David Aaron Miller: Move over, Egypt, Iraq and Syria
The eclipse of the Arabs carries few positive consequences for the United States. Egypt will become a much less reliable partner as both its public and elites hammer America for its policies on Israel; Iraq will probably remain violent and unstable, certainly not a reliable buffer against Iranian ambitions; and Syria, an adversary that the U.S. at least knew, is evolving into a terra incognita, a potentially fractured polity in which regional powers and sectarian conflict will produce even greater instability. And in the interim, Iran's efforts to acquire a capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, and Israel's efforts to stop it, may drive the region closer to war.
FP: There’s nothing like the blindness of a peace processor spurned. It’s not the Western own stupidity and cowardice of allowing Islamists to takeover the Middle East and supporting them that is the problem, it’s Israel’s efforts to prevent nuclear Jihad. The US has done a Chamberlain on Israel and, just like Czechoslovakia, Israel is the one that is to blame: why doesn’t it commit suicide and save the world peace? Plus ca change…
The Egyptian regime has released the American hostages it had charged with espionage after 'bail' of $300,000 per head was paid for them and for nine other NGO workers who had already managed to get out of the country. The seven Americans are on their way to an undisclosed location in Europe.
One of the seven the Egyptians held on to until they received the money was the son of Ray LaHood, President Obama's Secretary of Transportation.
Officially, the US State Department claimed that the ransom was paid by the various NGO's involved that the hostages worked for, but since those NGO's are all government funded it's obvious where the money is coming from.
Officially the American NGO workers were charged with operating without a license and using illegal foreign funds to foment unrest.But according to what Egyptian Prosecutor Khaled Suleiman told Reuters, the individuals and their organizations are accused of espionage and being in contact with the CIA as well as providing reports on Egypt to the U.S. State Department.
Last week, Egyptian Judge Mahmud Mohamed Shukry adjourned the trial until April 26, to provide some time for the inevitable haggling. After the ruling, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation "fluid" with "a lot of moving parts" bringing an image to mind so hideous I'll spare you by not repeating it.
At any rate, the baksheesh has been paid, and the hostages are on their way home.
I can almost guarantee you that the $1.2 billion in aid we give Egypt every year won't be affected. And I certainly wouldn't be surprised in the least if this happens once things quiet down as part of the deal.
FP: Well, it was a bit unreasonable to think that Obama will release terrorists just before and election, though like JP, I won’t be surprised if the deal involved a delayed release after the election. In any case, watch how the US is being readily pushed around in the ME.
Bill Katz: SYRIAN TRAGEDY
While the "international community" continues to express "alarm" over events in Syria, and President Obama issues occasional statements, the people of Syria are under an increasing reign of terror from their own government.
The blunt fact is that Assad is winning. Assad is an ally of Iran and an enemy of the United States. Contrast the careful treatment of him so far with the speed with which we helped get Hosni Mubarak, an American ally, out of power in Egypt.
The Iranians are watching this carefully. How tough is the West? Does it back up its positions with strength? Has the U.S. become a paper tiger? Can Tehran hold out and continue to build its nuclear program?
Those are the key questions. But the ugly fact is that most of the mainstream media isn't interested in Syria, or the implications of an Assad victory. An Assad triumph might be the last nail in the coffin of the so-called "Arab spring," which is faltering throughout the Mideast. Egypt is drifting toward becoming an Islamist state. Ditto Libya. An Islamic regime has come to power in Tunisia. The hope for true, liberal democracy – not simply "free" elections but real democratic practice – is fading.
This is not change we can believe in.
FP: I am not for direct intervention in Syria. I would have preferred support of allies to it. But the reality is that the West is impotent vs. China and Russia and is deterred by Iran. Which, given what the West used to be, is what decline means.
And anyway, if Assad falls, the Muslim Brotherhood will take over. And while the alliance with Iran will not be what it is now, when it comes to Jihad against Israel and the West, there won’t be much of a difference (see next).
In an exclusive interview with Israel Hayom in Paris, a key figure in the Free Syrian Army says, "If Israel decides to abandon Assad, he is finished. The Syrian people would not forget this gesture."
FP: First, the FSA does not represent the politicians who will take over if Assad falls, and those are Islamists. Second, this guy seems to belabor under the usual Arab deluded conspiracy that Israel is keeping Assad in power. Which means that, third, even after Assad falls, Israel will still be blamed for keeping him in power for so long. What the guy wants is for Israel to intervene in their civil war and bring Islamists to power. There is never a benefit and always damage for the West getting involved in intra-Arab wars.
Yoram Ettinger: When Bibi meets Barack
Netanyahu should sustain the can-do and independent image of Israel, refusing to subordinate the independence of military action to presidential pressure, promises or electoral concerns.
FP: He should, but do you believe he can, what with Obama being Obama and he having already frozen building in Jerusalem before the visit? Does that signal independence and withstanding pressure?
The change means private data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.
Google said the new set-up would enable it to tailor search results better.
But data regulators in France have cast doubt on the legality of the move and launched a Europe-wide investigation.
Google has merged 60 guidelines for its individual sites into a single policy for all of its services.
FP: Microsoft grew to become the new IBM. Google and Facebook grew to become the new Microsoft. Beware of global corporate behemoth that overwhelm governments, particularly those that produce nothing beyond selling audiences to other corporations. It’s just another aspect of Western decline. See Alexis Madrigal’s I'm Being Followed: How Google—and 104 Other Companies—Are Tracking Me on the Web):
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," my old friend and early Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher once said. "That sucks," he added. But increasingly I think these issues -- how we move "freely" online, or more properly, how we pay one way or another -- are actually the leading edge of a much bigger discussion about the relationship between our digital and physical selves. I don't mean theoretically or psychologically. I mean that the norms established to improve how often people click ads may end up determining who you are when viewed by a bank or a romantic partner or a retailer who sells shoes.
With the state bankrupt, who will hold these behemoth in check?
Underneath the plaza outside Israel's Habima national theater, Israel has put the finishing touches on a new gathering place that it hopes will never host a crowd: the country's most advanced public underground bomb shelter.
The shelter, four stories underground and with space for 1,600 people, is usually a parking lot. It is also part of Tel Aviv's elaborate civil defense infrastructure. City officials have been beefing up shelters and emergency services in recent months at a time of rising tensions with Iran and militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
Recent talk of conflict with Iran has given the safety measures extra relevance.
FP: But the region being rocketted from Gaza does not have even enough primitive shelters and I would guess that neither has the rest of the peripheria. The gap between the center and the rest of the country was one factor in my leaving Israel, and it has become much more acute since I left.
Matt Taibbi: Bank of America In Trouble?
It looks like Bank of America might have started circling the drain before the Occupy movement even had a chance to launch its campaign against the company. For weeks now there have been ominous signs of trouble at the bank, and yesterday we heard yet another dark piece of news.
David Trainer, an analyst for Market Watch, a WSJ publication, wrote that the new fees are a sign of series trouble at BAC. He writes:
In my opinion, there are four actions taken by financial services that signal the company is headed to serious trouble.
1. Management shake-up and major layoffs - lots of layoffs over the past year
2. Exploiting accounting rules to boost earnings - SFAS 159
3. Drawing down reserves to boost earnings: to the tune of $13.3 billion in 2011 and 2012
4. Bilking customers with new fees: tried it before and trying it again
Bank of America has taken all four steps. Bilking customers with new fees is a desperate measure of last resort because it requires exploiting the one asset the bank has left, namely its customers.
Why does all of this matter to the rest of America? Because what happens with Bank of America will be an important litmus test going forward for how we deal with any Too-Big-To-Fail behemoth that gets itself into trouble. We’ve already seen that the recent foreclosure deal was a huge boon to Bank of America – it spared it from the uncertainty of a generation of robosigning suits.
But what happens if Bank of America is still headed for bankruptcy? Helping the bank avoid a few lawsuits is one thing, and allowing it to move its dangerously toxic derivatives portfolio onto the federally-insured side of the company is another. But a full-blown crash of this firm would require a massive bailout. What will the Obama administration do if faced with that dilemma? One way or another, it will be a momentous decision.
FP: After contributing to the economic crisis via gambling and stealing, stealing again via bailouts from the taxpayers with the help of the political system, now the banks are trying to steal some more directly from their customers—they are not offering innovation or better products/services, but asking more for what they already offer, simply because they fucked up so badly that even huge bailouts were not enough to make them good again (management has already stolen their undeserved bonuses).
These are the institutions on which the corporate welfare state has bestowed blackmail power—if they fail, the economy fails—so decline is the only logical conclusion to such a system.
As for Obama, not to worry: having been re-elected and outside the reach of voters he will sink the US no matter what he does, bailouts or not. That’s what he has always aspired to.