There's a tantalising spectre haunting modern U.S. and international politics. In the painfully drawn out final months of the Bush presidency, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone, outside of the extreme fringe, willing to defend the policies of that administration. Even erstwhile supporters now display a palpable nostalgia for the golden '90s and the years of the Clinton administration, when seemingly the greatest problems of the day were whether or not to start a dot.com and make out like a bandit in the IPO, and alternate uses of cigars.
Will the Iraq war end, and US interventions in the Middle East come to a close with the exit of President George W Bush from the world stage? No. That die was cast long ago, when cities like Los Angeles were built the way they are. There might be numerous reasons to eject the Republicans from office, and elect a Democratic president. But ending the Iraq war is not among them.
The Chinese financial markets are looking ever more cut off from real world facts and figures. A massive bubble, now fuelled by the savings and hopes of millions of ordinary workers, is underway. A crash would have an enormous impact both on world markets, and possibly on the political stability of the Chinese regime.
The recent food additive scandal involving poisoned pet foods might well have far more wide reaching implications than the isolated matter of food safety. If not handled deftly, it might well be the straw that breaks the back of the free trade camel. When Barney starts dying, all bets are off.
First there was the news that Melamine, a protein lookalike, more properly used in making plastic and fertilisers, was found in wheat gluten and rice protein exported from China for use in pet foods. It was cheap, could be found in old building materials, and made for beaucoup profits. Only problem was that pets in the United States and South America started dropping dead from eating it.
And so it begins. There was really only one way the much hyped troop "surge" in Iraq was going to work in any way, shape, or form. It was if the American forces limited themselves to doing the Shia militias' dirty work for them. If the US GIs and Marines in reality acted as the Shia's hired Hessians, and concentrated their fire on the Sunni insurgents, leaving the Sunni population ripe for ethnic cleansing by the millitias once the Americans left, violence directed against them might actually have decreased.
The most formidable, and most problematic from a US perspective, of the Shia leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr, had every motive to lay low, as long as the Americans were fully mobilised and coming down on his Sunni enemies, and they didn't pick a fight with his own Mahdi Army militia, or allow rival Shia millitias to do so on their behalf.
Well, that seems to no longer be the case.
Despite having regained positions of true influence in last autumn's mid-term elections, all is not wine and rose in the Democratic Party rank and file. Disillusionment is setting in sooner than one would have thought possible. The problem, which has suddenly become a Democratic Party problem, as well as a Republican one, is of course the war in Iraq.
Patience is wearing very thin with the lack of concrete steps by the new majority to rein in the Bush administration's excesses, and ending the US occupation of Iraq.
It has become all too clear that the turn of the millennium marked a transition to a far more unstable age than the latter half of the 20th century. Frightening as the Cold War was for those of us who who grew up waiting for the balloon to go up in the shape of a mushroom cloud, and bad as it was for those poor sods unlucky enough to live in the theatre of one of the many fringe proxy wars between the super-powers mainly fought in the third world, many might wax nostalgic for a time that offered some semblance of stability under the threat of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), and, not least, a period of almost unbroken egalitarian economic progress in the Western world.
This "New World Order" might very well also see the large scale reintroduction of a mode of conflict as ancient as the first human like primate who wiped out his Australopithecine ancestor, genocide.
Some time ago an army was dispatched over seas under the banner of crusading democracy. Not only would it break the back of tyranny, it would also secure untold riches and resources in the process, the politician in charge promised.
The year was 415 BC, the expeditionary force hailed from Athens, its destination was Syracuse in Sicily, and it was the brainchild of Alcibiades.
Athens was at war with her rival for supremacy in the Greek world, Sparta, in an internecine bloodletting which was to range across the Mediterranean and would rage on for a generation. Men would fight in this war who were not born when it first began. When it ended, both victor and vanquished would have reason to rue its beginning.
There are very few books that actually enrage me. There are of course works such as "Mein Kampf", by everyone's favourite moustachioed mad man, and "The Protocols of the Elders of Sion". But in such cases you know going in, that you're dealing with historical documents by fruit cakes and loons.
And then there are those books which come highly recommended by a vast number of seemingly sane and educated people, but turn out to be either loony or borderline evil. Such a book is "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.
On the financial site N24.no (Norwegian text) chief economist at Handelsbanken, Knut Anton Mork, is quoted as saying he and his colleagues expect the price to hover around $70 per barrel through 2008, and then $65 per barrel through 2013. He believes prices would retain their level even were it not for the rumblings of conflict with Iran.
I am of course refering to the spin-meister power couple of James Carville and Mary Matalin. One is a Democratic strategist and the mastermind behind Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. While the other is a central member of the inner circle in orbit around Republican (Vice) President Dick "The Shotgun" Cheney.
Angst about nuclear power and weapons was transformed into mutant blobs and monsters set on infecting or ingesting the population. Fear of Communism was made flesh in pod-people, who would suddenly act and think differently and subversively, while still looking like their old selves.
So what fear is rising up to the surface of the dark waters of our collective unconscious today, like some Leviathan of the deep? What clammy nightmare jolts people awake in the middle of the night drenched in the sour sweat of panic? Judging from "Black Monday", a new movie that's being rushed into production, it might be sticker-shock at the petrol pump.
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