Thursday, July 30, 2015

This Lamp Will Burn All Night Powered By Nothing More Than Salt Water

This Lamp Will Burn All Night Powered By Nothing More Than Salt Water

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The SALt Lamp uses a free and abundant resource to reduce fire risk from candles and replace the cost of traditional lighting.
Credit: GoodNewsNetwork
Credit: GoodNewsNetwork


Solar polar has officially been outdone. This innovative lamp designed by SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting), a company based out of the Philippines, literally provides hours of light – and from just one glass of water and two spoons of salt.
This lamp has potential to light up millions of homes in areas where families still go without electricity.
Say the innovators, “There are no materials and components inside the lamp that may cause fire accidents. One less thing to worry about for families that rely on kerosene lamps as their main source of lighting.”
Engineer Lipa Aisa Mijena, of De La Salle University, designed the lamp to work on the principles of “Galvanic cell,” creating electricity from a chemical reaction between the salt water and electrodes inside the lamp.
Credit: SALt
Credit: SALt
The innovative invention will provide a full night of light for up to a year before the electrodes need to be replaced.
As Weburbanist shares, the lamp may also be a reliable source of light in island countries where natural disasters from typhoons and floods are common. Able to run on salty ocean water, the invention will likely be a saving grace for those living without access to illumination.
Credit: SALt
Credit: SALt
As depicted on the drawing board to the right, the model next intended for production will also allow people to charge their cell phones. Again, in a natural disaster this lamp could definitely come in handy.
Because many households in poverty-stricken areas still lack access to electricity, the lamps are designed to be deployed via non-profit organizations to those in need, then sold commercially.
The lamp is not yet on the market (partly because SALt hasn’t settled on a price), but the makers do promise to keep the cost affordable and to announce its availability soon.
“We are in the process of mass production,” SALt shared early Tuesday.
Follow the company’s Facebook page for updates.
Comment your thoughts below and share this article!

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Greece and the European Union: First as Tragedy, Second as Farce, Thirdly as Vassal State


Greece and the European Union: First as Tragedy, Second as Farce, Thirdly as Vassal State

Global Research, July 28, 2015
greece-troika
The Greek people’s efforts to end the economic depression, recover their sovereignty and reverse the regressive socio-economic policies, which have drastically reduced living standards, have been thrice denied.
First, the denial came as tragedy: When the Greek majority elected Syriza to government and their debts increased, the economy plunged further into depression and unemployment and poverty soared.  The Greek people voted for Syriza believing its promises of ‘a new course’.  Immediately following their victory, Syriza reneged on their promise to restore sovereignty – and end the subjugation of the Greek people to the economic dictates of overseas bankers, bureaucrats and political oligarchs.  Instead Syriza kept Greece in the oligarchical imperialist bloc, portraying the European Union as an association of independent sovereign countries.  What began as a great victory of the Greek people turned into a tragic strategic retreat.   From their first day in office, Syriza led the Greek people down the blind alley of total submission to the German empire.
Then the tragedy turned into farce when the Greek people refused to acknowledge the impending betrayal by their elected leaders.  They were stunned, but mute, as Syriza emptied the Greek treasury and offered even greater concessions, including acceptance of the illegal and odious debts incurred by private bankers, speculators and political kleptocrats in previous regimes.
True to their own vocation as imperial overlords, the EU bosses saw the gross servility of Syriza as an invitation to demand more concessions – total surrender to perpetual debt peonage and mass impoverishment.  Syriza’s demagogic leaders, Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras, shifting from fits of hysteria to infantile egotism, denounced ‘the Germans and their blackmail’ and then performed a coy belly-crawl at the feet of the ‘Troika’, peddling their capitulation to the bankers as  ‘negotiations’ and referring to their overlords as . . . ‘partners’.
Syriza, in office for only 5 months  brought Greece to the edge of total bankruptcy and surrender, then launched the ‘mother of all deceptions’ on the Greek people:  Tsipras convoked a ‘referendum’ on whether Greece should reject or accept further dictates and cuts to bare bones destitution.  Over 60% of the Greek people voted a resounding NO to further plunder and poverty.
In Orwellian fashion, the megalomaniac Tsipras immediately re-interpreted the ‘NO’vote as a mandate to capitulation to the imperial powers, accepting the EU bankers’ direct  supervision of the regime’s implementation of Troika’s policies – including drastic reductions of Greek pensions, doubling the regressive ‘VAT’ consumption tax on vital necessities and a speed-up of evictions of storeowners and householders behind in their mortgage payments.  Thus Greece became a vassal state:  Nineteenth century colonialism was re-imposed in the 21st century.
Colonialism by Invitation
Greek politicians, whether Conservative or Socialist, have openly sought to join the German-led imperial bloc known as the European Union, even when it was obvious  that the Greek economy and financial system was vulnerable to domination by the powerful German ruling class.
From the beginning, the Greek Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) and their Conservative counterparts  refused to recognize the class basis of the European Union.  Both political factions and the Greek economic elites, that is, the kleptocrats who governed and the oligarchs who ruled, viewed entry into the EU as an opportunity for taking and faking loans,  borrowing, defaulting and passing their enormous debts on to the public treasury!
Widely circulating notions among the Left that ‘Germany is responsible’ for the Greek crisis are only half true, while the accusations among rightwing financial scribes that the ‘Greek people are spendthrifts’ who brought on their own crisis is equally one-sided.  The reality is more complex:
 The crash and collapse of the Greek economy was a product of an entrenched parasitic rentier ruling class –both Socialist and Conservative – which thrived on borrowing at high interest rates and speculating in non-productive economic activities while imposing an astronomical military budget.  They engaged in fraudulent overseas financial transactions while grossly manipulating and fabricating financial data to cover-up Greece’s unsustainable trade and budget deficits.
German and other EU exporters had penetrated and dominated the Greek markets.  The bankers charged exorbitant interest rates while investors exploited cheap Greek labor.  The creditors ignored the obvious risks because Greek rulers were their willing accomplices in the ongoing pillage.
Clearly entry into and continued membership in the EU has largely benefited two groups of elites: the German rulers and the Greek rentiers:  The latter received short-term financial grants and transfers while the former gained powerful levers over the banks, markets and, most important, established cultural-ideological hegemony over the Greek political class.  The Greek elite and middle class believed ‘they were Europeans’ – that the EU was a beneficent arrangement and a source of prosperity and upward mobility.  In reality, Greek leaders were merely accomplices to the German conquest of Greece.  And the major part of the middle class aped the views of the Greek elite.
The financial crash of 2008-2009 ended the illusions for some but not most Greeks.  After 6 years of pain and suffering a new version of the old political class came to power: Syriza! Syriza brought in new faces and rhetoric but operated with the same blind commitment to the EU.  The Syriza leadership believed they were “partners”.
The road to vassalage is rooted deep in the psyche of the political class.  Instead of recognizing their subordinate membership in the EU as the root cause of their crisis, they blamed ‘the Germans, the bankers, Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Schnauble , the IMF, the Troika... The Greek rulers and middle class were in fact both victims and accomplices.
The German imperial regime loaned money from the tax revenues of German workers to enable their complicit Greek vassals to pay back the German bankers…  German workers complained.  The German media deflected criticism by blaming the ‘lazy Greek cheats’.  Meanwhile, the Greek oligarch-controlled media deflected criticism of the role of the parasitical political class back to the ‘Germans’.  This all served to obscure the class dynamics of empire building — colonialism by invitation.  The ideology of blaming peoples, instead of classes, is pitting German workers against Greek employees and pensioners.  The German masses support their bankers, while the Greek masses have elected and followed Syriza – their traitors.
From Andreas Papandreou to Alexis Tsipras:  Misconceptions about the European Union
After Syriza was elected a small army of instant experts, mostly leftist academics from Canada, the US and Europe, sprang up to write and speak, usually with more heat than light, on current Greek political and economic developments.  Most have little knowledge or experience of Greek politics, particularly its history and relations with the EU over the past thirty five years.
The most important policy decisions shaping the current Syriza government’s betrayal of Greek sovereignty go back to the early 1980’s when I was working as an adviser to  PASOK Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. At that time, I was party to an internal debate of whether to continue within the EU or leave.  Papandreou was elected on an anti EU, anti NATO platform, which, like Tsipras, he promptly reneged on– arguing that ‘there were no alternatives’.  Even then, there were international and Greek academic sycophants, as there are today, who argued that membership in the EU was the only realistic alternative- it was the ‘only possibility’.  The ‘possibilistas” at that time, operating either from ignorance or deceit, were full of bluster and presumption.  They denied the underlying power realities in the structure of the EU and dismissed the class capacity of the working and popular masses to forge an alternative.  Then, as now, it was possible to develop independent alternative relations with Europe, Russia, China, the Middle East and North Africa.  The advantages of maintaining a protected market, a robust tourist sector and an independent monetary system were evident and did not require EU membership (or vassalage).
Above all, what stood out in both leaders, Andreas Papandreou and Alexis Tsipras, was their profound misconception of the class nature of the dominant forces in the EU.  In the 1980’s Germany was just beginning to recover its imperial reach.  By the time Syriza-Tsipras rose to power (January 2015), Germany’s imperial power was undeniable.  Tsipras’ misunderstanding of this reality can be attributed to his and his ‘comrades’ rejection of class and imperial analyses.  Even academic Marxists, who spouted Marxist theory, never applied their abstract critiques of capitalism and imperialism to the concrete realities of German empire building and Greece’s quasi-colonial position within the EU.  They viewed their role as that of ‘colonial reformers’ –imagining that they were clever enough to ‘negotiate’ better terms in the German-centered EU.  They inevitably failed because  Berlin had a built-in majority among its fervently neo-liberal ex-communist satellites plus the IMF, French and English imperial partners.  Syriza was no match for this power configuration.  Then there was the bizarre delusion among the Syriza intellectuals that European capitalism was more benign than the US version.
EU membership has created scaffolding for German empire-building.  The take off point was West Germany’s annexation of East Germany.  This was soon followed by the incorporation of the rightwing regimes in the Baltic and Balkans as subordinate members of the EU – their public assets were snapped up by Germany corporations at bargain prices.  The third step was the systematic break-up of Yugoslavia and the incorporation of Slovenia into the German orbit.  The fourth step was the takeover of key sectors of the Polish and Czech economies and the exploitation of cheap skilled labor from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and other satellite states.
Without firing a shot, German empire-building has revolved around making loans and financial transfers to the new subordinate member states in the EU.   These financial transactions were predicated upon the following conditions: 1) Privatization and sale of the new member states’ prized public assets to mainly German as well as other EU investors and 2) Forcing member states to dismantle their social programs, approve massive lay-offs and meet impossible fiscal targets.  In other words, expansion of the contemporary German empire required austerity measures, which transformed the ex-communist countries into satellites, vassals and sources of mercenaries – a pattern which is now playing out in Greece.
The reason these new German ‘colonies’ (especially Poland and the Baltic States) insist on the EU imposing harsh austerity measures on Greece, is that they went through the same brutal process convincing their own beleaguered citizens that there was no alternative – resistance was futile.  Any successful demonstration by Greek workers, farmers and employees that resistance to empire was possible would expose the corrupt relationship between these client leaders and the German imperial order.  In order to preserve the foundations of the new imperial order, Germany has had to take a hardline on Greece.  Otherwise the recently incorporated colonial subjects in the Baltic, Balkan and Central Europe states might “re-think” the brutal terms of their own incorporation to the European Union.  This explains the openly punitive approach to Greece – turning it into the ‘Haiti of Europe’ analogous to the US’ long standing brutalization of the rebellious Haitians – as an object lesson to its own Caribbean and Latin American clients.
The root cause of German intransigence has nothing to do with the political personalities or quirks of Angela Merkle and Wolfgang Schnauble: Such imperial leaders do not operate out of neurotic vindictiveness.  Their demand for total Greek submission is an imperative of German empire-building, a continuation of the step-by-step conquest of Europe.
German empire-building emphasizes economic conquests, which go hand-in-hand with US empire-building based on military conquests.  The same economic satellites of Germany also serve as sites for US military bases and exercises encircling Russia; these vassal states provide mercenary soldiers for US imperial wars in South Asia, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
Syriza’s economic surrender is matched by its spineless sell-out to NATO, its support of sanctions against Russia and its embrace of US policies toward Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
Germany and its imperial partners have launched a savage attack on the working people of Greece, usurping Greek sovereignty and planning to seize 50 billion Euros of vital Greek public enterprises, land and resources.  This alone should dispels the myth, promoted especially by the French social democratic demagogue Jacques Delores, that European capitalism is a benign form of ‘social welfarism’ and an ‘alternative’ to the savage Anglo-American version capitalism.
What has been crucial to previous and current versions of empire-building is the role of a political collaborator class facilitating the transition to colonialism.  Here is where social democrats, like Alexis Tsipras, who excel in the art of talking left while embracing the right, flatter and deceive the masses into deepening austerity and pillage.
Instead of identifying the class enemies within the EU and organizing an alternative working class program, Tsipras and his fellow collaborators pose as EU ‘partners’ , fostering class collaboration – better to serve imperial Europe: When the German capitalists demanded their interest payments, Tsipras bled the Greek economy.  When German capitalists sought to dominate Greek markets, Tsipras and Syriza opened the door by keeping Greece in the EU.  When German capital wanted to supervise the take-over of Greek properties, Tsipras and Syriza embraced the sell-off.
There is clear class collaboration within the Greek elite in the destruction of nation’s sovereignty:  Greek banker oligarchs and sectors of the commercial and tourist elite have acted as intermediaries of the German empire builders and they personally benefit from the German and EU takeover despite the destitution of the Greek public.  Such economic intermediaries, representing 25% of the electorate, have become the main political supporters of the Syriza-Tsipras betrayal.  They join with the EU elite applauding Tsipras’ purge of left critics and his authoritarian seizure of legislative and executive power!  This collaborator class will never suffer from pension cuts, layoffs and unemployment.   They will never have to line up at crippled banks for a humiliating dole of 65 Euros of pension money.  These collaborators have hundreds of thousands and millions stashed in overseas bank accounts and invested in overseas real estate.  Unlike the Greek masses, they are ‘European’ first and foremost – willing accomplices of German empire builders!
Tragic Beginnings:  The Greek People Elect a Trojan Horse
Syriza is deeply rooted in Greek political culture .A leadership of educated mascots serving overseas European empire-builders.  Syriza is supported by academic leftists who are remote from the struggles, sacrifices and suffering of the Greek masses.  Syriza’s leadership emerged on the scene as ideological mentors and saviors with heady ideas and shaky hands. They joined forces with downwardly mobile middle class radicals who aspired to rise again via the traditional method: radical rhetoric, election to office, negotiations and transactions with the local and foreign elite and betrayal of their voters.  Theirs is a familiar political road to power, privilege and prestige.  In this regard, Tsipras personifies an entire generation of upwardly mobile opportunists, willing and able to sellout Greece and its people.  He perpetuates the worst political traditions:  In campaigns he promoted consumerism over class consciousness (discarding any mobilization of the masses upon election!).  He is a useful fool, embedded in a culture of clientelism, kleptocracy, tax evasion, predatory lenders and spenders – the very reason his German overlords tolerated him and Syriza, although on a short leash!
Tsipras’ Syriza has absolute contempt for democracy.  He embraces the ‘Caudillo Principle’:  one man, one leader, one policy!  Any dissenters invite dismissal!
Syriza has utterly submitted to imperial institutions, the Troika and their dictates, NATO and above all the EU, the Eurozone. Tsipras/ Syriza reject outright independence and freedom from imperial dictates.  In his ‘capitulation to the Germans’ Tsipra engaged in histrionic theatrics, but by his own personal dictate, the massive ‘NO to EU’ vote was transformed into a YES.
The cruelest political crime of all has been Tsipras running down the Greek economy, bleeding the banks, emptying the pension funds and freezing everyday  salaries while ‘blaming the bankers’,  in order to force the mass of Greeks to accept the savage dictates of his imperial overlords or face utter destitution!
The Ultimate Surrender
Tsipras and his sycophants in Syriza, while constantly decrying Greece’s subordination to the EU empire-builders and claiming victimhood, managed to undermine the Greek people’s national consciousness in less than 6 months.  What had been a victorious referendum and expression of rejection by three-fifths of the Greek voters turned into a prelude to a farcical surrender by empire collaborators.  The people’s victory in the referendum was twisted to represent popular support for a Caudillo.   While pretending to consult the Greek electorate, Tsipras manipulated the popular will into a mandate for his regime to push Greece beyond debt peonage and into colonial vassalage.
Tsipras is a supreme representation of Adorno’s authoritarian personality:  On his knees to those above him, while at the throat of those below.
Once he has completed his task of dividing, demoralizing and impoverishing the Greek majority, the local and overseas ruling elites will discard him like a used condom, and he will pass into history as a virtuoso in deceiving and betraying the Greek people.
Epilogue:
Syriza’s embrace of hard-right foreign policies should not be seen as the ‘result of outside pressure’, as its phony left supporters have argued, but rather a deliberate choice.  So far, the best example of the Syriza regime’s reactionary policies is its signing of a military agreement with Israel.
According to the Jerusalem Post (July 19, 2015), the Greek Defense Minister signed a mutual defense and training agreement with Israel, which included joint military exercises.  Syriza has even backed Israel’s belligerent position against the Islamic Republic of Iran, endorsing Tel Aviv’s ridiculous claim that Teheran represents a terrorist threat in the Middle East and Mediterranean.  Syriza and Israel have inked a mutual military support pact that exceeds any other EU member agreement with Israel and is only matched in belligerence by Washington’s special arrangements with the Zionist regime.
Israel’s ultra-militarist ‘Defense’ Minister Moshe Yaalon, (the Butcher of Gaza), hailed the agreement and thanked the Syriza regime for ‘its support’.  It is more than likely that Syriza’s support for the Jewish state explains its popularity with Anglo-American and Canadian ‘left’ Zionists…
Syriza’s strategic ties with Israel are not the result of EU ‘pressure’ or the dictates of the ‘Troika’.  The agreement is a radical reversal of over a half-century of Greek support for the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people against the Israeli terrorist state.   This military pact, like the Syriza regime’s economic capitulation to the German ruling class, is deeply rooted in the ‘colonial ideology’, which permeates Tsipras’ policies.  He has taken Greece a significant step ‘forward’ from economic vassal to a mercenary client of the most retrograde regime in the Mediterranean.

Najib and Malaysian Politics in Crisis:Whither UMNO and the Opposition?

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: RSISPublications@ntu.edu.sg for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 


No. 161/2015 dated 30 July 2015
Najib and Malaysian Politics in Crisis:
Whither UMNO and the Opposition?
By Yang Razali Kassim

Synopsis


As Prime Minister Najib Razak strikes back at his critics over the 1MDB scandal, questions arise as to where Malaysian politics will go from here, even as the ruling and opposition coalitions reel in their respective crises.


Commentary


MALAYSIAN POLITICS is at an inflection point. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say it is in a mega-crisis. Prime Minister Najib Razak has just countered his critics over the massive 1MDB scandal by sacking his vocal deputy prime minister and the Attorney-General who led a high-level probe. This latest twist has left the country bracing for a backlash of uncertainty. Yet it is not just the ruling UMNO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government that is in trouble; the opposition coalition is also grappling with its own survival.

It is significant that both sides of the political divide are reeling from unprecedented pressure in disarray - simultaneously. What will come out of this? But it is the crisis in BN that is more critical, given the repercussions reverberating throughout the system due to UMNO’s defining role as the ruling coalition’s anchor party. The latest crisis in UMNO is equally without precedent.

Leadership crisis in UMNO


Prime Minister Najib Razak is fighting for his political life in the face of severe criticisms arising from the scandal in the 1MDB investment fund which he advises. Never before has a sitting prime minister been openly pressured to step down amid a high-level probe. Never before has there been serious investigation into the dealings of a government-linked investment fund whose chief adviser is the finance minister, who is also prime minister.   

While the sacking of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has not come as a surprise given his outspoken criticism of the Prime Minister’s handling of the 1MDB scandal, the premature replacement of Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail ‘on health grounds’ – three months before his retirement - has raised questions. As he was leading the legal team in the special taskforce probing the 1MDB scandal, speculation is rife that his exit is meant to delay the investigation. Gani’s replacement was announced by the government just before Najib’s own unveiling of the cabinet reshuffle that elevated his strongest ally, Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as the new deputy prime minister.        

Prior to the reshuffles, Najib's political position had been in doubt. There had been rumours of actions about to be taken by the taskforce, even predictions of a new prime minister by next month. By removing his deputy and the attorney-general, Najib has clearly shown that he intends to stay on top of the crisis. Interestingly, the reshuffles led to the induction into cabinet of Nur Jazlan Mohamed, the equally outspoken chair of the bipartisan Public Accounts Committee, which is also involved in the probe, along with three other UMNO members of the committee. Will the PAC investigation now be muted?

While Najib appears to have strengthened his hand, which he claims is to preserve cabinet cohesion, it remains to be seen if this is enough to fundamentally resolve one of Malaysia’s most sensational political crises. Muhyiddin has strong support within UMNO where he is deputy president. There is talk of his further purge, which will deepen the split in UMNO. Equally important is the response of Najib’s chief critic, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Should there be a major counter-push by Mahathir, Muhyiddin and other forces, Malaysia’s political crisis will become more explosive.
    
Yet, the crisis in the ruling coalition has only just begun. More revelations may emerge and more heads are likely to roll. This latest episode in Malaysian politics is proving to be bruising. Even if Najib survives this, it is hard to imagine how he would emerge unscathed. More worrying for UMNO and BN is whether the ruling coalition will be able to retain power in the next general election, having lost the popular vote at the last polls in 2013 despite winning more than half the parliamentary seats. Muhyiddin made a telling blow when he warned at an UMNO meeting that BN would lose if elections were to be called tomorrow.

Crisis in the opposition


It is fortuitous for UMNO and BN that their political crisis has come at a time when the opposition is in total disarray. The loose opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR), long known to be fragile, has finally come unstuck. Its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is in jail, while its three coalition partners are in a hyper-fluid state of mutual repositioning. And it’s all because of recrimination over hudud (Islamic criminal code) between PAS and DAP, two long-standing ideological foes who tried in vain to be friends, leaving the third - Anwar's own party PKR – caught between a rock and a hard place.

The PR is now dead, a victim of the crisis that first began in the Islamist party PAS which led to the dominance of the conservative faction and ouster of its professionals wing. Two other partners – the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) - are trying to reinvent the alliance with a “PR 2.0”, linking up with the purged faction but minus the increasingly conservative PAS proper. The final shape of this reinvented opposition coalition is still unclear, but promises to be appealing to a multi-ethnic electorate – and is likely to be led once again by the unifying figure of Anwar, from behind bars.

What we are witnessing is a reconstruction of the opposition landscape. But no matter how it turns out, the opposition forces will be divided into two blocs - for as long as the original PAS remains outside PR 2.0. This leaves open the possibility of PAS linking up with Najib’s UMNO to create a Malay-Muslim political alliance in a so-called “unity government”.
 
At this point, an UMNO-PAS linkup is only a theoretical possibility; even the new PAS – the more conservative version – has rejected the notion of a unity government with UMNO. But this position may change depending on how the political equation evolves, both on the opposition front and on the UMNO/BN side. What this all means is that Malaysian politics is entering yet another phase of unpredictability.

What next?

All this is happening at two crucial junctures: Firstly, the country is three years away from the next general election. While this may seem like a long time, it is actually very short given the depth of the crisis on both sides of the political divide. Will they be able to recover in time - if at all - to position themselves for GE14 to capture power? On the BN side, UMNO, as the pillar party, will have to shake off the severe damage from the political tremors surrounding Najib. It must be said, however, that should he survive the 1MDB crisis, Najib would be very hard to defeat politically.

Secondly, this mega-crisis is five years away from 2020 - the epochal timeline which will mark Malaysia's entry into developed economy status. Ironically it is a visionary deadline set by Dr Mahathir, the man who is now leading the charge to remove Najib. Mahathir would be writhing in ironic chagrin if Najib survives to be the one who delivers Vision 2020 - assuming the economy is unaffected by the political crisis. Mahathir would be happier if it is anyone but Najib as prime minister come 2020. Najib has just shown that he intends to deny his former boss that wish.

Whatever happens going forward, the larger event to watch is the outcome of the "collision of coalitions" in Malaysian politics. Will the system stay the same, or will a new political model emerge from the debris?



Yang Razali Kassim is Senior Fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. An earlier version appeared in The Straits Times.
Click HERE to read this commentary online.

Syria: A Chronology of How the Civil War May End

Syria: A Chronology of How the Civil War May End

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Analysis

Editor's Note: The conflict in Syria is entering a critical phase. Turkey has at long last entered the fight, conducting airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria — and capitalizing on the opportunity to attack Kurdistan Workers' Party militants in northern Iraq. Turkey's newfound vigor is fueled by a convergence of U.S. and Turkish interests in the region, evidenced by the July 23 agreement between Ankara and Washington to allow U.S. forces to use Incirlik Air Base. There is a shared interest in combating the Islamic State, and both countries want to see a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict that would end the fighting and remove Syrian President Bashar al Assad from power. Al Assad's frank July 26 comments about the level of fatigue in the Syrian army, combined with the continued success of Syrian rebel groups and the prospect of Turkey's increased participation, could indicate that the al Assad regime itself is considering its options.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will to travel to Doha on Aug. 3, where he will discuss the future of Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Stratfor has been tracking the evolution and perspectives of the key parties involved in the Syrian conflict from the opening of hostilities. We are publishing this chronology to highlight our previous analyses and forecasts.

Stratfor's Third-Quarter Forecast 2015

July 8, 2015: With government forces on the defensive on multiple fronts, Syria will be a focal point for regional competition going into the quarter. Iranian and Russian economic and military sponsorship of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government will endure, but the government is still unlikely to go on the offensive as long as it is stretched thin and lacking momentum. That said, a break point on the Syrian battlefield will not occur this quarter. Loyalist forces will be able to retain a weakening presence in the north in Aleppo while holding down a critical corridor running from Damascus up through Homs to the coast. Rebel forces will seriously threaten approaches to the government forces' core, particularly around Hama and from the south in Daraa.
Talk of a political arrangement after al Assad will gain momentum as the battle progresses. Russia and the United States appear to be working to identify ranking Alawite officers who would be part of such an arrangement — and critical to maintaining the institutions of the state — as well as rebel factions that would be willing to come to the negotiating table with al Assad's removal as a precondition. As we noted last quarter, Russia will play a big role in the negotiating effort, not only to try to maintain its influence in the Levant but also to build up a U.S. dependence on Moscow in the Middle East that Russia can use as leverage in its standoff with the West.

Considering a Post-Al Assad Syria

June 12, 2015: Within the first year of the Syrian rebellion, a number of intelligence agencies and media outlets said the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad had only months to live. Stratfor saw it differently. The battle was proceeding at a rapid pace, and things definitely looked dicey for the government at times, but we knew this would be a protracted fight. For one thing, the Alawites, while a naturally fractious lot, were facing an existential crisis against a Sunni majority and were not going to crumble easily. For another, the divisions within the rebel landscape (and among the rebels' foreign sponsors) were so great that both sides lacked the means to overwhelm and defeat the other. Many of those constraints still apply, but things are now moving in a direction that admittedly has us on the edge in contemplating a scenario after al Assad.

Russia's Search for Leverage in the Syrian Crisis

Dec. 12. 2012: Russia and the United States are engaged in seemingly urgent negotiations over Syria. The Syrian chemical weapons threat that the United States has been publicly emphasizing may provide an opportunity for Russia to regain leverage in Syria after the fall of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held an impromptu 40-minute meeting Dec. 6 hosted by U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on the sidelines of a European security meeting in Dublin. Earlier in the day, Clinton and Lavrov spoke privately for about 25 minutes. The focus of the meetings was reportedly recent chemical weapons activity in Syria. Few details on the outcome of the meetings have surfaced, but both sides have given the impression that talks are moving forward to try to ensure a stable transition to a post-al Assad Syria.

In this handout provided by the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in January 2014, residents wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.

Turkey's Challenge and the Syrian Negotiation

Oct. 16, 2012: Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zubi harshly criticized the Turkish government early last week over Ankara's proposal that an interim government succeed the al Assad regime, saying that "Turkey isn't the Ottoman Sultanate; the Turkish Foreign Ministry doesn't name custodians in Damascus, Mecca, Cairo and Jerusalem." Being the spokesman for a pariah regime requires a mastery of propaganda. Al-Zubi has not disappointed in this regard, mounting a strong rhetorical offensive against Syria's powerful northern neighbor.
While his latest rebuke of Turkey will not save the al Assad regime (much less his own career), he is tapping into a powerful narrative in the region, one that will have stronger and stronger resonance in the Arab world as Turkey is forced to play a more assertive role in the region.

Considering a Palace Coup in Syria

Aug. 7, 2012: Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime has maintained its hold on power amid escalating violence and international criticism over the past year. However, pressure on the regime could eventually increase to a point that other members of the inner circle may attempt to supplant the al Assad clan. This small group of elites could even receive backing from Syria's allies, Russia and Iran. While such a coup scenario appears unlikely at present, the threats the al Assad clan faces from within the regime are at least as serious as the threats from external powers or the opposition.

Russia Changes Its Position on Syria

July 20, 2012: Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov said July 20 that Syrian President Bashar al Assad is ready to step down, noting that it would be difficult for the president to stay in power after all that has happened in his country. Stratfor has expected Russia to change its stance on Syria as the country's situation approaches its endgame. Moscow has now become the driver in the international diplomacy surrounding Syria, and with the regime falling apart Russia is now repositioning itself to manage the transition process. Indeed, by offering up the idea of al Assad stepping down, Russia is letting France and the rest of the West know that it is ready to work on formulating a transition.
A longtime ally of Syria, Russia is ideally suited to help manage the transition. Russia has more intelligence and security links in Syria than any other state, including Iran, and it could use those links to shape post-al Assad Syria. The United States and Europe are fearful of a complete regime collapse and do not want to see what happened in Iraq and Libya happen in Syria. Aware of that anxiety, Moscow is offering an alternative in an attempt to make itself indispensible to the West.

Syria: Regime Unity Amid Defections

June 29, 2012: Turkey deployed anti-aircraft guns June 27 along the border with Syria in response to Syria's June 22 downing of a Turkish reconnaissance plane. Largely intended to compensate for what is perceived as a non-response, the deployment came after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Brussels in an attempt to convince the United States and Europe that the Syria conflict was a multilateral problem that also concerned them. In return, he received little more than a stern statement condemning Syria.
Given the complexities and constraints that Turkey must confront in dealing with the Syria crisis, the Turkish response made sense — but it came at the cost of making the Syrian regime look relatively strong. It also showed the disunity of the covert supporters of the Syrian rebels — the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others. The support of these countries will continue to fuel the insurgency and give the Syrian rebels hope that the regime will eventually fracture, creating an opportunity for them to take over. However, without a foreign military intervention, it will take more than a protracted rebellion to bring down the al Assad regime.

Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis

May 5, 2011: Syria is clearly in a state of internal crisis. Protests organized on Facebook were quickly stamped out in early February, but by mid-March, a faceless opposition had emerged from the flashpoint city of Daraa in Syria’s largely conservative Sunni southwest. From Daraa, demonstrations spread to the Kurdish northeast, the coastal Latakia area, urban Sunni strongholds in Hama and Homs, and to Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. Feeling overwhelmed, the regime experimented with rhetoric on reforms while relying on much more familiar iron-fist methods in cracking down, arresting hundreds of men, cutting off water and electricity to the most rebellious areas, and making clear to the population that, with or without emergency rule in place, the price for dissent does not exclude death. A survey of the headlines would lead many to believe that Syrian President Bashar al Assad will soon be joining Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in a line of deposed Arab despots. The situation in Syria is serious, but in our view, the crisis has not yet risen to a level that would warrant a forecast that the al Assad regime will fall.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Forget Trump and Bernie: Here’s Why Clinton or Bush Will Be the Next President

Forget Trump and Bernie: Here’s Why Clinton or Bush Will Be the Next President

Political elite has absolutely no fear of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders
Forget Trump and Bernie: Here’s Why Clinton or Bush Will Be the Next President
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are rising in the polls and seemingly pose a threat to the political establishment.
Come the 2016 primaries, however, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton will likely be at the top of the pack.
The oligarchy that has controlled American politics for generations is still firmly in control despite the illusion of change. In no way do Trump or Sanders threaten this control despite the corporate media’s fascination with them and polls that appear to show them gaining favor among potential voters.
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A CNN-ORC International poll conducted between July 22-25 demonstrates the dominance of the establishment’s candidates. While Donald Trump matches Jeb Bush, his unfavorability rating is high. Clinton’s is higher, but despite this she remains solidly at the top of the pack.
Trump’s brash commentary has pushed him up in the polls, but many believe he has reached his peak. Diehard Republican insiders hate the real estate mogul.
“The McCain smear and giving out Graham’s cellphone? What an asshole,” a New Hampshire Republican insider told Politico. “Trumpism does not represent some deeper sentiment within the party, nor has he tapped into something a more conventional candidate can now co-opt. His candidacy has as much substance and meaning as cotton candy. I didn’t like him before. Now I loathe him.”
The liberal Daily Beast admits the socialist Bernie Sanders presents a tangential threat to Hillary Clinton and in a worse case scenario may even best her in the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses, but he will never take the Democrat nomination. “Bernie Sanders will never be president,” writes the Newsweek merged website.
The progs over at Daily Kos point out how corporate and banking money control elections. Bernie Sanders “may not be able to overcome the massive money disadvantage” of Wall Street. The Daily Kos also admits “there is a chance that his name recognition will never reach Hillary proportions and he may lose the primary election, but once the debates roll around, don’t be surprised to see a lot more of him on your TV pushing his ‘radical’ ideas of what America should be.”
Michael Krieger, writing for Liberty Blitzkrieg, notes the “pantsuit revolutionary” takes big bucks from the likes of Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, the telecommunications industry and the prison-industrial complex. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers also gave millions to the Clinton campaign.
“Clinton, a former New York senator, has deep ties to the financial sector. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs employees had been among the top contributors to her Senate campaigns, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics,” USA Today noted on July 16.
Liberals, ignoring how tight Clinton is with the bankers, lament Jeb Bush’s bankster donations from Goldman Sachs.
“Goldman Sachs isn’t the only Wall Street firm with employees hoping to see a third Bush in the White House. Credit Suisse Group AG, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co. also were among the top sources of donations,” reports Bloomberg.
This banker and corporate oligarchy will decide who sits in the White House and it really does not matter if it is Clinton or Bush.
This control over the political system was underscored in April when a Princeton study concluded the elite drive politics in the United States.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
In April Ellen Brown took to the liberal website Alternet to explain how bankers and the monied elite control the political process. She cited the Princeton study and also quoted the theologian and environmentalist Dr. John Cobb:
The influence of money was greatly enhanced by the emergence of private banking. The banks are able to create money and so to lend amounts far in excess of their actual wealth. This control of money-creation . . . has given banks overwhelming control over human affairs. In the United States, Wall Street makes most of the truly important decisions that are directly attributed to Washington.
Domination of the political system will continue, Brown notes, until the American people once again gain control over the monetary system. “If governments are recalling their sovereign powers, they might start with the power to create money, which was usurped by private interests while the people were asleep at the wheel,” writes Brown.
The puppet masters behind the political facade have absolutely no fear of a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Both are part of a traveling sideshow on the road to the primaries and the November 2016 presidential election.
Bush or Clinton will sit in the White House come January, 2017 and everything between now and then is little more than pure political theater. Short of an all-encompassing and dedicated political revolution — and an outright dismantling of the Federal Reserve and putting and end to the stranglehold of the financial elite — this situation is unlikely to change.

Chinese Stocks Tank Again - Is There Any Cure for the China Flu?

Monday, July 27, 2015
Money and Markets
YOUR BEST SOURCE FOR THE UNBIASED MARKET COMMENTARY YOU WON’T GET FROM WALL STREET
You can also access this issue on our website.
Chinese Stocks Tank Again - Is There Any Cure for the China Flu?
Market Roundup
Dow -127.84 to 17,440.59
S&P -12.00 to 2,067.65
NASDAQ -48.85 to 5,039.78
10-YR Yield -0.043 to 2.228%
Gold +$7.70 to $1,093.20
Oil -$1.07 to $47.07
I just got back for a week-long cruise with the family. The weather was great, the entertainment was fun and everyone had a fantastic time.
The other good thing: No one caught the “cruise flu” that you sometimes hear about in the media. But I can’t say the same thing about the stock market. It has one heck of a case of “China flu.”
China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index tanked 8.5 overnight. That was the second-worst drop in that average’s history, with a down-to-up ratio of 75 stocks to 1.
Some $4 trillion in market cap has now gone up in smoke. Meanwhile, one gauge of market volatility hit its highest level since the Asian economic crisis of 1997 – almost two decades ago. The decline didn’t seem to stem from any huge, identifiable catalyst, but rather a fear that the Chinese government and central bank are either unable or unwilling to continue trying to artificially prop up stocks.
The investment future in China is cloudy these days.
When I last talked in detail about Chinese turmoil, I said large corrections are to be expected in emerging markets and that many of those markets had already been beaten down to dirt-cheap levels. But I also said you had to wait to see stabilization in China and “China proxy” investments before going hog wild with bottom fishing.
That’s still the case today, what with things like copper futures continuing to drop … mining stocks showing relative weakness … and commodity currencies still struggling. I’m eyeing all of those indicators and more before recommending any aggressive moves overseas.
As for here in our own backyard, there’s more deterioration going on behind the scenes. The list of winning stocks is getting shorter, while the list of losers is getting longer. Bounces in some sectors are being sold, and others that are deeply oversold haven’t been able to find traction. That may merit even more protective action than I’ve already been preaching – so stay tuned!
In the meantime, what are you doing in light of China’s struggles? Taking further protective steps in your portfolio or taking advantage of the bargains they’re creating? What will it take to cure the market’s China Flu? More policy action there, additional steps here, or nothing but the passage of time? Let me know over at the website.
Our Readers Speak
Getting back in the saddle and caught up on everything you missed on vacation always takes some work. But I was keeping an eye on the markets while I was gone, and noticed that many of the same problems that have been holding markets back haven’t gone away.
China. Bloody Wednesday worries. Weakness in materials stocks (even the ridiculously cheap energy sector). They’re all weighing on the S&P.
Reader Fred 151 said that’s a warning sign, opining right before I left that: “We should see a little more upside (say 18,600 or so on the Dow) … but I think the days left in this rally are numbered.”
Reader Holygeezer also weighed in on the “tech-nado” and the few tech stocks that are still holding up, saying: “So Amazon has amazing sales, but lowers their prices and probably loses money doing so? And then their stock price soars as a result? Whatever happened to the concept of actually making a profit as a sign of a successful business?
“Doesn’t anyone recall the tech crash of 2000? Here we go again.”
Meanwhile, in response to the latest column that my colleague Larry Edelson’s wrote in my stead, Reader Rusty said the health-care mergers lately are just making things worse for average Americans. His view:
“Consolidation never helps the consumer … only stockholders. Yes, consumers are also stockholders, so maybe it’s a wash for those of us who are investors. But the little guy gets to pay for the loss of competition when the big boys merge. Just look at the airlines.”
And Reader David C. said he’s getting more nervous about the markets, offering this perspective: “My personal opinion is the major crash is coming in September, as early as the weekend of 9/11 to the 16th. If not then, September 23-24 is the next window and the final one will be September 28-29.”
Thanks for sharing. I’m definitely seeing more and more worrisome signs in the markets. That’s enough to validate my decision over the past couple of months to take more profits off the table, and cut a loser or two in Safe Money. I’m looking at even more moves in light of the ongoing weakness.
In the meantime, keep any other questions you might have coming here in Money and Markets – and I’ll do my best to answer them. Here’s the link where you can do so.
Other Developments of the Day
BulletThe U.S. plans to step up cooperation with Turkey against ISIS in northern Syria. Specifically, American and Turkish warplanes will increase bombing runs in an effort to create a 60-mile “buffer zone” along the Turkish border. They’ll coordinate the efforts with Syrian rebels on the ground in hopes of increasing their effectiveness.
BulletIn M&A news, the generic drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA) of Israel said it would buy the generic business of rival Allergan PLC (AGN) for $40.5 billion in cash and stock. The deal caused shares of Mylan (MYL) to plunge because Teva had previously launched a hostile bid for that firm, a bid it’s now abandoning.
BulletPresident Obama is continuing his African nation tour, visiting Ethiopia in the wake of his stop yesterday in Kenya. He is discussing issues such as free speech, terrorism, and human rights in the region.
BulletAnd finally, in a sad story here in my own backyard, two 14-year-olds from Tequesta, Florida area remain missing at sea despite a massive water-and-air-based, search-and-rescue operation. They vanished during a fishing trip on Friday, and haven’t been seen since – even as their capsized boat was discovered almost 70 miles off the coast on Sunday.
Want to weigh in on the latest bout of M&A in the drug sector? Obama’s African trip? Anything else I did or didn’t cover here? Then let me know over at the website.
Until next time,
Mike Larson

Quantum Geopolitics

Quantum Geopolitics

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By Reva Bhalla
Forecasting the shape the world will take in several years or decades is an audacious undertaking. There are no images to observe or precise data points to anchor us. We can only create a picture, and a fuzzy one at best. This is, after all, our basic human empirical instinct: to draw effortlessly from the vivid imagery of our present world and past experiences while we squint and hesitate before faint, blobby images of the future.
In the world of intelligence and military planning, it is far less taxing to base speculations on the familiar — to simulate a war game that pivots on an Iranian nuclear threat, a seemingly unstoppable jihadist force like the Islamic State and the military adventurism of Russia in Eastern Europe — than it is to imagine a world in which Russia is weak and internally fragmented, the jihadist menace is contained by its own fractiousness and Iran is allied with the United States against a rising Sunni threat. In the business world, it is much simpler to base trades and strategies on a familiar environment of low oil prices and high interest rates. Strategists in many domains are guilty of taking excessive comfort in the present and extrapolating present-day assumptions to describe the future, only to find themselves unequipped when the next big crisis hits. As a U.S. four-star general once told me in frustration, "We always have the wrong maps and the wrong languages when we go to war."
So how do we break out of this mental trap and develop the confidence to sketch out plausible sets and sequences of unknowns? The four-dimensional world of quantum mechanics may offer some guidance or, at the very least, a philosophical approach to strategic forecasting. Brilliant physicists such as Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie and Erwin Schrodinger have obsessed over the complex relationship between space and time. The debate persists among scientists over how atomic and subatomic particles behave in different dimensions, but there are certain underlying principles in the collection of quantum theories that should resonate with anyone endowed with the responsibility of forecasting world events.

Quantum Principles and Political Entities

Einstein described space-time as a smooth fabric distorted by objects in the universe. For him, the separation between past, present and future was merely a "stubbornly persistent illusion." Building on Einstein's ideas, celebrated U.S. physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, some of whose best ideas came from drawings he scribbled on cocktail napkins in bars and strip clubs, focused on how a particle can travel in waves from point A to point B along a number of potential paths, each with a certain probability amplitude. In other words, a particle will not travel in linear fashion; it will go up, down and around in space, skirting other particle paths and colliding into others, sometimes reinforcing or canceling out another completely. According to Feynman's theory, the sum of all the amplitudes of the different paths would give you the "sum over histories" — the path that the particle actually follows in the end.
The behavior of communities, proto-states and nation-states (at least on our humble and familiar planet Earth) arguably follows a similar path. We have seen statelets, countries and empires rise and fall in waves along varied frequencies. The crest of one amplitude could intersect with the trough of another, resulting in the latter's destruction. One particle path can reinforce another, creating vast trading empires. Latin America, where geopolitical shifts can develop at a tortoise's pace in the modern era, tends to emit long radio-like waves compared to the gamma-like waves of what we know today as a highly volatile Middle East.

Applied Quantum Theories: Turkey

If we apply the nation-state as an organizing principle for the modern era (recognizing the prevalence of artificial boundaries and the existence of both nations without states and states without nations), the possibilities of a state's path are seemingly endless. However, a probability of a state's path can be constructed to sketch out a picture of the future.
The first step is to identify certain constants that have shaped a country's behavior over time, regardless of personality or ideology (an imperative to gain sea access, a mountainous landscape that requires a large amount of capital to transport goods from point A to point B, a fertile landscape that attracts as much competition as it provides wealth). The country's history serves as a laboratory for testing how the state has pursued those imperatives and what circumstances have charted its path. What conditions were in place for the state to fail, to prosper, to avoid getting entangled in the collisions of bigger states, to live in relative peace? We take the known and perceived facts of the past, we enrich them with anecdotes from literature, poetry and song, and we paint a colorful image of the present textured by its past. Then comes the hard part: having the guts to stare into the future with enough discipline to see the constraints and enough imagination to see the possibilities. In this practice, extrapolation is deadly, and an unhealthy obsession with current intelligence can be blinding.
Take Turkey, for example. For years, we have heard political elites in the United States, Eastern Europe and the Middle East lament a Turkey obsessed with Islamism and unwilling or incapable of matching words with action in dealing with regional competitors like Iran and Russia. Turkey was in many ways overlooked as a regional player, too consumed by its domestic troubles and too ideologically predisposed toward Islamist groups to be considered useful to the West. But Turkey's resurgence would not follow a linear path. There have been ripples and turns along the way, distorting the perception of a country whose regional role is, in the end, profoundly shaped by its position as a land bridge between Europe and Asia and the gatekeeper between the Black and Mediterranean seas.
How, then, can we explain a week's worth of events in which Turkey launched airstrikes at Islamic State forces and Kurdish rebels while preparing to extend a buffer zone into northern Syria — actions that mark a sharp departure from the timid Turkey to which the world had grown accustomed? We must look at the distant past, when Alexander the Great passed through the Cilician Gates to claim a natural harbor on the eastern Mediterranean (the eponymous city of Alexandretta, contemporarily known as Iskenderun) and the ancient city of Antioch (Antakya) as an opening into the fertile Orontes River Valley and onward to Mesopotamia. We move from the point when Seljuk Turks conquered Aleppo in the 11th century all the way up to the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War I, when a fledgling Turkish republic used all the diplomatic might it could muster to retake the strategic territories of Antioch and Alexandretta, which today constitute Hatay province outlining the Syrian-Turkish border.


We must simultaneously look at the present. A contemporary map of the Syria-Turkey border looks quite odd, with the nub of Hatay province anchored to the Gulf of Iskenderun but looking as though it should extend eastward toward Aleppo, the historical trading hub of the northern Levant, and onward through Kurdish lands to northern Iraq, where the oil riches of Kiruk lie in what was formerly the Ottoman province of Mosul.

We then take a long look out into the future. Turkey's interest in northern Syria and northern Iraq is not an abstraction triggered by a group of religious fanatics calling themselves the Islamic State; it is the bypass, intersection and reinforcement of multiple geopolitical wavelengths creating an invisible force behind Ankara to re-extend Turkey's formal and informal boundaries beyond Anatolia. To understand just how far Turkey extends and at what point it inevitably contracts again, we must examine the intersecting wavelengths emanating from Baghdad, Damascus, Moscow, Washington, Arbil and Riyadh. As long as Syria is engulfed in civil war, its wavelength will be too weak to interfere with Turkey's ambitions for northern Syria, but a rehabilitated Iran could interfere through Kurdistan and block Turkey farther to the east. The United States, intent on reducing its burdens in the Middle East and balancing against Russia, will reinforce the Turkish wavelength up to a point, while higher frequencies from other Sunni players such as Saudi Arabia will run interference against Turkey in Mesopotamia and the Levant. While Russia still has the capacity to project military power outward, Turkey's moves in Europe and the Caucasus will skirt around Russia for some time, but that dynamic will shift once Russia becomes consumed with its own domestic fissures and Turkey has more room to extend through the Black Sea region.

Thinking Beyond Limitations

This sketch of Turkey is by no means static or deterministic. It is, simply but critically, the product of putting a filter on a lens to bring the state's trajectory into clearer view. The assumptions we form must be tested every day by incoming intelligence that can lead to refinements of the forecast at hand. A quantum interpretation of the world will tell you that nothing is deterministic, and we cannot know for sure that a certain outcome will or will not happen based on the limited information we possess. We can only assign a probability of something happening, and that probability will evolve over time. As Stephen Hawking said, "It seems Einstein was ... wrong when he said, 'God does not play dice.' Not only does God definitely play dice, but He sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can't be seen."
We can apply the same process to the ebb and flow of the Far East, with a resurgent Japan responding to the reverberations of a powerful China and an artificially divided Korea sandwiched in between. Or, the push and pull between France and Germany on the European mainland as centripetal forces subsume the EU project.
Too often, we see the future as we see the past — through the distorted lens of the present. That is the flaw in our human instinct that we must try to overcome. Constraints will apply, and probabilities will be assigned. But whatever the time, direction or dimension we are operating in when forecasting geopolitical events, we must simultaneously exist in the past, present and the future to prepare for a world that we have yet to know.

Monday, July 27, 2015

FIXING OUR DEMOCRACY



BANTAY GOBYERNO 067
By Ike Se├▒eres
 
“FIXING OUR DEMOCRACY”
 
We copied our democratic system from the United States of America (US), but it seems that we had copied wrongly, even if all we had to do was to copy. For instance, the President and the Vice President in the US would always be elected together, meaning to say that they would always come from the same political party. That way, these two top officials would always have the same agenda, and they would never have to fight each other in the political arena. The Vice President in the US is also concurrently the Senate President, and that way, he is in the best position to bring forward the agenda of the President in the Senate, a situation that enables the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to work very well together. You might wonder how and why the Vice President could become the Senate President even if he is not a Senator, but that is how the American system works.
 
Because of the big differences in the number of Congressmen that would represent the American States depending on the size of their voting populations. The Americans decided to have two Senators each the States regardless of the size of their voting populations, and somehow that became the equalizing factor among them, so to speak. When the time came however to copy the composition and structure of the American Senate in order to have our own version, we decided to elect our own Senators nationally (at large), thus defeating the purpose of equalizing representation. Even if we do not have the equivalent of American States here in the Philippines, we do have regions here, and had we decided to elect our Senators regionally (and not at large), we would have achieved the purpose of equalization just the same.
 
Based on the logic that the appropriator of funds should also be the auditor, the government auditing organization of the US is merely a committee of the US Congress, unlike here in the Philippines where the Commission on Audit (COA) is a separate commission, and a Constitutional Commission at that, independent from both the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. Because of this unique arrangement, the Philippine Congress is often placed in an awkward situation, as it is audited by an external entity when in fact it should be the one doing the auditing, being the appropriator of funds. Considering the fact that the Philippine Congress has its own Ethics Committees and other monitoring mechanisms, would it not be possible that many scams would have been detected and prevented had it been discovered from the inside?
 
As I understand it, the ideology of a political party should be different from its platform and more so its programs should be different from its platform. In theory, the ideology of a political party should never ever change, even if its platform could change every now and then, perhaps during each and every election. Understandably, the programs of a political party could change all the time, but what is important is that these programs are implemented, reported and monitored in an open and transparent manner. Unlike in the US where there are only two political parties that are officially recognized, we have a multiple party system here that practically breeds a free-for-all situation that is difficult to control. In the US, the political parties are funded by the federal government, and perhaps it would also be a good idea to fund our political parties here.
 
It should really be the ideologies, platforms and programs of political parties that should differentiate one party from another. Unfortunately however, it is very difficult to differentiate the political parties over here from one another, because the lines over here are drawn between persons, and not between ideas. As it should happen, political parties are supposed to produce the leaders who would push their ideologies. As it is actually happening here however, parties are formed by persons who almost always would have no ideologies to push, thus our system here would have the tendency to foster the so-called cults of personalities. Perhaps this is also the reason why political dynasties would tend to prosper here; dynasties that would tend to promote their own family interests rather than the broader national interests.
 
There are many groups that are now advocating a shift to the parliamentary system or a federal system, as the case may be. While I think that these may be good ideas to consider, I think that first things first, we should fix our democracy first before we decide to shift to another political system. For one, it is obvious that if we could not have a robust multi-party system, no other new political system would work, because if the political parties are bad or weak, the new political system would still be bad or weak. On that note, I would say that the real strength of political parties is its members who truly believe in their own ideologies. Simply put, these members are driven by their ideological persuasions, and not by their personal ambitions.
 
One way to find out whether a political party is genuine or not is to observe whether or not it is behaving according to the norm or not. As I am observing it now, no local political party is planning to hold primaries or conventions. Instead, we hear about prospective candidates being “anointed” to run based on the personal preferences of party leaders, rather than based on the results of primaries and conventions. Again I say that we copied the political party system from the Americans, but we copied wrongly, even if all we had to do was to copy. Perhaps it is too much to expect our electorate to become mature, if our political parties do not mature ahead of the electorate.
 
We also copied the pork barrel system from the Americans, but we also copied it wrongly and that is why it also went awry. The Americans invented the pork barrel system in order to provide funds to local projects that the US Congress “could not see”. As it was invented by the Americans, certain projects could be funded by the pork barrel by way of a development fund that could be tapped as a chargeable account, meaning to say that the money was not physically transferred to the account of a lawmaker. Over here however, the funds were practically handed over to the pockets of the lawmakers, leaving it up to them to spend the money anyway they like, certainly beyond where the Philippine Congress “could see”.
 
As it is supposed to be, political parties are supposed to have a large membership base that could be validated all the way to the municipal level. In theory, these members are supposed to be ideologically driven, very much like the cadre of the communist parties that could be found down to the smallest village. As we know it over here however, the only political parties that we could see or feel are the usual politicians and their loyal followers. Let us no longer ask whether these people are ideologically driven, because we might just be in for a big disappointment. Much as we have many ideas about how to change our political system, perhaps we should focus first on fixing our democracy by correcting what we copied wrongly.
 
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