Friday, February 25, 2011

Been away

I've been away on business and haven't been too focused on world events.  Qaddafi seems to be slipping more and more from power, but he is certainly making it a bloody process.  I expect that radical Islamists are a pretty substantial part of this bloody revolution in Libya, but remain ever optimistic that Libya will become a more modern and moderate place when the blood dries up.  

Monsters create monsters, it seems to me, and Qaddafi certainly satisfies the first half of that equation.  

I send them light and healing and my prayers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Demonstrations or revolutions?

The unrest in the Middle East continues to spread, now with violence in Libya.  As usual, what to look for is what the military does.  People in the streets are just demonstrators unless they can get the military to side with them.  In Egypt, the military sided with the demonstrators to the point of deposing Mubarak and leaving the military in charge - I have great hopes that this is temporary and the military will establish systems to create free and fair elections (at least free enough and fair enough to establish an acceptable government).  Once the existing regimes fall, then the demonstrations can be called revolutions.

In Libya, it looks like some of the military is attacking the people and some are refusing to do so, so the outcome is very much in question, but it is looking like Qadhafi is in charge for now, but many are optimistically expecting him to be overthrown.  I certainly hope so.

Even if the currant regimes fall, the establishment of workable democracies is still very much in question.  Revolutions often create new tyrannies - e.g. the French revolution created the Great Terror of Robespierre, the Russian revolution created the tyranny of Lenin and Stalin, etc.  They can also create democracies - e.g. America, the Baltic states with the overthrow of the Soviets.

I am sending my prayers for actual, functional democracies that are desirous of  moving into the modern world and having a respected voice in joining rather than attacking the rest of us.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Avoiding entitlement reform

The great budget debate in Washington is mostly about the wrong stuff – the non-military discretionary portion of the budget, which is only 12% of the federal budget.  The programs that are on the chopping block are mostly pretty good programs.   But the reason they are in danger is because neither the Republicans, who want to cut spending in general, nor the Democrats, who want to increase spending on these kinds of programs, are willing to cut spending where it really matters – entitlements.

So, we have each party digging in for a big showdown by issuing their normal talking points.  The Democrats say that the Republicans are cutting programs because they are mean old uncaring nasties.  And the Republicans say that the Democrats are resisting cuts because they are power hungry control freaks who want to take over more and more of everybody’s lives with government control.

Neither has the courage to reduce spending on entitlements.  The real game of chicken going on in D.C. is not who will blink and give in before a government shutdown has to happen, it is who is going to be the first to step forward to reduce entitlement spending.  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lack of leadership on entitlement reform

Obama's budget proposal is Washington as its most normal - the window dressing of minor cuts to hide the lack of courage to tackle entitlement reform.  The Republicans, so far, are just as bad if not worse by pretending that cutting the small piece of government spending that is non-entitlement discretionary spending will have any real impact on the deficit.  

So, Washington continues along the path toward more entitlement spending, more deficits, and a higher portion of the budget going to pay of the interest payments on the debt.  Eventually, all the government will be able to pay for is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Defense Department, and interest on the debt.  

David Brooks of the New York Times chastises President Obama for failing to confront the government's terrible deficit problem. He points out that Obama endlessly promises to tackle deficit spending but never gets around to it.  He does mention that at least the Republican Senator, Eric Cantor, says that the Republicans will put entitlement reform on the table, which Brooks points out is a leadership move.

What is desperately needed is leadership here, and Obama just ducked.  Will Cantor and other Republicans be able to take the lead and go to the people to get them behind the stopping of ever expanding entitlements?  

I expect that to be the issue of the 2012 election.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The rape didn't fit the story of liberation, so it was suppressed by CBS

One of the saddest parts of the Laura Logan assault story is that CBS itself sat on the story for five days until they were forced to run it when others broke the story.  

The most positive spin on that decision would be to say that they wanted to protect the identity of a rape victim, who in this case was their own chief foreign correspondent.  But, I am afraid it is something else, it is more that reporting that their own woman was assaulted by a crowd of men yelling "Jew! Jew!" would contradict the story that CBS and the world was telling of the wonderful celebration of liberation of the Egyptian people from a long tyranny.

Why not tell "the rest of the story"?  These are people who were oppressed for years and are speaking up for their freedom, and they did so non-violently and overturned a dictatorship.  This is a tremendous story and it is true.  But this blot on the day also happened.  Things in Egypt and the Middle East are complicated, and there are a number of very conflicting forces at play.  One of my fears is that as the freedom movement  progresses in the Middle East, it could well lead to religious holy wars between the Shia and Sunni.  I certainly hope not, and send my prayers that it does not, but no society in any country is without complications and counter forces at play.

I am sorry that this happened to mar that day of triumph, but not reporting it is as sad as the crime itself, it seems to me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Laura Logan assault

CBS newswoman, Laura Logan, was surrounded by over a hundred men, serially raped, and beaten during the Tahrir square celebration of Mubarak's fall from power.  

"CBS says 39-year-old Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers."

CBS continues, "[Logan] reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering."

She had apparently been held and threatened by the Egyptian police eight days prior to her assault, but there is no report as to whether there was any connection to those who had detained her earlier.  Since this happened during the celebration, it might not have been the government thugs, but rather some more violent and reactionary elements of those wanting the overthrow of Mubarak.  

She is apparently recovering in a hospital in the U.S. and determined to get back to work as soon as she can.  

I don't know who is responsible for this outrage, but I do know that it is a sickening footnote to a triumphant day, and I wish it hadn't happened.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's still up to the military? I think not

The people of Egypt have forced out Mubarak and are moving the country toward democracy.

Or, the Egyptian military has driven Mubarak out of power by using the demonstrations to justify a coup, and keep the country in their control and away from Mubarak’s non-military son.

One of these two scenarios is true.  I don’t really know which. 

But, I think that the Egyptian people will not be stopped on this path to democracy.  The military control of the country (not a new thing, the military has always ruled Egypt, but with Mubarak at the helm) is needed in order to set up new laws and create the environment for the creation of political parties.  So, the military coup could very well be a wonderful step toward democracy in Egypt.

The question is whether the military will actually give up power to the people and let them create a representative democracy. 

I think they will, and I send my prayers that they will.  But, I am pretty clear that the biggest part of that journey is still ahead.  One can easily read the events of last week as the military keeping Mubarak from turning Egypt into a hereditary monarchy by having his son succeed him by taking over the country by a coup and keeping control of the country in military hands. 

But I don’t think that the people who shouted “Give me liberty of give me death” are going to be stopped.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak reigns! Elections to follow?

Mubarak resigns and the military is in charge in Egypt!  Freedom has triumphed - as long as they set up systems and institutions to foster democratic parties and elections...or is this just another tyrannical coup?  

I think the revolution has gone too far too fast to be stopped, and that the road to a representative democracy is being taken.  As we know from history, this doesn't happen all at once, but is a process.  I wish them Godspeed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak digs in

Mubarak announces that he will stay until September.  Will the military step in?  Or are they aligned with him?  I expect the protests to go on and escalate.  Their hopes were so high, and now, such a crushing disappointment.  I expect a pretty massive turnout tomorrow by the protesters, and I don't expect the military to turn on them.  What a mess.

The military is finally stepping up?

It looks like the Egyptian military is finally stepping up and will form a government in Egypt, replacing Mubarak.  It is reported that this news was met with roars of approval by the masses in the square.  

The next big thing that needs to happen is for this new military government to be temporary and to set up systems to sustain real elections later in the year.

What will the new Egypt be?  What will the new Middle East be?  Have the people had enough of suppression and will they succeed in establishing a workable democracy?  And will that new Egypt be a force against oppression and for peace?  Or will it turn on Israel and the U.S. and push to create an Islamist Middle East.

I remain hopeful that this is going to establish less suppression and tyranny, not more.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

They want a voice

I have been busy with personal issues the last few days: we have moved to our new home, and we love it.  Lots of work, but a happy change in our lives.

Egypt continues on with both sides trying to wear the other side down.  The old order thinks it can last it out with the protesters eventually running out of enthusiasm.  But, the forces of freedom seem to have been unleashed, and it looks to me like the protests are persisting and continue to expand, now escalating into strikes, including at the Suez canal.  Without revenues from the Suez canal and from tourism, which is way down now, the government might not be able to sustain itself.

I am encouraged that the revolution stands a pretty good chance of not being taken over by the Islamist extremists.  The government that follows the fall of Mubarak is almost certain to be more Muslim than the existing one, but I think that the young people who are rising up will be able to resist a new form of repression and tyranny that a radical Islamist regime would try to impose.

What the Egyptian people really seem to want is a voice, to be free to speak, and an opportunity to create a life for themselves and their children.  When the oppressed can smell a better future, the forces of freedom can become irresistible.  

I place my bet on the forces of revolution in Egypt, and I put my hopes on those same forces rejecting the potential tyrannies of fundamentalist Islamist extremists.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Riding it out?

It's looking more and more like Mubarak is following the Iranian mullah script - wait out the protests, let the passions peter out, then round them up and destroy them.  At least that seems to me to be his strategy.

I have every hope that he fails and the military steps up to install an interim government to set up free elections later in the year.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's up to the military

It’s up to the military in Egypt.  If they decide Mubarak must go, he will go.  And so far today, it looks pretty positive.  “Departure Friday” seems to be fairly peaceful, as best as I can tell, and the military seems to be at least somewhat on the side of the protesters.  The pro-Mubarak rent-a-thugs seem to be more on the sidelines.

I hope that Mubarak goes into exile, and a leader from the military steps up to establish an interim government to last the bulk of 2011.  This would establish enough time for political factions to organize and run in free elections, and would allow the interim government to establish reform laws that would support free elections. 

If the elections are held too soon, the Brotherhood is probably the only faction with enough organization, cohesion, and passion to mount an effective campaign and would likely win the country.  That could end up with a fundamentalist Muslim government in control of Egypt, and the temptation for them would be to rule tyrannically in the name of God.

Egypt actually seems to have an opportunity to become a reasonably true democracy, and that would go a long way towards transforming the Middle East.  I have great hopes that the people of Egypt and the rest of the Middle East have seen enough of the brutal rule by Islamists that they will be willing to fight for real freedom, real democracy, and a real future for their children to live lives of self determination and choice.

I send my prayers.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crisis of dignity

An interesting thing about the Arab revolution against their tyrannical governments is the absence of rage against Israel and the U.S.  This is an internal Arab revolt, with many factions rising up together - no, make that, they are rising up at the same time, but they aren't really together as one, I don't believe.  

At the heart of the civil wars that are unfolding, I believe, is shame and humiliation.  I heard on BBC radio Monday morning a middle aged cab driver was saying that all of his life he had been ashamed to be known as an Egyptian, but now, as he rose up to protest the humiliating way Egyptians had been treated, he was thrilled to loudly proclaim that he was Egyptian.  

A crisis of dignity, or the lack of being treated with dignity, seems to be deeper than the politics or the religion of the protesters.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Iranian strategem

It looks to me like Mubarak is taking inspiration from Iran's Ayatollah Khamenie's and Iran's president Ahmadinejad's way of staying in power during the Green revolution in Iran in 2009 - send in government thugs to break up and punish those in the streets.  The feelings of excitement and euphoria in Iran a year and a half ago petered out in the face of government thuggery (I remain hopeful that the Iranians are continuing on a path toward freedom and secularization today).

Mubarak is doing the same today, sending in his thugs to beat and kill the demonstrators.  He obviously thinks he can get the same results that the Iranian tyrants did, and prolong his reign of domination over the Egyptian people. Come September, I have no doubt that Mubarak will concoct a reason of some urgent emergency to "delay" his transition from power - war with Israel?

I have a deep hope that the opposition will not back down, but increase their outrage at the thuggery and force him out now.  

I have a deep hope that the opposition will not back down, but increase their outrage at the thuggery and force him out now.

Protest without a leader

It looks to me like the protests in Egypt haven't turned into a political movement because there is no one to lead it.  Or, more to the point, all of the protesters are not on the same page.  It looks like there is a modernist, secular element in the streets, and a more fundamentalist, islamic element in the streets.  How all of this shakes out is unknown for now, but at some point I think that the chaos will have to become focused or Mubarak, and/or the existing powers will ride it out with some changes but no revolution.

Democracy is a lot more than elections.  Without institutions that support democracy, it's another form of tyranny.  For example, protection of minority opinion and minority rights and the rule of law are essential to prevent the tyranny of the demos - the mob.  I think Egypt and the rest of the Middle East are on the path to democracy and have a long way to go.