to Asian competitors. Certainly, the Pradas and Guccis will continue to do well, but the smaller fish will be eaten.

This leaves only Germany to demonstrate leadership. Chancellor Merkel is dong her best to move things along but is running into considerable resistance with her limited restructuring program thanks to her coalition partners's unwillingness to discuss change.

Zurich ranks as number one city in the world

Zurich was recently voted most livable city in the world. It is wonderful. The symphony and opera have fine reputations, it is the business capital of the country, and the public transportation is wonderful.

Strikes against it: not the prettiest part of the country, uptight people (even for the Swiss), and high prces for everything. Moreover, Switzerland in general is lumbered with plenty of restrictions, which make one yearn for more freedom in one's daily life.

From SwissInfo:
Zurich is the best city in the world for expatriates to work, according to two recent polls which hail the city's infrastructure and banking services.

Geneva ranks second in the annual Mercer Human Resource Consulting study, while the Greater Zurich Area was runner-up in the best European business location competition, of Foreign Direct Investment magazine.

Zurich achieved high marks for its stable political environment, international relations, banking and health services in the Mercer poll, which compared 51 cities in 39 categories. The city lagged behind some others for airport and recreation facilities.Both cities improved their scores from the same survey in 2005 and retained the same positions, as did Swiss capital Bern which tied with Sydney for ninth place.

Nice that Switzerland landed three out of the top ten. Makes one wonder just how they scored things, though.