Monday, February 28, 2011

Social media forcing revolution on tyrants like Gadhafi; would Saddam Hussein have succumbed without war?

Oh, Goody. Moammar Gadhafi blames his plight on his people using Facebook and Twitter. Instead of being “punked”, he’s been “zucked”.  The Washington Times has a detailed story Monday by Ashish Kuman Sen, “Gadhafi hits social media”, link here   

Seriously, it looks like a “no fly zone” might be set up to protect the oil fields. “If you fly, you die”. That was done in the days of Saddam Hussein. I suppose that had Bush not invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam would not have survived Facebook either.

Rachel Bronson has a widely published column “It can’t happen in Saudi Arabia? Right?”, for example here.   Overall impression? Inconclusive.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Could 1974-style gas lines and rationing return as a result of falling MidEast dominoes? The dreaded "R" word is still a third rail, but not for long

ABC News has a frightening looking article today “Oil reaches highest since 2008 on fears of Mideast Export Halt,” with several videos, as played on ABC World News Tonight on Wednesday.  The link is here.  

Oil closed at $98.10 today but was over $100 for a while.  In 2008, it hit $140.  There are fears that it could go over $150 or $200 if unrest became destructive in many Middle Eastern countries. 

 Superficially, the ABC article title suggests that all Mid East oil could stop, as in 1973.  But that would require extreme unrest to spread to Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Iraq and Kuwait.

Nevertheless, Khadafy has threatened to destroy his own oil fields out of temper tantrum or spite if he is forced to leave, and in fact some Libyan soldiers refused orders to do so.

All appearances suggest that Khdafay is rapidly losing control of much of his military, which hopefully would mean his departure very soon, possibly even in less than 24 hours. 

It’s not clear that this could happen in Saudi Arabia; but young protestors are finding that despots seem to have weaker holds on their own law enforcement and security apparatus than has been realized. That’s part of the “Facebook Effect” that has been going on for a couple of years.   The social media effect is suddenly playing on a moral double edge, as American consumers have depending on the US keeping despotic but allied regimes in power, and at some balance, for many years.  Ironically, such a foreign policy of the past may not stand up to the availability of modern social media to young adults even in totalitarian countries.  David Fincher’s film “The Social Network” indeed seems ironic now. But history shows that revolutions in printed media in the past have also stirred political changes. (See this week’s issue of Time Magazine.)
The US now has a large strategic petroleum reserve that could make up for loss of Libyan oil for quite some time, but not for collapses in other countries, too.

Could gas lines and even-odd rationing of 1974 return?  I wonder.  In 1974 the Nixon administration had printed up ration coupons that were never used.  Money can’t buy everything sometimes, and that’s the beginning of socialism and loss of freedom.  The 1974 crisis was resolved by April.

So, I bring up the “R” word. Sorry, I told you so.

Wikipedia attribution link for “no gas” picture from 1974. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Libyan oil production and exports could be curtailed, and oil cutoffs could spread quickly

Oil prices are rising quickly because rebels in Libya have threatened to cutoff oil exports of Muammar Khadafy doesn’t move on and leave.  It’s not clear that they could carry out their threat.

NBC affiliate KETV (Denver) has a major story and video. Egypt was not a producer of oii (it controls the Suez); Libya has the biggest oil reserve in Africa.

CNN says that Libya specifically is driving most of the sudden oil price spike. But there is fear that it could spread: what if Saudi Arabia develops unrest, or if Venezuela tries to capitalize on the situation.  Yet a CNN interview with an oil analyst below is not that pessimistic.

Libya controls 2% of the oil we consume.  Strikes are reported in some oil fields in Libya.

Wikipedia attribution link for CIA map of proven oil reserves  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obama asks Silicon Valley execs to be careful with public comments, given Middle East turmoil

President Obama met with the CEO’s and leaders of major high tech companies yesterday in Silicon Valley, and none of them talked about it much online.  The companies included Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Apple.  One reason for the hush: probably the fact that the companies’ products have gotten so much use in stirring up political protests in the Middle East.

The sorry fact is – as documented in Friedman’s “The Next Decade” – that the US government tends to prop up rulers who can keep stability and keep the oil flowing (yes, it’s about oil) even if they repress their own people with rigid political, religious or social hierarchies that would be unacceptable in the West.  That was the case with the Shah of Iran back in the 70s, 

The latest is that Libya (and maybe Bahrain) are trying to tamper with cellular and Internet access. 

It’s amazing that social media – which were designed as “connectors” for social networks – have become tools for political uprising much more than publishing services (Blogger, Wordpress) have.  One reason may be that, especially in the case of Facebook, the social media companies have made so much money. It’s a lesson that Donald Trump is right: sometimes business and money really do drive social change to follow later.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hillary Clinton calls for debate on Internet freedom in authoritarian countries

The Los Angeles Times has the full text of Hillary Clinton’s speech on her call for extended debate on the use of the Internet to oppose authoritarian governmental repression, here

Another story about Hillary’s speech appeared at DMW, here.

But the irony is that her marks occur while the administration considers the need for a possible “pull the plug” capability on the Internet, which would be much more difficult in the US with so many ISP’s, compared to Egypt, which had only 4.

Jon Swartz has a major story on the “kill switch” proposal in USA Today Wednesday here.

It also occurred at the same time that a federal court in Alexandria VA reconsidered the right of the US government to identify people who receive and republish leaked information. Tom Schoenberg has a story on Bloomberg about the "Assange Twitter Account data" problem related to Wikileaks here

The main hooker seems to be that utility companies and government agencies, in attempt to improve customer service, provide potential indirect access from the Web to their infrastructures that attackers could conceivably exploit. The risk had been discussed as long ago as 2002 and in 2007 there was a major attack in Brazil.

Picture: Alexandria federal district court, site of Wikileaks hearing, 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Parents of Amanda Knox indicted for "criminal libel" in Italy

The parents of Amanda Know (convicted of murder in Italy) have been indicted for criminal defamation, for saying that the police in Italy had abused their daughter. AOL had the story early Tuesday here.  The libel charges were filed in Perugia, Italy.

The prosecution comes from an interview the parents gave to the London Times a long time ago, before the conviction.

The story does not say whether the couple could face extradition from the US, but it sounds unlikely. But they could be arrested if they went to Italy or to any country willing to extradite them.

Criminal prosecutions, as opposed to civil lawsuits, for libel would be very unusual in the US.

The link for the story is here

Update: Nov. 24 

I've covered her release on the TV log.  She was released in early October after retrial, UK story here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

So Mubarak goes. But many revolutions lead to more oppression, not less. What happens to Camp David / 1978?

So, Mubarak finally “leaves” when prodded enough times, for lurching around like a millstone. Is this revolution in Egypt one that will “work”?  History teaches that much of the time, the regime that replaces the old is just as repressive, sometimes more, and against different groups, than the corrupt one it replaces.

The last time there was a major revolution in a Muslim country was the late 70s with Iran, and we know what history followed.

So is what just happened in Egypt more like the Berlin Wall, or like Iran?  It is neither, it is something totally different, and still very uncertain.

It’s also a good question as to whether this is a revolution that happened because of social networking technology, despite Mubarak’s attempt to shut it off. 

A month from now, would a controversial American be able to visit the Pyramids and other monuments of one of the world’s grandest civilizations, without the risk of detention?  It’s still unclear.

This does sound like it was “power of the people” – mainly because finally the military did not side with Mubrarak.  How the West and stability with Israel will be affected seems unclear, because this, in sum, seems like a revolution different from all others.  But it does not help that the US had depended on Mubarak’s tactics to maintain “order”, just as that has not helped in even more autocratic places like Saudi Arabia.

I remember one other sequence of history – following the Begin-Sadat talks at Camp David in 1978, under Jimmy Carter, while still living in New York, and following the Yankees’s grand rally that year.  That had been partly through a group I was involved with then called “Understanding”.  I wonder what comes of this?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Polls on moderate Muslim views abroad show distrust of US, some paradox with respect to Sharia and constitutional law

Here’s a piece by Dalia Mogahead, Executive Director, the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, link (it seems to date back to 2006). Notice the equivocation in opinions on how to comingle Sharia Law with normal democratic values and human rights.  Sharia is supposed to be the only source of law, but moderate freedom of speech is supposed to be protected.  It does appear that many Muslims would object to excess individualism as undermining the meaning of religious life.

There is also a “World Public Opinion Poll” from April 2007 “Muslim Public Opinion on U.S. Policy, Attacks on Civilians, an Al Qaeda”, link (website url) here. Generally, even moderate Muslims abroad view US interests with a good deal of suspicion, to put it mildly.  For example, 91 percent of Egyptians approve of attacks on US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is the highest of four Islamic countries surveyed (Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia)”. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Journalists targeted in Egypt; Anderson Cooper "attacked" twice; Mubarak said to be ready to go now

There have been many times when life gets dangerous for journalists, and Anderson Cooper today recounted his being attacked while in a car by a mob today in Cairo here, for the second time so far!

Many journalists from several major networks were targeted, and some sustained injuries.

There is a short film from Starz, “Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty” on my “threats to freedom films” blog March 3, 2009.  One of the most tragic was Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, the subject of “A Mighty Heart”.

On CNN, Elliot Spitzer interviewed Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Morsy promised that the group wanted moderation and freedom is Egypt’s domestic policies.  On Israel things are not so clear.
Breaking news this evening has Mubarak “finally” agreeing to leave immediately. It seems amazing that a popular revolution could become so effective. Is most of this the result of social media?  Morsy says that the MB is not on friendly terms with Al Qaeda or any terrorist groups. 


Christiane Amanpour is reporting her sudden indoor interview with Mubarak today on ABC Nightline Thursday night at 11:30 PM EDT. The best link seems to be here. She had intended to interview the vice president. She says protestors are trying to break into hotels and destroy journalists' equipment.

Mubarak says he will stay in Egypt (and die in Egypt) after he steps down, and not flee in exile.

Friday, the crowds "calmed down".