Towards Better Democracy

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Evil is not banal


Writers, thinkers, each of you; I address an elite. How fortunate I am to be in such company.

But I flatter you. To get your attention, I hope. And hope too that what follows is compelling, after its kind.

The writing included in this email comes toward the end of a long diary entry for this evening. The earlier part of the entry is thoughts on moral and emotional courage which have no public place.

Verbatim from the diary:

In passing, is does seem fair to say that, as I puzzle over my inability to write all these years, it may be this (emotional courage) that was never there. After all, I could never be the writer I didn’t want to be. I was not, and am not, a plot churner. The plot, to be sure, is the flimsiest thing. A gossamer gown worn, as in the novel, by something which is, at its best, both mighty and terrible.

The finest of all art forms, the novel is able to show humans to humans what they are in all their glory and depravity. The utter highs to the most terrible depths.

We have never fictionalized Hitler because we have never had the courage to face the most terrible things of which we are capable and own the side of each of us that is capable of the utter terror he bestowed upon others.

Jonathan Littell made an attempt, falteringly, it is true. Only the Greeks have managed it. And only because they ascribed those terrible, terrible things to gods, not humans.

The banality of evil;” I am not match, nor will ever be for her intellect. Despite that, I disagree.

Oh, no, it is not banal. Ordinary it may be, but terrible it is, nonetheless.

We can not, and should not, ever make apology for it in any shape or form.

Dante was right. His circles of hell do not descend deep enough to contain within them the awful actors who belong there. For any human, all humans, each human, is capable of far worse than any Devil. The Devil Incarnate is not; does not have the depth of capability each of us has within us.

No species has wrought on others, our own kind, or other kinds, the terrible things of which we are capable.

Perhaps the problem lies in the word “evil.”

Evil is not a strong enough word, yoked as it is inexorably to the moral. And to God. The Devil, after all, was a mere fallen angel and the greatest evil of which he was capable was to stray us from God’s love, God’s word. The injunctions of the Ten Commandments are not strong enough. Though “Thou shall not kill” is pretty specific.

After all, from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey came the robed and holy injunction to the assembled troops to go out and kill good German babies. (WWI or WWII, not sure which) Not to include, of course, four Crusades (at least).

All that being said, “cruel” is better, and “cruelty” a far better word.

This is our pathology (see comment below).

Without thought or conscience, men, women, and children, though men, frequently enough, and women and children seldom, can wreak such acts of cruelty, that, by any measure, are breathtakingly awful for a conscious mind to behold.

And so it is, so it has been, and so it remains.

“Who is capable of such acts,” we ask?

We are.

Is Hitler in all of us, each of us?

Is the answer: Probably, possibly, certainly, perhaps?

The awe with which we view the man says one of these.

~            ~            ~            ~            ~            ~            ~

And, so it seems to me, that finally, when we can write unflinchingly, in fictional form, of the Hitlers of this world, we will have taken a step towards our maturity.

For surely, as a species, we are not yet mature.

And, in case the question posed where Hitler is concerned above is too tough to answer, how about this:

Had Hitler lived, what punishment would have befitted him?

(Comment: I have written on this elsewhere. I wrote: I do view us, Homo sapiens, as being, in some way, diseased. I was challenged on this: Could I describe the pathology? I was asked. That sent me reading into palaeontology, anthropology, evolution, the concept of invasive species. Nine months later, after much study, I am no closer to answering the question, though I remain convinced as to its validity. Notably, I have not made a blog entry since.

 

Filed under: Eternalities, , , ,

A Global Reality and the West and the Middle East: an Unbroken View


This article comments on two fundamentals of our time. On the one hand the present reality we face as a species on this earth is discussed. On the other hand, the tremendous opportunities and realities of the expression of calls for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa are addressed.

Readers for the first are all of you who are interested in how you can play a greater part in determining how your own life is led.

Readers for the second part are those who are active in creating democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and those interested in reading about it.

A New Reality for Humankind

To any one who takes the long view of human development, there are two basic strands to our development. You can, as an individual, have a personal view of that development but its truth is undeniable as it affects all of us, one way or another.

We, all of us, live in the present world and have to accept it as we find it. There is no going back. There is no undoing of the past. Whether nuclear power is a good thing or bad, we live with the consequences of the choice that was made some decades ago in adopting it as an energy source.

And that is our future. We live with the consequences of previous decisions. To industrialized, to colonized, to enslave peoples, to displace peoples, to dispossess peoples, to relocated peoples, to destroy cultures and civilizations, to proselytize our religions, to impose our laws and ways on others. We can apologize for each and any of these. But, we, all of us, live with their fruits, bitter or sweet, or an unblessed mixture of both.

The one strand of human development is itself inexorable. Whether you believe it to be evolutionary or creationist doesn’t matter. Because your view will not shape how it has and will evolve, only in the detail of the story we tell of its evolving.

We, humankind, came out of Africa. The evidence is clear. The line of development is there in the fossil record. Irrefutable. Austalopithecus at 3 million years ago were succeeded by Homo habilis at 2 million years ago, followed by Homo erectus at 1 million years ago, finally leading to the species to which we all belong, Homo sapiens, at around 250,000 years ago. Not long in the historical record. Not long in the timespan visible to us; the age of the earth, the age of the universe.

This story is incomplete. We have only a skeletal outline but more than sufficient to provide convincing proof. You can deny it. That is your choice, but you join those few who still view the world as being flat. The evidence does not support such views.

I do view us, Homo sapiens, as being, in some way, diseased. We are not at ease with ourselves and our surrounds. We, unlike every other species on this earth, do not live in harmony with either ourselves or our environment. We gratuitously slaughter each other, we rampage unheeding and unhindered across the face of the earth, despoiling, destroying and wantonly exploiting all that we come in contact with to feed our interminable and insatiable appetite. How we can be seen to be the product of some benign being or higher power defies truth or logic.

More likely, in a narcissistic way, we invent, and have invented, such entities to justify our own behaviour. We have, throughout our history, invented gods who are as irrational as we are and as cruel.

We are now reaching a point as a species when we finally are facing the consequences of the decisions we have made over the course of our history on this planet. The cumulative harm that we have done to our home, this earth, this Gaia, is finally coming home to roost.

Increasingly, in the decades ahead we will be facing the results of our folly and mindlessness. We can deny it but it won’t go away. We can attribute it to the forces of nature. And there may be some truth in that. But all around us is mounting evidence that we are making of our home a living hell.

For the first time in the history of our species, we face forces far bigger than ourselves, many of our own creation. The evidence is mounting daily. We face living with the consequences of our utter historical irresponsibility.

We can put off for a while accepting finally our responsibilities. But deferral will only result in greater pressure to change our ways, fundamentally change our ways.

We have never, as a species, weighed cost benefits. We have never sat down to weigh the effects of our decisions, our acts.

Our behaviour, if continued on its present course, is simply unsustainable. That much is obvious. And each passing year will make it more and more obvious.

Of the many, many examples we could consider, take the case mentioned above, that of nuclear power. The decision to harness the atom bomb into peaceful means of nuclear power generation was made without a full cost benefit analysis, as indeed much of our behaviour is still. We can say that, at that time, when decision were being made on our behalf, that we were being lied to, that we were only told half the story. But we were willing connivers in that lying, that half-told story. We wanted to believe in the benefits. We did not, and we still do not, want to fully weigh the costs involved.

The events in Chernobyl were an early warning sign. The recent events in Japan to the nuclear power station there point to an ill we have created for ourselves which we cannot wish away. The complexities of the problem we have created for ourselves are mind-boggling. That they are so is all the more reason for addressing them. Their sheer complexity is no excuse for us to not address them.

We singularly failed to appraise their cost when we first started on the path of creating nuclear power. We abjectly denied our responsibilities. I do not offer answers, however. That is not what this writing is about.

But the alarm bells are ringing. Everywhere. In every aspect of our lives. They are calling for us to pay attention.

What has me write is not so much to add my voice to those other voices on the planet attempting to draw attention to the dire straits that we are creating for ourselves.

What my voice adds is to say that politically we must change. That we must evolve our political institutions to reflect these realities. That we each of us is responsible. We each of us must hold ourselves responsible. And we must hold others, all others, responsible. We cannot tolerate a situation henceforth where any decision, large or small, is made on our behalf. We, each of us, has henceforth to be a party to that decision making process. How our political decision making process will change is what I have been writing of for some months.

I perceive no recognition from any reader as to the truth of what I am saying. I offer no prescriptions. But I do say we can do it. I know we can do it. Have we reached a point where we are exercising the will to do it? No, we have not. The calls to do so are few and isolated.

Certain fundamentals are involved. Recognize those fundamentals and we are well on the way to answers and to the finding of ways that will implement the recognition of the realities we face.

One fundamental is that the distance between decision makers and those affected by the decisions made is too great. That distance needs to reduce to an immediacy.

I see a need for us to evolve political institutions that are inclusive, that harness and include us all. We cannot go forward in a world where we allow others to make decisions on our behalf without real and proper consultation with us.

I do not imagine I am a lone voice. What strikes me, though, is that the problems we face are, of their nature, such that they require more of us than our present institutions are capable. Most importantly, the decisions we are faced with making, require from us unprecedented levels of expressions of responsibility.

As we move forward we will begin to realize that we face problems which require extraordinary levels of sacrifice. The inevitability of this is what will drive the process.

What is at the heart of all this? That is easy. Truth.

Let us take up the example we have been exploring so far. What is the truth of nuclear power?

We, as one writer put it, face the prospect of creating sacrificial areas of our planet, exclusion zones. We have created one such zone with Chernobyl. We potentially are creating a similar zone in Japan. How many such zones are we going to tolerate in the future? We already face desertification in wide areas of the globe.

Then the question of decommissioning of nuclear power plants raises its ugly head. Here we are faced with a tremendous conundrum. Decommissioning takes years. And nuclear waste is created. None of us has solved the question of nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants, by their nature, are big power producers. They are not easily replaced.

That leads us, again, to questions of cost benefit. We in the West have long lived with cheap power. All power, however generated, has been produced without true attention to its costs. We have never held others or ourselves responsible for those costs. Our institutions we have not held responsible for the costs. Nuclear power plants, for example, are not fully insured.

What I point to is the fact that each of us has a part to play in the decision making process. Up to this point we have neglected our responsibilities.

At the heart of all this is the capitalist process itself. Which does not hold itself fully accountable nor do we hold it fully accountable.

We arrive at the point that this writer, at least, has only begun to explore the ramifications of. The logic is inescapable. It is not communism, or socialism, or any other form of left or right wing thinking that says that the capitalist system, as presently constructed, is not satisfactory.

It is possible that here is the heart of the problem, though I profess myself unable to fully answer the question: to what extent is capitalism flawed? Is capitalism itself at fault for our ills? I doubt that it is the agent alone responsible.

That the question is radical I accept. That capitalism exists at one level to create goods which nobody wants and which, in turn, spends vast amounts of money persuading people that they should buy. But that is only one level of capitalism. It is not the whole of it.

At the base is the question: what do we want? What do we, as people, want? It seems to me that dialogue on this question has barely begun.

But, asked it will be. And more and more on a global scale.

The West and the Middle East: An Unbroken View

The other strand of human development is the advent of agriculture. With the rise of agriculture as a human activity came the creation of surplus foodstocks. With the creation of surplus foodstocks came specialization of humankind. With it came the rise of the city state and of record keeping.

Out of record keeping came writing. The invention of the plough allowed the creation of surplus grain. With the invention of writing came civilization.

We in the West look back on an unbroken line of development to the cities of Sumer. The actions and thought I am at this moment engaging in tie back to places in the present Middle East. What Sumeriologists refer to as the Near East.

We trace that line through Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Italy and the Renaissance, and finally to the Reformation, which separated state from religion.

What is significant to me about the present events in the Middle East and North Africa is that we are witnessing that same separation occurring with peoples who, for seven hundred years, have lived in our midst and who have not enjoyed that separation. They are now embarked on an endeavour that will.

In so doing, they join the rest of the people on the planet.

That religion has acted as a barrier to how the West sees these people. The peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are now asking to be seen in a different light. We are barely becoming accustomed to this view.

For so long a mutual suspicion has pervaded relations between what I am probably erroneously referring to as the West and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.

Since the call from the region is an empiricist view of democracy, not they nor us can say where it will lead.

We can help or hinder in its realization. If we recognize overwhelmingly that the process is wholly mutually beneficial, we can embrace every single opportunity to help.

What is ironic, to my view, is that the process of democratization in the Middle East and North Africa is being wrought on the back of American technology: the internet, the cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, American developments all.

Filed under: Current Events, , , , , , ,

Libya: Speak Up!


Once again we have a chorus of Westerners, joined by myself, speaking on behalf of Libya (Libya: Rebels in retreat , Guardian, Comment is Free, April 11, 2011; The enemy we don’t know… , Independent, Jody McIntyre, March 31, 2011, among many examples)

Libyans, please find your voice and let it be heard loud and clear.

Only you can tell us and the rest of the world what it is that you want. The time to speak out is now. If you do not speak out you will watch as, an initiative which was taken by Libyans in the days leading up to February 17, 2011, slips from your grasp. You do not want your future decided by others. If you stay silent you can be assured that this is what will happen.

Najla Abdurrahma ‘s Libya: Making something out of nothing, Al Jazeera English, April 7, 2011, is a fine article, and she makes many good observations. Her point about Bernard Lewis and other Western so called experts on the Middle East is especially telling. I think that Ms Abdurrahma is far too kind to Mr Lewis: (He) “.. may be excused for his ignorance given that he hasn’t spent much time in the Arab world.” No he cannot be excused. His views have past their sell by date and that needs to be recognized.

AJE links the words “hasn’t spent much time” to a report, Resources of Hope published week of March 27, 2003 by Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, where the inestimable, irreplaceable and much missed Edward Said, and a number of political analysts debated the challenges Arabs faced at that point in time.

The link is to that article because Said says, “The two greatest outside influences on the [US] administration’s Middle East policy, are Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami. Bernard Lewis hasn’t set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I’m told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world.” As it happens, the Al-Ahram report makes timely reading at this moment.

Would any of us listen to an expert from any other field who had no on the ground knowledge over a 40 year period? Can you imagine an expert on health? Forty years out of date?

What Said understood, and few, if any, in the Middle East have since understood, is that, if you wish for your views to be represented at the tables of discussion where policy is made, you have to make your voice heard.

It is no coincidence that Israel has the most powerful lobby in Washington after the AARP. You do not have to be eloquent, but you have to be there and to be heard. After all, perhaps Nikita Khrushchev’s most eloquent moment was when he banged his shoe on the table during the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly, held in New York on October 12, 1960.

Occasional heads of state visits to Washington won’t wash either. You need a lobby. Where is the Libyan lobby in Washington? And in Paris? And in Ankara?

Why do you need to be there?

Because, if you are not, the powers that be; the United Nations, United States, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, and so on, will make decisions on your behalf. They won’t be to your liking and they may be injurious to your cause and your nation. In fact, they may rebound on those making the decisions.

Dictators tend not to engage in this activity, which is why they are often at the receiving end of the expression of interests of powerful states. But democracies do. Democracies understand that points of view and causes have to be heard.

Democracy is about many things, not least of which is dialogue. The sooner the habit is engaged in, the sooner results are achieved.

The purpose of the dialogue?

To persuade! Libyans, you have a cause that is just, a cause that is right, a cause which most of the United Nations Security Council members feel sympathetic to, even among those who abstained from voting for the No Fly Zone.

So I say to you, Libyans, those of you who seek a Libya free of Gaddafi, you need to get your message out, and you need to get messengers out to convey your message. An envoy is not enough. It has to be a barrage.

Twitter, FaceBook, the Internet are fine at organizing protests. But they do not reach policy makers. Tweeting, “Gaddafi, go,” does nothing but further enrich the founders of Twitter. Saying so to the ear of the powers that be, who already have half a mind to help get rid of him, might clinch it.

Dictators live in isolation. That is a feature of their rule. Democracies do not.

Libyans, as you read this, you may feel that what is said in the Western, or world, press, does not matter. I say to you, “Yes it does.” You should be following what is said closely. Were you to be doing so, you would know that the prevailing view in the world’s capitals is; “We don’t know who you are, we don’t know whom to trust.”

Three countries have so far recognized the Transitional National Council in Benghazi. Do you know which other countries are poised, willing to recognize you? Have you a list of likely prospects?

Why are you not inviting government heads or their representatives to your council? Why should Colonel Gaddafi be favoured? Is his cause any greater or better than yours?

Why is Turkey brokering on your behalf? Why the African Union? And what is this nonsense, a Contact Group meeting in Qatar? Why is it not meeting in Benghazi?

Abdul Fatah Younis impressed many observers when he appeared recently at a press conference, April 5, 2011, which Al Jazeera carried. Why not daily press conferences? Why is the TNC not demanding equal air time every time Gaddafi or his henchmen speak? You are entitled to it and you will get it. You have to ask, you have to demand.

I offer no disrespect to Ms Abdurrahma when I say; Where are the Libyans who live in Libya? Why are they not writing in Al-Ahram, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, El Pais? Why are Libyans not appearing with Anderson Cooper and on all the other network channels?

You may ask once again, “Why do I have to do this?”

Because, “Libya is the only country where the Arab revolution became a military struggle …” (Libya: Rebels in retreat)

Your real audience is in Tripoli, behind a city held hostage by him, a human shield of 2 million people, plus 100 or so captive international press corps, with his own spokespersons commenting ad nauseam on this and that lie. Your situation is not like that of Egypt, or Tunisia, or Bahrain, or Syria , or Yemen.

It is more like that of Palestine, and the difference should frighten you.

Libyans speak up: you have everything to gain by doing so and everything to lose by not.

Malcolm D B Munro April 11, 2011

Filed under: Current Events, , , ,

Mr Weldon Visits Tripoli, Libya: For Whom Do These American Envoys Speak?


First posted April 7, 2011, updated with a Comment and links at the foot of the article, April 8, 2011.

It is difficult to be polite about the hapless Mr Weldon’s foray into Tripoli (Time’s Up, Gaddafi. Curt Weldon, New York Times, Wednesday April 6, 2011, [Times has a firewall and therefore no link]). I mean no disrespect to the man, but his venture seems pointless.

We are watching for the second time a diplomatic posture by proxy by the United States in Middle Eastern and North African affairs. I doubt the outcome will yield any better results than the previous occasion did when Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Egypt, (Egypt unrest: US disowns envoy comment on Hosni Mubarak, BBC, February 5, 2011), disgraced his minders by straying from the message.

It is also difficult to know quite where to begin in picking apart this second round of folly. However, let us try.

Let me start by saying that I offer Mr Weldon no disrespect, but I do think his efforts ill advised.

In Hilary Clinton, the United States has a more than capable Secretary of State, and I am sure, there abound plenty of diplomatic staff in the Middle East better able to get whatever message the United States wishes to get across to Colonel Gaddafi. At least Mr Wisner had the false pretext of having been a professional diplomat and in that role he no doubt was effective. Something about our behaviour, when we have cast aside the costume of professionalism, lends a certain stupidity to all our efforts where previously they seemed so august. Most notable is the complete absence of guile. From so many priceless examples to choose; ex-presidents, ex-statesmen, playing do-good roles, official, semiofficial and unofficial, let me cite just one: Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of the Labour Party of Great Britain, in his role as special envoy to the Middle East (Blair appointed Middle East envoy BBC, June 27, 2007).

International diplomacy is difficult at the best of times, and these times are far from the best in Tripoli, Libya, but diplomacy can only be practiced by professionals. The United States would be advised to restrain its citizens from undertaking such pointless, self immolating, missions.

This is the least objectionable aspect of Mr Weldon’s ridiculous journey.

The most objectionable is that the visit is morally wrong. One, I suppose, has to do business with dictators, at least while they are in business. History says that won’t be for long. But the way that outsiders do business with dictators is of the essence. Of course, it is possible that the US administration wishes to be seen to be making a humane gesture to a grotesque effigy as some sort of sop to its own conscience. That seems unlikely and best to say that I have no idea as to the underlying motive, for Mr Wisner did not undertake this visit without the full consent of the US government.

Mr Weldon will be rebuffed and look foolish as a result to the benefit of whom I cannot tell. Hopefully he does not compound the error by opening his mouth afterwards as his predecessor, Mr Wisner, did in Egypt, who got soundly spanked in public for his pains.

So the question has to be asked, what is the point of the visit?

Reading Mr Weldon’s polemic in the NYT reveals that he is not savvy in the world of international politics nor does he appear to profess to basic honesty.

Mr Weldon has by all accounts carefully cultivated a relationship with the Gaddafi’s and maintained that relationship over the years. (Former Representative Curt Weldon’s Close Ties To Gaddafi Led To Libya Trip, Huffington Post, April 6, 2011) Repeatedly in the NYT article, Mr Weldon stresses that the relationship that the United States wished to build was not with the Colonel himself but with the Libyan people. The record for both parties, Mr Weldon and that of the US government’s, speaks to the contrary, so it is completely disingenuous, if not dishonest, to say, “But while American companies have made billions of dollars in Libya since 2004, they have failed to engage with anyone but the Gaddafi regime itself.”

And so, it must be said, has Mr Weldon. As a broker in this situation, I would not put money on Mr Weldon’s hobbled horses. He has placed not just his thumb on the scales but his bum as well.

You wonder at the immoderacy of my language? Here is Mr Weldon himself; “Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif, a powerful businessman and politician, could play a constructive role as a member of the committee to devise a new government structure or Constitution.”

Really? With whose consent? Did Mr Weldon ask any Libyan how this particular ploy would measure with the reality of what the rest of the world has witnessed of the said Saif in recent weeks? (Saif al-Islam Gaddafi: LSE-educated man the west can no longer deal with, Guardian, February 21, 2011)

Most of us would be surprised to not see Saif al-Islam Gaddafi cited with this father for crimes against humanity by the International Court of Justice.

One begins to see Mr Weldon not so much as a dove bearing the olive branch of peace but more as a cuckoo bearing nest feathers. (Where is the Curt Weldon Investigation Heading? Ken Silverstein, Harper’s, July 15, 2008)

Unfortunately, Mr Weldon’s sight is also blighted. His gaze is upwards, “…despite the bombs still dropping on Libya,..” and “.. the people of Libya deserve more than bombs.”

No mention is made of why the bombs are falling; Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reports that there are more and more stories emerging across the country of abuse and suffering at the hands of the Gadaffi forces. April 6, 2011.

The goal of Mr Weldon’s self-appointed little group? “… we must engage face-to-face with Colonel Gaddafi and persuade him to leave.” It beggars description to attempt to imagine the hubris of a man making such a statement. Persuade? With words? Or is there some hidden deal being offered, some billion dollar fur-lined palace somewhere, complete with camel juice, presently being readied for the comfort of said Colonel’s retirement?

However naked is the emperor that Mr Weldon is visiting, none is so naked as the visitor himself.

Two examples: ” … we must identify and engage with those leaders who, if not perfect, are pragmatic and reform minded …” Not at perfect as the Gaddafis were (are)? “… and we are not even sure whom we should trust.” Like we trusted the Gaddafis?

To put it plainly, Mr Weldon is meddling. Worse, he is a bumbling meddler. He won’t do damage but cause offense.

Did Mr Weldon ever think of visiting Benghazi first? Or better, visiting only Benghazi?

Ah, but that would have taken an honest man.

Mr Weldon’s visit is a sort of soft gunboat diplomacy conducted by clowns. The United States, as it adjusts painfully to the new realities of the Middle East, deserves to be better served. As do, not least, the Libyan people.

Comment added April 8, 2011

The story of Mr Weldon is a case study for all Libyans. In the post Gaddafi era all Libyans should expect a veritable stream of such characters who can best be characterized as snake oil salesmen. To prepare for that day, Libyans in all walks of life would be advised to study the two links below, especially the attachments mentioned in each article. You should as a minimum expect at that point to have a press which supports you as the NYT and Huffington Post do the American people.

Former Rep. Weldon Leaves Libya, Spurned By Gaddafi, Huffington Post, April 8, 2011

Houston Oil Lobbyists Paid for Former Congressman’s Libya Mission, Robert Mackey, The Lede, New York Times, April 8, 2011

Filed under: Current Events, , , ,

Taking Stock: Progress of Democracy in the Middle East, with a Note on Libya


Introduction, Righting an Historic Anomaly

Only a few governments in the Middle East and North Africa are representative of their people. Most are not and cannot speak with any legitimacy for their people. That such governments are recognized by democratic governments throughout the world is a historic absurdity, which the present waves of uprisings calling for democratic governments in the region give those democratic governments elsewhere an opportunity to redress. The opportunity is not being grasped as wholeheartedly by democratic governments outside the region as it might be.

 

It’s Not Going to Go Away

After three and half months of successive uprisings in an every increasing number of countries, it should be plain to all that this phenomenon is no flash in the pan. The tidal surge towards democracy in the region has, if anything, gained in impetus. In any affected country, the protests are overwhelmingly peaceful, are secular in nature, and seek to be inclusive of all the people within that country.

A Painful Birth, the Placenta of the Despot

Each call for democracy is met consistently with an obscenity of violence on the part of the entrenched regimes, secular or monarchial. The push for democracy is an extraordinary courageous one on the part of the people involved and is not quelled through loss of life. The conclusion is obvious if you wish to make it; all of the people in the region want their aspirations met and they want them met in the present, not on the basis of some set of promises held out by a frozen-with-fear head of state.

Democratic countries throughout the world who have expressed good will towards this movement have now had ample time to adjust to the new realities. All governments have diplomatic staff on the ground in the affected countries, and in the yet to be affected countries, who are no doubt ably relaying and reporting the mood and demands of the people of the country in which they are resident. Governments should be listening and trusting their reports. It will quickly become apparent as to the legitimacy of the calls being made. There is no reason so far to suspect that the people of any country in the region will not come up with anything other than completely legitimate demands.

Who Calls Legitimacy?

In the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, each had a powerful force which could accept the legitimacy of those demands and act, at least so far, as an honest broker for them. It is possible that Yemen, with good fortune, may fall into this group.

Not all countries are so placed, Libya being an example. Countries of goodwill should be acting now to anticipate the ramifications of this. How many interventions are required? Do outside governments even want any more? Intervention is never a good course of action and governments should be appraising other options now rather than later, when those options become more and more restricted.

There are still two troubling aspects which have not been addressed. Articles on this blog have drawn attention to them before but repetition serves to reinforce the point.

Blind to the Nature of Dictators’ Wiles

Governments acting towards the region with goodwill have not yet recognized that there exists an unwritten dictator’s playbook.

Each embattled despot, whether in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and, I am sure, in those whose turn has yet to come, have employed the same stratagems played out in the same sequence. The only difference from one country to another is the time line connected to the various ploys employed at any one time. Any scrutiny of the record will find remarkable parallels. It is an exercise which governments wishing to play a part in helping events would do well to conduct with all possible speed. The whiles and whims of dictators might be held in check as a result and lives will certainly be spared. A concerted effort on the part of the international community is urgently needed in this regard.

 

The World’s Press in a Mess

The second aspect which continues to trouble at least this observer is the sheer gullibility of the world’s press and media. Propaganda is propaganda and should not be dignified in any way by media outside the region.

While it is true that the press in most countries, democratic or otherwise, this same press as above, act as a fourth arm of government in their home countries. This is to say that the home country media spew out government pronouncements completely undigested and without comment or criticism, there is not reason that they should adopt this role voluntarily towards the regime of a state violently suppressing the legitimate aspirations of its people and vigorously lying to the world in the process.

The world’s media must come to terms with the fact that their job is to report fairly to the people of their home country, not to act as lackeys for despots. So far the media record has been appalling. The notable and noble exceptions have been the half dozen to dozen journalists and camera men who have braved first hand the dreadful violence of the embattled regimes to report the truth. They should not be the exception.

Libya, the No Fly Zone, and the Negligence of the United Nations Security Council

The international community’s record with regard to Libya is exemplary in many respects, not least the speed at which actions were decided upon.

Secure Communications

In two respects, however, it is very poor. When considering what actions the United Nations Security Council considered should be taken, there was one matter in which they were totally negligent.

The No Fly Zone was put into place without secure communications being offered to the forces on the ground. No allied troops would have gone in under such circumstances and to have not considered supporting the anti-Gaddafi forces in this respect is reprehensible. Many lives would have been saved and coordination of ground forces more easily facilitated. Friend/foe recognitions is of prime importance in conflict and the accidental killing by allied forces of civilians would have been avoided.

The cost is not great, the security of the forces out of Benghazi would have improved immeasurably. That military professionals advising on the NFZ did not insist on it is incomprehensible.

Getting the Message Across

As a corollary, the UNSC was almost equally negligent in not addressing the question of who controls the airwaves. It is not sufficient to control the airspace. Colonel Gaddafi should have, from the outset, been denied a voice. Such denial would have seriously undermined his claims to legitimacy. Equally, the TNC in Benghazi should have been given broadcasting equipment so that their message could go out clearly to the Libyan people, especially to the beleaguered people, starved of real information, in Tripoli.

It is still not too late to remedy these short comings.

Filed under: Current Events, , , , ,

An Alert: Two Issues for the Attention of the TNC of Libya


This article is the latest in a series aiming to inform Libyans and to reach policymakers on matters, which because of the conflict on the ground, may not get the attention they merit and this is true of this occasion.

Two issues are worth raising of perhaps equal import.

Calming Fears on Future Libyan Oil Policy

A series of reports over the last seven days, of which those below are a sample, suggest the need for the TNC to make a statement on how the new Libya expects to handle its oil and gas assets. While the oil and gas policy of the future free Libyan government is not known to anybody, the TNC is better placed than most to suggest what future course Libya is likely to adopt.

As the conflict in Libya draws out and no immediate resolution is at present in sight, the need for a competent body to speak on behalf of the Libyan people becomes more urgent by the day.

At the very least, the TNC could calm fears by confirming that Libya will continue to uphold and honour existing agreements. That surely would be the initial position of the new Libyan government whatever policy it sought to put into place after that.

Oil companies fear nationalisation in Libya, Sylvia Pfeifer and Javier Blas, Financial Times, 22 March, 2011,

Oil Companies That Gave ‘Bonuses’ to Libya Also Lobbied Against Disclosure Rule, Marian Wang ProPublica 27 March 2011

Gaddafi Asset Confusion and Future Asset Transfer

The second point to make is that, with the confusion as to the assets to be frozen under the UN mandate, see example story below, the people best placed to clarify the situation are those in Libya with knowledge of who owns what. The TNC would be well advised to establish a Libyan Assets Control Group which could help and communicate with parties seeking clarification on Libyan asset issues, and to assure the safe transfer of those assets in the post-Gaddafi era.

Libya Sanctions Cause Confusion, Cassell Bryan-Low and Deborah Hall, Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2011

US extends Libya sanctions to more oil companies, AP 23 March 2011, carried in the Economic Times of India

Information for Libyans

For Libyans seeking to know more about the oil and gas industry in their country and of the other companies located there here is a link with exhaustive information. And this is the regime’s website, Libyan Investment

The present article constitutes an editorial and represents no other view than the author’s own.

Malcolm D B Munro 31 March, 2011

Filed under: Current Events, , , , , ,

The Basis for Sound Financial Government: some guidance for the TNC of Libya


Egypt, Libya and Tunisia are rewriting the nature of their government with a view to creating,each at their own pace, a nation based on sound democratic principles. Inevitably, the results will be flawed by compromise and by a need to get something into place which allows a starting point for each country to undertake its first free and fair democratic elections. Perhaps one or more of the governments will build into the process the idea of perfectibility and mechanisms to provide for continuous improvement of government.

However each turns out, the democratic structures of a state are only a part of government. In fact, they only provide the means of government by electing, in as transparent a way as possible, representatives, as fairly as possible, for limited durations.

Though essential to good government, this is only one half of the equation. What separates weak democracies from strong ones is sound fiscal policy. The previous article, Switzerland as a Model for Libya’s Financial Future, suggested where models might be sought for financials systems designed around effective government financial structures such as a central bank, treasury and so on.

Having the right structures in place only provides a basis for making financial decisions and policies. The fiscal decisions themselves have to be sound and responsible.  This article touches on where the Interim National Council of Libya might look for guidance on what constitutes good fiscal discipline and what are sound fiscally responsible policies.

The Comeback America Initiative worked with the public policy and international studies programme at Stanford University to develop a fiscal responsibility index.  When applied at a global level the results were a little surprising. Among 34 counties surveyed, Australia and New Zealand held first and second place respectively. We are not concerned here with how dreadful the score was for some leading industrialized nations. What is notable is the high ranking of governments that one wouldn’t necessarily have expected to score so highly when compared to those nations who actually came very low in the ranking. Despite widespread news of large scale corruption cases in China, its ranking is excellent, being placed fifth. Chile and Brazil come seventh and tenth respectively. The results should be encouraging to any government looking to improve its financial responsibility.

If Libya is seeking a framework around which to build a world class fiscal set of policies, recognizing that the first beneficiary of such a standard is the country and people of the country themselves, Libya could do worse than look at what the Australians did in 1996 to set themselves on a path that led directly  to the performance that today puts them in first place in terms of good governmental fiscal responsibility.

Only a close study of the record would show just what Australians put into place at that time but a simple summary here should be sufficient to elicit interest and persuade skeptics that such a study is worthwhile and will pay dividends if implemented.

The Australian Government Treasury Intergenerational Report of 2007 has the following to say about the process adopted.

In 1996, the [Australian] Government implemented a medium-term framework [5 to 10 years], for fiscal policy. This has formed the basis for government fiscal management over the past decade and has delivered sound fiscal outcomes. Key elements include the Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998 (the Charter) and the medium-term fiscal strategy. Both ensure fiscal policy is characterised by a disciplined approach to budgeting, transparent reporting and accountability.

The Charter requires the Government to frame its fiscal strategy having regard to: fiscal risks, including by maintaining Australian general government debt at prudent levels; the state of the economic cycle; the adequacy of national saving; the stability and integrity of the tax system; and the financial effect of policy decisions on future generations.

Consistent with the Charter’s requirements, the Government’s medium-term fiscal strategy is to maintain budget balance, on average, over the course of the economic cycle. Supplementary objectives include maintaining fiscal surpluses over the forward estimates period while economic growth prospects remain sound; not increasing the overall tax burden from its 1996-97 level; and improving the Australian Government net worth position over the medium to longer term.

The Charter also requires the Government to produce, at least every five years, an intergenerational report assessing the long-term sustainability of current Government policies, including by taking account of the financial implications of demographic change. By explicitly showing the long-term fiscal consequences of its policies, the Government has committed to improving its transparency and accountability to the community. The report also is an important tool in monitoring and improving policies and frameworks to facilitate sustainability through time.

Also central to the macroeconomic framework is the inflation targeting regime that aims to achieve Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation of 2 to 3 per cent per year on average over the course of the economic cycle. The inflation targeting regime was formalised by the Government in August 1996 in a ‘Statement on the Conduct of Monetary Policy’, issued jointly by the Treasurer and the Governor of the Reserve Bank. This statement formalised the Reserve Bank’s operational independence in achieving this goal. It was recently renewed on 18 September 2006 between the Treasurer and the incoming Reserve Bank Governor.

Material in square brackets has been added by the author of the present article.

It will be immediately clear to the alert reader what almost all of the needed elements for a sound financial framework are. The two notable tools that the Australians availed themselves of are:

  • Charter of Budget Honesty Act
  • An intergenerational report assessing the long-term sustainability of current Government policies

The setting of a firm base, along with a rigorous periodic measuring, has in no small measure led to the success of the Australian government achieving and maintaining fiscal responsibility of a very high standard.

This article has no intention on embarking into areas of discussion of policy questions save to note that the setting of realistic inflation targets is at the heart of all such successful fiscal policies.

The Libyan government, whether in the incarnation of the TNC, or some intermediate body, does not need to reinvent the wheel, nor does it need to follow precedent simply because such and such systems and policies are followed in the region. Just as author in To the TNC: Safeguarding Libyan Oil and Gas Resources, a discussion and some suggestions , urged the setting up of working groups to find best practices for the Libyan oil interests, working groups can be formed to study various fiscal areas for best practices and report the findings back to the interested Libyan authorities. The purpose of this article has been to suggest that outstanding examples of fiscally responsible policies exist and material on them is not hard to find.

Malcolm D B Munro 30 March, 2011

Filed under: Current Events, , , ,

Switzerland as a Model for Libya’s Financial Future


Libya, unlike the two other states in the region on path to realizing ambitions of being democratic states, has had its house of state gutted. Whereas the other two, Egypt and Tunisia have much of the furniture of previous regimes in place, and will, and are, sorting through what they wish to keep, what they want to refurbish and what they wish to discard, Libya comes to the threshold of democracy untrammeled on two counts of previous clutter.

The personal nature of much of the previous ownership in Libya means that, with the transfer of the assets to the new Libyan government at one stroke, so to speak, the cleaning is done. Libyans can dispense the Gaddafi and associates wealth and ownership as they see fit.

The other side of this is more onerous. The closed nature of Libyan society for the past 40 years means that, from a commercial point of view, Libya is undeveloped. Property and tourism are two areas in which Libyan could enjoy growth. Let’s put those aside for a future discussion.

With so much wealth concentrated in a very few hands, a greater concentration than for any other country in the region, Libya enjoys a unique position where the financial slate can be completely rewritten with little disruption to existing interests.

In fact, the majority of the hands holding that wealth will likely, one way or another, not able to wrest any of the wealth back.

As the situation improves inside Libya, more and more information will feed to those countries where the regime’s wealth is held, and more and more of it will join the other already frozen assets. We really have only seen the tip of the iceberg at this point.

In the reasonably near future, Libya should be in possession of a substantial amount of untrammeled wealth, and there will be a rush of advisers and bankers from all over the world with freely given advise as to what to do with the money and how to invest it. Libya would be advised rather to look to those states which have successfully applied the principles of a sovereign wealth fund and, in the process, Libyans, all six million of you, will make the pleasant discovery that Libya is a reasonably rich country.

Libya enters the 21st century, at least in some respects, in an enviable position; a good bank balance, an almost absence of debts, no immediate calls to spend vast sums of money, and best of all, with a financially blank slate.

In considering what kind of state Libya wishes to be in the future, the Interim National Council of Libya has free reign to decide. There is no existing constitution which would require amendment. There are no power brokers, such as the army, to appease, and existing financial interests to serve, as there are in Egypt. Nobody is pointing a gun at Libya’s head as to pressure of time. The people of Libya are preoccupied and will be for some time. Libya has the time, and is in the position to, design well chosen financial systems which can be based on the best practices upheld elsewhere.

It is in this spirit that one can approach Interim National Council of Libya’s A Vision of Democratic Libya, dated 29 March, 2011, and consider that the vision is an expression of the kind of society and state that Libyans, as expressed by the Interim National Council ,would like to build. And, given that the vision does indeed represent the aspirations of Libyans, there is no reason why it should not successfully come about.

Thus, Clause 1 of the Vision statement, which states in part, “The constitution will also clarify the rights and obligations of citizens in a transparent manner…,” looks to a state built on this principle.

Clause 6 commits to the principle of peace, truth, justice and equality. Clause 7a talks of “creating effective economic institutions..” and Clause 7b stresses “genuine economic partnerships between .. a strong and productive public sector, a free private sector and a supportive and effective civil society.”

There is no impediment to Libya designing and building, not just a civil society, and a fully representative democratic government, but also, because it has to, a set of sound financial systems. While Switzerland is renowned as a banking haven to a few, to the rest of the world, the country is a model for financial rectitude. Why shouldn’t Switzerland serve as a model to Libya?

Given the principles upon Libya wishes to build its future, as outlined in the Vision document, there are other models upon which Libya could base its systems, Hong Kong and Singapore being two examples. Whichever model Libya does choose, there seems no reason for it not being one that offers sound financial systems. Why, given the position Libya is in, would you want to choose anything other than a good model?

In putting into place a state which serves as a financial model for the region, a number of benefits immediately come to mind. Libya is sufficiently far away from the Gulf States to not be in competition with them, and the states close to Libya, some of whom have offered little in the way of financial rectitude in the past, will benefit from a financially stable state, that remains conservative in its fiscal policies. And, with no debt, there is no reason that Libya should not stay in that position for at least the foreseeable future.

Malcolm D B Munro, 29 March, 2011

Filed under: Current Events, , , ,

To the TNC: Safeguarding Libyan Oil and Gas Resources, a discussion and some suggestions


The relationship of a government to the oil and gas reserves, home based industry and shipping, and leasing of blocks, is a problematic one which democratic governments approach in a fundamentally different way from non-democratic governments. The as-yet-to-be-formed government of Libya will inevitably find itself at odds with the course taken, and the objectives pursued by, its predecessor. To enable the new government to be in a position to make informed decisions, and formulate meaningful policy the proposal outlined here seeks to provide the new Libyan government with the information it needs to make effective changes to the existing structures.

In the final analysis the oil and gas reserves of a country belong to all of the people who are safeguarded in their interests and ownership, on their behalf, by the government, usually through some dedicated national body.

Difficulties arise, because of the large sums of money involved, in setting up processes and institutions which allow for a transparency, such that the selling of oil and gas properties and state incomes are well defined and subject to sufficient checks and balances to avoid misuse, malpractice and outright theft, or simply commercial advantage-taking on the part of buyers of leases and provision of processing facilities within the national boundaries. These concerns extend to ensuring full, world class safety, hazards and release controls mechanisms.

A democratic government, in adopting policies in these areas, is less prone to being subject to ideologies, whose idiosyncrasies do not easily lend themselves either to international and industry best practices, nor to necessary levels of transparencies.

It has been suggested elsewhere in these posts, Oil and Gas Reserves: Patrimony of the Libyan People, that the Libyan TNC, and the yet-to-be-formed government of a democratic Libya, consider from the outset establishing a trust in which to place Libyan oil and gas assets.

The principal purpose of an oil and gas trust is to place, and keep, the assets and processes associated with those assets, at arm’s length from government, the Libyan government, so that long term strategies and policies can be adopted and embarked upon without day to day interference or changes being introduced at the whim of individual future governments and ministers.

Whatever approach is decided upon, it seem prudent and necessary to ensure that the newly established government places its most important assets on a firm and secure foundation such that flexibility can be adopted towards future changes of energy policies and market forces.

It is therefore suggested that four commissions be established at an early stage so that meaningful, relevant and up-to-date information is provided to incoming government members, and policies and structures and processes can be put into place to replace those existing deemed not to be suitable, or are inadequate, to the requirements of a democratic government without causing undue disruption.

At the highest level, it is suggested that the TNC empower, without delay, a Petroleum and Strategic Reserve Council which will serve to act, on the one hand, to take over and absorb those existing structure closely, too closely, associated with the previous regime, and, on the other, to act for the government-to-be and its yet-to-be-established ministries and be in a position to hand over at the appropriate time. In addition the council can serve to receive and guide the four commissions outlined below.

Commission A: to review existing oil and gas structures and strategies to identify the nature and ownership of existing assets and make recommendations as to what changes need to be made to put these assets on a legal footing.

Commission B: to review existing plant and pipelines to assess the integrity of them and to recommend changes to be made to ensure that plant and pipelines are in compliance with specifically adopted internationally recognized standards.

Commission C: conduct a review and report on best practices world wide for auctioning and leasing oil and gas assets.

Commission D: conduct a review of state ownership practices worldwide and evaluate the possible best options for Libya. It is suggested that an initial report be made to the government, ministry, or council, to permit that body to appraise selected courses of action. Commission D would them undertake more detailed studies of the selections and report back on a final basis.

Filed under: Current Events, , , ,

Libya Needs Time: Let’s Work Together to Get Rid of Gaddafi, Grant Libya Breathing Space, then Help Libya Create Democracy


Possibly I feel somewhat as Deelen (Deelen_Pillay 22 March) perhaps did when he saw the six pigs exceeding the speed limit as they passed him on the William Nichol highway, although the present tragic plight of Libyans can hardly be thought of in the same gaze as those of the pigs of the mid Rand in South Africa.

So, although I am at a loss to describe it, the plight of Libyans as they stand straddled, a nation divided by the contorted will of an obscene dictator, Tripoli their Berlin, is absolutely understandable.

Here is a nation of six million people, held in brutal captivity for 40 years, released in a brief moment of joyous demonstration on February 17, to hear wonderful ideas of democracy, freedom, justice: music to anyone’s ears. To be swept, a few days later in a tsunami of enthusiasm seven eighth the way across Libya from Benghazi, almost to the doors of the palace of the Great Man Himself in Tripoli, only to be thrown back a few days later by an assault, the viciousness and extraordinary violence of which we have only glimpsed, and with Gaddafi’s efforts to destroy the evidence, may not know the extend and depth of until the Hague prosecutors release to us the evidence they uncover and collect.

The violence wreathed upon unarmed Libyans has been horrendous and we must not underestimate the effect it has had upon them.

And so it may be the case that we in the West project too much of our enthusiasm with which we wish to embrace one more set of brothers and sisters in the Middle East into the warm and loving arms of world’s nations of democracies.

The few Libyans who had energy to respond to my silly hailing into the empty desert of Twitterland this morning, just a few hours ago, are most certainly right. (I must acknowledge the support of curioustip H, who stood with me in this moment of expression of pain, who says, “The next step in Libya is weapons (containment), and, more importantly, Reconciliation. Talk of revenge against pro Gadaffi supporters will only lead to civil war. This is the only way.”)

The body Libya has been most viciously assaulted, both psychically and physically under trying circumstances.

Those few days after February 17 were brief but I am certain that they are held in the minds of all Libyans, like a vast illumination, to show the way ahead.

In the meantime, Libyans cannot think about democracy right at this moment. They have other tasks to attend to and, in due course of time, they will attend to, and truly engage in, the joyous task of nation building.

As Gaddafi totters in the few hours left to him, before he is seen off the stage of life into the bowels of history, those he has held captive, both civilian and under force of arms, for there must be as few armies in the world as reluctantly under arms as those of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, whatever that was, need time, having taken off their uniforms, to join together as free Libyans.

Libyans need time to tend their sick, to bury their dead, to meet as brothers and sisters under the warm rays of the Mediterranean sun, sharing the light and life of freedom, to learn again what it is to be human. Libyans never lost this capacity. But under Gaddafi they seldom were allowed to express it.

Libyans need time for brother in arms to meet with fellow brother in arms, whichever side they had been forced onto, to weep together over lost family, and for time to hold up their heads, with their family members that have survived, to bury their dead in dignity.

For Libyans need time to discover each other, who they are, to discover that they are one nation and can speak with one voice as all nations do, except those divided by others against themselves.

Libyans need time to welcome forensic experts who will comb over the ground and hear and record witnesses, who will attest without hesitation to the almost unspeakable crimes committed, in not just these few recent days, but time to unlock the secrets held in the desert of past Gaddafi crimes. For if Gaddafi survives, we along with all Libyans, surely want to see him enjoy his day in court. Let us hope that, by that time, the world’s press and media, when reporting his grand, empty, staged gestures, report honestly, and not as they have done, in these past few weeks, shamelessly swallowing and regurgitating undigested his lies.

And Libyans need time to get together, to discover what wonders the Youth of #Feb17 movement were talking of, to hear at their leisure those messages, so quickly cut off in a momentary rush of freedom. Libyans need time to breathe and consider ways to embrace those ideas.

And Libyans also need time to discover what it is to be free. The imprisonment of the nation, now out of the nation jail cell, needs time to learn that life is not now composed of four walls, of perpetual confinement, that it offers more than suspicion, that kindly acts can be performed by all member of their nation. Former jailers need time to learn to live with those they jailed.

Libyans also need time to put into place the ordinary structures and institutions that adjoining nations take for granted, which they had even under their dictators.

So, let us stop for a moment and reflect, those of us in the West, so eagerly working on Libya’s behalf: give Libyans time and then we will all be able to work much more effectively.

For Libyans need, as Eartha Kitt said, in the song of what the Englishman needs where love is concerned, time.

Time to discover what it is to live, to be alive, to breathe freely, to speak freely, to get know each other. Time to welcome joyfully exiles home, not to, for the moment, take part in politics, there is time for that, but to know what they dreamed of, a country, just like any country.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to:

ღ.¸¸ Libeeya¸¸.ღ  @Freedom_7uriyah who tweets, “Beautiful piece.”

yahyasheikho786, “Muslims for Muslims by Muslims … first”, who has linked this piece to his blog at:  http://tinyurl.com/6l8n9cd,  the third post he had linked to.

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