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Links 23 July 2013

Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post, Egypt’s “Democrats” Abandon Democracy:

    “What happened to Egypt’s young liberals? Five years ago, they were the most promising movement in an Arab world dominated by strongmen like Mubarak. Now the vast majority of them are cheering another general, coup leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi….
    “This dizzying turnaround is unprecedented in the history of popular pro-democracy movements. Poland’s Solidarity or the anti-Pinochet movement in Chile would never have dreamed of embracing their former oppressors. …
    Once proud of their networked, leaderless structure, the liberals eventually embraced former U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei as their figurehead. It was a disastrous choice: Arrogant, vain and more comfortable in a Viennese salon than a Cairo slum, ElBaradei was polling in the single digits when he withdrew from last year’s presidential race. …
    “The liberals could have waited and organized for parliamentary elections, due in a few months; polls showed the Muslim Brotherhood sinking fast. Instead, they took the easy way out and switched sides. As the Wall Street Journal reported, in the months before the coup, secular opposition leaders met regularly with Egypt’s top generals, who promised that they would respond to large street demonstrations by ousting Morsi. …
    “Meanwhile, as vice president, ElBaradei sits in a government that is holding hundreds of political prisoners incommunicado; that has shut down al-Jazeera and Islamist media; and that has gunned down scores of unarmed street protesters. It’s an outcome that Esraa Abdel Fattah and her idealistic young friends never would have wished for five years ago.”

Khaled Fahmy in Ahram Online, On Fascism and Fascists:

    “I believe that the Brotherhood’s record in power clarifies how… their inability to control the army and the police, rendered their leaders paranoid and anxious. In light of the ongoing revolution and daily protests against their policies, the Brotherhood felt a need to reach an understanding with these two institutions. And indeed, in every incident of street confrontations between protestors and the police, the Brotherhood sided against the people. …
    “And after they thought that they had succeeded in neutralising these two key institutions, the Brotherhood dedicatedly sought to control the public domain. Thus, they drafted laws to control civil society organisations; to control demonstrations; to gerrymander electoral districts in favour of their candidates; and to control the judiciary, all in the shadows of a constitution that they drafted in an exclusionary and flawed manner.
    “Due to all that…the people finally rose in one large uprising on 30 June. In this revolution, Egyptians strongly expressed their rejection of the Brotherhood’s project, a project that was seen as…clamping down on the people’s hard-won liberty. … And yet do we not, by focusing on these demands, ignore the elephant in the room? Are we not ignoring the army and its blatant intervention in the political process since 3 July? …
    “The public, which throughout SCAF’s rule chanted against the military, is now flaunting General El-Sisi’s photos and is taking him to be their prophet and saviour. The people forgot, or decided to forget that the army, whose jets they now dance under in Tahrir Square, is the same army that conducted virginity tests on female protestors, trampled the ‘blue-bra girl,’ abducted and tortured protesters in the Egyptian Museum and the Cabinet headquarters, performed surgical operations on protesters in military hospitals without anesthesia or sterilisation, and above all, has run, and continues to run, an economic empire that is estimated to be equal to a quarter of the country’s GDP.”

Baheyya, The Middling Muslim Brothers:

    “The Muslim Brothers have always been an essentially middling movement, not in the sense of ‘mediocre’ but in the sense of straddling two worlds. Their base is rooted in the middle and lower classes, with a real interest in transformative socio-economic change. But their leadership has always had its eye on joining, not destroying, the system.
    “Over the years, the MB leadership crystallized into a counter-elite of well-to-do, urban, upwardly-mobile professionals and businessmen eager to enter the exclusive ranks of the establishment. … But as with all large organizations, the leadership has developed interests of its own, principally self-preservation. …
    “Morsi’s performance [as president] oscillated between acting with resolve to push back against obstruction and going slow so as not to antagonize powerful entrenched fiefdoms. … In ordinary times and places, a dual strategy of confrontation and appeasement is the stuff of presidential politics. In the power struggle of post-revolutionary Egypt, presidential politics is an existential gamble. Morsi became trapped in a cycle where he was accused of dictatorship if he moved aggressively and accused of betrayal if he pursued accommodation. …
    “Had Morsi pursued a different tack and built a robust popular front to help him take on the Mubarakist ruling caste, would he still be president today? … My argument suggests that even if he wanted to, Morsi wouldn’t have been able to build firm bridges. He was too imprisoned by the MB leadership’s strategic decision to go it alone.”

McClatchy, Mood Shifting, Congress May Move to Limit NSA Spying:

    “Skepticism has been slowly building since last month’s disclosures that the super-secret NSA conducted programs that collected Americans’ telephone data. … Most in Congress remain reluctant to tinker with any program that could compromise security, but lawmakers are growing frustrated. ‘I think the administration and the NSA has had six weeks to answer questions and haven’t done a good job at it. They’ve been given their chances, but they have not taken those chances,’ said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.
    “The House of Representatives could debate one of the first major bids for change soon. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., is trying to add a provision to the defense spending bill…that would end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ telephone records. It’s unclear whether House leaders will allow the measure to be considered. …
    Other bipartisan efforts are in the works. Thirty-two House members, led by Amash and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., are backing a plan to restrict Washington’s ability to collect data under the Patriot Act on people not connected to an ongoing investigation. Also active is a push to require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which rules on government surveillance requests, to be more transparent. …
    “‘It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to have a full and frank discussion about this balance when the public is unable to review and analyze what the executive branch and the courts believe the law means,’ said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has asked the administration to make the opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court public.”

Politico, Elizabeth Warren, Hard-Liner:

    “Earlier last week at the White House, President Barack Obama tried to use his powers of persuasion on Elizabeth Warren, privately urging the consumer watchdog-turned-Massachusetts senator to back the student loan deal he was reaching with Senate leaders.
    “It didn’t work. On Thursday, she went to the Senate floor to attack the plan, saying it would hurt students and benefit big banks. ‘I think this whole system stinks. We should not go along with any plan that continues to produce profits for the government. It is wrong,’ Warren said. …
    “Warren and several other liberal Democrats…opposed the deal because it continues a government program they think is based more on revenue than on helping students. They contend the program creates profits of $184 billion over the next 10 years.
    “On the floor of the Senate, she described Republicans’ position on student loans as ‘whatever you do, make sure that the government makes $184 billion off the backs of students.’”

CBS News, Violence Continues in France over Islamic Veil Ban:

    “Some 20 cars have been torched and four people detained in a second night of violence in suburbs west of Paris, a result of tensions linked to authorities’ handling of France’s ban on Muslim face veils. …
    “The Friday night violence came after a gathering of about 200–250 people to protest the arrest of a man whose wife was ticketed Thursday for wearing a face veil. The husband tried to strangle an officer who was doing the ticketing, the prosecutor said. …
    “The law affects only a very small proportion of France’s millions of Muslims who wear the niqab, with a slit for the eyes, or the burqa, with a mesh screen for the eyes. But some Muslim groups argue the law stigmatizes moderate Muslims, too. France also bans headscarves in schools and public buildings. …
    “The Collective Against Islamophobia in France…said in a statement that it was contacted by the veiled woman ticketed in Trappes on Thursday, and that she said the police officer yanked her by the veil and pushed her mother.
    “Police argue they are doing their jobs and that veiled women are breaking a well-known law.”

Machines Like Us, Purple Sunlight Eaters:

    “A protein found in the membranes of ancient microorganisms that live in desert salt flats could offer a new way of using sunlight to generate environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel, according to a new study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.
    “This bio-assisted hybrid photocatalyst outperforms many other similar systems in hydrogen generation and could be a good candidate for fabrication of green energy devices that consume virtually infinite sources — salt water and sunlight.”

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, My Game of Thrones Problem:

    “I’m normally not victimized, particularly not by pop culture. But I’m feeling more than a bit victimized by Game of Thrones….
    “I am disturbed by how the series, which was already pretty dark, seems to be getting even more lurid. [Author George R. R.] Martin depicts how violence becomes routine as parts of the population sink into near starvation, brigands prowl the countryside, and dispossessed townspeople (‘sparrows’) flock to churches, the bigger cities, and castles seeking what little security and food they might offer. …
    Game of Thrones also resonates a bit too closely for comfort to what I see in my day job [as an economics pundit]: how people who are simply power-hungry can prevail over those who constrain themselves by trying to do the right thing (however difficult that might be to define), how lousy leaders can do a remarkable amount of damage in a short time, how the noble classes can insulate themselves from economic and physical wreckage and let ordinary people endure hunger, destruction of dwellings and towns, and pillage by wandering bandits. We don’t get much of a picture of Westeros [the imaginary kingdom where Game of Thrones is set] before the wars among the king wannabes broke out, but we get lots of vignettes of the havoc of war: burning of the countryside, stolen livestock, townspeople tortured in case they know where gold is hidden, churches torn down, and plenty of rapes, murders, and mutilations. It was a once well-ordered, fairly well functioning society, and now that it’s been broken, it looks like it would take a long time to restore anything like the former order. …
    “If you’ve stuck with Game of Thrones despite the pain factor, to what do you attribute the personal and cultural appeal?”

John Lancaster in London Review of Books, When Did You Get Hooked?

    “[Game of Thrones tells its story] by hopping about from person to person across the wide geography of Westeros and beyond, with the point of view moving around a large rep company of principal characters, most of them, most of the time, afraid for their lives. The Wars of the Roses, in this reimagining, are — as they surely were in real life — a blood-soaked, treacherous, unstable world, saturated in political rivalries, in which nobody is safe. The violence in this milieu…is long on murder of the innocent, poisoning and rape. It’s not a world any sane person would want to live in, not for a moment…. This sense of unsafety and instability is at the heart of the books. …
    “That, I think, is the first reason for the immense popularity and success of Game of Thrones. This sense of instability, of not knowing what’s about to happen, speaks to the moment. We all feel anxious and uncertain about the future, none of us knows quite how firmly our feet are planted. It’s hard to dramatise economic uncertainty, so why not convey this feeling through a made-up version of the Wars of the Roses? Add the depth and texture and profoundly satisfying thoroughness with which Martin has imagined this world, and the range of his imaginative sympathy with its large company of characters, and it’s a wonder it’s taken the world so long to fall in love with the books.
    “The second big reason for the success of the series may be adjacent to the point about instability. … In Westeros, seasons last not for months but for years, and are not predictable in duration. Nobody knows when — to borrow the minatory motto of the Starks [a family from the north who are key protagonists] — ‘winter is coming.’ At the start of Game of Thrones, summer has been going on for years, and the younger generation has no memory of anything else…. The first signs of autumn are at hand, however, and the maesters — they’re the caste of priest/doctor/scientists — have made an official announcement that winter is indeed on its way. A winter that is always notoriously hard, and can last not just years but a decade or more. … Westeros is like our own world, in which hard times have arrived, and no one feels immune from their consequences, and no one knows how long the freeze will last. Our freeze is economic, but still. Put these two components together, and even the fantasy-averse, surely, can start to see the contemporary appeal of this story, this world. It’s a universe in which nobody is secure, and the climate is getting steadily harder, and no one knows when the good weather will return.”

New Scientist, Shiny, Happy Earth Photobombs Saturn Snapshot:

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