blogorrhoea
Friday, September 05, 2003
 
WHAT NOW?

Like so very many (well, very many outside the mainstream media and the US 'policy community', anyway), Yours Dismally has always suspected that Iraq would be a tragically insoluble mess the minute the Coalition officially went in. In the name of avenging (and allegedly preventing its like in future) the crime that slaughtered three thousand, we have so far killed perhaps a dozen times that many - the vast, vast majority of whom had nothing to do with S11. 'Tis a lesson in how history is made that we shall remember S11 forever and M20 perhaps not at all, although it was only on the latter date that the majority of bridges to the future were burned.

Anyway, it's all very well saying, as some in Europe are already saying, 'don't come to me now; I warned you back when it still mattered' - the fact remains that something has to change in Iraq - and soon.

Whatever bits and pieces the nooks and crannies of Iraq have yet to divulge in the way of nasties, most have long been aware now that the whole WMD thingy was never going to amount to a 'clear and present danger'. Whatever tenuous links between Baghdad and Terrorstan Washington has yet to discover, it's widely understood that formidable new alignments, strategies and pools of popular support have been developed by anti-western, nationalist, theocratic and secular pan-Arabist formations in post-invasion Iraq. Whatever Washington may say about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, most outside the US understand full well that no really free democratic process in Iraq will produce a cohering pro-US administration there. That was all flim-flam; fibs meant to last only long enough to matter. This is all worth repeating here, because those who said it before were understood either to be plain wrong or simply moralising. Repeated now, it's practical import is rather clearer. The fibs are still mattering - such that neither Iraq nor the West has anywhere good to go from here.

A dark stain on that black picture is that the killing of the UN people in Baghdad points to a decisive anti-UN sentiment as well, a point Yours Miserably made at the time. What that means is that those now asked to send their people to Iraq have been well and truly warned that not all those people will be coming back. Thus, you might very rightly say, has ever been the lot of UN peace-keeping and nation-building troops. But two points distinguish this situation from the majority of those:
(1) Washington doesn't want to lose what control it has over either the political or the economic processes in train, so the invader must maintain direct control over the peacekeepers and the nation-builders, thus hopelessly compromising the Whole Idea; and
(2) Ever since the US helped the Baathists overthrow and assassinate Qasim in '63, even more so since the US helped Saddam to power in the late seventies, Iraq has been a nation state defined, integrated, ordered and expressed by a centralised totalitarian elite. Without that elite, Iraq is but a sentiment without a referent - a plethora of contending tribes, sects and ethnicities at the geo-strategic heart of the Middle-East - a land where 'regime change' meant either to replace one jack-booted bastard with another or a nation-state perpetually rent by a simmering anarchy of shifting alliances of interests and identities (that the US has learned this latter lesson is indicated by its utilisation of Baathist police - including the dreaded secret police - to do just the sort of thing for them they used to do for Saddam - with, one dares hope, a little moderating oversight: trace and 'discipline' fragmenting dissentors and militants. It has to be them for no-one else in Iraq has the organisation and the experience.)

The upshot of that bleak little analysis is that a substantial coalition (one that would need to combine, say, Indian, Turkish, Russian, French and German forces) is just about unimaginable unless Washington unimaginably forfeits control. In fact, given that losing good people in a hopeless cause is bad domestic politics, even a complete backdown by Washington can not guarantee the kind of massive combined presence and investment Iraq is going to need.

So my guess is (a) the bad feeling between the major Euros and the US might very soon become very much more intense; (b) Washington will fast-track Ahmed Chalabi's accession to the top of a centralised state aparatus not unlike its predecessor, and sovereignty over Iraqi oil will be given up to US interests in return for infrastructural development, lots of scolarships to The School of the Americas and huge dollops of military aid; (c) Iraq will be an awful place to live for decades to come; (d) the Kurds might soon begin to wish they'd never been so militant an ally of a coalition unprepared to grant them a homeland (on account of Turkey's express interest in the matter) and eventually unable to protect them from a simmering belligerence from south and east alike; (e) Dubya's Mum won't even vote for him next time 'round; (f) the US will come out of this with much less international good will than it's gonna need when it actually does need to act; and (f) pressure to reform the Security Council, or even disband it, is going to mount.

I admit I am an unusually sad sort of chap and look forward to therapeutically convincing refutations below.
 
 
WHAT NOW?

Like so very many (well, very many outside the mainstream media and the US 'policy community', anyway), Yours Dismally has always suspected that Iraq would be a tragically insoluble mess the minute the Coalition officially went in. In the name of avenging (and allegedly preventing its like in future) the crime that slaughtered three thousand, we have so far killed perhaps a dozen times that many - the vast, vast majority of whom had nothing to do with S11. 'Tis a lesson in how history is made that we shall remember S11 forever and M20 perhaps not at all, although it was only on the latter date that the majority of bridges to the future were burned.

Anyway, it's all very well saying, as some in Europe are already saying, 'don't come to me now; I warned you back when it still mattered' - the fact remains that something has to change in Iraq - and soon.

Whatever bits and pieces the nooks and crannies of Iraq have yet to divulge in the way of nasties, most have long been aware now that the whole WMD thingy was never going to amount to a 'clear and present danger'. Whatever tenuous links between Baghdad and Terrorstan Washington has yet to discover, it's widely understood that formidable new alignments, strategies and pools of popular support have been developed by anti-western, nationalist, theocratic and secular pan-Arabist formations in post-invasion Iraq. Whatever Washington may say about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, most outside the US understand full well that no really free democratic process in Iraq will produce a cohering pro-US administration there. That was all flim-flam; fibs meant to last only long enough to matter. This is all worth repeating here, because those who said it before were understood either to be plain wrong or simply moralising. Repeated now, it's practical import is rather clearer. The fibs are still mattering - such that neither Iraq nor the West has anywhere good to go from here.

A dark stain on that black picture is that the killing of the UN people in Baghdad points to a decisive anti-UN sentiment as well, a point Yours Miserably made at the time. What that means is that those now asked to send their people to Iraq have been well and truly warned that not all those people will be coming back. Thus, you might very rightly say, has ever been the lot of UN peace-keeping and nation-building troops. But two points distinguish this situation from the majority of those:
(1) Washington doesn't want to lose what control it has over either the political or the economic processes in train, so the invader must maintain direct control over the peacekeepers and the nation-builders, thus hopelessly compromising the Whole Idea; and
(2) Ever since the US helped the Baathists overthrow and assassinate Qasim in '63, even more so since the US helped Saddam to power in the late seventies, Iraq has been a nation state defined, integrated, ordered and expressed by a centralised totalitarian elite. Without that elite, Iraq is but a sentiment without a referent - a plethora of contending tribes, sects and ethnicities at the geo-strategic heart of the Middle-East - a land where 'regime change' meant either to replace one jack-booted bastard with another or a nation-state perpetually rent by a simmering anarchy of shifting alliances of interests and identities (that the US has learned this latter lesson is indicated by its utilisation of Baathist police - including the dreaded secret police - to do just the sort of thing for them they used to do for Saddam - with, one dares hope, a little moderating oversight: trace and 'discipline' fragmenting dissentors and militants. It has to be them for no-one else in Iraq has the organisation and the experience.)

The upshot of that bleak little analysis is that a substantial coalition (one that would need to combine, say, Indian, Turkish, Russian, French and German forces) is just about unimaginable unless Washington unimaginably forfeits control. In fact, given that losing good people in a hopeless cause is bad domestic politics, even a complete backdown by Washington can not guarantee the kind of massive combined presence and investment Iraq is going to need.

So my guess is (a) the bad feeling between the major Euros and the US might very soon become very much more intense; (b) Washington will fast-track Ahmed Chalabi's accession to the top of a centralised state aparatus not unlike its predecessor, and sovereignty over Iraqi oil will be given up to US interests in return for infrastructural development, lots of scolarships to The School of the Americas and huge dollops of military aid; (c) Iraq will be an awful place to live for decades to come; (d) the Kurds might soon begin to wish they'd never been so militant an ally of a coalition unprepared to grant them a homeland (on account of Turkey's express interest in the matter) and eventually unable to protect them from a simmering belligerence from south and east alike; (e) Dubya's Mum won't even vote for him next time 'round; (f) the US will come out of this with much less international good will than it's gonna need when it actually does need to act; and (f) pressure to reform the Security Council, or even disband it, is going to mount.

I admit I am an unusually sad sort of chap and look forward to therapeutically convincing refutations below.
 
Thursday, September 04, 2003
 
LINKAGE

The opportunity for some good ol' self-indulgent bloggery draweth nigh. Until then, please pop by these new jewels of the Blogosphere. From Europe comes the singularly promising collective Fistful of Euros. From the US of A comes the Blog de Force that is Conceptual Guerilla. And a hearty Ozplogistani welcome to the immensely readable For Crying Out Loud.

 
Monday, September 01, 2003
 
Testing. Here's hoping blogorrhoea's finally behaving itself again ...

three quick thoughts while I'm here, though.

1) I've had cause to talk about reliance on technology in sport before - that it finds as many contentious moments in millimetres as the naked eye did in centimetres and that the umpire/referee has lost so much authority to the electronic sensor that s/he no longer has the clout to dampen dissent. When Drummond was electronically disqualified in that 100m quater-final, the officials had no room for manoeuvre (like simply agreeing he hadn't broken) and the event's dignity depended on a shattered 34-year-old's capacity to control himself from that moment on. Which is not much upon which to depend ...

2) I see all those 'chief economists' are assuring us economic recovery is in train. They've been saying this for a verrrry long time, but no-one seems to mind. Well, profitability for June has absolutely tanked. The official word is that this is due to Australian holdings in less well performed overseas markets. Given the huge drop, I'd suspect a distinct dip in pricing power in the home market, too. And I see non-farm exports are flat, too. Again, the suits may like to dress up a record current account deficit as a sign of huge investment, but the fact we're not selling any manufactured goods points to a structural weakness in very fragile times, for mine. And just how much a huge surge in investment would be justified in light of current consumer debt stats and persisting international recession remains an important question, I suspect ...

3) And why is everyone taking Crean's public reaffirmation of Israel's right to exist behind secure borders taken as a contradiction of back-bench indignation at Israeli policy regarding Palestine? Can't people question Sharon's thieving wall, the continued settlement of Russian Jews on Palestinian land and perpetual military occupation without being accused of anti-Semitism? Whence came this sudden identity of anti-Shrubya with 'anti-American' and anti-Likkudnik with 'anti-Semitic'? 'Tis a lazy rhetorical ploy, for mine ...
 
 
PLEBISCITE.COM

by Glenn Condell


Improving the quality of our democracy, very much off the
top of the head:

'Easyvote'

A nationally accessible, federally funded and promoted website (provisional
name 'Easyvote') where indicative plebiscites on any issue can be conducted,
with a publicly viewable audit trail of voter email addresses to prevent
stacking and other skulduggery. It would need a commissioner approved by a
two thirds majority of both houses to run it and technical experts to ensure
it's integrity, both answering perhaps to a Senate Committee. Transparency
is the key to trust, along with political neutrality. Although it would
obviously be used to ask topical political questions, well phrased and
provocative queries of a more long term, philosophical nature should get
some exposure too. It shouldn't be something seen to appeal more to one or
the other side of the aisle; it wouldn't be a political construct; rather a
part of parliamentary machinery and therefore owned by the people.

The entry screen ought to have a sidebar of categories (taxation, media
policy, environment, miscellaneous etc), each of which link to the current
questions on those topics; questions should have a limited shelf life but
archives must be kept. The questions on the category screens should be
ranked according to popularity (of both positive and negative responses -
simply the questions with the most 'hits') and each should have checkboxes
alongside where users can indicate their preference. A simple yes/no format
would be best, but the addition of a 'don't know' option might be worth
doing. Current results should be only a click away if that. The data
collection involved in such a system seems fairly elementary no matter how
big it might get and the lag between a surge of queries and an effect in
parliament and the media would, if significant numbers were involved, be a
short one; far shorter than the time it currently seems to take them to
notice the ground shifting beneath their feet. Perhaps a formula could be
worked out where once an agreed critical mass of interest is reached,
questions should be asked in Parliament. Strenuously looking the other way
might be a more difficult option. The entry screen should also feature the
single most popular question of the week (it may often be the same for
weeks), with attendant results. There should be a panel in which users can
ask a question and nominate a category in which to place it. Obscene,
nonsensical or just boring questions would suffer a Darwinian fate;
disappearance into the ether after an agreed period with lower than x number
of 'hits'.

Most visitors to the site would however be wishing to vote on an issue that
bothers them, or browsing a category in which they have an interest or
concern. The whole exercise must be entirely voluntary of course, but
ideally you'd hope people would bookmark the site and, just as they
regularly visit the Ebay or Arts and Letters Daily sites, they'll often drop
in to the heart of their democracy and put their two bobs worth in, hardly
giving it a second thought. You're after an almost commonplace and entirely
natural contribution from citizens, who know that if enough people agree
with them, and have it counted, it will make a difference. Apathy will have
it's adherents as always, but so simple a mode of democratic participation,
if done properly, would surely garner the at least occasional attention of a
significant percentage of Australians; more I'd predict each week than would
collectively attend the football, maybe even watch it. Politicians would
find it difficult to ignore unfriendly results, especially given the uses a
half smart opposition would put them to.

Individuals may only vote once on any question and only Australian citizens
may participate. All citizens who exist officially should be issued a
personal email identity, both discrete and discreet, sent to them as part of
the electoral mailout program. Anyone who for whatever reason falls outside
the electoral and tax systems may receive their identity upon request. I
would like to include children but as they can't vote and don't have
sufficient nous until puberty or later, it would seem counterproductive.
There would be no compulsion ever to use this identity, but the potential
uses beyond this project, particularly in the reduction of official snail
mail, may be an additional plus. There's always the Luddite minority and
also many elderly people who don't have access at home. Such people will
however have an identity, and user-friendly computer terminals, perhaps
touch screens, could be installed in federal offices to facilitate their
participation. This might seem an extreme cost undertaking for such a
marginal group, but I think you'd find most such institutional offices
already have some type of this technology in operation, which could be
modified to hyperlink to the 'Easyvote' site. Of course, internet cafes and
friends' homes will do the job too - the point is to make it as easy as
falling off a log.

Any political avoidance of especially sensitive, but plebiscite-popular
issues would be obvious quickly; if 'Easyvote' was utilised by a significant
percentage of the population, the pols would ignore (let's hope) hundreds of
thousands of voter intentions, pretty much in real time, at their peril.
Uncomfy issues for government currently: full sale of Telstra, ABC funding
and independence; cross media laws; US free trade agreement; use of prewar
intel; ministerial code of conduct; refugee policy, and so on. Conservatives
would I'm sure have no problems drawing up similar lists for Labor govts.

I also thought this project could include a feature designed to allow
constituents to ask questions of their representatives. I know they already
do this but constituent email is often answered by the software equivalent
of an answering machine and they only read snail mail or listen to
delegations before ignoring both. This comes back to numbers; a couple of
blue noses with a beef and the odd handwritten plea won't concentrate an
MP's mind like a few thousand electronic indications, which though
impersonal, represent a consolidated chunk of voter intention. In the same
way as the plebiscite system above sorts wheat from chaff democratically,
any constituent may ask his or her MP where he or she stood on this or that,
or endorse someone else's version of the same query; if enough of their
fellows agree, their voice is heard, amplified by said fellows. This would
mean an additional 'ask' button alongside the yes/no/dunno checkboxes.

The voter ID that is generated by the plebiscite system above would have an
electorate linked to each; this would need to be easily but securely
updated. Each ID has only one bite at each question and non-constituent
identities would be rejected from each electorate's site. Statistical data
and analysis could spew out for each, and all electorates every 6 or 12
months, along with the wider plebiscite data. People like Antony Green and
Margo Kingston would get a lot less sleep at these times. A summary could be
gazetted into Hansard or whatever they do. It strikes me that once election
campaigns have begun, all candidates for electorates could be asked to
answer as well, giving voters the opportunity of sizing them up together on
issues of their choice. As the program's software for electorates would be
issued to MPs via Parliament, the sitting MP would be obliged to host such a
service, as would their successors, part of the price of success but also
the obligation of representation.

The value lies in (a) giving voters on any side of any issue the benefit of
knowing that their rep will go to the next poll intending say to support
moves to introduce voluntary voting, or to oppose gay marriages; and (b) the
capacity to give MPs knowledge in virtually real time of how an important
'bloc' of their voters are thinking on particular issues so that they may,
or may not change their approach. Again, obvious evasion of insistent
questions would be political suicide if the system worked half as well as
you'd hope, and clear answers one way or another give us a better handle on
what our choices are, or perhaps should be.

There's a lot of questions for such an enterprise, a lot of potential
pitfalls and problems, but no-one ever said democracy was easy. If it fails,
it's no real skin off anyone's nose, but if it succeeds it benefits all of
us and has the added bonus of perhaps fathering a feeling of re-connection
to the political process. All together now... aaaahhhhh!

I probably should have done some research on this; I'm sure I'm not the
first to have wondered where the egalitarian promise of cyberspace went and
how the promise might be restored. I didn't even Google 'internet democracy'
or 'online voting'; my excuses are laziness, a lack of time and the prior
experience of Googling til my brain sighed at both the volume and the
irreconcilable nature of so much information, leaving me unable to form an
opinion. I'm not trying to sell these ideas... I'm happy to be shot down in
flames by people who see either the futility or the dangers more clearly
than I do. I'm not sure about their value, but I am sure about the
existence, nature and magnitude of the threats to our society that they seek
to address.
 
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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