Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In this posting:
All quiet on the Mideast front- What an Arab king and Senator John McCain have in common: it is the liquidity, stupid- What the two Middle Easts stand for: the Old and the New- The minimum wage, bitter underemployed white men and Limbaugh's $63,000 hourly wage- Abe Linclon's take.

The drums of war have been quiet all across the Middle East, both the moderate New Middle East that stands for freedom, justice, and the American way of life (with a few absolute monarchs and life-long dictators thrown in for local flavor) and the radical Old Middle East that stands for other things. Gulf media have stopped debating the odds of a strike on Iran, and some Gulf (Persian-American Gulf) neocon editors seem withdrawn for now, almost forlorn and in need of rehab. Even Iran's noisy Ahmadinejad gave a polite interview to Brian Williams and hinted at improved relations. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, urged by his own 'handlers' also played like a John McCain fighting for his share of media attention: he chaired some obscure inter-faith meeting, safely tucked away in Europe, far away from the faithful.

The King has something in common with Senator McCain, and it is not only their age. Both the king and McCain depend on liquids for their wealth, in both cases someone else's liquid wealth. The King's wealth comes from the black liquid that really belongs to his people, and McCain's wealth comes from the cold amber liquid that belongs to his wife.

Two weeks ago Rush Limbaugh signed a deal to continue his radio show for 8 more years, at a price of $400 million, and the usual endorsement fees, etc.

Last week Limbaugh was quite angry and upset on his radio show: the reason? Congress had voted to increase the federal minimum wage by 77 cents per hour. Seventy-seven cents per hour vs $400 million for eight years (that would be $50 million a year, for the arithmatically-challenged). Limbaugh's 50 million a year translates to about $189,000 a day. That would be $62,893 for every hour he is on the air. And he does not produce anything tangible. No wonder he claims he is 'having more fun on the show than anyone should' . The poor angry underemployed white men of the rust-belt are not having nearly as much fun, even with their guns and their bibles.

Against all odds, he was trying to rile up the blue collar white folks about the 77 cents per hour raise just after he had inked his own $63,000 an hour deal. And what is odd is that he may succeed.

Was it Abe Lincoln who said something roughly to the effect that people don't remain fools for long?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Belgian Wfle Swallows the King of Beer. Campaign Myths: Obama is Muslim and McCain Wears a Diaper. Of Thanksgiving Turkeys and Arab Leaders

Of Beer and Politics:
The times, they are a-changin’. Bob Dylan was absoeffinglutely right.
A Belgian brewer (InBev) is buying Budweiser. Actually their own Stella Artois is a tasty beer, or so I understand from second or better yet third hand accounts, but still: Belgium? Belgium: a fake funny Old Europe kingdom buys out the King of Beer?
I think of all the good times I spent at Larry Blake’s (on Telegraph Ave) and other welcoming joints stretching from Manhattan, though Clemson in the Deep South all the way to the dock of 'The Bay', especially East Bay. I was following Manifest Destiny, westward from coast to shining coast with the famous welcoming sign. The King of Beer. That Bud was for me, for all I do, the King of Beer was coming through…
The main distinction of that country, that would be Belgium, is that it has a waffle named after it, for a reason that almost no one knows. A waffle of a country, a word that would make an American presidential candidate squirm as much as flip-flop.
Another questionable distinction is that the Battle of Waterloo between old Europe (Britain, Prussia, Russia, Austro-Hungary) and New Europe (Revolutionary France) was on its soil, but that depends on which side one rooted for at the time. I would probably have rooted for Nappy if only because I could not stand those stuck-up, in-bred, retentive mushrooms that were the aristocracy.
Oh, and another distinction of Belgium that I remember is that it is the country that periodically uncovers a vast network of pedophiles. I mean really nasty networks of pedophiles. But in fairness I haven’t heard of many of those in recent years.

On the other hand, the great Pacific Northwest has cured me from the King of Beer for some time now, for reasons that anyone who has been to the area would understand.

The shaikhs of Abu Dhabi have bought the Chrysler Building, a Manhattan landmark. But then again, major US oil companies are poised to control Iraq’s vast oil fields. Halliburton, of Dick Cheney fame, has already reaped massive benefits from contracts in Iraq, many with the US government, the military, and with Iraq.
At least the White House will never be for sale, no? Well, not really, maybe just for rent every four or eight years, when they start talking about something called a 'presidential library'. Not sure why they would call it 'presidential' when most of the funding and financing is done in very un-presidential fashion.

Campaign myths and Arab leaders:
The notion that Obama is a Muslim, secret or otherwise, will never go away. Maybe if he is elected and has spent some time in office the idea will be dispelled, especially after he pardons his first Thanksgiving Turkey instead of slitting its throat (incidentally, expect Bush to pardon many turkeys early next January). Actually his election in itself will put an end to that, unless he shows up to his victory rally in a turban or a checkered kaffiya.

Recently there was also a hint from someone on a cable network (definitely not FoxNews) that Senator McCain may be wearing a diaper. The pace of the campaign is grueling, but that type of information is a personal thing between a candidate and his doctor (specialist, of course).
Besides, by that measure there are many leaders who would be candidates for wearing diapers. I can think of a few in the Arab World. Let me see, one, two, three, At least three, but don’t worry: there will be more as the years go by and younger Arab leaders turn old, then very old, in office. Some die in office and that is the end of it. Others, both monarchs and presidents, continue through their progeny. Unfortunately the latter has been the trend in recent years, and look for it to continue as the moderate New Middle East and the Old Middle East enter the post-Bush, post-Cheney, post-trigger-happy era.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Despots, Genocide, and the Campaign for an Islamic Pope

“I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world, and yet they lay their hands on everything they can get” Napoleon Bonaparte

"Saudi Salafism hopes to appear more liberal at the Madrid dialog.
" al-Rasid, (Saudi activist Shi'a web site)

Media Tour: Hired and other Media on Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, etc.
"Don't expect much from the new government (cabinet) of Lebanon. Hizbullah and Iran have a veto power, and even Syria has a seat." Chief editor, Asharq alawsat.

Fact is, everybody has a seat at the Lebanese cabinet, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United States, and France. Lebanon's new cabinet has not been welcomed by the Saudis. If the controlled media is any indication, the cabinet in which Hizbullah and her allies now hold the veto power is clearly considered a political defeat for the Saudi side. Announcement of the cabinet had clearly stunned the media because it took them a while to report it.

Meanwhile, some Saudi mouthpieces in other Gulf states have taken to attacking Qatari rulers again for their role in the Lebanese settlement, which ended the old Ta'if deal. As the following quotes indicate, they have had their marching orders:

"Exactly one week ago, Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, Prime Minsiter of Qatar, invested US$43 million in an Israeli medical company called 'Medical Industries-D'" Columnist on last page of alwatan, Kuwait, July 12, 2008.

"On July 7, 2008, an amount of US$5 milliom was deposited in the account of the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament in Zurich. The money was received from the Qatari prime minister, and is part of regularly scheduled payments. Soon, Speaker Berri will be richer than Sa'ad Hariri." Same coumnist, same day in alwatan, Kuwait. I doubt it, Hariri will always be richer because his paymasters have deeper pockets.

"On July 3, General Michel Oun (Christian ally of Hizbullah) received US$20 million from Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani of Qatar, which raises the total amount he has received since the Doha Agreement to US$60 million." Same columnist in alwatan, July 12, 2008.

"Reliable sources have told us that the recent border agreement signed by Prince Nayef Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Saudi Interior MInister, among other things, and Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, Qatari prime minister, includes Qatar ceding three locations to her big neighbor. As well as an official promise that aljazeera TV will not be allowed to insult Saudi Arabia again." Same columnist in the same alwatan, July 12, 2008.

"The same reliable sources told us that Israeli prime minister Olmert has told Egyptian president Husni Mubarak recently (he must have woken up from his longgg nap) that Tel Aviv will strike at Iran." Probably wishful thinking by the same columnist in alwatan, Kuwait, July 12, 2008.

"The Arab League has announced that it will hold an urgent emergency meeting of foreign ministers on the indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Basheer, without setting a date for the meeting." alarabiya. Coming to the aid of a fellow despot in trouble?

"Sudanese parties considered that the possibility of an arrest warrant against the president is a move that targets Sudan and is against its sovereignty." alalam (Iranian TV), which conveniently did not specify which parties supported Ahmadinejad's favorite despot.

"Iran promises to work toward release of four of its diplomats kidnapped in Beirut since 1982." alalam

"Iran will target 32 American bases and the heart of the 'Israeli entity' if attacked." alalam

Some Arab media speculate that the Bush administration is angry at Iraqi PM al-Maliki for defying it and rejecting the draft security agreement as it is. King Abdul of Jordan canceled a state visit, first by an Arab leader to Baghdad, soon after. Some Arabs believe that the Bush administration have talked him into canceling it, as punishment or warning to the Iraqis. Other Arabs differ: they believe that the Bush administration 'ordered' King Abdul to cancel the visit, just as they had earlier ordered him to make it.

"Ron Arad's family given new photo: Israel receives two new pictures, snippets of letters and excerpts from a diary as part of swap deal (with Hizbullah)." Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2008.

"Snoop Dogg is planning a tour in Israel , but Palestinian groups are urging him to cancel."

Prepping a Saudi Pope?:
"Huge efforts by the Saudi monarch to establish international dialog: the invitation of king ABdullah Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud for a dialog among heavenly religions, civilizations, and cultures, repersents a call to peace and coexistence among all peoples, since all Muslim countries have adopted the royal initiative, and reacted to it in such a way that proves to the whole world that Islam is the religion of peace and coexistence with others, and disproved any connection between Islam and terrorism, and that terrorism exists everywhere in the world and does not differentiate among religions......yadda, yadda, yadda, and more yadda." Elaph editorial, July 12, 2008
My own two cents:The Saudi king is sponsoring and chairing an inter-faith dialog next week that is also sponsored by the Islamic World Institute. It includes representatives of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism- Hindus, Buddhists, and Europe's vast community of agnostics and atheists need not apply. There will be shaikhs, imams, parsons, priests, and rabbis.

The catch is: it is not being held in Riyadh, the Saudi capital where the hosts rule. It is being held in Madrid, from whence Fernando and Ysabel, from their joint conjugal throne of Castile and Aragon led the reconquista in 1492.

The Saudi king might be a well-meaning man, but they are hosting the conference in Madrid- not in Riyadh! That saves them the 'embarrassment' of having rabbis with top hats and yarmulkes land in Riyadh or Jeddah.

The Saudi-controlled media, the vastest and best financed in the Middle East, have given it extensive coverage. Their in-house and hired intellectuals have tried to drum up enthusiasm. The rest of the world media have yawned and taken a pass. Most Europeans couldn't care less about interfaith matters: to them faith is mainly a private matter between a person and his chosen deity, which sounds like a reasonable arrangement.

In the kingdom of dialog, as in the Islamic republic across the Persian-American Gulf, one can lose his or her head or rot in prison if one dialogs too much, as many Sunni reformists (e.g Dr. Matrouk al-Falih) and Shi’a activists can attest.

In the kingdom of dialog, this new apparent opening to dialog is most likely the creation of some public relations firm in Washington, DC. Not necessarily on K Street, but close. Or maybe they now have local branches.

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