Sunday, September 28, 2014

America has taken the Islamic State's bait

It may be hard to believe, but in the end Obama may end up looking even dumber than George W. Bush, the fool who opened this whole Pandora's box in the first place.

The Islamic State, more than war, is engaged in political theater, whose primary audience is not the West, but rather the Middle East's enormous population of literate, unmarried, unemployed, thus frustrated and angry young men, who live under corrupt, autocratic rulers, seen by their peoples to be American puppets and portrayed by Islamists as degenerate apostates. As these frustrated young men watch their rulers accompany the United States and the former colonial powers, Britain and France, in bombing the Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq all their worst conspiracy theories play out before them.

By pressuring these Arab regimes to bomb the ISIS, the United States may very well be playing straight into the Islamist's hands. It is significant that the generals of Egypt, ruling over a restless population, where the only free election in Egypt's history brought an Islamist government, want no part of this operation.
In the Arab countries’ populations, young people are the fastest growing segment, some 60% of the population is under 25 years old, making this one of the most youthful regions in the world, with a median age of 22 years compared to a global average of 28.(...) In the Middle East, educational enrollment rates are high, with nearly universal access at the primary level and nearly 70% enrollment at the secondary level.(...) Further, youth currently constitute an estimated 51% of total unemployed in the region(...) In the region today, nearly 50% of men between the ages of 25 and 29 are unmarried. Financial costs associated with marriage (housing, furniture, wedding ceremonies, etc.) and a lack of economic means contribute to the postponement of family formation. Youthpolicy.Org

Isis is trying to spark underclass animosity among – and give identity to – the untenably high proportion of (mainly young) Arabs who have been excluded by closed and corrupt systems. The heart of its narrative is that the Arab world is a collection of failed and rotting states. David Gardner - Financial Times

(...) there is concern that sympathy for the jihadis among the general public in the region could galvanise opposition to Gulf governments.(...) The reaction highlights concerns about a backlash against the conservative Sunni Gulf states for launching attacks on their coreligionists at a time when sectarian divisions plague the Middle East. “I hope the Americans appreciate the risk the Saudis are taking,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a Dubai-based political scientist. “There is latent sympathy to Isis there.” Air strikes on Isis launch battle for Gulf hearts and minds -Financial Times
The primary goal of the Islamists is a revolution in the Arab monarchies of the Middle East. The young fighters of the ISIS are just the tip of a demographic iceberg... we are in the process of stirring up a hornet's nest, one whose blowback in the Muslim world, may be worse than any of our previous, murderous, bumbling. DS

Monday, September 22, 2014

Caliphate vs Caliphate... Obama's wild goose chase

"Globalization is the caliphate of the financial markets"
Andrés Rábago's quote is rather perfect.  Here is Wikipedia's definition of the Muslim Caliphate:
Conceptually, a caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, (the Ummah), ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia).
Globalization being the universal rule of the financial markets under the laws of liberal economics, with the bankers being a collegiate "caliph" and "god" being written as "$".

A fundamentalist reading of our system would go something like this: "there is no $ but the $ and the NYSE is its witness" to which its devotees would add, "peace be upon it".

However, our system is bleeding charisma.
Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader. Max Weber
What is the heart of our system's charisma? It's symbol might be the Cornucopia or Horn of Plenty: our faith is based on our system's heretofore eternal ability to create endless wealth and spread it around widely enough so its glaring inequalities were accepted painlessly.  This version of the economy has been in the tank since Lehman Brothers went down and the middle class of the developed countries, not having had the darshan of  "$" for quite a while are losing the faith.

Our economy's inability without end to cut the mustard for the middle class is a gross betrayal of faith which might be compared to some future pope saying ex-catedra that God didn't exist and that he had sold the Vatican to the Holiday Inn chain and was taking the proceeds and moving with his husband to the Bahamas. The tragic chaos and desolation of betrayed faith would shatter the lives of millions.

Thus under the rule of the global caliphate, the natives are restless: Scotland, Catalonia, even in the USA, where according to Reuters, one out of four Americans would like to "secede", all this while thousands march worldwide to "save the planet".  However, with Karl Marx on the "ash heap of history", sitting there in the penalty box, waiting to get back in the game, it seems to me that, for the moment, the only revolution in town is Islamic...

Am I the only one to see a resemblance between Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Pol Pot... between the Islamic State and the Khmer Rouge? With the difference that the Khmer Rouge were a relatively small group of whacked out Maoists in a tiny out of the way place like Cambodia and the IS (according to the CIA) consists of 31,000 well armed, well trained, fanatical, young men (and women) who come from all over the world, bankrolled by some of the most pious of Arab billionaires, armed with one of history's most powerful ideologies, smack dab in the middle of the world's most strategic real estate. "Bring 'em on" said George W. Bush.... well now here they are.

What impresses me most is not all the beheading. We think this brutality is a message directed to us... it isn't; it is a message for everybody except "us". Americans might be shocked and disappointed to discover that after several centuries of  colonial oppression a great part of the world's population can see a white man get his throat cut with total equanimity if not a certain schadenfreude.

What truly does impress me is that the CIA puts IS's numbers at 31,000. This certainly is no a small group of terrorists. 

Anyone with even a superficial knowledge of statistical sampling should shudder at that number. With only 30,624 Muslims randomly polled you would have a reliable indicator of the Ummah's opinion on any subject, so it would be safe to say that for every young man (or woman) with enough courage and initiative to travel so far at so much risk of death, there must be thousands on thousands of young men (and women) who wish they had the guts to do so too. 

Certainly these numbers tell us that even the most moderate Muslims could imagine a young family member involved, very much in the same way that moderate Irish or Basques could easily have a family member in the IRA or ETA and while they disapprove of what they do, they don't stop loving them... As a friend of mine from a very rich family once told me, "blood is thicker than toothpaste". 

This means that our success in running down and exterminating the young men (and women) of the Islamic State may bring us much more trouble down the road than we have today.

A very reliable leading indicator of how wrong this could all go is the recent statement by Tony Blair advocating sending in ground troops... I'm waiting to hear what Bush thinks. DS

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why I'm blogging so little these days

Regular readers of my blog posts may wonder why I am posting so infrequently these days. There are several reasons, but the most important one, is that I am rethinking what I want to write about... I am trying to find an underlying pattern in all of this and write about that as I notice that the "day to day" of world affairs is getting very repetitive and I find myself often cannibalizing my earlier posts, as I have said (to my satisfaction, at least) what I think about these subjects already.

So please bear with me as I recycle my take on what is going on.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Nobody knows you when you're down and out

First it was the 2007 financial crisis. Then it became the 2008 financial crisis. Next it was the downturn of 2008-2009. Finally, in mid-2009, it was dubbed the “Great Recession.” And, with the business cycle’s shift onto an upward trajectory in late 2009, the world breathed a collective a sigh of relief. We would not, it was believed, have to move on to the next label, which would inevitably contain the dreaded D-word.(...) By 2011, it was clear – at least to me – that the Great Recession was no longer an accurate moniker. It was time to begin calling this episode “the Lesser Depression.”(...) A year and a half ago, those who expected a return by 2017 to the path of potential output – whatever that would be – estimated that the Great Recession would ultimately cost the North Atlantic economy about 80% of one year’s GDP, or $13 trillion, in lost production. If such a five-year recovery began now – a highly optimistic scenario – it would mean losses of about $20 trillion. If, as seems more likely, the economy performs over the next five years as it has for the last two, then takes another five years to recover, a massive $35 trillion worth of wealth would be lost. When do we admit that it is time to call what is happening by its true name? J. Bradford DeLong - Project Syndicate 

Once I lived the life of a millionaire,
Spent all my money, I didn’t care.
Took all my friends out for a mighty good time,
Buying high priced liquor , champagne and wine.

Then I began to fall so low,
Lost all my friends, had no nowhere to go.
If I ever get my hands on a dollar again,
I’ll hang on to it till that big eagle grins.

Because, nobody knows you
When you're down and out.
In your pocket, not one penny,
And as for friends, you don't have any.
"Nobody Knows You" - Traditional Blues
I wonder how much our economic stagnation is a major factor in the instability we are seeing in the Middle East and the Ukraine, etc, and not just our military "indecisiveness" and "war weariness"?  

Certainly the miserable performance of the economy is having a very destabilizing effect on the European Union with the emergence of parties on both the left and the right that want to leave the euro or even the EU itself, and I even wonder how much of a role it might play in America's political deadlock/paralysis?

No kidding, could things is far apart as Marine Le Pen, Podemos, Scottish independence, the Tea Party, UKIP and even the ISIS owe some of their success to the western world's, dead in the water, economy?

Certainly the principal charisma of our western societies since WWII has been their capacity to produce enormous wealth and to distribute it widely among our populations, who spen(d-t) it freely... Let's not kid ourselves, even the idea of "freedom" is directly connected to having enough money to exercise that freedom.

If our economy can't cut the mustard, what exactly are we selling? Where exactly are we intent on leading the rest of humanity?

I don't have the answer but I would like to hear more people asking the question.  DS