Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

April Fools: Early and Many

While our government, country and people have become a laughing stock, and a boring one at that, our local clowns are treating us to early April fools.

PM Saniora/Seniora sends the international tribunal papers to the paralyzed-dysfunctional parliament. Thanks to Nabih Berri/Berry, no one is there to receive the papers.

In that action, Naharnet sees machismo and cunning on the part of Milquetoast Saniora and titles: Saniora corners Berri over International Tribunal. Not exactly King Leonidas of Sparta. Anyone impressed, besides the Nahar guys?

Berri refuses to receive any documents referred to Parliament by the Saniora government which [sic] he terms illegitimate after the resignation of six pro-Syrian ministers late last year.
Thanks to Saniora and M14's inexistent/inadequate PR campaign, a shadow has been cast over the government's legality. Fine. IMO, the way you “corner” Berri is by moving to the next issue. By pounding Berri on why exactly is it that the parliament is not meeting? Berri needs to be asked repeatedly why, with the other institutions clearly paralyzed, parliament is NOT doing its duty (tribunal or not).

Naharnet again:
The latest move by Saniora opens the door for an escalation of the political confrontation between the majority and opposition.
“Opens the door for an escalation”? I think we've gone well beyond all doors and thresholds the past a few months.

The other joker is also an M14 member in good standing: Saad Hariri, who after saying that 19+11 was political suicide (it is) added:

"The majority [M14] will exercise its right through the constitution…the other side shouldn't think that we are incapable or we can't hold a government or parliament session," he said.


M14 will “exercise its right”? How so? And why only now? Reminds me of President Lahoud who, upon taking oath of office eons ago, promised us rule-of-law in 1998 and in 2004 and several times in-between, claiming each time “This time, I really, really, mean it”.

You can "hold a parliament" session? OK Saad, hold one.

“The other side shouldn’t think we are incapable”? Sorry Saad but why shouldn’t they?

Both you and Saniora are incapable. When the Syrians left and the new government was being formed, you had a small window of opportunity for action. You blew it.

You can’t give your opponents the initiative for two years and then tell me that, soon, one day, for real now cuz-we-mean-it, you are going to wake up and make the necessary decisions. Too late. That train has left the station. The horse has fled the barn. The toothpaste is out of the tube, since you and Saniora are so fond of clichés.

Stop talking about acting. Act or shut up. And for the love of God, stop traveling like morons from one capital to the next.

Stop focusing on lost battles. Focus on the battles you have not lost yet, but are about to lose: parliament’s current legality, and much more importantly the presidential election. Right now, it looks like there won't be one.

M8 and Aoun are already trumpeting their false interpretations of the constitutional rules in order to sabotage the presidential election. M14 needs to revive the constitutional council and/or have a slew of impressive constitutional experts blasting away at M8, RIGHT NOW and daily until the election.

Yes, I’ve seen a couple of things by constitution experts Hassan Rifai and Salah Honein. However M14 needs more experts and it needs to keep blasting away, lest we end up with two presidents in November.

Monday, March 12, 2007

In Praise of Fneish

Here’s a story we don’t see enough in the press (Daily Star March 12, 2007). If this story is true, no one spoke on record, then Minister Fneish deserves praise for his role at the Energy Ministry while PM Seniora/Sanioura and M-14 deserve further contempt.

According to the story, before his resignation, Hezbollah Minister Fneish had started/attempted to cut corruption in his department by slashing inflated salaries of do-nothings at the ministry. From the Daily Star, here’s a description of the unit Fneish started to rein in:

The activity of the unit was limited to importing fuel […SNIP…], and the majority of the staff were paid between $3,000 and $5,000 a month for what an informed source described as "clocking in and out of the office."

In addition to bloated wages, the source added, employees of the unit benefited from unjustified government benefits and were using state funds to cover personal expenditures ranging from maids to car insurance and telephone lines.

You can bet your last lira that every ministry in Lebanon contains such units. Of course we are very lucky, in Lebanon, if such moves last beyond a couple of days. Here’s the aftermath:

"Fneish decided that this money belonged to the government, so he cancelled their high salaries and unjustified benefits. But in February 2007, the acting minister [Public Works and Transport Minister Mohammed Safadi] cancelled the reforms because 400 of the employees are from his voting district in the North, and even recruited 39 additional Sunni Muslims from Tripoli," the source alleged.
Thank you Minister Safadi, and thank you Lebanese press for following stuff like this once in a blue moon, and then dropping the ball altogether. (Still, kudos to the Daily Star on this one. Please, please, please, follow through guys.)

Furthermore, Fneish also apparently banned fishing with dynamite (isn’t it illegal anyway?) near the shoreline, in order to protect the pipelines and other vital installations. Bully for you Moe Fneish!

But wait!

"I have learned that under Minister Safadi this is no longer the case," he [Fneish adviser Zakkaria Rammal] added, but declined to comment on why the [dynamite-fishing] ban was lifted.
I can only guess: the ban on dynamite-fishing was lifted by Minister Safadi in order to help the eco-system and attract tourists to the area. Right?

The full story (link above) contains further details.

Of course this is bad enough on its own merits: corruption, theft, lack of action and follow-through by the pols and the press at large etc.

However, I think this also feeds into the larger political arena and goes to the political ineptness, if not outright corruption of many in M14.

Here was an opportunity to use Hezbo’s stance positively on an issue, and M14 blew it. These instances would be used by smart politicians to cut corruption, show Hezbo supporters that you agree with them on some issues, siphon some of Hezbo’s support (Aounists and others), shore up your own support. You would also embarrass corrupt opponents like Nabih Berri, weaken him, and introduce Amal-Hezbo friction.

But NOOOO! It’s more important to please Mohammed Safadi (whoever the hell he may be) and his thief-friends, while losing further political support and killing a nation already on life-support.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Downtown Businesses to Sue Government

In this Daily Star story, an association of downtown businesses wants the government to help; or else they are threatening to sue the government. In my recollection, you cannot sue the government in Lebanon or it’s never been successfully done.

However, leaving that annoying fact alone, the ILLEGAL sit-in in downtown started on December 1 2006, three months ago and these fools just woke up now?

Perhaps “woke-up” is too strong. Maybe they are still tossing and turning in bed. In fairness, I suspect that business lobbies and representatives made noises before, but that is precisely my point. Only “noises” before and still, when forceful action and campaigning should have been the order of the day.

"The main message is for the Lebanese politicians to be responsible," Salameh told The Daily Star. "They cannot leave us in such a situation because they're not agreeing on a certain formula. We're fed up."

It took them THREE months to come up with a gem like this?

Of course, to this day, they are getting nowhere with Lahoud, who actually wants the economy to go to hell, nor with Seniora/Saniora, who missed every opportunity to act decisively and is now doing more of the same.

So maybe businesses never had a chance. But that is, again, my point. For things to change in Lebanon everyone is counting on civil society, and the business community is failing the country as badly as the politicians and our (non-)thinking “ineffectuals”.

The pols have zero credibility and their abject failure needs no further proof. The business community had an opportunity to jump in and make forceful points, not only to protect its own interests but also because these interests coincide with those of most Lebanese: the Lebanese interested in keeping their jobs, stores, businesses and livelihoods. And I am not only talking about downtown; the squat-in is reverberating throughout the economy.

Before I get the typical Lebanese crybaby comment “what do you want them to do?", here’s my answer: As captains of the economy, business leaders should issue statement after statement with estimates of losses in dollars and jobs BEFORE strikes, sit-ins, wars etc actually take place. Yes! SCARE the beejesus out of everyone!. They should make clear that these losses would be the responsibility of the government/political class.

They should try to enlist the support of all the religious leaders, intellectuals, to increase the pressure. These groups should openly threaten a handful of key politicians that they have the money to run strong candidates against the creeps at the next elections. And yes, they should threaten to sue the government, but BEFORE the fact, or after one week, not AFTER the economy has collapsed.

The business community has a tremendous untapped advantage. It can take a position and/or speak in names of people from all sects. Such a message, because non-political, and because multi-confessional, would carry weight with the pols, and the religious leaders, and people at large.

I am not saying that results are guaranteed but such a move is necessary for now and for the future. The political class has shown it has no interest in a solution, in part because each side is comfortable “their” people have nowhere to go politically (save for Aoun's).

Back to our business association(s), they are now asking for business tax relief and other handouts to ride out the current the situation. Too little, too late as usual.

Faced with existential threats to the nation and the economy, and now that many jobs and businesses have been lost, the remaining ones want a few crumbs which is understandable but nowhere near enough.

The government has, yet again, failed to uphold the law. The sit-in/protest is ILLEGAL** and detrimental to specific businesses, as well as to the economy at large. Milquetoast Seniora/Sanioura is still asleep at the switch while getting kudos from many in the press.

The protest should never have gotten to downtown and should never have lasted this long. The government should have thought of prosecuting the leaders of the protest movements. It should now seriously consider removing the protesters peacefully, one-by-one if need be. And if violence erupts, it should clearly be on the heads of the ILLEGAL squatters and their leaders.

My hopes are not very high however. This same or similar downtown association was, only a few days ago, asking the protesters to take their action elsewhere, away from downtown.

In other words: Dear protesters, keep destroying the economy, but please go do it by screwing someone else’s business, somewhere else.

** Lebanese law requires a permit AND an itinerary, well ahead of time, even for a short 15-minutes protest, let alone the crap we are witnessing now.