Friday, 3 July 2020

A Time to Hope

The current controversy.

In the light of current political turmoil in the Middle East, the most attention grabber has been the speculation whether the policy of Israeli government towards its Palestinian population is about to take a turn of no return.  It is about to vote for the annexation of the West Bank, a clear sign it does not give a toss about international rules of conduct which deems such action illegal.  Nevertheless, what will emerge in the days to come is that annexation will indeed become a fact of life and objection to it would be a thing of the past.  Arab objections would be mere lip service as was the case when America moved its embassy to Jerusalem.  All of this means Israel confirms to the world that the UN-sponsored rule-based international order is defunct and meaningless.  Recognising Israel's power and influence in the world, which incidentally far exceeds its size, a new approach to peace negotiation is needed.

But annexation is nothing new.  Since 1967 Israel's Prime Ministers have countenanced the systemic spread of settlements over the West Bank.  The difference now is that Benjamin Netanyahu the present Prime Minister is overt in his unabashed arrogance, backed by unequivocal support from the American administration, is flouting international laws by advocating annexation.

Some would argue annexation spells an end to any hope for peace between the Palestinians and Israel in the future.  It could also mean the corraling of the Palestinian population into clusters of occupations attracting the attention and accusation of an Apartheid system.  Thirdly, an inescapable option; Israel to naturalise all those Palestinians fall under its wing. Such a course of action would be self-defeating in the long run as eventually, the Arab population can outvote an incumbent government.

If the last option becomes an inevitable choice, it would be the Palestinians the majority of whom are Muslim become Subjects of a Jewish state. Could be anathema for many Muslims.  But still, that would bring them into line with Christians living in the neighbouring Arab Muslim countries. Christians have been doing just that since the turn of the Twentieth Century.  Every Arab country, except for Syria, has its constitution enshrined by Islam. The proclamation is that Islam is the religion of the State.  Which means in cases where adjudication required the teaching of the Koran, and its interpretation would hold sway.  In Israel's case, despite what it says on the cover a 'Jewish State', it purports to lives by secular Liberal democracy.

Enough talk of annexation, apartheid, and occupation and let us rewind a little and use this occasion a turning point in establishing a new peace accord.

According to Jean-Paul Sartre, an eminent French Philosopher, his theory of existentialism is embedded in the idea that "existence precedes essence".  Only by existing and acting a certain way do we give meaning to our lives. The people of Palestine should carry this mantle of wise philosophical approach.  To widen their hope and broaden their vision towards a new future.

Recent history and blight of the Palestinian people

Since the Nakba of 1948 life has stood still for them.  The myth of winning world opinion to their cause by continued dependence on world charities has only entrenched many of them in continued misery, being there and meaningless.  The poignant belief that such manifestation of victimhood will bring back the past to its mythical glory is nothing less than political manipulation by those who stand to benefit.   Such a purposeful and imposed objectives for the continued blight of people allow the Palestinian leadership to enjoy perks and economic opulence.  So they ensure to remain in the political limelight for whatever other advantages that could bring. 

To structure world opinion by the Intfadas that followed the initial diaspora, or to scaffold world morality or sympathies with nothing to offer but impoverishment have clearly not worked.  Many living in Gaza today have remained uneducated firmly entrenched in myths and misery. A show that testifies to the absurdity of the human condition, their only escape route is their irrationality.  They continue to find a reason to hope in what impoverishes them. Still embroiled in that one ideological stance unknowingly grouped and used as a bargaining ploy- innocents in a desert of desolation—time to look for a new horizon.

But first, the world has to stop the widespread belief that siding with the Palestinians is a left-wing ideology.  The cause has to transgress beyond this almost single share of value.  Just as Black lives matter, share their values with white people, the discrimination they face pales into insignificance compared to daily atrocities, the Palestinian people undergo.  Establishing shared values in human life, civil and human rights with the world at large.  "I can't breath", is a scream for help but in Palestinian hands has always remained merely an echo in the hollow chambers of world opinion.  Nobody, not even the Arab world there to circle their wagons against injustice. The Palestinian people in Gaza and occupied lands have been drained of hope, the alternative to turn to the next phase. 

The Palestinian leadership.

The geriatric Palestinian leadership have been inept at dramatising the suffering and the existential threats of its people.  But, finding itself deep in troubled waters, and currently swimming against the tide, no harm to turn to a true cliche, it is never too late to attempt a reversal of fortune.  It is time to realise that Mahmoud Abbas and co. are facing a crisis.  The political situation is at a crossroad faced with difficult choices, divided when they are needed most.    The status quo thus far they have enjoyed can not be maintained.  Faced with a deteriorating situation to their leadership, coupled with an increasing loss of land since the Oslo agreement things need to come to ahead.  A change to a more active, energetic and innovative group is the only remaining hope for the Palestinian people to weave back their identity and their integrity.  In a world where scepticism has putrified their cause a thorough overhaul needed to claw back the expanse of their ideals.  A cohort of Palestinian intelligentsia is never far away talented enough to broaden this stagnant and myopic vision, world-renowned and influential. They can and are willing to offer their expertise for the purpose if only allowed a platform to engage and fit into the system.


So, what to do to widen this narrow scope. A new perspective to go beyond a pixelated eye view of things to bring these concerns to the fore of world opinion.  Fighting for justice and fighting for peace needs new blood a new declaration of intentions.  A new war of ideology and civic nationalism required to redefine the meaning of life of the Palestinian people.  To disarm the hatred, mistrust and suspicions of all concerned.  To spring out firm beliefs in new ideas pulling the cause forward to new frontiers.  Coming in peace is the new slogan and for many in the Middle East a modern philosophy.  A new bargaining concept needed to carry the Palestinian people to the elusive peace they so dearly deserve. To stop rehashing views of old but to start lifting the veil of ambiguity and suspicion.  To behave as people, not as victims.  And lastly, strange as it may seem, to debunk Netanyahu and Gantz hawkish philosophies and appeal directly to the Israeli people whos life does matter. 

In liberal democratic states, more than ever before, the voice of the people that make the events governments follow.  Recent three appeals to the electorate in Israel is a case in point.  The hierarchy needed legitimacy and three elections in a row within a space of a few months is a prime example of electorate rule.  So make use of the system and start to make amends and not rash ideas of throwing people in the sea—a new beginning to create a new past for the future.

The Future

Anachronistic myths and propaganda are best left to history. 

Time and again, myths and propaganda inadvertently scored their own goal.  Threatening language have also left a disfiguring scar on world opinion.  Videos of atrocities across the social media showing grievances in all sorts of their ugly forms have proved self-defeating.  At best they grab attention for no more than ten or twenty seconds they share.  Olive branches and white doves no longer constitute chapters for peace.  World interest can only lie in the scope and sincerity of intentions. In all of this, it is worth to bear in mind justice lies on the side of the underdog, so here justice will prevail, but knowing how to grab it to serve ideals, is an art form. Mao Tse Tung Long March was a retreat but won him victory.  So, time to learn a new approach and time to latch on to the modern world. Ideas are starting points and what may be an unpleasant truth annexation could be a turning point, the first step to peace and a time to hope.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Taylorism, Fordism, Toyotaism, Zoomism

The first signs of panic that Corona Virus or Covid-19 was coming when Toilet paper hoarding began trending.  And before any lockdowns supermarkets were running out of flour and pastry ingredients.  Channel 4 Bake off spurred other Television channels to capture the spike of TV viewing public who felt the need to compete in upcoming MasterChef finals.  Signals began to trigger odd signs; Corona generation is for a liberated woman to snap back to the Kitchen. Surely, can't be the case after a long struggle to escape the kitchen sink.  The UK government was all for washing hands and proclaiming we are in this together.  That sparked a buying spree of Bacterial soap by many people to sell at a profit which killed any ideas of solidarity. Shortages of masks, ventilators, hospital beds ensued. Soon enough we were learning a foreign language: Lockdown, social distancing, Wuhan, Covidiots and of course the difference between Pandemic and endemic.  Working from home became a fashion symbol and more in tune with social class awareness generally associated with higher-paid employees.  Using Zoom, a cloud platform for video and audio conferencing was about to take over our working habits. Others who could not work from home became key workers, the majority of whom are much lower paid but without them, we all cannot do without.  

Within a couple of weeks following the World Health Organisation announcement confirming the Corona Virus is transmissible from human to human, formally announcing a pandemic, the world began to close down.  For protection against the disease, individual social distancing meant confinement at home. From an individual level soon, it caught on to country-level. European countries took on individual decisions to close their borders.   One wonders whether the Union in the European Union is a bonding of convenience merely veneer thick. On our TV screens, we are served a daily diet of gloom and doom, where the count of people dying took on a macabre interest.  Covid-19 was monopolising television news hours and most of the other tv hours.  How to deal with this novel disease became prioritised over all other TV scheduling overlapping government activities.  Dynamics of information fed a wall to wall coverage of News about hospital beds and securing hospital equipment, levelling the curve took on priority over everything else.  Hospital beds were at a premium. Not to overwhelm admissions of people suffering from the disease became a government priority, the Nightingale Hospital in East London, with 5000 beds hastily put together became a symbol of creative thinking and British manpower.  

Fear of the unknown betrayed regular everyday habits.  Life, as we know it came to a standstill but we realised an inevitable change is on the horizon.  Closing down of society meant planes grounded, Airports silenced, roads emptied, public transport was running on empty, ferrying only the brave key workers continually exposed to this invisible enemy.  An altogether eerie feeling, walking in the centre of town, here in London, is like living in a vacuum.  The only consolation was the unpolluted roads meant a clean environment; people were breathing carbon-free air. Hotels closed their doors, and Cruise liners were kept at a distance from every port.  With shops ordered to close and others running out of business, online shopping meant Amazon was taking over our retail habits on the way to making its owner the first trillionaire.  Search engines on the internet, as well as our smartphones monitoring our movements and patterns, configuring our data.  Making us the science of tomorrow, shaping our digital footprint to study to make available for numerical analyses in this information age; mining extractivism for the digital industry.  Anonymous statistic from a gathering system of unauthorised virtual surveillance beginning to resemble a monitored society we are docile enough happy to accept.      

The foremost intention of the government is the management of behaviour.  Inhibiting, procuring, annulling, reversing, manipulating, controlling, or assuring the actions of the other leading to self-care, self-regulation, or, in this case, self-imposed immobility. So production must proceed to keep the country alive. The thing important about behaviour management is productivity, the benefits it brings and who benefits from them. At this point in quarantine and working from home, we are already beginning to see the growing communicating platforms such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts and others, platforms facilitate meetings for offices; businesses, politicians, high school and college students.  Indicating our working habits are changing.  A microeconomy of self-enclosure is already in place: Zoomism.

Zoomism and working from home for the Corona generation is part of the dynamics of production techniques. Even if that change from office and group environment stands at odds with the Hawthorn experiments, that was part of the generational working environment phenomena and the positivity of production that it proved. 

In the early twentieth century, there was Taylorism; a new working method of a production technique that analysed the production workflow.  Dividing the unit of production into small, simple segments that can minimise training time and lowering of skill required in favour of highly skilled previously employed workforce.  A method correlated time performance lowering wages at the same time to produce items at lower prices. 

Fordism "the eponymous manufacturing system designed to roll out standardised, low-cost cars and afford its workers decent enough wages to buy them." Mass production never had the need to look back with an efficient workforce within a happy environment.

That was to change under Japonisation or Toyotaism, which replaced Fordism, represented a profound change in work direction for the car industry.  When the ideas came to England, it brought a long overdue manufacturing method. Eventually, Birmingham, the centre of Car production in the UK, saw a turn round for British Car manufacturing.  Rise from the doldrums after the demise of British Motor Corporation, BMC in the 1970s.  Toyotaism or Japonisation is a just in time management method (JIT), a system of production limiting stockholding for the right time required as well as training along the lines of supervision and payments. It replaced Fordism, in having also established piece-rate, hourly work without compulsory social security.  

This change of landscape carries a very hefty price in socio-economics terms.  The fall-out for both government and the individual is enormous, and when the tide of Coronavirus finally ebbs the cost of mitigating the damage it exposes and leaves behind will be even higher.  It is estimated thus far governments and central banks have cushioned world economy by around $15 trillion.  The costs involved in extending a lifeline at protecting jobs and keeping the economy buoyed is unprecedented, yet the downturn economists forecast is a certainty.  There is every reason to believe a downturn can carry with it social exclusion, global unemployment, widening the gap of inequalities and worsening poverty. Coming at a time, when the world was finally shaking off the debris of the economic recession of 2008. The economic stimulus needed to get the country up and running when this is over will be painful for all of us.  The UK will emerge from lockdown with high and rising public debt, disrupted supply chains, and increasing unemployment. I am no economist but thank goodness for near-zero interest rate now and for some time to come.  That would go a long way to mitigate the pain of any action the government decides on how we would have to pay for the debt, by way of taxes or otherwise.

Coming out of lockdown, blinking into the daylight of the economic disaster trying to adjust for a ‘new normal’ will prove an inexact science. Besides, there is a hefty price to pay in our relationship with others that would need adjusting.  Already two months into the lockdown the effect of social distancing and isolation many are touch starved.  No shaking hands, no kiss greetings, no sitting shoulder to shoulder.  Touching is an integral part of a human relationship, but we are denied it. A healing hand, stroke on the face, pat on the back, touching when we speak extends a friendly gesture. We have to rethink our mental attitude and make up for this loss of touch and pretend distancing does not mean avoidance.  When touch starved, we act nearness to make up for the loss.  Our body signals it can do without, it takes over, like being thirsty but there is no water, so we imagine water instead.  And, to communicate with eye contact, especially when wearing a mask doesn't say much without full facial expressions.  Our eyes need help at social interaction; to express happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust.  A smile can say a thousand words in any language and breaks down barriers in any culture.

So there you have it...we are in for a bumpy ride!

Monday, 18 May 2020

United States and Iran entered uncharted Territory

The latest round started with 
Trump's violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), 
otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.

As revolutions go, two things the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has in common with its French counterpart two hundred years before, is its reign of terror.  The second is the attempt to spread their ideologies to neighbouring states. The years 1792 in response to revolutionary fervour, Paris experienced absolute mayhem, which saw thousands executed and imprisoned. Tehran fared no better executed Royalists and those suspected of collaborating with the old regime. The French declared war on almost all of Europe in an attempt to spread their ideas of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite across its borders. Similarly, the Iranian Mullas are in proxy wars to impose Pan-Islamism and geopolitical instability in the region. 

The Revolution in Iran also sparked a religious Shia awakening that saw Ruhollah Khomeini come to power imposing on the nation Velayat-e faqih for a road map.  A deep-thinking philosopher and a cleric, who aspired to lay claim to Shiaism very soul.  In the process, he made Islamic fundamentalism a political force, which was to change Muslim Politics around the world. The Revolution also declared itself on the side of justice and equality harbouring some faint shades of Marxism.  Its message to reform the social structure, help the deprived and to reduce the widened economic divide under the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, that the Revolution toppled.  

The Iranian Ayatollahs rule did not correspond to Plato's idealist vision of Philosopher Kings: possessing a love of wisdom, to drive Republics towards utopia.  Instead, their teaching had religious fundamentalism in its veins. Without doubt, in the forty years since the Revolution Iran, had produced generations of scientists and technocrats capable of developing nuclear programs and sophisticated weapons systems and succeeded in a continuous increase in regional influence. This has come at a cost to its people and the region as a whole. Almost unlimited drive for internal suppression accompanying the support of aggressive fundamentalism, which embodied the regime's concept of Pan-Islamism. 

The regime inclination to use violence to spread their ideology hardly differentiates Iran from that of a rogue state.  From the Revolution early days, it encouraged students to storm the American Embassy in Tehran, held its US citizens hostage.  There was the London embassy siege, the Fatwa to murder Salman Rushdie.  Iran was also suspected in the bombing of French, and American Embassy compounds in Beirut in 1982 and 1983 respectively, which saw scores of American, French and Lebanese nationals killed.  So far, forty years on, the Revolution, Iranian people still struggle to find their identity, freedom and economic wellbeing.  A tortuous root in a jungle of violence, strict and monolithic emblems of a theocratic regime none more so contrived than the wearing of the Hijab.  The elaborate revolutionary visions not endorsed by intelligence and accountability but fuelled by continuous effort to destabilise the region.  

Then came a light of reason and hope.  One after effect the embassy sieges had, was the American administration had imposed economic sanctions against the Iranian administration.  For a time it crippled the economy.  Resilience to suffering learnt from the Iraq/Iran war had its limits, it eventually came to negotiate.  Nevertheless, during this lull, Iran had managed to embark on a nuclear programme that worked in its favour; a bargaining chip to ease the sanctions, the US Government's go-to foreign policy tool.  Eventually, in 2015 Iran and six world powers signed a nuclear deal named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  A deal that placed strict limits on Iran's nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief and the release of $100 Billion of Iranian money held with American Banks.  The deal did not include any mention of Iran's subversive activities carried on regardless.  And the deal did not produce prosperity, as Mr Rouhani had promised Iranians, and Iran continued to test missiles and meddle abroad. 

The Trump administration, in its early days, cooked up a deal with Saudi Arabia, President Trump went on to describe the JCPOA "was the worst deal ever negotiated".  The US administration contempt for alliances, in true fashion, announced it was withdrawing from it.  New added sanctions were imposed only this time more stringent.  The sanctions, this time, were illegitimately imposed after breaking an international agreement when Iran was still complying with the deal.  The European signatories laboured with it trying to keep it on life support.  But, in keeping with Iran customary aggressive approach, President Ruhani issued an ultimatum to the European powers, almost chocked the agreement to death.  His country would no longer comply with parts of the deal and later threatened to walk away from it.  Well, so much for Hope, Light and Reason, since then US and Iran relations took a nosedive.

The United States is protecting American interest against Iran using Israel as a tool.  

Round table discussions were replaced by sabre-rattling, bluff and counter bluff, persistent threats met with counter threats.  All of this fell into the lap of Israel, already on the warpath, and had scorned at the Obama administration to go ahead with the JCPOA deal.  Israel and the US were now on the same platform hand in glove setting the agenda for the entire Middle East. Sunni, Saudi Arabia joined in this heated verbal fray in an outward show of solidarity against Shia Iran, but ominous signs were on the horizon building up for a confrontation.  On the one hand Saudi v Iran on matters of theological orthodoxies, America v Iran for greater influence on the region and Israel willing to attack Iran, drawing on their old and tired existential arguments.  Taken together, creates an epicentre for conflict, and an ideal scenario to fuel an arms race.  Iran now looks poised to resume its slow but steady march towards the bomb and relentless drive en route to empire building.  That is if the sanctions don't push it over the edge beforehand.

Renewed sanctions on Iran and the threat to punish anyone who trades with it have wrecked what is left of the JCPOA agreement, has effectively cut off Iran from the global economy.  The idea was "to bring Iran to its knees" but unfortunately the American administration use of blunt tools such as sanctions to cripple the economy is hurting Iran's population.  The Mullas chauffeured in BMW's, making millions on contracts and creating monopolies on goods by withdrawing subsidies on others. The unabashed corruption of the elite continuous unabated. 

The young no longer have the revolutionary zeal, which welcomed Khomeini on arrival to Iran from exile in 1979.  Instead, after forty years, they are suppressed and coerced into complying to imposed arbitrary social laws. Old dogmatic clerics set antiquated ideas on diverse, well educated young people using the revolutionary guards as their main tool to keep order.  In true Khomeini fashion, the Shia Mullas preach martyrdom and sacrifice for the cause.  In keeping with an earlier time, when during the Iran/Iraq war Khomeini sent thousands of children to the front line as waves of human shields.  While the sanctions continue to miss their targets, inflation is on the rise underscored by a depreciating Iranian Rial, which guarantees a downhill slide in the standard of living. The effects were demonstrated in the economic crisis of November 2019; triggered the greatest existential crisis in the regime's 40-year history.  Protesters took to the streets in Tehran and other major cities calling for regime change.  The government resorted to brute force, killed at least 1500 protesters and arrested thousands of others.

Setting the Agenda for Iran as well as for the entire region.
A pretence of guaranteeing regional stability.

Turning to current issues of state, a cold war is heating up, it all depends on foresing what the end game is.  It is, however, doubtful whether both the US and Israel have an end game built in its strategic security architecture for the region.  The increased tension in the Gulf bound to escalate into a major conflict. Exemplified in part by the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and its maximum pressure policy. The arms build-up thus far, by politically impotent, Saudi Arabia, increased activities by US naval forces in the Gulf waters, the downing of US drones and blowing up tankers by the Iranians and the killing of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,  have added to the likely hood of military confrontation.  A situation is not too dissimilar to the arms race pre-1914, which eventually unleashed a war with devastating consequences. None of the actors wanted war, but all stumbled into one.  The allied two countries; Germany and Austria misinterpreted words on a diplomatic document.  So could US and Israel.  Faced with conflicting messages emanating from Trump's administration that is not too difficult; for chauvinist, President Trump, war could be only a tweet away. To borrow from philosopher Georg Hegel, "We learn from history that we do not learn from history."

New ideas coming through from the Trump administration, setting up the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), along the lines of NATO wouldn't do it.  An alliance, that excludes Shia Iran, but made up of Sunni Muslim countries, to add Israel would antagonise Iran further, can only prolong the simmering regional conflict. Rather than serving as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, it can aggravate it further. 

Iran, the United States, including Israel, is faced with two options.  To avoid a showdown, let Iran simmer under the pressure of sanctions although that would leave its population to suffer continued deprivations. Weighing up the odds in favour for the population either to rise up en masse to demand regime change.  Or, faced with such possible implosion, and on the edge of losing control, the regime would go all out with their nuclear programme crossing the strategic red line.  In the process it threatens the simmering status quo, putting Israel existential reality on alert. A risky situation; to build reactors can be quicker than sanctions begins to bite.  With such an imminent threat, the US and Israel would then react, a possible overreaction,  throwing away any chance at diplomacy.  Even though both the US and Israel have developed precision weapons, the possible loss of life and carnage, in war is inevitable. 

The other option is an attempt at dialogue.  T
ragically, this logic is no longer fashionable in this part of the world.  However, time to draw a new Middle Eastern security architecture to ameliorate the conflicting concerns.  To devise a system that can set the agenda and take into account the genuine interests of the countries of the entire region.  For the United States to drop its demand for regime change, ease the sanctions to formulate a peace accord matrix.   For Iran to relinquish its seemingly inexorable quest for nuclear armament join the world order of international relations and rejuvenate its moribund economy. An agreement for the cessation of terror activities, to terminate religious rivalries.  Adoption of an all-encompassing Arab peace initiative to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A challenging and ambitious proposal indeed, but if the geopolitical countries genuinely want peace, it can work. 

The unparalleled power of American might 
President Trump made it 
subservient to the financial clout of its Middle Eastern allies.


Monday, 27 April 2020

The China Syndrome

Part 1: The China Conundrum

This blog post will be in two parts concerning three main issues.  First, on the hesitant flow of information during the first crucial seven weeks between the appearance of the first symptoms of Coronavirus in early December and the Government's decision to lock down the crowded city of Wuhan where the disease first appeared.  Second, on the failures of Chinese officials to warn the wide world about the possibility of the virus having the ability of a human to human transmission.  Third, the fallout from the global economic damage to Globalisation and in particular to the further deteriorating US/China relations. Brushing off the early tsunami failures pointed at Chinese authorities, accusations it should have acted earlier, China has come out fighting in a turbocharged effort to upend what might be construed as failure.  Turning a disadvantage into an advantage.  A time when the rest of the world in lockdown, Red China is succeeding in its propaganda to weaponize and politicize the disease tempting the world to turn East.  

On December 30, 2019, Li Wenliang, 33 working as an Ophthalmologist sent a message to a group of fellow doctors warning them about a possible outbreak of a mysterious illness that resembled Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, where he worked. Days later, he was reprimanded by state officials and made to sign a statement in which he was accused of making false information and spreading illegal rumours. He went back to work only to succumb to the disease, later identified as Covid-19, and died three weeks later.  In the days before his death, Li said "If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier I think it would have been a lot better", in an interview with The New York Times. "There should be more openness and transparency", he said.  At the time the treatment he received from the authorities caused outrage on social media.

Laboratory leakages and mistakes are not so uncommon in China.  SARS, the respiratory disease infected 800 people around the world in 2004 was caused by lax rules at a laboratory in Beijing where safeguards and safety rules were undermined. In Covid-19 China, so far, has denied a laboratory accident to be the case. At the same time, the American Administration is convinced this is what happened, are happy to engage in a blame game insisting on calling the disease the Wuhan Virus.  The World Health Authority (WHO) has joined forces with China in saying there is no evidence the origin of the virus was in a laboratory.  But here I argue searching beyond circumstantial evidence is difficult if not impossible, especially when looking at the jump I refer to below.  The best evidence is on probability or reasoned assumptions and how likely it is for a mistake to happen. An error or an accident is just is, and searching for patient zero is not an option.

China has claimed the source of the outbreak to a "Wet Market" in Wuhan, and in particular of eating Bats.  The great mysteries of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, is how, exactly, made the leap from wildlife into humans.  Moreover, there are reports the virus could have been circulating earlier, in November and even October. Which means there are many other possible places it could have jumped from; a bat, or an intermediary species, to humans.  A characteristic feature of zoonotic diseases can jump from animals to humans. However, a new infection such as the Covid-19 or Coronavirus once in a human it seems it can go on mutating.  This makes it highly challenging to trace the symptoms, whether they are actually originating from this particular virus let alone treating the cause. Sending an international team to investigate would be unlikely, for China could be sensitive to outsiders investigating what they consider interference in an internal affair.  If China decides not to cooperate, it would raise further suspicions at obscuring information which can add to the chorus of doubters.   

Shellfish for sale in the Tai Po market in Hong Kong on January 29. Many customers come to this market to buy live seafood.

Lack of an explanation leaves a controversial vacuum once this disease has abated.  The argument can drag on, and it could further flare up, leading to all sorts of misunderstanding.  The result of which would be added strain to fracture relations between countries at a time when unity is essential to fight the disease. Credibility to the American assumption; the condition started in a laboratory is gaining traction.  Countries like Australia, Britain and Germany have joined the coterie of doubters of the Wet Market theory. Including Emanuel Macron of France who hinted, China has covered up its Coronavirus crisis, saying: "it would be naive to say they've been better at handling this - there are things we don't know about" [...] "unknown things that have happened".  Scientists are also divided on this issue.  According to Nim LeDuc, head of the Galveston National Laboratory in the US about Chinese scientist rubbishing the Lab theory he said we don't know what kind of pressures they might be under from their Government to deny the lab theory. LeDuc says the hypothesis, the animal market played a role in the virus jumping to humans also remains strong. "The linkage back to the market is pretty realistic. 

Further controversy was generated when new death figures in Wuhan were recently uncovered.  The numbers were revised by 50%  adding 1,290 fatalities to the city's toll, taking the confirmed count to 3,869 from a previously reported 2,579 in a city of 11 million people. According to the officials, "there has not been underreporting or misreporting, but there has never been any coverup, and we do not allow coverups." The miscount is also fuel to the fire. By any reasonable sense of imagination, one can tell the figure is too small considering a city of that size, especially where the virus was in free circulation for a month before any containment took place and when these figures are compared to those of London, New York or Paris.   Even those local people living in the area are blaming both the national Government and local agencies for not warning then early enough.  They also believe the death toll should be much higher than what the Chinese Government have admitted. 

As officials have battled the epidemic, they have also tried to stifle widespread criticism that they mismanaged their response to the initial outbreak in Wuhan city then in China itself. Missteps are also pointed at officials who underestimated and underplayed the threat of the Coronavirus all the while dragging their feet to arrive at an accurate position. The Irony is after SARS, Chinese health officials built an infectious disease reporting system to evade political meddling. But when the Coronavirus emerged, so did fears of upsetting the hierarchy in Beijing.  Numbers were only counted by hospitals of patients with known connection to the Seafood market and such narrow criteria discounted possibilities of human to human transmission of this new disease.  This is well over a month after the virus was first detected and after 217 people were infected in Wuhan and somehow much later, infected people in Beijing and Shanghai. Reasons for delays is the Chinese system of control.  Doctors had to have their cases confirmed by bureaucrats before they were reported to higher-ups.  

Head of the national health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed two cases of infection in China's Guangdong province had been caused by human-to-human transmission and medical staff had been infected.   Xi Chen, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health, said the likelihood of human-to-human transmission had appeared large given how many cases were confirmed. "It's hard to see all these cases coming from animals in the same market," With infections detected in nearby Thailand, Japan and South Korea the Chinese Health Authority were still saying the disease was "controllable". At this stage, even WHO was again linking the Virus to Animal to Human focusing on Wuhan Wet Market, since closed as the source of infections. Eyebrows raised when the world was becoming aware that other than from Wuhan, no cases were reported in other areas in China while increasing number of countries were starting to report incidents inside their borders. It is also worth noting the timely sharing of information related to events, which may cross borders and threaten international public health remains a central feature of the International Health Regulations.  As things stand leaked documents are showing, even after officials knew they faced an epidemic, they delayed warning the public for six days. The world is demanding answers about whether there was a coverup, and China must respond in full if only to abide by the rules.   

Part 2: The Coming Meltdown of Liberal Democracy.

Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, more than anything was an iconic symbol for the end of the Cold War between the Western world and the Soviet Union.   Liberal Democracy emerged triumphant against a communist system more often engaged in fascism and oppression of its people than egalitarianism.  After the liberation of East Germany and the subsequent fall of the Iron Curtain, Liberal democracy had nowhere to go. Still, it was quickly harnessed in bringing the world together under a new political and economic internationalist order.  For new members wishing to join as China did, it would play by the rules, open its markets, and privatize its economy. As the country became more prosperous, the Chinese Government would respect the rights of its people and liberalize politically.  China has significantly benefitted. It has since grown, after the US, the second-largest economy in the world but is steadfastly proving a gamechanger, refusing to abide by the rules it signed up for. Globalization put China on the map as an Industrial and Technological powerhouse with equally impressive leverage for world power status but now sees itself on an economic and political collision course with the US for strategic supremacy.

The vulnerability of liberal democracy is freedom.  A blind spot that goes to challenge Orwellian fear of illiberalism, surveillance and control; conditions people of China live under.  In the days of Mao Tse Tung,  there was his Red Book today China has the Xi App an equivalent instrument for the control of free-thinking.  A unit connected to a central point, time spent on it reading XI's thoughts and speeches earn points which can go in his or her favour when applying for jobs.  For students to pass exams and help them go into universities of their choice.  The points are automatically recorded while the app is in use.  It also tells the authorities Age, Gender, timed whereabouts and assesses their opinions on current matters which can earn extra points. Control and surveillance against all religion imprisoning Muslims for 'educational' purposes and destroying places of worship, including churches.  The App reached number one in the Chinese App Store, a 24/7 monitoring unit of all aspects of life.  

To borrow from a biblical saying; what Globalisation giveth Globalisation taketh away, the Coronavirus may do just that if China missed a cue with America.  With Trump at the helm steering the US in almost everything, from science to law to economy and to the rights of abortion, a China misstep, however, is highly unlikely.  Come what may world experts were predicting 2035 China would overtake the economy of the US. But, seeing how America is run, the Coronavirus pandemic is anything to go by, a revised date of 2030 is more likely. The only thing, which may slow down China is America's market power, underpinned by the dollar's status as the unrivalled global reserve currency. Undoubtedly clash of Titans is on the horizon rivalling over a system where America aiming to prevent China from becoming a "global hegemonic power" and China calling it "the grand game of the century".

A likely high score by China can come from its arsenal of the highly technologically tuned propaganda machine and surveillance operation; typical state activities of a controlled authoritarian government. Being ahead of the game suppressing information from the world about the spread of human to human infectious, it built a fence around the vulnerability of their communist party system.   China is weaponizing this lead, converting early missteps to its advantages giving clear signals it would no longer play by the rules of democratic engagement.  Clearly emerging as the front runner in leading the world in new regulations and a new international order.  Two underlying tremors that would make the world less free and less safe.  Furthermore, China would be engaged in weaving a web of deception, ransoming truth for trust, in an effort of pursuing their dream to rejuvenate the glory of a once-great nation.  It is rumoured: China is negotiating with the British Government for supplies of hospital requirement by putting 5G contract on the table.  A bully thy neighbour tactic.  

China's growing influence is mostly made by coercion.  The Belt and Road initiative investment costing over a trillion dollars is in the same vein.  It comes at a price landing most signatories in debt and politically subservient to China.  Same goes for investments in Africa, charging poor countries high-interest for loans on projects only to see them abandoned later. It is now helping it to act out a caring scene, a charm offensive no less, obscuring attempts to dominate their economic infrastructure.

China produces half of the masks of the world, but the head start on the Coronavirus recovery meant it had cornered its own supplies of masks as well as buying and hoarding other world supplies before the pandemic. Coming to the rescue when other countries are strapped with their own problems.  Those beleaguered countries with not enough hospital beds, suffering from overcrowding of dying patients are forced to turn to China for supplies.  Europe put out a statement saying "This is the case of China, which has moved on from being the cause and the epicentre of the crisis to being perceived as a strong supporter of efforts by affected third countries to contain the mess.

The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of production in Europe and the United States. Globalization, specialization, no inventory and slack production spaces at a premium have meant a just in time deliveries.     This goes to show in China, a specialized factory stopping its production of parts could have an immediate effect on another dedicated factory needing the same parts, say in Italy or Germany to complete a part of Fiat or Mercedes cars. The rat race, an essential ingredient of Globalisation has meant cutting the cost of production to the bone, to create ever more specialized producing units.    

Globalization is not a one-way ticket to utopia. To feed the consumer appetite of  Europe, demand must look elsewhere; syphoned off to other Asian countries, such as India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia etc. Also for easy reach, there is East Europe and Turkey. In the Americas, Mexico can cooperate as it has slack space to use up for production and would welcome the opportunity to increase its supply to the US market. With such highly tuned production units, it is not easy to turn the wheel, but Europe and the US look within for a turnround in cost efficiency.  Increase the use of Robotic and automation technology for products such as computer hardware, medical equipment and other products it has assigned to China.   Trade with China would need not come to a sudden stop, but by gradual displacement of priorities in supply and demand.  Whatever the shape of the fallout, when counting the cost, it would be painful for all regions. 

The same goes for technological know-how in the IT industry in America's Silicon Valley. It doesn't stop its wheel of fortune hunters, the flourishing entrepreneurs are on a conveyer of enterprises. Their innovation can find different supply chains no longer risking copies and imitation of their best products while negotiating a maze of intellectual lawsuits as in the case with phones and tablets.

Standing against such a scenario and to gain the initiative, is the new China government scheme announced by Xi Jinping "Made in China 2025"  a state-led industrial policy, which seeks to make China dominant in global high-tech manufacturing.  Ten years plan to develop electric cars, next-generation information technology, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.  It is a state-led to make China dominant in IT, and in high-tech manufacturing by 2025.  The trade war has turned into a system war; Liberalism against Authoritarianism at a time when Europe despite the EU name is cracking up, and social distancing is no longer confined to individuals but to Europe and the United States.   China, with its propaganda machine, is poised to gain the upper hand.   But seeing November 2020 is just around the corner, and the Republicans getting nervous, the likely hood that Trump is becoming a liability and a one-term president.  There is hope yet for Liberal Democracy to live another day. 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Iraq,The Agony of Independence

The Battle for Iraq

Just for distraction, today, I turn to Iraq.  With Coronavirus monopolising conversations and to a certain extent dominating our lives that may not be a bad thing.

For many Iraqi people, its politics is their second most favourite subject of conversation.  The first subject is food, of course.

Seeing Ramadan is just around the corner, I thought it an occasion to focus on where Arab Islam and its politics taking Iraq, in particular, the circular arguments it faces relating to its religious affiliation.  Bearing in mind that Iraq sits at the heart of the Middle East its political and religious convictions, could have a profound influence on all its neighbours and beyond.

I try in this essay and in the video below, take a new look at the situation and how religion is defining Iraq's political standpoints.  My other concern is who holds power in the country and to focus on the politicians' ability to lead considering the religious handicap that straps in the would-be non-conformists; a fear of ostracisation it almost invariably imposes on such occasions.  Opposition to the status quo is frowned on and could lead to a career in the wilderness.  Instead, its politics runs along sectarian lines, and the divide underscores ideas on how to practice Islam.

At the heart of the battle for Iraq sits religion, differences in the practice of it and how it intertwines with politics.  Shia and Sunni schism is mainly on theological grounds how to be a good Muslim. Disagreements circulate on which sect represents true Islam.  A difficult one! Bearing in mind that bribery and corruption demerit the faith but the elite of both colours in Iraq, so positioned in the country, are inherently prone to this weakness.  More so, both cultures run in tandem and increasingly proving just as unbending makes things even more difficult for Iraq to get ahead.

As I understand it, the modernist Sunni school of thought of True Islam is going back to the period of the first four Caliphs; Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali. A period later equated with western-style democracy.  A period of thirty to forty years when Islam was on the crest of a wave, powered by divine will. But a period of disputes soon followed, and Shia articulation took different roots utterly opposed to what then mainstream and orthodox ideology.  Beyond Iraq, part of the schism today mainly centred on theological grounds —firmly disagreeing with Shiite notions to placing clerics between man and God.  Modernism also entails draining the religion from a culture of theological corruption built around it over millennia that has tarnished its image.

For Shia going back to this 'Rashidoun' period and risk approval of the illegitimate first three Caliphs would be an attempt at 'sunnanisation' of Islam; fitting to Saudi Salafi fundamentalism. Such modernist approaches would be anathema to Shia traditionalists.  For the traditionalist Shia, they accept nothing less than to make Iraq an Islamic State to join in a coalition with Iran. For Sunnis to entertain such ideas is like considering joining with a Zoroastrian state. Their conviction of true Islam is the Shia's primary drive to making Iraq an Islamic state and to forever leave it outside the fold of Arab Nationalism.  Having reached this far Iran would not hesitate to invade the country if it feels a Sunni coalition might disown it of its rightful prize.

Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus a once-proud centre of Arab nationhood.  Today the latter two are being drawn away from the Sunni compass of influence, leaving Cairo on the edges. Still, with oil plenty around the world and with price bottoming out as I write, Saudi finance is on a downward slide.  In sympathy, we might yet see the Al Azhar rediscovering its Shiite roots and tip the balance. Lebanon and Yemen are already following close behind within this budding Shia Crescent.

Iranian Shia Islam at the heart of the Middle East is not far fetched. A scenario that Sunni Islam, including those of North African states, have yet to grapple with.    Seeing that fortune, power and leadership entrusted to the Sunnis for centuries by the will of God, so they believe, finally slipping away.  Today Arab Sunnism is at its political weakest. The billions of Dollars the Sunni Arab world, including Turkey, that feathered their combined approaches to proselytising has instead encouraged radicalism.  Their soft power politics has not produced the desired counter lever so effectively effervescing from Tehran. 

A resort to other means.  If not religious reform, which admittedly is off the agenda, a new political approach which has to include compromise. After decades of war, exhaustion bound to set-in making concession that much easier.  Westphalia of 1648 all over again, but look where that got Europe - The Enlightenment, Knowledge and the final separation of State from Religion.  Independence, secularism and free thought are not so bad after all. Clinching medievalist Europe into the age of Reason.

In my opinion, Iraq is at ideological crossroads,. Whichever root it eventually decides to take it will pull with it the rest of the Middle East and Arab Nationalism likely to live another day.  Sitting at the heart of the Arab Muslim world with the potential of super wealth and with that comes, power and influence knocking at its doors - is a giant yet to wake up.  The flip side is that it is plagued by corruption and its ruling elite complete lack of empathy towards its citizen.  Even so, both Iran and Saudi Arabia with potent regimes, can not afford to take their eye off the ball because their ideology emanating from Mecca, Najaf and Qum are at stake. Whoever wins Iraq will prove to 1.6 billion followers that their belief and practices are unarguably projecting true Islam. After all, the battle for Iraq is just as much as it is the battle for Karbala, and Najaf, two of the holiest shrines for the Shia, as it is for the heart and soul of Islam.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Money, Money, Money.

To begin with, the word ‘money’ itself comes from the Roman mint at the temple of Juno Moneta. Moneta was Latin for Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses. Thus, for the Romans, Money was a store of collective memory linked to the reproduction of the arts as a living tradition.

Ever wondered where Money comes from, its history and why it is an intricate part of our lives.  Without it, some would say we are worthless.   A cliche no less that says Money is the root of all evils; it brings out the worst in all of us; envy, lie, cheat, corruption and greed for the love of Money. And of course, happiness, but not all in equal measure.  It also, of course, brings out the best in a few of us.  From philanthropists to hardcore criminals alike, Money is the driving force.  It can cause upheavals upon family members and if mishandled can break up age-old friendships.  Money is the fundamental product that forces us to work to hold an occupation motivates us towards a career. It provides a challenge towards a stimulating and fulfilling lives aside from creating the potential for earning a living.  Plastic Money, Chocolat money, Monopoly Money and Fiat Money (IOU's), all have their uses.  Some, digital money that travels at the speed of light becomes just a number ceases to have existential value; it shifts from real to virtual Money.  It can even be laundered.

Psychologically, Money is the ruler of our behavioural economics; splitting bills at restaurants, paying Tax, shopping and winning the lottery no less.  Money surrounds our behavioural track which energises that all-important human moral pendulum.   Money is the problem as well as the solution.  From an individual perspective, it is the indicator that personalises us; our honesty and dishonesty, wavering between altruistic or egoistic.  Steering others to distinguish our moralities and judge our ethical stewardship.  Money frames many of our cognitive triggers in our behaviour towards one another.  I am no economist, but I guess in a hardcore economic term, every one of us is a Time Dollar, Time Pound, Time Euro - to others, we become time value.  

Money on its own has no intrinsic value, it can't give neither pain, pleasure or desire unless somebody has something to sell.  Food, housing, jewellery, yachts even the humble tinned Tuna fish are commodities that can bring value to Money. And of course, the more we have of these things, the more status we acquire. The chain of production and consumption are motored by buying and selling. Making Money with Money, buying and selling with Money, and as Economists would say the two faces of Money, Capitalism and markets work in conjunction.  And in many ways, the psychologist says such economic behaviour provides the positive relationship of Money to culture and civilisation.

On our own; Money is worthless, as a means of exchange, we need others for it to become of value. Making interdependence a necessity which can add to the social complexity that is part of our everyday interactions. Money, along with language, is the chief cultural infrastructures that allow us to communicate.

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism, talking of behaviour said: "However selfish man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though they derive nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it." A peculiar phenomenon I might add.  Either he was naive to think that people get pleasure from seeing others happy because they have lots of Money or envy hadn't occurred to him.  Although he rightly goes on to say in his 'Theory of Moral Sentiments' that human beings can be altruistic and benevolent; hence today tend to admire the philanthropists amongst us. However, recent studies show that being exposed to Money led to significant changes in people's actions. Those who had money on their minds became individualistic and were less inclined to help someone in need. More prone to work alone than interact with others. 

Like in almost all things, there are exceptions even in this age of Money.  There are responsible individual companies that are meeting the challenges presented by the current pandemic outbreak of  Covid-19, of this deadly disease. In contrast to the sluggish response by US  administration, Google and Facebook rushed to meet with the World Health Organization (WHO) officials to talk about reactions and provided early funding for the WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund. Amazon, one of the Seattle, Washington State, US, leading employers, quickly announced a halt to all international travel and, alongside Microsoft, donated $1million to a rapid response Seattle-based emergency funds. Before this virus, social distancing was the usual method of managing the gap between rich and poor.

Such social organisation, identity construction, normative standards, and the science of human behaviour as a whole are, in no small extent bounded by money supply & demand and price & value.  For instance, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, school holidays, black Friday and royal weddings are the time for stores to make a  killing. Promotional opportunities for stores to capitalise on consumer habits. Princess Charlotte generated more than £80 million in retail sales with £27 million of that total being driven by souvenirs. The other side of the coin, is consumer spending at this time becomes very difficult to control, holding back is not an option and at times buying reaches fever pitch.  Scenes of people clamouring over each other to pick up a Sony or Samsung or iPhones.  People often have no plans for how much to spend when going to Malls, but simply go on a buying journey of merely random shopping when more often look at brands before they look at prices. Strangely enough, studies also show, people are more careful when spending on a card than with cash.  Overall though, we all have ideas of what is a necessity, and what is an extravagance since they are both tendered by our personalities. So, we have to work overtime juggling our priorities: what puts our spirits up can also hurt our bank balance.

Another observation is that Money in different scenarios takes on a Chameleon effect. By that I mean when it comes to Money, with friends we have a communal relationship whereas with strangers we have an exchange relationship.  If a stranger volunteers to do something for me, I show gratitude by offering him Money.  Whereas if I am invited to dinner and forgot to bring a bottle of wine or a box of chocolate with me, I can hardly offer £20 to my host.  Sorry, there was no wine shops open on the way, but here £20 instead.  

Money and spending it can say a lot about us, we give away much of our personality by the way we behave with it.  Our personal tastes often dictate how we spend our Money but no matter how rich people are frivolity almost certainly shunned by all.  However, we can gross exaggerate thinking we are better managers of Money than others because we hate the sense of loss.  But surely, here also there must be an average which suggests some of us are bad at money management or just spendthrifts. 

By in large, we try to maximise the pleasure we gain from Money, but such ideas can be complicated. We get pleasure in winning 50 pounds on the lottery in one week and winning 100 pounds the following week than winning 150 pounds all in one go.  That is not all; there is something called 'Loss Aversion', and that is where losses can mean much more to us than gain.  For instance, in gambling loss and gain of the same magnitude feels terrible overall.  If you come away from the gambling table not having won anything but not having lost anything either, you come away feeling bad. (I am not into gambling, so all this stuff remain untested).  Even when people are holding stock of shares seeing them going down in value although it hurts but not as much as if they were to sell them when going down.  So people, despite seeing the downturn on the shares they still hold on to them until hopefully, they go up again. The time of crisis comes is when paying of Tax.  For a tax payment to be deducted at source is much easier than say for self-employed.  It can be harrowing when its time to have to pay back out a lump sum after you earned the Money in the first place. 

Our behavioural economics take a sharper turn when shopping at stores. Our spending antennae can be particularly sensitive when looking around for something we want to buy.  We are particularly sensitive to any disadvantages we might spot comparing between expensive and good value. Retailers are tuned to this, so they put out things in a minimum of threes.  Three very similar mobile phones on a counter are displayed; A at £599, B at £499 and C at £399.  The comparison does the trick.  The B always wins because it is not as expensive as A and must be better than the cheapest C.   Almost always we fall for the compromise.  And, by the way, prices ending in 99 is a marketing ploy so much better value than 55 or 35.  This is especially evident at Sale time when people are searching for bargains buys.  This is another example where consumers are primed and where fast thinking is essential. But, when making decisions, our instinctive behavioural economics wavers so we often make mistakes.  For whatever reason, what we bought was not such a bargain after all.

When it comes to eating out with friends, spending takes a different ball game and Money and value play their separate parts.  At a dinner table, people discuss anything and everything, even sex, but no one talks about Money.  Looking at the left of the menu, we see a variety of dishes on offer before turning slightly to the right to cost of the items. Then comes to mind the touchy and delicate question of splitting the bill. Some of us (now here ignore the personal tense), don't eat or drink as much as others, so at times choosing from the menu can be a little tricky and, a cool head for mathematics is called for because as of here it gets all very calculating. To order a glass of Gavi di Gavi that cost £24 is expensive but if it was going to be divided by six then not so expensive.  Same when choosing Lobster with Pasta at £60 instead of a plate of Pasta at £12 from the menu.  Since the cost of what I order gets divided over the six of us, might as well order a lobster and Pasta and glass of chilled Gavi di Gavi.  That way, instead of costing me £84, I would end up paying only £16.  Problems start when every one of the six is thinking the same thing, and before I know it, Lobsters are trending.  

I think I stay home, I've never been good at Maths.