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The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : America and the Arab Awakening: Déjà Vu?

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : America and the Arab Awakening: Déjà Vu?.

wednesday february 12, 2014
Arabspringegypt

Three years ago, Washington experienced its own dose of “shock and awe” — the PR phrase used to sanitise its brutal invasion of Iraq — when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ordinary Arabs took to the streets to demand the overthrow of leaders more interested in Washington’s approval than that of their own peoples. But American policy elites’ professed surprise was primarily a function of their own self-imposed amnesia and delusion.

No one in Washington seemed to realise or care that Egyptians forced their pro-American dictator from power on February 11, 2011 — 32 years to the day after the Shah of Iran’s military conceded to the will of the Iranian people, giving birth to the Islamic Republic of Iran and bringing down a pillar of American dominance in the region. On the eve of Iran’s revolution, as a deep and abiding thirst for independence was sweeping through Iran, President Jimmy Carter toasted the shah, in “great tribute…to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.”

Thirty-two years later, US foreign policy elites seemed to have learned little. When similar revolutionary fervour threatened another pillar of US dominance in the Middle East — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — the Obama administration appeared to be following the example of its 1970s predecessor. Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed that Mubarak wasn’t “a dictator” because he was an American ally and a friend of Israel — thereby highlighting that the only way an Arab leader can be those things is by being a dictator. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had already declared “President and Mrs Mubarak to be friends of my family.”

But with security forces marauding through Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, killing nearly 1,000 people by the time Mubarak finally resigned — and drawing more people to protest, instead of repelling them — alarm set in among Washington’s foreign policy elite. Could the US really lose the Egyptian pillar it had so assiduously co-opted after its Iranian pillar was tossed out in 1979?

When Washington finally understood that Mubarak’s days were numbered, as Carter had finally understood with the shah, the Obama administration tried to orchestrate a “transition” to Mubarak’s reviled intelligence chief. Omar Suleiman was the man responsible for “rendering” Egyptians to be tortured for the CIA and for collaborating with Israel to keep the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza under siege. When that did not work, Washington set out to co-opt and then abort what it termed the Arab Spring — a Western phrase meant to depict movement toward secular liberalism rather than toward participatory Islamist governance.

Unchanging foreign policy

Mubarak’s departure brought into uncomfortably stark relief a reality that US policymakers had denied since the overthrow of the shah thirty-two years before. US efforts to use cooperative autocrats — autocrats willing to facilitate US military aggression, to torture alleged “terrorists” (their own citizens) for the CIA’s benefit, and to tolerate a militarily dominant Israel engaged in open-ended occupation of Arab populations — to promote American hegemony over the Middle East were unacceptable to the vast majority of people there.

As protests unfolded in Egypt, large numbers of demonstrators in Yemen demanded that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh — a major US counter-terror collaborator — resign. Three days after Mubarak’s removal, large-scale protests paralysed Bahrain — home of the US Fifth Fleet — underscoring the threat to America’s regional hegemony even more dramatically.

US foreign policy elites were not just concerned about a precipitous erosion of the US strategic position in the Middle East. They also worried about what the spread of popular demand for leaderships accountable to their peoples, not to Washington, would mean for the hegemonic house of cards the US had imposed on the region.

It was clear — and has become ever clearer over the past three years — that the majority of population in the Middle East want to vote for their leaders and to have a voice in decision-making on issues affecting their daily lives and social identities. But they also want that to happen in an explicitly Islamic framework — not in some secular, liberal “Spring” context, divorced from their identities and ability to assert real independence.

When given the chance to express preferences about their political futures, Middle Eastern Muslims do not embrace the sort of secular liberalism that America might be able to countenance as an alternative to pro-Western autocracy. Rather, they vote for Islamists espousing the integration of participatory politics and elections with Islamic principles — and with a commitment to foreign policy independence.

Thus, in early 2011, Washington was anxious that the Arab Awakening would ultimately benefit the Islamic Republic of Iran. For the Islamic Republic is the Middle East’s only political system that, since 1979, has actually tried to integrate participatory politics and elections with principles and institutions of Islamic governance. It has also been an exemplar of foreign policy independence, embodied in its consistent refusal to submit to the imperatives of a pro-US regional order.

Three US goals in the Middle East

Faced with these risks to its hegemonic ambitions, the US could not simply declare its opposition to popular sovereignty in the Middle East. Instead, the Obama administration crafted a policy response to the Arab Awakening that had three major goals. In the course of pursuing these goals, the administration — with strong bipartisan backing in Congress — has imposed even more instability and violence on the region. It has also set the stage for further erosion of the credibility and effectiveness of US policy in a vital part of the world.

The Obama administration’s first goal was to prevent the Arab Awakening from taking down any more US allies. To that end, the administration tacitly (but happily) acquiesced to the Saudi-led military intervention in Bahrain on March 14, 2011 to sustain the Khalifa monarchy. As a result, the monarchy continues to hold on to power (for now) and US naval forces continue operating out of Bahrain.

At the same time, Washington’s support for suppressing popular demands for political change there through Saudi Arabia’s armed intervention has helped fuel a dangerous resurgence of sectarian tensions across the Middle East. This, in turn, has given new life to al-Qaeda and similar jihadi movements around the region.

The Obama administration’s second goal was to co-opt the Arab Awakening for US purposes, by showing that, somewhere in the Middle East, the US could put itself on the “right” side of history. So, when Saudi Arabia offered the Arab League “cover” to intervene in Libya and arm anti-Gaddafi rebels, President Barack Obama overrode objections by his defence secretary and military leaders to order US forces into action.

On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council narrowly adopted a resolution authorising use of force to protect civilian populations in Libya. In short order, Team Obama distorted it to turn civilian protection into coercive regime change. The results have been disastrous for US interests and for the region: Worsening violence in Libya, a growing jihadi threat in North Africa, a dead US ambassador, and more polarised US relations with Russia and China.

The Obama administration’s third goal was to show that, after the loss of pro-Western regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and near-misses in Bahrain and Yemen, it wasn’t just authoritarian regimes willing to subordinate their foreign policies to the US that were at risk from popular discontent. In particular, Washington wanted to demonstrate that it was also possible to bring down regimes with clear commitments to foreign policy independence — and, in the process, weaken not just Iran’s strategic position but that of Islamists across the region promoting participatory Islamist governance.

Soon after unrest started in Syria in March 2011, the Obama administration saw an opening, declaring that President Bashar al-Assad “must go” and goading an externally supported “opposition” to undermine him — if not bring him down. It was clear from the start that arming a deeply divided opposition would not bring down the Syrian government. Nevertheless, Washington joined with its so-called allies in Riyadh, Paris, and London in an almost desperate attempt to roll back Iran’s rising power.

Almost three years on, Iraq, as well as Iran, have been hurt by this misadventure — but the American and the Syrian people have paid a much higher price. Washington has paid in terms of its regional standing, intensification of the regional resurgence of violent extremists, and further polarisation of relations with Russia and China; Syria, of course, has paid with over 100,000 Syrians killed (so far) and millions more displaced.

More recently, the Obama administration’s tacit backing for the military coup that overthrew Egypt’s democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president in July 2013 has removed any residual doubt that the US, intent on clinging to its hegemonic prerogatives in the Middle East, can endorse moves toward real democracy in the region. Putting US strategy in the Middle East on a more positive and productive trajectory will require Washington to accept the region on its own terms, to deal straightforwardly with all relevant (and authentic) actors, and to admit that trying to coercively micromanage political outcomes in Muslim-majority societies isn’t just incompatible with claims to respect popular sovereignty — it is unsustainable and counter-productive for long-term US interests.

Reprinted with permission from author’s Going to Tehran blog.

Flickr/AK Rockefeller

Will Asia Ignite a Second Arab Spring? | The Diplomat

Will Asia Ignite a Second Arab Spring? | The Diplomat.

Will Asia Ignite a Second Arab Spring?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Will Asia Ignite a Second Arab Spring?

Asia’s economic slowdown threatens to disrupt the Persian Gulf monarchies that were able to weather the Arab Spring.

zachary-keck_q
February 06, 2014

One of the more interesting aspects of the Arab Spring is that it largely spared the Gulf monarchies. To be sure, the monarchies in Bahrain and Jordan had to contend with a degree of unrest. Still, the core of the Arab Spring protests occurred in the Arab Republics, some of which fell from power. By comparison, the monarchies in the region—many of which are located in the Persian Gulf—were spared the worst of the unrest.

Still, the past is often a poor indicator of the future, and the fact that the region’s monarchies were able to weather the Arab Spring does not necessarily mean they are stable. In fact, many fear that the violence in Syria will destabilize monarchies like Jordan, much as the civil war in Syria is already destabilizing countries like Lebanon and Iraq that had previously not witnessed much Arab Spring unrest.

Although this possibility cannot be discounted, the Persian Gulf and other Arab monarchies face a much graver threat to their stability, and that threat originates in Asia. Specifically, the economic slowdowns in Asia in general, and China and India in particular, could very well ignite a second Arab Spring, and this one would not spare the monarchies.

One of the major global developments over the past few decades has been the shift of economic power from Europe and North America to the Asia-Pacific. In few places has this shift been felt more intensely than in the Persian Gulf. In the span of a few years Asia has surpassed the West as the region’s largest trading partner.

Although this development is frequently discussed from the vantage point of Asia’s growing dependence on Middle Eastern oil, the flip-side of the equation—the Middle East’s growing dependence on Asia—usually gets short shrift. This is unfortunate, as the Middle East’s dependence on Asia is nearly as substantial. Take the six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for example. Asia makes up no less than 57 percent of the GCC’s total trade. Asia also purchases an incredible two-thirds of the GCC’s most important export—oil. This figure will continue to rise substantially in the years ahead. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2035 Asian nations will purchase 90 percent of the Persian Gulf’s oil exports.

Asia’s willingness and ability to meet these projections are vital to the Persian Gulf’s stability. For the most part, Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia maintain stability by buying off their populations. They do this in at least two major ways. First, by maintaining excessively large bureaucracies that keep the population employed doing unproductive and unnecessary work. Additionally, many Persian Gulf states and Arab monarchies provide substantial subsidies to ensure low prices. For example, according to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia subsidizes water to the tune of $50 billion a year.

The regimes use these subsidies of labor and goods to safeguard their rule, including by increasing wages and subsidies on various household staples when they fear potential unrest. For example, when unrest began afflicting Egypt in early 2011, Saudi Arabia quickly announced a $36 billion increase in subsidies. Jordan similarly authorized a $125 million subsidy package for its population, while Kuwait introduced both higher direct stipends and over a year of free food for its citizens.

This is a shrewd move, as it ties the population’s livelihood to the regime’s survival (much like the Chinese Communist Party’s 80 million person membership roll helps ensure support for the CCP). However, it is also prohibitively expensive to maintain these subsidies, and once they are so given, any government will find it difficult to eliminate them.

The Persian Gulf regimes, of course, use their extensive oil wealth to pay for these subsidies, which is what makes Asia’s slowdown so dangerous to the Persian Gulf states. Since Asia figures to purchase such a larger percentage of the Persian Gulf’s oil exports, if it proves unable to do so the price of oil is likely to plummet. Should this decline in oil prices persist for too long, depleting the monarchies’ treasuries, it would leave them unable to continue buying their populations’ loyalty.

China’s economic course in the coming years will be particularly crucial to Middle East stability. Not only does China directly purchase a greater proportion of Persian Gulf oil than other Asian nations, but China is the top trading partner of most of these other states.  Therefore, a significant downturn in the Chinese economy will greatly disrupt the economies of other important Middle East oil consumers like Japan and South Korea, further reducing petroleum demand.

Especially when combined with rising oil production in the Western Hemisphere, it’s hardly unimaginable that global energy prices could decline sharply in the years ahead. This would be disastrous for many Middle Eastern monarchies, particularly those in the Persian Gulf (as well as other so-called petrol states like Russia and Venezuela). Notably, this process could easily become self-sustaining as instability in the Persian Gulf is likely to cause a spike global energy prices. While this may temporarily help some of the Middle Eastern regimes, it would also further dampen the prospects of an economic recovery in Asia. This in turn would further soften global demand for oil.

Despite the perception in the West that the Arab Spring was largely a movement for greater negative freedoms like the right to vote and limited government, it in fact was principally driven by demands for greater positive freedoms like more economic opportunity. The second Arab Spring would be no different.

Fear the Stock Bubble, but Don’t Sweat the Emerging Market Crisis | CYNICONOMICS

Fear the Stock Bubble, but Don’t Sweat the Emerging Market Crisis | CYNICONOMICS.

We review a few of our recent opinions for context before getting to the main point of this post:

Is the U.S. stock market overvalued?

Absolutely. In “Bubble or Not, U.S. Stocks Are Priced to Deliver Dismal Long-Term Returns,” we argued that stocks are priced to barely outpace inflation, at best, and more likely to deliver negative real returns over the next 10 years.

Is the market due for an extended correction or consolidation?

Probably. Some of the annual outlooks published recently brought back memories of January 2007. The trendy theme at that time was the idea that stocks would float along on a sea of unlimited global liquidity. Bulls seemed to feed off each other and make ever more extreme predictions, not recognizing that “global liquidity” was another way of describing history’s largest-ever credit bubble. Fast forward to late 2013/early 2014, and bulls were again upgrading their outlooks just as financial excesses were becoming impossible to ignore. It stands to reason that recent volatility may have gotten their attention, especially while the Fed’s QE boost is gradually removed with two tapers done and seven to go (assuming no change in amounts).

It’s also worth noting that returns in the month of January tends to persist. As we discussed here, negative January performance suggests better than 50% odds of further consolidation.

Is the current emerging market crisis a game changer for U.S. stocks?

Unless this is the year that China’s credit markets collapse, our answer is “not so much.” There are a handful of developments that could trigger a full bear in the U.S., but these don’t include events in developing countries outside China. That would be highly unusual, as we’ll show below by looking at six emerging market crises that occurred during bull markets.

 

Here are the crises, identified by the dates of the events that launched each one into broad public view:

  1. August 13, 1982. Mexico’s finance minister announces he can no longer meet the country’s loan obligations. Most Latin American countries follow Mexico’s lead and restructure their commitments to U.S. banks in 1982/83.
  2. February 20, 1987. Brazil announces an interest payment suspension, leading to another series of Latin American loan restructurings in 1987/88.
  3. December 20, 1994. Mexico devalues the Peso by adjusting its targeted band, and then abandons the band altogether two days later. Market turmoil forces Mexico into a U.S.-led debt bailout in early 1995.
  4. July 2, 1997. Only two days after ruling out a currency devaluation, Thailand gives up its defense of the baht, triggering sharp devaluations throughout East Asia and a painful regional recession (the “Asian Financial Crisis”).
  5. August 17, 1998. In reaction to a worsening recession and deteriorating public finances, Russia defaults on its sovereign debt and devalues the ruble.
  6. January 14, 2011. Tunisia’s president succumbs to public protests and flees to Saudi Arabia as demonstrations and bloodshed sweep the Middle East (the “Arab Spring”). Governments in Egypt and Yemen fall in February.

For each of these events, we looked at S&P 500 (SPY) performance in the prior two months and subsequent six months:

emerging market crisis 1

Here are the key results:

  • Stocks traded partly higher and partly sideways through Brazil’s 1987 bond default, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the Arab Spring of 2011. None of these episodes included a correction of more than 10%.
  • Stocks rallied strongly after each of the crises triggered by Mexico (in 1982 and 1994). Curiously, the long 1980-82 bear market reached its trough exactly one day before Mexico’s August 1982 plea for help.
  • The S&P 500 peaked one month before the August 1998 Russian bond default and then fell 19% to a trough two weeks after the default. Following another six weeks of consolidation that was surely extended by September 1998’s LTCM crisis, stocks rebounded strongly.

The chart suggests that emerging market stability is far from the most important factor for U.S. stocks. The present crisis is likely to create more market volatility, but stocks were due for a period of consolidation with or without Turkey’s corruption scandal, Argentina’s reserve drain, Thailand’s violent protests and so on. As shown above, these types of events don’t make the difference between bull and bear markets on Wall Street.

What could make us wrong?

The flip side to our conclusion is that the present crisis is more diverse than earlier crises and includes relatively large countries in all parts of the world. Consider that the so-called “fragile five” developing countries – Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa – account for over 14% of global GDP. By comparison, the five countries most affected by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis – Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia – totaled only 7% of global GDP. The five largest countries in the 1980s Latin American crises also amounted to 7% of global GDP. The other three crises barely registered at all from a GDP perspective: Russia and Mexico were each 2% of global GDP before their respective 1990s crises, while the Arab countries whose governments fell in 2011 were an even smaller portion of the global economy.

In other words, our chart could be misleading if the present crisis develops into a larger emerging market collapse than we’ve seen in the past. It’s worth watching for that reason, but we’re not yet convinced. If the U.S. bull is ended by global developments, these are more likely to originate in the larger economies of China, Japan or Western Europe.

Numerous Explosives Discovered Near Winter Olympics Site | Zero Hedge

Numerous Explosives Discovered Near Winter Olympics Site | Zero Hedge.

Just a few short weeks away, the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic may go off with a bang, literally, judging by the amount of “terrorist” chatter surrounding the games. Today however, it is more than just chatter: earlier the Russian media reported that Russian security forces had come across multiple unexplained deaths and explosive devices in a region near Sochi, resulting in an aggressive “anti-terrorism sweep.”

The developments are bizarre to say the least:

A car with a body inside exploded as police approached it in Russia’s Stavropol Territory, reported Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti, citing the Interior Ministry. In the same area, Russian authorities reportedly discovered a car containing the bodies of three men along with explosive material. The day before, two more bodies were found in the same region.

 

Russian officials are investigating the possible cause and motive for the deaths — a Russia analyst speculated to ABC News the deaths could be related to organized crime — but at any rate the mystery and the security sweep add to an already tense situation in southern Russia as the Olympics approach.

One person keeping a close eye on the developments is none other than president Obama, who as we reported yesterday, will unleash an ad blitz for Obamacare around the Olympics. The last thing he will want is for the participants in the games to have need of it. Which is why one can be certain that the NSA and various US security forces are already well aware of any potential sources of terrorism around the games. Sure enough, in a statement of condolences from the White House over the most recent Volgograd bombings, President Obama’s National Security Council slipped in an apparent jab at the Russian government over the security situation. “The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants,” the NSC statement said.”

Some thoughts on who they may be:

Just 10 days ago more than 30 people were killed in dual suicide bombings in Volgograd, Russia, some 400 miles northeast of Sochi. By comparison, Moscow lies more than 850 miles north of Sochi. In October seven people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives on a bus, also in Volgograd. The Stavropol Territory lies approximately halfway between Volgograd and Sochi – approximately 150 miles away from the Olympic site.

 

No group has publicly claimed responsibility for the bombings, but in the case of the October bus bombing, Russian authorities said the bomber hailed from Dagestan, a restive region in southern Russia to Sochi’s east that, along with Chechnya, is home to a violent Islamist insurgency that has fought Russian government forces for decades.

 

The leader of the insurgency, Doku Umarov, sometimes referred to as “Russia’s Osama bin Laden,” last June called on his followers to “do their utmost to derail” the Sochi Olympics, which he called a “satanic dance on the bones of our ancestors.” In the past Umarov has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on Russian civilians, including the 2011 bombing of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

What is far more clear is who is providing the funding and supplies for the Islamists – the same puppetmaster who was behind the Syrian conflict. Recall:

Bandar told Putin, “There are many common values and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against terrorism and extremism all over the world. Russia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on promoting and consolidating international peace and security. The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya. … As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”

Putin laughed in Bandar’s face, the Saudi natgas pipeline gambit in Syria failed, and as a result the escalation in Sochi is progressing just as Bandar implied it would. Naturally this puts Obama in a tough spot: he can’t openly act against Saudi interests once again after alieanting his ally in the region and take out the terrorist camps in Chechnya, but the last thing he would want is to cart home coffins of athletes.

Which means US participants are resorting to Plan B:

the U.S. ski and snowboard team this year will be overseen by a private security firm, which plans to have as many as five aircraft on standby in case of a medical or security emergency in Sochi. “This environment is unique,” Global Rescue CEO Dan Richards told USA Today Wednesday. “You just don’t have competitions in places like Sochi with any frequency. … In the last 10 years, there has been nothing like it.”

 

William Rathburn, who was the head of Olympic Security during the bombing of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, told ABC News that while he’s confident Russian officials “have done everything they can” to secure the upcoming games, the odds of an incident are “very high.”

 

“It’s an opportunity for the Chechen [militants] or anyone else to embarrass Russia or [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, I think,” he said. “It’s far easier to protect against attacks on somebody who might be targeted, a group or country or delegation. [But] it’s clear that the people who conducted the two bombings in Volgograd are willing to indiscriminately kill people. It’s very difficult to protect against…”

And after last year in which Putin humiliated US and most western foreign policy on virtually every front, the number of people who want to embarass Putin is quite long.

Protest erupts in Tunisia amid discontent – Africa – Al Jazeera English

Protest erupts in Tunisia amid discontent – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

Clashes have erupted in central Tunisia between police and demonstrators as instability continues to plague the North African country.Dozens of protesters tried on Wednesday to force their way into the offices of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda in the town of Kasserine, but were pushed away by tear gas fired by police, an AFP journalist reported.

Central Tunisia has long suffered from neglect and a lack of opportunity, which were driving factors behind the popular uprising that began in nearby Sidi Bouzid in 2011, when a young street vendor set himself on fire in protest at his impoverished circumstances.

It was on Wednesday exactly three years ago that the first protester was killed in Kasserine during the uprising in the Arab Spring’s birthplace that toppled the long-time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Kasserine is one of the poorest regions of Tunisia and was a hotbed of unrest during the revolt.

In the village of Thala, which lies in the Kasserine region and had already witnessed clashes on Tuesday evening, protesters attacked a police post, partially burning it and driving away the security forces, witnesses said.

Shops and public offices remained closed in Kasserine as hundreds protested in the streets on Wednesday. They shouted slogans such as “The people want the fall of the regime”, the rallying cry of the Arab Spring.

A policeman was injured during the clashes after he was hit by a tear gas canister fired at him by one of his colleagues.

Al Jazeera’s Youssef Gaigi, reporting from Tunis on Wednesday, said conditions had not improved since the 2011 mass protests.

“People continue to pay a very high price for the revolution. Unemployment is high and conditions have worsened,” he said.

The better living conditions sought by many young Tunisians have failed to materialise, resulting in discontent over new taxes and government shortcomings.

Anger has been growing of late over proposed 2014 budget, which is critics say will negatively affect the middle and working classes through increases in taxes and cuts in subsidies.

A System Collapse Framework for Societies | 1913 Intel

A System Collapse Framework for Societies | 1913 Intel.

The Snow Avalanche Image

Snow Avalanche

During the good times the snow falls and slowly builds up. Without anyone noticing, the snow reaches a pre-collapse state. It is at this time that avalanches are born. The impossible becomes the inevitable.

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring is an example of the snow avalanche concept as applied to societies.

Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. Source: Wikipedia.

How is it possible that a Tunisian fruit vendor could bring down governments through one act of defiance? It simply is not possible unless the countries involved were already in a pre-collapse state. The snow was ready to avalanche and just needed a trigger. The fruit vendor provided the trigger.

The Avalanche Concept Applied to Societies

Stability is not your friend. Controlled instability is your friend. Compare democracies and dictatorships: One has controlled instability – elections, and the other has only stability. The dictatorship model is more stable, until there is a revolution and everything breaks. Democracies avoid the revolutions by voting out the bums. Systems with controlled instabilities avoid the big avalanches.

While democracies use controlled instability to avoid revolutions, the same is not true in economics. Typically democratic governments suppress recessions in order to get reelected. This suppression process seeks to enhance economic stability. The elimination of controlled instability in economics pushes societies to the point of economic avalanche – a depression.

When is an avalanche likely?

First rule, moving from a stable state to avalanche state takes time. Time of stability is the most important factor in determining when the next avalanche will occur. Looking back in history will give us an idea of how long it takes before things break. For the US, that time is 80 to 100 years since the beginning of the last crisis. The last crisis period ran from 1925 to 1945. The next crisis period runs from 2005 to 2025. These periods are based on the research by two historians as told in The Fourth Turning.

Second rule, problems or cracks start to appear in society after a long period of time. Experts start to warn about instabilities or dangers on the horizon. Societies become more sensitive, and there are protests and/or riots.

Third rule, there must be a triggering event. However, this event does not need to be big as we saw with the Tunisian fruit vendor. Causality is not linear. Linear causality is where small things can only have a small impact.

Avalanches, forest fireseconomic crashes and wars work the same way. They all follow the same mathematical distribution in terms of collapses – the power law distribution. Who cares? Keep reading as I apply these concepts.

Mathematics of Collapse

Take a look at this little video about the mathematics of war.

Take a look at the graphs in the video. These are the same graphs as forest fires. Notice how the frequency (y-axis) versus size (x-axis) graph follows a straight line for both attacks in war and forest fires. Wars in total also follow the same graph.

The next graph shows attack frequency versus the size of the attack in the Iraq war.

The following graphs show forest fire frequency versus size of the fire.

The graphs between the Iraq war and forest fires look kind of similar, don’t they? They tend to form a straight line. Why is that?

Societies and forests move into the future in the same way. Each new day is heavily influenced by the past. And that is a positive feedback loop process. That feedback loop process causes collapses to be similar in both sets of graphs with both having a power-law distribution of collapses. You can treat societies and forests the same way in terms of collapses. If you suppress small collapses then you will get bigger collapses. If you suppress bigger collapses then you will get the mother of all collapses. If you suppress that collapse then you will sit on the edge of a cliff forever, or until you allow the collapse to happen. The probability of an extreme collapse (the black swan) is 10 to 20 times greater than you think. A society or forest becomes susceptible to a black swan (catastrophic fire, depression, major war, …) after a long period of stability. Use history to determine what “long period” means. For a snow avalanche, long period may mean months. For a forest or society, long period may mean 50 years or 100 years.

If societies follow a positive feedback loop process, then so do economies. Economic stability (suppressing collapses) leads to catastrophe. That’s why Japan has been stuck in the mud for the last 20 years. The West is now stuck with Japan at the edge of a cliff waiting for something to push them over.

Why is stability a bad thing?

During the good times, the bad stuff (bad ideas, bad decisions and corruption) grows along with the good. Small collapses help to eliminate some of the bad stuff before it gets too big. Suppressing all collapses means the bad stuff grows so big that only a huge crash will fix the problems. No crash equals no solution.

Signals

How can we tell when the bad stuff has become a real problem? In the next paragraph see how scientists figured out how to discover the rot developing in growing sandpiles until there was a complete collapse.

“To find out why [such unpredictability] should show up in their sandpile game, Bak and colleagues next played a trick with their computer.  Imagine peering down on the pile from above, and coloring it in according to its steepness.  Where it is relatively flat and stable, color it green; where steep and, in avalanche terms, ‘ready to go,’ color it red.  What do you see?  They found that at the outset the pile looked mostly green, but that, as the pile grew, the green became infiltrated with ever more red.  With more grains, the scattering of red danger spots grew until a dense skeleton of instability ran through the pile.  Here then was a clue to its peculiar behavior: a grain falling on a red spot can, by domino-like action, cause sliding at other nearby red spots.  If the red network was sparse, and all trouble spots were well isolated one from the other, then a single grain could have only limited repercussions. But when the red spots come to riddle the pile, the consequences of the next grain become fiendishly unpredictable.  It might trigger only a few tumblings, or it might instead set off a cataclysmic chain reaction involving millions.  The sandpile seemed to have configured itself into a hypersensitive and peculiarly unstable condition in which the next falling grain could trigger a response of any size whatsoever.”

The QE Sandpile | 1913 Intel

Without color-coding it’s a lot harder to see the rot. We have to rely on clues. Extreme problems in one or more areas of society after a long period of stability probably indicate that that society is in trouble. 9/11 was one clue. The financial collapse in 2008 was another clue. There is rot in our military. The US nuclear arsenal has been gutted. So America appears to be in trouble at this time.

About the Power Law Distribution

Find out a little more about the power law distribution. Did you ever wonder where the 80-20 rule comes from? Please meet the power law distribution.

The  – sometimes referred to as the , or the  – has drawn a great deal of attention lately as an alternative to the ‘normal’ (Gaussian) distribution (i.e, the bell curve). The power law has gained in popularity among more numerate intellectuals, policy makers, and business people because it seems to fit better with common sense than what we were told in Statistics 101: Extreme and rare events have a greater than expected impact; a few products, people, and websites seem to have the bulk of market share, wealth, and mindshare; etc.

The Econophysics Blog: Tyranny of the Power Law (and Why We Should Become Eclectic)

The power law distribution doesn’t fit everything which means outliers exist. However, it does a much better job than the normal distribution. For our purposes of trying to understand the real world better, the power law distribution provides a good foundation.

Collapse Framework for Societies

What follows is a framework for viewing collapses in society – economic collapse or war/revolution. I have essentially summarized the concepts I covered above.

1. Societies follow a positive feedback loop process. Each new day is heavily dependent on the past. This is similar to forests and sandpiles. The process never stops and collapses are impossible to prevent. One may only transform the size and timing of collapses.
2. Positive feedback loop processes are subject to self-organizing criticality. They will automatically move toward a pre-collapse state, then just collapse.
3. Collapses follow a power-law distribution. Outliers exist.
4. All collapses are the same. There is no difference (other than size) between a small collapse and a big collapse. Big collapses require longer to form and happen less often.
5. Collapse transformation: Collapse suppression will delay a collapse and make the resulting collapse bigger. Suppress small collapses and you will get bigger collapses. Suppress bigger collapses and you will get the mother of all collapses. Suppress that and you will sit on the edge of a cliff forever waiting to fall or be pushed over the edge. Think Japan.
6. Collapses are caused by the build-up of bad ideas, bad decisions and corruption. These things can spread to all corners of society.
7. War or revolution is just a collapse like an economic collapse. Only the form is different.
8. Collapse suppression leaves the original problems (bad ideas, bad decisions and corruption) in place giving them the ability to continue growing.
9. A collapse in one area could mean problems in other areas as well. For example, 9/11 could mean more than a terrorism problem. It could represent a sign of spreading problems into all corners of society.
10. The longer the time of stability means the longer (and bigger) the problems can grow. Time of relative stability is the most important criteria in determining when a large collapse is possible. History helps us determine which time frames are important.
11. When a system has reached a point where a small event can have a large impact then it is at a pre-collapse state or tipping point. Causality is not linear.
12. Big collapses (the outliers) may represent phase transitions where everything you know changes.
13. Black swans are outliers in a normal distribution which cause a phase transition.
14. Dragon-kings are outliers in a power-law distribution which cause a phase transition.
15. Examples of systems with a power-law distribution (outliers allowed): Forest fires, sandpile collapses, snow pile avalanches, earth quakes, financial market collapses, wealth, city size, serial killers, riots, attacks within war and wars.
16. In financial mathematics, the use of the normal distribution is forbidden. It assumes behavior is independent. In a crisis or collapse, market behavior is not independent as people start herding. Naturally this means in reality all financial mathematics uses the normal distribution. Were you wondering why these models blow up?
17. How to build a better economic model. The key here is to harness collapses.

The Arc of Justice and the Long Run Hope, History, and Unpredictability

The Arc of Justice and the Long Run Hope, History, and Unpredictability.

by Rebecca Solnit, originally published by TomDispatch  | TODAY

North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who have planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing fruit far sweeter than most of what those fundamentalists brought to this continent. Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.

Three years ago at this time, after a young Tunisian set himself on fire to protest injustice, the Arab Spring was on the cusp of erupting. An even younger man, a rapper who went by the name El Général, was on the verge of being arrested for “Rais Lebled” (a tweaked version of the phrase “head of state”), a song that would help launch the revolution in Tunisia.
Weeks before either the Tunisian or Egyptian revolutions erupted, no one imagined they were going to happen. No one foresaw them. No one was talking about the Arab world or northern Africa as places with a fierce appetite for justice and democracy. No one was saying much about unarmed popular power as a force in that corner of the world. No one knew that the seeds were germinating.
A small but striking aspect of the Arab Spring was the role of hip-hop in it. Though the U.S. government often exports repression — its billions in aid to the Egyptian military over the decades, for example — American culture can be something else altogether, and often has been.
Henry David Thoreau wrote books that not many people read when they were published. He famously said of his unsold copies, “I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes over 700 of which I wrote myself.” But a South African lawyer of Indian descent named Mohandas Gandhi read Thoreau on civil disobedience and found ideas that helped him fight discrimination in Africa and then liberate his own country from British rule. Martin Luther King studied Thoreau and Gandhi and put their ideas to work in the United States, while in 1952 the African National Congress and the young Nelson Mandela were collaborating with the South African Indian Congress on civil disobedience campaigns. You wish you could write Thoreau a letter about all this. He had no way of knowing that what he planted would still be bearing fruit 151 years after his death. But the past doesn’t need us. The past guides us; the future needs us.
An influential comic book on civil disobedience and Martin Luther King published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the U.S. in 1957 was translated into Arabic and distributed in Egypt in 2009, four decades after King’s death. What its impact was cannot be measured, but it seems to have had one in the Egyptian uprising which was a dizzying mix of social media, outside pressure, street fighting, and huge demonstrations.
The past explodes from time to time, and many events that once seemed to have achieved nothing turn out to do their work slowly. Much of what has been most beautifully transformative in recent years has also been branded a failure by people who want instant results guaranteed or your money back. The Arab Spring has just begun, and if some of the participant nations are going through their equivalent of the French Revolution, it’s worth remembering that France, despite the Terror and the Napoleonic era, never went back either to absolutist monarchy or the belief that such a condition could be legitimate. It was a mess, it was an improvement, it’s still not finished.
The same might be said of the South African upheaval Mandela catalyzed. It made things better; it has not made them good enough. It’s worth pointing out as well that what was liberated by the end of apartheid was not only the nonwhite population of one country, but a sense of power and possibility for so many globally who had participated in the boycotts and other campaigns to end apartheid in that miraculous era from 1989 to 1991 that also saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, successful revolutions across Eastern Europe, the student uprising in Beijing, and the beginning of the end of many authoritarian regimes in Latin America.
In the hopeful aftermath of that transformation, Mandela wrote, “The titanic effort that has brought liberation to South Africa and ensured the total liberation of Africa constitutes an act of redemption for the black people of the world. It is a gift of emancipation also to those who, because they were white, imposed on themselves the heavy burden of assuming the mantle of rulers of all humanity. It says to all who will listen and understand that, by ending the apartheid barbarity that was the offspring of European colonization, Africa has, once more, contributed to the advance of human civilization and further expanded the frontiers of liberty everywhere.”
Congo Square
The arc of justice is long. It travels through New Orleans, the city I’ve returned to again and again since Hurricane Katrina.  It’s been my way of trying to understand not just disaster, but community, culture, and continuity, three things that city possesses as no place else in the nation. Hip-hop comes most directly from the South Bronx, but if you look at the 1970s founders of that genre of popular music, you see that some of the key figures were Caribbean, and if you look at their formative music, it included the ska and reggae that were infused with the influence of New Orleans. (In addition, that city’s native son and major jazz figure, Donald Harrison, Jr., was a mentor to seminal New York City rapper Notorious B.I.G.)
If you look at New Orleans, what you see is an astonishing example of the survival of culture — and of the culture of survival.
Maybe you’d have to do what I was doing in early 2011 — poke around in the origins of American music in New Orleans — to be struck by the way so many essential parts of it came from Africa in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and some of it returned to that continent again in recent years. I was looking at maps, making maps, thinking about how to chart the unexpected ways immaterial things move through time and space.
The saddest map I have ever seen is the oft-published one of the triangle trade, a vicious circle that isn’t even a circle. It depicts the routes of the eighteenth and nineteenth century European traders who brought manufactured goods from their continent to West Africa to exchange for human beings who were then transported to the United States and the Caribbean to be exchanged for raw materials, especially sugar, rum, and tobacco. It’s a map that tells of people made into tools and commodities, but it tells us nothing of what the enslaved brought with them.
Stripped bare of all possessions and rights, they carried memory, culture, and resistance in their heads. New Orleans let those things flourish as nowhere else in the United States during the long, obscene era of slavery, while the biggest slave uprising in U.S. history took place nearby in 1811 (its participants including two young Asante warriors who had arrived in New Orleans on slave ships five years earlier). From the mid-eighteenth century to the 1840s, the enslaved of New Orleans were permitted to gather on Sundays in the plaza on the edge of the old city known then and now as Congo Square.
“On sabbath evening,” the visitor H.C. Knight famously wrote in 1819, “the African slaves meet on the green, by the swamp, and rock the city with their Congo dances.” The great music historian Ned Sublette observes that this is the first use of rock as a verb about music, and in his marvelous book The World That Made New Orleans notes that what is arguably the first rock and roll record, Roy Brown’s 1947 “Good Rocking Tonight,” was recorded a block away.
In between, what Africans had brought with them continued its metamorphosis in the city: jazz famously arose from black culture near Congo Square, as did important rhythm and blues strains and influences, as well as performers, then funk, and eventually hip-hop. Funk arose in part from Afro-Cuban influences and from the African-American tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians — not Native Americans, but working-class African Americans. Their elaborate outfits and rites officially pay homage to the Native Americans who sheltered runaway slaves (and sometimes intermarried with them), but have a startling resemblance to African beaded costumes. The Mardi Gras Indians still parade on that day and other days, chanting and singing, challenging each other through song. One of the recurrent chantsdeclares, “We won’t bow down.”
Though New Orleans is mainly famous for other things, it has also been a city of resistance — from the slave revolts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to late nineteenth century segregation-breaker Homer Plessy to Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old who in 1960 was the first Black child to integrate a white school in the South. The span of time is not as long as you might think: Fats Domino, one of the founding fathers of rock and roll, is still alive and has a home in the Lower Ninth Ward. The midwife at his birth a few blocks away was his grandmother, who had been born into slavery.
New Orleanian Herreast Harrison, a woman in her seventies, mother of jazzman Donald Harrison Jr., widow of a Mardi Gras Indian chief, cultural preserver, and a dynamic force in the city, said to me of Mardi Gras Indian culture:
“But those groups remembered their cultural heritage and practiced it there, that memory, they had this overarching memory of their pasts. And when they were there, they were free. And their spirits soared to the high heavens. They were themselves. In spite of limitations in every aspect of their lives. Where they should have felt like, ‘we are nothing,’ because you get brainwashed constantly about the fact that you’re a nobody… but they didn’t, they brought back. And now it’s part of the world, that music.”
And her son, Donald Harrison, Jr., added:
“One other very important thing that Congo Square represented in the culture was that no matter what’s going on in life you transcend the culture and Congo Square helps you. It transcends and puts you into a transcendental state so that you are free at that moment. Even today, that’s the power of the music and that’s why it brings us together. You have a moment of freedom where you transcend everything that’s going on around you. Berthold Auerbach said it so eloquently: ‘Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’  At that moment you become free, which is why the music is part of the world now. Everybody wants a moment to transcend. It goes inside of you and you know where you can go to be free. No matter if you’re in Norway, South American, or Beijing, you know, ‘this music sets me free.’ So Congo Square set the world free, basically. It gives freedom to everyone around it.”
In my latest project, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, I tried to convey what New Orleans music gave the world in a map labeled “Repercussions: Rhythm and Resistance Across the Atlantic.” Those involuntary émigrés brought by slave ship were said to have nothing, but what they had still reaches and spreads and liberates.
Click here to see a larger version

Repercussions: Rhythm and Resistance Across the Atlantic. Map concept and research: Rebecca Solnit. Cartography: Shizue Seigel. Design: Lia Tjandra. c Univ. of CA Press, 2013.
What we call the Arab Spring was first of all the North African Spring — in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya — and hip-hop was already there. It has, in fact, become a global means of dissent, from indigenous Oaxaca, Mexico, to Cairo, Egypt. Which does not mean that everything is fine (or that hip-hop can’t also be used for consumerism or misogyny). It’s a reminder, however, that even in the most horrific of circumstances, something remarkable more than survived; it throve and grew and eventually reached around the Earth.
Nearly three years after the first sparks of the Arab Spring began, it’s wiser to consider it, too, barely begun rather than ended in failure. More than two years after the first members of Occupy Wall Street began decamping in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, that movement is not over either, though almost all the encampments have subsided and the engagement has new names: Occupy Sandy,Strike Debt, and more. That everything continues to metamorphose seems a better way to think of social upheavals than obituaries and epitaphs.
Maps of the Unpredictable
Whenever I look around me, I wonder what old things are about to bear fruit, what seemingly solid institutions might soon rupture, and what seeds we might now be planting whose harvest will come at some unpredictable moment in the future. The most magnificent person I met in 2013 quoted a line from Michel Foucault to me: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” Someone saves a life or educates a person or tells her a story that upends everything she assumed. The transformation may be subtle or crucial or world changing, next year or in 100 years, or maybe in a millennium. You can’t always trace it but everything, everyone has a genealogy.
In her forthcoming book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sarah Lewis tells how a white teenager in Austin, Texas, named Charles Black heard a black trumpet player in the 1930s who changed his thinking — and so our lives. He was riveted and transformed by the beauty of New Orleans jazzman Louis Armstrong’s music, so much so that he began to reconsider the segregated world he had grown up in. “It is impossible to overstate the significance of a 16-year-old Southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black,” he recalled decades later. As a lawyer dedicated to racial equality and civil rights, he would in 1954 help overturn segregation nationwide, aiding the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case ending segregation (and overturning Plessy v. Ferguson, the failed anti-segregation lawsuit launched in New Orleans 60 years earlier).
How do you explain what Louis Armstrong’s music does? Can you draw a map of the United States in which the sound of a trumpeter in 1930s Texas reaches back to moments of liberation created by slaves in Congo Square and forward to the Supreme Court of 1954?
Or how do you chart the way in which the capture of three young American hikers by Iranian border guards on the Iraq-Iran border in 2009 and their imprisonment — the men for 781 days — became the occasion for secret talks between the U.S. and Iran that led to the interim nuclear agreement signed last month? Can you draw a map of the world in which three idealistic young people out on a walk become prisoners and then catalysts?
Looking back, one of those three prisoners, Shane Bauer, wrote, “One of my fears in prison was that our detention was only going to fuel hostility between Iran and the U.S. It feels good to know that those two miserable years led to something, that could lead to something better than what was before.”
Bauer later added:
“The reason our tragedy led to an opening between the United States and Iran was that many people were actively working to end our suffering. To do so, our friends and families had to strive to build a bridge between the U.S. and Iran when the two governments were refusing to do it themselves. Sarah [Shourd, the third prisoner] is not a politician and she has no desire to be, but when she was released a year before Josh and me, she made herself into a skilled and unrelenting diplomat, strengthening connections between Oman and the U.S. that ultimately led to these talks.”
decade ago I began writing about hope, an orientation that has nothing to do with optimism. Optimism says that everything will be fine no matter what, just as pessimism says that it will be dismal no matter what. Hope is a sense of the grand mystery of it all, the knowledge that we don’t know how it will turn out, that anything is possible. It means recognizing that the sound of a trumpet at a school dance in Austin, Texas, may resound in the Supreme Court 20 years later; that an unfortunate hike in the borderlands might help turn two countries away from war; that Edward Snowden, a young NSA contractor and the biggest surprise of this year, might revolt against that agency’s sinister invasions of privacy and be surprised himself by the vehemence of the global reaction to his leaked data; that culture which left Africa more than 200 years ago might return to that continent as a tool for liberation — that we don’t know what we do does.
That Massachusetts pear tree is still bearing fruit almost 400 years after it was planted. The planter of that tree also helped instigate the war against the Pequots, who were massacred in 1637. “The survivors were sold into slavery or given over to neighboring tribes. The colonists even barred the use of the Pequot name, ‘in order to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth,’ as the leader of the raiding party later wrote,” according to the New York Times.
For centuries thereafter, that Native American nation was described as extinct, erased, gone. It was written about in the past tense when mentioned at all. In the 1970s, however, the Pequots achieved federal recognition, entitling them to the rights that Native American tribes have as “subject sovereign nations”; in the 1980s, they opened a bingo hall on their reservation in Connecticut; in the 1990s, it became the biggest casino in the western world. (Just for the record, I’m not a fan of the gambling industry, but I am of unpredictable narratives.)
With the enormous income from that project, the tribe funded a Native American history museum that opened in 1998, also the biggest of its kind. The new empire of the Pequots has been on rocky ground since the financial meltdown of 2008, but the fact that it arose at all is astonishing more than 150 years after Herman Melville stuck a ship called the Pequod in the middle of his novel Moby Dick and mentioned that it was named after a people “now extinct as the ancient Medes.” Are there are longer odds in New England than that a people long pronounced gone would end up profiting from the bad-math optimism of their neighbors?
Meanwhile, that pear tree continues to bear fruit; meanwhile, hip-hop continues to be a vehicle for political dissent from the Inuit far north to Latin America; meanwhile, diplomatic relations with Iran have had some surprising twists and turns, most recently away from war.
I see the fabric of my country’s rights and justices fraying and I see climate change advancing. There are terrible things about this moment and it’s clear that the consequences of climate change will get worse (though how much worse still depends on us). I also see that we never actually know how things will play out in the end, that the most unlikely events often occur, that we are a very innovative and resilient species, and that far more of us are idealists than is good for business and the status quo to acknowledge.
What I learned first in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was how calm, how resourceful, and how generous people could be in the worst times: the “Cajun Navy” that came in to rescue people by boat, the stranded themselves who formed communities of mutual aid, the hundreds of thousands of volunteers, from middle-aged Mennonites to young anarchists, who arrived afterward to help salvage a city that could have been left for dead.
I don’t know what’s coming. I do know that, whatever it is, some of it will be terrible, but some of it will be miraculous, that term we reserve for the utterly unanticipated, the seeds we didn’t know the soil held. And I know that we don’t know what we do does. As Shane Bauer points out, the doing is the crucial thing.
Rebecca Solnit co-directed Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlasthe sequel to her 2010 Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.  A TomDispatch regular, she has written the final article of the year for that site for the last nine years.

 

Assassination pushes Libya towards civil war two years after Gaddafi death | World news | The Observer

Assassination pushes Libya towards civil war two years after Gaddafi death | World news | The Observer. (source)

Libya marks the second anniversary of the death of Muammar Gaddafi with the country on the brink of a new civil war and fighting raging in the eastern city of Benghazi, birthplace of its Arab spring revolution.

Violence between radical militias and regular forces broke out on Friday night and continued yesterday, while the capital Tripoli is braced for fallout from the kidnapping earlier this month of prime minister Ali Zaidan. Federalists in Cyrenaica, home to most of Libya’s oil, open their own independent parliament in Benghazi this week, in a step that may herald the breakup of the country.

For months, radical militias and regular forces in Benghazi have fought a tit-for-tat war. Last week two soldiers had their throats slit as they slept in an army base. But Friday’s killing of Libya’s military police commander, Ahmed al-Barghathi, shot as he left a mosque, has became the trigger for wider violence. Hours after an assassination branded a “heinous act” by US ambassador Deborah Jones, armed units stormed the Benghazi home of a prominent militia commander, Wissam Ben Hamid, with guns and rockets.

Fighting continued into the night, with army units heading for the home of a second militia commander, Ahmed Abu Khattala, indicted by the US for the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens last year. There, they were turned back by powerful militia units.

“There’s fighting everywhere, checkpoints everywhere, I’ve moved my wife and children to somewhere safe,” said one Benghazi businessman, Mohammed, who declined to give his second name.

Ben Hamid went on live television to insist he had no role in the killing of al-Barghathi, and vowed reprisals against those who destroyed his home.

Libya’s militias are in the spotlight as never before, in a country racked by violence and economic stagnation. Zaidan has blamed the Revolutionaries Control Room, headquarters for the biggest militia – Libya Shield – for his kidnapping 10 days ago, promising harsh measures once the Eid religious holiday week ends.

Shield forces deployed in the capital denied staging the abduction, but their units were this weekend fortifying their positions in fear of attack.

The trigger for this spiralling violence was the arrest two weeks ago by Delta Force commandos of al-Qaida suspect, Anas al Liby, from his Tripoli home. That arrest has polarised opinion between supporters and opponents of Zeidan, and Nato, which bombed the rebels to victory in the 2011 Arab spring, has found itself in the hot seat over plans to train a new government army. Britain is to join the US and Italy in training Libyan army cadres at a base in Cambridgeshire.

We Are Legion: Anonymous’ Presence in the U.S. Military | A Lightning War for Liberty

We Are Legion: Anonymous’ Presence in the U.S. Military | A Lightning War for Liberty.

 

Tunisia suspends constitution body – Africa – Al Jazeera English

Tunisia suspends constitution body – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

 

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