Worldwide Java Jag

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Could be 1923

The Egyptian revolution has become like a Rorschach test. Every commentator is able to see into it their own imagined visions and describe it with their own expectations and fears. The “butterflies mating” Egyptian inkblots have become: the 1979 Iranian Islamist revolution, the 2004–2005 Ukrainian uprising or, according to Nikolai Grozni in the New York Times, it’s the Bulgarian rebellion of 1989. We have even heard serious comparisons to the Malaysian revolt that forced out Sukarno in 1967. Then of course we have the Web social networkers telling us it’s a Twittter/Facebook revolution. Nicholas Kristof even mentioned 1776, as I did on 1/31/11 in “A Light Unto Nations.”

The best place to look, however, is Ataturk’s revolution of 1923 in Turkey. There the aging, incompetent and corrupt sultan ruled much like Mubarak: answerable to no one and prone to stealing the countries riches for his own and his family’s personal benefit. Shaken by the modernizations of the European countries after World War I, Ataturk and his band of secularists looked in the mirror and saw a weak and backward Turkey. A Turkey falling further and further behind the rest of the world. Think Egypt vs. Asia and Latin America.

What he needed to do was de-Islamisize the state. He abolished the sultanate and disabused anyone of the notion that the caliphate would survive. These two Islamic institutions, it must be remembered, were the very pillars of the Ottoman Empire. That was change you could not believe. Ataturk looked West, and his government started studying the democratic institutions of England and France. He even incorporated Swiss laws about women into the civil code. He completely reformed the educational system, eliminating the Koran-focused madrasahs and inviting Western educator John Dewey to advise.

Every aspect of the civil system was strengthened—the governing system, the court system, the civil service. In short, he dragged Turkey into the modern era and freed it from the yoke of medieval Islam. Turkey today remains the most open and successful of all the large Islamic countries.

Of course, this did not sit well with the disenfranchised religious leaders, and there was an ongoing series of counterrevolts and an attempted assassination of Ataturk. The Islamists fought him at every turn. Yet he prevailed, and in 1926, for the first time in history, secular law ruled an Islamic land.

This is the revolution that the Egyptians may be aiming for. Freedom to modernize and chart a course for real economic progress. Freedom to join the club of countries that do not imprison bloggers and torture dissenters. Freedom to be entrepreneurs and not rely on access to Mubarak and his family as a path to success.

Ataturk was from the military. In fact, he was a great general and hero, so to dismiss Egyptian governors with a military background is too simplistic. Reform and modernization can come from these institutions too. Will Facebook and Twitter make any possible reform and modernization happen faster? Who knows? What took Ataturk decades may take Egyptian reformers hours. Decrees and new laws can be instantly disseminated, rumors squashed and clarity magnified. We will see. I don’t have fear or hope at this point. I am just looking to the past as a guide to the future, and I see 1923 and the Turkish revolution as a real hope for Egypt.

That hope is the nightmare that Iran and Hezbollah face. Sunnis are often more open to progress than Shi’ites (except Wahabi Sunnis), and the Iranian ability to influence Sunni countries is based on the hatred of Israel. Without that club there is not much appeal for the Iranian and Hezbollah lifestyle. This fear is what is behind the silly and clumsy efforts of Iran and Hezbollah to identify with the Egyptian revolution. They are fooling no one, certainly not the Iranian youth now looking enviously at Egypt.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Look in the Bedroom

Who may have lost Egypt? That is the question among the West’s intelligence services. Evidently the CIA and NSA failed to tell Obama what was up on the Nile, ditto Mossad to Netanyahu. France, who once owned these joints, appears clueless too. While recent Wikileaks show that some knew instability was a possibility, it named the usual suspects: corruption, lack of jobs and opportunity, plus grinding poverty. The world seems taken by surprise. No one saw the truly explosive underpinning beneath the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts.

If anyone in Western intelligence had only asked Oussam Benchikha, he could have explained it all. As identified and quoted in the New York Times last week he is an 18-year-old Algerian pizza maker trying to sneak into Greece and then the E.U. from Turkey. To what purpose? Does he want to blow things up? Is he a jihadist? No, it turns out his reason for crossing the border is, “I want to be married.” He further explained, “You need money to be married. I want to get a job right away.” In that brief and baleful summation of his wants and needs is the key to understanding why Arab youths from Rabat to Cairo and beyond have “gone wild.” They are not having sex, and they want to.

A generation ago most Arab youth were living much like their grandparents, in rural traditional villages and small towns. The population of Cairo in 1950 was 2.4 million.It is now 20 million. Life in those rural places followed the timeless tradition of very early marriage to nearby neighbors. A small dowry, usually composed of livestock or other useful items, was the bride price, and after the marriage the newlyweds immediately set up housekeeping. To accommodate them, a new room was simply built onto the family compound and everyone lived and worked to contribute to the family enterprise.

This ageless pattern has been totally disrupted by urbanization and the youthful population explosion. According to Arab News, 50 percent of all Arabs are under age 25 and 20 percent are ages 15 to 25. This is hormone central, this is the age of sexual awakening and desire. Think of our free love, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll ’60s. The problem is, these young men and their families find themselves unable to pay the inflated urban dowries, and without jobs have no income to find an apartment, get married and start a family. In an attempt to replicate the housing expansion of a village, Cairenes try and add extra floors, but one can add only so many floors to a house till it collapses. There are some 8,000 buildings in Cairo right now that are in danger of collapse. Houses fall down there every week. So these men sit in cafés and public places, jobless, hopeless and sexless.

Europe knows this phenomenon well, but there is a key difference. The unemployment rate in Spain and Italy among this young age group is also over 30 percent, and it is only a little lower in France and Germany. In all those countries, it is normal for men and women to live in their parents’ homes and apartments well into their 30s. The difference is they can go out and…have sex. Madrid’s discos are filled every night till 4 a.m. with ecstasy-infused 20-somethings. When they’re done dancing and hooking up, they’re not going to church. There are very few Italian virgins past their teens. Sex among the French and the northern Europeans is so natural and normal people hardly think about it. There is a lot of unemployment in Brazil, but lots of sex. MTV tells you all you need to know about America’s teens and sex. Don’t ask your teenage kids what’s going on—if you don’t know, you won’t want to.

None of this is happening in the Arab world. There, even though urbanization has taken place, the social mores have remained rural and fixed. Virginity until marriage among Arab woman is a nonnegotiable requirement. Draconian honor killings against a girl’s lover by her father or brothers is the norm even in supposedly modern countries like Jordan. These kids don’t go to clubs, they don’t date, they have no friends with benefits. There is absolutely no free and easy discussion of sex in greater Arabia. I don’t think it was an accident that a youth rebellion happened in Tunisia. Topless French, Italian and German beauties have been going there for years to sunbathe on the famous beaches. They must have been quite an eye-opener to the Tunisian youth.

This is where the Internet and Facebook may have played the most powerful role of all. Arab youth can now see that their age peers are having sex. They can go on Facebook and see flirtatious teens and lingerie-clad college students clearly unconcerned about their “reputations.” Sexually provocative images made by ordinary-looking girls are a link a dozen. The Mid-East is said to have the highest per capita consumption of porn in the world. Talk about being inflamed—the images and downloads coming from the Internet are like links to another planet for these sex-starved Arab youths.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to put a lid on all this. It takes an Iranian-style response to put this genie back in the bottle: beatings, jailings, torture and hanging. That may do the trick for a while, but long term I would bet on the hormones. Just ask the Catholic Church anywhere in the Western world how that “sin” thing is going. Seen the “Do you attend church?” survey numbers for Italian and Spanish youth lately?

So Oussam Benchikha, wherever you are now, there are two things I want to say to you. First, I sincerely hope you find a job and a wife. They are both useful things to have; you have identified life’s priorities well. Secondly, if someone from a Western intelligence agency or a Mossad agent finds you and wants to interview you, please do me a favor. Explain to them that your unhappiness with Algeria and your need to leave is not about jihad or the restoration or the Caliphate. Just be open and honest with them and tell them you want to be like others who have intimacy with women. They might not understand at first because they searched the other rooms of the house and forgot to look in the bedroom, but please, you set them straight.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Light Unto the Nations

Obscured in the sea of upheaval that is today’s Mideast is a little lighthouse of hope, a beacon to the peaceful, prosperous future yearned for by the oppressed. It is tiny, imperfect and often wrong…yet it is the brightest light in the ocean of darkness. It is, oddly, the destination that, if its revolutions are successful, the entire Arab and Islamic world yearns to arrive at.

Let us describe this place so we can see in its reflection what the Islamic street so desperately craves. First, there is the basic freedom to be heard. Whatever you have to say, you can. You are free to criticize, insult, offend, accuse and call for the downfall of any and every person in power. No leader is immune and no insult too strong—even the accusation that the president is a war criminal is allowed. Unlike the billions in the Arab world, China and Russia, no one will arrest you, throw you in jail, torture you or shut down your Internet account. You can criticize the local trash pick-up schedule, your child’s school principal or the commander of the army. You can do this in video, onstage or in the newspaper. Here, in this parcel of land, when there is failure there is accountability. When a war is lost, there is a commission of investigation, there is a published analysis, there are firings of generals and resignations of ministers. Criminal activity is punished, and no one is immune. A recent president could be and was sentenced to jail for his actions.

This most basic, most important freedom must be the cornerstone of any country that wants to provide a real life for its citizens. Israel is the solution.

Political change is via the ballot. This seemingly simple demand is at the head of the list for protesters from Teheran to Cairo to Tiananmen Square. Not phony, absurd elections like in Russia or Egypt, where the opposition is pre-eliminated. Not stolen elections and total fraud like Iran and Afghanistan, but real elections. Yes, elections are messy and confusing, many voices, many differing blocks and many shifting alliances, but they are the safety valve that would have eliminated all the rage taking place in the streets of the Islamic world. Yes to representatives accountable to you. No more military generals and their bayonets, which are willed to their sons and sons of sons. That goes too for Iranian mullahs who claim that God and the previous mullah has appointed them for life. Thuggery disguised as divine right has been exposed for the brutality behind it. The sprit of 1776 is now in the air, mingling with the smoke of roasted lamb. Free, fair elections from Teheran to Rabat to Tunis, whose leaders wouldn’t want that. Israel is the solution.

Economic opportunity. There are millions of Arab and Islamic youth today who see no economic future for themselves. This is where the rage comes from, and why it is so deep. China has made a deal with the democracy devil. They in essence have promised rising living standards in return for a politically unaccountable Communist party power. The Islamic world has failed to make even that bargain. Their leaders want the power without delivering an economic payoff. The street has said no. The street wants education, advances by merit rather than connections, opportunities presented and taken by entrepreneurship, the rule of law and the security of transactions. No more baksheesh. These demands are echoed over and over. They seem so basic to us but are so revolutionary to them. Rising economic power seen all over the rest of the world from Asia to Latin America is not lost on the youth of Islam—they want a slice of the pie. They want to travel, to have passports that are welcomed and to see progress. Israel is the solution.

Yes, the road ahead is very perilous. Like the Bolsheviks vs. the Mensheviks in 1917, the well-organized Islamic extremists may seize power in the political vacuum created by the abdicating generals. Yes, the threat to the West and to Israel from the Hezbollah-Hamas axis is very real. However, these are just mirror tyrannies to the secular shahs and generals. They are not the end game or the final stage. Iran is the example. It has the most repressive and murderous regime in all of Islam. Its citizens are less free and more enraged than anywhere, its economic opportunities granted to fellow fanatics, not the most talented. It too will fail and fall.

The road ahead is freedom for all in the house of Islam. When Islam awakens from its repressive slumber, it will look around for an example, a light to guide it to the path of freedom. For all its faults, for all its flaws, for all its shortsighted actions and silly leaders, Israel is the one place where change can and does take place through the process of democracy. It would be pretty hard for the Islamic world, when it is free to decide its own destiny, not to see that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Couscous Revolution

The toppling of Tunisian leader Ben Ali brings the revolutionary spirit back to the Mid-East. Not since the Iranian revolution of 1979 has a spontaneous popular movement thrown out an entrenched strongman via civil unrest. While this is already being called the Twitter revolution and everyone will make a big deal that Facebook also played a part (as I am sure they did), the fabled Arab street communicated that it had enough. The message is important, the medium less so. This revolt is perhaps the most profound event since the Iranian revolution and has incalculable and important implications for Israeli policy makers.

The back-story is that the entire Arab world has traded political repression, low economic growth and the denial of personal freedom for the war against Israel. One cannot exaggerate the anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish drumbeat that has gone on since Israel’s founding in 1948. It permeates every Imam’s Friday night sermon, every political platform and every media outlet in the Arab world. The day that Al-Aqsa, the Temple Mount, is liberated is all that matters. Martyrdom was not only blowing yourself up, it was also sacrificing yourself and your family the basic human needs for progress and betterment. Entire countries like Lebanon, which could have been the Switzerland of the region, have given themselves over to Hezbollah's “resistance.” They have brought upon their children war and death. If the Shia in Lebanon’s South is to believe they want even more death and destruction as the missiles, they are hiding attest.

Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Saddam’s Iraq spent more energy focusing on Israel than the plight of their citizenry. Tunisia’s revolt says that may be over forever. The ultra youthful Arabs don’t really remember the Nakba, the same way American Jews don’t really feel the Holocaust any longer. However, they do remember the corrupt civil servant that demanded a bribe to get their shop license. They remember the police being everywhere holding them down. They remember the price of every basic necessity skyrocketing due to entrenched state monopolies. They do remember there were absolutely no jobs when they graduated with college degrees. Most of all they remember their contact with the affluent freedom based nations of Europe and the Americas.

I remember a decade ago having long talks with an Egyptian youth who worked at a parking garage in Manhattan. He had a huge extended family back home and had to return to help them but he did so sadly, reluctant to give up all the simple freedoms he found in America. There are hundreds of millions of Arabs that share this experience even if it is just on a TV or computer screen, they have access to and have tasted a wider world than their local Mosque.

They are not going to suffer for the Palestinians any longer. They are fed up with their societies and are done sacrificing to the fantasy of reclaiming Jaffa. Since it doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon, this just makes them even more furious. All you need to know is that last year Iranian youth turned the annual hate Israel day called Quds Day into a hate Iranian leaders day, and were brutally suppressed.
I believe this: if Israel withdrew from the West Bank tomorrow, five of six Arab governments would not last a year, and if they did it was because they doubled down on the use of censorship, force and brutality. The end of the occupation would be the end of Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia and possibly Morocco, Algeria and Libya. None of these dated militarily repressive regimes are delivering what their youthful citizens need. A Palestinian state would free these youths to demand change.

Ironically, the Tunisian Couscous revolution may ease the pressure on Israel to leave the West Bank. The Arab governments just listed aren’t fools, their strongmen and hereditary rulers can look at what happened in Tunis and see the same thing I do, heck the Zionist occupier card is all they know. They may start to actually subtly support the occupation and savor the view as the Israelis continue their unending and nasty task of repression. The more Palestinian fathers shot at Israeli checkpoints, the better for them.

Read the Arab press, these constant shootings get far more play in Saudi Arabia than the lack of jobs in Riyadh or the continued rape of underage girls forced into a fourth marriage.

Or it could get worse. The Arab governments feeling really threatened may all go the Nasser/Saddam/Ahmadinejad route and heavy up the “kill the Jews” rhetoric. Don’t count that out. So many Arab leaders live in the past and are so out of touch with their own citizens; they don’t know what to do. Corruption, lies, repression, and the stench of failure are what they know.

Things may slip back into the familiar for a while. We need to see what the new military government in Tunisia does next, but for Israel and the Arabs a new day is upon them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

12 Days Later

Lets see, were only 12 days into the New Year and we already have an interesting track record predicting the political future. To start, today's NYTimes has an article ( on North Korea's ability to strike the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile within a few years. Even the defense chief Gates is alarmed.

The Pakistan chaos we spoke about has come right on schedule with the security forces clearly compromised by the Wahhabi fanatics.

China gets front page news in the Times today too ( with David Leonhardt writing a very insightful piece about the problem with China being all about intellectual property theft not the yuan rate. We have been screaming about that for years.

Even Africa helped our predictive track record. There, Namibia, issued arrests warrants for attempted murder against Chinese mine managers who shot and wounded striking miners. "Yankee come home"

New thoughts: it's official 50%, of Americans are Morons! And the proof was published today for all to see. Read the link: (

While 71% of the public opposes raising the already legislated and budgeted debt ceiling, only 20% want to see cuts to social security and or Medicaid. Similarly only 24% want to see cuts to education. Since these three budget items are some of the largest components of the federal budget and are increasing at the fastest rates not wanting to cut these but not pay for them is quite bluntly...moronic, silly, ignorant, ill informed...whatever.

This is where the media and political discourse over the budget has led us, a complete dead-end. I can't wait to see the financial hit the country club republicans will take when their tea party brethren cause a default on the nations bond debt. With poll results showing this level of ignorance about our countries finances a real train wreck could be on its way.

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Waterslide Year-2010 in Review

You might be thinking that this was a watershed year for our world, but it’s more akin to a waterslide, the kind where we all get in the car at the top of the ride and careen downward, willy-nilly, hoping for the best. We assume the ride’s designers have it figured out and no one will get hurt.

North Korea is one component of this analogy. Here we are trying to puzzle out whether Kim Jong-il and his son are irrational or merely tactically aggressive. Meanwhile, they keep manufacturing nuclear weapons. North Korea has broken every treaty, lied about and covered up nuclear processing plants, and sent materials, experts, and missiles abroad to arm those who would destroy us, and the West’s collective response is a shrug. If the thought of North Korea enabling a nuclear Myanmar isn’t enough to wake up the leaders of the rich world, then nothing short of a mushroom cloud over the Champs-Elysées will.

The Bush II administration is not the only group who failed to deal with North Korea’s nuclear path to Armageddon. NATO, SEATO, the UN, and every first world country are responsible. What should have taken place was a unilateral bombing campaign by the air forces of the world to reduce North Korean industrial capacity to zero. Think how fragile our world is now, diplomatically, economically, environmentally and socially, and add the elimination of Moscow, London, New York, Tel-Aviv or Washington. To place the world’s continuation in the hands of the Jongs is an unfathomable act.

Next up are the Mullahs of Iran. Same debate: Are they really mad? Or, do they only act bombastic and threatening for domestic consumption? What if they are mad? What if they are messianic and 12th-imam-end-of-days obsessed? What if when backed into a corner they let a few missiles fly to prove a point?

More and more unstable regimes with kilotons of destructive capacity cannot be a stabilizing force in the world. The nuclear proliferation of these regimes and our collective failure to put a stop to them may be remembered as the single biggest mistake in human history. We have written before that the 17th century concept of national sovereignty may be the bête noire of civilization. Because world-ending nuclear bombs and missiles can come flying without warning from tiny countries, respect for borders and nation states is something that cannot be countenanced by a world that wants a future.

Back copies of Foreign Affairs with its intellectually justifying, yet literate explanations, allowances, and outright defenses of nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran should be sent into space to provide a good record for extraterrestrials of the folly of we humans when we rationalize and intellectualize the evil and madness that finally destroyed us.

It is in this context that we nominate the unknown assassin of Majid Shahriari, the top Iranian nuclear scientist killed by a bomb two weeks ago, as our Man of The Year. This brave person was trying to save humanity…even if it is just to go on Facebook and look up your high school girlfriend. The idea that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year is all the proof you need to see how forgetful we have become regarding our survival. If, in addition to North Korea, we have a nuclear-armed Iran, it’s a certainty that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ clock will be moved up to midnight.

Think about Pakistan for a minute. On an individual level, reflect upon the woman dressed in a burka (we wrote about this trend on July 24, 2007 in Tootsie and the Red Mosque) who killed herself, 45 others, and wounded scores more waiting on a food line. And, on a national level, if you want to know where religion and madness meet bloodthirsty political ends, you need look no further than the 35 highly effective nuclear bombs Pakistan possesses. Fanatics there will destroy, create carnage and cause incomprehensible suffering as a route to their Islamic goals. They have been loosed upon the world by the Saudi Wahhabis, who would think nothing of destroying an entire city while crying Alu Akbar.

Instead of worrying about Sudan, where they are only armed with rifles, attention should be paid to the nuclear stockpile in Pakistan. I don’t rest well thinking of this unstable, corruption-prone government with Jihad leanings, unable to secure itself from its internal enemies, who, may be within their own ranks. We know their technology can be bought by other nations, just ask nuclear technology salesman Abdul Qadeer Kahn. The next summit meeting of the G8 or the G20 or the Security Council should be about recalling all the nuclear weapons these nations are creating. Nothing is as important.

China. As BB King sings, “You played your hand too soon.” The China we have been describing for years now has finally come out of the shadows and gone from the role of victim to that of perpetrator. What a thin skin this emerging giant possesses. The clumsy, crude and ugly response that China put forward to the Nobel committee’s award to Liu Xiaobo has to be the eye opener of the year. No one could fail to notice China’s panic when the light of freedom was shined in their eyes. First they throw someone in jail and hold them incommunicado for publishing a call for a little openness and freedom. Then they mock and humiliate the Nobel Prize itself with their Confucius Prize.

This regime is scared out of their wits that they are going to lose control and power to… freedom. Censuring the internet; abrogating boundaries in the South China Sea; planning dams that eliminate the life-sustaining waters of neighboring countries; exporting unemployment and misery with a fake exchange rate; unsustainably exploiting the natural resources of Africa and Asia. It won’t be long before yesterday’s cries of Yankee go home,” will be replaced by “Yankee come back.” The Chinese can be merciless. Without the constraints of democracy’s anti-bribery laws, they will take what they want, when they want, and leave nothing but suffering. Their deals to build third world infrastructure are pathways for corruption and are vendor-financing schemes that will ultimately leave the vendee deeply in debt.

This was the year of China’s denouement on the world stage. If the subsequent acts are as ugly as this one, look for the audience to run screaming from the theater.

On to our favorite topic. Our friends in Israel have continued with their tone-deaf, self-defeating campaign to ensure their continued isolation. By adopting at the outset, before they even found a table to sit around, a swaggering posture of “Just say no,” Bibi and his coalition of unholies proved once again that the Yiddishacup of diplomacy evades them. No wonder there was an article in the New York Review of Books about the alienation of American Jews from the Zionist cause and Israel in general.

If the Israeli government can alienate me they have really achieved something, and I am alienated. As a primer you may want to read Thomas Friedman’s 12/12/10 column While I don’t always agree with him, this one is out-of-the-park correct. Then you should read the Israeli version in the Jerusalem Post by Caroline Glick (12/17/10) She is often brilliant but here fails to understand the difference between perception and reality.

And, did I get this right? Fifty Israeli government-employed rabbis sent a fatwa to the press denouncing the renting of property to non-Jews. Note to the Israeli establishment: Boychiks, Most Americans, Jews included, are secular citizens of the modern world. We live and thrive in a pluralistic society that rewards achievement. We have spent over a century overcoming hate and intolerance, quotas and marginalization. Our professional relationships are color and nationality blind. American Jews don’t think God talks to us alone and is deaf to all others. Free to practice Torah, we understand the need of others to practice their holy doctrines too.

In Mea Sharim, we see the same fanatical thinking we abhor in the Mullahs of Iran. It is not far from these rabbinical fanatics to the Imams who stone to death adulteresses and amputate the arms of thieves. To have a coalition government that shares a bed with I-know-what-God-wants politicians is scary to America. Netanyahu could keep control without them, making it an even worse shonda.

Historically, the best thing to do is make an alliance with your opposition. Tzipi and Kadima are not the enemy of Netanyahu --Hamas and Hezbollah are. The fact that these two cannot put aside their egos and form a unity government that will sideline the religious parties is really egregious, so much so that the country’s security is at stake. By turning down Obama’s offer of stealth planes in order to build more settlements, the government of Israel has managed to alienate its strongest defenders, deny itself the weapons it needs, and give a PR advantage to Abbas and the PLO. Additionally, the Abbas lunch for the 60 Israelis was the PR coup of 2010. Behaving as a moderate, kindly statesman, his outreached hand photo oped better than the angry scowl Netanyahu wears.

I just finished reading 34 Days by the Israeli journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff. It is the story of the Hezbollah-Israeli war of 2006. If you thought Israel always knows what it is doing in the military/political sphere, read this book. The problem is the cost of not being right is getting higher and higher. As they like to say in the Mideast, “You must pay the price.” The price of Israel’s ultra-poor path to peace is getting exorbitant.

My advice: form a unity government and negotiate hard. If the Arabs can’t close the deal or fall back on, “We have 7 million refugees who need to be resettled in Holon or there will be no peace,” then the government of Israel can stand tall. But, if the Palestinians meet Israel in the middle, imagine a conflict-free Israel. For all the dust kicked up in 2000 after the failure of Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to cement a peace deal at Camp David, very few world leaders blamed the Israelis. Most took Arafat at his word that Hamas would kill him if he signed. I understand that the current failure to make a deal could start another intifada, but what is the alternative? Occupation of the West Bank forever? Cancerous settlement building? A true and enduring apartheid state? Policing a demographic time bomb earning the world’s enmity? Ben Gurion and Golda Meir would have done better. It is time for Israel to smarten up and take the high road. It is dangerous, but the current path is a dead end.

These are my thoughts for the New Year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boxer Rebellion Round Two

A parable: It was a difficult, confusing time in the empire. Once the greatest nation on earth, a technology leader, the world’s largest economy with high standards of living and a robust culture, it led the way in its region and looked down on those less developed, i.e., the whole world. Once, all the countries that came into contact with it treated it with deference and respect.

But, in these new hard times, endless corruption, unsustainable payments to the elite and political intrigue weakened the central government. Internal divisions of religion and class so weakened the ruling class that they could not defend against foreign influence and, ultimately, occupation.

Foreign corporations encroached on the empire and forced cheaply made industrial goods upon the people, destroying centuries of native industries. Textiles and manufactured products brought from abroad weakened the currency and increased the debt. Taxes were raised to finance the government’s obligations. Hardship and hunger increased. There was little or nothing the nation had to offer foreigners, so trade imbalances ballooned. The government did not have a solution and became increasingly helpless and desperate. Their backs were against the wall.

Does this sound like the United States of America in 2010? Another correct answer would be China in 1900, the year of the Boxer Rebellion.

China fell hard. The late 19th century found China on its knees. Technology savvy European powers were able to break through China’s physical and cultural walls, forcing China into a half century of humiliation and self-destruction. The West stopped at nothing. They pushed opium on the empire, creating a market of misery out of millions of addicts. They forced Christianity upon the ancient believers in Confucius and Lao-Tzu’s Taoism, disrupting religious beliefs that existed for two thousand years. They granted trading rights to themselves, marginalizing or eliminating the sovereignty of regional Chinese governments and emasculating the central one. Chinese currency had no convertibility, so the only form of payment acceptable to westerners was gold or silver. America, for its part, wanted an “open door” trade policy to break the European stranglehold on imports.

What happened next is illustrative and what today’s currency-and-trade oppressive Chinese leadership must fear. For they know full well their own history.

Then and Now

The self-described “fists of righteous harmony” (termed “Boxers” by westerners) aimed to redress the humiliation felt by the Chinese. Arising in the north of Shandong Province, this shadowy organization was infused with a mythical martial arts spirit and a Jihad type belief in their own immortality --the importance of the Muslim Chinese in the Boxer rebellion has been largely ignored. The desperate and ineffectual Empress Tzu Hsi, last of the Ch’ing dynasty, was unsure how to control the Boxers, who wanted to “destroy the foreigner.” The situation quickly got out of hand.

The “righteous fists” had their own agenda. They demanded nothing short of a nationalistic cleansing and a restoration of China’s greatness and sovereignty. The opium traders, the low cost manufactured goods, and the Christian missionaries all had to go immediately and by force.

The fists swept the countryside, killing, burning and destroying any and all signs of western influence. They slaughtered missionary families and burnt their churches. They set fire to the foreign legations that existed in the main cities. As Charlton Heston fans may remember, this all culminated in 1900 with the surviving foreigners holed up in Peking for fifty-five days, until an arriving Western multi-national army rescued them.

Why would the Chinese fear this movement happening in America? Because the shoe is on the other foot. Having destroyed our manufacturing industry, the Chinese continue to force the opium of low priced goods on us. Now, as then, trans-national companies put their interests before their country’s interests and dictate trading terms. Profits are all. U.S. steelworkers and Senator Schumer, in the role of Boxer General Dong Fuxiang, seeing their country bleeding, have risen to the occasion, and are on the offensive.

Chinese Peasants or American Workers?

Even the parallel of the Chinese being forced to raise internal taxes to make up for the revenue that poured into the hands of Liverpool manufacturing millionaires, resonates today when we look at our states and cities and their fiscal crises.

The Chinese know what a popular rebellion looks like. Boxer was one. Tiananmen another. Premiere Wen Jiabao knows what domestic unrest and civil instability can bring. He has been pleading and threatening not to import it to China. Better in Michigan.

When the Chinese, who monitor everyone’s media very carefully, see that the movement to free ourselves from their tyrannous mercantile yoke is serious, look for window-dressing concessions like allowing them to build factories and invest here. It will happen. They are not stupid and that 2.4 trillion dollar pile of reserves has to go somewhere. When they see that politicians --currently there are some thirty nine house and senate races using China’s unfair trade as a theme -- get elected, they will get very nervous.

The Boxer Rebellion ultimately failed and Western powers doubled their imposition of misery on the Chinese. They forced them to further weaken the government’s authority and to pay crippling reparations. Eventually this led to Mao and the Draconian rule of the Communists. Let’s hope America will have a more successful rebellion and redress the oppressive trade policies of the Chinese in a more enlightened and effective manner.