Saturday, May 05, 2007

Send in the Drones!

New birds were flying overhead during Nasrallah’s last appearance. At least, that’s more birds than were left in downtown Beirut. The birds, brought in at great expense by SOLIDERE, were apparently trapped by both demonstrators and the security forces. Someone had a few mezzes too many, I guess.

I am not sure if the “assafirmezze was good, but the flies are back.

The birds that were attending Nasrallah’s latest Jaw-Jaw were of the more mechanical bent. The buzzing sound of at least one Israeli drone was flying over Beirut, before, during, and a little after the great leader’s appearance.

Odd, how they get the timing right…

Odder, that they did nothing about it.

It Does Not Add Up…

Not that I am calling for the demise of the great Mahdi wannabe, but quite a few other things do not add up.

Like the fact that, while M14 and Berri appear set on the road to collision, they still seem to ensure that the iztez gets to nominate, and maintain so many new “officers” are the Parliament security and some of the ISF. It is as if they are helping one another build up their private armies.

Or like the fact that Tizpi Livni decides to stab Olmert in the back, effectively shooting herself in the foot. Does she really hope to become the next Israeli PM, or has she been smoking some of our Lebanese exports? Whatever the desires of Israel and its supporters, the current team of incompetents are useless, and will only repeat past mistakes. Kadima may hold on for a while, but short of Bibi coming back via an election or a party coup, little else can happen to change things there.

Or like the fact that Aoun appears increasingly desperate, making less and less sense. Even by the (high) standards of the great leader’s self-delusion, he is truly overreaching, and increasingly appears to be yesterday’s man. There must be some truth to the rumours surrounding Emile’s vacation; I understand Idi Amin’s residence is available. Better clean up that swimming pool, and remodel that kitchen

And the Price is Wrong…

But it all does not fit in with the rise in real estate prices in Lebanon; except for Dahyeh, it has risen by 30% across Beirut, and even tripled in some areas. With an apparent focus on population shifts, as the middle class aligns itself along sectarian lines.

Incidentally, Dahyeh is economically depressed in spite of all that Iranian cash flowing around; it is not the bombing that really hurt it, but the blockade. With all their contacts in the country’s customs under foreign supervision, many of its merchants cannot avoid official taxes, and are less and less able to afford to undersell others. Weapons smuggling is one thing, but consumer goods are another.

Maybe it is a by-product of our very Lebanese proclivity to live like there is no tomorrow. Our life may not amount to much in those days, our liberty may be in jeopardy, but we are sure hell-bent on the pursuit of happiness.

Still, something is brewing on the margins of our “society”, as demonstrated by the odd news story every once in a while…

Maybe everything is gearing up for a confrontation after all… But weapon prices are still too high…

Ferguson and Deeb (Update: May 7th, 2007)

Ghassan points out that the reports by MSM of rising real estate prices may all be inflated rumours. He points out evidence from his own personal experience “in a very well developed area whose residents are well educated and entrepreneurial”, but with “nothing but for sale signs and it is seldom that a transaction is completed”.

He has a point. But the story is a little more complex; part of the increase is due to two factors;

1- The sheikhs who are coming here to partee.

2- Those Lebanese who are stuck here, the working classes who are trying to improve their lot.

In this respect, any land or apartments that meet the needs of either of those communities have been going up. There is also the factor of Hezb and Iran; the latest squeeze on Iranian banking is pushing their cash into land purchases, fuelling a frenzy of money-laundering price rises.

Part of this evokes Fergusson’s work, demonstrating that bond prices were rising on the eve of the Great War, which shows that markets cannot foresee everything. Another Part of this reminds me of Deeb’s book on the “new” Lebanese economy, ruled by “Warlords and Merchants”.

I still have to work on the remaining comments; much food for though, much reading in perspective. More homework, I guess.


Amos said...

Great to see you back.
Livni didn't really stab Olmert in the back; it was more of a slap in the face. I think she showed a lack of courage and confidence. She should have gone Catiline on him (I don't mean that literally). Olmert is just a far better politician than she is.
Bibi's chance is now. The longer this government stays in power, the more his ability to capitalize on the Olmert failure will decrease.

ghassan karam said...

Things don't add up because we are always in a state of denial and because we think that we are the intelligent designers best work:-)
The fact of the matter is that we are not ready for modernity and that the Lebanese economy is in a deep recession. Before the Lebanese can boast about economic performance they need to be reminded that with luck Lebanon might achieve in real terms the per capita income that it enjoyed in the mid 60's by 2020. The only question to ask is then would be :"where have the past sixty years gone"?
An excellent example of the denial is the continuous reference by MSM to the fact that some real estate prices have gone up by 30-40 % recently. Is that based on a credible report of real estate sales or is it only a hear say regarding one deal? How long does it take the typical real estate property to sell and hoiw much does it fetch of its asking price? The list of questions goes on and on but no one provides an answer to any issue that is raised. I can tell you one thing based on my own personal experience: I go to Lebanon once a year and I stay mainly in a very well developed area whose residents are well educated and entrepreneurial. Yet I see nothing but for sale signs and it is seldom that a transaction is completed. Many properties have been for sale for a decade, there are no takers. Furthermore most people can barely make both ends meet thanks to workers in the gulf. I understand that a number of firms in the Beirut area are currently paying their employees only 50% of their regular salaries.

One thing that I am constantly confronted with in Lebanon is the myth about automotive vehicles. For a strange reason Lebanese think that they have the highest number of cars per capita in the world and that they drive the best mis of cars. Two years ago a number of well educated professionals who should know better spent over 30 minutes trying to convince me that Lebanon sells every year 250 Maybachs!!! They were convinced that of that, What they did not bother to check is that MB produces less than 300 such vehicles on a global bases!!! Yes there is a Lebanese miracle and numbers do not add up. That is simply due to lack of reliable statistics and to the Lebanese tendency to deny and deny again that something is wrong and a little bit of introspection, self criticism and realism will go a long way in setting the record straight. A good start will be to admit that Lebanon is not the center of existence in the world.

Roman Kalik said...

Olmert’s plan appears to be to drag this on and wait until the public forgets, blanking out the right wing with useless reports on negotiations on our kidnapped soldiers, and the left wing with useless reports on peace negotiations. Livni wants to take his place, but lacks the ability to make use of the momentum. Thus, she fumbled. Whereas both Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter are biding their time, but each doing so separately. Both can try to sell themselves on the “experienced bithonist” ticket, and their only cooperation is in keeping Livni at bay.

And in the shadows, as usual, you have Shimon Peres, the seemingly ageless political opportunist, and The Little Engine That Couldn’t of the Israeli political arena. Yet again he has a chance to become Prime Minister, and he may just become one not by way of elections but by twisting the grim reality to suit his needs. Which, by the way, is the only way Shimon Peres ever graced that particular seat.

How does Peres as PM and Ehud Barak as Minister of Defense sound? Not so far-fetched, is it? Only time will tell.

And then you have Bibi. He’ll have trouble forming a coalition, though, short of sowing enough discord within Kadima’s ranks to tear the party asunder. The socialist-focused parties still hate him over the huge Welfare cuts, and the Likud is simply too small to draw in the larger parties. He may hope for early elections, but that is very unlikely to happen. Too many bums will end up leaving their comfy leather seats (Kadima, The Pensioners, Lieberman’s party, to name a few), and our politicians aren’t inclined to leave their seats in such a hurry, and much prefer trying to win back the people’s favor.

So what we have here, is a lot of interests that may end up canceling each other out. Olmert is counting on this as well.

But should there be enough public pressure, he’ll have to step down, because if his Coalition members and party-members see that the hate really runs deep, they'll cut all ties with him to try and salvage their own future political careers. This is just the preliminary report, after all, and the full report will be *much* worse. And man, this one had the root of the word “failed” in it 151 times when referring to Olmert. Should the Israeli public be vocal enough, there remain two high-probability results.

One is Peres, heading Kadima. The other is Bibi, heading the Likud and renegades from Kadima.

As for our Evil Zionist Drones visiting Nas's speech, it does sound fishy. Hezb used to shoot them down. I'd take this report as complete hype, or as a non-Israeli drone (Iran has drones, and reportedly gave Hezb several. I believe we downed a few of them that were carrying explosive charges).

If it *is* an Evil Zionist Drone, then Hezb lost much more of its strategic capabilities in the July war than it was letting on.

Anonymous said...

Blog master you are great. The disc. here as good or even better than many Israeli Papers. Great Job.
To put a cat in the chicken coop. Does this super electronic German information gathering ship enjoing the Med. sun over the horizon have a drone? German subs have had some thing like it long time ago, these people are very good mechanically, you know. And also some USA ships have one. Some strange meetings over there in your sky. The Syrians however do not need such modern contraptions. Thank you for your blog.

amir in tel aviv said...

Israeli democracy indeed, amazes me too.
Think about it: 'Kadima', a party only few months old, gets a majority in the elections, and leads the government.
This is unprecedented in western democracies. There you have old, well established political parties, that are so expected, that it makes you sick.
So what does it say about Israel and the Israeli political system?
I think that Israeli democracy is among the flexible, and the strong systems. It adjusts itself, and by doing that, keeps being fresh, and is a true reflection of the public wish.
Call it 'a spider web'. Spider web is still a scientific phenomenon: it's light, extremely strong, and flexible. Modern science tries to understand how spider net is created, and how it can be implemented to high-technology.

Roman Kalik said...

Flexible? Absolutely. Strong? I wouldn't go as far. Our system is extremely flexible, that much is true, but the focus on the small-parties results in the kind of political bartering after every elections that makes you want to puke at times. Furthermore, this flexibility can also lead to instability, as the ruling party has to constantly placate the other Coalition members to make sure they stay. This may mean that the ruling party has to constantly be on the lookout and not anger the voters (as the smaller parties fear the voters a great deal more), but it also means too many elections (as we have seen for the past two decades).

It a nutshell, this system encourages the opportunist mindset. And ignoring population groups whose party representatives didn't make it to the Coalition. But on the other hand, almost all politicians are opportunists by definition, and I much prefer them to the kind of politician who froths at the mouth when it comes to his ideology. So while the flaws are apparent, the flaws of the alternatives are also apparent.

Anonymous said...

There are other biological & mechanical models beside the spider web. Beside changing governments, for the last ten, or more years, the Israeli system changed a minister of defence every less than 30 months. Statistically it increased the calamity rate. It approched the famous biological-mechanical model: Room + monkeys + hand granades. You put in a room monkeys + hand granades and wait, nothing happen. After some time you add more monkeys or more grandes or both. Nothing happen. You keep on doing it. Eventually you will hear big BOOOOOOOM. No monkeys, no hand grandes no room. Statistically, if a political system is 90% perfect, a very good system, it says that one in ten governments will be no good. If you have ten governments in 50 years that is one thing if you have ten in 20 years you double the calamity rate. Introducing mechanical factors, like response time and the delay between mistake and correction, a known mechanical problem, as well as learining curve and experience will more than double this rate.

Roman Kalik said...


So, basically, exponential increase in chaos that ends in the complete collapse of social order?

We need to have less governments. ASAP. We need tomorrow to be like today for a while.

Jeha said...

Interesting debate, Yall.

It is worth exploring further; a breakdown of some of the Kadima MPs who are likely to switch may help. I will research this more over the coming week.

In the meantime, please excuse the paucity of postings; I am having a dickens of a time logging in anonymously... Is the "Great Wall of China" is making babies in Arabia, or am I becoming increasingly paranoid?

In the meantime, thank God for lousy IT managers who let their signals bleed and leave their connections badly protected.

Amos said...

I think they might dump Olmert in the end after all. Peres wants the premiership, and as the Labor primaries approach, that party will become increasingly unreliable in the coalition. The Kadima ministers and backbenchers have the most to lose from elections, and they might just tell Olmert to take a hike when they see the writing on the wall.

I don't foresee many Kadima candidates switching - where are they going to go? Or did you mean switching to the Livni camp?

Meanwhile, Olmert will try to shore up his coalition. He's made overtures to the Likud, but for Bibi it's elections now or bust. So that will not work. United Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox party) might be brought into the government, but that only adds 6 seats - not enough to replace Labor. The far-right religious parties will not join an Olmert government.

The pressure will have to come from within. If Peres and Livni had worked together earlier, they might have pulled it off already and sacked Olmert. Perhaps the criminal investigations into the PM's affairs will do it, but I'm not counting on that.

Jeha - I'm sure you know this already, but there is a list to the Knesset web site that gives you all the members by faction - I have a link on one of my post.

Roman Kalik said...

Jeha, might I would recommend you use a web proxy for your anonymous surfing needs. may prove useful, but there are numerous others around.

Of course, if you want to enjoy them fully, they expect to be paid...

Jeha said...

First, I owe an apology to Ghassan,

For misconstruing/misinterpreting one of his earlier comments on Beirut to Beltway.


Thanks for the link; it will be useful for my next post. I have been tracking reported social events as well; some "Likud" events have been well attended by "Kadimatniks"...


Thanks for the link. Slow, but useful.

Roman Kalik said...

Amos, several Kadima MK's can rebel against their party and vote with the Likud. In turn, Bibi can add them to a realistic position in the Likud list for the next elections.

I'm not sure how this one would go. The former Likud MK's in Kadima are a likely bet, but Bibi may very well carry a grudge. The younger crowd towards the end of Kadima's list may fear for their position should the party start shrinking... The possibilities are numerous.