Sunday, February 27, 2011


Some links from here:

Civilian deaths because of NATO bombing: an investigation by The New York Times. The two reporters who carried out the investigation found that, in the cases which they examined, around 40-70 civilians were killed, including 29 women and children. However, they also say that 'we only saw a small sampling of the strike sites that may have been affected, so the death toll is probably much larger'.

Sirte was subjected to heavy and indiscriminate and bombardment, causing an acute humanitarian crisis. When the rebels eventually got inside the town, they committed a massacre, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

In Tawergha, the whole population of 30'000 people was driven out, and then relentlessly persecuted after that. Human Rights Watch again accused mitlias from Misrata of 'terrorizing the displaced residents'. and documented how 'arrested Tawerghans have been subjected to torture and severe beatings, sometimes leading to death'. These miltias are refusing to let the Tawerghans return home - not that there's much to return to - and this 'would amount to collective punishment and would constitute a crime against humanity for deportation or forced transfer'.

Human Rights Watch have also documented how, in the far west of Libya, 'anti-Gadhafi militias from the Nafusa Mountains have looted and burned homes and schools of tribes that supported the deposed dictator. Anti-Gadhafi militias from Zuwara have looted property as they demanded compensation for damage they suffered during the war'.

NATO, by constantly refusing (p.28/29) to implement the ceasefire demanded by UNSCR 1973, actually ended up prolonging the conflict, thus spilling more blood.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Foreign Policy has a front page article about Kosovo and the US support for Thaci and friends. One of the authors is Whit Mason who wrote the book "Peace at any price: how the world failed Kosovo".

It was interesting to see the issue discussed in such a prominent magazine, but people who know a bit about Kosovo won't find much news.

Interesting was a link to a France24 article that discusses and links to a 2003 article in which UNMIK discusses organ trafficking.

CANVAS: teaching the revolution

Foreign Policy is running an article about CANVAS, an organization in Belgrade that teaches people the strategies of Otpor. It discusses many countries and has special attention to the problems in countries like Myanmar, Iran and Belarus.

Here is an article critical of CANVAS and its support from US sources.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Privatizations in Kosovo

Eciks enthousiastically reports about coming privatizations in Kosovo of elctricity distribution and post and telecom.

I am less convinced. We have had those kinds of privatizations in the Netherlands and the results are rather mixed:

- To my amazement the article talks about the privatization of energy assets. But if it is the same kind of privitization as we have in Holland this basically about a trading company that buys from power plants (and may operate some) and sells to consumers. This has mainly led to the rise of some dubious companies who promise cheap rates in your first year. And when you forget to cancel you pay much higher rates in the second year. So I don't see much benefits. And I don't expect it will help solving Kosovo's energy problems.
I am not sure what will happen with the physical infrastructure. In Holland that stays government property. Selling it would give the buyer a monopoly position. Few companies can resist the temptation to abuse such a position. And it is very difficult to write a contract that reconciles the governments aim of 99.9% uptime with the interests of a company that would make maximum profits at a much lower uptime.

- We have privitized the postal services. The result is that a number of competitors have arisen that pay a piece wage that is so low that its workers get less than the minimum wage. (In the past this would have been illegal but we live in strange times nowadays.) Under this pressure the traditional monopoly holder has steadily worsened its labor conditions. As a result our postal rates are rather low. But while the managers and politicians are crowing about the efficiency of the market it is in effect just oldfashioned exploitation of the workers.

- you can easily privatize mobile phone. You can also privatize service over the fixed lines like calling to other countries and internet. But the lines itself stay a natural monopoly and there is no easy way to privatize that. Here in Holland the main competition of the fixed line operator is the cable company. Together they form a natural duopoly. It looks like the fixed line operator is giving up on upgrading while the cable operator is slowly expanding its internet and phone services. But neither is investing in glass fiber, the supposed medium of the future.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Rethinking Israel's hubris

Up until very recently Israel showed a steady increase in Jewish radicalism. It increasingly looked like many Israeli's prefer the present situation as it gives them an excuse to steal yet more Palestinian land.

The revolt in Egypt may become a turning point. As the Muslim Brother put the peace treaty with Israel into question the Israeli's once again realize that they are a few million Jews amidst a see of Arabs. In the short term they can rely on their technological and military superiority to survive but it is rather foolish to assume that that situation will remain forever.

Israel had forgotten for a few moments that behind those few million Palestinians are a few hundred million Arabs. Those Arabs are not exactly loyal allies for the Palestinians. But just a bit of loyalty at the right time can be enough to make real trouble for Israel.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Financial inequality and the crisis

In the 1920s the US reached record inequality. In the 1930s it slowly reduced to to reach a low point after World War II. From then it stayed low to around 1970 when it slowly started to rise again. Nowadays it is setting new records.

Globalization may be one cause. A political system where the rich can buy their laws another. Many more explanations are going around.

But most interesting is the suggestion that the similarity between the 1920s and the last decade are no coincidence. Both era's saw rising inequality ending in a financial crisis. In both cases the root of the crisis were very relaxed credit standards. It is claimed that these standards were a direct consequence of too much inequality: the rich had too much money to spend and the poor too little. By lending it to the poor the rich could keep the consumption boom going.

I could go on much longer but other did it better than me. So three recommended articles:
- Deepening crisis traps America's have-nots by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. This is good as an introduction.
- The United States of Inequality by Timothy Noah. This is a thorough series of articles.
- Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About. How screwing unions screws the entire middle class. by Kevin Drum. This article explain how with the decline of the trade unions the Democrats have lost their basis. The article is also a good entry point to other articles on Mother Jones.
- Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% is an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz. He nicely formulates it all, although I didn't find much new insights.

The Albanian stalemate and Western guilt

After the 2009 elections the socialist opposition claimed that the government had committed election fraud in some places and they demanded a recount. The Berisha government consistently refused this. Since then the opposition has boycotted the parliament.

On 21 januari 2001 three demonstrators were killed by the Republican Guard during protests. Berisha blocked prosecution of the perpetrators.

During all the unrest the Western reaction has been to ignore the problem and to encourage the Socialists to resign to their fraudulent defeat. All this under the pretext of being "neutral". In my opinion the West is making a major error in doing this.

Albania's socialists are no saints and there were accusations of election fraud against them too after the 2002 elections. However, after the 2005 elections they voluntarily gave up power - something Berisha never has done. Having bought into the Western concept of voluntary power change they expected the West to defend it when they were in the opposition. Instead they were betrayed.

There is little sign that Berisha is prepared to give up power - ever. The West should finally accept this and turn up the pressure on Berisha. Without Western pressure the situation may well get worse and worse.

How to handle Egypt

Iran in 1979 had a revolution that was supported by a broad coalition. Then the Islamists took over and monopolized power. The same happened with the French revolution and the Russian revolution. There is even a saying that "a revolution eats its own children" - meaning that the revolutionaries of today may tomorrow be sidelined and imprisoned by their more radical brethren.

For this reason the suggestion by US envoy Frank Wisner that Mubarak should guide Egypt through a transition to more democracy makes some sense. However, there is no way to be certain that Mubarak really delivers and not goes back to his old ways as soon as he sees a chance. Abolishing the Mukhabarat, Egypt's infamous secret service might be a good start.

Radicalization of the revolution might happen most probably when the situation is not clear. Mr. Mubarak has had his chance and he has missed it. Now the main task should be to establish a broad coalition that can guide Egypt towards a more democratic future. When they set clear goals at the beginning the chance for radicals to take over will be the smallest.

Postscript: After protests the US retracted a bit from Wisners position, but not much. It appeared that Wisner - some years ago ambassador in Egypt - is working now for Patton Boggs, a lobbying firm that has the Egypt government and military among its customers.

Postscript 2: Here is a plea for a constitution and an orderly transition.

Appeasing China

The publication of the new Wikileaks by The Telegraph draw my attention to some other articles in that newspaper. I specially like the comments by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. This one is about how to deal with the rising power of China. If it keeps rising at one day it will take over from the US as the most powerful nation on earth.

The world has been in a similar situation before. Around 1900 Germany was the rising power and bound to take over from England. That had such a destabilizing effect that it ended with World War I. Just as we see now from China there was then a lot of German arrogance. But there was also a lot of paranoia among the other European nations that gave Germany the justified feeling that Europe was conspiring against them and envied them for their prosperity.

The article sees as favorable for the present situation that China has an aging population and that such countries usually aren't that aggressive. It may also help that the China's rulers seem wiser than Germany's rather foolish emperor.

But there are enough risk factors left and the stupidification of America's foreign politics with the rise of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party forms a risk too. I encourage you to read the article.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Lessons for dictators

The Washington Times discusses how the Chinese communists look at the fall of communism in Eastern Europe:
First, in analyzing those events, Beijing realized those communist regimes were seen as incompetent, uncouth and irresponsive. The governments were disrespected, mocked and seen as farcical. Worst of all, those authoritarian regimes had become irrelevant to the country’s economic, social, intellectual and community ruling class. If authoritarian governments wanted to remain in power, the events from 1989-91 convinced Beijing that it needed to renegotiate fundamentally the bargain between the government and its economic and social powers. The decision was made to make the CCP the center of Chinese economic, social and community life - and irrevocably tie the future of China’s upper echelons to the exclusive rule of the party. This was the rise of modern China’s authoritarian capitalism. The fact that China’s state-controlled sector lies at the heart of its modern political economy was a lesson learned from revolutions in Moscow, Prague, Budapest and Berlin, in addition to the countrywide protests throughout China in 1989.

Second, while Western commentators were celebrating the triumph of the individual human spirit and democracy, the CCP came to the more sobering conclusion that authoritarian regimes are at their most vulnerable when they are at their most lenient. After all, a diverse and independent civil society can only thrive when citizens no longer fear their government. This explains Beijing’s alarm over and intolerance for non-state-sanctioned groups such as unions, Christians and the Falun Gong members exploding in size and number throughout Chinese society. It also is why private blogging sites, which have the potential to give spontaneous life to virtual communities of discontentment, are treated with suspicion. Finally, it explains why China has become more severe on its dissidents since 1989 despite the country’s economic development.

The first point is rather obvious. Stalin had a mission and built lots of factories, roads and dams. But after his death his successors not only ditched his brutal means but also his idealism and sense of direction. 30 years later there were still largely the same factories with the same machines building the same cars and other products. It looked like the main mission of the party had become to protect the privileges of its members.

I doubt about the second point. Both in Tunisia and Egypt there were/are very old leaders who seem to have lost their touch.