Skilled Saudis, Bumbling Baby Assad

Saudis Back Calls for Syrian Pullout from Lebanon,” by Dominic Evans, Reuters, Saudis Back Calls for Syrian Pullout from Lebanon, 3 March 2005 (from Democratic Underground).

The Saudis have hung onto both The Hejaz, Nijd, the Empty Quarter, East Arabia, and all their other despotates because they buy off internal enemies and can be useful to outside powers. For example:

Saudi Arabia added a key Arab voice on Thursday to mounting demands that Syria withdraw its troops swiftly from Lebanon, where they have helped secure it powerful influence for decades.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Riyadh for crisis talks where Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah told him immediate action was needed.

Abdullah, a regional ally of the United States, told Assad that “Syria must start withdrawing soon, otherwise Saudi-Syrian relations will go through difficulties,” one Saudi official said.

Baby Assad runs from the obvious for as long as possible

Syria’s official SANA news agency said of the Assad-Abdullah meeting: “The talks have tackled the upcoming Arab summit meeting and the situation in Lebanon and views were identical on this matter.”

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo refrained from joining in an increasingly public campaign calling for Syrian withdrawal and said they were opting for quiet diplomacy by individual Arab states.

One one hand, it’s maddening. A key part of the Iraq War was to pressure Syria, they’re nightmarish state enables terrorism, and they cruficy people.

On the other… The Saudis know which way the wind is blowing. They can read the writing on the wall, the signs in the sky, and a million other cliches. They join in popular causes after they know how it will end.

In sum: we are winning

PS: How’s this for a dramatic map?

medium_very_dramatic_map_of_syria_and_lebanon.gif

If this is the future of cartography, my brother has chosen the right field!

Update: Collounsbury sums it up: “It adds a whole new dimension of bad for the Syrians…”

Scaled GDPs and Debts v. Cole

A Less Super Superpower,” by Jonathan Schell, The Nation, http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=2235, 21 March 2005 (on Tom Dispatch 2 March 2005).

US Military Deaths reach 1500; 19 Iraqis Killed,” by Juan Cole, Informed Consent, http://www.juancole.com/2005/03/us-military-deaths-reach-1500-19.html, 3 March 2005.

I’ve added a section, which should appear both here, technorati, and maybe even del.icio.us. He is too unique, powerful, and controversial a blogger to be eternally relegated to the blogosphere section.

In a dazzlingly honest Leftist post, Tom Engelhardt quotes Mr. Schell as saying

Measured by Hobbes’s test, the superpower looks less super. Its military has been stretched to the breaking point by the occupation of a single weak country, Iraq. . The United States has dramatically failed to make progress in its main declared foreign policy objective, the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction: While searching fruitlessly for nuclear programs in Iraq, where they did not exist, it temporized with North Korea, where they apparently do exist, and now it seems at a loss for a policy that will stop Iran from taking the same path. The President has just announced that the “end of tyranny” is his goal, but in his first term the global democracy movement suffered its greatest setback since the cold war — Russia’s slide toward authoritarianism.

Dr. Cole catches the meme

This weakness, in my view, derives from the relative strength of European and East Asian economies, the indebtedness of the US to foreign creditors, and the mobilization of the masses in less developed countries, such that they can no longer be controlled in the old colonial ways (European colonialism depended crucially on the peasantry being isolated, illiterate and relatively apolitical). As for economic strength, Matthew Connelly at Columbia University has argued persuasively that the US used threats of denying France loans to get DeGaulle to accept the decolonization of Algeria. The US now cannot use such a tool, since we owe enormous sums to foreign governments.

While we should save more, are we really close to an Algeria / Suez Moment?

To see if we are at risk from debt power, I built a spreadsheet using data from Wikipedia and the CIA. I looked at three numbers in particular: the size of the world’s economies in nominal dollars (because debt is in nominal dollars), the size of those states’ debts, and the size of those states’ debt / gdp ratio. Because the question concerns relative power, I scaled these numbers so that the greatest economy would have a scaped gdp of 100%, the greatest debtor would have a scaled debt of 100%, etc.

Visually

medium_scaled_gdp_and_debt_small.jpg

The United States it the world’s greatest economy, with a nominal gdp more than twise the size of its friend Japan. America carries a large scaled nominal debt, about a tenth greater than Japan. But America’s debt, scaled against other nations and its own gdp, is puny.

We should invest more, both at home and abroad. Consumerism and wasteful government spending are worrisome. But Schell’s and Cole’s chicken-littleisms are unfounded.

Religious Freedom in East Arabia – or – The Saudis are Jerks

Saud Shiites, Long Kept Down, Look to Iraq and Assert Rights,” by Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/02/international/middleeast/02shiites.html, 2 March 2005 (from Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog).

A post about religious persecution in Wahabi-occupied East Arabia and the “pagan” nature of Shia Islam.

The images are from various websites, dealing mainly with the three generations of martyrs: Ali, Hussein, and Hussein’s infant son.

The Shiite Muslim minority in this kingdom once marked their Ashura holy day furtively in darkened, illegal community centers out of fear of stirring the powerful wrath of the religious establishment.
medium_imam_1.2.jpg

But this year Ashura fell on the eve of the 10-day campaign for municipal council elections, to be held here on Thursday, and a bolder mood was readily apparent. Thousands thronged sprawling, sandy lots for hours to watch warriors on horseback re-enact the battlefield decapitation of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, in 680.

A few young men even dared perform a gory, controversial ritual no one can remember seeing here in public – beating their scalps with swords until they drew blood to mirror Hussein’s suffering.

“Maybe now, after all that has happened in Iraq, we will take something political from the story of Hussein,” Mr. Ibrahim added, echoing a common sentiment. “Now the issue will take another route, because Shiites have started the growth of their political culture.”

Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment, which is dominated by the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, still damns such rites as pagan orgies. But the fact that Shiites, at least in this city, their main center, no longer feel the need to hide reflects a combination of important changes here and elsewhere in the Middle East.

But the little that has changed outside Qatif raises questions in the community about the government’s commitment to tolerance. Ashura celebrations are banned in Dammam, a neighboring city of some 600,000, including 150,000 Shiites.

There is only one officially sanctioned Shiite mosque there, and no functioning Shiite cemetery. The distinctive Shiite call to prayer is banned, and even the small clay pucks that Shiites are supposed to rest their foreheads on during prayer are outlawed.

medium_leaving_madenah_small.jpg

Saudi textbooks contain passages that describe Shiite beliefs as outside Islam – the original split emerging because Shiites supported the claim of Muhammad’s heirs to control the faith. Wahhabis believe that Shiite veneration of the Prophet’s family, including worshipping at tombs in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf, incorporates all manner of sins, including polytheism.

Such practices prompt some to revile Shiites as a lower order of infidel than even Christians or Jews.

Now, some might note the suspiciously Catholic nature of the iconography, passion plays, and holy family-veneration. Some might observe there is no strong evidence of these celebrations before the 16th century. Others might opine that the early 16th century saw a large influx of Spanish Jews into the Muslims lands, and that many of these had been employed in traveling passion play companies. But heh, if fellow “Christians” can call Catholic-rites pagan, I’ll give the House of Saud a pass.

But anyway…

Wahabist Arabia is not our friend. It is a retrograde nightmare whose people attack us and whose “virtue police” attack their fellow subjects. The least we can do after liberating the Iraqi Shia is to encourage the self-liberation of the Shia of East Arabia.

Natural and Personal Liberties

US loses cotton fight with Brazil,” BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4316671.stm, 3 March 2005 (from Free Republic).

Senate OKs Medical-Marijuana Bills,” by Steve Terrell, Media Awareness Project, http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v05/n349/a11.html, 3 March 2005 (from Free Republic).

Two great news stories. As the system, a long-term solution Congress put in place to help its short-term battles against protectionists, decree lower prices for consumers

A World Trade Organisation (WTO) appeals body on Thursday upheld an earlier ruling ordering the US to stop the payments to its farmers.

The organisation had found in its initial September ruling that the subsidies violated global trade rules.

Brazil said the US practice depressed world prices and hurt cotton producers both in Brazil and other countries.

The US will now have to bring its cotton subsidies, which wrongly include export credits for producers, in line with global trade rules.

While New Mexico ponders merciful treatment for the sick

one, not two, but three bills that would set up state programs to provide marijuana to patients suffering from certain serious medical conditions won overwhelming bipartisan approval from the state Senate on Wednesday.

If any of the bills makes it through the House and is signed by the governor, patients suffering conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal-cord damage, epilepsy and HIV-AIDS would be able to use marijuana supplied by the state Health Department.

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson issued a statement that said: “For people who are living in a tremendous amount of pain as a result of life-threatening diseases, this is a treatment that they should be allowed to have.”

Terrific. Two vertical controls — the brick-wall of marijuana laws and the road-block of trade distortions, are attacked.

Tell me the WTO’s protection of natural liberty doesn’t help the Global War on Terrorism. A free and fair playing field means that farmers in developing countries can earn income — not subsidies, not state-welfare, but earned money.

‘s slow progress in personal liberty is potentially even more important. The dream is not just partial decriminalization, but full legalization. Imagine a world where narcoterrorists cannot monopolize narcotics. Imagine the legal systems all throughout the world not subverted by narcomafias. As importantly, imagine a civil society where adults are not infantilized by statist health mullahs.

Hurrah for natural and personal liberties! Hurrah for the World Trade Organization and the Senate of the State of New Mexico!

Ma-Na Ma-Na Song

Ma-Na Ma-Na,” by Brendan, I Hate Linux, http://ihatelinux.blogspot.com/2005/01/ma-na-ma-na.html, 31 January 2005..

Dr. Pepper, Google, and the Muppets,” by Sunidesus, Sunidesus Speaks, http://www.sunidesus.net/mt/archives/2005_02.html#001951, 4 February 2005.

The Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper commercial,” by Keth, Unsolved Mysteries, http://www.unsolvedmysteries.com/usm410025.html, 26 February 2005.

Click Here to Download the Ma-Na Ma-Na Song. (The link goes to a Muppet Music Video. It is also available on CD).

The Dr. Pepper ad is also available.

It is a song that’s been misheard as

  • Ba na, ba na,
  • Phenomenon, and somehow as
  • Paul is dead

but it’s actually the Ma-Na Ma-Na Song.

Over at I Hate Linux, Brendan writes

There are songs out there that mean a great deal to me, this evening, I heard one of the most obscure ones on my list in commercial during 24.

The commercial, was one for some kind of diet dr pepper and involved a couple on a date, the guy talking about how he works at a children’s hospital and even if he won the lottery he wouldn’t quit… while his date enjoyed her freshly poured diet dr pepper as we hear the main vocals of “Ma-Na Ma-Na” from the guy when ever he opens his mouth with the rest of the restaurant patrons providing the accompanying vocals (if you can call any of “Ma-Na Ma-Na” vocal).

Wow. I’m still in shock.

I had that song in my head for years before I found a copy, and have since addicted a few to it.

My opinion: the ad was OK. I laughed out loud the first itme. Not the second. Eh.

Update According to kegstand at closkey, the audio of the original Muppets version can be found here

Federal Court to Bloggers: Shut Up

The coming crackdown on blogging,” by Declan McCullagh, CNET News.com, http://news.com.com/The+coming+crackdown+on+blogging+-+page+2/2008-1028_3-5597079-2.html?tag=st.next, 3 March 2005 (from Michelle Malkin).

The suspiciously french U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, solomon of the Microsoft case, makes her views on free speech known

In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. “The commission’s exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines” the campaign finance law’s purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

Smith and the other two Republican commissioners wanted to appeal the Internet-related sections. But because they couldn’t get the three Democrats to go along with them, what Smith describes as a “bizarre” regulatory process now is under way.

Hyperlinking may become a campaign donation, subject to a cap

How about a hyperlink? Is it worth a penny, or a dollar, to a campaign?
I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this. One thing the commission has argued over, debated, wrestled with, is how to value assistance to a campaign.

Corporations aren’t allowed to donate to campaigns. Suppose a corporation devotes 20 minutes of a secretary’s time and $30 in postage to sending out letters for an executive. As a result, the campaign raises $35,000. Do we value the violation on the amount of corporate resources actually spent, maybe $40, or the $35,000 actually raised? The commission has usually taken the view that we value it by the amount raised. It’s still going to be difficult to value the link, but the value of the link will go up very quickly.

Unsaid: will only Americans be allowed to hyperlink to campaign websites?

Is this vengence for the take-downs of Rather and Jordon?

Then this is a partisan issue?
Yes, it is at this time
. But I always point out that partisan splits tend to reflect ideology rather than party. I don’t think the Democratic commissioners are sitting around saying that the Internet is working to the advantage of the Republicans.

One of the reasons it’s a good time to (fix this) now is you don’t know who’s benefiting. Both the Democrats and Republicans used the Internet very effectively in the last campaign.

Even starker:

If Congress doesn’t change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?
We’re talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet.

Again, blogging could also get us into issues about online journals and non-online journals. Why should CNET get an exemption but not an informal blog? Why should Salon or Slate get an exemption? Should Nytimes.com and Opinionjournal.com get an exemption but not online sites, just because the newspapers have a print edition as well?

No Human Rights for Bloggers in America?

God save the judiciary’s commitment to free speech.

Update: The hyper-partisan MyDD quotes Jolly Buddha‘s warning of unintended consequences:

How would the FEC treat the value of Hindrocket posting a blog supporting a particular Democratic candidate. It would be very easy for Hindrocket, or anybody else, to create an “independent” site that purported to support a particular candidate. It could actually be quite lame or even negative, since the candidate has absolutely no control over the content. As long as Hindrocket explicitly endorsed candidate A, candidate A would be penalized somehow by the FEC.

How would they place a value on the benefit to the candidate? Would candidate A get “credit” for bad endorsements or if the “endorsement” actually worked against them?

Update 2: Fellow unpronouncable Midwestern blogger TBFKADVK calls it “bone-chilling.”

Update 3: Mark from Zen Pundit calls Senator McCain an “oligarch.”