Freitag, Mai 19, 2006
Well, it seems that the Iranian government is taking its next step down the road to perdition.
One of the keys to demonizing a part of society is to clearly mark them in one way or another.
It turns out that this was something that the Germans didn't even invent: the use of markers to publicly identify Jews has a long history in the Middle East.
But the story isn't complete there: they are taking another leaf out of the plan book of the National Socialist movement: the German word is "Gleichschaltung", of removing differences between individual citizens, subjugating them to the dictates of the State. The Iranian parliament has decided that Iranians need to be wearing standardized Islamic garb.
Within fascism, citizens of the State are there to serve the State. There is no room for any alternative to the decisions of the State, any freedom is a grant of the State. People who think otherwise, who dare to question the State's decisions, are enemies of the State - per definitio - and their lives, the lives of their spouses and their children, are forfeit. The fascist state - duh - is totalitarian, brooking no alternatives to its power.
The Iranian people are entering an even darker period of their history. The Islamic revolution was, fundamentally, a revolt against modernism, against the destruction by the Shah of the special rights and priviledges of the clergy. To properly cover the history of Iran would take many, many posts for which I do not have the time, but suffice to say that the clergy in Iran enjoy enormous benefits and priviledges that have historical roots, yet have allowed them to have enormous economic and political power for which there is no democratic justification. Entry into the clergy is carefully controlled to ensur orthodoxy and control over the religious beliefs of the majority, controlled to ensure that there are no heretics, no future Luthers that could challenge the orthodoxy and the power of the clergy from within.
Key to the taking of power was radicalization and forcing people in Iran to take sides, of taking actions that made them commit to the Iranian revolution and break with their past. The taking of the US embassy served this purpose: it broke all diplomatic rules and gave those involved revolutionary legitimacy in the eyes of the clergy: remember that the revolution was not merely against the Shah, but also against the entire western world. This is the core of Iranian fascism, of that the revolutionaries are so radical that only the word of God has any meaning, the conventions of the west are irrelevant and must be ignored if it meets the needs of the Islamic Revolution.
The parallels, either deliberate or accidental, of the Islamic Revolution with the concepts and methodologies of National Socialism are too great to be ignored.
The problem is that neither Germans nor Italians (nor the Japanese) threw off their fascist form of government on their own, and indeed those who fought against it domestically failed and were executed with great prejudice (by hanging with piano wire to ensure great pain while slowly choking to death, since the victims were not dropped, breaking their necks, but rather simply raised from the ground by pulling on the wire, for instance).
The great danger (and the great seduction) of fascism is that once the State has been institutionalized, once the population is subjugated, once life becomes completely dominated by the whims of the fascists in charge, allowing on the one side people to lead a "normal" life, but ensuring that this normality is one determined by the State and controlled and enforced by the State. Neither the average German nor the average Italian nor the average Japanese realized how their freedoms, such as they were, were being taken away one after another: the method is to ensure that the average citizen isn't affected, but rather indeed benefits from the development, up to the point where they no longer make much in the way of any decision without first consulting the State.
So what can the Iranians do?
Good question. I'll be honest: I don't have an answer.
What will come next? We will see increasing arrests of dissidents and people who could oppose power: union members;ucators who might serve at universities as a source of dissension and as catalysts for student agitation; non-Islamic religious figures and members of those religions; homosexuals and "sexual deviates" will all start to disappear from Iranian society as the State starts to take over public life even more than it has. Expect a "Kristallnacht" where a minority is publically attacked by the thugs of the government and thereafter are exploited to further radicalize the public. Expect a crackdown on nonconformity with death sentences and disappearances; expect that the government will increasingly try to form a whole generation of children according to the precepts of the State, forming them to believe that the State is mother, father and family. The State will deliberately alienate portions of Iranian society from each other, but yet appear to be the only one who can reconcile the differing groups, ensuring that whatever problems the Iranian populace has, the State is not and cannot be part of the problem, but rather is benevolant and controlling.
It's a slow spiral to perdition. The real problem is that it took WW2 to thoroughly destroy fascism in Italy, Germany and Japan, and it took the dedication to insist not on some sort of peace process, but rather to fight so that fascism would be proven to the German, Italian and Japanese public of the time as to be a complete and total failure, a plague upon those lands.
That Iran must go through this process will destroy the country as we know it today. That's the great tragedy of Iran, the necessity of destroying the fascist nature of the Islamic Revolution in order to save the Iranians from their own worst natures. A tragedy is unfolding in slow, slow motion in front of us.
Donnerstag, Mai 18, 2006
...out in the noonday sun.
Ahmadineschad rejects the offer of the EU before it is even made as a pathetic sop and an insult to Iran.
Do we see a pattern building here? Ahmadineschad has the external boogeyman that he needs to maintain his internal power plays, of suppressing alternatives, increasing control and a general extension of Islamist control over Iranian society. I've now seen estimates that Ahmadineschad can only count on 15%-20% of the populace for direct and unequivocal support, and oddly enough this 15%-20% basically controls the county as is.
Regardless of what the EU or the UN will offer, it will be ridiculed and rejected out of hand.
Because Ahmadineschad needs to be able to do this, be able to "show up" the West. All he needs to do is start strutting and preening, and add a few pounds so that he doesn't merely act, but also looks like Mussolini.
This is the Iranian tactic: buy time, buy time, buy time. Ridicule your opponent and make yourself appear to be the paramount of reason and the epitome of the cultured, wise leader, your external opponents will fall over themselves trying to get on your good side and your internal opponents will be severely weakened as well. "Standing up to the West" is guaranteed to get the attention of the populace, one that has been inculcated in blaming the West for their decline (Islam and Mossadegh), one that has been taught that the problems the country is facing are not domestic problems, home made problems, but are instead the result of a conspiracy to deny Iran its rightful place in the world of nations and scheme of things, to deny Iran the same status as a great power.
Because Ahmadineschad and Co. believe that this is Iran's proper position, as *the* dominant power in the Gulf region. Not merely that this is something they'd like on an abstract sort of level, but more fundamentally that the Persian Empire needs to be reborn and that Persian dominance of the region is a god-given right, as it were, so that the benevolant dictator - Ahmadineschad - can exercise the power that Iran has as the principle center of Islamism.
In other words, he's behaving like the Germans and the Italians did in the late 1930s: bluff and see how far the stupid bourgeois, corrupt and incompetent, will allow power to be seized on the flimsiest of pretexes.
Freitag, Mai 12, 2006
Reality intrudes more than I'd like, sometimes. :-)
I'll just put a short comment here for thought. These are based on a number of blog and other articles over the last several years: a hat tip to all those willing to look at this without descending into the usual Marxist absurdities in dealing with these developments.
Iran has been, since the "revolution", an incipient fascist state. Why fascist? Fascist governments show several attributes that remain in common after you remove all the disparities. This is true for Germany, for Italy, for Japan in the 1930s, and now for Iran. Syria is also a candidate, but I know too little about Syria to say for sure.
Fascism isn't so much an ideology as much more a method of taking, keeping and extending political power. Ideologies like communism have a canon, a bible as it were, that true believers can refer to in order to convert the unbelievers or to discipline the rest. Fascism doesn't really have such a canon - sure, there are books about fascism, but there's no book that really establishes fascism, not even "Mein Kampf", which is less a book about fascism and its supposed virtues as much more a personal tirade, an example of the political pamphlet in best agitprop tradition.
Fascism is based on resentment, a population with a feeling of impotence and betrayal, with racial and societal overtones. By deliberately and carefully exploiting these feelings and by either creating or using an existing external bogeyman to concretize these generally vague public sentiments, fascists recreate a feeling of superiority, overcompensating the feelings of inferiority (justified or not), using carefully constructed agitation and control over opinion makers in order to shape public opinions to the point where they are no longer mere opinions, but gain the quality of belief. To do this you need trained orators and agitators, an intimate knowledge of the society involved, and convenient targets that either can't or don't hit back until it's too late.
Why is Iran, to date, been merely an "incipient" fascist state? Because there hasn't been a point where the fascists there have felt the need to openly act as such. One of the development principles of fascist parties is to hide their true aims and goals until they have achieved power, since those arrayed against them shouldn't be given any opportunity to enlarve them.
But now, with Iran's basically open commitment to acquiring nuclear weapons, the time has come that the government of Iran shows its true nature.
They have established what is fundamentally a religious fascism, using less the racial playing card and much more the religious one. Fundamentally the view there is that unless you are a Shi'ite, you are less than human, deserving of no considerations that you would give your fellow man. This fulfills one of the first tenets for fascism: the "we are superior" factor. The bogeyman, the external enemy (this includes those living inside the country: Jews were externalized within their own community), is of course the Little and the Big Satan, the US and Israel, with strong antisemitic underscores lifted directly from old German and Russian antisemitic agitprop. The political savior, the patriarchical, principled leader that will thrash the enemy and restore the country to its rightful place, is of course the current Iranian president. Control of society to "save" it from unhealthy, corrupting influences, is already in place in Iran and weighs as a heavy hand upon the populace.
Understanding this helps to understand why the Iranian President writes the letters he does and why he does the things he does. Nothing is not calculated: the letter served multiple purposes, not the least of which is the offering of accepting submission before the attack that appears to be a precept of Islamist expansion. The letter serves notice: it will appear for many to be the sweet voice of reason; it places the blame for all problems clearly on the external enemies of Iran for both domestic and international sympathy; to respond to it means acceptance of the game rules of who is to blame and not, while not responding at all means that you've ignored what appears to be a rational offering of dialogue; and finally it is a carefully calculated insult.
I don't, unfortunately, have the time to get into the letter and properly fisk it (and it deserves one).
Suffice to say that in the late 1930s the fascist countries united and presented the western world with one bluff after another to gain political prestige and power, which led them to believe that western countries had no backbone and were unwilling to defend themselves (which fit into their belief structure of rejection of western values as being corrupt and incapable of meeting modern international challenges). This is the same situation we are facing today with Iran: you have people in Iran that are dedicated to the re-establishment of the Persian empire within the framework of a Shi'ite theocracy. You have thugs on the street in Iran ensuring that people "behave"; you have complete and total control of all aspects of government within a facade of democracy (controlling who can be a candidate is the Iranian method here); you have an evangelical leader who knows how to use the "bully pulpit"; you have an expansionist agenda (the Iranian interference in Iranian and Afghanistan affairs is rampant and expansionary); you have increasing militaristic tendencies (the Iranians came out recently with an entire group of "wonder weapons") and a policy of using salami tactics to slowly whittle away the options and alternatives of any opposition.
It's a very, very dangerous game, since their goal is to achieve checkmate (chess being, of course, a Persian passion) without allowign the opponent to get his pieces into play. It's a dangerous illusion, since it purports two equal opponents in the game, which is not the case. It has the potential of exactly the same results of the Axis before WW2: pushing smaller countries and percieved weaker opponents around until war becomes at the end of the day the only option.
A very, very dangerous game.
Mittwoch, Mai 03, 2006
Economists, pundits and politicians in Germany are talking these days about the "resurging" German economy.
The official forecast for 2006 has been moved up to 1.8% growth. That's right, up to 1.8% growth.
There are myraid reasons why German economic growth is so weak - to be honest, 1.8% growth only means that the economy isn't in meltdown and is hardly resurging in any shape that could be called realistic - and I won't go into them here.
This links to Donald Luskin's talk he recently gave in Washington DC to the National Association of Investment Professionals.
I'll briefly sum what's important: tax cuts and the ensuing incentives to invest and grow the economy.
It's really rather simple: lowering taxes means that there is a positive incentive to work harder and earn more money, since you actually get to keep it. Any one out there has a point where extra effort ceases to be profitable: everyone has their limits. When the government works hard at taking what you earn, the limits are so much lower than they would be otherwise. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about, having recently seen a modest bonus turned into a pittance by the taxman. My wife has it even worse: after taxes her Christmas bonus wasn't enough to fill the tank of our car with diesel...
My modest proposal is that to get the German economy running at anything like normal - as far as I am concerned, long-term growth rates MUST exceed 3% if the German economy is going to be able to maintain its ability to compete internationally while providing domestic jobs - that the German government eliminates any and all taxes on revenues from corporate financial instruments, be it stocks, bonds, direct investments, venture capital or whatever clever instruments the financial people dream up. In addition, German companies investing in German factories, offices and the like may deduct the cost of their investments 100% in the first year from their taxable income AND may fully depreciate the investment as they normally do.
German finances will suffer: they are already catastrophic, so losing revenue won't really make that much of a difference. But the downside is small, with the potential on the upside being huge.
What Luskin points out and which few I think understand outside of the US (and many in the US don't understand either) is that by letting people keep what they earn you allow them to make the rational choices for their consumption. Germans today show little propensity to add value to relatively high income levels because all that happens is that the government takes around half of it. Which completely and totally removes any incentive to take that extra step and improve something so that value is created.
And the 3% growth rate for Germany - no economist that I know expects this, and indeed I don't expect Germany to reach these growth levels - is based on the need in Germany to recapitalize its economy. Germany is living no longer off its fat, but rather is burning muscle in order to generate the very weak growth of the last several years. Germany needs to invest between 8% and 10% per year for the next 10 years in order to improve its infrastructure, one of the best in Europe if not the world: the current investment levels don't allow the current infrastucture to even be maintained, ensuring that things here are going to get worse before they get better.
It's not like I'm recommending eating babies or anything like that.
My modest proposal, of course, has absolutely no chance of being implemented by any of the political parties here.